Dragon Skin – Karen Foxlee

Ten year old Pip remembers the before time, the time before Matt moved into her home, the time before his “rumbling rock words” made her feel unsafe. 

Remember to disappear. Remember to stay quiet. Remember to not exist. 

She also remembers Mika (“Mick. Ahhh.”). He arrived at the end of Grade Three, two weeks after Matt moved in. Mika lived with Mrs Jarvinen, his great-grandmother. Pip shared her places with him. 

Mika believed in almost everything! And aliens were his favourite. 

Now Mika is gone and Pip’s mother is a shell of her former self, controlled by Matt and his “weather patterns”, so when Pip finds a dragon that’s barely clinging to life, she knows she needs to look after him all by herself. 

If she told her mum, then her mum would tell Matt and Matt owned everything. Her mother had to tell him everything because he was the king of knowing everything. 

Pip wants to protect Little Fella and make sure he survives. But as Little Fella begins to heal, changes are also taking place within Pip. 

That’s what happened with dragons. You started to believe stuff. 

I loved that this book was set in Australia. There was even some classic Aussie terminology: Pip ‘wags’ school, Archie’s Mum works at the ‘tuckshop’. It delighted me no end when Pip fed Little Fella Weet-Bix, although he did love spaghetti as well.

This book introduced me to a brand new swear adjacent word, ‘Fudge-nuggets’. It was also a surprisingly sensitive exploration of the way a child experiences domestic abuse. Matt is a textbook coercive controller and it made me so sad seeing Pip having to make herself smaller inside her previously safe home. I loved her for her courage and her ability to remain open with her friends despite what she’s experiencing at home.

While the reader is under no illusion about how scary Pip’s home life is, I felt the level of detail provided was age appropriate. Young readers who have experienced domestic abuse will likely see themselves in the way Pip describes her home life and will hopefully see that they’re not alone and that help is available. 

He was dangerous. Dangerous like water. He could seem calm and glassy on top but underneath he was all dark silt and weed. 

We have to find out how to make him happy. We have to solve the mystery of how to keep him happy. We have to make everything perfect. When everything is perfect, he’s happy. 

Pip hated that worse than any of it. Worse than the shouting, the rumbling rock words, the blaring television hiding the meanness. She hated the next day cover-ups. 

Although Pip’s mother doesn’t play a huge role in this book, I appreciated being able to witness her own changes, from being entirely controlled by Matt to the stages of readiness she needed to go through in order to leave her abusive relationship. The fact that this part of the story was told through the topics Pip’s mother searches on her phone showed this progression in a way that highlighted to me how difficult even contemplating leaving can be.

There was potential for an ugly cry, which I cleverly averted by stopping my reading binge abruptly with about ten pages to go. I finished the book the next day, reading a page at a time to save on tissues. 

Love. That’s what you needed mostly, to save things. And Weet-Bix. And spaghetti. 

Content warnings include domestic abuse and grief. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How to save a dragon:
1) Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
2) Believe in everything.

Pip never wants to go home. She likes to sit at the waterhole at dusk and remember Mika, her best friend. At home her mother’s not the same since her boyfriend moved in. They don’t laugh anymore and Pip has to go to bed early, turn off her light and pretend she doesn’t exist. When she finds a half-dead creature at the waterhole, everything changes. She knows she has to save this small dragon and return it to where it comes from. But how?

Worst Week Ever! #1: Monday – Eva Amores & Matt Cosgrove

Justin Chase is about to have a really bad week, starting at 5am. Who wants to be awake that early on a Monday? Not Justin, that’s for sure. Yesterday was a big enough day; his mother did marry a vampire after all.

Today is shaping up to be even more hectic. 

His mother and her new (possibly undead) husband are dropping Justin off at his father’s house on their way to their honeymoon. Justin’s father is on a new health kick (we’ll see how long that lasts) and is now only eating green things. That’s bad news for Justin, who can’t find any other colours in the fridge. His Nan lives with his father and you’re going to love her: she swears, crochets and drinks tea.

Justin’s cat, who is essentially a ball of furry attitude (cattitude?) is newly missing, presumably abducted by aliens. 

That kind of far-fetched, OUTLANDISH thing only really happens in PREPOSTEROUS kids’ books. 

You know, like this one.

