Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

Translator – Ginny Tapley Takemori

“Irasshaimasé!”

I’m very late for my shift at the Smile Mart but I’m so glad to have finally walked through its doors. There have been eight managers and countless workers serving customers since it first opened eighteen years ago, but Keiko has been there from day one.

I really liked Keiko who, at thirty-six, has never fit into society’s mould. People have wanted to fix her since she was a child. But at the Smile Mart she feels like she fits perfectly.

While I suspect we’re all like this to a certain degree, Keiko’s speech and the way she dresses are an amalgam of the people she spends time with, morphing over time as new people enter her life and others fade away. Keiko doesn’t know how to be normal so it’s a good thing the Smile Mart manual clearly outlines how she is supposed to ‘human’ at work.

When I first started here, there was a detailed manual that taught me how to be a store worker, and I still don’t have a clue how to be a normal person outside that manual.

Over the course of this quick read the rhythm of the convenience store became almost meditative. It got to a point where it almost felt wrong to be reading about any of the hours Keiko wasn’t spending inside the “shining white aquarium” because she was so comfortable there.

I love Keiko’s unfiltered honesty:

When I first saw my nephew through the glass window at the hospital, he looked like an alien creature. But now he’d grown into something more humanlike, complete with hair.

As someone who’s managed to accidentally subvert some of society’s adulting norms, I relate to the relief embodied in the following sentence:

Good, I pulled off being a “person”.

Quite frankly, that’s probably my favourite sentence of the entire book.

And I’m sure I’m not the first reader to think back on an early scene and fantasise about hitting Shiraha with a shovel.

Anyone who’s worked in retail will know Keiko’s coworkers and customers all too well. I worked in retail for seven years and so many of my coworkers and customers came to mind when I met Keiko’s.

Reading Convenience Store Woman actually had me wondering how my four years as Photolab Lady, in the days when negatives still existed and what you’d actually captured on film was one of life’s mysteries until you got it developed, would translate into a story. The stories I could tell about the photos I saw – some funny, some sweet, some heartbreaking, some creepy as hell …

I was really looking forward to this read and it was even better than I’d hoped. I definitely need more books by this author.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Portobello Books, an imprint of Granta Publications, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life.

In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction – many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual – and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action …

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn – Kate Gordon

Illustrations – Rachel Tribout

Every year Wonder and her constant companion, Hollowbeak the crow, watch as the students arrive at Direleafe Hall. Every year Wonder hopes that one of the girls will be her friend. Every year Wonder is heartbroken when none of them speak to her or even acknowledge her presence.

One day, one year, she would find her perfect person. The one whose soul was the perfect mirror of hers. The one who knew her, who she was, entirely, and saw that she was good. The one who saw that she was golden inside.

Not grey.

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This year is different. Mabel, a new student, is also different.

I am infinite,’ she whispered.

Mabel smiled. Without opening her eyes, she nodded. ‘All of us are,’ she said. ‘But only some of us know it.’

Wonder and Mabel become friends, despite Hollowbeak’s concerns. Together they begin to complete the list of wishes that Mabel has written, wishes that include touching a star, throwing a pie and making someone feel pure happiness.

But Wonder and Mabel are each holding onto a secret.

I loved this book! It was so beautiful but so sad! Although I knew from very early on where the story was going, I found myself tearing up towards the end.

There were so many passages that made me want to linger. Descriptions like this one only added to the story’s beauty and haunting feel:

The tree, like Hollowbeak, was a bent and twisted thing, its bark as silver as twilight and its branches as black as midnight. It was peculiar and it was old and it seemed somehow imbued with age and wisdom, and Hollowbeak felt in it a kindred spirit.

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I probably wouldn’t have appreciated this book as a child as much as I do now. I’m not sure if I would have read it at all because I was a pretty sensitive kid. I can still remember all too well what being broken by Charlotte’s Web felt like and I expect this book would have elicited similar feelings, despite the sadness being wrapped in unconditional love.

I adored Rachel Tribout’s illustrations. They capture mood of the story so well and the cover image is simply gorgeous. I was fascinated by the shiny, almost metallic accents on the paperback cover.

If you’ve ever borrowed some courage by reading about girls who roar until you are able to roar for yourself … If you’ve ever been scared of being hurt (yet again) but bravely put yourself out there anyway … If you’ve ever yearned to be truly seen and appreciated for who you are … Wonder’s story will resonate with you.

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I fell in love with these young girls and their friendship. I probably never would have met them at all had it not been for my library. As soon as I finished reading I bought my own copy for the next time I want to experience their friendship. I’ll make sure to bring tissues to my reread.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Lonely orphan Wonder Quinn lives in the attic of Direleafe Hall with only a gloomy crow for company. Every year she hopes to make a true friend and every year her heart breaks when she doesn’t.

But when a spirited new student, Mabel Clattersham, befriends her in class, Wonder’s dreams seem to be coming true. As the girls grow closer, Wonder discovers her friend has a list of strange wishes: Throw a pie, leap into the sky, break someone’s heart …

What is Mabel’s big secret? Can Wonder protect her heart from being broken all over again?

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn is an enchanting tale celebrating friendship, bravery and the importance of staying true to yourself.

The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Once there were three sisters.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January was my favourite read of 2019 and The Once and Future Witches is my favourite read of 2020. I know there are still plenty of pages to fall in love with this year but trust me, friends, this is the one!

The wise one, the strong one and the wild one. There’s a bit of each of us in at least one of the Eastwood sisters; hopefully all three. This is a story of sisters and suffragists. Of fairytales and the power of words. Of survival and sacrifice. Of transforming the story you were given into a better one. Of “witchcraft most wicked”.

