The Forevers – Chris Whitaker

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

She was seventeen years old.

She would die in one month.

Mae has grown up knowing that she and her sister, Stella, won’t live long enough to become adults. Asteroid 8050XF11, A.K.A. Selena, is on a collision course with Earth.

So, what do you do when an Extinction Level Event is imminent? Some people put their faith in God and wait for a miracle. Others place their hope in science. If disaster movies have taught us anything, it’s that scientists will consistently fail until just before the credits roll. Then they’ll come up with a solution that’ll save the world. Surely they can do this in real life, too. 

There are the leavers, people “who said their goodbyes or those that simply tired of the wait and disappeared in search of more.” Then there are those who are living like there’s no tomorrow. They figure if you’re not going to live long enough for the consequences to catch up with you, then you might as well do whatever you want.

The countdown is on. There’s one month to go until God performs a miracle, science comes through with the biggest win in the history of the world or everyone dies.

Mae and many others in West spend much of their final month attending school and working. I doubt I would be doing either if I knew the end was nigh. Mae’s also trying to learn the truth behind the recent death of Abi, her former best friend.

Impending doom doesn’t negate the usual high school drama, with popular kids, bullies and outcasts all featured. Some of these kids have significant difficulties in their lives, though, even if you ignore the whole 70 mile wide asteroid that’s going to obliterate them in the very near future thing.

I liked Mae but adored Stella, her eight year old sister, who stole every scene she was in. With such heavy content, I was especially grateful for the comic relief that came in the form of Felix. He was all about sleeping when he’s dead and becoming visible to the love of his life, despite the fact that she already has a boyfriend.

A lot of characters were introduced but I didn’t form a connection with a number of them, due to their personality or because I didn’t get to know them well enough. There’s practically an entire alphabet of content warnings at the end of my review, with so many important issues touched on. However, individual circumstances didn’t always have enough page time for them to be explored in the depth I would have liked. 

For example, for most of the book Sally is pretty much only ever referred to in terms of her weight. She’s the fat girl. She‘s almost always consuming copious amounts of food whenever we see her. She’s fat shamed. A lot. When I finally learned something else about her, I wanted an entire book dedicated to her. There’s so much complexity and emotion there, and it felt like I only just scraped the surface of who she was.

The mystery of what happened to Abi faded into the background at times as the struggles of other characters were explored. There was a resolution, though, and many characters were given the opportunity to do what they needed to in order to finish their stories on their own terms.

Sometimes it took me a while to figure out which character was in a scene with Mae, especially when they’d only be referred to as ‘he’ for several paragraphs before they were named. Some scene changes felt jarring and for a while around the middle of the book I wasn’t even sure if I was enjoying it. 

But this was a compulsive read and Mae and Stella’s relationship kept me invested. An ugly cry snuck up on me at the end and I’m still thinking about several characters. I’m definitely interested in reading more books by this author and I absolutely adored Muhammad Nafay’s cover illustration. 

We made Forever for the creeps and the weirdos, the freaks and the outlaws.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, fat shaming, homophobia, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, slut shaming and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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?

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“I think we summoned the devil”

One of the most important things I can tell you about this book is that most of it takes place in a library. Sure, there’s a resident devil, but don’t let that put you off. This is a library with seven floors of books, including countless grimoires, and a secret passageway. I’m pretty much ready to move in.

I liked Tess’ ability to come up with creative insults and her dedication to her younger sister. I was really looking forward to seeing how her experience with ghosts, having “grown up under the watchful presence of a host of ghosts that haunted her family’s central Pennsylvania farmhouse”, was going to come into play. Unfortunately, while I definitely saw opportunities for some helpful chats with the recently deceased, this remained firmly in fun fact territory.

I also liked Eliot, who made an indelible impression on me when he requested 147 books from the library at once. My kind of bookworm. His love for his mother made me like him even more. It also didn’t hurt that he smells like pages and vanilla.

While I liked both Tess and Eliot, I never really connected with either of them. The emotion wasn’t there for me and the one scene that I was expecting would ramp it up happened off page.

There is an actual devil in this book but the Big Bad for me was Eliot’s father. He’s absolutely detestable.

I liked the story and wanted to know what was going to happen but this wasn’t the compulsive read I had expected.

