Friday Barnes #9: No Escape – R.A. Spratt

‘I’m giving that up,’ said Friday.

‘What?’ asked Melanie.

‘Private detection, solving mysteries, that stuff,’ said Friday. ‘I’m not going to do that anymore.’

It’s been two years since we last saw Friday and the years haven’t been kind to her. When we meet up with her again she’s just been released from “the country’s highest security juvenile detention facility”, having spent eleven months imprisoned there.

In that time Binky has graduated (I miss him already!) but Melanie is still at Highcrest Academy and she has held onto Friday’s green pork-pie hat. Melanie might be a great napper but she also knows her best friend can’t stay away from solving mysteries for long.

Thanks to Parker, who was at Highcrest Academy all along but still seems like a replacement Binky to me, Friday is soon investigating the case of the missing passport and missing underwear. She also has an appointment with the school counsellor.

‘Are you going to psychoanalyse me based on my literary preferences?’

Uncle Bernie, Ian, Ian’s mother and Friday’s new cousin are still in Italy. Uncle Bernie needs Friday’s help so it’s lucky that there’s a school excursion to Italy that Friday can join. Melanie’s coming too and as usual she constantly reminded me why I love her.

‘I know you feel scared right now because you’re out of practice at being brave. But I’m your best friend, so I know for a fact that you can do this because you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met.’

For someone who spends most of the book sleeping, she manages to snag some really good lines.

Once they’re all in Italy, Friday has plenty of mysteries to investigate, including the case of the gelato rivals, the mysteriously malfunctioning water heater and the potential theft of priceless artefacts from museums. There are nuns and tourist attractions and the opportunity to say things like:

‘It’s an urgent matter of national historic importance.’

It was really good to get to hang out with Ian again. He and Friday make a great team, even though they sometimes baffle one another.

‘I think you’re going to surprise me, by doing something unimaginable. You always do.’

Friday has grown up a bit in the past two years but her time in Juvie has had a huge impact on her. She’s more fragile and vulnerable, and it’s sad to see her readjusting to real life again. At the same time, though, what she’s been through has made her more relatable to me. While I always loved her, in some of the earlier books it was easy to believe that almost nothing fazed her because she was so out of touch with her feelings.

‘I don’t understand why people do the things they do. I just know what I’ve read in books.’

I’m so glad this series is continuing. I wish Friday had been there to model smart, socially awkward and loveable to me when I was a kid.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s two years later …

Friday steps out of prison, a shell of her former self. She’s still wearing the same brown cardigan, but she swears she’s never solving mysteries again! Who is Friday kidding? She can’t suppress her brilliant deductive mind and is soon drawn back into the intrigues of Highcrest Academy.

Then Uncle Bernie rings, pleading with Friday to fly to Italy and help him protect the Uffizi Gallery from a team of art thieves – and she can’t say ‘no’ to family. Even if it means travelling to the city where Ian, her nemesis/ex-boyfriend is living.

Will Friday be able to protect Italy’s finest artworks? Will Melanie stay awake long enough to help her? And will Ian still be as gorgeous as a Greek god and twice as annoying?

Friday Barnes #5: The Plot Thickens – R.A. Spratt

‘Urgh, I knew this was going too well. Heaven forbid we have a school occasion where Miss Barnes doesn’t interrupt and turn everything on its head.’

Friday and Ian’s already tenuous friendship takes a hit when Friday is infuriatingly right about Ian’s father. Ian responds by taking it out on her, devising elaborate pranks at her expense.

Just when Friday is considering leaving Highcrest Academy, three newcomers arrive. A famous artist is going to be teaching the students for eight weeks, culminating in the reveal of a mural and an art show.

There’s also a new and very enthusiastic PE teacher. Friday and Melanie are not pleased at all with this development as it may require them to actually participate. Friday is not coordinated at all and Melanie flat out refuses to do anything that resembles exercise. Friday does discover what a burpee is but that doesn’t mean she has to like it.

Finally, Highcrest Academy welcomes a new Year 8 student, Epstein Smythe.

