When Women Were Dragons – Kelly Barnhill

“All women are magic. Literally all of us. It’s in our nature. It’s best you learn that now.”

Sometimes a cover image is enough to reel me in. Sometimes I only need to read the blurb to know for sure that a book is destined to become a favourite. Sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll only make it to the third page before I buy the ebook so I can highlight passages to my heart’s content. This is that book.

Marya Tilman’s transformation on 18 September 1898 was the “earliest scientifically confirmed case of spontaneous dragoning within the United States” but there were records of dragoning occurring centuries prior. You might believe that it was all over after the Mass Dragoning of 1955 but you’d be wrong. So very wrong.

For those whose feet remained firmly on the ground on 25 April 1955, life went on. People still went to work. Children still went to school. It was business as usual. But this new normal came at a cost.

Dragoning is unmentionable. Don’t talk about what happened.

Forget those who dragoned. They never existed in the first place.

Keep your eyes on the ground. You don’t want any dangerous ideas.

Perhaps this is how we learn silence – an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be.

This is Alex’s memoir (of sorts). Alex saw her first dragon when she was four. She was still a child when the Mass Dragoning happened. Through her eyes, we not only see how the Mass Dragoning changed society as a whole but also how it impacted upon Alex’s own family.

Through dragoning, this book explores trauma and the silencing that often takes place in its aftermath. It’s about how women diminish themselves to fit into the shape that society prescribes and the toxicity of secrets. It’s the power of women taking up space and refusing to be gaslit anymore.

When I started this book I thought it was going to be about an alternate 1950’s, one where women got pissed off with the patriarchy and turned into dragons. And it is. Sort of. But it’s so much more. There’s rage in this book but there’s also joy.

It is joy that burns me now, and joy that makes my back ache for wings, and it is joy that makes me long to be more than myself.

I fell in love with auntie Marla and Beatrice. I met the best librarian ever. I felt rage and helplessness alongside determination and hope and love. I ugly cried. Oh, did I ugly cry.

I felt a kinship with the characters who dragoned and a fire inside that I fully expected to result in my own dragoning. I love this book so much!

“Today’s the day!”

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, death of animals, domestic abuse, racism and sexual assault.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a world where girls and women are taught to be quiet, the dragons inside them are about to be set free …

In this timely and timeless speculative novel, set in 1950’s America, Kelly Barnhill exposes a world that wants to keep girls and women small – and examines what happens when they rise up. 

Alex Green is four years old when she first sees a dragon. In her next-door neighbour’s garden, in the spot where the old lady usually sits, is a huge dragon, an astonished expression on its face before it opens its wings and soars away across the rooftops.

And Alex doesn’t see the little old lady after that. No one mentions her. It’s as if she’s never existed.

Then Alex’s mother disappears, and reappears a week later, one quiet Tuesday, with no explanation whatsoever as to where she has been. But she is a ghostly shadow of her former self, and with scars across her body – wide, deep burns, as though she had been attacked by a monster who breathed fire.

Alex, growing from young girl to fiercely independent teenager, is desperate for answers, but doesn’t get any.

Whether anyone likes it or not, the Mass Dragoning is coming. And nothing will be the same after that. Everything is about to change, forever.

And when it does, this, too, will be unmentionable…

Classic Monsters Unleashed – James Aquilone (editor)

It’s a given that whenever Seanan McGuire contributes a story to an anthology I’ll be reading it but, in my experience, anthologies themselves can be a bit hit or miss. This anthology promises stories that “reanimate, reimagine, subvert, and pay homage” to monsters you already know and love.

Classic Monsters Unleashed includes twenty nine (!) stories and one poem, featuring Dracula, the Mummy, the Invisible Man and so many other favourites. Basically, it was destined to wind up on my TBR pile.

If I can say I liked half of the contributions in an anthology I usually call that a win. Having thoroughly enjoyed over three quarters of the monstrous fun on offer here, it’s safe to say this is one of my favourite anthologies to date.

I tried to come up with a list of my top five reads but am happy to report that I failed. So, the six I loved the most, listed in the order I read them because it sounds too much like hard work to rank them, are:

Höllenlegion by Jonathan Maberry

Unleashes Dr. Moreau

“What you are planning is madness”

Old Monsters Never Die by Tim Waggoner

Unleashes a character inspired by the Wolfman

“I’ve come to do something much worse.”

