Magic Lessons – Alice Hoffman

Spoilers Ahead!

Do as you will, but harm no one.

What you give will be returned to you threefold.

Colour me bewitched! I say this with the utmost respect: with each Alice Hoffman book I read, I become more convinced that she is proficient in the Nameless Art.

If you’ve ever wondered how the Owens curse came to be, wonder no more. The answer lies in this book. The story of Maria Owens and her daughter, Faith, is one of love, revenge and the fear of powerful women.

Any story involving witchcraft in the 1600’s, especially one partially set in Salem, is bound to include all manner of horrors perpetrated against women. I prepared myself for the likelihood of witnessing immolations and drownings but I was still surprised at times by the darkness of some of the events that unfolded, particularly those involving the death of animals. I probably needed to brew myself a cup of Courage Tea before settling in.

It was a dangerous world for women, and more dangerous for a woman whose very bloodline would have her do not as she was ordered, but as she pleased.

There was so much to love about this book: the bond between mothers and daughters, the importance of keeping the door open to those in need, the power of words and finding the courage to be who you are. While I really liked Maria, it was Faith’s journey that really sucked me in.

A few times in the first quarter of the book I caught myself thinking that if something could be said in two sentences it was said in five, but over time I got used to the descriptions and backstories.

I was left with a few outstanding questions:

If a witch’s touch turns silver black, then why was the hairpin still silver when Maria first received it? Wouldn’t Rebecca’s touch have already turned it black?

How do Maria’s red boots still fit her as an adult? Is there a spell that allows clothing to grow with you?

What happened to Elizabeth?

Did Finney ever return to Penny Come Quick?

Reading this Owens origin story made me want to reread Practical Magic and finally read The Rules of Magic. Practical Magic and I have a long history. I fell in love with Alice Hoffman’s early books in the 90’s, so of course I found Practical Magic then. I also managed to wear out the movie on VHS before the DVD made its way into my life. I would still have that DVD, if not for a friend who ‘borrowed’ it and failed to return it. Never fear; I found the perfect incantation in my Grimoire so they aren’t likely to do it again. 😜

“You never told me what happens if someone falls in love with us.”

“We ruin their lives,” Maria told her daughter.

Content warnings include child abuse, deaths of animals, domestic violence and some marriages that creeped me out, where the man was in his 30’s or older and the girl was in her early teens.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s no secret that love has plagued the Owens family for centuries. But when did the curse begin, and why? It all began with Maria Owens, who arrived in America in 1680, with a baby in tow …

Born with pitch-black hair and pale green eyes, Maria was abandoned in the English countryside by her birth mother and raised by Hannah Owens who warned her, “Always love someone who will love you back.” She inherits Hannah’s Grimoire – a magical book of enchantments that include instructions to heal illnesses, ingredients for soaps that restore youth, and spells that make a person burn with love for another. When Hannah dies in an attack, Maria leaves for Curaçao, where she meets John Hathorne, a magistrate from Salem living freely for the first time in his life as he falls in love with Maria. But Hathorne soon abandons her, before Maria realises she’s pregnant. When she gives birth to a red-headed baby girl, Faith, who possesses immense magical talent, Maria embarks on a voyage to Salem to face her destiny, with or without magic.

But aboard the ship bringing her to America, fate intervenes and she meets a man who will change her life, if she’ll only let him. Her journey, laced with secrets and truths, devastation and joy, magic and curses, will show her that love is the only answer, always.

The Raven – Jonathan Janz

Humans have always been monsters. We just needed a push to embrace our shadow side.

In a world of monsters, Dez is a Latent. That sounds fancy, like his superpowers are just about to emerge. It actually means Dez is one of the few people that don’t have any powers, which is especially unfortunate considering he’s surrounded by cannibals, vampires, werewolves and satyrs. Dez has managed, against all odds, to survive for two years since the Four Winds but any moment could be his last.

