Unwritten #2: Rewritten – Tara Gilboy

“Writing has brought me so much trouble.”

In the six months since they returned to the real world, Gracie and some other characters from Bondoff, their storybook world, have been living with Gertrude Winters, the story’s author. They’re all in hiding from the story’s villain, Cassandra. Cassandra still has the Vademecum, a magical book that can generate portals between the real world and the world of the author’s imagination.

Gracie is struggling to distance herself from the character Gertrude created for her. This isn’t easy when everyone remembers what happened while they were in Bondoff.

She wished she didn’t have to keep being reminded of the past.

Gracie meets siblings Mina and Bryant when she travels to Blackwood Hall. Their world is nothing like Gracie’s storybook dimension; they are characters in a “feminist gothic horror novel”.

“Don’t read that one. It’s too scary for children.”

Rewritten tackles fractured mother-daughter relationships, the difficulty of forgiveness and the struggle to rewrite our stories. A number of themes from the first book continue to play out here. Running through both books is the difficulty of breaking out of roles that others place upon you. A couple of characters battle both the urge to run away from the past and the desire to confront it.

The lines between good and evil remain somewhat fuzzy. The villains aren’t always immediately obvious and their actions aren’t always intended to have dastardly consequences. One character who has been written as a villain is desperately trying to prove to themselves and those around them that that’s not who they are. Even those who appear to be heroes can have selfish motivations and make questionable choices.

Gracie, who I loved without reservation in Unwritten, started to annoy me when her recaps and ruminations became repetitive. I didn’t always agree with the decisions she made in this book but I have to give Gracie credit for her imaginative decorating choices. Her bedroom ceiling features quotes from books in glow in the dark paint! Why didn’t I think of that?!

While you could read Unwritten and Rewritten as standalones, I’d recommend reading them in order. Given how this story ends I’m definitely expecting this series to become a trilogy. I haven’t had enough page time with Cassandra yet and am crossing my fingers that she’ll wind up with a happy ending. Yes, I know she’s supposed to be the villain so technically she shouldn’t get one, but I’m still holding out hope. I’m also looking forward to Walter being given the opportunity to shine.

It was Jomike Tejido’s cover illustration that originally drew me to Unwritten and, even though I was unaware a sequel was in the works, as soon as I saw the cover of this book I had no doubt that this was it. Just like last time, I decided I needed to read this book before I knew what it was about.

“You can’t stop reading the stories. It’s your destiny.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jolly Fish Press, an imprint of North Star Editions, for the opportunity to read this book.

Review originally posted on 6 April 2020.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After learning the truth about her own fairy tale, twelve-year-old Gracie wants nothing more than to move past the terrible things author Gertrude Winters wrote about her and begin a new chapter in the real world. If only things were going as planned. On the run from the evil Queen Cassandra, the characters from Gracie’s story have all been forced to start over, but some of them cannot forget Gracie’s checkered past. 

Even worse, Gracie discovers that as long as Cassandra has her magical book, the Vademecum, Gracie’s story is still being written and none of the characters are safe, including her mum and dad. In a desperate attempt to set things right, Gracie finds herself transported into another one of Gertrude’s stories – but this one is a horror story. Can Gracie face her destiny and the wild beast roaming the night, to rewrite her own story?

The Extraordinaries – T.J. Klune

I’m coming to you live from Nova City for Action News, filling in for Rebecca Firestone, who is currently indisposed. (Don’t ask!)

As you can see, in the sky above me, a battle is raging. Shadow Star and Pyro Storm are at it again! No one knows who’s behind the masks of these Extraordinaries or how Extraordinaries even become so extraordinary in the first place. Did some awful tragedy befall them in their childhood? Were they born with their powers?

While we wait to learn what this latest skirmish is all about (and I dare say it will be something extraordinary), I’ll be talking to local boy, Nick Bell. Nick is widely known for his Extraordinary fan fiction, where he goes by the screen name ShadowStar744. With over 250,000 words already written about this superhero/supervillain dynamic, I’m sure he has a lot to say. Welcome, Nick.

“Uh. Er. Glugh. Blargh.”

It’s lovely to talk to you as well. So, Nick, what’s so extraordinary about Extraordinaries?

“They can manipulate shadows and fire and pose on tops of buildings while the sun sets behind them!”

Do you have a favourite Nova City Extraordinary?

“One is a jerk who burns things because he’s a pyromaniac or something. The other is a paragon of virtue who saves people and controls shadows and climbs walls.”

Right. So Team Shadow Star then.

“You have to get me the security tapes! So I can watch them over and over again for my own personal reasons that don’t involve anything weird.”

Um, I’m not sure that would be appro-

“What did I ever do to you? Aside from all those things I did?”

I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, is there anything you want our viewers to know, Nick?