Friday gets involved in more than her fair share of mysteries, including searching for the missing ‘Red Princess’, thwarting an attempted kidnapping of a “remarkably unremarkable student” and revealing the identity of the person who’s been adding contemporary elements to well known paintings.

‘If you’re up to something illicit but that is somehow for the greater good, could you please do a better job of hiding it from me?!’

She also has more than her fair share of head injuries. It seems like Friday is always getting a new bump on the noggin, whether she’s been knocked unconscious or she’s fainted at the sight of her own blood. Friday is much more emotional in this book than she usually is, although this is probably just a side effect of being hit on the head so many times.

There’s one thing that’s really irking me – some of the language used to describe people. I’ve previously been miffed by the way mental health has been made fun of. In this book I’m objecting to the term “bonkers” being used to describe someone with Alzheimer’s. This is so unnecessary, it’s not funny and the book would be better without it. I mentioned in a previous review that I read a first edition and it’s possible the words I didn’t like may not have made it into subsequent editions; I hope that is the case this time too.

I really enjoyed the inclusion of the new teachers and student and, despite my objection above, this book is my second favourite of the series so far (the first one holds a special place in my heart).

The further I get into the series the angrier I become at Friday’s neglectful parents and the more I appreciate how well the teachers get away with working so very little. I adore Friday and Melanie but it’s Binky, Melanie’s brother, who has overtaken everyone else to become my favourite character. He’s absolutely delightful and I desperately want him to have a happy ending with his princess.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday Barnes is being attacked on all fronts!

When Friday Barnes gets involved in her frenemy Ian Wainscott’s family dispute, it appears her knack for uncovering the truth may ruin their friendship once and for all.

Highcrest Academy is no longer a fun place to be. Ian has declared war on Friday and she is thinking of leaving … for good. Meanwhile, there’s two new teachers to contend with – a celebrity artist whose intentions are somewhat unclear, and an over-enthusiastic PE teacher on a fitness crusade. Between them and Ian, it’s going to be one dangerous term. Can Friday repair her friendship with Ian, restore her perfect school-life balance and work out who is committing the blatant acts of vandalism around Highcrest? No one said high school would be easy!

Friday Barnes #1: Girl Detective – R.A. Spratt

Friday Barnes is currently my favourite girl detective. I first read this book in 2016 and my reread has been just as enjoyable. Friday is eccentric, extraordinarily smart and forthright.

Friday was named after the day on which she was born. Well, she would have been if it had actually been a Friday. She was really born on a Thursday but her ever distracted (and dare I say, neglectful) parents confused the days. Their minds were no doubt on quasars or electrons at the time. Don’t believe me? Friday’s older siblings are named Quantum, Quasar, Orion and Halley.

Friday essentially raised herself and until recently has spent most of her time in silence, reading anything she can get her hands on. Faced with the problem of needing to attend high school, despite passing the entrance exam to study medicine at university, eleven year old Friday elects to send herself to an elite boarding school. She pays for the tuition with the reward money she earned from solving the case of a missing multi-million dollar diamond.

Once she arrives at Highcrest Academy, Friday becomes known as the resident mystery solver, taking on cases of missing homework and the swamp yeti who has been terrorising the students.

‘Swamp yetis don’t exist.’

She also finds a potential nemesis/love interest and spends much more time sitting on the bench outside the Headmaster’s office than she does in a classroom.

‘Sometimes I wonder if you are startlingly gifted,’ said the Headmaster, ‘or you simply have access to some sort of illicit counter-intelligence mind-reading device.’

Occasionally she even needs to suck on a lollipop when she’s considering all of the variables of a problem, something she only does when she’s “processing a difficult conundrum.”

Despite Friday’s off the charts IQ, she’s not the best at picking up on social cues, although she is slowly getting better at detecting rhetorical questions. It’s lucky for her that her new roommate, Melanie Pelly, notices things that other people don’t.

‘My brain just does it. The hard part is getting it to notice things that are useful.’

Uncle Bernie, although he doesn’t have a great deal of page time in the first book, quickly became my favourite character. He appreciates Friday for who she is (brown cardigans and all) and is the only family member that appears to even notice her existence.

