Megabat – Anna Humphrey

Illustrations – Kass Reich

Spoilers Ahead! (in purple font)

Daniel’s family has just moved to a new town. He misses his friends and isn’t looking forward to starting a new school where he doesn’t know anyone. It doesn’t help that he’s sure his new room is haunted.

It turns out the ghost is actually a talking fruit bat, who is also a long way from home. Megabat loves smoosh-fruit, buttermelon and Star Wars.

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Daniel is determined to return Megabat to Papaya Premium. These new friends are going to have to channel the Force if they’re going to succeed in their mission.

This was a really cute story for younger readers, with a focus on friendship. I loved Kass Reich’s illustrations, particularly those featuring Megabat.

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It did lose me a bit at the end when Megabat asked Birdgirl, his pigeon friend, to marry him but I’m probably overthinking it.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tundra, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It’s big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it’s haunted … or is it?

Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he’s living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there. 

Daniel realises it’s not a ghost in his new house. It’s a bat. And he can talk. And he’s actually kind of cute. 

Megabat realises that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. 

Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you’ve got a new friendship in the making!

The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Once there were three sisters.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January was my favourite read of 2019 and The Once and Future Witches is my favourite read of 2020. I know there are still plenty of pages to fall in love with this year but trust me, friends, this is the one!

The wise one, the strong one and the wild one. There’s a bit of each of us in at least one of the Eastwood sisters; hopefully all three. This is a story of sisters and suffragists. Of fairytales and the power of words. Of survival and sacrifice. Of transforming the story you were given into a better one. Of “witchcraft most wicked”.

The wayward sisters, hand in hand,

Burned and bound, our stolen crown,

But what is lost, that can’t be found?

Sometimes you read a book that feels like it was written with you in mind. Sometimes characters will draw you into their world and you feel like they’re kin or, at the very least, kindred spirits. Sometimes a story speaks to your soul in such a way that when you lift your head after the final page you are certain you grew wings while you were reading. That’s just some of what this book was for me.

I want to ramble about characters, surprises and heartbreaks, love found and battles waged but, consistent with other books that have so deeply worked their magic on me, this review is more personal. Sorry if this isn’t the review you were looking for.

Don’t forget what you are.

As I read I felt my spine straightening. My will strengthened. My courage blazed. My heart opened, warming and knitting itself together, even as it broke. My tears threatened many times before the inevitable ugly cry (it was so ugly!). This was the perfect book for me at the perfect time.

I made a deal with myself weeks before I started reading. I had a really difficult task ahead of me and I wanted this book to be my reward for completing it. Not allowing myself to dive in before I won my battle was its own special brand of torture but knowing the witches were waiting for me spurred me on. Being able to finally immerse myself in the lives of Agnes, Bella and Juniper was worth the wait. And then some.

I now have a task equal, if not greater, to face than the one that preceded it but this book has fortified me and given me the courage I need to shine a light on the next shadow on my path.

Together they dared to dream of a better world, where women weren’t broken and sisters weren’t sundered and rage wasn’t swallowed, over and over again.

I can’t wait until someone I know has read this book so I can get all gushy about the specifics. Until that time, a warning: if you see me out in the wild, prepare yourself. Our interaction is likely to consist of me emphatically telling you to “Read this book!” as I shove it in your face. Protect your nose accordingly.

“Maleficae quondam, maleficaeque futurae.”

Content warnings include “Child abuse, both physical and psychological; parental death; arrest and imprisonment; mind control; pregnancy and childbirth, including forced hospitalization; racism; sexism; homophobia, both external and internalized; threat of sexual assault, averted; torture (mostly off-the-page, but alluded to); execution (attempted); child abandonment; major character death.” The author lists these on Goodreads. I’m adding to these the mention of abortion, on page death of an animal, physical abuse of an animal and sexual harassment.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, for the opportunity to fall in love with this book early.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters – James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna – join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Magic Lessons – Alice Hoffman

Spoilers Ahead!

