Wayward Children #7: Where the Drowned Girls Go – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

That strange noise you’re hearing? That’s what a contented sigh mixed with an undercurrent of panic sounds like. It’s January so that means I’ve been able to hang out with some Wayward Children, some I already knew and others I’ve just met. Also, it’s January so I now have to wait until the calendar winds its way through all of the other months and says ‘January’ again before I’m allowed to go on my next quest. Yeah, I know. 

No solicitation. No visitors.
No quests. 

In this not-a-quest, we follow Cora, who we already know and love. Cora, who travelled to the Trenches and has quite possibly the best hair ever as a result, broke my heart all over again in this novella. Haunted by her time in the Moors, Cora comes to the very logical but devastating conclusion that if she can only find a way to forget, she will be safe from the Drowned Gods. 

And everyone knew that things from the other side of the door could absolutely leak through into this reality. 

Cora’s decision takes her away from my beloved Eleanor to the Whitethorn Institute, a place where care is weaponised. There we meet more Waywards, their experience of reentry into this world nothing like those we’ve seen so far. I spent much of this book feeling sad and angry and powerless, but I know Waywards and they’re a plucky bunch so hope is never too far away, even when the circumstances look, sound and, dare I say, taste dire.

I love every world I’ve visited so far and every one I’ve heard about in passing. There’s always a part of me, though, that hopes this will be the story of my door, that when I read it I’ll recognise its shape and it will finally open to me. I already know I’m sure, even if my world eventually spits me back out into this one. I’m going to keep believing and it will find me. 

The closest I’ve come to finding my door came in this book, explored in only four sentences. The never ending Halloween of Emily’s world sounded right up my alley and I’m hoping to get to explore it further in a future book.

As always, I’m obsessed with Rovina Cai’s illustrations. I’m including two of the ones from this novella here so you can drool over them as well and anticipate the awesomeness of this read if you haven’t been there, done that yet. 

description
description

While I’m still patiently waiting for the time when Seanan is sure enough to share Kade’s story with us, I’m also still hoping to visit Eleanor’s world, as well as those of the nameless girl and one of the matrons. 

“The doors never completely leave us.” 

Content warnings include bullying, domestic abuse, fat shaming and a suicide attempt.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.

It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

And it isn’t as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming …

Square3 – Mira Grant

One moment, nature had laws and generally followed them, unenforced and unpoliced. One moment, everything was normal. The next, physics and mathematics were negotiable things, and the supposed laws that had always governed biology were shattered beyond all repair.

Seventeen year old Katharine and her fourteen year old sister, Susan, are almost close enough to one another when the incursion happens. Almost.

Now an adult, Susan works in “rift physics”, the world she knew as a child changed in ways her and other scientists are still trying to come to grips with. Katharine, meanwhile, is on the other side of the rift. Susan doesn’t even know if her sister is still alive. That side of the rift is where the monsters came from, after all.

“Sometimes you have to be inside a thing to understand it”

I preordered this book in May 2021 and may have accidentally burned the cover image into my brain since then. It had me expecting more monsters per page than I actually encountered but the monsters I met were well worth the anticipation. 

I loved Katharine and Susan and the ways they looked after one another as kids. I loved the science and how easily I believed all of this was not only possible but potentially imminent. 

Just in case this novella winds up in the non fiction section, it’s been really nice knowing you. No matter which side of the rift I end up on, it’s practically a certainty that I’m a goner. Maybe I’ll be too mesmerised by the impossible colours to notice the monsters. Maybe I’ll be too curious about the possibilities of the other side of the rift. Maybe I’ll irritate the wrong kid. 

“Should I be alarmed?”

”It won’t change anything if you are, so I wouldn’t bother wasting the time if I were you.”

Bonus points for the delightfully appropriate chapter numbering and Susan’s Project title. 

Now, if someone would please commission a companion novella written from Katharine’s point of view or a sequel, I’d be a really happy soon to be squished, melted or otherwise mangled rift casualty. And if that could happen some time in the next, oh, 130 days, that’d be awesome.

Heads up: the incursion happens on 16 May 2022. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“This is a safety light!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We think we understand the laws of physics. We think reality is an immutable monolith, consistent from one end of the universe to the next. We think the square/cube law has actual relevance.

