The Forevers – Chris Whitaker

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

She was seventeen years old.

She would die in one month.

Mae has grown up knowing that she and her sister, Stella, won’t live long enough to become adults. Asteroid 8050XF11, A.K.A. Selena, is on a collision course with Earth.

So, what do you do when an Extinction Level Event is imminent? Some people put their faith in God and wait for a miracle. Others place their hope in science. If disaster movies have taught us anything, it’s that scientists will consistently fail until just before the credits roll. Then they’ll come up with a solution that’ll save the world. Surely they can do this in real life, too. 

There are the leavers, people “who said their goodbyes or those that simply tired of the wait and disappeared in search of more.” Then there are those who are living like there’s no tomorrow. They figure if you’re not going to live long enough for the consequences to catch up with you, then you might as well do whatever you want.

The countdown is on. There’s one month to go until God performs a miracle, science comes through with the biggest win in the history of the world or everyone dies.

Mae and many others in West spend much of their final month attending school and working. I doubt I would be doing either if I knew the end was nigh. Mae’s also trying to learn the truth behind the recent death of Abi, her former best friend.

Impending doom doesn’t negate the usual high school drama, with popular kids, bullies and outcasts all featured. Some of these kids have significant difficulties in their lives, though, even if you ignore the whole 70 mile wide asteroid that’s going to obliterate them in the very near future thing.

I liked Mae but adored Stella, her eight year old sister, who stole every scene she was in. With such heavy content, I was especially grateful for the comic relief that came in the form of Felix. He was all about sleeping when he’s dead and becoming visible to the love of his life, despite the fact that she already has a boyfriend.

A lot of characters were introduced but I didn’t form a connection with a number of them, due to their personality or because I didn’t get to know them well enough. There’s practically an entire alphabet of content warnings at the end of my review, with so many important issues touched on. However, individual circumstances didn’t always have enough page time for them to be explored in the depth I would have liked. 

For example, for most of the book Sally is pretty much only ever referred to in terms of her weight. She’s the fat girl. She‘s almost always consuming copious amounts of food whenever we see her. She’s fat shamed. A lot. When I finally learned something else about her, I wanted an entire book dedicated to her. There’s so much complexity and emotion there, and it felt like I only just scraped the surface of who she was.

The mystery of what happened to Abi faded into the background at times as the struggles of other characters were explored. There was a resolution, though, and many characters were given the opportunity to do what they needed to in order to finish their stories on their own terms.

Sometimes it took me a while to figure out which character was in a scene with Mae, especially when they’d only be referred to as ‘he’ for several paragraphs before they were named. Some scene changes felt jarring and for a while around the middle of the book I wasn’t even sure if I was enjoying it. 

But this was a compulsive read and Mae and Stella’s relationship kept me invested. An ugly cry snuck up on me at the end and I’m still thinking about several characters. I’m definitely interested in reading more books by this author and I absolutely adored Muhammad Nafay’s cover illustration. 

We made Forever for the creeps and the weirdos, the freaks and the outlaws.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, fat shaming, homophobia, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, slut shaming and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Thirty days until the end of the world. What would you do?

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“I think we summoned the devil”

One of the most important things I can tell you about this book is that most of it takes place in a library. Sure, there’s a resident devil, but don’t let that put you off. This is a library with seven floors of books, including countless grimoires, and a secret passageway. I’m pretty much ready to move in.

I liked Tess’ ability to come up with creative insults and her dedication to her younger sister. I was really looking forward to seeing how her experience with ghosts, having “grown up under the watchful presence of a host of ghosts that haunted her family’s central Pennsylvania farmhouse”, was going to come into play. Unfortunately, while I definitely saw opportunities for some helpful chats with the recently deceased, this remained firmly in fun fact territory.

I also liked Eliot, who made an indelible impression on me when he requested 147 books from the library at once. My kind of bookworm. His love for his mother made me like him even more. It also didn’t hurt that he smells like pages and vanilla.

While I liked both Tess and Eliot, I never really connected with either of them. The emotion wasn’t there for me and the one scene that I was expecting would ramp it up happened off page.

There is an actual devil in this book but the Big Bad for me was Eliot’s father. He’s absolutely detestable.

