Everything Is OK – Debbie Tung

As far as I can tell, Debbie Tung’s Quiet Girl in a Noisy World and Book Love were essentially her way of not so subtly telling me she’s been stalking me for my entire adult life. She tried to throw me off the trail by focusing on the ‘aww, aren’t they adorable?’ relationship she and Jason have in Happily Ever After & Everything In Between. Now, in her fourth graphic novel, Debbie takes a deep dive into my mental health.

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From telling people you’re fine when you’re anything but to sleepless nights spent questioning every decision you’ve ever made, Debbie speaks honestly about mental health. Depression. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Suicidal ideation. You not only hear the thoughts that accompany them, you see what they feel like.

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Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is enough and that’s what this graphic novel does. Debbie’s story acknowledges the darkness but also provides hope.

Asking for help was the most courageous thing I ever did.

It meant that I refused to give up and I wanted to give myself a chance to heal.

It’s one thing to know the types of things that can have a positive impact on your mental health – counselling, self care, celebrating the small wins, gratitude, mindfulness – but hearing how those strategies have helped someone with lived experience gives them more weight.

I’m not an artist so can’t explain this very well but some art feels lofty and unapproachable to me, like I’m being kept at arm’s length. Debbie’s style, though, feels relatable and down to earth. She draws me in with her art and her words.

One thing I really loved about this graphic novel was the use of blue throughout. It’s such an appropriate choice given the subject matter and the muted tones somehow both set the tone and made the content feel non-threatening. The bursts of colour, when they did make an appearance, had a greater impact.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Everything Is OK is the story of Debbie Tung’s struggle with anxiety and her experience with depression. She shares what it’s like navigating life, overthinking every possible worst-case scenario, and constantly feeling like all hope is lost.

The book explores her journey to understanding the importance of mental health in her day-to-day life and how she learns to embrace the highs and lows when things feel out of control. Debbie opens up about deeply personal issues and the winding road to recovery, discovers the value of self-love, and rebuilds a more mindful relationship with her mental health.

In this graphic memoir, Debbie aims to provide positive and comforting messages to anyone who is facing similar difficulties or is just trying to get through a tough time in life. She hopes to encourage readers to be kinder to themselves, to know that they are not alone, and that it’s okay to be vulnerable because they are not defined by their mental health struggles. The dark clouds won’t be there forever. Everything will turn out all right.

Cities of the Dead – Yolanda Zappaterra

I inherited my Nan’s fascination for cemeteries. She instilled in me a reverence for the people whose tombstones I was reading. Horror movies gave me my dread/hope that one day I’ll witness a hand rising from a grave or hear some grave bells ringing.

This book introduces you to a selection of beautiful cemeteries from around the world. For some, their beauty lies in their location, overlooking the ocean or surrounded by trees. Some hold unique cultural or historical significance. Many are the final resting place of people who found fame in life.

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Bonaventure (meaning ‘Good Fortune’) Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

Each entry includes the history of the cemetery and photos that made me want to visit most of them, but there are also tales of the horror of being buried alive and bodysnatching. If you know me, you know I love fun facts. This book has plenty. Some of my favourites are:

🪦 The headstone of Susan B. Anthony is covered with plexiglass around election time because there’s a tradition of people placing their ‘I Voted’ stickers on it.

🪦 The Sophie Calle installation at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York is a “twenty-five-year artwork entitled Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery in which people can write down their thoughts or secrets and place them in a white marble ‘tombstone’.”

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Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York

🪦 During summer, movies screenings are held on the Douglas Fairbanks Lawn at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Movies shown there include Night of the Living Dead.

🪦 Amongst the tombstones in Okunoin Cemetery, Mount Kōya, Japan, you’ll see some more unusual memorials:

a giant termite’s nest that acts as a pest control company’s memorial to all the termites their products have exterminated. Puffer fish that have fallen foul of chefs’ knives, a giant coffee cup, a large space rocket erected by aerospace company ShinMaywa Industries and memorials to the staff of companies such as Nissan, Toyota and Kirin beer all form part of the curious mix.

If you’re superstitious, you may want to avoid this cemetery all together.