We think a lot of things. It was perhaps inevitable that some of them would turn out to be wrong. 

When the great incursion occurred, no one was prepared.  How could they have been?  Of all the things physicists had predicted, “the fabric of reality might rip open and giant monsters could come pouring through” had not made the list. But somehow, on a fine morning in May, that was precisely what happened.

For sisters Susan and Katharine Black, the day of the incursion was the day they lost everything. Their home, their parents, their sense of normalcy … and each other, because when the rift opened, Susan was on one side and Katharine was on the other, and each sister was stranded in a separate form of reality. For Susan, it was science and study and the struggle to solve the mystery of the altered physics inside the zones transformed by the incursion. For Katharine, it was monsters and mayhem and the fight to stay alive in a world unlike the world of her birth.

The world has changed. The laws of physics have changed. The girls have changed. And the one universal truth of all states of changed matter is that nothing can be completely restored to what it was originally, no matter how much you might wish it could be.

Nothing goes back.

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.

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.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day – Seanan McGuire

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

The living are a mystery to me. I didn’t spend enough time as one of them.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day was my second ever Seanan McGuire read and it’s just become my first Seanan reread. It also has the distinction of being the only book on my very long list of favourites that, if you were to ask me its name when it wasn’t sitting right in front of me, chances are that I would fail miserably in my attempt to arrange the D’s in the correct order.

Our main character is Jenna, a ghost who volunteers for a suicide prevention hotline, and that right there is the book I didn’t know I needed to read until I learned of its existence.

Jenna’s sister, Patty, died by suicide in 1972. Jenna’s death, shortly after her sister’s, was accidental. Because Patty died when she was supposed to, she bypassed the ghost stage, moving straight on to whatever comes after death. Jenna died before her time so she will remain on earth as a ghost until when she should have died. Except time works differently for ghosts – they can both give and take time from the living.

The guilt Jenna feels over not seeing the signs that led to her sister’s death has resulted in her feeling like she needs to earn her death, only counting the minutes where she’s confident she’s made a positive impact on someone’s life.

I started earning the time I take, justifying it with my actions before I pull it into myself.

I would have been content if that was the entire story, but it’s not. There’s also witches, magic and mysteriously disappearing ghosts. Oh, and a bunch of “feline senior citizens” and cornfields, because this is a Seanan McGuire book, in case you’d forgotten.

If my tear ducts hadn’t suddenly taken a vacation, the dedication alone would have been enough to activate them.

For everyone who has been tempted to go, and has found the strength to stay. I will see you all tomorrow.

Suicide and suicidal ideation can be difficult enough topics to even broach, let alone do right with the sensitivity they deserve. I feel like Seanan has done a really good job here, in the phone call we get to listen in on, in the grief and guilt that Patty’s family experience and the responsibility Jenna feels for not anticipating and preventing her sister’s death.

I’ve paid off a fraction of my debt I owe to Patty, for not hearing the things she never said to me.

It took a little while for me to get my head around how ghost time works but by the time I figured it out, something had happened that has so far always happened when I’ve read a Seanan book: I believed. The characters and the rules that apply in the New York they’re living in felt real to me, and that’s part of Seanan’s magic as far as I’m concerned.

I was entirely satisfied with this story fitting inside a novella during my first read but I’ve gotten greedy since then. I wanted more ghosts, more witches, and more time with those I was introduced to. I could read entire books dedicated to the stories Sophie, Brenda and Delia have to tell.

My reread has raised some questions that my reader’s bliss hid from me during my first read. That was the read that essentially consisted of me marvelling at my good fortune, having so recently discovered a new favourite author.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The question marks above my head did not interfere with my enjoyment of this novella. I still love it to bits. Don’t be surprised if you see me reading it a third time.

Major Spoilers Ahead: Continue reading at your own risk.

It’s mentioned late in the story that

“Ghosts don’t just happen. Someone has to make them. That’s why we all died so early, and why so many of us had freak accidents.”

