Beneath the Trees: The Autumn of Mister Grumpf – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

All Mister Grumpf wants to do is clear his doorstep of leaves. His neighbours keep interrupting him, though. They all want help, either with preparations for winter or when things go wrong.

Mister Grumpf, despite his grumpiness, is there for his neighbours, helping them with their problems while his own continue to pile up.

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There’s minimal text in this picture book but the illustrations clearly tell the story. The animals are all expressive, especially Mister Grumpf. I especially liked the glimpses inside the characters’ homes and the autumn colours.

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This book reminded me of Steve Smallman’s Kind Mr Bear, where an elderly bear is always there to help his neighbours until he becomes ill and needs help himself.

I’m planning on continuing this series through the seasons.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Winter is fast approaching and all the animals in the forest are in full preparation: storing food and provisions, dining on the last worms with the neighbors, etc… All the animals but one: grumpy badger Mr Grumpf just can’t finish sweeping the dead leaves off his doorstep with everyone coming by to disturb him! Grumpf!

This new series paints a tender and colourful portrait of everyday Life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this first volume, we meet a very busy badger, who may admittedly be a little slow, but who never refuses to lend a paw to help his neighbours. In time, his generosity will be rewarded!

The stories in this four-book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.

The Rooks #1: Wish You Weren’t Here – Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

‘A lot of really bad things have happened in Coldbay. A lot-lot.’

Brenda, a clairvoyant, is married to Richard, who has his own stuff going on. They have two adult children. Darryl, also clairvoyant, loves his husband, Janusz. Charity, the human Ghostbuster trap, loves carbs. Janusz, who was once upon a time a client of the Rooks, loves spreadsheets as much as he loves his husband. Together the Rooks run a ghost hunting business.

Clients contacted the Rooks because their kids were talking backwards or their cutlery kept flying at them or their walls were bleeding and they really quite wanted it to stop.

The Rooks’ newest client is Coldbay Island’s local priest. They might have to do a little overtime on this job and that’s going to seriously mess with Janusz’s spreadsheet.

‘Here we are, and it’s positively crawling with ghosts.’

I enjoyed this book and will be continuing the series. However, fair or not, I couldn’t help comparing it to the Darkwood series, which I absolutely adored.

I loved all of the characters in Darkwood but I mostly just loved Janusz in this book. There was some humour in this book but, unlike Darkwood, my face doesn’t hurt from smiling almost the entire time I was reading. There was no Bin Night equivalent on Coldbay Island.

I would happily pass the Darkwood series along to a child. I wouldn’t do that with this book, if only because of the swearing.

I originally hoped for a sneaky Darkwood crossover, maybe with Trevor or perhaps a character more appropriate for this story like Patience. Until I saw Charity in action. Then I was glad Patience stayed in Myrsina.

Maybe it’s because I’m almost two months into lockdown here in Australia but a lot of what I’m reading at the moment reminds me of other things I’ve read or movies I’ve seen.

Something that happened to Janusz reminded me of one of my favourite scenes in Roald Dahl’s The Witches. The Rooks’ website’s “No spectral problem too big or too small” brought to mind Venkman’s “No job is too big, no fee is too big”. When the Rooks faced up against this book’s Big Bad, I couldn’t help thinking they could potentially solve all of their problems if they sourced some of the pink slime from Ghostbusters II, smeared it all over whatever the English equivalent of the Statue of Liberty is and sing happy songs to it.

There’s plenty of action in this book. The Rook family quickly became real to me and I’m keen to find out how individual family members are going to deal with the information that came to light while they were at Coldbay Island. This story doesn’t officially end on a cliffhanger but there are plenty of threads to tie together during the rest of the series.

Content warnings include alcoholism and mention of death by suicide, immolation and miscarriage.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrago, an imprint of Duckworth Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Rook family run a little business: ghost hunting. And things has picked up recently. Something’s wrong. It’s been getting noticeably worse since, ooh, 2016?