Although it was the promise of monsters and blood spatter that drew me to this book, it was Dez himself that sucked me in. Despite all of the horrors he’s witnessed and participated in to stay alive, he has retained his humanity. He still has feelings. The grief and guilt he lives with for surviving while so many of his loved ones didn’t threatens to consume him. Although the odds are very slim that she’s still alive, Dez maintains hope of finding Susan, who he last saw being dragged away.

I learned enough about Dez’s personal history to become invested in his survival. The details provided about the various monsters enabled me to picture them, but I also understood that Dez still has a lot to learn, if only he can survive long enough.

So much blood is shed you could probably swim laps in it. I’m a huge fan of visceral horror so loved the descriptions of the carnage, where “shredded guts oozed like wine drenched cutlets” and a “chest was a wicker weave of stringed meat”.

I’m really hoping for a sequel that will take me to Blood Country. Some answers are given in this book. New people and monsters are introduced, and many are eviscerated, bludgeoned and ripped to shreds. But we’re on a journey here, and we’re not even close to the finish line. We need to search for loved ones, get to know new acquaintances (who are hopefully trustworthy) and battle more monsters.

This book surprised me in the best possible way. When I first saw the cover image I found it striking but didn’t really think it was signalling that this was the book for me. It was the blurb that enticed me and I’m so glad I took a chance on The Raven because it was a winner. I’m definitely going to be seeking out more books by this author.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, drug addiction and sexual assault. I’m all for slicing and dicing so I was keen for the gruesome deaths, though I was concerned about the satyrs and the potential for on page sexual assaults. Thankfully, while past assaults are mentioned, graphic details were not provided.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Fearing that mankind is heading toward nuclear extinction, a group of geneticists unleash a plot to save the world. They’ve discovered that mythological creatures such as werewolves, vampires, witches, and satyrs were once real, and that these monstrous genetic strands are still present in human DNA. These radical scientists unleash the bestial side of human beings that had been dormant for eons, and within months, most people are dead, and bloodthirsty creatures rule the earth. Despite the fact that Dez McClane has no special powers, he is determined to atone for the lives he couldn’t save and to save the woman he loves. But how long can a man survive in a world full of monsters? 

Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust – Rebecca Clifford

If you cannot recount the story of your own family, your home town, or your formative experiences, how do you make sense of your childhood and its impacts?

Most of us take our early childhood memories for granted. They form part of the story we tell ourselves about who we are and where we came from. For so many children who survived the Holocaust, these memories are either entirely missing or exist only in fragments. There are often no surviving family members who can help them fill in the blanks.

The survivors whose stories are explored in this book were all born between 1935 and 1944. Previous books I’ve read about Holocaust survivors were written by people who were either teenagers or adults during the war. The oldest survivors mentioned here were only ten years old in 1945.

“For most survivors who are not young child survivors, there was a before, you see.”

From an interview with Zilla C., conducted by psychoanalyst Judith Kestenberg in 1987

Even though I’ve now read the excerpts of their stories I’m still have trouble getting my head around what their lives have been like. For so many years they were not even counted as Holocaust survivors and were encouraged to simply move on with their lives and forget what memories they had of that time.

‘Just think it never happened,’ they urged, ‘and you will start a fresh new life.’

Paulette S., on how OSE staff tried to prepare her to move across the globe

In addition, there was a “disconnect between what children after the war felt and what their adult carers expected them to feel.”

The children’s wartime experiences consisted of at least one of the following:

survival in hiding, in flight to a neutral country or Allied territory, in ghettos and transit camps, and in concentration camps.

The ways these children coped with the trauma of the war and the subsequent traumas of being moved between institutional care, family members, and foster and adoptive homes is addressed. Some of the children lived in stable, loving homes during the war, albeit not with family members, only to be abruptly taken from them at the end of the war.

More often than not, they were moved to countries where they didn’t know the language. Many went to live with strangers and had to try to figure out who they were with little to no assistance.

