The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea #2: Squeals on Wheels – Renée Treml

This is almost unheard of for me. I loved the sequel even more than the first book in this series.

Ollie, the owl who needs to wear glasses, and Bea, the bunny with the kangaroo sized feet, return. They’re joined by the friends they met in the first book: CeeCee the otter, Pedro the chameleon, Sera the deer and Simon the squirrel.

Having already figured out what all of their superpowers are, the friends are ready to have some fun. On the agenda for today is rollerskating. Except one of the friends keeps making excuses. The thought of skating is making Bea anxious. She’s worried she’ll look silly.

Thankfully her friends come up with the perfect solution, one that makes Bea feel comfortable skating so she can have fun too.

Puns abound in this book as well. My favourite was Ollie’s “Owl be back!” I know I’m not the only one to read that in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice.

The colourful illustrations, which I appreciated in the first book, really make the details come alive in this one. Be on the lookout for Sera the deer; her outfit is brilliant!

I love the focus on supportive friendships in this series. They highlight how integral friendships can be in building self confidence and overcoming obstacles.

This book deserves all of the carrots! 🥕🥕🥕🥕🥕

I can’t wait to see what other adventures are in store for Ollie, Bea and their friends. I’m already dreaming up a crossover where Ollie and Bea visit the State Natural History Museum and team up with Sherlock Bones and Watts to solve a mystery.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Best friends Ollie and Bea continue to delight young readers in Book 2 of this super sweet and funny full-colour graphic novel series that celebrates friendship and the differences that make us special.

Q. What’s the hardest part of learning to skate?
A. THE GROUND!

Ollie is having a HOOT on his rollerskates, but Bea is full of excuses for why she can’t join in. Will she realise that sometimes it’s okay to look silly, and that real friends don’t CARROT all if you have very big feet?

Ollie and Bea continue to charm in this super-cute series about the joys of friends and fun and lots of puns. The perfect book for young readers who love to laugh.

Pow Pow Pig #1: An Unexpected Hero – Anh Do

Illustrations – Peter Cheong

‘Every good deed makes the future a little brighter.’

Anh Do has another winner on his hands with this first book in a new series. It’s dystopian. It’s time travel. It’s a bunch of animals who didn’t cut the mustard working together to save the world!

Pow Pow Pig, Kung Fu Duck, Cha Cha Chicken and Barry the Goat are my new favourite team up. They’ve all completed their CHOC (Creatures Helping Other Creatures) training and are keen to begin making a difference.

While Pow Pow Pig wants more than anything else to join A team, he knows that’s not likely because, while the rest of the trainees have been busily learning the skills needed to help other creatures, Pow Pow and his friends have been stuck on cleaning duty. But they never thought that they would be assigned to … Z team.

A series of events promotes this rag tag team from zeroes to potential heroes. The fate of the world is in their trotters, wings and hooves. Now they must travel back in time to prevent the world from ending. If only it was that easy.

There’s something about Anh Do books. It only takes me about two pages to get sucked into the story and I fall in love at first sight with the new friends I meet.

The story is imaginative but it was the details that captured my attention. In particular, Kung Fu Chicken’s skills with a tea towel delighted me. 

I also loved how the team work together to solve problems, persevering despite the odds that are stacked against them.

I wasn’t previously familiar with Peter Cheong’s work but his illustrations bring this team and the rest of the creatures to life. In keeping with the humour that’s pretty much a given with Anh Do’s books, Peter majors on expressions and action, complimenting the text well. Be on the lookout for a cow who’s been cured of mad cow disease.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series. This one ends on a cliffhanger and my mind is frantically trying to predict where (or should I say, when) this team will end up next. While I already have a pretty good idea how this series is going to end, I hope it’s a long ride because everything I love about Anh Do books is already evident here: underdogs, friendship, teamwork, making the right (but not always the easiest) choices and humour.

And if I haven’t already sold you on this book, you need to know one more important thing: there’s a page of stickers at the end of the book! I’m one very happy book nerd.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A hilarious new adventure from the mega-bestselling author of Wolf Girl and Ninja Kid.

Hi there! I’m Pow Pow Pig!

Me and my friends didn’t make the A team … or the B team … or the C, D or E teams ….

We made the Z team!

How are we going to save the world when we were the last ones picked?!

