The Sisters Grimm #2: Night of Demons and Saints – Menna van Praag

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

You think you’re ordinary. You never suspect that you’re stronger than you seem, braver than you feel or greater than you imagine. 

It’s been three years since we last spent time with the Sisters Grimm. We catch up with them in the lead up to their 21st birthday. 

‘Tonight we’re stronger than we’ll ever be again.’ 

Goldie’s adorable younger brother, Teddy, isn’t quite as adorable anymore; he’s found some attitude since we last saw him. Goldie is still reeling from loss. Liyana is increasingly worried about her aunt, Nyasha. She’s also missing her girlfriend, Kumiko, who is away studying. Scarlet suspects Eli of keeping secrets. I can’t provide an update about Bea because that would involve spoilers.

We visit Everwhere, which remains magical and beautiful, but is not without its shadows.

This is a story of love, hope and hopelessness, of longing and loneliness, of losing others and yourself.

Goldie’s stories, co-written by Vicky van Praag, are scattered throughout the book, as they were in The Sisters Grimm. My favourite was The Good Girl

‘Not to worry, your voice has been long drowned out by the voices of others. But it’s never too late to listen to your own.’ 

I may have missed something but I found it confusing that Leo could “barely see five miles in any direction”, yet he can’t see Goldie when she’s right in front of him.

There are fewer Alastair Meikle’s illustrations in this book but they were still wonderful. 

I would definitely recommend reading this series in order. If you attempted this book without having already read The Sisters Grimm, you’d be in for some major spoilers and confusion. 

‘There’s a storm coming, child, and you’re the only one who can contain it.’ 

Content warnings include death by suicide, death of an animal, mental health, mention of abortion and miscarriage, sexual assault, suicide attempt and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

And then there were three …

Three years ago, the sisters confronted their demon father in that strange other-world called Everwhere. It was a battle that ended in a devastating loss, and the scars they carry seem to have slowly pushed the sisters apart

One sister, still raw with grief, is now a near recluse but determined to use her powers to resurrect what she has lost.

Another has made the journey to learn more of her family, her culture and her roots.

And another seems to have turned her back on what she is and opted to lead a more normal life.

But now the sisters are about to be brought together once more. Because when the clock strikes midnight, when October ticks into November, when autumn wilts into winter, when All Hallows’ Eve becomes All Saints’ Day, the sisters Grimm will turn twenty-one and reach the zenith of their powers.

And on this night, at this time, in this place called Everwhere, anything is possible …

House of Hollow – Krystal Sutherland

Three little girls fell through a crack in the world. 

When Iris Hollow was seven, she and her two older sisters, Grey and Vivi, were missing for a month. When they returned, they couldn’t remember where they’d been or what happened to them. Now, a decade later, the past is intruding on their present and their lives will never be the same. 

Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. 

I’ve been obsessed with this cover for months and now I’m equally obsessed with the Hollow sisters. This story is dark but somehow still gorgeous. I both loved and was wary of the intense bond between these sisters. 

It was a compulsive read and the imagery was almost tangible. I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved that a book didn’t come with Smell-O-Pages.

I absolutely adored this book and want to gush about each of the sisters, their history, the imagery, the horror and the beauty. However, this is one of those books where the less you know going in the better. 

Get to know the Hollows and let their world unfurl around you. Just be prepared for them to get under your skin, whichever way you choose to interpret that. 

I am the thing in the dark.” 

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide (including method used), self harm and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange.

Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful and inexplicably dangerous. 

Now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school – something her two famously glamorous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing, leaving behind only bizarre clues, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her. As they brush against the supernatural, they realise that the story they’ve been told about their past is unravelling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.

Krystal Sutherland’s latest novel is a dark and twisty modern-day fairytale that expertly melds the fantastical with the real as the Hollow sisters discover just how much horror can lie beneath the surface. 

Soul Lanterns – Shaw Kuzki

Translator – Emily Balistrieri

“There are still so many people looking for someone in Hiroshima.” 

I’ve heard so many stories told by people who survived the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The physical and mental impacts of surviving something so unimaginable. Stories of loved ones who vanished that day. Many accounts I’ve come across have been from adults who were children in 1945. 

Written by a second generation survivor, this middle grade book takes place 25 years later. Nozomi, a twelve year old second generation survivor, attends the annual lantern floating ceremony, honouring loved ones who died as a result of the atomic bomb. Nozomi realises that one of the lanterns her mother releases each year doesn’t have a name written on it.

