The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow – Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

I KNOW WHO KILLED LOLA … AND ONE OF YOU IS NEXT

Audrey is the new girl at Illumen Hall, a prestigious boarding school a world away from her old life and the memories that haunt her. She’s sharing a room with Ivy, who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with her. It isn’t long before Audrey learns that Lola, one of Illumen Hall’s most popular girls, died recently.

The police have closed their case but there may be more to the story than meets the eye. While the students and staff are still coming to terms with their loss, a new podcast raises the question of whether Lola’s death was an accident, suicide, or something more sinister. It turns out that Audrey isn’t the only one at Illumen Hall that’s keeping a secret.

I probably would have been slightly obsessed with this book if I’d read it when I was 13. I’ve always loved stories set in boarding schools and the mystery of the death of a student, combined with a school that has such a rich history and a potential secret society, would have been all I needed. Even as an adult I found this book easy to get into, but I found myself questioning things that wouldn’t have even registered on my radar as a kid.

The podcast transcripts were an interesting way of building the mystery and introducing theories, although none of them had enough content to last more than a couple of minutes. I had a lot of trouble believing a Detective would discuss any details of a case, no matter how briefly, with an anonymous caller.

A time stamp on a photo is believed to be accurate by the people who see it, with no questions raised about its authenticity. Although there’s nothing in this book to indicate that the time stamp had been fudged, it seemed strange that it wasn’t even a consideration. The resolution in this book that related to the person concerned was too easy for me.

I liked the idea of Ivy and Audrey’s points of view being written by different authors but if I didn’t already know this book was written by two people I never would have picked it. Usually I would think that this was a good thing, as the transitions between chapters felt fairly seamless. However, in this instance, I thought there should have been something obvious about the writing styles to differentiate the girls’ voices.

After the initial mystery was introduced the investigation didn’t move quickly enough for me for much of the book. I didn’t feel the urgency of the investigation. Towards the end of the book the pace picked up and I was really starting to look forward to getting some answers, but then the book just ended. Right in the middle of a scene.

There is a planned sequel, Two for Joy, currently scheduled for release in 2021. I knew ahead of time that this was the first in a series so I suspected I wouldn’t learn the answers to all of my questions here but I don’t feel like I got any of the answers I was seeking. Unfortunately, while I expected to be excited about the answers that will hopefully be revealed in the second book, I’m left frustrated by the lack of resolution.

There’s a website mentioned in the book that I obviously had to look up. The website doesn’t currently exist but perhaps it will by the publication date. Likewise, I tested out an email address but it was undeliverable.

‘I won’t cross the magpies, and the magpies won’t cross me.’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children’s UK for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Illumen Hall is an elite boarding school. Tragedy strikes when the body of a student is discovered at their exclusive summer party – on her back is an elaborate tattoo of a magpie.

When new girl Audrey arrives the following term, running from her own secrets back home in America, she is thrown into solving the case. Despite her best efforts to avoid any drama, her new roommate Ivy was close to the murdered girl, and the two of them can’t help but get pulled in.

The two can’t stand each other, but as they are drawn deeper into the mystery of this strange and terrible murder, they will discover that something dangerous is at the heart of their superficially perfect school.

Welcome to The Magpie Society.

Megabat – Anna Humphrey

Illustrations – Kass Reich

Spoilers Ahead! (in purple font)

Daniel’s family has just moved to a new town. He misses his friends and isn’t looking forward to starting a new school where he doesn’t know anyone. It doesn’t help that he’s sure his new room is haunted.

It turns out the ghost is actually a talking fruit bat, who is also a long way from home. Megabat loves smoosh-fruit, buttermelon and Star Wars.

description

Daniel is determined to return Megabat to Papaya Premium. These new friends are going to have to channel the Force if they’re going to succeed in their mission.

This was a really cute story for younger readers, with a focus on friendship. I loved Kass Reich’s illustrations, particularly those featuring Megabat.

description

It did lose me a bit at the end when Megabat asked Birdgirl, his pigeon friend, to marry him but I’m probably overthinking it.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tundra, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It’s big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it’s haunted … or is it?

Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he’s living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there. 

Daniel realises it’s not a ghost in his new house. It’s a bat. And he can talk. And he’s actually kind of cute. 

Megabat realises that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. 

Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you’ve got a new friendship in the making!

The Gift – Edith Eger

Hope. It’s what lit the fire within my soul when I read The Choice and it’s what made its flame shine even brighter as I made my way through The Gift. Hope that I can do the work that I know I need to do in order to address the pain and trauma I’ve experienced. Hope, because if Edith Eger can do it then so can I. Hope, which Dr Eger defines as “the awareness that suffering, however terrible, is temporary; and the curiosity to discover what happens next.”