Bad spirits are abroad, and right now they’re particularly around Coldbay Island, which isn’t even abroad, it’s only 20 miles from Skegness. The Rooks’ ‘quick call out’ to the island picks loose a thread that begins to unravel the whole place, and the world beyond.

Is this the apocalypse? This might be the apocalypse. Who knew it would kick off in an off-season seaside resort off the Lincolnshire coast? I’ll tell you who knew – Linda. She’s been feeling increasingly uneasy about the whole of the East Midlands since the 90s.

Capturing Snowflakes – Kenneth Libbrecht & Rachel Wing

A snowflake appears when water vapor in the air converts directly into ice without first becoming liquid water. As more vapor condenses onto a nascent snow crystal, it grows and develops, and that is when its ornate patterning emerges.

We’re all familiar with stellar dendrites, six sided snowflakes, but there are many other different shapes, including diamond-dust crystals (hexagonal prisms), columns, needles and triangles.

It’s true that no two snowflakes are alike. The difference shapes form as a result of variations in temperature and humidity, along with the path they take through the clouds. The higher the humidity, the more complex the design. Some snowflakes are even asymmetrical.

Snowflakes are being manufactured in the atmosphere at an astounding rate – from snowfall data, we calculate around a million billion crystals each second.

This book showcases some gorgeous snowflakes, both those generated naturally and designer snowflakes, those created under laboratory conditions. You will discover how snowflakes are formed and what conditions create which types of snowflakes. You will learn how to preserve a snowflake in resin, how to make paper snowflakes and how to photograph them.

It takes fifteen minutes to an hour to grow a good-sized snowflake. In this time about one hundred thousand nearby droplets will have evaporated away to supply the water vapor to make just one snowflake.

I’ve never seen snow but if I ever get the chance you can bet I’ll be bringing this book with me so I can identify the different shapes and photograph the experience.

My favourite photograph was taken by Jackie Novak. While I loved the details of many of the other photographs, the composition of this one stood out.

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Fun fact: Ken was the snowflake consultant for Frozen, so you won’t see any four or eight sided snowflakes there.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Voyageur Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Cool Springs Press, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As much a work of art as a testament to science, this revised, hardcover edition of the best-selling The Art of the Snowflake (now Capturing Snowflakes) includes a laser-cut silver snowflake ornament in its cover and showcases 430+ images of snowflakes captured by the photo-microscope of the world’s leading expert on the subject, Kenneth Libbrecht, a professor of physics at Caltech who also served as a science consultant for Disney’s Frozen movies. 

The snow may seem unvaried to the naked eye, but the microscope reveals an amazing menagerie of beautiful crystalline forms. Building on the pioneering work of Wilson Bentley (1865-1931), Libbrecht has developed techniques for capturing images of snow crystals in unprecedented detail. While wondering at the hundreds of exquisite snowflake portraits, find: 

The science behind snowflakes, including how they form on a molecular level and the complex process that guarantees each one’s uniqueness

Field notes from Libbrecht’s photographic expeditions to the frozen north

The taxonomy of snowflakes and examples of each type: simple plates and prisms, columns and needles, capped columns, sectored plates, stellar plates, stellar dendrites, triangular crystals, double plates, split plates, split stars, and even rare twelve-branched snowflakes

Quotations about the wonder of snowflakes and nature from Aristotle, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and more.

This book is a breathtaking look at the works of art that melt in an instant.

D is for Drool – Amanda Noll & Shari Dash Greenspan

Illustrations – Howard McWilliam

I love alphabet books and bedtime stories, and this book is both. I wish I’d learned the alphabet this way. There’s no boring A is for Apples in this book; A is for Arms, enough that you will need to use all of your fingers to count them.

I would have giggled my way through this book as a kid and would have had fun calling out what each letter is for. The monsters aren’t scary at all; they’re actually quite adorable. Howard McWilliam’s illustrations pop with colour and all of the monsters are expressive.