Between beginning to investigate who the person behind the nameless lantern is and a special art project, Nozomi and her friends discover that “even when you think you know someone, there are tons of things you have no idea about”.

This is a story of loss, grief and regret. It reminded me how important it is to truly appreciate our loved ones and to live in a way that minimises regret about the things we did and didn’t do or say. 

I didn’t really connect with Nozomi and the story felt disjointed at times. Young readers may ask some tricky questions after finishing this book about war, death and the images, not over the top graphic but obviously still disturbing, of what happens to people’s bodies when they’re exposed to such catastrophic levels of radiation. 

“So many people’s fates were changed by the flash. Many of those who survived physically were dead inside.” 

I would hesitate recommending this book too widely. I’d be reading this one first so I could decide whether it was appropriate for my specific kid. It probably would have been too confronting for me and I wouldn’t have known how to manage the images that would have implanted themselves into my brain if I’d read this book when I was too young.

Although this book held such sadness, it also managed to hold beauty and hope, and I’m so glad I found it.

Content warnings include death by suicide, descriptions of what happened to people and buildings when the bomb was dropped, and the long term physical and psychological impacts of war.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The haunting and poignant story of a how a young Japanese girl’s understanding of the historic and tragic bombing of Hiroshima is transformed by a memorial lantern-floating ceremony.

Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honour those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realises that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.

Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on 6 August, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognise – better than most – the urgent need for peace. 

The Coffin Confessor – Bill Edgar

Everyone has their secrets. Most people are buried with them. 

I ordered this book from the library thinking it would be a bit of a laugh, really. The thought of someone rocking up to funerals and interrupting them with messages from the person inside the coffin struck me as kind of sacrilegious. It’s also a little bit awesome and potentially terrifying. A message from beyond the grave has the power to both comfort loved ones and to publicly call out people who deserve it. 

The service I would provide to the dying was granting them one last wish, a way for the powerless to leave the world with their conscience clear and the slate wiped clean. A confession before the coffin. The Coffin Confessor. 

The reasons the dying employed the Coffin Confessor were more varied than I’d expected. There were some that felt like cop outs, when I thought someone would have benefited greatly from saying what they needed to say to the other person face to face. Others were payback, pure and simple. But then there were the really touching and absolutely heartbreaking ones. 

A last request – the thing someone can’t let go of when they’re out of time – is as unique as a fingerprint. Sometimes people seem genuinely surprised by what is most important to them, once it comes down to the wire. I know they surprise me. 

The chapters focused on the individual stories of some of the people who have paid Bill to crash their funerals made me think a lot about regrets and what I need to do to make sure I have as few as possible when my expiry date arrives. I thought about the things I don’t want to leave unsaid and how I want to be remembered. 

Maybe this was something people needed – a way to reclaim some agency over how our deaths are marked, the way we’re remembered. 

What struck me most about Bill Edgar is his resilience. He was abused both at home and school, places that should have be safe, and then experienced homelessness, all before he was old enough to vote. He’s gone on to marry, have children, earn a living and is functional, a big ask for anyone, let alone someone who’s experienced the level of trauma he has.

The writing style had a real Aussie bloke feel to it and I liked that about Bill’s story. He’s not pretentious and neither is the way he tells his story. He’s a down to earth guy who’s survived almost unimaginable trauma and gone on to make a name for himself doing a job I’d never even heard of prior to reading this book. Not only that but Bill has also become an advocate for others who were abused at the elite school he attended.

I’d call Bill an inspiration but I suspect he wouldn’t like that word very much and I don’t want to get decked by him. 😃 So instead I’ll just say that this book surprised me in the best possible way. I can’t imagine our paths ever crossing but if they did I’d be honoured to have the opportunity to sit down with Bill and have a chat with him. 

Death comes for us all, but not all of us remember to make the most of the time we have. Out of everything I’ve learned along the way, that’s the only hard and fast rule. 

Content warnings include death by suicide (including methods used), emotional abuse, mental health, physical abuse, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘That’s when I stood up, told the best mate to sit down, shut up or f**k off. That the man in the coffin had a few things to say.’

Imagine you are dying with a secret. Something you’ve never had the courage to tell your friends and family. Or a last wish – a task you need carried out before you can rest in peace. Now imagine there’s a man who can take care of all that, who has no respect for the living, who will do anything for the dead.