One of my takeaways from The Choice was a desire to have the opportunity to be counselled by Dr Eger, a survivor whose experiences, compassion and insight combine to allow her to get to the root of a problem before she lovingly guides you towards the you that you’ve been stifling under layers of pain, anger, [insert relevant adjective/s here], and paralysing what if’s. You may never have the honour of sitting across from Dr Eger in her office but this book is the next best thing.

All therapy is grief work. A process of confronting a life where you expect one thing and get another, a life that brings you the unexpected and unanticipated.

If you’ve already read The Choice then you’ll be familiar with some of the stories of Dr Eger’s life and those of her patients that are included in this book. You’ll also find stories that will be new to you, which help illustrate the points Dr Eger makes as she hands you the keys that will help you unlock the prison of your mind.

To heal doesn’t mean to get over it, but it does mean that we are able to be wounded and whole, to find happiness and fulfillment in our lives despite our loss.

Twelve keys are presented in this book. Dr Eger addresses the prisons of victimhood, avoidance, self-neglect, secrets, guilt and shame, unresolved grief, rigidity, resentment, paralysing fear, judgement, hopelessness, and not forgiving.

At the end of each chapter you’ll find ‘Keys to Free Yourself’. These consolidate what you’ve learned in the chapter and can be used to facilitate your own healing. Some require you to use your imagination. Others provide prompts that you can use in journalling. Then there are some that would be ideal to work through with a therapist.

I like to remind my patients: the opposite of depression is expression.

What comes out of you doesn’t make you sick; what stays in there does.

This is one of those books where it would have been much easier to have highlighted the passages that didn’t speak directly to me. While I discovered the gems in this book in the order Dr Eger has presented them, you don’t need to do this. Each chapter is its own lesson, so you can take what you need when you need it. I know I will be rereading this book from cover to cover in the not too distant future but I also anticipate I’ll be spending more time on specific chapters over time.

Although healing from pain and trauma is serious work, that doesn’t mean there aren’t smiles to be had as you make your way through this book. Currently, my favourite smile-inducing quote is about taking charge:

Don’t be Cinderella, sitting in the kitchen waiting for a guy with a foot fetish.

You could dive into this book without having experienced The Choice but I would recommend reading them in the order of publication. While you can apply the lessons to your life without knowing Dr Eger’s own story, they’re enriched by this knowledge.

Because I know what Dr Eger chose to share in The Choice, I trust her when she outlines what she found helpful. I also can’t give myself an out, claiming something is too difficult, when I have witnessed someone I now have such admiration for working through unimaginable pain and trauma to find freedom.

I now recognize that the most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket. No matter how great our suffering or how strong the bars, it’s possible to break free from whatever’s holding us back.

It is not easy. But it is so worth it.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, grief, gun violence, murder, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This practical and inspirational guide to healing from the bestselling author of The Choice shows us how to release your self-limiting beliefs and embrace your potential.

The prison is in your mind. The key is in your pocket.

In the end, it’s not what happens to us that matters most – it’s what we choose to do with it. We all face suffering – sadness, loss, despair, fear, anxiety, failure. But we also have a choice; to give in and give up in the face of trauma or difficulties, or to live every moment as a gift.

Celebrated therapist and Holocaust survivor, Dr Edith Eger, provides a hands-on guide that gently encourages us to change the imprisoning thoughts and destructive behaviours that may be holding us back. Accompanied by stories from Eger’s own life and the lives of her patients her empowering lessons help you to see your darkest moments as your greatest teachers and find freedom through the strength that lies within.

The Choice – Edith Eger

“Just remember, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.”

Sometimes a book will find you at the very moment you need it. This is one of those books. I’ve previously marvelled at the resilience of some other remarkable human beings who survived the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel. Viktor Frankl.

Joining them is Edith Eger. A survivor whose courage both astounds me and gives me hope. A woman who will be occupying the space in my heart that she has made bigger with her compassion. A touchstone for the times I feel like I don’t have the strength to survive my own pain.

What follows is the story of the choices, big and small, that can lead us from trauma to triumph, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom.

It would be so easy to hear even part of Edith’s story and say to yourself that your pain is insignificant compared to what she has experienced but after reading this book I realise that would be a disservice to her. Edith doesn’t rank pain and would prefer your response to be one of, “If she can do it, then so can I!” For someone whose power was taken away in such a brutal way at such a young age, Edith’s message is that much more empowering and impactful.