I liked the story and wanted to know what was going to happen but this wasn’t the compulsive read I had expected.

Content warnings include mention of bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and self harm (either unintentional or for blood magic). Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with one scene.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath the school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other. And compared to what the devil has in store for them, school stress suddenly doesn’t seem so bad after all.

The Treatment – C.L. Taylor

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Drew’s brother, Mason, has recently been sent to the Residential Reform Academy, a therapeutic boarding school, to overcome his ‘behavioural problems’. The hope that Mason will come back a changed person becomes fear that Mason will come back a zombified changed person when a woman who says she worked at the Academy accosts Drew and hands her a note, supposedly from her brother, before running off.

Help me, Drew! We’re not being reformed, we’re being brainwashed.

Because this is a young adult novel, pretty much all of the adults are useless, evil or disinterested so if someone is going to save the day it’s going to have to be Drew. And that’s just what she decides to do.

Now Drew is also at the Academy and if she doesn’t figure out a foolproof plan soon, her brother won’t be the only one getting treated.

‘Obedience, compliance and honesty. They’re the bedrocks of society.’

This was a quick, compulsive read. There’s danger, action and a bunch of kids who have all been labelled as bad stuck in a system that’s supposed to be helping them but could actually be causing them irreparable harm.

Drew was an interesting main character. Initially a loner, she rallies when she learns her brother is in danger and even makes a friend along the way. I really liked Mouse, although I wanted to learn more about her backstory. I found Lacey and Jude so very irritating, but it probably would have been weird if I didn’t want to find a way to reach through the pages to slap them.

Some coincidences were a little over the top, like Zed just so happening to live close enough to Drew that they could meet face to face and Lacey just so happening to wind up at the Academy as well. In Drew’s very own room. What did Lacey do to get sent there anyway? Was she really so desperate to bully Drew that she followed her there? Speaking of coincidences, Drew’s dad, who’s been missing for eight years, just so happened to also be at the Academy.

Then there were the things that seemed too easy, like people being deprogrammed so quickly when they were faced with a specific fear. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert at reversing brainwashing but if any of the things I’ve read about cults are true, then it’s not a switch that can simply be turned off. It seems to be a much more intense and drawn out process than how it’s portrayed here.

The ending felt rushed and a bit too neat, and I have some unanswered questions. However, this was an enjoyable read and I am interested in reading more books by this author.

Content warnings include bullying.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“You have to help me. We’re not being reformed. We’re being brainwashed.”

All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she’s almost relieved.

Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.

Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.

Before it’s too late.

The Project – Courtney Summers

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Huh. Before I read a word of this book I already knew what the opening line of my review was going to be: Another Courtney Summers book, another ugly cry.

But there were no tears and I’m all kinds of confused. So, heads up: this review is basically my messy way of trying to process my response, or lack thereof.

Part of it has to be a result of my astronomically high anticipation. I tried and failed so many times to get my hands on this book from the moment I fell in love with its cover.

I requested copies through NetGalley and Edelweiss. I emailed the publisher begging for an ARC. I joined Instagram for 24 hours to enter a competition to win a copy. I tried to preorder a signed copy but it couldn’t be shipped to my country. Each time the ebook was listed on sale I’d immediately click the link, only to find out that it wasn’t on sale in my country; I couldn’t afford to pay full price because, you know, life and all that.

Finally I got my hands on a library copy. I loved the emotional gut punch of Sadie and was sure I was in for the same here. I even timed my read so I was at peak ugly cry vulnerability.

I was so hopeful because I was already gearing up for a cry in the prologue.

Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make – and no one but the two of you can break.

I was ready for the sisterly bond. I was ready for the charismatic, yet nefarious cult leader. I was ready for the anguish that crossed over from emotional to physical pain. But my eyes are the Sahara and I’m baffled.

“There’s so much you don’t understand”

I felt so removed from the characters and I didn’t expect that.

Gloria. Latin. Glory.

Sure, Lo was desperate to free her sister from the grip of the cult but when she heard that her sister was no longer a member, she didn’t file a missing person report. No, she kept interviewing the cult leader and his minions so she could show her boss that she’s a writer, dammit, and should be promoted yesterday. Her priorities were all over the place.

Beatrice. Italian; Latin. Bringer of Joy.

