Friday the 13th #1: Church of the Divine Psychopath – Scott Phillips

Welcome to Camp Crystal Lake: Blasphemy Edition 

Father Eric Long has had a revelation. The time has come for sinners to be judged by the Heavenly Vessel, A.K.A., Jason Voorhees. 

“Big guy. Hockey mask. Has issues?” 

The one and the same. 

The Ministry of the Heavenly Vessel are going on a road trip because it turns out that Father Long isn’t alone in his delusion. Like all good cult leaders, Long has managed to convince his entire flock to sell all of their worldly possessions and hand the proceeds to him. They’ve secured the lease to Camp Crystal Lake and the entire congregation are moving in. 

It’s not like the Father’s going to let a little thing like the fact that Jason is currently fish food prevent him from carrying out his mission. After retrieving a soggy Jason from the depths of Crystal Lake and nailing him to a cross (twice), freaky Father sets out to resurrect him. Jason’s going to church! What could go wrong?! 

Meanwhile, a strike team from the Agency, a covert branch of the government, are also making their way to Crystal Lake. Because what this situation desperately needs is more firepower. Besides the arsenal that the churchies apparently brought with them, that is. 

“I saw this in a horror movie once” 

A church, a strike team and Jason Voorhees converging on Camp Crystal Lake may sound like the beginning of a really bad joke but what it actually is is a recipe for a really big body count. I’m guessing that this “God-sanctioned Jason Voorhees bloodbath” takes place on Friday the 13th but no one ever showed me a calendar.

So, who are the victims this time around? This “salad bar of murderous possibilities” consists mostly of the strike team and church members. 

“Straight to hell for you.” 

It’s hard to figure out the exact body count but we’re talking more than fifty.

The people start dying in the prologue but these kills happen before the events of this book so I’m not counting those.

There’s a strike team mission prior to Mission Hockey Mask where a couple of strike team members stop breathing and all but two of the baddies have the kind of bad day that prevents you from having any other kind of day ever, but we don’t know how many there were to start off with.

The strike team members, some of who appear to be most content when they’re busy fighting amongst themselves, are lining up to die.

* Jeff Townsend – the six foot six leader of this suicide mission. He’s probably going to go down with the metaphorical ship.
* Walter Hobb – he’s five foot six, has soap opera looks and he’s recently suffered a serious case of demotion. He can’t see so well out of one of his eyes as a result of the mission that put him in the bad books but he’s a main character so he might just get to go home to his wife, Lauren. Lauren is pretty peeved that Hobb signed up for Operation Suicide By Jason. She runs a used bookstore, though, so she’s definitely going to survive. Not even Jason is going to lay a machete on someone who takes such good care of books.
* Samantha Noon – she’s 20 and a total badass. But… she has sex during the book and anyone who ever took Horror 101 knows that’s a death sentence.
* Chris Seaver – Townsend’s second in command for this mission. He also has sex, with Noon. Nice knowing you, Chris.
* Benjamin Hurley – he’s given a first name but I don’t remember hearing anything that could be accused of being a backstory. That doesn’t bode well for him.
* Bruno Ortega – he’s a pervert. Enough said.
* Acheson – he’s relaxed enough to leave his gun outside of reaching distance while he wanders around in the lake. Seriously, Acheson?
* Moseley – he’s a medic so he’s got to survive long enough to try to put intestines back inside bodies, right?
* Lovinger – this guy loves Burt Reynolds movies. Make of that what you will.
* Stilton, Blair, Leonard, Sisson, Garb, Connolly, Howard, Chaffin, Marr – the author didn’t care enough about these dead men walking to give them first names.
* Hurley, Miller, Hall – these men don’t get names until their death scenes. This may be a clue.

Then there are the true believers who, after the initial slaughter, get together for a cuppa. As you do. 

“Trouble has found its way to our little ministry.” 