Bill Edgar is the Coffin Confessor – a one-of-a-kind professional, a man on a mission to make good on these last requests on behalf of his soon-to-be-deceased clients. And this is the extraordinary story of how he became that man.

Bill has been many things in this life: son of one of Australia’s most notorious gangsters, homeless street-kid, maximum-security prisoner, hard man, family man, car thief, professional punching bag, philosopher, inventor, private investigator, victim of horrific childhood sexual abuse and an activist fighting to bring down the institutions that let it happen. A survivor.

As a little boy, he learned the hard way that society is full of people who fall through the cracks – who die without their stories being told. Now his life’s work is to make sure his clients’ voices are heard, and their last wishes delivered: the small-town grandfather who needs his tastefully decorated sex dungeon destroyed before the kids find it. The woman who endured an abusive marriage for decades before finding freedom. The outlaw biker who is afraid of nothing … except telling the world he is in love with another man. The dad who desperately needs to track down his estranged daughter so he can find a way to say he’s sorry, with one final gift.

Confronting and confounding, heartwarming and heartbreaking, The Coffin Confessor is a compelling story of survival and redemption, of a life lived on the fringes of society, on both sides of the law – and what that can teach you about living your best life … and death.

Anxious People – Fredrik Backman

Translator – Neil Smith

‘All interesting people have done something really stupid at least once!’

This is one of those books that gives you hope for humanity. And may make you ugly cry as you comfort eat your way through your leftover chocolate ice cream. Wait, was that too specific?

This is, without doubt, my favourite read of the month. Apologies in advance to all of the other books yet to come.

It was already on my special book radar before I began reading. It was recommended to someone I know by a local bookstore staff member. They loved it and told me enough about it, including the ugly cry, to pique my interest. I then waited, not so patiently, for my library reservation to magically transform into the book that’s barely left my hands since I started it.

The whole thing is a complicated, unlikely story. Perhaps that’s because what we think stories are about often isn’t what they’re about at all. This, for instance, might not actually be the story of a bank robbery, or an apartment viewing or a hostage drama. Perhaps it isn’t even a story about idiots.

Perhaps this is a story about a bridge.

This is a book where what seems to be and what is can be vastly different things, where a bunch of strangers who wouldn’t normally interact discover they have commonalities and where “sometimes Christmas lights are just Christmas lights.”

I loved all of the idiots in this book, even Zara. I may have liked her the most. There’s something about being privileged enough to be able to catch a glimpse at what lies beneath the surface of people who present themselves to the world with their armour firmly affixed, their edges carefully sharpened so only the exceptionally brave or exceedingly stupid will attempt to approach them. I also had a huge soft spot for Estelle.

And then there’s the rabbit. It took me a long time to find this book and I may not have found it yet if not for the person who told me about it, not realising that I’m a bit of a book stalker. You tell me about a book and I’m almost always going to need to read it. I could say it’s because it interests me and most of the time that’s part of it. It is a book, after all. But it’s also because I want to get to know you better and learning what books you love gives me an insight into who you are at your core.

description

It would have taken me no time at all to find this book if I had seen this cover before now. How anyone could see this design and then think that this book should be packaged in any other way is beyond me. It’s perfection!

I don’t think I have even been so emotional over a bank robbery and hostage situation. I knew very little about this book going into it and am certain that‘s the best way to approach it.

I want to quote most of the book to you but am going to restrain myself and instead leave you with my three favourites:

The truth, of course, is that if people really were as happy as they look on the Internet, they wouldn’t spend so much damn time on the Internet, because no one who’s having a really good day spends half of it taking pictures of themselves.

They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.

‘Worst hostages ever.’

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic abuse, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a small town in Sweden it appears to be an ordinary day. But look more closely, and you’ll see a masked figure approaching a bank…

Two hours later, chaos has descended. An attempted robbery has developed into a hostage situation – with the offender refusing to voice their demands.

Fear turns to irritation for the seven strangers trapped inside. If this is to be their last day on earth, shouldn’t it be more dramatic? 

But as the minutes tick by, they begin to suspect that the criminal holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are… 

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

I love horror but for some reason I don’t usually have a lot of luck where horror anthologies are concerned. Thankfully this was one of the better ones I’ve read.

My favourite story was by Kelley Armstrong. As has been the case with this series, one story takes up about half of the book; this time it’s Lee Thomas’ Torn.

Invitation to the Game by Kelley Armstrong – 😱😱😱😱

When you’re offered a promotion at this company you receive an invitation to the Game. Only no one knows what the Game entails until it’s their turn to play.

