A Promised Land – Barack Obama

“Politics doesn’t have to be what people think it is. It can be something more.”

Long before I wanted Jacinda Ardern to be my prime minister, I wanted Barack Obama to be my president. Other than a few standout moments, like Julia Gillard’s efforts in establishing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and our current prime minister’s poorly timed vacation while much of the country was burning in 2019, I couldn’t tell you a great deal about politics in Australia.

Billy Connolly taught me everything I knew about politics as a kid, with ‘The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one’ and ‘Don’t vote, it just encourages them’ recited on a regular basis in my home when I was growing up.

In A Promised Land, Obama mentions something known as the “What’s the point of voting if nothing ever changes?” syndrome, which pretty much sums up my political worldview as an adult.

[I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything that impacts me personally that’s a priority for politicians in Australia. My single attempt at getting my local member of parliament to mobilise any of their resources to help members of their constituent and the rest of the state in positions similar to mine (those who were being screwed over by changes to the Worker’s Compensation system, which had already resulted in several deaths by suicide by the time I met with them) resulted in an incredulous, ‘What do you want me to do about it?!’ and towards the end of the meeting, a more pointed, ‘You’re f*cked’ (actually, they said that twice during the meeting), before the obligatory, ‘Vote for my party in the next election if you want to see changes’. So, yeah. Politics and I aren’t exactly friends.]

To say that this book is outside of my comfort zone is an understatement. I never thought I’d voluntarily read anything classified as a political memoir. But it’s Obama and I was interested in what he had to say, even if I had to sift through politics that I previously haven’t either cared about or understood to hear it.

This, I was coming to realize, was the nature of the presidency: Sometimes your most important work involved the stuff nobody noticed.

I was surprised by how much I loved this book. I learned so much about the ins and outs of political decisions and the fact that I found the details interesting says a lot about the quality of the writing. But the human stories were what really sucked me in.

This is a book where a football is not a football, where Dr. No scrutinises all things ethical to avoid scandal (“If it sounds fun, you can’t go.”) and the president is the one who brings out the cake for people’s birthdays. Also, and I may be the only one who thinks this is kinda cool, although I’d hate it if anyone was paying that much attention to me, “Renegade to Secondary Hold” was Secret Service code for Obama going to the bathroom.

Make no mistake: this is a heavy book, providing in depth details of decisions relating to the financial crisis, war, healthcare, foreign policy, immigration, human rights and a whole bunch of other unfolding crises that wind up on a president’s to do list.

No one had nuclear war or terrorism on their minds. No one except me. Scanning people in the pews – friends, family members, colleagues, some of whom caught my eye and smiled or waved with excitement – I realized this was now part of my job: maintaining an outward sense of normalcy, upholding for everyone the fiction that we live in a safe and orderly world, even as I stared down the dark hole of chance and prepared as best I could for the possibility that at any given moment on any given day chaos might break through.

I found myself getting bogged down in the details of the financial crisis and for a few days I’d catch myself daydreaming about some of the books I could be reading instead. Everything after that, though, I couldn’t get enough of. Having read little else for almost two weeks, part of me feels like I’ve always been reading this book and another part of me is sad that it wasn’t even longer.

This is also literally a very heavy book and an awkward one to hold; I lay in bed the first night, when I hadn’t even finished the first hundred pages, trying to figure out why my hands hurt so much. It turns out that simply holding onto this book is its own workout.

Handy hint: If you rest the book on your body as you’re reading and use your hands to gently balance it so it doesn’t fall on your face and crush you, your hands will thank you for it.

The pages are also crammed with words so it felt like I was reading a lot more than 700 pages. I was curious to find out just how many words fit on an average full page of text. Because I’m me, I finally decided to count the words on one page – 430. I don’t know what a normal page count is but that sounded like a lot to me.

There’s a lot of serious in this book but that’s not to say there aren’t some smiles and misty eye moments along the way. I chuckled when the secure mobile communications system broke down at the wrong moment, necessitating a very important and very serious phone call being made instead on “a device that had probably also been used to order pizza.”

I lost count of the times I could have easily wandered into ugly cry territory: the outcome of the DREAM Act, when Obama visited soldiers as they recovered from injuries sustained serving their country, personal family moments.

The fuss of being president, the pomp, the press, the physical constraints – all that I could have done without. The actual work, though?