The Viscount and the Phantom by Lucy A. Snyder

Unleashes Phantom of the Opera

“The Palais Garnier presents a unique opportunity for a young gentleman of your tastes.”

Modern Monsters by Monique Snyman

Unleashes a character inspired by The Fly

“I hope you’re ready to see something spectacular”

Hacking the Horseman’s Code by Lisa Morton

Unleashes Headless Horseman

What? It isn’t supposed to do that.

“Can” Doesn’t Mean “Should” by Seanan McGuire

Unleashes Mad Scientist

We’re the children of the laughter and the lightning, and we exist in the pause between “can” and “should”.

Because I read an advanced copy I haven’t seen all of the illustrations that will be included in the final version yet. What I have seen, though, are absolutely incredible! I want framed copies of all of them, but none more than Mister Sam Shearon’s Frankenstein’s Monster.

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My aimless wandering has resulted in me accidentally discovering there’s going to be another Unleashed anthology. There’s currently a Kickstarter for … wait for it … Shakespeare Unleashed! I definitely need this in my life.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Crystal Lake Publishing and Black Spot Books for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Stories of famous monsters in a new horror anthology edited by James Aquilone and featuring Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, and many others.

Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau, the Headless Horseman, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Wicked Witch of the West – they’re all here, in this collection of horror short stories that reimagine, subvert, and pay homage to our favourite monsters and creatures.

Written by the biggest names in the genre – including Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, Owl Goingback, Richard Christian Matheson, Seanan McGuire, Maurice Broaddus, Dacre Stoker, Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Tim Waggoner, John Palisano, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lucy A. Snyder, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rena Mason, and Monique Snyman.

And monstrously illustrated by Colton Worley and Mister Sam Shearon. 

The Midnighters – Hana Tooke

Illustrations – Ayesha L. Rubio

Born at midnight on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, Ema is the twelfth born child in her family. Unsurprisingly, twelves tend to follow Ema through her life.

‘There is something very troubling about the number twelve’

At twelve years old, Ema has yet to find her place in her scientific family. Màma is a meteorologist who can predict the weather with incredible accuracy. Her older siblings are skilled in various fields, including archaeology, anthropology and zoology. Ema absorbs all of the knowledge her siblings teach her but she doesn’t have her own socially acceptable scientific passion.

The great enigma of her life had presented itself: how was she ever supposed to understand a world that didn’t understand her?

What she does have is the ability to constantly surprise people with her presence, an acute awareness of shadows and a semi-regular sense of impending doom. And fears. Ema has her fair share of fears.

When her parents join one of her sisters on a research expedition, Ema is sent to stay with Josef, an uncle she’s never met, in the home where her “unmentionable grandmother had lived.” It is there that she meets Silvie. Silvie helps Ema confront her fears and introduces her to the wonders of nineteenth century Prague at midnight.

‘We will banish these fears of yours, but we will also banish the idea that normal is something worth striving for. I will make you proudly peculiar.’

Along the way, there’s a murder mystery to solve, secrets to uncover and an adorable bat to fall in love with.

I really liked Ema and her family but the standout character for me was Silvie. Silvie’s unbridled optimism was the perfect compliment to Ema’s “apocalyptic pessimism”. Her enthusiasm was contagious, her sense of adventure inspired me and she stole my heart. She also reintroduced me to ‘splendiferously’, which the people around me are going to ask me to stop saying any day now.

The Midnight Guild intrigued me and I desperately need to visit the Moonlight Garden.

I need a sequel for many reasons, the most pressing of which are to find out what’s next for Ema and Silvie, and to learn more about ‘Polter-granny’.

‘So, let’s go murderer-hunting, shall we?’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the bestselling author of The Unadoptables, comes a stunning new story about a missing friend, a gothic city, and a secret society full of wonder, invention and maybe a hint of magic…

Find the courage to be extraordinary…

Ema Vašková has always felt different. In a family of famous scientists, there’s not much room for superstition or omens – but they seem to follow Ema wherever she goes. It doesn’t help that she appears to predict events before they happen, and has a peculiar fear of shadows…

When Ema is sent to stay with her eccentric uncle in Prague, she fears she’ll lose the chance to ever fit in. But then she meets Silvie – a girl who finally sees Ema for the extraordinary person that she is. Soon the girls are meeting for secret midnight adventures, and facing Ema’s fears together.