“It’s an honour, right? We have to remember that.”

Summer of ‘77 by Stewart O’Nan – 😱😱😱😱

There’s more than fun in the sun at the lake this summer. This peek into the world of a predator could make you second guess helping anyone again.

I didn’t really need the mask; it was more for them.

The Dead Years by Taylor Grant – 😱😱😱

Emma’s been gone for years. Now he’s found Emma’s doppelgänger. But Margot’s definitely not Emma.

“Today’s monstrosity is tomorrow’s masterpiece.”

The Blackout by Jonathan Moore – 😱😱😱

A body goes missing from the morgue during a storm.

“Before the lights went out, everything in there was fine.”

Variations on a Theme from Seinfeld by Peter Straub – 😱😱😱

Clyde’s reflection has gone missing. Again.

The image before him in the mirror’s rectangular surface depicted an unusually ordered bathroom empty of humanity, especially as represented by himself.

Torn by Lee Thomas – 😱😱😱😱

The search for a missing child is only the beginning of this story.

How do you go on when something like that happens to your child?

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kelley Armstrong, Stewart O’Nan, Taylor Grant, Jonathan Moore, Peter Straub, and Lee Thomas weave six hair-raising yarns proving that appearances can be deceiving – and deadly – in this horror anthology assembled by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

INVITATION TO THE GAME by Kelley Armstrong
Vivienne dreams of moving up in the company, and now she’s got her chance. All the company asks in return is that she prove her absolute devotion by playing a simple, silly little game.

SUMMER OF ’77 by Stewart O’Nan
Suntanned and bleached blond, the boys and girls of summer never expect anything to interrupt their carefree days. They never see me coming until it’s too late.

THE DEAD YEARS by Taylor Grant
Emma was the great love of his life, even after she vanished. So when she reappears at a cocktail party fifteen years later, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her from slipping away again.

THE BLACKOUT by Jonathan Moore
When a body goes missing from the morgue, Detective Nakahara is called in to investigate. Despite the storm, it should be a simple case. After all, a dead body can’t just walk out on its own … right?

VARIATIONS ON A THEME FROM SEINFELD by Peter Straub
At six years old, Clyde noticed that his reflection decided not to show up in the mirror. Whenever it happens, he just needs to go through the mirror and fetch him. The trick is making it back.

TORN by Lee Thomas
Luther’s Bend is the kind of place where bad things just aren’t supposed to happen, but even the sleepiest towns have secrets … and the full moon can bring retribution for all manners of sins.

Clara Voyant – Rachelle Delaney

Clara can’t wait to write some groundbreaking investigative journalism pieces for her school newspaper, the Kensington Middle School Gazette. When she’s given the job of writing the paper’s horoscope column instead, Clara is devastated. She doesn’t even believe in horoscopes or anything else she considers “Woo!”

She’s hoping to only have to write the column once to pay her dues and then move on to more interesting articles, like the mystery of the missing school mascot, but the horoscopes Clara has written are coming true. All of a sudden everyone around her thinks she’s clairvoyant, despite her protests that she is most definitely not.

I liked Clara’s mother, who practices herbalism, has a group of new friends that Clara disapproves of and paints her home in colours Clara finds the outrageous, like Ripe Tomato and Mango Tango. Clara’s mother’s friends were a fun, eccentric bunch.

“Seriously?” Was there no end to these people’s weirdness?

I also liked Clara’s best friend, Maeve, who’s enthusiastic, loves crime dramas and wants to star in the school play.

Clara, though? I didn’t like her much at all. I understand that she’s missing her old home and her grandmother, who’s recently moved away, but her enthusiasm for most things was underwhelming at best and her attitude needed a serious realignment for the majority of the book. I didn’t like the way she judged everything she didn’t personally believe in and the people who did believe in those things.

“You can’t predict the future,” she told herself aloud. Could she?

I would have loved to have explored the Mystic Mart, which is like “Walmart, but with voodoo dolls.” Although we do solve the mystery of who stole the school mascot, we never learn the identity of the Counterfeit Kid.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Clara can’t believe her no-nonsense grandmother has just up and moved to Florida, leaving Clara and her mother on their own for the first time. This means her mother can finally “follow her bliss,” which involves moving to a tiny apartment in Kensington Market, working at a herbal remedy shop and trying to develop her so-called mystical powers. Clara tries to make the best of a bad situation by joining the newspaper staff at her new middle school, where she can sharpen her investigative journalistic skills and tell the kind of hard-news stories her grandmother appreciated. But the editor relegates her to boring news stories and worse … the horoscopes.

