The Witch Haven – Sasha Peyton Smith

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Something bad is coming”

Frances Hallowell is mourning the recent death of her brother. Her life gets a lot more complicated when her super slimy boss attacks her after hours and she sorta kinda accidentally kills him. Oops!

When it looks certain that Frances is going to be convicted as a murderer, salvation comes to her by way of an ambulance. She’s told she’s very unwell and is promptly taken to Haxahaven Sanitarium to be ‘treated’. Only Haxahaven isn’t what it’s advertised to be. It’s actually a school for witches…

The premise of this book hooked me: secret witchy school, murder mystery, underdog battling the Big Bad. The reality of the book surprised me, and I’m still conflicted.

I was entirely engaged until I learned that the witchcraft that was being taught at Haxahaven was limited to producing good little wives and domestic help. I switched off a little at that point and was even able to put the book aside for a few weeks without any trouble.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish reading but figured I’d give it another try. I found it easy to get back into. I hadn’t forgotten who the characters were or what was happening for each of them when I pressed pause. It didn’t take me long to get into the rest of the story, the parts that didn’t involve magical bread-kneading.

While I wasn’t the hugest fan of Frances, I absolutely adored Maxine and Lena. I wanted to get to know Oliver better.

I think perhaps this is how we survive in the world. Passing little bits of our magic back and forth to each other when the world takes it from us. It’s survival. It’s love. It’s family.

Content warnings include attempted sexual assault including suffocation, domestic abuse, mental health and a character who was removed from her home and taken to a residential school. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1911 New York City, seventeen year old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet – her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

The Girl in the Green Dress – Jeni Haynes & George Blair-West

With Alley Pascoe

Four years of police interviews, 900,000 words in victim statements, endless therapy sessions, a lifetime of pain

I thought I was going to tell you that this is one of the best books I’ve read about mental health and sexual assault but, while that’s accurate, it falls short of what I really want to say. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. One of the most painful and difficult to read, sure, but absolutely one of the best.

I’ve read about Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder (MPD/DID) before so I thought I already knew the basics and I guess I did. Before this book, though, I’d never truly appreciated how incredible people with MPD/DID are.

There are three factors that typically cause DID: the experience of the most extreme forms of abuse, usually extending over many years; this abuse is perpetrated by caregivers, typically parents, that the child relies upon; and it begins while the child’s mind is young, or plastic, enough, to employ high-level dissociative strategies.

The fact that such unimaginably horrific abuse is perpetrated on young children by people they should be able to trust to protect them is mind-boggling. That the brain is able to develop such a highly developed coping strategy to survive abuse of this magnitude is awe-inspiring.

Told by Jeni, some of her alters and their psychiatrist, Dr George Blair-West, this is the most comprehensive account of MPD/DID you are likely to ever read. Jeni has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) so is able to recall, in detail, her experiences from when she was an infant.

MPD/DID is a response to being a victim of extreme criminal acts.

Because so much of what Symphony and the alters she created have experienced is more brutal than anything you’ll likely see in your worst nightmare, this isn’t a book you’ll want to binge. You’ll need time out to take care of yourself: go for a walk, remember that the world still holds beauty, remind yourself that Jeni, against all odds, is okay.

I really appreciated the care shown by both the publisher and Dr Blair-West, warning readers of the potential impacts of reading this book before you’ve even begun. A couple of times Jeni warns you that the content you’re about to read is even more difficult than what you’ve encountered to that point, giving you the option to skip that section.

While I read those parts, I was grateful for the warnings so I could prepare myself as best I could. At the same time, though, the fact that Jeni and her alters spent their entire childhood protecting her mother and siblings and is now taking steps to protect readers both touched and saddened me. No one protected Jeni from the torture she experienced, yet she cares enough about people she’ll likely never meet to want to make sure they’re okay.

Jeni even protects the reader by not including all of the details of the unrelenting abuse she was subjected to. Her police statement, at 900,000 words, didn’t even cover everything that happened to her. For context, that’s significantly longer than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Jennifer Margaret Linda was the original birth child, with Symphony taking her place when she was six months old. Symphony then created the alters. In this book we hear from Jennifer Margaret Linda, Symphony, Erik, Little Ricky, The Rulebook, The Assassin, Jenny, Linda, Muscles, Captain Busby, Janet, Squadron Captain, Amber, Judas, Happy, Zombie Girl, Magsy, The Joker, Maggot, Volcano, The Student, Ed the Head, Charlotte, Gabrielle, Mr Flamboyant, Jeni and The Entity Currently Known as Jeni.

