Dragon Skin – Karen Foxlee

Ten year old Pip remembers the before time, the time before Matt moved into her home, the time before his “rumbling rock words” made her feel unsafe. 

Remember to disappear. Remember to stay quiet. Remember to not exist. 

She also remembers Mika (“Mick. Ahhh.”). He arrived at the end of Grade Three, two weeks after Matt moved in. Mika lived with Mrs Jarvinen, his great-grandmother. Pip shared her places with him. 

Mika believed in almost everything! And aliens were his favourite. 

Now Mika is gone and Pip’s mother is a shell of her former self, controlled by Matt and his “weather patterns”, so when Pip finds a dragon that’s barely clinging to life, she knows she needs to look after him all by herself. 

If she told her mum, then her mum would tell Matt and Matt owned everything. Her mother had to tell him everything because he was the king of knowing everything. 

Pip wants to protect Little Fella and make sure he survives. But as Little Fella begins to heal, changes are also taking place within Pip. 

That’s what happened with dragons. You started to believe stuff. 

I loved that this book was set in Australia. There was even some classic Aussie terminology: Pip ‘wags’ school, Archie’s Mum works at the ‘tuckshop’. It delighted me no end when Pip fed Little Fella Weet-Bix, although he did love spaghetti as well.

This book introduced me to a brand new swear adjacent word, ‘Fudge-nuggets’. It was also a surprisingly sensitive exploration of the way a child experiences domestic abuse. Matt is a textbook coercive controller and it made me so sad seeing Pip having to make herself smaller inside her previously safe home. I loved her for her courage and her ability to remain open with her friends despite what she’s experiencing at home.

While the reader is under no illusion about how scary Pip’s home life is, I felt the level of detail provided was age appropriate. Young readers who have experienced domestic abuse will likely see themselves in the way Pip describes her home life and will hopefully see that they’re not alone and that help is available. 

He was dangerous. Dangerous like water. He could seem calm and glassy on top but underneath he was all dark silt and weed. 

We have to find out how to make him happy. We have to solve the mystery of how to keep him happy. We have to make everything perfect. When everything is perfect, he’s happy. 

Pip hated that worse than any of it. Worse than the shouting, the rumbling rock words, the blaring television hiding the meanness. She hated the next day cover-ups. 

Although Pip’s mother doesn’t play a huge role in this book, I appreciated being able to witness her own changes, from being entirely controlled by Matt to the stages of readiness she needed to go through in order to leave her abusive relationship. The fact that this part of the story was told through the topics Pip’s mother searches on her phone showed this progression in a way that highlighted to me how difficult even contemplating leaving can be.

There was potential for an ugly cry, which I cleverly averted by stopping my reading binge abruptly with about ten pages to go. I finished the book the next day, reading a page at a time to save on tissues. 

Love. That’s what you needed mostly, to save things. And Weet-Bix. And spaghetti. 

Content warnings include domestic abuse and grief. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How to save a dragon:
1) Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
2) Believe in everything.

Pip never wants to go home. She likes to sit at the waterhole at dusk and remember Mika, her best friend. At home her mother’s not the same since her boyfriend moved in. They don’t laugh anymore and Pip has to go to bed early, turn off her light and pretend she doesn’t exist. When she finds a half-dead creature at the waterhole, everything changes. She knows she has to save this small dragon and return it to where it comes from. But how?

Girls of Paper and Fire #3: Girls of Fate and Fury – Natasha Ngan

“The small bird flies on the wings of the golden-eyed girl” 

Nine Paper Girls. Each claimed their very own piece of my heart in Girls of Paper and Fire. While I loved them all, I identified mostly with three: Lei, the Moonchosen, trained assassin Wren and Blue, winner of the girl with the most attitude award. Then there was sweetheart Lill, not one of the nine but so darn adorable that I couldn’t help but want to protect her from the big, bad world.

My favourites all returned in this final book of the trilogy, a book I’d both anticipated and dreaded. I needed to know what would happen to each of my girls and I couldn’t wait to spend more time with them, loving them and learning from them, but I wasn’t ready to say good bye to them just yet. Although I’m sad to be leaving them behind (for now; I know they’ll be waiting for me when I return for my reread), I’m also grateful because my heart is so full having known them. 