The Final Girl Support Group – Grady Hendrix

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Someone always wants to kill us. It’s never over.”

Dr Carol Elliott has been conducting regular group sessions with final girls for sixteen years. Our final girls are:

  • Marilyn Torres, who won’t let leather touch her skin
  • Adrienne Butler, who was a counsellor at Camp Red Lake
  • Dani Shipman, whose babysitting job didn’t quite go to plan
  • Heather DeLuca, who faced off against the Dream King
  • Julia Campbell, whose experiences were turned into the Stab movies
  • Lynnette Tarkington, who tells the story.

These women have watched friends and family members being butchered by “monsters” but they survived the unsurvivable. Many have even survived sequels. Their stories have been made into successful movie franchises, some have attended conventions and then there are the superfans to contend with.

No one except another final girl can truly understand what it’s like to live with the impacts of this type of trauma. Their scars are both physical and psychological. And it’s really hard to try to move on because there’s never any certainty that the past will stay in the past. These monsters have a habit of not staying dead, after all.

We get subjected to sequels. That’s what makes our guys different, that’s what makes them monsters – they keep coming back.

The final girl support group has been the one constant in the lives of many of these survivors but it’s no longer safe. Someone has been planning their deaths and it’s time for them to fight for their lives. Again.

“This is the sequel or a crossover, or I don’t know what.”

This book was so much fun! I was delighted to discover that the atrocities these women have survived were based on some of my favourite horror movie franchises. Between them, these women have survived Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason and Mrs Voorhees, Ghostface, and Billy and Ricky Chapman. I have never seen the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies but I’ve binged all of the others many times. Some details have changed but the basic plots remain the same.

I loved picking up on the similarities and differences between the backstories of these women and the movies I know so well. The chapter titles are spot on: The Final Girl Support Group’s New Nightmare, Season of the Final Girls, The Final Chapter, The Final Chapter II.

Even the names of the characters are perfect. For example, the woman whose story represents the Scream movies is called Julie Campbell. Neve Campbell, Scream’s final girl, played a character called Julia in Party of Five. Details like that really stood out to me.

After the trauma they have all experienced, it’s not surprising that the final girls live with a variety of long term impacts. I particularly appreciated that there was no ‘one size fits all’ approach in this book. While they all experienced living nightmares, these women cope with their trauma in individual ways. Their different personalities, their support systems (or lack thereof) and their individual strengths and weaknesses all play a part in what their lives look like now.

“Are those guys really that scary?” he asks.

“Scarier than you can ever imagine,” I answer.

In between the blood spatter I started thinking about serial killers. The names of those who commit heinous crimes are usually burned into our brains but how well do we remember the names of the people they murdered? I know the names and predilections of so many infamous serial killers. I often know in detail what they did to their victims but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the names of their victims. I think it’s time for me to rectify this.

Because I’m me, I tested out the address that a character in the book receives emails from. As usual, I was disappointed to get an automatic response saying my email was undeliverable. One of these days an author or marketing person is going to set up the email address that’s included in a book and I’ll finally get a real response. I’m hoping for an exclusive short story, a personal message from the character that I’ve emailed or even a treasure hunt or details of a competition where I can win a signed copy of the book. One day…

I own every single one of Grady Hendrix’s books. I knew I’d love them but somehow they made it into my Kindle’s black hole of good intentions so this is my first Grady Hendrix read. Believe me when I say it will not be my last!

Content warnings include addiction, alcoholism, mental health and suicidal ideation.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ever wonder what happens to those Final Girls? After the cops eliminate them as suspects, after the press releases their brace-faced, pizza-cheeked, bad-hair-day class photos that inevitably get included on the cover of the true crime book? After the candlelight vigils and the moments of silence, after someone plants the memorial shrub?

For Lynette Tarkington, it’s been a support group. Her, five other final girls, a therapist. Close to twenty years. Today’s the last day for group, but Lynne doesn’t know it yet. It’s also going to be the last day for one of the group. And maybe the final day for all of the final girls, because someone’s been planning a nasty surprise for them for a long time.

Creatura – Bec Crew

What I’ve learned from my time writing about weird animals is that there is always something weirder than you could have ever imagined just around the corner.

Australia is known for its wildlife, from the kangaroos we ride to school (not a thing; sorry) to drop bears (you can read all about them in this Australian Geographic article posted on 1 April 2021). You might fear our deadly spiders and snakes but the animal that’s most likely to scare an Australian is a territorial magpie during swooping season.

