I’m the Girl – Courtney Summers

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“It’s always you, me, and that road, isn’t it?”

Sixteen year old Georgia knows she’s destined to be an Aspera girl. She’s known it ever since Michael Hayes found her three years ago on the road leading to Aspera, a 12,000 acre members only resort in the mountains he and his wife, Cleo, own. Georgia is determined to do everything in her power to make her dream a reality.

Georgia is on that same road when she discovers the body of thirteen year old Ashley James, the deputy sheriff’s daughter. Nora, Ashley’s sister, and Georgia begin their own investigation into Ashley’s rape and murder.

Based on the blurb, I expected there to be more of a focus on Georgia and Nora investigating Ashley’s murder. There’s some of this scattered through the book but really it’s the abuse of power and privilege, so much privilege, that abound here.

This book was … a lot. It’s motherless daughters and grief and kidnapping and murder and on page sexual assault and trafficking and grooming and incest and it’s all a case of wondering who’s going to do the next horrific thing. I feel like I need a shower to wash it all away.

Some part of me will always be finding her here. Some part of her will always be here, waiting to be found.

Content warnings include child pornography, grooming, incest, self harm, sexual assault and trafficking.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

All sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis wants is everything, but the poverty and hardship that defines her life has kept her from the beautiful and special things she knows she deserves. When she stumbles upon the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, Georgia teams up with Ashley’s older sister Nora, to find the killer before he strikes again, and their investigation throws Georgia into a glittering world of unimaginable privilege and wealth – and all she’s ever dreamed. But behind every dream lurks a nightmare, and Georgia must reconcile her heart’s desires with what it really takes to survive. As Ashley’s killer closes in and their feelings for one another grow, Georgia and Nora will discover when money, power, and beauty rule, it’s not always a matter of who is guilty but who is guiltiest – and the only thing that might save them is each other.

I’m the Girl is a brutal and illuminating account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it?

Gothic – Philip Fracassi

Spoilers Ahead (in purple)

Tyson Parks, once upon a bestselling author, is struggling both creatively and financially. He’s already spent the advance he received for the book he was supposed to be writing and his agent isn’t exactly thrilled that the work in progress Tyson presents to him doesn’t even remotely resemble the pitch. Sent away with an impossible deadline and strict instructions to write the book he was supposed to be writing, Tyson feels defeated.

Sarah, Tyson’s partner, goes all out for his birthday, buying him a one of a kind antique desk. They both hope this will give Tyson the boost he needs to get back in the game.

Now, instead of completing the historical horror novel he wanted to write, Tyson finds himself embroiled in a real life historical horror, one that’s almost three hundred years in the making.

I found this book easy to get into and I was keen to see how the history of Tyson’s desk impacted on his present. Almost immediately I started comparing Tyson to Jack Torrance. It was hard not to. The author even references Jack, and adds a few other King references in for good measure.

I was completely on board until the on page rape scene. I love so many types of horror: body horror, slashers, supernatural horror, gore, psychological horror, monster horror… This rape scene, though? It seemed to me that it was only there as a plot device, showing the reader that the desk is influencing Tyson to act in a way that he never would without it. There are so many ways you can show me that someone is morphing into a bad guy without using rape to do it. Sexual assault has its place in fiction but not when there’s no sensitivity given to the material.

But here’s the reality: when you are joined with someone for over a decade of life, and when that decade has been a good decade – a litany of loving moments, shared compassion and consistent, unflagging support – you build a level of trust, a balustrade of understanding, of love.

Of forgiveness.

This just made me mad. Oh, and then there’s this.

It was up to Sarah to decide now. Was their story over, or had the future already been written? Sarah let out a held breath, her shoulders slump and she leans forward, her forehead to his chest.

She allows him to give himself back to her, and she to him.

Tyson, Sarah might forgive you for brutally raping her but I don’t.

If it wasn’t for this scene, I probably would have continued to enjoy this read. It coloured everything I read after it, though, and I never made it back to my initial enjoyment.

Because I really liked the way this novel started, I’d be interested in trying another book by this author. I’d definitely check out the reviews first to make sure I chose one that’s right for me.

