The Valedictorian of Being Dead – Heather B. Armstrong

When you want to be dead, there’s nothing quite like being dead.

Heather B. Armstrong has lived with depression since she was a child but her experience in 2017 was more intense than anything prior. She spent eighteen months severely depressed, wanting to be dead but forcing herself to go through the motions, doing “All the Things Needing to Get Done”, because of her children.

It was during this time of desperation that Heather learned of an experimental study being run by Dr Brian Mickey. She was only the third person to qualify for and agree to participate in Dr Mickey’s study. About three times a week for ten sessions, Heather was put to sleep with propofol anaesthesia.

Dr. Bushnell would eventually clarify that they weren’t technically killing me; it was more of a really, really intense induced coma. They were just almost killing me.

Heather’s writing style is engaging, taking the reader on the journey with her: the good, the bad, the TMI, the scary and the funny. I met her family, some of her friends and the professionals treating her. I learned about the abyss and found the humour in Heather’s inability to recall what year it was when she was coming out of anaesthesia (1979 or 2012, every single time).

I particularly loved how candid Heather was in describing her depression, including the fact that she was able to hide its severity from many people for so long.

No one knew that I wanted to be dead. That’s how good I am.

Heather’s story not only showcases her perseverance and bravery, it also highlights how integral supportive family and friends are for people living with mental illness. I adored Heather’s friend, Stacia, who stayed the night with her when she didn’t have the internal safety to be alone.

However, Heather’s mother, Linda, and stepfather, Rob, were the ones who stole my heart. The practical and emotional support they offered almost had me ugly crying. They are everything you need family to be when you need help. I could have hugged Linda when she said:

“We have nothing else to do this month other than be there when you wake up.”

As I read, I kept thinking back to times when I’ve had suicidal ideation and the more I thought about it the more courageous Heather seemed. Regardless of how desperate I was, I don’t think I could have attempted a treatment option with a possible side effect (however rare) of death. That may sound absurd to you. Here I am saying I wanted to die yet I would have been too scared to try a treatment that might kill me. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted?

Well, yes and no. See, to submit yourself to an experimental treatment like Heather did, you would have to think that it’s the only or best option for you. But because it’s labelled as ‘treatment’ a part of you, even if that part is teensy, would hope that it might work. That’s the part that would have terrified me: the prospect of holding hope while knowing that hope could literally kill me.

It can be hard for a lot of people to ask for help when they need it. It’s especially difficult when your brain is lying to you, telling you that the people who love you would be better off without you. Heather’s recovery, with the help of the medical profession as well as her family and friends, will hopefully convince readers that it’s perfectly okay to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, disordered eating, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Author and blogger Heather B. Armstrong writes about her experience as one of only a few people to participate in an experimental treatment for depression involving ten rounds of a chemically induced coma approximating brain death.

For years, Heather B. Armstrong has alluded to her struggle with depression on her website. But in 2016, Heather found herself in the depths of a depression she just couldn’t shake, an episode darker and longer than anything she had previously experienced. 

This book recalls the torturous eighteen months of suicidal depression she endured and the month-long experimental study in which doctors used propofol anaesthesia to quiet all brain activity for a full fifteen minutes before bringing her back from a flatline. Ten times. The experience wasn’t easy. Not for Heather or her family. But a switch was flipped, and Heather hasn’t experienced a single moment of suicidal depression since. The Valedictorian of Being Dead brings to light a groundbreaking new treatment for depression.

The Madman’s Library – Edward Brooke-Hitching

I’ve always loved books about books. As someone with a bit of an eclectic taste in books, who’s more likely to pick up a book from a shelf if it has a weird title, this is basically my idea of the perfect coffee table book.

There are so many fun facts and strange bits and pieces I want to remember about this book. So rather than writing a normal review, I’m going to share some of the oddities and curiosities that stood out to me in each chapter.

