Emily Wilde #1: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries – Heather Fawcett

“One doesn’t need magic if one knows enough stories”

This book made a liar out of me. I’ve been proudly declaring my romantiphobia for years. I’ve gleefully avoided books that even hint at a romance in the blurb. When I find undisclosed mushy bits, I feel cheated.

And all of this time it turns out that I absolutely adore grumpy romances. Or maybe it’s just Emily Wilde and Wendell Bambleby’s snarky banter that I’ve waiting for my entire life.

Eight years ago, Emily, then 22, was Cambridge’s youngest adjunct professor. She’s still hoping to receive tenure. Bambleby is her friend, her only friend. You can’t exactly accuse them of being warm and fuzzy.

The problem with Bambleby, I’ve always found, is that he manages to inspire a strong inclination towards dislike without the satisfaction of empirical evidence to buttress the sentiment.

Bambleby, for his part, gives as good as he gets.

‘We cannot all be made of stone and pencil shavings’

Grumpy banter is my new favourite thing. I love these two!

For the past nine years, Emily, who has a “heart filled with the dust of a thousand library stacks”, has been hard at work, researching and writing her book. She’s only got one chapter to go, which is why she finds herself in the “delightful winter wasteland” that is Hrafnsvik, Ljosland.

Emily is loveable in all of her social awkwardness. Practically as soon as she meets some villagers, she finds a way to accidentally alienate herself.

How was it that in trying to remove my foot from my mouth, I invariably managed to shove it in even deeper?

There are faeries (obviously) and other magical beings, there’s danger and adventure and just so much snark. And there’s Shadow, who I adored.

I wasn’t entirely sure if this would be the book for me when I started reading but it utterly enchanted me. I can’t wait to spend more time with these grumps!

“How does one manage to affix toast to the ceiling?”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party – or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, muddle Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones – the most elusive of all faeries – lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all – her own heart.

Dinosaurs – Dean Lomax

I’m pretty sure my fascination with dinosaurs began with The Land Before Time. For a time when I was a kid, I wanted to be a palaeontologist. I don’t think the love of dinosaurs ever dies out.

With ten short chapters, this is easily a read in one sitting book. While I already knew a lot of its fun facts, this was still an interesting read. I’ve chosen one fun fact per chapter to share.

Stegosaurus was already extinct 80 million years before Tyrannosaurus even walked on the Earth!

The remains of dinosaurs have been found on every continent, including Antarctica, which was at one point in time a rainforest.

Sir Richard Owen, founder of London’s Natural History Museum, “coined the word ‘Dinosauria’ in 1842, taken from the Greek words deinos, meaning ‘terrible’ or ‘fearfully great’, and saurus, meaning ‘lizard’.”

Next time you watch Jurassic Park, know that the Velociraptor is based on a Deinonychus. The Velociraptor was actually about the size of a turkey and had a long tail and feathers.

Studies based on the skull of Tyrannosaurus found that it had a bone-shattering bite of more than 60,000 newtons, around 6.5 tonnes of force, making it the most powerful bite known for any terrestrial animal, living or extinct. It is about four times more powerful than the bite of a saltwater crocodile, which has the strongest bite force of any living animal.

It appears that considerable time has been spent by palaeontologists trying to figure out how dinosaurs had sex. The quest for answers, “two dinosaurs preserved in the act of mating”, continues.

Palaeontologists attempt to figure out the family life of dinosaurs by looking at such things as preserved dinosaur tracks, bonebeds and nests.

Through studying the fossil record, it becomes clear that extinction is a natural process, and scientists estimate that 99.9 per cent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct.

Today, palaeontologists classify birds as theropod dinosaurs within the group known as Maniraptora (maniraptorans). More specifically, the birds belong to a subgroup called Paraves, the same wider group that includes dinosaurs like Deinonychus and Velociraptor, which are among the birds’ very closest relatives.

On average a new species of dinosaur is discovered every other week. Every other week! Up to this point, in almost 200 years of study, palaeontologists have identified around 1,500 different species of dinosaur.