* Father Eric Long – he’s the reason we’re in this mess to begin with. The way he spiritually guides three widows is beyond creepy.
* Kelly Mills – although she’s only 26, Kelly has a backstory. She doesn’t believe in God but she does believe in Long. Well, she wants to get in his pants, anyway. 
* Curtis Rickles – this former marine is the most detestable waste of oxygen you’ll find in this book. When he’s not shooting people, he’s busy sexually assaulting a minor. He needs to die a really drawn out, creative death.
* Don James – one of the Father’s inner circle, Don’s a biker with tattoos he probably got in jail.
* Meredith Host – 17 year old Meredith is at Crystal Lake with her parents, who are in their 60’s. Kelly is her best (only?) friend. That’s not to say this virgin doesn’t have lust in her heart.
* Roger (or Robert) – okay, so we don’t even know for sure what this man’s name is. That’s not a good sign.
* Denice Keenan, Jennifer Crenshaw, Lorelei Picardi, Charlotte Rutherford – these women share a cabin with Kelly, one of our main characters. These women may need to be sacrificed for the greater good if Jason wanders in. Especially Denice. She chose the bottom bunk so she’s more accessible.
* Travis Hornby, John Sullivan, Mark Brody, Susan Perkins, Susanna Brookwalter – yeah, I don’t know enough about these people to ensure their survival.
* Patricia Krenkle and Manny Krenkle, Mr and Mrs Host – do we know what Jason’s views are on marriage?
* Stan – I feel like there was a Stan but now I’m not so sure. 
* Ronald Shearing, Joseph Bookwalter – we know they existed only because we know they died.

Eleanor, Steve and Frenchie never leave Lefty’s so unless Jason’s feeling a bit parched, they’re probably okay. Sonia, the waitress, will probably make it as well. 

There’s an unnamed farmer driving a chicken truck in the general vicinity but he’s smart enough to keep driving so I’m fairly certain he’s going to keep breathing until at least the next time Friday the 13th rolls around.

This book reconfirms why this place is known as Camp Blood. The insides are now your outsides action is fairly consistent, once you get through the extensive backstories of a couple of contenders.

After the prologue, Jason doesn’t even get to kill anyone until page 172. His first kill is probably his best, although the next three are pretty decent as well. I came for machete slicing and dicing and Jason squishing heads like watermelons. Jason got a bit lazy in this book, primarily introducing people to his machete. Some kills only warranted a sentence and others happened off the page.

Rivalling Jason’s machete in the body count are guns. There are also five funerals we need to attend for people whose COD will need to be determined by a coroner because, while I’m guessing they were shot or met explodey ends as a result of a grenade, I don’t know for sure.

The rules that govern who should die in Jason’s world were pretty much thrown out the window in this book. The pure and hell bound were both fair game.

The person I most wanted to die did but their manner of death didn’t live up to my hopes. It needed to be less generic and much more painful and dramatic.

I wondered how much gunfire Jason could take. Hundreds of bullets didn’t slow him down at all. Speaking of not slowing down, honouring his ability to walk faster than his victims can run, Jason somehow managed to make a return trip to somewhere that takes half an hour to drive to in record time.

Handy hint: When the leader of your church starts citing Waco to guide you through current events, you may be in a cult.

Best description

Blood shot skywards like a gory lawn sprinkler. 

Content warnings include sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes.

Next Friday the 13th readHell Lake, where an executed serial killer meets Jason in hell.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The first in a brand new series of Friday the 13th shockers! Jason Voorhees is reanimated and worshipped by a bizarre religious cult. When a SWAT team is called in, it’s time for Jason to go about his bloody work and wages a one-man war against both sides.

Heart Takes the Stage – Steenz

I’d never heard of the Heart of the City comics before so this collection was my introduction to Heart Lamarr and her friends. 

I liked Kat. 

“Friendship is nothing if you don’t stand up for each other.” 

