Me Mam. Me Dad. Me. – Malcolm Duffy

It’s always been just Danny and his Mam, Kim. When Kim begins dating Callum, everything seems fine. Callum’s nice to Danny and Kim. But things quickly change. Soon, Callum begins hitting Danny’s Mam, as well as verbally and emotionally abusing her.

Never quite knew what would come out of his mouth. Or what he’d do next.

Danny discovers that what’s happening is called domestic violence and when he reads about it online he becomes scared that Callum will eventually kill his Mam. Danny doesn’t know what to do so he asks his friends what they’d do if someone was hitting their Mam. Almost all of them say they’d tell their Dad, who’d sort it out.

Danny has never met his Dad and doesn’t know anything about him, not even his name. He’s determined to find him, though. Danny will do anything to try to protect his Mam.

Danny speaks Geordie. It didn’t take me as long as I expected it would to get used to his voice, although there are some words he used that I still don’t know the meaning of. Danny is thirteen at the beginning of this book and fifteen at the end. A lot of the time it felt like he was younger.

This book tackles a difficult topic but, for the most part, it was done well. Danny initially doesn’t have words to describe what’s happening at home but once he does he learns about domestic violence. The helplessness of a child in that situation was explored well, with Danny desperate to help his Mam but at the same time he’s powerless to intervene.

I didn’t really buy the resolution of this story. There were a number of scenarios I would have found more likely than what actually happened but it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Content warnings include bullying, domestic violence and sexual assault.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Humorous and heartbreaking debut novel with the fresh, funny, honest voice of a 14-year-old Geordie lad recounting the trials and tribulations of family life and finding first love. 

Danny’s mam has a new boyfriend. Initially, all is good – Callum seems nice enough, and Danny can’t deny he’s got a cool set up; big house, fast car, massive TV, and Mam seems to really like him. 

But cracks begin to show, and they’re not the sort that can be easily repaired. As Danny witnesses Mam suffer and Callum spiral out of control he goes in search of his dad. 

The Dad he’s never met. 

Set in Newcastle and Edinburgh, this supremely readable coming-of-age drama tackles domestic violence head on, but finds humour and hope in the most unlikely of­ places. 

The Right Amount of Panic – F. Vera-Gray

I’ve never thought that much about the amount of time and energy I’ve spent trying to keep myself safe, and that lies at the heart of this book. As women, we grow up internalising the messages we are given about how to be a ‘good girl’, what it means to be a girl and what our place is in the world. Along the way, we make adjustments to how we look, behave and take up space.

We make sure our friends text us when they get home so we know they’re safe. We don’t walk alone on certain streets at night. We are hyperaware of who might be following us. We get our keys out early and hold them as though they are weapons. We do these and so many other things that this book calls ‘safety work’ to try to prevent sexual violence and we’ve done it for so long that we don’t even really think about it anymore.

Safety work refers to the range of modifications, adaptations, decisions that women take often habitually in order to maintain a sense of safety in public spaces.

We know we’re in a Catch-22: if we are successful in our safety work and nothing happens then we’re seen to be overreacting and paranoid but if we are victimised then we’re blamed for not doing enough to protect ourselves. It seems there’s no right amount of panic, hence the title of this book.

We are scared because we’ve been made responsible for preventing rape at the same time as being told it’s inevitable.

The author examines the choices and changes we make to “maintain a sense of safety in public space”, categorised as actions relating to moving, clothing and being. As well as drawing on previous research, they conducted their own study.

Fifty women in the United Kingdom of different ages and backgrounds participated, speaking to the author about their experiences of men in public. They then recorded what they experienced from unknown men over a two week to two month period before meeting with the author again to reflect on the “work of being a woman in public”. Much of the book consists of quotes from these interviews.

I found this book interesting, albeit quite repetitive. Some potential solutions are offered.

Although the author addresses stereotypes related to gender, race, class, age and disability, I noted that the majority of the women included in her study were white (43), heterosexual (37) women.

Content warnings include domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Have you ever thought about how much energy goes into avoiding sexual violence? The work that goes into feeling safe goes largely unnoticed by the women doing it and by the wider world, and yet women and girls are the first to be blamed the inevitable times when it fails. We need to change the story on rape prevention and ‘well-meaning’ safety advice, because this makes it harder for women and girls to speak out, and hides the amount of work they are already doing trying to decipher ‘the right amount of panic’. With real-life accounts of women’s experiences, and based on the author’s original research on the impact of sexual harassment in public, this book challenges victim-blaming and highlights the need to show women as capable, powerful and skilful in their everyday resistance to harassment and sexual violence.

