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.

We Are Inevitable – Gayle Forman

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Twenty-six letters and some punctuation marks and you have infinite words in infinite worlds.”

The author calls this book a “love letter to books, and to booksellers” and there are so many bookish delights:

📖 I got to read about other people who love books as much as I do.

📖 The chapter headings are book titles! Why didn’t I think of that?! [Must steal borrow this idea if I ever write a book…]

📖 Bookish references in abundance! Books within books are one of my top five favourite bookish things. Book titles are casually scattered throughout the book. Storylines of well known books are mentioned. Movies that began their lives as books are discussed (the book was better).

“Seriously? It was also a book first?”

“Seriously.”

“Are all movies books first?”

“Just the best ones.”

If you’re like me and likely to panic around the halfway point when you wish you’d been making a list of all of the books that have been mentioned, don’t worry; there’s a bibliography at the end.

📖 Independent bookstores! We get to hang out in not one, but two of them! With booksellers who desperately love books and about making sure the book the reader needs finds its way to them.

“Tell me: What’s the last book you read that you loved?”

📖 The main bookstore has genres grouped together in a way that makes so much sense.

I could happily spend my entire review talking about the books, bookstores and booksellers but there’s more to this book than books. We also come face to face with some pretty difficult topics. Multiple characters are dealing with addiction, either their own or a loved one’s. Likewise, multiple characters are grieving. Chad, my favourite character, is living with a spinal cord injury.

I adore Chad, although I expect I wouldn’t have been a huge fan of him before his accident. He’s had some pretty impressive post traumatic growth and his attitude is amazing. I could have done without him saying “dawg” and “son” all the time but I guess no one’s perfect.

Speaking of not being perfect, Aaron (our main character) is definitely a work in progress. I really didn’t like him at all for a good portion of the book, during which he basically treats everyone around him like garbage. He did begin to make more sense to me as I got to know him but until then, ugh!

I loved Aaron’s father, Ira, because he loves books so much. The fact that he’s still so passionate about them, despite grief, anxiety and depression, made me love him even more. He truly comes alive when he talks books and that resonated with me.

I liked the Lumberjacks, getting to know Ike the best. He came up with my favourite line (pardon his French):

“Fudge a duck on a hot sidewalk!”

You might be interested in this book because of the romance, which is pretty insta, but it’s not the main focus of the book. Aaron, a young man who doesn’t like music, falls for a young woman who’s in a band.

Every time I see her, I feel that thing: the inevitable.

The thing is: I don’t trust the inevitable.

I mean, what has inevitable done for me?

Ruined my life is what.

I was ready to love Hannah but never formed an emotional connection with her. Her purpose seemed to be to act as a mirror for Aaron. I didn’t feel like I got to know Hannah that well and her bandmates are even more of a mystery to me. I really wanted to find out more about Jax, especially when it looked as though they were going to become more integral to the story, but pretty much all I know for sure about them is their pronouns (they/them).

A few things didn’t make sense to me. If Aaron’s brother’s addiction cost their family so much (and right now I’m only talking about the cost to their finances), how did he ever manage to collect such an extensive collection of rare vinyls? Wouldn’t he have spent that money on drugs? Even if he did manage to accumulate so many, in the grips of addiction, wouldn’t he have sold them? I know he gave them to Aaron but that only explains the final five months of his life.

Also, early in the story we learn that Ike’s wife’s fibromyalgia symptoms stopped her from being able to come to the bookstore years ago. Towards the end of the book she’s at the bookstore several times. It is mentioned once that she has a walker but it didn’t ring true to me. If she‘s well enough to be at the bookstore now, wouldn’t she have already been there before the renovations began?

“Are the answers to all life’s questions in books?”

“Of course,” he says. “That’s what makes them miracles.”

Content warnings include mention of addiction, disability, grief, mental health and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘I got this whole-body feeling … it was like a message from future me to present me, telling me that in some way we weren’t just bound to happen, that we had, in some sense, already happened. It felt … inevitable.’

So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein. While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.

And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?

Friday Barnes #9: No Escape – R.A. Spratt

‘I’m giving that up,’ said Friday.

‘What?’ asked Melanie.