Content warnings include domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Cemetery Dance Publications for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On his 59th birthday, Tyson Parks – a famous, but struggling, horror writer – receives an antique desk from his partner, Sarah, in the hopes it will rekindle his creative juices. Perhaps inspire him to write another best-selling novel and prove his best years aren’t behind him.

A continent away, a mysterious woman makes inquiries with her sources around the world, seeking the whereabouts of a certain artifact her family has been hunting for centuries. With the help of a New York City private detective, she finally finds what she’s been looking for.

It’s in the home of Tyson Parks.

Meanwhile, as Tyson begins to use his new desk, he begins acting… strange. Violent. His writing more disturbing than anything he’s done before. But publishers are paying top dollar, convinced his new work will be a hit, and Tyson will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound success.

Even if it means the destruction of the ones he loves.

Even if it means his own sanity.

The Witch Haven – Sasha Peyton Smith

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Something bad is coming”

Frances Hallowell is mourning the recent death of her brother. Her life gets a lot more complicated when her super slimy boss attacks her after hours and she sorta kinda accidentally kills him. Oops!

When it looks certain that Frances is going to be convicted as a murderer, salvation comes to her by way of an ambulance. She’s told she’s very unwell and is promptly taken to Haxahaven Sanitarium to be ‘treated’. Only Haxahaven isn’t what it’s advertised to be. It’s actually a school for witches…

The premise of this book hooked me: secret witchy school, murder mystery, underdog battling the Big Bad. The reality of the book surprised me, and I’m still conflicted.

I was entirely engaged until I learned that the witchcraft that was being taught at Haxahaven was limited to producing good little wives and domestic help. I switched off a little at that point and was even able to put the book aside for a few weeks without any trouble.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish reading but figured I’d give it another try. I found it easy to get back into. I hadn’t forgotten who the characters were or what was happening for each of them when I pressed pause. It didn’t take me long to get into the rest of the story, the parts that didn’t involve magical bread-kneading.

While I wasn’t the hugest fan of Frances, I absolutely adored Maxine and Lena. I wanted to get to know Oliver better.

I think perhaps this is how we survive in the world. Passing little bits of our magic back and forth to each other when the world takes it from us. It’s survival. It’s love. It’s family.

Content warnings include attempted sexual assault including suffocation, domestic abuse, mental health and a character who was removed from her home and taken to a residential school. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1911 New York City, seventeen year old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet – her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

The Twig Man – Sana Rasoul

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Ari’s parents think Lana ran away but Ari knows better: the Twig Man took her.

Legend says if you wander too far into the woods, he’ll snatch you with his roots and drag you into his lair.

Lana has been missing for a year but Ari hasn’t given up hope. Accompanied by Timmy, a new friend who also believes in the Twig Man, Ari braves the woods to save his sister.

With plenty of screaming and a creepy location, not to mention the potentially true urban legend, this book would have scared me as a kid. It wouldn’t have helped that pretty much everywhere Ari turns, he’s being watched by animals with white eyes.

I figured out Timmy’s story before it was explained but this would have blindsided me had I read this as a kid.

I absolutely loved that there was a glossary of Kurdish words after the story.

I was left with some unanswered questions, mostly relating to the people I met near the end of the book. Did the people who were missing age while they were with the Twig Man? How are they going to explain where they’ve been to the police? Given the length of time some of them have been missing, will their parents even still be alive? How are they going to adapt to a world that has changed so much in their absence?

“Beware the Twig Man, the Twig Man’s hex. Beware the Twig Man, or you’ll be NEXT!”

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Beware the Twig Man, the Twig Man’s hex. Beware the Twig Man, or you’ll be NEXT!   

It’s been a year since nearly-twelve-year-old Ari’s older sister, Lana, ran away.

Except Ari knows what really happened.

She was taken by the Twig Man, the creepy monster that’s haunted the woods for one hundred years. 

No one else will listen, so it’s down to Ari to save his sister.