Survivors has been extensively researched, with sources from “archival material, including care agency files, records from care homes, indemnity claims, psychiatric reports, letters, photographs, and unpublished memoirs, documents originating from nearly a dozen different countries”. The bibliography and detailed footnotes make up almost 15% of the book.

I had expected almost all of the book to consist of detailed stories of individual survivors. Snippets of interviews with survivors are included, as are overviews of the wartime experiences of a number of them. There is also a lot of information and commentary on changes that occurred throughout the decades that impacted on survivors. Some of these changes relate to what was happening in the world at the time and some examines the ways survivors have related to their stories as they grew older.

We should not be surprised to find that the way in which we tell the stories of our lives changes over time; this is true for child survivors as it is for all people.

I found it unusual that whenever survivors in general were discussed, most of the time they would be referred to as ‘she’ or ‘her’, even though interviews with male survivors are also included in the book. Some information was repeated in different chapters and I began to dread seeing the phrase ‘as we have seen’, but I came away with a much better understanding of both the short and long term impacts of the Holocaust on these young survivors.

I’m left wanting to know more about the individuals I was introduced to. Having said that, I agree with the author (an oral historian) that the level of detail I’m interested in would require many more volumes.

Content warnings include anti-Semitism, child abuse, death by suicide and attempted suicide, domestic violence, mental health, murder, sexual assault and trauma.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Yale University Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust.

How can we make sense of our lives when we do not know where we come from? This was a pressing question for the youngest survivors of the Holocaust, whose prewar memories were vague or nonexistent. In this beautifully written account, Rebecca Clifford follows the lives of one hundred Jewish children out of the ruins of conflict through their adulthood and into old age.

Drawing on archives and interviews, Clifford charts the experiences of these child survivors and those who cared for them – as well as those who studied them, such as Anna Freud. Survivors explores the aftermath of the Holocaust in the long term, and reveals how these children – often branded “the lucky ones” – had to struggle to be able to call themselves “survivors” at all. Challenging our assumptions about trauma, Clifford’s powerful and surprising narrative helps us understand what it was like living after, and living with, childhoods marked by rupture and loss.

Girl from the Sea – Margaret Wild

Illustrations – Jane Tanner

Who lives in that cottage by the sea?

I wish. I wish. I wish it was me.

This picture book has haunted me for two weeks. Each time I look at it the narrative I tell myself about the story changes, which is fitting as the author has deliberately left it open to interpretation.

A child watches a family who live in a seaside cottage. She yearns to live there too and to share in their life. She wants to belong and hopes they will ask her in.

The illustrations are where this story truly comes alive. They’re also where the ambiguity lies.

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The child is actually a ghost who has come from the sea.

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The family consist of a mother, father, son and daughter. The members of the family never get a voice in the words of this story so it’s up to the reader to interpret their story from clues given in the illustrations.

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My interpretation is that the ghost girl drowned at sea, possibly a long time ago, and that it may even be her weathered gravestone that sits off kilter outside the family’s property. I think the family has also experienced a loss, one that the mother still grieves. They may have buried a child of their own.

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The mother is often pictured at a distance from her husband and two children. I believe this is a way of showing how her grief has separated her physically and emotionally, causing her to feel alone despite being surrounded by loved ones.

But you know what? Because the author has not joined all of the dots, someone else might see something I haven’t or disagree with my interpretation. And for this specific book, I love that. Usually I would need to know and know for sure, but not here. What I do want to know is what other people see in this story that I don’t.

The illustrations really are the star of this book. They are absolutely gorgeous but also sad, full of yearning and quite haunting. The blue the girl brings with her from the sea is the only colour amongst charcoal. I found this contrast beautiful.

The cover illustration was inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s The Monk by the Sea.

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The Monk by the Sea

This is definitely one of those picture books that adult me adores, knowing that child me wouldn’t have liked it. If I’d seen this book as a child I would have appreciated the pictures but I would have wanted more words. I know I wouldn’t have liked not absolutely knowing the truth of the story at the end of the read.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A poetic, visual mystery that will leave the reader asking questions about the mysterious girl from the sea.

