Fractured Fables #1: A Spindle Splintered – Alix E. Harrow

Once upon a time, Lady Zinnia of Ohio met Princess Primrose of Perceforest and together they fucked with the fairytale.

Zinnia has spent her entire life living with the fact that she’s dying. On the night of her twenty-first birthday, which statistically will be her last, Zinnia finally finds a use for her impractical degree after accidentally multiversing her way into Princess Primrose’s story. Together these Sleeping Beauties plan to bend the arcs of their narratives.

I don’t know about the moral arc of the universe, but our arcs sure as hell don’t bend toward justice.

Unless we change them. Unless we grab our narratives by the ear and drag them kicking and screaming toward better endings. Maybe the universe doesn’t naturally bend toward justice either; maybe it’s only the weight of hands and hearts pulling it true, inch by stubborn inch.

I fell in love with this Spider-Verse Sleeping Beauty the first time I read it but my own once upon a time rudely interrupted me before I could wrangle my thoughts into sentences. I almost always plan to reread books when the release of their sequel is imminent and this time I actually followed through!

Rereading this novella today has only deepened my love for it. It was a timely reminder that no matter what your once upon a time looks like, your choices have the power to shape your ever after.

“I chose a different story for myself, a better one.”

I’m still convinced that Charm, Zinnia’s best friend, needs to be in charge of every PowerPoint presentation until the end of time.

No matter what’s going on in my life when I begin reading something Alix has written, I know I’ll feel better afterwards. What that better looks like might change slightly with each new read but invariably there’ll be hope and renewed determination to bend my own arc. And if my swear to non-swear ratio runs a tad higher in the days following the read, then all the better.

I think: oh, shit. I say, “Oh, shit.”

My preorder of A Mirror Mended arrived while I was finishing this reread and I can’t decide how to feel about starting it. I’ve waited for so long to see how this duology ends but therein lies the rub. Duology means both yay, there’s another one! and dammit, there won’t be another one after that.

While I ponder whether to power through the next one as quickly as possible to get my fix or drag it out to make it last, I’ll leave you with some fairytale wishes:

May fortune gift you a forever friend like Charm.

May you have the courage to love and be loved.

May help always come swiftly when you ask.

May your ever after outshine your once upon a time.

May you always have cause to speak in exclamation points!

Content warnings include mention of sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

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.

Nettle & Bone – T. Kingfisher

Once upon a time, there were three princesses. The youngest of these, who’s “almost a nun and barely a princess”, is on a quest. 

Accompanying her are a dust-wife, a former knight who’s also a diplomat and a fairy godmother. Rounding out this ragtag bunch are a chicken with a demon, a highly motivated chick and quite possibly the best dog ever. 

Their mission? Kill the prince. Don’t worry; he definitely deserves it. 

“It’s a fool’s errand and we’ll probably all die” 

I’m always keen to spread the word about books I love but every so often a read comes along that tips me over into book evangelism. This is one of those books. I want everyone to adore it as much as I did. 

If you encounter me in the wild in the foreseeable future, I’m going to be recommending you read it and if you don’t love it as much as I did, you may notice me looking at you a little strangely. This will be my silently judging you for not getting it look.

How can you not love a book that brings the intrigue, the weird and the need to know everything in the first two sentences? 

The trees were full of crows and the woods were full of madmen. The pit was full of bones and her hands were full of wires. 

This book has everything I need in my life right now. The lengths you will go to for family, even the ones that don’t particularly like you. A found family who shouldn’t gel so well, but they do. A reminder that you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. Making the impossible possible. A quest that’s born from a need for justice. Bonedog.

Bonedog is one of my favourite characters of all time. I either need to permanently borrow him from Marra or beg ask her really nicely if she would pretty please make a sibling for him and allow me to hang out with Bonedog II forever.

Content warnings include domestic abuse and miscarriage.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for introducing me to Bonedog and the rest of my new found family.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra – the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter – has finally realised that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince – if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

The Shadow Glass – Josh Winning

‘In a forgotten time, in a forgotten world, deep within a forgotten chamber few have ever seen, the Shadow Glass sees all.’ 

