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?

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

A lot of people’s insides are about to start being on the outside.

Meet Jade Daniels, my new favourite outcast.

“Town reject, nice to meet you.”

Jade’s exterior is basically armour covered in spikes but beneath the surface there’s, well, more sharp, stabby things. But beneath that is someone I want to be friends with. She even reminded me a little of me, the weirdo who word vomits about their obsession to everyone in the vicinity, not that anyone asked.

Despite having an encyclopaedic knowledge of slasher films, Jade lives knowing that she can never be a final girl herself. She’s simply not pure enough. This doesn’t stop Jade from desperately wanting a slasher to turn her hometown red, though.

Real final girls only want the horror to be over. They don’t stay up late praying to Craven and Carpenter to send one of their savage angels down, just for a weekend maybe. Just for one night. Just for one dance, please? One last dance?

Finally, she sees the signs that her dream may, in fact, be coming true. Although her current slasher theory may very well be right, Jade has a reputation in this town, so for the longest time she might as well be Cassandra. After all, who’s going to take the “weird horror chick” seriously?

It’s been four weeks since I finished this book and I’m still thinking about Jade on a daily basis. I want to tell you all of the things I loved about her but I loved everything about Jade, from her resilience to her ‘stay away from me’ vibe to her enthusiasm about all things horror. Jade is over the top in the best possible way.

She’s gonna be there front-row, shoving popcorn in, maybe wearing a clear poncho and goggles against all the blood.

It took me about a chapter to get used to the writing style but, even as I was adjusting, I felt a great big hook pulling me along for the ride. I looked forward to Jade’s Slasher 101 essays, which made me want to sit down and have an extended discussion with her (and her creator).

To put it in conclusion, sir, final girls are the vessel we keep all our hope in. Bad guys don’t just die by themselves, I mean. Sometimes they need help in the form of a furie running at them, her mouth open in scream, her eyes white hot, her heart forever pure.

With one of the most bingeworthy list of movies ever included in a single novel, I’m convinced a movie night with the author needs to be on my bucket list.

“Want to go to a horror movie with me?”

This is my first Stephen Graham Jones read but this is only the beginning for me. I can’t wait to catch up on everything I’ve missed.

Content warnings include alcoholism, attempted suicide, self harm, and sexual assault.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jade is one class away from graduating high-school, but that’s one class she keeps failing local history. Dragged down by her past, her father and being an outsider, she’s composing her epic essay series to save her high-school diploma.

Jade’s topic? The unifying theory of slasher films. In her rapidly gentrifying rural lake town, Jade sees the pattern in recent events that only her encyclopaedic knowledge of horror cinema could have prepared her for. And with the arrival of the Final Girl, Letha Mondragon, she’s convinced an irreversible sequence of events has been set into motion.

As tourists start to go missing, and the tension grows between her community and the celebrity newcomers building their mansions the other side of the Indian Lake, Jade prepares for the killer to rise. She dives deep into the town’s history, the tragic deaths that occurred at camp years ago, the missing tourists no one is even sure exist, and the murders starting to happen, searching for the answer.

As the small and peaceful town heads towards catastrophe, it all must come to a head on 4th July, when the town all gathers on the water, where luxury yachts compete with canoes and inflatables, and the final showdown between rich and poor, past and present, townsfolk and celebrities slasher and Final Girl.

D is for Drool – Amanda Noll & Shari Dash Greenspan

Illustrations – Howard McWilliam

I love alphabet books and bedtime stories, and this book is both. I wish I’d learned the alphabet this way. There’s no boring A is for Apples in this book; A is for Arms, enough that you will need to use all of your fingers to count them.

I would have giggled my way through this book as a kid and would have had fun calling out what each letter is for. The monsters aren’t scary at all; they’re actually quite adorable. Howard McWilliam’s illustrations pop with colour and all of the monsters are expressive.

I enjoyed the continuity throughout the book. When you turn the page you get to see the tail end of the monster from the page before. Oftentimes you’ll see snow or ooze on subsequent pages from the more messy monsters.

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I loved the baby Jaws making a snow angel but my favourite monster was the one with green pigtails and pink tutu.

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Howard McWilliam’s alphabet is amazing. Not only does each letter match the colour scheme of each letter’s monster, many of their attributes are also represented.