Survivor Song – Paul Tremblay

Have you ever given any thought to pre-exposure rabies vaccination? As you travel at a safe distance alongside Ramola and Natalie it may very well cross your mind, probably more than once. You see, this timeline is pretty bitey.

Natalie is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She’s 38 weeks pregnant. Her husband has just been murdered. By a zombie. She’s been bitten by the zombie. And that’s just the beginning of her story.

Natalie, A.K.A., Nats, A.K.A., Rabies Yoda

Strengths:

  • Has read all YA novels featuring an apocalypse, so she’s probably absorbed some useful survival tips
  • Fluent in sarcasm

Weaknesses:

  • Was very recently bitten by an infected person
  • Grieving the death of her husband, so there’s potential for distraction

Pre-apocalypse attitude to apocalyptic scenarios: the system will definitely fail.

Now Ramola, a paediatrician and Natalie’s friend, is in a race against time to seek medical treatment for Natalie and her unborn child before it’s too late. If it’s not already.

Ramola, A.K.A, Rams, A.K.A., Doctor Who

Strengths:

  • Doctor
  • Loyal to her friends

Weaknesses:

  • Bad liar
  • She’s consistently within biting range of someone who is infected

Pre-apocalypse attitude to apocalyptic scenarios: “Life finds a way.”

With the story more The Walking Dead than Zombieland, you know early on that you’re not here for the laughs. There’s going to be blood, gore and frothing at the mouth.

The first kill happens early; props to the author for killing off their namesake! Poor Paul never had a chance (not a spoiler – it’s in the blurb) and “from here on out, anything can and will happen.”

This is a stressful read. The kind of stressful where, whenever Natalie wanted to check her temperature I wanted to check my blood pressure. What can I say? Paul Tremblay books are stressful.

Okay, so maybe this is only the second one I’ve read but the first one I read was The Cabin at the End of the World and I own the rest, so that counts as somewhere adjacent to being an authority on the subject, doesn’t it? It’s like how I intuitively know that John Marrs is going to bring terrifying women into my life and Courtney Summers is going to devastate me with the ugliest of ugly cries.

These zombies –

“There are no zombies! This is not the apocalypse! You must stop saying that. It’s not helping.”

Okay, technically not zombies. Even though that’s what they’re called for most of the story. They’re infected with rabies, but not your garden variety rabies. This strain has seriously levelled up!

All of the biting aside, this is a story about friendship. Doctor Who struggles to maintain her confidence in her ability to save her friend but she’s going to do everything in her power to ensure Rabies Yoda survives the worst day of her life. Rabies Yoda trusts Doctor Who with her life (literally) and that of her soon to be born child.

I found it interesting to observe, from far enough away that I couldn’t be bitten, the different ways characters coped with what may or may not be the apocalypse. Some were determined and focused on their goal and some were more emotional. Conspiracy theorists came out to play while others tried to sort through misinformation for snippets of facts that could mean the difference between life and death. Then there was this stellar coping mechanism …

It would be easier to pretend they are in a zombie movie. He will still pretend.

I’m with denial guy! Even though there’s a lot of ‘everything’s going to hell in a hand basket’ going on, there’s still enough time left to discuss the important things in life. Like what movie everyone loved but you and what Disney’s problem is with mothers.

I found Josh and Luis fairly interchangeable but really warmed to them, despite their insistence on annoying me with their constant companion, the catchphrase “You are the bad.” I actually became more emotionally invested in their lives than with Doctor Who and Rabies Yoda’s.

I absolutely loved the inclusion of an asexual character; this was never going to be the focus of the story but its mere mention made my heart happy.

For those who need to know ahead of time, rabid animals were most definitely harmed within the pages of this story. So were rabid humans. It was bound to happen and although I usually avoid stories where animals die, this story wouldn’t have been believable if it wasn’t included.