I can’t begin to imagine how I would have fared if I had been in Edith’s place. What I do know is, like everyone, I have experienced pain and trauma. Through Edith’s story and those of the people she’s counselled, I gained insights into my own life. Light made its way into dark corners that are painful to look at and while there’s still plenty of work to be done, it no longer feels impossible. Now I just need to make a counselling appointment with Edith. 😊

I expected to ugly cry my way through this book and surprised myself when I didn’t. The tears came unexpectedly, when I started rambling about how extraordinary Edith’s story is to someone. I was doing fine, right up until I began to explain that Edith would not have survived had it not been for a loaf of bread. Then I lost it.

Any story that even lightly touches on the Holocaust is bound to include the depravity that humans inflict on other humans. What touched me so much about that part of Edith’s story was it showed me the beauty that can still live within people, despite the ugliness that surrounds them.

I loved the way this book was written. I often felt like I was in conversation with Edith, that I was sitting across from her in a comfy chair in a room with a fireplace warming us as she was telling me a specific part of her story. I ran the gamut of emotions as I was reading but the style itself felt very down to earth.

No one heals in a straight line.

One of my favourite takeaways is the way Edith explains trauma. She doesn’t shy away from talking about the long term impacts she has lived with and that alone endeared her to me. So often the message seems to be that once you have survived the experience it’s all sunshine and roses from that day forward. No, pain hurts and surviving the aftermath of pain hurts too.

Edith’s authenticity when she talked about experiencing flashbacks and nightmares decades after her initial survival spoke to parts of me I can’t even verbalise yet, but I know some of what I felt as I read those parts was a bubbling hope rising up within me. When I read her take on PTSD I actually stopped reading to cheer; what I have long believed was actually being said by someone else.

This is why I now object to pathologizing post-traumatic stress by calling it a disorder. It’s not a disordered reaction to trauma – it’s a common and natural one.

I can already see a time in the near future where I’m going to need to reread this book. Different things are going to speak to me at different parts of my life; I can feel it in my bones.

What happened can never be forgotten and can never be changed. But over time I learned that I can choose how to respond to the past.

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and be overcome by the need to book evangelise. Oftentimes it’s a wanting to shout from the rooftops, ‘Hey, you! Read this book! Then let’s talk about how much we both loved it.’ I also want to book evangelise The Choice but it’s coming more from a quiet knowing that this book can change lives. It’s a desire for people to get an infusion of compassion and empathy, to see in black and white what can happen when we don’t treat other humans like humans, and to make sure this never happens again.

We can choose what the horror teaches us. To become bitter in our grief and fear. Hostile. Paralyzed. Or to hold on to the childlike part of us, the lively and curious part, the part that is innocent.

I’m in awe of Edith surviving Auschwitz at all. To see what she has done since, both in working towards her own healing and facilitating the healing of countless others? I don’t know enough words to be able to adequately convey the way that makes me feel. This is truly a remarkable woman and if you haven’t already, you really need to read this book.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, eating disorders, grief, mental health, murder, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and torture.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1944, sixteen-year-old Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. There she endured unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. Over the coming months, Edith’s bravery helped her sister to survive, and led to her bunkmates rescuing her during a death march. When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.

In The Choice, Dr Edith Eger shares her experience of the Holocaust and the remarkable stories of those she has helped ever since. Today, she is an internationally acclaimed psychologist whose patients include survivors of abuse and soldiers suffering from PTSD. She explains how many of us live within a mind that has become a prison, and shows how freedom becomes possible once we confront our suffering.

Like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, but exceptional in its own right, The Choice is life changing. Warm, compassionate and infinitely wise, it is a profound examination of the human spirit, and our capacity to heal.

The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson

Spoilers Ahead!

“You never go into those woods, you hear? There’s evil in them.”

Immanuelle is a shepherdess who lives in Bethel with her family. She was raised by her grandparents, Abram and Martha, having never known her parents. Also living in the home are Anna, Abram’s second wife, and their two children, Glory and Honor.

The Moore family follow the Prophet and the Holy Scriptures faithfully, although their fellow Bethelans will never forget what Immanuelle’s mother, Miriam, did. Her sin continues to cast a shadow over her entire family.

Bethel is a community where polygamy is the norm, the Prophet’s power is absolute and indiscretions, actual or perceived, can be punished by pyre. Men have taken and abused their power, but some of the women are also complicit. Faith is polluted by fear and repression.

