Mindful Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

Sasha Patience Pruitt lives her life on fast forward and her middle name is a bit of a misnomer. Her new friend, Mr. Sloth, is, well, a sloth and let’s face it, algae doesn’t typically grow on your fur if you’re quick enough to outrun it.

This friendship of opposites has the potential to either be the best thing ever or a super fast/super slow disaster in the making.

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Katy Hudson is one of my all time favourite illustrators. She’s the picture equivalent for me of that one author you’re certain could transform a shopping list into a literary masterpiece. I’m sure I’d be captivated if Katy drew a stickman.

Which made it disconcerting when I didn’t immediately fall in love with Sasha. I’ve adored every character I’ve met in Katy’s previous books and I loved Mr. Sloth at first sight. I read and reread this book until I finally figured out what the problem was. Me.

It turns out I have a bias where picture books are concerned. I can tolerate, and even find cute, all types of bad and/or potentially annoying behaviour from animal characters but apparently I judge humans differently. Not that Sasha was going around chucking tantrums or anything but her impatience frustrated me time and time again. I thought back to when I read Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle, where Squirrel is the speedy equivalent of Sasha, and not once was I frustrated by Squirrel.

Having done a deep dive into my soul, I reread this book once again, with a new understanding of myself as a reader. This time Sasha was simply a young girl with a lot of energy, someone who doesn’t realise she’s missing out on a variety of amazing things because they’re a blur to her. Once she slows down enough and pays attention, she discovers the beauty that surrounds her and learns that some things are best enjoyed at a different speed.

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Once again, the illustrations in this book were absolutely gorgeous. Bonus points for the cameos of the author’s previous books.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sasha has one speed – fast. She loves to do lots of things, all at once, as fast as possible. Mr. Sloth has one speed – slow. He loves to do things one at a time, at a nice, easy pace. Can Mr. Sloth’s mindful ways teach Sasha to slow down and enjoy life? Best-selling author Katy Hudson gently weaves a mindfulness theme into this unlikely friendship tale between an energetic girl and a sloth, encouraging children to stop, breathe, and be present in every moment.

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea #1: It’s Owl Good – Renée Treml

I absolutely adore Renée Treml’s Sherlock Bones books so I was keen to get my hands on the first two books in her new series. I was not disappointed. The engaging characters, the gorgeous illustrations, the accidental learning and the humour I loved in Sherlock Bones were all here, just for a younger audience.

We’re introduced to Ollie the owl and Bea the bunny. They’re destined to become best friends. We also meet CeeCee the otter, Pedro the chameleon, Sera the deer and Simon the squirrel, who each have their own superpower.

I adored Ollie and Bea straight away, mostly because they’re both struggling with insecurities. Ollie, unlike other owls, has poor eyesight and needs to wear glasses. Bea’s feet, which are so long they should probably come with a trip hazard warning, make her feel self conscious.

Together, our new friends try to find a way to turn what they perceive as their weaknesses into superpowers.

My favourite piece of accidental learning in this book was “an owl can hear ten times better than a human”.

Some of the humour in this book comes from the puns. When Bea gets angry, she’s a “hot cross bunny”.

The illustrations are “otter-ly awesome!” Bonus points from me because they’re in colour.

The target audience are kidlets aged from 4 to 7 years. It’s the kind of book I’d be happy to read aloud repeatedly. Emerging bookworms should manage this book well as there aren’t many words on each page. There are a couple of Spanish words towards the end of the book but readers don’t need to know Spanish as the meanings are explained in English.

I’m looking forward to the next book, Squeal on Wheels, which features rollerskating animals. What’s not to love?!

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ollie and Bea will delight young readers in Book 1 of this super sweet and funny full-colour graphic novel series that celebrates friendship and the differences that make us special.

Come with Ollie and Bea on a HARE-raising adventure with a HOPPY ending!

Ollie is an owl who wears glasses. And Bea is a bunny with very big feet. They don’t know it yet, but they are about to be best friends. Can they help each other to find their OTTER-LY awesome inner superhero?

Join Ollie and Bea in this charming, funny, cute story about the joys of making friends and having fun. The perfect book for young readers who love to laugh.