Do as you will, but harm no one.

What you give will be returned to you threefold.

Colour me bewitched! I say this with the utmost respect: with each Alice Hoffman book I read, I become more convinced that she is proficient in the Nameless Art.

If you’ve ever wondered how the Owens curse came to be, wonder no more. The answer lies in this book. The story of Maria Owens and her daughter, Faith, is one of love, revenge and the fear of powerful women.

Any story involving witchcraft in the 1600’s, especially one partially set in Salem, is bound to include all manner of horrors perpetrated against women. I prepared myself for the likelihood of witnessing immolations and drownings but I was still surprised at times by the darkness of some of the events that unfolded, particularly those involving the death of animals. I probably needed to brew myself a cup of Courage Tea before settling in.

It was a dangerous world for women, and more dangerous for a woman whose very bloodline would have her do not as she was ordered, but as she pleased.

There was so much to love about this book: the bond between mothers and daughters, the importance of keeping the door open to those in need, the power of words and finding the courage to be who you are. While I really liked Maria, it was Faith’s journey that really sucked me in.

A few times in the first quarter of the book I caught myself thinking that if something could be said in two sentences it was said in five, but over time I got used to the descriptions and backstories.

I was left with a few outstanding questions:

If a witch’s touch turns silver black, then why was the hairpin still silver when Maria first received it? Wouldn’t Rebecca’s touch have already turned it black?

How do Maria’s red boots still fit her as an adult? Is there a spell that allows clothing to grow with you?

What happened to Elizabeth?

Did Finney ever return to Penny Come Quick?

Reading this Owens origin story made me want to reread Practical Magic and finally read The Rules of Magic. Practical Magic and I have a long history. I fell in love with Alice Hoffman’s early books in the 90’s, so of course I found Practical Magic then. I also managed to wear out the movie on VHS before the DVD made its way into my life. I would still have that DVD, if not for a friend who ‘borrowed’ it and failed to return it. Never fear; I found the perfect incantation in my Grimoire so they aren’t likely to do it again. 😜

“You never told me what happens if someone falls in love with us.”

“We ruin their lives,” Maria told her daughter.

Content warnings include child abuse, deaths of animals, domestic violence and some marriages that creeped me out, where the man was in his 30’s or older and the girl was in her early teens.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s no secret that love has plagued the Owens family for centuries. But when did the curse begin, and why? It all began with Maria Owens, who arrived in America in 1680, with a baby in tow …

Born with pitch-black hair and pale green eyes, Maria was abandoned in the English countryside by her birth mother and raised by Hannah Owens who warned her, “Always love someone who will love you back.” She inherits Hannah’s Grimoire – a magical book of enchantments that include instructions to heal illnesses, ingredients for soaps that restore youth, and spells that make a person burn with love for another. When Hannah dies in an attack, Maria leaves for Curaçao, where she meets John Hathorne, a magistrate from Salem living freely for the first time in his life as he falls in love with Maria. But Hathorne soon abandons her, before Maria realises she’s pregnant. When she gives birth to a red-headed baby girl, Faith, who possesses immense magical talent, Maria embarks on a voyage to Salem to face her destiny, with or without magic.

But aboard the ship bringing her to America, fate intervenes and she meets a man who will change her life, if she’ll only let him. Her journey, laced with secrets and truths, devastation and joy, magic and curses, will show her that love is the only answer, always.

Afterlife #1: The Afterlife of the Party – Marlene Perez

Spoilers Ahead!

Join Tansy as she embarks on a road trip with her friend/crush Vaughan. They’re following a band that’s on tour, but not because they’re groupies. They’re trying to save Tansy’s best friend, Skylar, from the clutches of Travis, the band’s lead singer. Travis is a vampire that’s been feasting on Skylar.