But then disaster strikes. Silvie goes missing – and it’s up to Ema to find her. Now she must gather the courage to hunt the city, find her friend, and uncover the secrets of the one clue Silvie left as to where she might be – inside the mysterious Midnight Guild…

Fractured Fables #1: A Spindle Splintered – Alix E. Harrow

Once upon a time, Lady Zinnia of Ohio met Princess Primrose of Perceforest and together they fucked with the fairytale.

Zinnia has spent her entire life living with the fact that she’s dying. On the night of her twenty-first birthday, which statistically will be her last, Zinnia finally finds a use for her impractical degree after accidentally multiversing her way into Princess Primrose’s story. Together these Sleeping Beauties plan to bend the arcs of their narratives.

I don’t know about the moral arc of the universe, but our arcs sure as hell don’t bend toward justice.

Unless we change them. Unless we grab our narratives by the ear and drag them kicking and screaming toward better endings. Maybe the universe doesn’t naturally bend toward justice either; maybe it’s only the weight of hands and hearts pulling it true, inch by stubborn inch.

I fell in love with this Spider-Verse Sleeping Beauty the first time I read it but my own once upon a time rudely interrupted me before I could wrangle my thoughts into sentences. I almost always plan to reread books when the release of their sequel is imminent and this time I actually followed through!

Rereading this novella today has only deepened my love for it. It was a timely reminder that no matter what your once upon a time looks like, your choices have the power to shape your ever after.

“I chose a different story for myself, a better one.”

I’m still convinced that Charm, Zinnia’s best friend, needs to be in charge of every PowerPoint presentation until the end of time.

No matter what’s going on in my life when I begin reading something Alix has written, I know I’ll feel better afterwards. What that better looks like might change slightly with each new read but invariably there’ll be hope and renewed determination to bend my own arc. And if my swear to non-swear ratio runs a tad higher in the days following the read, then all the better.

I think: oh, shit. I say, “Oh, shit.”

My preorder of A Mirror Mended arrived while I was finishing this reread and I can’t decide how to feel about starting it. I’ve waited for so long to see how this duology ends but therein lies the rub. Duology means both yay, there’s another one! and dammit, there won’t be another one after that.

While I ponder whether to power through the next one as quickly as possible to get my fix or drag it out to make it last, I’ll leave you with some fairytale wishes:

May fortune gift you a forever friend like Charm.

May you have the courage to love and be loved.

May help always come swiftly when you ask.

May your ever after outshine your once upon a time.

May you always have cause to speak in exclamation points!

Content warnings include mention of sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

The Talents #1: Ordinary Monsters – J.M. Miro

This may well turn out to be my read of the year. I was initially fascinated by its premise but intimidated by its length. Give me two 300ish page novels to read and it’s likely I’ll ask you for another. A single book that exceeds 600 pages? It’s going to need to deliver pretty quickly or I’m probably going to abandon it.

Never fear! I was hooked from the get go and at no point did I think to myself, ‘Are we there yet?’ Despite its length, there were no wasted words. 

Before I’d even made it halfway I’d searched out and purchased a signed copy, already knowing it was destined to become a favourite. I’ve recommended it to everyone I’ve spoken to since I started it and can’t see that changing anytime soon. Now I’m telling you… READ. THIS. BOOK.

The worldbuilding was phenomenal. Not only could I clearly see every location, I could feel it. Don’t be surprised if, like me, you start Googling words like drughr, keywrasse and orsine because, while a part of you will be convinced they were created specifically for this world, you might just begin to wonder if you’re wrong.

All of the characters felt real to me. I got to know their backstories and experienced their defining moments alongside them. This enabled me to understand how they were behaving and why they were making specific decisions in the moment. 

I had favourite characters (Brynt and Ribs both stole my heart) but there wasn’t a single character I didn’t want to spend more time with. I absolutely adored their complexities. 

Clear-cut heroes and villains aren’t easy to find here. The people you think are good may actually have dark intentions. Those you think you’re going to love to hate will be so relatable and real that even when they’re doing something truly detestable, you’ll understand where they’re coming from and you might find yourself cheering them on. At times, two characters will be at odds and you’ll want them both to get what they want, even though that’s not possible.

So, I’ve gotten this far into my review and I’ve told you nothing about the plot. Despite making copious notes about characters, locations and themes as I was reading, intending them to form the bulk of my review, this is one of those books that I’d recommend you know as little as possible about before you dive in. The only thing I absolutely have to say is that I think I’ve now met the best cat ever. Oh, and I love bonebirds!