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I would love to see a special edition of this book that includes an alphabet wall border. It needs to be on my wall.

I definitely need to get my hands on the I Need My Monster series.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Ethan can’t sleep, he doesn’t count sheep – he says his ABCs. But in monster-loving Ethan’s alphabet, A is for Arms, B is for Belly, C is for Claws, and D is for Drool! 

Kids will love pointing out the alphabetical attributes on the silly monsters that parade across Ethan’s room – like earlobes, noses, spikes, and wings – and discovering where all of those monsters are headed. 

By the time Ethan gets to Y, he’s Yawning. And by Z, kids will be ready to sleep as Ethan does, surrounded by the tails, tentacles, and drool sticking out from under his bed. ZZzzzzz

D is for Drool is a monstrously magnificent ABC book that offers a new way to fall asleep. With the perfect balance of giggles and shivers, it is a captivating companion to the award-winning I Need My Monster series.

The Project – Courtney Summers

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Huh. Before I read a word of this book I already knew what the opening line of my review was going to be: Another Courtney Summers book, another ugly cry.

But there were no tears and I’m all kinds of confused. So, heads up: this review is basically my messy way of trying to process my response, or lack thereof.

Part of it has to be a result of my astronomically high anticipation. I tried and failed so many times to get my hands on this book from the moment I fell in love with its cover.

I requested copies through NetGalley and Edelweiss. I emailed the publisher begging for an ARC. I joined Instagram for 24 hours to enter a competition to win a copy. I tried to preorder a signed copy but it couldn’t be shipped to my country. Each time the ebook was listed on sale I’d immediately click the link, only to find out that it wasn’t on sale in my country; I couldn’t afford to pay full price because, you know, life and all that.

Finally I got my hands on a library copy. I loved the emotional gut punch of Sadie and was sure I was in for the same here. I even timed my read so I was at peak ugly cry vulnerability.

I was so hopeful because I was already gearing up for a cry in the prologue.

Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make – and no one but the two of you can break.

I was ready for the sisterly bond. I was ready for the charismatic, yet nefarious cult leader. I was ready for the anguish that crossed over from emotional to physical pain. But my eyes are the Sahara and I’m baffled.

“There’s so much you don’t understand”

I felt so removed from the characters and I didn’t expect that.

Gloria. Latin. Glory.

Sure, Lo was desperate to free her sister from the grip of the cult but when she heard that her sister was no longer a member, she didn’t file a missing person report. No, she kept interviewing the cult leader and his minions so she could show her boss that she’s a writer, dammit, and should be promoted yesterday. Her priorities were all over the place.

Beatrice. Italian; Latin. Bringer of Joy.

Then there was Bea, who I’m sure I would have connected with if her story wasn’t told in a series of flashbacks.

Lev. Hebrew; Russian. Heart; Lion.

Lev was always going to give me skeevy vibes because of the whole cult leader thing. He could have promised me the world and I would have side eyed him. I fully acknowledge my bias there, even though at first glance, The Unity Project’s mission does sound kind of amazing.

What The Unity Project offers people, in its simplest terms, is food if you’re hungry, water if you’re thirsty, clothes and shelter if you need it, and family if you lack it. All it asks in return is being part of, and upholding the tenets of, a revolution that pays it forward.

But that’s how they suck you in, isn’t it? If people thought they were signing up for a cult, membership would dry up. Like my eyes. I can understand the initial appeal, though.

You want to belong. You’re hurting. You don’t believe anyone who knows you could ever love you. But someone convinces you that they see you, all of you, and love you anyway. You have a purpose. You are wanted. Enticing, right?

“Do you know what that’s like, Lo? To be really, truly seen?”

You don’t get to see behind the curtain until you’re already well and truly invested. Cult leaders like Lev make it sound so appealing and the message is close enough to the real thing that if you’re listening with your emotions, you might not realise you’re worshipping a man, not God. Or maybe you do notice but you don’t care because what this man is offering seems worth the adulation and the cost.

Bea and Lo had so much potential. The story, when I explained it to someone who hasn’t read the book, sounded so good. Courtney Summers definitely knows how to write a book that you don’t want to put down.