I enjoyed the continuity throughout the book. When you turn the page you get to see the tail end of the monster from the page before. Oftentimes you’ll see snow or ooze on subsequent pages from the more messy monsters.

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I loved the baby Jaws making a snow angel but my favourite monster was the one with green pigtails and pink tutu.

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Howard McWilliam’s alphabet is amazing. Not only does each letter match the colour scheme of each letter’s monster, many of their attributes are also represented.

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I would love to see a special edition of this book that includes an alphabet wall border. It needs to be on my wall.

I definitely need to get my hands on the I Need My Monster series.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flashlight Press for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Ethan can’t sleep, he doesn’t count sheep – he says his ABCs. But in monster-loving Ethan’s alphabet, A is for Arms, B is for Belly, C is for Claws, and D is for Drool! 

Kids will love pointing out the alphabetical attributes on the silly monsters that parade across Ethan’s room – like earlobes, noses, spikes, and wings – and discovering where all of those monsters are headed. 

By the time Ethan gets to Y, he’s Yawning. And by Z, kids will be ready to sleep as Ethan does, surrounded by the tails, tentacles, and drool sticking out from under his bed. ZZzzzzz

D is for Drool is a monstrously magnificent ABC book that offers a new way to fall asleep. With the perfect balance of giggles and shivers, it is a captivating companion to the award-winning I Need My Monster series.

When Things Get Dark – Ellen Datlow (editor)

This anthology features short stories from some of my favourite writers, including Seanan McGuire. It also introduced me to some writers whose work I hadn’t read before. All are paying tribute to Shirley Jackson.

Like any collection of short stories, there were some I absolutely loved. My favourites in this anthology were those by M. Rickert, Elizabeth Hand, Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman and Kelly Link.

Although the other stories were well written, I often failed to connect with either the main character or the plot. Some I enjoyed, until I realised I’d run out of story before the thing I felt was missing showed up. I don’t expect to love every story in an anthology, though.

Usually when I review anthologies, I’ll include a short quote and a sentence to describe each story: what it’s about, its theme, or what I loved or didn’t love about it. I started doing that here but then abandoned the idea. There were some stories that I couldn’t explain in a sentence without spoiling them for you.

There were others that I couldn’t explain because, quite honestly, I need someone to explain them to me. Perhaps a reread will help me find the missing puzzle pieces. Maybe what I perceived as deliberate ambiguity was actually the literary equivalent of a joke’s punchline going over my head. I may read the review of someone smarter than myself and when they explain it, the lightbulb will finally turn on above my head.

So, instead of giving you an explanation and a quote, I’m only providing a quote here.

Funeral Birds by M. Rickert

The truth was she rarely went to the funerals. Delores was special.

For Sale By Owner by Elizabeth Hand

“That’s trespassing.”

“Only if we get caught,” I replied.

In the Deep Woods; The Light is Different There by Seanan McGuire

She moved here for a haunting, and even if the house refuses to be haunted, she fully intends to be.

A Hundred Miles and a Mile by Carmen Maria Machado

It’s strange, the knowing-not-knowing. It twitches like something that won’t die.

Quiet Dead Things by Cassandra Khaw

“We’re going to die for what happened.”

Something Like Living Creatures by John Langan

“You saw something!” Samantha said.

“Did you?” Kayla said.

“Yes,” Jenna said.

Money of the Dead by Karen Heuler

On one side, life; on the other, death. It was almost, sometimes, as if they could see across the divide, or hear a furtive, melancholy whistle.

Hag by Benjamin Percy

“Without you, the island starves.”

Take Me, I Am Free by Joyce Carol Oates

“Just sit here. Don’t squirm. I’ll be watching from the front window.”

A Trip to Paris by Richard Kadrey

Why won’t you stay dead?

The Party by Paul Tremblay

“I do get into the spirit of my themes. Perhaps too much.”

