There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job – Kikuko Tsumura

Translator – Polly Barton

‘I’d like an easy job.’

I kept asked myself while I was reading whether I was enjoying this book or not and I still don’t have a clear answer. It’s an easy book to summarise: a 36 year old woman is looking for a new job, having experienced burnout in her previous one. Each of the book’s five parts describe one of the jobs she tries out in her quest to find a job that’s not really a job.

I wanted a job that was practically without substance, a job that sat on the borderline between being a job and not.

With a blurb that promised humour and made comparisons between this book and Convenience Store Woman, I had my hopes up. The funny bits, if they were there, must have gone straight over my head; no giggles, chuckles, or guffaws accompanied my reading.

I absolutely loved Convenience Store Woman and I can see why you might mention the two books in the same breath. Sort of. Both women are 36 and the focus of both stories is on their jobs but, while I loved the Smile Mart’s Keiko, I never really got a sense of this book’s cushy job seeker’s personality.

Whoever you were, there was a chance that you would end up wanting to run away from a job you had once believed in, that you would stray from the path you were on.

One of the parts seemed to be heading into magical realism territory but the others didn’t so I wasn’t quite sure whether I was seeing something in that part that wasn’t really there. This was a quick read for me but ultimately I don’t think it’s going to be a memorable one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Convenience Store Woman meets My Year of Rest and Relaxation in this strange, compelling, darkly funny tale of one woman’s search for meaning in the modern workplace.

A young woman walks into an employment agency and requests a job that has the following traits: it is close to her home, and it requires no reading, no writing – and ideally, very little thinking.

She is sent to a nondescript office building where she is tasked with watching the hidden-camera feed of an author suspected of storing contraband goods. But observing someone for hours on end can be so inconvenient and tiresome. How will she stay awake? When can she take delivery of her favourite brand of tea? And, perhaps more importantly – how did she find herself in this situation in the first place?

As she moves from job to job, writing bus adverts for shops that mysteriously disappear, and composing advice for rice cracker wrappers that generate thousands of devoted followers, it becomes increasingly apparent that she’s not searching for the easiest job at all, but something altogether more meaningful …

The Minders – John Marrs

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Click here to start your life again.

The most important thing I need to tell you about The Minders is that it is set in the same world as The One and The Passengers.

While you could technically read this book as a standalone, ginormous spoilers are included in this book about characters and events from the other books. Make sure you read them in publication order if you’re ever going to read more than one or you risk ruining your reading experience.

Now that we’ve seen firsthand the complications that can come from meeting your one true love and been chauffeured around by driverless cars, it’s time to turn out attention to classified information. Conspiracy theorists could only dream of gaining unrestricted access to everything their government has been hiding from them.

Due to very credible threats to national security, technology has been developed to hide these cover ups, secrets and misdirections in a brand new way – implanted into the heads of a select group of people.

We need to protect ourselves and make sure we are future proof. Our freedom depends upon it.

We follow the stories of five Minders:

Flick is really struggling as a result of the events that unfolded in The One and her connection with two of its characters.

Charlie has anxiety and is into conspiracy theories. This should be right up his alley.

Sinéad’s husband is a domestic abuser. If you happen to imagine a piano falling on his head while you’re reading, I won’t judge you.

Emilia only knows her name.

Like Flick, Bruno is also one of John Marrs’ secondary victims. He was personally impacted by the big action scene in The Passengers.

This was my fifth John Marrs read and the first one I could actually put down. I’m not entirely sure what the problem was but I didn’t connect with any of this book’s Marrs victims and wasn’t invested in the calamities they faced.

Maybe I wasn’t in the right headspace this week? Maybe it was because I didn’t get to spend a great deal of time seeing the characters living their lives before they became Minders? I don’t know, but because I’ve loved all of the others I’m going to classify this book as an anomaly and look forward to my next John Marrs read.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and self harm. There’s also a derogatory term used by an Echo that raised my hackles (this may not bother other readers but I felt like they could have gotten their point across without saying that specific word).