The person or people or witch or witches who make the ghosts are never revealed. Neither are their motives. Maybe it’s to make sure places are anchored or maybe it’s to make sure time can still be given and taken. The most likely reason to make new ghosts would be to trap them inside mirrors but Jenna has been living her life after death for over forty years mirror free. The not knowing for sure isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things but I would have liked to have at least met whoever it was that was making the ghosts so I could interrogate them myself.

The witch who imprisons almost every ghost in New York must have done a massive amount of research and spent more time than I can fathom collecting a mirror that would work on each individual ghost. It doesn’t say how many ghosts are spending this portion of their lives after death in New York but I’m almost positive that you couldn’t fit all of their mirrors in a supply room.

Content warnings include death by suicide (including the method used).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Wayward Children #6: Across the Green Grass Fields – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

“There’s no right way to be a girl.”

It’s Seanan McGuire. It’s Wayward Children. I will always be sure.

At ten, Regan has already seen what can happen to girls when they’re different. She’s determined to fit in; “strange was something to be feared and avoided above all else in the vicious political landscape of the playground”.

description

In the Hooflands, Regan comes across all manner of hooved beings including centaurs, unicorns and kelpies. There she is told that it’s her destiny to save this world, even though she doesn’t believe in destiny. She finds acceptance and love with her found family, giving her the freedom to be who she is, rather than having to constrain herself to fit inside the box of other people’s expectations.

This series has the diversity that other series can only dream of and I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Regan is intersex. I trust Seanan to write with the sensitivity her characters deserve and I really felt like I got a sense of what it was like for Regan when she learned her parents had kept this a secret for so long. I wanted to give her parents a bear hug for the way they explained this to her and for their love of their daughter in general.

“There was nothing wrong with you then, and there’s nothing wrong with you now. You are the way nature intended you to be. Horse-crazy and not very interested in math and too fond of cauliflower for any ten-year-old girl.”

Every Heart a Doorway is my favourite book and I always dread having to wait an entire year to get my next Wayward Children fix. I initially wasn’t quite as excited about this book, though, mostly because I’ve been chomping at the bit to read so many Waywards’ stories since the first book and this one was going to introduce me to someone brand new. Then there’s the fact that I bypassed the young girl horse phase entirely and was worried that may cause me to fail to connect with Regan.

description

I loved Regan, though, and Chicory, the friend she always deserved. But it was Gristle and Zephyr who stole my heart and I only wish they had been given more page time because they (particularly Gristle) were brilliant!

Unlike previous books in this series I didn’t really feel the urgency of Regan’s quest and there was a time during the middle of her story it seemed like I was treading water, waiting for the inevitable. However, the writing was still gorgeous and I hope Regan finds her way into a future quest, through the continuation of her story or by finding herself at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children.

“Feel up to an adventure, human Regan?”

description

I am already anxiously waiting for Where the Drowned Girls Go.

Content warnings include bullying and intersexphobia.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to “Be Sure” before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines – a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

One Size Eats All #2: Rattus New Yorkus – Hunter Shea

“City rats are tough bastards.”

This is a B-grade movie I need to see! Mankind’s infinite wisdom strikes again. This time we’re taking on New York’s rat population, up close and personal with “hand-to-paw combat”.

Dr Randolph “Ratticus” Finch has developed a new rodenticide, Degenesis, that promises results. There are results, just not the ones he was hoping for. These rats are smarter and more aggressive, they’re multiplying quickly and they’re hungry. Exterminators Bennie and Chris Jackson are going to be working overtime on this one.

They were enormous and mangy and looked like the embodiment of animal savagery and disease.

I always have so much fun with Hunter Shea’s books. Although I really enjoyed watching the rats wreak havoc from a safe distance, a couple of the elements I look forward to in Shea’s stories weren’t quite as prominent in this one.

The action was pretty much non stop but my horror book bloodlust wasn’t entirely sated. The rats gnawed their way through the pages but I wasn’t sustained by graphic insides that are now your outsides details like I was in Misfits and Slash. There also wasn’t the time for me to become invested in any specific character’s survival. I was actually on the rats’ side and wanted them to prevail, although I did have my swattin’ pole on hand, just in case.

I’m keen to experience all of the bloody fun that Shea’s novels promise and definitely want to see the mayhem unfold in the other One Size Eats All novellas.

“I think panic is an appropriate response to what we just saw.”

