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 …

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 …