The work, I loved. Even when it didn’t love me back.

There are probably over 700 reasons why I should never be president of anything, let alone the U.S. Here are my current top 5:

  1. The meetings. No one should have to attend so many meetings. I dreaded having to attend one team meeting each month at my last job. A coworker, who shared my disdain for meetings, and I frequently got in trouble for pulling faces at each other when everyone else had their serious faces on.
  2. Filibuster. Just reading that word makes me want to spit the dummy. That the opposition think it’s a great idea to do whatever they can to prevent the other side from winning anything, because it might make them look like they’re competent, rather than prioritising what’s best for the people they claim to be serving? That makes my blood boil.
  3. “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book”, A.K.A., the “President’s Daily Brief”. If I had to read about all of the possible ways the world might implode/explode every morning over breakfast, I’d not only forego the most important meal of the day, it’s highly likely I wouldn’t remain functional for very long.
  4. I wouldn’t be diplomatic enough. If another world leader was doing something stupid I would be calling them on it, probably in public, and would more than likely wind up causing more problems than I was attempting to solve.
  5. My priorities wouldn’t be overly presidential. My first order of business would be to get whoever had access to them to bring me the unredacted files relating to all things Area 51 and anything else Mulder might have a passing interest in. That’s what I’d be reading over breakfast.

I realized that for all the power inherent in the seat I now occupied, there would always be a chasm between what I knew should be done to achieve a better world and what in a day, week, or year I found myself actually able to accomplish.

When I was only about 200 pages in, I mentioned to someone that this book was really giving me a feel for the type of person Obama is. They asked me what type of person that is. My answer was something like, ‘He’s got values and acts in a way that is in accordance with them. He’s intelligent and likes to have a laugh. He’s a loyal and trustworthy friend and he absolutely adores his family. He’s the kind of person you’d want to know and someone I could see me being friends with.’

500 pages later and I can say with confidence that I still feel that way. My only cause for concern? The man doesn’t like sweets. That’s not something I usually look for in a friend but I suppose no one’s perfect. More sweets for me, I guess.

I’m wondering how it will be possible to fit everything else in only one more book as this one leaves readers in May 2011, but I’m really looking forward to reading the second volume. It turns out reading outside of your comfort zone can be a really good thing.

Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say.

Try anyway.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making – from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency – a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorises Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective – the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organiser tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change”, and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.

There’s an Alien in Your Book – Tom Fletcher

Illustrations – Greg Abbott

It’s time for another Who’s in Your Book? book. This book’s Who is an adorable little alien whose spaceship has crashed through its pages.

I managed to find an excerpt at Penguin UK so prepare yourself for image overload!

The interaction begins almost straight away because we need to find out just Who has invaded our book.

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No! Don’t be mean to our potential intergalactic friend. What would Mulder think if he saw you being anything less than welcoming?

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See what you did? Poor little guy.

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I’ll help! May I come with you, happy Alien friend?

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Oh, no. Our travel plans have been delayed. [I will not make a comment about 2020. I will not make a comment about 2020.]

It’s now up to you, dear reader, to keep following the instructions to help Alien. Along the way we’re reminded that diversity is wonderful, with a message of inclusion. And there’s a bonus cameo from Monster so I’m a pretty happy camper.

I really enjoy how interactive this series is. As usual, Greg Abbott’s illustrations bring our new little Who to life, with all of their emotions clearly depicted, and the colours are as vibrant and fun as I’ve come to expect.

I just hope there’s room on the spaceship for me.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott have created a new interactive adventure, this time featuring an adorable alien who has crash-landed in YOUR book!

You’ll have to help Alien back up into space, because aliens don’t belong on Earth … do they?

This sequel to bestsellers There’s a Monster in Your Book and There’s a Dragon in Your Book is packed full of interactive fun, with a gentle message about openness, acceptance and inclusion that will speak to the very youngest readers.

The Minders – John Marrs

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

Click here to start your life again.

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

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

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

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

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

We follow the stories of five Minders:

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

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

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

Emilia only knows her name.

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

There’s a Superhero in Your Book – Tom Fletcher

Illustrations – Greg Abbott

Superhero is trying to save this book from their nemesis, The Scribbler, who is “scribbling all over your book with her crayons!”

But Superhero can’t do it alone.

Readers can help Superhero by completing various activities, including tapping and lifting the book.