I also liked nerds Charlotte and Dean. Their problems are understandable, like worrying that the other is nerdier. And Charlotte’s dog is called Ripley, so you have to love her for that.

The thing is, though, I didn’t like Heart. 

“Sorry to interrupt this weird-off, but let’s get to how your skill can help me.” 

In this collection, Heart really wants to get her ears pierced. She also wants a part in the school play.

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She also attends a sleepover, babysits and hosts a Halloween party. I found Heart most relatable when she was binge watching TV.

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I loved the fortune telling bread and I may need to join the Atlantic Paranormal Society.

I would probably want to hang out with Heart’s friends again but I’m not especially keen on crossing paths with her. 

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This first book collection of Heart of the City comics by the strip’s new creator, Steenz, is packed with outstanding art, a diverse cast of characters, and engaging, positive storylines about friendship, pop culture, ghost stories, and a wide range of real-world issues. 

Heart Lamarr is a girl with big dreams who lives in Philadelphia with her single mum. She has her sights set on a life of theatre, but she runs into plenty of drama off-stage, too. Luckily, her best friends Dean, Kat, and Charlotte form a stellar supporting cast to help Heart navigate the challenging world of school plays, cliques, rumours, and everything else middle school throws at them.

Enough – Harriet Johnson

In her work as a barrister, Harriet Johnson has seen how the criminal justice system can work and also how it can fail women. In this book, Harriet outlines many of the ways violence is perpetrated against women, how the justice system responds to it and how it can be more adequately addressed as well as prevented.

An overview of the law, statistics and case studies are presented about various ways that women experience violence: homicide, sexual violence, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, stalking, street harassment and online harassment. 

The author clearly points out that even though a dark picture can already be painted using the statistics that are available, there are entire groups of women whose experience is not even captured in them.

If you’re not from the UK, you’ll find that the definitions of offences, the laws that relate to them and the maximum applicable if someone is convicted won’t line up with the laws of your country. The statistics are also UK specific, although most didn’t seem dissimilar to what I know of stats from other countries.

None of the suggested strategies for ending violence against women surprised me. They focus on prevention, as well as making improvements to the systems that are currently in place. It’s about having enough resources and training. It’s taking a long, hard look at the way police and the courts respond to violence. It’s including marginalised women in the statistics because if we don’t have a clear picture of what’s happening, then how can we ever expect things to change.

Favourite quote: “the culture you get is the behaviour you tolerate.”

Content warnings include mention of ableism, death by suicide, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, homophobia, mental health, misogyny, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, for the opportunity to read this book. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This is a book that calls time on the endless tide of violence against women and the failures of our criminal justice system to respond.

From barrister Harriet Johnson, Enough lays bare the appalling status quo of abuse against women in our society, offering an irrefutable case for why change is needed in policing and justice. Most vitally, it also gives a manifesto for how to get there.

With expertise, clear-sightedness and appropriate fury, this book helps us see where women are suffering – from homicide to domestic abuse to street harassment. It exposes the ways the criminal justice system lets women down – from officers failing to properly investigate to a lack of consequences when police behaviour is unacceptable, to backlogged courts and the realities of convincing a jury.

Addressing misogyny is to everyone’s benefit and the answers aren’t simple. Enough is the call to arms we can – and must – all get behind.

A Dark History of Sugar – Neil Buttery

There’s nothing sweet about the history of sugar. Having already read A Dark History of Chocolate, I had some idea of what to expect. 

Even so, it was horrifying reading chapter after chapter about slavery. Centuries worth of humans enslaving other humans to produce something that was once reserved for royalty but we all now have a taste for. Not content with the human cost of producing sugar, we’ve also done irreparable damage to the environment. 

Interestingly, it turns out a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.

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Besides coating medicines in sugar to make them more palatable, it has also been used to ‘treat’ a number of conditions. One of my personal favourites was a remedy to treat conjunctivitis, “made up of powdered sugar, pearls and gold leaf that was blown directly into the eye.” It’s also been prescribed “to treat diseases of the loins, urinary tract, eyes and chest as well as headaches and inflammation.”

