Mercy Watson #6: Something Wonky This Way Comes – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Chris Van Dusen

Mr and Mrs Watson are going to the drive-in to see When Pigs Fly, which may be a love story or inspirational, or perhaps even a figure of speech. Whatever it is, the Bijou Drive-In concession stand most definitely sells popcorn.

“Yes,” said Mr. Watson, “it says here that the Bijou proudly serves real butter on every Bottomless Bucket of popcorn.”

Butter, you say? All you can eat? That sounds like a job for Mercy Watson!

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She’s in! So are some of the other residents of Deckawoo Drive. They all pile into the Watson’s pink car and make their way to the drive-in. Once there, the buttery popcorn smell is irresistible. Mercy needs to investigate.

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Not everyone is happy about a porcine wonder investigating their buttery popcorn though. Pretty soon Mercy is the entertainment, not the movie.

It seems like pretty much every character you’ve met in this series shows up in this book. This is the first Mercy Watson book I’ve read (other than the prequel) but I knew some of the characters from the couple of Tales from Deckawoo Drive series I’ve already enjoyed.

Kids will enjoy Mercy’s antics, although young readers may have trouble with the pronunciation of some of the characters’ names. Bonus adult nostalgia points for the drive-in setting.

I absolutely adore the illustrations. They’re colourful and fun, and all of the characters are very expressive. Interestingly, the humans are the same colour as Mercy.

I wish my library had the first five books in the series so I could binge them all! This pig is so cute!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The porcine wonder is off to the drive-in – and driven to follow that buttery smell – in a comic crescendo that reunites a familiar cast of characters.

Some may find it wonky to take a pig to the movies. But not Mr. and Mrs. Watson, who think the title of the film, When Pigs Fly, is inspirational. And not their beloved Mercy, who is inspired by the fact that the drive-in proudly serves real butter on its Bottomless Bucket of popcorn. So when they pull up in their convertible, Mercy lifts her snout and becomes a pig on a mission – for what is more heavenly than being hot on the trail of a true butter smell?

Masterful slapstick director Kate DiCamillo sends Mercy on a delirious chase, followed by a trail of hapless rescuers whom fans will recognise from prior episodes. And Chris Van Dusen’s comic retro illustrations perfectly capture a nostalgic pastime – along with the newest antics of a charmingly single-minded pig.

Mercy House – Alena Dillon

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Two eighty-four Chauncey Street. It’s the one with the angel doorknocker. Arrive any time. Day or night. You can be safe.”

Sisters Evelyn, Josephine and Maria have run Mercy House for twenty five years, providing a safe place for women who are escaping violence. Although they are undoubtably effective in their mission, they don’t always play by the strict rules of the Catholic Church.

“It’s what we’ve feared,” Josephine said. “It’s him.”

Bishop Hawkins is coming to visit Mercy House. His visit is part of the ‘nun-quisition’, which puts the actions of nuns under the microscope because of their “secular mentality” and “feminist spirit”. (Never mind that the same church actively moves priests between parishes and pays hush money to sweep much greater offences under the rug.) Besides the fear that the methods they employ in their ministry won’t stand up to close scrutiny, Evelyn has her own personal reasons for never wanting to see this ‘man of God’ again.

When you think of nuns, Evelyn is probably not who you have in mind. She loves what she does but still grumbles at getting woken up in the middle of the night when it’s her turn to answer the door. Her beliefs aren’t as strictly tied to her faith as you’d expect and if there’s a loophole that will produce better results, you can be sure she’ll find it.

Actually, none of the Sisters who run Mercy House line up with stereotypical nuns. Would you ever expect nuns to have a conversation like this?

“Crap baskets,” Maria said.

“Yeah. Major crap baskets,” Evelyn agreed.

Love it!

As much as I loved the three Sisters, I hated Hawkins and spent much of the book overcome by a seething fury, imagining all of the ways that I wanted to see him suffer. You don’t want to just angry your way through a book though. Fortunately there were some amazing women who balanced out my rage with wonder at their courage and resilience. These women are dealing with shame and secrets, and trying their best to survive their past.

While I liked each of the residents of Mercy House, it was Desiree who stood out, and for good reason. Desiree has this in your face brashness. She acts tough but she’s vulnerable as well, although she definitely doesn’t want you to acknowledge that part of her. She speaks her mind and oftentimes says what everyone else is thinking. You’d want to be her friend but she’d make a fierce enemy so don’t get on the wrong side of her. She was responsible for most of my smiles while I was reading.

