Nightmare Fuel – Nina Nesseth

“Horror films don’t create fear. They release it.”

Wes Craven

As a kid, my approach for all things scary looked very much like ‘if my hands are over my eyes, it doesn’t exist’. I was sure that Gremlins were going to invade the car when my parents decided that taking me to the drive-in to watch it for the first time would be fun. I knew with absolute certainty that Bruce the shark had the ability to magically pixelate himself so he’d be able to come through the shower head in teensy tiny pieces, only to reform and attack me where I stood. Don’t even get me started on the library ghost from Ghostbusters.

I’ve always wondered how some of the movies that terrified me as a kid have become some of my all time favourites, how a kid whose imagination was able to make every scary scene so much worse than it really was grew up to love horror.

This book, conveniently combining the many subgenres of horror that I love (I’m an Enthusiastic Horror User with some Supernatural Horror User thrown in there) with neuroscience, which I always want to learn more about.

I learned how we “collaborate with horror films to create tension and build our own fear”. There were examples of how characters attempt to defend themselves against the threat of monsters, human and non-human, through fight, flight, freeze and fawn.

Humans are also extra receptive to things appearing in our peripheral vision. In fact, we may even be faster at reacting to threats that appear in our peripheral vision than to threats that appear right front of our faces.

The author takes on jump scares, why we wind up laughing after a scene scares us, how what has scared us over time has changed what horror looks like on the screen, the role sound (and its absence) plays in freaking us out and why rewatches don’t pack the punch of the first time.

I’m still not overly clear how a self proclaimed scaredy cat transformed into someone who can’t get enough horror but I now know why my go to method for surviving scary scenes as a kid made everything scarier.

Studies have concluded that closing your eyes against a scary scene is ineffective, because you can still hear what’s going on – and whatever images your brain conjures up will probably be even scarier than the scene you’re avoiding.

I loved how all of the science and the discussion surrounding studies and experiments was brought back to examples of specific characters or scenes in specific horror movies. There’s a seriously bingeworthy list of movies mentioned throughout the book at the end. I need to rewatch some of these after reading about them and, happily, I learned of some movies I’ve never seen that I now absolutely have to.

There are some pretty major spoilers revealed throughout the course of the book but, let’s face it, if you haven’t already seen a fairly large percentage of the movies mentioned, you probably wouldn’t be picking up this book in the first place.

Whether you’re into a specific subgenre of horror, including slashers, creature features, body horror, transformation horror, torture horror, revenge films and psychological horror, of if you’re an all rounder like me, there’s something here for you.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth is a pop-science look at fear, how and why horror films get under our skin, and why we keep coming back for more.

Do you like scary movies?
Have you ever wondered why?

Nina Nesseth knows what scares you. She also knows why.

In Nightmare Fuel, Nesseth explores the strange and often unexpected science of fear through the lenses of psychology and physiology. How do horror films get under our skin? What about them keeps us up at night, even days later? And why do we keep coming back for more?

Horror films promise an experience: fear. From monsters that hide in plain sight to tension-building scores, every aspect of a horror film is crafted to make your skin crawl. But how exactly do filmmakers pull this off? The truth is, there’s more to it than just loud noises and creepy images.

With the affection of a true horror fan and the critical analysis of a scientist, Nesseth explains how audiences engage horror with both their brains and bodies, and teases apart the elements that make horror films tick. Nightmare Fuel covers everything from jump scares to creature features, serial killers to the undead, and the fears that stick around to those that fade over time.

With in-depth discussions and spotlight features of some of horror’s most popular films – from classics like The Exorcist to modern hits like Hereditary – and interviews with directors, film editors, composers, and horror academics, Nightmare Fuel is a deep dive into the science of fear, a celebration of the genre, and a survival guide for going to bed after the credits roll.

Fractured Fables #1: A Spindle Splintered – Alix E. Harrow

Once upon a time, Lady Zinnia of Ohio met Princess Primrose of Perceforest and together they fucked with the fairytale.

