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…

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.

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.

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.

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 …

Just Like Home – Sarah Gailey

You’re returning to your childhood home for the first time in twelve years. Your job is to watch your mother die and then clean out the house. There’s a stranger living in the shed because your mother’s been cashing in on the fact that your father, who built the house, was a serial killer. Everyone in town hates you because of who your father was.

Welcome to Vera’s world.

The house was the same, but everything everything everything was different.

This is my first Sarah Gailey book and it was amazing! It was unsettling in the best way possible.

I know what it is to love a ‘monster’. Some of Vera’s responses to hers were scarily familiar. Others were (thankfully) more foreign. The ritual she completed to ensure her safety as a child made complete sense to me, as did its reappearance when she returned to Crowder House.

They remembered what they were supposed to do to keep her safe, remembered from when she was young enough to develop a superstition without reasoning herself out of it.

This book introduced me to a mother-daughter relationship that has been twisted and contaminated by their shared history. This is a story that explores the power of secrets to change you and a past that no longer wants to remain in the shadows.

It’s about loneliness and belonging, what makes a house a home and the inexplicable loudness of the things have been left unsaid in our lives.

Lemonade will never be the same.

I want to see.

Content warnings include domestic abuse.

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

“Come home.” Vera’s mother called and Vera obeyed. In spite of their long estrangement, in spite of the memories – she’s come back to the home of a serial killer. Back to face the love she had for her father and the bodies he buried there.

Coming home is hard enough for Vera, and to make things worse, she and her mother aren’t alone. A parasitic artist has moved into the guest house out back, and is slowly stripping Vera’s childhood for spare parts. He insists that he isn’t the one leaving notes around the house in her father’s handwriting… but who else could it possibly be?

There are secrets yet undiscovered in the foundations of the notorious Crowder House. Vera must face them, and find out for herself just how deep the rot goes.

The Extraordinaries #3: Heat Wave – T.J. Klune

To know Nick, Seth, Gibby, and Jazz is to love them and, three books later, it’s hard to let them go. I couldn’t wait to see what was next for Lighthouse but … there are no new Extraordinaries books for me to look forward to, so the only way I get to spend time with these kindred spirits again is to stalk them reread style.

“Extraordinary groupies are weird and don’t understand boundaries.”

Touché.

I’d been desperately holding on after being practically thrown off a cliff at the end of the second book and for much of the first half of this one I sharpened my ability to gaslight myself. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for Nick which, these days, means superhero training, although he’s keen to ditch the training wheels.

“What’s the point of being an Extraordinary if I don’t get to be extraordinary?”

This book was everything I hoped it would be. It made my heart go all melty. The ante was upped on mortifying teenage moments. My need to adopt Nick’s father skyrocketed. There were a couple of misty-eyed moments of the ‘that’s so beautiful’ variety.

This book is bow ties, watermelon flavoured Skwinkles Salsagheti, code words and stabby forks. It’s also college applications, “Backflip of Chaos!”, relationship goals and villains from the past becoming villains of the present.

“You’re the bad guy. Blah, blah, blah. Heard it all before. Get some new material.”

Nick is as adorable as usual, his mouth still kicking into gear before he has time to think. Things are heating up with Seth, AKA “Sexy Sex Beast Who Looks Good in Pretty Much Everything.”

“Oh my god, what is wrong with me? I’m trying to get laid while also trying to talk you out of it? No wonder I’m a virgin.”

Gibby and Jazz are as badass as ever. And don’t get me started on Dad Squad. Hello, spin-off potential! Bonus points if Burrito Jerry is there too.

I’m having trouble coming up with sentences to tell you how much I love this series but if you’d seen how often I smiled while I was reading each book, you’d have a pretty good idea. These characters have taken up residence in my heart and it’s been an absolute joy getting to tag along as they make their world a better place. I’m more convinced than ever that I need a catchphrase.

“It’s time to take out the trash.”

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

School’s out for the summer and a raging heat wave has blanketed Nova City. Still, Nick’s life is pretty much perfect, as he finally gets to team up with his superhero boyfriend to bring justice, protection, and disaster energy to the world.

Meanwhile, Seth, Jazz, and Gibby are setting up headquarters for Lighthouse, their hero team, Nick’s dad’s private investigation agency is taking off, and Nick’s mother, the superhero known as TK, is right there at Nick’s side. Where she’s always been. Hasn’t she?

But something’s off. It’s not just Simon Burke campaigning to ‘cure’ Extraordinaries. And it’s not the rumours of Nick’s ex-boyfriend and villain-in-the-making’s escape. Something isn’t right and Nick will need all his loved ones together to uncover the truth – a truth that will reveal a traitor in their midst and burn through their lives like a wild fire.