Father-Daughter Incest – Judith Lewis Herman

I didn’t originally plan on reading this book. I was actually wanting to read Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, which I’ve heard spoken of as one of the go to books about trauma. I’m not sure if this is a geographical problem or not but when I went to buy a Kindle copy of that book I discovered it didn’t exist. I then decided to see what else Herman had written and came across this book, which was available on Kindle. Thinking there’d probably be significant overlap between the two I decided to dive right in. Without having read Trauma and Recovery yet I can’t say for sure but I’m guessing they’re quite different books.

Although I’ve read quite a few fiction and non-fiction books about sexual assault, I haven’t read a great deal specifically about incest. I often feel as though the gears move almost imperceptibly slowly where sexual assault is concerned, from the attitudes that surround it to practical help for survivors and reforms to the legal system.

I usually read recently published books that explore sexual assault so to encounter things I take for granted as revolutionary ideas was a whole new experience. At once a history lesson and confirmation of how important early studies into taboo subjects are in shining light into the darkness, this might not have been the book I was expecting to read but I still took a lot away from it.

Much of the information I came across in this book, which was groundbreaking when it was first published in 1981, read to me as either common sense or confirmation of information I’ve already come across. I found that encouraging because it proved we are actually making progress, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.

This book came about as a result of two women, Lisa Hirschman and the author, speaking in 1975 about the patients they’d both encountered who had disclosed a history that included incest. Both women contributed to the research but it was Judith Lewis Herman who eventually wrote this book.

Since nothing satisfactory seemed to have been written about father-daughter incest, we were finally driven to write about it ourselves.

This book is divided into three parts:

  1. Using “survey data, clinical material, anthropological literature, popular literature, and pornography”, the author takes a look at the history of how society has dealt with incest. Spoiler: not well at all. From Freud lying about his own findings to pretty much anyone who could have have a positive influence on the lives of survivors instead discrediting, disbelieving and downright pathologising them, it’s a wonder survivors have had the courage to speak at all.

I know I don’t want to hear it. I have no idea what to do with these cases. And I don’t think I’m unusual.

Quote from a therapist
  1. The author and Hirschman conducted their own clinical study, interviewing forty survivors of incest and twenty women whose “fathers had been seductive but not overtly incestuous”. Yes, I cringed every time I read the word ‘seductive’ in this context.

Consumed with inner rage, they nevertheless rarely caused trouble to anyone but themselves. In their own flesh, they bore repeated punishment for the crimes committed against them in childhood.

  1. Dealing with the “social responses to discovered incest”, this section explores crisis intervention, family treatment and prosecution. This section also talks about prevention.

As long as fathers rule but do not nurture, as long as mothers nurture but do not rule, the conditions favoring the development of father-daughter incest will prevail.

The studies referred to throughout the book are mostly from the 1970’s and those discussed in the afterward, which was written in 2000, were predominantly published in the 1990’s. I’d be interested, now that another twenty years have passed, to find out what else has been learned, confirmed or disproven.

Although I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re still moving in the direction of more openness and less stigma for survivors of incest, I’m also very much aware that this topic remains taboo. It was telling for me when I compared the Goodreads statistics of this book and Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.

At the time of writing this review, Trauma and Recovery has almost 11,000 ratings and over 450 reviews. This book, in contrast, has just over 100 ratings and about a dozen reviews. I wonder if so few people have read this book, which was first released about a decade prior to Trauma and Recovery, or if many readers have chosen not to add this book to their Goodreads shelves, not wanting to admit they read a book about this topic…

The abuses have gone on for too long. Too many survivors have disclosed their secrets. It is too late now to go back to silence.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, addition, alcoholism, death by suicide, domestic abuse, foster care, mental health, neglect, physical abuse, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Through an intensive clinical study of forty incest victims and numerous interviews with professionals in mental health, child protection, and law enforcement, Judith Herman develops a composite picture of the incestuous family. In a new afterword, Herman offers a lucid and thorough overview of the knowledge that has developed about incest and other forms of sexual abuse since this book was first published.

Reviewing the extensive research literature that demonstrates the validity of incest survivors’ sometimes repressed and recovered memories, she convincingly challenges the rhetoric and methods of the backlash movement against incest survivors, and the concerted attempt to deny the events they find the courage to describe.

Ellery Hathaway #4: Every Waking Hour – Joanna Schaffhausen

“Not again,” she said. “This can’t be happening again.”

Ellery and Reed aren’t actively looking for their next case. They’re spending time with Tula, Reed’s seven year old daughter, when they learn that twelve year old Chloe Lockhart has gone missing. Ellery knows only too well what Chloe may be experiencing, having barely survived a serial killer when she was a child.