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody – Kate Gilby Smith

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

It’s always just been Alex and her Uncle Henry. That is, if you don’t count the consistent groups of strangers who have been trying to sneak a peek at Alex her entire life. There are actual coaches full of them. But, hey, maybe this is normal. It’s not like Alex has any friends to compare notes with.

Until she meets Jasper on her twelfth birthday. We love Jasper, although we don’t really know a lot about him for the longest time.

For a boy who loved asking other people questions, he was an expert at avoiding them himself.

We do know he’s a sweetheart, though, and he’s a really good best (and first) friend to have. We adore him, even after he suddenly disappears before Alex’s eyes. Fortunately, Alex likes Jasper as much as we do so she’s determined to find him. No matter what.

‘And this time I don’t think logic is the answer.’

I spent the entire book trying to figure out what I could possibly say about it that didn’t give away the whole time travel component, which is one of my all time favourite things to read about. I needn’t have worried; one look at the book’s blurb and I discovered that what I thought was a secret is well and truly out of the bag. I probably would have read this book sooner had I known. All I had to go by when I decided this was the book for me was the title and Thy Bui’s incredible cover illustration.

Speaking of design, something so simple yet so appropriate accompanied the chapter titles. Remember how I mentioned the literal coaches full of people who want to catch a glimpse of Alex? A coach starts appearing in the first chapter and slowly makes its way across the page, chapter by chapter. Brilliant!

Besides loving Alex and Jasper, I also wanted to get to know Uncle Henry, whose ideas on learning were all I needed to know to want to hang out with him forever. I also really liked Gerty, who Alex meets when she’s searching for her missing friend.

I adored the way time travel is explored in this book. There were a couple of time travel related head-scratchers, though. The Laws of Time all made sense to me but I had trouble believing, based on my extensive time travel experience with Marty McFly, that a Time Tourist hadn’t inadvertently rewritten history by now. Although, if Timeless is to be taken as time travel gospel, then maybe only the people personally involved in the rewrite would remember how things used to play out.

The time travel quandary that remains for me is why the bazillion Time Tourists who not so secretly spied on Alex as she was growing up didn’t immediately recognise her in the future. Sure, it’s not like she was expected to show up there unannounced and oftentimes we don’t recognise the obvious right before our very eyes when we don’t expect them to be there, but … someone should have been pointing at her and whispering to the person next to them, ‘Hey, look! Doesn’t that girl look like Alex when she was young?’

I figured out fairly early on who future Alex was going to be and why she became famous. If kid me had read this book, though, it would have been your job to pick me up off the floor once I’d made it to the reveal.

Although the time travel is absolutely wonderful and it made me want to do it even more, my take away from this book is going to be the friendship between Alex and Jasper. It made me feel all warm and squishy inside. In a good way.

‘Never underestimate the power of a best friend. A friend who loves you for who you are, who believes in the person you will become even when you don’t. Who believes you are stronger, smarter, better than you believe yourself to be. A friend who can put you in your place when you need it. More than talent, more than success, friendship is what matters most.’

Book in a book: Jasper gives Alex a copy of The Secret Garden, one of the many reasons I loved him.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On the day Alex was born, crowds surrounded the hospital. On her first day of school, people spied from the gates. And recently, strangers came to watch her perform in her school play … as the llama.

But why? Alex has always been a nobody.

Then a mysterious boy named Jasper starts at school and he alone seems to know the answer. But before he can tell Alex, he disappears … into the future. Can Alex brave traveling into the future to discover what’s happened to him and to unravel the secret of her own astonishing destiny … before time runs out?

Snowflake – Louise Nealon

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine

This book is an exploration of mental health and it’s a coming of age story. It’s about our relationships, with other people and with ourselves. It’s about how our feelings of not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, [insert your own adjective here] enough can manifest in self-destructive behaviours. It’s about cows and snowflakes and stars and dreams.

Debbie grew up in Kildare. She and her Mam, Maeve, live on a dairy farm owned by her uncle Billy. Billy lives in a caravan on the property. Maeve has been writing a book about dreams practically forever and Billy is an alcoholic.

Debbie doesn’t have any friends and her most complicated relationship is with the boy who stands at the back of mass, a boy she’s never spoken to. Now Debbie, a self-proclaimed culchie, is going to university. There she meets Xanthe.