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Del Rey, an imprint of Random House UK, Cornerstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Five strangers guard our secrets. Only four can be trusted …

In the 21st century, information is king. But computers can be hacked and files can be broken into – so a unique government initiative has been born. Five ordinary people have been selected to become Minders – the latest weapon in thwarting cyberterrorism. Transformed by a revolutionary medical procedure, the country’s most classified information has been taken offline and turned into genetic code implanted inside their heads. 

Together, the five know every secret – the truth behind every government lie, conspiracy theory and cover up. In return, they’re given the chance to leave their problems behind and a blank slate to start their lives anew.

But not everyone should be trusted, especially when they each have secrets of their own they’ll do anything to protect …

Obama Biden Mysteries #1: Hope Never Dies – Andrew Shaffer

This book has been on my TBR pile for a very long time. I finally figured that with the election so close, it was the time to bite the bullet. After all, we all need some hope right now.

So, Obama and Biden as amateur sleuths. I thought this would be a bit of a giggle wrapped up in a whodunnit. While I didn’t mind the story, the laughs I’d been looking forward to didn’t show up. Sure, it had its moments but maybe my hopes were set too high.

I loved the concept. I loved the cover. I loved the image of Biden surviving being thrown out of a speeding train by hanging on with his fingertips. I wanted more scenes like that.

I can’t claim to be an expert on how Obama or Biden speak or act. However, so many times as I was reading I was thinking that there was no way they would have said or done whatever their character had just said or done. Yes, I know this book is fiction and not to be taken seriously.

I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book to begin with if it wasn’t for the promise of some Obama and Biden fun. It was an enjoyable read but I won’t be diving straight into the sequel.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s been several months since the 2016 presidential election, and “Uncle Joe” Biden is puttering around his house, grouting the tile in his master bathroom, feeling lost and adrift in an America that doesn’t make sense anymore.

But when his favourite Amtrak conductor dies in a suspicious accident, Joe feels a familiar desire to serve – and he leap into the role of amateur sleuth, with a little help from his old friend President Barack Obama (code name: Renegade). Together they’ll plumb the darkest depths of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

It’s OK Not to Be OK – Tina Rae

Illustrations – Jessica Smith

This is a good introduction to mental health for young readers. It provides basic information about some of the more common mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders. There are also sections on bullying and discrimination.

While encouraging readers to seek help from a trusted adult if they are struggling, there are also plenty of ideas to boost their own mental health. These include self care, diet, exercise, managing stress, challenging negative thoughts and mindfulness.

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Tips for parents and caregivers and lists of resources (apps, websites and helplines) are included at the end of the book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group – words & pictures for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s OK Not to Be OK acknowledges and explores common mental health disorders such as depression, eating disorders and anxiety. Get the low down on these issues, why they happen and discover ways of looking after mental health in our fast-moving world.

This book will help children and young people develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

How To Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual – Rebecca Burgess

When Rebecca was growing up they weren’t interested in talking about relationships and sex like the rest of their classmates. They didn’t understand why sex was such a big deal but assumed they’d “grow into” it when they got older.

They tried to have relationships but it just didn’t feel right. They thought that something must be wrong with them.

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It wasn’t until they were at university that they began to accept that being different was okay and that they didn’t have to pretend to be like everyone else.

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Rebecca’s story takes the reader from the bullying they experienced in childhood through to managing their mental health. Information about asexuality is scattered through the graphic novel, with insights into what relationships can look like for people who identify as asexual.

There was a greater focus on mental health than I had expected. I didn’t personally learn anything new about asexuality from the panels that provide information but they do give readers a good introduction. I anticipate that being able to follow Rebecca’s journey from struggling with their sexuality to their eventual acceptance of who they are will be helpful for readers who can relate to her experiences and provide new understanding for those who don’t understand asexuality.

There are resources at the end of Rebecca’s story. Because asexuality is so misunderstood I’m including them here so you can check them out for yourself.

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Content warnings include anxiety, bullying, emetophobia, OCD and mention of sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“When I was in school, everyone got to a certain age where they became interested in talking about only one thing: boys, girls and sex. Me though? I was only interested in comics.”

Growing up, Rebecca assumes sex is just a scary new thing they will ‘grow into’ as they gets older, but when they leaves school, starts working, and does grow up, they starts to wonder why they doesn’t want to have sex with other people.