There’s no shortage of leads to track down, with multiple potential suspects. It turns out that this is not the first time the Lockhart family have lost a child and they may not be the only ones who are keeping secrets.

“Where there’s one secret, you’ll find others. There’s something hiding in the middle of that family, something they’re not telling us.”

Meanwhile, Ellery’s home is much more crowded than it usually is. Ellery’s not comfortable with this development although Bump, her basset hound, is delighted by all of the extra humans who are on call for snuggles and treats.

Sarit, Reed’s ex-wife, expressed some of my feelings about Ellery and Reed’s relationship but I have to admit they’re growing on me. It’s weird though, because they seem to make complete sense and no sense at the same time. They likely never would have crossed paths if it wasn’t for Coben, the serial killer who had Ellery in his closet, and no matter how much they want it to be otherwise, he’s always going to be associated with the two of them.

He couldn’t climb into the darkness with her. But he could stand in the light and extend his hand and wait patiently to see if she would join him.

The characters are really well developed in this series. I feel like I know both of our leads, understanding their motivations and fears. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a series that tackles the long term effects of sexual assault in such an authentic way. I don’t think I will ever get the image of nails in a closet out of my mind.

Ellery has physical and psychological scars from her abduction and these continue to impact on her life. She is resilient and brave and strong, despite her experiences and maybe even because of them. I see her as a survivor role model. Her struggles only make her more realistic to me.

I was delighted to find a couple of X-Files taglines in conversations.

You could read this book as a standalone but to fully understand the nuances of the main characters and their journey together you really need to start at the beginning. This will also show you just how much Ellery has grown since we first met her.

The fifth book, which I’m really hoping is not the last, promises something I’ve been eagerly awaiting: the chance to peer inside the mind of Coben, the Big Bad of the series. Although I absolutely despise him, I’m intrigued by the possibility of finding out what makes him tick.

Content warnings include death by suicide, drug addiction and sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After surviving a serial killer’s abduction as a young teenager, Ellery Hathaway is finally attempting a normal life. She has a new job as a rookie Boston detective and a fledgling relationship with Reed Markham, the FBI agent who rescued her years ago. But when a twelve-year-old girl disappears on Ellery’s watch, the troubling case opens deep wounds that never fully healed.

Chloe Lockhart walked away from a busy street fair and vanished into the crowd. Maybe she was fleeing the suffocating surveillance her parents put on her from the time she was born, or maybe the evil from her parents’ past finally caught up to her. For Chloe, as Ellery learns, is not the first child Teresa Lockhart has lost.

Ellery knows what it’s like to have the past stalk you, to hold your breath around every corner. Sending one kidnapped girl to find another could be Chloe’s only hope or an unmitigated disaster that dooms them both. Ellery must untangle the labyrinth of secrets inside the Lockhart household – secrets that have already murdered one child. Each second that ticks by reminds her of her own lost hours, how close she came to death, and how near it still remains.

The Book of the Baku – R.L. Boyle

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

There’s only so much horror and pain any living creature can take before it loses its mind.

Sean, unable to speak due to a trauma in his past, is going to live with his grandfather. He knows Grandad used to be a writer but that’s about the extent of his knowledge as they only met two months ago. It is at Grandad’s that Sean learns of the existence of the Baku. He’s going to wish he hadn’t.

While the Baku, a creature otherwise known as the ‘dream eater’, is not a new concept (its mythology spans centuries), the author has brought it to life in an imaginative way, imbuing it with a whole new level of creepy. I can see the appeal of what appears to be an easy way of getting rid of your nightmares but this is definitely not the incarnation of the Baku you want to feed.

For there’s a darkness deep in me,

That feeds on pain and misery.

Give it to me, relinquish dread,

And fall asleep in peace instead.

I felt Sean’s pain throughout the book, both physical and the pain of grief. His underdog status and innate likeability had me empathising with him even more. I wanted this kid to be okay and I hoped everything would work out in his relationship with his Grandad, who I absolutely adored from the get to.

Towards the middle of the book I began to wonder if the story was going to start feeling too repetitive but new elements and additional information about Sean’s past alleviated my concerns. There’s a growing dread as the days progress at The Paddock, something that may even be enhanced by the use of repetition, as you anticipate what’s next for the main characters. The horror is amplified by Sean’s inability to communicate what he’s experiencing to anyone.

It is as though each unspoken sentence dries to create a thicker barrier for those behind it and now his voice is blocked behind an impenetrable concrete wall.