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I love books about animals that are classified as weird and wonderful so it’s a special treat for me to find a book about the weird, wonderful creatures that live in Australia. It seems perfectly fitting that this book was published on my Nan’s birthday, who was her own special blend of weird and wonderful. (You would have loved her! And she would have loved me calling her weird and wonderful.)

Because I can’t help myself, I’m going to tell you a few of my favourite facts from each section of this book.

Mammals

Ningaui are small carnivorous marsupials that are named for an “Aboriginal legend that describes imp-like creatures that live in the mangroves and lure passers-by to their deaths, consuming them raw.”

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, which is found around the world in tropical and temperate waters, holds the records for the deepest (2992m or 9816 feet) and longest (138 minutes) dives performed by a mammal.

Common Spotted Cuscus sleep high in trees with their head between their legs. In what seems to be an ingenious way to camouflage themselves, they wrap leaves around themselves.

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Fish and Sea Creatures

Bubble Algae are “one of the largest single-celled organisms on Earth”, with a diameter of up to 9cm (3.5 inches).

Banded Archerfish are omnivores whose diet consists of food found both in and out of the water. They can shoot ‘spit missiles’ (jets of water) at insects up to 3 metres (almost 10 feet) away to knock them off branches and into the water.

Blanket Octopus females can grow up to 2 metres (6.5 feet) long and 10kg (22 pounds), whereas males are only 2.4cm (just under 1 inch).

Invertebrates

The Head-Stacking Caterpillar, the larvae of the gumleaf skeletoniser moth, moults their exoskeletons as it grows. It stacks its shedded heads on top of one another and wears them like hats.

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If a Hammerhead Worm is “cut into bits, either lengthwise or across its body, each piece will become a new, perfectly functional worm over the course of two or three weeks.” I don’t want to meet the sadist that discovered this.

Leichhardt’s Grasshopper apparently taste awful because they only eat bitter-tasting plants.

Birds

A young Apostlebird will stay with its parents for 200 days.

The Nankeen Kestrel is the only bird of prey that can hover.

The Whistling Kite spread bushfires, “carrying lit twigs in their beaks and claws, to flush out exhausted and confused prey.”

Reptiles and Amphibians

Never having evolved the ability to survive on land, the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake is the “most aquatic snake in the world”.

The Crucifix Frog is “one of the only species of Australian frog to employ aposematism, which is the use of bright patterning to ward off predators.”

The eyesight of geckos is 350 times better than ours and they can see in full colour in moonlight. The Golden-Tailed Gecko squirts a “putrid, sticky liquid from their tails straight at any would-be predators.”

I don’t know how it’s possible that I’ve lived my entire life in Australia and I’ve never come across or even heard of most of these animals before. I definitely want to check out the Australian Geographic Creatura blog to see what other wonders are in the neighbourhood.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There’s no doubt that Australia has more than its fair share of weird and wonderful animals – just think about the platypus – but the true diversity of our wildlife is more extraordinary than you might imagine. There’s the caterpillar that wears its old head shells as a macabre hat, the cuscus that wraps itself in a leafy camouflage while sleeping and the fish that targets prey with a high-powered jet of water. In this collection of stories from Australian Geographic blog Creatura, science writer Bec Crew celebrates the strange behaviours, special adaptations and peculiar features of our amazing Australian creatures.

A Little Bit of Courage – Claire Alexander

The Ploofers are back and they’ve continued to add some colour to their lives thanks to the SHOOF! Ploofer from A Little Bit Different. Now the Ploofers are ready to try something new. But Little One is scared of attempting this new thing.

Luckily Toasty, my favourite carb cheerleader, is also back and ready to provide Little One with some much needed support. I absolutely love that Toasty acknowledges Little One’s anxiety and reassures them that everyone gets scared.

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Little One isn’t left to face their fear alone. Toasty remains by their side, supporting and encouraging them as they bravely attempt the thing they didn’t think they could do.

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Toasty reminded me that it’s okay to accept help, that you don’t have to face the scary things in life alone.

My favourite part of Little One’s story is that he doesn’t overcome his fear on his first attempt. It is through perseverance that Little One succeeds. His fear doesn’t magically go away because he decides to try the scary thing; doing the thing even though you’re scared is what being brave is all about.