Then there was Bea, who I’m sure I would have connected with if her story wasn’t told in a series of flashbacks.

Lev. Hebrew; Russian. Heart; Lion.

Lev was always going to give me skeevy vibes because of the whole cult leader thing. He could have promised me the world and I would have side eyed him. I fully acknowledge my bias there, even though at first glance, The Unity Project’s mission does sound kind of amazing.

What The Unity Project offers people, in its simplest terms, is food if you’re hungry, water if you’re thirsty, clothes and shelter if you need it, and family if you lack it. All it asks in return is being part of, and upholding the tenets of, a revolution that pays it forward.

But that’s how they suck you in, isn’t it? If people thought they were signing up for a cult, membership would dry up. Like my eyes. I can understand the initial appeal, though.

You want to belong. You’re hurting. You don’t believe anyone who knows you could ever love you. But someone convinces you that they see you, all of you, and love you anyway. You have a purpose. You are wanted. Enticing, right?

“Do you know what that’s like, Lo? To be really, truly seen?”

You don’t get to see behind the curtain until you’re already well and truly invested. Cult leaders like Lev make it sound so appealing and the message is close enough to the real thing that if you’re listening with your emotions, you might not realise you’re worshipping a man, not God. Or maybe you do notice but you don’t care because what this man is offering seems worth the adulation and the cost.

Bea and Lo had so much potential. The story, when I explained it to someone who hasn’t read the book, sounded so good. Courtney Summers definitely knows how to write a book that you don’t want to put down.

I wanted to care so much about these sisters that I hurt for them. I wanted to ugly cry myself into a equally ugly mess. But I didn’t like Lo, I didn’t really get to know Bea and for the longest time I didn’t feel the urgency of their story.

Because this is a Courtney Summers book, I’m going to assume part of the problem is me and will eagerly await her next release.

Book in a book: Lo and Emmy read Creepy Pair of Underwear! together. That kid’s got good taste in books.

Content warnings include (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some) branding, death by suicide, emotional abuse, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm and sexual assault (implied).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died in a tragic car accident, her sister Bea joined the elusive community called The Unity Project, leaving Lo to fend for herself. Desperate not to lose the only family she has left, Lo has spent the last six years trying to reconnect with Bea, only to be met with radio silence.

When Lo’s given the perfect opportunity to gain access to Bea’s reclusive life, she thinks they’re finally going to be reunited. But it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t want to be found, and as Lo delves deeper into The Project and its charismatic leader, she begins to realize that there’s more at risk than just her relationship with Bea: her very life might be in danger.

As she uncovers more questions than answers at each turn, everything Lo thought she knew about herself, her sister, and the world is upended. One thing doesn’t change, though, and that’s what keeps her going: Bea needs her, and Lo will do anything to save her.

Friday the 13th, Camp Crystal Lake #5: The Mask of Jason Voorhees – Eric Morse

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Jason went to hell and then Berkeley Books commissioned a series of young adult novels set in the Friday the 13th universe. Only Jason wasn’t in the books. Weird, right? His mask was there, though, and it had some supernatural powers to possess whoever thought it was smart to try it on. Cue the bloodbath.

So far, we’ve celebrated Mother’s Day, gone fishing, attended a carnival and gone on a road trip. Now, in this final book in the series, we’re making a documentary or we’re determined to stop Jason once and for all. It depends on which character you are.

So, who are the potential blood donors in this showdown?

The Heroes

  • Micki Foster. Micki hunts down cursed antiquities for her Uncle Lewis so she’s dealt with supernatural stuff for years. She is “attuned to the energies around her”. Her spidey sense may save her. Micki’s goal is to stop all the Jason drama by “finding the mask and locking it up in the vault back at Curious Goods.” Sort of like what the Warrens did with Annabelle.
  • Steven Freeman. Steven is Micki’s cousin. He used to be known as Ryan Dallion. He helped Jason’s niece, Jessica, send him to hell. He’s survived Jason already so he’s either got the skillset to finish the job another time or his luck will run out.
  • Rashid. He’s an expert in antiquities and was looking after Curious Goods for Micki. Now he’s in Crystal Lake. He has visions and appears to know magic.

They’re the heroes. They’re golden, right?