Books that aren’t books

  • Oracle bones – “animal bones and shells, often from oxen and turtles, upon which questions were written and anointed with blood by fortune-tellers. A heated poker was then pressed against the bone until it cracked, and in these patterns of splits and marks the client’s future was divined.”
  • Quipu – “As far as we can tell, the primary function of these knotted strings, which could consist of anything from four cords to more than 2000, was storing and communicating numerical information in a decimal system used for documenting census and calendrical data, tax obligations, and managing accounts and trades.”
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  • Francesco Morosini’s custom-made Italian prayer-book pistol. “The gun, likely for personal protection, can only fire when the book is closed. The trigger is a pin concealed in silk thread to look like a bookmark.”
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  • A secret poison cabinet disguised as a book, made in 1692. Sold at auction in 2008, you can find the details here.
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Books made of flesh and blood

  • The practice of binding books with human skin is called ‘anthropodermic bibliopegy’.
  • Chief surgeon of the British Royal Infirmary, Richard Smith, bound a book of papers relating to the murder of Eliza Balsom in the skin of the murderer. Never mind that John Horwood, the convicted murderer, threw a pebble at her temple and it was likely Smith’s “trepanation, an ancient practice that involved drilling a hole into the skull to relieve pressure” that killed her.
  • A practice known as xieshu in Chinese Buddhism, where scribes wrote holy text using their blood, was considered “an ascetic form of sacrifice to prove one’s piety and earn merit to be transferred to one’s relatives after death.” The lighter the blood’s colour was, the more pure the writer was deemed to be.

Cryptic books

  • In order to pass on messages to his friends who were imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, Giambattista della Porta wrote secret messages on eggs. “He concocted an ink from one ounce of alum (a colourless compound using in dying and tanning) and a pint of vinegar. Written directly onto the shell, the chemical mixture soaked through the porous shell to the egg albumen beneath. Boiling the egg caused the chemical to react, and when the shell was peeled away the message was revealed on the hardened egg white.”

Literary hoaxes

  • George Shepard Chappell’s exotic travel journal hoax, The Cruise of the Kawa: Wanderings in the South Seas by ‘Walter E. Traprock’, included a photo of the eggs of the native Fatu-liva bird.
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Fatu-liva eggs, which look suspiciously like dice…

Curious collections

  • Pedro Carolino’s The New Guide to Conversation in Portuguese and English was published in 1855. The problem was that Pedro didn’t know how to speak English so he used a Portuguese-to-French phrasebook and then a French-to-English dictionary. Obviously this led to some interesting phrases. My favourite of those listed is ‘You make grins’.
  • The first commercially produced typewriter, the Hansen Writing Ball, was invented in Denmark in 1865. “The distinctive design features fifty-two keys on a large brass hemisphere, with the vowels to the left and consonants to the right.”
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Works of the supernatural

  • The Egyptian Book of the Dead was originally called ‘Book of Emerging Forth into the Light’.
  • The earliest record of crop circles is from a pamphlet published in 1678, ‘The Mowing-Devil: Or, Strange News out of Hartford-Shire’.
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Religious oddities

  • In the mid 1600’s, a Sephardic ordained rabbi called Sabbatai Zevi married the Torah. There was even a wedding ceremony, although the rabbis of Salonica then banished the groom from the city. Zevi also claimed to be able to fly but refused to do so in public because apparently his followers “weren’t worthy of witnessing it”.

Curiosities of science

  • Galen, a Greek physician (AD C. 129-216), believed hair was made when the “skin’s pores became blocked with sooty smoke particles generated by warm blood, until so much pressure built up that the soot erupted out of the skin in a solid string”. Darker hair indicates a higher soot level and higher temperature.

Books of spectacular size

  • Miniature books are called ‘Lilliputiana’ and huge books are called ‘Brobdingnagiana’.

Strange titles

  • “Bill Hillman, the American author of the 2014 guide Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, was gored by the bulls of Pamplona that same year – and again the next year.”
  • A literary award called the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year began in 1978.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the author of the critically acclaimed bestsellers The Phantom Atlas and The Sky Atlas comes a unique and beautifully illustrated journey through the history of literature. The Madman’s Library delves into its darkest territories to hunt down the oddest books and manuscripts ever written, uncovering the intriguing stories behind their creation.

From the Qur’an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein, to the gorgeously decorated fifteenth-century lawsuit filed by the Devil against Jesus, to the most enormous book ever created, The Madman’s Library features many long forgotten, eccentric, and extraordinary volumes gathered from around the world.

Books written in blood and books that kill, books of the insane and books that hoaxed the globe, books invisible to the naked eye and books so long they could destroy the Universe, books worn into battle and books of code and cypher whose secrets remain undiscovered. Spell books, alchemist scrolls, wearable books, edible books, books to summon demons, books written by ghosts, and more all come together in the most curiously strange library imaginable.