Girls of Paper and Fire #3: Girls of Fate and Fury – Natasha Ngan

“The small bird flies on the wings of the golden-eyed girl” 

Nine Paper Girls. Each claimed their very own piece of my heart in Girls of Paper and Fire. While I loved them all, I identified mostly with three: Lei, the Moonchosen, trained assassin Wren and Blue, winner of the girl with the most attitude award. Then there was sweetheart Lill, not one of the nine but so darn adorable that I couldn’t help but want to protect her from the big, bad world.

My favourites all returned in this final book of the trilogy, a book I’d both anticipated and dreaded. I needed to know what would happen to each of my girls and I couldn’t wait to spend more time with them, loving them and learning from them, but I wasn’t ready to say good bye to them just yet. Although I’m sad to be leaving them behind (for now; I know they’ll be waiting for me when I return for my reread), I’m also grateful because my heart is so full having known them. 

These girls are everything I want in characters, and in myself, if I’m going to be honest. They’ve been through absolute hell but, despite everything, they keep showing up. Although literal survival would be a triumph at this point, they’re always reaching for more. They want justice, they want peace and they’re going to fight, in an actual war, to achieve it. Their resilience, their courage, their ability to still love and be loved, is extraordinary. 

When the world denies you choices, you make your own. 

That’s not to say that they don’t feel the effects of what they’ve survived so far. There are the nightmares, the flashbacks, the dissociation, the times when the past tries its darnedest to swallow them whole. PTSD, although it’s not officially diagnosed in Ikhara (none of our girls really have the time to make an appointment with a psychologist anyway), is evident in the various trauma impacts the reader is privy to. Coping mechanisms, healthy and otherwise, are as varied as the individual characters, and I adore that about this series. There is no one correct way to respond when you’ve experienced the kind of trauma these girls have; all of their responses are normal. 

“Fire in. Fear out.” 

While recovery from sexual assault remains something our girls are all dealing with, another character is having to figure out her life post-disability. This character is a total badass and one of my new favourites. They’re able to acknowledge their disability and the impact it has on their life without it defining them and I loved them even more for that. The authenticity and sensitivity evident in the writing, already proven by the way the author has handled the experience of and survival after sexual assault, are extended to the experience of disability.

There will be reviews that will talk about the story and others that will talk about its themes. I’m here to tell you that I love these girls even more now than I did before I began this book. I got to return to the Hidden Palace to confront the past and spent precious time with characters I didn’t think I’d cross paths with again. 

This isn’t only Lei’s story. We’re also given chapters written from Wren’s perspective in this book and I couldn’t help noticing the differences between the two. Lei, who is more open and leads with her heart, has chapters written in the first person. Wren, the trained assassin who guards her heart more, has chapters written in the third person, almost as if she needed to keep the reader at arm’s length because she’s not certain they’re worthy of her trust.

This is a story for all Paper Girls both on and off the page. Like the books before it, I felt seen in its pages. I was reminded that you can survive your past. You can continue to fight even when your mind and body are telling your spirit you can’t. It’s okay to accept help from the supportive people around you. You are not the labels others place on you. You can look forward to a future where your past, while it can never be undone, doesn’t have to define you. 

“Give them hell, girls. For all of us.” 

Content warnings include mental health, misogyny, racism, references to sexual assault, self harm, torture, violence and war.

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

‘Don’t struggle, Lei-zhi. It’s time to take you back to the Hidden Palace. You’re going home.’

The jaw-dropping conclusion to Girls of Storm and Shadow left the fates of Lei and Wren hanging in the balance. There’s one thing Lei knows – she can never return to the Hidden Palace. The trauma and tragedy she suffered behind those opulent walls will plague her forever. She cannot be trapped there with the sadistic king again, especially without Wren.

The last time Lei saw the girl she loved, Wren was fighting an army of soldiers in a furious battle to the death.

With the two girls torn apart and each in great peril, will they reunite at last, or have their destinies diverged forever?

1922 – Stephen King

I believe that there is another man inside of every man, a stranger, a Conniving Man. 

Wilfred James’ Conniving Man causes him and those around him all sorts of trouble in this novella. Determined to live out his days on the family farm, Wilf does everything in his power to convince his wife not to sell her 100 acres of land to the Farrington Company.

Wifey has other ideas and, as a result, she’s about to have a very bad day. Then there’s the whole chain reaction of all things not very nice that follow, because this story originated in the horror show that is Stephen King’s mind. 