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Fans of this series will find some familiar faces along the way, all of whom need help from the reader. Kids will love the interaction and parents will love the message, because the strongest superpower isn’t strength or speed; it’s something we can all do.

I love Greg Abbott’s illustrations. They’re colourful, the expressions are easy to read and there’s something so cute about a superhero sticking out their tongue to help them concentrate.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Whoosh! A superhero has landed in your book! A new interactive adventure from the team that brought you There’s a Monster in Your Book and its companions.

Use the power of your imagination to unlock Superhero’s superpowers. But you’d better act fast before The Scribbler ruins your book completely! Readers will enjoy interactively tapping, stretching, and whizzing this book around as they help Superhero defeat the villain and save the day! As he did in all of the companion books, Tom Fletcher invites interactive fun while delivering a satisfying twist that celebrates the power of kindness and the true meaning of being a hero and a friend.

The Passengers – John Marrs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

In a world where self-drive cars take the hassle out of getting from A to B, eight people go for a drive one morning. A hacker has set them on a collision course. Only one will survive. It’s up to the public to decide which one.

‘I have programmed your car to take you on an alternative route this morning. And in two hours and thirty minutes, it it likely that you will be dead.’

Scheduled to meet their maker in the near future are:

Passenger 1: A married young woman who is 7 months pregnant. She’s a teaching assistant who is driving to her husband’s workplace this morning.

Passenger 2: An unemployed and homeless young man who is suicidal.

Passenger 3: An elderly actress who is on her way to a hospital to visit teenage cancer patients. Even if you decide you don’t like her, then surely you wouldn’t kill her dog, who is travelling in the car with her, would you?

Passenger 4: A mother of two and a police officer.

Passenger 5: The husband of Passenger 4. He runs a refurbishment and construction company. He and his wife are travelling in separate cars.

Passenger 6: A stay at home mother of five who is trying to escape from an abusive husband.

Passenger 7: A disabled war veteran who’s on their way to the hospital.

Passenger 8: An asylum seeker.

It’s kind of like the trolley problem …

if it was on steroids.

Who would you save?

How do you determine which life is the most valuable when you don’t know the whole story?

That is the task Libby, a mental health nurse with PTSD, has before her today.

‘For every one of your actions today, there will be a reaction.’

This entire book is like watching a car crash unfold. Literally. And because I’m apparently all about realism, I read some of this book while I was sitting in my car. It was not moving at the time.

Like all John Marrs novels I’ve read so far, I loved the concept and quickly made my way through the chapters. Unlike previous novels I didn’t become emotionally involved in the story. I think it was because I didn’t get to spend much time getting to know each passenger.

While I understand it was integral to the story that the people who are deciding the fates of the eight unfortunates don’t know much about them, I never felt an urgent need for a specific passenger to survive so I wasn’t as caught up in the drama as I’d hoped.

You don’t need to have read The One to enjoy The Passengers but they’re set in the same world. There are several mentions of Match Your DNA in this book, which won’t mean a lot to you if you haven’t read The One.

‘What’s not to love about a bit of anarchy?’

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic violence, human trafficking, mental health, miscarriages, paedophilia, racism, sexual assault and xenophobia. I didn’t make notes of these while I was reading so have only mentioned the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I doubt I’ve remembered them all.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem? 

The One – John Marrs

Relationship Status: It’s complicated

Match Your DNA has revolutionised the dating game, taking the guess work out of finding your one true love. Backed by science, a simple DNA test will give you the details of your perfect match (once you pay the £9.99 fee, of course).

What if love at first sight actually exists?

Millions have removed the complications of finding the love of their lives via Match Your DNA and now it’s time for Mandy, Christopher, Jade, Nick and Ellie to meet their matches. Their lives are about to change in unexpected ways, though not all for the good, because this is a John Marrs book after all.

Each of the five newly matched Marrs victims protagonists have alternating chapters dedicated to their not quite smooth sailing, lovey-dovey happily ever afters. Two of their matches also get a chapter each, so there are seven perspectives.

While I can sometimes get overwhelmed with multiple perspectives, getting muddled with who’s who and which storyline I’m currently following, I had no trouble keeping up with the current status of each match. This was one seriously compulsive read, with cliffhangers at the end of most chapters. While I was always sorry to leave each character because I needed to know what would happen next, I was also eager to get to the next character so I could find out what lay, potentially in tatters, at the bottom of their cliff.

