The Forevers – Chris Whitaker

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

She was seventeen years old.

She would die in one month.

Mae has grown up knowing that she and her sister, Stella, won’t live long enough to become adults. Asteroid 8050XF11, A.K.A. Selena, is on a collision course with Earth.

So, what do you do when an Extinction Level Event is imminent? Some people put their faith in God and wait for a miracle. Others place their hope in science. If disaster movies have taught us anything, it’s that scientists will consistently fail until just before the credits roll. Then they’ll come up with a solution that’ll save the world. Surely they can do this in real life, too. 

There are the leavers, people “who said their goodbyes or those that simply tired of the wait and disappeared in search of more.” Then there are those who are living like there’s no tomorrow. They figure if you’re not going to live long enough for the consequences to catch up with you, then you might as well do whatever you want.

The countdown is on. There’s one month to go until God performs a miracle, science comes through with the biggest win in the history of the world or everyone dies.

Mae and many others in West spend much of their final month attending school and working. I doubt I would be doing either if I knew the end was nigh. Mae’s also trying to learn the truth behind the recent death of Abi, her former best friend.

Impending doom doesn’t negate the usual high school drama, with popular kids, bullies and outcasts all featured. Some of these kids have significant difficulties in their lives, though, even if you ignore the whole 70 mile wide asteroid that’s going to obliterate them in the very near future thing.

I liked Mae but adored Stella, her eight year old sister, who stole every scene she was in. With such heavy content, I was especially grateful for the comic relief that came in the form of Felix. He was all about sleeping when he’s dead and becoming visible to the love of his life, despite the fact that she already has a boyfriend.

A lot of characters were introduced but I didn’t form a connection with a number of them, due to their personality or because I didn’t get to know them well enough. There’s practically an entire alphabet of content warnings at the end of my review, with so many important issues touched on. However, individual circumstances didn’t always have enough page time for them to be explored in the depth I would have liked. 

For example, for most of the book Sally is pretty much only ever referred to in terms of her weight. She’s the fat girl. She‘s almost always consuming copious amounts of food whenever we see her. She’s fat shamed. A lot. When I finally learned something else about her, I wanted an entire book dedicated to her. There’s so much complexity and emotion there, and it felt like I only just scraped the surface of who she was.

The mystery of what happened to Abi faded into the background at times as the struggles of other characters were explored. There was a resolution, though, and many characters were given the opportunity to do what they needed to in order to finish their stories on their own terms.

Sometimes it took me a while to figure out which character was in a scene with Mae, especially when they’d only be referred to as ‘he’ for several paragraphs before they were named. Some scene changes felt jarring and for a while around the middle of the book I wasn’t even sure if I was enjoying it. 

But this was a compulsive read and Mae and Stella’s relationship kept me invested. An ugly cry snuck up on me at the end and I’m still thinking about several characters. I’m definitely interested in reading more books by this author and I absolutely adored Muhammad Nafay’s cover illustration. 

We made Forever for the creeps and the weirdos, the freaks and the outlaws.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, fat shaming, homophobia, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, slut shaming and suicidal ideation.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Thirty days until the end of the world. What would you do?

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?

Wolf Girl #5: Across the Sea – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

We pick up the story of Gwen, Rupert and the rest of the pack a few days after we left them in The Traitor. In that time, winter has begun to set in. Using the papers Rupert printed at the Captain’s mansion/compound (?) as a guide, the pack make their way to the village of Gulfoss.

There they stow away on a ship that’s taking dozens of adult prisoners to a new location. On board, they meet Rita, a cleaner, and find a potential new pack member, Pirate the pug.

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I liked Pirate but he couldn’t make up for the fact that we lost two of the pack in this book. Rupert found his parents on board the ship and he’s currently in captivity with them. I was frustrated that we didn’t get to learn anything about the history between Rupert and the Captain from The Traitor before Rupert left. There is a possibility we might see him and his parents later in the series, though. Eagle is also gone, although a small part of me is hoping Eagle didn’t actually die. I’ll probably read the next book to find out for sure but if they are really gone then I’ll be leaving the pack at that time.

I wondered where the kids got their cold weather clothing from. Rupert didn’t seem to bring anything with him when he left the camp and until now we’ve never experienced winter with Gwen.