The first in a planned trilogy, The Afterlife of the Party sucked me in straight away. (See what I did there? 🧛🏼‍♂️) I felt like I already knew Tansy, Skylar and Vaughan, and enjoyed hanging out with them. I loved the name of the vampire’s band, ‘The Drainers’, and I was keen to learn all about Tansy’s witch heritage.

I appreciated that consent was addressed in a vampire story, although after the vampires were introduced there were a number of scenes that had me scratching my head. I do need to acknowledge that I read an uncorrected proof so it’s entirely possible that the things I struggled with may not be included in the final version. Having said that …

Rose and Thorn mostly wandered in and out of scenes and didn’t contribute a great deal to the story. I anticipate they will have a larger role in the sequels, and I hope they do because their characters have the potential to become very interesting. However, by the end of this book both they and the Paranormal Activities Committee they work for seem pretty irrelevant.

I didn’t always feel the urgency of Tansy and Vaughn’s attempts to find Skylar. Especially when Tansey found Skylar close to death, did a quick healing spell on her and then left her again.

Sometimes terms that had already been defined, like Bleeders, would be reexplained in later chapters.

Tansey says she told Granny the “entire story” but less than ten paragraphs later she mentions a key part of the story that she has kept from her.

I knew I’d have to tell her eventually, but I wasn’t quite ready for the look of disappointment I’d see.

The showdown that I knew was inevitable as soon as a certain character was introduced disappointed me. It was over and done with much too quickly for my liking. If someone is going to try to take out a Big Bad I want there to be more of a fight, and maybe a cliché Big Bad monologue to go with it. While there are still plenty of baddies left for our heroes to deal with in the sequels, if it was that easy to get rid of the Big Bad then won’t their underling’s deaths be even easier?

I hope the sequels reveal the identity of Tansy’s father and explain what the deal is with Connor. I want more time with Granny, who could become my favourite character if I got to know her better. I’d also love to see Tansy and her friends cross paths with other hidden world creatures.

Content warnings include the violent death of an animal and mention of sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When my best friend Skyler told me about this party in the Hollywood Hills, I was less than enthused. As it turned out, my feelings were more than justified. That party ruined my life.

Tansy didn’t even want to go to the party. It’s hard enough living in one of your best friend’s shadows and secretly in love with your other best friend.

And now she’s leaving it a vampire.

Now her best friend Skyler is stuck on the road trip from hell, on tour as a groupie with a literal band of vamps. Tansy sets out with Vaughn, her other BFF turned maybe more, to save Skylar’s life and take down the band. But when they find themselves in the middle of a vampire war, will Tansy be able to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her friends?

Agent Zaiba Investigates #2: The Poison Plot – Annabelle Sami

Illustrations – Daniela Sosa

Spoilers Ahead!

It’s the thirtieth Beckley School Summer Fete and Zaiba, our adorable British Pakistani main character, is in charge of the treasure trail. Of course Zaiba, being a detective in training, has transformed it into a detective trail.

There were twists and turns, riddles and mysteries to crack – plus a list of likely suspects.

Her father, Hassan, and younger brother, Ali, are keen to win the baking competition. Zaiba’s stepmother, Jessica, is going to be busy face painting, putting her artistic flair to good use.

Zaiba is proud of the work she and Poppy, her best friend, have put into making the detective trail perfect, although she’s eager for the opportunity to solve another crime.

“A crime will arrive when you least expect it”

Amidst the festivities there is indeed a crime taking place. Someone has been poisoned! Fortunately, the UK branch of the Snow Leopard Detective Agency are ready to find the clues, narrow down the suspects and solve this crime.

With plenty of people acting suspicious there are no shortage of suspects. Readers will enjoy sorting out the red herrings from the clues and trying to solve the case before Zaiba and the rest of the Snow Leopards do.

As you explore the school grounds with Zaiba both before and after the crime, you’ll come across plenty of clues, or are they? For starters, there’s environmentally friendly glitter, gardening that would make Morticia Addams proud, adults behaving badly and treasonous book vandalism.

