Santa Jaws – Mark Sperring

Illustrations – Sophie Corrigan

“Merry Fishmas!”

Shelly the shark has something special planned this Christmas. She makes a sign for her front door welcoming everyone to Santa’s Grotto. The only problem is that none of the other fish trust her, so they quickly make themselves scarce. Fair enough, too. I’m pretty sure I’d be questioning Jaws’ motives before willingly stepping foot inside their home.

The exception is one inquisitive squid named Sid. Maybe Sid doesn’t know who lives behind this driftwood door or maybe they’re just so excited about meeting Santa Claus… Soon Sid finds himself face to face with Santa Jaws, not Santa Claus.

This book is so cute! The rhymes flow well and the repetition isn’t overused. The highlight of this book for me, though, were Sophie Corrigan’s illustrations. They use bright colours, the fish are all quite expressive and there are plenty of details to enjoy.

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I particularly loved the coral Christmas trees with shell decorations, the snowman made of sand, the angler fish finding love beneath the mistletoe and the stingray wearing a Santa hat.

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I hereby decree that stingrays must wear Santa hats at all times from this day forth, so we may never forget how adorable they make them look.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Today’s my LUCKY, LUCKY day.

Golly, whizz and gee!

For GUESS WHO’s meeting Santa Claus …

Yes, me! Yes, me! YES, ME!

Ho-ho-ho! It’s Christmas Eve and Sid the squid is SUPER-excited. He’s going to meet Santa Claus AT LAST!

But as he enters the dark underwater grotto, all is not as it seems …

Will there be a happy ending? Let’s hope so. It IS Christmas, after all!

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

Translator – Polly Barton

‘I’d like an easy job.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

Princess Swashbuckle – Hollie Hughes

Illustrations – Deborah Allwright

Princess Swashbuckle’s parents are trying to find her a prince but she’s not interested. She longs to be a froggy pirate queen so she packs her belongings and boards the Stinky Fish and declares herself their new Captain.

She’s “on a mission to find NICE things to do” and under her leadership that’s exactly what they do. They help animals of the sea and land, have adventures and plenty of fun, and naturally everyone lives happily ever after.

The rhymes are lovely and flow well and the message is stellar! Princess Swashbuckle’s parents don’t understand her dreams initially, wanting her to follow tradition. However they eventually realise that she doesn’t need a prince after all and embrace her choices, allowing her the freedom to be the kind pirate queen she was destined to be.

Deborah Allwright’s illustrations are so much fun. They’re colourful and expressive, and I loved that Princess Swashbuckle’s head is shaped like a heart. There’s so many details to enjoy, particularly in the pages featuring a variety of animals.

I absolutely adore this book and need to find a kid to read it to – stat! This is the perfect book to encourage kids to follow their heart, especially if their dreams aren’t what society expects of them.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Tired of the same old princess-meets-her-prince stories? Bored of princesses in frilly pink dresses? Fed up with princes getting all the action? Yes? So is Princess Swashbuckle. She’s Swashbuckle by name, swashbuckling by nature and she’s about to show the world what a great pirate captain she can be. Charmingly breaking the mould, Princess Swashbuckle is a rollicking tale of adventure and finding your own happy.

33 1/3 #135: Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele – Amy Gentry

Although I was really looking forward to reading about Tori’s Boys for Pele (I’ve been sort of obsessed for 24 years with all things Tori) I found myself glazing over whenever the discussion moved into a discourse about the nature of disgust or how the concept of taste can be, I don’t know, something about Kant and aesthetic philosophy. I blame myself; I saw Tori on the cover and neglected to read the blurb where it warned me that this book was a “blend of memoir, criticism, and aesthetic theory”.

Sure, I understood where the author was coming from when she explored disgust; the image of Tori suckling a piglet in the album artwork did elicit a WTF response from me when I first saw it in 1996. Perhaps you need to be smarter than I am to fully appreciate the connections between Tori’s music and the philosophical and sociological treatises mentioned in this book but it came across to me as kinda pretentious (sorry!).

In the end, Bourdieu’s sociological lens merely neglects what Kant purposely excludes: the body’s role in aesthetic experience.