I need more of Toasty and the Ploofers in my life!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Happy Yak, and imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this follow-up to the beloved picture book A Little Bit Different, the Ploofers are back for a heartwarming exploration of fear and finding courage.

The Ploofers have just learned a valuable lesson in celebrating differences and trying new things. They’ve been practicing something very special again and this time it requires extra teamwork… But Little One is too scared to go on this new adventure. Will some kind and encouraging words from Toasty help him find a little bit of courage?

With simple, striking illustrations and a cutaway cover design that adds tactile interest, A Little Bit of Courage picks up right where A Little Bit Different left off. With a subtle yet powerful message on overcoming anxiety and finding the courage to live life to its fullest, this book will resonate with children and adults alike.

A Little Bit Different – Claire Alexander

The Ploofers all PLOOF! Except for one, whose PLOOF! is a SHOOF! This Ploofer loves the thing that makes them different … until the rest of the Ploofers question it.

The other Ploofers all think the SHOOF! is weird. It’s outside of their comfort zone because they haven’t seen a SHOOF! before.

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The judgement of the other Ploofers makes the SHOOF! Ploofer sad. They wonder why the other Ploofers aren’t accepting of the thing that makes them different.

It isn’t until Toasty recognises the beauty of this Ploofer’s SHOOF! and encourages them to embrace their difference that the SHOOF! Ploofer regains their confidence.

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I loved the SHOOF! Ploofer and the message that it’s okay to be different. It can be scary to have the courage to be yourself, especially when the way you express yourself is outside of the norm, but there will always be those like Toasty who will value you for who you are.

Although the other Ploofers originally shy away from what is new, eventually they realise that different doesn’t automatically equal bad. By accepting the Ploofer who is different, the rest of the Ploofers learn acceptance and in doing so their own lives are brightened.

I naturally rebel against any system that asserts that because this is the way we’ve always done something, that’s the only way it can be done. You shouldn’t have to hide your unique gifts just because some other Ploofers are unwilling to think outside of the box. Meaningful change can come when we open ourselves up to possibilities we haven’t considered before.

I’m all for anything that celebrates diversity. In this book, it’s diversity of expression that’s addressed but this can be applied to all forms of diversity.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A light and fun story depicting the journey from ignorance to acceptance and celebration. A Little Bit Different by Clare Alexander is a beautiful story exploring acceptance and joy in being different. 

Meet the ploofers. The ploofers have been practicing something special which they all want to do at the exact same time – but wait! What’s that? One of them does something different! When one little ploofer goes against the usual flow of things, the rest of them turn their backs on him. But all it takes is for one person to recognise the beauty in being different to spark a change in attitude of everyone.

With simple and striking illustrations, A Little bit Different is a joyful reading experience for both you and your child, with the opportunity to spark more meaningful discussions about people’s differences and how we accept and value them. 

Pumpkin Heads! – Wendell Minor

The illustrations are everything in this book, so detailed and realistic. Each of the pumpkin heads have so much personality, providing inspiration for cute, creepy and whimsical designs. The text is very sparse, making this an ideal book to introduce young children to this aspect of Halloween.

There‘s a pumpkin snowman (I want to frame this picture), scarecrow, witch and cowboy, along with those that are expressing a variety of feelings.

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I particularly loved the witch

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and the haunted house.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Halloween is time to pick pumpkins and carve them into pumpkin heads – jack-o’-lanterns of every shape and size!

Award-winning author and artist Wendell Minor uses simple language and striking autumn settings to celebrate pumpkin heads in this reissue of a Halloween classic.

Ellery Hathaway #4: Every Waking Hour – Joanna Schaffhausen

“Not again,” she said. “This can’t be happening again.”

Ellery and Reed aren’t actively looking for their next case. They’re spending time with Tula, Reed’s seven year old daughter, when they learn that twelve year old Chloe Lockhart has gone missing. Ellery knows only too well what Chloe may be experiencing, having barely survived a serial killer when she was a child.

There’s no shortage of leads to track down, with multiple potential suspects. It turns out that this is not the first time the Lockhart family have lost a child and they may not be the only ones who are keeping secrets.

“Where there’s one secret, you’ll find others. There’s something hiding in the middle of that family, something they’re not telling us.”

