The Midnighters – Hana Tooke

Illustrations – Ayesha L. Rubio

Born at midnight on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, Ema is the twelfth born child in her family. Unsurprisingly, twelves tend to follow Ema through her life.

‘There is something very troubling about the number twelve’

At twelve years old, Ema has yet to find her place in her scientific family. Màma is a meteorologist who can predict the weather with incredible accuracy. Her older siblings are skilled in various fields, including archaeology, anthropology and zoology. Ema absorbs all of the knowledge her siblings teach her but she doesn’t have her own socially acceptable scientific passion.

The great enigma of her life had presented itself: how was she ever supposed to understand a world that didn’t understand her?

What she does have is the ability to constantly surprise people with her presence, an acute awareness of shadows and a semi-regular sense of impending doom. And fears. Ema has her fair share of fears.

When her parents join one of her sisters on a research expedition, Ema is sent to stay with Josef, an uncle she’s never met, in the home where her “unmentionable grandmother had lived.” It is there that she meets Silvie. Silvie helps Ema confront her fears and introduces her to the wonders of nineteenth century Prague at midnight.

‘We will banish these fears of yours, but we will also banish the idea that normal is something worth striving for. I will make you proudly peculiar.’

Along the way, there’s a murder mystery to solve, secrets to uncover and an adorable bat to fall in love with.

I really liked Ema and her family but the standout character for me was Silvie. Silvie’s unbridled optimism was the perfect compliment to Ema’s “apocalyptic pessimism”. Her enthusiasm was contagious, her sense of adventure inspired me and she stole my heart. She also reintroduced me to ‘splendiferously’, which the people around me are going to ask me to stop saying any day now.

The Midnight Guild intrigued me and I desperately need to visit the Moonlight Garden.

I need a sequel for many reasons, the most pressing of which are to find out what’s next for Ema and Silvie, and to learn more about ‘Polter-granny’.

‘So, let’s go murderer-hunting, shall we?’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the bestselling author of The Unadoptables, comes a stunning new story about a missing friend, a gothic city, and a secret society full of wonder, invention and maybe a hint of magic…

Find the courage to be extraordinary…

Ema Vašková has always felt different. In a family of famous scientists, there’s not much room for superstition or omens – but they seem to follow Ema wherever she goes. It doesn’t help that she appears to predict events before they happen, and has a peculiar fear of shadows…

When Ema is sent to stay with her eccentric uncle in Prague, she fears she’ll lose the chance to ever fit in. But then she meets Silvie – a girl who finally sees Ema for the extraordinary person that she is. Soon the girls are meeting for secret midnight adventures, and facing Ema’s fears together.

But then disaster strikes. Silvie goes missing – and it’s up to Ema to find her. Now she must gather the courage to hunt the city, find her friend, and uncover the secrets of the one clue Silvie left as to where she might be – inside the mysterious Midnight Guild…

Rizzoli & Isles #13: Listen to Me – Tess Gerritsen

“Did I mention a homicide?” “No, but you’re Detective Rizzoli. Everyone knows who you are.”

Can you believe this is the first Rizzoli & Isles book published since 2017? That was pre-pandemic, so by my calculations it’s been 142 years since I read the twelfth book, give or take.

I’ve missed Jane and Maura so much and I loved being able to catch up with them again. Even though it’s been so long since I was able to tag along during one of their investigations, it took no time at all to reacquaint myself with them.

I was able to read from Angela’s perspective for the first time and if you know Angela, you know she’s going to be spending a considerable amount of time getting into someone’s business. And their business and maybe theirs as well… She absolutely delighted me as I followed her around her neighbourhood.

“I’ve lived on this street for forty years and I try to keep an eye on it, that’s all. You can’t prevent bad things from happening if no one notices those things.”

Angela spends her time investigating the mystery of why the new couple renting number 2533 aren’t being neighbourly and the case of a missing teenager, all while facing off against her archenemy and checking out the man across the street. Basic what I’m saying here is that Angela did more than enough to convince me she needs her own spin-off series.