Bob Corman’s 1986 feature debut, The Shadow Glass, was a flop at the box office. The “puppet-animated fantasy adventure” has since gained a cult following but Bob’s son, who was one of The Shadow Glass’ first super-fans, wants nothing to do with it. 

Jack’s childhood, once a magical place brimming with imagination and joy, darkened when his father morphed from his hero to someone he barely recognised as his obsession with Iri (pronounced eerie) and its inhabitants consumed him.

Returning to his childhood home after his father’s death, Jack discovers the characters, born in his father’s imagination, are very much alive. And they need Jack’s help.

Now erplings Bobson, a Melia, fanboy Toby and the Guild must join forces with kettu Zavanna and Brol if they have any hope of saving Iri from imminent destruction. 

‘Are you friend or food?’ 

The Shadow Glass is a love letter to the 80’s films that infused themselves into my very core and it’s about fandom: the obsessive, possessive fans that make it creepy (‘why else do you think they call us fanatics?’) and those whose love and dedication keep franchises alive. It’s about family, the ones we’re born into and the ones we form along the way. Above all, this is a hero’s journey. 

‘What is a hero but a normal person overcoming their own failings to defeat the demons of their soul?’ 

I primarily identify as a book nerd so it’s a rare week that passes without me needing to book evangelise the most recent treasure I’ve discovered. This book, though… I haven’t had this much fun reading since Dan Hanks’ Swashbucklers.

Both books major in 80’s nostalgia. Swashbucklers was the Ghostbusters/Goonies mashup I didn’t know I needed. The Shadow Glass had me reminiscing about borrowing and reborrowing The Dark Crystal and The NeverEnding Story from my local video store.

There’s no shortage of action in this book and the characters became so real to me it felt like I was fighting alongside them. I don’t know how it’s possible to feel nostalgia for a movie I’ve never seen and doesn’t exist (yet) but here we are. What’s going to stay with me the most, though, is this book’s heart. 

I related to Bobson as he navigated his complicated family legacy, while figuring out who he is and what he stands for. I was fangirling alongside Toby as his passion for Iri made him practically glow from within. Occasionally I empathised with Cutter, as his pain distorted something that was once pure.

There’s so much to lub about this book. I lub the erplings. I lub kettu. I lub lubs. I even lub Kunin Yillda.

It’s fairly common for me to finish a book and immediately want to see the movie adaptation of it, whether it currently exists or not. I need a movie of this book but I also need Bob Corman’s original 1986 movie in my life. 

‘It’s real and scary and it’s not safe.’ 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to fall in lub with Iri.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again.

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible – the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud.

House of Hollow – Krystal Sutherland

Three little girls fell through a crack in the world. 

When Iris Hollow was seven, she and her two older sisters, Grey and Vivi, were missing for a month. When they returned, they couldn’t remember where they’d been or what happened to them. Now, a decade later, the past is intruding on their present and their lives will never be the same. 

Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. 

I’ve been obsessed with this cover for months and now I’m equally obsessed with the Hollow sisters. This story is dark but somehow still gorgeous. I both loved and was wary of the intense bond between these sisters. 

It was a compulsive read and the imagery was almost tangible. I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved that a book didn’t come with Smell-O-Pages.

I absolutely adored this book and want to gush about each of the sisters, their history, the imagery, the horror and the beauty. However, this is one of those books where the less you know going in the better. 

Get to know the Hollows and let their world unfurl around you. Just be prepared for them to get under your skin, whichever way you choose to interpret that. 

I am the thing in the dark.” 

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide (including method used), self harm and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange.

Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful and inexplicably dangerous. 

Now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school – something her two famously glamorous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing, leaving behind only bizarre clues, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her. As they brush against the supernatural, they realise that the story they’ve been told about their past is unravelling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.

