Creatura – Bec Crew

What I’ve learned from my time writing about weird animals is that there is always something weirder than you could have ever imagined just around the corner.

Australia is known for its wildlife, from the kangaroos we ride to school (not a thing; sorry) to drop bears (you can read all about them in this Australian Geographic article posted on 1 April 2021). You might fear our deadly spiders and snakes but the animal that’s most likely to scare an Australian is a territorial magpie during swooping season.

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I love books about animals that are classified as weird and wonderful so it’s a special treat for me to find a book about the weird, wonderful creatures that live in Australia. It seems perfectly fitting that this book was published on my Nan’s birthday, who was her own special blend of weird and wonderful. (You would have loved her! And she would have loved me calling her weird and wonderful.)

Because I can’t help myself, I’m going to tell you a few of my favourite facts from each section of this book.

Mammals

Ningaui are small carnivorous marsupials that are named for an “Aboriginal legend that describes imp-like creatures that live in the mangroves and lure passers-by to their deaths, consuming them raw.”

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, which is found around the world in tropical and temperate waters, holds the records for the deepest (2992m or 9816 feet) and longest (138 minutes) dives performed by a mammal.

Common Spotted Cuscus sleep high in trees with their head between their legs. In what seems to be an ingenious way to camouflage themselves, they wrap leaves around themselves.

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Fish and Sea Creatures

Bubble Algae are “one of the largest single-celled organisms on Earth”, with a diameter of up to 9cm (3.5 inches).

Banded Archerfish are omnivores whose diet consists of food found both in and out of the water. They can shoot ‘spit missiles’ (jets of water) at insects up to 3 metres (almost 10 feet) away to knock them off branches and into the water.

Blanket Octopus females can grow up to 2 metres (6.5 feet) long and 10kg (22 pounds), whereas males are only 2.4cm (just under 1 inch).

Invertebrates

The Head-Stacking Caterpillar, the larvae of the gumleaf skeletoniser moth, moults their exoskeletons as it grows. It stacks its shedded heads on top of one another and wears them like hats.

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If a Hammerhead Worm is “cut into bits, either lengthwise or across its body, each piece will become a new, perfectly functional worm over the course of two or three weeks.” I don’t want to meet the sadist that discovered this.

Leichhardt’s Grasshopper apparently taste awful because they only eat bitter-tasting plants.

Birds

A young Apostlebird will stay with its parents for 200 days.

The Nankeen Kestrel is the only bird of prey that can hover.

The Whistling Kite spread bushfires, “carrying lit twigs in their beaks and claws, to flush out exhausted and confused prey.”

Reptiles and Amphibians

Never having evolved the ability to survive on land, the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake is the “most aquatic snake in the world”.

The Crucifix Frog is “one of the only species of Australian frog to employ aposematism, which is the use of bright patterning to ward off predators.”

The eyesight of geckos is 350 times better than ours and they can see in full colour in moonlight. The Golden-Tailed Gecko squirts a “putrid, sticky liquid from their tails straight at any would-be predators.”

I don’t know how it’s possible that I’ve lived my entire life in Australia and I’ve never come across or even heard of most of these animals before. I definitely want to check out the Australian Geographic Creatura blog to see what other wonders are in the neighbourhood.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There’s no doubt that Australia has more than its fair share of weird and wonderful animals – just think about the platypus – but the true diversity of our wildlife is more extraordinary than you might imagine. There’s the caterpillar that wears its old head shells as a macabre hat, the cuscus that wraps itself in a leafy camouflage while sleeping and the fish that targets prey with a high-powered jet of water. In this collection of stories from Australian Geographic blog Creatura, science writer Bec Crew celebrates the strange behaviours, special adaptations and peculiar features of our amazing Australian creatures.

The Language of Magic #1: Threadneedle – Cari Thomas

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

‘How can I know who I am without knowing who I came from?’

