Fluffy McWhiskers Cuteness Explosion – Stephen W. Martin

Illustrations – Dan Tavis

Fluffy McWhiskers is cursed with cuteness. 

Yes, Fluffy McWhiskers was so cute that if you saw her … you’d explode. 

Which, if you think about it, kinda ups the danger level of reading this book.

It’s a lonely existence when no one lives long enough to be your friend. Fluffy goes to extreme lengths to save potential victims but nothing seems to work. Is she destined to be alone forever?

I am so conflicted. I don’t know whether to tell you that I laughed at the absurdity of this book or how ashamed I feel for finding a massacre of cutie patooties amusing. Granted, they were very pretty rainbow explosions, but so many adorable animals (many of which I found cuter than Fluffy) died explodey deaths all over the pages.

description

I do have one question. If even seeing Fluffy’s photo in a newspaper is a death sentence, then how did the photographer and the rest of the newspaper staff survive long enough to publish that edition of the Animal Times?

Be on the lookout out for the Piggy Bank and Pizza Sloth Express.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Fluffy – an adorable kitten. So adorable, in fact, that anyone who sees her will spontaneously explode into balls of sparkles and fireworks. KABOOM! Poof. 

Poor Fluffy doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, but everything she tries, even a bad haircut, just makes her cuter! So Fluffy runs away someplace no one can find her. Find out if there’s any hope for Fluffy in this funny and subversive story about self-acceptance and finding friendship in unlikely places.

How I Saved the World in a Week – Polly Ho-Yen

Illustrations – George Ermos

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” I couldn’t get this Joseph Heller quote out of my head when I was reading this book. Billy’s mother, Sylvia, teaches him survival skills every chance she gets. Never mind that a lot of the time this preparation takes place during school hours. 

‘You have to be ready.’

‘Ready for what?’ 

While he loves spending time with his mother and learning new skills, like how to make fire without a match, Billy doesn’t love needing to change schools regularly. 

I mean, what’s the point in trying to get to know someone when you might disappear at any moment?

He also misses his father, who he hasn’t seen for years.

When people start turning grey, Billy starts to think that this is what his mother has been preparing him for. Only his father won’t believe him, believing instead that Sylvia’s preoccupation with teaching her son survival skills is merely a symptom of her mental illness. 

I wouldn’t, couldn’t, believe that everything Sylvia had taught me was all for nothing. 

Thankfully, Billy is about to meet Anwar, who is enthusiastic and loves conducting experiments, and Angharad, who’s loyal but isn’t always that great at keeping her promises (you’ll forgive her for breaking the ones she does, though). His new friends believe Billy about the Greys because they’re kids, so thankfully they haven’t yet learned to disbelieve the unbelievable. 

I think: this is what friends are to each other – someone who knows, without you having to explain, that right at that moment all you need is their help. 

Although it’s not mentioned in the author’s note at the end of the book, I got the feeling this book was written, at least in part, during the pandemic. Especially when I read sentences like this: 

It’s like we’re cut off from the world even though we’re surrounded by people. 

The resolution was a bit too easy and neat for my liking but, taking into consideration the fact that I’m decades older than the target audience, my thoughts on this aren’t especially relevant. If I’d read this book when I was a kid I would have needed everything to work out the way it did.

Although there’s plenty of action, at its heart, this book is about hope, resilience and having trusted people you can rely on. 

‘This thing happening, it shows us the things that are really important. The things that really matter. Everything else … everything else just drops away.’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Rule number one: Always be prepared …

Billy’s mum isn’t like other mums. All she wants is to teach him the Rules of Survival – how to make fire, build shelter and find food. She likes to test Billy on the rules until one day she goes too far, and Billy is sent to live with a dad he barely knows.

Then the world changes forever as people begin to be infected with a mysterious virus that turns their skin grey. As chaos breaks out, Billy has to flee the city. Suddenly he realises that this is what his mum was preparing him for – not just to save his family, but to save the whole world.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead – Emily Austin

Twenty-seven year old Gilda is the new receptionist at St. Rigobert’s Catholic Church. She’s also sort of, not really dating a “self-actualized reality strategist”. That’s life coach speak for being a life coach, if you’re Giuseppe. Between being an “undercover atheist” working at a church and being a gay woman with a girlfriend who’s sort of, not really dating a man, Gilda’s life is kind of complicated these days.

Gilda is on a first name basis with the staff at the emergency department and she’s currently cultivating a dirty dishes sculpture. Her parents could have an entire book dedicated to their own foibles and her younger brother is an alcoholic. Add all of that up and you realise that Gilda could have really used that therapy on the flyer that led her to St. Rigobert’s in the first place. Oh, and the lovely old lady whose job Gilda stumbled into may have been murdered. Nothing to see here, folks.

Because I apparently love books about fellow misfits going about their daily lives, I got sucked straight into this one. Although they’re entirely different people, the socially awkward protagonists of Snowflake and Convenience Store Woman came to mind as I read. 

Gilda’s fascination with, and fear of, death fascinated me. 

I wonder if my death will be what defines me. 

The depiction of mental illness, specifically depression and the panic attacks that accompany anxiety, was authentic. 

I’m “okay” in the loose sense of the word, meaning mostly: I can breathe. I am probably, however, not truly okay. Something is obviously wrong with me. I feel like I just escaped a bear attack. Why does my body react like it is being chased down by predators when it’s not? Am I physically in-tuned to some sort of impending doom that I can’t perceive otherwise? Am I sensing something, or am I just out of whack? Why do I feel this terrible physical dread? Do I have cancer? Am I—

Stop. 

I loved Gilda’s take on so many things:

The preoccupation people have with the way they look… 

“I think our appearance is meaningless,” I sputter. “We’re all just skeletons covered in skin.” 

Biblical loopholes… 

I can’t help noting the use of the male pronouns. I wonder whether this directive applies to me. Am I subject to a womanly loophole? Whoever wrote this book prioritized men so much, he forgot about the other half of humanity. It seems like I can curse my parents with no repercussions at all. 

On not being as invisible as you feel… 

I find it so bizarre that I occupy space, and that I am seen by other people. 

Telling it like it is… 

“It’s easy to feel like you understand everything in life when you’re big-headed, self-important, and stupid.” 

And telling it like it is Part 2… 

Don’t worry, Jeff, life is meaningless; it’s strange and inexplicable that we exist to begin with. We are all basically dead already in the grand scheme of things, and our feelings of sadness are pointless – they are just how our meat sacks react to the chemicals in our bodies. 

Did I mention that Gilda’s essentially a ray of sunshine wrapped in a meat sack?

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, mental health, self harm and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia may have difficulty with one scene.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Gilda. She cannot stop thinking about death. Desperate for relief from her anxious mind and alienated from her repressive family, she responds to a flyer for free therapy at a local church and finds herself abruptly hired to replace the deceased receptionist Grace. It’s not the most obvious job – she’s queer and an atheist for starters – and so in between trying to learn mass, hiding her new maybe-girlfriend and conducting an amateur investigation into Grace’s death, Gilda must avoid revealing the truth of her mortifying existence.

A blend of warmth, deadpan humour, and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a crackling exploration of what it takes to stay afloat in a world where your expiration – and the expiration of those you love – is the only certainty.

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.”
description
Image found here
  • 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.”
description
  • A secret poison cabinet disguised as a book, made in 1692. Sold at auction in 2008, you can find the details here.
description

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.
description
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.”
description
Image found here

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’.
description
Image found here

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

description

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.

description

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.