Bordering Bethel is the Darkwood, the home of Lilith and her coven of witches, a place to be feared and avoided at all costs. Except the Darkwood is calling Immanuelle and if she heeds the call she will be putting both her life and soul on the line.

Even now, their ghosts still haunted the Darkwood, hungry for the souls of those who dared to enter their realm.

Or so the stories said.

There will be blood.

Once upon a time I spent several years studying the Bible and one of the things that fascinated me at the time was discovering the original meaning of specific words I was reading. Sometimes it wouldn’t make a difference but there were also times where the entire meaning of a passage could change once I knew one word’s origin. Why am I telling you this in the middle of my review? Well, I’m glad you asked.

As I was reading I kept noticing specific names whose etymology seemed perfectly matched to their characters and while I could be wrong, it felt intentional. I won’t go into all of the connections by brain made while I was reading here but I will mention a couple that stood out to me.

Bethel may mean ‘house of God’ but the current Prophet is anything but godly. In a sea of biblical names, the current Prophet’s name is Grant. Revered by his followers, this Prophet claims to speak for the Father. Visions of the Prophet are treated as gospel and given how isolated Bethel is, there aren’t outside influences challenging the status quo.

Given his predilections, perversion of power and the I want to punch that guy urges I experienced as I got to know him, it felt right that Grant wasn’t named after someone in the Bible, or anything associated with biblical teachings, like Glory and Honor.

Ezra, the name of the Prophet’s son and successor, means help or helper.

In what was quite possibly my favourite association, Immanuelle stepping foot in the Darkwood was Judas’ fault. Naturally.

Now, I acknowledge I could be seeing things here that were not intended but I also noticed that, prologue and epilogue aside, this book contained forty chapters. Forty in the Bible usually denotes a period of testing, trial or probation.

Blood. Blight. Darkness. Slaughter.

I really enjoyed this book but, although I was sure I was becoming emotionally invested in the characters as I was getting to know them, I don’t think I really did. Although the characters experience a lot of high stress situations I never felt the urgency. I didn’t worry about them when they were in danger and when they experienced something that could have triggered an ugly cry I was left unaffected.

There were accused witches, girls and women who broke some arbitrary rule set forth by man and/or religion, and those that maybe didn’t break a rule at all but were accused of a crime.

To be a woman is to be a sacrifice.

From the writings of Teman, the first wife of the third Prophet, Omaar

Then there were the actual witches, the characters I was most looking forward to getting to know, whose dark presence casts a shadow on the apparent light of this religious community. The Unholy Four make an impact when they appear but they didn’t get nearly as much page time as I had hoped they would. I didn’t feel I got to know them at all.

This book nudged up against one of my pet peeves, where someone who has recently obtained new powers doesn’t need to spend weeks, months or years in training learning how to wield them. While the character I’m referencing here doesn’t entirely violate this pet peeve, there was definitely some instinctual knowing how to use them involved.

I wondered why the events that activated the final two plagues were different than the first two. I may have missed something or not have thought about it enough but it seemed to me that the first two were forming a pattern.

Why did the forest call to her?

I’ll be look out for this author’s future releases.

Content warnings include animal sacrifice, grooming, immolation, paedophilia, physical abuse, racism, scarification and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may struggle with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Born on the fringes of Bethel, Immanuelle does her best to obey the Church and follow Holy Protocol. For it was in Bethel that the first Prophet pursued and killed four powerful witches, and so cleansed the land.

And then a chance encounter lures her into the Darkwood that surrounds Bethel.

It is a forbidden place, haunted by the spirits of the witches who bestow an extraordinary gift on Immanuelle. The diary of her dead mother …

Fascinated by and fearful of the secrets the diary reveals, Immanuelle begins to understand why her mother once consorted with witches. And as the truth about the Prophets, the Church and their history is revealed, so Immanuelle understands what must be done. For the real threat to Bethel is its own darkness.

Bethel must change. And that change will begin with her …

Yes to Life in Spite of Everything – Viktor E. Frankl

Viktor Frankl, like anyone who endured the atrocities of the Holocaust, is someone I don’t have the vocabulary to describe. I’m in awe of the resilience and oftentimes almost unfathomable positivity of anyone who has lived through experiences I can’t even imagine.

What’s even more extraordinary is that the lectures Frankl gave, which are the basis of this book, were presented only nine months after his liberation from his final concentration camp.

With an introduction by Daniel Goleman and afterward by Franz Vesely, Viktor’s son-in-law, this book comprises three of Frankl’s lectures:

  • On the Meaning and Value of Life
  • On the Meaning and Value of Life II
  • Experimentum Crucis.

