The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn – Kate Gordon

Illustrations – Rachel Tribout

Every year Wonder and her constant companion, Hollowbeak the crow, watch as the students arrive at Direleafe Hall. Every year Wonder hopes that one of the girls will be her friend. Every year Wonder is heartbroken when none of them speak to her or even acknowledge her presence.

One day, one year, she would find her perfect person. The one whose soul was the perfect mirror of hers. The one who knew her, who she was, entirely, and saw that she was good. The one who saw that she was golden inside.

Not grey.

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This year is different. Mabel, a new student, is also different.

I am infinite,’ she whispered.

Mabel smiled. Without opening her eyes, she nodded. ‘All of us are,’ she said. ‘But only some of us know it.’

Wonder and Mabel become friends, despite Hollowbeak’s concerns. Together they begin to complete the list of wishes that Mabel has written, wishes that include touching a star, throwing a pie and making someone feel pure happiness.

But Wonder and Mabel are each holding onto a secret.

I loved this book! It was so beautiful but so sad! Although I knew from very early on where the story was going, I found myself tearing up towards the end.

There were so many passages that made me want to linger. Descriptions like this one only added to the story’s beauty and haunting feel:

The tree, like Hollowbeak, was a bent and twisted thing, its bark as silver as twilight and its branches as black as midnight. It was peculiar and it was old and it seemed somehow imbued with age and wisdom, and Hollowbeak felt in it a kindred spirit.

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I probably wouldn’t have appreciated this book as a child as much as I do now. I’m not sure if I would have read it at all because I was a pretty sensitive kid. I can still remember all too well what being broken by Charlotte’s Web felt like and I expect this book would have elicited similar feelings, despite the sadness being wrapped in unconditional love.

I adored Rachel Tribout’s illustrations. They capture mood of the story so well and the cover image is simply gorgeous. I was fascinated by the shiny, almost metallic accents on the paperback cover.

If you’ve ever borrowed some courage by reading about girls who roar until you are able to roar for yourself … If you’ve ever been scared of being hurt (yet again) but bravely put yourself out there anyway … If you’ve ever yearned to be truly seen and appreciated for who you are … Wonder’s story will resonate with you.

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I fell in love with these young girls and their friendship. I probably never would have met them at all had it not been for my library. As soon as I finished reading I bought my own copy for the next time I want to experience their friendship. I’ll make sure to bring tissues to my reread.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Lonely orphan Wonder Quinn lives in the attic of Direleafe Hall with only a gloomy crow for company. Every year she hopes to make a true friend and every year her heart breaks when she doesn’t.

But when a spirited new student, Mabel Clattersham, befriends her in class, Wonder’s dreams seem to be coming true. As the girls grow closer, Wonder discovers her friend has a list of strange wishes: Throw a pie, leap into the sky, break someone’s heart …

What is Mabel’s big secret? Can Wonder protect her heart from being broken all over again?

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn is an enchanting tale celebrating friendship, bravery and the importance of staying true to yourself.

Secrets of Camp Whatever Volume 1 – Chris Grine

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

This is such a fun read!

Willow’s family have just moved to Nowhere and while her parents are getting the ghosts out the cellar (maybe literally), she’s been sent to Camp … Whatever for a week. Willow isn’t thrilled about the move or camp, but at least she’ll be getting a week’s respite from Gryphin, her younger brother.

There’s more to Camp … Whatever than meets the eye, and it’s not just because of the thick fog that covers the island. There are the mysteries of the missing candy and missing children to solve, the cook is suspected of being a vampire and there are weird gnomes everywhere. The Camp Director has plenty of his own stories to tell

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and the island even has its very own spooky legend.

“When the blood of my blood is spilled from a star, and the shadows of elves return from afar, I will once again walk this plane bringing death in tow.”

Willow and her new friends, Violet, Emma and Molly, won’t have much times for arts and crafts at this camp. They’ve got too many secrets to uncover.

