The Stranger Times – C.K. McDonnell

Hannah’s new boss shot himself in the foot during her job interview and that’s not even the weirdest thing that’s happened this week. She’s just joined The Stranger Times, a newspaper that reports “the weird and wonderful from around the world ‘and beyond’”. Think Fortean Times.

‘You’d be surprised what I’d believe. It’s been a hell of a week.’

Hannah is the new Tina, AKA, assistant editor. Her boss (the guy with the new hole in his foot), Vincent Banecroft, is “foul-smelling, foul-mouthed and foul-tempered”. Banecroft lives in the office, as does Manny (clothing optional), who’s in charge of the paper’s printing department.

Grace, the office manager, spends much of her time managing Banecroft’s mouth. Stella, whose job title I’m still unsure of, lives with Grace and may be my favourite character. Reggie is the paper’s paranormal consultant and Ox is their ufologist and “general paranoid”. The paper is owned by Mrs Harnforth.

Then there’s Simon, who desperately wants to work for The Stranger Times but is having trouble getting past their No Simon policy.

Meanwhile, the police are attempting to investigate some events that aren’t exactly in their jurisdiction, events that are definitely strange enough for The Stranger Times.

‘Right,’ said Banecroft, ‘let’s kick off this parade of inadequacy, then, shall we?’

This book was so much more fun than I’d expected. I got sucked straight in and was entertained the entire time. I enjoyed getting to know Hannah and her new colleagues. There was a Big Bad doing Big Bad things and a whole bunch of goings on that regular people aren’t aware of.

While I was introduced to various ‘Types’ and magical bits and pieces, I don’t really have my head around this part of the world yet. I’m hoping the gaps in my knowledge will be filled in more when I read the sequel.

I really enjoyed the newspaper clippings scattered throughout the book; my favourite was Homework Eats Dog. I would definitely subscribe to this newspaper. There’s an article about a haunted toilet in Falkirk!

‘It’s in a pub. People claim that it speaks – issuing death threats, ominous predictions and …’

‘And?’

‘Shortbread recipes.’

There was a bit of a disjointed feel to some of the chapters. Sometimes it took me a page or two to figure out which part of the story I was reading about, especially when a new character or plot line was introduced. It all came together in the end though.

Some questions were answered in this book but there were a bunch that are being held over for the sequel. I expect I’ll be rereading this book a little closer to the sequel’s publication date.

The employees at The Stranger Times are a bunch of oddballs but they’re my kind of oddballs. I think I’d fit right in with this team.

‘The world is not what you thought it to be.’

Bonus content: If you sign up for the newsletter at https://thestrangertimes.co.uk you’ll snag In Other News, a free ebook.

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, death by suicide, drug addiction and homophobic and racist slurs. I didn’t feel like the homophobic and racist slurs added anything to the story and, although they were challenged, I wondered what the point was of including them in the first place.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor … well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.

The Language of Magic #1: Threadneedle – Cari Thomas

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

‘How can I know who I am without knowing who I came from?’

After a tragedy left her an orphan, Anna was raised by her Aunt. She’s known her entire life that she’s going to be a Binder when she grows up.

The Binders did all they could to prevent magic being exposed to the ordinary world, to keep it locked away behind doors; brushed under carpets; tied in necklaces and tucked beneath blouses.

Now Anna is in sixth form and it’s only a year until her magic, such that it is, will be bound. As the school Nobody, Anna has always tried to fly under the radar. That won’t be as easy to achieve once she joins a coven.

‘We deal in that which cannot be known by the light of day and exact our punishments by dark.’

Attis, resident eye candy/mystery boy, intrigued me, as did Effie, although I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be best friends with her or her archnemesis. She’s kinda prickly so I think I’d want to be cautious around her.

Having a religious girl in the coven initially confused me as I had trouble figuring out how the two could possibly intersect. I don’t think I like Miranda/Manda. There’s something about people who claim religion and then act in ways that fly in the face of their spouted beliefs that make me want to point my finger and hiss, ‘Hyprocrite!’ I know we’ve all been guilty of saying one thing and then doing another at some point in our lives but when it comes from someone who evangelises … I don’t know … it just seems different somehow.