I’m guessing all of my training with Rizzoli over the years has started paying off as I figured out one of the mysteries straight away and got another one half right.

Something I’ve always loved about the Rizzoli & Isles books is how all of the puzzle pieces end up fitting together, even when some of them originally look like they belong in separate pictures. This was the case here as well.

Some books in the series have more of a focus on Jane and others spend more time with Maura. With more page time dedicated to Jane this time, I’m hoping next time I’ll get to hang out in the morgue some more, “reading the language of death” with Maura.

I feel like I’ve just caught up with some old friends I haven’t seen in years and I’m tempted to reread the entire series and binge the TV series (again) while I wait to be invited to join their next investigation.

Bonus points for the ringtone allocated to Angela on Jane’s phone and the reveal of Maura’s secret talent.

Content warnings include domestic abuse and mention of sexual assault.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mothers know best … But who will listen?

Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are newly plagued by what seems like a completely senseless murder. Sofia Suarez, a widow and nurse who was universally liked by her neighbours, lies bludgeoned to death in her own home. But anything can happen behind closed doors, and Sofia seemed to have plenty of secrets in her last days, making covert phone calls to traceless burner phones. When Jane finally makes a connection between Sofia and the victim of a hit-and-run from months earlier, the case only grows more blurry. What exactly was Sofia involved in? One thing is clear: The killer will do anything it takes to keep their secret safe. 

Meanwhile, Angela Rizzoli hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in all the years since her daughter became a homicide detective. Maybe the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree: Nothing in Angela’s neighbourhood gets by her – not the gossip about a runaway teenager down the block and definitely not the strange neighbours who have just moved in across the street. Angela’s sure there’s no such thing as coincidence in her sleepy suburb. If only Jane would listen – instead she writes off Angela’s concerns as the result of an overactive imagination. But Angela’s convinced there’s a real wolf in her vicinity, and her cries might now fall on deaf ears. 

With so much happening on the Sofia case, Jane and Maura already struggle to see the forest for the trees, but will they lose sight of something sinister happening much closer to home?

Friday Barnes #10: Undercover – R.A. Spratt

We catch up with Friday Barnes exactly where we left her at the end of No Escape, pondering a job offer that would allow her to work alongside Ian, her “super-hot, brilliant, emotionally unstable boyfriend”. It’s a big decision but first Friday needs to solve some mysteries. Besides, they’re a good cover story for running away. 

‘There’s nothing wrong with running away,’ said Melanie. ‘Not if you’re being chased by a bear or a chainsaw-wielding psychopath.’ 

Melanie’s brother, Binky, is in Norway. His girlfriend is a princess and the only way to make her father semi okay with their relationship was for Binky to sign up to serve two years in the Norwegian army. The only problem is, he might be getting kicked out of the army and if that happens, it’s goodbye Ingrid. 

What mystery does this involve? Dereliction of duty. See, Binky was on guard duty and it appeared he fell asleep on the job but he wasn’t actually asleep. He was knocked unconscious by a polar bear and no one will believe him. Friday thinks the polar bear was framed.

Friday is also busy solving the case of the missing clothes and the case of the missing artwork. 

‘I need you to do that thing where you crawl along the floor sniffing things, then stand up and patronise everyone for five minutes before revealing who did it.’ 

That doesn’t mean there’s no time for playing dress up and dancing. Luckily for Friday, she has an awkward-social-situation ejector button. It works sometimes.

Melanie still managed to snag her fair share of the best lines; when she was awake, that is. Binky just gets more and more adorable every time I see him. 

My favourite character in this book, though, was Arthur. Anyone who hides behind a curtain reading a book because there’s a social gathering going on is my kind of human being. 

‘You are a very strange boy,’ said Friday.
‘I know,’ said Arthur. ‘I try to hide it, but everyone sees right through me.’ 

Ten books in and I’m still loving this series. I can’t wait for the next one!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Friday is not running away. Yes, she did get on a train to Norway without telling anyone where she was going – but she had to help Binky. He may or may not have been attacked by a polar bear. Now he’s facing court martial for dereliction of duty. Obviously, Friday had to drop everything and travel 3000 kilometres to solve the case.