But he had better hurry, as Ari finds himself next on the Twig Man’s list…

We Will Rise – Tim Waggoner

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

It’s a chilly February day and Echo Springs is about to be painted red. The dead have returned and they’ve got something special planned for the people they knew when they had heartbeats.

“Evidently, people are starting to see ghosts.”

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Those whose pasts are about to collide with their present include substitute elementary school teacher Mari, business major Faizan, homeschooled son of religious parents Oliver, café owner Karen, librarian Jerome and EMT Julie.

There’s nowhere to run because what’s happening in Echo Springs isn’t an isolated event; the entire planet is experiencing a reddening.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun watching peoples’ insides become their outsides. The death scenes are gory and imaginative. Some are even worthy of a chuckle. On second thought, maybe they’re not supposed to be funny and my inner Karen is showing…

The blood flows freely, the organs are on show and the body count is ginormous. I had planned on tallying up all of the deaths but am pleased to report that I became overwhelmed by the task and gave up. I’m having trouble choosing a favourite death scene but the atrocities I witnessed at Smiles, Inc. are probably going to stay with me the longest.

This would have been a much quicker read if I hadn’t been compelled to stop every time I got to a particularly graphic description so I could read it to the person beside me, interrupting their current read. I definitely need to see this book made into a movie.

Had I visited Echo Springs before the dead decided to add to their ranks, I would have visited the library (obviously) and Icing on the Cake.

The fact that my Kindle looked like it was haunted every time I opened it while reading was just perfect.

My only niggle was that, of all of the people I met in Echo Springs, it was Oliver who was destined to spend most of the book either entirely or very nearly naked. I wish someone had found some pants for him at some point during the carnage.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, emotional abuse, gun violence, homophobia, miscarriage, physical abuse, racial and religious slurs, racism, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and transphobia. If you’re squeamish or have emetophobia, this may not be the read for you.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In Echo Hill, Ohio, the dead begin to reappear, manifesting in various forms, from classic ghosts and poltergeists, to physical undead and bizarre apparitions for which there is no name. These malign spirits attack the living, tormenting and ultimately killing them in order to add more recruits to their spectral ranks.

A group of survivors come together after the initial attack, all plagued by different ghostly apparitions of their own. Can they make it out of Echo Hill alive? And if so, will they still be sane? Or will they die and join the ranks of the vengeful dead?

Wylah the Koorie Warrior #1: Guardians – Richard Pritchard & Jordan Gould

Illustrations – Richard Pritchard & Sierra Pritchard

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Meet Wylah (pronounced Wheel-la). She is confident in her artistic ability but not so much in the skills you’d find in the average warrior. Her claim to fame to date has been winning a throwing competition (she was the only competitor because everyone else was sick that day).

Wylah is going to need to find the warrior within though because the dragon army have stolen her Tribe and their animals, and it’s up to Wylah to save them. 

‘You can do this, you can save our people, Wylah, the Koorie Warrior. Rise up, rise up within.’ 

To do this, Wylah and Po, a fellow artist, will need to find the five Guardians. 

‘Guardians are the protectors of Tribes and the lands they live on. Powerful creatures that reside inside Totems’ 

When I was growing up there were an abundance of books available with characters I could easily identify with so I can’t imagine what it must be like to not have that. The first in a new series, Wylah is the Indigenous hero that’s been missing from the shelves for too long. 

I loved that when most of the characters were introduced I learned the meaning of their name. There’s also a glossary in table form at the end of the book that tells readers both the English and Peek Whurrong words for names, their meaning and how to pronounce them. For the animal characters, their species is also included.

Without a doubt, Wylah’s name meaning has the most significance. Wylah comes from the word Wilan and means yellow-tailed black cockatoo. This is absolutely perfect because the yellow-tailed black cockatoo is author Jordan Gould’s tribal totem.

Wylah doesn’t immediately fully embrace her new role as the Koori Warrior, which made her more relatable. She has doubts about her abilities and she doesn’t magically become skilled in all of the areas she will need to be. It’s especially evident when she’s training that this isn’t going to be a success only journey. 

