The Two Doctors Górski – Isaac Fellman

When Annae moves to England to complete her PhD, she meets Dr Górski, both of them. Having experienced academic abuse by her former supervisor, Annae is wary, using her ability to read people to feel safe.

Annae was the subject of fascination when she was an undergraduate, using magic to remove fear in rats.

“But with magic like this, it would theoretically be possible to edit our response to trauma, to cure mental illness of all kinds – just a little change in the way we feel and that makes all the difference.”

While the premise fascinated me, the intersection of magic with mental illness and trauma, and the exploration of consent didn’t captivate me like I’d hoped. I somehow managed to hover on the surface of the story, feeling disconnected from the characters.

I wanted Annae’s science themed knitting patterns to endear her to me. I wanted to know more about the two Górski’s and the process of making a homunculus. I’m still not entirely sure why I couldn’t connect with any of them.

It’s become a habit for me to send test emails to any email addresses mentioned in fiction I read. There were two in this story; neither currently exist.

Content warnings include academic abuse, mental health, self harm and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor for the opportunity to read this novella.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Annae, a brilliant graduate student in psychiatric magic and survivor of academic abuse, can’t stop reading people’s minds. This is how she protects herself, by using her abilities to give her colleagues what they each want out of their relationship with her.

When Annae moves to the UK to rebuild her life and finds herself studying under the infamous, misanthropic magician Marec Górski, she sees inside his head a dangerous path to her redemption. Annae now faces two choices – follow in Dr. Górski’s lead, or break free of a lifetime of conditioning to follow her own path.

Nick the Sidekick – Dave Whamond

Nick has super hearing and believes he’s ready to become a superhero. Currently, though, Nick is a sidekick. He’d much prefer you refer to him as a superhero assistant.

Nick was recruited by Super Fantastic Guy, who is big on superhero clichés. Nick hates superhero clichés.

Nick also isn’t a fan of doing all of the work and getting none of the credit.

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I expect young readers will enjoy the action sequences and Nick’s superhero training fails. This story is full of superhero clichés, often pointed out by Nick. The ending would have worked better for me if Super Fantastic Guy had realised the error of his ways and voluntarily given some credit to Nick.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Nick signed up to be a superhero, it seemed like a terrific idea. He was flattered to be chosen by Super Fantastic Guy – picked for his intelligence, his investigative skills and his super-amazing hearing abilities. But as Super Fantastic Guy’s assistant, Nick (who, by the way, hates being called a sidekick) didn’t realise that he would have to do all of the work – and get none of the credit. All Nick wants is an opportunity to prove himself. So, when he overhears a group of criminals planning an enormous bank heist, he knows his big chance to save the day has finally arrived. Or has it?

Wolf Girl #7: Crash Course – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Gwen and her pack are travelling by train to Tunny, where her parents were last seen. On their way, Gwen finally gets to see her sister, albeit briefly.

Their arrival at Tunny attracts plenty of attention and it isn’t long before Gwen and the dogs wander into a crossover with the characters from the Rise of the Mythix series.

This series started out with so much promise but it’s frustrating me now. Gwen travels all over the place but she’s not really getting anywhere. Her lost family are dangled in front of her, the hoped for reunion is thwarted, over and over again.

Crossovers can be fun when they make sense. Your favourite characters are placed in situations you wouldn’t usually find them in and their interactions with characters from other series can show you aspects of their personality you didn’t know existed. A crossover done well can enrich both series. Crossovers in Anh Do’s books have been feeling like advertisements for quite a while now.

Stubborn hope has kept me here this long. I want to be there for the payoff. The stakes remain high, there are plenty of action scenes and the target audience are probably still loving this series. I’m just looking for the heart that was there in the beginning, in the time before crossovers.

Multiple animals were harmed in the pages of this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As the train Wolf Girl is driving hurtles towards the locked gates of an enemy city, the last thing Gwen expects to see out the window is her long lost sister!

Soon the pack are on an epic chase, encountering deadly enemies and plenty of prehistoric surprises.

But just when things seem most dire, help arrives in an unexpected form!

The Pallbearers Club – Paul Tremblay

I’ve loved the Paul Tremblay books I’ve previously read and the blurb for this one had me intrigued, so it’s safe to say this was a highly anticipated read for me. It’s clear from the reviews I’ve read prior to its publication that this is going to be a divisive read and I’m sad to say that on this occasion I’m not on the side of the divide that I was hoping I would be. 

