Beneath the Trees #3: A Fine Summer – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

You know you’re in desperate need for some childlike fun when you identify with a couple of grumpy old men more than you do some rambunctious younguns.

Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad just want some peace and quiet. Mr. Toad appears to be a bit of a crankypants (crankyoveralls?), upset the neighbourhood kids are making a ruckus this summer. Mr. Owl isn’t having a hoot either.

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At least he has a very relatable reason for needing some quiet time, though. He’s in the middle of a particularly engaging book.

Maybe it’s time for these oldtimers to reclaim some of the joy and innocence of childhood.

This is such a cute series, combining life lessons with humour. There’s minimal text but the illustrations clearly tell the stories. All of the animals are expressive and I love the colour palette.

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Given the first two books in this series were autumn and winter, it would have made more sense to me for the final two books to be released in season order. While the stories are all set in the same world, they can be read in any order. 

I’m looking forward to spring.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s summer, and the laughter of children echoes under the trees. But for some of the older animals, the frivolous abandon of childhood is far behind them. Old Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad get the crazy idea to relive some of their youth if that’s even possible anymore…

The third book in a new series designed to paint a tender and colourful portrait of everyday life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this third volume, a pair of older animals set out to relive their energetic youth. A heartwarming tale suitable for all ages.

The stories in this four book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.

Enola Holmes: The Graphic Novels – Serena Blasco

Translator – Tanya Gold

This graphic novel was my introduction to Enola Holmes, Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister. Enola’s birth was a scandal and she’s not planning on conforming to society’s expectations of women anytime soon. She conducts herself in a fashion most unladylike by refusing to wear the appropriate dress length for her age and, horror of horrors, climbing trees. 

Her mother’s disappearance on the occasion of her fourteenth birthday brings Enola’s brothers out of the woodwork. Visiting Ferndell Hall for the first time in ten years, they quickly determine that the most appropriate course of action is to send Enola to boarding school.

This goes against Enola’s sensibilities and those of her currently absent mother, so before she embarks on the very ladylike occupation of learning how to be a “houseplant”, Enola absconds to London. Smart girl, our Enola.

Sherlock and Mycroft are clearly products of their time and probably think they have Enola’s best interests at heart. However, their brotherly love leaves a lot to be desired. 

Leave her be, Mycroft. She is too young and her head is too small for her body. We can’t expect too much of her. 

Enola is able to use society’s propensity to underestimate women to her advantage, relying on her wits and penchant for disguises to hide in plain sight. 

Brother Sherlock may be a famous detective but Enola gives him a run for his money in these adaptations of the first three books of Nancy Springer’s The Enola Holmes Mysteries. Enola takes it upon herself to solve The Case of the Missing MarquessThe Case of the Left-Handed Lady and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets.

I enjoyed the watercolour illustrations, which felt even more appropriate when I learned that’s the medium Enola’s mother uses.

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I haven’t met Enola’s mother yet but I love her already. She’s a suffragist who’s schooled her daughter in activities that will be useful, as opposed to those that will facilitate her transformation into a houseplant.

Enola’s adaptability and attention to detail are aided by the tools her mother left her, primarily a book on the language of flowers and a handbound notebook full of coded messages. 

Enola is “alone” spelled backwards.
Mum and her love of coded messages.
Could it be a coincidence? 

I loved the clever use of flowers to convey messages and the inclusion of excerpts from Enola’s secret notebook at the end of each case.

Enola’s inquiring mind and indomitable spirit made me want to spend more time with her. I look forward to hanging out with Enola as she continues to subvert her allotted position in nineteenth century London in future graphic novel adaptations. 

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I’ve already ordered the first book in Nancy Springer’s series from the library.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A graphic novel adaptation of the hit books that inspired the Netflix film! Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant, strong-willed younger sister takes centre stage in this delightfully drawn graphic novel based on Nancy Springer’s bestselling mystery series.