I loved the inclusion of the rowan tree in Grandad’s garden. Given the themes that were explored in the book, the choice of this specific type of tree felt especially significant. Although I want to say more about this tree I won’t because spoilers. However, I will recommend you read about its mythology and symbolism once you’ve read the book so you can see for yourself how brilliantly it all lines up. I particularly like the explanations given here and here.

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, death of animals, domestic abuse, drug addiction, gun violence, mental health, physical abuse, sexual assault (off page), slavery, suicidal ideation and verbal abuse, including slurs about a physical disability (no, I didn’t like this at all but the horrible words used were consistent with what I knew of the characters who said them).

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A Monster Calls meets The Shining in this haunting YA dark fantasy about a monster that breaks free from a story into the real world.

Sean hasn’t been able to speak a word since he was put into care, and is sent to live with his grandad, a retired author whom he has never met before. Suddenly living an affluent life, nothing like the world of the estate he grew up in, where gangs run the streets and violence is around every corner, Sean spends his time drawing, sculpting and reading his grandad’s stories. 

But his grandad has secrets of his own in his past. As he retreats to the shed, half-buried in his treasured garden, Sean finds one of his stories about ‘The Baku’, a creature that eats the fears of children. 

Plagued by nightmares, with darkness spreading through the house, Sean must finally face the truth if he’s to have a chance to free himself and his grandfather from the grip of the Baku.

Ellery Hathaway #3: All the Best Lies – Joanna Schaffhausen

“He didn’t just want to kill her. He wanted to obliterate her entire existence.”

Bump is back for his third adventure! Of course Ellery, his human, and Reed, FBI agent and the person who saved Ellery from a serial killer when she was fourteen, are also back and technically they’re the main characters. But let’s get our priorities straight here: my favourite basset hound is back and he’s ready to slobber all over Reed.

Speaking of Reed, while he’s been integral to the previous two books in this series, this is the first time where it’s one of his cases we’re focusing on, not one of Ellery’s. And this isn’t just any case: it’s a cold case and it’s personal.

When Reed was four months old his mother was murdered in their apartment. He was adopted into an affluent family consisting of a father (a politician), mother and three older sisters. But there have always been question marks surrounding his birth mother’s unsolved murder and, even though the case has officially been closed, Reed has a new lead to follow.

“I need to find out the truth,” he told Ellery quietly. “No matter what it is.”

Luckily Ellery is currently suspended from her job as a cop so she’s available to travel to Vegas with Reed to investigate and hopefully solve this mystery that’s over four decades old. Unfortunately this means Bump can’t come along for the ride, so he doesn’t have many scenes. However, the focus on Ellery and Reed well and truly make up for the missing Bump antics.

There’s enough time spent on interviewing suspects and people who knew Reed’s mother to carry the Investigation along but what really stood out to me were the characters. I have loved Ellery and Reed since I first met them but there’s a depth to them that I don’t see that often in murder mysteries.

I feel like I’ve been alongside Ellery as she continues to survive her past, figuring out what trusting a man looks like and challenging herself to let down her walls, even if it’s just for moments at a time. She’s never thought that she could have anything approximating ‘normal’ but now she’s wondering what might be possible for her.

This was the thing about Reed, though: the more he accepted her just as she was, the more she wanted to try out a new version.

Reed is someone I’ve wanted to get to know more and I got that opportunity with this book. Although he grew up in a loving, privileged family, he’s always felt different. His skin colour is different to his sisters and he was the only adopted sibling. His origin story was pretty hazy before now.

From the reviews I’ve read it seems like readers are either all for an Ellery/Reed romance (I think I’ll call them Ellereed) or they’re completely against it. I’m not seeing much middle ground. So, where do I stand on Ellereed?

Firmly against, but with an acknowledgement that they don’t turn my stomach like I thought they would. I understand people wanting these two to fall in love and live happily ever after; Ellery in particular is seriously overdue for some HEA.

I just can’t get past the circumstances in which they met and the power imbalance that existed between them at the time. The age gap isn’t a problem for me but I can’t see this ever being an equal relationship. I imagined how I’d feel if I was Ellery and the idea of being in a romantic relationship with the person who saved me from a serial killer, when I was a child and they were an adult, just creeps me out. I do want them to both be happy though and it’s not like they need my permission to fall in love.

Even though the words made their only appearance in the first fifty pages, I couldn’t get ‘Neon Boneyard’ out of my head as I was reading. I kept imagining a cover image where the Las Vegas skyline was composed of various human bones, the outlines glowing neon.