I know a lot of people call Tori ‘pretentious’ as well but I just wanted to hear about her songs. I already knew the early Tori biography and had read a lot of the articles referenced. I also didn’t want to keep hearing about Wilson’s book about Céline Dion. I’ve got nothing against Céline (I quite enjoyed her Deadpool 2 music video) but I was here to read about Tori.

While it wasn’t what I was hoping for this book is definitely thoroughly researched and well written, and I expect a lot of Toriphiles will love it. The sections that actually deconstructed Tori’s songs were interesting and I did learn some new (to me) meanings behind lyrics and background information about the media’s portrayal of her. There were several passages I had to highlight including:

Process and product are never far apart in Amos’s music, which is, I suspect, one reason why her answers to questions about what the songs mean can often sound like additional lyrics rather than explanations. For Amos, it seems, to sing and play is to think through a complicated problem out loud, and that thinking is never really finished. Neither is the song; neither, perhaps, is the woman.

I was very disappointed that, in a book about a specific album, some of its songs were barely mentioned, including some of my favourites. In particular, Putting the Damage On is mentioned in passing twice and Talula is only mentioned once! Songs that aren’t even on this album were given more air time.

This series has been on my radar for a number of years and I expected that after reading about Pele I’d be bingeing the rest but it turns out they’re not for me and I’m really bummed about that. I usually have to buy any book written by or about Tori so this is a first for me.

Word of the Book: Abject. Abject and abjection are used a combined 47 times, although it felt closer to 100.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Academic for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s hard to think of a solo female recording artist who has been as revered or as reviled over the course of her career as Tori Amos. Amy Gentry argues that these violent aesthetic responses to Amos’s performance, both positive and negative, are organized around disgust – the disgust that women are taught to feel, not only for their own bodies, but for their taste in music.

Released in 1996, Amos’s third album, Boys for Pele, represents the height of Amos’s willingness to explore the ugly qualities that make all of her music, even her more conventionally beautiful albums, so uncomfortably, and so wonderfully, strange. Using a blend of memoir, criticism, and aesthetic theory, Gentry argues that the aesthetics of disgust are useful for thinking in a broader way about women’s experience of all art forms.

Valensteins – Ethan Long

So, I decided to read a love story to coincide with the royal wedding and naturally chose a picture book. The Fright Club members are all practising their scares, from the ghost’s Boo! to the butterfly’s Blah!, but Fran K. Stein is doing something weird with pink paper, scissors and glue.

Several of the Club members try to guess what Fran is making (the ghost’s paper butt guess is the best one) before Bunny explains what Fran is really up to. It turns out that it’s Valentine’s Day and Fran has made a pink paper heart, which leads Sandy the witch to wonder the scariest thing of all…

“Do you think Fran … gulp … is in LOVE?”

Bunny then tells the bewildered Fright Club members what love is, terrifying them more and more with each new piece of information. Fran is reminded what love really is when his Valentine appears. Aww! 💕

The illustrations in this book are adorable! With muted colours and expressive characters I loved every picture. My favourites are those that show the horror of the Fright Club members when Bunny is explaining what love is.

This culminates in a two page illustration with the characters’ “EEEEWWW!” expressions. Sandy the witch looks decidedly nauseous and may vomit at any moment. The ghost has its eyes screwed up tightly and its tongue has escaped its mouth, looking to be mid “Blech!” The spider’s eyes are goggled. Vladimir, the werewolf, mummy and butterfly also have priceless expressions.

I’ve read this book three times over the last couple of weeks and I love it each time. In fact, if any of you are desperately searching for a Valentine’s Day present for me 😜 I’d love my own copy of this book. I definitely have to read Ethan Long’s other books, especially this book’s companion, Fright Club.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Something strange is in the air on this dark, cold night.

The members of Fright Club are always ready to scare, but tonight Fran K. Stein has something else on his mind. He’s busy making something, and the other monsters want to know what it is.

Could it be a mask with fangs? A big pink nose? Or maybe a paper butt? No … it’s a Valentine!

That means one thing … EEEEK!! Is Fran in love? What could be scarier than falling in love?!?