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Eleven year old Willow is adventurous and smart, and she’s never short of ideas or plans, even if they defy the rules. She’s someone you’d have a lot of fun being friends with, if you didn’t mind getting into some trouble along the way. Willow has hearing aids and her ability to sign becomes an important part of the story.

I loved the illustrations and had no trouble following the story or getting to know the characters. The only thing that’s niggling at me is why, given the circumstances, Toast couldn’t have told Elric the names of the other gnomes and saved him nearly thirty years of trying to guess them.

The target audience mentioned on the Simon & Schuster website is 9 to 12 years but this adult loved it and is hooked! I can’t wait for the next volume!

While I definitely want to explore more of Camp … Whatever (I have to see some fog leeches!), I’m just as keen to find out what secrets are hiding in the town of Nowhere and I need to find out if there really are ghosts in the cellar of Willow’s new home.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Oni Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eleven year-old Willow doesn’t want to go to her dad’s weird old summer camp any more than she wants her family to move to the weird old town where that camp is located. But her family – and fate itself – seem to have plans of their own. Soon Willow finds herself neck-deep in a confounding mystery involving stolen snacks, suspected vampires, and missing campers, all shrouded in the sinister fog that hides a generation of secrets at Camp … Whatever it’s called.

Creature Files: Reptiles – L.J. Tracosas

One of my earliest memories of school is when I attended a talk about snakes in the school library. At the end of the talk we were allowed to touch one of the snakes. Even though I was scared, I gently patted this snake and it felt incredible! I’ve been fascinated by them ever since. Because I live in the land of deadly creatures, I have spotted both brown and red-bellied black snakes in my yard but thankfully none have made their way inside my home (that I know of).

The information in this book will entirely freak you out, give you more respect for these cold-blooded creatures, or both. For each of the twenty reptiles featured, you will learn their scientific name and some fun facts, along with details about where they live, and their length and weight. There’s also a Danger Gauge and a Fang File, which includes a description and photograph.

I loved this book! I’m quoting my favourite fact for each reptile, although there’s plenty more where they come from.

Gila Monster – “Thanks to their fat-storing tails and their ability to digest really slowly, some scientists think these reptiles need to eat only three times a year!”

Gaboon Viper – “Instead of striking and releasing, like other snakes, the gaboon viper sinks its teeth in and holds on – injecting more venom into its victims than any other snake.”

Black Mamba – “These swift serpents are the fastest land snakes in the world, sprinting at speeds of up to 12.5 miles (20 km) per hour.”

American Alligator – “A single alligator can go through 3,000 teeth in its life.”

King Cobra – “While these deadly snakes can inject venom powerful enough to topple an elephant, they prefer to dine on other snakes.”

Rattlesnake – “Every time the rattlesnake sheds its skin, it gets another “ring”.” (on its tail)

Green Iguana – “they can swim underwater for up to 30 minutes.”

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Emerald Tree Boa – “You’ll usually find them coiled around a branch in a loop with their head in the middle.”

Inland Taipan – “The inland taipan is considered by many to be the world’s most venomous snake.”

Black Caiman – “Like other crocodilians, the black caiman has a broad snout filled with about 76 teeth.”

Tuatara – “A tuatara has two rows of teeth on the top jaw and one row on the bottom.”

Bush Viper – “This big-eyed snake has rough scales to help it grip the trees it climbs while hunting.”

Red Spitting Cobra – “Despite their name, spitting cobras don’t actually spit – they’re really shooting venom out of tubes in their fangs. The spray can reach up to 8 feet (2.4 m).”

Indian Gharial – “An Indian gharial has about 110 needle-like teeth lining its narrow jaws.”

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Boomslang – “If a boomslang thinks it’s been spotted, it will freeze, usually with the front of its body extended off the tree. They’ll even sway slowly, just like a tree branch moving in the breeze.”

Copperhead – “Copperheads have keeled scales, which means each scale has a ridge on it.”

Nile Crocodile – “Most reptiles leave their eggs and babies on their own, but Nile crocodiles guard their nests, help their babies hatch, and even keep an eye on them until they’re about two years old.”