On reading about a potential apocalypse during our own apocalypse pandemic: It’s weird. Some passages are so prescient that they could easily be written about our current reality. If I’d read this book in 2019 I would have had an entirely different reading experience:

  • I would have had to Google what an N95 was. Pre-COVID I was blissfully unaware of both their name and importance.
  • I wouldn’t have nodded at some of the scenarios that now feel familiar rather than fiction.
  • I wouldn’t have been wondering if the people I met here also encountered toilet paper hoarders.

To add to the ambience of my reading experience today, the sounds outside (or lack thereof) were eerily appropriate. The birds that usually chatter and chase one another through the neighbourhood almost entirely disappeared. It was hard not to wonder if they might know something I don’t. Hopefully they’ll come back tomorrow and their behaviour today isn’t actually a harbinger of doom.

Sassafras and lullabies.

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

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed – viciously attacked by an infected neighbour – and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares – terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages … and shake them to their core.

Tales from Deckawoo Drive #5: Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Chris Van Dusen

“Anything can happen, Stella Endicott, anything at all.”

Stella Endicott loves second grade and is looking forward to writing a poem with metaphors that will impress her teacher, Miss Liliana.

Things don’t go as planned when Horace Broom, second grade know-it-all and the bane of Stella’s existence, calls her a liar.

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An argument ensues, which results in Stella and Horace being sent to the principal’s office. While Stella is determined to meet her fate with curiosity and courage, Horace isn’t so sure.

While facing fears and finding metaphors, Stella and Horace find some common ground and an unexpected new friend.

This is a sweet story that includes a few words that the target audience may find difficult. Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations are as wonderful as I’ve come to expect, with expressive characters and humour.

Leroy Ninker’s story felt unfinished to me in Leroy Ninker Saddles Up and Stella’s story feels unfinished here. Although there is a conclusion, I’m left with unanswered questions. Did Stella ever get to share her poem with the class? What did Miss Liliana think of it?

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Stella Endicott loves her teacher, Miss Liliana, and she is thrilled when the class is assigned to write a poem. Stella crafts a beautiful poem about Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door – a poem complete with a metaphor and full of curiosity and courage. But Horace Broom, Stella’s irritating classmate, insists that Stella’s poem is full of lies and that pigs do not live in houses. And when Stella and Horace get into a shouting match in the classroom, Miss Liliana banishes them to the principal’s office.

Will the two of them find a way to turn this opposite-of-a-poem day around? In the newest spirited outing in the Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo, anything is possible – even a friendship with a boy deemed to be (metaphorically speaking) an overblown balloon.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn – Melissa Bashardoust

There was and there was not

… a girl who was cursed. Soraya lives her life in the shadows, knowing she is poison to everyone around her, including her mother, Tahmineh, and her twin brother, Sorush, the shah of Atashar.

She had read enough stories to know that the princess and the monster were never the same. She had been alone long enough to know which one she was.

Hidden from the world, Soraya spends most of her time in her golestan (a walled rose garden) or navigating the passages hidden within the palace walls. She longs to belong but can only catch distant glimpses of the life that could have been hers. She would do anything to break her curse.

Soraya wasn’t as easy for me to love as Mina and Lynet from Girls Made of Snow and Glass. This seemed fitting to me as it can sometimes feel like we’re approaching a caged animal when someone is hurting like Soraya is. We tend to push people away when we see ourselves as unloveable, making it difficult to accept (or even recognise) when someone is trying to reach out to us.

When we feel like we exude poison into the world we either burrow deep inside of ourselves or lash out at others, opposites with the same intent. Hurt them before they hurt you. Don’t allow yourself to get too close to them because they’ll leave you in the end anyway. Don’t get your hopes up for someone to love you for who you truly are because, frankly, who in their right mind would?!

Anger and shame fought for control within her, and so she forced her body into the position of shame, because it was safer.

