Willodeen – Katherine Applegate

Illustrations – Charles Santoso

“Nature, Willodeen, knows more than we do, and she probably always will.”

Willodeen has experienced so much more than her share of loss in her short life. She’s a loner who’s much more comfortable in nature than she is around people.

I didn’t understand my own feelings most days. I couldn’t begin to figure out why other people did the things they did.

When Willodeen grudgingly allows Connor into her life, she finds not only a friend but an ally. Together they are magic in the way that only kindred spirits are.

Along the way, Willodeen learns to trust, and finds her voice and courage. She is the most beautiful reminder that one person truly can make a difference.

Willodeen is an absolute sweetheart, Connor is adorable and I want to adopt Duuzuu and Quinby. I loved this book even more than I hoped I would. There was sadness and some tears but my takeaway is hope.

Willodeen left me feeling like I do whenever I finish a Kate DiCamillo book, all warm and fuzzy, and wishing I could hug all of my new friends who live in its pages.

I read my first Katherine Applegate book in the 90’s; it had one of the most profound impacts on me of all the books I read as a kid. It seems I’ve got a lot to catch up on.

Charles Santoso’s illustrations are gorgeous. My favourite shows Duuzuu and Quinby reuniting.

Illustration of Duuzuu and Quinby reuniting

I need to plant some blue willows so I can encourage some hummingbears to visit me.

“There’s magic in all of us,” Birdie said. “Just a bit. You’re born with it, like fingers and toes and fuzzy baby hair. Some of us make use of it. And some of us don’t.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Welbeck Flame, an imprint of Welbeck Children’s Limited, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The earth is old and we are not, and that is all you must remember…

Eleven-year-old Willodeen adores creatures of all kinds, but her favourites are the most unlovable beasts in the land: strange beasts known as ‘screechers’. The villagers of Perchance call them pests, even monsters, but Willodeen believes the animals serve a vital role in the complicated web of nature.

Lately, though, nature has seemed angry indeed. Perchance has been cursed with fires and mudslides, droughts and fevers, and even the annual migration of hummingbears, a source of local pride and income, has dwindled. For as long as anyone can remember, the tiny animals have overwintered in shimmering bubble nests perched atop blue willow trees, drawing tourists from far and wide. This year, however, not a single hummingbear has returned to Perchance, and no one knows why.

When a handmade birthday gift brings unexpected magic to Willodeen and her new friend, Connor, she’s determined to speak up for the animals she loves, and perhaps even uncover the answer to the mystery of the missing hummingbears.

A timely and timeless tale about our fragile earth, and one girl’s fierce determination to make a difference.

Emily Wilde #1: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries – Heather Fawcett

“One doesn’t need magic if one knows enough stories”

This book made a liar out of me. I’ve been proudly declaring my romantiphobia for years. I’ve gleefully avoided books that even hint at a romance in the blurb. When I find undisclosed mushy bits, I feel cheated.

And all of this time it turns out that I absolutely adore grumpy romances. Or maybe it’s just Emily Wilde and Wendell Bambleby’s snarky banter that I’ve waiting for my entire life.

Eight years ago, Emily, then 22, was Cambridge’s youngest adjunct professor. She’s still hoping to receive tenure. Bambleby is her friend, her only friend. You can’t exactly accuse them of being warm and fuzzy.

The problem with Bambleby, I’ve always found, is that he manages to inspire a strong inclination towards dislike without the satisfaction of empirical evidence to buttress the sentiment.

Bambleby, for his part, gives as good as he gets.

‘We cannot all be made of stone and pencil shavings’

Grumpy banter is my new favourite thing. I love these two!

For the past nine years, Emily, who has a “heart filled with the dust of a thousand library stacks”, has been hard at work, researching and writing her book. She’s only got one chapter to go, which is why she finds herself in the “delightful winter wasteland” that is Hrafnsvik, Ljosland.

Emily is loveable in all of her social awkwardness. Practically as soon as she meets some villagers, she finds a way to accidentally alienate herself.

How was it that in trying to remove my foot from my mouth, I invariably managed to shove it in even deeper?

There are faeries (obviously) and other magical beings, there’s danger and adventure and just so much snark. And there’s Shadow, who I adored.

I wasn’t entirely sure if this would be the book for me when I started reading but it utterly enchanted me. I can’t wait to spend more time with these grumps!

“How does one manage to affix toast to the ceiling?”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party – or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, muddle Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones – the most elusive of all faeries – lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all – her own heart.