Worse yet, her horoscopes come true, and soon everyone at school is talking about Clara Voyant, the talented fortune-teller. Clara is horrified – horoscopes and clairvoyance aren’t real, she insists, just like her grandmother always told her. But when a mystery unfolds at school, she finds herself in a strange situation: having an opportunity to prove herself as an investigative journalist … with the help of her own mystical powers. 

Playing Beatie Bow – Ruth Park

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

‘It’s Beatie Bow,’ shrieked Mudda in a voice of horror, ‘risen from the dead!’

If you’re an Australian of a certain age it’s practically a given that this book was one of your early high school English class assigned readings. You probably spent so much time second guessing what the author meant, trawling through the text for themes and writing essay after essay about characters, plot and location that even the sight of this book may make your heart sink.

You may even even remember watching the 1986 movie in your classroom on one of those combined TV and VHS contraptions; your teacher would have rolled it into your room on a metal trolley. My takeaway from the movie was that the girl who played Beatie Bow was someone I knew from Home and Away (it’s an Australian thing).

I liked this book in spite of myself in high school, even though my English teacher did everything in their power to make me hate it, what with their dreaded essays and overanalysing almost every single aspect of it. When my library ordered a new copy of it I wondered whether it would stand the test of time. It turns out it both does and doesn’t.

‘But I didna mean to bring you here, I didna know it could be done, heaven’s truth.’

The story, with Abigail accidentally following Beatie Bow back in time to 1873, is still quite interesting. As a kid I had no interest in history but I found the details of The Rocks in both Abigail’s present and Beatie’s fascinating in this reread. I was less interested in the prophecy that saw Abigail cast as the Stranger when I was a kid. Now I want to know more about how the Gift works. I’ve decided I don’t like Abigail or Beatie; I’m pretty sure I liked both of them when I was a kid. I was never a fan of the insta-love.

In my English class there was no discussion about the age gap between Abigail and Judah, no mention of Uncle Samuel’s mental health and no analysis of the sentences that made me cringe during this reread, those featuring racism, ableism and body shaming. Then there’s the fact that Abigail is kidnapped and almost forced into prostitution. I have no memory of my English teacher mentioning that at all.

This reread has made me wonder what I’d think of other English class reads as an adult. I may need to revisit some more.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The game is called Beatie Bow and the children play it for the thrill of scaring themselves.

But when Abigail is drawn in, the game is quickly transformed into an extraordinary, sometimes horrifying, adventure as she finds herself transported to a place that is foreign yet strangely familiar …

Remember – Lisa Genova

Memory allows you to have a sense of who you are and who you’ve been.

If you’ve ever worried that losing your keys is a sign that something more sinister is at play than normal forgetfulness, this is the book for you. Tackling how we remember, why we forget and the impact on both by such factors as stress, sleep and emotion, I found this book interesting and accessible. I didn’t feel left behind when the author started talking about parts of the brain as everything was explained in easy to understand language and backed up with examples I could relate to my own life.

I learned about different types of memory: prospective (what you plan to do), episodic (what happened), semantic (information you know) and muscle (how to do things). I was comforted by being told that most of the time, “forgetting isn’t actually a problem to solve” and that you only make it worse by stressing out about it.

If we want to remember something, above all else, we need to notice what is going on. Noticing requires two things: perception (seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling) and attention.

Some of the content felt too simple to produce an aha! moment but it proves how much we can complicate things unnecessarily. Of course you’re not going to remember where you parked your car if you didn’t pay attention to where you parked it. You’re not forgetting where you parked it; you never formed a memory of where it was in the first place!

While I found the information about how Alzheimer’s gradually impacts different parts of your brain distressing, I was also encouraged by the lifestyle changes we can make to help prevent or at least delay this. Although I’m sure it’s more complicated than this, having something as a touchstone is helpful. If you forget where you parked the car, that’s normal. If you forget you own a car, that’s not.

We tend to pay attention to – and therefore remember – what we find interesting, meaningful, new, surprising, significant, emotional, and consequential.

You can even improve your memory in various ways: paying attention, minimising distractions, rehearsing and self-testing, creating meaning, and using visual and spatial imagery.