Law Enforcement

  • Sheriff Lloyd Landis
  • Roy Turner, Sheriff’s deputy
  • John Cort, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Buck Mathers, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Ed Marlin, Sheriff’s deputy
  • David Justin, Sheriff’s deputy. He’s the new guy so he’s got even less chance of surviving than his colleagues.
  • Kelly Campbell, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Roy Turner, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Pat Colby, Sheriff’s deputy
  • Highway Patrol Officer Marshack
  • Highway Patrol Officer Perkins
  • State Trooper Jackson
  • State Trooper Scott Christopher
  • State Trooper Dan Culligan
  • State Trooper Peter Bennerson

There’s so many of them! Just knowing these men and women are law enforcement personnel in a slasher is your biggest clue. Most of these people are going to be toast, especially those who are introduced after 80%. That doesn’t stop them from bringing confidence to the game, though.

“You don’t know when you’ll have some hockey masked super killer running around the woods slaughtering people. A few AK-47s would seem to be standard issue.”

Cunningham County Coroner’s Office Staff

  • County Coroner Robert “Doctor Bob” Carey. He’s the one doing the autopsies.
  • Phil Raman. He’s Doctor Bob’s assistant. If he wasn’t so busy getting turned on when he touches Jason’s mask he might just make it but because this makes him inherently creepy, he’s definitely going to need to die.
  • Guadalupe (Lupe) Sanchez. Lupe is the receptionist. She knows Phil likes her but laughs at his advances. Clever girl.

If this was a Halloween book, then Michael Myers would almost certainly miraculously come to in the morgue and proceed to add to the body count. But this is Friday the 13th. We’ll see…

The Documentary Makers

  • Carol Martinez. The director of the documentary, Carol is rude to waitresses, her fellow documentary makers and pretty much everyone else. She’s also vegetarian.
  • Shawn Carlyle. He works behind the scenes on sound and lighting.
  • Jerry. Calls himself Jamal. He’s the cameraman and a pothead. He also gives Phil Raman a run for his money in being the most detestable character in the book. He’s a white guy with dreadlocks who seems to think there’s no problem speaking as though he’s from Jamaica. He’s not Jamaican. He’s Californian and he’s so irritating.

They’re coming to town just to dig up info on Jason. There’s no way they’re going to make it back to California.

The Mediums

  • Morgana
  • Julius

Okay, so they’re here at the behest of Carol, the rude documentary maker. Hopefully they’re the real deal and will be smart enough to get out of town when they realise what’s really going on at Camp Crystal Lake.

Camp Crystal Lake Campers

  • Bessie Nague. Bessie has allergies. She’s camping with her sister, Lilleth.
  • Lilleth Nague. She’s the webmaster of the Official BLOOD CAMP Fan Club website and Vice President of the Jason Voorhees Appreciation Society.

They thought it was a good idea to go camping at Camp Crystal Lake. We might as well dig their graves now. Lilleth’s Jason obsession may be the thing that saves them or she might be too starstruck by seeing him for her survival instinct to kick in.

The Townspeople

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  • Betty Loomis. She’s a waitress who knew Jason and Pamela Voorhees personally. Betty was married to Ralph. Yes, that one!
  • Mary. She’s a waitress who works with Betty.
  • Will Peters. He’s Steven’s partner at the Army/Navy store and will be running the store while Steven is running about doing Jason type stuff. Will has served in the military so he may have the necessary skills to survive.
  • Shane Wilco Jr. Shane is the bartender from Smokey’s Pub.

The townspeople have already survived Jason how many times? They know the legend and they obviously know what it takes to survive at this point. Let’s hope they keep their heads.

If you’re like me and you come to the slasher armed with some bloodlust and a raincoat to protect your clothes from the blood spatter, you’ll be waiting a while in this book. There are no new deaths for the first 40%. Never fear, though. Once the stabbing and hacking begin, they don’t let up. Most characters you only get to know by name before they meet their maker. The body count is high and I can’t even give you an accurate final number.

There are the recently deceased whose names we know: Phil Raman, Lupe, Deputy Marlin, Kelly Campbell, Will Peters, David Justin, John Cort, Shane Wilco Jr., Bessie Nague, Lilleth Nague, Jerry/Jamal, Officer Marshack, Julius, Phil Raman, Lewis, Rashid, Shawn Carlyle, Peter Bennerson, Dan Culligan, Perkins, Roy Turner, Carol Martinez, Pat Colby, Scott Christopher and Lloyd Landis.