“I need my own origin story”

Anything else?

“Operation Turn Nick into an Extraordinary and Live Happily Ever After with Shadow Star in a Villa Off the Coast of Italy Where We Feed Each Other Grapes by Hand is underway!”

That sound intriguing, Nick, but unfortunately that’s all we have time for today. Until next time, “Always remember to keep to the shadows!” This is me, signing –

THUD!

Steve from the Action News desk [whispers]: Guys, did that chunk of building just flatten our reporter? I sure hope Rebecca Firestone is available to take over the commentary …

So, I am absolutely obsessed with this book! If it’s not already on your TBR list, please remedy that immediately! Nick’s story is a binge worthy combination of awkward, heartwarming and funny. I spent so much time smiling as I read that I probably resemble the Joker at this point.

Nick is so endearing and his ADHD, combined with his extraordinarily high adorability/cluelessness quotient, made me want to listen to every single thing that was on his mind, no matter how off topic he wandered.

Nick’s attention had a deficit, and he was hyperactively disordered.

The banter between Nick and anyone who manages to stumble into a conversation with him was one of my favourite things about this book. There wasn’t a dud character in the bunch. I need to find a way to infiltrate Nick’s group of friends because I need people like them in my life; their support of one another is matched by their ability to lovingly detonate truth bombs when required. The best way to introduce them has already been taken by the author:

Seth was too smart. Nick was too loud. Gibby was too butch, and Jazz had once been like everyone else before Gibby had put her lesbian magic all over her and taken her to the dark side.

Alongside the superpowers, the queerness and the almost incomprehensible relatability of every character, you also get the bonus messages, which include but are not limited to:

  • Having a disorder doesn’t make you disordered
  • Your embarrassing moments don’t have to define you
  • Trauma changes you
  • Forgetting to human happens to the best of us, and
  • Old people are inherently weird. (Hold on! By this book’s standards I’m an old person. I won’t claim that but I will happily claim the weird.)

I personally learned that I can overcome my romantiphobia when the occasion calls for it, like when my heart needs to melt over watermelon flavoured Skwinkles Salsagheti, being able to fly is the first superpower I will achieve, and I may need to take steps to become a supervillain if I don’t get to find out what happens next really, really soon.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to fall head over heels in love with this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In Nova City, there are people capable of feats that defy the imagination. They’re called Extraordinaries.

There is Shadow Star: a protector who can manipulate darkness in his quest to protect those who cannot protect themselves. 

His arch-nemesis is Pyro Storm: an Extraordinary capable of controlling fire who is bent on bringing Nova City to its knees.

And then there’s sixteen-year-old Nicholas Bell: who isn’t Extraordinary in the slightest.

He’s Shadow Star’s number one fan, writing fan fiction of their adventures together and dreaming of a day where he too dons a costume and fights crime. Too bad ADHD isn’t a superpower, otherwise Nick would be golden.

Instead of stopping villains and their convoluted schemes of global domination, Nick must contend with starting his junior year, a father who doesn’t trust him, and a best friend named Seth, who may or may not be the love of Nick’s short, uneventful life. It should be enough.

And it is … until a fateful encounter with Shadow Star forces Nick to realise his true destiny. He’s tired of being ordinary, and he’ll do whatever it takes to become something more.

Something Extraordinary.

Ghostland – Duncan Ralston

Ghosts are real.

If you want to visualise the gorefest that is Ghostland, imagine the ectoplasmic mayhem that would have ensued if Jurassic Park had been populated by ghosts instead of dinosaurs. Featuring such haunts as a prison, an asylum and Garrote House, home of “the Most Terrifying Man in the World”, and 300 ghosts (at the beginning of the book) ranging from former prisoners to an evil sex nun, the promised fun of this amusement park quickly descends into a “concerto of chaos”.

Putting their knowledge of “All Things Horror” and gaming skills to the ultimate test are Lilian Roth and Ben Laramie. Ben has serious physical health problems and Lilian’s thanatophobia, a result of a trauma she experienced four years ago, add to the potential dangers these former best friends will be facing.

Joining them on what may be their final day as corporeal beings is Dr Allison Wexler, Lilian’s therapist. Having your therapist along for the ride is not awkward at all …

Exposure therapy has never been so intensive!

“What’s the worst that could happen, right?”

You do realise you’re one of the main characters in a horror novel, don’t you Lilian?

Don’t bother trying to form any emotional connections with any of the breathers who decide that opening day is a good time to visit this amusement park. Chances are they’re going to be the recently deceased before they get their $40 ticket price worth of scares.

Usually when I read horror stories I tally a body count but there’s just no point here. Even if I counted all of the bodies I tripped over along the way, I would have missed dozens of them. Not as many people died in front of me as I had hoped but I did get to witness the results of a fair amount of the carnage as Lilian and Ben attempt to navigate their way out of Ghostland, hopefully with heartbeats.