Zinnia has spent her entire life living with the fact that she’s dying. On the night of her twenty-first birthday, which statistically will be her last, Zinnia finally finds a use for her impractical degree after accidentally multiversing her way into Princess Primrose’s story. Together these Sleeping Beauties plan to bend the arcs of their narratives.

I don’t know about the moral arc of the universe, but our arcs sure as hell don’t bend toward justice.

Unless we change them. Unless we grab our narratives by the ear and drag them kicking and screaming toward better endings. Maybe the universe doesn’t naturally bend toward justice either; maybe it’s only the weight of hands and hearts pulling it true, inch by stubborn inch.

I fell in love with this Spider-Verse Sleeping Beauty the first time I read it but my own once upon a time rudely interrupted me before I could wrangle my thoughts into sentences. I almost always plan to reread books when the release of their sequel is imminent and this time I actually followed through!

Rereading this novella today has only deepened my love for it. It was a timely reminder that no matter what your once upon a time looks like, your choices have the power to shape your ever after.

“I chose a different story for myself, a better one.”

I’m still convinced that Charm, Zinnia’s best friend, needs to be in charge of every PowerPoint presentation until the end of time.

No matter what’s going on in my life when I begin reading something Alix has written, I know I’ll feel better afterwards. What that better looks like might change slightly with each new read but invariably there’ll be hope and renewed determination to bend my own arc. And if my swear to non-swear ratio runs a tad higher in the days following the read, then all the better.

I think: oh, shit. I say, “Oh, shit.”

My preorder of A Mirror Mended arrived while I was finishing this reread and I can’t decide how to feel about starting it. I’ve waited for so long to see how this duology ends but therein lies the rub. Duology means both yay, there’s another one! and dammit, there won’t be another one after that.

While I ponder whether to power through the next one as quickly as possible to get my fix or drag it out to make it last, I’ll leave you with some fairytale wishes:

May fortune gift you a forever friend like Charm.

May you have the courage to love and be loved.

May help always come swiftly when you ask.

May your ever after outshine your once upon a time.

May you always have cause to speak in exclamation points!

Content warnings include mention of sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

Edinburgh Nights #2: Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments – T.L. Huchu

Being a ghostalker never exactly brought in the big bucks and “certain shenanigans which I daren’t recall saw that business go kaput.” But now Ropa is seeing dollar signs. She’s just scored an apprenticeship at the General Discoveries Department with her mentor, Sir Callander. Fancy.

Only, before she even begins, her apprenticeship is downgraded to an unpaid internship. Dammit!

Ropa’s not one to sit around waiting for the money to find her. There’s some mysterious goings on at the appropriately named Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments, the clinic where Priya, Ropa’s friend, works. Max Wu, a student from the Edinburgh School, has an illness of unknown origin and Ropa’s particularly skill set is just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Snooping around’s my thing, and if the kid’s parents pay well, then that’s me sorted’ 

In between scoffing as many Jammie Dodgers as she can get her hands on, Ropa begins her investigation. It involves the Monks of the Misty Order and the One Above All, and takes her all over Edinburgh, from a school and a bank to a whole other realm. Ropa may not have a fancy magical education but she has street smarts, River (her vulpine companion) and a scarf called Cruickshank.

While she’s tough as nails on the outside, Ropa’s heart goes all mushy when she thinks about her family. 

Me, Gran and Izwi. That’s my real fortune, and I wouldn’t place it in any bank in the world, ‘cause I keep it right here in a vault in my heart. 

Come to think of it, this family makes me a bit mushy too. I also love Ropa’s friends: Priya, who has some brilliant moves, and Jomo, who works in the Library.

Now, you know this series had me at ‘library’. This one keeps getting better and better. The location is fantastic, the card system is unique and the books really want you to read them. 

‘I will meet you at the Library.’ 

