Mort the Meek #2: Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest – Rachel Delahaye

Illustrations – George Ermos

You survived your first trip to Brutalia, an island that’s just as brutal as its name advertises. There are Grot Bears, who are as likely to squeeze you to death as they are to rip you to shreds. There are hungry ravens, who are always on the lookout for some tasty eyeballs. There’s the stench. And if all of that isn’t punishment enough for you, make sure you stick around for Punishment of the Day. 

Now that you’ve been reminded of what a terrible place Brutalia is, why would you voluntarily return? 

Is it because of Mort, the loveable pacifist who is so good at recruitment that the Pacifist Society of Brutalia has recently increased its membership by 50%? (There are now 1.5 members.)

Is it your fascination with the Queen’s fashion sense? Tarantula leg eyelashes are not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.

Is it the promise of a gigantic sea monster? It’s the sea monster, isn’t it.

Mort has an excuse to escape the confines of his horrid island home so it’s no surprise that he takes it. It’s time to set sail for the Salty Sea. We’re going on a treasure hunt. 

Bonus points for Mort if he finds his father and siblings, Gosh and Gee, who have been missing at sea for two weeks.

I missed Ono, who I’d hoped would be joining Mort for this adventure. However, I quickly grew to love Punky, the daughter of a rock crusher who is as tough as nails. Like the ones that make up her face piercings. 

This is a “story riddled with suckers”, with so many whys it could rival a toddler on a good day. Oh, and it’s prodadly important to rememder that d’s and b’s are interchangeadle. 

Taking over from the chatty ravens who introduced each chapter of the first book are Larry and Bruce, lobsters who have somehow managed to avoid the dinner table thus far. I initially missed the ravens but Larry and Bruce are also entertaining, mishearing and misinterpreting all manner of topics. 

“Bored, bored, bored.”

“To pass the time, shall we have a go at some good insults?”

“Okay, I’ll start: chips.”

“What do you mean, chips?”

“Good in salt.”

“Forget it.” 

George Ermos’ illustrations once again highlight the danger and drudgery, as well as the humour and hope. Wait. Hope? Are you sure that belongs in this book?

I particularly loved the expressive lobsters and the fearsome sea monster.

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Does it sound like a threat if I say that if there’s not a third book in this series I will be having conversations with the Queen about a suitable Punishment of the Day? I must have spent too much time in Brutalia; I’m starting to sound like a local.

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

P.S. Readers with emetophobia, beware. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Around the unfriendly, rocky island of Brutalia, the waves are awash with brave sea-farers, on a treasure hunt for their demanding queen. Among them is Mort, but rather than hunt for treasure, he’s more interested in looking for his family who are lost at sea. Unfortunately, his shipmate Punky has her eyes firmly on the prize.
But when the pair find the tentacle of a mythical sea creature, their adventure takes a dramatic turn. Is this the prize-winning treasure Punky and the queen seek? Or could it be a monstrous twist in Mort’s rescue mission?

Mind Like a Diamond – Amanda Pavlov

You had me at pirate witches. 

It definitely helped that this book took place on Halloween and the book’s victims characters were tasked with making it through a series of elaborate haunted house escape rooms. But, pirate witches, people!

There’s a $10,000 prize if you make it through all thirteen realms, something Lisette desperately needs. It sounds too good to be true and when Lisette begins her journey through the realms she begins to wonder if they are as real as they seem.

It’s a shame I found Lisette so deplorable; she’ll happily throw anyone under the bus if she thinks it will benefit her, even the person she claims is her best friend. As such, I wasn’t exactly cheering her on. I probably would have felt an evil laugh trying to escape if she’d met an appropriately grisly end. 

However, someone who had even some of the qualities I’d hope to find in this underdog would likely have failed one of the early levels and this would have been a much shorter book. Lisette’s catchphrase (“Holy tamales”) irritated me no end but, in hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all if I’d liked her. 

“This place has a way of making monsters out of ordinary people.” 

Although I was originally mostly here for the pirate witches, that part of the story wasn’t as developed as I would have liked. I’m pretty certain it could have been removed entirely and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book any less. The four covens and most of the things that happened after the final realm seemed unnecessary, as though those elements belonged in a different story.