14-year-old Enola Holmes wakes on her birthday to discover that her mother has disappeared from the family’s country manor, leaving only a collection of flowers and a coded message book. With Sherlock and Mycroft determined to ship her off to a boarding school, Enola escapes, displaying a cleverness that even impresses the elder Holmes. But nothing prepares her for what lies ahead…

Book One in the series includes three thrilling mysteries: The Case of the Missing Marquess, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets. At the back of the book, readers can explore a portfolio of pages from Enola’s secret notebook!

Aveline Jones #2: The Bewitching of Aveline Jones – Phil Hickes

Illustrations – Keith Robinson

“Haven’t you ever experienced something you can’t explain?” 

Aveline isn’t spending her summer break at the beach like she’d hoped. Instead, she and her mother are staying in a cottage in the sleepy village of Norton Wick.

While Aveline is initially concerned that this holiday will be boring, it turns out to be anything but. Conveniently located at the end of the garden are The Witch Stones, an ancient stone circle with mysterious origins.

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Aveline, with her love of things that go bump in the night and anything else that would be of interest to Mulder, is in her element. Harold, her friend from Malmouth, is coming to visit for a few days with his uncle and Lilian, Aveline’s aunt. 

Together, Aveline and Harold hope to solve the mysteries of the stone circle and the strange bottle Aveline found in the garden. 

Old bottles with things inside them couldn’t just be ignored. 

Before Harold arrives, Aveline makes a new friend, Hazel Browne. That’s “Browne with an e.” She also meets the local vicar, Alice, who’s fond of bowler hats and rainbow socks.

I was glad when Harold showed up because, although I was initially intrigued by Hazel, her possessiveness didn’t endear her to me at all. I never connected with her so found it difficult to see beyond her abrasiveness, even after I understood where she was coming from.

I enjoyed the magic in this book and definitely considered indulging in dessert with Aveline and Hazel. 

Aveline and Harold’s first response, regardless of the ooky spookiness they’re facing, is to find a bunch of books and do research. That affords them kindred spirit status with me for life.

I love both Aunt Lilian and Mr Lieberman, who I met in the first book, but they didn’t have much of a role in this one. I had been looking forward to getting to know Aveline’s mother but I didn’t really get much of a sense of her personality. I hope to get to know the adults better in the next book.

I absolutely adored Keith Robinson’s illustrations in this book. The cover image was dark, mysterious and creepy. I particularly loved the magpie featured at the beginning of each chapter.

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Although I definitely got sucked into the mystery of the first book more than this one, I love Aveline and can’t wait to hang out with her and Harold again in The Vanishing of Aveline Jones

“Everything’s creepy as far as you’re concerned, Aveline”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Turn on your torches and join Aveline Jones!

Aveline is thrilled when she discovers that the holiday cottage her mum has rented for the summer is beside a stone circle. Thousands of years old, the local villagers refer to the ancient structure as the Witch Stones, and Aveline cannot wait to learn more about them.

Then Aveline meets Hazel. Impossibly cool, mysterious yet friendly, Aveline soon falls under Hazel’s spell. In fact, Hazel is quite unlike anyone Aveline has ever met before, but she can’t work out why. Will Aveline discover the truth about Hazel, before it’s too late?

Join the world of Aveline Jones, where mysteries are solved, spirits are laid to rest, and everybody gets to bed on time.

Spellbound – Jess Townes

Illustrations – Jennifer Harney

Willow is a magical only child who’s used to having her family’s undivided attention. Then Rowan is born and Willow’s family fall under his spell. 

Willow does everything in her power to avoid succumbing to Rowan’s wizardry. 

But Willow knew her spells wouldn’t last forever.
If she wanted to stop Rowan, she had to take away his magic.
And she knew just how to do it. 

I felt bad for Willow. She’s jealous of her new sibling and the adults around her are so besotted with Rowan that they ignore her. The only attention she gets is negative. When she’s not behaving badly, it’s almost as if Willow has perfected a vanishing act.

Willow ultimately discovers that siblings aren’t so bad after all but it’s probably just as important for parents to read this book so they’re reminded to be sensitive to the feelings of their children when new members are introduced to the family.