Art Barbara (not his real name) and Mercy Brown (this may or may not be her real name but it’s up to you to decide) meet at a funeral. Art, who needed an extracurricular activity for his college applications, created the Pallbearers Club. Mercy, a stranger of indeterminate age, joins and the two become friends people who spend time with one another … I don’t know how to describe their relationship. 

It’s all kind of odd. Art thinks Mercy is a vampire and proceeds to write a memoir where he attributes various occurrences in his life to said vampirism. Mercy reads the manuscript of Art’s memoir, calls it fiction and then annotates it. 

Art uses foreshadowing like it’s going out of fashion, makes nouns into verbs (I’m good with that) and writes sentences that last an entire paragraph. 

A chapter in which, frankly, I don’t know the best way to somewhat briefly yet dramatically convey and/or describe the passing of twenty years, of the invisible years, and after considerable consideration I land upon using deftly placed flashbacks (to be presented as unrealistic interview dialogue) despite knowing said flashbacks are frowned upon (with, admittedly, good reason most of the time) by the academia writing syndicate as well as by those who can afford to pay for the privilege of being taught prescriptive writing advice, but fuck it, a memoir Novel! is all flashback anyway, so we’ll all just have to deal, and there’s a messed-up and scary piece of furniture that should’ve been a clue. 

I’d encourage you to read some 5 star reviews because there are readers who loved this book as much as I wish I did. Even though this one didn’t work for me, I’m keen to read the rest of this author’s books. 

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

1988, and puberty has hit Art Barbara hard – he’s a painfully socially awkward teenager, underweight, acne-ridden, and bent crooked by scoliosis. Worse, he has no extra credits to get him into college. So Art starts the Pallbearers’ Club, dedicated to mourning the homeless and lonely – the people with no one else to bury them. It might be a small club, unpopular and morbid, but it introduces Art to Mercy Brown, who is into bands, local history, folklore and digging up the dead.

Decades later, Art is writing his memoir to try and make sense of it all, because nothing about Mercy is simple. It’s all a matter of trust, right? Their friendship twists and coils around the pair of them, captured in Polaroid snapshots and sweaty gigs and the freaky, inexplicable flashes of nightmare that lurk in a folded jacket at night.

Because Art is writing his memoir to make sense of it all, but Mercy is reading it too. Mercy thinks Art’s novel – because this isn’t a memoir – needs some work, and she’s more than happy to set the record straight. What if Art didn’t get everything right? Come on, Art, you can’t tell just one side of the story… 

Seamlessly blurring the lines between fiction and memory, the supernatural and the mundane, The Pallbearers Club is an immersive, suspenseful portrait of an unforgettable and unsettling friendship.

Ninja Kid #8: Ninja Dogs! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Anton Emdin

Grandma has another new invention, a dog transformation bracelet. Good timing, too, because everyone’s pets are now missing.

‘Do you think Dr Kane’s involved?’

Considering any time anything out of the ordinary happens in Duck Creek it’s because Dr Kane has some new dastardly plan, I would have said it’s a given that he’s now in the pet-napping business. I would have been wrong.

It turns out that the pets aren’t the only ones MIA in this book. While Dr Kane is using his annual leave, the baddie void in Duck Creek is filled by the Collector from the Rise of the Mythix series. Also making a cameo is the front cover of the first book in the Pow Pow Pig series.

When I find subtle nods to author’s other books in the one I’m reading, I generally find it adorable and usually feel super smart for having found them. The crossovers in Anh Do books aren’t nods anymore; they’re beginning to feel more and more like advertisements.

They don’t even make sense most of the time. The Rise of the Mythix series have an older target audience than Ninja Kid so most readers won’t even know who the Collector is.

I accidentally read the ninth Ninja Kid book before this one so had been wondering how Noodles made their way into the family. I’m glad I know now but the constant crossovers are making me question how much longer I’m going to continue reading Anh Do’s books.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Something strange is going on… all the animals in town have DISAPPEARED! But with Grandma’s latest invention, Nelson and Kenny can sniff out trouble by TURNING INTO DOGS! How will they find the pets when they can’t stop PLAYING FETCH?!

