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.

The Minders – John Marrs

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Click here to start your life again.

The most important thing I need to tell you about The Minders is that it is set in the same world as The One and The Passengers.

While you could technically read this book as a standalone, ginormous spoilers are included in this book about characters and events from the other books. Make sure you read them in publication order if you’re ever going to read more than one or you risk ruining your reading experience.

Now that we’ve seen firsthand the complications that can come from meeting your one true love and been chauffeured around by driverless cars, it’s time to turn out attention to classified information. Conspiracy theorists could only dream of gaining unrestricted access to everything their government has been hiding from them.

Due to very credible threats to national security, technology has been developed to hide these cover ups, secrets and misdirections in a brand new way – implanted into the heads of a select group of people.

We need to protect ourselves and make sure we are future proof. Our freedom depends upon it.

We follow the stories of five Minders:

Flick is really struggling as a result of the events that unfolded in The One and her connection with two of its characters.

Charlie has anxiety and is into conspiracy theories. This should be right up his alley.

Sinéad’s husband is a domestic abuser. If you happen to imagine a piano falling on his head while you’re reading, I won’t judge you.

Emilia only knows her name.

Like Flick, Bruno is also one of John Marrs’ secondary victims. He was personally impacted by the big action scene in The Passengers.

This was my fifth John Marrs read and the first one I could actually put down. I’m not entirely sure what the problem was but I didn’t connect with any of this book’s Marrs victims and wasn’t invested in the calamities they faced.

Maybe I wasn’t in the right headspace this week? Maybe it was because I didn’t get to spend a great deal of time seeing the characters living their lives before they became Minders? I don’t know, but because I’ve loved all of the others I’m going to classify this book as an anomaly and look forward to my next John Marrs read.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and self harm. There’s also a derogatory term used by an Echo that raised my hackles (this may not bother other readers but I felt like they could have gotten their point across without saying that specific word).

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Del Rey, an imprint of Random House UK, Cornerstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Five strangers guard our secrets. Only four can be trusted …

In the 21st century, information is king. But computers can be hacked and files can be broken into – so a unique government initiative has been born. Five ordinary people have been selected to become Minders – the latest weapon in thwarting cyberterrorism. Transformed by a revolutionary medical procedure, the country’s most classified information has been taken offline and turned into genetic code implanted inside their heads. 

Together, the five know every secret – the truth behind every government lie, conspiracy theory and cover up. In return, they’re given the chance to leave their problems behind and a blank slate to start their lives anew.

But not everyone should be trusted, especially when they each have secrets of their own they’ll do anything to protect …

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. 

See What You Made Me Do – Jess Hill

We talk a lot about the danger of dark alleys, but the truth is that in every country around the world the home is the most dangerous place for a woman.

If you only ever read one book about domestic abuse, please make it this one. While I’d like everyone to read it, I think it should be mandatory for so many professions, including anyone involved in the judicial system, medicine, politics, teaching and counselling.

Domestic abuse is not just violence. It’s worse. It is a unique phenomenon, in which the perpetrator takes advantage of their partner’s love and trust and uses that person’s most intimate details – their deepest desires, shames and secrets – as a blueprint for their abuse.

I thought I knew a lot about domestic abuse already. I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ve read plenty of fiction and non-fiction books that talk about it. I have a psychology degree. I worked in a women’s refuge for a short time. Yet I learned so much from this book.

What should surprise us about domestic abuse is not that a woman can take a long time to leave, but that she has the mental fortitude to survive.

When the author introduced Biderman’s ‘Chart of Coercion’, saying there are parallels between the experiences of returned prisoners of war and domestic abuse survivors, I admit I was a tad wary. Even as someone well versed in the experience of domestic abuse, I wasn’t sure how the two would or could line up. The way the author outlined the techniques, step by step, sucked me in though. It all made perfect sense and it was horrifying, but I was learning something new and I needed to find out more.

Accompanying extensive research are stories of people who have perpetrated and been victimised by domestic abuse. Prepare to brace yourself as you read these accounts as they are invariably brutal and heartbreaking, but please don’t bypass them, even though that would be easier. (Or else you risk missing out on aha! moments, like when emotional abuse is explained as someone bashing someone with their emotions instead of their fists.)

If you’ve experienced domestic abuse yourself, you will easily recognise the truth of these accounts. If you are fortunate enough to have made it this far without being impacted by this type of trauma, know that these stories are representative of so many people’s lives. Friends, family, neighbours …

I can’t imagine reading these accounts without having a visceral reaction and if you’re struggling to ‘witness’ them on the page, please be sure to practice self care. I don’t know if what helped me will apply to other readers but each time I came across something that was too difficult, I told myself that my discomfort wasn’t even in the same ball park as the horror of actually experiencing that firsthand.

The people who have told their stories have courage beyond my comprehension and I feel we owe it to them to not shy away from their words. It’s too easy to maintain the status quo; maybe what we all need is a wake up call to spur us into action.