And if that’s not enough, Justin’s being chauffeured to Day 1 of his brand new school in style. Sort of. His father drives an oversized toilet. 

’What the actual WHAT?!’ 

Besides scoring detention on his first day and having to endure Maths Monday, Justin also meets his archnemesis and makes a name for himself at school.

Kids who aren’t particularly squeamish (those with emetophobia may want to avoid this one) will love this book. Naturally, because this series was written during lockdown, toilet paper plays a fairly significant role (roll?) in this book. There are cringeworthy embarrassing moments, toilet humour and the promise of even more terrible and terribly funny things to come. Justin will be here all week!

The writing is fun but it’s the illustrations that really bring the horror story that is Justin’s Monday to life. 

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I loved the pages that the censors decided were too graphic to be seen, especially the one featuring the guinea pigs. 

Be on the lookout for The Pluminator. 

I’m most looking forward to getting to know Justin’s next door neighbour, Mia, whose own illustrations are not to be missed. I’m ready to call my favourite character of the series: Nan. She hasn’t had much page time yet but she’s got so much potential.

I’m keen to continue this series. Tuesday is school photo day and plenty can go wrong there, the kind of wrong that could easily haunt Justin into his adult life. It’s also the day of the Super Science Spectacular so I’m expecting some impressive explosive moments.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Have you ever had a bad week? Justin Chase sure has, and this is it!

His mum has just married a vampire. His dad is driving a giant toilet on wheels. His cat has probably been abducted by aliens. A psychotic bully is making his first day at a new school miserable. And right now, he’s hanging off the edge of a ten-metre-high diving tower in front of his entire class, wearing nothing but rapidly disappearing crocheted swimmers.

And it’s only Monday!

How I Saved the World in a Week – Polly Ho-Yen

Illustrations – George Ermos

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” I couldn’t get this Joseph Heller quote out of my head when I was reading this book. Billy’s mother, Sylvia, teaches him survival skills every chance she gets. Never mind that a lot of the time this preparation takes place during school hours. 

‘You have to be ready.’

‘Ready for what?’ 

While he loves spending time with his mother and learning new skills, like how to make fire without a match, Billy doesn’t love needing to change schools regularly. 

I mean, what’s the point in trying to get to know someone when you might disappear at any moment?

He also misses his father, who he hasn’t seen for years.

When people start turning grey, Billy starts to think that this is what his mother has been preparing him for. Only his father won’t believe him, believing instead that Sylvia’s preoccupation with teaching her son survival skills is merely a symptom of her mental illness. 

I wouldn’t, couldn’t, believe that everything Sylvia had taught me was all for nothing. 

Thankfully, Billy is about to meet Anwar, who is enthusiastic and loves conducting experiments, and Angharad, who’s loyal but isn’t always that great at keeping her promises (you’ll forgive her for breaking the ones she does, though). His new friends believe Billy about the Greys because they’re kids, so thankfully they haven’t yet learned to disbelieve the unbelievable. 

I think: this is what friends are to each other – someone who knows, without you having to explain, that right at that moment all you need is their help. 

Although it’s not mentioned in the author’s note at the end of the book, I got the feeling this book was written, at least in part, during the pandemic. Especially when I read sentences like this: 

It’s like we’re cut off from the world even though we’re surrounded by people. 

The resolution was a bit too easy and neat for my liking but, taking into consideration the fact that I’m decades older than the target audience, my thoughts on this aren’t especially relevant. If I’d read this book when I was a kid I would have needed everything to work out the way it did.

Although there’s plenty of action, at its heart, this book is about hope, resilience and having trusted people you can rely on. 

‘This thing happening, it shows us the things that are really important. The things that really matter. Everything else … everything else just drops away.’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Rule number one: Always be prepared …

Billy’s mum isn’t like other mums. All she wants is to teach him the Rules of Survival – how to make fire, build shelter and find food. She likes to test Billy on the rules until one day she goes too far, and Billy is sent to live with a dad he barely knows.

Then the world changes forever as people begin to be infected with a mysterious virus that turns their skin grey. As chaos breaks out, Billy has to flee the city. Suddenly he realises that this is what his mum was preparing him for – not just to save his family, but to save the whole world.