Then there was Rowan, who I absolutely adored, except for the fact that so much time was spent body shaming her. If someone else wasn’t bullying her about her weight, Rowan was pointing it out herself. She was so much more interesting to me than whatever the scales say about her. Also, her mother is an absolute delight and I need to spend so much more time with her!

The Binders gave me cult vibes throughout the book. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think there’s some truth to what they’ve been saying all along or not. I’m a bit on the fence about this and could argue either way. I suspect there’s some truth there but I definitely question (and that’s putting it nicely) their methods and some crucial core beliefs.

I’m usually all for magic, regardless of the form it takes, but some of the magic in this book gave me the heebie-jeebies. I’m not sure if I’ve simply never considered this before or if it was the way some of the magic played out here but it got me thinking about free will. If any spell removes free will from someone, whether it’s their thoughts or actions, then it seems to me that this tramples all over consent.

To force your will on someone else in a way that takes away their freedom to think or act in a way they choose feels really icky to me. My brain helpfully came up with the term ‘magical assault’ and now I can’t get it out of my head. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see certain types of magic in action again without my brain shouting that at me. Thanks for nothing, brain!

The bonds we have with family and friends and how these can be tied to fear and sacrifice are explored in this book. It’s not always clear whether someone is acting selfishly or in another person’s best interests. There are opposing truths at play, which complicates things even further.

One thing that definitely wasn’t complicated for me was my love of this book’s magical library. This could be one of my favourite libraries ever and I want to spend an entire book lost in there.

While I wish I’d learned more about the seven faceless women in this book, there are indications that they will play a vital role as the series unfolds. I am particularly interested in the seventh woman and am not so secretly hoping that we’ve already met her in this book but don’t know it yet. I already know who I want her to be.

‘People think stories are harmless but they are the most dangerous weapon mankind has.’

Content warnings include body shaming, bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and slut shaming. Death by suicide is mentioned a few times as a suspected cause of death.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city filled with magic.

Ever since Anna can remember, her aunt has warned her of the dangers of magic. She has taught her to fear how it twists and knots and turns into something dark and deadly.

It was, after all, magic that killed her parents and left her in her aunt’s care. It’s why she has been protected from the magical world and, in one year’s time, what little magic she has will be bound. She will join her aunt alongside the other Binders who believe magic is a sin not to be used, but denied. Only one more year and she will be free of the curse of magic, her aunt’s teachings and the disappointment of the little she is capable of.

Nothing – and no one – could change her mind before then. Could it?

Me and the Robbersons – Siri Kolu

Translator – Ruth Urbom

“Robbing’s our thing. That’s what we know how to do.”

Maisie is kidnapped on the way to visiting her Grandma. This might sound like the beginning of a traumatic experience for Maisie but it turns out to be just the adventure she’s been looking for during the summer holidays.

But this is no ordinary kidnapping; Maisie is stolen from the family’s car in front of her parents and older sister. And these are no ordinary kidnappers; the Robbersons are a family of bandits.

Wild Karl is the chief bandit and his wife, Hilda, is a reckless but enthusiastic driver and champion cook. They have two children: nine year old Charlie and twelve year old Hellie. Charlie wants to attend school, whereas Hellie embraces the bandit lifestyle completely. Hellie (my favourite character) is good at everything, although repurposing Barbie dolls is one of her specialties. Golden Pete, a friend of the Robbersons, is loyal to Wild Karl.

As a hijacked person, Maisie quickly learns all about the various ways to get the best loot. She also becomes part of the family, using initiative to come up with new ways of doing things. She knows that she’ll need to return home at some point but she’s not ready yet.

I was their prisoner, the loot from a robbery, and so I tried to look glum. Whenever I remembered.