I’ve been planning a Friday Barnes binge for several years. With the release of the ninth book I’ve decided it’s finally time.

I would have adored this series as a kid and am having fun with them so far as an adult. I’ve yet to decide if Friday and I would have been best friends or mortal enemies if we were in the same class. Either way, I know I wouldn’t have been bored.

Beware: this book ends in a cliffhanger.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl! 

When girl detective Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.

On arrival, Friday is shocked to discover the respectable school is actually a hotbed of crime. She’s soon investigating everything from disappearing homework to the Yeti running around the school swamp. That’s when she’s not dealing with her own problem – Ian Wainscott, the handsomest boy in school, who inexplicably hates Friday and loves nasty pranks.

Can Friday solve Highcrest Academy’s many strange mysteries, including the biggest mystery of all – what’s the point of high school?

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.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror – Mizuki Tsujimura

Translator – Philip Gabriel

‘If you’re told it’ll definitely come true,’ Masamune said, ‘then everyone will have a wish or two.’

Kokoro, a 7th grader who no longer attends school because of “the incident”, has the house to herself during the day while her parents are at work. She spends her time watching TV, hiding from the world outside her home.

One day a light appears from inside her mirror. Before she’s even barely begun investigating this strange occurrence, Kokoro finds herself on the other side of the mirror. There, in a castle that looks like it belongs in a fairytale, she meets others whose mirrors have learned the same new trick:

  • Aki is in the 9th grade and appears to have her act together
  • Fuka wears glasses, has a high pitched voice and is in the 8th grade
  • Masamune is in the 8th grade and is likely to be playing a video game whenever you see him
  • Subaru is in the 9th grade and is described as looking like Ron from Harry Potter
  • Ureshino is already in love with being in love and he’s only in the 7th grade
  • Rion is a handsome 7th grader who plays football.

The seven strangers are met by the Wolf Queen, who tells them the rules of the castle.

‘From now until next March, you will need to search for the key that will unlock the Wishing Room. The person who finds it will have the right to enter and their wish will be granted.’

Over the course of many months, the group slowly get to know one another and discover what they have in common. Despite the fairytale elements and some magical realism, the core of this book addresses some difficult topics, albeit in a sensitive way. I loved the focus on mental health, particularly anxiety, and how it impacts other areas of our functioning, including physical health and social interactions.

I liked the characters, although some were given more detailed backstories than others. I was most intrigued by Aki and wanted to spend more time behind what I saw as her protective wall. I would have loved to have learned what happened to all of the seven after the events of the story. I definitely wanted more page time with the mysterious Wolf Queen, hoarder of the best lines:

‘Can’t you simply be satisfied that you’ve been chosen as heroes in a story?’

Anyone who knows me knows I love portal stories and I found myself bingeing this one. There weren’t as many fantasy elements as I’ve experienced in other portal stories I’ve read. I also got to know the characters and the rules of the castle at a more leisurely pace than I’d expected. Neither were a problem for me, though. The payoff at the end ticked all the boxes for me, confirming some suspicions and answering most of the questions I had. This is definitely a book I want to reread.

How could a portal into a different world not be appealing?

Content warnings include bullying, grief, mental health, sexual assault and mention of death by suicide.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How can you save your friend’s life if she doesn’t want to be rescued?

In a tranquil neighbourhood of Tokyo, seven teenagers wake to find their bedroom mirrors are shining.

At a single touch, they are pulled from their lonely lives into a wondrous castle filled with winding stairways, watchful portraits and twinkling chandeliers. In this new sanctuary, they are confronted with a set of clues leading to a hidden room where one of them will be granted a wish. But there’s a catch: if they don’t leave by five o’clock, they will die.

As time passes, a devastating truth emerges: only those brave enough to share their stories will be saved.

Tender, playful, gripping, Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a mesmerising tale about the importance of reaching out, confronting anxiety and embracing human connection.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. – David Levithan

It was a game of hide and seek that got old after five minutes, alarming after an hour, and the scariest thing that had ever happened to any of us after that.

Aidan couldn’t be found.

Lucas’ older brother, Aidan, disappeared without a trace for six days. Now he’s returned home and the story he tells about the time he was missing seems too strange to be true.