That Jeni even survived her childhood is a testament to how incredibly well her system works. The fact that she’s able to function and is even surthriving is remarkable.

Life should be about thriving as we find meaning and purpose – hence the idea of rising above to ‘surthrive’.

Everyone who works in a helping profession should read this book. Jeni’s case was the first to use a diagnosis of MPD/DID for the prosecution, not the defence, paving the way for other survivors of extreme abuse to seek justice. This book, because of the openness of the alters who contributed to it, will provide much needed insights, so hopefully others with MPD/DID won’t be failed by the people who should be helping them the way Jeni was.

My abuse didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened before a school fete, behind the closed doors of my father’s respectability.

I’ve spoken a lot about Jeni and her alters but I need to point out that I found the insights Dr Blair-West gives in this book so helpful. He has the ability to take something that’s complex and explain it in a way that makes it feel like it’s not complex at all. I’ve read a lot about PTSD, dissociation and the way the brain manages trauma but Dr Blair-West’s explanations have given me a much better understanding of them.

To Jeni, Symphony, the alters who contributed to this book and those I haven’t met: Thank you for telling your story. I feel honoured to have been introduced to so many of you. I can only imagine how traumatic it was to revisit these experiences in order to write about them. Your story means more to me than you’ll ever know. You are brave and resilient and I’m in awe of you. You are truly extraordinary.

Content warnings include death by suicide, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, mental health, miscarriage, neglect, physical abuse, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘I didn’t know that you’re only supposed to have one personality. I didn’t realise that having lots of voices in your head was abnormal. But you are protecting yourself. You are protecting your soul, and that’s what I did.’

An intelligent, poised woman, Jeni Haynes sat in court and listened as the man who had abused her from birth, a man who should have been her protector, a man who tortured and terrified her, was jailed for a non-parole period of 33 years. The man was her father.

The abuse that began when Jeni was only a baby is unimaginable to most. It was physically, psychologically and emotionally sadistic and never-ending. The fact she survived may be called a miracle by some – but the reality is, it is testament to the extraordinary strength of Jeni’s mind.

What saved her was the process of dissociation – Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – a defence mechanism that saw Jeni create over 2500 separate personalities, or alters, who protected her as best they could from the trauma. This army of alters included four-year-old Symphony, teenage motorcycle-loving Muscles, elegant Linda, forthright Judas and eight-year-old Ricky.

With her army, the support of her psychiatrist Dr George Blair-West, and a police officer’s belief in her, Jeni fought to create a life for herself and bring her father to justice. In a history-making ruling, Jeni’s alters were empowered to give evidence in court. In speaking out, Jeni’s courage would see many understand MPD for the first time.

The Girl in the Green Dress is an unforgettable memoir from a woman who refused to be silenced. Jeni Haynes is an inspiration and her bravery and determination to live is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. This is a unique and profoundly important book as it is not only a story of survival, it also includes incredible insight from Dr George Blair-West, Jeni’s psychiatrist and an expert in DID.

All Good People Here – Ashley Flowers

with Alex Kiester

If you’ve ever involuntarily blurted out ‘And I’m Britt’, this is the book for you. If you’ve pounced on this book before reading the blurb, allow me to enlighten you: this is a novel, not a super long episode of Crime Junkie in book form. Not that I’d ever open a book, see A Novel after the title and question every assumption I’ve ever made.

All Good People Here (A Novel) primarily takes place in Wakarusa, Indiana, where Ashley and Britt grew up. It’s also somewhere I need to visit because of two really important words: Pumpkin Tree!

description

In 1994, six year old January Jacobs died. Everyone in town knew Krissy, January’s mother, murdered her but the case has officially remained unsolved.

“You don’t want to go back to that sad little town where that terrible thing happened.”

Margot hasn’t lived in Wakarusa for twenty years but has returned to care for her beloved Uncle Luke. When a young girl is reported missing in a nearby town, Margot believes the person who killed her childhood friend has struck again. Margot is determined to use her crime reporting skills to solve the cases but she seems to be the only one seeing their similarities.

This may be a small town but many of its residents are living with secrets.

“What did you do?”

Hearing the story from Krissy and Margot’s perspectives, you learn about the dynamics of the Jacobs’ family, how the investigation into January’s death unfolded and the impact it has had on everyone close to the case in the subsequent years. A few key details about January and her death made me think of JonBenét Ramsey. Once I made that connection, I had trouble seeing anything else.