Sweets are mentioned so much in this book that it’s possible you’ll get a sugar high just from reading. Kids will love the freedoms enjoyed by this family, who eat what they want when they want, can decide to go swimming on the spur of the moment and don’t have to do anything routine or normal, like work or attend school.

I found Maisie’s response to her kidnapping quite implausible. I can’t imagine a ten year old who wouldn’t be traumatised by being taken from their family by a bunch of strangers. The fact that Maisie didn’t even seem to miss her family and treated her kidnapping like a fun adventure added to this unreality. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t supposed to be taking any of this seriously. As a kid I would have simply been along for the ride, no questions asked.

This book, the first in a series, has been translated from Finnish. I want to know how Golden Pete became involved with the Robbersons. I’m assuming this will be mentioned later in the series. I’d like to spend more time with the other bandit clans. I’m interested in reading the next book to see what’s next for Maisie and the Robbersons.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A madcap adventure starring a bandit family, a LOT of sweets and a girl who is ready for anything… 

Maisie is convinced her summer holiday is going to be as boring as ever – until she’s snatched by the Robbersons, a bunch of bandits with an insatiable appetite for sweets! Soon Maisie realises that life on the open road with the Robbersons is just the adventure she has always longed for. They’ve even started to see her as one of the gang! So when she discovers that the police and her parents are hot on their trail, Maisie decides she isn’t quite ready to be rescued…

A fresh and fun story about what it really means to escape, Me and the Robbersons is perfect for fans of Roald Dahl, Danny Wallace’s Hamish series and The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates.

Book Haul – April 2021

Hey book nerds!

Today is my blog-aversary! A year ago today I pressed the ‘live’ button and I can’t believe how much fun this past year has been. Reading books I love and rambling about them are what I live for. Thank you so much for spending some of your precious time with me.

Bookish Highlights of the Month: This month I have two.

What Happened to You? – Dr Perry and Oprah discuss trauma, resilience and healing. I got so much out of this book. It was one of those miraculous right book at the right time reads. What’s possibly even better than learning so much is that I’ve actually been able to apply what I’ve learned to my life.

Amari and the Night Brothers – I love Amari! This is the first book in a series and I broke my self imposed ban on buying physical books because of it. The world building, the characters and the magic are brilliant. I even have favourite elevators. I’ve recommended this one to so many people already.

Until next month, happy reading!

April Reads


Book Mail

Princess Ellie loves playing sports, but she has a little problem … nobody seems to think that her sporty interests are very princess-like!

When disaster strikes the kingdom, Princess Ellie sets out to prove that princesses definitely wear sneakers.


Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal? 

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate. 

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids – who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out. 

With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton. 


Kindle Black Hole of Good Intentions

Raymie Clarke has come to realise that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home.

To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship – and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.


Elusive online journalist Scott King examines the chilling case of a young vlogger found frozen to death in the legendary local ‘vampire tower’, in another explosive episode of Six Stories

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged ‘cult’, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong’. However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses – people who knew both the victim and the three killers – to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, the tragic and chilling legend of the ‘Ergarth Vampire’…

Both a compulsive, taut and terrifying thriller, and a bleak and distressing look at modern society’s desperation for attention, Beast will unveil a darkness from which you may never return…


NetGalley

In a near future where a series of environmental disasters has left much of the country underwater, Pearl lives on a floating oyster farm with her father and younger sister, Clover. Following her mum’s death several years earlier, Pearl refuses to set foot on land, believing her illness was caused by the poisons in the ground. Meanwhile, Clover dreams of school, friends and a normal life.

Then Nat comes to spend the summer at the sea farm while his scientist mum conducts some experiments. Leaving behind the mainland, with its strict rules and regulations, he brings with him a secret. But when the sisters promise to keep his secret safe, little do they realise that they may be risking everything… 


Who said friends have to match to matter?

When the Star Boy’s space-pod crashes in the grounds of Fairfield Academy he knows he must seek shelter. Taking refuge in the school’s boiler room to await rescue he discovers that the room’s small window is the perfect place to watch humans go by.