Green Anaconda – “Weighing more than an adult lion and longer than a giraffe is tall, these colossal constrictors have an appetite for big prey.”

Komodo Dragon – “Dragons use their forked yellow tongues to smell, and they can catch the scent of a dead or bleeding animal up to 6 miles away.”

Leatherback Sea Turtle – “Out of 1,000 hatchlings, only one baby turtle will grow to be an adult.”

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and becker&mayer! kids, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Get nose to nose with twenty of the fastest, strongest, stealthiest, and most poisonous reptiles the planet Earth has to offer, with Creature Files: Reptiles.

From the deadly gaboon viper, with the longest fangs in the world, to the venomous Gila monster that lurks underground, reptiles have an extraordinary assortment of survival skills.

Fangs and venom aren’t these cold-blooded creatures’ only weapons: some are camouflaged to hide in plain sight, and others, like the Komodo dragon, have powerful claws for slashing prey. Still others use their awesome strength to overpower victims, like the green anaconda and its deadly squeeze or the saltwater crocodile and the 3,700 pounds of sheer force it puts into every bite!

Creature Files: Reptiles features twenty of the world’s most extraordinary reptiles, with reptilian profiles brought to life by vivid photographs and a host of intriguing facts. Each slithering or stalking animal comes with a Fang File to give you the lowdown on how it uses its teeth to pierce, crush, poison, or munch its meals. Can you match the three replica teeth included to the reptilian mouths they belong to?

The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Once there were three sisters.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January was my favourite read of 2019 and The Once and Future Witches is my favourite read of 2020. I know there are still plenty of pages to fall in love with this year but trust me, friends, this is the one!

The wise one, the strong one and the wild one. There’s a bit of each of us in at least one of the Eastwood sisters; hopefully all three. This is a story of sisters and suffragists. Of fairytales and the power of words. Of survival and sacrifice. Of transforming the story you were given into a better one. Of “witchcraft most wicked”.

The wayward sisters, hand in hand,

Burned and bound, our stolen crown,

But what is lost, that can’t be found?

Sometimes you read a book that feels like it was written with you in mind. Sometimes characters will draw you into their world and you feel like they’re kin or, at the very least, kindred spirits. Sometimes a story speaks to your soul in such a way that when you lift your head after the final page you are certain you grew wings while you were reading. That’s just some of what this book was for me.

I want to ramble about characters, surprises and heartbreaks, love found and battles waged but, consistent with other books that have so deeply worked their magic on me, this review is more personal. Sorry if this isn’t the review you were looking for.

Don’t forget what you are.

As I read I felt my spine straightening. My will strengthened. My courage blazed. My heart opened, warming and knitting itself together, even as it broke. My tears threatened many times before the inevitable ugly cry (it was so ugly!). This was the perfect book for me at the perfect time.

I made a deal with myself weeks before I started reading. I had a really difficult task ahead of me and I wanted this book to be my reward for completing it. Not allowing myself to dive in before I won my battle was its own special brand of torture but knowing the witches were waiting for me spurred me on. Being able to finally immerse myself in the lives of Agnes, Bella and Juniper was worth the wait. And then some.

I now have a task equal, if not greater, to face than the one that preceded it but this book has fortified me and given me the courage I need to shine a light on the next shadow on my path.

Together they dared to dream of a better world, where women weren’t broken and sisters weren’t sundered and rage wasn’t swallowed, over and over again.

I can’t wait until someone I know has read this book so I can get all gushy about the specifics. Until that time, a warning: if you see me out in the wild, prepare yourself. Our interaction is likely to consist of me emphatically telling you to “Read this book!” as I shove it in your face. Protect your nose accordingly.

“Maleficae quondam, maleficaeque futurae.”