I enjoyed tagging along as Margot followed up leads, although I did get a bit bogged down at times with what was happening with Luke. I guessed some of the reveals but, rather than being disappointed by this as I usually would be, it made me feel like I was being a good Crime Junkie.

It’s taken me two weeks since finishing this book to attempt writing a review and that’s mostly due to the last time we see Margot in this book. Readers will likely either love or hate this scene. I loved it but, because I don’t want to get all spoilery, I can’t tell you why I loved it and that’s what I really want to talk about.

I’m looking forward to reading future books by Ashley. Until then, I’ll keep getting my Crime Junkie fix whenever I can and remembering to always “Be weird. Be rude. Stay alive.”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, kidnapping, miscarriage, murder and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What really happened to January Jacobs?

A MYSTERIOUS COLD CASE…

Twenty-five years ago, January Jacob’s parents awoke to find their daughter’s bed empty, a horrifying message spray-painted onto their wall. Hours later, January’s body was found discarded in a ditch. Her murder was never solved. But the town remembers.

A DANGEROUS OBSESSION…

Journalist Margot Davies is tired of reporting meaningless stories. One night, she stumbles upon a clue in the most infamous crime in her hometown’s history: the unsolved murder of six-year-old January.

A TOWN FULL OF SECRETS…

As Margot digs deeper, she begins to suspect that there is something truly sinister lurking in the small community: a secret that endangers the lives of everyone involved…including Margot.

When Women Were Dragons – Kelly Barnhill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Today’s the day!”

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Like Home – Sarah Gailey

You’re returning to your childhood home for the first time in twelve years. Your job is to watch your mother die and then clean out the house. There’s a stranger living in the shed because your mother’s been cashing in on the fact that your father, who built the house, was a serial killer. Everyone in town hates you because of who your father was.

Welcome to Vera’s world.

The house was the same, but everything everything everything was different.

This is my first Sarah Gailey book and it was amazing! It was unsettling in the best way possible.

I know what it is to love a ‘monster’. Some of Vera’s responses to hers were scarily familiar. Others were (thankfully) more foreign. The ritual she completed to ensure her safety as a child made complete sense to me, as did its reappearance when she returned to Crowder House.

They remembered what they were supposed to do to keep her safe, remembered from when she was young enough to develop a superstition without reasoning herself out of it.

This book introduced me to a mother-daughter relationship that has been twisted and contaminated by their shared history. This is a story that explores the power of secrets to change you and a past that no longer wants to remain in the shadows.

It’s about loneliness and belonging, what makes a house a home and the inexplicable loudness of the things have been left unsaid in our lives.

Lemonade will never be the same.

I want to see.

Content warnings include domestic abuse.

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

“Come home.” Vera’s mother called and Vera obeyed. In spite of their long estrangement, in spite of the memories – she’s come back to the home of a serial killer. Back to face the love she had for her father and the bodies he buried there.

Coming home is hard enough for Vera, and to make things worse, she and her mother aren’t alone. A parasitic artist has moved into the guest house out back, and is slowly stripping Vera’s childhood for spare parts. He insists that he isn’t the one leaving notes around the house in her father’s handwriting… but who else could it possibly be?

There are secrets yet undiscovered in the foundations of the notorious Crowder House. Vera must face them, and find out for herself just how deep the rot goes.

Black Mouth – Ronald Malfi

Any day that includes me being able to say that I’ve found a new favourite author is a good day. Today is a good day!

I’m a tad embarrassed to admit that this is my first Ronald Malfi read. On the flip side, because I’m late to the party, I’ve got so many books to catch up on and new favourites to find. Did I mention today is a very good day?

Black Mouth is essentially a big melting pot of the types of characters and themes I will always want to read about. You’ve got your group of outcasts who experienced something scary, traumatic and potentially supernatural when they were kids. The ghosts of the past, possibly even the literal kind, haunt said kids well into adulthood. Adults who have been trying to outrun their childhood trauma can’t run anymore, and it just keeps getting better and better.

The things that happened down in the heart of Black Mouth that summer had been inexplicable, magical, and ultimately deadly things – things I still can’t fully comprehend or even care to dwell on.

There’s a carnival. Magic. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A group of friends I want to join. And best of all? There’s Dennis, who is now one of my all time favourite characters. I adore Dennis!

I loved this book so much! The characters, the location, the atmosphere, the way the past bled into the present, even the surprise misty eyed moment. I loved it all!

I can’t wait to read more books by this author.