And the person with a penchant for poison is … Nice try! You didn’t really think I’d spoil the reveal for you, did you?

I loved Daniela Sosa’s illustrations in the first book and continued to enjoy them here. The bunting above the chapter headings was an appropriate choice. I particularly liked the inclusion of some of Ali’s photos towards the end of the book, as he’d been taking plenty of photos throughout the day for the school newspaper.

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I enjoyed hearing more about Eden Lockett’s books. Eden, a detective-turned-author, is Zaiba’s favourite author. I always get sucked in by the idea of fictional books within a book and usually wish they were real. The one I’m most interested in reading from this book is The Clown’s Clue. Revenge under the Big Top sounds like so much fun!

⚠️ The spoiler is in the next paragraph! ⚠️

My only niggle was feeling like the person who committed the crime essentially got away with it. Although it’s nice that all’s well that ends well, I hesitate when children’s books don’t really hold people accountable for bad behaviour, especially for actions that are criminal. Yes, the person who committed the crime won’t be thrilled about the consequences they do face but if someone gets caught poisoning someone, getting a warning from the Police doesn’t even feel equivalent to a slap on the wrist to me.

Fun extras at the end of the story include some fictional book within a book love (an extract from an Eden Lockett book), tips for creating your own detective trail and advice from Zaiba’s ammi.

If plan A doesn’t work, there’s a whole alphabet worth of letters left to try!

I was thrilled to see Mariam, Zaiba’s least favourite cousin, at the fete. I’m still keen to get to know her better. I’m also greedy for more page time with Ali. During future investigations I hope I get to learn more about Zaiba’s ammi and hang out with Aunt Fouzia.

I’d recommend reading this series in order as there are a couple of spoilery bits about Zaiba’s first investigation scattered throughout this one.

The next mystery for the UK branch of the Snow Leopard Detective Agency to solve features a haunted house and I am definitely showing up for that investigation!

“Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a detective?”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Determined to be the world’s greatest detective, Zaiba is always on the lookout for a crime to solve!

Zaiba can’t wait for the school summer fair where she’s going to run a detective trail to help train other potential agents! But when the head teacher is poisoned during the highly competitive cake competition, Zaiba’s own skills are put to the test. With a whole host of suspects and a busy crime scene, Zaiba needs to stay focused if she’s going to get to the bottom of the cake catastrophe …

The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson

Spoilers Ahead!

“You never go into those woods, you hear? There’s evil in them.”

Immanuelle is a shepherdess who lives in Bethel with her family. She was raised by her grandparents, Abram and Martha, having never known her parents. Also living in the home are Anna, Abram’s second wife, and their two children, Glory and Honor.

The Moore family follow the Prophet and the Holy Scriptures faithfully, although their fellow Bethelans will never forget what Immanuelle’s mother, Miriam, did. Her sin continues to cast a shadow over her entire family.

Bethel is a community where polygamy is the norm, the Prophet’s power is absolute and indiscretions, actual or perceived, can be punished by pyre. Men have taken and abused their power, but some of the women are also complicit. Faith is polluted by fear and repression.

Bordering Bethel is the Darkwood, the home of Lilith and her coven of witches, a place to be feared and avoided at all costs. Except the Darkwood is calling Immanuelle and if she heeds the call she will be putting both her life and soul on the line.

Even now, their ghosts still haunted the Darkwood, hungry for the souls of those who dared to enter their realm.

Or so the stories said.

There will be blood.

Once upon a time I spent several years studying the Bible and one of the things that fascinated me at the time was discovering the original meaning of specific words I was reading. Sometimes it wouldn’t make a difference but there were also times where the entire meaning of a passage could change once I knew one word’s origin. Why am I telling you this in the middle of my review? Well, I’m glad you asked.

As I was reading I kept noticing specific names whose etymology seemed perfectly matched to their characters and while I could be wrong, it felt intentional. I won’t go into all of the connections by brain made while I was reading here but I will mention a couple that stood out to me.