A tale of greed and people determined to get what they want when they want it, this quick read reminded me that even when we think we’ve gotten what we want, life can serve up some pretty nasty plot twists. If you’re as fond of rats as Indiana Jones’ dear ol’ dad is, you might want to avoid this one. 

In true King fashion, there were some notable quotables in this novella. The standouts for me were memorable for very different reasons, though.

This little beauty added to my arsenal of excuses to swear (you can never have enough): 

‘The truth is never cussing, Son.’ 

Then there was the one that made my blood boil. The Sheriff reminded me why fee-males should hope to never be mad, bad or sad enough to be written into the King-dom: 

‘Sometimes a fee-male needs talking to by hand, if you take my meaning, and after that they’re all right. A good whacking has a way of sweetening some gals up.’ 

Every time the rats made an appearance, I couldn’t help thinking of the beating of Poe’s tell-tale heart. I kept involuntarily seeing the rat scene from The Bone Collector movie. Naturally, I heard Indiana Jones telling his father ‘There were rats, Dad’ on numerous occasions.

Readers who haven’t reached their quota of rats with appetites after finishing this novella may want to get their swattin’ pole ready to meet Hunter Shea’s Rattus New Yorkus

Do you like how things have turned out, Wilf? Was it worth it? 

Content warnings include mention of abortion, death by suicide, death of animals and racial slurs. Readers will emetophobia may have trouble with this read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The chilling novella featured in Stephen King’s New York Times bestselling collection Full Dark, No Stars1922 is about a man who succumbs to the violence within – setting in motion a grisly train of murder and madness.

Wilfred James owns eighty acres of farmland in Nebraska that have been in his family for generations. His wife, Arlette, owns an adjoining one hundred acres. She wants to sell her land but if she does, Wilfred will be forced to sell as well. James will do anything to hold onto his farm, and he’ll get his son to go along.

Betrayal, murder, madness, rats, 1922 is a breathtaking exploration into the dark side of human nature from the great American storyteller Stephen King.

Apt Pupil – Stephen King

‘You are a monster’ 

Well, that was disturbing. Todd Bowden, thirteen years old at the beginning of this story, has discovered his “GREAT INTEREST” and it’s a doozy. His fascination with the atrocities committed during the Holocaust take on a whole new life when he meets a new fiend. No, that’s not a typo. Mr Dussander, the Blood Fiend of Patin, lives in Todd’s neighbourhood and Todd’s keen to learn all of the “gooshy stuff” from Dussander’s past.

Two psychopaths hanging out together is a recipe for all things bad, and there’s a lot of bad in this book. There were bits that made me squeamish and bits that had me wondering why I wasn’t putting this book aside for a reasonable length of time. Like forever. 

I wondered how King was able to do mundane, everyday things while he was inhabiting the darkness necessary to bring these characters to life. I thought about all of the times over the years that I considered reading this book and instead chose something lighter because I just couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to spend their time gazing into the abyss. Even when I picked this book up again this morning I was certain it would be returned to the library unread. But it sucked me in, even as I was mentally trying to backpedal.

See, there’s a part of me that needs to know what it is about specific people that makes them act in ways that I will never truly understand. There’s this other part that wants to stick around long enough to see evil receive its comeuppance. Because there has to be a comeuppance, right? That part won in the end.

I spent most of the book detesting both of the main characters, eagerly anticipating what I hoped would be appropriately hellish demises. It’s always a little disconcerting to learn what twisted things your imagination can come up with when you’re face to page with some of the worst of what humanity has to offer, but I guess there’s darkness in all of us. I came up with some gruesome let the punishment fit the crime scenarios. 

‘If I die today … tomorrow … everything will come out. Everything.’ 

I feel like I need a long, hot shower to wash away any traces of these characters. That, or cleanse my reading palette by devouring something full of rainbows and unicorns and all things sugary sweet. King has done a really good job of making me uncomfortable and intrigued and disgusted all at once. I’m horrified by humanity and at my own ability to come up with some pretty disturbing revenge fantasies. 

I both hate and love this book. I never want to think about it again but I suspect it’s not going to leave me quietly. 

Content warnings include death by suicide, murder of animals, racial and religious slurs, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and war crimes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, you have a lot to learn.

Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher, Mr. Dussander, and to learn all about Dussander’s dark and deadly past … a decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn his teacher in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to face his fears and learn the real meaning of power – and the seductive lure of evil.

A classic story from Stephen King, Apt Pupil reveals layers upon layers of deception – and horror – as finally there is only one left standing.