I wanted to care so much about these sisters that I hurt for them. I wanted to ugly cry myself into a equally ugly mess. But I didn’t like Lo, I didn’t really get to know Bea and for the longest time I didn’t feel the urgency of their story.

Because this is a Courtney Summers book, I’m going to assume part of the problem is me and will eagerly await her next release.

Book in a book: Lo and Emmy read Creepy Pair of Underwear! together. That kid’s got good taste in books.

Content warnings include (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some) branding, death by suicide, emotional abuse, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm and sexual assault (implied).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died in a tragic car accident, her sister Bea joined the elusive community called The Unity Project, leaving Lo to fend for herself. Desperate not to lose the only family she has left, Lo has spent the last six years trying to reconnect with Bea, only to be met with radio silence.

When Lo’s given the perfect opportunity to gain access to Bea’s reclusive life, she thinks they’re finally going to be reunited. But it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t want to be found, and as Lo delves deeper into The Project and its charismatic leader, she begins to realize that there’s more at risk than just her relationship with Bea: her very life might be in danger.

As she uncovers more questions than answers at each turn, everything Lo thought she knew about herself, her sister, and the world is upended. One thing doesn’t change, though, and that’s what keeps her going: Bea needs her, and Lo will do anything to save her.

The Good Luck Girls – Charlotte Nicole Davis

Aster, Clementine, Mallow, Tansy and Violet are Good Luck Girls, something that sounds fortuitous until you know what that term truly means. With the exception of Violet, they were taken from their families to Green Creek welcome house with the promise of a better life.

Favors, the welcome house version of branding, are such a contradiction: aesthetically beautiful, yet representative of such pain and suffering.

Good Luck Girls begin working as daybreak girls. On their sixteenth birthday, daybreak girls become sundown girls, through a rite of passage called their Lucky Night.

When Clementine accidentally kills a brag on her Lucky Night, her sister, Aster, is determined to protect her. Now five Good Luck Girls are on the run, pursued by both the living and the dead. Their only hope is to find the Lady Ghost, but as far as anyone knows she’s only a bedtime story.

This book could have broken me, given the darkness of what the girls have experienced, if it wasn’t for the girls themselves. Initially I thought Clementine was going to be the star of this show but Aster and Violet were the two I bonded with the most.

Slightly older than the others, Aster and Violet have experienced trauma the other girls haven’t. I loved them for their strength and courage, despite the odds stacked against them. Given what they’d been through, it would be easy for the darkness to overwhelm them but they refuse to give up, holding onto whatever scraps of hope they can carry.

Although it’s not specifically named here, the girls clearly exhibit signs of PTSD. What I loved, if you can say you love anything where PTSD is concerned, were the nuances. The trauma was expressed differently amongst the girls, with each utilising their individual strengths to survive, both physically and emotionally. There was an authenticity to their portrayal, from the dissociation and flashbacks to the difficulties trusting others and themselves.

The character that caused me the most conflict was Zee. I so wanted to trust him but, like Aster, I wasn’t sure if it was safe to do so. I ended up spending most of the book silently pleading with him to be worthy of the girls’ trust.

It felt as though Aster and Lei from Girls of Paper and Fire were kindred spirits. The raveners reminded me of Dementors, but as a physical embodiment of PTSD. The names of the girls brought to mind Lex and the other girls I met in What Unbreakable Looks Like. This book stands on its own two feet, though.

I was immersed in this world. The threat of the raveners and vengeants were ever-present. The divide between fairbloods and dustbloods was clear. The danger was unrelenting. But hope shone through as brightly as a covered favor.

This is a real underdog story, where you have the opportunity to cheer on a group of girls who have been so downtrodden that you can’t help but become invested in their journey. You want them to win. You need them to win. Because any other outcome would hurt too much.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, human trafficking, mental health, racism, sexual assault, slavery, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hot Key Books, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, for the opportunity to read this book. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Aster. Violet. Tansy. Mallow. Clementine.

Sold as children. Branded by cursed markings. Trapped in a life they never would have chosen.

When Aster’s sister Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge – in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by the land’s most vicious and powerful forces – both living and dead – their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive. 

