Cities of the Dead – Yolanda Zappaterra

I inherited my Nan’s fascination for cemeteries. She instilled in me a reverence for the people whose tombstones I was reading. Horror movies gave me my dread/hope that one day I’ll witness a hand rising from a grave or hear some grave bells ringing.

This book introduces you to a selection of beautiful cemeteries from around the world. For some, their beauty lies in their location, overlooking the ocean or surrounded by trees. Some hold unique cultural or historical significance. Many are the final resting place of people who found fame in life.

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Bonaventure (meaning ‘Good Fortune’) Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

Each entry includes the history of the cemetery and photos that made me want to visit most of them, but there are also tales of the horror of being buried alive and bodysnatching. If you know me, you know I love fun facts. This book has plenty. Some of my favourites are:

🪦 The headstone of Susan B. Anthony is covered with plexiglass around election time because there’s a tradition of people placing their ‘I Voted’ stickers on it.

🪦 The Sophie Calle installation at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York is a “twenty-five-year artwork entitled Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery in which people can write down their thoughts or secrets and place them in a white marble ‘tombstone’.”

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Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York

🪦 During summer, movies screenings are held on the Douglas Fairbanks Lawn at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Movies shown there include Night of the Living Dead.

🪦 Amongst the tombstones in Okunoin Cemetery, Mount Kōya, Japan, you’ll see some more unusual memorials:

a giant termite’s nest that acts as a pest control company’s memorial to all the termites their products have exterminated. Puffer fish that have fallen foul of chefs’ knives, a giant coffee cup, a large space rocket erected by aerospace company ShinMaywa Industries and memorials to the staff of companies such as Nissan, Toyota and Kirin beer all form part of the curious mix.

If you’re superstitious, you may want to avoid this cemetery all together.

Nearby, housed in a small wooden cage near the Gobyobashi Bridge, the equally curious Miroku Stone supposedly weighs one’s sins as you try to lift it from a lower to an upper platform, but more scary is the Sugatami-no-Ido, or Well of Reflections, found just beyond the Nakanohashi Bridge, close to the shrine to the bodhisattva Asekaki Jizo. Legend has it that if you look into this tiny wooden well but don’t see your reflection, you’re fated to die within three years. Probably best to stay on the safe side and avoid it – which might also be good advice for the Zenni Jochi stone memorial to a Buddhist nun of which it is said, if you place your ear you can hear the cries of people in Hell.

Naturally, this is the cemetery I most want to explore.

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Okopowa Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, Poland

I found the section at the end of the book that explored symbolism in cemeteries particularly interesting.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Cities of the Dead takes us on a tour of memorial sites, ranging from monastic settlements to grand cathedrals, Shinto shrines to Gothic chapels, tombs and crypts. Enjoy tales of myths and monsters, grave-robbers, pilgrimages, spiritual retreats, remembrance and community. Marvel in cemeteries with a hundred thousand to a handful of graves which feature famous headstones, weeping angels, ocean views, woodlands, thousands of glowing lanterns and a tomb of poets.

From London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, which houses famous names from Karl Marx to Malcolm McLaren, George Eliot to Christina Rosetti, to Hawaii’s breathtaking Valley of the Temples, this book spans the globe to bring you the most fascinating, intriguing and evocative cemeteries across cultures and continents.

Together with evocative images, the stories behind these notable burial sites bring these sanctuaries to life, detailing the features that make them special, highlighting both similarities and differences between time periods, religions and cultures, and showing how cemeteries are about and for the living as much as the dead.

Waiting on Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

Sasha Patience Pruitt and Mr. Sloth are best friends. In Mindful Mr. Sloth, Sasha learned that if you live your life on fast forward you’ll miss out on the beauty that can be only been appreciated at a slower pace.

Still not one to live up to her middle name, Sasha wants to go swimming and she wants to go NOW! First, Mr. Sloth takes much too long to get ready. Then one thing after another delays their swim. Eventually it all becomes too much for Sasha.

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Sasha finally gets to go swimming but it turns out it isn’t as much fun without her best friend.

I love Mr. Sloth. He’s never in a hurry and he’s a master of mindfulness.