What struck me most about this book was how much we still don’t know about dinosaurs and the potential for future discoveries that will change what we think we know about them.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Travel back to the prehistoric world and discover the most fascinating parts of the lives of Earth’s most awe-inspiring creatures – the dinosaurs.

Dr Dean Lomax brings these prehistoric creatures to life in ten bite-sized essays, written for people short on time but not curiosity. Making big ideas simple, Dean takes readers on a journey to uncover what makes a dinosaur a dinosaur, what dinosaurs ate, how they evolved, what caused them to go extinct, and more!

Perfect for anyone fascinated by the dinosaur exhibits at museums, palaeontology and fans of Jurassic Park.

Numbers – Colin Stuart

You know me: I love finding and sharing fun facts. Because this is a book about numbers, I decided to share one fact for each of the ten chapters. Here they are…

Our calendar used to have ten “moonths”. September, October, November and December were named because they were months seven through ten. When two months (January and February) were added because there are usually twelve full moons in a year, no one bothered to change their names. Also, July and August used to be known as Quintilis and Sextilis.

The year numbering system widely used today was invented by a monk called Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century (his name may sound grand, but it translates as ‘Dennis the Short’).

The Mayans used a picture of an upside down turtle shell to represent zero.

Cicadas are distant cousins of shrimp and lobsters. Apparently, they taste like asparagus. (Not all of the fun facts in this book are specifically about numbers, even though the reason we learn about cicadas is number related.)

Every non-prime number can be deconstructed into prime numbers multiplied together (called ‘prime factors’).

Pi fun facts:
🥧 We know pi to 62.8 trillion digits
🥧 “8 is the most common digit in the first trillion digits”
🥧 There are six nines in a row at position 768
🥧 “It takes until the 17,387,594,880th digit to find the sequence 0123456789.”
🥧 You can search for combinations, like your date of birth, at angio.net/pi.

In the early nineteenth century, Reverend Jeremiah Trist built circular homes for each of his five daughters in the Cornish village of Veryan. He reasoned that there’d be no corners for the devil to hide in. If only he’d read this book first, he’d know that circles actually have an infinite number of corners. Oops!

Your maths teacher lied to you: the sum of the angles of a triangle don’t always equal 180 degrees. That only works for flat surfaces. Triangles drawn on spheres can add up to 540 degrees! If you draw a circle on a hyperbolic paraboloid (think Pringles), they’ll add up to less than 180 degrees.

Companies use graph theory to decide the route their delivery drivers take. “Such a dilemma is called a Travelling Salesman Problem (TSP) or vehicle routing problem.”

To say Francis Galton had some problematic ideas is well and truly understating it. He also came up with a way of cutting cakes to make them stay fresh longer. Although, to be fair, who expects there to be leftover cake on day three anyway?

In a group of 30 people, there is a 71% chance that two of them will share a birthday. In a group of 70 people, there is a 99.9% chance that two of them will share a birthday.

Exponential growth means that if you invested $1 in the US stock market in 1900, it would now be worth almost $70,000.

The Infinity Hotel, also called Hilbert’s Hotel, will mess with your mind. It gets to the point where an infinite number of coaches carrying an infinite number of people results in there being an infinite number of occupied rooms as well as an infinite number of unoccupied rooms.

Doesn’t add up to ten, does it? Okay, so maybe I failed at the one fact per chapter thing but only because there were too many fun facts I wanted to be able to refer to later.

This was a quick read. I mostly found it easy to follow, although infinity twisted my brain in knots and I’m not sure I could explain graph theory to you (I expect to forget everything I learned about it by this time tomorrow).

Before I found this book at my library, I’d never heard of the 10 Things You Should Know series. Now I want to know about all of the things.

Because I love pi so much now, I’m tempted to give this book pi out of five stars but that would be underselling the fun I had reading it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Uncover the language of our universe – numbers – in this wide-ranging whistle-stop tour of the history and majesty of mathematics.

Our world simply wouldn’t function if we didn’t have numbers. But where do they come from? Why do we cut cake the wrong way? How can there be different sizes of infinity?

