The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Once there were three sisters.

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

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

The wayward sisters, hand in hand,

Burned and bound, our stolen crown,

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

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

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

Don’t forget what you are.

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

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

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

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

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

“Maleficae quondam, maleficaeque futurae.”

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

The Extraordinaries – T.J. Klune

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

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

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

“Uh. Er. Glugh. Blargh.”

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

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

Do you have a favourite Nova City Extraordinary?

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

Right. So Team Shadow Star then.

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

Um, I’m not sure that would be appro-

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

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

“I need my own origin story”

Anything else?

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

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

THUD!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something Extraordinary.

Wayward Children #5: Come Tumbling Down – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

Spoilers Ahead!

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

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

No quests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[But it’s not released yet.]

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

Again.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow

Perhaps one cannot walk through a door and back out again without changing the world.

This was a book within a book, worlds within a world, dream come true. I was enchanted and mesmerised from the very beginning. My heart is full of hope and possibilities, and my imagination is so happy and fulfilled, yet because you can never have enough magical portals in your life, I’m left yearning for more.

I want to tell you everything about this book but don’t want to ruin it for you so I’ll only tell you this:

January Scaller finds a Door when she’s seven but, because she’s so eager to please, she focuses her attention on becoming the “good girl” she’s expected to be.

I spent the years after the blue Door doing what most willful, temerarious girls must do: becoming less so.

Years later, the memory of that Door resurfaces when she finds a life changing book.

It smelled like adventure itself had been harvested in the wild, distilled to a fine wine, and splashed across each page.

I believed in the worlds behind these Doors without hesitation. Perhaps some of my belief can be explained away by the fact that I’ve casually sought my own door since first reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and more fervently since Every Heart a Doorway but it’s really because this book was just that good!

Whenever I read a book that mentions another book I always investigate further. Does that book exist in my world? Do I need to add it to my ever expanding to be read list? If it doesn’t exist in my world, will the author ever write it? I was thrilled that the primary book January reads in this book actually exists and its chapters are included within this book! This is one of my dreams come true! Of course, the book within the book had references to other books, which don’t exist (yet – I checked), but I was so excited to be reading an actual book within a book and it was perfect!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January explores the power of words, the nature of power and the price of freedom. January experiences abandonment and loss, and I ached for her as she longed for acceptance and belonging. I empathised with the feeling of being pressured to conform to others’ expectations of you even when they diminish you and the courage it takes to live beyond your labels, learning to follow your own truth.

January’s Doors take her to places, physically and internally, that compelled me to want to follow in her footsteps. This book took a lot longer than I had planned to read due to illness, but each time I picked it up I was immersed in January’s story again within a paragraph.

I learned of Alix E. Harrow’s brilliance when I read A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies during my (ongoing) 2019 Hugo Awards readathon. I reviewed it here. My love of this short story resulted in my unceremoniously moving The Ten Thousand Doors of January to the top of my reading queue.

I highlighted so many passages as I read this book; there were so many beautiful sentences I know I’ll need to revisit. January is a bookworm, so a kindred spirit of mine, and often spoke of books and reading in ways that felt like she was reaching into my own soul:

There’s only one way to run away from your own story, and that’s to sneak into someone else’s.

Some of the sentences I highlighted tell you nothing of the story but said plenty to me about the talent of its author. This is someone who can transform the ordinary into something memorable.

His hair clung to his skull in a white scimitar, as if the heat of his working mind had burned it away from the top of his head.

She shrugged again; I began to see them as practical gestures, designed to shed the weight of resentment threatening to settle on her shoulders.

While I greedily want a sequel I mostly hope there isn’t one. This book ends so perfectly that I want the exquisite agony of needing more to linger. I knew there was something special about this author when I read and reread A Witch’s Guide to Escape but after going through the Doors with January I’m certain of it. I don’t care what Alix writes about next; I’ll be reading it no matter what.

Content warnings include racism, xenophobia, assault on beloved dog and actions that could be described as self harm, except the intention is different than what I would consider true self harm behaviour.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group (UK), for the opportunity to fall in love with this book early. I want everyone to read it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the early 1900’s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Rumple Buttercup – Matthew Gray Gubler

I need to read this book every day for the rest of my life! Also, Rumple Buttercup is my new best friend!