I need someone to make movies or a TV series of this trilogy. While I’m definitely satisfied with where I’ve had to leave all of my new favourite people (for now), if someone was inclined to sneak a copy of the sequel to me in maybe the next half an hour or so, I’d start reading it immediately. 

‘We cannot change what we are. Only what we do.’ 

Content warnings include domestic abuse, miscarriage, racism and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to Bloomsbury Publishing for the opportunity to fall in love with this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The first in a captivating new historical fantasy series, Ordinary Monsters introduces the Talents with a catastrophic vision of the Victorian world, and the gifted, broken children who must save it.

There in the shadows was a figure in a cloak, at the bottom of the cobblestone stair, and it turned and stared up at them as still and unmoving as a pillar of darkness, but it had no face, only smoke…

1882. North of Edinburgh, on the edge of an isolated loch, lies an institution of crumbling stone, where a strange doctor collects orphans with unusual abilities. In London, two children with such powers are hunted by a figure of darkness – a man made of smoke.

Charlie Ovid discovers a gift for healing himself through a brutal upbringing in Mississippi, while Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight, glows with a strange bluish light. When two grizzled detectives are recruited to escort them north to safety, they are confronted by a sinister, dangerous force that threatens to upend the world as they know it.

What follows is a journey from the gaslit streets of London to the lochs of Scotland, where other gifted children – the Talents – have been gathered at Cairndale Institute, and the realms of the dead and the living collide. As secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities and the nature of the force that is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.

Witch 13 – Patrick Delaney

Tonight is Sterling Marsh’s final shift as sheriff. She really should have called in sick and left Drybell for the evening, preferably before the truck crashed into the bridge. Sterling and her colleagues being cut off from the outside world in the middle of one of the worst storms in Drybell’s history isn’t their biggest problem. They now also have a troublesome witch to deal with. 

There’s no such thing as witches. 

The bulk of the evening takes place inside the sheriff’s station with the witch in custody so you wouldn’t think she’d have much opportunity to create a ruckus. You’d be wrong. Sterling, Chase, her deputy, Georgia, the receptionist, Rosa, the dispatcher and Max, Chase’s seven year old son, are about to have one of the longest nights of their life. 

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this night” 

This witch looks like something out of a fairytale, donning a black dress and pointy hat. She smells sweet, but she’s anything but. 

Although it was clear based on results that she was actually doing quite a bit, she spent most of the book impersonating a statue. Part of me was fascinated by this, wondering what she’d be capable of once she started moving, but frustration took over more often than not. When I’m enjoying horror that includes people’s insides becoming their outsides, my preference is for it to be as over the top as possible. 

The witch’s backstory didn’t work for me and the ending felt rushed.

If I’d visited Drybell before the shemozzle started, I definitely would have spent some time at Hallowed Grounds Coffee.

The cover image is absolutely incredible. There are illustrations scattered throughout the book, which I loved. Although there were some wonderfully dark ones featuring the witch, my favourite was the creepy snowman.

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Content warnings include death by suicide and domestic abuse. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Oblivion Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On the eve of her resignation, Sheriff Sterling Marsh prepares for a bleak winter in Drybell, Connecticut, after a string of bad decisions leaves her life in shambles. Two weeks before Christmas and expecting a long night of paperwork and quiet celebration with the friends she’s grown to know and love, she’s surprised when an unnerving stranger appears in the form of a witch. 

A silent, menacing figure, the witch appears to be ripped straight out of a fairy tale, complete with a tall, pointed hat, and black clothing. But when strange things begin happening all over town, Sterling begins to suspect that there may be more to the witch than meets the eye.

As she works to maintain order as the world crumbles around her, the witch’s mysterious presence throws her world into a frenzy, threatening to send the sleepy town spiralling face first into the darkest night it’s ever seen.

Aveline Jones #2: The Bewitching of Aveline Jones – Phil Hickes

Illustrations – Keith Robinson

“Haven’t you ever experienced something you can’t explain?” 

Aveline isn’t spending her summer break at the beach like she’d hoped. Instead, she and her mother are staying in a cottage in the sleepy village of Norton Wick.

While Aveline is initially concerned that this holiday will be boring, it turns out to be anything but. Conveniently located at the end of the garden are The Witch Stones, an ancient stone circle with mysterious origins.

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Aveline, with her love of things that go bump in the night and anything else that would be of interest to Mulder, is in her element. Harold, her friend from Malmouth, is coming to visit for a few days with his uncle and Lilian, Aveline’s aunt. 