The realms, though? They were so much fun. I loved exploring each one and anticipating how the people who failed each realm would exit the story. It was easy to visualise the dangers the characters were facing and I kept thinking I’d love to see a movie adaptation of this book.

While the cover was what originally drew my attention to this book (I still really like the design), it didn’t really fit the story. I thought the cover had a fantasy feel, maybe with a dash of romance thrown in. Sure, there were some fantasy elements here, but with its characters trying to survive hellish landscapes with creepy dolls, animals eager to devour them and a floor that literally is lava, this book had more of a horror vibe.

Readers who enjoy this book may also like Kate Alice Marshall’s Rules for Vanishing and M.C. Atwood’s The Devils You Know.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the author’s next book. 

“You’ll never finish the final realm! No one does!”

Content warnings include sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have some trouble. A derogatory term for physical disability is used by one of the characters (a comeuppance does come their way).

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

You don’t have to believe in magic for it to kill you.

Seventeen-year-old gymnast, Lisette Colbert, is skeptical of her criminal mother’s claim that they are descendants of pirate witches. But on Halloween night, Lisette will come face to face with indisputable proof.

Lured by a $10,000 prize, Lisette recruits her best friend Xavier and together they enter The 13th Realm of Hell – an escape-room style Haunted House run by a mysterious coven. Xavier has his reservations, especially after reading the fine print on the waiver to enter.

Lisette is too focused on proving herself to consider the risks. With him or without him, she is determined to complete all thirteen realms. If she wins the prize money, she’ll avoid eviction from her beloved French Quarter apartment. But the witches who run the show don’t write happy endings.

Mike Falls Up – Candy Gourlay

Illustrations – Carles Ballesteros

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

On a day where it’s too hot to do much of anything, Mike and Bowow, his dog, are sitting on a hill. Suddenly there’s an earthquake and a hole appears in the ground. After Bowow jumps into the hole, a note appears. 

Birthday.

Come now.

Just fall up. 

Mike doesn’t know whose birthday it is and he certainly doesn’t know how to fall up, but he does know he needs to find his dog. 

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What follows is a birthday party with a difference.

I thought I was the target audience for all children’s books, even though I haven’t been a kid since last century. This one just didn’t work for me, though. Confused, I asked someone else who loves kid’s books to read it for me. It didn’t work for them either. 

If a kid reading this book asked me questions about it I’d probably have to make up the answers as it wasn’t especially clear to me why different things were happening. I want to know why travelling between places makes the kids fall asleep, why Mike didn’t come across Bowow when he fell from the Chocolate Hills to London and how the kids didn’t get soot on them from travelling via a fireplace, amongst other things.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A range of simple stories for new readers, with beautiful colour illustrations.

Mike and his dog Bowow are relaxing in the Chocolate Hills when the ground starts to tremble and the next moment a gaping hole appears. Before Mike can stop him, Bowow jumps into the hole. Then a note floats up…

Party.

Come now.

Just fall up.

There’s no time to wonder what it means – Mike jumps in and falls into the most topsy-turvy of adventures.

A joyous story celebrating the power of unexpected friendships by award-winning author Candy Gourlay, beautifully brought to life with stunning illustrations by Carles Ballesteros.

Swashbucklers – Dan Hanks

Nostalgia for the win! When they were kids, Cisco and his friends fought an 8-bit war against an evil pirate and saved the world. Cisco is the only one who remembers what really happened; for everyone else, a gas leak was responsible for the Halloween ‘89 mayhem. 

“Look, honey, that’s the bloke from the bedtime stories your mum tells you. The gas leak boy, I told you he was real!” 

Supernatural fans know ‘gas leak’ is code for ‘whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t a gas leak’.

Now all grown up with children of their own, it’s time for the sequel because, as I’m sure you’re very well aware, sometimes the Big Bad doesn’t stay dead. Except it’s not quite as easy saving the world when your joints creak and you’re having to navigate the joys of parenthood while you’re dusting off your custom made game console weapons. It turns out that nostalgia can be deadly. 