This is what happens when you mess around with things you can’t possibly comprehend.

I haven’t had this much fun anticipating footnotes since Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. While the “Know Your Ghosts” guide occasionally only repeated the text in the chapters and didn’t seem necessary, I enjoyed the majority that provided additional information. I expect they’re going to be useful in the sequel. Incidentally, if Ghostland is ever made into a movie, I’ll be there for the ride.

At times it felt like there were an over abundance of similes and I simply shook my head when our lambs to the slaughter took the time to locate toilets on the map. If all hell was breaking loose and I had to use the bathroom I doubt I’d risk my life further by detouring to find a public toilet. A few question marks appeared over my head as I was reading, including when Dr Wexler contradicted herself about how long Lilian had been in therapy for, but they are essentially quibbles in what was a fun bloodbath.

My disappointment came when, after such a build up, I blinked and missed most of the final battle. Maybe I’ll get to enjoy the hopefully bone snapping, blood spurting, organ squishing climax in a flashback scene during the sequel but right now it feels like a crucial chapter was accidentally deleted.

Favourite phrase:

“You cain’t be alive. You ain’t got a head.”

You can download a free copy of the short story prequel, The Moving House, when you subscribe to the author’s website. There’s also a Ghostland website to explore.

Please keep your head and hands inside the ride and enjoy your time at Ghostland, the most terrifying theme park on earth!

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Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and paedophilia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Shadow Work Publishing and Victory Editing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

People are dying to get in. The ghosts will kill to get out. 

Be first in line for the most haunted theme park in the park in the world – Ghostland! Discover and explore hundreds of haunted buildings and cursed objects! Witness spectral beings of all kinds with our patented Augmented Reality glasses! Experience all the terror and thrills the afterlife has to offer, safely protected by our Recurrence Field technology! Visit Ghostland today – it’s the hauntedest place on earth!

After a near-death experience caused by the park’s star haunted attraction, Ben has come to Ghostland seeking to reconnect with his former best friend Lilian, whose post-traumatic stress won’t let her live life to the fullest. She’s come at the insistence of her therapist, Dr. Allison Wexler, who tags along out of professional curiosity, eager to study the new tech’s psychological effect on the user. 

But when a computer virus sets the ghosts free and the park goes into lockdown, the trio find themselves trapped in an endless nightmare. 

With time running short and the dead quickly outnumbering the living, the survivors must tap into their knowledge of horror and video games to escape … or become Ghostland’s newest exhibits. 

Featuring an interactive “Know Your Ghosts” guide and much more, Ghostland is over 400 pages of thrills and terror!

Where the World Turns Wild – Nicola Penfold

Spoilers Ahead!

Once upon a time, almost fifty years ago, climate change and deforestation and humans ransacking everything good and beautiful, had driven our planet to breaking point. Nature was dying – plants and trees, animals, birds, insects – new species disappeared every day. But then the ReWilders created the disease.

Juniper is thirteen and her brother, Bear, is six. They aren’t like the other kids in their school. They were born in the Wild and are immune to the disease the ReWilders created.

We came from the Wild and one day we’ll go back there.

I’m a sucker for stories that feature outcasts and these siblings are some of the most loveable outcasts I’ve ever met. Juniper’s love for her brother is fierce. It’s protective. It’s unconditional. It’s the kind of love that wraps you up and keeps you warm because you know that no matter what anyone else thinks about you, this one person will always be there for you.

Their grandmother, Annie Rose, is one of the last Plant Keepers in the city. I absolutely adored Annie Rose! My brain skyrocketed into Fahrenheit 451 level anxiety when I learned this city had banned books that are even tangentially related to nature. I loved Annie Rose even more when I found out she had not only hidden forbidden books in her home, but she’d also fed the Wild to her grandchildren through their pages.

“The books you read when you’re young, they become part of you.”

After spending some time shadowing Juniper and Bear as they navigated the grey of the city, entering the green of the Wild felt wondrous. As Juniper and Bear took in their new landscape, with its colours and textures and sounds, I felt like I was rediscovering my love of nature. I could feel them breathing in cleaner air and seeing animals they’d only ever known via forbidden books coming to life before their eyes.

My heart attached itself to Ghost from the first time I saw them. I’d love to tell you all about Ghost but don’t want to ruin anything for you. Keep a piece of your heart reserved for them though. They deserve it.

This book has been on my radar for months but for a long time I didn’t think this was the right book for me right now. Between the sheer number of climate change news articles I see daily and the fact that huge chunks of Australia have been burning for the past three months, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be spending my escape from reality time thinking about it as well.