Bethel may mean ‘house of God’ but the current Prophet is anything but godly. In a sea of biblical names, the current Prophet’s name is Grant. Revered by his followers, this Prophet claims to speak for the Father. Visions of the Prophet are treated as gospel and given how isolated Bethel is, there aren’t outside influences challenging the status quo.

Given his predilections, perversion of power and the I want to punch that guy urges I experienced as I got to know him, it felt right that Grant wasn’t named after someone in the Bible, or anything associated with biblical teachings, like Glory and Honor.

Ezra, the name of the Prophet’s son and successor, means help or helper.

In what was quite possibly my favourite association, Immanuelle stepping foot in the Darkwood was Judas’ fault. Naturally.

Now, I acknowledge I could be seeing things here that were not intended but I also noticed that, prologue and epilogue aside, this book contained forty chapters. Forty in the Bible usually denotes a period of testing, trial or probation.

Blood. Blight. Darkness. Slaughter.

I really enjoyed this book but, although I was sure I was becoming emotionally invested in the characters as I was getting to know them, I don’t think I really did. Although the characters experience a lot of high stress situations I never felt the urgency. I didn’t worry about them when they were in danger and when they experienced something that could have triggered an ugly cry I was left unaffected.

There were accused witches, girls and women who broke some arbitrary rule set forth by man and/or religion, and those that maybe didn’t break a rule at all but were accused of a crime.

To be a woman is to be a sacrifice.

From the writings of Teman, the first wife of the third Prophet, Omaar

Then there were the actual witches, the characters I was most looking forward to getting to know, whose dark presence casts a shadow on the apparent light of this religious community. The Unholy Four make an impact when they appear but they didn’t get nearly as much page time as I had hoped they would. I didn’t feel I got to know them at all.

This book nudged up against one of my pet peeves, where someone who has recently obtained new powers doesn’t need to spend weeks, months or years in training learning how to wield them. While the character I’m referencing here doesn’t entirely violate this pet peeve, there was definitely some instinctual knowing how to use them involved.

I wondered why the events that activated the final two plagues were different than the first two. I may have missed something or not have thought about it enough but it seemed to me that the first two were forming a pattern.

Why did the forest call to her?

I’ll be look out for this author’s future releases.

Content warnings include animal sacrifice, grooming, immolation, paedophilia, physical abuse, racism, scarification and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may struggle with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Born on the fringes of Bethel, Immanuelle does her best to obey the Church and follow Holy Protocol. For it was in Bethel that the first Prophet pursued and killed four powerful witches, and so cleansed the land.

And then a chance encounter lures her into the Darkwood that surrounds Bethel.

It is a forbidden place, haunted by the spirits of the witches who bestow an extraordinary gift on Immanuelle. The diary of her dead mother …

Fascinated by and fearful of the secrets the diary reveals, Immanuelle begins to understand why her mother once consorted with witches. And as the truth about the Prophets, the Church and their history is revealed, so Immanuelle understands what must be done. For the real threat to Bethel is its own darkness.

Bethel must change. And that change will begin with her …

A Cosmology of Monsters – Shaun Hamill

Spoilers Ahead!

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This book is a difficult one for me to review. It’s been on my radar for nearly a year and I loved the writing style and how well I felt I knew many of the characters, but it also had some problematic moments for me.

I loved hearing all about the history of this family, tragedy and all. I liked getting a feel for the dynamics between its members and the ways they individually coped with the pain that they’d experienced. The more I learned about their complexities as individuals and as a whole, the more I wanted to delve deeper. The unlikeable parts of certain characters made them even more real to me.

“How often do I get a chance to live out a true-life nightmare?”

I couldn’t get enough information about the Tomb and The Wandering Dark. I could easily visualise each room and I was eager to experience them for myself. I was even plotting new rooms that I could add to those the family had created and wondered how I could get involved behind the scenes to bring the scares to life.