These girls are everything I want in characters, and in myself, if I’m going to be honest. They’ve been through absolute hell but, despite everything, they keep showing up. Although literal survival would be a triumph at this point, they’re always reaching for more. They want justice, they want peace and they’re going to fight, in an actual war, to achieve it. Their resilience, their courage, their ability to still love and be loved, is extraordinary. 

When the world denies you choices, you make your own. 

That’s not to say that they don’t feel the effects of what they’ve survived so far. There are the nightmares, the flashbacks, the dissociation, the times when the past tries its darnedest to swallow them whole. PTSD, although it’s not officially diagnosed in Ikhara (none of our girls really have the time to make an appointment with a psychologist anyway), is evident in the various trauma impacts the reader is privy to. Coping mechanisms, healthy and otherwise, are as varied as the individual characters, and I adore that about this series. There is no one correct way to respond when you’ve experienced the kind of trauma these girls have; all of their responses are normal. 

“Fire in. Fear out.” 

While recovery from sexual assault remains something our girls are all dealing with, another character is having to figure out her life post-disability. This character is a total badass and one of my new favourites. They’re able to acknowledge their disability and the impact it has on their life without it defining them and I loved them even more for that. The authenticity and sensitivity evident in the writing, already proven by the way the author has handled the experience of and survival after sexual assault, are extended to the experience of disability.

There will be reviews that will talk about the story and others that will talk about its themes. I’m here to tell you that I love these girls even more now than I did before I began this book. I got to return to the Hidden Palace to confront the past and spent precious time with characters I didn’t think I’d cross paths with again. 

This isn’t only Lei’s story. We’re also given chapters written from Wren’s perspective in this book and I couldn’t help noticing the differences between the two. Lei, who is more open and leads with her heart, has chapters written in the first person. Wren, the trained assassin who guards her heart more, has chapters written in the third person, almost as if she needed to keep the reader at arm’s length because she’s not certain they’re worthy of her trust.

This is a story for all Paper Girls both on and off the page. Like the books before it, I felt seen in its pages. I was reminded that you can survive your past. You can continue to fight even when your mind and body are telling your spirit you can’t. It’s okay to accept help from the supportive people around you. You are not the labels others place on you. You can look forward to a future where your past, while it can never be undone, doesn’t have to define you. 

“Give them hell, girls. For all of us.” 

Content warnings include mental health, misogyny, racism, references to sexual assault, self harm, torture, violence and war.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘Don’t struggle, Lei-zhi. It’s time to take you back to the Hidden Palace. You’re going home.’

The jaw-dropping conclusion to Girls of Storm and Shadow left the fates of Lei and Wren hanging in the balance. There’s one thing Lei knows – she can never return to the Hidden Palace. The trauma and tragedy she suffered behind those opulent walls will plague her forever. She cannot be trapped there with the sadistic king again, especially without Wren.

The last time Lei saw the girl she loved, Wren was fighting an army of soldiers in a furious battle to the death.

With the two girls torn apart and each in great peril, will they reunite at last, or have their destinies diverged forever?

Swashbucklers – Dan Hanks

Nostalgia for the win! When they were kids, Cisco and his friends fought an 8-bit war against an evil pirate and saved the world. Cisco is the only one who remembers what really happened; for everyone else, a gas leak was responsible for the Halloween ‘89 mayhem. 

“Look, honey, that’s the bloke from the bedtime stories your mum tells you. The gas leak boy, I told you he was real!” 

Supernatural fans know ‘gas leak’ is code for ‘whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t a gas leak’.

Now all grown up with children of their own, it’s time for the sequel because, as I’m sure you’re very well aware, sometimes the Big Bad doesn’t stay dead. Except it’s not quite as easy saving the world when your joints creak and you’re having to navigate the joys of parenthood while you’re dusting off your custom made game console weapons. It turns out that nostalgia can be deadly. 

“Why the hell did you decide that us four, ordinary, slightly unfit, middle-aged human nobodies could take on this momentous challenge again and get it right this time?” 

This is one of my favourite reads of the year and the perfect way to get you into the spirit for so many important holidays: Halloween, Christmas, Talk Like a Pirate Day… It’s also the movie I need to see. Outside of my head, that is. There’s a talking fox, a secret room behind a bookcase (be still my beating heart), enchanted forest (“Technically, all forests are enchanted-”), faeries that are bitey and priceless news headlines. 