Readers could jump into the series with this book but to truly appreciate the relationship between Ellery and Reed (and to understand Ellery’s past) I’d recommend reading them in order. It’s been over two years since I read the second book in this series but it felt like no time had passed at all when I started this one. It didn’t feel like I was being reintroduced to the characters; it was like I was catching up with old friends. I was hooked immediately and stayed hooked the entire time.

I can’t wait to read the rest of this series.

Content warnings include mention of sexual assault and its impacts.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

FBI agent Reed Markham is haunted by one painful unsolved mystery: who murdered his mother? Camilla was brutally stabbed to death more than forty years ago while baby Reed lay in his crib mere steps away. The trail went so cold that the Las Vegas Police Department has given up hope of solving the case. But then a shattering family secret changes everything Reed knows about his origins, his murdered mother, and his powerful adoptive father, state senator Angus Markham. Now Reed has to wonder if his mother’s killer is uncomfortably close to home.

Unable to trust his family with the details of his personal investigation, Reed enlists his friend, suspended cop Ellery Hathaway, to join his quest in Vegas. Ellery has experience with both troubled families and diabolical murderers, having narrowly escaped from each of them. She’s eager to skip town, too, because her own father, who abandoned her years ago, is suddenly desperate to get back in contact. He also has a secret that could change her life forever, if Ellery will let him close enough to hear it.

Far from home and relying only on each other, Reed and Ellery discover young Camilla had snared the attention of dangerous men, any of whom might have wanted to shut her up for good. They start tracing his twisted family history, knowing the path leads back to a vicious killer – one who has been hiding in plain sight for forty years and isn’t about to give up now. 

August’s Eyes – Glenn Rolfe

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“We all make our acquaintance with the Ghoul. That’s just … inevitable.”

Spears Corner is a town with twelve graveyards and a bloody history. It’s where both the Ghoul of Wisconsin and John Colby grew up. John’s about to learn that even when you forget the past, that doesn’t mean the past forgets about you.

This is a world where dreams and reality converge, one that will make you highly suspicious of green vans.

If only there were a way he could make his Graveyard Land last forever. He’d do anything to stay with his boys.

I enjoyed this book, although I never felt the need to look over my shoulder. Maybe I’ve consumed so much horror that I’m somewhat immune to it now. I don’t remember the last fictional story I read that scared me (real life often freaks the hell out of me though).

I liked John, flaws and all, and loved Pat, despite him bordering on being too perfect. There’s a significant amount of disturbing content in this book but thankfully the descriptions were sparse for the part I was dreading. I enjoyed the supernatural elements and although he was absolutely detestable, I wanted to find out more about how the Ghoul created his Graveyard Land.

This is my first read by this author but I very much doubt it will be my last. I’m intrigued to see what else they have to offer.

“The dead are dead, but that don’t mean they’re gone.”

Content warnings include mention (some only briefly) of addiction, alcoholism, death by suicide, emotional abuse, homophobia, kidnappings, miscarriage, murder, physical abuse, racism, sexual assault, slavery and transphobia. If you have arachnophobia, this may not be the book for you.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When dreams start bleeding into reality, a social worker is forced to face the mistakes of his past.

A serial killer has found a way to make his land of graveyards a sinister playground to be bent at his sadistic will.

The secrets behind August’s eyes will bring two worlds together, and end in a cataclysm of pain and ruin.

What Happened to You? – Bruce D. Perry & Oprah Winfrey

As you move through the experiences of your past, know that no matter what happened, your being here, vibrant and alive, makes you worthy.

You alone are enough.

Sometimes a book will come into your life at exactly the right time. Traumas, both from childhood and more recent times, have been making themselves known to me with an urgency I haven’t experienced before, at a time that seems more inconvenient than pretty much any other time in my life. Although I’d love to push it all to the side, with a ‘Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy reading?’, there’s also a knowing that there’s never going to be a good time and that maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason it’s all coming up for me now.

So, here I am, trying to figure out what healing will look like for me and having conversations with people who are seeing my resilience from the outside in vastly different ways than I’m perceiving it from the inside. Then this book, which covers the trifecta of what my brain has decided is my priority right now (trauma, resilience and healing), makes its way into my world.

The shift from asking ‘what’s wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’ is something I’ve yearned to hear for most of my life. Western society is so fixed on labels, which I know have their place and can be useful, but all too often pasting a diagnosis (or multiple diagnoses) on someone marginalises them more than it helps them. If we don’t get to the core of why a person behaves the way they do then we’re really missing the point, and the opportunity to best support them.

All of us want to know that what we do, what we say and who we are, matters.