Meanwhile, Ellery’s home is much more crowded than it usually is. Ellery’s not comfortable with this development although Bump, her basset hound, is delighted by all of the extra humans who are on call for snuggles and treats.

Sarit, Reed’s ex-wife, expressed some of my feelings about Ellery and Reed’s relationship but I have to admit they’re growing on me. It’s weird though, because they seem to make complete sense and no sense at the same time. They likely never would have crossed paths if it wasn’t for Coben, the serial killer who had Ellery in his closet, and no matter how much they want it to be otherwise, he’s always going to be associated with the two of them.

He couldn’t climb into the darkness with her. But he could stand in the light and extend his hand and wait patiently to see if she would join him.

The characters are really well developed in this series. I feel like I know both of our leads, understanding their motivations and fears. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a series that tackles the long term effects of sexual assault in such an authentic way. I don’t think I will ever get the image of nails in a closet out of my mind.

Ellery has physical and psychological scars from her abduction and these continue to impact on her life. She is resilient and brave and strong, despite her experiences and maybe even because of them. I see her as a survivor role model. Her struggles only make her more realistic to me.

I was delighted to find a couple of X-Files taglines in conversations.

You could read this book as a standalone but to fully understand the nuances of the main characters and their journey together you really need to start at the beginning. This will also show you just how much Ellery has grown since we first met her.

The fifth book, which I’m really hoping is not the last, promises something I’ve been eagerly awaiting: the chance to peer inside the mind of Coben, the Big Bad of the series. Although I absolutely despise him, I’m intrigued by the possibility of finding out what makes him tick.

Content warnings include death by suicide, drug addiction and sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After surviving a serial killer’s abduction as a young teenager, Ellery Hathaway is finally attempting a normal life. She has a new job as a rookie Boston detective and a fledgling relationship with Reed Markham, the FBI agent who rescued her years ago. But when a twelve-year-old girl disappears on Ellery’s watch, the troubling case opens deep wounds that never fully healed.

Chloe Lockhart walked away from a busy street fair and vanished into the crowd. Maybe she was fleeing the suffocating surveillance her parents put on her from the time she was born, or maybe the evil from her parents’ past finally caught up to her. For Chloe, as Ellery learns, is not the first child Teresa Lockhart has lost.

Ellery knows what it’s like to have the past stalk you, to hold your breath around every corner. Sending one kidnapped girl to find another could be Chloe’s only hope or an unmitigated disaster that dooms them both. Ellery must untangle the labyrinth of secrets inside the Lockhart household – secrets that have already murdered one child. Each second that ticks by reminds her of her own lost hours, how close she came to death, and how near it still remains.

Ellery Hathaway #3: All the Best Lies – Joanna Schaffhausen

“He didn’t just want to kill her. He wanted to obliterate her entire existence.”

Bump is back for his third adventure! Of course Ellery, his human, and Reed, FBI agent and the person who saved Ellery from a serial killer when she was fourteen, are also back and technically they’re the main characters. But let’s get our priorities straight here: my favourite basset hound is back and he’s ready to slobber all over Reed.

Speaking of Reed, while he’s been integral to the previous two books in this series, this is the first time where it’s one of his cases we’re focusing on, not one of Ellery’s. And this isn’t just any case: it’s a cold case and it’s personal.

When Reed was four months old his mother was murdered in their apartment. He was adopted into an affluent family consisting of a father (a politician), mother and three older sisters. But there have always been question marks surrounding his birth mother’s unsolved murder and, even though the case has officially been closed, Reed has a new lead to follow.

“I need to find out the truth,” he told Ellery quietly. “No matter what it is.”

Luckily Ellery is currently suspended from her job as a cop so she’s available to travel to Vegas with Reed to investigate and hopefully solve this mystery that’s over four decades old. Unfortunately this means Bump can’t come along for the ride, so he doesn’t have many scenes. However, the focus on Ellery and Reed well and truly make up for the missing Bump antics.

There’s enough time spent on interviewing suspects and people who knew Reed’s mother to carry the Investigation along but what really stood out to me were the characters. I have loved Ellery and Reed since I first met them but there’s a depth to them that I don’t see that often in murder mysteries.

I feel like I’ve been alongside Ellery as she continues to survive her past, figuring out what trusting a man looks like and challenging herself to let down her walls, even if it’s just for moments at a time. She’s never thought that she could have anything approximating ‘normal’ but now she’s wondering what might be possible for her.

