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 … 

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day – Seanan McGuire

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

The living are a mystery to me. I didn’t spend enough time as one of them.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day was my second ever Seanan McGuire read and it’s just become my first Seanan reread. It also has the distinction of being the only book on my very long list of favourites that, if you were to ask me its name when it wasn’t sitting right in front of me, chances are that I would fail miserably in my attempt to arrange the D’s in the correct order.

Our main character is Jenna, a ghost who volunteers for a suicide prevention hotline, and that right there is the book I didn’t know I needed to read until I learned of its existence.

Jenna’s sister, Patty, died by suicide in 1972. Jenna’s death, shortly after her sister’s, was accidental. Because Patty died when she was supposed to, she bypassed the ghost stage, moving straight on to whatever comes after death. Jenna died before her time so she will remain on earth as a ghost until when she should have died. Except time works differently for ghosts – they can both give and take time from the living.

The guilt Jenna feels over not seeing the signs that led to her sister’s death has resulted in her feeling like she needs to earn her death, only counting the minutes where she’s confident she’s made a positive impact on someone’s life.

I started earning the time I take, justifying it with my actions before I pull it into myself.

I would have been content if that was the entire story, but it’s not. There’s also witches, magic and mysteriously disappearing ghosts. Oh, and a bunch of “feline senior citizens” and cornfields, because this is a Seanan McGuire book, in case you’d forgotten.

If my tear ducts hadn’t suddenly taken a vacation, the dedication alone would have been enough to activate them.

For everyone who has been tempted to go, and has found the strength to stay. I will see you all tomorrow.

Suicide and suicidal ideation can be difficult enough topics to even broach, let alone do right with the sensitivity they deserve. I feel like Seanan has done a really good job here, in the phone call we get to listen in on, in the grief and guilt that Patty’s family experience and the responsibility Jenna feels for not anticipating and preventing her sister’s death.

I’ve paid off a fraction of my debt I owe to Patty, for not hearing the things she never said to me.

It took a little while for me to get my head around how ghost time works but by the time I figured it out, something had happened that has so far always happened when I’ve read a Seanan book: I believed. The characters and the rules that apply in the New York they’re living in felt real to me, and that’s part of Seanan’s magic as far as I’m concerned.

I was entirely satisfied with this story fitting inside a novella during my first read but I’ve gotten greedy since then. I wanted more ghosts, more witches, and more time with those I was introduced to. I could read entire books dedicated to the stories Sophie, Brenda and Delia have to tell.

My reread has raised some questions that my reader’s bliss hid from me during my first read. That was the read that essentially consisted of me marvelling at my good fortune, having so recently discovered a new favourite author.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The question marks above my head did not interfere with my enjoyment of this novella. I still love it to bits. Don’t be surprised if you see me reading it a third time.

Major Spoilers Ahead: Continue reading at your own risk.

It’s mentioned late in the story that

“Ghosts don’t just happen. Someone has to make them. That’s why we all died so early, and why so many of us had freak accidents.”

The person or people or witch or witches who make the ghosts are never revealed. Neither are their motives. Maybe it’s to make sure places are anchored or maybe it’s to make sure time can still be given and taken. The most likely reason to make new ghosts would be to trap them inside mirrors but Jenna has been living her life after death for over forty years mirror free. The not knowing for sure isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things but I would have liked to have at least met whoever it was that was making the ghosts so I could interrogate them myself.

The witch who imprisons almost every ghost in New York must have done a massive amount of research and spent more time than I can fathom collecting a mirror that would work on each individual ghost. It doesn’t say how many ghosts are spending this portion of their lives after death in New York but I’m almost positive that you couldn’t fit all of their mirrors in a supply room.

Content warnings include death by suicide (including the method used).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

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.