‘Private detection, solving mysteries, that stuff,’ said Friday. ‘I’m not going to do that anymore.’

It’s been two years since we last saw Friday and the years haven’t been kind to her. When we meet up with her again she’s just been released from “the country’s highest security juvenile detention facility”, having spent eleven months imprisoned there.

In that time Binky has graduated (I miss him already!) but Melanie is still at Highcrest Academy and she has held onto Friday’s green pork-pie hat. Melanie might be a great napper but she also knows her best friend can’t stay away from solving mysteries for long.

Thanks to Parker, who was at Highcrest Academy all along but still seems like a replacement Binky to me, Friday is soon investigating the case of the missing passport and missing underwear. She also has an appointment with the school counsellor.

‘Are you going to psychoanalyse me based on my literary preferences?’

Uncle Bernie, Ian, Ian’s mother and Friday’s new cousin are still in Italy. Uncle Bernie needs Friday’s help so it’s lucky that there’s a school excursion to Italy that Friday can join. Melanie’s coming too and as usual she constantly reminded me why I love her.

‘I know you feel scared right now because you’re out of practice at being brave. But I’m your best friend, so I know for a fact that you can do this because you’re the bravest person I’ve ever met.’

For someone who spends most of the book sleeping, she manages to snag some really good lines.

Once they’re all in Italy, Friday has plenty of mysteries to investigate, including the case of the gelato rivals, the mysteriously malfunctioning water heater and the potential theft of priceless artefacts from museums. There are nuns and tourist attractions and the opportunity to say things like:

‘It’s an urgent matter of national historic importance.’

It was really good to get to hang out with Ian again. He and Friday make a great team, even though they sometimes baffle one another.

‘I think you’re going to surprise me, by doing something unimaginable. You always do.’

Friday has grown up a bit in the past two years but her time in Juvie has had a huge impact on her. She’s more fragile and vulnerable, and it’s sad to see her readjusting to real life again. At the same time, though, what she’s been through has made her more relatable to me. While I always loved her, in some of the earlier books it was easy to believe that almost nothing fazed her because she was so out of touch with her feelings.

‘I don’t understand why people do the things they do. I just know what I’ve read in books.’

I’m so glad this series is continuing. I wish Friday had been there to model smart, socially awkward and loveable to me when I was a kid.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s two years later …

Friday steps out of prison, a shell of her former self. She’s still wearing the same brown cardigan, but she swears she’s never solving mysteries again! Who is Friday kidding? She can’t suppress her brilliant deductive mind and is soon drawn back into the intrigues of Highcrest Academy.

Then Uncle Bernie rings, pleading with Friday to fly to Italy and help him protect the Uffizi Gallery from a team of art thieves – and she can’t say ‘no’ to family. Even if it means travelling to the city where Ian, her nemesis/ex-boyfriend is living.

Will Friday be able to protect Italy’s finest artworks? Will Melanie stay awake long enough to help her? And will Ian still be as gorgeous as a Greek god and twice as annoying?

Friday Barnes #8: Never Fear – R.A. Spratt

Things are changing at Highcrest Academy. There’s a new Headmaster, which made no sense to me when I learned about them towards the end of the last book. Sure, the previous Headmaster is currently recovering from a medical emergency but I didn’t think there was any way they would voluntarily retire.

It’s not that they love their job or having to deal with Friday, who’s fairly consistently sitting on the bench outside their office. It’s because their gambling addiction hasn’t left them with enough money to be able to retire. This apparent inconsistency is explained in this book.

That wasn’t the only thing that was odd about the last book, or this one for that matter. I don’t remember Friday getting hit on the head once in either book. That’s so un-Friday-like.

It’s not long into the new Headmaster’s reign before Friday is transferred from Year 8 to Year 12. This means she will be finishing high school in a matter of months, not years. Highcrest Academy is her home and Melanie, her best friend, is the closest thing she has to family (other than Uncle Bernie). She can’t imagine her life without either and is certain the new Headmaster is just trying to get rid of her. After all, it doesn’t seem as though Dr Belcredi is a fan of Friday.

‘It’s amazing how often you’re the one who find the problems that no-one else notices are there.’

‘I’m just observant,’ said Friday.

