Liar Liar – Laurie Katz

Before I say anything else, I want to make a few things clear. I believe Laurie. What she experienced – being sexually assaulted, the perpetrator’s subsequent behaviour, the harmful responses she received from friends and university staff members – was horrific and she is not to blame for any of it. She deserved to be believed and supported while she was at college and she deserves those same things now.

What Laurie has accomplished here is remarkable. Writing about the events of your life is a difficult task under the best of circumstances. Needing to write accounts of my own experiences of sexual assault for non-public reasons has given me a general idea of just how daunting and painful a process this can be. I can’t even begin to imagine the vulnerability people must feel sharing this publicly and I commend Laurie for the courage and resilience this finished book represents.

Laurie was raped on the third Saturday of her freshman year of college. She was not only discouraged from reporting this to the police by university staff members but was also denied justice through the university’s own reporting process. Worse still, she was formally accused of lying by the university.

After essentially trying to cope with this trauma by herself, managing the best she could by overachieving and self-medicating, Laurie eventually found the support she deserved from the very beginning.

Given the subject matter, this was always going to be a difficult read, even though the book itself is quite short. If you find descriptions of sexual assault triggering, please be safe while reading this book. I had psyched myself up for the details I knew would be coming but was surprised by a few additional descriptions that I didn’t have time to prepare for. In particular, I thought the book was winding up so I let my guard down, then got hit by a major new revelation in the final chapter.

The next part of this review is difficult for me to write. I don’t feel like I have the right to judge anyone’s experiences or the choices they make so this isn’t that. However, I’m also uneasy critiquing the way anyone writes about their experiences, and that’s what this feels like.

Having said that, at times Laurie’s story came across as quite disjointed and could have benefited from some further editing. I recognise that traumatic memories are not formed in the nice, neat, linear way that non-traumatic memories are. Sometimes memories are only retained in flashes. They’re not necessarily remembered in the right order. There may be aspects of a sexual assault a victim never remembers.

All of this makes it harder to form a step by step narrative in our own heads, let alone when we try to make sense of it with others. I asked myself if I needed to take that into consideration as I was reading this book. I’d wonder about things, like where Sarah was or why no one accompanied Laurie to court, only to find out the answers in later chapters. The narrative jumped back and forth in time, making it more difficult to get a clear idea of the order of events.

The publisher says this book is part of a series that “tells the stories of the people who have battled and beaten mental health issues.” Although this should be obvious I feel I need to point out that sexual assault is not a mental health issue. Granted, it can result in a wide variety of trauma impacts, some of which include depression, anxiety and PTSD, but in and of itself it is not a mental health issue.

Content warnings include bullying, eating disorders, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Trigger Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Like any student about to start university, Laurie Katz was excited to see what the year would bring. Little did she know that just three weeks into her first term, her life would come crashing down around her. What had started as a fun night out with friends ended with Laurie, alone with a terrible secret: she had been raped.

Traumatised and confused, she set out to get justice against her attacker. But when the authorities at her university dismissed her case, and warned her that she could be expelled, she was left unsure where to turn. It seemed as though things couldn’t get worse, then her attacker filed his own case.

Laurie’s story is a brave and honest reminder of the injustice still felt in society around sexual abuse. Laurie offers readers her advice, and provides them with the hope that they too can overcome a similar trauma.

Fighting Words – Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I could always count on Suki. Suki fixed everything.

Della has always been able to rely on Suki, her older sister. Suki has taken care of and protected Della her whole life. Now the sisters are in foster care and their mother’s boyfriend, Clifton, is in prison. Della keeps getting in trouble at school and Suki wakes up screaming each night.

I’ve learned that some things are almost impossible to talk about because they’re things no one wants to know.

I think we can sometimes underestimate the importance of young readers being able to see themselves in books. Although it’s wonderful to be able to escape into a world that only exists in your imagination, watching a character live through an experience that you can relate to is its own special type of magic.

Della and Suki’s story has the potential to reach readers who have experienced, or are still experiencing, sexual assault. I want Della’s words to reach through the page to let those readers know that they’re not alone and that there are people who will help them.

I loved Della. She’s a little spitfire but she’s also so courageous and resilient. Despite everything she’s experienced she is still loving and fiercely loyal. Her bond with Suki was beautiful, although the beauty was tinged with some sadness because Suki should never have been put in the position of caring for and protecting her younger sister.