As I spent more time with Soraya I began to love her because of, not despite, her pain. The pain of not belonging is amplified when it’s your own family that declares you an outcast, through their actions if not their words. I yearned for Soraya to find acceptance.

I grew to love Parvaneh, a parik, almost as much as I adore her name, which is Persian for “moth or butterfly”. I wish I could have gotten to know the other pariks better and wanted the opportunity to learn more about their history and culture. I also wanted to find out more about the other divs, the drujes and the kastars; I don’t know nearly enough about them.

I loved the way Persian mythology was woven into the story, and I particularly appreciated the Author’s Note at the end of the book where the ways various elements in this story line up with and also diverge from their origins were explained.

I’ve seen parts of myself in all of Melissa’s girls so far and I quickly become immersed in the worlds she creates. I can’t wait to see what world she’ll invite me to explore next.

“It’s time for you to become who you were meant to be.”

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A captivating and original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse.

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story. 

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison. 

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming … human or demon. Princess or monster.

Thin Places – Kay Chronister

Short stories are usually a mixed bag for me but this book’s blurb sold me on my need to dive right in. I had planned on reading a story a day and that worked for a couple of days, then I couldn’t help myself. With a diverse cast including mothers, witches, demons and a preacher’s daughter, and themes of loss, suffering and resilience, this was unlike any other short story collection I’ve come across.

One of the things I love about short stories is that there’s usually something there for everyone. I’ve enjoyed finding out what stories resonated with other reviewers. My favourites are marked with 🖤.

Your Clothes a Sepulcher, Your Body a Grave

First love can be complicated …

I thought if I only loved you enough, I could make the story come untrue.

The Women Who Sing For Sklep

A composer seeks a new sound.

“You do not want to become one of us.”

The Warriors, the Mothers, the Drowned 🖤

A mother’s fierce love for her child and the lengths she will go to to protect her.

“Many others did this before you, better than you,” says the coyote. “And they never made it out alive.”

Too Lonely, Too Wild

She may not have inherited Grammy’s witching power, but she did inherit the family Bible.

No one goes halfway bewitched.

Roiling and Without Form

Molly has only ever known life at the Flamingo but can’t help wondering what’s beyond the marsh.

She sees everyone like this: dangerous or edible. Maybe even Molly. Maybe especially Molly.

Life Cycles

A son sets out to pay his father’s debt.

“Go anywhere you like. But not my nursery.”

The Fifth Gable

Marigold yearns for a child and hopes the women of the four-gabled house can help her.

“Whatever else you do, dear, remember to blame yourself.”

White Throat Holler 🖤

The Blanchard sisters and Esther Grace, a preacher’s daughter, hunt demons.

“You know your town isn’t like other towns,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It just isn’t.”

Russula’s Wake 🖤

Jane’s children are Paley’s, and they need nourishment.

With no other Paleys around, sometimes Jane could make herself forget that the Paley rules were rules for a reason, that they were supposed to protect the people who followed them.

The Lights We Carried Home 🖤

A film crew, a haunted child and a sister who needs to know the truth.

Before I went to school, I thought everyone lived in a kerosene haze and listened at night to the screams of the dead.

Thin Places

Miss Augusta has a new student: Lilianne, the new lighthouse-keeper’s daughter.

Thickening, thickening, filling the crack,

The sun comes out, the water goes back.

White stars in the night, red rain in the day

There’s grass on the shore, there’s fish in the bay.

At times I felt like I was plonked right in the middle of a story and had to scurry to catch up. Other times, the story finished and I wished for an entire novel so I could continue to explore. Sometimes I’d sit there at the end of a story, trying to figure out how I could explain what I’d just experienced to someone else. A couple of times I was certain I’d missed something crucial because I was hazy on the why or the how.

Whether they told of obsessive love, strange appetites or the bonds of family, each story felt delightfully off-centre. With such a limited word count I was often surprised by how easily I could visualise the world I was visiting and a lot of the descriptions, even of things that were uncomfortable, felt beautiful.