Throughout the story readers see Sasha and Mr. Sloth using different strategies to try to remain calm. These are reinforced at the end of the book, with a list of practical suggestions for when you’re feeling frustrated.

As I’ve come to expect from Katy Hudson’s books, the illustrations are gorgeous. Mr. Sloth is adorable and Sasha is very expressive.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The sun is out. The temperature is hot. And Sasha has everything packed and ready for a full day of swimming! But Mr. Sloth is taking for-eh-ver! Sasha does NOT like to wait. However, her best friend is never in a hurry. Will Sasha learn to be patient, or will her quick temper ruin a memorable summer outing?

The Daughter of Auschwitz – Tova Friedman & Malcolm Brabant

Before the war, Jews comprised about 30 per cent of Tomaszów Mazowiecki’s population. But out of the 13,000 Jews resident in 1939, just 200 were still breathing at the end of the war in 1945. Only five were children.

Tova Friedman was one of those children.

Tova had never known freedom. Almost exactly a year older than the war, Tova survived three and a half years in the ghetto of Tomaszów Mazowiecki before being transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

To experience Auschwitz as an adult is something I can barely imagine. To experience it as a child is incomprehensible.

I’ve read a number of books written by Holocaust survivors. No matter how much I read, I will ever be able to fully understand the impossible choices they had to make and the unimaginable horrors they both witnessed and experienced firsthand.

Choosing to read about the capacity people have to commit atrocities is painful but necessary. We must never forget the Holocaust.

That anyone survived Auschwitz is extraordinary. To read about survivors who have gone on to lead meaningful lives astounds me. Having survived humanity at its worst, survivors like Tova demonstrate a level of fortitude and resilience that will never stop inspiring me.

Talking about it not only reminds people of the evil that took place, but can also help them to see the ability in each of us to overcome.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘I am a survivor. That comes with a survivor’s obligation to represent one and half million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. They cannot speak. So I must speak on their behalf.’

Tova Friedman was one of the youngest people to emerge from Auschwitz. After surviving the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in Central Poland where she lived as a toddler, Tova was four when she and her parents were sent to a Nazi labour camp, and almost six when she and her mother were forced into a packed cattle truck and sent to Auschwitz II, also known as the Birkenau extermination camp, while her father was transported to Dachau.

During six months of incarceration in Birkenau, Tova witnessed atrocities that she could never forget, and experienced numerous escapes from death. She is one of a handful of Jews to have entered a gas chamber and lived to tell the tale.

As Nazi killing squads roamed Birkenau before abandoning the camp in January 1945, Tova and her mother hid among corpses. After being liberated by the Russians they made their way back to their hometown in Poland. Eventually Tova’s father tracked them down and the family was reunited.

In The Daughter of Auschwitz, Tova immortalises what she saw, to keep the story of the Holocaust alive, at a time when it is in danger of fading from memory. She has used those memories that have shaped her life to honour the victims. Written with award-winning former war reporter Malcolm Brabant, this is an extremely important book. Brabant’s meticulous research has helped Tova recall her experiences in searing detail. Together they have painstakingly recreated Tova’s extraordinary story about one of the worst ever crimes against humanity.

A Walk in the Dark – Jane Godwin

Otway Community School isn’t like other schools, with an approach that’s more collaborative than prescriptive. Head Teacher Johan has even managed to get the parents on board for the Year 9 students to participate in the Dutch tradition of dropping.

‘So, you know the arrangement. We drop you in the forest at four pm, and you must find your way back to school by midnight’

Teams of five will work together to negotiate the 27km (over 16.5 miles) of bushland between the drop location and school. They’re given some instructions, a map, first-aid kit, head torches, compass and a phone (for emergencies only) before they’re sent off into the woods.

We tag along with one of the teams:
🦉 Fred, who has a chip on his shoulder, is the new kid.
🦉 Ash always smiles and is friends with everyone.
🦉 Chrystal is an exchange student who carries a Snoopy stuffed toy everywhere she goes.
🦉 Elle’s an all-rounder who has needed to adapt each time her family have moved.
🦉 Laila, Elle’s friend, lives in a treehouse and is into yoga. Nothing really bothers her.