I really hope this book finds its way to the readers it needs to. The story of these sisters is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful. It clearly shows how important people’s responses to disclosures of sexual assault are to those who have the courage to speak up. Some of the impacts of this type of trauma are explored, as are some of the ways they can be managed.

Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.

While I was relieved that the abuser in this story was incarcerated I know that this will not be part of the story for so many survivors. The majority of perpetrators of sexual assault will never spend a day in prison. The statistics are absolutely horrifying.

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I don’t say this to discourage people from reporting what was done to them. It’s just that the majority of stories I’ve read that address sexual assault result in the conviction of the perpetrator. This is not a complaint about this book, merely a general observation.

We want the baddies to have consequences for their actions. I understand that. But when fiction only represents the outcome for the minority of victims of this crime, do we risk sending the message that being able to heal from this sexual assault is reliant upon the incarceration of the offender?

There are discussion notes at the end of the book, where the recommended reading age is said to be 14+. When I was a kid I only read books about kids who were my age or older so at 14 I wouldn’t have picked up a book where the main character was 12, but that’s probably just one of my quirks.

I can pretty much guarantee the word ‘snow’ will take on a whole new meaning once you’ve read this book.

Content warnings include addiction, bullying, foster care, sexual assault, suicide attempt (includes the method used), and verbal and emotional abuse.

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Della can’t work out why her adored older sister Suki screams in her sleep. Suki has always been Della’s protector, especially after their mother went to prison and her boyfriend took the sisters in. But who has been protecting Suki?

Della is in trouble at school for having a big mouth, but after she stands up to the class bully other girls rally to her cause. When Suki tries to kill herself, Della decides it’s time to tell their secrets and speak out about the terrible things that happened to Suki. Bound by love and trauma, these two sisters must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

Based on the author’s personal experience, this gripping and essential story explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse. Written from the heart, with tenderness, compassion and humour, Fighting Words is about finding the words to talk about the most difficult things in young adults’ lives.

The Raven – Jonathan Janz

Humans have always been monsters. We just needed a push to embrace our shadow side.

In a world of monsters, Dez is a Latent. That sounds fancy, like his superpowers are just about to emerge. It actually means Dez is one of the few people that don’t have any powers, which is especially unfortunate considering he’s surrounded by cannibals, vampires, werewolves and satyrs. Dez has managed, against all odds, to survive for two years since the Four Winds but any moment could be his last.

Although it was the promise of monsters and blood spatter that drew me to this book, it was Dez himself that sucked me in. Despite all of the horrors he’s witnessed and participated in to stay alive, he has retained his humanity. He still has feelings. The grief and guilt he lives with for surviving while so many of his loved ones didn’t threatens to consume him. Although the odds are very slim that she’s still alive, Dez maintains hope of finding Susan, who he last saw being dragged away.

I learned enough about Dez’s personal history to become invested in his survival. The details provided about the various monsters enabled me to picture them, but I also understood that Dez still has a lot to learn, if only he can survive long enough.

So much blood is shed you could probably swim laps in it. I’m a huge fan of visceral horror so loved the descriptions of the carnage, where “shredded guts oozed like wine drenched cutlets” and a “chest was a wicker weave of stringed meat”.

I’m really hoping for a sequel that will take me to Blood Country. Some answers are given in this book. New people and monsters are introduced, and many are eviscerated, bludgeoned and ripped to shreds. But we’re on a journey here, and we’re not even close to the finish line. We need to search for loved ones, get to know new acquaintances (who are hopefully trustworthy) and battle more monsters.

This book surprised me in the best possible way. When I first saw the cover image I found it striking but didn’t really think it was signalling that this was the book for me. It was the blurb that enticed me and I’m so glad I took a chance on The Raven because it was a winner. I’m definitely going to be seeking out more books by this author.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, drug addiction and sexual assault. I’m all for slicing and dicing so I was keen for the gruesome deaths, though I was concerned about the satyrs and the potential for on page sexual assaults. Thankfully, while past assaults are mentioned, graphic details were not provided.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Fearing that mankind is heading toward nuclear extinction, a group of geneticists unleash a plot to save the world. They’ve discovered that mythological creatures such as werewolves, vampires, witches, and satyrs were once real, and that these monstrous genetic strands are still present in human DNA. These radical scientists unleash the bestial side of human beings that had been dormant for eons, and within months, most people are dead, and bloodthirsty creatures rule the earth. Despite the fact that Dez McClane has no special powers, he is determined to atone for the lives he couldn’t save and to save the woman he loves. But how long can a man survive in a world full of monsters? 