Jennifer Harney’s illustrations were really cute. The colour palette is lovely, with plenty of yellows and purples. I loved the way magic was portrayed and could definitely see myself living in Willow’s home amongst the trees.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Union Square Kids, a subsidiary of Sterling Publishing, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A funny, fresh twist on new-sibling relationships and the magic of love.

Willow’s world is perfectly magical, until Rowan is born. When her new baby brother seems to enchant everyone he meets, Willow becomes convinced he is an actual, real-life wizard. Can Willow put a stop to his hocus pocus, or is Rowan’s magic too powerful to resist?

Author Jess Townes brings fresh and expressive writing that’s sure to appeal to young children, while illustrator Jennifer Harney’s unique and colourful art style brings this wonderful, whimsical story to life.

Not Waving, Drowning: Mental Illness and Vulnerability in Australia – Sarah Krasnostein

Quarterly Essay #85

Mental illness is so prevalent that it’s likely either you or someone you love will have lived experience. If it hasn’t impacted you personally, it probably means that it hasn’t yet, not that it won’t. 

Almost half of all Australian adults will experience mental ill-health during their lives, and almost one in five will meet the criteria in a given year. These numbers have likely risen during the pandemic. 

In this essay, Sarah Krasnostein traces the way mental illness has been managed (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, poorly managed) over time in Australia. They outline the trauma experienced by convicts and the “increasingly lethal, state-sanctioned attempt to eradicate Aboriginal people” (a minimum of 270 massacres over 140 years, beginning in 1794!!) before exploring our asylum days, beginning with Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, Australia’s first purpose built psychiatric facility. 

Krasnostein evaluates our current system, where money buys you care if you’re cis, heterosexual and white, while pretty much everyone else has to fight for the scraps, if they can find any. 

What is known as “the mental health system,” for example, is really just billions of human interactions. And that is where the problems lie. 

We go down the rabbit hole of how people with mental illness are marginalised, looking at the failure of individuals, institutions and society at large. I grew weary hearing about the cascade of inquiries into the mental health system that consistently result in recommendation after recommendation that are not acted on.

We can memorise the stats and read the policies but what really stays with me are peoples’ lived experiences. You can intellectually know that people with mental illness disproportionately experience homelessness and that the ‘service gaps’ are really service chasms, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. 

Being introduced to Rebecca, who despite being found not fit to stand trial and not guilty because of mental impairment, was imprisoned and kept in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day simply because there was nowhere else for her to go? Her story is going to stay with me. So is Daylia’s, a woman with a history of setting fires in order to try to gain control over her life.

The story of lived experience that stood above all others for me, though, was that of Eliza. A young woman who has survived extensive childhood trauma and is living with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, Eliza is now a peer worker, working to reform a system that in many ways has failed her. To say that I am impressed by her resilience and courage is an understatement. We need to be listening more to people like Eliza.

Quote I loved whose context I can’t remember but would be appropriate in so many situations

absence of evidence is not evidence of absence 

From the ‘I bet whoever approved this name didn’t give it a lot of thought’ files

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare have spreadsheets collating cause of death called General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM). 

Because there is no systems change without relational change – and no relational change without personal change – perhaps our best hope lies in a critical mass of those who are privileged by the current economic and social model following the lead of those people with lived experience and making the radical choice to normalise their own vulnerabilities – not just by refusing to participate in the stigmatisation of mental illness, but by calling out Othering in all its pernicious forms. 

There were a couple of quotes from the Correspondence section about Jess Hill’s The Reckoning that I wanted to make note of: 

Adrienne Rich wrote that when a woman tells the truth, she creates “the possibility for more truth around her.” 

Hannah Ryan & Gina Rushton

Silence and withdrawal by the many is what enables crimes by the few. 

Malcolm Knox

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, drug addiction, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, physical abuse, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mental illness is the great isolator – and the great unifier. Almost half of us will suffer from it at some point in our lives; it affects everybody in one way or another. Yet today Australia’s mental health system is under stress and not fit for purpose, and the pandemic is only making things worse. What is to be done?