All these questions and more are answered in this engaging romp through the history of numbers by acclaimed science writer, Colin Stuart. From the mathematicians who have (and haven’t) shouted ‘Eureka!’ to the theories that affect and inform our everyday lives, Numbers shows us that maths was never boring – we were just being taught it in the wrong way.

Consisting of ten bite-sized essays, there’s no better guide to this fundamental science.

The Magician’s Daughter – H.G. Parry

“We need to bring magic back into the world.”

If ever there was a book that could make you believe in magic, this is it.

Me? Well, I already believed. But now I believe even more.

Biddy has grown up on the island of Hy-Brasil with Rowan, who is sometimes a raven, and Hutch, who is sometimes not a rabbit. Unlike Rowan and Hutch, Biddy doesn’t have magic.

At almost seventeen, Biddy has never left the island.

She was a liminal person, trapped between a world she’d grown out of and another that wouldn’t let her in.

Throughout her life, Rowan has flown to the mainland. He always returns before dawn … until the day that he doesn’t.

This world invited me in and made me feel at home. I accompanied Biddy as she transformed from a sheltered, bookish girl to a young woman who‘s beginning to discover what she’s capable of.

“In every fairy tale ever told, it’s a bad idea to tangle with a magician’s daughter.”

As I walked alongside her, I not only saw through her eyes but felt what she was experiencing.

My favourite vicarious experience was Biddy’s relationship with Rowan and Hutch. I’m always a sucker for stories that introduce me to found families. This one, though, made me care so deeply about the individuals and their bond that even thinking about the connection between Rowan and Hutch being severed was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

This was a stressful read, in the best way possible. When the characters were in danger I not only feared for their safety but the effect it would have on the others if anything bad happened to them.

Although this is a story of magic and adventure, it is also bookish in so many wonderful ways. Most of what Biddy knows of the outside world, she learned from books and she prepares for new experiences by reading. Their castle (yes, they live in a castle!) has a library with thousands of books. There’s also a library inside a tree!

I’m not sure how this magic works but this read gave me the comfort I feel rereading a childhood favourite while delivering the anticipation of a new book that you can’t put down.

This is going to be one of my favourite reads of the year. I need to read everything this author ever writes.

“It’s all complicated and messy and wild and glorious.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Off the coast of Ireland sits a legendary island hidden by magic. A place of ruins and ancient trees, sea-salt air and fairy lore, Hy-Brasil is the only home Biddy has ever known. Washed up on its shore as a baby, Biddy lives a quiet life with her guardian, the mercurial magician Rowan. A life she finds increasingly stifling.

One night, Rowan fails to return from his mysterious travels. To find him, Biddy must venture into the outside world for the first time. But Rowan has powerful enemies – forces who have hoarded the world’s magic and have set their sights on the magician’s many secrets.

Biddy may be the key to stopping them. Yet the closer she gets to answers, the more she questions everything she’s ever believed about Rowan, her past, and the nature of magic itself.

Ghosts of the Orphanage – Christine Kenneally

For more than a hundred years, the people of Vermont had, knowingly or unknowingly, sent their children in reverent offering to the huge house on the hill outside of town. The obedient servants of the Catholic God took the children in, and in return, behind the locked doors of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, out of their own pain and misery, and with all their immense entitlement, they devoured them.

Some books stay with me because they were so well written. Others linger because they invited me into a world that I previously knew very little of, or their content haunts me. Then there are those that introduce me to people I’ll never forget.

This book was all of the above. I expect it to be one of my favourite non-fiction reads of the year.

Investigating some of the worst abuses of power I’ve ever read about, abuse that took place over the course of decades and throughout continents by seemingly countless perpetrators, this is not an easy read. Important, absolutely. Easy, not even close.

However, despite detailing abuses that run the gamut – verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, medical, neglect, torture, even murder – the descriptions are not as graphic as I had expected them to be. That’s not to say that there’s any doubt about the level of brutality these children survived (or didn’t, in some cases). The content is potentially triggering but it’s delivered as sensitively as possible.