Krystal Sutherland’s latest novel is a dark and twisty modern-day fairytale that expertly melds the fantastical with the real as the Hollow sisters discover just how much horror can lie beneath the surface. 

The Beatryce Prophecy – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Sophie Blackall

How to make me fall in love with your book in 5 easy steps

Step 1: Begin with a quote that makes me cheer on the girl before I’ve even met her. 

It is written in the Chronicles of Sorrowing that one day there will come a child who will unseat a king.

The prophecy states that this child will be a girl.

Because of this, the prophecy has long been ignored. 

Step 2: Make your main character someone who loves to read, who is imaginative and brave and resilient and adorable. 

“There are twenty-six letters in all,” she said. “You will learn each of them, and once you know them, you can mix them as you will, and then use them to form the words of the world and the things of the world. You can write of everything – what is and what was and what might yet be.” 

Step 3: Introduce me to characters who will live in my heart long after I finish reading. People like…

* A monk who sees beauty everywhere and whose words are true
* A boy with a brilliant memory who talks to bees
* A man who remembers how wonderful it is to laugh.

Step 4: Impart wisdom and, in doing so, make me highlight an absurd amount of sentences. 

He said, “The world is not always a kind place.”

“No,” she agreed.

“But there are sweet things to be had,” he said.

“Nothing is more terrifying to evil than joy.” 

She felt as though the darkness were trying to swallow her up.

She must not allow that to happen. She must stay herself. 

To be brave is to not turn away.

To be brave is to go forward.

To be brave is to love. 

Seemingly, the heart could hold an untold amount of things – letters and people and goats and bees.

Seemingly, there was no limit to what it could contain. 

We shall all, in the end,

be led to where we belong.

We shall all, in the end,

find our way home. 

Step 5: Include gorgeous illustrations.

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Bonus points if there’s a goat called Answelica who has attitude and a very hard head. 

“I do believe the best and wisest thing we can do is to follow the goat.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all – for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories – powerful tales – within the tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves – ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her – a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone – will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

Ham – Dhana Fox

Illustrations – Anna Demchenko

It’s safe to say that I am obsessed with this picture book. I first borrowed it from my library six months ago. Since then I’ve renewed it as many times as the library would allow, then returned it only to immediately reserve it again.

I lost count of the amount of times I’ve read it months ago. Every reread remains udderly adorable. I love Ham and his friends, and I don’t think I will ever get sick of visiting them.

The story is so simple but so enjoyable. Ham, Satay, Chops and Stew are loving their lives on the farm until one day when they make a horrifying discovery. They’re not beloved pets after all. They’re on the menu!

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The animals knew that to save their own bacon,

a grand plan was needed before they were taken.

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The chickens come up with an especially clever way to disguise themselves. Or so they think.

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Nothing these friends try works until they realise they have the ability to help generate another food source, one that won’t put them on the chopping block.

The rhyming text added to my enjoyment of this book. Anna Demchenko’s illustrations turned a really fun premise into one of my favourite picture book reads of the year. The colours are vibrant and the animals are expressive. Even the flies are cute!

Be on the lookout for a brave fly saving its friend from a spider web.

I know at some point I’m going to have to return this book to the library for the final time. That’s probably not going to happen until I purchase my own copy, though.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What happens when Ham and his crew discover that they’re destined for the dinner table?

Ham is a hilarious farmyard romp, with lovable characters and bright illustrations. The farmyard animals, Ham, Satay, Chops, Stew (and a few chickens) must work together to save themselves from their inevitable fate – the dinner plate! Everyone knows bacon is delicious, but are there any other food options for us to discover, and could there be another purpose for these adorable animals?

Anxious People – Fredrik Backman

Translator – Neil Smith

‘All interesting people have done something really stupid at least once!’

This is one of those books that gives you hope for humanity. And may make you ugly cry as you comfort eat your way through your leftover chocolate ice cream. Wait, was that too specific?

This is, without doubt, my favourite read of the month. Apologies in advance to all of the other books yet to come.