Girls of Paper and Fire #3: Girls of Fate and Fury – Natasha Ngan

“The small bird flies on the wings of the golden-eyed girl” 

Nine Paper Girls. Each claimed their very own piece of my heart in Girls of Paper and Fire. While I loved them all, I identified mostly with three: Lei, the Moonchosen, trained assassin Wren and Blue, winner of the girl with the most attitude award. Then there was sweetheart Lill, not one of the nine but so darn adorable that I couldn’t help but want to protect her from the big, bad world.

My favourites all returned in this final book of the trilogy, a book I’d both anticipated and dreaded. I needed to know what would happen to each of my girls and I couldn’t wait to spend more time with them, loving them and learning from them, but I wasn’t ready to say good bye to them just yet. Although I’m sad to be leaving them behind (for now; I know they’ll be waiting for me when I return for my reread), I’m also grateful because my heart is so full having known them. 

These girls are everything I want in characters, and in myself, if I’m going to be honest. They’ve been through absolute hell but, despite everything, they keep showing up. Although literal survival would be a triumph at this point, they’re always reaching for more. They want justice, they want peace and they’re going to fight, in an actual war, to achieve it. Their resilience, their courage, their ability to still love and be loved, is extraordinary. 

When the world denies you choices, you make your own. 

That’s not to say that they don’t feel the effects of what they’ve survived so far. There are the nightmares, the flashbacks, the dissociation, the times when the past tries its darnedest to swallow them whole. PTSD, although it’s not officially diagnosed in Ikhara (none of our girls really have the time to make an appointment with a psychologist anyway), is evident in the various trauma impacts the reader is privy to. Coping mechanisms, healthy and otherwise, are as varied as the individual characters, and I adore that about this series. There is no one correct way to respond when you’ve experienced the kind of trauma these girls have; all of their responses are normal. 

“Fire in. Fear out.” 

While recovery from sexual assault remains something our girls are all dealing with, another character is having to figure out her life post-disability. This character is a total badass and one of my new favourites. They’re able to acknowledge their disability and the impact it has on their life without it defining them and I loved them even more for that. The authenticity and sensitivity evident in the writing, already proven by the way the author has handled the experience of and survival after sexual assault, are extended to the experience of disability.

There will be reviews that will talk about the story and others that will talk about its themes. I’m here to tell you that I love these girls even more now than I did before I began this book. I got to return to the Hidden Palace to confront the past and spent precious time with characters I didn’t think I’d cross paths with again. 

This isn’t only Lei’s story. We’re also given chapters written from Wren’s perspective in this book and I couldn’t help noticing the differences between the two. Lei, who is more open and leads with her heart, has chapters written in the first person. Wren, the trained assassin who guards her heart more, has chapters written in the third person, almost as if she needed to keep the reader at arm’s length because she’s not certain they’re worthy of her trust.

This is a story for all Paper Girls both on and off the page. Like the books before it, I felt seen in its pages. I was reminded that you can survive your past. You can continue to fight even when your mind and body are telling your spirit you can’t. It’s okay to accept help from the supportive people around you. You are not the labels others place on you. You can look forward to a future where your past, while it can never be undone, doesn’t have to define you. 

“Give them hell, girls. For all of us.” 

Content warnings include mental health, misogyny, racism, references to sexual assault, self harm, torture, violence and war.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘Don’t struggle, Lei-zhi. It’s time to take you back to the Hidden Palace. You’re going home.’

The jaw-dropping conclusion to Girls of Storm and Shadow left the fates of Lei and Wren hanging in the balance. There’s one thing Lei knows – she can never return to the Hidden Palace. The trauma and tragedy she suffered behind those opulent walls will plague her forever. She cannot be trapped there with the sadistic king again, especially without Wren.

The last time Lei saw the girl she loved, Wren was fighting an army of soldiers in a furious battle to the death.

With the two girls torn apart and each in great peril, will they reunite at last, or have their destinies diverged forever?

1922 – Stephen King

I believe that there is another man inside of every man, a stranger, a Conniving Man. 

Wilfred James’ Conniving Man causes him and those around him all sorts of trouble in this novella. Determined to live out his days on the family farm, Wilf does everything in his power to convince his wife not to sell her 100 acres of land to the Farrington Company.

Wifey has other ideas and, as a result, she’s about to have a very bad day. Then there’s the whole chain reaction of all things not very nice that follow, because this story originated in the horror show that is Stephen King’s mind. 