Content warnings include mention of bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and self harm (either unintentional or for blood magic). Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with one scene.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath the school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other. And compared to what the devil has in store for them, school stress suddenly doesn’t seem so bad after all.

The Treatment – C.L. Taylor

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Drew’s brother, Mason, has recently been sent to the Residential Reform Academy, a therapeutic boarding school, to overcome his ‘behavioural problems’. The hope that Mason will come back a changed person becomes fear that Mason will come back a zombified changed person when a woman who says she worked at the Academy accosts Drew and hands her a note, supposedly from her brother, before running off.

Help me, Drew! We’re not being reformed, we’re being brainwashed.

Because this is a young adult novel, pretty much all of the adults are useless, evil or disinterested so if someone is going to save the day it’s going to have to be Drew. And that’s just what she decides to do.

Now Drew is also at the Academy and if she doesn’t figure out a foolproof plan soon, her brother won’t be the only one getting treated.

‘Obedience, compliance and honesty. They’re the bedrocks of society.’

This was a quick, compulsive read. There’s danger, action and a bunch of kids who have all been labelled as bad stuck in a system that’s supposed to be helping them but could actually be causing them irreparable harm.

Drew was an interesting main character. Initially a loner, she rallies when she learns her brother is in danger and even makes a friend along the way. I really liked Mouse, although I wanted to learn more about her backstory. I found Lacey and Jude so very irritating, but it probably would have been weird if I didn’t want to find a way to reach through the pages to slap them.

Some coincidences were a little over the top, like Zed just so happening to live close enough to Drew that they could meet face to face and Lacey just so happening to wind up at the Academy as well. In Drew’s very own room. What did Lacey do to get sent there anyway? Was she really so desperate to bully Drew that she followed her there? Speaking of coincidences, Drew’s dad, who’s been missing for eight years, just so happened to also be at the Academy.

Then there were the things that seemed too easy, like people being deprogrammed so quickly when they were faced with a specific fear. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert at reversing brainwashing but if any of the things I’ve read about cults are true, then it’s not a switch that can simply be turned off. It seems to be a much more intense and drawn out process than how it’s portrayed here.

The ending felt rushed and a bit too neat, and I have some unanswered questions. However, this was an enjoyable read and I am interested in reading more books by this author.

Content warnings include bullying.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“You have to help me. We’re not being reformed. We’re being brainwashed.”

All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she’s almost relieved.

Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.

Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.

Before it’s too late.

MonsterMind – Alfonso Casas

Translator – Andrea Rosenberg

“This isn’t the triumphant tale of a hero who defeated his monsters … it’s just the story of somebody who’s learning to live with them.”

Most readers will already be well acquainted with at least some of the monsters in this book. Featured monsters include doubt, fear, social anxiety, past trauma and sadness.

The author uses personal examples to introduce readers to his monsters and explore how they interact with him day and night, from doubts that keep him awake to anxiety about the future.

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I could readily identify some of the monsters, like the cute little sowers of doubt, but others weren’t as easy to name. It would have helped me if the monster mugshots had introduced the story instead of being hidden at the end.

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While I had originally hoped the illustrations would be in colour, it felt more and more appropriate for them to be in grayscale. While there is some hope towards the end of the story, I felt like I was walking through molasses sometimes.

I haven’t found the humour yet. Despite that, I really liked the illustrations and found many of the stories very relatable.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Ablaze and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Alfonso Casas’s MonsterMind is a very personal account of the inner monsters that live inside his head. But, who doesn’t have a monster inside them? Who has never heard that voice inside their head undermining everything they do? You’re not good enough… You just got really lucky… There are people far better and more qualified than you… In a very honest exercise, Alfonso Casas identifies and introduces his own monsters to his readers: Mr. Past Traumas, Mr. Fear, Mr. Social Anxiety, Mr. Impostor Syndrome, Mr. Sadness, Mr. Doubt… The pessimistic, the insecure, the self-demanding, the monster that keeps you from sleeping while you think of what you could have said back in that conversation two years ago, or that keeps you looking over the punctuation of every text message to figure out the tone lurking beneath the surface. All those monsters make up the bestiary of contemporary society. But the anxiety generation is expert in more things: in looking inside themselves and their lives, and – why not? – in laughing at their own neuroses as best they can. In the end, if the monsters won’t leave us, we might as well get to know them and laugh at them! Anxiety is another pandemic, but the monsters dwelling inside us are funny, too (especially as drawn by Alfonso Casas).

