Poster Girl – Veronica Roth

WHAT’S RIGHT IS RIGHT.

Sonya was the face of the Delegation and a true believer. Her Insight, “a circle of light around her right iris”, was her constant companion, ensuring she was never alone. Every choice she made was assigned a value, adding or subtracting DesCoin.

“It’s a game that assigns moral value to even the smallest decisions of your life.”

When the Delegation fell, it was replaced by Triumvirate. Almost everyone had their Insight, the technology that was used to track, reward and punish, removed. Sonya, who was 16 when the photo that made her famous was taken, was only a year older when she was imprisoned.

Now the youngest person in Aperture, Sonya is given an opportunity to earn her freedom by finding an illegal second child, Grace Ward, who was three when she was taken from her parents.

“Our offer is simple,” he says. “Find her – or find out what happened to her – and earn your ticket out of here.”

Since the Delegation fell, Sonya’s world has consisted of two streets, Green Street and Gray Street (Delegation colours) and four buildings. Building 1 is a place of acceptance and feels most like a prison. Building 2 houses most of the young people and is a place of chaos. Building 3 is a place of pretending. Building 4, Sonya’s building, is a place of reminiscence.

This is the first time in ten years that Sonya has stepped foot outside her restricted world. She adapts surprisingly well to the changes, taking it all in her stride rather than wandering around aimlessly as I’d expected she would have.

I would not have done well living in this world, where you lose three DesCoin just for groaning. DesCoin reminded me a bit of the points system in The Good Place, although motive doesn’t appear to factor into DesCoin maths.

Because I didn’t get to know many of the people imprisoned in the Aperture, they were mostly interchangeable to me and the romance didn’t work at all for me. My favourite character was Knox, mostly because of her attitude and her active resistance against the status quo.

One of the scary things about Sonya’s world is that it’s only degrees away from our own. Status buys you privileges that are illegal for everyone else. Technology is literally imbedded in you. The government controls your choices and who you become is largely predetermined. I can easily imagine a world where society moulds its citizens in such an extreme way to play the role that’s been designated for them.

“Find out who you are when no one is watching.”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

WHAT’S RIGHT IS RIGHT.

Sonya Kantor knows this slogan – she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives. 

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past – and her family’s dark secrets – than she ever wanted to.

Atlas of Abandoned Places – Oliver Smith

To step into an abandoned place is to cross a kind of threshold into the past – to time travel from the present day to the instant that people departed.

I love abandoned places photography. I enjoy poring over the photos for evidence of the lives of the people who used to inhabit the spaces. There always seems to be a haunted beauty attached to these places, as they gradually erode and nature reclaims them.

I’ve come to expect books about abandoned places to showcase a photographer’s favourite sites. This is the first abandoned places book I’ve read that’s been written by a travel writer. The images are stock photos, which meant I didn’t get get to feel like I was tagging along with someone who may have had to climb fences and find ways to get into buildings undetected. However, it also meant that, rather than the purple prose I’m used to reading in abandoned places books, the information that’s presented here captured my attention just as much as the photography.

Separated into parts by geography – Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, the Middle East and the Caucasus, Asia, Oceania and Africa – this book explores fifty abandoned places, from trains, palaces and a theme park to entire towns. Each four page entry contains photos and a map, along with information about the history, current state and any future plans for the site.

I most want to explore:

  • The Paris Catacombs, not the 1.6km (1 mile) tourist attraction but the network an area of about 320km (200 miles) that haven’t been entirely mapped yet. I want to see the places that remain undiscovered and unmarked by graffiti.
  • City Hall Station, New York.

Two hundred policemen were called to hold back the curious crowds, and the Mayor of New York took the controls of the inaugural train. He had so much fun he refused to hand them back to the driver.

  • Ciudad Perdida (meaning ‘Lost City’), Colombia. You’ll need to hike for four days to get there but the journey sounds as amazing as the destination.

Organized tours see participants traversing rushing rivers on rope bridges, passing waterfalls where hummingbirds dart through the humid air, and sleeping in hammocks listening to the night-time symphony of the forest.

  • Aniva Lighthouse, at the tip of Sakhalin, Russia. It’s desolate and remote, the perfect place to get lost in a book.
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There’s a lot of very interesting information in this book. I’m always on the lookout for fun facts and all things strange and unusual. I found those here too.

For £99, you can buy your very own knighthood. It’s for Sealand, a country that no others recognise, but it’s probably your only chance to be knighted.

Bodie in California is a typo. It’s named after W.S. Bodey, a prospector from New York. If you visit, fair warning: don’t souvenir any trinkets you come across.

