Vox – Christina Dalcher

Imagine a world where, if you’re female, you are only allowed to speak one hundred words a day. When you utter word one hundred and one, your wristband will shock you. The more you exceed your quota, the greater the shock.

Not only that, you are no longer allowed to work. You’re no longer allowed to read. You’re not allowed to own a phone, computer or anything that connects to the internet.

Your child’s education is no longer educational; they will learn how to become a submissive housewife but that’s about it.

Welcome to Jean’s world. Run as fast as –

And that’s already one hundred words. Now you’re silenced for the rest of the day. Your wristband’s counter will reset to zero at midnight.

I’ve become a woman of few words.

In Jean’s world, the word count may be small but the indoctrination is big. People saw this coming. Some protested. Others sheltered behind denial, sure that something like this couldn’t actually happen. It did.

They didn’t think it could get any worse. It could.

“This would never happen. Ever. Women wouldn’t put up with it.”

“Easy to say now,” Jackie said.

I was hooked for the first half of the book but the second half seemed to unravel. Some things were a bit too convenient. The ending was a bit too rushed and seemed to go against the message of the book up until that point. I didn’t connect with the characters.

Still, this book made me think about the things I consider to be rights and how easily they can be removed. It made me angry every time I thought about how easily this fiction, or something similar to it, could become fact.

Reading just a few reviews has made it obvious how divisive a read this book has been. It’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer but it made me think so it did its job.

Think about what you need to do to stay free.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, animal experimentation, death by suicide, homophobia, physical abuse and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, Vox is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed to speak more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial – this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

Savage Woods – Mary SanGiovanni

Every time I read a Mary SanGiovanni book I remember how much I love them. I’m also reminded of how fun it is when she introduces something I’ve either never heard of or know very little about, generating enough interest in me that I decide I need to become an expert in whatever the something is.

In Inside the Asylum, this was tulpas. I’d never heard of them but by the end of the book I’d read everything I could find about them. Years later, they came up in some random TV episode. The person sitting next to me asked if I knew what that word was. Naturally, I proceeded to tell them all about tulpas, including some handy hints for how to make one if they were so inclined.

While I was trying to find my way out of the Savage Woods, I began reading about tree spirits. When I wasn’t busy trying to pronounce Kèkpëchehëlat.

This is my first Mary SanGiovanni read that isn’t a Kathy Ryan book (note to self: read the rest of Mary’s books!). I kept thinking that the subject matter was right up Kathy’s alley and loved that her research had a cameo, even though she didn’t.

Brothers Todd and Kenny decide Nilhollow is the perfect place for their camping trip. They don’t believe the “clichéd stuff about cursed grounds, unexplained hiker deaths and disappearances, lights in the sky, that sort of thing.”

They’re also dismissive about the reports of the missing people “turning up inside-out and hanging from trees”. What brothers Todd and Kenny don’t realise is that they’re first chapter characters and, as such, they’re almost certainly destined to stop breathing before the main characters show up.

Something about Nilhollow was just … all wrong.

Which brings me to Julia Russo, who’s trying to escape her abusive ex-boyfriend, Darren. Darren, who clearly doesn’t understand the purpose of a restraining order, decides to run Julia off the road. In the wrong part of the woods.

Officer Pete Grainger, a New Jersey state trooper, knows Julia’s situation well and has developed some not especially professional feelings for her. Of course, when he learns she’s in trouble, Grainge responds. So do a whole gaggle of law enforcement corpses in the making.

This book is an absolute splatterfest and I loved every squishy, crunchy, rending moment. I flew through it, cheering on the trees as they painted the woods red. I’m more convinced than ever that I need to read everything Mary SanGiovanni ever writes.

“You need to warn the others that whatever slept in these woods is awake now, and it wants blood.”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, stalking and suicidal ideation.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Lyrical Underground, an imprint of Kensington Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nilhollow – six-hundred-plus acres of haunted woods in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens – is the stuff of urban legend. Amid tales of tree spirits and all-powerful forest gods are frightening accounts of hikers who went insane right before taking their own lives. It is here that Julia Russo flees when her violent ex-boyfriend runs her off the road … here that she vanishes without a trace.

State Trooper Peter Grainger has witnessed unspeakable things that have broken other men. But he has to find Julia and can’t turn back now. Every step takes him closer to an ugliness that won’t be appeased – a centuries-old, devouring hatred rising up to eviscerate humankind. Waiting, feeding, surviving. It’s unstoppable. And its time has come.

Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules For Spying – Amanda Hosch

Mabel was born on Halloween and is a staring contest champion. Her parents, Fred and Jane, are “Cleaners”, top secret agents.