Refinery Road by Stephen Graham Jones

It was just the three of them, same as it had always been. Same as it would always be.

The Door in the Fence by Jeffrey Ford

“Some people, when they get old, all they can think about is dying. Some, on the other hand, find freedom.”

Pear of Anguish by Gemma Files

The past is a trap and memory is a drug.

Memory is a door.

Special Meal by Josh Malerman

“Do you really not know what today is?” Dad asked. “It’s okay if you don’t.”

Sooner or Later, Your Wife Will Drive Home by Genevieve Valentine

Never be stuck on the road alone, that was the rule.

Tiptoe by Laird Barron

Trouble is, old, weathered pictures are ambiguous. You can’t always tell what’s hiding behind the patina. Nothing, or the worst thing imaginable.

Skinder’s Veil by Kelly Link

Skinder may show up. If he does, DO NOT LET HIM IN.

While I didn’t find any of the stories scary, there were some that were accompanied by a growing sense of dread. Others were unsettling. Then there were those that left behind confusion in their wake. But that’s the beauty of anthologies; there’s usually something for everyone. The times where a question mark appeared over my head? Those stories are probably someone else’s favourites.

Content warnings include child abuse, death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and self harm.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A collection of new and exclusive short stories inspired by, and in tribute to, Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson is a seminal writer of horror and mystery fiction, whose legacy resonates globally today. Chilling, human, poignant and strange, her stories have inspired a generation of writers and readers.

This anthology, edited by legendary horror editor Ellen Datlow, will bring together today’s leading horror writers to offer their own personal tribute to the work of Shirley Jackson.

Featuring Joyce Carol Oates, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Hand, Cassandra Khaw, Karen Heuler, Benjamin Percy, John Langan, Laird Barron, M. Rickert, Seanan McGuire, and Genevieve Valentine. 

Book Haul – August 2021

Hey book nerds!

This month I’ve been more grateful for books than I’ve probably ever been. My entire state (and indeed much of Australia) are in lockdown right now. I’m personally almost halfway through my seventh week. I can still do grocery shopping and go for walks but other than that it’s been me, myself and the four walls.

There’s been a lot of arguments over whether we should be in lockdown at all or whether we should have been in a harder lockdown sooner. What I’ve found particularly interesting, though, is the difference between readers and non-readers during this time. While the readers are obviously wishing lockdown wasn’t necessary, they’re spending as much time as possible reading, if they have the time between juggling working from home and homeschooling. The non-readers I know are so bored.

Reading has been a lifesaver for me throughout my life. The ability to escape into another world has been particularly valuable this month. I’m not sure how I’d be coping without books.

There’s currently no lockdown end date but with my impossible TBR pile keeping me company, I definitely won’t have time to be bored.

Until next month, stay safe and happy reading!

August Reads


Book Mail

Subterranean Press Signed Numbered Edition

Roger and Dodger are best friends, gifted children, and twins, separated at birth and placed with adoptive families on opposite sides of the United States. They also aren’t precisely, entirely human. Created by the alchemist James Reed to embody the elusive Doctrine of Ethos, Roger is the living embodiment of Language, Dodger the living embodiment of Mathematics. Apart, they are powerful but containable. Together, they have the potential to become gods.

To keep his experiment controlled, Reed has dedicated time and resources to ensuring that Roger and Dodger will not meet until he decides the time is right. But the nature of their gifts means that they find each other anyway, becoming one another’s imaginary friends thanks to quantum entanglement. His struggle to regain control will set them all against each other … for a time. He plans for them to remake the world the way he wants it to be.

The world better hope they don’t succeed…

New York Times bestselling and Alex, Nebula, and Hugo-Award-winning author Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame is a nesting doll of stories within stories, a structural high-wire act, and a profoundly affecting story of two misfits whose greatest danger and asset is the bond between them.


Thirty days until the end of the world. What would you do?

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?


