Beneath the Trees #3: A Fine Summer – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

You know you’re in desperate need for some childlike fun when you identify with a couple of grumpy old men more than you do some rambunctious younguns.

Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad just want some peace and quiet. Mr. Toad appears to be a bit of a crankypants (crankyoveralls?), upset the neighbourhood kids are making a ruckus this summer. Mr. Owl isn’t having a hoot either.

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At least he has a very relatable reason for needing some quiet time, though. He’s in the middle of a particularly engaging book.

Maybe it’s time for these oldtimers to reclaim some of the joy and innocence of childhood.

This is such a cute series, combining life lessons with humour. There’s minimal text but the illustrations clearly tell the stories. All of the animals are expressive and I love the colour palette.

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Given the first two books in this series were autumn and winter, it would have made more sense to me for the final two books to be released in season order. While the stories are all set in the same world, they can be read in any order. 

I’m looking forward to spring.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s summer, and the laughter of children echoes under the trees. But for some of the older animals, the frivolous abandon of childhood is far behind them. Old Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad get the crazy idea to relive some of their youth if that’s even possible anymore…

The third book in a new series designed to paint a tender and colourful portrait of everyday life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this third volume, a pair of older animals set out to relive their energetic youth. A heartwarming tale suitable for all ages.

The stories in this four book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.

Beneath the Trees #2: Winter Chills – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

It’s winter and Mr. Fox is having a world of trouble with his scarf of misfortune. He constantly trips over it and gets it caught on things. It has the tendency to want to strangle him any chance it gets. Already frustrated and embarrassed, Mr. Fox becomes increasingly mortified when his struggles catch the attention of a pretty lady fox.

Mr. Fox gave me some Wile E. Coyote vibes. Anything that could go wrong with this scarf did and the part of me that wasn’t smiling at Mr. Fox’s expressions as his misfortune multiplied wanted to tell him that if he wrapped the scarf just a few more times around his neck, he’d be warmer and there’d be the added bonus of it no longer being a trip hazard. That would have taken all the fun out of it, though, so I stayed quiet.

There’s a cameo from Grumpf, from The Autumn of Mister Grumpf, who still seems pretty grumpy. At least he doesn’t have to worry about autumn leaves piling up outside his door anymore.

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The illustrations are just as endearing as the ones in the first book of the series. The animals are so expressive and the colours, even in winter, are vibrant. 

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I’m looking forward to finding out what happens Beneath the Trees in spring.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Winter is here, and snow covers the woods like a cold blanket. Mr. Fox has his enormous scarf to keep him warm, but it is almost TOO big – he can’t help but trip over it and get caught on tree branches all the time. But as embarrassing as that is, it is even more humiliating when trying to catch the eye of a beautiful lady!

This new series paints a tender and colourful portrait of everyday life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this second volume, a self-assured fox tries to stay warm with his ridiculously long scarf, but winds up having to deal with the embarrassment of getting caught up in everything … especially embarrassing in front of the pretty lady fox he’s trying to impress! A warm-hearted and simple romance tale suitable for all ages.

The stories in this four-book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.

MonsterMind – Alfonso Casas

Translator – Andrea Rosenberg

“This isn’t the triumphant tale of a hero who defeated his monsters … it’s just the story of somebody who’s learning to live with them.”

Most readers will already be well acquainted with at least some of the monsters in this book. Featured monsters include doubt, fear, social anxiety, past trauma and sadness.

The author uses personal examples to introduce readers to his monsters and explore how they interact with him day and night, from doubts that keep him awake to anxiety about the future.

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I could readily identify some of the monsters, like the cute little sowers of doubt, but others weren’t as easy to name. It would have helped me if the monster mugshots had introduced the story instead of being hidden at the end.

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While I had originally hoped the illustrations would be in colour, it felt more and more appropriate for them to be in grayscale. While there is some hope towards the end of the story, I felt like I was walking through molasses sometimes.