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.

A History of the Universe in 100 Stars – Florian Freistetter

Translator – Gesche Ipsen

Class, today’s lockdown lesson is brought to you by the letter A.

I haven’t studied science since high school but the older I get, the more interesting I find it. I’ve been fascinated by astronomy since I was a kid and you know how much I love fun facts. Whenever I stumble across a book about stars I can’t help myself; I need to find out more.

It never fails to floor me whenever I read about how unfathomably ginormous the universe is.

The Milky Way has a “few hundred billion stars” and it’s only one of up to a quadrillion other galaxies in the universe. Each of those consist of “hundreds of billions of stars”.

61 Cygni is 11.4 light years away from Earth. Only twelve stars are closer than it.

I learned the names of the stars that make up the Southern Cross, the first constellation I was able to identify and a symbol that’s tattooed on so many Australians.

Four of the stars that make up the Southern Cross are pretty boring: Acrux, Becrux, Gacrux and Decrux. They were named because the constellation is called Crux and the Bayer system for naming stars is related to how bright they are; the brightest star is Alpha, the second brightest star Beta, third Gamma, fourth Delta, etc., so Alpha Crucis became Acrux. The fifth star, however, actually has a more appropriate name, Ginan, and I love this so much!

In the stories of the Wardaman people of northern Australia, a ginan is a traditional bag filled with stories and songs and myths about the creation of the world.

Apologies in advance if I’m ruining your childhood here, but did you know that shooting stars aren’t actually stars?

They are miniature lumps of rock only a few millimetres wide, and you can find them as space dust everywhere between the planets of our solar system. When Earth meets one of these grains of interplanetary dirt, we see a shooting star. The speck of dust hits the Earth’s atmosphere with a typical speed of between 30 and 70 kilometres per second. During its high-speed flight through the atmosphere, it rips electrons from the shells of the atoms of which the air consists; and when these now shell-less atoms recapture one of the liberated electrons and reattach it, they emit energy in the form of light, which we then perceive as a shooting star.

The whole thing takes place about a hundred kilometres above us and lasts only a few seconds.

Then there’s the “brightest and most massive” star. This honour goes to R136a1 from the Tarantula Nebula, which is almost 180,000 light years from Earth.

If R136a1 was where the Sun is, it would exceed the Sun’s brightness by as much as the Sun’s exceeds the Moon’s. R136a1 is a whole 265 times heavier than the Sun, and if it really was the centre of the solar system, the massive increase in gravitational force would shorten Earth’s orbit from 365 days to a mere 21.

This book reminded me that not only did The X-Files teach me Latin, it also taught me astronomy. So many years later, I came across the term syzygy in this book and not only did I know what it meant, I also remembered the storyline of the episode that introduced me to the word. Thank you, Chris Carter.

Even without a scientific background, I didn’t have any trouble understanding the author’s explanations. I would have loved for the book to have included photos of some of the stars; Google helped me fill this void.

I haven’t read a lot of astronomy books but I found Lisa Harvey-Smith’s The Secret Life of Stars an easier read. If I lost concentration during this book I’d have to reread at least a paragraph to figure out what I’d missed. There was a small amount of repetition, which I can put down to the fact that the author states in the foreword that you can read the chapters in any order.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Astronomer Florian Freistetter has chosen 100 stars that have almost nothing in common. Some are bright and famous, some shine so feebly you need a huge telescope. There are big stars, small stars, nearby stars and faraway stars. Some died a while ago, others have not even yet come into being. Collectively they tell the story of the whole world, according to Freistetter. There is Algol, for example, the Demon Star, whose strange behaviour has long caused people sleepless nights. And Gamma Draconis, from which we know that the earth rotates around its own axis. There is also the star sequence 61 Cygni, which revealed the size of the cosmos to us.

Then there are certain stars used by astronomers to search for extra-terrestrial life, to explore interstellar space travel, or to explain why the dinosaurs became extinct.