Kindle Black Hole of Good Intentions

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy – he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist – who seems to know a lot more than she lets on – and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.


NetGalley

When Ethan can’t sleep, he doesn’t count sheep – he says his ABCs. But in monster-loving Ethan’s alphabet, A is for Arms, B is for Belly, C is for Claws, and D is for Drool! Kids will love pointing out the alphabetical attributes on the silly monsters that parade across Ethan’s room – like earlobes, noses, spikes, and wings – and discovering where all of those monsters are headed. By the time Ethan gets to Y, he’s Yawning. And by Z, kids will be ready to sleep as Ethan does, surrounded by the tails, tentacles, and drool sticking out from under his bed. ZZzzzzz. 

D is for Drool is a monstrously magnificent ABC book that offers a new way to fall asleep. With the perfect balance of giggles and shivers, it is a captivating companion to the award-winning I Need My Monster series.


Best friends Phoebe Howell and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils march to their own beat, but life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. With so many problems in the world and drama at school, Phoebe wonders why unicorns aren’t in charge instead of humans. With Marigold, each day is full of magic, from introducing Phoebe to unicorn music to crashing a goblin popularity contest, and even tracking down long-lost family members like Infernus, the Unicorn of Death (who ends up being surprisingly adorable). In Unicorn Playlist, Phoebe and Marigold play all the hits.


Monday 20th September

I’M AT WITCH SCHOOL! Now would be a really good time to discover I can do magic…

Bea Black has just moved to Little Spellshire, a town with a magical secret. When her dad accidentally enrols her at the local witch school, she has to get to grips with some interesting new classes, like, NOW! Also on her to do list? Make friends, look after the grumpy class frog AND do everything humanly magically possible to stay on a broom…

But with the Halloween Ball on the horizon, will she be able to master her wand skills in time to WOW? And more importantly can she keep her newfound magical abilities a secret from dad?


As much a work of art as a testament to science, this revised, hardcover edition of the best-selling The Art of the Snowflake (now Capturing Snowflakes) includes a laser-cut silver snowflake ornament in its cover and showcases 430+ images of snowflakes captured by the photo-microscope of the world’s leading expert on the subject, Kenneth Libbrecht, a professor of physics at Caltech who also served as a science consultant for Disney’s Frozen movies. 

The snow may seem unvaried to the naked eye, but the microscope reveals an amazing menagerie of beautiful crystalline forms. Building on the pioneering work of Wilson Bentley (1865-1931), Libbrecht has developed techniques for capturing images of snow crystals in unprecedented detail. While wondering at the hundreds of exquisite snowflake portraits, find:

  • The science behind snowflakes, including how they form on a molecular level and the complex process that guarantees each one’s uniqueness
  • Field notes from Libbrecht’s photographic expeditions to the frozen north
  • The taxonomy of snowflakes and examples of each type: simple plates and prisms, columns and needles, capped columns, sectored plates, stellar plates, stellar dendrites, triangular crystals, double plates, split plates, split stars, and even rare twelve-branched snowflakes
  • Quotations about the wonder of snowflakes and nature from Aristotle, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and more.

This book is a breathtaking look at the works of art that melt in an instant.


Aster. Violet. Tansy. Mallow. Clementine.

Sold as children. Branded by cursed markings. Trapped in a life they never would have chosen.

When Aster’s sister Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge – in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by the land’s most vicious and powerful forces – both living and dead – their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive.


A Dark History of Chocolate looks at our long relationship with this ancient ‘food of the Gods’. The book examines the impact of the cocoa bean trade on the economies of Britain and the rest of Europe, as well as its influence on health, cultural and social trends over the centuries. Renowned food historian Emma Kay takes a look behind the façade of chocolate – first as a hot drink and then as a sweet – delving into the murky and mysterious aspects of its phenomenal global growth, from a much-prized hot beverage in pre-Colombian Central America to becoming an integral part of the cultural fabric of modern life.