They would go into really bad situations around the world to clean up messes made by other spies.

When they’re at home, Fred maintains old telephone lines and repairs cell phone towers, while Jane is the curator of the family’s private museum, Le Petit Musée of Antique Silver Spoons.

Living in a town of only 267 people, you’d think it would be especially difficult to keep her parents’ secret from getting out but Mabel has her 36 Rules for a Successful Life as an Undercover Secret Agent to guide her.

In the lead up to her eleventh birthday, Mabel gets a lot of opportunities to practice her undercover agent skills. Her parents are out of town on a secret mission and her Aunt Gertie, who needs to make a batch of her famous cinnamon buns for me, has been arrested.

Frankenstella (her aunt and uncle) and her least favourite cousin, Victoria, show up and start eating all of Mabel’s food and bossing her around. Her aunt and uncle seem to have an unusual interest in spoons and a red suitcase that may or may not exist.

“I will not sugarcoat the truth. This situation is a big deal.”

Mabel is absolutely adorable but I doubt she’d like me describing her that way. She doesn’t know who she can trust but she’s resourceful and doesn’t give up.

Mabel’s best friend, Stanley, was my favourite character. He a photographer who doesn’t give spoiler alerts, so make sure you’re careful around him if he finishes your current read first. I wish he had more page time.

I have an unanswered question, the same one Mabel has at the end of the book.

Given there are 36 Rules for a Successful Life as an Undercover Secret Agent, it would have been pretty perfect if this book had 36 chapters. It has 35, although there’s also a preamble to the rules before the first chapter, so I’m counting it. I liked all of the rules but my favourite was 14.

Most people believe what they want to believe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Don’t be most people.

Favourite no context quote:

“If I had any more luck, a big black hole would pop up in the living room, suck me in, and crush me until my eyeballs exploded and my bones turned to gelatinous goo.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Young Readers, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Mabel’s parents leave town without warning, she isn’t worried. They’re spies, after all. But when her beloved Aunt Gertie is arrested for leading a smuggling ring, then her obnoxious Uncle Frank and Aunt Stella show up, demanding to be let into the family’s private museum, things begin to look fishy. Especially since Mabel hasn’t heard from her parents in days. Tackling a mystery like this one is what she has been training for her whole, short life. Using her self-authored spy handbook, will Mabel be able to find her parents and unmask the real criminal before it’s too late?

Terrible Worlds: Destinations #3: And Put Away Childish Things – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mary Bodie’s Underhill children’s books were the inspiration for movies and merchandise. The characters live on in the hearts of the Underlings, who brought their love of the series with them into adulthood.

The series itself was based on stories Magda’s mother, Devaty, told her when she was a child. (Mary was Magda’s pen name.) Devaty claimed to be the “Queen of Fairyland” so she regaled her daughter with stories about Underhill from an asylum.

We catch up with what’s left of the Bodie line at the beginning of the pandemic. Felix ‘Harry’ Bodie, Magda’s grandson, is a minor celebrity with a drinking problem and a curious habit of accidentally running in circles.

“I want you to come and see a wardrobe.”

It turns out that, despite everything Harry has believed up until now, Underhill is real. Unfortunately, all is not well in not-Narnia.

Its residents, which include Timon the fawn, Wish Dog the best dog, Hulder the dryad and Gombles the clown, aren’t exactly as advertised. It’s all a bit decrepit, actually, and there’s nary a Turkish delight in sight. Although there is cosmic dandruff. And swearing, which I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t find in Narnia.

“I am…” Harry said, “not sure what’s going on.”

This is a story of family legacy. It’s about how you respond when the role that was written for you doesn’t line up with reality. It’s characters yearning to fulfil their destiny when the world they inhabit goes off script. It’s portal fiction, which so many of my favourite reads are.

I loved not-Narnia, in all of its dilapidation. I loved its inhabitants, who have been doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. I loved that this felt like one big underdog story, one that was dreary and dismal but that also provided some humour and hope.

Of course, I thought of Narnia frequently and, even when I wasn’t, the book made comparisons for me. The discovery that a fictional world isn’t as fictional as you’d been led to believe reminded me of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

I felt a slightly confusing nostalgia about characters I hadn’t grown up with when I read Josh Winning’s The Shadow Glass that I also felt here. I probably spent too much time trying to figure out where on Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Compass (Nonsense, Logic, Wickedness, and Virtue) this novella would fit.

This is my first Adrian Tchaikovsky read and it’s safe to say that I’m hooked. I’ve been eyeing off this book for months and it was even better than I’d hoped. The world was literally falling apart, the characters were damaged and I loved every minute of it.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing, for the opportunity to read this novella.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

All roads lead to Underhill, where it’s always winter, and never nice.