It was already on my special book radar before I began reading. It was recommended to someone I know by a local bookstore staff member. They loved it and told me enough about it, including the ugly cry, to pique my interest. I then waited, not so patiently, for my library reservation to magically transform into the book that’s barely left my hands since I started it.

The whole thing is a complicated, unlikely story. Perhaps that’s because what we think stories are about often isn’t what they’re about at all. This, for instance, might not actually be the story of a bank robbery, or an apartment viewing or a hostage drama. Perhaps it isn’t even a story about idiots.

Perhaps this is a story about a bridge.

This is a book where what seems to be and what is can be vastly different things, where a bunch of strangers who wouldn’t normally interact discover they have commonalities and where “sometimes Christmas lights are just Christmas lights.”

I loved all of the idiots in this book, even Zara. I may have liked her the most. There’s something about being privileged enough to be able to catch a glimpse at what lies beneath the surface of people who present themselves to the world with their armour firmly affixed, their edges carefully sharpened so only the exceptionally brave or exceedingly stupid will attempt to approach them. I also had a huge soft spot for Estelle.

And then there’s the rabbit. It took me a long time to find this book and I may not have found it yet if not for the person who told me about it, not realising that I’m a bit of a book stalker. You tell me about a book and I’m almost always going to need to read it. I could say it’s because it interests me and most of the time that’s part of it. It is a book, after all. But it’s also because I want to get to know you better and learning what books you love gives me an insight into who you are at your core.

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It would have taken me no time at all to find this book if I had seen this cover before now. How anyone could see this design and then think that this book should be packaged in any other way is beyond me. It’s perfection!

I don’t think I have even been so emotional over a bank robbery and hostage situation. I knew very little about this book going into it and am certain that‘s the best way to approach it.

I want to quote most of the book to you but am going to restrain myself and instead leave you with my three favourites:

The truth, of course, is that if people really were as happy as they look on the Internet, they wouldn’t spend so much damn time on the Internet, because no one who’s having a really good day spends half of it taking pictures of themselves.

They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.

‘Worst hostages ever.’

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a small town in Sweden it appears to be an ordinary day. But look more closely, and you’ll see a masked figure approaching a bank…

Two hours later, chaos has descended. An attempted robbery has developed into a hostage situation – with the offender refusing to voice their demands.

Fear turns to irritation for the seven strangers trapped inside. If this is to be their last day on earth, shouldn’t it be more dramatic? 

But as the minutes tick by, they begin to suspect that the criminal holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are… 

Supernatural Investigations #1: Amari and the Night Brothers – B.B. Alston

“Go to any corner of the world and you’ll find tales of beings and creatures that only seem possible in our imaginations. What if I told you that living among us are all the beings we’ve come to pass off as myth?”

Amari Peters is a twelve year old Black kid from the projects. She lives with her Mama, who is working herself into the ground trying to make ends meet. Amari’s older brother and biggest supporter, Quinton, has been missing for almost six months.

“He made me believe I could actually do anything I set my mind to. He made me believe in me.”

Amari refuses to believe that Quinton is dead or that his disappearance is a result of him getting mixed up in something shady, despite what everyone else seems to think. She knows her brother is alive and that he would never compromise his values, and she’s determined to be the one to find him.

Amari, an outcast, is about to learn there’s much more to this world than she ever dreamed possible. People have judged Amari for things about herself she can’t change, even if she wanted to, her entire life. Now she’s received an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, “a location that handles several million very well-kept secrets.”

“You ready?”

“I think so,” I say.

Agent Magnus grins. “Oh, I doubt that very much.”

Amari’s new roommate, Elsie Rodriguez, is a weredragon who can see other people’s emotions. Elsie has so much potential, as a loyal friend, as an inventor and as a serious contender for the honour of being my favourite character (besides Amari, of course).

Amari travels in elevators that have more personality than some humans. My favourites were super speedy Lucy and Mischief, the part time service elevator with a dirty-rascal chip. You’ll need them to visit the Bureau’s various departments.