From the seductive corridors of Versailles, serial killers, witchcraft, medicine and war to its manufacturers, the street sellers, criminal gangs, explorers and the arts, chocolate has played a significant role in some of the world’s deadliest and gruesome histories.

If you thought chocolate was all Easter bunnies, romance and gratuity, then you only know half the story. This most ancient of foods has a heritage rooted in exploitation, temptation and mystery.

With the power to be both life-giving and ruinous.


The Rook family run a little business: ghost hunting. And things has picked up recently. Something’s wrong. It’s been getting noticeably worse since, ooh, 2016?

Bad spirits are abroad, and right now they’re particularly around Coldbay Island, which isn’t even abroad, it’s only 20 miles from Skegness. The Rooks’ ‘quick call out’ to the island picks loose a thread that begins to unravel the whole place, and the world beyond.

Is this the apocalypse? This might be the apocalypse. Who knew it would kick off in an off-season seaside resort off the Lincolnshire coast? I’ll tell you who knew – Linda. She’s been feeling increasingly uneasy about the whole of the East Midlands since the 90s.


The Project – Courtney Summers

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Huh. Before I read a word of this book I already knew what the opening line of my review was going to be: Another Courtney Summers book, another ugly cry.

But there were no tears and I’m all kinds of confused. So, heads up: this review is basically my messy way of trying to process my response, or lack thereof.

Part of it has to be a result of my astronomically high anticipation. I tried and failed so many times to get my hands on this book from the moment I fell in love with its cover.

I requested copies through NetGalley and Edelweiss. I emailed the publisher begging for an ARC. I joined Instagram for 24 hours to enter a competition to win a copy. I tried to preorder a signed copy but it couldn’t be shipped to my country. Each time the ebook was listed on sale I’d immediately click the link, only to find out that it wasn’t on sale in my country; I couldn’t afford to pay full price because, you know, life and all that.

Finally I got my hands on a library copy. I loved the emotional gut punch of Sadie and was sure I was in for the same here. I even timed my read so I was at peak ugly cry vulnerability.

I was so hopeful because I was already gearing up for a cry in the prologue.

Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make – and no one but the two of you can break.

I was ready for the sisterly bond. I was ready for the charismatic, yet nefarious cult leader. I was ready for the anguish that crossed over from emotional to physical pain. But my eyes are the Sahara and I’m baffled.

“There’s so much you don’t understand”

I felt so removed from the characters and I didn’t expect that.

Gloria. Latin. Glory.

Sure, Lo was desperate to free her sister from the grip of the cult but when she heard that her sister was no longer a member, she didn’t file a missing person report. No, she kept interviewing the cult leader and his minions so she could show her boss that she’s a writer, dammit, and should be promoted yesterday. Her priorities were all over the place.

Beatrice. Italian; Latin. Bringer of Joy.

Then there was Bea, who I’m sure I would have connected with if her story wasn’t told in a series of flashbacks.

Lev. Hebrew; Russian. Heart; Lion.

Lev was always going to give me skeevy vibes because of the whole cult leader thing. He could have promised me the world and I would have side eyed him. I fully acknowledge my bias there, even though at first glance, The Unity Project’s mission does sound kind of amazing.

What The Unity Project offers people, in its simplest terms, is food if you’re hungry, water if you’re thirsty, clothes and shelter if you need it, and family if you lack it. All it asks in return is being part of, and upholding the tenets of, a revolution that pays it forward.

But that’s how they suck you in, isn’t it? If people thought they were signing up for a cult, membership would dry up. Like my eyes. I can understand the initial appeal, though.

You want to belong. You’re hurting. You don’t believe anyone who knows you could ever love you. But someone convinces you that they see you, all of you, and love you anyway. You have a purpose. You are wanted. Enticing, right?

“Do you know what that’s like, Lo? To be really, truly seen?”

