Once there was an engaging fantasy that enthralled readers worldwide…and now we have a new contender. This imaginative tale with an intricate murder plot will leave readers wanting more.

High school sophomore, Marjan, is dealing with way too much. After her father was murdered she’s having to run his veterinary practice which is on the brink of going out of business. Of course there’s also school adding to her list of responsibilities.

Things get real interesting when a visitor reveals that her dad was no ordinary vet. He in fact cared for mythical beasts all over the world, but now Marjan will be taking his place. Her knowledge only goes so far as being beside her father when he took care of regular pets.

She’s thrust into a world hidden to most everyone else. Magical creatures do indeed exist and they are captured, bought and sold in a secret network. Marjan has a connection with each one and seems to know what to do when called away to help one that is sick or injured. Creatures like a unicorn, griffon, and a fox with nine tails to name a few. There are even more surprises when she goes to the hidden estate of Horatio Pendergast who has dozens of these animals stored in underground cells.

Marjan is now having to juggle responsibilities of a double life. Her friends at school are asking a lot of questions she can’t answer. There’s also a private investigator helping Marjan find out who killed her father- a truth tied to a life ending danger humans and beasts could face.

I can’t say much more in order to keep the surprises for readers. There is one question being asked about ONCE THERE WAS as to whether it is MG or YA. The teasers about the book claim it is for “All Ages” or (10 and up). I disagree. The main character is 15 and the hardback edition tops out a a whopping 416 pages of a very involved plot. Her father’s murder is only the first death and the creatures are not the kind you put on your lap to cuddle. There’s also the subject of (as a neighbor parent always asks): “Are there any cuss words?” I did count maybe 10-12 instances but none above what you would find in a PG-13 rated movie. So in conclusion I’d reserve this one for middle school and up, about ages 12- adult.

If this is for you then be prepared for an unforgettable magical journey.


  1. As I got a quarter of the way through the story, my first thought was this would make a great movie. Sure enough Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment picked up the screen rights to develop a future big screen film.
  2. Marjan’s emotional first person narration are interspersed with chapters covering the background of how these beasts came into our world, based on the stories her father told her as a young girl. Brings the plot a much deeper meaning.
  3. Marjan’s connection with new friend, Sebastian, a British boy who grew up with a griffon, makes for a wonderful character arc for both.
  4. The story teaches about respect for every human and living creature in a very creative way.
  5. The writing is lyrical at times and oh so good. Quite the achievement for a debut novel.


I grew up in northern California in a house on the slope of a forested ravine, with my parents, my Iranian grandmother, and my younger brother. My earliest creative influences were the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, and Tom McGowen’s Encyclopedia of Legendary Creatures.

After I finished college, I spent twenty years working in media. I produced Emmy-nominated television, wrote short stories, comic books, and games, and designed conversational and voice interface experiences.

Now, I live with my family on the slope of a forested ravine in northern California, and think about monsters and legendary creatures.

Kiyash Monsef Author Website



About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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5 Responses to ONCE THERE WAS

  1. Sounds a great story, and wonderful premise – who wouldn’t like to read about fabulous animals? – but also seems to have a strong plot too, and I’m intrigued about the legends! Added to my TBR – thanks for sharing (and for the age tip!)

  2. schmelzb says:

    What an imagination this author has! You answered all my questions. As an aside, Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS books are often found in elementary school libraries and I find the readership is mostly upper MG.
    Thank you for sharing your review. Beth Schmelzer

  3. I love contemporary fantasies, and this sounds like a good one. I agree that this is upper MG or YA. I just added it to my library’s wishlist. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. I love the sound of this book. It reminds me a teeny bit of the Zoey and Sassafras books, though for older readers and a little darker. I’m adding this to my reading list and keeping it in mind for my daughter in future. She loves Zoey and Sassafras right now.

  5. Brenda says:

    Sounds like an interesting book. I’m adding this to my TBR as well. Happy MMGM have a lovely week.

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