The research that preceded this book was extensive, consisting of hundreds of interviews as well as … take a deep breath …

thousands of pages of transcripts from the St. Joseph’s litigation in the 1990s and files from Vermont Catholic Charities, which included contemporaneous logs from social workers at the orphanage, medical records, historic photographs, and letters written by priests and other workers in child welfare at the time, as well as handwritten diaries, police records, autopsy reports, transcripts from secret church tribunals, priest rehabilitation reports, orphanage settlement letters, historic newspaper articles, death and birth certificates, and government files and reports from many jurisdictions.

While the bulk of the book focuses on the atrocities that took place at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Vermont, you’ll also learn about other orphanages in America, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Scotland.

“I thought I was the reason all that stuff happened,” he told me. “All that time, I thought it was only happening to me, but it was happening all over the place.”

Geoff Meyer

Sally Dale is integral to this book but hers is not the only story that will stay with you. I’m in awe of the courage, resilience and determination of the children I was introduced to, those who lived to become adults as well as those who didn’t.

As adults, many have fought for justice against one of the oldest institutions in the world. The pain of hearing their stories was well and truly offset by the privilege of getting to know these remarkable survivors.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, but my recommendation comes with a word of warning: please take good care of yourself while you’re reading it. And make sure you have tissues on hand.

Now I know that some people have always moved freely between the reality that is plain to see and its hinterlands: the institutions, the orphanages, the places where things happen behind closed doors and stay hidden.

Content warnings include death by suicide, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, forced labour, medical experimentation, mental health, murder, physical abuse, sexual assault and torture. Readers with emetophobia are really going to struggle.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A shocking expose of the dark, secret history of Catholic orphanages – the violence, abuse, and even murder that took place within their walls – and a call to hold the powerful to account.

Ghosts of the Orphanage is the result of ten years of investigation by award-winning journalist Christine Kenneally. What she has uncovered is shocking, yet it was all hiding in plain sight.

Terrible things, abuse, both physical and psychological, and even deaths have happened in orphanages all over the world for many years. The survivors have been telling what happened to them for a long time, but no one has been listening. Authorities have too often been unwilling to accept their stories. And a victim’s options for recourse have been limited by the years it has taken many survivors to process their trauma, tell their stories, and pursue legal action.

Centering on St. Joseph’s, a Catholic orphanage in Vermont, Kenneally investigates and shares the stories of survivors. She has fought to expose the truth and hold the powerful – many of them Catholic priests and nuns – to account. And it is working. As these stories have come to light, the laws in Vermont have been forced to change, including the statute of limitations on prosecuting them.

Told with human compassion, novelistic detail and a powerful sense of purpose, Ghosts of the Orphanage is not only a gripping story but a reckoning. It is proof that real evil lurks at the edges of our society, and that, if we have the courage, we can bring it into the light and defeat it.

Crookhaven: The School for Thieves – J.J. Arcanjo

Illustrations – Euan Cook

‘Alone you can become exceptional; together you can become unstoppable.’

The only thing Gabriel Avery’s parents left when they abandoned him was a 2p coin. Gabe lives with his Grandma, using his pickpocketing skills to put sandwiches on the table (bacon for Gabe and charred sausage for Grandma). Although he’s done well to stay under the radar, his thieving abilities have recently been noticed.

‘As I live and thieve!’

Rather than spending some time behind bars, Gabe has been offered a place at a most “disreputable establishment”, Crookhaven, a boarding school for “wrongdoers, swindlers and thieves”. There he will study subjects that will mould him into a criminal all-rounder: forgery, crimnastics, picking locks, hacking and deception.

The three principles students learn at Crookhaven are:

Lie. But never lie to yourself.

Cheat. But never cheat your friends.

Steal. But never steal from those in need.

Each student comes to Crookhaven with their own set of skills and there is some division between those who gain entry as Merits and the Legacies, but the students all have something in common. They’re “the outcasts, the misunderstood, the reviled”. I’m a sucker for stories featuring outcasts.

Besides the comfort of knowing he doesn’t have to scheme and steal to put food in his belly, Crookhaven offers Gabe another first, the opportunity to make friends. The found family aspect of this book was one of my favourite takeaways.

There’s Penelope, who can’t abide rule breaking. She speaks five languages fluently and understands another two. I adored her spikiness and attitude.