As usual, I sent test emails to the email addresses listed for two characters in this book. As usual, they were undeliverable. Yes, I’m going to keep sending random emails to book characters until one finally responds.

“Do you want to see a magic trick?”

Content warnings include abuse of animals, alcoholism, bullying, child abuse, death by suicide (including method used), domestic abuse, sexual assault and a suicide attempt. Readers with emetophobia, beware. There are also a bunch of cringeworthy slurs that I won’t be repeating here; although I hated reading the words, it made complete sense that those characters would be saying them.

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

For nearly two decades, Jamie Warren has been running from darkness. He’s haunted by a traumatic childhood and the guilt at having disappeared from his disabled brother’s life. But then a series of unusual events reunites him with his estranged brother and their childhood friends, and none of them can deny the sense of fate that has seemingly drawn them back together.

Nor can they deny the memories of that summer, so long ago – the strange magic taught to them by an even stranger man, and the terrible act that has followed them all into adulthood. In the light of new danger, they must confront their past by facing their futures, and hunting down a man who may very well be a monster. 

Rizzoli & Isles #13: Listen to Me – Tess Gerritsen

“Did I mention a homicide?” “No, but you’re Detective Rizzoli. Everyone knows who you are.”

Can you believe this is the first Rizzoli & Isles book published since 2017? That was pre-pandemic, so by my calculations it’s been 142 years since I read the twelfth book, give or take.

I’ve missed Jane and Maura so much and I loved being able to catch up with them again. Even though it’s been so long since I was able to tag along during one of their investigations, it took no time at all to reacquaint myself with them.

I was able to read from Angela’s perspective for the first time and if you know Angela, you know she’s going to be spending a considerable amount of time getting into someone’s business. And their business and maybe theirs as well… She absolutely delighted me as I followed her around her neighbourhood.

“I’ve lived on this street for forty years and I try to keep an eye on it, that’s all. You can’t prevent bad things from happening if no one notices those things.”

Angela spends her time investigating the mystery of why the new couple renting number 2533 aren’t being neighbourly and the case of a missing teenager, all while facing off against her archenemy and checking out the man across the street. Basic what I’m saying here is that Angela did more than enough to convince me she needs her own spin-off series.

I’m guessing all of my training with Rizzoli over the years has started paying off as I figured out one of the mysteries straight away and got another one half right.

Something I’ve always loved about the Rizzoli & Isles books is how all of the puzzle pieces end up fitting together, even when some of them originally look like they belong in separate pictures. This was the case here as well.

Some books in the series have more of a focus on Jane and others spend more time with Maura. With more page time dedicated to Jane this time, I’m hoping next time I’ll get to hang out in the morgue some more, “reading the language of death” with Maura.

I feel like I’ve just caught up with some old friends I haven’t seen in years and I’m tempted to reread the entire series and binge the TV series (again) while I wait to be invited to join their next investigation.

Bonus points for the ringtone allocated to Angela on Jane’s phone and the reveal of Maura’s secret talent.

Content warnings include domestic abuse and mention of sexual assault.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mothers know best … But who will listen?

Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are newly plagued by what seems like a completely senseless murder. Sofia Suarez, a widow and nurse who was universally liked by her neighbours, lies bludgeoned to death in her own home. But anything can happen behind closed doors, and Sofia seemed to have plenty of secrets in her last days, making covert phone calls to traceless burner phones. When Jane finally makes a connection between Sofia and the victim of a hit-and-run from months earlier, the case only grows more blurry. What exactly was Sofia involved in? One thing is clear: The killer will do anything it takes to keep their secret safe. 

Meanwhile, Angela Rizzoli hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in all the years since her daughter became a homicide detective. Maybe the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree: Nothing in Angela’s neighbourhood gets by her – not the gossip about a runaway teenager down the block and definitely not the strange neighbours who have just moved in across the street. Angela’s sure there’s no such thing as coincidence in her sleepy suburb. If only Jane would listen – instead she writes off Angela’s concerns as the result of an overactive imagination. But Angela’s convinced there’s a real wolf in her vicinity, and her cries might now fall on deaf ears. 

With so much happening on the Sofia case, Jane and Maura already struggle to see the forest for the trees, but will they lose sight of something sinister happening much closer to home?

Three Days in the Pink Tower – E.V. Knight

Tomorrow. Everything will be different tomorrow.

As far as I’m concerned, any book that includes sexual assault could easily be shelved as horror, but this one truly earns that classification. This novella recounts the author’s experience of being kidnapped and raped by two men when she was seventeen. To say that this was a difficult read is the understatement of the year.