Content warnings include “Child abuse, both physical and psychological; parental death; arrest and imprisonment; mind control; pregnancy and childbirth, including forced hospitalization; racism; sexism; homophobia, both external and internalized; threat of sexual assault, averted; torture (mostly off-the-page, but alluded to); execution (attempted); child abandonment; major character death.” The author lists these on Goodreads. I’m adding to these the mention of abortion, on page death of an animal, physical abuse of an animal and sexual harassment.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, for the opportunity to fall in love with this book early.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters – James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna – join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery

Story Adapter – Crystal S. Chan

Illustrations – Kuma Chan

Lettering – Daria Rhodes

Kindred spirits, it’s time for us to take a journey together. When you pass through the White Way of Delight keep going. It’s only about another mile before we reach our destination. Oh, there’s the Lake of Shining Waters. If you look over there you’ll see the house Diana lives in. She’s a kindred spirit too. Just a little further and … there it is! Green Gables! You’re home.

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are sure to welcome you, as will Cordelia Anne (with an E).

“And there’s one thing certain, no house will ever be dull that she’s in.”

Just make sure the drink Anne serves you is the drink you ordered …

I’ve loved Anne since the day we met. This is such a beautiful adaptation. Everything I love about Anne’s story was included here, including her friendship with Diana, her rivalry with Gilbert and witnessing Marilla and Anne’s relationship deepen over the years. I even experienced my usual overwhelming need to hug Matthew whenever I see him.

Yes, I did get a little bit teary during that scene. You know the one I’m talking about. I think I was too distracted by how cute everyone looked though, so I managed to avoid my customary full blown ugly cry.

The illustrations were so lovely! They did make it quite difficult to take Anne’s complaints about her looks seriously because she’s so darn adorable in manga but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Her doe eyes and that little tuft of hair that’s always sticking up are just so cute!

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Whenever I encounter Anne Shirley my heart feels full. I’m always left with this warm and fuzzy notion that the world is inherently beautiful and that hope and love will prevail, and this manga version of Anne’s story was no different. It left me with a delicious contented feeling. It seemed especially fitting, albeit decidedly strange given that we’re living in 2020 here, that the last sentence was:

“All’s right with the world.”

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Thank you to NetGalley and UDON Entertainment for the opportunity to read this book. I’m all doe eyed about it and am already hankering for a reread.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert were planning to adopt an orphaned boy to help out around their farm, Green Gables – instead, they got Anne Shirley. A plucky redheaded girl with a vibrant imagination, Anne turns first Green Gables and then the rest of Prince Edward Island on its ear. 

Manga Classics® is proud to be the only authorised manga adaption of Anne of Green Gables by the Heirs of L.M. Montgomery, with a foreword by Kate McDonald Butler – granddaughter of the original author! 

This volume presents a faithful recreation of this classic kids novel, from the Lake of Shining Waters to the Dryad’s Bubble!

Love Your Body – Jessica Sanders

Illustrations – Carol Rossetti

Every so often I stumble across a book I wish I’d had the opportunity to read when I was a kid. This is one of those books.

While acknowledging that all bodies are different (and this is okay!), the focus of this book is appreciating what your body can do rather than what it looks like. Examples include using your hands to create, your eyes to watch television or read and your nose to smell the sea or flowers.

Self care ideas for showing your body kindness are included and seeking help from others is normalised. What you can do for your body and what it does for you are addressed but you are also reminded that you are more than your body. You are kind, curious, passionate and so many other wonderful things.

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I absolutely adored the message of this book but it was Carol Rossetti’s illustrations that sealed the deal for me. So many different bodies are represented. Bodies of various colours, shapes, sizes and abilities are included. There’s even cellulite, body hair and stretch marks, and I love that!

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I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read this book so far. Although the target audience are children, adults who didn’t receive this message as kids will also be able to use this book to challenge the stereotypes they’ve internalised about their own body.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What if every young girl loved her body? Love Your Body encourages you to admire and celebrate your body for all the amazing things it can do (like laugh, cry, hug, and feel) and to help you see that you are so much more than your body.

Bodies come in all different forms and abilities. All these bodies are different and all these bodies are good bodies. There is no size, ability, or colour that is perfect. What makes you different makes you, you – and you are amazing!

Love Your Body introduces the language of self-love and self-care to help build resilience, while representing and celebrating diverse bodies, encouraging you to appreciate your uniqueness. This book was written for every girl, regardless of how you view your body. All girls deserve to be equipped with the tools to navigate an image-obsessed world.