Where were you?

Nobody’s going to believe me.

I’ll believe you.

I don’t think you can.

I loved the interactions between the brothers as they navigated the suspicion surrounding Aidan’s story and the people who felt they deserved an explanation because they’d helped search for him. Lucas’ initial disbelief and his subsequent wavering between thinking Aidan’s story is impossible and wondering if it actually could be true was realistic, especially given Aidan’s propensity for telling his younger brother some far-fetched things in the past.

I liked Lucas, especially appreciating how much he wanted to believe what his brother was telling him and doing his best to protect him. I thought it was particularly appropriate that Lucas was studying Roanoke at school during the time immediately after Aidan’s return.

My favourite character was Aunt Brandi, whose wisdom and compassion made me wish she was my Aunt. I definitely wanted to spend more time with her. She managed to snag the best lines. I loved this one:

“It stretches credibility – but life stretches credibility all the time, to the point that credibility doesn’t have much credibility left, you know?”

I really wanted to learn more about the place Aidan spent his time while he was missing. Previous books I’ve read that feature portals spend a significant amount of time world building and oftentimes I’ve been able to travel to far flung worlds with the main character. But that’s not what this book is about; Aidan’s story is about the after.

Aidan was no longer missing, but now it was like the answers to his disappearance were missing instead.

What happens when you return from a place that others find unbelievable? How will your family, friends and the wider community respond to you? How will you adapt once again to this world, knowing you can’t return to the one you’ve so recently lived in? How do you do this life after experiencing another?

The entire time I was reading I kept thinking this is the perfect gateway book to Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. As Aidan attempted to reacclimate himself to his life at home, I found myself wanting to refer him to Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children, a place where his experience would be believed and the complicated feelings he had about his return validated.

I only had a couple of nitpicks, but none of them prevented me from loving this book. While Lucas and Aidan’s relationship was both endearing and believable, they tended to speak as though they were older than 11 and 12. There was never any explanation provided for why Aidan described the maddoxes differently throughout the book.

While I understood his reasons for doing so, I was disappointed when Lucas made a decision on Aidan’s behalf towards the end of the book. I’d love to say more, but spoilers. I wanted Aidan to make that decision for himself, though.

Food I craved while reading: cinnamon rolls.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Aidan disappeared for six days. Six agonising days of searches and police and questions and constant vigils. Then, just as suddenly as he vanished, Aidan reappears. Where has he been? The story he tells is simply … impossible. But it’s the story Aidan is sticking to.

His brother, Lucas, wants to believe him. But Lucas is aware of what other people, including their parents, are saying: that Aidan is making it all up to disguise the fact that he ran away.

When the kids in school hear Aidan’s story, they taunt him. But still Aidan clings to his story. And as he becomes more of an outcast, Lucas becomes more and more concerned. Being on Aidan’s side would mean believing in the impossible. But how can you believe in the impossible when everything and everybody is telling you not to?

The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels #6: Kristy’s Big Day – Gale Galligan

Text – Ann M. Martin

Colour – Braden Lamb

This is my first Gale Galligan BSC graphic novel adaptation. I’ve already read three of Raina Telgemeier’s adaptations so it was almost impossible not to compare the two. I love Raina’s style and had wanted her to continue adapting the entire series.

I like Gale’s style as well so it was more a matter of me getting used to seeing the babysitters looking different. Gale dyes a section of Claudia’s hair, just like Raina did. However, Gale has also given Stacey a haircut, which didn’t sit with me as a BSC purist that well, even though it looks cute.

While the plot remains the same, I noticed many more minor differences between the book and this graphic novel than I have with Raina’s adaptations. I’m not mentioning all of the differences here as there are too many, but here are some of them.

Book: Watson’s mansion has three floors and an attic.
Graphic novel: The illustration of Watson’s mansion shows two floors and an attic.

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Book: Mallory isn’t a member of the BSC yet.
Graphic novel: Mallory is mentioned as the sixth member of the BSC.

Book: Watson’s parents being religious is not mentioned.
Graphic novel: Kristy’s mother talks about Watson’s parents being religious as one of the reasons why she and Watson need to get married before the Thomas’ move to the Brewer mansion.