In 100 short, fascinating and entertaining chapters, Freistetter not only reveals the past and future of the cosmos, but also the story of the people who have tried to understand the world in which we live. 

Everything Harder Than Everyone Else – Jenny Valentish

“There’s still a part of me that wants to be validated through doing things that other people don’t.”

Charlie Engle, an ultrarunner

In this book, Jenny Valentish introduces you to people who push themselves beyond what most people are capable of or even want to do. She interviewed endurance athletes, performance artists, a rogue scientist, bodybuilders, those who participate in BDSM, martial artists, porn stars, wrestlers and fighters.

Sometimes fascinating, sometimes sad and sometimes disgust inducing, their stories took me into their worlds. They attempted to give me some understanding of why people do things like running in heat that can melt your shoes, attempt to overcome your “notions of disgust by eating what many would consider to be inedible” or putting your body in situations where extreme physical pain is to be expected, not avoided.

Some flog their reward pathways like dopamine jockeys; some careen towards injury because of an unwillingness to slow their pace; some goad themselves on to ever-greater heights or more depraved depths; some explore new frontiers of physical pain as a form of self-flagellation; some have knitted their identity so tightly to their pursuit that they risk tumbling into an abyss if it’s taken away.

In some instances, trauma seems to have provided both the impetus to attempt the activity in the first place and the ability to endure, when body and mind are both screaming at you to stop. A need to prove something, to yourself or other people, is a motivating factor for other people. Others simply went for a run one day and discovered they loved it.

The final chapter also addresses what can happen when you have worked so hard to reach a goal and finally achieve it, leaving in its wake a void as you wonder where you go from here. I found the discussion around having your identity so closely linked with an activity or job and how difficult it can be to find your bearings when that is taken from you unexpectedly particularly relatable.

One word that I absolutely adored, which I haven’t specifically come across before, was ikagai. It’s a Japanese concept that is all about your reason for being; what gives your life meaning, worth or purpose.

Some people might read a book like this and be inspired to take up running or wrestling, but that’s not me. Although I marvel at the people who are able to push their bodies so hard, you’re definitely not likely to see me running anywhere anytime soon. Unless, of course, someone’s chasing me, and even then I’ll be stopping as soon as it’s safe to do so.

While I read some books because they mirror my life in some way, I read books like this so I can get a glimpse of what things like bodybuilding are like without having to actually do it myself.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, alcoholism, bullying, child abuse, death by suicide, domestic abuse, eating disorders, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

If you’re squeamish, don’t want to read about the variety of animals people have eaten or what they have done to their bodies for ‘art’, or don’t want to experience someone making a mockery of COVID, maybe don’t read the second chapter.

There is also a doctor, who prescribes performance and image enhancing drugs, that I found extremely problematic. They’re speaking to the author about their blood test results here. “In fact, my immune system is so good, he says, that the coronavirus won’t stick; at which point I wonder if the phrase ‘with a pinch of salt’ ought to apply to everything.” You think COVID doesn’t have serious impacts on previously healthy people? Seriously, doctor?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Jenny Valentish wrote a memoir about addiction, she noticed that people who treated drug-taking like an Olympic sport would often hurl themselves into a pursuit such as marathon running upon getting sober. What stayed constant was the need to push their boundaries.

Everything Harder Than Everyone Else follows people doing the things that most couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t. Their insights lead Jenny on a compulsive, sometimes reckless journey through psychology, endurance and the power of obsession, revealing what we can learn about the human condition.

There’s the neuroscientist violating his brain to override his disgust response. The athlete using childhood adversity as grist for the mill. The wrestler turning restlessness into curated ultraviolence. The designer who hangs from hooks in her flesh to get out of her head. The performance artist seeking erasure by manipulating his body. The BDSM dominant helping people flirt with death to feel more alive. The bare-knuckle boxer whose gnarliest opponent was once her ego. And the porn-star-turned-fighter for whom sex and violence are two sides of the same coin.

Darkly funny and vividly penetrating, Everything Harder Than Everyone Else explores our deeper selves and asks: what are your limits? 