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I even loved it when the monster was introduced. I love monster stories so I was looking forward to getting to know this one but certain aspects of the monster’s behaviour didn’t work for me at all. Now, this is where my review becomes a spoilery rant, so you may want to skip the next four paragraphs. Sorry, my rants get kinda wordy.

Okay, if you’re still with me, I’ll assume you have either read the book already or spoilers don’t bother you. So, the monster. As Noah started spending more time with the monster I wondered about its why, how and what. When some vital information about the monster was revealed my curiosity quickly turned to ‘I no longer want to read this book’ and I would have DNF’ed at this point if I hadn’t committed to reviewing it.

The monster had been grooming Noah since he was six years old. This meant that when they eventually began having sex (apparently fairly regularly), my brain immediately went to ‘ewww!’ and I felt decidedly icky reading about it. If these scenes had involved a female child and male monster/adult, there would likely be an uproar and I don’t see why it should be any less abhorrent because the genders have been switched here. Thankfully, this is eventually called out for what it was by a minor character. Briefly.

Then there was Sydney, who thought she was having a relationship with a man, but there was a huge power imbalance as he was her teacher. Depending on where you live, legally this may or may not be called statutory rape, but even if it isn’t the power balance alone is enough to make alarm bells echo in my head. This whole thing is effectively silenced. Noah keeps the secret. Sydney gets put out that her ‘relationship’ is over. It’s never called out for what is really is. Even near the end of the book it’s described as a man who fell in love with a teenager.

I acknowledge that my experience of sexual assault could be colouring my perceptions of both Noah and Sydney’s experiences to a certain degree, but I still can’t imagine ever being okay with either situation. I do need to say that the minor character naming Noah’s experience redeemed that part of the narrative for me to an extent, although it will never be anything but icky to me. Sydney didn’t have anyone dismantling the truth she’d lived with and that wound up tainting some of my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

“It’s seen us. It has our scent.”

While I don’t generally have a problem with endings where the bows aren’t all tied, I did want to know more about the City and the history of the monsters. I was fine with not knowing exactly what was next for some of the human characters, although I could see the way the story resolved for Noah a mile off.

Loss, grief and the experiences that haunt us are central to this book. In exploring those through Noah’s story, the horror in part becomes about the parts of yourself that you hide and those that feed on your pain. I didn’t have to work at all to get into this book and the characters became real almost immediately. It wasn’t the horror I was expecting but I was sucked in and am interested in reading more books by this author.

“Noah, there is no such thing as a happy ending. There are only good stopping places.”

Content warnings include mention of abortion, cancer, death of loved ones, grooming and sexual assault, homophobia, mental health, suicidal ideation, attempted suicide and death by suicide.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Noah Turner’s family are haunted by monsters that are all too real, strange creatures that visit them all: His bookish mother Margaret; Lovecraft-obsessed father Harry; eldest sister Sydney, born for the spotlight; the brilliant but awkward Eunice, a gifted writer and storyteller – the Turners each face their demons alone.

When his terminally-ill father becomes obsessed with the construction of an elaborate haunted house – the Wandering Dark – the family grant his last wish, creating themselves a legacy, and a new family business in their grief. But families don’t talk about the important things, and they try to shield baby Noah from horrors, both staged and real.

As the family falls apart, fighting demons of poverty, loss and sickness, the real monsters grow ever closer. Unbeknownst to them, Noah is being visited by a wolfish beast with glowing orange eyes. Noah is not the first of the Turners to meet the monster, but he is the first to let it into his room …

Tomb of Gods – Brian Moreland

Spoilers Ahead!

“We are standing at the threshold of one of life’s great mysteries”

Dr Harlan Riley hadn’t been the same since he was found “wandering the desert southeast of Cairo”. Scars covered his body and he alternated between speaking an unknown language and uttering cryptic warnings. It is five months months after his death, in March 1937, when a team of British archaeologists find Nebenteru’s tomb, whose secrets Harlan took to the grave.