Ade and Ede are twin white hats, known in the hacking community as the Brothers Crim. The only time they’re in sync is when they’re hacking, so part of their role is comic relief.

Then there’s the Blur, Amira. Other than Penelope, she’s the one I most want to spend more time with.

The first in a series, this book introduces you to Gabe’s world, as well as the beloved and new people in his life. You’ll crave bacon sandwiches as you scheme along with Gabe as he navigates his new surroundings.

So I don’t forget by the time I read the sequel, I made a list of the various Crookhaven teachers:

  • Caspian Crook teaches Tech-nique
  • Friedrich teaches Crimnastics
  • Miss Jericho teaches History of Crookery
  • Mr Khan teaches Deception
  • Ms Locket teaches Infiltration
  • Palombo teaches Forgery
  • Mr Sisman teaches Cultivating a Crook
  • Mr Velasquez teaches Tricks of the Trade
  • Whisper teaches Hacking.

Crookhaven’s co-Headmasters are Caspian Crook and Whisper.

This book hooked me. I love the characters. I love the setting. I love the fact that it takes outcasts and gives them somewhere to belong, all the while playing to their strengths.

You’d think a book about crooks would be chock full of nefarious characters fighting dirty to be the biggest Big Bad. The focus, though, is learning skills to do good in the world.

‘Crookhaven: we do wrong to put the world right.’

That’s not to say that there aren’t any morally grey characters or baddies being dastardly.

This book is an entertaining mix of action, mystery, drama and humour. Adult me loved it. Kid me would have loved it. I can’t imagine geriatric me feeling any differently. It’s a winner.

While their role is explored in this book, I’m hoping to get to know some of the Gardeners in future books.

Favourite no context quote:

‘Because it is the outsiders, the forgotten, the ones who’ve always felt like they don’t belong, who end up changing the world.’

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“So this is really a school for criminals.” It was meant as a question, though it came out more as an accusation.

“We are so much more than that,” Caspian said, sitting in a plush leather chair and gesturing for Gabriel to sit in a similar one across the table. “We are a home for the forgotten, a sanctuary for the lost and … yes, a training ground for the greatest crooks of the future.”

13-year-old Gabriel is a brilliant pickpocket, a skill which he uses to keep his often empty belly not quite so empty. And then one day, he’s caught.

But instead of being arrested, he is invited by the mysterious Caspian Crook to attend Crookhaven – a school for thieves. At Crookhaven, students are trained in lock-picking, forgery and ‘crim-nastics’, all with the intention of doing good out in the world, by conning the bad and giving back to the innocent.

But … can you ever really trust a thief?

With a school wide competition to be crowned Top Crook and many mysteries to uncover, Gabriel’s first year at Crookhaven will be one to remember…

The Modern Bestiary – Joanna Bagniewska

Illustrations – Jennifer N.R. Smith

Animals that breathe through their skin. Animals who live in the bums of other animals. Animals having sex. Lots of sex. Animal genitalia. Flying fish. Flying snakes. Animals making other animals into zombies. It’s all here.

Written by a zoologist, this book introduces you to 100 animals of the earth, water and air. With two pages allocated to each animal, this was a quick but interesting read. Some entries were funny while others were cringeworthy. I couldn’t help but think that we have a lot to learn from the way that some animals take care of one another. And we should avoid behaving like others at all costs.

I tend to collect fun facts wherever I go and this book is absolutely filled with them. Here are some of my new favourites.

When researchers from the University of Chicago tested brown rats’ empathy by giving them a choice of freeing one of their mates from a cage or opening a container that contained chocolate chips, they freed their mate. Then they both proceeded to share the chocolate chips.


When they’re threatened, stick insects “can generate a chemical secretion from their mouthparts” that smells like toffee.

Goo-eaters is a legitimate technical term used by herpetologists for animals that “feed on all things slimy: snails, slugs, worms and occasionally amphibian eggs.”

Sacoglossan sea slugs can self-amputate their heads. And survive.