The wayward sisters, hand in hand,

Burned and bound, our stolen crown,

But what is lost, that can’t be found?

Sometimes you read a book that feels like it was written with you in mind. Sometimes characters will draw you into their world and you feel like they’re kin or, at the very least, kindred spirits. Sometimes a story speaks to your soul in such a way that when you lift your head after the final page you are certain you grew wings while you were reading. That’s just some of what this book was for me.

I want to ramble about characters, surprises and heartbreaks, love found and battles waged but, consistent with other books that have so deeply worked their magic on me, this review is more personal. Sorry if this isn’t the review you were looking for.

Don’t forget what you are.

As I read I felt my spine straightening. My will strengthened. My courage blazed. My heart opened, warming and knitting itself together, even as it broke. My tears threatened many times before the inevitable ugly cry (it was so ugly!). This was the perfect book for me at the perfect time.

I made a deal with myself weeks before I started reading. I had a really difficult task ahead of me and I wanted this book to be my reward for completing it. Not allowing myself to dive in before I won my battle was its own special brand of torture but knowing the witches were waiting for me spurred me on. Being able to finally immerse myself in the lives of Agnes, Bella and Juniper was worth the wait. And then some.

I now have a task equal, if not greater, to face than the one that preceded it but this book has fortified me and given me the courage I need to shine a light on the next shadow on my path.

Together they dared to dream of a better world, where women weren’t broken and sisters weren’t sundered and rage wasn’t swallowed, over and over again.

I can’t wait until someone I know has read this book so I can get all gushy about the specifics. Until that time, a warning: if you see me out in the wild, prepare yourself. Our interaction is likely to consist of me emphatically telling you to “Read this book!” as I shove it in your face. Protect your nose accordingly.

“Maleficae quondam, maleficaeque futurae.”

Content warnings include “Child abuse, both physical and psychological; parental death; arrest and imprisonment; mind control; pregnancy and childbirth, including forced hospitalization; racism; sexism; homophobia, both external and internalized; threat of sexual assault, averted; torture (mostly off-the-page, but alluded to); execution (attempted); child abandonment; major character death.” The author lists these on Goodreads. I’m adding to these the mention of abortion, on page death of an animal, physical abuse of an animal and sexual harassment.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, for the opportunity to fall in love with this book early.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters – James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna – join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery

Story Adapter – Crystal S. Chan

Illustrations – Kuma Chan

Lettering – Daria Rhodes

Kindred spirits, it’s time for us to take a journey together. When you pass through the White Way of Delight keep going. It’s only about another mile before we reach our destination. Oh, there’s the Lake of Shining Waters. If you look over there you’ll see the house Diana lives in. She’s a kindred spirit too. Just a little further and … there it is! Green Gables! You’re home.

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are sure to welcome you, as will Cordelia Anne (with an E).

“And there’s one thing certain, no house will ever be dull that she’s in.”

Just make sure the drink Anne serves you is the drink you ordered …

I’ve loved Anne since the day we met. This is such a beautiful adaptation. Everything I love about Anne’s story was included here, including her friendship with Diana, her rivalry with Gilbert and witnessing Marilla and Anne’s relationship deepen over the years. I even experienced my usual overwhelming need to hug Matthew whenever I see him.

Yes, I did get a little bit teary during that scene. You know the one I’m talking about. I think I was too distracted by how cute everyone looked though, so I managed to avoid my customary full blown ugly cry.

The illustrations were so lovely! They did make it quite difficult to take Anne’s complaints about her looks seriously because she’s so darn adorable in manga but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Her doe eyes and that little tuft of hair that’s always sticking up are just so cute!

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Whenever I encounter Anne Shirley my heart feels full. I’m always left with this warm and fuzzy notion that the world is inherently beautiful and that hope and love will prevail, and this manga version of Anne’s story was no different. It left me with a delicious contented feeling. It seemed especially fitting, albeit decidedly strange given that we’re living in 2020 here, that the last sentence was:

“All’s right with the world.”

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Thank you to NetGalley and UDON Entertainment for the opportunity to read this book. I’m all doe eyed about it and am already hankering for a reread.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert were planning to adopt an orphaned boy to help out around their farm, Green Gables – instead, they got Anne Shirley. A plucky redheaded girl with a vibrant imagination, Anne turns first Green Gables and then the rest of Prince Edward Island on its ear. 

Manga Classics® is proud to be the only authorised manga adaption of Anne of Green Gables by the Heirs of L.M. Montgomery, with a foreword by Kate McDonald Butler – granddaughter of the original author! 

This volume presents a faithful recreation of this classic kids novel, from the Lake of Shining Waters to the Dryad’s Bubble!

Unwritten #2: Rewritten – Tara Gilboy

“Writing has brought me so much trouble.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review originally posted on 6 April 2020.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

The Extraordinaries – T.J. Klune

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

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

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

“Uh. Er. Glugh. Blargh.”

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

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

Do you have a favourite Nova City Extraordinary?

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

Right. So Team Shadow Star then.

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

Um, I’m not sure that would be appro-

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

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

“I need my own origin story”

Anything else?

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

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

THUD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Extraordinary.

Ghostland – Duncan Ralston

Ghosts are real.

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

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

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

Exposure therapy has never been so intensive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite phrase:

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

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

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

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Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and paedophilia.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the World Turns Wild – Nicola Penfold

Spoilers Ahead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

The Sisters Grimm – Menna van Praag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book reminded me of two important bookish things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

You think you’re ordinary. 

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

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

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

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

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

Wayward Children #5: Come Tumbling Down – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

Spoilers Ahead!

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

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

No quests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[But it’s not released yet.]

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

Again.