This was the thing about Reed, though: the more he accepted her just as she was, the more she wanted to try out a new version.

Reed is someone I’ve wanted to get to know more and I got that opportunity with this book. Although he grew up in a loving, privileged family, he’s always felt different. His skin colour is different to his sisters and he was the only adopted sibling. His origin story was pretty hazy before now.

From the reviews I’ve read it seems like readers are either all for an Ellery/Reed romance (I think I’ll call them Ellereed) or they’re completely against it. I’m not seeing much middle ground. So, where do I stand on Ellereed?

Firmly against, but with an acknowledgement that they don’t turn my stomach like I thought they would. I understand people wanting these two to fall in love and live happily ever after; Ellery in particular is seriously overdue for some HEA.

I just can’t get past the circumstances in which they met and the power imbalance that existed between them at the time. The age gap isn’t a problem for me but I can’t see this ever being an equal relationship. I imagined how I’d feel if I was Ellery and the idea of being in a romantic relationship with the person who saved me from a serial killer, when I was a child and they were an adult, just creeps me out. I do want them to both be happy though and it’s not like they need my permission to fall in love.

Even though the words made their only appearance in the first fifty pages, I couldn’t get ‘Neon Boneyard’ out of my head as I was reading. I kept imagining a cover image where the Las Vegas skyline was composed of various human bones, the outlines glowing neon.

Readers could jump into the series with this book but to truly appreciate the relationship between Ellery and Reed (and to understand Ellery’s past) I’d recommend reading them in order. It’s been over two years since I read the second book in this series but it felt like no time had passed at all when I started this one. It didn’t feel like I was being reintroduced to the characters; it was like I was catching up with old friends. I was hooked immediately and stayed hooked the entire time.

I can’t wait to read the rest of this series.

Content warnings include mention of sexual assault and its impacts.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

FBI agent Reed Markham is haunted by one painful unsolved mystery: who murdered his mother? Camilla was brutally stabbed to death more than forty years ago while baby Reed lay in his crib mere steps away. The trail went so cold that the Las Vegas Police Department has given up hope of solving the case. But then a shattering family secret changes everything Reed knows about his origins, his murdered mother, and his powerful adoptive father, state senator Angus Markham. Now Reed has to wonder if his mother’s killer is uncomfortably close to home.

Unable to trust his family with the details of his personal investigation, Reed enlists his friend, suspended cop Ellery Hathaway, to join his quest in Vegas. Ellery has experience with both troubled families and diabolical murderers, having narrowly escaped from each of them. She’s eager to skip town, too, because her own father, who abandoned her years ago, is suddenly desperate to get back in contact. He also has a secret that could change her life forever, if Ellery will let him close enough to hear it.

Far from home and relying only on each other, Reed and Ellery discover young Camilla had snared the attention of dangerous men, any of whom might have wanted to shut her up for good. They start tracing his twisted family history, knowing the path leads back to a vicious killer – one who has been hiding in plain sight for forty years and isn’t about to give up now. 

The Madman’s Library – Edward Brooke-Hitching

I’ve always loved books about books. As someone with a bit of an eclectic taste in books, who’s more likely to pick up a book from a shelf if it has a weird title, this is basically my idea of the perfect coffee table book.

There are so many fun facts and strange bits and pieces I want to remember about this book. So rather than writing a normal review, I’m going to share some of the oddities and curiosities that stood out to me in each chapter.

Books that aren’t books

  • Oracle bones – “animal bones and shells, often from oxen and turtles, upon which questions were written and anointed with blood by fortune-tellers. A heated poker was then pressed against the bone until it cracked, and in these patterns of splits and marks the client’s future was divined.”
  • Quipu – “As far as we can tell, the primary function of these knotted strings, which could consist of anything from four cords to more than 2000, was storing and communicating numerical information in a decimal system used for documenting census and calendrical data, tax obligations, and managing accounts and trades.”
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  • Francesco Morosini’s custom-made Italian prayer-book pistol. “The gun, likely for personal protection, can only fire when the book is closed. The trigger is a pin concealed in silk thread to look like a bookmark.”
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  • A secret poison cabinet disguised as a book, made in 1692. Sold at auction in 2008, you can find the details here.
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Books made of flesh and blood