Asian Ghost Short Stories – Lee Murray (editor)

I love ghost stories so I was really looking forward to reading this anthology. Including a blend of old and new stories from East, South and Southwest Asia, this should have been right up my alley. 

The introduction had me hooked but the stories themselves didn’t give me the scares I was looking for. For me, part of the problem was the order the stories were told in. 

While it seems logical to order an anthology alphabetically by author, it meant I was sometimes reading multiple stories by one author, one after another; some began to feel repetitive. I think I would have gotten much more out of the stories if they’d been grouped by country, with introductions exploring the cultural and religious significance of the particular types of ghosts I’d be meeting in each section.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Another deluxe edition of new writing and neglected perspectives. Asian ghosts – from India to Sri Lanka, China to Korea, Japan to the Philippines – can be both terrifying and comforting. Underpinned by strong cultural beliefs in the cycles of life and ancestor worship, the nature of Asian spirits differs from that of their counterparts in other areas of the world. The possibility is more instinctually accepted that ghosts remain with us, as part of the world, whether we can see them or not. Featured here are all kinds of stories from across East, South and Southeast Asia: classic weird tales by the likes of Pu Songling, Rabindranath Tagore, S Mukerji, Im Bang and Yi Ruk, Lafcadio Hearn and Yei Theodora Ozaki, are complemented by stories by Asian writers of today. An egui (the Chinese version of a ‘hungry ghost’) is exorcised, a vicious jiangshi (Chinese zombie-like revenant) is encountered in the night, a Bengali shakchunni (the ghost of an unsatisfied bride) poignantly seeks love with devastating effect, a family is haunted by vengeful Korean gwishin, and the iconic Japanese tragedies of Oiwa and O-Kiku are revisited. 

Matariki – Kitty Brown

Illustrations – Kirsten Parkinson

I love learning about different cultures. I’d never heard of Matariki before so I was especially keen to get my hands on this book.

The blurb tells you that it “explores the nine stars of Matariki” but assumes you already know what Matariki is. I didn’t, so I asked Google.

I learned that “Matariki is a special occasion in the New Zealand calendar which marks the start of the Māori New Year.

Signified by the Matariki cluster of stars reappearing in our night sky, this is a time to reflect on the past year, celebrate the present, and plan for the year ahead.”

I found this quote, along with an easy to understand introduction to Matariki.

Armed with this new knowledge, I delved back in. If you already know about Matariki, this book provides readers with specific ways they can honour and celebrate this time. 

The cover image, which represents Pōhutukawa, was my favourite illustration.

I would have appreciated a small section at the back of the book that told me how to pronounce the names of the stars so I didn’t need to rely on Google.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How can we celebrate Matariki? Let’s look to the stars!

Maumaharatia: Remembering our past 
Tiakina te taiao: Caring for our environment 
Te whakawhanaungatanga: Connecting with our people 

Me pēhea tātou e whakanui i a Matariki? Tirohia ngā whetū!

Maumaharatia te onamata 
Tiakina te taiao 
Te whakawhanaungatanga ki ō tātou iwi 

Explore the nine stars of Matariki in rich, detailed imagery and bilingual text. Dive into the meanings of the stars and Matariki itself. Encourage whānau to remember, celebrate and reflect at this important time of year.

Witch 13 – Patrick Delaney

Tonight is Sterling Marsh’s final shift as sheriff. She really should have called in sick and left Drybell for the evening, preferably before the truck crashed into the bridge. Sterling and her colleagues being cut off from the outside world in the middle of one of the worst storms in Drybell’s history isn’t their biggest problem. They now also have a troublesome witch to deal with. 

There’s no such thing as witches. 

The bulk of the evening takes place inside the sheriff’s station with the witch in custody so you wouldn’t think she’d have much opportunity to create a ruckus. You’d be wrong. Sterling, Chase, her deputy, Georgia, the receptionist, Rosa, the dispatcher and Max, Chase’s seven year old son, are about to have one of the longest nights of their life. 

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this night” 

This witch looks like something out of a fairytale, donning a black dress and pointy hat. She smells sweet, but she’s anything but. 

Although it was clear based on results that she was actually doing quite a bit, she spent most of the book impersonating a statue. Part of me was fascinated by this, wondering what she’d be capable of once she started moving, but frustration took over more often than not. When I’m enjoying horror that includes people’s insides becoming their outsides, my preference is for it to be as over the top as possible. 