“Why the hell did you decide that us four, ordinary, slightly unfit, middle-aged human nobodies could take on this momentous challenge again and get it right this time?” 

This is one of my favourite reads of the year and the perfect way to get you into the spirit for so many important holidays: Halloween, Christmas, Talk Like a Pirate Day… It’s also the movie I need to see. Outside of my head, that is. There’s a talking fox, a secret room behind a bookcase (be still my beating heart), enchanted forest (“Technically, all forests are enchanted-”), faeries that are bitey and priceless news headlines. 

Bizarre attack in Manchester as costumed cannibal snowman partially EATS homeowner. 

It was the Ghostbusters/Goonies mashup I never knew I needed and I loved every minute. I could almost hear the soundtrack playing during the action sequences. This may have been Cisco’s trip down memory lane but I felt like I grew up there too. 

“Bloody nostalgia” 

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to relive my childhood through this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies.

Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.

Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. 

With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…

The Watchers – A.M. Shine

‘All paths lead somewhere’ 

Mina had planned on making some easy money when she agreed to deliver a parrot to a collector in Connemara. Mina’s car breaking down in the middle of nowhere was not part of the plan. Neither was winding up in a “prison of concrete and glass” in the depths of the forest.

There Mina meets Madeline, Daniel and Ciara. But they’re not alone. They’re being watched. 

Nothing should have to live in captivity 

At various times, A Quiet Place and Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call popped into my mind as I was reading but I don’t think it’s fair to make comparisons as this story is its own monster. Or should I say, it contains its own monsters.

The watchers were an ever present threat, made all the more creepy by the fact that I got to know them by their shrieks. The fear of the unknown is almost always scarier than fears you can identify. Not knowing what the watchers were or even what they looked like for much of the story added to my unease.

I wondered if this story would have packed more of a punch if it was a novella, but it was a quick, compulsive read. I had some trouble for the longest time trying to figure out why it was so difficult for the characters to escape the forest when they were able to make their way into its depths in the first place, but ultimately decided that I didn’t care. I was having too much fun flip flopping between hoping for a bloodbath and wanting everyone to survive. I’m keen to see what horrors the author will introduce me to next. 

Stay in the light 

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

You can’t see them. But they can see you.This forest isn’t charted on any map. Every car breaks down at its treeline. Mina’s is no different. Left stranded, she is forced into the dark woodland only to find a woman shouting, urging Mina to run to a concrete bunker. As the door slams behind her, the building is besieged by screams.

Mina finds herself in a room with a wall of glass, and an electric light that activates at nightfall, when the Watchers come above ground. These creatures emerge to observe their captive humans and terrible things happen to anyone who doesn’t reach the bunker in time.

Afraid and trapped among strangers, Mina is desperate for answers. Who are the Watchers and why are these creatures keeping them imprisoned, keen to watch their every move?

Nothing But Blackened Teeth – Cassandra Khaw

“I think this is all a mistake. Us coming here. Us being here. I think we’re going to regret it. That’s all.” 

Five twenty somethings have travelled to Japan for a wedding. Most of the group have dated one another at some point and although this is supposed to be a joyous occasion, the ‘friends’ spend much of their time re-examining past wounds. 

The Heian mansion where they’re staying is rumoured to be haunted. The story goes that a groom died on his way to their wedding and the bride’s response was to ask her wedding guests to bury her alive. Totally normal request. The guests obliged her because … reasons? But the story doesn’t end there; some unlucky lady is sacrificed each year to keep her company. 

“Like, this feels unholy.” 

I loved the concept and was really interested in exploring some Japanese folklore. Given this is a novella, I had hoped the horror would be flinging itself at me from all angles but I spent most of the read wishing the characters would stop bickering amongst themselves so ghost girl could get on with her haunting. 

I anticipated feeling dread or the need to look over my shoulder. Instead, I was frustrated to be spending time with characters I couldn’t connect with and confused as to why they were choosing to spend time with one another.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A group of thrill-seeking friends in search of the perfect wedding venue plan to spend the night in a Heian-era mansion. Long abandoned, and unknown to them, this mansion rests on the bones of a bride, and its walls are packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

Their night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare, as the house welcomes its new guests. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Book Haul – September 2021

Hey book nerds!