Rumple lives in a drain beneath the town, hiding from the people he’s sure will reject him because he’s weird. He spends his time watching people interacting with one another and enjoying their lives but he is desperately alone so he makes his own friend out of trash, Candy Corn Carl.

I adore Rumple and love that this book is a celebration of weirdness. Let’s face it; we’re all weird in our own way. Anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong, aren’t good enough or are too different to be accepted by others will relate to Rumple and hopefully realise, as Rumple does, that “Everyone is weird and that’s what makes us great”.

I would have read this book no matter what, simply because Matthew Gray Gubler wrote and illustrated it, but it’s so much more incredible than even I expected! This debut has a wonderful message for kids but people who have aged out of childhood also need to be reminded that it’s okay to be different. Let’s celebrate our individuality!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Rumple Buttercup has five crooked teeth, three strands of hair, green skin, and his left foot is slightly bigger than his right.

He is weird.

Join him and Candy Corn Carl (his imaginary friend made of trash) as they learn the joy of individuality as well as the magic of belonging.

Wayward Children #4: In an Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire

BE SURE.

I’m convinced the Wayward Children series are fairy tales for adults whose door never opened for them as children, who are holding out hope against hope that some day their door will finally appear.

Alas, that this is not a fairy tale.

Okay, Seanan, I hear you. So it’s not a fairy tale, but it’s a cautionary tale, right?

this is Lundy’s story, Lundy’s cautionary tale

This cautionary tale’s doorway leads to the Goblin Market which, despite the fact that I would never make it a day there, still made me yearn for my own doorway to appear. It also made me want to reread Every Heart a Doorway to revisit Lundy’s journey after the conclusion of this book.

Lundy is this tale’s Wayward and she’s a reader!

Everything was a story, if studied in the right fashion.

She won my heart before I knew anything else about this precious soul. Lundy is also a strict keeper of rules, which is exactly why her doorway would never even consider me a possibility.

Following the rules didn’t make you a good person, just like breaking them didn’t make you a bad one, but it could make you an invisible person, and invisible people got to do as they liked.

description

This is a book of friendship and loyalty, of being torn between what you want and what you need, and of pies. Oh, the pies! I need to eat all of the pies.

I adored the Archivist, had a soft spot for Moon and wish I had gotten to know Mockery. I loved learning about how the Goblin Market’s rules work and especially loved the idea, foreign in our own, that unfair things always come with consequences.

I’m also entirely in love with that cover artwork and the gorgeous illustrations. I need a print of that doorway in the tree that’s large enough to span an entire wall so I can gaze at it all day, waiting for it to magically transform into the doorway to my world.

I was disappointed that some of the most exciting scenes happened off the page. I wanted to witness firsthand the battles that had been fought and won by characters when I wasn’t looking, and to be told of their conclusion rather than being shown them was frustrating for me.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking but I keep hoping there will be a Wayward Children book that explores the world I should be living in and that the simple act of opening the pages will open its doorway for me.

“It is a place where dreamers go when they don’t fit in with the dreams their homes think worth dreaming. Doors lead here. Perhaps you found one.”

How am I supposed to wait an entire year for Come Tumbling Down?!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.

Wayward Children #3: Beneath the Sugar Sky – Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky is a 2019 Hugo Awards finalist in the Best Novella category.

This will always be the Wayward Children Road Trip book to me. As soon as this disparate bunch of kids piled into the school minivan and set off on their journey I rejoiced, and their adventure just kept getting better and better, venturing through different worlds on their quest to help Rini, who fell from the sky near the beginning of the book.

This book took me an embarrassingly loooong time to read and I take full responsibility because I loved it! It unfortunately became one of those reads where life happened in between. I only wanted to read it whenever I could fully appreciate the brilliance that is Seanan McGuire, and let’s just say that 2018 sucked for me.