These lectures focus on suicide, forced annihilation and concentration camps respectively. With such difficult content I had expected this read to be quite depressing, but there’s hope running through even the darkest of themes. Given the author’s belief that we can find meaning regardless of our circumstances, this hope felt particularly appropriate.

This meaning, Frankl asserts, can come through “our actions, through loving, and through suffering.” Meaning doesn’t only come from work. Illness, physical or mental, doesn’t necessarily equal loss of meaning. Suffering can be either meaningful or meaningless.

Some of the early text read the way some university philosophy lectures I’ve attended felt, where I was anxious for the lecturer to get to the point, but these sections were the groundwork for what was to come. Frankl gives examples of patients he treated and people he encountered in concentration camps, and these provided the answers to ‘how does this theory apply to real life?’, which is something I always seek.

The third lecture was the one that I found most insightful. Building on the two previous lectures, Frankl discusses his thoughts on the “psychological reactions of the camp prisoners to life in the camp.” Learning how this lecture specifically related to his own ability to find meaning was inspirational.

It can be tempting, when someone talks about the importance of your attitude or finding meaning in suffering, to get into ‘yeah, but’. Yeah, but how would they feel if they were in my situation? Yeah, but what qualifies them to speak to me about suffering? It’s hard to ‘yeah, but’ when the person you’re hearing it from is Viktor Frankl.

While Frankl specifically says that no one’s suffering can be compared to anyone else’s I still find it difficult to think of any of my experiences, not matter how painful they are for me, to be comparable to those who have been subjected to concentration camps. After reading this book part of me wants to admonish myself for having a whinge about any problem I face. However, the overwhelming takeaway for me is if people like Viktor experienced what they did and still managed to find hope and meaning, then it is always possible for me, no matter what comes my way, to change my perspective.

To say yes to life is not only meaningful under all circumstances – because life itself is – but it is also possible under all circumstances.

Content warnings include death by suicide, descriptions of concentration camp experiences, euthanasia, mental illness and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Just months after his liberation from Auschwitz renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl delivered a series of talks revealing the foundations of his life-affirming philosophy for which he would become world famous.

Despite the unspeakable horrors in the camp, Frankl learnt from his fellow inmates that it is always possible to say ‘yes to life’. This profound and timeless lesson is amongst many in this remarkable collection now publishing in English for the very first time.

Red Sky at Night – Elly MacKay

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning!

I grew up knowing these by heart but it turns out there are plenty of weather sayings that have bypassed me entirely. The text in this children’s book is made up of some well known and some more obscure weather sayings, with some information about how accurate they are included at the end.

It’s only when you look at the illustrations that you learn the book’s story. A grandfather takes his grandchildren out on a boat. They fish, swim and camp overnight before returning home just before a storm.

My two favourite illustrations feature an owl

and a whale.

As I read this book I imagined the grandfather paying attention to the weather and explaining the saying that matched each weather condition to his grandkids. I know I think of my grandfather and smile whenever someone mentions the sayings associated with sailors.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. And, the next morning, when the dew is on the grass, no rain will come to pass. These are the perfect conditions for a grandfather to take his grandchildren out on a fishing trip. Especially since, as the saying goes, when the wind is from the West, then the fishes bite the best. The family takes a boat out on the lake, fishing and swimming and eventually camping out on a nearby island, taking full advantage of the gorgeous weather. But the next day … red sky in the morning, sailors take warning! The family ventures back home just in time to avoid a rainstorm. But not to worry – the more rain, the more rest. Fair weather’s not always best.

Acclaimed paper artist Elly MacKay illustrates a lovely family narrative through the use of weather aphorisms, creating a beautiful and informational story which will appeal to children’s timeless fascination with the natural world.

You Let Me In – Camilla Bruce

‘Fiction is sometimes better than reality, don’t you think?’

Romance novelist Cassandra Tipp has been missing for a year and as per her Last Will and Testament, her considerable estate is to be shared by her niece and nephew. The only catch is, in order to make the claim, they need to go to Cassandra’s home and find the password hidden somewhere in the manuscript she left for them.

You’re standing in my study, holding this story in your hands – the last one I’ll ever tell.

In doing so they will learn about Cassandra’s life, from her early childhood onwards, and the versions of the truth that continue to haunt their family.