Featuring hundreds of remarkable images and packed with entertaining facts and stories to discover, The Madman’s Library is a captivating compendium perfect for bibliophiles, literature enthusiasts, and collectors intrigued by bizarre oddities, obscure history, and the macabre.

Remember – Lisa Genova

Memory allows you to have a sense of who you are and who you’ve been.

If you’ve ever worried that losing your keys is a sign that something more sinister is at play than normal forgetfulness, this is the book for you. Tackling how we remember, why we forget and the impact on both by such factors as stress, sleep and emotion, I found this book interesting and accessible. I didn’t feel left behind when the author started talking about parts of the brain as everything was explained in easy to understand language and backed up with examples I could relate to my own life.

I learned about different types of memory: prospective (what you plan to do), episodic (what happened), semantic (information you know) and muscle (how to do things). I was comforted by being told that most of the time, “forgetting isn’t actually a problem to solve” and that you only make it worse by stressing out about it.

If we want to remember something, above all else, we need to notice what is going on. Noticing requires two things: perception (seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling) and attention.

Some of the content felt too simple to produce an aha! moment but it proves how much we can complicate things unnecessarily. Of course you’re not going to remember where you parked your car if you didn’t pay attention to where you parked it. You’re not forgetting where you parked it; you never formed a memory of where it was in the first place!

While I found the information about how Alzheimer’s gradually impacts different parts of your brain distressing, I was also encouraged by the lifestyle changes we can make to help prevent or at least delay this. Although I’m sure it’s more complicated than this, having something as a touchstone is helpful. If you forget where you parked the car, that’s normal. If you forget you own a car, that’s not.

We tend to pay attention to – and therefore remember – what we find interesting, meaningful, new, surprising, significant, emotional, and consequential.

You can even improve your memory in various ways: paying attention, minimising distractions, rehearsing and self-testing, creating meaning, and using visual and spatial imagery.

This book has the potential to put a lot of minds at ease.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A fascinating exploration of the intricacies of how we remember, why we forget, and what we can do to protect our memories, from the Harvard-trained neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice.

Have you ever felt a crushing wave of panic when you can’t for the life of you remember the name of that actor in the movie you saw last week, or you walk into a room only to forget why you went there in the first place? If you’re over forty, you’re probably not laughing. You might even be worried that these lapses in memory could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In reality, for the vast majority of us, these examples of forgetting are completely normal. Why? Because while memory is amazing, it is far from perfect. Our brains aren’t designed to remember every name we hear, plan we make, or day we experience. Just because your memory sometimes fails doesn’t mean it’s broken or succumbing to disease. Forgetting is actually part of being human. 

In Remember, neuroscientist and acclaimed novelist Lisa Genova delves into how memories are made and how we retrieve them. You’ll learn whether forgotten memories are temporarily inaccessible or erased forever and why some memories are built to exist for only a few seconds (like a passcode) while others can last a lifetime (your wedding day). You’ll come to appreciate the clear distinction between normal forgetting (where you parked your car) and forgetting due to Alzheimer’s (that you own a car). And you’ll see how memory is profoundly impacted by meaning, emotion, sleep, stress, and context. Once you understand the language of memory and how it functions, its incredible strengths and maddening weaknesses, its natural vulnerabilities and potential superpowers, you can both vastly improve your ability to remember and feel less rattled when you inevitably forget. You can set educated expectations for your memory, and in doing so, create a better relationship with it. You don’t have to fear it anymore. And that can be life-changing. 

We Are Inevitable – Gayle Forman

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Twenty-six letters and some punctuation marks and you have infinite words in infinite worlds.”

The author calls this book a “love letter to books, and to booksellers” and there are so many bookish delights:

📖 I got to read about other people who love books as much as I do.

📖 The chapter headings are book titles! Why didn’t I think of that?! [Must steal borrow this idea if I ever write a book…]

📖 Bookish references in abundance! Books within books are one of my top five favourite bookish things. Book titles are casually scattered throughout the book. Storylines of well known books are mentioned. Movies that began their lives as books are discussed (the book was better).

“Seriously? It was also a book first?”

“Seriously.”

“Are all movies books first?”

“Just the best ones.”

If you’re like me and likely to panic around the halfway point when you wish you’d been making a list of all of the books that have been mentioned, don’t worry; there’s a bibliography at the end.

📖 Independent bookstores! We get to hang out in not one, but two of them! With booksellers who desperately love books and about making sure the book the reader needs finds its way to them.

“Tell me: What’s the last book you read that you loved?”