In this brave, hilarious and empowering graphic memoir, we follow Rebecca as they navigate a culture obsessed with sex – from being bullied at school and trying to fit in with friends, to forcing themself into relationships and experiencing anxiety and OCD – before coming to understand and embrace their asexual identity.

Giving unparalleled insight into asexuality and asexual relationships, How To Be Ace shows the importance of learning to be happy and proud of who you are.

The Babysitter II – R.L. Stine

“Hi, Babes. I’m back.”

Jenny survived her last adventure in babysitting (barely) and she’s now in therapy (thank goodness!). She’s done with Chuck, who she was dating during the first book, but he’s not done with her. Chuck swings between joking around and angry and when she rejects him he responds by shouting at her, “threatening and cursing”. Jenny’s internal dialogue?

Poor Chuck.

So, it turns out that Jenny needs therapy for more than the whole almost dying thing. Some more therapy would probably give her some clarity about her decision to babysit again. Seriously, why, Jenny? Get a job at McDonald’s or something!

But Jenny isn’t listening to me so off to her next babysitting job she goes.

Jenny isn’t the only one in need of therapy. The ten year old kid she babysits is nowhere near the only male in this book that is well versed in temper tantrums. The males her age have some serious toxic masculinity happening and Jenny is quick to forgive or ignore all, even the behaviour that’s criminal.

Back to the kid Jenny babysits for a moment; it wouldn’t surprise me if I found him in a future Stine book as the serial killer. There’s almost certainly a jail cell in his future.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, make sure you do before you start this one. Huge spoilers come at you right out of the gate, including who the big bad was and how the showdown happened.

There are some fun descriptions in this edition of Adventures in Babysitting, like

The head seemed to rise up, like a pulpy, bloodstained moon.

There’s no resolution for a lot of the characters in this book. As far as I can tell, Chuck is still a jerk, the kid Jenny babysits is on his way to some much more serious ‘pranks’, Jenny still needs therapy and Jenny’s mother is not as involved in the drama that is her daughter’s life as she probably needs to be.

“Believe me, child – nothing like that will ever happen to you again.”

I’d hate to tell you this, Jenny’s mother, but Jenny still needs to play a starring role in two more sequels.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Jenny’s last baby-sitting job nearly killed her. But she’s a survivor and she’s over it. She’s even got a new baby-sitting job. Then the phone rings. When she answers, she hears a familiar voice – a voice from the grave.

Liar Liar – Laurie Katz

Before I say anything else, I want to make a few things clear. I believe Laurie. What she experienced – being sexually assaulted, the perpetrator’s subsequent behaviour, the harmful responses she received from friends and university staff members – was horrific and she is not to blame for any of it. She deserved to be believed and supported while she was at college and she deserves those same things now.

What Laurie has accomplished here is remarkable. Writing about the events of your life is a difficult task under the best of circumstances. Needing to write accounts of my own experiences of sexual assault for non-public reasons has given me a general idea of just how daunting and painful a process this can be. I can’t even begin to imagine the vulnerability people must feel sharing this publicly and I commend Laurie for the courage and resilience this finished book represents.

Laurie was raped on the third Saturday of her freshman year of college. She was not only discouraged from reporting this to the police by university staff members but was also denied justice through the university’s own reporting process. Worse still, she was formally accused of lying by the university.

After essentially trying to cope with this trauma by herself, managing the best she could by overachieving and self-medicating, Laurie eventually found the support she deserved from the very beginning.

Given the subject matter, this was always going to be a difficult read, even though the book itself is quite short. If you find descriptions of sexual assault triggering, please be safe while reading this book. I had psyched myself up for the details I knew would be coming but was surprised by a few additional descriptions that I didn’t have time to prepare for. In particular, I thought the book was winding up so I let my guard down, then got hit by a major new revelation in the final chapter.

The next part of this review is difficult for me to write. I don’t feel like I have the right to judge anyone’s experiences or the choices they make so this isn’t that. However, I’m also uneasy critiquing the way anyone writes about their experiences, and that’s what this feels like.

Having said that, at times Laurie’s story came across as quite disjointed and could have benefited from some further editing. I recognise that traumatic memories are not formed in the nice, neat, linear way that non-traumatic memories are. Sometimes memories are only retained in flashes. They’re not necessarily remembered in the right order. There may be aspects of a sexual assault a victim never remembers.