After a tragedy left her an orphan, Anna was raised by her Aunt. She’s known her entire life that she’s going to be a Binder when she grows up.

The Binders did all they could to prevent magic being exposed to the ordinary world, to keep it locked away behind doors; brushed under carpets; tied in necklaces and tucked beneath blouses.

Now Anna is in sixth form and it’s only a year until her magic, such that it is, will be bound. As the school Nobody, Anna has always tried to fly under the radar. That won’t be as easy to achieve once she joins a coven.

‘We deal in that which cannot be known by the light of day and exact our punishments by dark.’

Attis, resident eye candy/mystery boy, intrigued me, as did Effie, although I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be best friends with her or her archnemesis. She’s kinda prickly so I think I’d want to be cautious around her.

Having a religious girl in the coven initially confused me as I had trouble figuring out how the two could possibly intersect. I don’t think I like Miranda/Manda. There’s something about people who claim religion and then act in ways that fly in the face of their spouted beliefs that make me want to point my finger and hiss, ‘Hyprocrite!’ I know we’ve all been guilty of saying one thing and then doing another at some point in our lives but when it comes from someone who evangelises … I don’t know … it just seems different somehow.

Then there was Rowan, who I absolutely adored, except for the fact that so much time was spent body shaming her. If someone else wasn’t bullying her about her weight, Rowan was pointing it out herself. She was so much more interesting to me than whatever the scales say about her. Also, her mother is an absolute delight and I need to spend so much more time with her!

The Binders gave me cult vibes throughout the book. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think there’s some truth to what they’ve been saying all along or not. I’m a bit on the fence about this and could argue either way. I suspect there’s some truth there but I definitely question (and that’s putting it nicely) their methods and some crucial core beliefs.

I’m usually all for magic, regardless of the form it takes, but some of the magic in this book gave me the heebie-jeebies. I’m not sure if I’ve simply never considered this before or if it was the way some of the magic played out here but it got me thinking about free will. If any spell removes free will from someone, whether it’s their thoughts or actions, then it seems to me that this tramples all over consent.

To force your will on someone else in a way that takes away their freedom to think or act in a way they choose feels really icky to me. My brain helpfully came up with the term ‘magical assault’ and now I can’t get it out of my head. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see certain types of magic in action again without my brain shouting that at me. Thanks for nothing, brain!

The bonds we have with family and friends and how these can be tied to fear and sacrifice are explored in this book. It’s not always clear whether someone is acting selfishly or in another person’s best interests. There are opposing truths at play, which complicates things even further.

One thing that definitely wasn’t complicated for me was my love of this book’s magical library. This could be one of my favourite libraries ever and I want to spend an entire book lost in there.

While I wish I’d learned more about the seven faceless women in this book, there are indications that they will play a vital role as the series unfolds. I am particularly interested in the seventh woman and am not so secretly hoping that we’ve already met her in this book but don’t know it yet. I already know who I want her to be.

‘People think stories are harmless but they are the most dangerous weapon mankind has.’

Content warnings include body shaming, bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and slut shaming. Death by suicide is mentioned a few times as a suspected cause of death.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city filled with magic.

Ever since Anna can remember, her aunt has warned her of the dangers of magic. She has taught her to fear how it twists and knots and turns into something dark and deadly.

It was, after all, magic that killed her parents and left her in her aunt’s care. It’s why she has been protected from the magical world and, in one year’s time, what little magic she has will be bound. She will join her aunt alongside the other Binders who believe magic is a sin not to be used, but denied. Only one more year and she will be free of the curse of magic, her aunt’s teachings and the disappointment of the little she is capable of.

Nothing – and no one – could change her mind before then. Could it?

Supernatural Investigations #1: Amari and the Night Brothers – B.B. Alston

“Go to any corner of the world and you’ll find tales of beings and creatures that only seem possible in our imaginations. What if I told you that living among us are all the beings we’ve come to pass off as myth?”