Together, Aveline and Harold hope to solve the mysteries of the stone circle and the strange bottle Aveline found in the garden. 

Old bottles with things inside them couldn’t just be ignored. 

Before Harold arrives, Aveline makes a new friend, Hazel Browne. That’s “Browne with an e.” She also meets the local vicar, Alice, who’s fond of bowler hats and rainbow socks.

I was glad when Harold showed up because, although I was initially intrigued by Hazel, her possessiveness didn’t endear her to me at all. I never connected with her so found it difficult to see beyond her abrasiveness, even after I understood where she was coming from.

I enjoyed the magic in this book and definitely considered indulging in dessert with Aveline and Hazel. 

Aveline and Harold’s first response, regardless of the ooky spookiness they’re facing, is to find a bunch of books and do research. That affords them kindred spirit status with me for life.

I love both Aunt Lilian and Mr Lieberman, who I met in the first book, but they didn’t have much of a role in this one. I had been looking forward to getting to know Aveline’s mother but I didn’t really get much of a sense of her personality. I hope to get to know the adults better in the next book.

I absolutely adored Keith Robinson’s illustrations in this book. The cover image was dark, mysterious and creepy. I particularly loved the magpie featured at the beginning of each chapter.

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Although I definitely got sucked into the mystery of the first book more than this one, I love Aveline and can’t wait to hang out with her and Harold again in The Vanishing of Aveline Jones

“Everything’s creepy as far as you’re concerned, Aveline”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Turn on your torches and join Aveline Jones!

Aveline is thrilled when she discovers that the holiday cottage her mum has rented for the summer is beside a stone circle. Thousands of years old, the local villagers refer to the ancient structure as the Witch Stones, and Aveline cannot wait to learn more about them.

Then Aveline meets Hazel. Impossibly cool, mysterious yet friendly, Aveline soon falls under Hazel’s spell. In fact, Hazel is quite unlike anyone Aveline has ever met before, but she can’t work out why. Will Aveline discover the truth about Hazel, before it’s too late?

Join the world of Aveline Jones, where mysteries are solved, spirits are laid to rest, and everybody gets to bed on time.

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.

Reread 20 May 2022

It’s so rare for me to reread a book, not because I don’t want to but because my TBR pile is always threatening to bury me alive. My library has now purchased the sequel and I couldn’t resist returning with Aveline to Malmouth before finding out what spookiness she encounters next.

I enjoyed this read just as much as I did the first time around. I was reminded of how much I liked Ghost Girl and Book Boy, and how perfectly the illustrations complimented the story. I appreciated the connection between the creepy scarecrows and the crossed out story in Aveline’s book more this time around. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if the release of the third book in the series makes me want to dive back into the cold, dark water with the lady in the waves. 

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.

Our Wives Under the Sea – Julia Armfield

Miri’s wife was supposed to be gone for three weeks but was missing for six months. Biologist Leah, engineer Matteo and marine ecologist and conservationist Jelka were conducting research for the Centre for Marine Enquiry but things didn’t exactly go to plan. 

“I think,” she says, “that there was too much water. When we were down there. I think we let it get in.” 

Hypochondriac Miri thought she’d never see her wife again. Now Leah has returned but the Leah who left is not the one that returned. 

The problem, of course, was that nothing was wrong, aside from the fact of the obvious. 

With the narrative alternating between Miri and Leah, the author explores the history of their relationship and the incomprehensible changes in Leah. 

“How will we ever explain this” 

The deliciously unsettling cover image and quotable beginning set my expectations unreasonably high. I was ready for creepy and claustrophobic. I wasn’t expecting so much of the story to be about the relationship between the wives. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book (I did), only that it wasn’t the read I thought I was signing up for. 

It isn’t that her being back is difficult, it’s that I’m not convinced she’s really back at all. 

The author really captured the feeling of being alone in the presence of others. The pain that accompanies loss, whatever form it takes. The struggle to hold on to what no longer exists. The resistance against letting go. 

“I think,” Juna says after a pause, “that the thing about losing someone isn’t the loss but the absence of afterwards. D’you know what I mean? The endlessness of that.” 

You will find answers in this book but not all of them. If there’d been even a teensy bit more of a focus on what happened in the depths of the ocean, I would not have been okay with this. At all. 