The Salt Grows Heavy – Cassandra Khaw

“And you shall know her by the trail of dead.”

This is the story of a toothy mermaid and her plague doctor. If you need to know more than that before deciding this is absolutely the book for you, then maybe this is not the book for you. For everyone else, it’s just as dark and weird and strangely beautiful as you’re hoping it will be.

It’s body horror. It’s a love story. It’s hunger. It’s not giving up on one another. It’s a story you should know as little about as possible before you prise open the pages and devour the viscera for yourself.

The writing is gorgeous. Although this read has its own style, it reminded me of Seanan McGuire’s books when she’s writing as Mira Grant. A number of reviewers have already described it as lyrical and I can’t think of a better word to capture the experience of this book. However, I’m certain the author could come up with ten alternatives.

For someone who simply loves words, this novella was practically a playground for me. I stumbled across so many words that were new to me so part of the joy of this read was learning what they all meant. A couple of my new favourites are intaglio and cicatrice.

“Could you assemble a new life from nothing but debris?”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this novella. I can’t wait to read it again!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After the murder of her husband and the fall of his empire, a mermaid and her plague doctor companion escape into the wilderness. Deep in the woods, they stumble across a village where children hunt each other for sport, sacrificing one of their own at the behest of three surgeons they call “the saints.” These saints play god with their magic, harvesting the best bits of the children for themselves and piecing the sacrifices back together again.

To save the children from their fates, the plague doctor must confront their past, and the mermaid must embrace the darkest parts of her true nature.

Friday Barnes #11: Last Chance – R.A. Spratt

‘Do you know anything about the Mona Lisa?’

Fun fact Friday knows the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911 and recovered two years later. Uncle Bernie tells Friday something she didn’t already know; new evidence suggests it’s possible the painting that was returned to the Louvre all of those years ago was a forgery. Off to Paris we go!

‘Since when did Interpol start recruiting teenagers?’ he asked snidely.

‘Since adult behaviour became so ridiculous,’ suggested Friday, looking from him to her colleague restrained on the ground.

Friday Barnes, my favourite girl detective, is a clumsy, socially awkward genius with a best friend who’d rather be sleeping. Melanie’s sleep to page ratio was smaller than usual in this book. Between the allure of free pizza and their time spent undercover as art students, maybe Melanie simply didn’t have time to reach her usual quota of shut-eye.

Oh, and Ian’s in Paris, too. He’s starting to irritate me but Friday still enjoys his company and his kisses. Meanwhile, I haven’t caught up with Friday being old enough to have a boyfriend.

‘I guess if you can find radiation romantic, then there is hope for you after all.’

I miss seeing her solving all manner of mysteries for the students and staff of Highcrest Academy but our Friday is growing up. Although she’s a teenager now, she’s still the Friday I’ve loved since I was introduced to her eleven books ago, “fluent in science nerd” but directionally challenged.

Each time I catch up with Friday, there are a bunch of smaller mysteries to solve as we figure out the primary one. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I feared I’d investigated alongside Friday for the final time. I love that I’ll be able to spend more time with her soon. I only wish this series existed when I was a kid.

I’m most looking forward to receiving my invitation to Binky and Ingrid’s wedding.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Crime is afoot in the city of love!

Someone stole the Mona Lisa. Okay, it was over a hundred years ago, but a recently uncovered letter reveals that the thief forged a copy. That means that the painting in the Louvre now is a fake. And the real Mona Lisa could be anywhere! 

Friday Barnes needs to find the truth – and the real painting. She’s going undercover as an art student, along with her partner-in-crime-solving, Melanie, and her staggeringly good-looking boyfrenemy, Ian. 

As they watch the comings and goings of France’s most famous art gallery, they see some very strange things. Amid digital pickpockets, guerrilla graffiti and projectile perfume, Friday soon discovers that the Paris art scene is a hotbed of crime.

The Wild – Claudia Martin

Five countries hold 70 per cent of the world’s last remaining wilderness: Russia, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the United States, much of the last country’s wild land lying in Alaska.

This book’s whirlwind trip around the world was fodder for my travel wish list. Divided into sections by geography – Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania & Antarctica, North & South America – the photography highlights various landscapes across the seasons. The isolation and serenity made this the perfect coffee table book for me.

Although I almost always love photography books, because there are so many to choose from, I like to get a feel for what to expect before deciding if they’re for me or not. With that in mind, I’ve chosen my current favourite photo from each section.