I’ve been having a bit of a Groundhog Day experience this month. The COVID lockdown I mentioned last month hasn’t finished yet. I may have lost count but I think I’m currently one day away from the beginning of Week 12.

We’ve had Picnic Day and Freedom Day is supposedly coming on 11 October, assuming nothing has changed since the last time I could face checking the news.

You would think with all of this time on my hands that I would have had a record reading month and you’d be right if you were looking at the first half of the month. I was doing so well, but apparently life does its thing even when you’re in lockdown. As a result, I have only managed to read half a book (one I’m loving, by the way) in over two weeks.

Things should settle down soon (fingers crossed) and I’m keen to make up for lost time. I hope you’ve had a more productive reading month than I have.

Until next month, stay safe and happy reading!

September Reads


Kindle Black Hole of Good Intentions

In this unsettling short story, a cop interrogates a deranged plumber who just murdered his wife, only to discover something far more insidious.

We’ve teamed up with legendary author Stephen King for a once in a lifetime opportunity. Presenting, Red Screen, a never before published work, exclusively available through Humble Bundle. Pay what you want, and support the ACLU.


NetGalley

Winter is fast approaching and all the animals in the forest are in full preparation: storing food and provisions, dining on the last worms with the neighbors, etc… All the animals but one: grumpy badger Mr Grumpf just can’t finish sweeping the dead leaves off his doorstep with everyone coming by to disturb him! Grumpf!

This new series paints a tender and colourful portrait of everyday Life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this first volume, we meet a very busy badger, who may admittedly be a little slow, but who never refuses to lend a paw to help his neighbours. In time, his generosity will be rewarded!

The stories in this four-book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.


Alfonso Casas’ MonsterMind is a very personal account of the inner monsters that live inside his head. But, who doesn’t have a monster inside them? Who has never heard that voice inside their head undermining everything they do? You’re not good enough… You just got really lucky… There are people far better and more qualified than you… In a very honest exercise, Alfonso Casas identifies and introduces his own monsters to his readers: Mr. Past Traumas, Mr. Fear, Mr. Social Anxiety, Mr. Impostor Syndrome, Mr. Sadness, Mr. Doubt… The pessimistic, the insecure, the self-demanding, the monster that keeps you from sleeping while you think of what you could have said back in that conversation two years ago, or that keeps you looking over the punctuation of every text message to figure out the tone lurking beneath the surface. All those monsters make up the bestiary of contemporary society. But the anxiety generation is expert in more things: in looking inside themselves and their lives, and – why not? – in laughing at their own neuroses as best they can. In the end, if the monsters won’t leave us, we might as well get to know them and laugh at them! Anxiety is another pandemic, but the monsters dwelling inside us are funny, too (especially as drawn by Alfonso Casas).


You can’t see them. But they can see you.

This forest isn’t charted on any map. Every car breaks down at its treeline. Mina’s is no different. Left stranded, she is forced into the dark woodland only to find a woman shouting, urging Mina to run to a concrete bunker. As the door slams behind her, the building is besieged by screams.

Mina finds herself in a room with a wall of glass, and an electric light that activates at nightfall, when the Watchers come above ground. These creatures emerge to observe their captive humans and terrible things happen to anyone who doesn’t reach the bunker in time.

Afraid and trapped among strangers, Mina is desperate for answers. Who are the Watchers and why are these creatures keeping them imprisoned, keen to watch their every move?


The Etymologicon is an occasionally ribald, frequently witty and unerringly erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language.

What is the actual connection between disgruntled and gruntled? What links church organs to organised crime, California to the Caliphate, or brackets to codpieces?

Mark Forsyth’s riotous celebration of the idiosyncratic and sometimes absurd connections between words is a classic of its kind: a mine of fascinating information and a must-read for word-lovers everywhere.


A humorous graphic investigation of the author’s obsession with true crime, the murders that have most captivated her throughout her life, and a love letter to her fellow true-crime fanatics.