A tale of greed and people determined to get what they want when they want it, this quick read reminded me that even when we think we’ve gotten what we want, life can serve up some pretty nasty plot twists. If you’re as fond of rats as Indiana Jones’ dear ol’ dad is, you might want to avoid this one. 

In true King fashion, there were some notable quotables in this novella. The standouts for me were memorable for very different reasons, though.

This little beauty added to my arsenal of excuses to swear (you can never have enough): 

‘The truth is never cussing, Son.’ 

Then there was the one that made my blood boil. The Sheriff reminded me why fee-males should hope to never be mad, bad or sad enough to be written into the King-dom: 

‘Sometimes a fee-male needs talking to by hand, if you take my meaning, and after that they’re all right. A good whacking has a way of sweetening some gals up.’ 

Every time the rats made an appearance, I couldn’t help thinking of the beating of Poe’s tell-tale heart. I kept involuntarily seeing the rat scene from The Bone Collector movie. Naturally, I heard Indiana Jones telling his father ‘There were rats, Dad’ on numerous occasions.

Readers who haven’t reached their quota of rats with appetites after finishing this novella may want to get their swattin’ pole ready to meet Hunter Shea’s Rattus New Yorkus

Do you like how things have turned out, Wilf? Was it worth it? 

Content warnings include mention of abortion, death by suicide, death of animals and racial slurs. Readers will emetophobia may have trouble with this read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The chilling novella featured in Stephen King’s New York Times bestselling collection Full Dark, No Stars1922 is about a man who succumbs to the violence within – setting in motion a grisly train of murder and madness.

Wilfred James owns eighty acres of farmland in Nebraska that have been in his family for generations. His wife, Arlette, owns an adjoining one hundred acres. She wants to sell her land but if she does, Wilfred will be forced to sell as well. James will do anything to hold onto his farm, and he’ll get his son to go along.

Betrayal, murder, madness, rats, 1922 is a breathtaking exploration into the dark side of human nature from the great American storyteller Stephen King.

Apt Pupil – Stephen King

‘You are a monster’ 

Well, that was disturbing. Todd Bowden, thirteen years old at the beginning of this story, has discovered his “GREAT INTEREST” and it’s a doozy. His fascination with the atrocities committed during the Holocaust take on a whole new life when he meets a new fiend. No, that’s not a typo. Mr Dussander, the Blood Fiend of Patin, lives in Todd’s neighbourhood and Todd’s keen to learn all of the “gooshy stuff” from Dussander’s past.

Two psychopaths hanging out together is a recipe for all things bad, and there’s a lot of bad in this book. There were bits that made me squeamish and bits that had me wondering why I wasn’t putting this book aside for a reasonable length of time. Like forever. 

I wondered how King was able to do mundane, everyday things while he was inhabiting the darkness necessary to bring these characters to life. I thought about all of the times over the years that I considered reading this book and instead chose something lighter because I just couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to spend their time gazing into the abyss. Even when I picked this book up again this morning I was certain it would be returned to the library unread. But it sucked me in, even as I was mentally trying to backpedal.

See, there’s a part of me that needs to know what it is about specific people that makes them act in ways that I will never truly understand. There’s this other part that wants to stick around long enough to see evil receive its comeuppance. Because there has to be a comeuppance, right? That part won in the end.

I spent most of the book detesting both of the main characters, eagerly anticipating what I hoped would be appropriately hellish demises. It’s always a little disconcerting to learn what twisted things your imagination can come up with when you’re face to page with some of the worst of what humanity has to offer, but I guess there’s darkness in all of us. I came up with some gruesome let the punishment fit the crime scenarios. 

‘If I die today … tomorrow … everything will come out. Everything.’ 

I feel like I need a long, hot shower to wash away any traces of these characters. That, or cleanse my reading palette by devouring something full of rainbows and unicorns and all things sugary sweet. King has done a really good job of making me uncomfortable and intrigued and disgusted all at once. I’m horrified by humanity and at my own ability to come up with some pretty disturbing revenge fantasies. 

I both hate and love this book. I never want to think about it again but I suspect it’s not going to leave me quietly. 

Content warnings include death by suicide, murder of animals, racial and religious slurs, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and war crimes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, you have a lot to learn.

Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher, Mr. Dussander, and to learn all about Dussander’s dark and deadly past … a decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn his teacher in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to face his fears and learn the real meaning of power – and the seductive lure of evil.