There’s so much we still need to do. A recent Australian survey, conducted by White Ribbon, found that

Four in ten young men do not consider punching and hitting to constitute domestic violence

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 25/10/2020

In NSW, Australia, coercive control is not even a criminal offence. Yet. Hopefully this will change, if proposed coercive control laws aren’t squished by the powers that be. You can find Women’s Safety NSW’s proposal here.

I want people to stop asking ‘Why does she stay?’ and start asking ‘Why does he do that?’

SURVIVOR, QUEENSLAND

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and sexual assault.

P.S. There’s going to be a three part TV series in 2021 hosted by Jess Hill.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

At the office of Safe Steps, Victoria’s dedicated 24/7 family violence response call centre, phone counsellors receive a call every three minutes. Many women are repeat callers: on average, they will go back to an abusive partner eight times before leaving for good.

‘You must get so frustrated when you think a woman’s ready to leave and then she decides to go back,’ I say.

‘No,’ replies one phone counsellor, pointedly. ‘I’m frustrated that even though he promised to stop, he chose to abuse her again.’

Women are abused or killed by their partners at astonishing rates: in Australia, almost 17 per cent of women over the age of fifteen – one in six – have been abused by an intimate partner.

In this confronting and deeply researched account, journalist Jess Hill uncovers the ways in which abusers exert control in the darkest – and most intimate – ways imaginable. She asks: What do we know about perpetrators? Why is it so hard to leave? What does successful intervention look like?

What emerges is not only a searing investigation of the violence so many women experience, but a dissection of how that violence can be enabled and reinforced by the judicial system we trust to protect us.

Combining exhaustive research with riveting storytelling, See What You Made Me Do dismantles the flawed logic of victim-blaming and challenges everything you thought you knew about domestic and family violence.

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? 

Halloween Carnival Volume 5 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

I’ve been dragging my feet on this anthology series for years now. I was so excited to sink my teeth into some Halloween scares but they consistently disappointed me so I gave up. Now it’s Halloween month again and with one volume to go, I decided to dive back in and hope for the best.

Devil’s Night by Richard Chizmar – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

The newspapers reported the story of what happened that night but that’s not the whole story.

Halloween may be a night for make-believe ghosts and goblins, but you’d better be sure to turn on all the lights and lock your doors on Devil’s Night. Because that’s when the real monsters lurk …

The Last Dare by Lisa Tuttle – 🎃🎃🎃

The tower house is still there, all these years later. Going inside was the last dare between childhood best friends.

“Tell us the story about the tower house”

The Halloween Bleed by Norman Prentiss – 🎃🎃🎃

An interview with a difference.

“What if Halloween … bleeds into other days? It doesn’t matter when the story is written, or when you read it. What matters is that it has an effect on you. It casts its spell.”

Swing by Kevin Quigley – 🎃🎃🎃

Death follows love. Every time.

Most thought she was dancing because she was free, but I knew the real Jessica. She danced because she was trapped.

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub – 🎃🎃🎃

Hat, a story from his childhood and all that jazz.

“Most people will tell you growing up means you stop believing in Halloween things – I’m telling you the reverse. You start to grow up when you understand that the stuff that scares you is part of the air you breathe.”

While the stories included in this anthology were okay, I didn’t get the Halloween horror vibe I was looking for. I didn’t find any of the stories scary at all. I’m glad I finally made it through to the end of this series and there were some decent stories along the way, but overall I remain disappointed.

Content warnings include death by suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Hydra, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Richard Chizmar, Lisa Tuttle, Norman Prentiss, Kevin Quigley, and Peter Straub unmask monsters hiding in plain sight in an anthology of heart-pounding short fiction assembled by horror author and editor Brian James Freeman.

DEVIL’S NIGHT by Richard Chizmar
You’ve read about what happened that night. What you don’t know is the true extent of the damage. The papers got it wrong – and the truth is so much worse than you thought.

THE LAST DARE by Lisa Tuttle
Elaine hasn’t been back to her hometown in years. The house she lived in is gone. The tower house isn’t – nor are the stories of the fate that befalls whoever dares to go there.

THE HALLOWEEN BLEED by Norman Prentiss
People think there’s some sort of mystical power that allows enchantments and witchcraft to come to life on Halloween night. But real magic obeys no calendar – and true evil strikes whenever it’s least expected.

SWING by Kevin Quigley
In Hollywood, everyone lives forever. At least that’s what I used to think … before Jessica. But no one seems to live long when they’re around me.

PORK PIE HAT by Peter Straub
When it comes to jazz, there are players, and there are legends. “Hat” was a legend. His real name didn’t even matter. Still, he had his secrets – secrets best left buried in the past. 

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.

How To Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual – Rebecca Burgess

When Rebecca was growing up they weren’t interested in talking about relationships and sex like the rest of their classmates. They didn’t understand why sex was such a big deal but assumed they’d “grow into” it when they got older.