“This is sweet and all, but we were promised we’d get pizza if we came to church. So …”

The women of Mercy House have been through some really difficult life experiences, none of which are glossed over. Please be safe while reading, especially if you are likely to be triggered by any of the content.

Although it made the narrative neater, it seemed unlikely to me that during the course of the book, no new residents came seeking refuge at Mercy House after we met Lucia.

I don’t know if publishers don’t know about readers like myself but whenever there’s a website included in a book I’m going to look it up. There’s a website in this book, SaveMercyHouse.com, that doesn’t exist. Given the book’s themes, I would have loved to have seen a page that represented what was mentioned in the book, along with details of relevant helplines and organisations that readers could donate to.

I think I understand why the author left the story where they do. Although there are many characters who make their mark on the lives and/or hearts of the nuns who run Mercy House, this story really is Evelyn’s. Her story ends with possibilities for the future but overall the book didn’t give me the answers I hoped for.

😇 Did Mercy House stay open?

😇 Was Evelyn ever called Sister again?

😇 What happened between Evelyn and Eloise?

😇 Were there any consequences for the bishop?

😇 Were there any consequences for John?

😇 What happened to the five Mercy House residents we got to know?

What wonders can be built from broken stuff.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, domestic violence, gun violence, homophobia, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn stands a century-old row house presided over by renegade, silver-haired Sister Evelyn. Gruff and indomitable on the surface, warm and wry underneath, Evelyn and her fellow sisters makes Mercy House a safe haven for the abused and abandoned. 

Women like Lucia, who arrives in the dead of night; Mei-Li, the Chinese and Russian house veteran; Desiree, a loud and proud prostitute; Esther, a Haitian immigrant and aspiring collegiate; and Katrina, knitter of lumpy scarves … all of them know what it’s like to be broken by men.

Little daunts Evelyn, until she receives word that Bishop Robert Hawkins is coming to investigate Mercy House and the nuns, whose secret efforts to help the women in ways forbidden by the Church may be uncovered. But Evelyn has secrets too, dark enough to threaten everything she has built.

Evelyn will do anything to protect Mercy House and the vibrant, diverse women it serves – confront gang members, challenge her beliefs, even face her past. As she fights to defend all that she loves, she discovers the extraordinary power of mercy and the grace it grants, not just to those who receive it, but to those strong enough to bestow it.

WeirDo #15: Planet Weird! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Jules Faber

Today’s a big day for Weir. It’s his birthday and after school he’s going to celebrate with everyone from his class. This year Weir is having a monster party!

It was going to be the best night of the year! Even better than the time a truck full of lollies spilled its load in the main street!

But that’s not all that’s happening today. It’s also Planet Day and Miss Franklin’s class are doing their part to make their school more environmentally friendly.

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With a cake-tastrophe, a tough looking bird called Tyrannosaurus Pecks, an overabundance of toilet paper (this book must have been written pre-COVID …) and lots of green, this was a great addition to the series.

The costumes are a lot of fun (be on the look out for the bum monster!) and there are plenty of smiles.

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I love the can-do attitude of Weir and his family and friends. When things don’t go to plan, everyone looks for creative solutions and, because they’re all working together to make the best of an unexpected situation, it all works out in the end. I love this series!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEEEE! Not only is it PLANET DAY, it’s also Weir Do’s BIRTHDAY! 

And his party’s going to be so HUGE you’ll see it from space! It won’t be easy … but it will be FUNNY! 

The Babysitter – R.L. Stine

Welcome to my horror gateway book. It turns out I was an even bigger scaredy-cat as a kid than I thought I was. This book absolutely terrified me, so much so that when the phone rang at night for months afterwards I’d hear in my head,

“Company’s coming.”

If you’re unfamiliar with this book, here are the basics. Jenny has a new babysitting gig for a family she’s only just met. Their house should be featured on a renovation show. The kid Jenny is babysitting, who looks angelic, has interests that range from watching Ghostbusters (awesome choice, kid!) to scaring the babysitter.

There’s a weird neighbour hanging around, threatening phone calls and a babysitter with a big imagination who is fearing the worst. Oh, and let’s not forget the newspaper headline …

THIRD BABYSITTER ATTACK HAS POLICE ON ALERT.

This read was a fun trip down memory lane but the things that scared me as a child seem silly now. I could have sworn that Jenny answered at least another dozen creepy phone calls and I don’t remember it being so obvious who the big bad was.