What the team initially thinks will be a walk in the park becomes anything but. This is a night that will change all of their lives.

I loved seeing Fred’s artistic side find its way to the surface each time he identified a colour by its corresponding Derwent pencil name. Chrystal’s idiosyncrasies made me want to get to know her better.

While the main storyline is resolved, I have some unanswered questions and wish I’d gotten to know some of the characters better. I’m most interested in finding out what changes take place in Fred’s life as a result of the dropping.

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘It’s just a walk in the dark. What is there to worry about?’

That’s what the head teacher, Johan, says. And so the Year Nines from Otway Community School set out on an overnight hike, with no adults.

But doesn’t Johan know that a storm is coming?

When five teenagers head in to the forest that late afternoon, none of them is aware what the night will bring. Each will have to draw on their particular strengths to survive. Each will have to face the unknown, battling the elements, events beyond their control, and their own demons. It’s a night that will change everything.

Set in the rainforest of Victoria’s Otway Ranges, A Walk in the Dark is about friendship, trust, identity and family, consent and boundaries, wrapped in a compulsively readable, suspense-filled adventure.

Five head into the forest, but will all five make it out?

Graveyard Girls #1: 1-2-3-4, I Declare a Thumb War – Lisi Harrison & Daniel Kraus

“Legend has it that every year, on the anniversary of his death, one girl sees a flash of lightning – just like Old Sparky – and hears the thonk-thonk of Hoke’s wooden leg getting closer. Then – poof! She’s never heard from again.”

Sixth graders Whisper, Frannie, Sophie and Gemma are the Grim Sleepers. For the past two years they have had monthly sleepovers where they take turns telling scary stories. In Misery Falls, Oregon, though, the scariest story of all is that of Silas Hoke, the town’s infamous murderer.

Each year, the town hosts Hoke Week, a series of events leading up to the anniversary of his execution. This year, it’s the 100th anniversary since Silas’ death and the “atmosfear” is decidedly spooky.

The first in a new five book series, this was a fun read. The four Grim Sleepers are:

💀 Whisper, the track star. Whisper lives with her father and Miles, her ten year old brother. Unfortunately, Tina, her father’s girlfriend has also moved in and she’s brought Paisley, her daughter, and Rayne, her son, with her. Paisley is one of the popular girls in Whisper’s class. Ugh!

💀 Frannie, the actress. Frannie has twin baby brothers, Sami and Balthazar. She doesn’t want to speak about her falling out with Miranda.

💀 Sophie, the straight A student. Sophie puts an immense amount of pressure on herself to be as good (or better) than Jade, her older sister.

💀 Gemma, the leader. Gemma is the Grim Sleeper who truly believes in the supernatural. Layla, her mother, and Harmony, her aunt, run a metaphysical supplies store called Spirit Sanctuary.

Although she’s not one of the four friends we meet in the beginning of the book, Zuzu quickly became my favourite character. She’s creative and she’s into horror movies. There’s a big part of herself that she keeps hidden and I can’t wait to see her character grow throughout the series.

Although it’s beyond a cliché at this point to have a friendship group consisting of the leader, the dramatic one, the jock, the smart one and the creative one, middle grade readers likely won’t have come across this too many times yet. Despite the cliché, I liked the girls. They each have their own struggles relating to school or family and being able to read chapters from all of their perspectives helped me to care about what happened to each of them.

I may have missed something but throughout the book Frannie keeps the details of the falling out between her and Miranda a secret from her friends. Later, though, we’re told that the whole school knows the story.

One of the characters plays Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, which I’d never heard played on the piano before. I’m exhausted and all I did was watch someone else play it.

I’m looking forward to continuing this series.

I know this town. Its corners. Its alleys. Its hiding spots. Most of all, its dead ends.

And Misery Falls is one giant dead end. Escape is impossible.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Union Square Kids, an imprint of Union Square & Co., for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Whisper, Frannie, Sophie, Gemma, and Zuzu, five friends who tell eerie tales by night and navigate middle school drama by day.