My only friend. Friend? Acquaintance? Person who knows my name?

I’m struggling to think of ways to explain what I liked about each character without getting into spoiler territory. Instead of telling you about specific characters, I’ll tell you what I loved about the characters as a whole.

Every major character is damaged in some way, whether by a personal trauma or the way they see themselves. Every character is trying the best they can with what resources, external and internal, they have to work with. Things might knock them down but they don’t stay down. Everyone is a work in progress.

‘There’s no way to catch a snowflake. And I haven’t met anyone who is able to catch a dream.’

There was an authenticity in the way mental health conditions and emotional pain were addressed throughout the book. Sometimes a sentence that appeared simple enough on the surface felt more profound when I slowed down and reread it.

The bathroom is where I go to recharge, let myself cry and pull myself together just enough to define my edges so I seem solid on the outside.

There were aspects of the story I wanted to delve into further: Maeve’s dreams, Debbie’s dreams, Billy’s mental health…

A character that I could have read an entire book about was Audrey. I wanted to go with her on the journey that led to her making her curiosity cabinet. I felt like she had a backstory that was worth exploring.

Oh, and that quote at the beginning of my review? It’s an Irish saying that means “People live in each other’s shadows.” Basically put, we need one another. I love it!

Content warnings include alcoholism, attempted suicide, disordered eating and mental health.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eighteen-year-old Debbie White lives on a dairy farm with her mother, Maeve, and her uncle, Billy. Billy sleeps out in a caravan in the garden with a bottle of whiskey and the stars overhead for company. Maeve spends her days recording her dreams, which she believes to be prophecies.

This world is Debbie’s normal, but she is about to step into life as a student at Trinity College in Dublin. As she navigates between sophisticated new friends and the family bubble, things begin to unravel. Maeve’s eccentricity tilts into something darker, while Billy’s drinking gets worse. Debbie struggles to cope with the weirdest, most difficult parts of herself, her family and her small life. But the fierce love of the White family is never in doubt, and Debbie discovers that even the oddest of families are places of safety.

A startling, honest, laugh and cry novel about growing up and leaving home, only to find that you’ve taken it with you, Snowflake is a novel for a generation, and for everyone who’s taken those first, terrifying steps towards adulthood.

The Woman They Could Not Silence – Kate Moore

“Can [a woman] not even think her own thoughts, and speak her own words, unless her thoughts and expressions harmonize with those of her husband?”

Taking inspiration from the #MeToo movement, Kate Moore delved into the history of women who, more often than not, have been labelled ‘crazy’ and silenced for speaking the truth. Kate wondered if there was a woman whose perseverance, despite everything that was done to discredit her, prevailed.

She found Elizabeth Packard who, in 1860, was taken against her will to Jacksonville Insane Asylum, two hundred miles from her home, because of her “excessive application of body & mind.” The person who was responsible for this injustice was her husband of 21 years and the father of her six children.

The evidence of her so called insanity?

“I, though a woman, have just as good a right to my opinion, as my husband has to his.”

Elizabeth, after being a dutiful wife, mother and homemaker for almost all of her adult life, heard about the women’s rights movement and gave herself permission to think for herself. She also disagreed with her preacher husband about matters of religion and, with her great intellect and her persuasive arguments, he was afraid of the consequences of her speaking her mind.

This was a time when most states “had no limits on relatives’ “right of disposal” to commit their loved ones”, where an insanity trial had to take place before you were admitted to a state hospital (but not if you were a married woman) and where “married women had no legal identities of their own.”

The thought of me living in 1860 terrifies me. I’m certain I too would have been institutionalised and I don’t know I would have been able to sustain the fortitude that Elizabeth displayed. Don’t think that you wouldn’t have also been at risk of such a fate, as

one common cause of committal to an asylum in Elizabeth’s time was “novel reading.”

In the asylum, Elizabeth met other patients, including other sane women who had been trapped there for years, similarly pathologised for their personality. The asylum served as a “storage unit for unsatisfactory wives”. She also witnessed patients being abused by the staff.