‘You’re a trouble-magnet,’ said Dr Belcredi.

Melanie has a boyfriend now, although in the last book he was her stalker. I’m not loving that stalking is portrayed as romantic.

There’s the mystery of the missing toilet paper, unexpected cake and the entire student body are sleeping in tents. The big mystery, even though it felt forgotten for part of the book, was the possibility of gold hidden somewhere at Highcrest Academy.

There chiselled into the sandstone, just visible under years of lichen and dirt were the words:

LATET INTUS IN AURUM

‘That’s Latin. It means “the gold lies within”,’ said Friday. ‘I always assumed it was a metaphor for a student’s potential, but maybe it literally means gold.’

A couple of minor inconsistencies didn’t make sense to me.

Shortly before Friday pulled the fire alarm we were told it was an hour before dinner and as such classes had finished for the day. Two pages later we learn that no one was scared when they evacuated because it meant they were getting “an afternoon off class”.

Friday reminds us she isn’t good at noticing changes to people’s physical appearance when Mirabella wails about the conspiracy to make her fat, yet in the last book Friday specifically mentioned another character losing 15 kilos.

I was glad that Malcolm had a role to play in this book and the new Headmaster, who I hated at first sight because I didn’t want the old Headmaster to be gone, grew on me towards the end. I loved that Binky had so much page time; he’s always adorable.

If my series binge had gone ahead as planned several years ago I would have been extremely disappointed with how this book ended. It seemed like it was the final book in the series when it was published and so much was left up in the air. Thankfully I have the ninth book on hand and I’ve already had a sneak peek at the end so I know there’s going to be a tenth.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday’s time at Highcrest is running out!

The new headmaster is turning everything upside down. Friday’s irritatingly high IQ has her fast-tracked to graduation, while a pair of incriminating pants puts Ian on the rocky road to expulsion.

When a rumour emerges of embezzled gold stashed on the school grounds, Friday is determined to uncover the truth. But some big questions remain: Can she stay out of detention long enough to solve the mystery? How will Melanie survive without Friday to tell her what class she’s in? And will Friday ever get that first kiss with Ian?

With implosions and explosions everywhere, Friday Barnes will have to use her head and get a grip on her beating heart in order to find the gold that lies within.

Friday Barnes #7: Bitter Enemies – R.A. Spratt

When we last saw Friday, she’d just survived four weeks at school camp. Waiting for her at Highcrest Academy were two of her siblings, Quasar and Orion. We’d previously heard about her four older siblings (the other two are called Quantum and Halley) but this is the first time we’ve met any of them.

The school year has just begun and Melanie and Ian are not looking forward to beginning Year 8 without Friday, who’s been studying in Switzerland at the best school in the world.

This year is the sesquicentennial (that’s the 150th anniversary, for all of you who aren’t Friday Barnes) of the school’s founder’s birth. In addition to the new meditation room that’s being constructed and the refurbishment of the exercise pool for the polo ponies, the previous Headmasters have been invited back to Highcrest Academy. They will be guest teaching for four weeks. As such, everyone is to be on their best behaviour.

‘There will be no mysteries!’ yelled the Headmaster. ‘I forbid it!’

While I always enjoy stories where kids go to camp, I missed the interaction with Highcrest Academy’s teachers in the previous book. I appreciated Mrs Cannon, the English teacher, quickly reminding me why I love her.

‘I never teach you anything because I’m lazy, and because I think it’s far better for you to figure it all out on your own. What’s the point in me telling you when you could learn for yourself?’

Not surprisingly, Friday quickly makes an impression with the four previous Headmasters, although it’s not a great one. There’s also mysteries to solve, including who is breaking into the school.

‘What on earth is she doing?’ asked Colonel Hallett.

‘Investigating,’ said the Headmaster. ‘Just wait, she’ll sniff something next.’

I was surprised that Ian didn’t know that Friday was returning to school, especially considering the fact that his mother is now married to Friday’s Uncle Bernie and he’s just spent the school holidays with them. Uncle Bernie would definitely have been kept in the loop. I’m finding it sadder and sadder that the rest of Friday’s family are so neglectful.