Misery Falls, Oregon, is abuzz as the 100th anniversary of the electrocution of the town’s most infamous killer, Silas Hoke, approaches. When a mysterious text message leads the girls to the cemetery – where Silas Hoke is buried! – life can’t get any creepier. Except, yes, it can thanks to the surprise storyteller who meets them at the cemetery, inspires the first-ever meeting of the Graveyard Girls, and sets the stage for a terrifying tale from Whisper that they’ll never forget.

This slightly scary, extremely addictive story is the first in a five-book series by New York Times bestselling authors Lisi Harrison and Daniel Kraus.

The Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels #4: Claudia and Mean Janine – Raina Telgemeier

Text – Ann M. Martin

After successfully avoiding reading about Mimi’s stroke for a year and a half, I’ve now read about it twice in one day; first in the original book and now the graphic novel. I’m more convinced after reading them back to back that this adventure in babysitting should have actually been called Claudia is Mean to Janine. Maybe it’s not as catchy but it is more accurate.

So, the graphic novel. When it was released I’d hoped that Raina would be adapting the entire series. The torch has now been passed to other artists and they’re all really talented as well, but I’ve got a soft spot for the Raina ones. They came first and they’re just wonderful.

I always have fun finding the main differences between the books and their graphic novel adaptations.

The main difference I picked up here isn’t between the book and graphic novel but between Raina’s graphic novels and the ones that followed. Here, Mallory isn’t a BSC member before her time and it’s such a relief. I never knew I was a BSC purist until I saw Malory at BSC meetings before she was supposed to be there.

So, the differences I picked up on between the book and graphic novel.

Book: Begins with Wednesday morning breakfast. It’s summer vacation and Claudia is going to art class, babysit Jamie Newton, shop with Stacey and attend a BSC meeting.
Graphic Novel: Begins with Janine tutoring Claudia in maths because she has an exam. It’s the last week of school. Claudia’s mother’s name is Rioko, which I don’t think I knew before.

Book: Boys don’t feature in the book.
Graphic Novel: We learn that Pete Black held Stacey’s hand on the way home from school. Stacey and Claudia are most excited about this development.

Book: Kristy appears to be over her jealousy of Dawn.
Graphic Novel: Kristy and the green eyed monster are still hanging out. Dawn invites Kristy over to her new-old house and smoothes things over with her. I’m pretty sure it’s the scene from Dawn and the Impossible Three, which hasn’t happened yet in graphic novel world.

Book: We learn that Charlie will drive Kristy the three miles to BSC meetings and back for half the price that Kristy offered him.
Graphic Novel: Charlie isn’t mentioned.

Book: It costs $3 a day per kid to attend the BSC play group.
Graphic Novel: It costs $5 a day per kid to attend the BSC play group.

Book: The play group will be held from 9am to 12:30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Graphic Novel: The play group will be held from 9am to 12pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Book: The BSC members drop off flyers for their play group to all of the usual suspects.
Graphic Novel: The BSC members drop off flyers for their play group to the usual suspects, but also mention the Davises’. Who are they and why hasn’t anyone introduced me to them yet?

Book: Jenny Prezzioso needs to wear a smock to cover her pristine clothes but no one figures that out until the dreaded grass stain on the first day of play group.
Graphic Novel: Dawn comes up with the idea for smocks before play group commences. The grass stain incident happens regardless.

Book: Janine easily wins the trivia game she plays with Claudia and Mimi.
Graphic Novel: The game doesn’t finish because Claudia quits.

Book: While she’s waiting for her parents to get home from the restaurant, Claudia packs a suitcase for Mimi. She runs out to meet her parents before they get into the driveway.
Graphic Novel: Claudia is freaking out too much to think of packing a suitcase. Her parents make it to where Claudia is sitting on the front step of their house before she realises they’ve gotten home.

Book: Dawn’s BSC notebook entry for the first day of the play group mentions how wild Buddy Barrett, Nicky Pike and David Michael Thomas are when they’re together.
Graphic Novel: Dawn’s BSC notebook entry for the first day of the play group mentions how wild David Michael Thomas, Nicky Pike and Marcus are when they’re together. Who’s Marcus? Is he from the Davis family? What happened to Buddy? Is it because the graphic novels were adapted in the wrong order and we haven’t met Buddy yet in this alternate BSC world?