📖 The main bookstore has genres grouped together in a way that makes so much sense.

I could happily spend my entire review talking about the books, bookstores and booksellers but there’s more to this book than books. We also come face to face with some pretty difficult topics. Multiple characters are dealing with addiction, either their own or a loved one’s. Likewise, multiple characters are grieving. Chad, my favourite character, is living with a spinal cord injury.

I adore Chad, although I expect I wouldn’t have been a huge fan of him before his accident. He’s had some pretty impressive post traumatic growth and his attitude is amazing. I could have done without him saying “dawg” and “son” all the time but I guess no one’s perfect.

Speaking of not being perfect, Aaron (our main character) is definitely a work in progress. I really didn’t like him at all for a good portion of the book, during which he basically treats everyone around him like garbage. He did begin to make more sense to me as I got to know him but until then, ugh!

I loved Aaron’s father, Ira, because he loves books so much. The fact that he’s still so passionate about them, despite grief, anxiety and depression, made me love him even more. He truly comes alive when he talks books and that resonated with me.

I liked the Lumberjacks, getting to know Ike the best. He came up with my favourite line (pardon his French):

“Fudge a duck on a hot sidewalk!”

You might be interested in this book because of the romance, which is pretty insta, but it’s not the main focus of the book. Aaron, a young man who doesn’t like music, falls for a young woman who’s in a band.

Every time I see her, I feel that thing: the inevitable.

The thing is: I don’t trust the inevitable.

I mean, what has inevitable done for me?

Ruined my life is what.

I was ready to love Hannah but never formed an emotional connection with her. Her purpose seemed to be to act as a mirror for Aaron. I didn’t feel like I got to know Hannah that well and her bandmates are even more of a mystery to me. I really wanted to find out more about Jax, especially when it looked as though they were going to become more integral to the story, but pretty much all I know for sure about them is their pronouns (they/them).

A few things didn’t make sense to me. If Aaron’s brother’s addiction cost their family so much (and right now I’m only talking about the cost to their finances), how did he ever manage to collect such an extensive collection of rare vinyls? Wouldn’t he have spent that money on drugs? Even if he did manage to accumulate so many, in the grips of addiction, wouldn’t he have sold them? I know he gave them to Aaron but that only explains the final five months of his life.

Also, early in the story we learn that Ike’s wife’s fibromyalgia symptoms stopped her from being able to come to the bookstore years ago. Towards the end of the book she’s at the bookstore several times. It is mentioned once that she has a walker but it didn’t ring true to me. If she‘s well enough to be at the bookstore now, wouldn’t she have already been there before the renovations began?

“Are the answers to all life’s questions in books?”

“Of course,” he says. “That’s what makes them miracles.”

Content warnings include mention of addiction, disability, grief, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘I got this whole-body feeling … it was like a message from future me to present me, telling me that in some way we weren’t just bound to happen, that we had, in some sense, already happened. It felt … inevitable.’

So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein. While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.

And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?

Secrets of Camp Whatever Volume 1 – Chris Grine

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

This is such a fun read!

Willow’s family have just moved to Nowhere and while her parents are getting the ghosts out the cellar (maybe literally), she’s been sent to Camp … Whatever for a week. Willow isn’t thrilled about the move or camp, but at least she’ll be getting a week’s respite from Gryphin, her younger brother.

There’s more to Camp … Whatever than meets the eye, and it’s not just because of the thick fog that covers the island. There are the mysteries of the missing candy and missing children to solve, the cook is suspected of being a vampire and there are weird gnomes everywhere. The Camp Director has plenty of his own stories to tell

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and the island even has its very own spooky legend.

“When the blood of my blood is spilled from a star, and the shadows of elves return from afar, I will once again walk this plane bringing death in tow.”

Willow and her new friends, Violet, Emma and Molly, won’t have much times for arts and crafts at this camp. They’ve got too many secrets to uncover.

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Eleven year old Willow is adventurous and smart, and she’s never short of ideas or plans, even if they defy the rules. She’s someone you’d have a lot of fun being friends with, if you didn’t mind getting into some trouble along the way. Willow has hearing aids and her ability to sign becomes an important part of the story.

I loved the illustrations and had no trouble following the story or getting to know the characters. The only thing that’s niggling at me is why, given the circumstances, Toast couldn’t have told Elric the names of the other gnomes and saved him nearly thirty years of trying to guess them.