Friday found planets comforting, because unlike most of the people in her life, planets could be relied on to turn up at precise locations at predictable intervals.

At one point Melanie asks Ian if the Headmaster is asking a rhetorical question. Usually she’s the one identifying these for Friday so it’s inconsistent for her to be asking, unless she’s missing Friday so much at this point that she’s lost her ability to pick up on social nuances. Thankfully later in the book Melanie’s rhetorical question detection is back to normal.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When four former headmasters arrive at Highcrest Academy to take part in the school’s anniversary celebrations, the students are warned to be on their best behaviour.

Unfortunately, no one told the headmasters to stay out of mischief too! Which means Friday Barnes soon has a case to solve. But unravelling the truth isn’t easy when the whole school is being forced to eat paleo because the cook is on a diet; her best friend’s brother won’t stop blubbering about the terrible boat accident he may or may not have caused; and Friday is being trailed by a mysterious admirer – or is it a stalker?

Can Friday find the facts among the mayhem? She’d better. The fate of Highcrest depends on it!

Friday Barnes #6: Danger Ahead – R.A. Spratt

‘The greatest lesson I learn from school is how to interact with other people.’

‘Really?’ said Melanie. ‘Because if that’s the case, you’re not doing too well at your studies.’

It’s almost time for Highcrest Academy’s Year 7 students to attend Camp Courage. This will require Friday to actually interact with people other than Melanie, her best friend. But first Friday will need to save Ian, who’s been kidnapped.

Once she’s at Camp Courage, Friday meets Geraldine, the ray of sunshine who runs the camp.

‘I like running a haunted camp. Fear of the undead is the only thing that keeps you brats in bed at night. I just wish the ghost would push more of you into the river!’

Friday and her fellow Houseboat campers spend the next four weeks peeling potatoes, collecting water and other activities that Friday is pretty sure don’t constitute wilderness survival skills. She does manage to work on her sarcasm though.

If only her Headmaster hadn’t specifically asked her to not solve any crimes while she’s at camp.

‘But we all know it’s only a matter of time before you uncover something, or expose something, or entrap somebody, or just say something unnecessarily rude.’

Of course, that was never going to happen, especially when there’s the case of the missing breakfast cereal and the case of the ghost of Ghost Mountain that need to be solved.

At least her recent burpee practice may prove helpful as she attempts further physical activity. And it wouldn’t be a Friday Barnes book if Friday didn’t get hit on the head (again!).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

School camp … what could possibly go wrong?

Friday Barnes is forced to face her biggest fear – her own emotions! She must wave goodbye to Ian as he takes off to join his father in the Cayman Islands. But when your dad is a white-collar criminal, family reunions never go to plan. Ian is kidnapped en route and it’s up to Friday to rescue him.

On her return to school, the Headmaster has a treat in store – a four-week camp for students to learn wilderness survival skills! ‘Camp Courage’ is even worse than Friday imagined. And all her book smarts aren’t much help when she’s got wood to chop, potatoes to peel and latrines to dig.

Can Friday survive the great outdoors, debunk the legend of a camp ghost and make it back to Highcrest Academy alive? Only time (and a compass) will tell!

Friday Barnes #5: The Plot Thickens – R.A. Spratt

‘Urgh, I knew this was going too well. Heaven forbid we have a school occasion where Miss Barnes doesn’t interrupt and turn everything on its head.’

Friday and Ian’s already tenuous friendship takes a hit when Friday is infuriatingly right about Ian’s father. Ian responds by taking it out on her, devising elaborate pranks at her expense.

Just when Friday is considering leaving Highcrest Academy, three newcomers arrive. A famous artist is going to be teaching the students for eight weeks, culminating in the reveal of a mural and an art show.

There’s also a new and very enthusiastic PE teacher. Friday and Melanie are not pleased at all with this development as it may require them to actually participate. Friday is not coordinated at all and Melanie flat out refuses to do anything that resembles exercise. Friday does discover what a burpee is but that doesn’t mean she has to like it.

Finally, Highcrest Academy welcomes a new Year 8 student, Epstein Smythe.