Elizabeth was determined to prove that she was sane and secure her release from the asylum. She also wanted to enact change that would see her new friends also released and to protect the mentally ill from abuse. But what Elizabeth wanted more than anything was to be able to parent her children again.

This is a thoroughly researched and well written account of the life of a woman I’m sad to say I had never heard of before but will certainly not forget.

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So in the end, this is a book about power. Who wields it. Who owns it. And the methods they use.

And above all, it’s about fighting back.

Content warnings include derogatory terms used to describe mental illness and mention of death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, medical abuse, mental illness, racism, slavery, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt .

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the New York TimesUSA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Radium Girls comes another dark and dramatic but ultimately uplifting tale of a forgotten woman whose inspirational journey sparked lasting change for women’s rights and exposed injustices that still resonate today.

1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened – by Elizabeth’s intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts. So Theophilus makes a plan to put his wife back in her place. One summer morning, he has her committed to an insane asylum.

The horrific conditions inside the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois, are overseen by Dr. Andrew McFarland, a man who will prove to be even more dangerous to Elizabeth than her traitorous husband. But most disturbing is that Elizabeth is not the only sane woman confined to the institution. There are many rational women on her ward who tell the same story: they’ve been committed not because they need medical treatment, but to keep them in line – conveniently labeled “crazy” so their voices are ignored.

No one is willing to fight for their freedom and, disenfranchised both by gender and the stigma of their supposed madness, they cannot possibly fight for themselves. But Elizabeth is about to discover that the merit of losing everything is that you then have nothing to lose… 

The Book of the Baku – R.L. Boyle

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

There’s only so much horror and pain any living creature can take before it loses its mind.

Sean, unable to speak due to a trauma in his past, is going to live with his grandfather. He knows Grandad used to be a writer but that’s about the extent of his knowledge as they only met two months ago. It is at Grandad’s that Sean learns of the existence of the Baku. He’s going to wish he hadn’t.

While the Baku, a creature otherwise known as the ‘dream eater’, is not a new concept (its mythology spans centuries), the author has brought it to life in an imaginative way, imbuing it with a whole new level of creepy. I can see the appeal of what appears to be an easy way of getting rid of your nightmares but this is definitely not the incarnation of the Baku you want to feed.

For there’s a darkness deep in me,

That feeds on pain and misery.

Give it to me, relinquish dread,

And fall asleep in peace instead.

I felt Sean’s pain throughout the book, both physical and the pain of grief. His underdog status and innate likeability had me empathising with him even more. I wanted this kid to be okay and I hoped everything would work out in his relationship with his Grandad, who I absolutely adored from the get to.

Towards the middle of the book I began to wonder if the story was going to start feeling too repetitive but new elements and additional information about Sean’s past alleviated my concerns. There’s a growing dread as the days progress at The Paddock, something that may even be enhanced by the use of repetition, as you anticipate what’s next for the main characters. The horror is amplified by Sean’s inability to communicate what he’s experiencing to anyone.

It is as though each unspoken sentence dries to create a thicker barrier for those behind it and now his voice is blocked behind an impenetrable concrete wall.

I loved the inclusion of the rowan tree in Grandad’s garden. Given the themes that were explored in the book, the choice of this specific type of tree felt especially significant. Although I want to say more about this tree I won’t because spoilers. However, I will recommend you read about its mythology and symbolism once you’ve read the book so you can see for yourself how brilliantly it all lines up. I particularly like the explanations given here and here.

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, death of animals, domestic abuse, drug addiction, gun violence, mental health, physical abuse, sexual assault (off page), slavery, suicidal ideation and verbal abuse, including slurs about a physical disability (no, I didn’t like this at all but the horrible words used were consistent with what I knew of the characters who said them).

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A Monster Calls meets The Shining in this haunting YA dark fantasy about a monster that breaks free from a story into the real world.

Sean hasn’t been able to speak a word since he was put into care, and is sent to live with his grandad, a retired author whom he has never met before. Suddenly living an affluent life, nothing like the world of the estate he grew up in, where gangs run the streets and violence is around every corner, Sean spends his time drawing, sculpting and reading his grandad’s stories. 

But his grandad has secrets of his own in his past. As he retreats to the shed, half-buried in his treasured garden, Sean finds one of his stories about ‘The Baku’, a creature that eats the fears of children. 