Dr. Perry’s work in understanding how the brain’s development is impacted by early trauma helps explain why we behave the way we do, for example, why some people lash out in anger and others withdraw into themselves.

There’s science in this book but it was explained in a way that made sense to me, someone who hasn’t formally studied science since high school. Even if you don’t understand a concept the first time it’s mentioned it’s okay as it will be referred to in later conversations. If words like ‘brainstem’, ‘diencephalon’, ‘limbic’ and ‘cortex’ make you want to disengage, I’d encourage you to hold on because how the science relates to someone’s life will be explained. This, in turn, will make it easier to apply what’s being said to your own life. You’ll read about people Dr. Perry has worked with, people Oprah has interviewed and about Oprah’s own experiences.

Knowledge truly is powerful and simply having an understanding of why a smell or sound (‘evocative cues’) can cause people with PTSD to have flashbacks, making them feel as though they’re right back in that moment, feels like half the battle. If you’re not caught up in judging yourself for your brain responding the way that it does, then it frees up so much energy that you can use to regulate yourself.

I learned about how our view of the world becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, why self harm makes so much sense to the people who do it (even though it baffles the people who don’t), the importance of rhythm in regulation, how vital connections with other people are to healing and why I need to learn more about neuroplasticity.

I gained a much better understanding of flock, freeze, flight and fight. Dissociation, which I thought I knew all about from personal experience, make much more sense to me now, as does why I find reading so helpful in my everyday life.

I love facts and there were some that really put what I was reading into context for me.

During the first nine months, fetal brain development is explosive, at times reaching a rate of 20,000 new neurons ‘born’ per second. In comparison, an adult may, on a good day, create 700.

This book isn’t about blaming anyone for your trauma and it’s not giving you an excuse for bad behaviour. It does explain why you react the way you do and can help silence the voice inside you that tells you there’s something wrong with you because of it – your reaction is reasonable given your history but there is also hope; you can heal.

I would recommend this book to so many people. Before I’d even begun reading I’d recommended it to my GP and would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone who works in a profession that brings them into contact with young children and their families or trauma survivors.

To this day, the role that trauma and developmental adversity play in mental and physical health remains under appreciated.

I would recommend it to trauma survivors, although with a few caveats: that they stay safe while reading (some of the content is bound to be triggering), read at their own pace and make good use of their support system as needed. Loved ones of trauma survivors will find explanations for why their friend or family member behaves the way that they do and ways they can help.

I’m not someone who usually listens to audiobooks but if there’s a book that would be more suited for that format than this one, a series of conversations between Dr. Perry and Oprah, I can’t think of it. Of course, having grown up with Oprah, I heard everything she said in her voice as I read anyway but I’m definitely planning to reread via audiobook.

It takes courage to confront your actions, peel back the layers of trauma in our lives and expose the raw truth of what happened.

But, this is where healing begins.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, foster care, gun violence, mental health, murder, neglect, physical abuse, physical health, poverty, racism, self harm, sexual assault, slavery, suicidal ideation and traumatic loss.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Through wide-ranging, and often deeply personal conversation, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry explore how what happens to us in early childhood – both good and bad – influences the people we become. They challenge us to shift from focusing on, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or “Why are you behaving that way?,” to asking, ‘What happened to you?’ This simple change in perspective can open up a new and hopeful understanding for millions about why we do the things we do, why we are the way we are, providing a road map for repairing relationships, overcoming what seems insurmountable, and ultimately living better and more fulfilling lives.

Many of us experience adversity and trauma during childhood that has lasting impact on our physical and emotional health. And as we’re beginning to understand, we are more sensitive to developmental trauma as children than we are as adults. ‘What happened to us’ in childhood is a powerful predictor of our risk for physical and mental health problems down the road, and offers scientific insights in to the patterns of behaviours so many struggle to understand.

A survivor of multiple childhood challenges herself, Oprah Winfrey shares portions of her own harrowing experiences because she understands the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma at a young age. Throughout her career, Oprah has teamed up with Dr. Bruce Perry, one of the world’s leading experts on childhood trauma. He has treated thousands of children, youth, and adults and has been called on for decades to support individuals and communities following high-profile traumatic events. Now, Oprah joins forces with Dr. Perry to marry the power of storytelling with the science and clinical experience to better understand and overcome the effects of trauma.

In conversation throughout the book, the two focus on understanding people, behaviour, and ourselves in the context of personal experiences. They remove blame and self-shaming, and open up a space for healing and understanding. It’s a subtle but profound shift in our approach to trauma, and it’s one that allows us to understand our pasts in order to clear a path to our future – opening the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

Grounded in the latest brain science and brought to life through compelling narratives, this book shines a light on a much-needed path to recovery – showing us our incredible capacity to transform after adversity.