Nearby, housed in a small wooden cage near the Gobyobashi Bridge, the equally curious Miroku Stone supposedly weighs one’s sins as you try to lift it from a lower to an upper platform, but more scary is the Sugatami-no-Ido, or Well of Reflections, found just beyond the Nakanohashi Bridge, close to the shrine to the bodhisattva Asekaki Jizo. Legend has it that if you look into this tiny wooden well but don’t see your reflection, you’re fated to die within three years. Probably best to stay on the safe side and avoid it – which might also be good advice for the Zenni Jochi stone memorial to a Buddhist nun of which it is said, if you place your ear you can hear the cries of people in Hell.

Naturally, this is the cemetery I most want to explore.

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Okopowa Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland

I found the section at the end of the book that explored symbolism in cemeteries particularly interesting.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Cities of the Dead takes us on a tour of memorial sites, ranging from monastic settlements to grand cathedrals, Shinto shrines to Gothic chapels, tombs and crypts. Enjoy tales of myths and monsters, grave-robbers, pilgrimages, spiritual retreats, remembrance and community. Marvel in cemeteries with a hundred thousand to a handful of graves which feature famous headstones, weeping angels, ocean views, woodlands, thousands of glowing lanterns and a tomb of poets.

From London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, which houses famous names from Karl Marx to Malcolm McLaren, George Eliot to Christina Rosetti, to Hawaii’s breathtaking Valley of the Temples, this book spans the globe to bring you the most fascinating, intriguing and evocative cemeteries across cultures and continents.

Together with evocative images, the stories behind these notable burial sites bring these sanctuaries to life, detailing the features that make them special, highlighting both similarities and differences between time periods, religions and cultures, and showing how cemeteries are about and for the living as much as the dead.

The Twig Man – Sana Rasoul

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Ari’s parents think Lana ran away but Ari knows better: the Twig Man took her.

Legend says if you wander too far into the woods, he’ll snatch you with his roots and drag you into his lair.

Lana has been missing for a year but Ari hasn’t given up hope. Accompanied by Timmy, a new friend who also believes in the Twig Man, Ari braves the woods to save his sister.

With plenty of screaming and a creepy location, not to mention the potentially true urban legend, this book would have scared me as a kid. It wouldn’t have helped that pretty much everywhere Ari turns, he’s being watched by animals with white eyes.

I figured out Timmy’s story before it was explained but this would have blindsided me had I read this as a kid.

I absolutely loved that there was a glossary of Kurdish words after the story.

I was left with some unanswered questions, mostly relating to the people I met near the end of the book. Did the people who were missing age while they were with the Twig Man? How are they going to explain where they’ve been to the police? Given the length of time some of them have been missing, will their parents even still be alive? How are they going to adapt to a world that has changed so much in their absence?

“Beware the Twig Man, the Twig Man’s hex. Beware the Twig Man, or you’ll be NEXT!”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hashtag Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Beware the Twig Man, the Twig Man’s hex. Beware the Twig Man, or you’ll be NEXT!   

It’s been a year since nearly-twelve-year-old Ari’s older sister, Lana, ran away.

Except Ari knows what really happened.

She was taken by the Twig Man, the creepy monster that’s haunted the woods for one hundred years. 

No one else will listen, so it’s down to Ari to save his sister.

But he had better hurry, as Ari finds himself next on the Twig Man’s list…

Cackle – Rachel Harrison

WELCOME TO ROWAN, AMERICA’S BEST-KEPT SECRET.

Annie is newly thirty and newly single when she moves to Rowan. Recently dumped by her long term boyfriend/best friend, Annie is on her own for the first time and she’s not a fan. When she’s not teaching “hormone-addled, angst-driven evil meat sticks”, she’s hitting the bottle.

It isn’t long before Annie meets Sophie, who’s beautiful and self-assured. The people of Rowan behave differently when Sophie is around, though. It’s almost as if they’re scared of her.

“Want me to curse them for you?”

“Sure,” I say.

“Done.”

Annie loves the attention and care that Sophie lavishes on her but it made me feel claustrophobic. The relationships in this book (Annie and Sam, Annie and Sophie) are all kinds of messed up. It’s no coincidence that the first movie Sophie watches with Annie is Gaslight.