Much of the dialogue between Josey and the men come directly from the author’s statement to the police; this added a whole other layer of reality to something that was already painfully real.

If you have experienced sexual assault, you need to know that the sexual assaults described in this novella are brutal. Please take good care of yourself while reading by upping your self care, taking breaks when you need them and ensuring you utilise any supports you have available to you.

I want women to read this and know that no one can take your story from you. It is yours, and you can do whatever you want with it.

Rescripting can be such a helpful tool for sexual assault survivors, particularly in managing flashbacks. Here, the author incorporates tarot and symbolism into her story to rewrite the ending.

“You choose the cards from this point on.”

Content warnings include domestic abuse, gun violence, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to Creature Publishing for the opportunity to read this novella.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Josey Claypool begins the summer before her senior year at a carnival, where a fortune teller with milky-white eyes gives her a foreboding tarot reading. She’s spooked, but nothing could prepare her for the following day when two strange men show up at her front door.

Josey is kidnapped at gunpoint and brought to a pink cabin in the woods where she is held prisoner. In her darkest moment, the fortune teller appears and gives her a deck of tarot cards, which she must cast and interpret in a fight for her life.

In this work of speculative autofiction, award-winning author EV Knight reclaims the narrative of her own past in an exploration of trauma, agency, and survival.

Little Prisons – Ilona Bannister

There was a time before and there will be a time after. I cannot imagine it, Mother, but there will be a time after this one. 

Four women who seemingly have nothing in common all live in the new building on Bedford Road. 

Penny in 1B remembers a time when leaving her home didn’t feel impossible. Penny has agoraphobia.

In 1A, on the other side of Penny’s wall, Carla is doing her best to raise fourteen year old Mary Rose and twelve year old Daniel while experiencing coercive control.

Frequently knocking on both of their doors is the building’s resident Jehovah’s Witness, Mable from 3B. 

Then there’s Woman, who resides with the building’s owner and his family in 2A-2B. Woman hasn’t had an identity since she left Home Country. The promise of Better Life was a lie. Woman has been trafficked and is now a slave.

Told from the perspectives of the four central women and a few others whose lives intercept one or more of them, this story primarily takes place over the course of a year, beginning in January 2020. Written during lockdown, Little Prisons explores the lives of these four women both before and during lockdown, and how acts of kindness, some that don’t cost much and some that cost much more, change their lives.

Some really difficult life experiences are explored in this book and at times I really felt the weight of that. The perseverance and courage of the women gave me hope though and I quickly became invested in their lives. 

Initially I had trouble believing that the four women dealing with all of these monumental problems were all living in a building that only had space for nine residences. Then I stepped back and thought about it. I realised that you don’t know what you don’t know and that’s the point. 

We rarely know what’s happening behind the closed doors of people’s lives. People experiencing what the women in this book are are silenced, their traumas invisible.

I loved that these strangers, who just so happen to live in the same building, became important to one another. Sure, they don’t necessarily like one another initially and, let’s face it, have no reason to place their trust in anyone, but gradually they let themselves be seen. That’s so powerful.

There was a little ugly cry that took me unawares but my takeaway from this book is hope. I love found family stories and find strength in reading about people who have every reason to give up but keep getting out of bed every day and trying again. 

While I understood that this wasn’t their story, a part of me really wants to know more about the man in 1C, the young couple in 3A and the three girls in 3C. What were their stories and how much of what was happening in their building were they aware of?

Content warnings include domestic abuse, human trafficking, mental health, physical abuse, racism, sexual assault and slavery. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Two Roads, an imprint of John Murray Press, for the opportunity to read this book. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When you can’t get out, let kindness in.

In a non-descript building in a gentrifying corner of London, Penny is doing daily battle with her mind. She is convinced that the world beyond her door is too dangerous for her, though her heart knows it isn’t. Penny’s neighbour, Carla, an American expat and single mother of two teens, has lived in a coercive relationship for many years, too worn down by her controlling husband to escape her situation. Mable, Penny’s upstairs neighbour, an elderly Jamaican pensioner and devout Jehovah’s Witness, has sacrificed everything for her faith, including her relationship with her family. And Woman, the housekeeper and nanny on the second floor, has been trafficked. When she is not cleaning and cooking, she works in the laundrette the landlord owns on the ground floor, a hidden slave in full view of the public.

Through grocery deliveries, glimpses through windows, and overheard conversations in the stairwell, the women come to know each other. Their small acts of compassion help them each find a way to mend the broken paths in their lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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