Book: Kristy mentions having two windows in her childhood bedroom.
Graphic novel: I can only see one window in Kristy’s childhood bedroom in the illustrations.

Kristy arrives late to a BSC meeting and asks if there are any calls.
Book: Sam’s prank call was, ‘Hello, this is Marmee March. I need a sitter for Amy tonight, someone who has experience with little women.’
Graphic novel: Sam asks for a sitter with ‘experience with lots of smelly farts.’
The book version was better.

Book: Claudia searches for junk food under her bed.
Graphic novel: Claudia finds some junk food on a shelf in her closet.

Book: Claudia says Trevor is probably dating his poetry by now.
Graphic novel: Claudia says Trevor is probably dating his guitar by now.

Book: Sam and Kristy have their talk about David Michael’s Citizenship Award on the back porch.
Graphic novel: Sam and Kristy have their talk about David Michael’s Citizenship Award in the kitchen.

Book: Mallory isn’t a member of the BSC yet so she’s not babysitting with them.
Graphic novel: Mallory gets put in Kristy’s babysitting group.

description

Book: Nannie’s Pink Clinker has a pink plastic flower attached to the antenna and a stuffed koala hanging from the rearview mirror.
Graphic novel: The pink plastic flower and the antenna are missing and stuffed koala is now some fuzzy dice. There’s a heart on the bonnet that I liked. The Pink Clinker looks closer to red than pink to me.

Book: When they’re cleaning the house, Charlie has the floor cleaner, Sam has the vacuum cleaner, Kristy has paper towels and Windex, and David Michael has rags and furniture polish.
Graphic novel: When they’re cleaning the house, Charlie is vacuuming, Sam is cleaning the windows, Kristy is tidying, and David Michael is dusting.

Book: Stacey calls Mary Anne from the movies using a pay phone.
Graphic novel: Stacey calls Mary Anne from the movies using her own phone.

Book: David Michael gets his hair cut by Mr Pratt.
Graphic novel: David Michael gets his hair cut by Mr Gates, the one who’s previously made him look like an owl.

Book: In the practice wedding performed by the kids, ‘holy matrimony’ becomes ‘holy moly’.
Graphic novel: In the practice wedding performed by the kids, ‘holy matrimony’ becomes ‘holy guacamole’.

Book: When Karen explains why having white flowers at the wedding are a disaster, it’s because white magic will mix with Morbidda Destiny’s black magic.
Graphic novel: When Karen explains why having white flowers at the wedding are a disaster, it’s because evil witches use white flowers in their magic and Morbidda Destiny will be able to sense them from next door.

Book: Kristy’s rehearsal dinner dress is white with woven silver designs.
Graphic novel: Kristy’s rehearsal dinner dress is green and blue.

Book: Kristy’s bridesmaid shoes are yellow.
Graphic novel: Kristy’s bridesmaid shoes are white.

Also, the clothes the kids wear in their practice wedding are different and the kids are positioned differently in the photo that’s taken of them on the couch. Karen freaks out at the wedding a little later than she did in the book and it’s Karen who accepts Mrs Porter’s present, not Watson. I can’t imagine Karen touching anything Morbidda Destiny has touched for fear of her magic.

I liked Claudia’s drawing lesson, where she explains how to draw simple roses, although I haven’t attempted them myself because I’m extremely artistically challenged. My stick men don’t even consistently look like stick men.

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My favourite illustration shows some of the wedding scenes.

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kristy’s mum is getting married, and Kristy is going to be a bridesmaid! The only problem? Fourteen kids are coming to town for the wedding. Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Dawn and Mallory think they can handle it, but that’s before they spend a week changing diapers, stopping arguments, solving mix-ups, and planning activities. It’s the biggest job the BSC has ever had, but they’ll work together to make sure Kristy’s big day is a success!

Devil Sharks – Chris Jameson

Alex and his wife, Sami, are on their way to paradise for a reunion with Alex’s friends from university. Harry, who Alex has a complicated history with, has invited them to spend a week on board his 100 foot luxury sailing yacht. All expenses paid!