I am enjoying getting to witness how magic works in Ropa’s world but it very much feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. I’m looking forward to seeing how the new developments with Gran and Izwi unfold and want to spend more time with the Hamster Squad. Obviously I also need to learn more about the Library of the Dead.

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I don’t think anything in life quite prepares you for the experience of trying to load a stiff onto a tricycle hearse on a hot summer’s night in Edinburgh, that’s for sure. 

Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor for the opportunity to read this book. Bring on book 3!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ropa Moyo’s ghostalking practice has tanked, desperate for money to pay bills and look after her family she reluctantly accepts a job to look into the history of a coma patient receiving treatment at the magical private hospital Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments. The patient is a teenage schoolboy called Max Wu, and healers at the hospital are baffled by the illness which has confounded medicine and magic.

Ropa’s investigation leads her to the Edinburgh Ordinary School for Boys, one of only the four registered schools for magic in the whole of Scotland (the oldest and only one that remains closed to female students).

But the headmaster there is hiding something and as more students succumb Ropa learns that a long-dormant and malevolent entity has once again taken hold in this world.

She sets off to track the current host for this spirit and try to stop it before other lives are endangered.

Wayward Children #7: Where the Drowned Girls Go – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

That strange noise you’re hearing? That’s what a contented sigh mixed with an undercurrent of panic sounds like. It’s January so that means I’ve been able to hang out with some Wayward Children, some I already knew and others I’ve just met. Also, it’s January so I now have to wait until the calendar winds its way through all of the other months and says ‘January’ again before I’m allowed to go on my next quest. Yeah, I know. 

No solicitation. No visitors.
No quests. 

In this not-a-quest, we follow Cora, who we already know and love. Cora, who travelled to the Trenches and has quite possibly the best hair ever as a result, broke my heart all over again in this novella. Haunted by her time in the Moors, Cora comes to the very logical but devastating conclusion that if she can only find a way to forget, she will be safe from the Drowned Gods. 

And everyone knew that things from the other side of the door could absolutely leak through into this reality. 

Cora’s decision takes her away from my beloved Eleanor to the Whitethorn Institute, a place where care is weaponised. There we meet more Waywards, their experience of reentry into this world nothing like those we’ve seen so far. I spent much of this book feeling sad and angry and powerless, but I know Waywards and they’re a plucky bunch so hope is never too far away, even when the circumstances look, sound and, dare I say, taste dire.

I love every world I’ve visited so far and every one I’ve heard about in passing. There’s always a part of me, though, that hopes this will be the story of my door, that when I read it I’ll recognise its shape and it will finally open to me. I already know I’m sure, even if my world eventually spits me back out into this one. I’m going to keep believing and it will find me. 

The closest I’ve come to finding my door came in this book, explored in only four sentences. The never ending Halloween of Emily’s world sounded right up my alley and I’m hoping to get to explore it further in a future book.

As always, I’m obsessed with Rovina Cai’s illustrations. I’m including two of the ones from this novella here so you can drool over them as well and anticipate the awesomeness of this read if you haven’t been there, done that yet. 

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While I’m still patiently waiting for the time when Seanan is sure enough to share Kade’s story with us, I’m also still hoping to visit Eleanor’s world, as well as those of the nameless girl and one of the matrons. 

“The doors never completely leave us.” 

Content warnings include bullying, domestic abuse, fat shaming and a suicide attempt.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.

It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

And it isn’t as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming …

The Extraordinaries #2: Flash Fire – T.J. Klune

“Superhero team-up,” Nick breathed. “It’s like this is a sequel! Oh my god. Yes. Yes.”

I’ve been waiting (not very patiently, mind you) for this sequel for so long! The Extraordinaries was the queer superhero book I didn’t realise I needed until I began reading it. If you haven’t read it yet, please rectify that immediately.