Legend says that dragons throwing rocks at one another created the distinctive landscape of the Drakolimni of Tymfi, found in Vikos-Aoös National Park, Greece.


The combusting sulphur in the Ijen stratovolcano complex in East Java, Indonesia, causes Api Biru, Blue Fire.


African teak is a deciduous hardwood tree with explosive pods able to spread seeds over several metres.

This teak forest is in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.


The world’s largest population of dugongs make their home at Shark Bay, Western Australia.


This gorgeous winter scene comes to you from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

While this book features some breathtaking landscapes, it also includes photos of animals. My favourite is this American alligator, a species that can reach 4.8m (15.7 feet) in length, chilling out at Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, USA.


NB: The images I’ve included in my review are screenshots of the eARC. The colours may look different in the book.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Illustrated with beautiful colour photographs, The Wild leads the reader to the planet’s least cultivated places, from jungles to tundras. Take a step into the wild!

We live in an increasingly urbanised world, but there are still many magnificent stretches of wilderness unaltered by humankind. From the most remote mountains and valleys in Alaska to the southern tip of Chile and Argentina, from Europe’s primeval forest on the Polish-Belarusian border to Norway’s fjords, and from the Namib Desert to Kamchatka in far-eastern Russia to canyons in Kurdistan and rainforests in Cambodia, The Wild celebrates the beauty of uncultivated landscapes all around the globe.

Arranged by continent, the book roams across landscapes and climates, from Antarctica’s dry valleys to African burning deserts, from European marshlands to Arabian rugged peaks and on to Tanzania’s craters, Indonesia’s volcanoes, and New Zealand’s bubbling mud pools. Each entry is supported with fascinating captions explaining the geology, geography, flora, and fauna. In doing so, the book reveals some of the world’s most naturally bizarre places.

The Magician’s Daughter – H.G. Parry

“We need to bring magic back into the world.”

If ever there was a book that could make you believe in magic, this is it.

Me? Well, I already believed. But now I believe even more.

Biddy has grown up on the island of Hy-Brasil with Rowan, who is sometimes a raven, and Hutch, who is sometimes not a rabbit. Unlike Rowan and Hutch, Biddy doesn’t have magic.

At almost seventeen, Biddy has never left the island.

She was a liminal person, trapped between a world she’d grown out of and another that wouldn’t let her in.

Throughout her life, Rowan has flown to the mainland. He always returns before dawn … until the day that he doesn’t.

This world invited me in and made me feel at home. I accompanied Biddy as she transformed from a sheltered, bookish girl to a young woman who‘s beginning to discover what she’s capable of.

“In every fairy tale ever told, it’s a bad idea to tangle with a magician’s daughter.”

As I walked alongside her, I not only saw through her eyes but felt what she was experiencing.

My favourite vicarious experience was Biddy’s relationship with Rowan and Hutch. I’m always a sucker for stories that introduce me to found families. This one, though, made me care so deeply about the individuals and their bond that even thinking about the connection between Rowan and Hutch being severed was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

This was a stressful read, in the best way possible. When the characters were in danger I not only feared for their safety but the effect it would have on the others if anything bad happened to them.

Although this is a story of magic and adventure, it is also bookish in so many wonderful ways. Most of what Biddy knows of the outside world, she learned from books and she prepares for new experiences by reading. Their castle (yes, they live in a castle!) has a library with thousands of books. There’s also a library inside a tree!

I’m not sure how this magic works but this read gave me the comfort I feel rereading a childhood favourite while delivering the anticipation of a new book that you can’t put down.

This is going to be one of my favourite reads of the year. I need to read everything this author ever writes.

“It’s all complicated and messy and wild and glorious.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Off the coast of Ireland sits a legendary island hidden by magic. A place of ruins and ancient trees, sea-salt air and fairy lore, Hy-Brasil is the only home Biddy has ever known. Washed up on its shore as a baby, Biddy lives a quiet life with her guardian, the mercurial magician Rowan. A life she finds increasingly stifling.

One night, Rowan fails to return from his mysterious travels. To find him, Biddy must venture into the outside world for the first time. But Rowan has powerful enemies – forces who have hoarded the world’s magic and have set their sights on the magician’s many secrets.

Biddy may be the key to stopping them. Yet the closer she gets to answers, the more she questions everything she’s ever believed about Rowan, her past, and the nature of magic itself.

Alien: Enemy of My Enemy – Mary SanGiovanni

“Are there monsters on this moon?”