All of this makes it harder to form a step by step narrative in our own heads, let alone when we try to make sense of it with others. I asked myself if I needed to take that into consideration as I was reading this book. I’d wonder about things, like where Sarah was or why no one accompanied Laurie to court, only to find out the answers in later chapters. The narrative jumped back and forth in time, making it more difficult to get a clear idea of the order of events.

The publisher says this book is part of a series that “tells the stories of the people who have battled and beaten mental health issues.” Although this should be obvious I feel I need to point out that sexual assault is not a mental health issue. Granted, it can result in a wide variety of trauma impacts, some of which include depression, anxiety and PTSD, but in and of itself it is not a mental health issue.

Content warnings include bullying, eating disorders, mental health, self harm, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Trigger Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Like any student about to start university, Laurie Katz was excited to see what the year would bring. Little did she know that just three weeks into her first term, her life would come crashing down around her. What had started as a fun night out with friends ended with Laurie, alone with a terrible secret: she had been raped.

Traumatised and confused, she set out to get justice against her attacker. But when the authorities at her university dismissed her case, and warned her that she could be expelled, she was left unsure where to turn. It seemed as though things couldn’t get worse, then her attacker filed his own case.

Laurie’s story is a brave and honest reminder of the injustice still felt in society around sexual abuse. Laurie offers readers her advice, and provides them with the hope that they too can overcome a similar trauma.

The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow – Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

I KNOW WHO KILLED LOLA … AND ONE OF YOU IS NEXT

Audrey is the new girl at Illumen Hall, a prestigious boarding school a world away from her old life and the memories that haunt her. She’s sharing a room with Ivy, who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with her. It isn’t long before Audrey learns that Lola, one of Illumen Hall’s most popular girls, died recently.

The police have closed their case but there may be more to the story than meets the eye. While the students and staff are still coming to terms with their loss, a new podcast raises the question of whether Lola’s death was an accident, suicide, or something more sinister. It turns out that Audrey isn’t the only one at Illumen Hall that’s keeping a secret.

I probably would have been slightly obsessed with this book if I’d read it when I was 13. I’ve always loved stories set in boarding schools and the mystery of the death of a student, combined with a school that has such a rich history and a potential secret society, would have been all I needed. Even as an adult I found this book easy to get into, but I found myself questioning things that wouldn’t have even registered on my radar as a kid.

The podcast transcripts were an interesting way of building the mystery and introducing theories, although none of them had enough content to last more than a couple of minutes. I had a lot of trouble believing a Detective would discuss any details of a case, no matter how briefly, with an anonymous caller.

A time stamp on a photo is believed to be accurate by the people who see it, with no questions raised about its authenticity. Although there’s nothing in this book to indicate that the time stamp had been fudged, it seemed strange that it wasn’t even a consideration. The resolution in this book that related to the person concerned was too easy for me.

I liked the idea of Ivy and Audrey’s points of view being written by different authors but if I didn’t already know this book was written by two people I never would have picked it. Usually I would think that this was a good thing, as the transitions between chapters felt fairly seamless. However, in this instance, I thought there should have been something obvious about the writing styles to differentiate the girls’ voices.

After the initial mystery was introduced the investigation didn’t move quickly enough for me for much of the book. I didn’t feel the urgency of the investigation. Towards the end of the book the pace picked up and I was really starting to look forward to getting some answers, but then the book just ended. Right in the middle of a scene.

There is a planned sequel, Two for Joy, currently scheduled for release in 2021. I knew ahead of time that this was the first in a series so I suspected I wouldn’t learn the answers to all of my questions here but I don’t feel like I got any of the answers I was seeking. Unfortunately, while I expected to be excited about the answers that will hopefully be revealed in the second book, I’m left frustrated by the lack of resolution.

There’s a website mentioned in the book that I obviously had to look up. The website doesn’t currently exist but perhaps it will by the publication date. Likewise, I tested out an email address but it was undeliverable.

‘I won’t cross the magpies, and the magpies won’t cross me.’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children’s UK for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Illumen Hall is an elite boarding school. Tragedy strikes when the body of a student is discovered at their exclusive summer party – on her back is an elaborate tattoo of a magpie.