It kept nagging at me though, every time I saw positive reviews piling up. It didn’t hurt that it’s published by Little Tiger Group, one of my favourite children and YA publishers. I’m so glad I finally couldn’t help myself because my initial reasons for hesitating were unfounded. Yes, this book does deal with some big issues. Yes, it’s scary because it’s not farfetched; this could become our world if we don’t make some serious changes to the way we treat the planet. But, yes, there’s also so much love and courage and hope infused in this book.

I knew from the blurb that Juniper and Bear would leave the city at some point, yet I still cried when they did, although I’m definitely not tearing up about it now as I’m writing this review. I also didn’t tear up another time later in the book and I most certainly didn’t notice any additional water in my eyes twice during the acknowledgements. That must have been someone else.

I loved the importance of names in this book. Because Juniper’s name related to the Wild and this was a serious no no in this highly controlled environment, she was called June instead when she was at school. The name of the city’s leader was well suited to their description. Although I didn’t even wonder about its name in the beginning, when I finally learned the origin of the name of the valley where Juniper and Bear were born it had such a lovely symmetry to it. I’m going to pay much more attention to the names of people and places during my inevitable reread.

I kept wondering if the reason given to people for Portia Steel’s absence was a cover up for her having succumbed to the disease herself, or maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. I’m also wondering what became of Annie Rose, Ms Endo and Etienne, and hoping for the best.

Kate Forrester’s cover image was what initially drew me to this book but it’s only now that I’ve finished reading it that I can appreciate all of the details that they included. I’m seeing more of the story in its design the longer I look at it.

Content warnings include bullying, gun violence, injury and death of people and animals, and mention of mental health.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Juniper Greene lives in a walled city from which nature has been banished, following the outbreak of a deadly man-made disease many years earlier. While most people seem content to live in such a cage, she and her little brother Bear have always known about their resistance to the disease, and dream of escaping into the wild. To the one place humans have survived outside of cities. To where their mother is.

When scientists discover that the siblings provide the key to fighting the disease, the pair must flee for their lives. As they cross the barren Buffer Zone and journey into the unknown, Juniper and Bear can only guess at the dangers that lie ahead. Nature can be cruel as well as kind … Will they ever find the home they’ve been searching for?

The Sisters Grimm – Menna van Praag

Every daughter is born of an element, infused with its own particular powers. Some are born of earth: fertile as soil, strong as stone, steady as the ancient oak. Others of fire: explosive as gunpowder, seductive as light, fierce as an unbound flame. Others of water: calm as a lake, relentless as a wave, unfathomable as an ocean. The Sisters Grimm are daughters of air, born of dreams and prayer, faith and imagination, bright-white wishing and black-edged desire.

Each girl in The Sisters Grimm represents an element and a fairytale character. Goldi (Goldilocks) is earth, Bea (Beauty) is air, Liyana (I read somewhere that she represents Snow White but I cannot confirm this) is water and Scarlet (Red Riding Hood) is fire. Some of the comparisons between the characters and their fairytale equivalent were more obvious than others. While the Grimm connections will likely add to the book’s appeal for a lot of readers I would have been equally invested in the story had this not been included.

Goldie, whose perspective is the only one told in first person, is the sole caregiver for Teddy, her ten year old brother. She cleans rooms at a fancy hotel, liberating items from its rich guests to help support him. Her boss is sleazy and she’s experienced significant trauma in her childhood.

I’ve been a thief for as long as I can remember, a liar too. I might even be a murderer, though you’ll have to make up your own mind about that.

Bea was raised in various foster homes while her mother was being treated at St Dymphna’s Psychiatric Hospital. Bea studies philosophy and feels most alive when she’s soaring through the air in a glider.

For nearly eighteen years her mother has encouraged her to act audaciously and, although Bea relishes nothing more than reckless behaviour, she’s damned if she’ll give her mother the satisfaction of knowing it.

Liyana (Ana) was on track to be an Olympian before an injury derailed her plans but she remains at home in the water. Ana and her mother moved to London from Ghana when she was a child. Ana is an artist. Her girlfriend, Kumiko, hasn’t met her aunt Nyasha yet.

At the sight of a blackbird Liyana feels that, ultimately, all is right with the world, no matter how hopeless it might seem at the time.

Scarlet lives with her grandmother, Esme, whose health is declining. Scarlet now runs the café owned by her family. She lost both her mother, Ruby, and her home a decade ago as a result of fire.

Strangely, Scarlet finds she wants to immerse her hand in the flame, wants to feel the scorch on her skin. She believes, impossibly, that the fire will be kind to her.

I saw myself in all of the girls to a certain extent and, although I’d never heard of this author prior to this book and they certainly couldn’t pick me out of a lineup, I am almost always awake at 3:33am so I’m claiming this part of the dedication as my own. I knew from the blurb that one of the four would not survive but I liked them all and hoped against hope that the blurb was faulty. It was not.