Amari Peters is a twelve year old Black kid from the projects. She lives with her Mama, who is working herself into the ground trying to make ends meet. Amari’s older brother and biggest supporter, Quinton, has been missing for almost six months.

“He made me believe I could actually do anything I set my mind to. He made me believe in me.”

Amari refuses to believe that Quinton is dead or that his disappearance is a result of him getting mixed up in something shady, despite what everyone else seems to think. She knows her brother is alive and that he would never compromise his values, and she’s determined to be the one to find him.

Amari, an outcast, is about to learn there’s much more to this world than she ever dreamed possible. People have judged Amari for things about herself she can’t change, even if she wanted to, her entire life. Now she’s received an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, “a location that handles several million very well-kept secrets.”

“You ready?”

“I think so,” I say.

Agent Magnus grins. “Oh, I doubt that very much.”

Amari’s new roommate, Elsie Rodriguez, is a weredragon who can see other people’s emotions. Elsie has so much potential, as a loyal friend, as an inventor and as a serious contender for the honour of being my favourite character (besides Amari, of course).

Amari travels in elevators that have more personality than some humans. My favourites were super speedy Lucy and Mischief, the part time service elevator with a dirty-rascal chip. You’ll need them to visit the Bureau’s various departments.

I’m listing the departments mentioned in this book, along with the names of the directors we know about so far, mostly so I don’t forget them by the time I get my hands on the sequel.

  • Department of Creature Control
  • Department of the Dead – Director Kript
  • Department of Dreams and Nightmares
  • Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens – Director Horus
  • Department of Half Truths and Full Cover-Ups – Director Rub-Ish
  • Department of Hidden Places
  • Department of Magical Science – Director Fokus
  • Department of Supernatural Health
  • Department of Supernatural Investigations – Director Van Helsing
  • Department of Supernatural Licenses and Records – Director Cobblepot
  • Department of Undersea Relations
  • Department of the Unexplained

The names of the directors are perfect! I’m hoping someone will come up with a quiz (if they haven’t already) I can take to tell me which department I‘d work in.

Amari learns some really cool things (boogeypersons eat fear, which apparently tastes like chicken) but she quickly discovers that prejudice also exists in the supernatural world. I hope all of the kids who read this book take to heart the message of believing in yourself.

In case it’s not already obvious, I am absolutely obsessed with this book! I’d recommended it to someone before I’d reached 25%. I’ve ordered a copy from the library for my mother and haven’t even told her a single thing about it yet; that’s how confident I am that she’ll love it as well. I purchased a signed copy when I still had over fifty pages to go. [This is the first physical book I’ve bought in 2021 and if you knew anything about my current situation you’d realise what a huge deal it was for me to have broken my longest I’m-not-buying-any-books streak in what is quite possibly my entire reading life.]

This book has me almost equal parts exhilarated and terrified. I haven’t been this excited about a new series for so long that I can’t even tell you what the last series was that had me so hyped up. So why is that terrifying? Because I borrowed this book from the library, it’s due tomorrow and I came so close to sending it back unread because I didn’t think I’d have the time to finish it. I almost missed out on the wonder that is Amari and the world that was brought to life through her eyes. The world building in this book is phenomenal!

I know what you’re probably thinking. It’s a library book; surely I could have reserved it again and should stop being so dramatic. Well, my friend, this is me we’re talking about. My TBR list is so ginormous that if I don’t get to a book when I first pick it up it’s likely to fall into my good intentions abyss. New favourites like this one terrify me because they make me wonder what other gems I might be missing out on.

“In the end, we are all bound by our choices.”

I want to live in the Bureau’s library and become best friends with Mrs. Belle, the librarian who knows “what you’d like to read, just by looking at you.” One of my favourite bookish delights, fictional book titles mentioned within a book, were scattered throughout Amari’s story; the ones I most want to read are Physics in Magic: The Often Lack Thereof and Rasputin’s Directory of Dangerous Doodads and Doohickeys. The gossip magazine article that I’m already imagining writing a B-grade book about was Rogue carnivorous thunderclouds threaten air travel in South Pacific.