I have witnessed miracles. Nightmares. Forgotten realms.

Leading the team is Dr Nathan Trummel. His own personal team is made up of assistant, Piper, blind psychic, Dyfan, and bodyguard, Aiden Gosswick. They are joined by mercenaries, Sergeant Dan Vickers and Corporal Teddy Quig, and a guard, Corporal Rex Sykes. 

An Egyptian guide, Bakari Neseem, an American photographer on assignment for National Geographic, Caleb Beckett, and a number of labourers, archaeologists and students round out the team. With this many volunteers signing up to enter the final resting place for an unknown number of explorers, it’s fairly certain the pharaoh’s tomb is likely to become many of theirs.

Late to the party is Imogen, an expert in Egyptian mythology and Harlan’s granddaughter. Raised by Harlan and his sidekick on expeditions when she was a child, she’s likely to be quite useful in navigating the potential pitfalls ahead.

“Damned are we who enter the abyss.”

Once the bloodbath got under way the story went in a direction I hadn’t expected. The world building was extensive and it often felt like I was walking alongside the team, or perhaps somewhere closer to the middle of the group so whatever was coming next would get them first. 

Peoples’ true natures rose to the surface and tensions were high as the explorers faced their demons, and I’m sure the characters’ blood pressures increased each time they noticed sentences that commenced with:

Twelve explorers

All nine explorers

The eight explorers

I couldn’t help seeing parallels between Imogen searching her grandfather’s diary for clues and Indiana Jones using Henry’s diary to find the Holy Grail.

I grew up sharing my Nan’s love of Egyptology and know she would have loved this book. The way the mythology was injected into the storyline made me appreciate how much time the author must have spent researching it and had me Googling some unfamiliar names to figure out if they originated from history or the author’s imagination. When the lines between reality and fiction get blurry I know an author has well and truly sucked me in.

I had two main niggles:

  • The way the explorers made their way through the various gates was repetitive at times.
  • I felt the epilogue was unnecessary and its contents frustrated me. The chapter prior to this provided a natural end to the story for me and I wish it had concluded there.

“Something’s coming.”

Content warnings include death by suicide, murder, self harm, suicidal ideation, torture and war crimes.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Deep inside the tomb exists a hidden world of wonder and terror. 

In 1935, British archaeologists vanished inside an Egyptian cave. A year later, one man returned covered in mysterious scars. 

Egyptologist Imogen Riley desperately wants to know what happened to the ill-fated expedition led by her grandfather. On a quest for answers, she joins a team of archeologists and soldiers in Egypt. Inside a mountain tomb, they’ve found a technologically advanced relic and a maze of tunnels. Dr. Nathan Trummel believes this tomb leads to the most guarded secrets of the pharaohs. When the explorers venture deep into the caves, they discover a hidden world of wonder and terror.

Someone to Kiss My Scars – Brooke Skipstone

Spoilers Ahead!

Before I tell you anything else, I want you to know there are a significant amount of 5 star reviews for this book and would encourage you to check some of those out before deciding whether this is the book for you.

“There are a lot of things I wish I didn’t remember.”

This could well be the most triggering book I have ever read. I knew before I began that sexual assault would be addressed but I read a lot of books that include content of that nature so I thought I’d be okay. I never expected there would be such consistently graphic content. I don’t think for a moment that the author intended any of the scenes to be gratuitous but it felt at times like I was reading a Virginia Andrews novel.

If there’s been more light included in the story to help counter the overwhelming darkness I might have been okay. Instead I felt more and more weighed down by story after story of trauma. Your response may be different to mine and you may be okay after reading this, but if you’re a survivor of sexual assault, please be safe while reading.

Why was his brain assaulted by other people’s stories when he could remember nothing of his own?

Hunter can take bad memories away from other people but each memory he deletes from them adds to his own burden. Given how their traumas are both related to sexual assault and that they’re best friends, I had trouble believing Jazz could so easily give her memories to Hunter.