You don’t get to see behind the curtain until you’re already well and truly invested. Cult leaders like Lev make it sound so appealing and the message is close enough to the real thing that if you’re listening with your emotions, you might not realise you’re worshipping a man, not God. Or maybe you do notice but you don’t care because what this man is offering seems worth the adulation and the cost.

Bea and Lo had so much potential. The story, when I explained it to someone who hasn’t read the book, sounded so good. Courtney Summers definitely knows how to write a book that you don’t want to put down.

I wanted to care so much about these sisters that I hurt for them. I wanted to ugly cry myself into a equally ugly mess. But I didn’t like Lo, I didn’t really get to know Bea and for the longest time I didn’t feel the urgency of their story.

Because this is a Courtney Summers book, I’m going to assume part of the problem is me and will eagerly await her next release.

Book in a book: Lo and Emmy read Creepy Pair of Underwear! together. That kid’s got good taste in books.

Content warnings include (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some) branding, death by suicide, emotional abuse, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm and sexual assault (implied).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died in a tragic car accident, her sister Bea joined the elusive community called The Unity Project, leaving Lo to fend for herself. Desperate not to lose the only family she has left, Lo has spent the last six years trying to reconnect with Bea, only to be met with radio silence.

When Lo’s given the perfect opportunity to gain access to Bea’s reclusive life, she thinks they’re finally going to be reunited. But it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t want to be found, and as Lo delves deeper into The Project and its charismatic leader, she begins to realize that there’s more at risk than just her relationship with Bea: her very life might be in danger.

As she uncovers more questions than answers at each turn, everything Lo thought she knew about herself, her sister, and the world is upended. One thing doesn’t change, though, and that’s what keeps her going: Bea needs her, and Lo will do anything to save her.

Ham – Dhana Fox

Illustrations – Anna Demchenko

It’s safe to say that I am obsessed with this picture book. I first borrowed it from my library six months ago. Since then I’ve renewed it as many times as the library would allow, then returned it only to immediately reserve it again.

I lost count of the amount of times I’ve read it months ago. Every reread remains udderly adorable. I love Ham and his friends, and I don’t think I will ever get sick of visiting them.

The story is so simple but so enjoyable. Ham, Satay, Chops and Stew are loving their lives on the farm until one day when they make a horrifying discovery. They’re not beloved pets after all. They’re on the menu!

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The animals knew that to save their own bacon,

a grand plan was needed before they were taken.

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The chickens come up with an especially clever way to disguise themselves. Or so they think.

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Nothing these friends try works until they realise they have the ability to help generate another food source, one that won’t put them on the chopping block.

The rhyming text added to my enjoyment of this book. Anna Demchenko’s illustrations turned a really fun premise into one of my favourite picture book reads of the year. The colours are vibrant and the animals are expressive. Even the flies are cute!

Be on the lookout for a brave fly saving its friend from a spider web.

I know at some point I’m going to have to return this book to the library for the final time. That’s probably not going to happen until I purchase my own copy, though.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What happens when Ham and his crew discover that they’re destined for the dinner table?

Ham is a hilarious farmyard romp, with lovable characters and bright illustrations. The farmyard animals, Ham, Satay, Chops, Stew (and a few chickens) must work together to save themselves from their inevitable fate – the dinner plate! Everyone knows bacon is delicious, but are there any other food options for us to discover, and could there be another purpose for these adorable animals?

Phoebe and Her Unicorn #14: Unicorn Playlist – Dana Simpson

With the adult world intruding on her, Phoebe is having a sad day. We all need a unicorn best friend right now and fortunately for Phoebe, she has Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. Marigold regales Phoebe with stories of the time when unicorns ruled the Earth, how The Pointy Express preceded horn wi-fi and her time at Sparkle Academy.

Phoebe and Marigold discover they have different tastes in music, which causes no conflict at all.

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Eventually they find a song that they both like.

The Goblin Queen challenges Dakota to a popularity contest. Phoebe explains the Magical Christmas Loophole to Marigold, after getting over her Christmas anticipointment. Phoebe teaches Marigold about distraction.