I haven’t found the humour yet. Despite that, I really liked the illustrations and found many of the stories very relatable.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Ablaze and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Alfonso Casas’s MonsterMind is a very personal account of the inner monsters that live inside his head. But, who doesn’t have a monster inside them? Who has never heard that voice inside their head undermining everything they do? You’re not good enough… You just got really lucky… There are people far better and more qualified than you… In a very honest exercise, Alfonso Casas identifies and introduces his own monsters to his readers: Mr. Past Traumas, Mr. Fear, Mr. Social Anxiety, Mr. Impostor Syndrome, Mr. Sadness, Mr. Doubt… The pessimistic, the insecure, the self-demanding, the monster that keeps you from sleeping while you think of what you could have said back in that conversation two years ago, or that keeps you looking over the punctuation of every text message to figure out the tone lurking beneath the surface. All those monsters make up the bestiary of contemporary society. But the anxiety generation is expert in more things: in looking inside themselves and their lives, and – why not? – in laughing at their own neuroses as best they can. In the end, if the monsters won’t leave us, we might as well get to know them and laugh at them! Anxiety is another pandemic, but the monsters dwelling inside us are funny, too (especially as drawn by Alfonso Casas).

Beneath the Trees #1: The Autumn of Mister Grumpf – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

All Mister Grumpf wants to do is clear his doorstep of leaves. His neighbours keep interrupting him, though. They all want help, either with preparations for winter or when things go wrong.

Mister Grumpf, despite his grumpiness, is there for his neighbours, helping them with their problems while his own continue to pile up.

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There’s minimal text in this picture book but the illustrations clearly tell the story. The animals are all expressive, especially Mister Grumpf. I especially liked the glimpses inside the characters’ homes and the autumn colours.

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This book reminded me of Steve Smallman’s Kind Mr Bear, where an elderly bear is always there to help his neighbours until he becomes ill and needs help himself.

I’m planning on continuing this series through the seasons.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Winter is fast approaching and all the animals in the forest are in full preparation: storing food and provisions, dining on the last worms with the neighbors, etc… All the animals but one: grumpy badger Mr Grumpf just can’t finish sweeping the dead leaves off his doorstep with everyone coming by to disturb him! Grumpf!

This new series paints a tender and colourful portrait of everyday Life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this first volume, we meet a very busy badger, who may admittedly be a little slow, but who never refuses to lend a paw to help his neighbours. In time, his generosity will be rewarded!

The stories in this four-book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.

The Phantom of the Opera: The Graphic Novel – Varga Tomi

Everything that is underground belongs to him!

Apologies in advance for making this review more about my first and favourite musical than the graphic novel I just read. It’s just brought back so many wonderful memories!

I first saw The Phantom of the Opera in 1992. My school’s music classes were going on an interstate excursion to see the musical and a few of us who weren’t studying music as an elective managed to find a way to tag along. I finally understood why my Nan loved musicals so much.

I was already quite familiar with the Angel of Music because when I stayed with my grandparents my Nan and I would listen to it on repeat (on cassette) while we played cards late at night. My Pop would be trying to sleep in the next room but every time a new song began Nan and I would get up and dance around the room. Poor Pop … Saint that he was, he never once complained. You would have loved my grandparents!

As an adult I got to see Phantom again, this time with my mother in 2008. Mum fell in love with it as well and although Nan had died a couple of years beforehand we’re pretty sure she was there too. We had seats directly in front of the orchestra so it was an even bigger buzz when the chandelier flew over our heads!

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Although I haven’t read the book (yet!) the graphic novel included many of my favourite scenes from the musical. The Phantom’s face was more skeletal than I had been expecting but it worked. I wasn’t so sure about his red eyes. I expect the detail of some of the darker scenes will be more vivid in print.

Some of the fonts, particularly those used in the letters, were quite difficult to read in the ARC. Hopefully the higher resolution of the published version will render these more legible.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, A Wave Blue World and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Phantom of the Opera, the iconic gothic romance, is retold with all the spectacle its legend demands in this devoted graphic novel adaptation that marries stunning artwork with Gaston Leroux’s haunting prose.

Everyone has heard the whispered tales of the phantom who lives beneath the opera house, the mysterious trickster behind all the little mishaps and lost things. But no one has ever seen the monster … until now. When the promise of blossoming love lures him out from his intricately constructed hideaways in the labyrinthine building’s walls and cellars, a hideously disfigured artist trains the lovely Christine to be the opera’s next star for a steep price. Does she choose her newfound success or her beloved Count Raoul? This doomed love triangle threatens to combust when a tragic death, a series of betrayals, and increasingly dangerous accidents cast the players of The Palais Garnier into a heart-wrenching horror story that will echo through the ages. 