Recharged by the impending release of In an Absent Dream 💜 I knew I had to finish this one and, even after months of not having read a single page, I slipped straight back into the story. I hope to do a review that does some sort of justice to this book after a reread but for now please enjoy a sample of my favourite quotes:

“It’s never a good idea to eat the ground,” she said blithely, cake between her teeth and frosting on her lips. “People walk on it.”

Chandeliers of sugar crystals hung from the vaulted, painted chocolate ceiling. Stained sugar glass windows filtered and shattered the light, turning everything into an explosion of rainbows.

“It’s going to be okay. You’ll see. Just hang on. This would be a stupid way to die.”

“Sometimes that’s all you can do. Just keep getting through until you don’t have to do it anymore, however much time that takes, however difficult it is.”

“Every world gets to make its own rules. Sometimes those rules are going to be impossible. That doesn’t make them any less enforceable.”

Everyone who wound up at Eleanor West’s School – everyone who found a door – understood what it was to spend a lifetime waiting for something that other people wouldn’t necessarily understand. Not because they were better than other people and not because they were worse, but because they had a need trapped somewhere in their bones, gnawing constantly, trying to get out.

There is kindness in the world, if we know how to look for it. If we never start denying it the door.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)

If she can’t find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests …

A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do.

Warning: May contain nuts.

Matilda – Roald Dahl

Illustrations – Quentin Blake

Matilda is 30! How is that even possible?! Matilda and I became friends 29 years ago and her story remains one of my all time favourites. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read it over the years but I can say that it gave me hope that circumstances can always improve, taught me that girls can be powerful and resilient, and that it is perfectly okay to be a book nerd, and proven if you’re really lucky you’ll find your very own Mrs Phelps and Miss Honey. I spent my childhood on the lookout for my Miss Honey.

I never had friends that enjoyed reading when I was growing up so Matilda became that for me. We even had a shared favourite book, The Secret Garden. I loved this story so much that the year after I first read it I wrote a multi page poem about the infamous chocolate cake incident for school. Not many things survived my childhood but I still have my treasured 1989 paperback copy of Matilda and that poem.

I found an amazing article by Mara Wilson about Matilda at 30. I love that there are multiple 30th anniversary editions of Matilda, each showing her thriving in a different way. Naturally this means that I have to buy one of each because, you know, marketing and obsessive book love and I have to have them all!!!

I need to press pause for a bit and tell you how much I adore all of Quentin Blake’s illustrations in Matilda and the rest of Roald Dahl’s books. As a kid I read about a bazillion books and while I always remembered the names of the titles and authors, the only illustrator whose name I knew was Quentin’s. Roald and Quentin made a perfect team, with Quentin highlighting all the phizz-whizzing quirkiness of Roald’s imagination. Even now I compare every illustrator I come across to Quentin; I can’t help it.

I don’t think you can truly put into words the impact a book has had on you like Matilda had on me but I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. While reading it this time I wondered where its characters would be today. I expect I’ll change my mind each time I reread this book from now on but here’s what I came up with this time:

The Wormwoods

Michael Wormwood eventually reconnected with his brilliant sister and they stay in regular contact. After some turbulent times as a teenager where he made some choices he’d prefer to forget including stealing cars, Michael turned his life around and now mentors troubled teens.

Mrs Wormwood is now a frumpet in an aged care facility where she cheats at Bingo and watches her programmes. She did try to sell Avon for a while but potential customers took one look at her caked on makeup and shut the door in her face. She never made a single sale. She bleached her hair one too many times so she’s now bald and her face has a look of perpetual surprise due to botched plastic surgery.

Mr Wormwood remains a grunion. The Wormwoods lived in Spain for a few years until his schemes were discovered and they were run out of the country. After trying and failing to implement new scams in numerous other countries Mr Wormwood eventually found work at a sawdust mill. His boss is a woman. He has a phobia of hats.

The Kids

Fred, Matilda’s friend who owned Chopper the parrot, became a veterinarian.

Lavender remains adventurous and now spends her days touring the world, conquering one extreme sport after another. She has lucrative sponsorship deals and whenever she’s photographed you can be sure her hair is a different colour, but never lavender. She has a pet newt and remains in contact with Matilda.