Plagued by nightmares, with darkness spreading through the house, Sean must finally face the truth if he’s to have a chance to free himself and his grandfather from the grip of the Baku.

The Stranger Times – C.K. McDonnell

Hannah’s new boss shot himself in the foot during her job interview and that’s not even the weirdest thing that’s happened this week. She’s just joined The Stranger Times, a newspaper that reports “the weird and wonderful from around the world ‘and beyond’”. Think Fortean Times.

‘You’d be surprised what I’d believe. It’s been a hell of a week.’

Hannah is the new Tina, AKA, assistant editor. Her boss (the guy with the new hole in his foot), Vincent Banecroft, is “foul-smelling, foul-mouthed and foul-tempered”. Banecroft lives in the office, as does Manny (clothing optional), who’s in charge of the paper’s printing department.

Grace, the office manager, spends much of her time managing Banecroft’s mouth. Stella, whose job title I’m still unsure of, lives with Grace and may be my favourite character. Reggie is the paper’s paranormal consultant and Ox is their ufologist and “general paranoid”. The paper is owned by Mrs Harnforth.

Then there’s Simon, who desperately wants to work for The Stranger Times but is having trouble getting past their No Simon policy.

Meanwhile, the police are attempting to investigate some events that aren’t exactly in their jurisdiction, events that are definitely strange enough for The Stranger Times.

‘Right,’ said Banecroft, ‘let’s kick off this parade of inadequacy, then, shall we?’

This book was so much more fun than I’d expected. I got sucked straight in and was entertained the entire time. I enjoyed getting to know Hannah and her new colleagues. There was a Big Bad doing Big Bad things and a whole bunch of goings on that regular people aren’t aware of.

While I was introduced to various ‘Types’ and magical bits and pieces, I don’t really have my head around this part of the world yet. I’m hoping the gaps in my knowledge will be filled in more when I read the sequel.

I really enjoyed the newspaper clippings scattered throughout the book; my favourite was Homework Eats Dog. I would definitely subscribe to this newspaper. There’s an article about a haunted toilet in Falkirk!

‘It’s in a pub. People claim that it speaks – issuing death threats, ominous predictions and …’

‘And?’

‘Shortbread recipes.’

There was a bit of a disjointed feel to some of the chapters. Sometimes it took me a page or two to figure out which part of the story I was reading about, especially when a new character or plot line was introduced. It all came together in the end though.

Some questions were answered in this book but there were a bunch that are being held over for the sequel. I expect I’ll be rereading this book a little closer to the sequel’s publication date.

The employees at The Stranger Times are a bunch of oddballs but they’re my kind of oddballs. I think I’d fit right in with this team.

‘The world is not what you thought it to be.’

Bonus content: If you sign up for the newsletter at https://thestrangertimes.co.uk you’ll snag In Other News, a free ebook.

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, death by suicide, drug addiction and homophobic and racist slurs. I didn’t feel like the homophobic and racist slurs added anything to the story and, although they were challenged, I wondered what the point was of including them in the first place.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor … well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.

Between Sea and Sky – Nicola Penfold

Somewhere, between the sea and the sky, there are other places.

Pearl and Clover live with their father on the oyster farm. Clover yearns to go to school but Pearl is determined to never step foot on land again, certain the land’s poisons were responsible for her mother’s death. Pearl and Clover are keeping a big secret, one that will tear their family apart if anyone ever finds out.

Nat lives on the land with his mother, a science advisor who works hard to provide for her son. Nat enjoys playing with his friends but is always careful not to get caught doing anything that will accumulate civil disobedience points for his mother. The constant threat of peacekeepers and the visual reminder of the prison ship keep the people on the land in line.

“You don’t know what it’s like, living there,” he’d said quietly, gazing back to land. “Some rules are hard to keep.”

Nat doesn’t want to stay at the oyster farm with his mother this summer and Pearl definitely doesn’t want “landlubbers” intruding on their lives but it’s the beginning of something new. Nat has his own secret, one that could change everything.

I couldn’t help comparing this book with the author’s debut, Where the World Turns Wild. Both feature worlds that ours could easily begin to resemble in the not too distant future if we don’t take climate change seriously.