The Star Boy knows about humans from his Earth lessons but no one from his planet has ever studied them up close. Now he has the perfect opportunity. There are two humans in particular that catch his attention – a boy called Wes and a girl named Kiki. But as his curiosity grows so does his courage and, making a momentous decision, the Star Boy follows Wes and Kiki into class … and into their lives.


Nick landed himself the superhero boyfriend of his dreams, but with new heroes arriving in Nova City it’s up to Nick and his friends to determine who is virtuous and who is villainous. Which is a lot to handle for a guy who just wants to finish his self-insert bakery AU fanfic.


Through wide-ranging, and often deeply personal conversation, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry explore how what happens to us in early childhood – both good and bad – influences the people we become. They challenge us to shift from focusing on, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or “Why are you behaving that way?,” to asking, ‘What happened to you?’ This simple change in perspective can open up a new and hopeful understanding for millions about why we do the things we do, why we are the way we are, providing a road map for repairing relationships, overcoming what seems insurmountable, and ultimately living better and more fulfilling lives.

Many of us experience adversity and trauma during childhood that has lasting impact on our physical and emotional health. And as we’re beginning to understand, we are more sensitive to developmental trauma as children than we are as adults. ‘What happened to us’ in childhood is a powerful predictor of our risk for physical and mental health problems down the road, and offers scientific insights in to the patterns of behaviours so many struggle to understand.

A survivor of multiple childhood challenges herself, Oprah Winfrey shares portions of her own harrowing experiences because she understands the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma at a young age. Throughout her career, Oprah has teamed up with Dr. Bruce Perry, one of the world’s leading experts on childhood trauma. He has treated thousands of children, youth, and adults and has been called on for decades to support individuals and communities following high-profile traumatic events. Now, Oprah joins forces with Dr. Perry to marry the power of storytelling with the science and clinical experience to better understand and overcome the effects of trauma.

In conversation throughout the book, the two focus on understanding people, behaviour, and ourselves in the context of personal experiences. They remove blame and self-shaming, and open up a space for healing and understanding. It’s a subtle but profound shift in our approach to trauma, and it’s one that allows us to understand our pasts in order to clear a path to our future – opening the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

Grounded in the latest brain science and brought to life through compelling narratives, this book shines a light on a much-needed path to recovery – showing us our incredible capacity to transform after adversity.


Sixteen-year-old Jackie Chavez loves her local amusement park, Kingdom Adventure, maybe more than anything else in the world. The park is all she and her friends Nikki, Daniel, and Berke – although they aren’t always the greatest friends – talk about. Kingdom Adventure is where all Jackie’s best memories are, and it’s where she feels safe and happy. This carries even more weight now that Jackie’s parents have been deported and forced to go back to Mexico, leaving Jackie in the United States with her Tía Gina, who she works with at the Valley Care Living seniors’ home. When Gina tells Jackie that they can’t afford a season pass for next summer, Jackie is crushed. But on her next trip to Kingdom Adventure, she discovers strictly protected company secret: If someone dies at the park, their family gets free lifetime passes.

Jackie and her friends hatch a plot to bring seniors from Valley Care Living to the park using a fake volunteer program, with the hopes that one of the residents will croak during their visit. The ruse quickly gets its first volunteer – a feisty resident named Phyllis.

What starts off as a macabre plan turns into a revelation for Jackie as Phyllis and the other seniors reveal their own complex histories and connections to Kingdom Adventure, as well as some tough-to-swallow truths about Jackie, her friends, and their future.

With artist Claudia Aguirre, Terry Blas has crafted a graphic novel that is dark and deeply moving. This book is Cocoon meets Heathers – a twisted satire about a magical land and the people who love it, even to the point of obsession. Jackie’s summer is about to turn into a wild ride filled with gallows humour, friendship, and fun – or is it?