I need someone to magic up the sequel for me. I don’t think I can wait until 2022 to read it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Amari Peters knows three things.

Her brother Quinton has gone missing.

No one will talk about it.

His mysterious job holds a clue …

So when she’s invited for a trial at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari is certain this is her chance to save him. But first she has to get her head around the new world of the Bureau, where mermaids, aliens and magicians are real – and her roommate is a weredragon.

Amari must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about this world their whole lives. And with an evil magician threatening the entire supernatural world, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton …

The Girls I’ve Been – Tess Sharpe

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

Sometimes what doesn’t kill you messes you up so bad it’s always a fight to make through what you’re left with.

What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me a victim.

But I made me stronger. I made me a survivor.

Well, me and Lee and my very patient therapist.

I am so obsessed with this book! Going into it I knew a few things: it has a great cover, it’s about a girl who winds up in the middle of a bank robbery with her ex-boyfriend and current girlfriend, and there’s more to the girl than meet the eye.

I didn’t expect it to be such a compulsive read. From beginning to end there’s practically non-stop action and reveals. I also didn’t expect my review to basically consist of a string of quotes but there were so many things I wanted to highlight and even if I did decide to desecrate my library book, I’d have to return it at some point, and I want to be able to revisit them.

So, our main character is Nora but that’s just the name she answers to now. Her mother is a con artist who groomed her daughter to play a role in each of her cons, so there have been many girls before Nora.

She was Rebecca.

Being Rebecca teaches me how to lie. How to look into someone’s eyes while there isn’t a true word coming out of your mouth, but they believe it because enough of you believes it.

She was Samantha.

Samantha has no needs or wants. She exists to serve someone else’s.

She was Haley.

Haley is unobtrusive. No one really pays her any mind in the crowd.

She was Katie.

Katie is not quiet. She is not silent. She is not invisible. She is the first spitfire Mom lets me be, the closest thing to me I’ve been in years.

She was Ashley.

And that’s when it hits me: There aren’t any more rules.

I didn’t just break them. I broke free of them.

Nora is not the only character you’ll be thinking about long after you finish reading, though.

There’s also Lee, Nora’s badass older sister, a tough, smart, determined woman who is willing to play the long game to get what she wants. Lee is someone you definitely want on your side but, like Nora, life has left her with scars.

Broken girls, both of us, growing up into women with cracks plastered rough over where smooth should be.

Wes, Nora’s ex-boyfriend, is basically my idea of the perfect boy. He’s a wonderful friend, he’s protective of the people he loves, he’s this sort of intoxicating combination of strong, sensitive and damaged, and he forgets that he’s a terrible singer when he’s stoned.

This we share. Scars and knowledge and broken safety that was never really there in the first place, because we were born to bad apples.

Iris, Nora’s girlfriend, is absolutely everything! She’s smart, she’s intuitive and she wears clothes that I can only dream of looking that amazing in. She’s brave and she’s resilient and she can think straight and stay upright even when she’s experiencing intense chronic pain from endometriosis. She’s basically my idea of a superhero.

She is heedless and gleeful and has the self-preservation instincts of a moth drawn to dares and flames.

Lee, Wes and Iris are not cardboard cutout characters cast in a supporting role. They’re each deserving of their own books. They certainly have enough personality and backstories to fill them.

Although their story is set during a bank robbery, these four already share stories of survival, even though they don’t necessarily know all of each other’s secrets.

I felt Nora’s pain deep in my soul: wanting to be the person people tell you you’re supposed to be, holding onto your secrets and your shame because you don’t know if anyone will ever be able to love the real you, needing to protect the people you care about from you because you don’t want the parts of you that you hide to hurt them, trying to survive your past without it consuming your future.

