The Secret Life of Stars – Lisa Harvey-Smith

Astronomers are curious creatures always on the lookout for new evidence of weird and unusual objects in the universe.

Astronomy has interested me since I was a kid. I remember wanting to be an astronaut and being traumatised alongside Punky Brewster as she sat in class and watched the Challenger disaster. I’d read anything I could about stars, planets and all of the other cool things in our universal backyard. I Google images of nebulas. When I got sick of the job I fell into shortly after university, I started researching (that’s book nerd code for reading textbooks) other areas I might retrain in; one of the ideas on my shortlist was astrophysics.

This astrophysics book is accessible whether you have a background in science or not. There are no complicated mathematical equations and all you need to bring with you is your interest. It’s written in a down to earth way (😜) and uses all manner of earthly things to help explain things that are out of this world.

I wasn’t always a huge fan of giving the stars names and talking about them as though they were people but it did help to get the author’s point across. Especially when a star with a name like 2MASS J18082002−5104378 B can be called Ethel instead.

There are plenty of extraordinary facts for you to enjoy in this book. A few that stood out to me were:

  • The Huge – 1.3 million Earths would fit inside the Sun. VY Canis Majoris, a red hypergiant star, is so big that 300 million Suns would fit inside it.
  • The Speedy – S5-HVS1, the fastest star in the universe, travels at over 6 million kilometres per hour (1755 kilometres every second!). No wonder HVS means “hyper-velocity star”.
  • The Awesome – There is a star classification, Ap, where the p stands for “peculiar”. Peculiar is a legitimate astrophysics word! I love it!

While we now know so much about the universe, it’s also clear just how much we don’t know. Yet. There were plenty of instances of ‘might be’, ‘we don’t know’, and ‘maybe when telescopes are more powerful’.

It’s tantalising thinking that at any time someone could discover something entirely unheard of. There’s also something strangely satisfying about imagining the team meetings where astrophysicists bounce theories around, especially the one about Przybylski’s star.

It might have gone something like this (my astrophysicists are Australian):

Astrophysicist 1: So, what do we all reckon is causing the composition of Przybylski’s star to be so weird?

Astrophysicist 2: Hmm … Could be some heavy radioactive elements we haven’t discovered yet.

Astrophysicist 3: Yeah, or it could be aliens.

Astrophysicist 1: …

Astrophysicist 2: … How do you figure?

Astrophysicist 3: The way I see it, mate, aliens could be pouring strontium and curium into the star.

Astrophysicist 1: Yeah, nah.

Astrophysicist 2: Seriously? But why would they be doing that?

Astrophysicist 3: To get our attention.

Astrophysicist 1: … You know what? You could be onto something!

Astrophysicist 2: Well, I suppose we can’t prove that it’s not aliens. Let’s add that to our list of theories.

Astrophysicist 3: Science for the win!

Now, that’s science I can get behind.

I would recommend you Google images of each star as you learn about it so you can put a stellar face to the name. Lest you read about the Stingray nebula and imagine this

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when you really should be imagining this.

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So, having read this book, do I think I can now talk confidently about astrophysics? Not a chance, but I can point you in the direction of a book that will entertain you while teaching you some fascinating things about the universe. And like any good non fiction book, I’m leaving this one satisfied with what I’ve learned but eager to investigate further.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We all know the Sun, the powerhouse of our solar system, but what about Luyten’s Flare, the Rosino-Zwicky Object or Chanal’s variable star? For those whose curiosity takes them far beyond Earth’s atmosphere, The Secret Life of Stars offers a personal and readily understood introduction to some of the Galaxy’s most remarkable stars.

Each chapter connects us to the various different and unusual stars and their amazing characteristics and attributes, from pulsars, blue stragglers and white dwarfs to cannibal stars and explosive supernovae. With chapter illustrations by Eirian Chapman, this book brings to life the remarkable personalities of these stars, reminding readers what a diverse and unpredictable universe we live in and how fortunate we are to live around a stable star, our Sun.

Breaking & Mending – Joanna Cannon

I learned that returning a life to someone very often has nothing to do with restoring a heartbeat.

In this memoir, Joanna Cannon invites readers to experience key moments of her time in medical school and as a junior doctor. This quick read has short chapters but they provide insights on her highs and lows, as well as the patients that have stayed with her. I found her writing style engaging and I could easily picture what Joanna was describing.

Burnout is an unlikely phrase, because it implies that the effects are loud and obvious, raging like a fire for everyone to see.

Most burnout, however, is quiet and remains unseen. It exists behind a still and mirrored surface, deep, out of reach, unnoticed by everyone – even, sometimes, by the one who is burning.