‘Maybe the past came back to haunt her. She has a history here’

The feedback on this book seems fairly divisive so far. You’ve got the ‘I loved this book!’ people on one side and the ‘What the hell did I just read?!’ people on the other. As I’ve come to expect, I’m a bit of an anomaly. My initial response to this book was ‘What the hell did I just read?! That was so good!’

It’s been over three weeks since I finished reading and I’ve spent plenty of time since then trying to figure out a way of talking about it without wandering into spoiler territory. I also haven’t been able to get Cassandra’s story out of my head.

And things weren’t quite as they seemed.

I’ve gone back and forth countless times, trying to decide one way or another what I truly believe and while that would usually frustrate me, here it has only added to my appreciation of the story. You could see it purely as the ramblings of an elderly woman with a history of unresolved trauma and inadequately treated mental illness. That’s what Dr. Martin, Cassandra’s psychiatrist, would say. And he did. In fact, he wrote an entire book about her.

Or you could believe in Pepper-Man’s existence and know in your heart that what Cassandra says is true.

I’m still not entirely sure exactly which parts of the story I attribute to mental illness and/or trauma and which I believe Pepper-Man is responsible for, but because this is a story I think I can get away with what I still consider cheating. I believe both to be true. How on earth can I hold that position?

I think there were certain traumatic events in Cassandra’s childhood that contributed to genuine mental illness. Whether she would have been mentally ill without these experiences, I cannot say for sure but I suspect she would have been, to a certain extent. I believe that these traumatic experiences caused her to need coping mechanisms and one of these was the creation of Pepper-Man. Now, this is where reality and book world diverge a little: in my heart I want to believe that Pepper-Man truly existed, that somehow this young girl’s trauma physically manifested a protector. An unconventional protector, sure, but a protector nonetheless.

‘Can’t both stories be true?’ I asked. ‘Why is it that only because one thing is true, the other thing is not? Why do we always have to decide?’

I’m definitely interested in learning what other readers believe and if the author ever answers this question in an interview and you don’t think I know of its existence, please, please send me the link.

I wanted someone to know, you see. To know my truth, now that I am gone. How everything and none of it happened.

I’m not usually a ‘Have you considered adding more pink?’ kind of person but definitely feel like an opportunity was missed when the covers were designed for this book. Cassandra, the main character, is an author whose books all feature pink covers so it would have been perfect if this book’s cover had been a creepy Pepper-Man design in various shades of pink. Usually when I buy a book I make sure I choose my favourite cover image, even if it costs more. Unfortunately I don’t have a favourite here.

‘She would have us believe she’s off with the faeries’

While you probably need to know upfront that this is a strange story and it may not be for you, I don’t want you to not attempt it at all. If you’re intrigued and want a sneak peek, you can currently download a digital preview of the first 34 pages here.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, alcoholism, bullying, child abuse, death by suicide, mental illness, murder, self harm and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. 

Even her family were convinced of her guilt. 

So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. 

But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones …

The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows …

But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?

The Sisters Grimm – Menna van Praag

Every daughter is born of an element, infused with its own particular powers. Some are born of earth: fertile as soil, strong as stone, steady as the ancient oak. Others of fire: explosive as gunpowder, seductive as light, fierce as an unbound flame. Others of water: calm as a lake, relentless as a wave, unfathomable as an ocean. The Sisters Grimm are daughters of air, born of dreams and prayer, faith and imagination, bright-white wishing and black-edged desire.

Each girl in The Sisters Grimm represents an element and a fairytale character. Goldi (Goldilocks) is earth, Bea (Beauty) is air, Liyana (I read somewhere that she represents Snow White but I cannot confirm this) is water and Scarlet (Red Riding Hood) is fire. Some of the comparisons between the characters and their fairytale equivalent were more obvious than others. While the Grimm connections will likely add to the book’s appeal for a lot of readers I would have been equally invested in the story had this not been included.

Goldie, whose perspective is the only one told in first person, is the sole caregiver for Teddy, her ten year old brother. She cleans rooms at a fancy hotel, liberating items from its rich guests to help support him. Her boss is sleazy and she’s experienced significant trauma in her childhood.

I’ve been a thief for as long as I can remember, a liar too. I might even be a murderer, though you’ll have to make up your own mind about that.

Bea was raised in various foster homes while her mother was being treated at St Dymphna’s Psychiatric Hospital. Bea studies philosophy and feels most alive when she’s soaring through the air in a glider.

For nearly eighteen years her mother has encouraged her to act audaciously and, although Bea relishes nothing more than reckless behaviour, she’s damned if she’ll give her mother the satisfaction of knowing it.