Friday the 13th, Camp Crystal Lake #5: The Mask of Jason Voorhees – Eric Morse

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Jason went to hell and then Berkeley Books commissioned a series of young adult novels set in the Friday the 13th universe. Only Jason wasn’t in the books. Weird, right? His mask was there, though, and it had some supernatural powers to possess whoever thought it was smart to try it on. Cue the bloodbath.

So far, we’ve celebrated Mother’s Day, gone fishing, attended a carnival and gone on a road trip. Now, in this final book in the series, we’re making a documentary or we’re determined to stop Jason once and for all. It depends on which character you are.

So, who are the potential blood donors in this showdown?

The Heroes

  • Micki Foster. Micki hunts down cursed antiquities for her Uncle Lewis so she’s dealt with supernatural stuff for years. She is “attuned to the energies around her”. Her spidey sense may save her. Micki’s goal is to stop all the Jason drama by “finding the mask and locking it up in the vault back at Curious Goods.” Sort of like what the Warrens did with Annabelle.
  • Steven Freeman. Steven is Micki’s cousin. He used to be known as Ryan Dallion. He helped Jason’s niece, Jessica, send him to hell. He’s survived Jason already so he’s either got the skillset to finish the job another time or his luck will run out.
  • Rashid. He’s an expert in antiquities and was looking after Curious Goods for Micki. Now he’s in Crystal Lake. He has visions and appears to know magic.

They’re the heroes. They’re golden, right?

Law Enforcement

  • Sheriff Lloyd Landis
  • Roy Turner, Sheriff’s deputy
  • John Cort, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Buck Mathers, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Ed Marlin, Sheriff’s deputy
  • David Justin, Sheriff’s deputy. He’s the new guy so he’s got even less chance of surviving than his colleagues.
  • Kelly Campbell, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Roy Turner, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Pat Colby, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Highway Patrol Officer Marshack
  • Highway Patrol Officer Perkins
  • State Trooper Jackson
  • State Trooper Scott Christopher
  • State Trooper Dan Culligan
  • State Trooper Peter Bennerson

There’s so many of them! Just knowing these men and women are law enforcement personnel in a slasher is your biggest clue. Most of these people are going to be toast, especially those who are introduced after 80%. That doesn’t stop them from bringing confidence to the game, though.

“You don’t know when you’ll have some hockey masked super killer running around the woods slaughtering people. A few AK-47s would seem to be standard issue.”

Cunningham County Coroner’s Office Staff

  • County Coroner Robert “Doctor Bob” Carey. He’s the one doing the autopsies.
  • Phil Raman. He’s Doctor Bob’s assistant. If he wasn’t so busy getting turned on when he touches Jason’s mask he might just make it but because this makes him inherently creepy, he’s definitely going to need to die.
  • Guadalupe (Lupe) Sanchez. Lupe is the receptionist. She knows Phil likes her but laughs at his advances. Clever girl.

If this was a Halloween book, then Michael Myers would almost certainly miraculously come to in the morgue and proceed to add to the body count. But this is Friday the 13th. We’ll see…

The Documentary Makers

  • Carol Martinez. The director of the documentary, Carol is rude to waitresses, her fellow documentary makers and pretty much everyone else. She’s also vegetarian.
  • Shawn Carlyle. He works behind the scenes on sound and lighting.
  • Jerry. Calls himself Jamal. He’s the cameraman and a pothead. He also gives Phil Raman a run for his money in being the most detestable character in the book. He’s a white guy with dreadlocks who seems to think there’s no problem speaking as though he’s from Jamaica. He’s not Jamaican. He’s Californian and he’s so irritating.

They’re coming to town just to dig up info on Jason. There’s no way they’re going to make it back to California.

The Mediums

  • Morgana
  • Julius

Okay, so they’re here at the behest of Carol, the rude documentary maker. Hopefully they’re the real deal and will be smart enough to get out of town when they realise what’s really going on at Camp Crystal Lake.

Camp Crystal Lake Campers

  • Bessie Nague. Bessie has allergies. She’s camping with her sister, Lilleth.
  • Lilleth Nague. She’s the webmaster of the Official BLOOD CAMP Fan Club website and Vice President of the Jason Voorhees Appreciation Society.

They thought it was a good idea to go camping at Camp Crystal Lake. We might as well dig their graves now. Lilleth’s Jason obsession may be the thing that saves them or she might be too starstruck by seeing him for her survival instinct to kick in.