Afterlife #1: The Afterlife of the Party – Marlene Perez

Spoilers Ahead!

Join Tansy as she embarks on a road trip with her friend/crush Vaughan. They’re following a band that’s on tour, but not because they’re groupies. They’re trying to save Tansy’s best friend, Skylar, from the clutches of Travis, the band’s lead singer. Travis is a vampire that’s been feasting on Skylar.

The first in a planned trilogy, The Afterlife of the Party sucked me in straight away. (See what I did there? 🧛🏼‍♂️) I felt like I already knew Tansy, Skylar and Vaughan, and enjoyed hanging out with them. I loved the name of the vampire’s band, ‘The Drainers’, and I was keen to learn all about Tansy’s witch heritage.

I appreciated that consent was addressed in a vampire story, although after the vampires were introduced there were a number of scenes that had me scratching my head. I do need to acknowledge that I read an uncorrected proof so it’s entirely possible that the things I struggled with may not be included in the final version. Having said that …

Rose and Thorn mostly wandered in and out of scenes and didn’t contribute a great deal to the story. I anticipate they will have a larger role in the sequels, and I hope they do because their characters have the potential to become very interesting. However, by the end of this book both they and the Paranormal Activities Committee they work for seem pretty irrelevant.

I didn’t always feel the urgency of Tansy and Vaughn’s attempts to find Skylar. Especially when Tansey found Skylar close to death, did a quick healing spell on her and then left her again.

Sometimes terms that had already been defined, like Bleeders, would be reexplained in later chapters.

Tansey says she told Granny the “entire story” but less than ten paragraphs later she mentions a key part of the story that she has kept from her.

I knew I’d have to tell her eventually, but I wasn’t quite ready for the look of disappointment I’d see.

The showdown that I knew was inevitable as soon as a certain character was introduced disappointed me. It was over and done with much too quickly for my liking. If someone is going to try to take out a Big Bad I want there to be more of a fight, and maybe a cliché Big Bad monologue to go with it. While there are still plenty of baddies left for our heroes to deal with in the sequels, if it was that easy to get rid of the Big Bad then won’t their underling’s deaths be even easier?

I hope the sequels reveal the identity of Tansy’s father and explain what the deal is with Connor. I want more time with Granny, who could become my favourite character if I got to know her better. I’d also love to see Tansy and her friends cross paths with other hidden world creatures.

Content warnings include the violent death of an animal and mention of sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When my best friend Skyler told me about this party in the Hollywood Hills, I was less than enthused. As it turned out, my feelings were more than justified. That party ruined my life.

Tansy didn’t even want to go to the party. It’s hard enough living in one of your best friend’s shadows and secretly in love with your other best friend.

And now she’s leaving it a vampire.

Now her best friend Skyler is stuck on the road trip from hell, on tour as a groupie with a literal band of vamps. Tansy sets out with Vaughn, her other BFF turned maybe more, to save Skylar’s life and take down the band. But when they find themselves in the middle of a vampire war, will Tansy be able to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her friends?

Misfits – Hunter Shea

You know how it feels when you discover the urban legend that terrified you as a child is actually real? Mick, Marnie, Chuck, Heidi and Vent do. Everyone who lives in Milbury, Connecticut know better than to step foot on Dracula Drive.

Dare to walk,

Down Dracula Drive,

In day or night,

You won’t survive.

They wait in trees,

And hide below,

Hungry for people,

Too blind to know.

After one of them is brutally raped, they all want payback. It’s time to find out if Melon Heads are simply the stuff of legends or if there really are cannibals living in the forest. It’s going to get bloody!

“What do we have to lose … besides everything?”

This book was a lot darker than I was expecting. With sexual assault as the precursor for all of the bloody, bone crunching, insides are now your outsides action, I was initially torn. If I didn’t already have some trust in its author I probably wouldn’t have even attempted this book.

I’m always wary of how sexual assault is going to be portrayed within horror. It’s certainly not sugar coated in Misfits so this could easily trigger some readers. However, while the physical and psychological impacts of this trauma are undeniable, the character whose assault becomes the catalyst for everything that comes later is portrayed as resilient.