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

THEY’RE BIGGER

Deep in the sewers of New York City, the rat population is growing. Dr. Randolph Finch is determined to break the cycle. His new rodenticide, Degenesis, doesn’t kill rats. It sterilises them from reproducing. But nothing adapts faster than a New York rat …

THEY’RE SMARTER

City exterminators and soon-to-be divorced Chris and Benita Jackson think they know how these rats think. They know how rats breed. And they fear that Degenesis has only made these rats stronger. More aggressive. More intelligent. And more ravenous than ever …

TONIGHT’S DINNER SPECIAL: US

After a noticeable surge in rat den activity, the Jacksons witness something strange. Without warning, the rats disappear – only to reassemble in a massive lair beneath Grand Central Station. Millions upon millions of them. Working together. Operating as a hive mind. Feasting on the flesh of the homeless below – and planning their all-out attack on the unsuspecting humans above

Armageddon House – Michael Griffin

Welcome to a day in the life of Mark, Jenna, Greyson and Polly. Although, perhaps it’s night. It’s kind of hard to tell when you’re entirely cut off from the outside world.

Everything they could possibly need is provided for them. There’s more than enough food to last a lifetime and alcohol is plentiful. They can laze around the pool, exercise in the gym or explore countless rooms. It sounds like paradise but is it really a prison?

“We all forget things, more and more every day.”

Their memories of before are hazy (there was a before, wasn’t there?) and there’s no one to answer any of their questions about why they’re … wherever they are. They don’t know how long they’ve been [insert your best guess here] or how long this experiment test captivity refuge whatever it is will last.

With only a daily routine standing between them and their paranoia-fuelled tension, this utopia (if that indeed is what this is) could be coming to an end.

It wasn’t long before the cogs in my head began to whir. I was intrigued by this world that was appearing in my imagination and looked closely for new clues that could help me solve the puzzle.

“We should’ve been told.”

I have this (probably not normal) fascination with stories that drop characters into strange scenarios that they don’t understand – yet. Cube is one of my all time favourite movies, even though I am convinced I would have died there, as well as in the first room of Escape Room.

While I love watching characters piecing together the clues that will increase their probability of survival, I’m even more interested in the psychological fallout. Seeing how different people respond when they’re plonked in the same fishbowl, and wondering how I would react in similar circumstances, is something I can’t get enough of. The characters’ various coping mechanisms and the group dynamics sucked me into this story almost as much as the mystery of What The Hell?!

Fear is corrosive.

If you’re looking for a nice, neat story, with all of the answers waiting for you on the final page, wrapped up in a pretty bow, this is not the story for you. I suspected going into the bunker (if that’s what it is) that I was unlikely to have all of my questions answered and I was semi prepared for the frustration that comes with the unknown.

While my frustration level is higher than I expected, my need to know for sure has diminished greatly. If the author ever provides all of the answers to every question ever, do I want to know? Hell, yes! Did I have fun coming up with my own increasingly outlandish explanations, some of which I’m still pondering? Absolutely!

Mostly for my entertainment, but also for yours if you’re interested, I present to you just some of the many question marks that hovered over my head as I read …

Is there actually an outside world? Are there other people either inside or outside?

Are they underground at all? Are they even on Earth?

Are they billionaire preppers who purchased their survival in an apocalypse? Was there an apocalypse? Was it aliens?

Are they unknowingly participating in a social experiment that’s being broadcast across the world? Is one of the characters a mole?

Do the other three people exist or are they the hallucinations of one person who’s been isolated for too long?

Is this AI or virtual reality?

If any of them do find a way out, what kind of world will they be walking into?

I absolutely love Vince Haig’s cover design. Is that a face I see?

Two final thoughts:

  1. I doubt I’d ever get the TV to work in this place.
  2. The cleaning scene is still messing with my mind.

Thank you so much to Undertow Publications for the opportunity to read this novella.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Utopia. Four people living together deep underground in a subterranean facility. All their needs provided for. Food, water, medicine. A swimming pool; a gym; a bar. Except none of them can recall exactly how they came to be there, or what they are supposed to do. Dystopia. Where are the others? There must have been others. It’s a huge facility, after all. It must be some sort of experiment. They’re test subjects. How long have they been there? When will they get out? How come there has been no outside contact? Utopia or dystopia. As the questions mount, so does the tension. Who will escape Armageddon House?