Book: Claudia gets scared when she first visits Mimi. The next day she is able to talk to Mimi and show her the cards the kids at play group made for her.
Graphic Novel: Claudia gets scared when she first visits Mimi. After her parents and Janine visit Mimi, Claudia tries again the same day. She is able to talk to Mimi and show her the cards the kids at play group made for her.

Book: Claudia doesn’t make Mimi a get well present.
Graphic Novel: Claudia works on a get well present for Mimi.

Book: The Thomas-Brewer wedding happened last week. Karen and Andrew are officially a part of Kristy’s family.
Graphic Novel: Karen and Andrew are almost Kristy’s step siblings.

Book: Louie needs to attend play group because the Thomases are moving tomorrow.
Graphic Novel: Louie needs to attend play group because the carpets are getting cleaned.

Book: Mary Anne cares for Mimi one day because Claudia has a babysitting job.
Graphic Novel: Mary Anne cares for Mimi one day because Claudia needs to help prepare for Lucy Newton’s christening.

Book: Claudia and Janine have a talk and understand one another a bit better afterwards.
Graphic Novel: Claudia and Janine have a talk and understand one another a bit better afterwards. We learn Janine also has a secret stash of junk food in her room. That is awesome!

Book: Janine and Mimi go for a walk.
Graphic Novel: Janine and Mimi go for a walk. Claudia decides to join them. Aww!

Book: During the final BSC meeting of the book, the call comes in that will be sending Mary Anne and Stacey to Sea City with the Pikes.
Graphic Novel: During the final BSC meeting of the book, Claudia says she might need to cut back on her babysitting hours to focus more on school. This leads to talk about Mallory joining the club. Ugh! The current BSC members take a photo to memorialise the BSC’s first anniversary. Yay!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Claudia and her sister, Janine, may as well be from two different planets. Claudia, who pays more attention to her art than her grades, feels she can’t compete with her perfect sister. Janine studies nonstop, makes straight A’s, and even takes college-level courses. The girls are nothing alike, and they can’t agree on anything. While Janine devotes all her time to working on her website, The Baby-Sitters Club is busy with their new summer play group. But when something terrible happens to their grandmother, Mimi, the two sisters discover they’re more alike than they originally thought.

The Baby-Sitters Club #7: Claudia and Mean Janine – Ann M. Martin

“Time is change”

When I finished reading Kristy’s Big Day, I knew I needed some time to prepare myself for the beginning of Mimi’s story. That was over a year and a half ago. It turns out that no amount of time can prepare me for the my Mimi heartache.

So, this is me jumping in and protecting my heart as best I can. What? No, you didn’t see me getting misty eyed when I visited Mimi in the hospital.

Moving on. Reading this book for the first time in maybe five or six years generated a bunch of random thoughts.

The Wednesday we begin this book, Claudia has a busy day. She has art class in the morning. After lunch, she babysits for Jamie Newton for a couple of hours, shops with Stacey and then there’s the usual Wednesday BSC meeting. When Stacey rocks up to BSC Central that afternoon at 5:15pm, Claudia is surprised by Stacey’s new haircut and perm. So, what we need to know is this: is Stacey a time traveller? How did she have time to get her hair done between shopping till she dropped and 5:15pm?

We find out how impossibly far away Watson’s mansion is from Kristy’s old house. Three miles. That’s 4.8 km. Huh. My high school was further away from my home than that. It felt like Kristy was being shipped off to another planet when I was growing up.

We learn that Kristy and Mary Anne get Janine’s hand me downs because Claudia’s too cool for them. I kinda think we’re all too cool for them though.

This book got me thinking about how much money Claudia must fork out on junk food and pretzels. She hands out a variety of goodies to her fellow BSC members three times a week, more if there’s an emergency meeting, which there almost always is. Although not in this book which involves an actual emergency! I don’t remember having ever seen a single friend either chip in with some funds to pay for their share or take a turn supplying the snacks. It’s almost enough for me to forgive Claudia for being so mean to Janine. Almost.