Then there are the five people in the crowd outside of the coffee shop, an old man, an unnamed biker, a foolish biker and an unnamed policeman. The Sheriff estimates about fifty deaths in the Main Street, which include two deputies that were named and Shane Wilco Jr.

Phil kills people before and after he becomes attached to the mask. Jason kills a bunch of people. Three people die by cop.

It’s safe to say that both Camp Crystal Lake and the town are painted red. Bonus points for visiting the Voorhees’ home.

My main frustration in this book was Jerry/Jamal thinking it was okay to speak the way he did. The biggest turnoff was the use of the word ”retard”. I don’t care about the context; this is never okay.

This was a bit of fun but it really needs some proofreading. There’s a typo here, a missing word there, your/you’re violations and many other red pen opportunities. At one point the carnival murders happened two months ago; on the same day, later in the chapter, they happened three months ago.

One frustration I had with the first four books was the absence of Jason. He actually shows up in this one! Hooray!

We also finally get an explanation for the whole supernatural mask thing.

If you want to read this book for yourself, you can download the PDF here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It has been four years since Jason Voorhees was dragged down to Hell. Since then the evil of Jason has arisen four times in the form of his possessed hockey mask. Four souls have worn that mask and have viciously killed dozens of innocent people who have mistakenly ventured into the woods around Camp Crystal Lake. Now the mask has chosen its latest and final wearer and the seeds of Jason’s resurrection have been planted. But, there is opposition. Reunited, Micki Foster and Ryan Dallion must not only face a superhuman killing machine, but also the horrifying truth at the heart of the curse of Camp Crystal Lake.

Wolf Girl #5: Across the Sea – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

We pick up the story of Gwen, Rupert and the rest of the pack a few days after we left them in The Traitor. In that time, winter has begun to set in. Using the papers Rupert printed at the Captain’s mansion/compound (?) as a guide, the pack make their way to the village of Gulfoss.

There they stow away on a ship that’s taking dozens of adult prisoners to a new location. On board, they meet Rita, a cleaner, and find a potential new pack member, Pirate the pug.

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I liked Pirate but he couldn’t make up for the fact that we lost two of the pack in this book. Rupert found his parents on board the ship and he’s currently in captivity with them. I was frustrated that we didn’t get to learn anything about the history between Rupert and the Captain from The Traitor before Rupert left. There is a possibility we might see him and his parents later in the series, though. Eagle is also gone, although a small part of me is hoping Eagle didn’t actually die. I’ll probably read the next book to find out for sure but if they are really gone then I’ll be leaving the pack at that time.

I wondered where the kids got their cold weather clothing from. Rupert didn’t seem to bring anything with him when he left the camp and until now we’ve never experienced winter with Gwen.

I’m fine with Gwen understanding what the dogs and wolf are saying but I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that a couple of kids and some animals can consistently outwit and outmanoeuvre so many trained soldiers. They make it look too easy.

I think I’m beginning to struggle with this series mostly because it’s so much darker than a lot of Anh Do’s other series. There’s an overarching hope that one day Gwen will be reunited with her family but there’s not enough hope in each individual book for me. At this point I just want someone to do something silly to break up the constant danger.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I’m reading this series during lockdown. Hopefully by the time the next book is released I won’t be in lockdown anymore and may have a different perspective on the trials and tribulations of the pack.

There’s a bonus chapter included at the end of this book that features a crossover with Skydragon. I’m not sure yet how I feel about Wolf Girl and Skydragon inhabiting the same world.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On a mission to find their families, Gwen, Rupert and the dogs strike out across treacherous ice and freezing oceans.

If they are to have any hope of survival, they must stowaway on a ship full of enemy soldiers. But sometimes help comes in unexpected forms. Someone new will join the pack … but who will leave?

Deep in the frozen tundra, the danger is heating up!

Wolf Girl #4: The Traitor – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Gwen and Rupert travel outside of the forest for the first time in their search for their parents. It isn’t long before Sunshine goes missing. The rest of the pack immediately begin their search for her.

