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. 

Girls with Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

Okay, so this is going to be more of a warning than a review but I’m hoping it will give you a different reading experience than the one I had. The book itself is amazing and I cannot wait for the sequel. However, I’d seen marketing that compared this book to very well known TV series, a movie and a book, and armed with those names I was easily able to predict the most important spoilers in this book before I began reading. So, my warning is this:

Stay well away from marketing, reviews that may tell you too much and even the book’s copyright page if you don’t want your read to be tainted by spoilers.

I loved it despite my foreknowledge, but I’ll never know if I would have picked up on enough clues to figure out any of the reveals for myself or not, and that dulled some of the shine for me. I don’t want that to happen to you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved – it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there – and who they really are – the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

Glimpse – Carol Lynch Williams

This is a tough book to read. Important, but painful. Lizzie, Hope’s older sister, has been hospitalised after a suicide attempt. She’s not talking so no one knows why she did it. Well, almost no one.

Hope can’t understand what was causing her sister so much pain and she’s at a loss when her sister’s psychiatrist seeks her insight. It doesn’t help that their mother is doing everything in her power to silence both of her daughters.

Shame
makes a person
keep their lips pressed
tight together.
I know.

Never tell no one,
Momma says.
And I
don’t.

Lizzie’s psychiatrist thinks there may be clues about what was happening in Lizzie’s life and mind in the lead up to her hospitalisation in her diary, but they don’t know where it is.

We Chapmans stick together. We don’t tell nothing about our lives. Not to doctors or nurses.

This book’s content, while I found it predictable, was so painful to read, yet at times I was overwhelmed by gratitude that these sisters had Miss Freeman to love them and Hope had her best friend (other than her sister), Mari.

While it would have been heartening to read a happily ever after ending, I found the actual ending realistic. Although I’m certain there’s still plenty of therapy to come for the Chapman girls I was also hopeful that, with ongoing support and their individual and combined strength, they would begin to heal. While it’s not necessary for the story I would like to read what happens next, probably from Lizzie’s point of view.

I became a fan of novels in verse because of Ellen Hopkins. While the format worked for this book at times, I felt a lot of the time as though I was essentially reading prose where someone had added random line breaks. I’d like to read one of this author’s novels that’s not in verse for comparison as she really got inside the characters and swept me along for the entire journey.

I was upset that no one did anything to help the dying kittens and that Lizzie’s dog died. Other content warnings include abortion, sexual assault, neglect, prostitution, mental health and suicide.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. If you are experiencing sexual assault or have in the past, please know that you are not alone. There is help available, which you are worthy of. If you need to talk to someone about this and you don’t know who to contact in your country a good place to start is http://www.hotpeachpages.net.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In one moment,
it is over.

In one moment
it is gone.

The morning grows
thin, grey
and our lives –
how they were –
have vanished.

Our lives have
changed
when I walk in
on Lizzie
my sister

holding a shotgun.

Twelve year old girl Hope’s life is turned upside down when her older sister Lizzie becomes an elective mute and is institutionalized after trying to kill herself.

With raw and haunting writing reminiscent of Ellen Hopkins and Elizabeth Scott, Carol Lynch Williams is a promising new YA voice.

Quiet – Tomie dePaola

As far as I can tell this is my first Tomie dePaola read. It’s a nice book but it didn’t really grab me. A grandfather is walking in the park with his grandchildren and points out how busy all of the animals are. He encourages his grandchildren to sit on the park bench with him and appreciate being quiet and still because

“To be quiet and still is a special thing.”

The illustrations are fairly simple and sweet, with plenty of animals to look at. Although I like the message of this book I don’t know how much the target audience would actually appreciate it, especially without some further explanation from the adult reading it to them. While this author appears to be quite prolific and popular I don’t think their books are for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Tomie dePaola reminds us that mindfulness – being quiet, still, and present with one another – is a very special thing.

Everything is in such a hurry, busy as busy can be. The birds are flying so fast, the dragonfly is zooming over the water – even the trees are waving their leaves.

So what if we sit here, you next to me … and we can just be?

Mia Mayhem #2: Mia Mayhem Learns to Fly! – Kara West

Illustrations – Leeza Hernandez

We first met Mia in Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero! when she learned she was a superhero and was going to the PITS – the Program for In Training Superheroes.

Mia has already learned the quick-superhero-change trick but now she needs to learn to fly, which sounds incredible but Mia is afraid of heights. I’d expected this book to focus on Mia’s fear and learning to overcome it but it seemed a bit too easy for me. She is distracted by mayhem when she’s flying and has help from an advanced flyer so that helped.

The kids who read this series most likely haven’t come across all of the superhero tropes before but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes when Mia’s best friend doesn’t recognise her because she’s wearing her superhero suit. I guess if it works for Batman and Superman then there’s no reason it shouldn’t work for Mia though.

Mia does learn about teamwork in this book and it’s lovely to see friends helping one another.

I’m definitely not the target audience for this series so I’m not sure how much my opinion counts but after really enjoying the first book in the series I’m not as keen to keep reading them. I might be expecting too much. For kids around this age group I much preferred Ailsa Wild’s Squishy Taylor series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Mia gets placed in a beginner’s flying class with kindergarteners, she struggles and is ready to give up! But luckily, with help from her best friend, Eddie, and the superschool’s most talented flier, Mia finally learns how to get off the ground.

With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, the Mia Mayhem chapter books are perfect for emerging readers.