The Townspeople

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  • Betty Loomis. She’s a waitress who knew Jason and Pamela Voorhees personally. Betty was married to Ralph. Yes, that one!
  • Mary. She’s a waitress who works with Betty.
  • Will Peters. He’s Steven’s partner at the Army/Navy store and will be running the store while Steven is running about doing Jason type stuff. Will has served in the military so he may have the necessary skills to survive.
  • Shane Wilco Jr. Shane is the bartender from Smokey’s Pub.

The townspeople have already survived Jason how many times? They know the legend and they obviously know what it takes to survive at this point. Let’s hope they keep their heads.

If you’re like me and you come to the slasher armed with some bloodlust and a raincoat to protect your clothes from the blood spatter, you’ll be waiting a while in this book. There are no new deaths for the first 40%. Never fear, though. Once the stabbing and hacking begin, they don’t let up. Most characters you only get to know by name before they meet their maker. The body count is high and I can’t even give you an accurate final number.

There are the recently deceased whose names we know: Phil Raman, Lupe, Deputy Marlin, Kelly Campbell, Will Peters, David Justin, John Cort, Shane Wilco Jr., Bessie Nague, Lilleth Nague, Jerry/Jamal, Officer Marshack, Julius, Phil Raman, Lewis, Rashid, Shawn Carlyle, Peter Bennerson, Dan Culligan, Perkins, Roy Turner, Carol Martinez, Pat Colby, Scott Christopher and Lloyd Landis.

Then there are the five people in the crowd outside of the coffee shop, an old man, an unnamed biker, a foolish biker and an unnamed policeman. The Sheriff estimates about fifty deaths in the Main Street, which include two deputies that were named and Shane Wilco Jr.

Phil kills people before and after he becomes attached to the mask. Jason kills a bunch of people. Three people die by cop.

It’s safe to say that both Camp Crystal Lake and the town are painted red. Bonus points for visiting the Voorhees’ home.

My main frustration in this book was Jerry/Jamal thinking it was okay to speak the way he did. The biggest turnoff was the use of the word ”retard”. I don’t care about the context; this is never okay.

This was a bit of fun but it really needs some proofreading. There’s a typo here, a missing word there, your/you’re violations and many other red pen opportunities. At one point the carnival murders happened two months ago; on the same day, later in the chapter, they happened three months ago.

One frustration I had with the first four books was the absence of Jason. He actually shows up in this one! Hooray!

We also finally get an explanation for the whole supernatural mask thing.

If you want to read this book for yourself, you can download the PDF here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It has been four years since Jason Voorhees was dragged down to Hell. Since then the evil of Jason has arisen four times in the form of his possessed hockey mask. Four souls have worn that mask and have viciously killed dozens of innocent people who have mistakenly ventured into the woods around Camp Crystal Lake. Now the mask has chosen its latest and final wearer and the seeds of Jason’s resurrection have been planted. But, there is opposition. Reunited, Micki Foster and Ryan Dallion must not only face a superhuman killing machine, but also the horrifying truth at the heart of the curse of Camp Crystal Lake.

Wolf Girl #5: Across the Sea – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

We pick up the story of Gwen, Rupert and the rest of the pack a few days after we left them in The Traitor. In that time, winter has begun to set in. Using the papers Rupert printed at the Captain’s mansion/compound (?) as a guide, the pack make their way to the village of Gulfoss.

There they stow away on a ship that’s taking dozens of adult prisoners to a new location. On board, they meet Rita, a cleaner, and find a potential new pack member, Pirate the pug.

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I liked Pirate but he couldn’t make up for the fact that we lost two of the pack in this book. Rupert found his parents on board the ship and he’s currently in captivity with them. I was frustrated that we didn’t get to learn anything about the history between Rupert and the Captain from The Traitor before Rupert left. There is a possibility we might see him and his parents later in the series, though. Eagle is also gone, although a small part of me is hoping Eagle didn’t actually die. I’ll probably read the next book to find out for sure but if they are really gone then I’ll be leaving the pack at that time.

I wondered where the kids got their cold weather clothing from. Rupert didn’t seem to bring anything with him when he left the camp and until now we’ve never experienced winter with Gwen.