Because I became invested in the aftermath, I was able to sit more comfortably in the ambiguity. That’s not to say that I’d turn away anyone who wanted to spoon-feed the rest of the answers to me.

This book is really quotable, as I’m sure you’ve already picked up from my review. The first sentence, though, it’s a doozy. I’ve seen it quoted in so many reviews already but it’s what sucked me in so I have to share it too. 

The deep sea is a haunted house: a place in which things that ought not to exist move about in the darkness. 

Now, this is not important in the scheme of things but it’s still running through my head so I’m passing it along to you: Miri wonders why so many people keep bringing her coffee. I’m wondering how I can get more people to bring it to me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realise that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.

Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from Julia Armfield, the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep deep sea.

Orphans of Bliss – Mark Matthews (editor)

This is the third (and final) anthology of addiction horror edited by Mark Matthews, but my first. I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this read but that feels so inappropriate given the subject matter. Some stories were horrific; not the jump scare variety, but the type that gets under your skin. Many of the stories will be accompanying me for a while, whether I want them to or not.

You Wait For It, Like It Waits For You by Kealan Patrick Burke 

Reality isn’t easily distinguishable for Sean, as the days pass in the room with no door. 

“Do you know where you are?”
“Inside myself.” 

One Last Blast by S.A. Cosby

Sometimes not even death can stop you from needing a fix. 

“I … can … smell it.” 

What We Name Our Dead by Cassandra Khaw

Eleanor returns to her childhood home, a place of fear and pain. 

Hurt changes you. Hurt stays. Hurt gnaws a nest for itself in the heart and stays burrowed there until you die. 

Huddled Masses, Yearning to Breathe Free by John F.D. Taff 

Alan Denbrough is a collector. If you have trypophobia, you may want to skip this one. 

I don’t hoard so much as … collect. And yes, there’s a distinction.

Through the Looking Glass and Straight Into Hell by Christa Carmen

This rehab offers something different: virtual reality recovery simulation. 

“What do you wish it would show you?” 

Holding On by Gabino Iglesias

Guillermo needs to get Max and Alondra out of Section C before it’s too late. 

In Section C, nothing good ever happens at night.

Buyer’s Remorse by Samantha Kolesnik

Sometimes the punishment fits the crime. 

“Everything has a price” 

A Solid Black Lighthouse on a Pier in the Cryptic by Josh Malerman 

If you draw the attention of a witch in a bar, be prepared for the consequences. 

“Drink and you are drunk.” 

Singularity by Kathe Koja 

We’re in space, but I was fairly lost. I may need to reread this one. 

You know you’ve never been wanted the way the dark wants you now. 

My Soul’s Bliss by Mark Matthews 

We meet two addicts, whose lives had diverged, at a funeral. 

Because that’s what happens with certain moments. They imprint themselves on you and you can’t change them. They define you, become the hinge all your decisions swing upon. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began this anthology but out of ten stories, I came away with five favourites, those by Cassandra Khaw, John F.D. Taff, Christa Carmen, Josh Malerman and Mark Matthews. 

Now I’m keen to read Garden of Fiends and Lullabies for Suffering.

Content warnings include mention of ableism, addiction, death by suicide, homophobia, mental health, physical abuse, racism and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia, beware.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wicked Run Press for the opportunity to read this anthology. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“My soul’s bliss kills my body, but does not satisfy itself.” – Emily Bronte

Addiction is the perpetual epidemic, where swarms of human moths flutter to the flames of hell. Because that warm blanket of a heroin high, that joyful intoxication of a pint of vodka, that electric energy from a line of cocaine, over time leaves you with a cold loneliness and a bitter heart. Relationships destroyed, bodies deteriorate, loved ones lost, yet the craving continues for that which is killing us – living, as the title suggests, like an Orphan of Bliss.

Welcome to the third and final fix of addiction horror and the follow up to the Shirley Jackson Award Finalist, Lullabies for Suffering. A diverse table of contents brought together for an explosive grand finale – an unflinching look at the insidious nature of addiction, told with searing honesty but compassion for those who suffer.

Table of Contents includes: 

Kealan Patrick Burke
Cassandra Khaw
Josh Malerman 
S.A. Cosby
John FD Taff
Christa Carmen
Gabino Iglesias
Samantha Kolesnik
Mark Matthews
Kathe Koja

The three Addiction Horror anthologies, Garden of Fiends, Lullabies for Suffering, and Orphans of Bliss, do not have to be read in order and are not sequential.