Harry Bodie has a famous grandmother, who wrote beloved children’s books set in the delightful world of Underhill. Harry himself is a failing kids’ TV presenter whose every attempt to advance his career ends in self-sabotage. His family history seems to be nothing but an impediment.

An impediment… or worse. What if Underhill is real?What if it has been waiting decades for a promised child to visit? What if it isn’t delightful at all? And what if its denizens have run out of patience and are taking matters into their own hands?

Manga Classics: Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Story Adapter – Crystal S. Chan

Illustrations – Nokman Poon

I’m currently on a bit of a Manga Classics binge. I’m loving the fact that they’re manga but also that they’re giving me the opportunity to dip my toes into classics that have intimidated me for years. I read two pages of Great Expectations when I was about ten and have never made it to page three.

After getting a bit lost in The Count of Monte Cristo, I tried a different approach here. I found myself a book summary and read that first before tackling this manga adaptation. It helped. A lot. I really enjoyed this read.

The illustrations are brilliant. Young Pip is absolutely adorable.

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Miss Havisham is amazing!

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I’m definitely going to keep reading Manga Classics.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and UDON Entertainment for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This is the story of an English orphan named Pip who rises to wealth, deserts his true friends, and becomes humbled by his own arrogance. It also introduces one of the more colourful characters in literature: Miss Havisham. Dickens set Great Expectations during the time that England was becoming a wealthy world power. Machines were making factories more productive, yet people lived in awful conditions.

Geronimo Stilton #7: Fangs & Feasts in Transratania – Geronimo Stilton

Things are about to get 🧀 cheesy 🧀!

When his cousin calls in the middle of the night from Transratania, Geronimo is certain that Trap is in danger and he’s 🧀 Goats 🧀 to go save him. With no time to waste, Geronimo, his sister Thea and his nine year old nephew Benjamin travel to Transratania the next day.

The locals seem to be overly fond of garlic and aren’t keen on talking about Ratoff Castle, home of Count Vlad von Ratoff. It appears there’s something a bit 🧀 Off Kilter 🧀 about the rodents that live at the Castle.

Things aren’t what they seem and this story becomes a 🧀 Blenda 🧀 mystery, humour and the possibility of romance.

There’s a ball, which everyone seems to enjoy. Well, with the possible exception of the Count, who’s 🧀 Moody Blue 🧀 for much of the story.

After a food disaster, an 🧀 Impromptu 🧀 decision means that pizza saves the day, but it’s definitely not as 🧀 cheesy 🧀 as I would have liked.

With his aversion to blood, Geronimo isn’t impressed with the 🧀 Aboundance 🧀 of references to blood in this book.

While this was a 🧀 Gouda 🧀 book, it wasn’t my favourite of the Geronimo 🧀 Stilton 🧀 books I’ve read so far. I probably would have thought this series was the best thing since 🧀 sliced cheese 🧀 if I’d read it as a kid.

I love that Geronimo is reading a collection of ghost stories called The Haunted 🧀 Cheese 🧀 Shop and Other Tales to Make You Squeak!

I need the Count’s clock.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sweet Cherry Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Geronimo sets off for Ratoff in spooky Transratania, a garlic-fuelled town full of mystery. Even the inhabitants of Ratoff Castle are strange. Maybe it’s the way they sleep during the day, or the blood-red drink they’re always sipping on, but there’s something not quite right about them…

Who are these mice? Will Geronimo survive the night?

The Year of the Geek – James Clarke

When I a teenager I’d buy a new page a day calendar each year. You know the squarish desk ones that have an inspirational quote each day? This book reminds me of those, except this is Fun Facts: Geek Edition. And it’s in book form so it doesn’t matter which day you start.

This is the book you’re looking for if the geek in your life is a sci fi and fantasy all rounder. It covers movies, TV shows, comics, games (computer and board) and books.

Because there are so many entries (365 because apparently nothing notable has ever happened in sci fi or fantasy on 29 February), I’m going to share one fun fact per month.

🕹️ On 25 January 1947, a patent that described one of the earliest computer games was registered.

🍿 On 28 February 1985, Terminator’s John Connor was born.

🧝‍♀️ The first Comic-Con happened on 21 March, 1970.

🍩 The Simpsons first aired on 19 April 1987.

🧛‍♂️ The Buffy the Vampire Slayer finale aired on 20 May 2003.

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🦈 Jaws was released in American cinemas on 20 June 1975.

🍿 Indiana Jones was born on 1 July 1899.