There were lines that made me smile.

“Very original. Do you have some evil-dude bingo card stashed somewhere?”

But more often, what I wanted to highlight were truths that spoke to me, things I know in my heart but that I’m going to need to revisit so I can be reminded of them.

“Men like that don’t stop”

You don’t have to just be taught to trust, you have to grow up in a life with people who are worthy of it.

“There is no normal,” Amelia says. “There’s just a bunch of people pretending there is. There’s just different levels of pain. Different stages of safe. The biggest con of all is that there’s a normal.”

Content warnings include mention of abortion, domestic violence, emotional abuse, gun violence, physical abuse and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes. The author has provided a more extensive list of content warnings here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As an ex con artist, Nora has always got herself out of tricky situations. But the ultimate test lies in wait when she’s taken hostage in a bank heist. And this time, Nora doesn’t have an escape plan …

Meet Nora. Also known as Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley – the girls she’s been. 

Nora didn’t choose a life of deception – she was born into it. As the daughter of a con artist who targeted criminal men, Nora always had to play a part. But when her mother fell for one of the men instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con herself: escape. 

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal – but things are far from it when she finds herself held at gunpoint in the middle of a bank heist, along with Wes (her ex-boyfriend) and Iris (her secret new girlfriend and mutual friend of Wes … awkward). Now it will take all of Nora’s con artistry skills to get them out alive. 

Because the gunmen have no idea who she really is – that girl has been in hiding for far too long … 

Beneath the Waves – Helen Ahpornsiri

Text – Lily Murray

I didn’t think the awe I felt when I first saw Helen Ahpornsiri’s A Year in the Wild could be replicated. I was wrong. Beneath the Waves has had the same effect on me.

Helen took me on a journey through the seasons in A Year in the Wild, using petals and leaves to create the most adorable array of animals. My favourite image from that book remains the owl.

In Beneath the Waves, Helen uses seaweed, coastal flowers and garden plants to explore the coast, open ocean, tropics and polar waters. I loved the entire book but did have a few favourites:

  • The baby turtles, each of which have a different expression and unique shell design.
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  • The contrast of the polar bear against the black background enables the details to stand out more. There’s a black background behind the angler fish as well and it’s absolutely stunning.
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  • The blue whale. Not only was this image so detailed, my favourite fact of the book accompanied it. Their “tongues alone weigh as much as an adult elephant!” How’s that for perspective?!
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If you can’t believe an artist could possibly transform pressed plants into such realistic animals, I’d encourage you to watch Helen at work on YouTube.

I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Take a journey through the oceans of the world in this beautiful book, made entirely from hand-pressed plants.

Artist Helen Ahpornsiri transforms silky seaweeds, feathery algae and bright coastal blooms into playful penguins, scuttling crabs and schools of silvery sharks. Turn the page to explore each corner of the oceans, from hidden rock pools to the darkest depths. Marvel as plants transform into marvellous creatures, and discover the magic and beauty that lies beneath the waves…

Aveline Jones #1: The Haunting of Aveline Jones – Phil Hickes

Illustrations – Keith Robinson

“Do you ever feel like something bad is about to happen? I’ve been getting that a lot lately.”

P.P.

Aveline Jones loves ghost stories and cheese sandwiches. She’s not thrilled with the idea of staying with her Aunt Lilian in Malmouth while her mother visits her granny in hospital.

Before long, though, Aveline finds the perfect book of ghost stories, along with the diary of Primrose Penberthy, a missing local girl. Aveline suspects the two books are connected.

Part of her wished she’d never picked it up. Or the book of ghost stories. They appeared to be leading her to a place she wasn’t wholly sure she wanted to go.

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This story takes place around Halloween and Malmouth has the perfect weather for a spooky adventure. There are even some really creepy childlike scarecrows.