The Book of Hope – Jonny Benjamin & Britt Pflüger (editors)

This book introduces you to the lived experience of 101 contributors, people whose experiences run the gamut of what it means to be human but who have all struggled with hopelessness and found reasons to hope. Rather than attempt mini reviews for each contributor, instead I will share my favourite quote from each of the book’s eleven sections.

Always Hope

To me, hope is a gentle bridge between what is and what could be. A bridge that if crossed will lead you from desire, to belief, to knowing. Knowing that tomorrow will be different and can be better. Hope is the understanding that things will change and that life will eventually move for you, too.

Jada Sezer

Acceptance

This is some of the best advice I have had: to take each day as it comes. Just focus on the next hour and reach for support if you need it, from people or helplines. Don’t suffer in silence as you are never truly alone, even if it feels that way.

Eleanor Segall

Peace

It’s ok to not be ok. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a bad person. Admitting you’re unwell is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Oliver Kent

Tool Kits

It generally feels better when you say it out loud. It enables you to reality check your thoughts and feelings, to shine a light on them and test them out, rather than keeping them hidden in the echo chamber of your mind. Above all, it gives you the chance to connect with others and to realise you are not alone.

Benna Waites

Compassion

For it is people who create hope; it is people who give us the strength to carry on.

Dick Moore

Courage

Imparting hope is profound and may just be enough to save a life.

Erin Turner

The Right Words

Trying to avoid it, because you’re scared of how it will make you feel, will only make things worse. So instead you let the feeling be. ‘This is me,’ you can say to yourself, ‘experiencing grief.’ Does it hurt? Yes. Will it kill you? No. Will it pass? Yes. Is it serious and important? Yes. Is it also just a feeling? Yes.

Aaron Balick

Inspiration

So here’s my first piece of advice: be gentle and forgiving with yourself, as if you were talking to someone you loved. It’s OK to be weak and fallible, or at least just human, to have limits. It’s OK to stop and take a moment for yourself.

Frank Turner

Resilience

And yet hope is determined, hope is always there, even if you can’t see it or hear it. It’s in the tiniest of moments, shining its dim light, hoping you notice it. And hope is potent stuff, you only need the smallest glimmer, the tiniest drop, to make a difference.

Jo Love

Kindness

‘You don’t have to wait to be in a crisis to get help,’ Leah said, thirteen soothing words that finally granted me permission to speak.

Amy Abrahams

Connection

Everyone’s feelings make sense once you get to know their story.

Martin Seager

There are plenty of darkness and light analogies, things that contributors would like to tell their younger selves and many writers who mentioned the importance of good nutrition and getting enough sleep and exercise. I know we all know the importance of these in maintaining both our physical and mental health but there’s something about hearing things you already know from people with lived experience that make you want to pay attention. If they helped these people, then maybe, just maybe, they might work for you too.

Some contributions had sections that read a bit like a Hallmark card, although I’m not certain that that’s a criticism; Hallmark haven’t made bajillions by telling people things they don’t want to hear. It wasn’t always clear to me why specific contributions were included in a section.

One of my favourite contributions was from David Wiseman, whose descriptions of what life looks like from inside PTSD are some of the most authentic that I’ve ever come across. I highlighted more of David’s words than any other writer. I can’t choose a favourite passage so I’ve chosen the shortest one that I highlighted.

Living with PTSD means having to have a busy mind because a relaxed mind will automatically fill with things you don’t want to think about. It means being tired all the time because that amount of thinking takes energy.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, racism, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There is always hope, even when we cannot seem to seek it within ourselves.

From the best advice you’ll ever get to the joy of crisps, the 101 brilliant contributors to The Book of Hope will help you to find hope whenever you need it most. Award-winning mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, MBE, and co-editor Britt Pflüger bring together people from all walks of life – actors, musicians, athletes, psychologists and activists – to share what gives them hope.

These 101 key voices in the field of mental health, from the likes of Lemn Sissay, Dame Kelly Holmes, Frank Turner and Zoe Sugg, to Joe Tracini, Elizabeth Day, Hussain Manawer and Joe Wicks, share not only their experiences with anxiety, psychosis, panic attacks and more, but also what helps them when they are feeling low. This joyful collection is a supportive hand to anyone looking to find light on a dark day and shows that, no matter what you may be going through, you are not alone.