The target audience mentioned on the Simon & Schuster website is 9 to 12 years but this adult loved it and is hooked! I can’t wait for the next volume!

While I definitely want to explore more of Camp … Whatever (I have to see some fog leeches!), I’m just as keen to find out what secrets are hiding in the town of Nowhere and I need to find out if there really are ghosts in the cellar of Willow’s new home.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Oni Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eleven year-old Willow doesn’t want to go to her dad’s weird old summer camp any more than she wants her family to move to the weird old town where that camp is located. But her family – and fate itself – seem to have plans of their own. Soon Willow finds herself neck-deep in a confounding mystery involving stolen snacks, suspected vampires, and missing campers, all shrouded in the sinister fog that hides a generation of secrets at Camp … Whatever it’s called.

Magic Lessons – Alice Hoffman

Spoilers Ahead!

Do as you will, but harm no one.

What you give will be returned to you threefold.

Colour me bewitched! I say this with the utmost respect: with each Alice Hoffman book I read, I become more convinced that she is proficient in the Nameless Art.

If you’ve ever wondered how the Owens curse came to be, wonder no more. The answer lies in this book. The story of Maria Owens and her daughter, Faith, is one of love, revenge and the fear of powerful women.

Any story involving witchcraft in the 1600’s, especially one partially set in Salem, is bound to include all manner of horrors perpetrated against women. I prepared myself for the likelihood of witnessing immolations and drownings but I was still surprised at times by the darkness of some of the events that unfolded, particularly those involving the death of animals. I probably needed to brew myself a cup of Courage Tea before settling in.

It was a dangerous world for women, and more dangerous for a woman whose very bloodline would have her do not as she was ordered, but as she pleased.

There was so much to love about this book: the bond between mothers and daughters, the importance of keeping the door open to those in need, the power of words and finding the courage to be who you are. While I really liked Maria, it was Faith’s journey that really sucked me in.

A few times in the first quarter of the book I caught myself thinking that if something could be said in two sentences it was said in five, but over time I got used to the descriptions and backstories.

I was left with a few outstanding questions:

If a witch’s touch turns silver black, then why was the hairpin still silver when Maria first received it? Wouldn’t Rebecca’s touch have already turned it black?

How do Maria’s red boots still fit her as an adult? Is there a spell that allows clothing to grow with you?

What happened to Elizabeth?

Did Finney ever return to Penny Come Quick?

Reading this Owens origin story made me want to reread Practical Magic and finally read The Rules of Magic. Practical Magic and I have a long history. I fell in love with Alice Hoffman’s early books in the 90’s, so of course I found Practical Magic then. I also managed to wear out the movie on VHS before the DVD made its way into my life. I would still have that DVD, if not for a friend who ‘borrowed’ it and failed to return it. Never fear; I found the perfect incantation in my Grimoire so they aren’t likely to do it again. 😜

“You never told me what happens if someone falls in love with us.”

“We ruin their lives,” Maria told her daughter.

Content warnings include child abuse, deaths of animals, domestic violence and some marriages that creeped me out, where the man was in his 30’s or older and the girl was in her early teens.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s no secret that love has plagued the Owens family for centuries. But when did the curse begin, and why? It all began with Maria Owens, who arrived in America in 1680, with a baby in tow …

Born with pitch-black hair and pale green eyes, Maria was abandoned in the English countryside by her birth mother and raised by Hannah Owens who warned her, “Always love someone who will love you back.” She inherits Hannah’s Grimoire – a magical book of enchantments that include instructions to heal illnesses, ingredients for soaps that restore youth, and spells that make a person burn with love for another. When Hannah dies in an attack, Maria leaves for Curaçao, where she meets John Hathorne, a magistrate from Salem living freely for the first time in his life as he falls in love with Maria. But Hathorne soon abandons her, before Maria realises she’s pregnant. When she gives birth to a red-headed baby girl, Faith, who possesses immense magical talent, Maria embarks on a voyage to Salem to face her destiny, with or without magic.

But aboard the ship bringing her to America, fate intervenes and she meets a man who will change her life, if she’ll only let him. Her journey, laced with secrets and truths, devastation and joy, magic and curses, will show her that love is the only answer, always.

The Twisted Ones – T. Kingfisher

I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones.

I’ve been trying to get my hands on this book for ten months and I couldn’t wait to enjoy the creepy. Unfortunately the gap between my expectation and reality turned into a chasm and I still don’t entirely know what went wrong.