Although there’s plenty of action that Sunshine isn’t a part of, including some close encounters with a whole bunch of reptiles, this is really her book. She goes on both a physical and emotional journey, ultimately needing to make a very difficult choice.

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I didn’t want to have to say this but another book, another injured dog. Thankfully, Zip wasn’t the one injured this time around but that’s only because they found their owner at the end of the last book. The events in this book also injured a wolf.

While we are introduced to someone from Rupert’s past, we aren’t really given any details about their shared history. Rupert finds some valuable information that may help in the search for their parents but the pack still don’t seem any closer to actually finding them.

With a couple of new locations in this book, the pack get to navigate vastly different ground than what they’re accustomed to. Scenes which would be the perfect set up for dad jokes in other Anh Do series remain serious here. The entire series is a departure from the laughs I look forward to in Ninja Kid, Hot Dog and WeirDo.

I didn’t pick up on an inconsistency as obvious as the one I mentioned in my review of The Secret Cave. I did wonder, though, how Brutus is barely able to make it through an opening while Sunrise, who is absolutely huge, doesn’t appear to have any difficulties when she follows.

I noticed some scenes that were similar to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in the last book. In this one, I couldn’t help thinking Jurassic Park, especially when I came across this illustration.

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Wolf Girl and her trusty dogs are back for another hackle-raising adventure.

On the run from sinister forces, Gwen rushes head-long into danger. With giant snakes, komodo dragons and a whole new wolf pack to contend with, Wolf Girl will need all her cunning… and all her friends.

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody – Kate Gilby Smith

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

It’s always just been Alex and her Uncle Henry. That is, if you don’t count the consistent groups of strangers who have been trying to sneak a peek at Alex her entire life. There are actual coaches full of them. But, hey, maybe this is normal. It’s not like Alex has any friends to compare notes with.

Until she meets Jasper on her twelfth birthday. We love Jasper, although we don’t really know a lot about him for the longest time.

For a boy who loved asking other people questions, he was an expert at avoiding them himself.

We do know he’s a sweetheart, though, and he’s a really good best (and first) friend to have. We adore him, even after he suddenly disappears before Alex’s eyes. Fortunately, Alex likes Jasper as much as we do so she’s determined to find him. No matter what.

‘And this time I don’t think logic is the answer.’

I spent the entire book trying to figure out what I could possibly say about it that didn’t give away the whole time travel component, which is one of my all time favourite things to read about. I needn’t have worried; one look at the book’s blurb and I discovered that what I thought was a secret is well and truly out of the bag. I probably would have read this book sooner had I known. All I had to go by when I decided this was the book for me was the title and Thy Bui’s incredible cover illustration.

Speaking of design, something so simple yet so appropriate accompanied the chapter titles. Remember how I mentioned the literal coaches full of people who want to catch a glimpse of Alex? A coach starts appearing in the first chapter and slowly makes its way across the page, chapter by chapter. Brilliant!

Besides loving Alex and Jasper, I also wanted to get to know Uncle Henry, whose ideas on learning were all I needed to know to want to hang out with him forever. I also really liked Gerty, who Alex meets when she’s searching for her missing friend.

I adored the way time travel is explored in this book. There were a couple of time travel related head-scratchers, though. The Laws of Time all made sense to me but I had trouble believing, based on my extensive time travel experience with Marty McFly, that a Time Tourist hadn’t inadvertently rewritten history by now. Although, if Timeless is to be taken as time travel gospel, then maybe only the people personally involved in the rewrite would remember how things used to play out.

The time travel quandary that remains for me is why the bazillion Time Tourists who not so secretly spied on Alex as she was growing up didn’t immediately recognise her in the future. Sure, it’s not like she was expected to show up there unannounced and oftentimes we don’t recognise the obvious right before our very eyes when we don’t expect them to be there, but … someone should have been pointing at her and whispering to the person next to them, ‘Hey, look! Doesn’t that girl look like Alex when she was young?’

I figured out fairly early on who future Alex was going to be and why she became famous. If kid me had read this book, though, it would have been your job to pick me up off the floor once I’d made it to the reveal.

Although the time travel is absolutely wonderful and it made me want to do it even more, my take away from this book is going to be the friendship between Alex and Jasper. It made me feel all warm and squishy inside. In a good way.

