The Mountain in the Sea – Ray Nayler

“The great and terrible thing about humankind is simply this: we will always do what we are capable of.”

Ha has been waiting her entire life for this opportunity. She’s secured a research position with DIANIMA, pioneers in the field of artificial intelligence, to study the octopuses of Con Dao.

There had been tales for generations of the monster. Maybe for as long as people had lived on the archipelago. Myths to scare children: shadows and drownings, shapes seen on the shore. But now everyone came to believe the stories.

If a story can make me suspend my disbelief, then it’s usually a winner. That was my hope going into this read. This book didn’t do that. What it did was take my initial fascination and turn it into a belief so solid that I wouldn’t be surprised if findings similar to Ha’s are published in a scientific journal in the not too distant future.

While this is a book of fiction, it quickly became clear how much research went into its creation. The author takes what it currently known about consciousness and communication and extrapolates, coming up with a series of outcomes that had me thinking in terms of when, not if. I was anticipating this book would be an entertaining read. I wasn’t expecting it to be so thought provoking or for its conclusions to feel so plausible.

I was invested in the characters. I initially chuckled at the way some of security specialist Altantsetseg’s words were translated, until I understood the why. Then I sought to learn more about their past. I loved Ha’s inquiring mind and sensitive approach to her work.

But this book asks the question: What if? What if a species of octopus emerged that attained longevity, intergenerational exchange, sociality? What if, unknown to us, a species already has? Then what?

I enjoyed anticipating how Rustem and Eiko’s stories would intersect with those of the characters I met on Con Dao. I decided early on that I didn’t trust Dr Arnkatla Mínervudóttir-Chan but wondered if she’d prove me wrong. The depth of Evrim’s humanity made them my favourite character. Shapesinger made me want to read every book the author mentioned in their acknowledgments.

Even though I don’t have a scientific background, I had no trouble understanding the concepts that were explored in this book. It made me think about consciousness, communication and connection in ways I haven’t previously. It hooked me early on and I’m still thinking about it days after finishing it. This is undoubtedly going to be one of my favourite reads of the year.

“And when the time comes, do what is right.”

Content warnings include death by suicide and slavery. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There’s something in the water of Con Dao. 
To the locals, a monster. 
To the corporate owners of the island, an opportunity.  
To the team of three sent to study and protect, a revelation. 

Their minds are unlike ours. 
Their bodies are malleable, transformable, shifting. 
They can communicate. 
And they want us to leave.

When pioneering marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen is offered the chance to travel to the remote Con Dao Archipelago to investigate a highly intelligent, dangerous octopus species, she doesn’t pause long enough to look at the fine print.

DIANIMA – a transnational tech corporation best known for its groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence – has purchased the islands, evacuated their population and sealed the archipelago off from the world so that Nguyen can focus on her research.

But the stakes are high: the octopuses hold the key to unprecedented breakthroughs in extrahuman intelligence and there are vast fortunes to be made by whoever can take advantage of their advancements. And as Dr. Nguyen struggles to communicate with the newly discovered species, forces larger than DIANIMA close in to seize the octopuses for themselves.

But no one has yet asked the octopuses what they think. And what they might do about it.

The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

“You have all the power you need, if you dare to look for it.”

I feel like I’ve personally failed this book. Hailed as one of the best fantasy books of all time and the unicorn book, this was a highly anticipated read for me.

I spent the first half of the book trying to figure out what I was missing because my mindset was very much one of are we there yet? I put it down for a couple of weeks before trying again. I don’t know whether it was a case of me putting the book down about two pages too early or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind the first time I picked it up but I began to see what all the fuss was about from the moment I met the Red Bull.

While it never made it into the hallowed realm of favourite reads for me, I can see why it has for so many others. There are memorable characters, a quest, heroism, some very quotable moments and, of course, a unicorn, possibly the very last one.

I expect this is the kind of book that embeds itself deeper into your heart the more times you revisit it.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

She was magical, beautiful beyond belief – and completely alone…

The unicorn had lived since before memory in a forest where death could touch nothing. Maidens who caught a glimpse of her glory were blessed by enchantment they would never forget. But outside her wondrous realm, dark whispers and rumours carried a message she could not ignore: “Unicorns are gone from the world.”

Aided by a bumbling magician and an indomitable spinster, she set out to learn the truth, but she feared even her immortal wisdom meant nothing in a world where a mad king’s curse and terror incarnate lived only to stalk the last unicorn to her doom…

Sanctuary – V.V. James

Spoilers Ahead!