This book has the potential to put a lot of minds at ease.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A fascinating exploration of the intricacies of how we remember, why we forget, and what we can do to protect our memories, from the Harvard-trained neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice.

Have you ever felt a crushing wave of panic when you can’t for the life of you remember the name of that actor in the movie you saw last week, or you walk into a room only to forget why you went there in the first place? If you’re over forty, you’re probably not laughing. You might even be worried that these lapses in memory could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In reality, for the vast majority of us, these examples of forgetting are completely normal. Why? Because while memory is amazing, it is far from perfect. Our brains aren’t designed to remember every name we hear, plan we make, or day we experience. Just because your memory sometimes fails doesn’t mean it’s broken or succumbing to disease. Forgetting is actually part of being human. 

In Remember, neuroscientist and acclaimed novelist Lisa Genova delves into how memories are made and how we retrieve them. You’ll learn whether forgotten memories are temporarily inaccessible or erased forever and why some memories are built to exist for only a few seconds (like a passcode) while others can last a lifetime (your wedding day). You’ll come to appreciate the clear distinction between normal forgetting (where you parked your car) and forgetting due to Alzheimer’s (that you own a car). And you’ll see how memory is profoundly impacted by meaning, emotion, sleep, stress, and context. Once you understand the language of memory and how it functions, its incredible strengths and maddening weaknesses, its natural vulnerabilities and potential superpowers, you can both vastly improve your ability to remember and feel less rattled when you inevitably forget. You can set educated expectations for your memory, and in doing so, create a better relationship with it. You don’t have to fear it anymore. And that can be life-changing. 

The Stranger Times – C.K. McDonnell

Hannah’s new boss shot himself in the foot during her job interview and that’s not even the weirdest thing that’s happened this week. She’s just joined The Stranger Times, a newspaper that reports “the weird and wonderful from around the world ‘and beyond’”. Think Fortean Times.

‘You’d be surprised what I’d believe. It’s been a hell of a week.’

Hannah is the new Tina, AKA, assistant editor. Her boss (the guy with the new hole in his foot), Vincent Banecroft, is “foul-smelling, foul-mouthed and foul-tempered”. Banecroft lives in the office, as does Manny (clothing optional), who’s in charge of the paper’s printing department.

Grace, the office manager, spends much of her time managing Banecroft’s mouth. Stella, whose job title I’m still unsure of, lives with Grace and may be my favourite character. Reggie is the paper’s paranormal consultant and Ox is their ufologist and “general paranoid”. The paper is owned by Mrs Harnforth.

Then there’s Simon, who desperately wants to work for The Stranger Times but is having trouble getting past their No Simon policy.

Meanwhile, the police are attempting to investigate some events that aren’t exactly in their jurisdiction, events that are definitely strange enough for The Stranger Times.

‘Right,’ said Banecroft, ‘let’s kick off this parade of inadequacy, then, shall we?’

This book was so much more fun than I’d expected. I got sucked straight in and was entertained the entire time. I enjoyed getting to know Hannah and her new colleagues. There was a Big Bad doing Big Bad things and a whole bunch of goings on that regular people aren’t aware of.

While I was introduced to various ‘Types’ and magical bits and pieces, I don’t really have my head around this part of the world yet. I’m hoping the gaps in my knowledge will be filled in more when I read the sequel.

I really enjoyed the newspaper clippings scattered throughout the book; my favourite was Homework Eats Dog. I would definitely subscribe to this newspaper. There’s an article about a haunted toilet in Falkirk!

‘It’s in a pub. People claim that it speaks – issuing death threats, ominous predictions and …’

‘And?’

‘Shortbread recipes.’

There was a bit of a disjointed feel to some of the chapters. Sometimes it took me a page or two to figure out which part of the story I was reading about, especially when a new character or plot line was introduced. It all came together in the end though.

Some questions were answered in this book but there were a bunch that are being held over for the sequel. I expect I’ll be rereading this book a little closer to the sequel’s publication date.

The employees at The Stranger Times are a bunch of oddballs but they’re my kind of oddballs. I think I’d fit right in with this team.

‘The world is not what you thought it to be.’

Bonus content: If you sign up for the newsletter at https://thestrangertimes.co.uk you’ll snag In Other News, a free ebook.

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, death by suicide, drug addiction and homophobic and racist slurs. I didn’t feel like the homophobic and racist slurs added anything to the story and, although they were challenged, I wondered what the point was of including them in the first place.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor … well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.