I’m listing the departments mentioned in this book, along with the names of the directors we know about so far, mostly so I don’t forget them by the time I get my hands on the sequel.

  • Department of Creature Control
  • Department of the Dead – Director Kript
  • Department of Dreams and Nightmares
  • Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens – Director Horus
  • Department of Half Truths and Full Cover-Ups – Director Rub-Ish
  • Department of Hidden Places
  • Department of Magical Science – Director Fokus
  • Department of Supernatural Health
  • Department of Supernatural Investigations – Director Van Helsing
  • Department of Supernatural Licenses and Records – Director Cobblepot
  • Department of Undersea Relations
  • Department of the Unexplained

The names of the directors are perfect! I’m hoping someone will come up with a quiz (if they haven’t already) I can take to tell me which department I‘d work in.

Amari learns some really cool things (boogeypersons eat fear, which apparently tastes like chicken) but she quickly discovers that prejudice also exists in the supernatural world. I hope all of the kids who read this book take to heart the message of believing in yourself.

In case it’s not already obvious, I am absolutely obsessed with this book! I’d recommended it to someone before I’d reached 25%. I’ve ordered a copy from the library for my mother and haven’t even told her a single thing about it yet; that’s how confident I am that she’ll love it as well. I purchased a signed copy when I still had over fifty pages to go. [This is the first physical book I’ve bought in 2021 and if you knew anything about my current situation you’d realise what a huge deal it was for me to have broken my longest I’m-not-buying-any-books streak in what is quite possibly my entire reading life.]

This book has me almost equal parts exhilarated and terrified. I haven’t been this excited about a new series for so long that I can’t even tell you what the last series was that had me so hyped up. So why is that terrifying? Because I borrowed this book from the library, it’s due tomorrow and I came so close to sending it back unread because I didn’t think I’d have the time to finish it. I almost missed out on the wonder that is Amari and the world that was brought to life through her eyes. The world building in this book is phenomenal!

I know what you’re probably thinking. It’s a library book; surely I could have reserved it again and should stop being so dramatic. Well, my friend, this is me we’re talking about. My TBR list is so ginormous that if I don’t get to a book when I first pick it up it’s likely to fall into my good intentions abyss. New favourites like this one terrify me because they make me wonder what other gems I might be missing out on.

“In the end, we are all bound by our choices.”

I want to live in the Bureau’s library and become best friends with Mrs. Belle, the librarian who knows “what you’d like to read, just by looking at you.” One of my favourite bookish delights, fictional book titles mentioned within a book, were scattered throughout Amari’s story; the ones I most want to read are Physics in Magic: The Often Lack Thereof and Rasputin’s Directory of Dangerous Doodads and Doohickeys. The gossip magazine article that I’m already imagining writing a B-grade book about was Rogue carnivorous thunderclouds threaten air travel in South Pacific.

I need someone to magic up the sequel for me. I don’t think I can wait until 2022 to read it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Amari Peters knows three things.

Her brother Quinton has gone missing.

No one will talk about it.

His mysterious job holds a clue …

So when she’s invited for a trial at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari is certain this is her chance to save him. But first she has to get her head around the new world of the Bureau, where mermaids, aliens and magicians are real – and her roommate is a weredragon.

Amari must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about this world their whole lives. And with an evil magician threatening the entire supernatural world, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton …

The Girls I’ve Been – Tess Sharpe

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

Sometimes what doesn’t kill you messes you up so bad it’s always a fight to make through what you’re left with.

What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me a victim.

But I made me stronger. I made me a survivor.

Well, me and Lee and my very patient therapist.

I am so obsessed with this book! Going into it I knew a few things: it has a great cover, it’s about a girl who winds up in the middle of a bank robbery with her ex-boyfriend and current girlfriend, and there’s more to the girl than meet the eye.

I didn’t expect it to be such a compulsive read. From beginning to end there’s practically non-stop action and reveals. I also didn’t expect my review to basically consist of a string of quotes but there were so many things I wanted to highlight and even if I did decide to desecrate my library book, I’d have to return it at some point, and I want to be able to revisit them.