Why is it so much fun to read about death and dismemberment? In Murder Book, lifelong true-crime obsessive and New Yorker cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell tries to puzzle out the answer. An unconventional graphic exploration of a lifetime of Ann Rule super-fandom, amateur armchair sleuthing, and a deep dive into the high-profile murders that have fascinated the author for decades, this is a funny, thoughtful, and highly personal blend of memoir, cultural criticism, and true crime with a focus on the often-overlooked victims of notorious killers.


When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies.

Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.

Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. 

With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…


Murder Book – Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell

I’ve spent so much time watching, reading and listening to all things true crime and I’ve wondered at times if my interest is too weird, too morbid or too much. I love that Hilary shares my obsession.

In this graphic memoir, Hilary traces her true crime obsession, from members of her family whose obsessions sparked her own to the movies, books, TV shows and podcasts that kept the flame burning.

David Fincher’s Zodiac had a huge impact on Hilary, in part because she lived so close to some of the crime scenes. True crime even got her back into reading as an adult, first with Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac and then anything by Ann Rule.

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Hilary considers why the majority of people who watch, read and otherwise devour true crime are women. She also tracks how the types of true crime that have been written about have changed throughout the decades.

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Although this is a memoir, Hilary also explores some crimes that hold special significance to her, including the murder of Anne Marie Fahey and the murders committed by Ted Bundy. I never expected to see true crime explored in a graphic novel, but it worked.

The victims of crime are often practically invisible in their own stories but there was a focus on them here. I especially appreciated learning what their interests were. For example, Betty Lou Jensen liked art, school, studying and fashion.

I know I like to joke, but in all seriousness, a large part of the reason I love true crime is the hope of justice for the victims.

Of course, all of this talk about what started Hilary’s obsession got me thinking about my own. I think I can blame my Nan for planting the seed. Her father was the superintendent of ambulances in our state when she was growing up and he had plenty of medical books showing graphic injuries in the home. My Nan grew up reading these gruesome accounts. I grew up listening in awe as Nan regaled me with the stories in those books, always describing the accompanying pictures in detail.

When I was sixteen, the older sister of one of my childhood friends was murdered. She grew up around the corner from me and I had sleepovers at their house when I was a kid. The police officer who lived down the road from me told me more about the crime and subsequent investigation than they probably should have. Obviously I followed the case as it went to trial and the media appearances by her family over the years.

My obsession really took off at university, though. My favourite assessment was when my psychology class was given a murder scenario. Our task was to profile the murderer. I loved trying to get inside the mind of the perpetrator.

This assessment led me to John Douglas books, which only fuelled my obsession. I wanted to be a criminal profiler years before Criminal Minds premiered. Naturally, I was obsessed with that show (especially with Reid).

It’s only been recently that I’ve come across someone who shares my love of true crime and I personally blame them for my latest true crime obsession: Crime Junkie.

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Within a few short months, I’ve devoured dozens of episodes. I always knew but now I’ve had it drilled into me that it’s never a mannequin. I now answer “And I’m Brit” at the beginning of each episode. “Be weird. Be rude. Stay alive.” has become a new mantra.

If you’re a true crime junkie, you will find a kindred spirit in Hilary. If you know someone who loves true crime but you just don’t get the fascination, this graphic novel may help you understand what it’s all about.

There’s a lot more text in this graphic novel than most I have previously read. I had difficulty figuring out which order I should be reading panels on some pages but the majority of them were easy to follow. I enjoyed the artwork.

There’s humour, like this all too accurate description of movies that are ‘based on true stories’.

It’s the DRAMATIC, SEXY version of a REALLY HORRIBLE situation that you would never find sexy if it happened to YOU!

It’s relatable. Hilary’s ability to love true crime, Disney, horror movies and Peanuts simultaneously mirrors my own strangely contradictory loves.

It’s a graphic novel I definitely want to reread.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A humorous graphic investigation of the author’s obsession with true crime, the murders that have most captivated her throughout her life, and a love letter to her fellow true-crime fanatics.