Nick, our main character, has ADHD, panic attacks and an extraordinarily high adorability/cluelessness quotient. I fell in love with him as soon as I met him. His best friend and now boyfriend, Seth, is just as adorable but not clueless, although he does have a lot of abs. Their friends, Jazz and Gibby, round out the bunch and I can’t think of a group of friends I want to claim as my own any more than these four. I could read an entire book where Team Pyro Storm just sit around chatting.

With the timing of the first book’s publication and the subsequent feedback the author received at the time, I’d been expecting police brutality and corruption to be explored in more depth in this sequel. You can read what the author has to say about this here.

At times it felt like it was left to Gibby and her parents to explain things to the white characters. However, Nick showed maturity in the way that he reassessed what he had grown up believing about the police, still loving his father but trying to come to terms with his actions and those of other members of the police force. Nick’s father must also reevaluate his past behaviour and figure out what being accountable looks like.

“You’ve seemed to have done an about-face with the whole cop thing.”

Police brutality and corruption were addressed throughout the book and I’m glad that they were, although it definitely changed the tone of the book. The smile that you couldn’t wipe off my face during the first book and the first few chapters of the sequel (so many embarrassing sexual conversations), where everything felt light and playful, turned into a heaviness that weighed on me for most of the rest of the book.

Thank goodness for Nick, who remains adorable. I love the way his brain works. I love that he’s open to new ideas. I love how fiercely protective he is of the people he loves. I even love the “conversational whiplash”; I may love that about him most of all.

The banter between Nick, Seth, Jazz and Gibby is everything and each time they are together I melt a little bit. My romantiphobia fades away whenever Nick and Seth or Jazz and Gibby get all lovey-dovey. The friendship dynamics of Team Pyro Storm is pretty much everything you need in your life.

“We stand together,” Nick reminded him, “so we don’t have to struggle apart. You’re not alone in this, okay?”

Because this is a sequel, we have to discuss the need for superhero costume upgrades, but needles are very pointy and it’s all a lot of effort. We’re reminded that if you don’t shout the name of the move you’re doing, then you’re not fighting right.

“Backflip of Chaos!”

We’re introduced to new Extraordinaries! We’re not entirely sure if they’re on our side or not.

“What the hell,” Nick muttered. “What’s trying to kill us now? You think it’s some new Extraordinary villain bent on—”

I particularly loved Miss Conduct but need to spend much more time with them. I need their entire backstory ASAP.

There are secrets (so many secrets) and with secrets come their unravelling. The reveal at the end of the first book is explored in a way that I loved. Even though it took Nick a lot longer than I’d hope to figure it all out, I really appreciated that it wasn’t a success only journey for him. There’s also a reveal at the end of this book but I’m not entirely sure I’m on board with this development, even though I’m definitely intrigued; I’ll wait until I read the third book to decide.

Bring on some more Extraordinaries!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Teen for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nick landed himself the superhero boyfriend of his dreams, but with new heroes arriving in Nova City it’s up to Nick and his friends to determine who is virtuous and who is villainous. Which is a lot to handle for a guy who just wants to finish his self-insert bakery AU fanfic.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day – Seanan McGuire

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

The living are a mystery to me. I didn’t spend enough time as one of them.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day was my second ever Seanan McGuire read and it’s just become my first Seanan reread. It also has the distinction of being the only book on my very long list of favourites that, if you were to ask me its name when it wasn’t sitting right in front of me, chances are that I would fail miserably in my attempt to arrange the D’s in the correct order.

Our main character is Jenna, a ghost who volunteers for a suicide prevention hotline, and that right there is the book I didn’t know I needed to read until I learned of its existence.

Jenna’s sister, Patty, died by suicide in 1972. Jenna’s death, shortly after her sister’s, was accidental. Because Patty died when she was supposed to, she bypassed the ghost stage, moving straight on to whatever comes after death. Jenna died before her time so she will remain on earth as a ghost until when she should have died. Except time works differently for ghosts – they can both give and take time from the living.

The guilt Jenna feels over not seeing the signs that led to her sister’s death has resulted in her feeling like she needs to earn her death, only counting the minutes where she’s confident she’s made a positive impact on someone’s life.