Usually I cheer on the squishy demise of horror characters. Sure, there were a few lambs to the slaughter whose bloodshed felt like poetic justice, but I really liked the five stoners and was invested in their survival. They quickly became real to me and the fact that they were all underdogs endeared them to me as much as their friendship and individual personalities.

“Aw, you called me a freak. That’s the nicest thing you ever said to me.”

I had planned on cheering on any Melon Head eviscerations or limb extractions I witnessed. Unexpectedly, my curiosity overrode my bloodlust. I wanted to spend time with them to learn more about their history and way of life.

Prior to this book I’d never heard the Melon Head urban legend and spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking that was the name of a band from my childhood. Over halfway through the book I finally enlisted Google’s help. They were Blind Melon, not Melon Head, dufus!

This was definitely not the B grade horror I had hoped for. It was actually better. It’s probably going to take me a while to forgive the author for the way the story unfolded for one of my favourite characters but kudos to them for making me care that much about someone I only met this week.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Content warnings include alcoholism, child abuse, death by suicide, domestic violence and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

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

During the height of the 90s grunge era, five high school friends living on the fringe are driven to the breaking point. When one of their friends is brutally raped by a drunk townie, they decide to take matters into their own hands. Deep in the woods of Milbury, Connecticut, there lives the legend of the Melon Heads, a race of creatures that shun human interaction and prey on those who dare to wander down Dracula Drive. Maybe this night, one band of misfits can help the other. Or maybe some legends are meant to be feared for a reason. 

Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust – Rebecca Clifford

If you cannot recount the story of your own family, your home town, or your formative experiences, how do you make sense of your childhood and its impacts?

Most of us take our early childhood memories for granted. They form part of the story we tell ourselves about who we are and where we came from. For so many children who survived the Holocaust, these memories are either entirely missing or exist only in fragments. There are often no surviving family members who can help them fill in the blanks.

The survivors whose stories are explored in this book were all born between 1935 and 1944. Previous books I’ve read about Holocaust survivors were written by people who were either teenagers or adults during the war. The oldest survivors mentioned here were only ten years old in 1945.

“For most survivors who are not young child survivors, there was a before, you see.”

From an interview with Zilla C., conducted by psychoanalyst Judith Kestenberg in 1987

Even though I’ve now read the excerpts of their stories I’m still have trouble getting my head around what their lives have been like. For so many years they were not even counted as Holocaust survivors and were encouraged to simply move on with their lives and forget what memories they had of that time.

‘Just think it never happened,’ they urged, ‘and you will start a fresh new life.’

Paulette S., on how OSE staff tried to prepare her to move across the globe

In addition, there was a “disconnect between what children after the war felt and what their adult carers expected them to feel.”

The children’s wartime experiences consisted of at least one of the following:

survival in hiding, in flight to a neutral country or Allied territory, in ghettos and transit camps, and in concentration camps.

The ways these children coped with the trauma of the war and the subsequent traumas of being moved between institutional care, family members, and foster and adoptive homes is addressed. Some of the children lived in stable, loving homes during the war, albeit not with family members, only to be abruptly taken from them at the end of the war.

More often than not, they were moved to countries where they didn’t know the language. Many went to live with strangers and had to try to figure out who they were with little to no assistance.

Survivors has been extensively researched, with sources from “archival material, including care agency files, records from care homes, indemnity claims, psychiatric reports, letters, photographs, and unpublished memoirs, documents originating from nearly a dozen different countries”. The bibliography and detailed footnotes make up almost 15% of the book.

I had expected almost all of the book to consist of detailed stories of individual survivors. Snippets of interviews with survivors are included, as are overviews of the wartime experiences of a number of them. There is also a lot of information and commentary on changes that occurred throughout the decades that impacted on survivors. Some of these changes relate to what was happening in the world at the time and some examines the ways survivors have related to their stories as they grew older.

We should not be surprised to find that the way in which we tell the stories of our lives changes over time; this is true for child survivors as it is for all people.

I found it unusual that whenever survivors in general were discussed, most of the time they would be referred to as ‘she’ or ‘her’, even though interviews with male survivors are also included in the book. Some information was repeated in different chapters and I began to dread seeing the phrase ‘as we have seen’, but I came away with a much better understanding of both the short and long term impacts of the Holocaust on these young survivors.

I’m left wanting to know more about the individuals I was introduced to. Having said that, I agree with the author (an oral historian) that the level of detail I’m interested in would require many more volumes.