Note to my kid self: When you’re only introduced to a few male characters, it kinda narrows the field of potential male baddies.

I think as a kid I assumed the bad guy was going to be a stranger, because it was the 80’s and we were Stranger Danger all the way. It never occurred to me that you could actually know a villain so R.L. Stine probably didn’t even need to include any red herrings to fool me.

Jenny, who I can only assume failed Horror 101, does what all good potential victims do when they hear a strange noise in the house.

“Who’s there?”

For most of the book Jenny lets her imagination run wild, gets scared and second guesses pretty much everything. She waits for the final act, when she probably should be paying attention, to let her guard down.

80’s Nostalgia Bonus Points

🎧 Jenny has a Walkman. Cassettes … Those were the days. I loved my Walkman so much, even after I learned that other people could hear me sing while I was using it.
⏰ Laura, Jenny’s friend, wears a Swatch, one of the coolest accessories of my childhood.
📸 Flashcubes are mentioned in a description. I haven’t thought of those in years. It could be my memory deceiving me but I’m almost positive I got a minor burn from one of those.

I probably should apologise to you in advance. There are three more books in this series, I own them all and I just realised that Jenny is in every single one of them. I wonder if she invests in an answering machine. Please don’t tell me she thinks it’s a good idea to babysit again!

“Hello? Anyone there?”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the minute Jenny accepted the Hagen babysitting job, she knew she had made a mistake.

First there was the dark and disheveled Hagen house, moaning and groaning with her every step. Then the crank phone calls started. “Hi, Babes. Are you all alone? Company’s coming.” When Jenny discovered a creepy neighbour prowling in the backyard and a threatening note in her backpack, she realised this wasn’t a harmless game.

But who would want to hurt her? What kind of maniac wanted to scare Jenny … to death?

Midnight Reynolds #2: Midnight Reynolds and the Agency of Spectral Protection – Catherine Holt

The spreadsheet Midnight uses to organise her time is especially cluttered at the moment. Her life would be busy if she only had to think about school and preparations for her mother’s upcoming Viking wedding. Now she also needs to psych herself up for her first date (eep!) with her crush, Logan. Then there’s the Agency of Spectral Protection work that she and her best friend, Tabitha, do.

There’s never any shortage of spectral energy in Berry, Midnight’s home town, and Midnight is one of the few people who can see it. But with so much spectral energy around, there’s also more potential for the Black Stream, which is what happens when spectral energy becomes trapped in objects, becoming a dark force known as planodiume.

When strange robberies involving planodiume begin to occur around Berry, Midnight’s life gets even busier. If Midnight and Tabitha can’t solve these crimes then everyone in Berry could be in danger.

“This is a Code Black”

My favourite character in this series is Tabitha, who always wears black and knows the town cemetery better than she does her own home. I’m also a pretty big fan of Midnight’s future stepfather, Phil, who loves Vikings as much as he loves Midnight’s mother. Phil didn’t have a huge part in this book but he endeared himself to me so much in the first book that my love for him carried over into this one.

Adult readers of this series may need to ignore the red flags that wave furiously each time twelve year old Midnight is allowed to galavant around the town at all hours, working for a super secret organisation. They will also have to squish down the qualms they have about said super secret organisation hiring twelve year olds to undertake potentially dangerous work for them without parental permission. I suggest locking up your adult brain and simply enjoying the adventure as it unfolds.

Although you could potentially read this book without having read Midnight Reynolds and the Spectral Transformer, I would definitely recommend reading them in order. There are some major first book spoilers in this one and it’s possible the whole spectral energy thing may be slightly fuzzy if you weren’t there with Midnight when she first encountered it.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Albert Whitman & Company for the opportunity to read this book. I’m keen to read the next book in the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Twelve-year-old Midnight Reynolds has a huge secret – she’s a spectral protector, someone who helps ghosts cross over into the afterlife. Alongside her best friend Tabitha, Midnight is busy juggling the wilds of middle school with her undercover ghost-hunting job. When mysterious and dangerous robberies start happening in their small town, all signs point to some sort of spectral manipulation, and Midnight’s boss asks her to take over the investigation. Can Midnight find the culprit and stop them before the spectral energy endangers their town?

Amazing World: Stars & Planets – Paul Beck

Astronomers thinks almost all galaxies have black holes at their centers.