Melissa (but you can call her Mouse) is about to undertake the potentially icky and smelly task of clearing out her grandmother’s house. Grandma, who Mouse hasn’t seen since she was seven, probably should have been nominated for Hoarders but no one really knew how bad the house had gotten.

Mouse could have said she wasn’t in the market for a creepy doll collection or a leaning tower of newspapers but her father asked for her help and in Mouse’s family people don’t make a habit of asking anyone for anything, so when they do she tends to say ‘yes’.

So, here she is in North Carolina with Bongo, her redbone coonhound, who forgot to get in line when they were handing out brains. He’s adorable and faithful but not exactly guard dog material.

Bongo is an excellent watchdog, by which I mean that he will watch very alertly as the serial killer breaks into the house and skins me.

It turns out that Mouse and her family weren’t the only ones to find Grandma detestable. Just ask the Goth barista girl, Frank at the dump, Officer Bob, or Grandma’s neighbours, Tomas, Foxy and Skip. Then there was poor Cotgrave, Grandma’s second husband, who died nineteen years ago.

It turns out there are “Nasty things out and about” and Cotgrave wrote about them.

“I bet it’s aliens,” I told Bongo. “It’s always aliens.”

Hidden somewhere in Grandma’s hoard could be the answers to what’s going on in the woods behind the house. Sure, Mouse could ditch the hunt and the clean up; she could tell her father it’s too big of a job and never have to deal with any of it again. But then again, she’s an editor and there’s a book involved.

it’s killing you to think there’s a weird book hidden somewhere and you might not get to read it.

Mouse and Bongo wind up involved in something that’s on “the far side of impossible”.

I find it almost impossible to believe that I didn’t fall in love with this book but that’s where we are. At page 80 I was wondering when the story was really going to begin. By page 180 I was only continuing to read because Seanan McGuire loved it and she’s my favourite author, so therefore I assume I must automatically love what she does.

On page 305 I was so glad that something besides taking trash to the dump and walking in the woods was happening (yes, this is an exaggeration but I was so bored up until that point that it’s how I felt). I can’t believe a book that was supposed to be scary was making me want to clean my house, just so I could feel like I was accomplishing something.

I hate that I didn’t experience this book the same way all of the reviewers who have given it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ did. I had planned on being one of them. I don’t know if it would have helped or hindered my enjoyment of this book if I’d read Arthur Machen’s The White People first. It’s the book referenced in the author’s acknowledgements, where they confirm The Twisted Ones is “in dialogue with a letter written about a short story that was itself about a book …”

I want to read another book by this author because I’m convinced my failure to love this book is somehow about me, not the book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When a young woman clears out her deceased grandmother’s home in rural North Carolina, she finds long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more – Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants … until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors – because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

Dork Diaries #14: Spectacular Superstar – Rachel Renée Russell

I need to just CHILLAX and stop WHINING about how AWFUL my life is (when in reality I’m actually very lucky)!

Exactly. Nikki has a loving family, two incredibly supportive best friends, a crush (who’s a sweetheart) who likes her back, and her band is going on tour as the opening act for a boy band. Life’s pretty sweet, right?

Okay, so maybe not …

Nikki is essentially the queen of catastrophic thinking at this point. Everything is the end of the world … until it suddenly all works out. I decided while reading the last book that I was done with this series but caved when I saw my library had purchased this one. I’m really done now. There’s still no character development and the sweet dork I met in the beginning of the series now only irritates me each time she complains about her charmed life.

There are plenty of quizzes scattered through this book to help you figure out which of the boy band members is for you. I loved these types of quizzes growing up and imagine a lot of readers will be marking their answers in the book. I’m not exactly sure why you’d want a boy band member choosing your prom dress or the colour of your lip gloss, but each to their own, I guess.

This series has a really passionate fan base and if it had been published when I was growing up I probably would still be part of the hype. Unfortunately it’s not the series I initially loved, and hasn’t been for a few books now, so it’s time for Nikki and I to part ways. I mean it this time!

And OMG! I’ve been through SO much DRAMA, it feels like my HEAD is going to EXPLODE into a glittery shower of FIREWORKS!!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nikki and her bandmates are looking forward to an AWESOME summer on tour as the opening act for the world famous Bad Boyz! Nikki is a little worried when her frenemy, MacKenzie Hollister, weasels her way on to the tour. But she has a total MELTDOWN when she learns that MacKenzie is her new roommate! Will Nikki survive her dream tour turning into a nightmare?!