Claudia almost hits Janine in this book. Claudia almost hits Janine in this book? How had I forgotten about this?!

Did we know before this book that Buddy’s name is Hamilton Barrett, Junior?

Jenny (“our angel”) Prezzioso declares that Louie Brewer is a “messy-face”. We learn Jenny has a phobia of dogs. The BSC members, professionals that they are, work hard to give Jenny a new fear: of monstrous boys. Okay, they maybe had a little help from Karen but Karen doesn’t charge for her services.

Related to this, Karen Brewer temporarily trades her witch stories for monsters, sort of. Morbidda Destiny cast a spell that’s going to turn someone into a monster, because that witch is all powerful.

Louie gets a makeover (poor Louie) and the Thomases move across town to Watson’s. The Perkins family moves into Kristy’s old house from somewhere that was probably more than three miles away.

Kristy comes up with the idea of running a play group a few mornings a week. Kristy says that Mallory can come and help out as a babysitter-in-training but, nope, we’re not paying her for the privilege. Reader and writer Mallory probably should have noticed the foreshadowing; things aren’t going to get any easier for her when she tries to join the BSC after being invited to do so.

I found Janine annoying when I was a kid but, looking back, I think it was only because the BSC members told me she was. Now, I think she’s somewhat of a kindred spirit. She’s a socially awkward nerd who doesn’t know how to belong in the world outside of her books and computer. And, I’ve got to admit, this broke me a little.

“You’re always pushing me into my world and out of yours.”

In this book, we babysit for Jamie (“hi-hi”) and Lucy Newton, Charlotte Johanssen (can you imagine only needing a babysitter for two hours if you were attending a cocktail party?) and Nina and Eleanor Marshall. We even arrange a time to babysit Myriah and Gabbie Perkins, Stoneybrook’s newest newbies.

With all of the drama surrounding Mimi, we don’t get to tag along to many babysitting gigs but we are invited to the Newton’s a couple of times to babysit and attend Lucy’s christening. Her big brother is forced to get all dressed up for the occasion.

He looked like a real boy.

As opposed to…

The kids who attend the play group are David Michael Thomas, Charlotte Johanssen, Jamie (“hi-hi”) Newton, Nicky, Claire, Margo and Vanessa Pike, Suzi and Buddy Barrett, Jenny (“our angel”) Prezzioso (how much therapy is this kid going to need when she grows up?!), Andrew and Karen Brewer, and Nina and Eleanor Marshall. Mallory begins her unpaid BSC internship and Louie is chased around the yard by pretty much everyone.

Fun fact: Most of my childhood books didn’t come with me into adulthood so adult me repurchased a bunch of them. The edition of this book that I bought has a section at the end called Notebook Pages where the reader can fill in the blanks. The reader before me filled in most of the answers. I absolutely love two of their responses.

I have 0 sisters and 1 brothers.

If I could have any number of brothers and sisters that I wanted, I would want to have 2 sisters and 0 brothers.

Thanks for the smile, Lisa.

Stoneybrook Central Time: it’s July and school’s out for summer. Kristy’s mother married Watson last week. Stacey has lived in Stoneybrook for about a year. Lucy Newton is about seven months old. By the end of the book, July is over.

Up next: Sea City, here we come!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Claudia’s sister is mean! She’s too busy being smart to be nice. Even Claudia’s grandmother, Mimi, can’t get close to Janine. Plus, Mean Janine puts down the Baby-Sitters Club. And that makes Claudia MAD!

This summer the members of the Baby-Sitters Club are starting a play group in the neighbourhood. Claudia can’t wait for it to begin. But then Mimi has a stroke … and the whole summer changes.

Now Claudia has to spend her time “Mimi-sitting” instead of baby-sitting. And things with Janine are going from bad to worse. One of the Kishi sisters has to start being nicer. And it’s sure not going to be Claudia!

The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

“You have all the power you need, if you dare to look for it.”

I feel like I’ve personally failed this book. Hailed as one of the best fantasy books of all time and the unicorn book, this was a highly anticipated read for me.