‘The Curse of Bodie’ goes that objects stolen from the ghost town have brought tragedy and even death to their new homes. Items are still regularly returned to Bodie in the post, with notes of repentance from sorry thieves.

The grand opening of the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts happened the day the Titanic sank.

New York’s “City Hall Station provided the inspiration for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ lair.”

For places that seem lifeless, their lesson is that – in some form or other – life goes on.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Explore the wonders that the world forgot with award-winning travel writer Oliver Smith – from breathtaking buildings with a dark past to decaying reminders of more troubled times.

The globe is littered with forgotten monuments, their beauty matched only by the secrets of their past.

A glorious palace lies abandoned by a fallen dictator. A grand monument to communism sits forgotten atop a mountain. Two never-launched space shuttles slowly crumble, left to rot in the middle of the desert. Explore these and many more of the world’s lost wonders in this atlas like no other.

With remarkable stories, bespoke maps and stunning photography of fifty forsaken sites, Atlas of Abandoned Places travels the world beneath the surface; the sites with stories to tell, the ones you won’t find in any guidebook.

Award-winning travel writer Oliver Smith is your guide on a long-lost path, shining a light on the places that the world forgot.

Fairy Tale – Stephen King

Seventeen year old Charlie Reade didn’t set out to be a hero. He was just walking past Psycho House when he heard Radar barking. This leads to Charlie getting to know crotchety Mr Bowditch, a man with unexplained wealth and a shed with a padlock on the door.

‘I can’t talk about it now, Charlie, and you must not talk about it to anybody. Anybody. The consequences… I can’t even imagine. Promise me.’

After spending about a third of the book building a tenuous relationship with the declining Bowditch, we follow Radar and her new person down a well of the worlds and into the Other. All is not well in this fairytale land: a greying population, giants who “never sing when you want them to” and a Big Bad.

I was invested in the first third of the book, when the focus was on the relationship between Charlie and Mr Bowditch. While the world I explored alongside Charlie and Radar intrigued me, especially the haunted city, it didn’t captivate me like I’d hoped. I had a soft spot for Dora, although I didn’t feel like I really got to know the inhabitants of Empis. Much of the story was predictable but I enjoyed the ride.

As far as I’m concerned, the smartest choice Stephen King made when he was writing this book was making Radar a senior dog. I’m all for the cuteness of puppies, with their out of proportion feet and ears they haven’t grown into yet, but there’s something extra special about geriatric dogs. Their puppy soul doesn’t match their body’s limitations. Their grey mooshes are adorable. They’re quite content lazing on the couch with you for hours on end. They’re master manipulators, cajoling you into doing anything their little heart desires just by giving you one of their trademark looks.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Radar immediately and I broke my rule of not sneaking a peek at the final pages because I was so concerned for her welfare. I had to know whether I needed to prepare myself for the worst or if I could relax, knowing she would survive her time being written in the King-dom. Radar now owns a piece of my heart.

Here is something I learned in Empis: good people shine brighter in dark times.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Legendary storyteller Stephen King goes into the deepest well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen year old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher – for their world or ours. 

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mum was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself – and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it. 

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King’s storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale about another world than ours, in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy – and his dog – must lead the battle.

The Mountain in the Sea – Ray Nayler

“The great and terrible thing about humankind is simply this: we will always do what we are capable of.”

Ha has been waiting her entire life for this opportunity. She’s secured a research position with DIANIMA, pioneers in the field of artificial intelligence, to study the octopuses of Con Dao.

There had been tales for generations of the monster. Maybe for as long as people had lived on the archipelago. Myths to scare children: shadows and drownings, shapes seen on the shore. But now everyone came to believe the stories.

If a story can make me suspend my disbelief, then it’s usually a winner. That was my hope going into this read. This book didn’t do that. What it did was take my initial fascination and turn it into a belief so solid that I wouldn’t be surprised if findings similar to Ha’s are published in a scientific journal in the not too distant future.

While this is a book of fiction, it quickly became clear how much research went into its creation. The author takes what it currently known about consciousness and communication and extrapolates, coming up with a series of outcomes that had me thinking in terms of when, not if. I was anticipating this book would be an entertaining read. I wasn’t expecting it to be so thought provoking or for its conclusions to feel so plausible.

I was invested in the characters. I initially chuckled at the way some of security specialist Altantsetseg’s words were translated, until I understood the why. Then I sought to learn more about their past. I loved Ha’s inquiring mind and sensitive approach to her work.

But this book asks the question: What if? What if a species of octopus emerged that attained longevity, intergenerational exchange, sociality? What if, unknown to us, a species already has? Then what?