I learned how food manufacturers massage portion sizes so it appears their products contain less sugar than they really do and how they try to hide sugar in plain sight by calling it any number of things on the packaging. 

By 2018 there were at least fifty-six names in use for sugar in ingredients lists. 

This book, exploring both the production and consumption of sugar, was very well researched. It provides a detailed history but, for the most part, it’s just so depressing. 

The World Wildlife Fund reckons that sugar is ‘responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other crop.’ 

This is not an easy read but it is an eye opening one.

Content warnings include death by suicide, miscarriage, racism, sexual assault, slavery and torture. Images that accompany the text include those that depict slaves being abused and killed and a close up photo of an ulcerated foot.

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: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A Dark History of Sugar delves into our evolutionary history to explain why sugar is so loved, yet is the root cause of so many bad things.

Europe’s colonial past and Britain’s Empire were founded and fuelled on sugar, as was the United States, the greatest superpower on the planet – and they all relied upon slave labour to catalyse it.

A Dark History of Sugar focuses upon the role of the slave trade in sugar production and looks beyond it to how the exploitation of the workers didn’t end with emancipation. It reveals the sickly truth behind the detrimental impact of sugar’s meteoric popularity on the environment and our health. Advertising companies peddle their sugar-laden wares to children with fun cartoon characters, but the reality is not so sweet.

A Dark History of Sugar delves into our long relationship with this sweetest and most ancient of commodities. The book examines the impact of the sugar trade on the economies of Britain and the rest of the world, as well as its influence on health and cultural and social trends over the centuries.

Renowned food historian Neil Buttery takes a look at some of the lesser-known elements of the history of sugar, delving into the murky and mysterious aspects of its phenomenal rise from the first cultivation of the sugar cane plant in Papua New Guinean in 8,000 BCE to becoming an integral part of the cultural fabric of life in Britain and the rest of the West – at whatever cost. The dark history of sugar is one of exploitation: of slaves and workers, of the environment and of the consumer. Wars have been fought over it and it is responsible for what is potentially to be the planet’s greatest health crisis.

And yet we cannot get enough of it, for sugar and sweetness has cast its spell over us all; it is comfort and we reminisce fondly about the sweets, cakes, puddings and fizzy drinks of our childhoods with dewy-eyed nostalgia. To be sweet means to be good, to be innocent; in this book Neil Buttery argues that sugar is nothing of the sort. Indeed, it is guilty of some of the worst crimes against humanity and the planet.

Dark Stars – John F.D. Taff (editor)

Horror is something like black taffy these days, enough elasticity to stretch across any room (even the word “room” feels a little confining while discussing the modern state of horror: Is it a room actually? Could be something else), and you’ll find that elasticity here in the pages of this book. 

The Attentionist by Caroline Kepnes

Reg and Maeve really want Tony to call. Naturally, he’ll have a friend so the sisters will be able to go on a double date. 

The phrase you learn in school is fight or flight. As if those are the only choices. As if we’re all so quick to throw a punch or make a run for it. Some of us are slow. We just need a minute to think. 

A Life in Nightmares by Ramsey Campbell

When past and present, reality and nightmares collide. 

“I don’t know why I should dream about the past” 

Papa Eye by Priya Sharma

When Ravi goes to the island, they see life and death in a whole new light. 

“We’ve been struggling with how to explain it. Now you can see for yourself.” 

Volcano by Livia Llewellyn

A new job, a new colleague, a pervasive darkness. 

It still bothers me that I can’t remember last night. 

All the Things He Called Memories by Stephen Graham Jones 

When you’re quarantining with your partner, a research scientist, who wants to discuss your greatest fear. You know, besides the pandemic. 