Robots vs. Princesses Volume 1 – Todd Matthy

Illustrations – Nicolas Chapuis

Robots versus anything is always going to be something that interests me and with the “Transformers meet Disney Princesses” marketing attached to this graphic novel I couldn’t help myself. I had to check this one out.

Princess Zara is the only princess who hasn’t chosen her animal for the upcoming recital. The princess’ songs tame wild beasts and apparently the recital is a good place to find yourself a prince.

I’m not certain if Princess Zara is actively seeking a prince but she does want a baby dragon (don’t we all?!) so she sneaks off to the Forbidden Woods to find one.

Meanwhile Wheeler, a robot, decides it’s time to bail on the chaos of Chromia and the abuse he has suffered there.

Zara and Wheeler’s introduction is understandably awkward,

especially when you realise Zara’s song has somehow transformed this downtrodden robot into a mechanical dragon. But not everyone is happy about their new friendship. Well, it’s only sort of a friendship in the beginning. Zara is using Wheeler to wow the crowd at the recital but she does appear to like him as well and they do become friends during the story.

I’m not sure the wild animals of Harmonia would be overly thrilled by being mind controlled by random princess songs and forced to do housework, make clothing or dance on cue.

Sure, they are smiling but are they happy or is this Stockholm syndrome?! Only their therapists know for sure. Anyway, moving on …

Battle scenes and background information ensue, along with some sweet conversations about friendship. We learn a little about the Centurions and the Decimators. Then, before you know it, it’s time for the big battle that’s been centuries in the making.

The battle rages on until what I thought was going to be an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment

turned into, um, the possibility of something else. 😜

Okay, time to get your mind out of the gutter! They don’t mean the euphemism.

The princesses and robots make for an unusual but fun combination. It was nice to see the princesses involved in the battle scenes and while this story is self contained there are definitely strong hints that a sequel could be in the works. I enjoyed the story but it’s not one that I plan to reread.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Dynamite Entertainment and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When plucky Princess Zara stumbles upon the Decimator defector Wheeler, she sets in motion events that will pit the spritely cleverness of fairy tale princesses against the raw power of giant robots! The dream match you never thought you’d see begins here.

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Missing Adults – Scott Bryan Wilson

Illustrations – Bob Solanovicz

It’s Nancy Drew’s first day at Bayport High School, having moved from River Heights, and who should she bump into in the school library but Frank and Joe, A.K.A, The Hardy Boys.

With these three young sleuths in the one place you know a mystery is on its way.

Your first clue that something isn’t quite right with the adults in this town are the classic cartoon hypnotised spiral eyes Coach Strohm is sporting.

Nancy, Frank and Joe decide there’s a mystery to solve when they figure out all of the adults are MIA. What I found even more interesting was the Mystery of the Teenagers Voluntarily Attending School Without Adult Supervision. Surprisingly they all returned to school the following day even though the town’s entire adult population are still missing. This is briefly addressed

but I still don’t buy it. Even the skeleton in the science classroom had enough sense to leave the building before the students arrived for school on Day 2. Oh, wait. I guess a skeleton that wanders off is pretty mysterious too.

By the third day our resident detective kids have finally decided to ditch school to investigate. Joe feels bad about his truancy even though there are still no adults there to notice his absence.

Throughout the story Nancy spouts random facts about random things that no one else seems to care about, such as the type of driver’s licence and addendum required to allow someone with a learner’s permit to legally drive a bus. Nancy also goes undercover in Vansant; they’re Bayport’s rival school. This leads to one of those good ol’ ‘put on your disguise in the phone box’ sequences, not that anyone in Vansant knows who she is.

Nancy is a bit of a contradiction in this story; she seems to be smart yet she doesn’t know how to use the stove. Meanwhile Frank and Joe spent their spare time fighting one another.

While I already knew Nancy, I wasn’t acquainted with anyone from Bayport High so I was initially very appreciative of the early introduction to the usual suspects via a sneak peek at their yearbook photos. It turns out I didn’t need to use these as cheat sheets but still thought it was a good way to quickly introduce a number of characters.

After the mystery is solved there are some bonus activities for kids: a crossword, join the dots, spot the differences, find a word, memory test and colouring page.

I’d be interested in learning what kids who read this graphic novel think of it, specifically whether they want to read more about Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. Although I haven’t read a lot of Nancy Drew books (okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve read one, but I have watched the latest movie too), her personality in this graphic novel didn’t line up with what I expected, particularly when she had a dummy spit.