I started earning the time I take, justifying it with my actions before I pull it into myself.

I would have been content if that was the entire story, but it’s not. There’s also witches, magic and mysteriously disappearing ghosts. Oh, and a bunch of “feline senior citizens” and cornfields, because this is a Seanan McGuire book, in case you’d forgotten.

If my tear ducts hadn’t suddenly taken a vacation, the dedication alone would have been enough to activate them.

For everyone who has been tempted to go, and has found the strength to stay. I will see you all tomorrow.

Suicide and suicidal ideation can be difficult enough topics to even broach, let alone do right with the sensitivity they deserve. I feel like Seanan has done a really good job here, in the phone call we get to listen in on, in the grief and guilt that Patty’s family experience and the responsibility Jenna feels for not anticipating and preventing her sister’s death.

I’ve paid off a fraction of my debt I owe to Patty, for not hearing the things she never said to me.

It took a little while for me to get my head around how ghost time works but by the time I figured it out, something had happened that has so far always happened when I’ve read a Seanan book: I believed. The characters and the rules that apply in the New York they’re living in felt real to me, and that’s part of Seanan’s magic as far as I’m concerned.

I was entirely satisfied with this story fitting inside a novella during my first read but I’ve gotten greedy since then. I wanted more ghosts, more witches, and more time with those I was introduced to. I could read entire books dedicated to the stories Sophie, Brenda and Delia have to tell.

My reread has raised some questions that my reader’s bliss hid from me during my first read. That was the read that essentially consisted of me marvelling at my good fortune, having so recently discovered a new favourite author.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The question marks above my head did not interfere with my enjoyment of this novella. I still love it to bits. Don’t be surprised if you see me reading it a third time.

Major Spoilers Ahead: Continue reading at your own risk.

It’s mentioned late in the story that

“Ghosts don’t just happen. Someone has to make them. That’s why we all died so early, and why so many of us had freak accidents.”

The person or people or witch or witches who make the ghosts are never revealed. Neither are their motives. Maybe it’s to make sure places are anchored or maybe it’s to make sure time can still be given and taken. The most likely reason to make new ghosts would be to trap them inside mirrors but Jenna has been living her life after death for over forty years mirror free. The not knowing for sure isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things but I would have liked to have at least met whoever it was that was making the ghosts so I could interrogate them myself.

The witch who imprisons almost every ghost in New York must have done a massive amount of research and spent more time than I can fathom collecting a mirror that would work on each individual ghost. It doesn’t say how many ghosts are spending this portion of their lives after death in New York but I’m almost positive that you couldn’t fit all of their mirrors in a supply room.

Content warnings include death by suicide (including the method used).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Wayward Children #6: Across the Green Grass Fields – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

“There’s no right way to be a girl.”

It’s Seanan McGuire. It’s Wayward Children. I will always be sure.

At ten, Regan has already seen what can happen to girls when they’re different. She’s determined to fit in; “strange was something to be feared and avoided above all else in the vicious political landscape of the playground”.

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In the Hooflands, Regan comes across all manner of hooved beings including centaurs, unicorns and kelpies. There she is told that it’s her destiny to save this world, even though she doesn’t believe in destiny. She finds acceptance and love with her found family, giving her the freedom to be who she is, rather than having to constrain herself to fit inside the box of other people’s expectations.

This series has the diversity that other series can only dream of and I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Regan is intersex. I trust Seanan to write with the sensitivity her characters deserve and I really felt like I got a sense of what it was like for Regan when she learned her parents had kept this a secret for so long. I wanted to give her parents a bear hug for the way they explained this to her and for their love of their daughter in general.

“There was nothing wrong with you then, and there’s nothing wrong with you now. You are the way nature intended you to be. Horse-crazy and not very interested in math and too fond of cauliflower for any ten-year-old girl.”