In the self-beheading process, the slug severs off around 80-85 per cent of its body weight, including the heart and other organs, along a neat ‘neckline’ – and the head wanders off on its own. The body is still alive for a few weeks, or even months, and the heart beats, more and more faintly, up to the point of decomposition. The head, however, starts a new, solo life, and proceeds to grow a fresh body, in an act of extreme regeneration. The new bod is ready in under three weeks, complete with heart and all.

If a female moorland hawker dragonfly isn’t keen on a male suitor, she’ll fake her own death, crashing to the ground and remaining motionless until he leaves.

After making the incision, vampire bats lap up the trickling blood using their specialised grooved tongues; clotting is prevented by anticoagulants in their saliva. The name of that anticoagulant? Draculin. Yes, scientists are geeks.

Jennifer N.R. Smith’s illustrations are incredible!


At the time of writing, there are over 1.4 million described animal species indexed in the Catalogue of Life, an online database sourcing information from peer-reviewed, scientifically sound sources. This number, though impressive in absolute terms, is still rather modest compared to what we don’t know: estimates for the total number of species on Earth range from 8 million to 163 million. Out of the catalogued species, the vast majority are arthropods (1.1 million species) and, within those, insects (over 950,000). The vertebrates comprise barely 5 per cent of all described animals, and the most charismatic taxa – birds and mammals – a measly 0.7 and 0.4 per cent, respectively.

This book covers one hundred species so there are a potential 14,000 sequels on the way. I’m hoping for at least one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the familiar to the improbable, the gross to the endearing, The Modern Bestiary is a compendium of curious creatures. It includes both animals that have made headlines and those you’ve probably never heard of, such as skin-eating caecilians, harp sponges, or zombie worms – also known as bone-eating snot flowers.

Arranged by elements (Earth, Water, Air), The Modern Bestiary contains well-known species told from new, unexpected angles (rats that drive cars; fish that communicate by passing wind), as well as stranger and lesser-known creatures, including carnivorous mice that howl at the moon, cross-dressing cuttlefish, and antechinuses – small marsupials that literally mate themselves to death. Finally, there are the ‘aliens on Earth’ – the incredible, the surreal, the magical – such as tardigrades, tongue-eating lice and immortal jellyfish, creatures so astonishing that they make unicorns look rather commonplace.

Written by a zoologist with a flair for storytelling, this is a fascinating celebration of the animal kingdom.

City of Nightmares – Rebecca Schaeffer

Welcome to Gotham Newham, a city that can literally crawl with villains, where the authorities are more likely to bribe you than help you. It’s mouldy, it’s smoggy, it smells like “urine and dust, barbecue and burnt coal.” It’s also where you’ll find the the cult that Nessa joined three years ago.

“It’s not a cult.”

Uh huh… It’s called Friends of the Restful Soul. Tell me that’s not a cult!

Ness has been a coward (her words, not mine, but she’s not wrong…) for eight years, ever since her sister turned into a giant spider and started eating people.

See, this is a world where your nightmares become Nightmares. Don’t understand the difference? Well, a Nightmare is what happens when you don’t drink the tap water laced with Helomine or remember to down some Nightmare-prevention drugs and allow yourself to dream. Dreaming results in you waking up as your worst fear.

I had such high expectations for this book that I didn’t think it was possible for it to meet them. I wanted to hold onto my hope so much that I put off reading it for weeks. I needn’t have worried. I was hooked by the second page and I read nonstop until I finished.

Ness is living her best scared life. She runs away from any person, location or situation that could maybe, possibly be dangerous. It’s a good thing she has her badass best friend, Priya, to protect her and the brick box that she calls home (previously the janitor’s closet), the only place she feels safe. Our Ness has trust issues.

I can’t get too close to anyone, you never know who’s already a Nightmare – or who will turn into one.

Badass Priya runs towards danger and is looking forward to the day when she gets paid to kill sea monsters and sky monsters. Basically, any monster will do. Just let Priya at ‘em!

“If it’s attacking me, I kill it. If it’s attacking other people, I kill it. If it’s not attacking anyone, I don’t kill it. I feel like it’s a really simple distinction.”

Then there’s Cy the sigher. He’s probably my favourite character. When you get to know him, you’ll want to be his friend too.