My biggest delight came when I realised that the names of the characters in both books have been so carefully and cleverly chosen. There are some names in this book that foreshadow a character’s role or something about their personality. However, the ones that really stood out to me were those I could easily align with elements, which are a vital part of this story. For example, Sora is a Japanese name that means ‘sky’.

Water is the sea all around us. Earth the poisoned land. Air’s the sky where the gulls fly.

Fire is the Decline. Here it was floods and the rising storm water, but elsewhere it was fire. The world got too hot. Fire burned forests and villages, whole cities too.

Spirit is everything that was lost.

The only thing I adored in Where the World Turns Wild that I missed in this book was a connection to a special adult. I love Annie Rose from Where the World Turns Wild as much now as I did the day I met her. While I liked many of the adult characters in this book there wasn’t someone that I got to know well enough to want to spend all of my time with. The closest I came was with Olive but, for reasons that will become clear as you read the book, she wasn’t ever going to be as knowable as Annie Rose was.

Kate Forrester, whose cover image was what initially drew me to Where the World Turns Wild, has also designed this cover. The details will all mean something to you once you’ve finished reading.

“But if people don’t try, things won’t ever change, will they?”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a near future where a series of environmental disasters has left much of the country underwater, Pearl lives on a floating oyster farm with her father and younger sister, Clover. Following her mum’s death several years earlier, Pearl refuses to set foot on land, believing her illness was caused by the poisons in the ground. Meanwhile, Clover dreams of school, friends and a normal life.

Then Nat comes to spend the summer at the sea farm while his scientist mum conducts some experiments. Leaving behind the mainland, with its strict rules and regulations, he brings with him a secret. But when the sisters promise to keep his secret safe, little do they realise that they may be risking everything…

The Extraordinaries #2: Flash Fire – T.J. Klune

“Superhero team-up,” Nick breathed. “It’s like this is a sequel! Oh my god. Yes. Yes.”

I’ve been waiting (not very patiently, mind you) for this sequel for so long! The Extraordinaries was the queer superhero book I didn’t realise I needed until I began reading it. If you haven’t read it yet, please rectify that immediately.

Nick, our main character, has ADHD, panic attacks and an extraordinarily high adorability/cluelessness quotient. I fell in love with him as soon as I met him. His best friend and now boyfriend, Seth, is just as adorable but not clueless, although he does have a lot of abs. Their friends, Jazz and Gibby, round out the bunch and I can’t think of a group of friends I want to claim as my own any more than these four. I could read an entire book where Team Pyro Storm just sit around chatting.

With the timing of the first book’s publication and the subsequent feedback the author received at the time, I’d been expecting police brutality and corruption to be explored in more depth in this sequel. You can read what the author has to say about this here.

At times it felt like it was left to Gibby and her parents to explain things to the white characters. However, Nick showed maturity in the way that he reassessed what he had grown up believing about the police, still loving his father but trying to come to terms with his actions and those of other members of the police force. Nick’s father must also reevaluate his past behaviour and figure out what being accountable looks like.

“You’ve seemed to have done an about-face with the whole cop thing.”

Police brutality and corruption were addressed throughout the book and I’m glad that they were, although it definitely changed the tone of the book. The smile that you couldn’t wipe off my face during the first book and the first few chapters of the sequel (so many embarrassing sexual conversations), where everything felt light and playful, turned into a heaviness that weighed on me for most of the rest of the book.

Thank goodness for Nick, who remains adorable. I love the way his brain works. I love that he’s open to new ideas. I love how fiercely protective he is of the people he loves. I even love the “conversational whiplash”; I may love that about him most of all.

The banter between Nick, Seth, Jazz and Gibby is everything and each time they are together I melt a little bit. My romantiphobia fades away whenever Nick and Seth or Jazz and Gibby get all lovey-dovey. The friendship dynamics of Team Pyro Storm is pretty much everything you need in your life.

“We stand together,” Nick reminded him, “so we don’t have to struggle apart. You’re not alone in this, okay?”

Because this is a sequel, we have to discuss the need for superhero costume upgrades, but needles are very pointy and it’s all a lot of effort. We’re reminded that if you don’t shout the name of the move you’re doing, then you’re not fighting right.