I’m all set because Malmouth has a second hand bookstore and coffee shop. You will love the bookseller immediately and you’ll want to be friends with his great-nephew (not immediately because he’s shy and can seem kinda grumpy at times, but he’ll grow on you).

Aunt Lilian, who quite possibly has OCD, seemed a bit prickly at first but by the end of the story I wanted to go get a coffee with her. Aunt Lilian also provided me with my favourite sentence:

“So is there anything the matter, Aveline, or have you just decided to be pale and interesting today?”

I loved the mystery; the excerpts from Primrose’s diary, along with the newspaper article Aveline reads, really helped to draw me in. I was a scaredy-cat as a kid so I doubt I would have been able to read this book after dark, although it’s the kind of scary that would have both freaked me out and made me want to keep reading.

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I absolutely adored Keith Robinson’s illustrations. They capture the atmosphere of the story brilliantly and the scarecrow pictures, in particular, are creepy as hell. The cover image is absolutely gorgeous – Aveline looks just as I imagined she would and the weather, which has a significant part to play in the story, is highlighted.

I’m so glad Aveline has more stories to tell. I’m already looking forward to the sequel, The Bewitching of Aveline Jones, which also has an amazing cover.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Aveline Jones loves reading ghost stories, so a dreary half-term becomes much more exciting when she discovers a spooky old book. Not only are the stories spine-tingling, but it once belonged to Primrose Penberthy, who vanished mysteriously, never to be seen again. Intrigued, Aveline decides to investigate Primrose’s disappearance.

Now someone … or something, is stirring. And it is looking for Aveline.

Turn on your torches, and join Aveline Jones in her first charmingly spooky mystery, from debut author Phil Hickes.

The Nesting – C.J. Cooke

‘Nature always protects itself by whatever means possible.’

Sophie has a new job as a nanny, caring for two adorable girls, Gaia and Coco. Their father, Tom, is an architect who’s currently working hard on an innovative new project in Norway. Sophie is also working hard, trying to make sure no one figures out that she’s not really Sophie, but Lexi, and that she’s not actually a nanny.

Although it appears to be the ideal escape from her real life, this new job isn’t as straightforward as Lexi had hoped. Tom’s wife died recently, supposedly by suicide, although Lexi suspects there’s more to the story. She’s also been told that the locked basement is off limits.

Even if you hear something down there, please stay out.

Hear something?

What the hell was in that basement?

Then there’s the Sad Lady, who Gaia keeps mentioning, who has holes where her eyes should be.

I’d only planned on reading a couple of pages to get a feel for the book but before I knew it I’d binged the entire thing. I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would but I am left with some question marks.

I adored the children but didn’t connect with any of the adults. The mental health components of Lexi and Aurelia’s stories intrigued me but I’m not a huge fan of unreliable narrators so I found myself questioning their realities more than I would have liked.

After such a build up, the ending felt rushed to me and some of the ways the story came together seemed a bit too convenient. Lexi’s backstory answered some questions I’d had but read more like an info dump, glossing over some pretty monumental events in her life.

With trees and a fjord, minimal sunlight and the tantalising possibility of spotting an aurora, the setting felt like its own character and made this an atmospheric read. This was helped along by the environmental message and the Norse folklore. The folklore included in this story were written by the author.

I’m interested in reading more books by this author and devouring some Norse folklore.

Content warnings include attempted suicide (including the method used), child abuse, foster care, mental health, miscarriage, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It was like something out of a fairytale …
The grieving widower.
The motherless daughters.
A beautiful house in the woods.

Deep in a remote Norwegian forest, Lexi has found a new home with architect Tom and his two young daughters. With snow underfoot and the sound of the nearby fjord in her ears, it’s as if Lexi has stepped into a fairy tale

But this family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build their beautiful new house. And those ancient, whispering woods have a long memory.

Lexi begins to hear things, see things that don’t make sense. She used to think this place heavenly, but in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care.