A madcap adventure starring a bandit family, a LOT of sweets and a girl who is ready for anything… 

Maisie is convinced her summer holiday is going to be as boring as ever – until she’s snatched by the Robbersons, a bunch of bandits with an insatiable appetite for sweets! Soon Maisie realises that life on the open road with the Robbersons is just the adventure she has always longed for. They’ve even started to see her as one of the gang! So when she discovers that the police and her parents are hot on their trail, Maisie decides she isn’t quite ready to be rescued…


A Monster Calls meets The Shining in this haunting YA dark fantasy about a monster that breaks free from a story into the real world.

Sean hasn’t been able to speak a word since he was put into care, and is sent to live with his grandad, a retired author whom he has never met before. Suddenly living an affluent life, nothing like the world of the estate he grew up in, where gangs run the streets and violence is around every corner, Sean spends his time drawing, sculpting and reading his grandad’s stories. 

But his grandad has secrets of his own in his past. As he retreats to the shed, half-buried in his treasured garden, Sean finds one of his stories about ‘The Baku’, a creature that eats the fears of children. 

Plagued by nightmares, with darkness spreading through the house, Sean must finally face the truth if he’s to have a chance to free himself and his grandfather from the grip of the Baku.


August’s Eyes – Glenn Rolfe

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“We all make our acquaintance with the Ghoul. That’s just … inevitable.”

Spears Corner is a town with twelve graveyards and a bloody history. It’s where both the Ghoul of Wisconsin and John Colby grew up. John’s about to learn that even when you forget the past, that doesn’t mean the past forgets about you.

This is a world where dreams and reality converge, one that will make you highly suspicious of green vans.

If only there were a way he could make his Graveyard Land last forever. He’d do anything to stay with his boys.

I enjoyed this book, although I never felt the need to look over my shoulder. Maybe I’ve consumed so much horror that I’m somewhat immune to it now. I don’t remember the last fictional story I read that scared me (real life often freaks the hell out of me though).

I liked John, flaws and all, and loved Pat, despite him bordering on being too perfect. There’s a significant amount of disturbing content in this book but thankfully the descriptions were sparse for the part I was dreading. I enjoyed the supernatural elements and although he was absolutely detestable, I wanted to find out more about how the Ghoul created his Graveyard Land.

This is my first read by this author but I very much doubt it will be my last. I’m intrigued to see what else they have to offer.

“The dead are dead, but that don’t mean they’re gone.”

Content warnings include mention (some only briefly) of addiction, alcoholism, death by suicide, emotional abuse, homophobia, kidnappings, miscarriage, murder, physical abuse, racism, sexual assault, slavery and transphobia. If you have arachnophobia, this may not be the book for you.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When dreams start bleeding into reality, a social worker is forced to face the mistakes of his past.

A serial killer has found a way to make his land of graveyards a sinister playground to be bent at his sadistic will.

The secrets behind August’s eyes will bring two worlds together, and end in a cataclysm of pain and ruin.

Princesses Wear Sneakers – Sam Squiers

Illustrations – Annabel Cutler

I absolutely love stories where it’s the princess who saves the day. Princesses no longer have to suffer the indignity of being cast as damsels in distress, waiting for someone else to rescue them. While I’ve read about princesses who have outsmarted villains I’ve never watched a princess use her athletic ability to outmanoeuvre a baddie the way Princess Ellie does.

Princess Ellie’s love of sports is not encouraged in the kingdom. She dreams of being an Olympic sprinter and playing in the World Cup, but no one understands her passion. Instead she’s expected to adhere to the kingdom’s expectations of how a princess should behave, someone who attends balls and wears uncomfortable glass slippers.

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It isn’t until Ellie saves the kingdom using the skills she’s learned playing various sports that the king and queen realise there’s more than one way to be a princess.

I love that Ellie stays true to herself, continuing to play the sports she enjoys, even though she’s defying the expectations of everyone around her by doing so. She’s confident in her abilities and is able to apply her skillset to a new situation.

description

When I was growing up there was a sporting gender divide. Girls played netball, learned gymnastics and danced; some played basketball but that was about as adventurous as we were allowed to be. I remember strangers trying to shame me for enjoying skateboarding when I was a kid because it wasn’t considered feminine.