A novel based on one of my favourite movie franchises written by one of my favourite authors. What’s not to love?!

There has been a lot of face hugging in my life recently. I gave myself some homework before allowing myself to enjoy this read, binge every Alien movie I own…

“You … BITCH!”

”Get away from her, you bitch!”

”You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.”

”So, like, what did you do?” “I died.”

”Big things have small beginnings.”

”When one note is off, it eventually destroys the whole symphony, David.”

”What did you say this room was called?” “Sacrificial chamber.”

”See? No monster.”

All eight of them. It was a really entertaining couple of weeks. So, onto the book.

It was so much fun! You’ll meet scientists, researchers and volunteers. The moon they currently call home is on a crash course with a dead planet, but that’s the least of their problems. Some bright spark decided to enhance the traits that make these “remarkable creatures” so deadly, because that’s obviously a great idea.

Once you make it through the bloodbath otherwise known as Chapter One, you’ll begin to wonder if there’s any point trying to remember anyone’s name because it’s fairly certain they’re all doomed.

Blood paints walls, floors and bystanders. The death to page ratio is satisfyingly high. I started a tally of all of the deaths but quickly gave up.

“Now, that’s really not a good sign – for anybody.”

You can look forward to catching up with some of your favourite friends from the Alien movies, including Ovomorphs,






and Xenomorphs.


“Did you know, Sergeant, that the Xenomorphs have mouths inside their mouths?”

There are characters you’ll barely meet before their insides become their outsides. Others you’ll get to spend some time with before they inevitably cease breathing.

Kira, whose favourite stuffed animal is a dog called Mr. Bones, was adorable. Even though I’d just finished my Alien movie binge, I initially had high hopes for Kira’s survival. Then I remembered Newt. This franchise doesn’t shy away from killing its young. Regardless, she’s the character I most wanted to survive.

Then there was Dr Martin Fowler. To know him is to eagerly anticipate his demise.

If you like your Xenomorph’s saliva to be glistening and dripping, and you want your humans to be torn apart from the outside in and the inside out, this is your book. If you’ve never been on board the Nostromo, you might want to spend some time with Ripley first.

Favourite no context quote:

Her eyes grew wide with horror as she watched her arm dangling from the claws of the creature above her.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb


The moon on which it was built hurtles toward an inevitable collision with the dead planet Hephaestus. The clock is ticking, yet when a distress signal arrives from a Weyland-Yutani biowarfare outpost, a desperate plan is launched to evacuate the trapped scientists. Meanwhile, across the galaxy a mysterious black substance rains down on Earth settlements, creating hideous monsters from indigenous creatures … and from human beings. Terran governments point the accusing finger at one another. Thus on LV-846 – a United Americas colony – high-level talks convene to address the galaxy-wide hostilities, but there’s a plot brewing among the participants. One which could plunge the colonies into all-out war. The only hope for peace may lie with the deadliest ally imaginable…

BONUS FEATURE: An exclusive new role playing game scenario based on the massively popular, award-winning Alien RPG from Free League Publishing!

Ghosts of the Orphanage – Christine Kenneally

For more than a hundred years, the people of Vermont had, knowingly or unknowingly, sent their children in reverent offering to the huge house on the hill outside of town. The obedient servants of the Catholic God took the children in, and in return, behind the locked doors of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, out of their own pain and misery, and with all their immense entitlement, they devoured them.

Some books stay with me because they were so well written. Others linger because they invited me into a world that I previously knew very little of, or their content haunts me. Then there are those that introduce me to people I’ll never forget.

This book was all of the above. I expect it to be one of my favourite non-fiction reads of the year.

Investigating some of the worst abuses of power I’ve ever read about, abuse that took place over the course of decades and throughout continents by seemingly countless perpetrators, this is not an easy read. Important, absolutely. Easy, not even close.

However, despite detailing abuses that run the gamut – verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, medical, neglect, torture, even murder – the descriptions are not as graphic as I had expected them to be. That’s not to say that there’s any doubt about the level of brutality these children survived (or didn’t, in some cases). The content is potentially triggering but it’s delivered as sensitively as possible.

The research that preceded this book was extensive, consisting of hundreds of interviews as well as … take a deep breath …

thousands of pages of transcripts from the St. Joseph’s litigation in the 1990s and files from Vermont Catholic Charities, which included contemporaneous logs from social workers at the orphanage, medical records, historic photographs, and letters written by priests and other workers in child welfare at the time, as well as handwritten diaries, police records, autopsy reports, transcripts from secret church tribunals, priest rehabilitation reports, orphanage settlement letters, historic newspaper articles, death and birth certificates, and government files and reports from many jurisdictions.