Grug at the Beach – Ted Prior

Mum and I were walking on the beach a couple of months ago and saw something in the distance. As we got closer we both agreed it looked as though Grug had come to the beach and was having a sleep facedown in the sand. We were suitably amused and I decided I had to memorialise this momentous occasion.

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Okay, so perhaps our imaginations are a tad overactive. This is what Grug actually looks like at the beach.

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During his day at the beach Grug builds a sandcastle, gets dumped by a wave (giggles are appropriate when you see the look on his face), soaks up the sun and chases his beach ball.

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While I was disappointed that my favourite snake, Cara, wasn’t invited along for this adventure, this book earned some points for parading Grug in front of me in his beachwear – striped pants that look like pyjamas, some cool sunglasses and a floppy hat.

I’ve loved Grug since I was a kid. I don’t care what he does; I’ll be there cheering him on.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A day at the beach is fun but don’t forget the sunscreen Grug! 

Scars Like Wings – Erin Stewart

Spoilers Ahead!

“Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see.”

All the stars!!! That was gorgeous! It’s been almost three weeks since I finished reading this book and I’m still struggling to form meaningful sentences about it. There isn’t anything I can say that would do justice to the ways Ava and Piper made me feel so please just trust me when I say I want everyone to read this book.

Also, you may want to make sure you have plenty of tissues on hand before you begin. I was close to tears when I read the author’s note about eight year old Marius, whose own story helped to inspire Ava’s, and that was before the first chapter. Couple that with the comparisons between Scars Like Wings and Wonder, and you’ve essentially already got a foolproof recipe for a good ol’ ugly cry. And ugly cry I did, as well as some more minor dehydration inducing episodes, but they were of the ‘this is so beautiful!’ variety.

When a wound’s that deep, it’s the healing that hurts.

Ava survived the fire that claimed the lives of her parents and her best friend, but she doesn’t feel like the lucky one. After a year of excruciating treatments on her scarred body, 60% of which was burned, Ava is leaving hospital to live with her Aunt Cora, the “self appointed CEO” of the “Committee on Ava’s Life”, and Uncle Glenn.

The scars are all I see.

Ava doesn’t want any part of finding a ‘new normal’ but reluctantly agrees to attend school for two weeks to appease the Committee. If she can just make it through ten school days and show her Aunt she’s attempted ‘reintegration’, she will be able to resume hiding from the world indefinitely because she’ll have concrete evidence of its failure. She’s certain of it.

Those girls have no idea that I used to be a normal girl with friends

Except Ava doesn’t expect to meet people like Piper and Asad. Piper was my favourite character, partially because of her fluency in sarcasm and eccentricity, and also because I understand what it’s like to have a car accident turn your life into a Before and After. I appreciated her use of humour to deflect and deny the pain she was feeling.

“It’s like the universe dealt us this horrible hand in life and it’s our duty to scream back: ‘Well played, craptastic cosmos, but you haven’t met me yet.’”

Asad is a theatre geek, whose passion and personality stole my heart. Their empathy and compassion made me consistently want to give them bear hugs but they also snagged some great lines. About Wicked:

“It is nothing like The Wizard of Oz. It is like taking the yellow brick road and twisting it until it snaps in half and then you look inside and there’s a whole other world in that road that’s dark and deep and soul-exposing.”

I would tell you that Ava’s story is inspirational but she hates that word so instead I’ll tell you that it’s a reminder that the love, support and acceptance of others can make all the difference when you’re in pain, for whatever reason.

“She conquered her demons and wore her scars like wings.”

I loved the complexities of the characters. I can’t think of a single person who remained inside of the box that was initially labelled with them in mind. Perception or circumstances may have cast them in a specific role and while sometimes that may have been accurate to a degree, that’s not all they were; oftentimes they were also the opposite and I find that so encouraging.

At one point I nearly convinced myself to refuse to turn the page because I didn’t think I could handle it if what I feared was going to happen actually did. Thankfully I was mostly wrong about that part of the story. Had I been right, I’d probably still be ugly crying!

I figured out who was sending the messages to Piper early on, quite possibly accidentally, but this didn’t affect the way I felt about this book. By the time the truth was revealed it actually made even more sense to me why it had to be this person.

Content warnings include bullying, homophobia, ableism, depression and a suicide attempt.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see …

16-year-old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t?

When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass – or the people by her side.