I wanted Sophie’s wardrobe and wouldn’t have said no to her home cooking but wasn’t a fan of her. To be fair, she does want Bruce to win in Jaws so she can’t be all bad, but I don’t know if I can trust someone who hates unicorns. I’m all for having the confidence to be who you truly are but if claiming your power results in an entire township being terrified of you, then that cheapens it for me.

My favourite character, Ralph, had no lines but he made up for it in personality. I’m a sucker for spiders who can pull off wearing a top hat, especially when they also have a great smile.

Overall, this was a lighter read than I was expecting but that’s not to say there weren’t some memorable lines:

My insecurity returns like a villain in a sequel. The same but worse.

I embrace the next morning with all the enthusiasm of a goat entering Jurassic Park.

Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

NOW LEAVING ROWAN. KEEP OUR SECRET.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

All her life, Annie has played it nice and safe. After being unceremoniously dumped by her long-time boyfriend, Annie seeks a fresh start. She accepts a teaching job that moves her from Manhattan to a small village upstate. Her new home is picturesque and perfect. The people are all friendly and warm. Her new apartment is lovely too, minus the oddly persistent spider infestation.

Then Annie meets Sophie. Beautiful, charming, magnetic Sophie, who takes a special interest in Annie, who wants to be her friend. More importantly, she wants Annie to stop apologising and start living for herself. That’s how Sophie lives. Annie can’t help but gravitate toward the self-possessed Sophie, wanting to spend more and more time with her, despite the fact that the rest of the town seems… a little afraid of her. And, okay. Sophie’s appearance is uncanny and ageless, her mansion in the middle of the woods feels a little unearthly, and she does seem to wield a certain power… but she couldn’t be… could she?

Waiting on Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

Sasha Patience Pruitt and Mr. Sloth are best friends. In Mindful Mr. Sloth, Sasha learned that if you live your life on fast forward you’ll miss out on the beauty that can be only been appreciated at a slower pace.

Still not one to live up to her middle name, Sasha wants to go swimming and she wants to go NOW! First, Mr. Sloth takes much too long to get ready. Then one thing after another delays their swim. Eventually it all becomes too much for Sasha.

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Sasha finally gets to go swimming but it turns out it isn’t as much fun without her best friend.

I love Mr. Sloth. He’s never in a hurry and he’s a master of mindfulness.

Throughout the story readers see Sasha and Mr. Sloth using different strategies to try to remain calm. These are reinforced at the end of the book, with a list of practical suggestions for when you’re feeling frustrated.

As I’ve come to expect from Katy Hudson’s books, the illustrations are gorgeous. Mr. Sloth is adorable and Sasha is very expressive.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The sun is out. The temperature is hot. And Sasha has everything packed and ready for a full day of swimming! But Mr. Sloth is taking for-eh-ver! Sasha does NOT like to wait. However, her best friend is never in a hurry. Will Sasha learn to be patient, or will her quick temper ruin a memorable summer outing?

Library Girl – Karen Henry Clark

Illustrations – Sheryl Murray

When she was a child, Nancy was teased about her love of reading. The school library was her favourite place and when she learned about the existence of the public library, entire worlds opened up to her. She devoured everything she could, starting with books about horses.

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With some encouragement from the librarians, Nancy stepped outside of her comfort zone, giving a talk about horses at the library. This is how Nancy found both her confidence and her calling.

Once challenged to write a six-word memoir, Nancy wrote: “Girl discovers books, then discovers life.”

And what a life it’s been. Nancy has won awards and written books. She even has her very own action figure !

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Nancy’s story speaks to the magic that exists in libraries and the superpowers librarians have to change lives.

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More bookish superheroes need action figures.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Library Girl is the inspiring childhood story of how beloved librarian, author, and Seattle icon, Nancy Pearl discovered her strengths and realised her passion. It is a loving tribute to the power books and librarians have to transform children’s lives.

Nancy Pearl loved books and spent so much time in her school library that her grade school classmates teased her, calling her “library girl.” When she discovers her neighbourhood public library is open on Saturday, she begins the adventure of her lifetime. There, an inspiring librarian recognises her abilities, recommends books that ignite her vivid imagination, and provides experiences to bolster her burgeoning self-confidence. As she loses herself in the books she finds herself in their pages and comes to recognise her strengths. Her self-discovery brings a realisation at a young age that she wants to become a librarian so she can help children discover their dreams. 