Liyana (Ana) was on track to be an Olympian before an injury derailed her plans but she remains at home in the water. Ana and her mother moved to London from Ghana when she was a child. Ana is an artist. Her girlfriend, Kumiko, hasn’t met her aunt Nyasha yet.

At the sight of a blackbird Liyana feels that, ultimately, all is right with the world, no matter how hopeless it might seem at the time.

Scarlet lives with her grandmother, Esme, whose health is declining. Scarlet now runs the café owned by her family. She lost both her mother, Ruby, and her home a decade ago as a result of fire.

Strangely, Scarlet finds she wants to immerse her hand in the flame, wants to feel the scorch on her skin. She believes, impossibly, that the fire will be kind to her.

I saw myself in all of the girls to a certain extent and, although I’d never heard of this author prior to this book and they certainly couldn’t pick me out of a lineup, I am almost always awake at 3:33am so I’m claiming this part of the dedication as my own. I knew from the blurb that one of the four would not survive but I liked them all and hoped against hope that the blurb was faulty. It was not.

This book reminded me of two important bookish things:

  1. Why I should not pay too much attention to a book’s star ratings and reviews before I finish reading it myself, and
  2. Why I should always give a book a little more time after deciding it’s not for me.

I had really been looking forward to this book so when I saw some unflattering reviews I admit that I allowed them to dampen my enthusiasm and even shuffled my TBR pile, moving a couple up the queue, as the thought of needing to drag myself through so many pages was unappealing. As soon as I began reading I realised the error of my ways – until I began reading from Leo’s perspective. He’s a what? From where? Seriously?

My initial failure to connect with Leo’s character, along with my impatience with the multiple perspectives that changed so frequently I had trouble keeping up for a while, caused me to very nearly write this book off as a DNF. Each sister‘s story is told from two perspectives (now and a decade ago). There are also varying amounts of time dedicated to Leo, Nyasha, Esme and their father. Then there are descriptions of Everwhere.

It’s a nocturnal place, a place crafted from thoughts and dreams, hope and desire.

If you count the descriptions of Everwhere as a perspective, which I did, you wind up with a baker’s dozen.

Thankfully I persevered just a little bit longer than I had planned before abandoning the book altogether and I’m so glad I did because I wound up entirely sucked in to this world and these sisters’ lives. I even got used to the rapid changes in perspective, although I still think I’d benefit from a reread to pick up connections I likely missed the first time through. I think this is the first time a potential DNF has suddenly morphed into an I love this book! for me and I can’t wait to reread it, soaking up the enjoyment I obviously missed early on.

There’s always this childlike delight that wells up inside of me when I discover illustrations in a book I don’t expect to find them in. I absolutely fell in love with Alastair Meikle’s illustrations and had so much trouble choosing a favourite to share with you here. I’ve chosen the first one, mostly because it invokes the same sense of wonder every time I look at it.

Although I’m not usually interested in Tarot, the descriptions of the cards throughout the book made me want to send a wish to the book’s marketing team in the hope that they’ll commission a set of Tarot cards, illustrated by Alastair Meikle, that have a similar feel to the style used in the book.

The descriptions of Everwhere enchanted me so much I wanted to visit. I yearned to learn everything I could about each of the four sisters. I wondered what element and powers I would most want, if I had the ability to choose. I didn’t want this story to end and it wouldn’t surprise me if this book comes to mind when I think about my favourite reads of the year. I need to inhale more of this author’s words.

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of Sisters Grimm on Earth and in Everwhere. You may well be one of them, though you might never know it. You think you’re ordinary. You never suspect that you’re stronger than you seem, braver than you feel or greater than you imagine.

If anyone needs me I’ll be stalking the internet to see if I can buy a signed copy of this book. My bookcase desperately needs one!

Content warnings include child abuse, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

UPDATE: My day just got awesome! I found signed copies of this book at Goldsboro Books. I’ve ordered my copy and can’t wait for it to arrive. Happy book day to me!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of sisters Grimm on Earth.

You may well be one of them, though you might never know it. 

You think you’re ordinary. 

You never suspect that you’re stronger than you seem, braver than you feel or greater than you imagine. 

But I hope that by the time you finish this tale, you’ll start listening to the whispers that speak of unknown things, the signs that point in unseen directions and the nudges that suggest unimagined possibilities. 

I hope too that you’ll discover your own magnificence, your own magic …

This is the story of four sisters Grimm – daughters born to different mothers on the same day, each born out of bright-white wishing and black-edged desire. They found each other at eight years-old, were separated at thirteen and now, at nearly eighteen, it is imperative that they find each other once again.