The Nightmares are brilliant, the mayor has an attack pterodactyl and Ness is definitely a cult member.

“Still not a cult.”

I urgently need the sequel!

Favourite no context quote:

“He was still my husband. We just couldn’t communicate anymore because I don’t speak giant cockroach!”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Gotham meets Strange the Dreamer in this thrilling young adult fantasy about a cowardly girl who finds herself at the centre of a criminal syndicate conspiracy, in a city where crooked politicians and sinister cults reign and dreaming means waking up as your worst nightmare.

Ever since her sister became a man-eating spider and slaughtered her way through town, nineteen-year-old Ness has been terrified – terrified of some other Nightmare murdering her, and terrified of ending up like her sister. Because in Newham, the city that never sleeps, dreaming means waking up as your worst fear.

Whether that means becoming a Nightmare that’s monstrous only in appearance, to transforming into a twisted, unrecognisable creature that terrorises the city, no one is safe. Ness will do anything to avoid becoming another victim, even if that means lying low among the Friends of the Restful Soul, a questionable organisation that may or may not be a cult.

But being a member of maybe-cult has a price. In order to prove herself, Ness cons her way into what’s supposed to be a simple job for the organisation – only for it to blow up in her face. Literally. Tangled up in the aftermath of an explosive assassination, now Ness and the only other survivor – a Nightmare boy who Ness suspects is planning to eat her – must find their way back to Newham and uncover the sinister truth behind the attack, even as the horrors of her past loom ominously near.

Bizarre – Marc Dingman

I’m fascinated by why humans do the strange things we do. This book answered some of the questions I’ve had, as well as some I didn’t have until I started reading.

While I have an interest in neuroscience, I don’t have a scientific background so am usually hesitant to dive into books that explore it. The blurb made this one sound like it would be accessible without a bunch of prior knowledge so I took a chance. I loved it so much that I practically inhaled it.

I have so much more appreciation for the complexities of the brain and how much we still don’t know about how it works. Given how many of its parts are involved in tasks that we often do without a second thought, it’s astounding that we function at all.

Just speaking a simple sentence, for example, requires the successful execution of operations such as word retrieval, the application of syntax (i.e., the rules used to properly arrange words in a sentence), coordinating the activity of the muscles involved in speech, sprinkling in appropriate changes in tone and pitch, and so on. Each of these tasks might require the contribution of different parts of the brain, causing language to be reliant on a large number of functioning brain regions for it to be fully operational.

This book explains how the different parts of the brain work but I’m also much more aware now of the many ways that things can go wrong. Illness, trauma and other unexpected bumps in the road that affect even one part of the brain can have life changing consequences.

Each chapter covers a different area of behaviour: identification, physicality, obsessions, exceptionalism, intimacy, personality, belief, communication, suggestibility, absence, disconnection and reality.

There are so many disorders and syndromes covered in this book, some I’d already heard of but others that were new to me. There’s Cotard’s syndrome, where you’re convinced you’re dead or have lost organs, blood or body parts, and Capgras syndrome, where you believe people close to you have been replaced by imposters. There’s clinical lycanthropy/zoanthropy, pica, hoarding, objectophilia, dissociative identity disorder, the placebo effect, folie à deux, agnosia, alien hand syndrome, Alice in Wonderland syndrome and more.

Despite how strange some of them may seem, they often just represent the extremes of the spectrum of normal human tendencies – and they are not completely foreign to us.

A lot of the stories will stay with me but probably none more so than that of Kim Peek, who had a condition called an encephalocele, “where an incompletely developed cranium allows part of the brain to bulge outside the skull – potentially twisting, distorting, and damaging brain tissue in the process.” Despite considerable brain damage, Kim was able to do something extraordinary.

He eventually could read a page in 8 to 10 seconds while memorizing all the information on it. He even began reading and comprehending the right and left pages of a book simultaneously (with his right and left eyes).

By the time he died in 2009 at the age of 58, Kim had read – and memorized – more than 12,000 books.

Morbid curiosity may make you want to read this book but, thanks to the author’s approach, you never lose sight of the fact that these are real people you’re reading about, people who have often suffered greatly as a result of what’s happening in their brain.