I’m fine with Gwen understanding what the dogs and wolf are saying but I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that a couple of kids and some animals can consistently outwit and outmanoeuvre so many trained soldiers. They make it look too easy.

I think I’m beginning to struggle with this series mostly because it’s so much darker than a lot of Anh Do’s other series. There’s an overarching hope that one day Gwen will be reunited with her family but there’s not enough hope in each individual book for me. At this point I just want someone to do something silly to break up the constant danger.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I’m reading this series during lockdown. Hopefully by the time the next book is released I won’t be in lockdown anymore and may have a different perspective on the trials and tribulations of the pack.

There’s a bonus chapter included at the end of this book that features a crossover with Skydragon. I’m not sure yet how I feel about Wolf Girl and Skydragon inhabiting the same world.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On a mission to find their families, Gwen, Rupert and the dogs strike out across treacherous ice and freezing oceans.

If they are to have any hope of survival, they must stowaway on a ship full of enemy soldiers. But sometimes help comes in unexpected forms. Someone new will join the pack … but who will leave?

Deep in the frozen tundra, the danger is heating up!

The 22 Murders of Madison May – Max Barry

“You know, I love you, Madison. In every world. Even when you don’t love me back.”

For Clay, it was love at first sight. The Madison May he fell for was the character she played in a movie, although Clay is certain that Maddie, the person, is the woman for him. He’s so sure that he’s been stalking her travelling across multiple parallel dimensions for their happily ever after.

The only pesky problem is that he hasn’t found a Maddie yet who meets his expectations and what’s a loved up guy supposed to do when that happens? Kill that Maddie and move on to the next one. Yeah, our Clay isn’t exactly the poster child for optimal mental health.

Along for the ride is Felicity Staples, a newspaper reporter who doesn’t usually report on murders. Felicity saw firsthand what Clay’s ‘love’ is capable of in the life where Maddie was a real estate agent. Now she’s trying to stop Clay from murdering other Maddies but Clay always seems to be one step ahead.

“The details are different. But it’s her. It’s the same person, murdered in a different place.”

When I read the blurb for this book, my immediate thought was, ‘Oh, so it’s like Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls.’ No, I haven’t read that one yet so I can’t say for sure but it seems I’m not the only reader to pick up on the similarities.

Parallel universes are one of the things I love to read about. They raise so many questions that my brain enjoys teasing out. Things like, if you travel from one parallel universe to another, what happens to the you that lives there? Does You #1 erase You #2 by showing up in world #2? Does You #2 wind up in the world you left, trying to make sense of subtle or not so subtle differences? Are you now a missing person in your world? If you travel to a third world, does You #2 get to resume their life in world #2? I could go on forever like this.

This book come up with its own answers for how parallel universes work. It made sense, although it was a sadder concept than what I’d like to believe. I did enjoy the idea of moorings, although I would have liked more explanations for how everything worked, including how the first person to ever travel between universes figured out how to do it.

Clay’s obsession with Maddie is downright creepy and I expected to feel something every time I watched her get murdered. However, I never formed an emotional connection with any of the characters so while I was interested in seeing how it would all pan out, I felt like more of a casual observer than someone who was invested in the lives of Maddie, Felicity, Clay, etc.

“You’re the reason for everything.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

I love you. In every world.

Young real estate agent Madison May is shocked when a client at an open house says these words to her. The man, a stranger, seems to know far too much about her, and professes his love – shortly before he murders her. 

Felicity Staples hates reporting on murders. As a journalist for a midsize New York City paper, she knows she must take on the assignment to research Madison May’s shocking murder, but the crime seems random and the suspect is in the wind. That is, until Felicity spots the killer on the subway, right before he vanishes.

Soon, Felicity senses her entire universe has shifted. No one remembers Madison May, or Felicity’s encounter with the mysterious man. And her cat is missing. Felicity realises that in her pursuit of Madison’s killer, she followed him into a different dimension – one where everything about her existence is slightly altered. At first, she is determined to return to the reality she knows, but when Madison May – in this world, a struggling actress – is murdered again, Felicity decides she must find the killer – and learns that she is not the only one hunting him. 

Traveling through different realities, Felicity uncovers the opportunity – and danger – of living more than one life.