Featuring a special surprise poster on the jacket, this book will show you that freedom is loving your body with all its “imperfections” and being the perfectly imperfect you!

Hot Dog 8: Art Time! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Dan McGuiness

Hotdog and his friends are enjoying painting but they all like to paint different things. Hotdog paints his friends, Kev paints food (of course!) and Lizzie paints monsters. Lizzie loves the monsters but Hotdog and Kev find them really scary. The friends are going to enter a contest hosted by the local art museum.

You may (almost) recognise some of the other entrants, which include Pablo Pigasso and Andy Warthog.

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Our three friends are still at the museum when a terrible crime takes place: the Llama Lisa is stolen!

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Hotdog, Kev and Lizzie take it upon themselves to follow the clues and track the art thieves down.

I don’t remember a single time in this series where the friends have won a competition and love that, because that’s not what they’re about. These books are all about friendship and teamwork. This time the friends also need to be brave.

‘But, remember, we can do anything when we’re together.’

Each book in this series features a different colour. This book is PINK! Fluro pink. So pink that it wouldn’t have surprised me if I’d discovered it was glow in the dark. It’s not, but it should could have been. Adults may be reaching for sunglasses when they read some words and phrases. Kids will love it! Each of the illustrations also feature a few different shades of pink. My photos do not do these pictures justice or show the vibrancy of the pinks.

After reading this book I realise I need my very own dino bike and want to explore the Castle Creepy Fun Park. I particularly loved the toothy robot crocodiles and Haunted Library. As usual, Dan McGuiness’ illustrations complement Anh Do’s story perfectly.

I can’t wait to see what these friends get up to next!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Hotdog, Kev and Lizzie enter an art contest at the local museum. But what happens when someone steals the most famous painting in the world the Llama Lisa!?

Can Hotdog and his friends chase down the robbers?

The Gift – Edith Eger

Hope. It’s what lit the fire within my soul when I read The Choice and it’s what made its flame shine even brighter as I made my way through The Gift. Hope that I can do the work that I know I need to do in order to address the pain and trauma I’ve experienced. Hope, because if Edith Eger can do it then so can I. Hope, which Dr Eger defines as “the awareness that suffering, however terrible, is temporary; and the curiosity to discover what happens next.”

One of my takeaways from The Choice was a desire to have the opportunity to be counselled by Dr Eger, a survivor whose experiences, compassion and insight combine to allow her to get to the root of a problem before she lovingly guides you towards the you that you’ve been stifling under layers of pain, anger, [insert relevant adjective/s here], and paralysing what if’s. You may never have the honour of sitting across from Dr Eger in her office but this book is the next best thing.

All therapy is grief work. A process of confronting a life where you expect one thing and get another, a life that brings you the unexpected and unanticipated.

If you’ve already read The Choice then you’ll be familiar with some of the stories of Dr Eger’s life and those of her patients that are included in this book. You’ll also find stories that will be new to you, which help illustrate the points Dr Eger makes as she hands you the keys that will help you unlock the prison of your mind.

To heal doesn’t mean to get over it, but it does mean that we are able to be wounded and whole, to find happiness and fulfillment in our lives despite our loss.

Twelve keys are presented in this book. Dr Eger addresses the prisons of victimhood, avoidance, self-neglect, secrets, guilt and shame, unresolved grief, rigidity, resentment, paralysing fear, judgement, hopelessness, and not forgiving.

At the end of each chapter you’ll find ‘Keys to Free Yourself’. These consolidate what you’ve learned in the chapter and can be used to facilitate your own healing. Some require you to use your imagination. Others provide prompts that you can use in journalling. Then there are some that would be ideal to work through with a therapist.

I like to remind my patients: the opposite of depression is expression.

What comes out of you doesn’t make you sick; what stays in there does.