Their portrayal in this graphic novel doesn’t make me want to learn anything more about Frank and Joe Hardy but because Nancy’s personality didn’t ring true to me perhaps I’d find Frank and Joe more likeable if I read some of their books.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Dynamite Entertainment and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel. I had high hopes but unfortunately it wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eating candy nonstop and watching TV all day sounds great … until you actually do it, as the kids of Bayport High find out when all the adults vanish, and the world’s greatest (high school) detectives – the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew – have to team up to solve the mystery!

Whether it’s going under cover, sneaking out at night, chasing weird buses, or following a strange smell, they know it’ll take all their wits and smarts to get their parents and teachers back … that is, if Joe and Frank don’t kill each other first.

Oh, and there’s also the matter of the skeleton that can walk. And a major feud with a rival high school. And a koala-in-a-diaper costume. And lawlessness in the hallways. And an unrequited crush …

James Bond: Black Box – Benjamin Percy

Illustrations – Rapha Lobosco

Colours – Chris O’Halloran

“Bond. James Bond.” I got roped into watching a whole bunch of these movies as a kid. I loved watching the gadgets in action, was oblivious to the innuendos soaring over my head and was terrified by some of the baddies. Yes, Jaws, I’m talking about you!

Rewatching a few of the early movies as an adult made me aware of some of the more problematic aspects of his character but aside from those particular niggles I still enjoy movies with big action sequences, gadgets and oodles of baddies. I haven’t watched a Bond movie in a few years but thought it would be fun to test drive a Bond graphic novel, and it was.

Black Box gets straight into the action

and introduces our potential leading lady (who incidentally isn’t immediately charmed by 007)

before the theme song earwig has had a chance to burrow its way into your brain.

007’s latest mission, Operation Black Box, requires him to travel to Tokyo to track down a “cache of digital secrets”. Evil hackers are ready to release your deepest, darkest digital secrets to the world! Let’s go get ‘em!

Yes, James does have a Licence to Kill. In fact, it’s expected. The big bad in this story is Saga Genji, who is responsible for the cyber theft, but my favourite character was his difficult to kill henchman, No Name, who makes up for his dodgy moniker with his creepy collection of death masks.

Armed with mission appropriate fancy gadgets and some even fancier new wheels

Bond is ready to face off with some baddies, but not before asking Boothroyd, the gadget guy (Q, I presume), to do some cyberstalking for him. Potential leading lady (she does have a name. It’s Selah Sax) isn’t getting away from 007 as quickly as she had hoped. Or perhaps it is Selah that is stalking James …

The usual Bond stuff happens. There’s gambling, alcohol, sex scenes, fight scenes where people get The Living Daylights beaten out of them, an explosion and a high speed pursuit, catchphrases, double entendres and a good ol’ villain monologue. Bond utilises his cool gadgets but also manages to improvise when the need arises. Who knew a selfie stick would make such a good weapon?!

I’m glad I read this graphic novel. After all, You Only Live Twice. 😜 It was a fun, quick read with plenty of action.

Content warnings include mention of suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Dynamite Entertainment and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the snowbound French Alps, James Bond finds himself in the crosshairs of an assassin who targets other assassins. This is the first puzzle piece in a larger adrenaline-fueled mystery that will send Bond across the globe to infiltrate the underworld, risk everything in high-stakes casino gambling, evade deadly pursuers, and root out a digital breach threatening global security.

Moth & Whisper Volume 1 – Ted Anderson

Illustrations – Jen Hickman

The Moth and the Whisper were the two great thieves in the city but they haven’t been seen by anyone in almost six months, not even their child, Niki.

Niki’s parents didn’t want them to search for them or put themselves in any danger if they ever disappeared. Naturally Niki, who is a teenager, does the exact opposite, utilising the tools the Moth and the Whisper left behind to try to track them down.

Along the way Niki meets a couple of unlikely allies: Walter

and Moira.

Niki is non-binary (them/they/their). I really liked that this was part of the story and loved that everyone used the correct pronouns, even the villains!

There are some fun action scenes and plenty of handy gadgets that I expect even Q would appreciate. My favourite invention was the Weaver suit, which is “a combination shapeshifting outfit and instant makeup kit.” I would like to place my order for one of these please!