“Because our minds are puzzle boxes,” Marcy said, obviously. “You can twist them this way, that way, and, if you’re really lucky, maybe once in a while you unlock one of them.” 

Trinity River’s Blues by Chesya Burke 

Jazz, a murder of crows and a woman who sees dead people. 

“This here … this is longing. Its power manifested. You don’t understand who you are and so you let your fears and insecurities control you.” 

The Familiar’s Assistant by Alma Katsu

Eric has spent weeks tracking him down. Now he’s standing at the vampire’s door. 

You can’t accept a monster in your life and think that you’re safe. That you’ll be able to control him. 

Swim in the Blood of a Curious Dream by John F.D. Taff 

Peter just wants to drive his son to their new home. The weather has other ideas. So does Peter’s dead wife. 

Because, as I’ve learned, separation doesn’t diminish the love a child has for their parent.
Nor does death. 

The Sanguintalist by Gemma Files

The blood speaks to Lala. 

Tell me now. Show me, if you can’t form the words. Let me see it.
Let me see it all. 

Mrs. Addison’s Nest by Josh Malerman

This all started in detention fifteen years ago. It ends now. 

REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE 

Challawa by Usman T. Malik

Karisma returns to Pakistan with her husband. While she’s there, she plans to do some research. 

“Challawa. A mercurial creature that shimmers and is gone. A mirage that evaporates when you get close to it.” 

Enough For Hunger and Enough For Hate by John Langan

Michelle is trying to track down her brother’s killer. And his body. 

“There was nothing I wanted more than to spend every waking second with her.” 

Usually when I pick up an anthology, it’s because there’s one particular author’s story I need to read. This time around, that author was Stephen Graham Jones. 

With anthologies, I always find the stories are a bit of a mixed bag. I love this because there’s usually something for everyone. I also dread this because I know it’s just as likely I’ll encounter stories that I’m not so keen on.

My horror preference is the “would you like more blood with that?” variety. I actively seek out reads where I have the overwhelming urge to look over my shoulder and question whether it’s safe to turn out the lights, as well as my decision to eat before reading. I’m not as comfy with ambiguity so some reads here didn’t work as well for me. 

I enjoyed many of the stories but they didn’t elicit fear in me. The most horrified I felt was when I realised I’d finished more than one story with no way of explaining what it was about because I had no idea.

One of my favourite things about anthologies is the opportunity to find authors whose books have somehow flown under my radar. While I loved the story I came here for, I was also introduced to two authors whose books I definitely need to investigate in the near future: Priya Sharma and Usman T. Malik.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic abuse, miscarriage and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harbouring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters – both human and supernatural – and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown – possibly unknowable – threats.

It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.

Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List – Jenny Pearson

Illustrations – David O’Connell

Eleven year old Frank, son of Frank, has just inherited £462,000 from a step-grandmother he never knew. Her will says that the money needs to be spent to look after Frank Senior Senior, the grandfather Frank has also never heard of. 

So in the course of one conversation, our Frank has more money to spend than he ever imagined possible and a brand new grandpa. Frank comes up with an ingenious plan to spend the money in style while also getting to know his brand new relative. 

This is the story of our Bucket List and the things I’ve learned along the way. Like old people are actually quite buoyant when dunked in water and true happiness doesn’t come with a price tag. 

Although you may not think of hot air balloons as “wicker floating deathtraps” yet, you will after reading this book. There are some close encounters with ponds and you’ll gain new perspective on swimming with dolphins, as well as some other grandpa approved activities. There’s a bit of a Murphy’s law vibe to everything the youngest and eldest Frank attempt and that brings the humour I was expecting.

What I wasn’t expecting was to also feel so sad for most of the book. Kid Frank’s parents leave a lot to be desired; I wondered on a number of occasions if Matilda Wormwood was available to mete out her unique brand of justice. Grandpa Frank’s falling out with his son and its impacts made me want to cry. I also dreaded the end, not wanting to read what I suspected would happen. It wasn’t the light hearted, fun book I’d hoped for and because of that I almost stopped reading it several times.