Peach – Emma Glass

I hate giving a low rating to any book. I have such admiration for authors – for the blood, sweat and tears that go into writing a book in the first place, then having to navigate the publishing world and subjecting themselves to readers who can lift them up or tear them down with their words.

If you are interested in reading this book, please don’t just go by my review. There are a lot of 5 star reviews for this book as well, and who knows, maybe you’ll be adding one yourself after reading it. My review comes from a place of confusion and ‘this wasn’t the book for me’ rather than malice. I applaud the author for successfully navigating the publishing world and for the many positive reviews I’ve read.

Having said that … my brain hurts! Had I borrowed this book from the library instead of requesting an ARC I would not have finished it.

You know those books that hoity-toity book clubs rave about with their “literary masterpiece” this and their “author stunned with their use of [some big fancy word that the general population can neither spell nor use in a sentence]” that? You may listen to these people and smile and nod, but on the inside you’re thinking, ‘How did you get that from this book?’ and ‘I must be completely stupid. I have no idea what you’re going on about.’ I think that’s going to be the unfortunate fate of this book; a polarising “most exquisite piece of writing ever!” or “what the hell did I just read?!”

Reading like a stream of consciousness, Peach (the novella) opens with Peach (the person) having just been brutally sexually assaulted and follows her down the rabbit trail of its physical, emotional and psychological aftermath. I came away from Peach having very little grasp on which words were literal, fantasy, hallucination, nightmare or flashback – and I’m not sure I was supposed to. I can handle gruesome, triggery books, I understand the internal turmoil following sexual assault and revenge fantasies, but I. don’t. UndErsTand. This. book.

Which brings me to the writing style. There are so many one word sentences, some sentences start with a capital letter and others don’t, words have randomly capitalised letters scattered through them. I expect it was deliberate, intentionally messy and disjointed to reflect the emotional state of Peach and her internal dialogue, but I just found it messy. I understood what was happening (sometimes) but I couldn’t figure out if the author was going for prose, poetry, some combination or something else entirely.

There’s the use of food to describe people, including:

  • The rapist / stalker / maker of creepy hand delivered notes with words cut out of magazines, Lincoln, is sausage, pork, oily, greasy, slimy
  • Mr Custard, college biology teacher made of custard
  • Baby, Peach’s brother who remains unnamed is icing sugar, jelly.

Mam and Dad are overtly sexual, so much so that I found it as uncomfortable to read as I did the sexual assault. Speaking of Green, Peach’s boyfriend, the same evening of his daughter’s sexual assault –

“You make such a cute couple, and the sex sounds amazing, says Dad.”

Immediately following his daughter’s face flushing red with embarrassment,

“It’s okay, Peach. Sex is a good thing. Me and Mam do it all the time. We just did it now on the kitchen table. It’s human nature, Peach, don’t be embarrassed. Green is a lucky guy. Most girls won’t put out until they’re married. But not our Peach. and we’re proud of you.”

I’m sorry, what??? Then good ol’ Mam and Dad, along with boyfriend Green remain oblivious to what Peach is going through for the entire novella.

So, just two of my multitude of unanswered questions:

  • Why does Peach’s stomach continually grow larger and larger and larger?
  • What really happened in the end?

Colour me confused!

Content warnings include sexual assault, murder, animal abuse and possible (?) cannibalism.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Circus, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Slip the pin through the skin. Start stitching.
It doesn’t sting. It does bleed. White thread turns red.
Red string. Going in. Going out. I pull. Tug. 
Tug the pin. In. Out. Out. Out. Blackout.

Something has happened to Peach. Blood runs down her legs and the scent of charred meat lingers on her flesh. It hurts to walk but she staggers home to parents that don’t seem to notice. They can’t keep their hands off each other and besides, they have a new infant, sweet and wobbly as a jelly baby. 

Peach must patch herself up alone so she can go to college and see her boyfriend, Green. But sleeping is hard when she is haunted by the gaping memory of a mouth, and working is hard when burning sausage fat fills her nostrils, and eating is impossible when her stomach is swollen tight as a drum. 

In this dazzling debut, Emma Glass articulates the unspeakable with breath-taking clarity and verve. Intensely physical, with rhythmic, visceral prose, Peach marks the arrival of a visionary new voice.