Every Heart a Doorway is my favourite book and I always dread having to wait an entire year to get my next Wayward Children fix. I initially wasn’t quite as excited about this book, though, mostly because I’ve been chomping at the bit to read so many Waywards’ stories since the first book and this one was going to introduce me to someone brand new. Then there’s the fact that I bypassed the young girl horse phase entirely and was worried that may cause me to fail to connect with Regan.

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I loved Regan, though, and Chicory, the friend she always deserved. But it was Gristle and Zephyr who stole my heart and I only wish they had been given more page time because they (particularly Gristle) were brilliant!

Unlike previous books in this series I didn’t really feel the urgency of Regan’s quest and there was a time during the middle of her story it seemed like I was treading water, waiting for the inevitable. However, the writing was still gorgeous and I hope Regan finds her way into a future quest, through the continuation of her story or by finding herself at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children.

“Feel up to an adventure, human Regan?”

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I am already anxiously waiting for Where the Drowned Girls Go.

Content warnings include bullying and intersexphobia.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to “Be Sure” before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines – a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

Edinburgh Nights #1: The Library of the Dead – T.L. Huchu

Fourteen year old Ropa lives with her Gran and younger sister, Izwi. She’s got green dreadlocks, black lipstick and a sizeable chip on her shoulder. She’s also a ghostalker.

Me personally, I find the whole haunting business a bit pathetic.

But a girl’s got to pay the bills, so Ropa delivers messages from ghosts to their loved ones. Things have gotten a bit complicated recently because a particular ghost refuses to play by the terms and conditions. Their son is missing and they can’t move on until they know he’s okay. The problem is, this ghost doesn’t have any money and Ropa isn’t in the business of handing out charity.

I had trouble connecting with Ropa when I first met her. She is both book and street smart, but her book smarts can appear at odds with the slang and crass language she uses at times. Life hasn’t been easy for Ropa and as a result she’s built a fairly impenetrable wall around her. She softens when she’s around her family and you get to see another side of her when she’s with her friends but in the beginning she came across as someone I didn’t think I’d be able to get to know.

‘Meh. Tough world, get with the program.’

This book has ghosts, magic and a mysterious library, which is a pretty happy trifecta in my eyes. I met plenty of ghosts and got a taste of the magic that exists in Ropa’s Edinburgh but the reality of this book diverged from my expectations at times.

I had hoped to spend a great deal more time in the library. Hopefully it will be given more page time as the series progresses. The mystery was more prominent than I’d expected but I got sucked into it quite quickly. Although my expectations didn’t entirely line up with reality, I ended up really enjoying this read (once I got used to Ropa’s abrasiveness).

There are some characters I took to immediately and others that I don’t feel I know well enough to be able to form a strong opinion about yet. I loved Gran and look forward to getting to know her more as the series progresses. She’s someone who brings warmth and wisdom.

‘It’s in the most trying times, when we ourselves have nothing, that we mustn’t forget there are higher virtues like compassion, kindness and solidarity. Doing something when it is hard, because it is the right thing to do, matters more than doing it when it’s easy.’

However, I didn’t get much of a sense of Izwi’s personality. I’m fairly certain Jomo will begin to feel like more than a means to an end in future books but so far he hasn’t made a huge impression on me. Making up for him was Priya, who’s fearless and fantastic. I can’t wait to hang out with her again.

Ropa’s world is quite dark and there’s hints about the “catastrophe” that shook things up, but I anticipate there is a lot more information to come. I wondered if pop culture no longer exists here as many of the references aren’t current, even now.

The mystery of this book is solved but there’s a lot more this world has to offer. I’m hoping future books will allow me to spend more time in the library, teach me more of its magic, introduce me to many more ghosts and give me a lot more Gran and Priya time.

Quote of the book:

‘I’m just getting to like you; don’t die stupidly on me now.’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When ghosts talk, she will listen …

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.