While the bulk of the book focuses on the atrocities that took place at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Vermont, you’ll also learn about other orphanages in America, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Scotland.

“I thought I was the reason all that stuff happened,” he told me. “All that time, I thought it was only happening to me, but it was happening all over the place.”

Geoff Meyer

Sally Dale is integral to this book but hers is not the only story that will stay with you. I’m in awe of the courage, resilience and determination of the children I was introduced to, those who lived to become adults as well as those who didn’t.

As adults, many have fought for justice against one of the oldest institutions in the world. The pain of hearing their stories was well and truly offset by the privilege of getting to know these remarkable survivors.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, but my recommendation comes with a word of warning: please take good care of yourself while you’re reading it. And make sure you have tissues on hand.

Now I know that some people have always moved freely between the reality that is plain to see and its hinterlands: the institutions, the orphanages, the places where things happen behind closed doors and stay hidden.

Content warnings include death by suicide, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, forced labour, medical experimentation, mental health, murder, physical abuse, sexual assault and torture. Readers with emetophobia are really going to struggle.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A shocking expose of the dark, secret history of Catholic orphanages – the violence, abuse, and even murder that took place within their walls – and a call to hold the powerful to account.

Ghosts of the Orphanage is the result of ten years of investigation by award-winning journalist Christine Kenneally. What she has uncovered is shocking, yet it was all hiding in plain sight.

Terrible things, abuse, both physical and psychological, and even deaths have happened in orphanages all over the world for many years. The survivors have been telling what happened to them for a long time, but no one has been listening. Authorities have too often been unwilling to accept their stories. And a victim’s options for recourse have been limited by the years it has taken many survivors to process their trauma, tell their stories, and pursue legal action.

Centering on St. Joseph’s, a Catholic orphanage in Vermont, Kenneally investigates and shares the stories of survivors. She has fought to expose the truth and hold the powerful – many of them Catholic priests and nuns – to account. And it is working. As these stories have come to light, the laws in Vermont have been forced to change, including the statute of limitations on prosecuting them.

Told with human compassion, novelistic detail and a powerful sense of purpose, Ghosts of the Orphanage is not only a gripping story but a reckoning. It is proof that real evil lurks at the edges of our society, and that, if we have the courage, we can bring it into the light and defeat it.

Crookhaven: The School for Thieves – J.J. Arcanjo

Illustrations – Euan Cook

‘Alone you can become exceptional; together you can become unstoppable.’

The only thing Gabriel Avery’s parents left when they abandoned him was a 2p coin. Gabe lives with his Grandma, using his pickpocketing skills to put sandwiches on the table (bacon for Gabe and charred sausage for Grandma). Although he’s done well to stay under the radar, his thieving abilities have recently been noticed.

‘As I live and thieve!’

Rather than spending some time behind bars, Gabe has been offered a place at a most “disreputable establishment”, Crookhaven, a boarding school for “wrongdoers, swindlers and thieves”. There he will study subjects that will mould him into a criminal all-rounder: forgery, crimnastics, picking locks, hacking and deception.

The three principles students learn at Crookhaven are:

Lie. But never lie to yourself.

Cheat. But never cheat your friends.

Steal. But never steal from those in need.

Each student comes to Crookhaven with their own set of skills and there is some division between those who gain entry as Merits and the Legacies, but the students all have something in common. They’re “the outcasts, the misunderstood, the reviled”. I’m a sucker for stories featuring outcasts.

Besides the comfort of knowing he doesn’t have to scheme and steal to put food in his belly, Crookhaven offers Gabe another first, the opportunity to make friends. The found family aspect of this book was one of my favourite takeaways.

There’s Penelope, who can’t abide rule breaking. She speaks five languages fluently and understands another two. I adored her spikiness and attitude.

Ade and Ede are twin white hats, known in the hacking community as the Brothers Crim. The only time they’re in sync is when they’re hacking, so part of their role is comic relief.

Then there’s the Blur, Amira. Other than Penelope, she’s the one I most want to spend more time with.

The first in a series, this book introduces you to Gabe’s world, as well as the beloved and new people in his life. You’ll crave bacon sandwiches as you scheme along with Gabe as he navigates his new surroundings.