I’m fine with Gwen understanding what the dogs and wolf are saying but I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that a couple of kids and some animals can consistently outwit and outmanoeuvre so many trained soldiers. They make it look too easy.

I think I’m beginning to struggle with this series mostly because it’s so much darker than a lot of Anh Do’s other series. There’s an overarching hope that one day Gwen will be reunited with her family but there’s not enough hope in each individual book for me. At this point I just want someone to do something silly to break up the constant danger.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I’m reading this series during lockdown. Hopefully by the time the next book is released I won’t be in lockdown anymore and may have a different perspective on the trials and tribulations of the pack.

There’s a bonus chapter included at the end of this book that features a crossover with Skydragon. I’m not sure yet how I feel about Wolf Girl and Skydragon inhabiting the same world.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On a mission to find their families, Gwen, Rupert and the dogs strike out across treacherous ice and freezing oceans.

If they are to have any hope of survival, they must stowaway on a ship full of enemy soldiers. But sometimes help comes in unexpected forms. Someone new will join the pack … but who will leave?

Deep in the frozen tundra, the danger is heating up!

Wolf Girl #4: The Traitor – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Gwen and Rupert travel outside of the forest for the first time in their search for their parents. It isn’t long before Sunshine goes missing. The rest of the pack immediately begin their search for her.

Although there’s plenty of action that Sunshine isn’t a part of, including some close encounters with a whole bunch of reptiles, this is really her book. She goes on both a physical and emotional journey, ultimately needing to make a very difficult choice.

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I didn’t want to have to say this but another book, another injured dog. Thankfully, Zip wasn’t the one injured this time around but that’s only because they found their owner at the end of the last book. The events in this book also injured a wolf.

While we are introduced to someone from Rupert’s past, we aren’t really given any details about their shared history. Rupert finds some valuable information that may help in the search for their parents but the pack still don’t seem any closer to actually finding them.

With a couple of new locations in this book, the pack get to navigate vastly different ground than what they’re accustomed to. Scenes which would be the perfect set up for dad jokes in other Anh Do series remain serious here. The entire series is a departure from the laughs I look forward to in Ninja Kid, Hot Dog and WeirDo.

I didn’t pick up on an inconsistency as obvious as the one I mentioned in my review of The Secret Cave. I did wonder, though, how Brutus is barely able to make it through an opening while Sunrise, who is absolutely huge, doesn’t appear to have any difficulties when she follows.

I noticed some scenes that were similar to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in the last book. In this one, I couldn’t help thinking Jurassic Park, especially when I came across this illustration.

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Wolf Girl and her trusty dogs are back for another hackle-raising adventure.

On the run from sinister forces, Gwen rushes head-long into danger. With giant snakes, komodo dragons and a whole new wolf pack to contend with, Wolf Girl will need all her cunning… and all her friends.

Wolf Girl #3: The Secret Cave – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Gwen’s pack has a new member, Rupert, who we met in The Great Escape. Picking up shortly after where we left off, Gwen and Rupert are keen to find the trucks that drove away from the camp. They’re hoping their parents are amongst the adult workers that are being transported … somewhere.

Along the way they are chased by soldiers and meet Ma Taylor, a cat lady who proves that some adults in this world are still trustworthy.

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Between the chase sequence that led to a suspension bridge and the workers in the cave with mine carts, I couldn’t help getting Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom vibes from this book.

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The attention to detail isn’t quite as spot on in this book. An example was when Zip was being carried in a sling by Sunshine so he could rest a bit longer when the pack left Ma Taylor and her cats. Although he was supposedly still resting, a few pages later he was walking at the back of the pack with Nosey. Soon after, Zip is pictured being carried in the sling by Sunshine again.

The first two books in this series were illustrated by Jeremy Ley. Taking over from Ley in this book is Lachlan Creagh. While I could see differences between the ways Gwen and Rupert in particular were pictured by each artist, I still enjoyed the illustrations.

The dogs, wolf and eagle remain adorable.

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However, I’m getting pretty annoyed that dogs keep getting injured. Zip, who was injured in the second book, was hurt another two times in this one. I’m really hoping that action and a sense of danger doesn’t always result in animals being harmed in this series.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Wolf Girl is back in the wild, but that doesn’t mean life is any easier for her and her loyal pack of dogs.