A classic story from Stephen King, Apt Pupil reveals layers upon layers of deception – and horror – as finally there is only one left standing.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead – Emily Austin

Twenty-seven year old Gilda is the new receptionist at St. Rigobert’s Catholic Church. She’s also sort of, not really dating a “self-actualized reality strategist”. That’s life coach speak for being a life coach, if you’re Giuseppe. Between being an “undercover atheist” working at a church and being a gay woman with a girlfriend who’s sort of, not really dating a man, Gilda’s life is kind of complicated these days.

Gilda is on a first name basis with the staff at the emergency department and she’s currently cultivating a dirty dishes sculpture. Her parents could have an entire book dedicated to their own foibles and her younger brother is an alcoholic. Add all of that up and you realise that Gilda could have really used that therapy on the flyer that led her to St. Rigobert’s in the first place. Oh, and the lovely old lady whose job Gilda stumbled into may have been murdered. Nothing to see here, folks.

Because I apparently love books about fellow misfits going about their daily lives, I got sucked straight into this one. Although they’re entirely different people, the socially awkward protagonists of Snowflake and Convenience Store Woman came to mind as I read. 

Gilda’s fascination with, and fear of, death fascinated me. 

I wonder if my death will be what defines me. 

The depiction of mental illness, specifically depression and the panic attacks that accompany anxiety, was authentic. 

I’m “okay” in the loose sense of the word, meaning mostly: I can breathe. I am probably, however, not truly okay. Something is obviously wrong with me. I feel like I just escaped a bear attack. Why does my body react like it is being chased down by predators when it’s not? Am I physically in-tuned to some sort of impending doom that I can’t perceive otherwise? Am I sensing something, or am I just out of whack? Why do I feel this terrible physical dread? Do I have cancer? Am I—

Stop. 

I loved Gilda’s take on so many things:

The preoccupation people have with the way they look… 

“I think our appearance is meaningless,” I sputter. “We’re all just skeletons covered in skin.” 

Biblical loopholes… 

I can’t help noting the use of the male pronouns. I wonder whether this directive applies to me. Am I subject to a womanly loophole? Whoever wrote this book prioritized men so much, he forgot about the other half of humanity. It seems like I can curse my parents with no repercussions at all. 

On not being as invisible as you feel… 

I find it so bizarre that I occupy space, and that I am seen by other people. 

Telling it like it is… 

“It’s easy to feel like you understand everything in life when you’re big-headed, self-important, and stupid.” 

And telling it like it is Part 2… 

Don’t worry, Jeff, life is meaningless; it’s strange and inexplicable that we exist to begin with. We are all basically dead already in the grand scheme of things, and our feelings of sadness are pointless – they are just how our meat sacks react to the chemicals in our bodies. 

Did I mention that Gilda’s essentially a ray of sunshine wrapped in a meat sack?

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, mental health, self harm and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia may have difficulty with one scene.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Gilda. She cannot stop thinking about death. Desperate for relief from her anxious mind and alienated from her repressive family, she responds to a flyer for free therapy at a local church and finds herself abruptly hired to replace the deceased receptionist Grace. It’s not the most obvious job – she’s queer and an atheist for starters – and so in between trying to learn mass, hiding her new maybe-girlfriend and conducting an amateur investigation into Grace’s death, Gilda must avoid revealing the truth of her mortifying existence.

A blend of warmth, deadpan humour, and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a crackling exploration of what it takes to stay afloat in a world where your expiration – and the expiration of those you love – is the only certainty.

WeirDo #17: Spinning Weird! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Jules Faber

While Miss Franklin is busy channeling her inner Kate Winslet circa 1997, Weir’s class will be getting to know a substitute teacher. It’s good timing, too, because Weir’s basketball team, the Lions, are about to play against the Hyenas and they need all the help they can get. Fortunately, Weir’s new substitute teacher has a thing or two to teach the team. 

Meanwhile, Granddad is having a difficult time.

Of course, there were the requisite dad jokes and others that travelled so far in the direction of bad that they became groan funny. My favourite basketball joke was: 

Why do basketballers like cookies?
Because they can dunk them! 

The Do’s visited somewhere Nelson from Ninja Kid spends a lot of his time. Weir’s dad lends a hand in his own unique way, which also had me wondering if I was going to get to see Nelson’s Grandma. While my anticipated Ninja Kid crossover never happened, I want to believe Nelson, Kenny and Grandma were there, just off the edge of the page.