Despite her lack of experience, Wylah has the heart, courage and determination of a warrior, and I’m keen to watch her grow into her new role as the series progresses.

I’m interested in finding out how old Wylah is. This would have been important to me as a kid as I preferred to read about kids who were my age or older.

I liked all of the animals (even the dragons) but my favourite was Bunyip, who’s not quite as fearsome as they may like to think they are. The Guardians spoke and some other animals did as well. However, some didn’t and I’m not quite sure yet what the distinction is between those who speak and those who don’t.

I really enjoyed the illustrations. The megafauna are realistic and the people are expressive.

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The chapters where we follow Wylah were told in first person and had a boomerang picture above the chapter numbers. Those that focused on what was happening with the rest of the tribe were in third person, the pages were grey and the picture above the chapter numbers changed to an amulet. The boomerang and amulet were both appropriate design choices and the distinctions prevented me from ever having to wonder what perspective a chapter was being told from.

As I’d expect in a book that’s introducing a series, the premise was set up and I met some of the characters who will be important in future books. Some answers were provided but there are multiple plot points that will be ongoing.

I did have questions about a particular event in this book that weren’t answered. Why did Livingstone ask the people from Wylah’s Tribe where their home was when they’d just been taken from there by the dragons? Couldn’t the dragons have taken him to it?

Content warnings include death of a family member.

Thank you so much to Albert Street Books, an imprint of Allen & Unwin, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Wylah: warrior, hero and friend. Her adventures have been 40,000 years in the making!

Wylah is brave, clever and strong-willed, and all her best friends are giant megafauna animals. But she isn’t a warrior. Not yet, anyway.

Then comes the day when her family is stolen by the dragon army, and her life is forever changed. She must find the courage to set out on a journey to save them. What will it take for Wylah to become a warrior, like her Grandmother before her?

Introducing an unforgettable cast of characters, Wylah the Koorie Warrior is a heart-stopping and imaginative adventure, inspired by First Nations history and grounded in culture.

A Little Bit of Respect – Claire Alexander

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

The Ploofers are back! And I’m so conflicted.

The Ploofers take their rainbow cloud on an adventure and meet some new beings, whose names I don’t currently know. While they’re visiting, one of their new acquaintances doesn’t respect Little One’s boundaries, doing things like squishing their cheeks and constantly saying how cute they are. 

This makes Little One uncomfortable and angry. I loved how expressive Little One was, their usual rainbow ploof transforming into red squiggly lines.

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I was disappointed that Toasty, who was the first to recognise the beauty of the SHOOF! and was by Little One’s side as they overcame their fear of doing a new thing, was nowhere to be seen when Little One’s boundaries were being violated. I would have gotten over this because even Toasty can’t be everywhere and given what I know of them, they would have been there supporting Little One if they’d known what was happening and the impact it was having on them.

I was so excited when I started this book. I was entirely on board for the Ploofers to tackle consent. I loved that Little One had the confidence to set boundaries for themselves and the courage to speak up when they were crossed. They had every right to expect their boundaries to be respected and it looked as though all would be well.

The one who had made Little One uncomfortable listened when Little One explained how their behaviour made them feel. They validated Little One and apologised to them. 

Then everything that was good about this book and its message was undone in the final three pages and now I have red squiggly lines above my head too. 

I’m sure this is not the message that was intended but one of my takeaways, after all of the good that preceded it, was that even if you’re brave enough to stand up for yourself and set clear boundaries with someone, your voice ultimately means nothing. They’re just as likely to give you lip service and go do it to someone else. This is not okay!

If this book had finished just a little bit sooner, when the air had been cleared and everyone was sitting down for a nice picnic, this review would have been entirely different. I wish it was.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this follow-up to the A Little Bit Different and A Little Bit of Courage, the Ploofers are back for a heartwarming exploration of self-awareness and respect.

The Ploofers are visiting a new island and are excited to meet the residents. But when one islander singles out Little One as an adorable cutie pie, Little One isn’t happy and becomes frustrated with the way he is being treated. Will Little One learn to be assertive and stand up for himself? 