This book reminded me of two important bookish things:

  1. Why I should not pay too much attention to a book’s star ratings and reviews before I finish reading it myself, and
  2. Why I should always give a book a little more time after deciding it’s not for me.

I had really been looking forward to this book so when I saw some unflattering reviews I admit that I allowed them to dampen my enthusiasm and even shuffled my TBR pile, moving a couple up the queue, as the thought of needing to drag myself through so many pages was unappealing. As soon as I began reading I realised the error of my ways – until I began reading from Leo’s perspective. He’s a what? From where? Seriously?

My initial failure to connect with Leo’s character, along with my impatience with the multiple perspectives that changed so frequently I had trouble keeping up for a while, caused me to very nearly write this book off as a DNF. Each sister‘s story is told from two perspectives (now and a decade ago). There are also varying amounts of time dedicated to Leo, Nyasha, Esme and their father. Then there are descriptions of Everwhere.

It’s a nocturnal place, a place crafted from thoughts and dreams, hope and desire.

If you count the descriptions of Everwhere as a perspective, which I did, you wind up with a baker’s dozen.

Thankfully I persevered just a little bit longer than I had planned before abandoning the book altogether and I’m so glad I did because I wound up entirely sucked in to this world and these sisters’ lives. I even got used to the rapid changes in perspective, although I still think I’d benefit from a reread to pick up connections I likely missed the first time through. I think this is the first time a potential DNF has suddenly morphed into an I love this book! for me and I can’t wait to reread it, soaking up the enjoyment I obviously missed early on.

There’s always this childlike delight that wells up inside of me when I discover illustrations in a book I don’t expect to find them in. I absolutely fell in love with Alastair Meikle’s illustrations and had so much trouble choosing a favourite to share with you here. I’ve chosen the first one, mostly because it invokes the same sense of wonder every time I look at it.

Although I’m not usually interested in Tarot, the descriptions of the cards throughout the book made me want to send a wish to the book’s marketing team in the hope that they’ll commission a set of Tarot cards, illustrated by Alastair Meikle, that have a similar feel to the style used in the book.

The descriptions of Everwhere enchanted me so much I wanted to visit. I yearned to learn everything I could about each of the four sisters. I wondered what element and powers I would most want, if I had the ability to choose. I didn’t want this story to end and it wouldn’t surprise me if this book comes to mind when I think about my favourite reads of the year. I need to inhale more of this author’s words.

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of Sisters Grimm on Earth and in Everwhere. You may well be one of them, though you might never know it. You think you’re ordinary. You never suspect that you’re stronger than you seem, braver than you feel or greater than you imagine.

If anyone needs me I’ll be stalking the internet to see if I can buy a signed copy of this book. My bookcase desperately needs one!

Content warnings include child abuse, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

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

UPDATE: My day just got awesome! I found signed copies of this book at Goldsboro Books. I’ve ordered my copy and can’t wait for it to arrive. Happy book day to me!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of sisters Grimm on Earth.

You may well be one of them, though you might never know it. 

You think you’re ordinary. 

You never suspect that you’re stronger than you seem, braver than you feel or greater than you imagine. 

But I hope that by the time you finish this tale, you’ll start listening to the whispers that speak of unknown things, the signs that point in unseen directions and the nudges that suggest unimagined possibilities. 

I hope too that you’ll discover your own magnificence, your own magic …

This is the story of four sisters Grimm – daughters born to different mothers on the same day, each born out of bright-white wishing and black-edged desire. They found each other at eight years-old, were separated at thirteen and now, at nearly eighteen, it is imperative that they find each other once again.

In thirty-three days they will meet their father in Everwhere. Only then will they discover who they truly are, and what they can truly do. Then they must fight to save their lives and the lives of the ones they love. Three will live, one will die. You’ll have to read on to find out who and why …

Wayward Children #5: Come Tumbling Down – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

Spoilers Ahead!

“Once a wayward child, always a wayward child.”

I’ve been waiting as patiently as possible for my next quest –

No quests.

Right. So I’ve been counting the days until I was finally able to spend more quality time with my fellow Waywards and today we went to the Moors! Who’s ‘we’? I travelled with the girl with the “perpetual sugar buzz”, the “Goblin Prince in Waiting”, the girl “with the ocean in her hair”, a mad scientist, the boy with the bone flute and the girl “with the lightning-powered heart”.

Travelling by lightning hasn’t been this much fun since I hitched a ride in a Delorean!

Having completed my most anticipated read of 2020 less than a fortnight into the year I now feel like I’ve wandered into a bittersweet limbo. I’m absolutely elated that, after a year of anticipation, my expectations (which were skyscraper looking down on clouds high) didn’t overshadow my enjoyment.