But protect them from what?

Mort the Meek #1: Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge – Rachel Delahaye

Illustrations – George Ermos

Here we are in Brutalia, where there are two towers, both of which look like they could come crashing down into the Salty Sea at any moment.

The Queen and King were horrible.

The people were violent.

And the ravens were ravenous.

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As the sign tells you in no uncertain terms, you are not welcome here. Not that it’s a place you’d want to go on vacation; the people are perpetually hungry, rule breakers suffer unimaginable punishments (like wasp baths) and then there’s Brutalia’s motto:

LIVE OR DIE

Trust me when I say you’re more likely to die than live if you’re foolish enough to visit. There’s so much death here that there’s an official Body Carrier. And a Body Lugger. I doubt you would want either job.

So why do we want to hear any more about this horrific place? Well, because it’s where Mort lives. This is Mort.

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He’s got a lot on his mind this week. Mort is a pacifist, which is sort of inconvenient, especially considering he’s Brutalia’s new Royal Executioner. His first job is to execute his “most delicious-smelling friend”, Weed.

And so the plot thickens.

This was a delightful story. Well, as delightful as it could be with everyone hungry and fearing for their lives, and the ravens hoping that someone will give them some eyeballs for dinner.

This is a place where a misunderstood homonym can kill you, where there’s battle cutlery and you need to be extremely careful if you encounter a Grot Bear. It’s also a place where a pacifist will try to save his best friend (and himself) from a death most brutal. Mort is an underdog I believe in and want to spend more time with.

The ravens stoles the best lines, although I’m sure they would have much preferred to have stolen some food. Their chats at the beginning of each chapter were something I quickly looked forward to.

“I’ve got an idea.”

“Can I have some of your eye, dear?”

“What? No! I said an IDEA.”

“What is it?”

“I’ve forgotten it now.”

Sometimes I find it annoying when the narrator randomly addresses the reader throughout the story but it wasn’t overdone here and it even managed to elicit some smiles from me.

Doesn’t time go fast when you’re watching other people struggle with a difficult plot!

I loved George Ermos’ illustrations. They were dark when they needed to be (they wouldn’t have scared me if I’d read this book as a kid). They also incorporated some humour, particularly when the ravens, who were my favourite characters, were featured. I thought using feathers as page breaks was a really nice touch.

There’s going to be a sequel, The Monstrous Quest.

“Well, thank the gallows for that!”

It has tentacles and it looks as though Ono, Mort’s new friend who I haven’t had anywhere near enough page time with yet, is going to be involved in the quest. I can’t wait!

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

The first in a wickedly funny new series about an aspiring pacifist in a brutal kingdom!

On Brutalia, violence is a way of life. Ravenous ravens circle overhead, monstrous grot bears cause chaos and the streets are bulging with brawls. But Mort isn’t like the other islanders – he’s determined to live peacefully. His struggle is made even tougher when the cruel queen appoints Mort as Royal Executioner. No one has challenged the royals and lived to tell the tale. Can Mort keep his head and outwit the queen?

Santa Jaws – Mark Sperring

Illustrations – Sophie Corrigan

“Merry Fishmas!”

Shelly the shark has something special planned this Christmas. She makes a sign for her front door welcoming everyone to Santa’s Grotto. The only problem is that none of the other fish trust her, so they quickly make themselves scarce. Fair enough, too. I’m pretty sure I’d be questioning Jaws’ motives before willingly stepping foot inside their home.

The exception is one inquisitive squid named Sid. Maybe Sid doesn’t know who lives behind this driftwood door or maybe they’re just so excited about meeting Santa Claus… Soon Sid finds himself face to face with Santa Jaws, not Santa Claus.

This book is so cute! The rhymes flow well and the repetition isn’t overused. The highlight of this book for me, though, were Sophie Corrigan’s illustrations. They use bright colours, the fish are all quite expressive and there are plenty of details to enjoy.