So I don’t forget by the time I read the sequel, I made a list of the various Crookhaven teachers:

  • Caspian Crook teaches Tech-nique
  • Friedrich teaches Crimnastics
  • Miss Jericho teaches History of Crookery
  • Mr Khan teaches Deception
  • Ms Locket teaches Infiltration
  • Palombo teaches Forgery
  • Mr Sisman teaches Cultivating a Crook
  • Mr Velasquez teaches Tricks of the Trade
  • Whisper teaches Hacking.

Crookhaven’s co-Headmasters are Caspian Crook and Whisper.

This book hooked me. I love the characters. I love the setting. I love the fact that it takes outcasts and gives them somewhere to belong, all the while playing to their strengths.

You’d think a book about crooks would be chock full of nefarious characters fighting dirty to be the biggest Big Bad. The focus, though, is learning skills to do good in the world.

‘Crookhaven: we do wrong to put the world right.’

That’s not to say that there aren’t any morally grey characters or baddies being dastardly.

This book is an entertaining mix of action, mystery, drama and humour. Adult me loved it. Kid me would have loved it. I can’t imagine geriatric me feeling any differently. It’s a winner.

While their role is explored in this book, I’m hoping to get to know some of the Gardeners in future books.

Favourite no context quote:

‘Because it is the outsiders, the forgotten, the ones who’ve always felt like they don’t belong, who end up changing the world.’

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“So this is really a school for criminals.” It was meant as a question, though it came out more as an accusation.

“We are so much more than that,” Caspian said, sitting in a plush leather chair and gesturing for Gabriel to sit in a similar one across the table. “We are a home for the forgotten, a sanctuary for the lost and … yes, a training ground for the greatest crooks of the future.”

13-year-old Gabriel is a brilliant pickpocket, a skill which he uses to keep his often empty belly not quite so empty. And then one day, he’s caught.

But instead of being arrested, he is invited by the mysterious Caspian Crook to attend Crookhaven – a school for thieves. At Crookhaven, students are trained in lock-picking, forgery and ‘crim-nastics’, all with the intention of doing good out in the world, by conning the bad and giving back to the innocent.

But … can you ever really trust a thief?

With a school wide competition to be crowned Top Crook and many mysteries to uncover, Gabriel’s first year at Crookhaven will be one to remember…

The Least of My Scars – Stephen Graham Jones

Don’t let anybody ever tell you life’s fair.

Not as long as I’m in it.

William Colton Hughes’ life changed because of a yoga instructor. Now he never goes outside, but he doesn’t need to because everything he could ever want is delivered to him. Vegetables. Duct tape. Victims.

It’s not as far a leap as you might want.

Have you never thought about it, how easy it would be? That you could get away with it.

Except now the deliveries have stopped.

I love it when a book lulls you into false confidence, where you’re convinced you know where it’s heading, when you’ve read the reviews that mention a twist, but you essentially scoff to yourself, ‘What twist?!’ What twist indeed!

I love it when a book surprises me. With what is essentially one big stream of consciousness, this book did exactly that. The writing style initially unbalanced me and it only makes sense that it did because you’re inside the head of a serial killer, one with a wet-dry vac, mannequins and, sometimes, robot arms.

I love it when I feel the need to immediately return to page 1 when I get to the end of a book so I can experience it all over again, to uncover the clues I missed the first time around.

This was a different reading experience for me than The Indian Lake Trilogy has been so far and I certainly didn’t expect it to be such a compulsive read. I was already sure that I needed to read everything Stephen Graham Jones ever writes. What this book has done is bump up the timeline.

If you’re squeamish or have emetophobia, this isn’t the book for you. Maybe don’t read this book while you’re eating a rare steak.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

You haven’t heard of William Colton Hughes. Or, if you have, then you’re not telling anybody. Not telling them anything, ever. He’s not the serial killer on the news, in the textbooks. He’s the one out there still punching his card, and a few other people’s too. He is a nightmare come to life, waiting in his apartment for you to knock on his door. 

William Colton Hughes is living his fantasy: his victims are delivered to his apartment every few days. But when he’s suddenly alone, no visitors, nobody to talk to but himself, he begins to lose what little of his mind he has left. Has his benefactor, his employer, been his prison warden all along? His apartment complex a hospital? Is he going to have to go back to heaving dark plastic bags into dumpsters when nobody’s looking? 

Or will Dashboard Mary, a mysterious woman hell-bent on revenge, get to him first? 

This is William Colton Hughes. Come and knock on his door.