Hortensia now owns a pub and is known to regale her customers with wild, detailed yarns about her formative years under the watchful glare of the Trunchbull and her experiences in The Chokey. No one knows whether to believe her or not but she’s a born storyteller so they always come back for more.

Ollie Bogswhistle double crossed the wrong people and wound up serving time. He’s currently a prison snitch and after being on the receiving end of one too many punches he now sports a full set of dentures.

Julius Rottwinkle has a fear of heights and flying, among many other phobias. He attends therapy frequently. He hasn’t eaten liquorice since he was a child.

Nigel Hicks has extraordinary balance. He wrote a book espousing the health benefits of not showering very frequently but for some reason remains single.

Prudence, emboldened by being able to spell a ‘difficult’ word in Miss Trunchbull’s presence, went on to become a spelling bee champion.

Amanda Thripp never cut her hair again, an achievement that has made her the Guinness World Record holder for having the longest hair. She only ever wears her hair in pigtails.

Rupert Entwistle works at the Natural History Museum but his passion is cryptozoology. He had a secret crush on his next door neighbour Lavender for many years and follows her adventures on social media.

The other Rupert, Matilda’s classmate with the golden tresses, became an accountant and carries a calculator wherever he goes.

Eric Ink has a most unusual party trick; he can waggle his ears at will. He loves cosplay and due to his large pixie shaped ears he never needs to worry about adding prosthetic ears to his costumes.

Wilfred overcame his fear of being upside down when he went bungee jumping.

Bruce Bogtrotter became a competitive eater during high school and is now a well known food critic. His favourite food is chocolate cake and travels the world in search of a more delicious cake than the one Cook baked for him. He’s yet to find one.

The Crunchem Staff

Cook, may she rest in peace, quit her job shortly after selling her prized chocolate cake recipe to the highest bidder and then proceeded to lose every cent betting on the horses.

After Mr Trilby became the Head Teacher of Crunchem Hall Primary School the students and teachers breathed a collective sigh of relief. He became the most loved Head Teacher that ever ran the school. Sure, that’s not saying much, but he was wonderful. Honest!

Miss Plimsoll remained a teacher until she retired. She never had another student as brilliant as Matilda.

The Trunchbull was never heard from again. A school without children was established several years after she disappeared. While record numbers of applications were received for the school’s teaching positions, the school itself surprisingly went bankrupt within its first year and was forced to close. There is an old lady in Arkham Asylum that constantly mutters about chalk but no one knows who she is.

The Heroes

Mrs Phelps went on to inspire countless young minds to adore reading. A number of her patrons became well known authors and you’ll find her name in the dedications and acknowledgement sections of several bestsellers. Mrs Phelps has since retired and now travels the world, Kindle in hand. She spends each Christmas with Matilda and Miss Honey.

Miss Honey found her relatives in Australia and has visited them a few times during school holidays. She adopted Matilda but only because she needed offical paperwork to prove what they already knew; they were family. Miss Honey went on to become many students’ favourite teacher and won numerous awards for her pioneering method of using music in her classroom. Her home is full of books. She loves nothing more than pottering around in the garden at The Red House and lives a peaceful, quiet life.

Matilda has led a full life. She couldn’t decide which university course to study so she completed them all and was able to study for free because of the scholarships she was awarded. She has travelled extensively, following in the footsteps of the characters in the books of her childhood. She has worked as a librarian, lovingly sharing her passion for books with a new generation. She has also published a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction. She gets excited when she finds a book she hasn’t read. After consulting with Matilda behind the scenes many leaders have implemented her ideas to solve worldwide problems. Matilda is a wonderful mother and a loving partner, and Miss Honey remains one of her favourite people. Above all, Matilda is happy.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK, for the excuse to read this book yet again. As soon as I saw the 30th anniversary edition on NetGalley I got so excited about Quentin Blake’s amazing covers I had to see them immediately!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she’s knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she’s a super-nerd and the teacher’s pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda’s world.

For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there’s the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Miss (“The”) Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.

She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable.

Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings.

Danny Blue’s Really Excellent Dream – Max Landrak

I’ve read this book at least five times in the past couple of months because I love it so much and because I couldn’t think of the right words to tell you how much I love it or why. The blurb tells me it’s about “creativity, comfort zones – and colour”. It feels like much more though.