Thank you so much to Undertow Publications for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kay Chronister’s remarkable debut collection of modern horror tales, Thin Places, echoes with the ghosts of Shirley Jackson and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, while forging its own unique gothic sensibility. Here there be monsters! And witches! 

These are tales of monstrous mothers and dark desires. Love, grief, death; and the exquisite pain and joy of life. With transcendent prose, Chronister chronicles the lives of powerful women and children; wicked witches and demons. These are the traumatic ghosts we all carry, and Chronister knows what it means to be human and humane. Powerful and hypnotic, these are tales you won’t forget, from a vibrant new voice. 

Tomb of Gods – Brian Moreland

Spoilers Ahead!

“We are standing at the threshold of one of life’s great mysteries”

Dr Harlan Riley hadn’t been the same since he was found “wandering the desert southeast of Cairo”. Scars covered his body and he alternated between speaking an unknown language and uttering cryptic warnings. It is five months months after his death, in March 1937, when a team of British archaeologists find Nebenteru’s tomb, whose secrets Harlan took to the grave.

I have witnessed miracles. Nightmares. Forgotten realms.

Leading the team is Dr Nathan Trummel. His own personal team is made up of assistant, Piper, blind psychic, Dyfan, and bodyguard, Aiden Gosswick. They are joined by mercenaries, Sergeant Dan Vickers and Corporal Teddy Quig, and a guard, Corporal Rex Sykes. 

An Egyptian guide, Bakari Neseem, an American photographer on assignment for National Geographic, Caleb Beckett, and a number of labourers, archaeologists and students round out the team. With this many volunteers signing up to enter the final resting place for an unknown number of explorers, it’s fairly certain the pharaoh’s tomb is likely to become many of theirs.

Late to the party is Imogen, an expert in Egyptian mythology and Harlan’s granddaughter. Raised by Harlan and his sidekick on expeditions when she was a child, she’s likely to be quite useful in navigating the potential pitfalls ahead.

“Damned are we who enter the abyss.”

Once the bloodbath got under way the story went in a direction I hadn’t expected. The world building was extensive and it often felt like I was walking alongside the team, or perhaps somewhere closer to the middle of the group so whatever was coming next would get them first. 

Peoples’ true natures rose to the surface and tensions were high as the explorers faced their demons, and I’m sure the characters’ blood pressures increased each time they noticed sentences that commenced with:

Twelve explorers

All nine explorers

The eight explorers

I couldn’t help seeing parallels between Imogen searching her grandfather’s diary for clues and Indiana Jones using Henry’s diary to find the Holy Grail.

I grew up sharing my Nan’s love of Egyptology and know she would have loved this book. The way the mythology was injected into the storyline made me appreciate how much time the author must have spent researching it and had me Googling some unfamiliar names to figure out if they originated from history or the author’s imagination. When the lines between reality and fiction get blurry I know an author has well and truly sucked me in.

I had two main niggles:

  • The way the explorers made their way through the various gates was repetitive at times.
  • I felt the epilogue was unnecessary and its contents frustrated me. The chapter prior to this provided a natural end to the story for me and I wish it had concluded there.

“Something’s coming.”

Content warnings include death by suicide, murder, self harm, suicidal ideation, torture and war crimes.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Deep inside the tomb exists a hidden world of wonder and terror. 

In 1935, British archaeologists vanished inside an Egyptian cave. A year later, one man returned covered in mysterious scars. 

Egyptologist Imogen Riley desperately wants to know what happened to the ill-fated expedition led by her grandfather. On a quest for answers, she joins a team of archeologists and soldiers in Egypt. Inside a mountain tomb, they’ve found a technologically advanced relic and a maze of tunnels. Dr. Nathan Trummel believes this tomb leads to the most guarded secrets of the pharaohs. When the explorers venture deep into the caves, they discover a hidden world of wonder and terror.