With simple, striking illustrations and a cutaway cover design that adds tactile interest, A Little Bit of Respect picks up right where A Little Bit of Courage left off. With a subtle yet powerful message about the importance of self-respect and respecting others, this book will resonate with children and adults alike.

The Packing House – G. Donald Cribbs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

I can’t ignore these dreams. They come from somewhere. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something, but what exactly? 

Joel’s nightmares have been getting worse recently. It doesn’t help that his mother is emotionally unavailable and his father has been MIA for over half of his life. When one of Joel’s nightmares is recorded and posted online, it makes it even harder for him to cope.

Childhood sexual assault is always going to be difficult to read about. While there are more books being published where characters have experienced this, not enough are written from the point of view of male survivors. That’s what drew me to this book.

It’s hard to be objective when sexual assault and its impacts are addressed so I’ll focus here on what did and didn’t work for me personally as I read this book.

One of the strengths of this book was that it dealt with trauma that the main character didn’t always have clear memories of. Trauma encodes itself in the brain differently than non-traumatic memories and sometimes this means the memories aren’t accessible until the survivor is safe. Joel’s memories begin to resurface in the themes of his nightmares and in flashbacks. His understanding of what he’s experiencing doesn’t come all at once.

Some aspects of the story didn’t ring true to me. Once Joel talked about what happened to him, his nightmares seemed to disappear. While I hope this is the case for some survivors, this didn’t seem very realistic.

I couldn’t imagine the police, when they showed up to interview Joel at his home, finding it necessary to use their lights and siren to announce themselves. Surely a simple knock on the door would have done the trick. 

I’d also hate to think of a survivor being confronted by the police about such a sensitive topic in front of random family members or having to go with them straight away to the station in a police car to give a statement.

And why do the police say the perpetrator is “charged with” when they haven’t actually charged them yet? They hadn’t even interviewed the victim or conducted an investigation into the allegations.

With such an extended lead up to Joel remembering what happened to him, the events afterwards felt like a whirlwind. I was left with some pretty big question marks and some of those are because the book finishes so abruptly. I don’t know if a sequel is planned or not but here’s the short list of what I need to know…

Was Joel’s perpetrator responsible for what happened to the other boy we learn about from Joel’s childhood? Is there a way around the statute of limitations problem in Joel’s case as he’s only just remembered what happened to him? Does Joel get anything approximating justice from the legal system? Did the perpetrator also offend against Joel’s brother? What is Joel’s brother’s response to what happened to Joel? What possessed Joel to immediately set up candles when he learned what they meant for Amber?

There’s no indication in the blurb that religion is discussed in relation to the events in this book. Given that some readers will want to read it and others will avoid it for that reason alone, heads up: Christianity, including Bible quotes, are a part of this book.

Books in a book: Reading is one of Joel’s escapes. Throughout the book, he reads Fahrenheit 451The OutsidersThe Chocolate War and Catcher in the Rye

Content warnings include addiction (drug and gambling), bullying, domestic abuse, homelessness, homophobia, mental health (PTSD), physical abuse and sexual assault. Please be aware that the scenes describing childhood sexual assault are reasonably graphic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Cherish Editions, an imprint of Trigger Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When 16-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows his secret, one that he’s suppressed for ten years. Reeling as the whole school finds out the truth, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind.

However, life as a runaway isn’t easy, as Joel’s hallucinations and nightmares follow him into the wilderness. To stop them once and for all, he pieces clues together with flashes of the images that play endlessly inside his head – will he figure out the identity of the person who caused his nightmare before it’s too late?

Wolf Girl #6: Animal Train – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

A few days after saying goodbye to Rupert, Gwen and her pack are on their way to Tunny, where Rupert’s parents said they saw Gwen’s Mum. On their way, they stop in Harrington, where they meet the Wilsons.

Then they board a train, which has a bunch of soldiers and carriages full of animals in cages. Gwen and her pack need to do whatever they can to avoid the soldiers but they also can’t imagine leaving animals behind in captivity.