She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan …) as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets. And in the process, she discovers an occult library and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

Malus Domestica #2: I Come With Knives – S.A. Hunt

DNF @ 24%

I enjoyed the first book in this series so I’m disappointed that I can’t get into this one. Other reviewers have loved it so I feel like I’m missing out on something potentially wonderful.

I think this is either a case of it’s not you, it’s me, or it’s not the right book for me at the moment. Rather than continuing to struggle I’m going to set it aside for now.

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

Once Upon a Blurb

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets Joe Hill in S. A. Hunt’s I Come with Knives, a horror-tinged action-adventure about a punk YouTuber on a mission to hunt witches, one vid at a time.

Robin – now armed with new knowledge about mysterious demon terrorising her around town, the support of her friends, and the assistance of her old witch-hunter mentor – plots to confront the Lazenbury coven and destroy them once and for all.

Meanwhile, a dangerous serial killer only known as The Serpent is abducting and killing Blackfield residents. An elusive order of magicians known as the Dogs of Odysseus also show up with Robin in their sights.

Robin must handle these new threats on top of the menace from the Lazenbury coven, but a secret about Robin’s past may throw all of her plans into jeopardy.

Nevertheless She Persisted: Flash Fiction Project – A Tor.com Original

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

This book was my introduction to flash fiction. While I probably would have read this collection anyway, especially since it’s currently free to download here, it was the inclusion of a Seanan McGuire story that sealed the deal for me.

I usually find short story collections a bit hit and miss, and this quick read was at various times, ‘I love it!’, ‘It was okay’, and ‘What did I just read?!’ I’ve marked the ones I loved with 💜 and have included a short quote from each.

Our Faces, Radiant Sisters, Our Faces Full of Light! by Kameron Hurley 💜

They came to extinguish light, and hope. She was here to remind them they wouldn’t do it unchallenged.

God Product by Alyssa Wong

Caroline hated having been chosen by a small god, whose presence was so quiet that most people forgot she was there.

Alchemy by Carrie Vaughn 💜

(“You’ll never find what you’re looking for,” they told her. “Nevertheless,” she replied.)

Persephone by Seanan McGuire 💜

I wasn’t supposed to see that. I don’t believe anyone was supposed to see that.

Margot and Rosalind by Charlie Jane Anders

“Plus you start to ask questions, and the worst thing about questions is that sometimes, they have answers.”

Astronaut by Maria Dahvana Headley 💜

Miss Baker was on a mission to defy gravity.

More Than Nothing by Nisi Shawl

“But you ain’t gonna lemme keep you from doin magic. Is you?”

The Last of the Minotaur Wives by Brooke Bolander

Once you’ve been in the light for awhile, Blue finds, it’s hard as hell to willingly walk back into darkness.

The Jump Rope Rhyme by Jo Walton

She was warned, and explained at, and patronized But persisted still, against their lies, For you, the future, she in the past Persisted, to make things good at last.

Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar

A warning is the same as a threat. Television teaches this. Is that a threat / call it a warning. Call it by a different name, and it changes.

The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor by Catherynne M. Valente

When he was a young man, the Unquiet Emperor had banned questions, inquiries, curiosities, rhetoric, and finally question marks entirely, for such things were surely the source of all the mistrust and isolation in modern society.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Three short lines, fired over social media in response to questions of why Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the floor of the United States Senate, for daring to read aloud the words of Coretta Scott King. As this message was transmitted across the globe, it has become a galvanising cry for people of all genders in recognition of the struggles that women have faced throughout history.

Three short lines, which read as if they are the opening passage to an epic and ageless tale.

We have assembled this flash fiction collection featuring several of the best writers in SF/F today, including Seanan McGuire, Charlie Jane Anders, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jo Walton, Amal El-Mohtar, Catherynne M. Valente, Brooke Bolander, Alyssa Wong, Kameron Hurley, Nisi Shawl and Carrie Vaughn. Together these authors share unique visions of women inventing, playing, loving, surviving, and – of course – dreaming of themselves beyond their circumstances.