I enjoyed anticipating how Rustem and Eiko’s stories would intersect with those of the characters I met on Con Dao. I decided early on that I didn’t trust Dr Arnkatla Mínervudóttir-Chan but wondered if she’d prove me wrong. The depth of Evrim’s humanity made them my favourite character. Shapesinger made me want to read every book the author mentioned in their acknowledgments.

Even though I don’t have a scientific background, I had no trouble understanding the concepts that were explored in this book. It made me think about consciousness, communication and connection in ways I haven’t previously. It hooked me early on and I’m still thinking about it days after finishing it. This is undoubtedly going to be one of my favourite reads of the year.

“And when the time comes, do what is right.”

Content warnings include death by suicide and slavery. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There’s something in the water of Con Dao. 
To the locals, a monster. 
To the corporate owners of the island, an opportunity.  
To the team of three sent to study and protect, a revelation. 

Their minds are unlike ours. 
Their bodies are malleable, transformable, shifting. 
They can communicate. 
And they want us to leave.

When pioneering marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen is offered the chance to travel to the remote Con Dao Archipelago to investigate a highly intelligent, dangerous octopus species, she doesn’t pause long enough to look at the fine print.

DIANIMA – a transnational tech corporation best known for its groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence – has purchased the islands, evacuated their population and sealed the archipelago off from the world so that Nguyen can focus on her research.

But the stakes are high: the octopuses hold the key to unprecedented breakthroughs in extrahuman intelligence and there are vast fortunes to be made by whoever can take advantage of their advancements. And as Dr. Nguyen struggles to communicate with the newly discovered species, forces larger than DIANIMA close in to seize the octopuses for themselves.

But no one has yet asked the octopuses what they think. And what they might do about it.

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

With Alley Pascoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dangerous Business of Being Trilby Moffat – Kate Temple

‘Excuse me, but are you going to try and murder me, again?’

A Dream Sickness is sweeping the land. Those afflicted suddenly speak in ancient languages and bake strange cakes. This all sounds very fascinating and delicious until someone hands you a flamingo-tongue pie.

As the illness progresses, the time for showing off their new old skills diminishes as they begin to sleep. And then sleep some more.

Trilby’s mother now has the ability to recreate ancient Egyptian hairstyles. When she’s not sleeping, that is.

Trilby’s quest for a way to help her mother leads her to Lost in Time Antiques at Nowhere Else Pier. Before long Trilby becomes the Time Keeper, travels to the Island Between Time, finds the Passage of Time and experiences both lots of time and no time at all. It’s actually all very timely.

During her quirky, unusual, unconventional, out of the ordinary travels, “reasonably nice” Trilby meets the Time Guild and bureaucrats from the Office of the Ministry of the Board of the Department of the Appropriate Division for the Committee of the Commission for the Corporation of the Agency of Association for Managers Administering Time. I’m pretty sure the pencil-pusher responsible for the unpronounceable acronym that allegedly shortens this title also named the departments at my previous workplace.

I really liked Thumbelina and the narrator, but my favourite character was shut up Brian. I definitely want to spend more outside of time with him.

Trilby’s love of crosswords is reflected in the chapter headings and I loved playing along. Handy hint: If you’re stuck, you may find the answer as you read the chapter. Although sometimes you won’t because … reasons. No, I’m not going to tell you. You can figure it out for yourself. My apologies; I must have been spending too much time around the rude cats.

There’s only one niggle my brain is still trying to work out: if time doesn’t pass on the Island Between Time, how does day become night?

When you finish reading this book please feel free to join me at the edge of the cliff I’m currently hanging onto. The first in a series, this book introduces the characters and the world, explains how time does and doesn’t work here and answers some of the questions it raises.

There’s still plenty of fun, entertainment, enjoyment, delight to look forward to. I’ll definitely be accepting my invitation to join Trilby and her new friends when they continue their adventure.

You are never as trapped as a man in a top hat would have you believe.

And there’s always time for cake.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This is NOT just any old book. THIS is a legal document. It contains a truthful record of how Trilby Moffat was accidentally promoted to the most important job that ever existed. The job of Time Keeper.

A mystery illness is making people bake ancient cakes, speak dead languages and then fall asleep and never wake up. When Trilby Moffat’s mother catches this strange sickness, Trilby must find her only other surviving relative, a 300-year-old aunt who lives in a secret antique shop on the edge of time.

Ahead of Trilby lies an unusual inheritance, an opportunity that will never be repeated and a man in a top hat who will try to kill her … more than once.