While some of the factors that contributed to her ‘breaking’ are fairly clear in my mind, the details of the ‘mending’ remain fairly vague to me. Sure, I know that being able to work in psychiatry, which was the reason Joanna was in medical school in the first place, was integral to her recovery. However, unlike the lead up to her burnout, the recovery process didn’t really come alive on the page for me.

I was impressed by Joanna’s ability to hold on to her compassion, even as her work as a junior doctor was taking a physical and psychological toll on her. What I will take away from this read, though, is the kindness and courage of so many of her patients, despite their circumstances.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, mental health and self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“A few years ago, I found myself in A&E. 

I had never felt so ill. I was mentally and physically broken. So fractured, I hadn’t eaten properly or slept well, or even changed my expression for months. I sat in a cubicle, behind paper-thin curtains and I shook with the effort of not crying. I was an inch away from defeat … but I knew I had to carry on. 

Because I wasn’t the patient. I was the doctor.”

In this powerful memoir, Joanna Cannon tells her story as a junior doctor in visceral, heart-rending snapshots. 

We walk with her through the wards, facing extraordinary and daunting moments: from attending her first post-mortem, sitting with a patient through their final moments, to learning the power of a well or badly chosen word. These moments, and the small sustaining acts of kindness and connection that punctuate hospital life, teach her that emotional care and mental health can be just as critical as restoring a heartbeat.

In a profession where weakness remains a taboo, this moving, beautifully written book brings to life the vivid, human stories of doctors and patients – and shows us why we need to take better care of those who care for us.

There’s a Superhero in Your Book – Tom Fletcher

Illustrations – Greg Abbott

Superhero is trying to save this book from their nemesis, The Scribbler, who is “scribbling all over your book with her crayons!”

But Superhero can’t do it alone.

Readers can help Superhero by completing various activities, including tapping and lifting the book.

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Fans of this series will find some familiar faces along the way, all of whom need help from the reader. Kids will love the interaction and parents will love the message, because the strongest superpower isn’t strength or speed; it’s something we can all do.

I love Greg Abbott’s illustrations. They’re colourful, the expressions are easy to read and there’s something so cute about a superhero sticking out their tongue to help them concentrate.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Whoosh! A superhero has landed in your book! A new interactive adventure from the team that brought you There’s a Monster in Your Book and its companions.

Use the power of your imagination to unlock Superhero’s superpowers. But you’d better act fast before The Scribbler ruins your book completely! Readers will enjoy interactively tapping, stretching, and whizzing this book around as they help Superhero defeat the villain and save the day! As he did in all of the companion books, Tom Fletcher invites interactive fun while delivering a satisfying twist that celebrates the power of kindness and the true meaning of being a hero and a friend.

Witness – Louise Milligan

An analysis by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers of sexual assault statistics published in September 2019 found that of the 52,396 sexual assaults reported to NSW Police between 2009 and 2018, charges were only laid in 12,894 cases.

Of the 12,894, 7629 went to court. Of those, 2308 were dropped at trial, 1494 found not guilty. The remaining 3827, or roughly 50 per cent of the total that went to court, were found guilty. That’s just 7 per cent of the cases that originally went to police.

I’m one of the 39,502 whose report to the police resulted in no charges being laid. Because there were no witnesses. Because the detective who took my statement didn’t even know how to classify the crime that was committed. [I checked. Section 61I of the Crimes Act 1900 No 40 says it has a name. It’s called sexual assault.] Because the second detective I spoke to didn’t believe me. Because the entire police investigation consisted of the second detective asking my psychologist if I had a mental illness that would cause me to make something like this up.

After reading this book I’m grateful that my retraumatisation was only at the hands of the police, that I never had to experience cross-examination in court, where

complainants and witnesses are treated like they are the villains, in order to defend the accused.

This book was an eye-opener in the most brutal way. I already knew the court system in Australia didn’t do any favours for people who have experienced violent crimes. I didn’t realise it was this bad.

I learned about the culture within the legal community, ensuring barristers are seen as not having been affected by the horrific offences they are defending. Without being able to acknowledge their own vicarious trauma or get help for it, barristers disregard the impact of trauma on victims they cross-examine in their courtrooms, making it easier to dehumanise them and rip holes in their testimony.

This is a system where teenagers are called ‘madam’ to make it sound as though they are older than they are. Where children are not allowed to take teddy bears with them when they testify because their presence would remind the jury that the victim is a child. Where the accused has a lawyer protecting their rights in court but the victim doesn’t. Where barristers behave towards victims in ways that would get you fired in pretty much any other job, but it’s mostly allowed because in court it’s all about establishing reasonable doubt.

And that’s where we come to that oft-repeated phrase from victims – that the cross-examination was as bad, if not worse, than the original abuse.