Be on the lookout for a shark who’s very happy about its potential meal, lots of dribbling and Jedi Weir.

Bonus points for the positive disability representation.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

LET’S GO, LIONS!

Weir and his basketball team REALLY want to WIN! But Bella and Henry’s ALLEY-OOP is more of an ALLY-OOPS! Toby’s DUNK is more of a CLUNK! And Weir’s free throw is more of an OH NO!

Can their new teacher Miss Carroll help out?

It won’t be easy … but it will be funny!

Swashbucklers – Dan Hanks

Nostalgia for the win! When they were kids, Cisco and his friends fought an 8-bit war against an evil pirate and saved the world. Cisco is the only one who remembers what really happened; for everyone else, a gas leak was responsible for the Halloween ‘89 mayhem. 

“Look, honey, that’s the bloke from the bedtime stories your mum tells you. The gas leak boy, I told you he was real!” 

Supernatural fans know ‘gas leak’ is code for ‘whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t a gas leak’.

Now all grown up with children of their own, it’s time for the sequel because, as I’m sure you’re very well aware, sometimes the Big Bad doesn’t stay dead. Except it’s not quite as easy saving the world when your joints creak and you’re having to navigate the joys of parenthood while you’re dusting off your custom made game console weapons. It turns out that nostalgia can be deadly. 

“Why the hell did you decide that us four, ordinary, slightly unfit, middle-aged human nobodies could take on this momentous challenge again and get it right this time?” 

This is one of my favourite reads of the year and the perfect way to get you into the spirit for so many important holidays: Halloween, Christmas, Talk Like a Pirate Day… It’s also the movie I need to see. Outside of my head, that is. There’s a talking fox, a secret room behind a bookcase (be still my beating heart), enchanted forest (“Technically, all forests are enchanted-”), faeries that are bitey and priceless news headlines. 

Bizarre attack in Manchester as costumed cannibal snowman partially EATS homeowner. 

It was the Ghostbusters/Goonies mashup I never knew I needed and I loved every minute. I could almost hear the soundtrack playing during the action sequences. This may have been Cisco’s trip down memory lane but I felt like I grew up there too. 

“Bloody nostalgia” 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to relive my childhood through this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies.

Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.

Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. 

With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…

The Watchers – A.M. Shine

‘All paths lead somewhere’ 

Mina had planned on making some easy money when she agreed to deliver a parrot to a collector in Connemara. Mina’s car breaking down in the middle of nowhere was not part of the plan. Neither was winding up in a “prison of concrete and glass” in the depths of the forest.

There Mina meets Madeline, Daniel and Ciara. But they’re not alone. They’re being watched. 

Nothing should have to live in captivity 

At various times, A Quiet Place and Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call popped into my mind as I was reading but I don’t think it’s fair to make comparisons as this story is its own monster. Or should I say, it contains its own monsters.

The watchers were an ever present threat, made all the more creepy by the fact that I got to know them by their shrieks. The fear of the unknown is almost always scarier than fears you can identify. Not knowing what the watchers were or even what they looked like for much of the story added to my unease.

I wondered if this story would have packed more of a punch if it was a novella, but it was a quick, compulsive read. I had some trouble for the longest time trying to figure out why it was so difficult for the characters to escape the forest when they were able to make their way into its depths in the first place, but ultimately decided that I didn’t care. I was having too much fun flip flopping between hoping for a bloodbath and wanting everyone to survive. I’m keen to see what horrors the author will introduce me to next. 

Stay in the light 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Aries, an imprint of Head of Zeus, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

You can’t see them. But they can see you.This forest isn’t charted on any map. Every car breaks down at its treeline. Mina’s is no different. Left stranded, she is forced into the dark woodland only to find a woman shouting, urging Mina to run to a concrete bunker. As the door slams behind her, the building is besieged by screams.

Mina finds herself in a room with a wall of glass, and an electric light that activates at nightfall, when the Watchers come above ground. These creatures emerge to observe their captive humans and terrible things happen to anyone who doesn’t reach the bunker in time.

Afraid and trapped among strangers, Mina is desperate for answers. Who are the Watchers and why are these creatures keeping them imprisoned, keen to watch their every move?