Mindful Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

Sasha Patience Pruitt lives her life on fast forward and her middle name is a bit of a misnomer. Her new friend, Mr. Sloth, is, well, a sloth and let’s face it, algae doesn’t typically grow on your fur if you’re quick enough to outrun it.

This friendship of opposites has the potential to either be the best thing ever or a super fast/super slow disaster in the making.

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Katy Hudson is one of my all time favourite illustrators. She’s the picture equivalent for me of that one author you’re certain could transform a shopping list into a literary masterpiece. I’m sure I’d be captivated if Katy drew a stickman.

Which made it disconcerting when I didn’t immediately fall in love with Sasha. I’ve adored every character I’ve met in Katy’s previous books and I loved Mr. Sloth at first sight. I read and reread this book until I finally figured out what the problem was. Me.

It turns out I have a bias where picture books are concerned. I can tolerate, and even find cute, all types of bad and/or potentially annoying behaviour from animal characters but apparently I judge humans differently. Not that Sasha was going around chucking tantrums or anything but her impatience frustrated me time and time again. I thought back to when I read Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle, where Squirrel is the speedy equivalent of Sasha, and not once was I frustrated by Squirrel.

Having done a deep dive into my soul, I reread this book once again, with a new understanding of myself as a reader. This time Sasha was simply a young girl with a lot of energy, someone who doesn’t realise she’s missing out on a variety of amazing things because they’re a blur to her. Once she slows down enough and pays attention, she discovers the beauty that surrounds her and learns that some things are best enjoyed at a different speed.

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Once again, the illustrations in this book were absolutely gorgeous. Bonus points for the cameos of the author’s previous books.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sasha has one speed – fast. She loves to do lots of things, all at once, as fast as possible. Mr. Sloth has one speed – slow. He loves to do things one at a time, at a nice, easy pace. Can Mr. Sloth’s mindful ways teach Sasha to slow down and enjoy life? Best-selling author Katy Hudson gently weaves a mindfulness theme into this unlikely friendship tale between an energetic girl and a sloth, encouraging children to stop, breathe, and be present in every moment.

Rainbow Grey – Laura Ellen Anderson

Once upon a time there were seven groups of Weatherlings. Then a Rogue created the worst storm Earth has ever seen, Storm Tornadia, and since that time rainbow Weatherlings have been extinct.

‘I thought rainbows were just made up?’

All that remain are Weatherlings of “Sun, snow, rain, cloud, wind, thunder ‘n’ lightning.”

Ray is a Weatherling but she doesn’t have any weather magic. She does have a cloud-cat called Nim who changes shape and explodes without warning. She also has two best friends, know almost everything Snowden Everfreeze, whose think-flakes are all sorts of quirky, and homework averse orphan Droplett Dewbells, who can teleport between puddles.

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You might think Ray would be envious of her classmates, who all have weather magic. She’s not, though, and I think I know the reason. While the rest of her class practice their weather magic, Ray gets to go to the library to read.

Tonight is special because Ray, a ten year old, will be witnessing her first ever eclipse, an event that only takes place once every eleven years.

‘These beauuuuutiful twinkly specks called STARS fill the whole sky. Then you’ll see the great Moon King with his large plate of big round cheese. He dances around, using the big cheese wheel to cover up the old Sunflower while the Sunkeepers prepare a new one to glow for the next eleven years.’

The world building in this book was so imaginative. From the silver lining that Ray’s mother fixes on their home (Cloud Nine) to the different types of magic on display and the yummy treats at the local bakery (make sure you eat the rumblebun in time), there’s so much to look at and enjoy.

My favourite character was Ray’s cloud-cat. Nim may not get any lines but they’re definitely the comic relief. His eyes aren’t always where you expect them to be and he’s not the most reliable form of transport in Celestia but I absolutely adored this defective cloud-companion.

It was super obvious who this book’s villain was going to be and the resolution was a bit too sweet, but … adult reading a kid’s book here. I probably would have been blindsided by the reveal had I actually read this when I was the target audience.

While this story wraps up quite nicely, there is a sneaky set up in the epilogue for the next book in the series. Yes, you bet I’ll be reading it and yes, I’m passing this one along to my mother because I think she’ll love it too. Especially when she learns of the existence of duck-nados!