Psychologist Michelle Epstein says her patients who go through the court process generally say they would recommend others not to do it.

My take-away from this book?

If you’re sexually assaulted in Australia and your case is one of the few that actually makes it to court, you’re likely to wish it hadn’t. There you can expect to be traumatised at a level on par, if not more so, than the abuse you experienced to get you there in the first place.

This is a real indictment on the legal system (I almost said justice system but it appears justice is but a pipe dream for most survivors). Until real change occurs (and this is a system that moves imperceptibly slow, so don’t hold your breath), I predict that fewer survivors will feel safe enough to report what happened to them and perpetrators are going to keep on perpetrating, knowing, statistically, they’re very unlikely to be punished for their crimes.

‘It’s like you are alive, and you’re having an autopsy done on you.’

Julie Stewart

People who actually have the power to make a difference need to read this book immediately! Well written as it is, it made me feel so sad and angry, and utterly powerless. Now that I’m suitably dejected and disillusioned, I’m going to take a much needed mental health break. If you’d care to join me, I’ll be floating on a cloud made of cotton candy and hanging out with some unicorns.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, mental health, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the best-selling author of Cardinal comes a searing examination of the power imbalance in our legal system – where exposing the truth is never guaranteed and, for victims, justice is often elusive. 

A masterful and deeply troubling expose, Witness is the culmination of almost five years’ work for award-winning investigative journalist Louise Milligan. Charting the experiences of those who have the courage to come forward and face their abusers in high-profile child abuse and sexual assault cases, Milligan was profoundly shocked by what she found. 

During this time, the #MeToo movement changed the zeitgeist, but time and again during her investigations Milligan watched how witnesses were treated in the courtroom and listened to them afterwards as they relived the associated trauma. Then she was a witness herself in the trial of the decade, R v George Pell.

She interviews high-profile members of the legal profession, including judges and prosecutors. And she speaks to the defence lawyers who have worked in these cases, discovering what they really think about victims and the process, and the impact that this has on their own lives. Milligan also reveals never-before-published court transcripts, laying bare the flaws that are ignored, and a court system that can be sexist, unfeeling and weighted towards the rich and powerful. 

Witness is a call for change. Milligan exposes the devastating reality of the Australian legal system where truth is never guaranteed and, for victims, justice is often elusive. And even when they get justice, the process is so bruising, they wish they had never tried. 

The Passengers – John Marrs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

In a world where self-drive cars take the hassle out of getting from A to B, eight people go for a drive one morning. A hacker has set them on a collision course. Only one will survive. It’s up to the public to decide which one.

‘I have programmed your car to take you on an alternative route this morning. And in two hours and thirty minutes, it it likely that you will be dead.’

Scheduled to meet their maker in the near future are:

Passenger 1: A married young woman who is 7 months pregnant. She’s a teaching assistant who is driving to her husband’s workplace this morning.

Passenger 2: An unemployed and homeless young man who is suicidal.

Passenger 3: An elderly actress who is on her way to a hospital to visit teenage cancer patients. Even if you decide you don’t like her, then surely you wouldn’t kill her dog, who is travelling in the car with her, would you?

Passenger 4: A mother of two and a police officer.

Passenger 5: The husband of Passenger 4. He runs a refurbishment and construction company. He and his wife are travelling in separate cars.

Passenger 6: A stay at home mother of five who is trying to escape from an abusive husband.

Passenger 7: A disabled war veteran who’s on their way to the hospital.

Passenger 8: An asylum seeker.

It’s kind of like the trolley problem …

if it was on steroids.

Who would you save?

How do you determine which life is the most valuable when you don’t know the whole story?

That is the task Libby, a mental health nurse with PTSD, has before her today.

‘For every one of your actions today, there will be a reaction.’

This entire book is like watching a car crash unfold. Literally. And because I’m apparently all about realism, I read some of this book while I was sitting in my car. It was not moving at the time.

Like all John Marrs novels I’ve read so far, I loved the concept and quickly made my way through the chapters. Unlike previous novels I didn’t become emotionally involved in the story. I think it was because I didn’t get to spend much time getting to know each passenger.

While I understand it was integral to the story that the people who are deciding the fates of the eight unfortunates don’t know much about them, I never felt an urgent need for a specific passenger to survive so I wasn’t as caught up in the drama as I’d hoped.

You don’t need to have read The One to enjoy The Passengers but they’re set in the same world. There are several mentions of Match Your DNA in this book, which won’t mean a lot to you if you haven’t read The One.

‘What’s not to love about a bit of anarchy?’

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic violence, human trafficking, mental health, miscarriages, paedophilia, racism, sexual assault and xenophobia. I didn’t make notes of these while I was reading so have only mentioned the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I doubt I’ve remembered them all.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem? 

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?