A lot of background information is included in this Volume. I found this useful but would expect less info dumps in future Volumes. The narrative touches on human trafficking and organ dealing. I enjoyed the story and loved Jen Hickman’s illustrations, particularly their use of colour.

Thank you to NetGalley, AfterShock Comics and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel. I’m looking forward to reading the next Volume.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Everyone knows that the two greatest thieves in the city are the Moth and the Whisper. Very few know that the Moth and the Whisper disappeared six months ago. And what nobody knows is that the new Moth and Whisper are actually one person pretending to be both of them. One supremely skilled but uncertain young genderfluid thief: Niki, the child of the Moth and the Whisper.

Niki has been trained by their parents in the arts of stealth and infiltration, but they’re still just a teenager, and now they’re alone, searching for their parents in a hostile cyberpunk dystopia. Corporations run the streets while crime lords like Ambrose Wolfe run the alleys-identity is a commodity and privacy is impossible. The truth about Niki’s parents and their disappearance is out there, but can Niki survive long enough to find it?

Beyonders Volume 1 – Paul Jenkins

Illustrations – Wesley St. Claire

Spoilers Ahead!

Jake lives with his Uncle Paul and Aunt Karen in Alaska. He has a flatulent Welsh Corgi with one eye called Shadwell. After spending most of his time breaking codes and researching conspiracy theories, Jake learns that all of the conspiracies are true.

Right around the same time, he learns that everything he thought was true about his life is actually a lie. Enter Nadine from the Beyonders, his soon to be insta love with the blue lips.

Nadine tells him about the Beyonders and the Order, an “ancient society bent on preserving a power structure that keeps us subservient”, otherwise known as the Illuminati.

It turns out that Jake is the only one in the world who can crack a super important, super old code and does so overnight, despite it having thwarted people for centuries before him.

He also learns how high the stakes are. Sort of.

“The stakes are too high.”

“What are the stakes, exactly?”

“Higher than you can imagine.”

Jake spends a fair amount of time talking about how confusing and complicated the situation is.

Between all of the complicated stuff and the miraculous way everything comes together, including a very specific prophecy (so specific that Nadine’s blue lips are mentioned), there’s also an abundance of sandwiches, references to the dog’s flatulence and Leonardo da Vinci.

Personally, I had trouble taking Nadine seriously. I couldn’t see past her collagen overdosed lips.

I also had some unanswered questions, which I don’t expect to be answered in future Volumes. For example, if Shadwell was specifically placed in the animal shelter for Jake, how did the Beyonders know he’d choose that particular dog?

I was initially intrigued by the mystery within the mystery component of this graphic novel. There’s symbols to decipher as you make your way through the story in the form of a treasure hunt.

Before I’d even begun reading the story I spent at least half an hour diligently copying the various letters and symbols onto a piece of paper so I could decipher the code. I applaud anyone who actually follows through with this though. I gave up transcribing the symbols on page 33. There’s a symbol on every panel and some of them aren’t overly clear (is that supposed to be an O or a zero?).

Had I fallen in love with the story I probably would have persevered in the hopes of winning something related to the Beyonders but it turns out I couldn’t even cheat properly! After I decided I wasn’t playing to win I figured I’d at least go to the AfterShock website to see what the answer was, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe the specific website address is included in the code. Maybe I couldn’t see it for looking. Maybe someone at AfterShock forgot to include the answer on the graphic novel’s page. Who knows?!

I loved Indiana Jones and have been obsessed with The X-Files for more than half of my life so this should have been the graphic novel for me. Unfortunately it just didn’t work for me. All of the pieces fit together too easily for the main character and, although my ‘I’ll believe pretty much anything if it makes the story more fun’ threshold is fairly high (or low, depending on how you look at it), I didn’t believe.

Thank you to NetGalley, AfterShock Comics and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A young boy obsessed with crop circles and cryptography finds his boring life turned upside-down when he discovers that all of his conspiracy theories are true, sending him on the ultimate treasure hunt for an ancient secret spanning thousands of years.

What is the connection between a lost mountaineer, an indecipherable manuscript, and the lost library of Alexandria?

How is this connected to a one-eyed, flatulent Welsh Corgi and endless plates of corned beef sandwiches?

Find out in … Beyonders! And uncover the secret of the actual treasure hunt woven into its pages!