The fact that it’s easier to handle her feelings for Ian Wainscott if there’s a continent between them is just a coincidence. When Friday arrives in Oslo, there are so many mysteries to solve. Is someone trying to keep Binky and Princess Ingrid apart? How can a painting leave a museum when all the doors are sealed? And will Melanie persuade Friday to go to the royal ball without wearing a brown cardigan?

If Friday survives her trip to the remote Global Seed Vault, we may find out.

Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic – Paul Conti

In this book, Dr Conti explores what trauma is and how it works, the sociology of trauma, and how trauma impacts people physically and mentally.

I found the stories of people impacted by trauma interesting. They helped to illustrate points the author was making, although I often wished they were longer.

There were times I came across a topic I wanted to learn more about (like inflammation, the limbic system and epigenetics) but, because this book provides more of an overview than a deep dive, there’d only be a few paragraphs dedicated to it.

There were too many analogies for my liking and by the end of the book I wished I had counted the amount of times I’d read “compassion, community and humanity”.

If you’re looking for a book that offers an introduction to trauma, this may be the book for you. However, if you’re already well versed in trauma and its impacts, you may have already encountered much of the information covered here.

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide (including the method used), domestic abuse, drug addiction, mental health, racism, sexual assault and war.

Thank you to NetGalley and Vermilion, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Trauma is everywhere and so many of us are silently affected by it. Stressful, challenging and frightening events can happen to anyone, at any age, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, anxious and exhausted. Left unchecked, difficult experiences can have a lasting psychological effect on our wellbeing.

In Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic, leading psychiatrist Dr Paul Conti sets out a unique set of tools anyone can access to help recognise the signs of trauma, heal from past hurt and find the road to recovery.

Drawing on the most recent scientific research, Dr Conti breaks down the topic into clear sections, looking at why trauma happens, how it manifests in the body and what we can do to move past it. In the book, you’ll discover the three different types of trauma you might face, as well as practical exercises and solutions for getting to the root of the problem.

This is an important, life-affirming book, one that invites you to empower yourself against trauma, own your life experiences and learn to thrive, not just survive, in the wake of life’s difficulties.

The Stranger Times #2: This Charming Man – C.K. McDonnell

On her first day, Hannah’s boss shot himself in the foot. It’s now been three months since Hannah joined The Stranger Times as assistant editor and she’s just returned from two week’s leave (divorce holidays aren’t especially fun), only to have a close encounter with the office toilet. It escaped the building via an upper window. Never a dull moment. 

‘Rumour has it the sun’s come out and people are losing their minds.’ 

Her boss, Vincent Bancroft, editor at large, remains “‘challenging’, in the way a cat sanctuary might use the word to describe a moggy that attempted to rip your face off while you slept.”

Banecroft, Stella, the paper’s purple haired intern, and Manny, their printer, are all currently living at the office. And let’s not forget the spirit that cohabits with Manny. Rounding out the team are Grace, the office manager, Ox, the ufologist, and Reggie, the paper’s paranormal consultant.

So, having been introduced to all of the “woo-woo nonsense” that’s hidden in plain sight in Manchester in the first book, what delights does this sequel contain? Vampires. 

‘They don’t exist.’ 

Sure, tell that to the people who never signed up to be blood donors.

In the course of their investigation, we meet Cogs 

‘Would it kill you to lie?’
‘Actually, dear lady, it would.’ 

and the dog that regularly puts him in his place. The dog quickly became my favourite character.

Because this is The Stranger Times, there’s more to the investigation than meets the eye. Which eye, I hear you ask? Touché. If you didn’t ask, I’d suggest you read the first book for the inside scoop.

I love this dysfunctional team and their investigations. The case of the non-sparkly vampires does have a resolution but that doesn’t mean the vampires are all going the way of their reflection in a mirror. I’m almost certain more blood will be spilled when we catch up with the strangeness in the next book. If not, though, there’s plenty of territory left to cover in this series, from questions about individual team members to the conspiracy theories I’m formulating about the Founders.