I’m proud of myself for savouring the experience, appreciating every sentence rather than bingeing the entire book in one sitting. I’m sad that I can never read this book for the first time ever again. I want to gush to anyone who will listen to me about every sentence I highlighted, every character, plot point, what I hope will happen next, what I fear will happen next … but spoilers.

“But I warn you, this isn’t a tale for the faint of heart. It is a story of murder, and betrayal, and sisterly love turned sour.”

I will tell you though, although this was not her story, Sumi was the standout wayward for me in this book. She somehow kept managing to snag the best lines and I don’t know which one of us this says more about but I understood every piece of Nonsense she uttered. I love that she gets to the heart of the issue and asks the truly important questions, like

“Why is the village of scary fish-people where you get your chocolate biscuits?”

One of the first things I tell anyone about me is that Every Heart a Doorway is my all time favourite book. I don’t care that I’m an adult; I will be searching for my door for the rest of my life and if you are also seeking admittance to your door, regardless of how different our true worlds look, I will consider you a kindred spirit.

Usually when I read a new addition to a beloved series there’s an anxiety that accompanies me. I’ve often found that the shine of the first book can be smudged when follow up books don’t meet my expectations. I’m aware that the pedestals I place books I love on can be difficult to reach and that’s part of the problem. So you’d think I’d be especially nervous whenever I begin a new Wayward Children book but I have absolute faith that my hopes, no matter how seemingly unrealistic they are, are safe with Seanan and she’s never let me down.

“New things are the best kind of magic there is.”

I don’t want this series to ever end. I want to visit every world. I want to secure a room at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children while I wait for my own door to open. So far, none of the worlds I’ve visited with my fellow waywards have been my own, although I’ve caught glimpses of it in several. I fully expect that one day Seanan will write about my world and while I’m reading that story my book will magically transform into my very own door. I’m sure!

If you haven’t already read the first four books of this series, please remedy that ASAP before reading this one. Then you can join me as I begin the interminable wait for January 2021.

If you’ve read the first four books and are seeking a recap, check out the brilliance that is Seanan Twitter. If you haven’t read them, beware! Spoilers!

Also, if you want a more extensive catch up, read this. Beware! Much bigger spoilers!

As usual I couldn’t wait to get to the next Rovina Cai illustration. I was only going to include my favourite one here but I can’t decide so here they all are! I’m hiding them as spoilers in case you don’t want to see them before you get to that part of the story yourself.

Since I highlighted so much of this book that I probably should have just gone ahead and highlighted it all, it’s practically impossible to choose a favourite sentence. This is the one that spoke the loudest to me when I reread all of my highlights:

“No one should have to sit and suffer and pretend to be someone they’re not because it’s easier, or because no one wants to help them fix it.”

If anyone needs me I’ll be reading the sixth book in the series.

[But it’s not released yet.]

“Hey! Don’t you go getting logical rules on my illogical life plans”

[I’m serious. You must wait for another excruciatingly long year before you are allowed to continue this journey.]

“This is the awful sprinkles on the sundae of doom.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Jack left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister – whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice – back to their home on the Moors.

But death in their adopted world isn’t always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.

Eleanor West’s “No Quests” rule is about to be broken.

Again.

The Glimme – Emily Rodda

Illustrations – Marc McBride

‘Do you draw what you see?’

‘It is very thin here, the veil,’ she whispered, leaning forward as if she was telling a great secret. ‘Some places in the world are like that, and this is one of them.’

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Shortly after we’re introduced to Finn, a young boy who has lived in the small village of Wichant his entire life, a strange woman, only known as the Housekeeper, buys him from his grandparents for a bag of gold.

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The Housekeeper takes Finn to the mysterious Edge House on the clifftop. There Finn is shown seven exquisite paintings. These are not ordinary paintings, though. The scenes depicted on them are more realistic than Finn realises.

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Behold the Glimme, where dragons fly,

And see a wondrous tale unfold.

This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful books I will ever have the privilege of picking my jaw off the floor over. I was interested in the story but once I caught a glimpse of Marc McBride’s illustrations I was hooked. They’re an incredible blend of realistic and surreal. The attention to detail and the combination of dark and dreary with vibrant colours, often appearing in the same image, was captivating.

I almost didn’t care about the words that accompanied the story of the pictures initially and came close to allowing myself to remain hypnotised by the dragons and castles. I planned on drooling over the pictures and then sending the book back to the library unread, because of Book Nerd Problem #486: practically every book I currently want to read arrived at the library at the same time!

Then I glanced at the first couple of pages of text and the words sucked me in too. I’m not usually drawn to adventure stories where I’m spending so much of my time witnessing battles and the travelling time between them but I enjoyed this story. My favourite characters were Finn, artist turned hostage turned unexpected hero, and Lone Annie, a scarred woman who foresees the dragons, giants and other very specific encounters our intrepid adventurers face.