The Patient – Jasper DeWitt

Spoilers Ahead!

But every hospital, even with patients like these, has at least one inmate who’s weird even for the mental ward.

Patient name: Joe

Date of First Admission: 5 June 1973

Patient’s Age at Time of First Admission: 6

Previous Treatments: Unknown

Current Treatments: Mild antidepressants and sedatives

Treatment Administered By: Nessie, Nursing Director

Diagnosis: Disputed; his “symptoms seemed to mutate unpredictably”

Patient Release Date: N/A

This type of patient is obviously insane, but nobody knows how they got that way. What you do know, however, is that it’ll drive you insane trying to figure it out.

When Dr. Parker H — begins working as a psychiatrist at Connecticut State Asylum he’s young, arrogant and confident he will be able to cure the patient the rest of the staff believe is incurable.

“So, tell me. Why do you want to attempt therapy on an incurable patient?”

Joe has been a patient at CSU for over twenty years and no treatments have worked. It’s gotten to the point where he’s almost entirely isolated due to the fact that the people who attempt to treat him either die by suicide or wind up admitted to CSU themselves.

I’ve also come to a conclusion: Whatever Joe has, I’m sure we can’t cure it. I don’t even think we can diagnose it. It’s obviously not in the DSM.

If it turns out that psychiatry isn’t the answer for this man, then who do we need to call instead?

A priest?

Mulder and Scully?

Moose and Squirrel?

(Hello, boys)

Dr H — adds instalments of Joe’s story on “a now-defunct web forum for medical professionals” over the course of seven weeks, his own recollections interspersed with physician’s notes. We’re told that all names have been changed.

The first instalment, where Dr H — describes CSU, was interesting but it made me wonder if the narrative was going to end up fairly dry. I needn’t have worried. I soon became hooked, searching the pages for clues that would help me diagnose Joe. I love stories set in asylums so I was probably always going to enjoy this book but I was surprised by how compulsive this read became.

I planned to only read the first entry to get a feel for the book before tackling something that publishes sooner. However, this one ended up jumping the queue and I am already trying to figure out when I will have time for a reread. I’m very grateful to have had the entire story to binge on; it would have frustrated me so much if I’d had to wait for new instalments to become available.

It’s been a couple of days since I finished reading and I want to compare theories with someone. Since I don’t know anyone else who’s read it yet I need to blurt something out here. But, SPOILER AHEAD! I have a theory about the end of the book but it’s based on a spoiler so PLEASE don’t read the next paragraph until you’ve finished the book.

⚠️ I have my suspicions about Jocelyn. I could be entirely off base here but I think she was killed by ‘Joe’ when he attacked her, and he then shapeshifted to become her. I want her pregnancy to result in a creepy human/whatever-Joe-is hybrid so I can hopefully find out more about what Joe actually is in a sequel (if there is one). ⚠️

I’m really hoping for a sequel as I have plenty of unanswered questions and need to know what’s next for Dr H — and Joe. I also need some information about Joe’s sister.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, mental illness, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation, torture and the violent death of an animal.

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

Bonus Content: A prequel to this book, I used to get letters from my nightmares, is currently available to read on Reddit. While most parts are available to read on the Reddit website I needed to download the app to read parts 3 and 8 due to sensitive content. While the prequel answered some of my unanswered questions I would recommend you read The Patient first. Had I read the prequel first I would have had a better idea of where Joe’s story was heading and this would have taken away some of the joy of discovery.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility’s most difficult, profoundly dangerous case – a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide.

Desperate and fearful, the hospital’s directors keep him strictly confined and allow minimal contact with staff for their own safety, convinced that releasing him would unleash catastrophe on the outside world. Parker, brilliant and overconfident, takes it upon himself to discover what ails this mystery patient and finally cure him. But from his first encounter with the mystery patient, things spiral out of control, and, facing a possibility beyond his wildest imaginings, Parker is forced to question everything he thought he knew.