I’m an outlier here. Most of the reviews I’ve read so far have given this book five stars and haven’t even mentioned the sadness I encountered hanging out with this dysfunctional family. I’d encourage you to read some of those before deciding if this is the book for you or not. Maybe I’m overthinking it but I wanted kid Frank to spend at least some of that money on some family therapy.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Frank John Davenport inherits piles of money from a grandma he didn’t know he had, things take an unexpected turn…Because the money comes with STRICT instructions …and a NEW grandpa.

Frank quickly compiles a list of all the ways he can spend the money and look after his grumpy grandpa. Money may buy hot-air balloon rides, monster-truck lessons and epic parkour experiences, but can Frank discover that happiness is, in fact, priceless?

The Secret Garden Part One – Maud Begon (Adapter)

Translators – Joseph Laredo & Maud Begon

I can’t help myself. You produce an adaptation of The Secret Garden, one of my favourite childhood books and movies, and I’ll be there for it. Even though this is only Part One, I had to read this graphic novel.

Mostly staying true to the story I know and love but also taking a bit of license here and there, this is the adaptation where cholera isn’t the distant concern it was to me as a child. No, this cholera is personified and sending out some creepy vibes.

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Mistress Mary, quite contrary gave me an unintended giggle when she sconed herself on a table. [For those of you who don’t live in Australia, to scone yourself is to hit your head. I don’t know if people still say this but it was a phrase from my childhood and as you can probably guess, having the opportunity to relive a childhood favourite has had the effect of regressing me just a tad.] I remember running under my Nan’s dining room table, not realising I’d grown since the last time I’d done it and sconed myself. Good times.

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I loved Mary’s death stare but didn’t love her saying to Mrs Medlock, “I have no interest in your old crap”. We’re still in 1910 here and no matter how surly Mary is, I’m certain that word is not part of her vocabulary.

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The colour palette changes with the seasons and, of course, Mary’s mood. Mary gets pretty chipper a lot earlier in the story than I remember and her loneliness and isolation are less pointed here. 

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It was frustrating finishing this story partway through and, given this graphic novel was less than 100 pages, I wondered why it had to be split in two in the first place. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the garden looks like in full bloom so will be continuing this blast from my past.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Europe Comics for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Mary’s parents die, she moves to England, where she is sent to a strange mansion in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, belonging to her uncle. It is here that she discovers the comfort of friendship … and a wonderful secret that she soon shares with her new companions: a garden forgotten by everyone, whose key, as if by magic, also opens the doors to broken hearts. This is a two-part graphic adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1912 classic of children’s literature.

The Bad Mood – Moritz Petz

Illustrations – Amélie Jackowski

When Badger gets up on the wrong side of the bed, he decides to share the love misery. 

What was the point of being in a bad mood if nobody noticed? Everyone ought to know how miserable I feel, he thought. 

Aiming for maximum rudeness and hostility, Badger manages to alienate all of his friends. Once he’s successfully spread his bad mood to everyone he comes across, Badger goes home.

As moods will do, Badger’s changes once he focuses on something other than how bad his mood is. But now all of his friends are in bad moods when he’s ready to play.

Badger learns that it’s not okay to take your bad mood out on others. Ultimately he takes responsibility for his actions and apologises to his friends. 

If I was reading this book to a child I’d be taking the opportunity to talk to them about anger and the different ways it can be managed without hurting others.

I enjoyed the illustrations but the layout could have been improved by making the text larger.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sometimes a bad mood can be contagious!

Badger got up one morning feeling very grumpy. “Humph!” Badger said to himself. What was the point of being in a bad mood if nobody noticed? he thought. So Badger headed out, slamming the door behind him. Badger spreads his bad mood far and wide, greeting all his friends with angry, rude remarks that put them in bad moods, too. A comical, cautionary tale for anyone who has ever gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.