The illustrations lined up with the storyline so well (one of my pet peeves is when the details of an illustration are different to what the story describes) and it made sense to me when I learned that the illustrator approached the author with a set of paintings, asking them to write their story. I’m having so much trouble choosing a favourite so I’m going to show you two of them. This is Finn inside the Edge House. See all of the books? Dream house!

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The other is my favourite dragon illustration. This is Greenfire chatting to Chieftain Gor. Check out the details!

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Now, this may be a case of me seeing what I want to see but I could have sworn there was a Predator in the foreground of the painting showing the feast in Castle Nye. In this story his name is Quinlin and it’s only when he’s seen in profile that he makes me think he was a Predator in another life.

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The artist’s secret is the key

To doors no eyes but mine can see.

You would be forgiven for thinking I’ve shown you practically all of the illustrations contained in this book but I haven’t even come close. There are so many characters you have yet to be introduced to, locations you have not glimpsed and fantasy elements come of life that await you within its pages.

Although they’re gorgeous, the photos I’ve taken of the book’s pages do not do these illustrations justice at all! You’ve got to experience them for yourself!

My only regret related to this book? I waited and waited for my library copy to arrive and by the time I opened the first page and realised just how extraordinary this book truly is, I’d missed out on the opportunity to buy my own signed copy. Lesson painfully learned!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Lone Annie sees dragons in your future. She sees giants. She sees fire and water. She sees death. Finn’s life in the village of Wichant is hard. Only his drawings of the wild coastline, with its dragon shaped clouds and headlands that look like giants, make him happy. Then the strange housekeeper from a mysterious clifftop mansion sees his talent and buys him for a handful of gold and then reveals to him seven extraordinary paintings. Finn thinks the paintings must be pure fantasy: such amazing scenes and creatures cannot be real! He is wrong. Soon he is going to slip through the veil between worlds and plunge into the wonders and perils of The Glimme.

Reverie – Ryan La Sala

The act of crushing a dream can’t be minimised. At best, it’s mean. At worst, it’s murder.

I need to stop getting sucked into book hype vortexes. I keep expecting too much and winding up disappointed, unsure if the let down is real or a result of the height of the pedestal I placed the book upon before I read the first sentence.

“Reveries are what happens when a person’s imagined world becomes real. They’re like miniature realities, with their own plots and rules and perils.”

I absolutely adored the concept of Reverie and I love the design of the cover. I liked a lot of the sequences in the book, even though they felt disjointed at times, and thought the individual reveries I visited were very imaginative. So, what went wrong?

My main problem with this book was its characters. I never connected with any of them and, because of that, I wasn’t emotionally invested in what happened to them. I wanted to laugh with them, cry with them and be concerned for them, but I walked alongside them numb.

“You’re more powerful than you know.”

I would have loved to have loved or hated various characters but in all honesty there are still two characters that remain interchangeable to me. I know both of their names but throughout the book, unless I was reading a description of one of them, I couldn’t remember which one they were.

“Every reverie has a plot. If you don’t follow the rules of the reverie, you risk triggering a plot twist, and plot twists can be pretty deadly for people trapped inside reveries.”

There were so many elements I loved: a drag queen sorceress with her teacup, a character that has a much loved copy of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, pain transformed into power, subtitles appearing in a reverie whenever another language is spoken, and creations like a “gigantic nightmare horse-spider”. It should have all come together for me but it didn’t, and I’m gutted.

I’ve seen some glowing reviews of this book and I’m having major book envy; I wish I’d experienced the book the way they did. I’d encourage you to read some 5 star reviews. I hope you love it as much as they did.

Content warnings include mention of bullying and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different. 

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere – the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery – Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know. 

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

Wilder Girls – Rory Power

I wish I were surprised. I wish any of this were still strange to me.

Before I say anything else I have to mention the cover! Aykut Aydoğdu’s cover art is incredible and it’s what drew me to this book in the first place. Of course, the blurb sucked me in too but the cover had already solidified my need to have this book in my life.

I’m often wary about reading books that have a lot of hype surrounding them. The longer it takes me from discovering a book I desperately want to read to actually holding the book in my hands, the higher my expectations grow. Unfortunately this can result in reality feeling like a colossal let down, when it was actually the pedestal I built that was mostly to blame for the disparity.

I’ve been anticipating this read since January and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. It was a quick read and I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen. I never felt a connection with any of the characters though, so no matter what they experienced I felt like I was watching on dispassionately from the sidelines when what I wanted was to be cheering them on, feeling their pain and mourning their losses.

This story is told from the perspectives of Hetty and Byatt, but Reese’s story is also important and I would have liked to have seen the events unfold from her point of view as well. Although I know some information about each of these girls I wasn’t invested in their friendship or their survival.