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Max and Phoebe exchange Valentines. Phoebe has lunch with Dakota and her friends.

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Marigold makes a Formal Declaration of Resolution to learn more about her family. We meet one of her cousins, Infernus, the Unicorn of Death. They’re not as scary as they sound. I’m looking forward to attending Marigold’s family reunion with her and Phoebe in a future collection.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Best friends Phoebe Howell and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils march to their own beat, but life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. With so many problems in the world and drama at school, Phoebe wonders why unicorns aren’t in charge instead of humans. With Marigold, each day is full of magic, from introducing Phoebe to unicorn music to crashing a goblin popularity contest, and even tracking down long-lost family members like Infernus, the Unicorn of Death (who ends up being surprisingly adorable). In Unicorn Playlist, Phoebe and Marigold play all the hits.

A Dark History of Chocolate – Emma Kay

You know chocolate accompanied me on my journey through this book, don’t you? You might think that makes this book an outlier. You’d be so wrong. Professional chocoholic here! So much so that if you’re missing some chocolate, it’s fair to assume I‘m responsible.

What this book did give me was a new excuse for my binge reading, chocolate binge combo: immersive reading. You can’t read a book about chocolate without eating some. That would be like watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory while eating cabbage soup.

I enjoyed learning about chocolate’s dark history, with the obvious exception of the information concerning slavery. In this book, you’ll learn about chocolate’s role in history, from crime to the arts.

Pirates raided ships with cacao on board. Jeffrey Dahmer worked in a chocolate factory. Chocolate is a final meal choice for many death row inmates.

Poisoned chocolate remains one of the most common methods of murder throughout history.

Chocolate was on the menu both the day the Hindenburg crashed and the Titanic sunk.

Chocolate is practically everywhere, it seems. It’s even accompanied astronauts into space.

There was the seemingly ingenious marketing idea of having chocolate rain down from planes, which may have worked better if the ‘bombs’ didn’t result in people below being badly bruised.

Chocolate laced with methamphetamine was marketed to “German homemakers, along with the strap line ‘Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight’. Two to three chocolates a day were recommended to make housework more fun!”

I was sometimes amused and often flabbergasted by the conditions chocolate has been used to ‘treat’ over the years, from headaches, fevers and infections to asthma, heart conditions and burns. It’s also been used as a slimming aid and to “Cleanseth the Teeth”.

Chocolate has even been ‘prescribed’ as a love potion. Handy hint: don’t eat love potion chocolate. You don’t want to know the other ingredients it may contain.

Scattered throughout the book are a bunch of recipes, from Chocolate Creams to the more dubious Chocolate Coated Candied Garlic.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, addiction, alcoholism, attempted suicide, death by suicide, domestic abuse, human trafficking, immolation, mental health, sexual assault, slavery and torture. People with emetophobia may have trouble with a passage in the third chapter.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Pen & Sword History, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A Dark History of Chocolate looks at our long relationship with this ancient ‘food of the Gods’. The book examines the impact of the cocoa bean trade on the economies of Britain and the rest of Europe, as well as its influence on health, cultural and social trends over the centuries. Renowned food historian Emma Kay takes a look behind the façade of chocolate – first as a hot drink and then as a sweet – delving into the murky and mysterious aspects of its phenomenal global growth, from a much-prized hot beverage in pre-Colombian Central America to becoming an integral part of the cultural fabric of modern life.

From the seductive corridors of Versailles, serial killers, witchcraft, medicine and war to its manufacturers, the street sellers, criminal gangs, explorers and the arts, chocolate has played a significant role in some of the world’s deadliest and gruesome histories.

If you thought chocolate was all Easter bunnies, romance and gratuity, then you only know half the story. This most ancient of foods has a heritage rooted in exploitation, temptation and mystery.

With the power to be both life-giving and ruinous.