The witch’s backstory didn’t work for me and the ending felt rushed.

If I’d visited Drybell before the shemozzle started, I definitely would have spent some time at Hallowed Grounds Coffee.

The cover image is absolutely incredible. There are illustrations scattered throughout the book, which I loved. Although there were some wonderfully dark ones featuring the witch, my favourite was the creepy snowman.

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Content warnings include death by suicide and domestic abuse. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On the eve of her resignation, Sheriff Sterling Marsh prepares for a bleak winter in Drybell, Connecticut, after a string of bad decisions leaves her life in shambles. Two weeks before Christmas and expecting a long night of paperwork and quiet celebration with the friends she’s grown to know and love, she’s surprised when an unnerving stranger appears in the form of a witch. 

A silent, menacing figure, the witch appears to be ripped straight out of a fairy tale, complete with a tall, pointed hat, and black clothing. But when strange things begin happening all over town, Sterling begins to suspect that there may be more to the witch than meets the eye.

As she works to maintain order as the world crumbles around her, the witch’s mysterious presence throws her world into a frenzy, threatening to send the sleepy town spiralling face first into the darkest night it’s ever seen.

The Splendid City – Karen Heuler

Eleanor was in the process of learning witchcraft when she turned her coworker into a cat. It doesn’t matter that her reasons were valid; she behaved in a manner most uncovenly and now she’s living with the consequences. This means she’s stuck living with said cat, whose metamorphosis didn’t magically improve his personality.

Eleanor and Stan are now in Liberty, which once upon a time was Texas. Before it seceded, that is. Now it has animatronic presidential heads and people are whisked off in vans, presumably never to be seen again. There’s nougat, which is nice, but there’s also a water shortage, which isn’t.

Eleanor has been tasked with finding a missing witch. Stan, when he’s not scrounging up fish tacos and beer, is on a treasure hunt.

I was keen to find out how a story with a witch who turns a detestable coworker into a cat would play out. I’m now wondering if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this read.

I appreciated the political commentary and satire. I was interested in learning how witchcraft worked in this dystopia, but didn’t connect with any of the witches.

I thought I’d be amused by insufferable, newly feline Stan as he tried to make his way in the world but I hated him. It wasn’t the fun type of hate, though, where you love to hate someone. I love villains when they’re complex and especially when they’re accidentally good some of the time, but if Stan had any redeeming qualities, I didn’t find them. In the end, I didn’t want to spend any time with him.

The story is told in three parts. The second, which addresses how Eleanor became a witch and Stan became a cat, felt like one big info dump.

I’d encourage you to read the five star reviews because there are people that absolutely love this book. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the book for me.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A genre-blending story of modern witchcraft, a police state and unique characters, for fans of Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller.

In the state of Liberty, water is rationed, free speech comes at a price, and paranoia runs deep. Eleanor, a rebellious young witch, has been put under house arrest with her lecherous co-worker Stan, who loves craft beer, fish tacos, and… shooting people.

Eleanor has little time for Stan. That’s why she turned him into a talking cat. Besides, she’s got a job to do: locate a missing witch who seems to be mysteriously linked to the water shortages. But she might want to keep an eye on Stan – he’s caught the scent of a treasure hunt, and won’t hesitate to give up Eleanor to get his paws on the prize. 

WeirDo #18: Weird History! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Jules Faber

Miss Franklin is excited about a writing competition. The best entry in the class will be entered in the regional competition. The school that wins gets a voucher to spend at Buster’s Bookshop. Miss Franklin wants her students to incorporate what they’ve been learning about history in their stories.

By chapter two, what was promising to be a fun and creative story devolved into advertising for the one of the author’s new series, Pow Pow Pig. Even weirder, these series have different publishers.

When Weir, Henry, Bella and Sue decide to hang out after school, they find Weir’s father’s old costume box. This results in them dressing up as a chicken, Barry the goat, a duck and a pig. Uh huh. Then there are the not so subtle sound effects…

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The illustrations were fun. The one where the kids slide down the neck of a brontosaurus to get to the playground reminded me of how Fred Flintstone’s workday finished. 

But I just can’t get excited about a book whose sole purpose is to plug another series.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Weir and his friends have been busy working on stories for an awesome writing competition! Will mixing heroes with history help them win the prize?! Only time will tell! It won’t be easy … but it will be funny!