Once thing I absolutely loved was the descriptions of the Tox’s impacts on the individual characters. If you’re squeamish this may not be the book for you but I was all in for the flare ups of their conditions. I wanted to know why the effects were so diverse and I did get a partial explanation for the differences between students and teachers, and male and female, but I wanted more. I know in stories like this you don’t always get access to knowledge that the main characters aren’t privy to but I would have loved to have been able to read a confidential military report, even if parts of it were redacted.

Because this story begins a year and a half after the Tox began the Raxter girls have already settled into their new normal. It’s brutal but a lot of the emotion that would have been evident in the beginning has already evaporated. There are some scenes where you catch a glimpse of what life would have been like prior to the Tox but you don’t get to see everyday life devolving. This may have helped me to become emotionally involved in the outcome.

I expected to feel the urgency of the events in this book but I never did, even though numerous scenes should have had me on edge. Maybe I set my expectations too high. If I’d read this book earlier or on a day when I was already feeling more emotional I may have felt more for Hetty and her friends. I don’t know.

Despite my whinge (sorry about that. I had hoped to be rambling about my love for everyone and everything I encountered), I’m still glad I read this book. I don’t think I’ll ever want to reread it but I am still interested in reading the next book by this author.

Content warnings can be found on the author’s website here. They’ve provided a much more comprehensive list than I could have.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Rules for Vanishing – Kate Alice Marshall

Spoilers Ahead!

FIND THE ROAD. FIND THE GATES. FIND THE GIRL.

That was one seriously compulsive read! I just-one-more-chaptered my way through this book and I’m left feeling slightly panicked, knowing I almost didn’t read it at all. Too many books arrived at the library at once so some will have to be sent back unread. I know me and if they are returned unread, no matter how noble my intentions, they will disappear into the ‘I’m going to read that one day’ void.

It was only because this book was almost due and someone else wanted it so I was unable to renew it that I gave it a try. I’m so glad I did because it was so much better than I hoped, but I’m now thinking about all of the other books I could be getting to know and am having bookish anxiety about all of the potential winners that may slip through my grasp. I need to read all the books!

All I hear are the last words my sister spoke, muttering into her phone. On April 18, one year ago. We know where the road is. We’ve got the keys. That’s all we need to find her. I’m not backing down now. Not after everything we’ve done to get this close.

Everyone in Briar Glen, MA knows the legend of Lucy Gallows. On 19 April, 1953, 15 year old Lucy Callow (yep, her name morphed a little during the creation of the legend) went missing in the forest. Legend says that one day each year a path appears in the forest. This time last year Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared.

On 17 April, 2017, every Briar Glen High School student received the text message.

DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHERE LUCY WENT? SHE WENT TO PLAY THE GAME. YOU CAN PLAY, TOO. FIND A PARTNER. FIND A KEY. FIND THE ROAD. YOU HAVE TWO DAYS.

Sara is determined to find her sister and in two days she will play the game. Joined by eight others, Sara will seek out “The Massachusetts Ghost Road”.

I know Becca didn’t run away. That leaves one possibility and one impossibility, and I long for the impossible. Because if she isn’t dead, if she’s only been taken, she can be brought back.

13 steps.
7 gates.
9 potential victims players.

“Don’t break the rules. Bad things happen when you break the rules.”

This book includes interviews, written testimony, emails, transcripts of messages, phone calls and videos, descriptions of photos and other evidence pertinent to file number 74 of The Ashford Files. Naturally, because this was file 74, I wanted unrestricted access to all of the preceding files as well as any that have been created since.

Sometimes narratives that rely on multiple formats to tell the story cause me to disconnect from both its characters and storyline, but here it completely sucked me in. I kept finding myself planning on putting the book down at the end of a chapter of written testimony, only to need to read the transcript that followed, which then made me need to read the following chapter to see how it all fit together. Compulsive and so much fun!

There are things I am not supposed to tell you. There are things I don’t remember. There are things I don’t know.

I couldn’t get enough information about the gates and the paths between them. At times I got the sense I was experiencing what I expect a hallucinogen would feel like. As I read I kept thinking that I would love to see these strange visuals outside of my imagination and was thrilled to read an article that told me there’s going to be a movie! I can’t wait to see it!

“But the monsters aren’t the only thing you have to be afraid of here.”

My main frustration showed up right at the end of the book; I definitely need to know what it was that Miranda gave to Ashford. Hopefully the movie or perhaps another book detailing another Ashford File will give me this much needed closure.

While I read a library copy of this book I definitely foresee a copy of my own and a reread in the not too distant future.

“lt’s coming.”

Content warnings include mention of attempted suicide and family violence.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister – at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her – and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her … or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together.

When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca – before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends – and their cameras – following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side.