It wasn’t lost on me that the sports Ellie enjoys include those I didn’t get the opportunity to play as a kid, including football, cricket and rugby. I love that sport is so much more inclusive now!

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Annabel Cutler’s illustrations highlight Ellie’s strength and agility. All of the characters are expressive but it was Ellie’s determination that really stood out to me.

Thank you so much to the author and Little Steps Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Princess Ellie loves playing sports, but she has a little problem … nobody seems to think that her sporty interests are very princess-like!

When disaster strikes the kingdom, Princess Ellie sets out to prove that princesses definitely wear sneakers.

Between Sea and Sky – Nicola Penfold

Somewhere, between the sea and the sky, there are other places.

Pearl and Clover live with their father on the oyster farm. Clover yearns to go to school but Pearl is determined to never step foot on land again, certain the land’s poisons were responsible for her mother’s death. Pearl and Clover are keeping a big secret, one that will tear their family apart if anyone ever finds out.

Nat lives on the land with his mother, a science advisor who works hard to provide for her son. Nat enjoys playing with his friends but is always careful not to get caught doing anything that will accumulate civil disobedience points for his mother. The constant threat of peacekeepers and the visual reminder of the prison ship keep the people on the land in line.

“You don’t know what it’s like, living there,” he’d said quietly, gazing back to land. “Some rules are hard to keep.”

Nat doesn’t want to stay at the oyster farm with his mother this summer and Pearl definitely doesn’t want “landlubbers” intruding on their lives but it’s the beginning of something new. Nat has his own secret, one that could change everything.

I couldn’t help comparing this book with the author’s debut, Where the World Turns Wild. Both feature worlds that ours could easily begin to resemble in the not too distant future if we don’t take climate change seriously.

My biggest delight came when I realised that the names of the characters in both books have been so carefully and cleverly chosen. There are some names in this book that foreshadow a character’s role or something about their personality. However, the ones that really stood out to me were those I could easily align with elements, which are a vital part of this story. For example, Sora is a Japanese name that means ‘sky’.

Water is the sea all around us. Earth the poisoned land. Air’s the sky where the gulls fly.

Fire is the Decline. Here it was floods and the rising storm water, but elsewhere it was fire. The world got too hot. Fire burned forests and villages, whole cities too.

Spirit is everything that was lost.

The only thing I adored in Where the World Turns Wild that I missed in this book was a connection to a special adult. I love Annie Rose from Where the World Turns Wild as much now as I did the day I met her. While I liked many of the adult characters in this book there wasn’t someone that I got to know well enough to want to spend all of my time with. The closest I came was with Olive but, for reasons that will become clear as you read the book, she wasn’t ever going to be as knowable as Annie Rose was.

Kate Forrester, whose cover image was what initially drew me to Where the World Turns Wild, has also designed this cover. The details will all mean something to you once you’ve finished reading.

“But if people don’t try, things won’t ever change, will they?”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a near future where a series of environmental disasters has left much of the country underwater, Pearl lives on a floating oyster farm with her father and younger sister, Clover. Following her mum’s death several years earlier, Pearl refuses to set foot on land, believing her illness was caused by the poisons in the ground. Meanwhile, Clover dreams of school, friends and a normal life.

Then Nat comes to spend the summer at the sea farm while his scientist mum conducts some experiments. Leaving behind the mainland, with its strict rules and regulations, he brings with him a secret. But when the sisters promise to keep his secret safe, little do they realise that they may be risking everything…

How To Be a Human – Karen McCombie

“It was ALIENS! I watched them out of my bedroom window!”

This is a heartwarming story of what happens when a boy from another world meets two aliens from Earth.

Star Boy has taught himself some of Earth’s languages and has learned some things about its inhabitants from the Master but he’s never had the opportunity to observe them this closely before.