Why is it so much fun to read about death and dismemberment? In Murder Book, lifelong true-crime obsessive and New Yorker cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell tries to puzzle out the answer. An unconventional graphic exploration of a lifetime of Ann Rule super-fandom, amateur armchair sleuthing, and a deep dive into the high-profile murders that have fascinated the author for decades, this is a funny, thoughtful, and highly personal blend of memoir, cultural criticism, and true crime with a focus on the often-overlooked victims of notorious killers.

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“I think we summoned the devil”

One of the most important things I can tell you about this book is that most of it takes place in a library. Sure, there’s a resident devil, but don’t let that put you off. This is a library with seven floors of books, including countless grimoires, and a secret passageway. I’m pretty much ready to move in.

I liked Tess’ ability to come up with creative insults and her dedication to her younger sister. I was really looking forward to seeing how her experience with ghosts, having “grown up under the watchful presence of a host of ghosts that haunted her family’s central Pennsylvania farmhouse”, was going to come into play. Unfortunately, while I definitely saw opportunities for some helpful chats with the recently deceased, this remained firmly in fun fact territory.

I also liked Eliot, who made an indelible impression on me when he requested 147 books from the library at once. My kind of bookworm. His love for his mother made me like him even more. It also didn’t hurt that he smells like pages and vanilla.

While I liked both Tess and Eliot, I never really connected with either of them. The emotion wasn’t there for me and the one scene that I was expecting would ramp it up happened off page.

There is an actual devil in this book but the Big Bad for me was Eliot’s father. He’s absolutely detestable.

I liked the story and wanted to know what was going to happen but this wasn’t the compulsive read I had expected.

Content warnings include mention of bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and self harm (either unintentional or for blood magic). Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with one scene.

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

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath the school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other. And compared to what the devil has in store for them, school stress suddenly doesn’t seem so bad after all.

The Treatment – C.L. Taylor

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Drew’s brother, Mason, has recently been sent to the Residential Reform Academy, a therapeutic boarding school, to overcome his ‘behavioural problems’. The hope that Mason will come back a changed person becomes fear that Mason will come back a zombified changed person when a woman who says she worked at the Academy accosts Drew and hands her a note, supposedly from her brother, before running off.

Help me, Drew! We’re not being reformed, we’re being brainwashed.

Because this is a young adult novel, pretty much all of the adults are useless, evil or disinterested so if someone is going to save the day it’s going to have to be Drew. And that’s just what she decides to do.

Now Drew is also at the Academy and if she doesn’t figure out a foolproof plan soon, her brother won’t be the only one getting treated.

‘Obedience, compliance and honesty. They’re the bedrocks of society.’

This was a quick, compulsive read. There’s danger, action and a bunch of kids who have all been labelled as bad stuck in a system that’s supposed to be helping them but could actually be causing them irreparable harm.

Drew was an interesting main character. Initially a loner, she rallies when she learns her brother is in danger and even makes a friend along the way. I really liked Mouse, although I wanted to learn more about her backstory. I found Lacey and Jude so very irritating, but it probably would have been weird if I didn’t want to find a way to reach through the pages to slap them.

Some coincidences were a little over the top, like Zed just so happening to live close enough to Drew that they could meet face to face and Lacey just so happening to wind up at the Academy as well. In Drew’s very own room. What did Lacey do to get sent there anyway? Was she really so desperate to bully Drew that she followed her there? Speaking of coincidences, Drew’s dad, who’s been missing for eight years, just so happened to also be at the Academy.

Then there were the things that seemed too easy, like people being deprogrammed so quickly when they were faced with a specific fear. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert at reversing brainwashing but if any of the things I’ve read about cults are true, then it’s not a switch that can simply be turned off. It seems to be a much more intense and drawn out process than how it’s portrayed here.

The ending felt rushed and a bit too neat, and I have some unanswered questions. However, this was an enjoyable read and I am interested in reading more books by this author.

Content warnings include bullying.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“You have to help me. We’re not being reformed. We’re being brainwashed.”

All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she’s almost relieved.

Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.

Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.

Before it’s too late.