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The ocean is crystal clear, the weather is gorgeous and the alcohol is flowing. Except it’s not all smooth sailing aboard the Kid Galahad. They’re hundreds of miles from civilisation, sharks are circling and a not so merry band of pirates have made their acquaintance. What could go wrong?

Plenty, it turns out. It isn’t very long before their laughter turns to screams and the only thing flowing freely is blood.

Something bumped his thigh, nudged him hard, and then he felt razor teeth clamp down and rip his flesh, felt himself dragged and twisted, and he screamed as he went under for a second time.

Some of my favourite movies are B grade delights where humans find themselves knocked off the top of the food chain. It turns out that reading about especially bitey sharks is just as much bloody fun, although I definitely want to see this book made into a movie.

There is some time spent in the beginning setting up who’s who but it quickly all goes to hell. With a body count in the double digits, the tension is fairly consistent for over half of the book.

I initially took note of everyone’s occupation and personality so I could try to figure out who had the best odds of making it through the book with their flesh intact. It didn’t really seem to matter though as most of the characters are now in the process of being digested.

My only disappointment was the pirates. They had so much potential, but once they’d successfully ramped up the danger level for our group of friends they essentially disappeared. It was easy to forget they were even part of the story when the final battle for survival was taking place. The sharks well and truly made up for them though.

“What do you know about sharks?”

Alex cocked his head. “Mainly that I don’t want to be in the water with them.”

These sharks are relentless so there’s little chance your favourite character will survive. The person I most wanted to survive died and the person whose gruesome death I was looking forward to the most survived.

While this is my first Chris Jameson shark read, it will not be the last. Shark Island and Shark Beach are going to be bloodying up my imagination in the near future.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A pleasure cruise in Paradise leads a group of friends to a shark-infested Hell in Chris Jameson’s Devil Sharks …

When Alex Simmons is invited to a college reunion in the Hawaiian islands aboard the private yacht of his old pal Harry Curtis, he is not sure what to expect. The two men had a falling-out years ago over the suicide of one of their friends. Could this be Harry’s way of making amends? Or is something more sinister in store?

The crew sets sail and arrives at Orchid Atoll, the site of a deserted former Coast Guard station. But they are far from alone. Out here, three hundred miles from civilisation, Alex and his friends are about to encounter two very different brands of evil – one human, the other with fins – unlike anything they could have possibly imagined. They have entered a place where there’s no law, no mercy … and no way out.

Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

Translator – Ginny Tapley Takemori

“Irasshaimasé!”

I’m very late for my shift at the Smile Mart but I’m so glad to have finally walked through its doors. There have been eight managers and countless workers serving customers since it first opened eighteen years ago, but Keiko has been there from day one.

I really liked Keiko who, at thirty-six, has never fit into society’s mould. People have wanted to fix her since she was a child. But at the Smile Mart she feels like she fits perfectly.

While I suspect we’re all like this to a certain degree, Keiko’s speech and the way she dresses are an amalgam of the people she spends time with, morphing over time as new people enter her life and others fade away. Keiko doesn’t know how to be normal so it’s a good thing the Smile Mart manual clearly outlines how she is supposed to ‘human’ at work.

When I first started here, there was a detailed manual that taught me how to be a store worker, and I still don’t have a clue how to be a normal person outside that manual.

Over the course of this quick read the rhythm of the convenience store became almost meditative. It got to a point where it almost felt wrong to be reading about any of the hours Keiko wasn’t spending inside the “shining white aquarium” because she was so comfortable there.

I love Keiko’s unfiltered honesty:

When I first saw my nephew through the glass window at the hospital, he looked like an alien creature. But now he’d grown into something more humanlike, complete with hair.

As someone who’s managed to accidentally subvert some of society’s adulting norms, I relate to the relief embodied in the following sentence:

Good, I pulled off being a “person”.

Quite frankly, that’s probably my favourite sentence of the entire book.

And I’m sure I’m not the first reader to think back on an early scene and fantasise about hitting Shiraha with a shovel.

Anyone who’s worked in retail will know Keiko’s coworkers and customers all too well. I worked in retail for seven years and so many of my coworkers and customers came to mind when I met Keiko’s.