Kiki has a new group of friends at Riverside Academy. She loves being part of the Popular Crew but she feels bad about ditching her old friends.

Wes used to be homeschooled and doesn’t fit in at Riverside Academy. Although he hasn’t made any friends yet, the bullies have definitely noticed him.

Together these two lonely humans and Star Boy will learn what it means to be human, the wonders that exist all around us and the value of friendship. I adored Star Boy, whose enthusiasm for all things Earth could very well make you see the things you take for granted in a whole new light. I’m certain that it’s no coincidence that he has three hearts.

Although adult me found this story very predictable, I stilled smiled every time Star Boy encountered some new reason to be joyful. Kid me would have been enthralled, no doubt searching the skies for a new alien friend. Both me’s are hoping for a sequel.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Who said friends have to match to matter?

When the Star Boy’s space-pod crashes in the grounds of Fairfield Academy he knows he must seek shelter. Taking refuge in the school’s boiler room to await rescue he discovers that the room’s small window is the perfect place to watch humans go by.

The Star Boy knows about humans from his Earth lessons but no one from his planet has ever studied them up close. Now he has the perfect opportunity. There are two humans in particular that catch his attention – a boy called Wes and a girl named Kiki. But as his curiosity grows so does his courage and, making a momentous decision, the Star Boy follows Wes and Kiki into class … and into their lives.

A warm and otherworldly story about finding friendship in the most unlikely of places, for fans of Tamsin Winter, Cath Howe and Ross Welford.

The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep – Adam Gustavson

I love the concept of this book: a group of frogs who try to get out of going to bed using increasingly imaginative excuses. Parents are already well versed in the usual suspects: another story, another glass of water… The froggies come up with much more interesting scenarios to postpone their bedtime.

Kids will love seeing these realistic frogs acting out a series of unrealistic froggish activities, from shooting themselves out of cannons while singing opera to flying spaceships.

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The illustrations are very detailed, with some fun things to discover, like a frog who’s been drinking a bottle of Croak. Kids will enjoy the humour of the illustrations and may be inspired to come up with some better excuses themselves for why they can’t possibly go to sleep yet.

This book is marketed as a bedtime story and given it’s about frogs at bedtime, that should make sense. My reservation is that it’s not a soothing bedtime story. I’d expect kids to be more hyped up after having this book read to them, which defeats the purpose. I’d be testing this one out well before bedtime first to see how the kidlets respond.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Charlesbridge for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Prepare for a different kind of bedtime book – a zany, imaginative adventure to send your little froggies off to dreamland. Not since David Weisner’s Tuesday have frogs had so much fun!

Why go to bed when you can play the accordion, dance underwater ballet, and hold burping contests with strange alien lifeforms? For every kid who ever came up with an outlandish excuse for why it can’t be bedtime yet, these froggies’ antics will delight and entertain. Acclaimed illustrator Adam Gustavson’s raucous authorial debut shows parents there’s more than one way to do bedtime.

So You Want to Build a Library – Lindsay Leslie

Illustrations – Aviel Basil

I’ve loved libraries for as long as I can remember. They provide access to books that you’re allowed to take home with you for free (!), whose pages allow you to explore infinite worlds, learn and escape from reality for a while. Any building whose primary purpose is to help facilitate reading is already a magical place, so what could possibly make it better? If a child had the opportunity to build the library of their dreams.

One young reader shows us how they would go about creating the “most MIRACULOUS library ever!” From the location to the types of books that would fill the shelves and the inclusion of pretty much everything you’d need so you’ll never have to leave, including a sundae bar and trampolines, this book encourages you to let your imagination go wild.

I loved the dragons and pie-baking snail but my favourite illustrations included the roller-skating sloth, who seemed to be having the time of their life.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There is no better place in the world than a library. Especially a library that kids create! A million stories high? Sure. Bathtubs? Absolutely. A full-service sundae bar? Of course. Everything is possible in this library – just like in books!