This book is a good introduction to the universe for astronomers in the making. It includes facts about the sun, terrestrial planets, gas giants, ice giants, dwarf planets, moons, comets, nebulae and galaxies. You’ll learn a little bit about each of the following:

  • The Sun
  • Mercury and Venus
  • Earth and Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • Pluto
  • The Moon
  • Europa
  • Titan
  • Comets
  • Orion Nebula
  • Eagle Nebula
  • Bubble Nebula
  • Ring Nebula
  • Cat’s Eye Nebula
  • Crab Nebula
  • Andromeda Galaxy
  • The Milky Way
  • Sombrero Galaxy.
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On a dark night away from the city lights, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy without a telescope. It looks like a faint smudge in the sky. At 2.5 million light-years away, it’s the biggest, farthest thing you can see with your eyes alone.

I enjoyed the bite-sized pieces of information. I would have used this book as a resource for a school project but likely would have needed additional books to supplement it.

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As the moon travels around the earth, it turns so that the same side is always facing the planet.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and becker&mayer! kids, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There is more to outer space than what we can see in the night sky. Explore it all with Amazing World: Stars & Planets and be a real space traveller.

How is a star born? Why does it die? What is the difference between a star cluster and a planetary nebula? Discover the answers to these questions and more in Amazing World: Stars and Planets! This exciting exploration is a door to the infinite realm beyond the pale blue dot we call home.

From stellar nurseries, to glowing green clouds, to spiral galaxies, find out about the dramatic lives of these explosive players in our universe. This is the perfect introduction to the great celestial bodies of outer space for science lovers and their children. Kids will love the gorgeous, bright images, and will also learn quickly from the easily digestible bites of information on each page.

Amazing World: Stars & Planets also includes a collection of glow-in-the-dark stickers to put on notebooks, folders, bedroom ceilings, anywhere!

One Size Eats All #2: Rattus New Yorkus – Hunter Shea

“City rats are tough bastards.”

This is a B-grade movie I need to see! Mankind’s infinite wisdom strikes again. This time we’re taking on New York’s rat population, up close and personal with “hand-to-paw combat”.

Dr Randolph “Ratticus” Finch has developed a new rodenticide, Degenesis, that promises results. There are results, just not the ones he was hoping for. These rats are smarter and more aggressive, they’re multiplying quickly and they’re hungry. Exterminators Bennie and Chris Jackson are going to be working overtime on this one.

They were enormous and mangy and looked like the embodiment of animal savagery and disease.

I always have so much fun with Hunter Shea’s books. Although I really enjoyed watching the rats wreak havoc from a safe distance, a couple of the elements I look forward to in Shea’s stories weren’t quite as prominent in this one.

The action was pretty much non stop but my horror book bloodlust wasn’t entirely sated. The rats gnawed their way through the pages but I wasn’t sustained by graphic insides that are now your outsides details like I was in Misfits and Slash. There also wasn’t the time for me to become invested in any specific character’s survival. I was actually on the rats’ side and wanted them to prevail, although I did have my swattin’ pole on hand, just in case.

I’m keen to experience all of the bloody fun that Shea’s novels promise and definitely want to see the mayhem unfold in the other One Size Eats All novellas.

“I think panic is an appropriate response to what we just saw.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Lyrical Underground, an imprint of Kensington Books, for the opportunity to read this novella.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

THEY’RE BIGGER

Deep in the sewers of New York City, the rat population is growing. Dr. Randolph Finch is determined to break the cycle. His new rodenticide, Degenesis, doesn’t kill rats. It sterilises them from reproducing. But nothing adapts faster than a New York rat …

THEY’RE SMARTER

City exterminators and soon-to-be divorced Chris and Benita Jackson think they know how these rats think. They know how rats breed. And they fear that Degenesis has only made these rats stronger. More aggressive. More intelligent. And more ravenous than ever …

TONIGHT’S DINNER SPECIAL: US

After a noticeable surge in rat den activity, the Jacksons witness something strange. Without warning, the rats disappear – only to reassemble in a massive lair beneath Grand Central Station. Millions upon millions of them. Working together. Operating as a hive mind. Feasting on the flesh of the homeless below – and planning their all-out attack on the unsuspecting humans above

Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Story Adapter – Crystal S. Chan

Illustrations – SunNeko Lee

Lettering – W.T. Francis

I don’t usually fare that well with classic novels so, although I’ve been interested in reading The Scarlet Letter for years, this manga was my introduction to Hester’s story.