I spent the first half of the book trying to figure out what I was missing because my mindset was very much one of are we there yet? I put it down for a couple of weeks before trying again. I don’t know whether it was a case of me putting the book down about two pages too early or I wasn’t in the right frame of mind the first time I picked it up but I began to see what all the fuss was about from the moment I met the Red Bull.

While it never made it into the hallowed realm of favourite reads for me, I can see why it has for so many others. There are memorable characters, a quest, heroism, some very quotable moments and, of course, a unicorn, possibly the very last one.

I expect this is the kind of book that embeds itself deeper into your heart the more times you revisit it.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

She was magical, beautiful beyond belief – and completely alone…

The unicorn had lived since before memory in a forest where death could touch nothing. Maidens who caught a glimpse of her glory were blessed by enchantment they would never forget. But outside her wondrous realm, dark whispers and rumours carried a message she could not ignore: “Unicorns are gone from the world.”

Aided by a bumbling magician and an indomitable spinster, she set out to learn the truth, but she feared even her immortal wisdom meant nothing in a world where a mad king’s curse and terror incarnate lived only to stalk the last unicorn to her doom…

All Good People Here – Ashley Flowers

with Alex Kiester

If you’ve ever involuntarily blurted out ‘And I’m Britt’, this is the book for you. If you’ve pounced on this book before reading the blurb, allow me to enlighten you: this is a novel, not a super long episode of Crime Junkie in book form. Not that I’d ever open a book, see A Novel after the title and question every assumption I’ve ever made.

All Good People Here (A Novel) primarily takes place in Wakarusa, Indiana, where Ashley and Britt grew up. It’s also somewhere I need to visit because of two really important words: Pumpkin Tree!

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In 1994, six year old January Jacobs died. Everyone in town knew Krissy, January’s mother, murdered her but the case has officially remained unsolved.

“You don’t want to go back to that sad little town where that terrible thing happened.”

Margot hasn’t lived in Wakarusa for twenty years but has returned to care for her beloved Uncle Luke. When a young girl is reported missing in a nearby town, Margot believes the person who killed her childhood friend has struck again. Margot is determined to use her crime reporting skills to solve the cases but she seems to be the only one seeing their similarities.

This may be a small town but many of its residents are living with secrets.

“What did you do?”

Hearing the story from Krissy and Margot’s perspectives, you learn about the dynamics of the Jacobs’ family, how the investigation into January’s death unfolded and the impact it has had on everyone close to the case in the subsequent years. A few key details about January and her death made me think of JonBenét Ramsey. Once I made that connection, I had trouble seeing anything else.

I enjoyed tagging along as Margot followed up leads, although I did get a bit bogged down at times with what was happening with Luke. I guessed some of the reveals but, rather than being disappointed by this as I usually would be, it made me feel like I was being a good Crime Junkie.

It’s taken me two weeks since finishing this book to attempt writing a review and that’s mostly due to the last time we see Margot in this book. Readers will likely either love or hate this scene. I loved it but, because I don’t want to get all spoilery, I can’t tell you why I loved it and that’s what I really want to talk about.

I’m looking forward to reading future books by Ashley. Until then, I’ll keep getting my Crime Junkie fix whenever I can and remembering to always “Be weird. Be rude. Stay alive.”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, kidnapping, miscarriage, murder and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What really happened to January Jacobs?

A MYSTERIOUS COLD CASE…

Twenty-five years ago, January Jacob’s parents awoke to find their daughter’s bed empty, a horrifying message spray-painted onto their wall. Hours later, January’s body was found discarded in a ditch. Her murder was never solved. But the town remembers.

A DANGEROUS OBSESSION…

Journalist Margot Davies is tired of reporting meaningless stories. One night, she stumbles upon a clue in the most infamous crime in her hometown’s history: the unsolved murder of six-year-old January.

A TOWN FULL OF SECRETS…

As Margot digs deeper, she begins to suspect that there is something truly sinister lurking in the small community: a secret that endangers the lives of everyone involved…including Margot.