“Backflip of Chaos!”

We’re introduced to new Extraordinaries! We’re not entirely sure if they’re on our side or not.

“What the hell,” Nick muttered. “What’s trying to kill us now? You think it’s some new Extraordinary villain bent on—”

I particularly loved Miss Conduct but need to spend much more time with them. I need their entire backstory ASAP.

There are secrets (so many secrets) and with secrets come their unravelling. The reveal at the end of the first book is explored in a way that I loved. Even though it took Nick a lot longer than I’d hope to figure it all out, I really appreciated that it wasn’t a success only journey for him. There’s also a reveal at the end of this book but I’m not entirely sure I’m on board with this development, even though I’m definitely intrigued; I’ll wait until I read the third book to decide.

Bring on some more Extraordinaries!

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nick landed himself the superhero boyfriend of his dreams, but with new heroes arriving in Nova City it’s up to Nick and his friends to determine who is virtuous and who is villainous. Which is a lot to handle for a guy who just wants to finish his self-insert bakery AU fanfic.

Friday Barnes #9: No Escape – R.A. Spratt

‘I’m giving that up,’ said Friday.

‘What?’ asked Melanie.

‘Private detection, solving mysteries, that stuff,’ said Friday. ‘I’m not going to do that anymore.’

It’s been two years since we last saw Friday and the years haven’t been kind to her. When we meet up with her again she’s just been released from “the country’s highest security juvenile detention facility”, having spent eleven months imprisoned there.

In that time Binky has graduated (I miss him already!) but Melanie is still at Highcrest Academy and she has held onto Friday’s green pork-pie hat. Melanie might be a great napper but she also knows her best friend can’t stay away from solving mysteries for long.

Thanks to Parker, who was at Highcrest Academy all along but still seems like a replacement Binky to me, Friday is soon investigating the case of the missing passport and missing underwear. She also has an appointment with the school counsellor.

‘Are you going to psychoanalyse me based on my literary preferences?’

Uncle Bernie, Ian, Ian’s mother and Friday’s new cousin are still in Italy. Uncle Bernie needs Friday’s help so it’s lucky that there’s a school excursion to Italy that Friday can join. Melanie’s coming too and as usual she constantly reminded me why I love her.

‘I know you feel scared right now because you’re out of practice at being brave. But I’m your best friend, so I know for a fact that you can do this because you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met.’

For someone who spends most of the book sleeping, she manages to snag some really good lines.

Once they’re all in Italy, Friday has plenty of mysteries to investigate, including the case of the gelato rivals, the mysteriously malfunctioning water heater and the potential theft of priceless artefacts from museums. There are nuns and tourist attractions and the opportunity to say things like:

‘It’s an urgent matter of national historic importance.’

It was really good to get to hang out with Ian again. He and Friday make a great team, even though they sometimes baffle one another.

‘I think you’re going to surprise me, by doing something unimaginable. You always do.’

Friday has grown up a bit in the past two years but her time in Juvie has had a huge impact on her. She’s more fragile and vulnerable, and it’s sad to see her readjusting to real life again. At the same time, though, what she’s been through has made her more relatable to me. While I always loved her, in some of the earlier books it was easy to believe that almost nothing fazed her because she was so out of touch with her feelings.

‘I don’t understand why people do the things they do. I just know what I’ve read in books.’

I’m so glad this series is continuing. I wish Friday had been there to model smart, socially awkward and loveable to me when I was a kid.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s two years later …

Friday steps out of prison, a shell of her former self. She’s still wearing the same brown cardigan, but she swears she’s never solving mysteries again! Who is Friday kidding? She can’t suppress her brilliant deductive mind and is soon drawn back into the intrigues of Highcrest Academy.

Then Uncle Bernie rings, pleading with Friday to fly to Italy and help him protect the Uffizi Gallery from a team of art thieves – and she can’t say ‘no’ to family. Even if it means travelling to the city where Ian, her nemesis/ex-boyfriend is living.

Will Friday be able to protect Italy’s finest artworks? Will Melanie stay awake long enough to help her? And will Ian still be as gorgeous as a Greek god and twice as annoying?