This young girl, Nancy Pearl, grows up to become “America’s Most Celebrated Librarian,” devoting her life to talking about books up and down library aisles, on radio and television, at conferences and colleges around the world. Ultimately, she authors books about books, believing that reading allows people to find dreams of their own … with the turn of every page.

Crochet Magical Creatures – Drew Hill

You’ll find my crocheting skills about fifteen steps and many tears below beginner level. I can do a slip knot and my chain stitch actually looks like a chain stitch now. I think I did two rows of single crochet stitches one time.

Because my imagination is much more advanced than my ability to actually make yarn do what I want it to, I saw the cover of this book and decided that I was going to crochet a dragon.

I’m now just the teensiest bit obsessed with amigurumi.

This Japanese term combines the words for “crochet” and “stuffed toys”

Part 1 covers everything you need to know before you create your magical creature, including the supplies you’ll need, the stitches you’ll be using, how to read patterns and giving your creation life, AKA assembly.

Part 2 provides instructions that will allow you to create twenty magical creatures. My current favourites are:

🐉 Davina the dragon

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🐷 Basil the flying pig

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🐙 Konrad the kraken

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🦄 Moira the pegacorn.

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One day in the hopefully not too distant future I’m going to crochet a dragon and it’s going to be amazing!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rockridge Press, an imprint of Callisto Media, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Make a little crochet magic, one stitch at a time.

Grab your hook and dive into a world of fantastic creatures with this whimsical crochet book. Learn about amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting stuffed toys, and use it to make a collection of cute, magical creatures. Easy patterns for critters like griffins and caticorns are simple enough for beginners while also offering plenty of fun for experienced enthusiasts.

  • Build your tool kit – Learn all about choosing different hook sizes, selecting the perfect yarn for your project, and stocking must-have amigurumi accessories like stuffing and stitch markers.
  • Stitch, please – Use clear step-by-step instructions to review essential crochet techniques, including the magic ring and single and double crochet, as well as fun stitches like the picot.
  • Jump into easy crochet patterns – Make dazzling dragons, marvellous mermaids and more, with 20 simple amigurumi patterns that will have you crocheting with confidence.

Add a little enchantment to your life as you discover the joy of crocheting fantastical creatures!

The Lighthouse – Alex Bell

Don’t go near the lighthouse.

There’s not much to do on Bird Rock. The island has no shops, locals or phone reception. What it does have are thousands of gannets, some stone bothies, a lighthouse and an abundance of guano.

Fifteen year old Jess Oliver is definitely not keen on spending two weeks of her summer vacation there. Rosie, her twelve year old sister, is more positive about the trip and hopes to take an award winning photo while she’s there.

Their father and his new wife, Kate, both ornithologists, are working on the island. The sisters will be meeting Charlie, their stepbrother, for the first time.

“The lighthouse is haunted. Cursed. It’s a dangerous place. Something will happen if you stay here. Something bad-”

Because this is an Alex Bell book, and a Red Eye one at that, it’s not long before strange things begin to happen. This was a compulsive read, with a centuries old mystery at its heart, some great creepy moments and a dose of sadness.

I enjoyed the gradual reveal of the history of the lighthouse and absolutely loved that I wasn’t able to figure out what was behind the mystery ahead of time.

Knowing what I now know, I want to return to Bird Rock and experience it all over again.

“I know you’re there.”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and mental health. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On Bird Rock, gannets circle and thick mist surrounds the lighthouse at its centre, hiding the secrets of a tragic past within …

From the second they set foot on the island to join their dad and his new family, Jess and Rosie feel that something’s wrong. Nightmares haunt their dreams and there seems to be someone, or something, else with them in the lighthouse – their home for the summer.

Counting down the days until they can leave, Jess and Rosie decide to investigate. But when Rosie disappears, the countdown takes on a new meaning. Especially when no one but Jess remembers Rosie at all…

The Butterfly Assassin – Finn Longman

No mercy, no hesitation, no witnesses.