Bizarre attack in Manchester as costumed cannibal snowman partially EATS homeowner. 

It was the Ghostbusters/Goonies mashup I never knew I needed and I loved every minute. I could almost hear the soundtrack playing during the action sequences. This may have been Cisco’s trip down memory lane but I felt like I grew up there too. 

“Bloody nostalgia” 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to relive my childhood through this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies.

Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.

Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. 

With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…

The Forevers – Chris Whitaker

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

She was seventeen years old.

She would die in one month.

Mae has grown up knowing that she and her sister, Stella, won’t live long enough to become adults. Asteroid 8050XF11, A.K.A. Selena, is on a collision course with Earth.

So, what do you do when an Extinction Level Event is imminent? Some people put their faith in God and wait for a miracle. Others place their hope in science. If disaster movies have taught us anything, it’s that scientists will consistently fail until just before the credits roll. Then they’ll come up with a solution that’ll save the world. Surely they can do this in real life, too. 

There are the leavers, people “who said their goodbyes or those that simply tired of the wait and disappeared in search of more.” Then there are those who are living like there’s no tomorrow. They figure if you’re not going to live long enough for the consequences to catch up with you, then you might as well do whatever you want.

The countdown is on. There’s one month to go until God performs a miracle, science comes through with the biggest win in the history of the world or everyone dies.

Mae and many others in West spend much of their final month attending school and working. I doubt I would be doing either if I knew the end was nigh. Mae’s also trying to learn the truth behind the recent death of Abi, her former best friend.

Impending doom doesn’t negate the usual high school drama, with popular kids, bullies and outcasts all featured. Some of these kids have significant difficulties in their lives, though, even if you ignore the whole 70 mile wide asteroid that’s going to obliterate them in the very near future thing.

I liked Mae but adored Stella, her eight year old sister, who stole every scene she was in. With such heavy content, I was especially grateful for the comic relief that came in the form of Felix. He was all about sleeping when he’s dead and becoming visible to the love of his life, despite the fact that she already has a boyfriend.

A lot of characters were introduced but I didn’t form a connection with a number of them, due to their personality or because I didn’t get to know them well enough. There’s practically an entire alphabet of content warnings at the end of my review, with so many important issues touched on. However, individual circumstances didn’t always have enough page time for them to be explored in the depth I would have liked. 

For example, for most of the book Sally is pretty much only ever referred to in terms of her weight. She’s the fat girl. She‘s almost always consuming copious amounts of food whenever we see her. She’s fat shamed. A lot. When I finally learned something else about her, I wanted an entire book dedicated to her. There’s so much complexity and emotion there, and it felt like I only just scraped the surface of who she was.

The mystery of what happened to Abi faded into the background at times as the struggles of other characters were explored. There was a resolution, though, and many characters were given the opportunity to do what they needed to in order to finish their stories on their own terms.

Sometimes it took me a while to figure out which character was in a scene with Mae, especially when they’d only be referred to as ‘he’ for several paragraphs before they were named. Some scene changes felt jarring and for a while around the middle of the book I wasn’t even sure if I was enjoying it. 

But this was a compulsive read and Mae and Stella’s relationship kept me invested. An ugly cry snuck up on me at the end and I’m still thinking about several characters. I’m definitely interested in reading more books by this author and I absolutely adored Muhammad Nafay’s cover illustration. 

We made Forever for the creeps and the weirdos, the freaks and the outlaws.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, fat shaming, homophobia, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, slut shaming and suicidal ideation.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Thirty days until the end of the world. What would you do?

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

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

Meet Jade Daniels, my new favourite outcast.

“Town reject, nice to meet you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

D is for Drool – Amanda Noll & Shari Dash Greenspan

Illustrations – Howard McWilliam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

The Project – Courtney Summers

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gloria. Latin. Glory.

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

Beatrice. Italian; Latin. Bringer of Joy.

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

Lev. Hebrew; Russian. Heart; Lion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

The Good Luck Girls – Charlotte Nicole Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Aster. Violet. Tansy. Mallow. Clementine.

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

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

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

Mindful Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

Rainbow Grey – Laura Ellen Anderson

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

‘I thought rainbows were just made up?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Let’s follow that rainbow!’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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