This is the story of how one ordinary girl finds herself on a deliciously fast-paced adventure, fleeing to an island where time doesn’t exist, cats are particularly rude and cake is always on the menu. Here she will take on the most treacherous job of all time. Well … outside of time, to be precise.

The Daughter of Auschwitz – Tova Friedman & Malcolm Brabant

Before the war, Jews comprised about 30 per cent of Tomaszów Mazowiecki’s population. But out of the 13,000 Jews resident in 1939, just 200 were still breathing at the end of the war in 1945. Only five were children.

Tova Friedman was one of those children.

Tova had never known freedom. Almost exactly a year older than the war, Tova survived three and a half years in the ghetto of Tomaszów Mazowiecki before being transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

To experience Auschwitz as an adult is something I can barely imagine. To experience it as a child is incomprehensible.

I’ve read a number of books written by Holocaust survivors. No matter how much I read, I will ever be able to fully understand the impossible choices they had to make and the unimaginable horrors they both witnessed and experienced firsthand.

Choosing to read about the capacity people have to commit atrocities is painful but necessary. We must never forget the Holocaust.

That anyone survived Auschwitz is extraordinary. To read about survivors who have gone on to lead meaningful lives astounds me. Having survived humanity at its worst, survivors like Tova demonstrate a level of fortitude and resilience that will never stop inspiring me.

Talking about it not only reminds people of the evil that took place, but can also help them to see the ability in each of us to overcome.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘I am a survivor. That comes with a survivor’s obligation to represent one and half million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. They cannot speak. So I must speak on their behalf.’

Tova Friedman was one of the youngest people to emerge from Auschwitz. After surviving the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in Central Poland where she lived as a toddler, Tova was four when she and her parents were sent to a Nazi labour camp, and almost six when she and her mother were forced into a packed cattle truck and sent to Auschwitz II, also known as the Birkenau extermination camp, while her father was transported to Dachau.

During six months of incarceration in Birkenau, Tova witnessed atrocities that she could never forget, and experienced numerous escapes from death. She is one of a handful of Jews to have entered a gas chamber and lived to tell the tale.

As Nazi killing squads roamed Birkenau before abandoning the camp in January 1945, Tova and her mother hid among corpses. After being liberated by the Russians they made their way back to their hometown in Poland. Eventually Tova’s father tracked them down and the family was reunited.

In The Daughter of Auschwitz, Tova immortalises what she saw, to keep the story of the Holocaust alive, at a time when it is in danger of fading from memory. She has used those memories that have shaped her life to honour the victims. Written with award-winning former war reporter Malcolm Brabant, this is an extremely important book. Brabant’s meticulous research has helped Tova recall her experiences in searing detail. Together they have painstakingly recreated Tova’s extraordinary story about one of the worst ever crimes against humanity.

Which Way to Anywhere – Cressida Cowell

K2 is a seemingly unremarkable boy who does his best not to stand out. Izzabird, his twin, is smart, funny and chatty. Their family has a strange Magical history –

‘There’s nothing strange about US!’

but the twins are under strict instructions not to tell anyone.

The stepfather doesn’t suspect he married into such an interesting family. Neither does Theo, his intelligent and sporty son, or Mabel, his quiet and kind daughter.

The magical secrets are bound to get out, though, because the four older children are about to go on a rip-roaring adventure twenty gazillion miles away. Annipeck, their baby sister, has been kidnapped and they’re getting some family bonding time, whether they want it or not.

There’s nothing like an adventure to find out whether you are a Hero or not.

This book is chock full of illustrations that bring the human earflings and their out of this world adventure to life. There are some great chapter titles, like A Stranger Enters the Story and the Story Gets Stranger Still, that really drew me in.

The narrator addresses the reader but not often enough that it becomes annoying. I had some trouble deciphering a few of the words that accompanied the illustrations during the early chapters but didn’t have any problems with this once I got used to the handwriting.

There’s an environmental message and I witnessed some pretty impressive courageous acts. A number of characters were vying for the coveted title of Big Bad.

Amongst all of the arguments and chaos there was a surprise misty eyed moment that had me trying to figure out how to get myself grafted into the O’Hero-Smith family.

‘This is what being a family means.’

Thankfully this is the first in a new series. I absquo-lootely adore books where someone can say, ‘Something’s spooked the toothbrushes …’ and it makes perfect sense.

I have so many questions, including those raised by the story’s narrator. I’m looking forward to getting to know the Aunts better; they have the potential to be fabulously fun to follow around. I definitely need to borrow one of their vacuum cleaners.