She has been searching for her family for a long time. Just when she feels she is close, the soldiers following her start to close in. Then Zip is injured and the pack has to slow down…

Who can Gwen trust? And how will she keep her pack safe while they are being hunted by dangerous enemies?

Does this spell disaster for the one and only Wolf Girl?

Wolf Girl #2: The Great Escape – Anh Do

Illustrations – Jeremy Ley

It’s been two years since I read the first book in this series. I’ve devoured multiple Anh Do books since then but I’ve been hesitant to return to Wolf Girl. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy the first book; I did. My reluctance to continue this series has been based solely on my fear that something bad will happen to one of Gwen’s pack. I can handle all types of mayhem occurring in the lives of human characters but one of my weaknesses, in life and my life in books, relates to animals being harmed.

When we last saw Gwen she had just encountered her first humans in four years. Rather than this being cause for celebration, Gwen was instead imprisoned in the back of a truck because, well, some humans suck. When they arrive at a camp, a quarry surrounded by a high fence, Gwen is imprisoned again, this time in a cell.

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I had to escape this place!

In the camp, Gwen meets Fran, who seems to be in charge. She also meets Rupert, a boy about her age. He’s one of the many kids working at the camp. Gwen doesn’t know who she can trust, though.

Meanwhile, Gwen’s pack are on her trail.

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This series remains darker than Anh Do’s other books. It hasn’t been spelled out what’s really going on in Gwen’s world but some humans are clearly dangerous. The camp where children and adults are forced to work brought to mind concentration camps. Although we know kids are put to work carting rocks from one place to another, the camp’s overarching agenda is unknown at this point.

While Gwen still doesn’t know the fate of her human family, she now has a potential human friend in Rupert and she still has her loyal pack.

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A memory of her father gave me my favourite line in this book:

‘As long as we’re true to ourselves, and each other, we can fix just about everything’

So, was I right to be worried about Gwen’s pack? One of Gwen’s dogs is injured in this book but it’s not life threatening. Because of this, I’m going to proceed with caution. Fair warning, though… If any of Gwen’s dogs, her wolf or her eagle die, I’ll be bailing immediately.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

I held onto the bars of the truck and howled to my dogs as they fell further and further behind. 

Sunrise, Brutus, Zip, Nosey and Tiny all ran as hard as they could, but there was no way they could keep up…

At first, Gwen is overjoyed to see another human after four years alone in the wild. 

But all that changes when she is thrown into the back of a van and stolen away to a prison camp. 

The situation looks dire – how will her pack find her? Where is her human family? Are the other kids in the camp friends or enemies?

But Eagle is fast, the dogs are brave, and bars and fences are no match for the one and only Wolf Girl!

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.

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea #1: It’s Owl Good – Renée Treml

I absolutely adore Renée Treml’s Sherlock Bones books so I was keen to get my hands on the first two books in her new series. I was not disappointed. The engaging characters, the gorgeous illustrations, the accidental learning and the humour I loved in Sherlock Bones were all here, just for a younger audience.

We’re introduced to Ollie the owl and Bea the bunny. They’re destined to become best friends. We also meet CeeCee the otter, Pedro the chameleon, Sera the deer and Simon the squirrel, who each have their own superpower.

I adored Ollie and Bea straight away, mostly because they’re both struggling with insecurities. Ollie, unlike other owls, has poor eyesight and needs to wear glasses. Bea’s feet, which are so long they should probably come with a trip hazard warning, make her feel self conscious.

Together, our new friends try to find a way to turn what they perceive as their weaknesses into superpowers.

My favourite piece of accidental learning in this book was “an owl can hear ten times better than a human”.

Some of the humour in this book comes from the puns. When Bea gets angry, she’s a “hot cross bunny”.

The illustrations are “otter-ly awesome!” Bonus points from me because they’re in colour.

The target audience are kidlets aged from 4 to 7 years. It’s the kind of book I’d be happy to read aloud repeatedly. Emerging bookworms should manage this book well as there aren’t many words on each page. There are a couple of Spanish words towards the end of the book but readers don’t need to know Spanish as the meanings are explained in English.

I’m looking forward to the next book, Squeal on Wheels, which features rollerskating animals. What’s not to love?!