This book did what I’m always looking for in non-fiction. I learned plenty of interesting new things. It held my attention. It made me think. It made me want to learn more.

Content warnings include domestic abuse, gun violence, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia may have some trouble.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The human brain is an impossibly complex and delicate instrument – capable of extraordinary calculations, abundant creativity and linguistic dexterity. But the brain is not just the most brilliant of evolutionary wonders. It’s also one of the most bizarre.

This book shows a whole other side of how brains work – from the patient who is afraid to take a shower because she fears her body will slip down the drain to a man who is convinced, against all evidence, that he is a cat, and a woman who compulsively snacks on cigarette ashes.

Entertaining though they are, these cases are more than just oddities. In attempting to understand them, neuroscientists have uncovered important details about how the brain works. Bizarre will examine these details while explaining what neuroscience’s most unusual patients have taught us about normal brain function -ideal both for readers seeking a better appreciation of the inner workings of the brain and those who simply want some extraordinary topics for dinner party conversation.

How to Be Perfect – Michael Schur

So, you’re currently season 1 Eleanor but you want to be season 4 Eleanor. How are you going to go about scoring enough points to get into the good place when you don’t have a Chidi in your life? Written by the guy who created Chidi, this book is the next best thing.

Each time I watched Chidi stand at the blackboard I’d feel like I should be taking notes. I wanted to enrol in his class. Now I don’t have to. Michael Schur has read a bunch of long, dry moral philosophy books so you don’t have to. This is your crash course, a road map for map for ethical dilemmas:

What are we doing?

Why are we doing it?

Is there something we could be doing that’s better?

Why is it better?

There’s the “Big Three”:

  • Virtue ethics – “What makes a person good or bad?”
  • Deontology – “the study of duties or obligations”
  • Utilitarianism – a branch of consequentialism, “which cares only about the results or consequences of our actions”.

There’s ubuntu, pragmatism and existentialism.

Life is anguish. Welcome to existentialism!

There’s the trolley problem!


It’s about trying to do better while acknowledging that no matter how hard we try, we’re not always going to get it right. So it’s also about learning to accept failure.

As soon as I began reading I imagined Chidi teaching me. I thought he’d be the perfect one to narrate the audiobook but then I encountered a problem. Michael Schur has a sense of humour that’s evident in his writing. Chidi? Not so much, and given Chidi’s extreme difficulty in making decisions, it’s likely we’d all be dead before he decided if he was going to sign up for the gig or not. Then my brain helpfully suggested Alan Tudyk for the job and it was all over; I couldn’t move past him and I found myself hearing everything I was reading in his voice. This entertained me as much as the content.

I borrowed this book from the library but plan to buy my own copy so I can continue my journey to season 4 Eleanor. I may have to check out the audiobook to see what it’s like to experience this book without Alan Tudyk in my head.

The trying is important. Keep trying.

I’m not holding the author’s views on pizza against him, but suspect the opposite may not be true.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the creator of The Good Place and the cocreator of Parks and Recreation, a hilarious, thought-provoking guide to living an ethical life, drawing on 2,500 years of deep thinking from around the world.

Most people think of themselves as “good,” but it’s not always easy to determine what’s “good” or “bad” – especially in a world filled with complicated choices and pitfalls and booby traps and bad advice. Fortunately, many smart philosophers have been pondering this conundrum for millennia and they have guidance for us. With bright wit and deep insight, How to Be Perfect explains concepts like deontology, utilitarianism, existentialism, ubuntu, and more so we can sound cool at parties and become better people.

Schur starts off with easy ethical questions like “Should I punch my friend in the face for no reason?” (No.) and works his way up to the most complex moral issues we all face. Such as: Can I still enjoy great art if it was created by terrible people? How much money should I give to charity? Why bother being good at all when there are no consequences for being bad? And much more. By the time the book is done, we’ll know exactly how to act in every conceivable situation, so as to produce a verifiably maximal amount of moral good. We will be perfect, and all our friends will be jealous. OK, not quite. Instead, we’ll gain fresh, funny, inspiring wisdom on the toughest issues we face every day.