World of Weird – Tom Adams

Illustrations – Celsius Pictor

One of the things I remember my Nan saying throughout my childhood was ‘normal is boring’. She was most certainly never boring and she didn’t want me to be boring either. An all too obvious outcome of being told this by my favourite person in the world has been that if I hear something’s weird, my brain says, ‘Ooh, tell me more’. A book with weird in the title is pretty much guaranteed to wind up on my TBR pile.

The more mysterious or gruesome the better!

Dr Leila McCreebor’s great grandfather, “the eminent explorer and philosopher Dr McCreebor”, left notebooks containing records of the curiosities he encountered in his life. Here, Leila presents annotated records of curios grouped into the following categories:

  • Artificialia – pieces of art
  • Naturalia – natural objects, animals and people
  • Spiritualis – the spirit world
  • Scelus et Supplicium – crime and punishment
  • Scientifica – scientific instruments
  • Magicae – magic
  • Morteum – death.

There are so many ingenious and bizarre finds in this book, and I’m tempted to tell you about all of them. I’m going to restrain myself, though, sharing my favourite weird thing from each chapter.

The Tempest Prognosticator (storm predictor) was the brainchild of George Merryweather. George had paid enough attention to leeches to realise that they become agitated before a storm. George transformed this fun fact into an early warning system, inventing a contraption that consisted of twelve glass jars, levers and some bells. A leech in a jar would flick a lever when agitated, which would then ring a bell. If all the bells tolled, then it was a sure sign inclement weather was on its way.

People believed that if the hand of a hanged man was severed as he still swung from the gallows, the hand would gain the powers to put people to sleep and unlock doors. The perfect tool for a burglar! The thief could even light the fingers of the hand, as if they were candles. If any of the fingers or thumb failed to light, it showed there was someone still awake in the house.

Trepanning: when you cut holes in people’s skulls for … reasons, oftentimes without anaesthetic.

I’d heard of the Brazen Bull before. A victim would be locked inside a hollow bronze bull, a fire would be lit under the bull and then the cooking alive would begin. What I wasn’t aware of previously was that the bull’s head contained tubes and pipes that “turned screams of agony into the sound of a bellowing bull, like some warped musical instrument.” The moral of this story? Don’t set your Delorean to Sicily around 2,000 years ago.

You’ve heard of having a feather in your cap but have you heard of a cap covered in teeth? Eighty eight teeth cover this 19th century London tooth puller’s felt cap.

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Want revenge Roman style? Well, you’re going to need a curse tablet. Then you can call upon the gods or demons to exact revenge upon those who vex you.

Every three years, at a ritual known as Ma’nene, the Torajan dig up their dead relatives, give them a wash and dress them in new outfits before burying them again.

I really enjoyed this book and know my Nan would have loved it too. There was enough information to be interesting but not so much that readers who aren’t as fascinated as I am with all things weird and wonderful would get bogged down in details.

Celsius Pictor’s illustrations complimented the text well. They had a vintage feel to them. This made the book seem more authentic, as Dr McCreebor is said to have lived during the reign of Queen Victoria.

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Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the 21st century, a scientist uncovers their Victorian ancestor’s notebook in a box. This ancestor is Dr. McCreebor – an eminent explorer, philosopher, and collector of the very strange and truly creepy.

Dr. McCreebor’s book is filled with the dark and disturbing stories he has collected on his travels around the world. And now, after over 125 years in a dusty attic, Dr. McCreebor’s writings can be read by only the bravest.

Discover the fascinating stories behind a series of objects, people, and places in every chapter. McCreebor writes from a Victorian perspective – and his descendant isn’t afraid to write notes in the margins, bringing the science into the 21st century.

Uncover Artificalia (man-made objects), Naturalia (natural creatures and beings), Spiritualis (the spirit world), Scelus et Supplicium (crime and punishment), Scientifica (scientific tools), Magicae (magical objects), and Morteum (skulls, bodies, and more). Steampunk illustrator Celsius Pictor intricately illustrates McCreebor’s sketches, maps, records, and photographs.

From shrunken heads to witches’ charms, saints’ blood to graverobbers’ remains, hangman’s salve to trepanning tools, this book is a peek into our grisly and macabre past.