With more farts than your average book, a smelly gun and inexplicable Spam, you’ll be grateful this read isn’t presented in Smell-O-Pages. I was delighted to learn how to swear by number and I definitely need to hear more about the woman who was chased by the spectral dinosaur. 

I’m already looking forward to the third book.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the Spoonful of Sugar with Stanley.

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

Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it’s particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester… 

Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose – step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.

It’s not like they don’t have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn’t like people touching his stuff – it’s the principle of the thing. 

Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as ‘a lot of baggage’ and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.

Are You Really OK? – Stacey Dooley

Are you really OK? I don’t think there’d be too many people who could answer that question with a resounding yes after living through what the 2020’s have given us so far. Now, more than ever, we need to do whatever we can to look after our mental health. 

An international team of researchers published a report in October 2021 showing that globally there were estimated to be an extra 76 million cases of anxiety in 2020 than would have been expected if the pandemic hadn’t happened, and 53 million more cases of major depressive disorder. 

In this book, Stacey talks about depression, eating disorders, postnatal depression, postnatal psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorder, gambling addiction and psychosis. She also speaks to people who have experienced domestic abuse, as well as those in the LGBTQ+ community who have been discriminated against or abused because of who they are. Finally, Stacey explores how racism and poverty impact on mental health.

While there are statistics (and some confronting ones at that) and information about potential advances in the future for treating specific mental illnesses, where this book shines is the human element. Stacey interviewed young people living with diagnosed mental illnesses and gave them the opportunity to tell their stories. While she never claims to be an expert herself, Stacey spoke with professionals who treat mental illnesses, some of whom have lived experience. 

The insights you are able to get when people feel safe enough to speak candidly about their lives are always going to resonate more than facts and statistics that remove individual people from the narrative. Although I know people with many of the diagnoses covered in this book and have lived experience of others, I learned a lot. I was invested in the stories of the people who shared their story and expect to continue to wonder how they’re doing, particularly Kyle, whose experience with depression was just heart wrenching. 

None of us get through life unscathed. Sean, a psychiatrist Stacey spoke to, is helping to destigmatise mental illness. No one is immune to mental health issues, Sean says. 

‘But if enough wrong things happen that exceed someone’s ability to cope, no matter how privileged they are, they will get ill’ 

While that knowledge is somewhat terrifying, it’s also comforting because it removes blame from the person with the illness.

But is there hope? Absolutely. 

‘For everyone, no matter how awful the situation you are in, no matter how bad the mental illness or the mental disorder is, it can improve.’ 

Because Stacey’s approach is so down to earth and she’s so relatable, her documentaries and both of her books have a warmth to them, almost as though you’re seeing friends catching up and talking about some of their most difficult experiences. I’ll definitely be rereading this book.

Content warnings include addiction (alcohol, drug, gambling), bullying, child abuse, domestic abuse, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, miscarriage, racism, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and attempts (including the method used) and transphobia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, BBC Books and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We are not OK… 

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many remarkable people over the last decade of making documentaries – sometimes in incredibly hostile environments, where they’ve been really up against it – and I’ve seen the devastating effect that poverty, trauma, violence, abuse, stigma, stress, prejudice and discrimination can have on people’s mental health. It has always been the common thread.

Every week, 1 in 10 young people in the UK experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, and 1 in 5 have considered taking their own life at some point. In this book, Stacey Dooley opens up the conversation about mental health in young people, to challenge the stigma and stereotypes around it.

Working in collaboration with mental health experts and charities, Stacey talks to young people across the UK directly affected by mental health issues, and helps tell their stories responsibly, in order to shine a light on life on the mental health frontline and give a voice to young people throughout the UK who are living with mental health conditions across the spectrum. 

As well as hearing about their experiences directly, Stacey speaks to medical experts, counsellors, campaigners and health practitioners who can give detailed insights into the conditions profiled and explore the environmental factors that play a part – including poverty, addiction, identity, pressures of social media and the impact of Covid-19.

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.