I finished reading this book two weeks ago and I’m still having trouble figuring out what to say about it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I flew through it. It’s not that I didn’t love the characters. I did. So much! It’s that practically everything I want to say about this book wanders into spoiler territory and I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Isabel Ryan is trying her best to reinvent herself as Bella Nicholls. Isabel was trained as a contract killer by Comma, one of Espera’s two guilds. Bella is an ordinary high school student, a civilian.

She’s seventeen, she’s safe, and she got out.

One day maybe that will feel true.

Isabel is one of the best badass characters I’ve ever survived. She’s resilient, surprisingly vulnerable and all kinds of lethal when the situation calls for it.

‘It’s my trauma. You don’t get to tell me how to deal with it.’

Emma is one of the best friends you could ever hope to meet.

She smiles like it’s nothing. Show her how she can help, give her the knowledge to do it, and there it is: joy.

Grace is a librarian, which made her one of my favourite characters even before I knew anything else about her.

‘All I can offer is books and friendly advice, I’m afraid.’

This is a book about surviving against the odds. It’s about extricating yourself from the past when it’s holding on for dear life. It’s about control: being controlled, losing control and taking it back.

Isabel’s past is essentially layers of trauma and her present isn’t any easier. Not only is she trying to cope with the physical and emotional fallout from her life in the guild, she’s doing her best to create a new life for herself in hopes of having a future. Although not specifically identified as such, the portrayal of PTSD was authentic.

I loved that the chapter titles were in Esperanto as well as English. I loved the worldbuilding. I hated being constantly worried about the safety of my favourite characters but loved that, despite the darkness of this book, there was enough light to find them in the first place.

Favourite no context quote:

‘A candle can’t do much against a black hole.’

‘So light another candle.’

Content warnings include child abuse (emotional, medical, neglect, physical, verbal), foster care and mental health. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s UK for the opportunity to read this book. I need the sequel immediately!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Trained and traumatised by a secret assassin programme for minors, Isabel Ryans wants nothing more than to be a normal civilian. After running away from home, she has a new name, a new life and a new friend, Emma, and for the first time in Isabel’s life, things are looking up.

But old habits die hard, and it’s not long until she blows her cover, drawing the attention of the guilds – the two rival organisations who control the city of Espera. An unaffiliated killer like Isabel is either a potential asset … or a threat to be eliminated.

Will the blood on her hands cost her everything?

The Creeper – A.M. Shine

They were just meant to be stories.

Doctor Sparling’s email couldn’t have come at a better time. Stuck in a retail job since completing his masters in history, Ben is both bored and broke. Doctor Sparling wants to pay Ben and Chloe, an archaeologist, to visit a village where time has stood still. Of particular interest to Doctor Sparling is the legend of the creeper.

Confident in his interviewing abilities, Ben expects this job to be easy money but the locals aren’t exactly welcoming.

‘You shouldn’t have come here. There are some things that you shouldn’t know. Nobody should.’

The Watchers made me want to read more books by this author. The Creeper has confirmed that I need to read everything they ever write. Both books major in atmosphere, with a practically tangible dread and claustrophobic feel to them.

You see him three times.

This is a book that takes on superstition and the fear that accompanies it, but it’s not immediately clear if the threat is human or supernatural. The body horror in this book was cringeworthy in the best possible way.

As was my experience with The Watchers, I was conflicted as I read The Creeper, unsure if I was hoping everyone would die so I could witness the horror firsthand or if I wanted the characters to find a loophole that could possibly spare them.

Sometimes hope fades with the light.

Some beliefs are dangerous.

‘Don’t forget about the uh-oh,’ he said

‘Oh, the uh-oh is the best part.’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Superstitions only survive if people believe in them…

Renowned academic Dr Sparling seeks help with his project on a remote Irish village. Historical researchers Ben and Chloe are thrilled to be chosen – until they arrive.

The village is isolated and forgotten. There is no record of its history, its stories. There is no friendliness from the locals, only wary looks and whispers. The villagers lock down their homes at sundown.

It seems a nameless fear stalks the streets, but nobody will talk – nobody except one little girl. Her words strike dread into the hearts of the newcomers. Three times you see him. Each night he comes closer…

That night, Ben and Chloe see a sinister figure watching them. He is the Creeper. He is the nameless fear in the night. Stories keep him alive. And nothing will keep him away…