The Girls I’ve Been – Tess Sharpe

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

Sometimes what doesn’t kill you messes you up so bad it’s always a fight to make through what you’re left with.

What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me a victim.

But I made me stronger. I made me a survivor.

Well, me and Lee and my very patient therapist.

I am so obsessed with this book! Going into it I knew a few things: it has a great cover, it’s about a girl who winds up in the middle of a bank robbery with her ex-boyfriend and current girlfriend, and there’s more to the girl than meet the eye.

I didn’t expect it to be such a compulsive read. From beginning to end there’s practically non-stop action and reveals. I also didn’t expect my review to basically consist of a string of quotes but there were so many things I wanted to highlight and even if I did decide to desecrate my library book, I’d have to return it at some point, and I want to be able to revisit them.

So, our main character is Nora but that’s just the name she answers to now. Her mother is a con artist who groomed her daughter to play a role in each of her cons, so there have been many girls before Nora.

She was Rebecca.

Being Rebecca teaches me how to lie. How to look into someone’s eyes while there isn’t a true word coming out of your mouth, but they believe it because enough of you believes it.

She was Samantha.

Samantha has no needs or wants. She exists to serve someone else’s.

She was Haley.

Haley is unobtrusive. No one really pays her any mind in the crowd.

She was Katie.

Katie is not quiet. She is not silent. She is not invisible. She is the first spitfire Mom lets me be, the closest thing to me I’ve been in years.

She was Ashley.

And that’s when it hits me: There aren’t any more rules.

I didn’t just break them. I broke free of them.

Nora is not the only character you’ll be thinking about long after you finish reading, though.

There’s also Lee, Nora’s badass older sister, a tough, smart, determined woman who is willing to play the long game to get what she wants. Lee is someone you definitely want on your side but, like Nora, life has left her with scars.

Broken girls, both of us, growing up into women with cracks plastered rough over where smooth should be.

Wes, Nora’s ex-boyfriend, is basically my idea of the perfect boy. He’s a wonderful friend, he’s protective of the people he loves, he’s this sort of intoxicating combination of strong, sensitive and damaged, and he forgets that he’s a terrible singer when he’s stoned.

This we share. Scars and knowledge and broken safety that was never really there in the first place, because we were born to bad apples.

Iris, Nora’s girlfriend, is absolutely everything! She’s smart, she’s intuitive and she wears clothes that I can only dream of looking that amazing in. She’s brave and she’s resilient and she can think straight and stay upright even when she’s experiencing intense chronic pain from endometriosis. She’s basically my idea of a superhero.

She is heedless and gleeful and has the self-preservation instincts of a moth drawn to dares and flames.

Lee, Wes and Iris are not cardboard cutout characters cast in a supporting role. They’re each deserving of their own books. They certainly have enough personality and backstories to fill them.

Although their story is set during a bank robbery, these four already share stories of survival, even though they don’t necessarily know all of each other’s secrets.

I felt Nora’s pain deep in my soul: wanting to be the person people tell you you’re supposed to be, holding onto your secrets and your shame because you don’t know if anyone will ever be able to love the real you, needing to protect the people you care about from you because you don’t want the parts of you that you hide to hurt them, trying to survive your past without it consuming your future.

There were lines that made me smile.

“Very original. Do you have some evil-dude bingo card stashed somewhere?”

But more often, what I wanted to highlight were truths that spoke to me, things I know in my heart but that I’m going to need to revisit so I can be reminded of them.

“Men like that don’t stop”

You don’t have to just be taught to trust, you have to grow up in a life with people who are worthy of it.

“There is no normal,” Amelia says. “There’s just a bunch of people pretending there is. There’s just different levels of pain. Different stages of safe. The biggest con of all is that there’s a normal.”

Content warnings include mention of abortion, domestic violence, emotional abuse, gun violence, physical abuse and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes. The author has provided a more extensive list of content warnings here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As an ex con artist, Nora has always got herself out of tricky situations. But the ultimate test lies in wait when she’s taken hostage in a bank heist. And this time, Nora doesn’t have an escape plan …

Meet Nora. Also known as Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley – the girls she’s been. 

Nora didn’t choose a life of deception – she was born into it. As the daughter of a con artist who targeted criminal men, Nora always had to play a part. But when her mother fell for one of the men instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con herself: escape. 

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal – but things are far from it when she finds herself held at gunpoint in the middle of a bank heist, along with Wes (her ex-boyfriend) and Iris (her secret new girlfriend and mutual friend of Wes … awkward). Now it will take all of Nora’s con artistry skills to get them out alive. 

Because the gunmen have no idea who she really is – that girl has been in hiding for far too long …