So, our main character is Nora but that’s just the name she answers to now. Her mother is a con artist who groomed her daughter to play a role in each of her cons, so there have been many girls before Nora.

She was Rebecca.

Being Rebecca teaches me how to lie. How to look into someone’s eyes while there isn’t a true word coming out of your mouth, but they believe it because enough of you believes it.

She was Samantha.

Samantha has no needs or wants. She exists to serve someone else’s.

She was Haley.

Haley is unobtrusive. No one really pays her any mind in the crowd.

She was Katie.

Katie is not quiet. She is not silent. She is not invisible. She is the first spitfire Mom lets me be, the closest thing to me I’ve been in years.

She was Ashley.

And that’s when it hits me: There aren’t any more rules.

I didn’t just break them. I broke free of them.

Nora is not the only character you’ll be thinking about long after you finish reading, though.

There’s also Lee, Nora’s badass older sister, a tough, smart, determined woman who is willing to play the long game to get what she wants. Lee is someone you definitely want on your side but, like Nora, life has left her with scars.

Broken girls, both of us, growing up into women with cracks plastered rough over where smooth should be.

Wes, Nora’s ex-boyfriend, is basically my idea of the perfect boy. He’s a wonderful friend, he’s protective of the people he loves, he’s this sort of intoxicating combination of strong, sensitive and damaged, and he forgets that he’s a terrible singer when he’s stoned.

This we share. Scars and knowledge and broken safety that was never really there in the first place, because we were born to bad apples.

Iris, Nora’s girlfriend, is absolutely everything! She’s smart, she’s intuitive and she wears clothes that I can only dream of looking that amazing in. She’s brave and she’s resilient and she can think straight and stay upright even when she’s experiencing intense chronic pain from endometriosis. She’s basically my idea of a superhero.

She is heedless and gleeful and has the self-preservation instincts of a moth drawn to dares and flames.

Lee, Wes and Iris are not cardboard cutout characters cast in a supporting role. They’re each deserving of their own books. They certainly have enough personality and backstories to fill them.

Although their story is set during a bank robbery, these four already share stories of survival, even though they don’t necessarily know all of each other’s secrets.

I felt Nora’s pain deep in my soul: wanting to be the person people tell you you’re supposed to be, holding onto your secrets and your shame because you don’t know if anyone will ever be able to love the real you, needing to protect the people you care about from you because you don’t want the parts of you that you hide to hurt them, trying to survive your past without it consuming your future.

There were lines that made me smile.

“Very original. Do you have some evil-dude bingo card stashed somewhere?”

But more often, what I wanted to highlight were truths that spoke to me, things I know in my heart but that I’m going to need to revisit so I can be reminded of them.

“Men like that don’t stop”

You don’t have to just be taught to trust, you have to grow up in a life with people who are worthy of it.

“There is no normal,” Amelia says. “There’s just a bunch of people pretending there is. There’s just different levels of pain. Different stages of safe. The biggest con of all is that there’s a normal.”

Content warnings include mention of abortion, domestic violence, emotional abuse, gun violence, physical abuse and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes. The author has provided a more extensive list of content warnings here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As an ex con artist, Nora has always got herself out of tricky situations. But the ultimate test lies in wait when she’s taken hostage in a bank heist. And this time, Nora doesn’t have an escape plan …

Meet Nora. Also known as Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley – the girls she’s been. 

Nora didn’t choose a life of deception – she was born into it. As the daughter of a con artist who targeted criminal men, Nora always had to play a part. But when her mother fell for one of the men instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con herself: escape. 

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal – but things are far from it when she finds herself held at gunpoint in the middle of a bank heist, along with Wes (her ex-boyfriend) and Iris (her secret new girlfriend and mutual friend of Wes … awkward). Now it will take all of Nora’s con artistry skills to get them out alive. 

Because the gunmen have no idea who she really is – that girl has been in hiding for far too long …