The first thing I did after I finished Sanctuary was preorder a signed, limited edition copy from Goldsboro Books and that, in itself, tells you everything you need to know about how much fun I had reading this book. My review could end here but, because I love chatting about books so much, it won’t.

The cover image caught my eye when I first saw it in a Goldsboro newsletter (bookish emails are so dangerous for me!) and after being enticed by the blurb I investigated further. NetGalley had review copies available and I managed to snag one! Woohoo! Now I’ve come full circle, back to Goldsboro, but wanting this book has now morphed into needing it.

Daniel died at a party a few weeks before the senior class graduates. He was a quarterback for the Sanctuary Spartans and had a football scholarship lined up. Harper, Daniel’s ex-girlfriend and the daughter of Sanctuary’s only witch, is suspected of having killed Sanctuary’s golden boy. A police investigation begins to determine the cause of Daniel’s death. Friendships are tested and loyalties are divided as the facade of this picture perfect small town cracks, spiralling into a witch hunt as long held secrets and lies are revealed.


This story is told by Sarah, Abigail, Harper and Maggie, and also includes various transcripts, newspaper articles, emails and police documentation. I enjoyed the different perspectives and although I didn’t feel the four voices were distinct, I didn’t really mind as I was so occupied watching the chaos unfold.

“Our moms were drinking champagne when Daniel died. Sipping on bubbles as Beatriz screamed outside the burning party house and I was loaded into an ambulance.”

Harper, daughter of Sarah

“I always felt proud to be the mom of a boy – they’re so much more straightforward and honest. Girls can be sly, slinking things.”

Abigail, mother of Daniel

“To those who don’t need me, I’m an irrelevance. To those who do, I’m a help, a friend, a guide.”

Sarah, witch

“I don’t want to let down another girl by not being a good enough cop.”

Maggie, out-of-town state investigator

I always get a tad anxious when a book begins with a list of characters. Are there so many people that I won’t be able to tell them apart? Do I need to make copious notes to remember who everyone is in relation to everyone else? I’ll admit that as soon as I saw that list I put this book down and picked up another, delaying my read for several days. I needn’t have worried though. After the first couple of chapters I didn’t need to look at it again.

The four of us were friends, despite our obvious differences. And we became a true coven. Bridget grounds me, Abigail fires me up, and Julia reminds me of the beauty of my craft.

I enjoyed getting to know the various kids, coven members and their partners, and the police investigating Daniel’s death. I appreciated that Maggie’s perspective was coloured by a previous investigation, giving her character more depth. I wanted to give Sergeant Chester Greenstreet, A.K.A., Helpful Cop, a bear hug for some reason, and I really wanted to get to know Rowan Andrews, independent magical investigator (them/they/their), more. Rowan’s character intrigued me but they weren’t as involved in the story as I’d hoped.

I loved learning about this world’s magic system, with its rules, restrictions and fascinating powers. I enjoyed learning the rituals and watching Sarah’s preparations. Having consent as its foundational principle and it working by exchanging one thing for another made sense to me both generally and in the context of the storyline.

Something given for something gotten.

Witchcraft aside, I could see this story playing out in reality. The issues it raises about consent, xenophobia, discrimination and mob mentality could have been pulled from any number of new stories. The exploration of how our past influences our decisions in similar situations interested me and seeing how grief affects different people played out in believable ways. The escalation I saw in this book typifies how the fear of what we don’t understand can explode into witch hunts, literally and figuratively.

Magic is the art of choosing the best path to where you wish to be. And, as with life, where you end up is the result of the choices you’ve made.

I predicted some of the reveals from fairly early on but didn’t mind as they were what I wanted to happen anyway. If you don’t want the answers to be too obvious please try to avoid comparisons between this book and certain others.

Having said that (and this is not spoilery), as I read I kept thinking that this is exactly how I’d imagine a story unfolding for the residents of Wisteria Lane if witchcraft was a part of their world. They both involve a group of female friends and their children whose lives look picture perfect, but beneath the surface there are secrets that have the power to change the dynamics of their friendship if they were to come to light.

Was this a perfect book? No. I had unanswered questions, like if Tad and Mary-Anne truly believed their youngest son was in intensive care, then why weren’t they with him at the hospital?, and I would have liked more information about what happened to some of the characters after I finished the last page. But did I have so much fun reading it that ultimately I didn’t care about any of my quibbles? Absolutely!

Content warnings include bullying, domestic violence and sexual assault.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The small Connecticut town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback. 

Daniel’s death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend Harper is the daughter of a witch – and she was there when he died. 

Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge – or something even darker? 

As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching …