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. 

Mia Mayhem #1: Mia Mayhem is a Superhero! – Kara West

Illustrations – Leeza Hernandez

Spoilers Ahead!

Mia Macarooney is having a super day. She’s just found out she has superpowers and comes from a family of superheroes; her mother can fly and her father can talk to animals and repair objects by shooting lasers out of his hands. Now Mia’s going to the PITS – the Program for In Training Superheroes.

This is a fun chapter book with illustrations on most pages. In this book you meet Mia’s parents, Chaos (her cat) and her best friend Eddie. I loved the imaginative names of the people Mia meets at the PITS, including Dr Sue Perb, Professor Stu Pendus and Professor Dina Myte.

I found a couple of plot points a bit questionable but I doubt I would have noticed these as a kid. Wherever this family live their postal service must be terrible because Mia’s letter from the PITS arrived three years late even though the PITS Academy is located in the seemingly abandoned warehouse right next to her school. Also Mia and the other superheroes arrive to the PITS building in their superhero costumes which I imagine would be very obvious to the rest of the community considering its location.

I would have adored this book as a kid and I’m plan on reading more of this series to see Mia learning to use her powers.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Mia Macarooney, an ordinary eight-year-old who finds out she has an extraordinary super-secret in this first chapter book in the brand-new Mia Mayhem series!

Mia Macarooney is a regular eight-year-old girl who finds out that she’s A SUPERHERO! Her life literally goes from totally ordinary to totally super when she’s invited to attend the afterschool Program for In-Training Superheroes, a.k.a., THE PITS! And the crazy thing is, in a weird meant-to-be sort of way, all of this news somehow feels super right. Because all her life, Mia thought she was just super klutz … but it turns out, she’s just SUPER! So now, it’s up to Mia to balance her regular everyday life and maintain her secret identity as she learns how to be the world’s newest superhero!

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

The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker

I really enjoyed this book and I’m still not entirely sure why. I read until 3am and then continued as soon as I woke. I’m guessing it was partly because I found the writing so beautiful and partly because I find human behaviour fascinating and am always interested in seeing how people respond differently to similar circumstances.

It starts at the college. A student goes to sleep and cannot be woken. We follow a variety of people: college students, professors, medical professionals, new parents and preppers as they navigate the progression of a previously unknown illness that’s sweeping through their geographically isolated town.

I felt as though I was watching snapshots of peoples’ lives from a distance. Maybe it was because the narrative circled around so many different people or maybe I failed to make connections I should have but, while I found the writing beautiful in many places, I didn’t feel anything for the people whose lives were being so greatly affected. I liked some of the characters but wasn’t affected when their lives were turned upside down.

I also never felt the expected sense of urgency while I was reading. Perhaps this was intentional as the writing did have a dreamlike quality at times, although I’d been more prepared for a nightmarish feel. The narrative just seemed to waft over me and it read more like a series of character studies than the drama I had hoped for.

While I didn’t feel, I did think. I enjoyed pondering the nature of reality, consciousness, what it means to sleep and dream, how trees communicate with one another and various philosophical debates that reminded me of when I was at university. Thinking my way through this book seemed to help distract me from the fact that a lot less happens in this book than I’d expected.

I spent a lot of the book waiting to find out what the dreamers were dreaming and, while I did get some answers and there were some satisfying conclusions, I was also left with a bunch of unanswered questions. Some people who seemed integral to the story simply faded away without resolution. Rebecca’s story, which I was initially quite interested in, became tedious and annoyed me. Then there was the psychiatrist who I expected to add a lot to the story but didn’t really leave an impression on me.

I think what really kept me glued to the pages were the outcasts. I’m a sucker for people who for whatever reason just don’t fit in and this book had several that I loved. I could have easily done away with a few other characters to spend more time with Mei, Sara and Libby.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep – and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her – even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams – but of what?

Dork Diaries #13: Tales from a Not-So-Happy Birthday – Rachel Renée Russell

For once, my life will be DRAMA FREE!! WOO-HOO 😃!

Not likely! This is Nikki we’re talking about. She still hasn’t decided if she will be spending two weeks in Paris (all expenses paid) or going on tour with her band (you know, totally normal people problems), she’s annoyed by her sister’s culinary mash ups and freaking out about whatever potential disaster may unfold during the birthday party her two best friends are planning for her.

The party’s on. Then it’s cancelled. Then it’s on again. Then it’s cancelled. Again. Then it’s back on. Oh, and it’s going to be the worst party ever and/or epic.

If Nikki and her friends made it through a book without miscommunication causing all sorts of problems I’d be shocked. Chloe, Zoey and Brandon have proven their loyalty time and time again, yet Nikki still questions their friendship and deliberately keeps things from them.

There’s no character development and “SQUEEE 😃!!”, which was kinda cute for the first few books, is really annoying me now. I understand that catchphrases can be important in the continuity of a series but I would have liked to have seen some new ones added to the ones that have been used for 13 books now. I’m also over Nikki throwing up in her mouth a little; she did it four times in this book alone.

When I started this series I found Nikki to be relatable, if kinda melodramatic, and sweet. She’s got a loving family and friends and used to have cute little dramas at school that pretty much anyone could relate to. These days her problems are essentially most peoples’ dreams come true. I wonder how she’d cope if she had to face a real problem. I used to love this series but at this point I think I’m done. 🙁

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s Nikki Maxwell’s birthday!! Will it be a blast or a bust? Find out in Nikki’s newest diary, the thirteenth installment in the #1 New York Times blockbuster bestselling Dork Diaries series!

Nikki and her BFF’s Chloe and Zoey have been planning a birthday party of epic proportions! There’s just one problem – Nikki’s mum says no way to the budget they need to make it happen. Nikki’s ready to call the whole thing off, but some surprising twists might take that decision out of her hands, and help comes from the person Nikki would least expect. One way or another, this will be a birthday that Nikki will never forget!

And Tango Makes Three – Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

Illustrations – Henry Cole

It’s Banned Books Week and the theme for 2018 is Banning Books Silences Stories. If someone tells me not to do something I want to do it even more so I was really excited when I came across Humble Bundle’s Forbidden Books bundle. This is the first book I’ve read from the bundle.

Of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017 (as reported by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom) the ninth most challenged book is this sweet love story between two penguins in Central Park Zoo, just because the penguins that love each other are boys.

At the end of the book I discovered that Roy and Silo’s story is taken from real life which increased the adorability factor to maximum for me. Roy and Silo became a couple in 1998. In 2000 keeper Rob Gramzay’s wonderful idea became a dream come true for our two penguins when they welcomed Tango to their family. If you’re like me and will be concerned about why Tango’s egg was available, you don’t need to worry as it’s not a sad story. This book shows that it’s love, not biology, that makes a family.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the zoo there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. This illustrated children’s book fictionalises the true story of two male penguins who became partners and raised a penguin chick in the Central Park Zoo.

Tricks – Ellen Hopkins

Can you tell me how you ended up in “the business”?

More mostly truth. “I never wanted to.
I just didn’t know any other way to survive.”

Ellen Hopkins. Whenever I begin one of her novels I know I’m setting my heart up to be broken. It always feels as though my heart is being folded into some distorted origami design each time one of her characters is hurt or betrayed. Then the inevitable happens; one fold too many breaks me.

When you sell your body, you also sell what’s inside. Piece by piece, you sell your soul.

Why do I put myself through this? Because it’s worth it! I don’t think there’s an Ellen book I’ve read where I haven’t come away changed by the experience. They’re just so real and I love that about them.

Ellen opens my eyes in a way that I don’t think any other author ever has, and she does it over and over again. She takes issues I know about from personal experience, validates my feelings, shows me other perspectives and introduces me to characters who are willing to discuss what people I know don’t/won’t. She also takes issues I only know anything about from reading news stories, blogs or textbooks and gives me insights and understanding I may never have gained any other way.

When all choice is taken from you, life becomes a game of survival.

Ellen breaks my heart but she also enlarges it. I come away with empathy I didn’t know I still had. I come away with the confidence that regardless of how dire your situation may look and feel there is hope. If Ellen’s books had been published in the dark ages when I was a teenager I don’t think I would have felt so alone.

What is wrong with me? Why aren’t I worth loving?

Ellen opens my mind, allowing me access to people I don’t know in my life outside books. She takes topics that people discuss in terms of statistics and humanises them. Her characters stay with me when I finish reading and in the case of this book I wanted to adopt all of the kids I encountered.

I found myself with a preconceived stereotypical notion that all of the characters would eventually meet one another on the streets in Vegas. I was wrong. As I began to read about the five main characters I couldn’t help wondering how their lives were going to intersect. I became attached to the five as well as others like Ginger’s Gram and younger sister Mary Ann, and Andrew, who made me want to believe in true love.

Although I read the blurb prior to reading that told me otherwise I still assumed that most of the kids who feature in this book would come from extremely abusive families; probably because everyone I know personally who has been homeless has been for that reason. Again I was wrong.

You might be surprised at what you can do, should circumstances dictate.

I loved the book’s title even more after reading it. Tricks. I originally associated it solely with prostitution yet while I was reading I also began to associate it with the deception employed by the adults in the book.

I need to know what happens to these kids so I’m diving straight into the sequel.

P.S. My official review is finished. This rant is unrelated to the content of this book and is not aimed at the author in any way. This is going to sound like a whinge and you’re right; it is.

What I Didn’t Like: The price! This was the most expensive ebook I’ve ever purchased – $17.51! Even more when you convert that to Australian dollars. I could have bought the paperbacks of this and its sequel (if Amazon US still sold anything but ebooks to Australian customers) for $9.23! What the?!

I adore Ellen’s books! She’s one of my all time favourite authors so I want to be able to read her books over and over again. If I could afford it I’d buy a complete set of hardcover books as well but as it stands I’m struggling to even afford a set of ebooks. Okay, my whinge is over. You really need to read this book! 😃

Content warnings include sexual assault, gambling, abandonment, alcohol and drug use, murder, homophobia, seriously dodgy parenting, religion used as a weapon and probably a whole range of heartache I’ve already repressed.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching … for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they don’t expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words “I love you” are said for all the wrong reasons.

Five moving stories remain separate at first, then interweave to tell a larger, powerful story – a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. A story about kids figuring out what sex and love are all about, at all costs, while asking themselves, “Can I ever feel okay about myself?”

Grug in the Playground – Ted Prior

By now you should know that Grug books are one of my favourite series that are supposedly for children. It doesn’t matter what Grug gets up to; Mum and I always want to know about it. So, today Grug decided to go shopping and in his travels he came across a playground.

Being a curious animal that began his life as the top of a Burrawong tree, Grug is always keen to explore his surroundings. Naturally, upon discovering the playground Grug investigates. What follows is a cross between a comedy of errors and a whirlwind exploration of all the playground has on offer.

While I love all Grug books I did wish Grug’s best friend Cara was in this one. I adore Cara. I could imagine the expressions on her face as Grug flew through the air between each piece of equipment but wondered if she would have joined in or watched from the sidelines.

This is one of the earliest Grug books so the playground equipment actually looks like some of the slides and swings that made up a pretty significant chunk of my childhood. I got all nostalgic looking at the illustrations of Grug’s playground equipment so my review will now morph into me reminiscing about the good ol’ days.

My favourite thing to navigate at the park was this ugly but incredibly fun chunk of climbing heaven that consisted of four huge wooden frames that supported and held together four tyre bridges that were all connected by chains. There were no steps or easy access so you had to find a way to climb up this monstrosity that was probably built by an awesome bunch of local dads.

Some of the tyres weren’t quite as connected to the chains as they should have been. Half of the fun was knowing which tyres posed the biggest challenges and working out how to get past them without falling several metres to the very hard ground below. I’m fairly sure this type of fun would be banned by the safety police these days but it was brilliant!

Fun Fact: I was trying to think of the way to describe the metal climbing frame elephant that Grug encounters in this book so naturally I asked Google. When I came across a picture that was the closest to what I was looking for and that most resembled what I used to play on as a kid in the local park, the description accompanying the photograph included the word vintage. So apparently I’m now old enough for my childhood to be vintage. That’s fun! Sort of … 😜

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Playgrounds are full of fun and challenges for Grug! This classic Aussie hero is back from the bush to enchant a new generation of youngsters!