  • The practice of binding books with human skin is called ‘anthropodermic bibliopegy’.
  • Chief surgeon of the British Royal Infirmary, Richard Smith, bound a book of papers relating to the murder of Eliza Balsom in the skin of the murderer. Never mind that John Horwood, the convicted murderer, threw a pebble at her temple and it was likely Smith’s “trepanation, an ancient practice that involved drilling a hole into the skull to relieve pressure” that killed her.
  • A practice known as xieshu in Chinese Buddhism, where scribes wrote holy text using their blood, was considered “an ascetic form of sacrifice to prove one’s piety and earn merit to be transferred to one’s relatives after death.” The lighter the blood’s colour was, the more pure the writer was deemed to be.

Cryptic books

  • In order to pass on messages to his friends who were imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, Giambattista della Porta wrote secret messages on eggs. “He concocted an ink from one ounce of alum (a colourless compound using in dying and tanning) and a pint of vinegar. Written directly onto the shell, the chemical mixture soaked through the porous shell to the egg albumen beneath. Boiling the egg caused the chemical to react, and when the shell was peeled away the message was revealed on the hardened egg white.”

Literary hoaxes

  • George Shepard Chappell’s exotic travel journal hoax, The Cruise of the Kawa: Wanderings in the South Seas by ‘Walter E. Traprock’, included a photo of the eggs of the native Fatu-liva bird.
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Fatu-liva eggs, which look suspiciously like dice…

Curious collections

  • Pedro Carolino’s The New Guide to Conversation in Portuguese and English was published in 1855. The problem was that Pedro didn’t know how to speak English so he used a Portuguese-to-French phrasebook and then a French-to-English dictionary. Obviously this led to some interesting phrases. My favourite of those listed is ‘You make grins’.
  • The first commercially produced typewriter, the Hansen Writing Ball, was invented in Denmark in 1865. “The distinctive design features fifty-two keys on a large brass hemisphere, with the vowels to the left and consonants to the right.”
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Image found here

Works of the supernatural

  • The Egyptian Book of the Dead was originally called ‘Book of Emerging Forth into the Light’.
  • The earliest record of crop circles is from a pamphlet published in 1678, ‘The Mowing-Devil: Or, Strange News out of Hartford-Shire’.
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Image found here

Religious oddities

  • In the mid 1600’s, a Sephardic ordained rabbi called Sabbatai Zevi married the Torah. There was even a wedding ceremony, although the rabbis of Salonica then banished the groom from the city. Zevi also claimed to be able to fly but refused to do so in public because apparently his followers “weren’t worthy of witnessing it”.

Curiosities of science

  • Galen, a Greek physician (AD C. 129-216), believed hair was made when the “skin’s pores became blocked with sooty smoke particles generated by warm blood, until so much pressure built up that the soot erupted out of the skin in a solid string”. Darker hair indicates a higher soot level and higher temperature.

Books of spectacular size

  • Miniature books are called ‘Lilliputiana’ and huge books are called ‘Brobdingnagiana’.

Strange titles

  • “Bill Hillman, the American author of the 2014 guide Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, was gored by the bulls of Pamplona that same year – and again the next year.”
  • A literary award called the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year began in 1978.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the author of the critically acclaimed bestsellers The Phantom Atlas and The Sky Atlas comes a unique and beautifully illustrated journey through the history of literature. The Madman’s Library delves into its darkest territories to hunt down the oddest books and manuscripts ever written, uncovering the intriguing stories behind their creation.

From the Qur’an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein, to the gorgeously decorated fifteenth-century lawsuit filed by the Devil against Jesus, to the most enormous book ever created, The Madman’s Library features many long forgotten, eccentric, and extraordinary volumes gathered from around the world.

Books written in blood and books that kill, books of the insane and books that hoaxed the globe, books invisible to the naked eye and books so long they could destroy the Universe, books worn into battle and books of code and cypher whose secrets remain undiscovered. Spell books, alchemist scrolls, wearable books, edible books, books to summon demons, books written by ghosts, and more all come together in the most curiously strange library imaginable.

Featuring hundreds of remarkable images and packed with entertaining facts and stories to discover, The Madman’s Library is a captivating compendium perfect for bibliophiles, literature enthusiasts, and collectors intrigued by bizarre oddities, obscure history, and the macabre.