This is one of those books where it would have been much easier to have highlighted the passages that didn’t speak directly to me. While I discovered the gems in this book in the order Dr Eger has presented them, you don’t need to do this. Each chapter is its own lesson, so you can take what you need when you need it. I know I will be rereading this book from cover to cover in the not too distant future but I also anticipate I’ll be spending more time on specific chapters over time.

Although healing from pain and trauma is serious work, that doesn’t mean there aren’t smiles to be had as you make your way through this book. Currently, my favourite smile-inducing quote is about taking charge:

Don’t be Cinderella, sitting in the kitchen waiting for a guy with a foot fetish.

You could dive into this book without having experienced The Choice but I would recommend reading them in the order of publication. While you can apply the lessons to your life without knowing Dr Eger’s own story, they’re enriched by this knowledge.

Because I know what Dr Eger chose to share in The Choice, I trust her when she outlines what she found helpful. I also can’t give myself an out, claiming something is too difficult, when I have witnessed someone I now have such admiration for working through unimaginable pain and trauma to find freedom.

I now recognize that the most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket. No matter how great our suffering or how strong the bars, it’s possible to break free from whatever’s holding us back.

It is not easy. But it is so worth it.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, grief, gun violence, murder, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This practical and inspirational guide to healing from the bestselling author of The Choice shows us how to release your self-limiting beliefs and embrace your potential.

The prison is in your mind. The key is in your pocket.

In the end, it’s not what happens to us that matters most – it’s what we choose to do with it. We all face suffering – sadness, loss, despair, fear, anxiety, failure. But we also have a choice; to give in and give up in the face of trauma or difficulties, or to live every moment as a gift.

Celebrated therapist and Holocaust survivor, Dr Edith Eger, provides a hands-on guide that gently encourages us to change the imprisoning thoughts and destructive behaviours that may be holding us back. Accompanied by stories from Eger’s own life and the lives of her patients her empowering lessons help you to see your darkest moments as your greatest teachers and find freedom through the strength that lies within.

The Choice – Edith Eger

“Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”

Sometimes a book will find you at the very moment you need it. This is one of those books. I’ve previously marvelled at the resilience of some other remarkable human beings who survived the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel. Viktor Frankl.

Joining them is Edith Eger. A survivor whose courage both astounds me and gives me hope. A woman who will be occupying the space in my heart that she has made bigger with her compassion. A touchstone for the times I feel like I don’t have the strength to survive my own pain.

What follows is the story of the choices, big and small, that can lead us from trauma to triumph, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom.

It would be so easy to hear even part of Edith’s story and say to yourself that your pain is insignificant compared to what she has experienced but after reading this book I realise that would be a disservice to her. Edith doesn’t rank pain and would prefer your response to be one of, “If she can do it, then so can I!” For someone whose power was taken away in such a brutal way at such a young age, Edith’s message is that much more empowering and impactful.

I can’t begin to imagine how I would have fared if I had been in Edith’s place. What I do know is, like everyone, I have experienced pain and trauma. Through Edith’s story and those of the people she’s counselled, I gained insights into my own life. Light made its way into dark corners that are painful to look at and while there’s still plenty of work to be done, it no longer feels impossible. Now I just need to make a counselling appointment with Edith. 😊

I expected to ugly cry my way through this book and surprised myself when I didn’t. The tears came unexpectedly, when I started rambling about how extraordinary Edith’s story is to someone. I was doing fine, right up until I began to explain that Edith would not have survived had it not been for a loaf of bread. Then I lost it.

Any story that even lightly touches on the Holocaust is bound to include the depravity that humans inflict on other humans. What touched me so much about that part of Edith’s story was it showed me the beauty that can still live within people, despite the ugliness that surrounds them.

I loved the way this book was written. I often felt like I was in conversation with Edith, that I was sitting across from her in a comfy chair in a room with a fireplace warming us as she was telling me a specific part of her story. I ran the gamut of emotions as I was reading but the style itself felt very down to earth.

No one heals in a straight line.

One of my favourite takeaways is the way Edith explains trauma. She doesn’t shy away from talking about the long term impacts she has lived with and that alone endeared her to me. So often the message seems to be that once you have survived the experience it’s all sunshine and roses from that day forward. No, pain hurts and surviving the aftermath of pain hurts too.