The Roo – Alan Baxter

Spoilers Ahead!

You can blame a news article, Australian Town Terrorised By Muscular Kangaroo Attacking People and Eating Gardens, and Twitter for the existence of this book. Most of the people who egged the author on are now fictionally deceased, slaughtered by Skippy. Meanwhile, I’m waiting as patiently as humanly possible for The Asylum to film this story for me. I love The Asylum!

I was interested in reading this book mostly as a bit of a joke but also because I thought it would be pretty un-Australian of me not to, and strewth! It was a bloody good yarn! (Emphasis on the bloody!) That’s 4.5 blood soaked stars from me!

When this novella begins, Morgan Creek, a small outback town, has 400 people but won’t for much longer if Skippy, who’s gone to the dark side, has any say in the matter.

The roo’s mouth opened with a soft grunt. Its eyes glowed fiery orange. John startled, realised it wasn’t reflected streetlight, but the beast’s eyes had seemed to ignite with a kind of internal flame, bathing its face in a glow like a campfire. It grunted again, guttural.

I started making notes of all of the characters’ names and snippets of information about each of them, then quickly realised the futility of this. After all, so few were destined to survive to tell the tale.

With so many bone crunching, blood spattered, insides are now your outsides kills in this story it was difficult to choose a favourite. However I was quite partial to the visual that accompanied reading that someone’s “head burst like a ripe fruit.” While Morgan Creek remains drought affected at the end of the story its red dirt has certainly copped a drenching of the blood of its recently sliced and diced.

I was fairly certain this wasn’t the first time Skippy had gone dark and in my wanderings I found Waterborne, a Zombie Kangaroo Short Film. I hope this makes you chuckle too.

The Death Toll: 28 (26 of those can be directly attributed to the rampaging roo). This doesn’t include the people only mentioned as missing. If I didn’t witness the kill myself or stumble over the remains, I haven’t counted it.

[Because I made notes of who died as I read I’m including the list here but this is only for my benefit. Please don’t ruin it for yourself by opening this spoiler if you haven’t read the book yet! RIP: John, Jake, Kylie, Stu, Carl, Cindy, Brennan, Scott, Charlie, Michael, Matt, the two unnamed Hightower boys, Laurel, Laurel’s husband, SD, Shane, Amanda, Cassie, Rich, Mindi, three unnamed patrons at the bar, Sharon and Bill, who all died by roo. Also Gomzi, who was accidentally shot when SD died, and Pauline, who was also shot. On purpose.]

The Roo is not all splattery fun though. Real issues affecting Australians are also addressed, from the devastation that accompanies drought to domestic violence and death by suicide.

If you’re not a native Aussie you may find some of our slang incomprehensible. I had actually expected to find more slang than I did but for those of you who can’t tell the difference between ‘yeah nah’ and ‘nah yeah’, there’s a handy glossary at the end of the book.

Once Upon a Nitpick: A fair few typos have managed to sidestep the proofreading process, especially near the beginning. One character’s surname also changes between chapters 2 and 4.

Content warnings include alcoholism, bucketloads of swearing, death by suicide, domestic violence (particularly physical abuse) and racism (challenged).

There’s definitely room for a sequel. Hopefully coming soon to a Kindle near you …
🇦🇺 Drop Bears: Not So Cuddly After All
🇦🇺 Wombat and the Cubes of Doom
🇦🇺 Stone the Crows vs. The Flamin’ Galahs

P.S. Not directly related to this book but I found this by accident when I was thinking about other Aussie icons that could feature in a sequel (there definitely needs to be a sequel) … Someone has made a horror movie about drop bears and I cannot wait to see it!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Something is wrong in the small outback town of Morgan Creek.

A farmer goes missing after a blue in the pub. A teenage couple fail to show up for work. When Patrick and Sheila McDonough investigate, they discover the missing persons list is growing. Before they realise what’s happening, the residents of the remote town find themselves in a fight for their lives against a foe they would never have suspected.

And the dry red earth will run with blood.