In thirty-three days they will meet their father in Everwhere. Only then will they discover who they truly are, and what they can truly do. Then they must fight to save their lives and the lives of the ones they love. Three will live, one will die. You’ll have to read on to find out who and why …

Unbelievable – T. Christian Miller & Ken Armstrong

I heard the hype surrounding the Netflix series before I learned of this book’s existence. Because of my belief in the almost universal truth that “the book was better”, I wanted to make sure I knew the facts first. And facts were what I learned.

I got the who, the what, the when, the why and the how, but I didn’t always get the emotion behind them. I expected to ugly cry my way through this book but for some reason (I’m still unsure if this is a personal failing or due to the investigative nature of the writing) most of my emotions remained at arm’s length the majority of the time.

I was infuriated by the way Marie was actively disbelieved and accused of making up her rape by the police and most of the people in her life. I was incensed every single time another woman was brutally raped after Marie was because these traumas were not inevitable; if only someone had taken Marie seriously the man who raped her may well have been apprehended before any other woman woke up to find him in their bedroom.

On March 18, they arrived – two years, seven months, and one week after Marie had been raped.

Survivors of sexual assault should be assured that they are believed, that the assault it was not their fault, that they’re not alone and help is not only available, but deserved. Marie lived for two years, seven months, and one week alone on her experience because almost everyone she told dismissed her, and even more infuriating, her story is not unique.

Extraordinary as Marie’s case was – a victim assaulted, then accused – others like it could be found around the country, reflecting, in some police departments, a dismissiveness toward reports of sexual violence that at times crossed into hostility.

My ugly cry though? It’s still right here waiting to be released, probably when my library buys the DVD of the Netflix series.

Interviews and documents described by the authors highlight how a lack of investigation, and indeed an outright dismissal of a victim’s story that resulted in them being charged with making a false statement, turned into an investigation that involved multiple police departments. How the act of not believing one victim can contribute to a perpetrator going on to violate numerous other victims. How the justice system can both fail victims and get it right. The importance of police attitudes toward sexual violence.

I learned a lot about the origins of the fear of false allegations (thanks a lot, Sir Matthew Hale, you [insert expletive of your choice here]) and how they have impacted society as a whole over time. I never knew the history of rape kits prior to reading this book, only the statistics surrounding how many collect dust rather than being tested. The wannabe criminal profiler in me pored over all of the details pertaining to the investigative processes. The pedantic in me needs to know what the Wretch contains and wants to learn cryptology so I can crack that specific code and assist in providing justice to anyone who’s affected by its contents.

While I was reading I kept thinking this story was the perfect example of police investigating gone both right and terribly wrong so I found the note from the authors at the end of the book fitting. The initial focus of T. Christian Miller’s reporting was “to profile an investigation done right”, whereas Ken Armstrong sought to “reconstruct an investigation gone wrong”.

While this story begins and ends with Marie, it is not only her story. It is also the story of Doris, Lilly, Sarah, Amber and countless others who have survived the “unbelievable”. Their resilience and courage are extraordinary. This book should be required reading for anyone even tangentially involved in the justice system.

Content warnings include descriptions of sexual assault.

If you need support or information relating to sexual assault, you can contact:

You can also search for resources in over a hundred countries at:

Please know that it was not your fault, you are not alone and I believe you. 💜

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On August 11, 2008, eighteen-year-old Marie reported that a masked man broke into her apartment near Seattle, Washington, and raped her. Within days police and even those closest to Marie became suspicious of her story. The police swiftly pivoted and began investigating Marie. Confronted with inconsistencies in her story and the doubts of others, Marie broke down and said her story was a lie – a bid for attention. Police charged Marie with false reporting, and she was branded a liar.

More than two years later, Colorado detective Stacy Galbraith was assigned to investigate a case of sexual assault. Describing the crime to her husband that night, Galbraith learned that the case bore an eerie resemblance to a rape that had taken place months earlier in a nearby town. She joined forces with the detective on that case, Edna Hendershot, and the two soon discovered they were dealing with a serial rapist: a man who photographed his victims, threatening to release the images online, and whose calculated steps to erase all physical evidence suggested he might be a soldier or a cop. Through meticulous police work the detectives would eventually connect the rapist to other attacks in Colorado – and beyond.

Based on investigative files and extensive interviews with the principals, Unbelievable is a serpentine tale of doubt, lies, and a hunt for justice, unveiling the disturbing truth of how sexual assault is investigated today – and the long history of skepticism toward rape victims.