In this brilliant mix of portraiture and analysis, Sarah Krasnostein tells the stories of three women and their treatment by the state while at their most unwell. What do their experiences tell us about the likelihood of institutional and cultural change? Krasnostein argues that we live in a society that often punishes vulnerability, but shows we have the resources to mend a broken system. But do we have the will to do so, or must the patterns of the past persist into the future?

“In our conception of government, and our willingness to fund it, we are closer to the Nordic countries than to America. However, we’re trending towards the latter with a new story of Australia. The moral of this new story is freedom over equality, and one freedom above all – the freedom to be unbothered by others’ needs. However, as we continue to saw ourselves off our perch, mental health might be the great unifier that climate change and the pandemic aren’t.” —Sarah Krasnostein, Not Waving, Drowning

Our Wives Under the Sea – Julia Armfield

Miri’s wife was supposed to be gone for three weeks but was missing for six months. Biologist Leah, engineer Matteo and marine ecologist and conservationist Jelka were conducting research for the Centre for Marine Enquiry but things didn’t exactly go to plan. 

“I think,” she says, “that there was too much water. When we were down there. I think we let it get in.” 

Hypochondriac Miri thought she’d never see her wife again. Now Leah has returned but the Leah who left is not the one that returned. 

The problem, of course, was that nothing was wrong, aside from the fact of the obvious. 

With the narrative alternating between Miri and Leah, the author explores the history of their relationship and the incomprehensible changes in Leah. 

“How will we ever explain this” 

The deliciously unsettling cover image and quotable beginning set my expectations unreasonably high. I was ready for creepy and claustrophobic. I wasn’t expecting so much of the story to be about the relationship between the wives. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book (I did), only that it wasn’t the read I thought I was signing up for. 

It isn’t that her being back is difficult, it’s that I’m not convinced she’s really back at all. 

The author really captured the feeling of being alone in the presence of others. The pain that accompanies loss, whatever form it takes. The struggle to hold on to what no longer exists. The resistance against letting go. 

“I think,” Juna says after a pause, “that the thing about losing someone isn’t the loss but the absence of afterwards. D’you know what I mean? The endlessness of that.” 

You will find answers in this book but not all of them. If there’d been even a teensy bit more of a focus on what happened in the depths of the ocean, I would not have been okay with this. At all. 

Because I became invested in the aftermath, I was able to sit more comfortably in the ambiguity. That’s not to say that I’d turn away anyone who wanted to spoon-feed the rest of the answers to me.

This book is really quotable, as I’m sure you’ve already picked up from my review. The first sentence, though, it’s a doozy. I’ve seen it quoted in so many reviews already but it’s what sucked me in so I have to share it too. 

The deep sea is a haunted house: a place in which things that ought not to exist move about in the darkness. 

Now, this is not important in the scheme of things but it’s still running through my head so I’m passing it along to you: Miri wonders why so many people keep bringing her coffee. I’m wondering how I can get more people to bring it to me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realise that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.

Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from Julia Armfield, the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep deep sea.

Sherlock Bones #3: Sherlock Bones and the Art and Science Alliance – Renée Treml

Bones, a skeletal tawny frogmouth, and Watts, a stuffed blue Indian ringneck parrot, are exhibits in the state Natural History Museum. Grace is a raccoon whose love of chocolate makes her exceedingly relatable. She’s also the only one of the three who needs to breathe. 

It’s a good thing we’ve visited them today because there’s a new mystery to solve. 

Really? A mystery? I love mysteries!

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There’s a new exhibit opening tomorrow called Art & Science Alliance and rumour has it that one of the paintings is haunted. Luckily, Bones, Watts and Grace are on the case. 

They’re going to need plenty of courage because apparently this ghost hisses. They may also need someone to help them pronounce ‘macabre’ and perhaps a dictionary so they can figure out what it means. They’re definitely going to need some chocolate (well, Grace and I do).

As usual, I loved the illustrations and accidental learning. I didn’t find this mystery as funny as the previous two but I did appreciate the inclusion of a drop bear in the new exhibit. 

Nivlac, who we met in Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature, used their very specific and entirely awesome skillset to assist our mystery solving trio.

I hadn’t thought this before but now I can’t think of anything else; Bones does kind of resemble a stick insect wearing a sombrero. 

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I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Natural History Museum. 

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The intrepid Sherlock Bones and his quietly funny sidekick, Watts, and their animal friends are back to sneak around the museum and solve any mysteries that come their way. Full of fun, friendship and fascinating facts, this fabulous graphic novel is perfect for young readers who love adventure, mystery and a little bit of mayhem.

Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones – tawny frogmouth skeleton, chief sleuth and star of all museum-related investigations!

Today is an exciting day because the museum has a new exhibit – and a new mystery!

Together with my partners, the ever-brilliant Watts and talking bundle of fur Grace, I’m here to track down the ghost that’s destroying the museum.

You might not be able to hear Watts, because, technically, she’s a stuffed parrot, but I always know what she’s thinking.

And right now she’s thinking: Can we solve the mystery of the haunted painting?

The Champ! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Dave Atze

Twelve year old Summer absolutely adores sports! She wishes she was good at them like her older brother, Carl. Although she fantasises about leading her team to victory, the truth is that Summer doesn’t have a team. Despite her passion, she’s not good at any sport, so much so that she always seems to be picked last.

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All of a sudden, though, Summer is a sporting superstar. 

‘How did this happen?’ 

Well, remember the meteor that changed Amber’s life forever, the one that resulted in her becoming Skydragon? Well, if I’m not mistaken, that very same meteor made an appearance at Rockstone too. 

As Summer walked back to the house, she realised her body felt different, somehow. It was still her body, but it felt more flexible and powerful. 

The variety of effects the purple goop has had on people reminds me of the particle accelerator explosion at STAR Labs. I’m also wondering if there are more superheroes (and villains) in this world that we haven’t been introduced to yet. Summer begins to use her new skillset to become a superhero.

Of course, there’s no point having a superhero if they don’t have an archnemesis. It appears the grumpy librarian who is currently volunteering for this position is the Book Witch. You know she’s pure evil because her nefarious deeds extend to inflicting paper cuts! Now, we may want to boo at the witch because she uses books at weapons but at least she’s doing her part to stop the spread of COVID.

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That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be a shadowy government organisation on the Champ’s trail. 

Summer has a supportive and adorable best friend, Wilbur. We don’t see much of Wilbur in this book because he’s busy with choir rehearsals but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s going to be getting some more page time as the series progresses. 

There’s a picture of him on the back cover and a sticker (this book has stickers!) showing him wearing a cape so I’m hoping he becomes the Champ’s sidekick. I’m also hoping he has a brilliant sidekick name like Ice cream Boy; the logo on his shirt has a picture of an ice cream cone and a B, and he’s wearing what looks to be an empty Neapolitan ice cream container on his head with cut outs for his eyes. I just know Wilbur is going to be my favourite character. 

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I enjoyed the illustrations, although there were a few that didn’t entirely line up with the details in the text, e.g., reference is made to four rubber bats but only three were pictured. 

The most interesting discrepancy to me, though, suggested a potential fun fact about the series. This is pure conspiracy theory at this point but I think Summer’s name wasn’t always going to be Summer. In two illustrations, this character’s name is shown and they say Katie, not Summer. 

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I’m curious to find out how Carl and Summer support themselves. I’m also wondering whether Summer is going to be sensitive to the impact her new skills are likely to have on her brother, especially considering what the meteor has taken from him. 

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Summer loves sport. She would love to charge down the field towards an open goal, or soar through the air over the basket. She would love to be part of a team. But instead she always seems to be the last one picked.

That is until the day her life changes forever… Until the day Summer becomes THE CHAMP.

But even the Champ will have her work cut out for her if she is going to keep her brother, her best friend and her whole town safe from the dastardly plans of the wicked Librarian…

Ninja Kid #9: Ninja Fish! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Anton Emdin

Nelson and Kenny really want to visit the aquarium but the tickets are too expensive. It’s a good thing that the prize for the top four finalists at the regional swimming carnival are free tickets for their entire class. But the only thing that Nelson and Kenny excel at in a pool are belly flops. It’s a good thing Grandma is still an inventor! But it can’t be that easy, can it?

Random thoughts I had while reading this book that I doubt I would have had as a kid:

🦑 Had I already figured out that Dr Kane is Grandma’s son? Has sleep deprivation messed with my powers of deduction so much that I hadn’t connected the dots before or has it made me forget that I already knew this? Also, poor Grandma, having to live with the fact that one of her sons is a psychopath and the other is under their control. 

🦑 If spoilt rotten bully and all round irritating human being Charles is such a good swimmer, wouldn’t it have been easier to let him win all of the events at the school carnival so he could represent the school at the Regional Finals? Nelson and Kenny’s class would have benefited, no matter who won the prize.

🦑 They made a pool out of an old sardine can? I hope it was cleaned really well first or that water’s going to smell terrible.

🦑 Toot is the cutest baby turtle I’ve ever seen. I wonder if his parents would mind if I adopted him?

🦑 Where’s Dr Kane? Shouldn’t he have shown up by now? Oh, there he is.

🦑 Hold on, when did they get a dog? Did I forget that too? [Gets to the end of the book and sees the list of books in the series] Oh, I missed one! How did I miss one? [Orders book 8 from the library]

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There’s tickets to the amazing new aquarium up for grabs and Nelson and Kenny need to swim to win! But their swimming is so bad, they belong in the kiddie pool! Can Grandma’s latest awesome invention help turn these ninja flops into ninja fish?!

Our Sister, Again – Sophie Cameron

Well, that was all kinds of lovely and heartbreaking and thought provoking. 

If you’ve been alive long enough, then you know the pain of losing someone you love. You know how it feels to wish you could have just one more moment, hug, conversation, lifetime with that person. What if you were given a second chance?

Nothing has been the same since Isla’s sister died. 

When Flora died, it was like someone had drawn a line straight through our lives. Everything was divided into Before and After; the time our family was whole and the time that it wasn’t. 

Now, three years later, Flora is back. An AI version of her is, anyway, but she seems so real. She looks like Flora, down to the smallest scar. She has Flora’s memories. She even laughs like her. 

But not everyone is happy that this family has been reunited. 

“Who’s behind this? What do they want? And what might they do next?” 

This is a story about holding on and letting go, and how the people we love never truly leave us. It also raises some big questions. What makes us who we are? Is it our memories, our relationships, the way the people in our lives perceive us? 

“Can anyone ever describe someone as they actually are, not just how we see them?” 

Can robots ever truly experience emotion? Can technology ever replicate what makes us human and, if it can, what rights should AI humans be afforded? 

The ability Flora had to comprehend her situation, including its limitations, and the exploration of the rights of AI reminded me of Mia and the other synths in Humans.

I didn’t entirely buy Marisa’s actions towards the end of the book and I wanted more information about the person who was behind the threats to Flora. Neither prevented me from powering through this book, though. I also may have teared up slightly at the end.

I really enjoyed the bond between Isla and Ùna, her younger sister. I loved Flora’s complexity and ways she both integrated herself into the family and became her own being as the story progressed. My favourite robot, though, was Stephen; his role was small but his attitude was big. 

“I really believe that what we’re doing with Project Homecoming will change the world.” 

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On a small island off the Scottish coast, Isla and her family are grieving the loss of her older sister Flora, who died three years ago. Then they’re offered the chance to be part of a top-secret trial, which revives loved ones as fully lifelike AI robots using their digital footprint.

Isla has her doubts about Second Chances, but they evaporate the moment the ‘new’ Flora arrives. This girl is not some uncanny close likeness; she is Flora – a perfect replica. But not everyone on their island feels the same. And as the threats to Flora mount, she grows distant and more secretive. Will Isla be able to protect the new Flora and bring the community back together?