Friday gets involved in more than her fair share of mysteries, including searching for the missing ‘Red Princess’, thwarting an attempted kidnapping of a “remarkably unremarkable student” and revealing the identity of the person who’s been adding contemporary elements to well known paintings.

‘If you’re up to something illicit but that is somehow for the greater good, could you please do a better job of hiding it from me?!’

She also has more than her fair share of head injuries. It seems like Friday is always getting a new bump on the noggin, whether she’s been knocked unconscious or she’s fainted at the sight of her own blood. Friday is much more emotional in this book than she usually is, although this is probably just a side effect of being hit on the head so many times.

There’s one thing that’s really irking me – some of the language used to describe people. I’ve previously been miffed by the way mental health has been made fun of. In this book I’m objecting to the term “bonkers” being used to describe someone with Alzheimer’s. This is so unnecessary, it’s not funny and the book would be better without it. I mentioned in a previous review that I read a first edition and it’s possible the words I didn’t like may not have made it into subsequent editions; I hope that is the case this time too.

I really enjoyed the inclusion of the new teachers and student and, despite my objection above, this book is my second favourite of the series so far (the first one holds a special place in my heart).

The further I get into the series the angrier I become at Friday’s neglectful parents and the more I appreciate how well the teachers get away with working so very little. I adore Friday and Melanie but it’s Binky, Melanie’s brother, who has overtaken everyone else to become my favourite character. He’s absolutely delightful and I desperately want him to have a happy ending with his princess.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday Barnes is being attacked on all fronts!

When Friday Barnes gets involved in her frenemy Ian Wainscott’s family dispute, it appears her knack for uncovering the truth may ruin their friendship once and for all.

Highcrest Academy is no longer a fun place to be. Ian has declared war on Friday and she is thinking of leaving … for good. Meanwhile, there’s two new teachers to contend with – a celebrity artist whose intentions are somewhat unclear, and an over-enthusiastic PE teacher on a fitness crusade. Between them and Ian, it’s going to be one dangerous term. Can Friday repair her friendship with Ian, restore her perfect school-life balance and work out who is committing the blatant acts of vandalism around Highcrest? No one said high school would be easy!

Friday Barnes #4: No Rules – R.A. Spratt

‘It’s hard enough running this school. Who’s going to figure out all the weird hijinks that go on if Friday isn’t here?’

When Friday returns to Highcrest Academy after sorting out her deportation problem, she finds the school in chaos. All of the teachers have been fired and the students are running amok.

Now there’s a new vice principal, VP Pete, who is fond of tie-dyed clothing and has oddly coloured feet. The school has been threatened with closure and everyone is supposed to be on their best behaviour, only someone didn’t get the memo. As usual, Friday is right in the thick of it.

‘Whenever there’s trouble, you’re right there.’

‘That’s only because you always ask me to fix it for you,’ said Friday.

Of course Melanie, Friday’s best friend, is there to help out when she’s not busy napping. There’s the case of the missing textbooks and the case of the missing furniture to solve. Then there’s the noticeable absence of Friday’s nemesis, Ian, who has been expelled.

‘I’ve solved bank robberies, thwarted smuggling operations and uncovered escaped convicts,’ said Friday. ‘Your problem is well within my skill set.’

Friday’s biggest problem, though? The cross country is coming up and it looks as though she is going to be forced to participate. Despite having a great number of strengths, coordination and athletic ability are not among them. This could be disastrous!

If you’re planning on reading this series, be sure to read them in order. Spoilers for previous books tend to be scattered throughout them.

Also make sure you don’t relax when Friday is told she’s allowed to enjoy some dessert for saving the day once again. That just means the cliffhanger is about to happen.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday Barnes has been deported to Switzerland! With their in-school detective gone, Highcrest Academy has descended into chaos. Someone’s fired all the teachers!

The Headmaster claims it wasn’t him, and suspicion soon turns to Ian Wainscott, but Friday won’t stand by and let her favourite nemesis take the blame. Apart from being innocent (probably), he’s seriously good-looking. There’s also the problem of the new vice principal and his questionable teaching methods. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they wear tie-dyed t-shirts.

Can Friday save Ian’s scholarship? Can she find the prankster before they bring down the school? Can she run the cross country? She’s certainly going to try … to do the first two, anyway.