‘Never underestimate the power of a best friend. A friend who loves you for who you are, who believes in the person you will become even when you don’t. Who believes you are stronger, smarter, better than you believe yourself to be. A friend who can put you in your place when you need it. More than talent, more than success, friendship is what matters most.’

Book in a book: Jasper gives Alex a copy of The Secret Garden, one of the many reasons I loved him.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On the day Alex was born, crowds surrounded the hospital. On her first day of school, people spied from the gates. And recently, strangers came to watch her perform in her school play … as the llama.

But why? Alex has always been a nobody.

Then a mysterious boy named Jasper starts at school and he alone seems to know the answer. But before he can tell Alex, he disappears … into the future. Can Alex brave traveling into the future to discover what’s happened to him and to unravel the secret of her own astonishing destiny … before time runs out?

The Ugly Stepsister #1: The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back – Sariah Wilson

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

You probably know me well enough by now to realise that while I’m more than happy to wander between genres, I’m a romantiphobe. The only books that I voluntarily sign up for knowing upfront that they will involve kissing are by Chris Cannon, who sucked me in with talk of bookstores and food and a liberal sprinkling of banter, and Melissa McShane, who upped the ante by giving me a magical bookstore!

So, how did this book wind up on my TBR pile? Your guess is as good as mine. It probably had something to do with the fact that this story is told from the perspective of the ugly stepsister, and you know how much I love a good underdog story.

“So come here, Cinderella. You need to see this.”

“I think you’re confused as to which one of us is which girl in that story.”

Mattie’s stepsister, Ella, is practically perfect in every way. She’s gorgeous, kind and loved by everyone. She’s a cheerleader, she volunteers, she fundraises and she is happy to clean their home, even though they’re super rich and have staff employed to do that for them. Mattie’s father is so rich their home comes with its own part of the beach!

Mattie, despite being everything that Ella is not, can’t hate her. Ella is too adorable to hate. Although, the fact that she’s dating the boy Mattie has been in love with for half of her life isn’t exactly helping.

I went from raging mad to helplessly in love to totally confused to completely embarrassed in the space of a few seconds when I was with him.

This was a light read but I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would. Sure, the requisite romance novel eye rolls were there, my favourite of which happened when Mattie did the whole superhero thing. She changed her clothes and donned a mask and hey, presto! She was unrecognisable to the boy she’d been spending so much time with. He didn’t even recognise her voice.

Despite this, I liked the main characters. Mattie was a good underdog, even though she needed some self esteem. Ella was loveable, even though she was too perfect. Jake, who was almost too perfect himself, had vulnerabilities that endeared him to me. Though, I did want to punch him every time he thought of Mattie’s best friend as a “poor man’s Jon Snow”, “wannabe Edward Scissorhands” or “Guyliner”.

I wanted to get to know Trent, said best friend, better because he was sidelined for most of the book. I also wanted Mercedes Bentley to have more page time. Surely a girl who is not embarrassed to be named after two cars is worth getting to know. Come to think of it, maybe she is mortified by her name and that’s the reason she feels called to be a mean girl.

There’s drama and what ifs and that really irritating lack of communication that I’ve come to expect from my limited experience reading romance novels. If the lovey dovey teenagers actually communicated, their story could be all about the HEA by chapter two.

I’ve got to give Jake credit for summing up the plot of pretty much any romance story for me (change the pronouns where appropriate):

“He likes her. She likes him. They find out.”

Now, this is probably going to be the most unexpected thing you’ll hear me say in the near future: I’m planning on reading the sequel.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Everyone knows how those fairy tales go. The princess gets beautiful, nabs her prince and leaves her evil stepsisters in the dust.

But what happens when you’re the ugly stepsister and your obnoxiously perfect – pretty, smart, and, worst of all, nice – stepsister is dating the charming, devastatingly handsome guy you’ve had a thing for since you were nine?

Quirky, artistic and snarky Mattie Lowe does not lead a charmed life. Her mother is constantly belittling her online. The school mean girl has made it her mission to torment Mattie. But worst of all? Her stepsister is the most popular girl in school and is dating Mattie’s secret crush, Jake Kingston.

Tired of being left out and done with waiting for her own fairy godmother to show up, Mattie decides to change her life. She’ll start by running for senior class president against Jake.