When new girl Audrey arrives the following term, running from her own secrets back home in America, she is thrown into solving the case. Despite her best efforts to avoid any drama, her new roommate Ivy was close to the murdered girl, and the two of them can’t help but get pulled in.

The two can’t stand each other, but as they are drawn deeper into the mystery of this strange and terrible murder, they will discover that something dangerous is at the heart of their superficially perfect school.

Welcome to The Magpie Society.

Simon and the Big, Bad, Angry Beasts – Ian De Haes

Simon’s anger is big and it’s only getting bigger. Beasts begin to appear whenever Simon is angry and they chase everyone away. For a while Simon enjoys feeling like his anger is powerful but eventually, when his anger comes without a specific reason, he notices how lonely he is.

No one wants to be around him anymore but he doesn’t know how to get rid of his anger. Finally Simon learns to take responsibility for his feelings and to manage them in a calmer way.

I really liked the illustrations, which clearly showed Simon’s anger.

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While plenty of time was spent watching Simon’s anger getting more and more out of control, there wasn’t much page time dedicated to explaining how he could learn to manage it.

I would have liked to have seen more of a learning curve for Simon once he recognised that anger was a problem for him. Although it made for a neat ending, it wasn’t overly realistic that the first time Simon tried mindfulness his anger simply floated away.

There are resources at the end of the book for parents and caregivers, explaining how to talk to children about their anger and ways they can manage it.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Simon gets mad, he gets REALLY mad. So mad that big, bad, angry beasts appear. At first Simon loves having the beasts around to help scare off anyone who upsets him, but over time he realises that no one wants to be around him or the beasts. This makes Simon sad, so he decides to try to still his mind and practice being calm. And the beasts disappear!

Featuring colourful and expressive illustrations, this insightful book helps children ages 4 to 8 learn how to handle their anger. A guide for parents and teachers in the back of the book features strategies for talking to children about their emotions along with various exercises they can use to cope with anger. 

Manga Classics: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Story Adapter – Crystal S. Chan

Illustrations – Kuma Chan

Lettering – Jeannie Lee

I absolutely loved the manga version of Anne of Green Gables so I was keen to explore some more Manga Classics. I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was a child but I never got around to reading about Huckleberry Finn. I thought this was a great opportunity to find out what I’d been missing. I expected I’d want to read the novel once I finished the manga version but it turns out I’m not a fan of this story.

In the introduction we are told that Twain’s “use of coarse vernacular and racial stereotypes in this novel was intended not to endorse but rather to ridicule the racism of his day.” Despite knowing this I still hated all of the racism in this story, especially the consistent use of racial slurs. Even if I could find a way to ignore the racism I still don’t think this would be the book for me. While adventures on rafts sounded interesting to me I found myself getting bored.

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But you know what? The revelation that this story is not for me has made me want to read more Manga Classics, not less. The manga version Anne’s story made me want to read Anne of Green Gables. I now know for sure I don’t want to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It turns out that manga is a great way to get a feel for a book.

Even though I didn’t like Huckleberry Finn’s story I really liked the artwork. The story was easy to follow and the illustrations helped bring the characters to life. There’s definitely going to be more manga in my life in the near future.

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Content warnings include alcoholism, physical abuse, racism and slavery.

Thank you to NetGalley and UDON Entertainment for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Chafed by the – sivilized – restrictions of his foster home, and weary of his drunkard father’s brutality, 14 year-old Huck Finn fakes his own death and sets off on a raft down the Mississippi River. He is soon joined by Jim, an escaped slave. Together, they experience a series of rollicking adventures that have amused readers, young and old, for over a century. The fugitives become close friends as they weather storms together aboard the raft and spend idyllic days swimming, frying catfish suppers, and enjoying their independence. Their peaceful existence ends abruptly, however, with the appearance of the King and the Duke, an incorrigible pair of con artists who take over the raft. After many difficulties, Huck and Jim escape their tormentors, and with the help of an imaginative rescue by Huck’s old friend Tom Sawyer, Jim gains his freedom. Manga Classics breathes new life into this American Classic with a faithful adaptation of Mark Twain’s masterpiece.