Reading Convenience Store Woman actually had me wondering how my four years as Photolab Lady, in the days when negatives still existed and what you’d actually captured on film was one of life’s mysteries until you got it developed, would translate into a story. The stories I could tell about the photos I saw – some funny, some sweet, some heartbreaking, some creepy as hell …

I was really looking forward to this read and it was even better than I’d hoped. I definitely need more books by this author.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Portobello Books, an imprint of Granta Publications, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life.

In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction – many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual – and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action …

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida – Clarissa Goenawan

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

She’d said she wanted to tell me something. Maybe I could find out what, if I traced her path somehow.

Miwako Sumida was only 20 when she died. Her story is told by three people who each knew part of it. Ryusei was the man who loved Miwako. Chie, who began her life as a “transparent girl”, was Miwako’s best friend. Fumi, Ryusei’s sister, was Miwako’s employer. I want to tell you all about them but can’t, because spoilers.

I really liked Miwako. She was blunt. She could be stand-offish. If you wanted to know her at all, you had to work for it. But she was worth the effort.

“You know, she just made everything better. More intense. More colorful. When I looked at her, I used to think, ‘Hey, maybe the world isn’t such a bad place.’”

Her kindred spirit potential was evident to me early on, right about the time she bailed on karaoke with her friends to go to a bookstore. However, even though I saw her through the eyes of three people who knew her best, I still didn’t truly feel like I knew Miwako and I loved that about her.

Miwako was quite deliberately unknowable and although this would usually frustrate me, it somehow endeared her to me even more. It wasn’t until after her death that the secrets she was carrying were revealed and even then, it wasn’t an easy reveal. There was work involved.

I was sad that Miwako’s secrets weighed so heavily on her and that she never sought the support she deserved. Even though I knew from the blurb that she died by suicide I kept wanting her to reach out to one of the people who loved her, to trust them enough with the parts of herself that filled her with shame.

Miwako was not the only one keeping secrets. Ryusei, Chie and Fumi’s stories each highlighted, through their own stories or their memories of Miwako, the pain we feel when we keep parts of ourselves hidden and how secrets can change the course of our lives.

Given the difficult content that’s explored in this book I was surprised that I felt almost meditative while I was reading it. There’s something that I haven’t identified yet about the way it was written that made it feel like the words were washing over me.

It was really easy for me to get into. I found myself dreading the introduction of a new voice each time a new part began because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the one I’d been spending time with. Each time, though, the new voice would suck me in and I’d be wanting to learn more of their story.

I was keen to spend more time with Ryusei in the months between his part of the story ending and the next time I saw him. I need to know how he spent his days and how he managed his grief over time, and his story is unfinished in my mind because I don’t have those details.

I really liked Chie and enjoyed getting to know different aspects of Miwako through their shared experience. Overall, though, it seemed to me that Chie’s main role in this story was to provide information to Ryusei and I don’t think she will stay with me. In contrast, I expect Ryusei and Fumi’s stories to linger with me.

Although I’m still having trouble deciding between Miwako and Fumi, I’m almost positive Fumi is my favourite character. And I can’t tell you why, because spoilers. Again!

The final revelation about Miwako’s life read a bit like an info dump to me and I wasn’t entirely sold on all of the details, but in the end it didn’t matter. I loved this book, so much so that I bought my copy of the author’s debut, Rainbirds, before I’d even read a quarter of this one.

But when it came to Miwako Sumida, nothing was as I expected.

Content warnings include abortion, bullying, death by suicide and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to Scribe Publications for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A bewitching novel set in contemporary Japan about the mysterious suicide of a young woman.

Miwako Sumida is dead.

Now those closest to her try to piece together the fragments of her life. Ryusei, who has always loved her, follows Miwako’s trail to a remote Japanese village. Chie, Miwako’s best friend, was the only person to know her true identity – but is now the time to reveal it? Meanwhile, Fumi, Ryusei’s sister, is harbouring her own haunting secret.

Together, they realise that the young woman they thought they knew had more going on behind her seemingly perfect façade than they could ever have dreamed.