Mind Like a Diamond – Amanda Pavlov

You had me at pirate witches. 

It definitely helped that this book took place on Halloween and the book’s victims characters were tasked with making it through a series of elaborate haunted house escape rooms. But, pirate witches, people!

There’s a $10,000 prize if you make it through all thirteen realms, something Lisette desperately needs. It sounds too good to be true and when Lisette begins her journey through the realms she begins to wonder if they are as real as they seem.

It’s a shame I found Lisette so deplorable; she’ll happily throw anyone under the bus if she thinks it will benefit her, even the person she claims is her best friend. As such, I wasn’t exactly cheering her on. I probably would have felt an evil laugh trying to escape if she’d met an appropriately grisly end. 

However, someone who had even some of the qualities I’d hope to find in this underdog would likely have failed one of the early levels and this would have been a much shorter book. Lisette’s catchphrase (“Holy tamales”) irritated me no end but, in hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all if I’d liked her. 

“This place has a way of making monsters out of ordinary people.” 

Although I was originally mostly here for the pirate witches, that part of the story wasn’t as developed as I would have liked. I’m pretty certain it could have been removed entirely and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book any less. The four covens and most of the things that happened after the final realm seemed unnecessary, as though those elements belonged in a different story.

The realms, though? They were so much fun. I loved exploring each one and anticipating how the people who failed each realm would exit the story. It was easy to visualise the dangers the characters were facing and I kept thinking I’d love to see a movie adaptation of this book.

While the cover was what originally drew my attention to this book (I still really like the design), it didn’t really fit the story. I thought the cover had a fantasy feel, maybe with a dash of romance thrown in. Sure, there were some fantasy elements here, but with its characters trying to survive hellish landscapes with creepy dolls, animals eager to devour them and a floor that literally is lava, this book had more of a horror vibe.

Readers who enjoy this book may also like Kate Alice Marshall’s Rules for Vanishing and M.C. Atwood’s The Devils You Know.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the author’s next book. 

“You’ll never finish the final realm! No one does!”

Content warnings include sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have some trouble. A derogatory term for physical disability is used by one of the characters (a comeuppance does come their way).

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

You don’t have to believe in magic for it to kill you.

Seventeen-year-old gymnast, Lisette Colbert, is skeptical of her criminal mother’s claim that they are descendants of pirate witches. But on Halloween night, Lisette will come face to face with indisputable proof.

Lured by a $10,000 prize, Lisette recruits her best friend Xavier and together they enter The 13th Realm of Hell – an escape-room style Haunted House run by a mysterious coven. Xavier has his reservations, especially after reading the fine print on the waiver to enter.

Lisette is too focused on proving herself to consider the risks. With him or without him, she is determined to complete all thirteen realms. If she wins the prize money, she’ll avoid eviction from her beloved French Quarter apartment. But the witches who run the show don’t write happy endings.

Hot Dog! #11: Tool Time! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Dan McGuiness

Hotdog and his friends, Lizzie and Kev, desperately want to go to Grizzney Land, but they don’t have any money to pay the admission fee.

There’s no problem these friends can’t solve, though. They decide to earn the money themselves by starting their own business. Some jobs are harder than others but the friends persevere and finally the big day arrives. It’s time for some fun!

While the usual teamwork and good attitudes from the three friends were on show throughout this book, it wasn’t one of my favourites of the series. The jokes weren’t quite as groanworthy as usual and I found myself wishing they were. 

I wasn’t quite sure how changing some rusty screws for new ones could magically make a gate that was seriously decrepit look brand new. I guess these friends are much more handy than I gave them credit for.

I enjoyed the time spent at Grizzney Land and definitely want to try out the Bear-O-Plane.

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Hotdog and his friends want to go to GRIZZNEY LAND, so they need to make money FAST! They decide to fix things with their tools! Will they nail it? Or will it be one AXE-ident after another?