‘Let’s follow that rainbow!’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ten-year-old Ray Grey lives in the magical Weatherlands, high in the sky! Ray is surrounded by Weatherlings with astounding weather power at their fingertips … but she doesn’t have ANY magic!

Then, after a trip to Earth, Ray’s life changes forever. She is transformed from Ray Grey intro RAINBOW GREY! With the help of her best friends (and exploding cloud cat, Nim) now all Ray has to do is master her powers AND save the world from a mysterious, powerful enemy…

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

Illustrations – Peter Cheong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

Hi there! I’m Pow Pow Pig!

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

We made the Z team!

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

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody – Kate Gilby Smith

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

It’s always just been Alex and her Uncle Henry. That is, if you don’t count the consistent groups of strangers who have been trying to sneak a peek at Alex her entire life. There are actual coaches full of them. But, hey, maybe this is normal. It’s not like Alex has any friends to compare notes with.

Until she meets Jasper on her twelfth birthday. We love Jasper, although we don’t really know a lot about him for the longest time.

For a boy who loved asking other people questions, he was an expert at avoiding them himself.

We do know he’s a sweetheart, though, and he’s a really good best (and first) friend to have. We adore him, even after he suddenly disappears before Alex’s eyes. Fortunately, Alex likes Jasper as much as we do so she’s determined to find him. No matter what.

‘And this time I don’t think logic is the answer.’

I spent the entire book trying to figure out what I could possibly say about it that didn’t give away the whole time travel component, which is one of my all time favourite things to read about. I needn’t have worried; one look at the book’s blurb and I discovered that what I thought was a secret is well and truly out of the bag. I probably would have read this book sooner had I known. All I had to go by when I decided this was the book for me was the title and Thy Bui’s incredible cover illustration.

Speaking of design, something so simple yet so appropriate accompanied the chapter titles. Remember how I mentioned the literal coaches full of people who want to catch a glimpse of Alex? A coach starts appearing in the first chapter and slowly makes its way across the page, chapter by chapter. Brilliant!

Besides loving Alex and Jasper, I also wanted to get to know Uncle Henry, whose ideas on learning were all I needed to know to want to hang out with him forever. I also really liked Gerty, who Alex meets when she’s searching for her missing friend.

I adored the way time travel is explored in this book. There were a couple of time travel related head-scratchers, though. The Laws of Time all made sense to me but I had trouble believing, based on my extensive time travel experience with Marty McFly, that a Time Tourist hadn’t inadvertently rewritten history by now. Although, if Timeless is to be taken as time travel gospel, then maybe only the people personally involved in the rewrite would remember how things used to play out.

The time travel quandary that remains for me is why the bazillion Time Tourists who not so secretly spied on Alex as she was growing up didn’t immediately recognise her in the future. Sure, it’s not like she was expected to show up there unannounced and oftentimes we don’t recognise the obvious right before our very eyes when we don’t expect them to be there, but … someone should have been pointing at her and whispering to the person next to them, ‘Hey, look! Doesn’t that girl look like Alex when she was young?’

I figured out fairly early on who future Alex was going to be and why she became famous. If kid me had read this book, though, it would have been your job to pick me up off the floor once I’d made it to the reveal.

Although the time travel is absolutely wonderful and it made me want to do it even more, my take away from this book is going to be the friendship between Alex and Jasper. It made me feel all warm and squishy inside. In a good way.

‘Never underestimate the power of a best friend. A friend who loves you for who you are, who believes in the person you will become even when you don’t. Who believes you are stronger, smarter, better than you believe yourself to be. A friend who can put you in your place when you need it. More than talent, more than success, friendship is what matters most.’

Book in a book: Jasper gives Alex a copy of The Secret Garden, one of the many reasons I loved him.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On the day Alex was born, crowds surrounded the hospital. On her first day of school, people spied from the gates. And recently, strangers came to watch her perform in her school play … as the llama.

But why? Alex has always been a nobody.

Then a mysterious boy named Jasper starts at school and he alone seems to know the answer. But before he can tell Alex, he disappears … into the future. Can Alex brave traveling into the future to discover what’s happened to him and to unravel the secret of her own astonishing destiny … before time runs out?

The Final Girl Support Group – Grady Hendrix

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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