I feel like I definitely got the gist of the story and the characters (I vote that Hester’s husband is certifiable), although I don’t doubt that I’ve missed out on a lot of the complexities.

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I’m really enjoying catching up on some Manga Classics that have been on my TBR pile for way too long. I loved the artwork in this adaptation, particularly the splash of colour each time the A was pictured. The manga stories I’ve read previously have been exclusively black and white so the colour really popped for me here.

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It was such a quick read that I was done before I gave much thought to the themes of the story. Right now part of me is fuming at the way Hester was treated and I’m shaking my head at yet another story where a woman’s sexuality is the subject of fear and condemnation by men and the church.

Once I read the novel I expect another part of me is going to be loving Hester’s strength and compassion. I liked what I saw of her in this manga adaptation but the format can’t provide the depth that novels can.

If I was on the fence before about whether or not I wanted to read The Scarlet Letter I’m not now. I’m intrigued enough to want to delve deeper.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s powerful tale of forbidden love, shame and revenge comes to life in this manga presentation of the classic story. When Hester Prynne bears an illegitimate child, she is introduced to the ugliness, complexity, and ultimately the strength of the human spirit. Though set in a Puritan community during the Colonial American period, the moral dilemmas of personal responsibility and consuming emotions of guilt, anger, loyalty and revenge are timeless. This beautiful manga retelling of Hawthorne’s classic American novel is faithfully adapted by Crystal S. Chan and features stunning artwork by SunNeko Lee which will give old and new readers alike a fresh insight into this tragic saga of Puritan America.

Megabat – Anna Humphrey

Illustrations – Kass Reich

Spoilers Ahead! (in purple font)

Daniel’s family has just moved to a new town. He misses his friends and isn’t looking forward to starting a new school where he doesn’t know anyone. It doesn’t help that he’s sure his new room is haunted.

It turns out the ghost is actually a talking fruit bat, who is also a long way from home. Megabat loves smoosh-fruit, buttermelon and Star Wars.

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Daniel is determined to return Megabat to Papaya Premium. These new friends are going to have to channel the Force if they’re going to succeed in their mission.

This was a really cute story for younger readers, with a focus on friendship. I loved Kass Reich’s illustrations, particularly those featuring Megabat.

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It did lose me a bit at the end when Megabat asked Birdgirl, his pigeon friend, to marry him but I’m probably overthinking it.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tundra, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It’s big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it’s haunted … or is it?

Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he’s living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there. 

Daniel realises it’s not a ghost in his new house. It’s a bat. And he can talk. And he’s actually kind of cute. 

Megabat realises that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. 

Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you’ve got a new friendship in the making!

Watch Over Me – Nina LaCour

“I hope you aren’t afraid of ghosts”

Mila has just aged out of foster care and been offered an internship teaching children. She will live and work with her employers, Terry and Julia, on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Everything was beautiful and nothing was perfect, and I didn’t know how I could have been chosen to be there.

Mila is searching for a place to call home and desperately wants to keep the past in the past. No one told her about the ghosts, though.

I flew through this book. Granted, it was short but I don’t remember the last time I finished a novel in under a day. For months now my attention span has been appropriately equivalent to that of a fruit fly.

People need to know where they fit in in the world.

I didn’t have to work to get into Mila’s story and it was easy to lose myself in it. I loved imagining the flowers, the fog and the walk to the beach. For a while I wondered if the farm was going to turn out to be a cult because the atmosphere was so intoxicating; my wanting it to be a safe place warred with my suspicion that it was all too good to be true.

Because this book is so short there wasn’t a lot of time spent on developing the characters. I wanted to find out more about Terry and Julia’s backgrounds and I didn’t get much of a sense of Liz and Billy’s personalities. I found most of the children fairly interchangeable, although I adored Lee and would like to formally register my interest in adopting him.

I spent much of this book thinking about the hold memories can have over us and how daunting it can be to face our fears. Although Mila feels shame about the past, she is also resilient. The wounds of the past continue to haunt her but she is still able to care deeply about people. I always love found family stories and was keen for Mila to find the acceptance and sense of belonging she’s craved for so long.

I wish I could be one of you

Content warnings include mention of abandonment, drug addiction and gaslighting.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes. Yes to a second chance in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below. But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster-care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Californian coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home – a real home. The farm is a refuge, but it’s also haunted by the past. And Mila’s own memories are starting to rise to the surface.