The train journey reminded me of Indiana Jones’ encounter with the snakes on his own train journey in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Neither Indy nor his father would have been thrilled about the contents of some of the cages. Also, arachnophobes, beware!

Gwen’s hair gets brushed for possibly the first time since before the series began and in the process meets some humans who aren’t trying to capture her and her pack. Thank goodness there are still some nice people in this world. 

I’ve been pretty adamant (with myself, at least) that I wasn’t going to read this book. Every book in this series includes at least one of the pack getting injured and I know that’s life, but I don’t want to read about dogs in pain and potential mortal danger. 

I relented with this book because I needed to know if an animal whose survival previously had a question mark hanging over it would come back or not. I’m thrilled to report that they are in fact alive but I’m also sad that the expectation of dogs being hurt in every book played out here as well.

Sunrise got slightly hurt saving Tiny, then later in the book they were both hit by tranquilliser darts. Tiny went from unconscious to awake in record time and neither seemed overly worse for wear but Anh, please let the pack members make it through at least one book uninjured.

Of course, there’s a cliffhanger at the end of the book, as there always is.

There’s a bonus story featuring Wolf Girl and Skydragon at the end of the book. This also ends in a cliffhanger. I still don’t know how I feel about these two series being set in the same world.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Gwen and her dogs jump on a train bound for the mountains, they are surprised to find the carriages are full of weird and wonderful animals!

With the help of new and old friends, Gwen is determined to give the wild creatures their freedom, even if it means risking her own…

Escape Room – Christopher Edge

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Find the Answer. Save the world. 

I love the idea of escape rooms, a group of people working together to find clues that will enable them to solve a series of puzzles. Ami loves solving puzzles and is excited by the challenge The Escape presents. 

Ami is joined by four other participants. There’s enthusiastic Adjoa – “Think Lara Croft meets Indiana Jones, but with a better sense of style.” There’s Ibrahaim, who notices things other miss, and Min, the smart one. Then there’s obnoxious Oscar, the one I really, really wanted to vote off the island. And Ami? She’s the all-rounder.

There’s plenty of action in this book, with a need to not only solve each individual room but the overall puzzle. I consistently felt the characters were facing impending danger. This all made for a compulsive read.

The rooms the group explores included one where “old computers come to die” and an abandoned mall. I loved trying to figure the rooms out alongside the kids. Had I been invited to play, though, I would have been eliminated very early on. 

Even if I somehow managed to survive the first room, the library (of all places) would have taken me out. While all of the connections that were needed to level up made sense, I don’t think there will be too many readers who will be able to confidently say they would have made it through the entire game.

The message, which quickly became obvious to me as Ami and her team moved through each room, was a really good one but it came across pretty heavy handed. Granted, subtle probably wouldn’t be the best approach given the gravity of the situation, but the twist that accompanied its reveal felt so jarring that it lessened the impact for me. I’m hoping the target audience will just go with it and find the message empowering.

When the kids were explaining things like the Mayan calendar and space dust, they sounded suspiciously like walking encyclopaedias. This will make sense by the end of the book.

I couldn’t figure out why Ami didn’t immediately recognise the Host’s voice. I absolutely adored the literal firewall.

I haven’t managed to find the correct alphabet to decipher the symbols on Ami’s library card. Yet.

I loved David Dean’s cover image and the illustration that accompanied the beginning of each chapter. 

“Do you still think it’s a game?” 

Content warnings include the death of an animal.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When twelve-year-old Ami arrives at The Escape, she thinks it’s just a game – the ultimate escape room with puzzles and challenges to beat before time runs out. Meeting her teammates, Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar and Min, Ami learns from the Host that they have been chosen to save the world and they must work together to find the Answer. But as he locks them inside the first room, they quickly realise this is no ordinary game.

From a cavernous library of dust to an ancient Mayan tomb, a deserted shopping mall stalked by extinct animals to the command module of a spaceship heading to Mars, the perils of The Escape seem endless. Can Ami and her friends find the Answer before it’s too late?

The latest mind-blowing novel from award-winning author Christopher Edge, Escape Room is a thrilling adventure that challenges readers to think about what they’ve done to save the world today.