Danny Blue is the son of Mr Blue, a paint maker whose factory makes “the most beautiful shades of blue in all of Blue York.” Danny lives in a world of blue, from blueberry pancakes to the blue spoon he uses to eat his blueberries for dessert.

One night Danny has a dream but this dream is different. This is a Really Excellent Dream! Danny wonders if it’s possible to show people what he saw in his dream, but how will the people of Blue York react when they’re faced with something that’s not blue?

This book speaks to me of following your dreams (sorry, I had to go there) and that different doesn’t automatically equate to bad. I thought of pioneers whose ideas are met by peoples’ resistance to change and how embracing change can spur on creativity. I also thought this was a really cool book to teach kids about primary colours.

Max Landrak’s illustrations are fantastic! I love the imaginative use of the word everything to showcase Danny’s blue world. Inside each letter you’re shown a different element of Danny’s world, from the blue parrot to the blue ice cream (with a blue cone) to the blue bricks. I loved that most of the book is greyscale with highlights of blue, like the stripes on Danny’s shirt, so by the time a new colour is introduced it really does look revolutionary.

While I’ve told you a lot about this book and probably used more words than you’ll find in the book to do so I still don’t feel like I’ve really gotten to the crux of why I love this book so much. I’m not sure I can. Sometimes you come across a book and your love for it can’t be fully explained. It just is.

In a nutshell, this is a really fun kid’s book about a boy that follows his dream and, in doing so, changes his world. It’s a new favourite.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Danny Blue lives in a world where everything is blue. And while there are many different shades and hues, everything is essentially the same. But then one night Danny sees something in a dream that is unlike anything else. He tried to describe it, but no one can understand what he means, and so he decides to create the thing he saw in his Really Excellent Dream (or R.E.D.).

Helen Ahpornsiri’s A Year in the Wild – Ruth Symons

Illustrations – Helen Ahpornsiri

My brain got stuck on WOW! mode as I made my way through this book. Ruth Symons’ words were lovely, with easy to understand explanations of what’s happening in the flora and fauna worlds throughout the seasons, but were outshone by the pictures. I don’t think it would have mattered what words were used. They were never going to be the main event here.

My mind could not wrap itself around the creativity and genius of this artist and I kept telling myself that there was no way she could be this talented – but she is! There is not a splash of paint nor line of drawing in the entire book. Helen Ahpornsiri uses flowers and leaves to create the most stunning masterpieces of flowers, plants and animals! The heron and butterfly you see on the front cover are just a couple of examples of the jaw dropping images you will discover in these pages.

I can’t find a big enough or pretty enough word to describe just how breathtaking the animals in particular are. Helen’s attention to detail is extraordinary and how she can give each animal individual characters and expressions is beyond me. With the amount of work that must go into each creation you could forgive her for using the same image of a butterfly each time one was needed, yet each butterfly is an individual. There’s a row of ducklings following their mother and every single duckling is unique.

You’ll see bats, frogs, dragonflies, deer, squirrels, foxes, field mice, a hare and various insects. There are a group of mushrooms that are so beautiful.

I thought that this book couldn’t get any better but then I found the couple of pages where the background was black instead of the white that is behind most of the images. I have no words for the portrait of the owl with the black background. I would love to do a cross stitch of this design so I can hang it on my wall and marvel at it for the rest of my life.

You have to check out the time lapse videos of the creation of some of the animals on YouTube. Fair warning though, your brain may get stuck on a WOW! loop.

My library catalogue has this book listed under junior nonfiction although adults are probably going to love this even more than their kidlets. I could easily see this book making its way onto my coffee table so it’s always close by when I need to admire it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An intricately crafted journey through four seasons of flora and fauna

Helen Ahpornsiri’s intricate artwork transforms leaves, petals, and seeds into bounding hares, swooping swallows, and blossoming trees. Using nothing but pressed plants, this journey through the seasons captures the wonder and magic of the natural world between the pages of a book. This standout title with beautiful nonfiction text will take readers through an extraordinary year in the wild.