The sky’s the limit here, with as many worlds to explore as the author can imagine. This book has given me a taste for what magic is possible but it’s clear we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Make sure to put your thinking cap on and spritz some Steri-gas on yourself before you step into this Otherworld.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

K2 O’Hero is a seemingly ordinary boy from a truly extraordinary family – he and his twin sister Izzabird have been sworn to keep their family’s history of magical explorers a secret. Not even their infuriating stepsiblings, Theo and Mable, know magic exists. They believe K2 to be the most hopeless person they have ever known.

But K2 has a secret gift.

He draws maps of worlds that are beyond the wildest of imaginations. Worlds with six hundred moons, burning rivers, armoured robots and dark, twisty jungles alive with cannibal plants who hunt by the smell of fear. But what K2 doesn’t know, is that the maps he draws are real. They are worlds beyond the world we know, and the maps he draws make up an Alternative Atlas showing the exact spot where the worlds cross.

K2 and his warring siblings are going to have to use this gift to cross over into another world on a daring rescue mission to save the one thing they agree on: their baby sister Annipeck who they all adore. And with a terrible beast and a petrifying robot assassin in their way, they must work together and learn how to be brave – because the future of their family is at stake …

A Walk in the Dark – Jane Godwin

Otway Community School isn’t like other schools, with an approach that’s more collaborative than prescriptive. Head Teacher Johan has even managed to get the parents on board for the Year 9 students to participate in the Dutch tradition of dropping.

‘So, you know the arrangement. We drop you in the forest at four pm, and you must find your way back to school by midnight’

Teams of five will work together to negotiate the 27km (over 16.5 miles) of bushland between the drop location and school. They’re given some instructions, a map, first-aid kit, head torches, compass and a phone (for emergencies only) before they’re sent off into the woods.

We tag along with one of the teams:
🦉 Fred, who has a chip on his shoulder, is the new kid.
🦉 Ash always smiles and is friends with everyone.
🦉 Chrystal is an exchange student who carries a Snoopy stuffed toy everywhere she goes.
🦉 Elle’s an all-rounder who has needed to adapt each time her family have moved.
🦉 Laila, Elle’s friend, lives in a treehouse and is into yoga. Nothing really bothers her.

What the team initially thinks will be a walk in the park becomes anything but. This is a night that will change all of their lives.

I loved seeing Fred’s artistic side find its way to the surface each time he identified a colour by its corresponding Derwent pencil name. Chrystal’s idiosyncrasies made me want to get to know her better.

While the main storyline is resolved, I have some unanswered questions and wish I’d gotten to know some of the characters better. I’m most interested in finding out what changes take place in Fred’s life as a result of the dropping.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘It’s just a walk in the dark. What is there to worry about?’

That’s what the head teacher, Johan, says. And so the Year Nines from Otway Community School set out on an overnight hike, with no adults.

But doesn’t Johan know that a storm is coming?

When five teenagers head in to the forest that late afternoon, none of them is aware what the night will bring. Each will have to draw on their particular strengths to survive. Each will have to face the unknown, battling the elements, events beyond their control, and their own demons. It’s a night that will change everything.

Set in the rainforest of Victoria’s Otway Ranges, A Walk in the Dark is about friendship, trust, identity and family, consent and boundaries, wrapped in a compulsively readable, suspense-filled adventure.

Five head into the forest, but will all five make it out?

The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

“You have all the power you need, if you dare to look for it.”

I feel like I’ve personally failed this book. Hailed as one of the best fantasy books of all time and the unicorn book, this was a highly anticipated read for me.

I spent the first half of the book trying to figure out what I was missing because my mindset was very much one of are we there yet? I put it down for a couple of weeks before trying again. I don’t know whether it was a case of me putting the book down about two pages too early or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind the first time I picked it up but I began to see what all the fuss was about from the moment I met the Red Bull.

While it never made it into the hallowed realm of favourite reads for me, I can see why it has for so many others. There are memorable characters, a quest, heroism, some very quotable moments and, of course, a unicorn, possibly the very last one.

I expect this is the kind of book that embeds itself deeper into your heart the more times you revisit it.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

She was magical, beautiful beyond belief – and completely alone…

The unicorn had lived since before memory in a forest where death could touch nothing. Maidens who caught a glimpse of her glory were blessed by enchantment they would never forget. But outside her wondrous realm, dark whispers and rumours carried a message she could not ignore: “Unicorns are gone from the world.”

Aided by a bumbling magician and an indomitable spinster, she set out to learn the truth, but she feared even her immortal wisdom meant nothing in a world where a mad king’s curse and terror incarnate lived only to stalk the last unicorn to her doom…