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ollie and Bea will delight young readers in Book 1 of this super sweet and funny full-colour graphic novel series that celebrates friendship and the differences that make us special.

Come with Ollie and Bea on a HARE-raising adventure with a HOPPY ending!

Ollie is an owl who wears glasses. And Bea is a bunny with very big feet. They don’t know it yet, but they are about to be best friends. Can they help each other to find their OTTER-LY awesome inner superhero?

Join Ollie and Bea in this charming, funny, cute story about the joys of making friends and having fun. The perfect book for young readers who love to laugh.

Kate on the Case – Hannah Peck

Kate, her Dad and her talking mouse, Rupert, are travelling by steam train to the Arctic. Before they even board the train, though, Kate spots something strange and it isn’t long before there’s ‘Total and Utter Chaos’.

Various items, including sixteen trophies, are missing and no one knows who the culprit is. Kate and Rupert decide to take on the case. They even have a prime suspect in mind.

Their investigation has Kate interviewing potential suspects and consulting her beloved copy of Catherine Rodríguez’s The Special Correspondent Manual for tips to help her solve the mystery. But not everything on this train is as it seems.

Young readers will love the talking animals, which I didn’t expect to be part of the story, and the story’s consistent pace.

I liked Hannah Peck’s illustrations in Jenni Jennings’ Malice in Underland and her style is evident in this book, helping to bring the characters and chaos to life. I really liked the design choice of making the pages black and the text white when events are occurring in the dark. Adding bright orange to the black and white illustrations may seem like a random choice at first but you’ll appreciate how appropriate it is by the end.

Readers who enjoy this book may also like Annabelle Sami’s Agent Zaiba Investigates and M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman’s Adventures on Trains.

I’m interested in continuing this series.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Young reporter-in-training Kate and her mouse-accomplice Rupert are on board a train, to visit Kate’s mum in the Arctic.

But as soon as the train departs, mysterious things start happening.

A packet of ginger nuts goes missing …
A collection of gymnastics trophies are stolen …
And some ancient scrolls disappear …

Fellow passenger Madame Maude seems the most likely culprit, until a surprising – and delicious – twist turns the whole investigation on its head.

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?!

Skydragon #2: Fly Free – Anh Do

Illustrations – James Hart

Picking up where the first book ended (you need to read this series in order), Fly Free continues to follow Amber (Skydragon) and her brother, Reggie, who is Firefighter. Reggie still has amnesia so he doesn’t know the National Service want him to apprehend his sister and Amber suspects Firefighter is Reggie but doesn’t know for sure.

The stakes are raised for Amber in this book and Reggie begins to question whether the National Service are the good guys or the baddies. Readers already know they’re not trustworthy.

It turns out that Firefighter isn’t the only person with powers that the National Service have recruited; we’re introduced to Senseless (Stefan, Anna and Nic). I’m hoping at some stage all of the people with powers will band together against the National Service, who are probably even more nefarious than I currently suspect they are.

I wasn’t especially comfortable with Amber ordering insects to do her bidding in the first novel. Fortunately in this book, Amber realises that the insects are her allies, not her servants. So many haven’t survived the first two books, though. Given how much Amber loves insects I would have thought this would be devastating for her but so far it appears I’m more upset about their demise than she is. Granted, she’s busy trying to stay alive herself, but still…

There’s mention of E-Boy in this book. I haven’t read any of the E-Boy series yet so I’m not sure if Agent Ferris and the rest of the National Service goons feature in those but it appears we’re building towards a crossover.

There remains plenty of action in this book. Thankfully Justin, Amber’s friend from the first book, has a part to play in the second book. I’m not sure how long they’re going to be able to communicate by phone as I’m pretty sure the cabin Amber stays at is off the grid. Right now, though, that’s the least of Amber’s worries. She’s got a cliffhanger to contend with and things aren’t exactly going in her favour.

To be continued in Ride the Wind

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Amber is back! The second book in the high-flying adventure series from Anh Do.

Amber held her arms out. Surround me. Locusts, beetles, bees and all manner of flying insects nestled together tightly. Shapes formed. Horns on her head, claws on her hands and feet. A thick, long tail. She was a dragon!

Amber is on the run. What will happen when she and the Firefighter finally come face to face?