While I definitely understand the desire to erase traumatic memories, it still felt selfish of Jazz to ease her burden by heaping it instead on someone she cared about. Hunter doesn’t feel the way I do about this. I didn’t want Jazz silenced; I wanted her to be able to share her story with someone. My only problem with this was the choice to delete memories you don’t want by adding to the trauma of another person.

I balked and very nearly threw my Kindle across the room when a victim of child sexual abuse described their perpetrator as seducing them.

I wanted to know more about Dr Ru and his ‘treatments’, particularly how many other potential Hunters there are wandering around and if the side effects of the treatment differ between patients.

I was interested in spending more time exploring the changes that took place in people when their traumatic memories were removed and wanted to know the long term effects Hunter would experience by overloading his mind with other peoples’ trauma.

Content warnings include mentions of [take a huge breath here …] abortion, alcoholism, child pornography, death by suicide, domestic violence, eating disorder, fat shaming, homophobia, human trafficking, incest, mental illness, murder, paedophilia, prostitution, scientific experimentation on animals (worms), school shooting, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and attempts.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Hunter needs to remember. Jazz needs to forget. They need each other to heal in this teen thriller of survivor love.

Hunter’s past is a mystery to him, erased by a doctor at the direction of his father. But memories of the secret trauma begin to surface when Hunter sees other people’s memories – visions invading his mind with stories of abuse, teen self-mutilation, rape, and forbidden sex.

His best friend Jazz has dark and disturbing memories of her own that she hides behind her sass and wit. Hunter discovers he can rescue the victims, even though he risks adding their suffering to his own.

Hunter and Jazz kiss each other’s scars and form a bond of empathy no two teens should ever need.

The House of Hidden Wonders – Sharon Gosling

Spoilers Ahead!

Zinnie is fiercely protective of Sadie and Nell, her sisters. Their home in Old Edinburgh is dark, dirty and underground but Zinnie is proud of it. At least she’s been able to keep her family together. She doesn’t believe the talk in the Close about the ghost.

“Can’t stay down there no more. Not with that spirit abroad. Vicious, she is. Evil.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, who is currently a medical student at the Royal Infirmary, pays Zinnie to do jobs for him. He is currently investigating a mystery that not even the local authorities have been able to solve.

“More subterfuge? How perfectly wonderful!”

I loved Zinnie. She’s headstrong, resilient and intelligent. Her loyalty to her sisters and ingenuity in finding ways to provide for them impressed me. She’s the kind of person you want on your side. I didn’t feel like I got to know Zinnie’s sisters, Sadie and Nell, that well. Although I know facts about each of them, this was really Zinnie’s story.

Along the way, Zinnie meets an explorer and doctor who are both intelligent, independent and female. I really liked the inclusion of women who were very much ahead of their time.

I’m not usually much of a fan of the inclusion of historical figures in fiction so I was initially hesitant when I encountered Arthur Conan Doyle. The author’s historical note at the end of the book helped me correlate some elements of his character with his life. I found the information about Doctor Sophia Jex-Blake particularly interesting, as I hadn’t heard of her before.

With a “terrible, cruel man” with cronies, a tortoise named Algernon, curiosities from around the world and mysteries to solve, including ’the Mystery of the Severed Ears’, this book went in a different direction than I was expecting. The prologue had me anticipating supernatural spookiness; however, the focus was more on solving mysteries and the importance of family and being there for the ones we love.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Zinnie and her sisters live in the murky tunnels beneath Edinburgh’s Old Town. They keep out of the way of the authorities and remain undetected. Until, that is, rumours of a ghost bring unwanted visitors into the caverns they call home. Among them, a young Arthur Conan Doyle, keen to investigate, and MacDuff, the shady owner of Edinburgh’s newest attraction, the House of Wonders.

Caught up in a world of intrigue and adventure, Zinnie seeks answers. But how can she discover what secrets lie in the House of Wonders while also protecting the sisters she holds so dear?