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I particularly loved the coral Christmas trees with shell decorations, the snowman made of sand, the angler fish finding love beneath the mistletoe and the stingray wearing a Santa hat.

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I hereby decree that stingrays must wear Santa hats at all times from this day forth, so we may never forget how adorable they make them look.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Today’s my LUCKY, LUCKY day.

Golly, whizz and gee!

For GUESS WHO’s meeting Santa Claus …

Yes, me! Yes, me! YES, ME!

Ho-ho-ho! It’s Christmas Eve and Sid the squid is SUPER-excited. He’s going to meet Santa Claus AT LAST!

But as he enters the dark underwater grotto, all is not as it seems …

Will there be a happy ending? Let’s hope so. It IS Christmas, after all!

Theodora Hendrix #1: Theodora Hendrix and the Monstrous League of Monsters – Jordan Kopy

Illustrations – Chris Jevons

That howling you hear at night? It’s not the wind, but a werewolf moaning at the moon. That tapping at your window? It’s not a branch, but a vampire inviting himself in for a snack of your blood. That creaking in the hallway? It’s not just “the house settling”, but a hag creeping towards your bedroom – they keep children as pets, you know.

You probably didn’t know monsters were real because of the Monster Secrecy Act but Theodora Hendrix knows about all of these monsters, and many more. She was adopted by a whole bunch of them when she was a baby.

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But no one can ever know that she’s at the Monstrous League of Monsters mansion (it’s haunted, of course) or else there will be consequences for her monster kin.

“Harbouring a human is punishable by death”

Okay, really serious consequences.

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Theodora goes to Appleton Primary School, where Ms Frumple has obviously been taking lessons in being a head teacher from the Trunchbull. We don’t like Ms Frumple. At all.

There’s also been someone delivering threatening letters to the Monstrous League of Monsters, someone who knows they’ve broken one of the rules of the Monstrous League of Monsters Charter.

1. Keep monsters hidden from humans

2. Protect humans from bad monsters

3. Help bad monsters become good monsters

But it’s not all bad news. Theodora has a new friend, a human friend, Dexter. And there’s a seemingly never ending supply of leftover pizza.

Theodora is a wonderful character. She’s strong, courageous and isn’t afraid of standing up for herself. Dexter, who compliments Theodora really well, is more reserved and much more concerned about following rules than his new friend.

This story was so imaginative and engaging. There was a fun mystery with some red herrings, great locations and enough quirkiness to hold my attention throughout the book.

Naturally, I want to live in the haunted mansion. There’s a secret passageway to explore, a squishy blue eyeball doorbell and I love Theodora’s bedroom.

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There are also plenty of friendly monsters to hang out with, like Mummy the mummy, Georgie Hendrix the zombie, Bandit the masked vampire-cat, Helter-Skelter the skeleton butler, Hamlet the skull, Mousetrap the raven and Figaro the operatic ghost.

My personal favourite, though, was Sherman the tarantula, Theodora’s friend who’s “the cheese to her pizza”. He wears a top hat and monocles, and believes there isn’t a food that can’t be improved with strawberry jam.

Chris Jevons’ illustrations are absolutely adorable, with an Addams Family vibe. They bring the characters to life so well and although the details occasionally don’t line up perfectly with the text, the majority of the time they do. I particularly loved the cute little bats in the text breaks.

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I can’t wait to continue this delightful series.

Oh, the password is “Coconut-fried cockroaches” but, shh! You didn’t hear it from me!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Monstrous League of Monsters Charter

  1. Keep monsters hidden from humans
  2. Protect humans from bad monsters
  3. Help bad monsters become good monsters

Orphaned and raised by an … unconventional family, Theodora knows the importance of these rules more than most. And so far, it’s not been too hard to keep her monstrous home life a secret.

UNTIL NOW.

Someone is about to reveal everything, and it’s up to Theodora to save her family – fast!