Ella can keep her Prince Annoying. Mattie’s going to rule the school.

And no one, not even a cute and suddenly flirty Jake, is going to stop her.

The Final Girl Support Group – Grady Hendrix

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Someone always wants to kill us. It’s never over.”

Dr Carol Elliott has been conducting regular group sessions with final girls for sixteen years. Our final girls are:

  • Marilyn Torres, who won’t let leather touch her skin
  • Adrienne Butler, who was a counsellor at Camp Red Lake
  • Dani Shipman, whose babysitting job didn’t quite go to plan
  • Heather DeLuca, who faced off against the Dream King
  • Julia Campbell, whose experiences were turned into the Stab movies
  • Lynnette Tarkington, who tells the story.

These women have watched friends and family members being butchered by “monsters” but they survived the unsurvivable. Many have even survived sequels. Their stories have been made into successful movie franchises, some have attended conventions and then there are the superfans to contend with.

No one except another final girl can truly understand what it’s like to live with the impacts of this type of trauma. Their scars are both physical and psychological. And it’s really hard to try to move on because there’s never any certainty that the past will stay in the past. These monsters have a habit of not staying dead, after all.

We get subjected to sequels. That’s what makes our guys different, that’s what makes them monsters – they keep coming back.

The final girl support group has been the one constant in the lives of many of these survivors but it’s no longer safe. Someone has been planning their deaths and it’s time for them to fight for their lives. Again.

“This is the sequel or a crossover, or I don’t know what.”

This book was so much fun! I was delighted to discover that the atrocities these women have survived were based on some of my favourite horror movie franchises. Between them, these women have survived Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason and Mrs Voorhees, Ghostface, and Billy and Ricky Chapman. I have never seen the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies but I’ve binged all of the others many times. Some details have changed but the basic plots remain the same.

I loved picking up on the similarities and differences between the backstories of these women and the movies I know so well. The chapter titles are spot on: The Final Girl Support Group’s New Nightmare, Season of the Final Girls, The Final Chapter, The Final Chapter II.

Even the names of the characters are perfect. For example, the woman whose story represents the Scream movies is called Julie Campbell. Neve Campbell, Scream’s final girl, played a character called Julia in Party of Five. Details like that really stood out to me.

After the trauma they have all experienced, it’s not surprising that the final girls live with a variety of long term impacts. I particularly appreciated that there was no ‘one size fits all’ approach in this book. While they all experienced living nightmares, these women cope with their trauma in individual ways. Their different personalities, their support systems (or lack thereof) and their individual strengths and weaknesses all play a part in what their lives look like now.

“Are those guys really that scary?” he asks.

“Scarier than you can ever imagine,” I answer.

In between the blood spatter I started thinking about serial killers. The names of those who commit heinous crimes are usually burned into our brains but how well do we remember the names of the people they murdered? I know the names and predilections of so many infamous serial killers. I often know in detail what they did to their victims but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the names of their victims. I think it’s time for me to rectify this.

Because I’m me, I tested out the address that a character in the book receives emails from. As usual, I was disappointed to get an automatic response saying my email was undeliverable. One of these days an author or marketing person is going to set up the email address that’s included in a book and I’ll finally get a real response. I’m hoping for an exclusive short story, a personal message from the character that I’ve emailed or even a treasure hunt or details of a competition where I can win a signed copy of the book. One day…

I own every single one of Grady Hendrix’s books. I knew I’d love them but somehow they made it into my Kindle’s black hole of good intentions so this is my first Grady Hendrix read. Believe me when I say it will not be my last!

Content warnings include addiction, alcoholism, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ever wonder what happens to those Final Girls? After the cops eliminate them as suspects, after the press releases their brace-faced, pizza-cheeked, bad-hair-day class photos that inevitably get included on the cover of the true crime book? After the candlelight vigils and the moments of silence, after someone plants the memorial shrub?

For Lynette Tarkington, it’s been a support group. Her, five other final girls, a therapist. Close to twenty years. Today’s the last day for group, but Lynne doesn’t know it yet. It’s also going to be the last day for one of the group. And maybe the final day for all of the final girls, because someone’s been planning a nasty surprise for them for a long time.