Edith’s authenticity when she talked about experiencing flashbacks and nightmares decades after her initial survival spoke to parts of me I can’t even verbalise yet, but I know some of what I felt as I read those parts was a bubbling hope rising up within me. When I read her take on PTSD I actually stopped reading to cheer; what I have long believed was actually being said by someone else.

This is why I now object to pathologizing post-traumatic stress by calling it a disorder. It’s not a disordered reaction to trauma – it’s a common and natural one.

I can already see a time in the near future where I’m going to need to reread this book. Different things are going to speak to me at different parts of my life; I can feel it in my bones.

What happened can never be forgotten and can never be changed. But over time I learned that I can choose how to respond to the past.

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and be overcome by the need to book evangelise. Oftentimes it’s a wanting to shout from the rooftops, ‘Hey, you! Read this book! Then let’s talk about how much we both loved it.’ I also want to book evangelise The Choice but it’s coming more from a quiet knowing that this book can change lives. It’s a desire for people to get an infusion of compassion and empathy, to see in black and white what can happen when we don’t treat other humans like humans, and to make sure this never happens again.

We can choose what the horror teaches us. To become bitter in our grief and fear. Hostile. Paralyzed. Or to hold on to the childlike part of us, the lively and curious part, the part that is innocent.

I’m in awe of Edith surviving Auschwitz at all. To see what she has done since, both in working towards her own healing and facilitating the healing of countless others? I don’t know enough words to be able to adequately convey the way that makes me feel. This is truly a remarkable woman and if you haven’t already, you really need to read this book.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, eating disorders, grief, mental health, murder, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1944, sixteen-year-old Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. There she endured unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. Over the coming months, Edith’s bravery helped her sister to survive, and led to her bunkmates rescuing her during a death march. When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.

In The Choice, Dr Edith Eger shares her experience of the Holocaust and the remarkable stories of those she has helped ever since. Today, she is an internationally acclaimed psychologist whose patients include survivors of abuse and soldiers suffering from PTSD. She explains how many of us live within a mind that has become a prison, and shows how freedom becomes possible once we confront our suffering.

Like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, but exceptional in its own right, The Choice is life changing. Warm, compassionate and infinitely wise, it is a profound examination of the human spirit, and our capacity to heal.

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost – Flavia Z. Drago

I have to be brave.

I have to let the others see me!

Gustavo is such a sweetheart!

This lonely ghost desperately wants to make a friend but he’s too shy to talk to them. Even when he’s near the other monsters, no one sees him.

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Finally, Gustavo comes up with a plan. Even though he’s filled with self doubt in the lead up to the Day of the Dead, Gustavo is determined to be brave.

I love that Gustavo’s plan involves an activity that he enjoys, that he doesn’t try to become someone else in order to get the other monsters to notice him. His courage is rewarded and this little spectral introvert finds not just one friend but many.

The illustrations are so cute, clearly showing the way Gustavo is feeling throughout the story. There are a variety of monsters and plenty of background details to enjoy.

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I’ve already read this book so many times that I’ve lost count. I only wish I had a little monster to read it to.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for introducing me to such an adorable kindred introvert.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This winning debut picture book from Mexican artist Flavia Z. Drago about finding the courage to make friends is perfect for the spooky season – or anytime.

Gustavo is good at doing all sorts of ghostly things: walking through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark. And he loves almost nothing more than playing beautiful music on his violin. But Gustavo is shy, and some things are harder for him to do, like getting in a line to buy eye scream or making friends with other monsters. Whenever he tries getting close to them, he realises they just can’t see him. Now that the Day of the Dead is fast approaching, what can he do to make them notice him and to share with them something he loves? With fancifully detailed artwork and visual humor, debut picture-book creator Flavia Z. Drago’s vivid illustrations tell a sweet and gently offbeat story of loneliness, bravery, and friendship that is sure to be a treat for little ghouls and goblins everywhere.