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👻 Ray Parker’s Ghostbusters theme song made it to #1 in America on 11 August 1984.

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📺 The Jetsons was first broadcast on 23 September 1962.

👽 Fox Mulder joined the FBI on 24 October 1984.

🎩 Alice in Wonderland was first published on 26 November 1865.

🎂 Stan Lee was born on 28 December 1922.

While I would have preferred it if less births and deaths were mentioned, overall this was a fun read. I particularly liked the infographics. I don’t think I’m enough of an all rounder to want to consult this book each day but I did enjoy reading about the franchises I love.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Year of the Geek is a fascinating look into geek culture. Each day will tell a different story from the sci-fi universe, from famous franchises and figures such as Star WarsThe Matrix, Peter Jackson and Luc Besson, to lesser known stories, including the French cult classic City of Lost Children, the Japanese anime Akira and bestselling German novelist, Marcus Heitz. With text written by self-confessed geek James Clarke and accompanied by over 100 infographics that have been specially commissioned for this book, The Year of the Geek celebrates all things geek in a new and intriguing way.

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.

Manga Classics: The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Story Adapter – Crystal S. Chan

Illustrations – Nokman Poon

One thing I love about Manga Classics is they introduce me to classics that I’ve never read and give me enough of the story that I feel like I’ve got a handle on the basics. They also give me a better idea of whether I want to go ahead and read the novel or not. Then there’s the fact that they’re manga, a format I love more with each one I read.

I’ve picked up the general story of The Count of Monte Cristo over the years but couldn’t even tell you how. I haven’t read the book or watched the movie.

I think in this case it would have been helpful if I did know more about the story before I read the manga. There are so many characters that there’s a character relationship guide at the end of the story. Even with this, I was a bit lost at times. While I got the gist of the story, I’m sure I missed a lot. I am interested enough to try to tackle the book at some point.

I love manga illustrations. The characters are always expressive and I’m just a tad obsessed with doe eyes. This story is illustrated beautifully. I particularly liked the detail of the clothing and the backgrounds.

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I’m definitely going to be reading more Manga Classics.

Thank you to NetGalley and UDON Entertainment for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On the very day of his wedding to the beautiful Mercedes, a young merchant sailor named Edmond Dantès is falsely imprisoned for life, laying to waste his plans of marriage and hard-earned fortune. Following several long years in prison he has managed to escape and reinvent himself as the mysterious Count of Monte Christo. It is the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Count has been plotting his revenge on the three men who had him falsely imprisoned. With a new identity, an incredible education abroad and a vast fortune, has returned completely unrecognisable to those who had committed their crimes against him.

Dead Weight – Terry Blas & Molly Muldoon

Illustrations – Matthew Seely

Jesse had her hopes set on attending a fashion program this summer. Her parents had other ideas. She’s just been dumped at fat camp for two whole months!

While this is Jesse’s first fat camp experience, some of her fellow campers have endured multiple admissions. It seems that Camp Bloom doesn’t have the best success rate. Maybe someone should speak to the chef…

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On campfire confession night, Jesse and Noah witness a murder. There’s nothing like murder to inspire an impromptu cardio session.

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To be fair, if someone told me I couldn’t eat chocolate for two months, I might get a bit stabby too.

Jesse, Noah, Tony and Kate take it upon themselves to solve the murder mystery.

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This was an entertaining read. I loved the characters, the representation, the sleuthing and the lack of body shaming.

Throughout the story you discover why each of the main characters are at the camp. My favourite backstory was Kate’s.

Matthew Seely’s illustrations complemented the story well, adding to the humour. The characters are expressive and I loved the colour palette.

I’d like to see Jesse, Noah, Tony and Kate solve another mystery together.

Welcome to Camp Bloom, where you can transform from a crying, fat caterpillar to a happy, skinny butterfly. If someone doesn’t kill you first.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Oni Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Deep in the Oregon wilderness sits Camp Bloom, a weight-loss camp where “overweight” teens can “get in shape.” Jesse would rather be anywhere else, but her parents are forcing her to go. Noah isn’t sure if he wants to be there, but it’s too late to turn back. Tony is heartbroken at the thought of giving up his phone and internet. And Kate… well, she likes the hikes, at least. As far as these four teens are concerned, it’s just another boring summer.

Until one night, when Jesse and Noah witness a beloved counsellor’s murder. The body’s gone by the next morning, but a blurry photo leads to one clue – the murderer is one of the camp’s staff members!

But which one? As Jesse, Noah, Kate, and Tony investigate, they quickly discover that everyone’s got their secrets… and one of them would kill to keep theirs hidden.