Content warnings include anti-Semitism, child abuse, death by suicide and attempted suicide, domestic violence, mental health, murder, sexual assault and trauma.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust.

How can we make sense of our lives when we do not know where we come from? This was a pressing question for the youngest survivors of the Holocaust, whose prewar memories were vague or nonexistent. In this beautifully written account, Rebecca Clifford follows the lives of one hundred Jewish children out of the ruins of conflict through their adulthood and into old age.

Drawing on archives and interviews, Clifford charts the experiences of these child survivors and those who cared for them – as well as those who studied them, such as Anna Freud. Survivors explores the aftermath of the Holocaust in the long term, and reveals how these children – often branded “the lucky ones” – had to struggle to be able to call themselves “survivors” at all. Challenging our assumptions about trauma, Clifford’s powerful and surprising narrative helps us understand what it was like living after, and living with, childhoods marked by rupture and loss.

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.

Mayhem – Estelle Laure

“Don’t you want to know what’s really going on, Mayhem?”

Mayhem and Roxy, her mother, have recently moved in with Elle, Roxy’s twin sister, and her foster children. Roxy always swore she’d never return to Santa Maria but Mayhem doesn’t know why. It turns out there’s a lot she doesn’t know about being a Brayburn.

This book covers a lot of ground: family legacies, the secrets we keep from ourselves and others, the impacts of trauma and the ways we try to reclaim our power.

I was only three. Lyle saved us. That’s the story.

The portrayal of what it’s like for a child living in a home where domestic violence is the norm was painfully authentic. I could feel what it was like for Mayhem as the abuse was happening to both herself and her mother, the impacts of which were evident throughout the story.

I particularly appreciated the fact that once there was some physical distance between the abused and abuser, life didn’t automatically become sunshine and roses. The abuse wasn’t sensationalised but it also wasn’t sugarcoated.

Roxy doesn’t cry. Neither of us do. We don’t talk about it, even to each other, like if we never say it out loud, it will stop.

There were some sentences that resonated with me so much that I had to reread them immediately and then pause while I absorbed them. I anticipate these quotes will be staying with me for quite a while:

“Don’t let the idea of people overshadow truth.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to hear things, because then you have to admit other things and the story you’ve been telling yourself unravels so fast you can barely handle it.”

I found the names of several businesses in the story absolutely delightful. I’d stop reading when I came across those as well, but only long enough to say to the nearest person, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’. My favourite was We’ve Got Issues, a comic book store. Brilliant!

Then there were the parts of the story that hovered over my head, just out of reach. In particular, I wasn’t always entirely sure what was happening during the scenes where magic happens. There often wasn’t enough detail given to allow me to ‘see’ what was going on.

There was one scene involving the serial killer where this was especially evident; I didn’t even know what happened until I was given more information a few pages later. Incidentally, I had hoped the serial killer would have more page time than they did. The resolution of their part of the story was much too quick and easy for my liking.

I began to read some reviews to find out if I was the only one who wasn’t always getting it. Plenty of reviewers have mentioned the similarities between this story and The Lost Boys. I’ve never seen that movie and I’m still not sure if it was an advantage or disadvantage coming into this book uninitiated.

It has made me wonder if some of the more magical components of this story were written using a kind of shorthand, where if you were familiar with the movie you’d know exactly what the author was talking about without needing the additional descriptions that would have been beneficial for me.

The person I most wanted to get to know was Neve but she remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I wanted to find out more about her life before she lived with Elle but I only caught a couple of glimpses.

“They do not mess with us,” Neve murmurs, almost to herself. “For good reason.”

I’ve never been a fan of insta-love although sometimes it grows on me as a story progresses. It didn’t here. I also became frustrated as the story never really came together for me, even though there were plenty of elements that I should have loved.

Aspects of the story didn’t have the depth I was looking for and neither did some of the characters. I wanted to come away having a detailed understanding of the way the magic worked but I could only explain it to you in vague terms. I don’t even really know how to explain it but it was like I got a taste of many things but never the entire experience.

“People want to keep secrets from you, but it’s not right. You need to know everything.”

Content warnings include addiction (alcohol and other drugs), child abuse, death by suicide, domestic violence, emotional abuse, murder, physical abuse and sexual assault. Further information can be found on the author’s website.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. 

But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. 

But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost. 

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 …