They tried to have relationships but it just didn’t feel right. They thought that something must be wrong with them.

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It wasn’t until they were at university that they began to accept that being different was okay and that they didn’t have to pretend to be like everyone else.

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Rebecca’s story takes the reader from the bullying they experienced in childhood through to managing their mental health. Information about asexuality is scattered through the graphic novel, with insights into what relationships can look like for people who identify as asexual.

There was a greater focus on mental health than I had expected. I didn’t personally learn anything new about asexuality from the panels that provide information but they do give readers a good introduction. I anticipate that being able to follow Rebecca’s journey from struggling with their sexuality to their eventual acceptance of who they are will be helpful for readers who can relate to her experiences and provide new understanding for those who don’t understand asexuality.

There are resources at the end of Rebecca’s story. Because asexuality is so misunderstood I’m including them here so you can check them out for yourself.

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Content warnings include anxiety, bullying, emetophobia, OCD and mention of sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Jessica Kingsley Publishers for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“When I was in school, everyone got to a certain age where they became interested in talking about only one thing: boys, girls and sex. Me though? I was only interested in comics.”

Growing up, Rebecca assumes sex is just a scary new thing they will ‘grow into’ as they gets older, but when they leaves school, starts working, and does grow up, they starts to wonder why they doesn’t want to have sex with other people.

In this brave, hilarious and empowering graphic memoir, we follow Rebecca as they navigate a culture obsessed with sex – from being bullied at school and trying to fit in with friends, to forcing themself into relationships and experiencing anxiety and OCD – before coming to understand and embrace their asexual identity.

Giving unparalleled insight into asexuality and asexual relationships, How To Be Ace shows the importance of learning to be happy and proud of who you are.

Dark Screams Volume Seven – Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar (editors)

I was disillusioned by some horror anthologies last year but October is calling to me, so here I am again. I’m not sure what it is about horror short stories but I don’t find them scary and would rarely even classify their content as horror. While all of these stories are okay, I didn’t find any scares amongst them.

My favourite was James Renner’s A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest (In Which Christopher Robin Says Goodbye).

Lizardman by Robert McCammon – 🎃🎃🎃

The lizardman has been searching for Old Pope for a long time. Tonight he will find him.

Oh, yeah, the swamp had teeth. Eat you up, bury you under. That was how it was.

A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest (In Which Christopher Robin Says Goodbye) by James Renner – 🎃🎃🎃🎃

You’ll never see Winnie-the-Pooh the same again.

“Sometimes the bad things take up the most room in your heart. Don’t they?”

Furtherest by Kaaron Warren – 🎃🎃🎃

Those boys died in the dunes but there’s more to the story.

“So don’t go into the dunes, kids. You never know who’s lurking in there.”

West of Matamoros, North of Hell by Brian Hodge – 🎃🎃🎃

This is the photoshoot from hell.

“Everybody’s got a plan until the knives come out.”

The Expedition by Bill Schweigart – 🎃🎃🎃

Nazis vs. the wolf.

Had they known then of the chest and the doom that awaited them all, Bruner would have chosen prison.

Snow Shadows by Mick Garris – 🎃🎃🎃

A man and boy are haunted by the death of a woman.

“Did you love her?”

Content warnings include death by suicide.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hydra, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Robert McCammon, James Renner, Kaaron Warren, Brian Hodge, Bill Schweigart, and Mick Garris reveal sinister secrets and unsavoury pasts in a haunting anthology of short stories collected by acclaimed horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

LIZARDMAN by Robert McCammon
The lizardman thinks he knows about all the mysterious dangers of the Florida swamps, but there are things lurking in the bayou that are older and deadlier than his wildest dreams.

A MONSTER COMES TO ASHDOWN FOREST (IN WHICH CHRISTOPHER ROBIN SAYS GOODBYE) by James Renner
Although every child dreams of visiting Hundred Acre Wood, only one has ever actually frolicked in that fabled forest – and survived.

FURTHEREST by Kaaron Warren
She’s been going to the beach since she was a child, daring the other kids to go out past the dunes where those boys died all those years ago. Now she realises that the farther out you go, the harder it is to come back.

WEST OF MATAMOROS, NORTH OF HELL by Brian Hodge
After the success of their latest album, Sebastián, Sofia, and Enrique head to Mexico for a shoot under the statue of Santa Muerte. But they have fans south of the border who’d kill to know where they get their inspiration.

THE EXPEDITION by Bill Schweigart
On a quest to bring glory to the Führer, Lieutenant Dietrich Drexler leads his team into the ruins of the Carpathian Mountains. But the wolf that’s stalking them is no ordinary predator.

SNOW SHADOWS by Mick Garris
A schoolteacher’s impulsive tryst with a colleague becomes a haunting lesson in tragedy and terror when he’s targeted for revenge by an unlikely, unhinged rival.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida – Clarissa Goenawan

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

Miwako Sumida is dead.

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

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