‘Don’t worry, the only skeletons in my closet belong to the mice.’

There were plenty of twisty bits in each of the stories. I anticipated most of the reveals but it was satisfaction, not disappointment, that met me when it turned out I was right.

One thing kept nagging at me throughout the story but I don’t know enough about genetics to know if it was my imagination getting the better of me or if I was actually onto something. My understanding of the Match Your DNA science is that a single gene, which only you and your match have in common in the entire world, is what makes it work.

So my theory is that this could only really work for one generation because if two people with a single gene had children, then that specific gene would likely be replicated in them, being a dominant gene. Since the only two people in the world who have this gene are already matched, then their kids wouldn’t be able to be matched with anyone. I’m not sure I’ve explained my thought process well enough for anyone outside of my head to understand what I’m going on about, but my brain hurts now so I’ll leave it at that.

I want to ramble about the individual storylines but can’t because spoilers. But never fear: I have a plan to prevent an unintentional spoiler explosion. I’ve given this book to my mother, letting her know it needs to be her next read. I figure it’s a win-win … She gets to read her first John Marrs book and will naturally then proceed to devour the rest of his books, most of which I’ve conveniently already purchased for her. I get someone to talk spoilers with.

What could possibly go wrong?

P.S. The Match Your DNA website doesn’t exist. I had to check, not that I would have signed up or anything.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How far would you go to find The One?

A simple DNA test is all it takes. Just a quick mouth swab and soon you’ll be matched with your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.

That’s the promise made by Match Your DNA. A decade ago, the company announced that they had found the gene that pairs each of us with our soul mate. Since then, millions of people around the world have been matched. But the discovery has its downsides: test results have led to the breakup of countless relationships and upended the traditional ideas of dating, romance and love.

Now five very different people have received the notification that they’ve been “Matched.” They’re each about to meet their one true love. But “happily ever after” isn’t guaranteed for everyone. Because even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking than others …

Halloween Carnival Volume 5 – Brian James Freeman (editor)

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

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

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

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

The Last Dare by Lisa Tuttle – 🎃🎃🎃

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

“Tell us the story about the tower house”

The Halloween Bleed by Norman Prentiss – 🎃🎃🎃

An interview with a difference.

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

Swing by Kevin Quigley – 🎃🎃🎃

Death follows love. Every time.

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

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub – 🎃🎃🎃

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

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

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

Content warnings include death by suicide.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizardman by Robert McCammon – 🎃🎃🎃

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

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

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

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

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

Furtherest by Kaaron Warren – 🎃🎃🎃

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

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

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

This is the photoshoot from hell.

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

The Expedition by Bill Schweigart – 🎃🎃🎃

Nazis vs. the wolf.

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

Snow Shadows by Mick Garris – 🎃🎃🎃

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

“Did you love her?”

Content warnings include death by suicide.

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow – Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

I KNOW WHO KILLED LOLA … AND ONE OF YOU IS NEXT

Audrey is the new girl at Illumen Hall, a prestigious boarding school a world away from her old life and the memories that haunt her. She’s sharing a room with Ivy, who doesn’t seem to want anything to do with her. It isn’t long before Audrey learns that Lola, one of Illumen Hall’s most popular girls, died recently.

The police have closed their case but there may be more to the story than meets the eye. While the students and staff are still coming to terms with their loss, a new podcast raises the question of whether Lola’s death was an accident, suicide, or something more sinister. It turns out that Audrey isn’t the only one at Illumen Hall that’s keeping a secret.

I probably would have been slightly obsessed with this book if I’d read it when I was 13. I’ve always loved stories set in boarding schools and the mystery of the death of a student, combined with a school that has such a rich history and a potential secret society, would have been all I needed. Even as an adult I found this book easy to get into, but I found myself questioning things that wouldn’t have even registered on my radar as a kid.

The podcast transcripts were an interesting way of building the mystery and introducing theories, although none of them had enough content to last more than a couple of minutes. I had a lot of trouble believing a Detective would discuss any details of a case, no matter how briefly, with an anonymous caller.

A time stamp on a photo is believed to be accurate by the people who see it, with no questions raised about its authenticity. Although there’s nothing in this book to indicate that the time stamp had been fudged, it seemed strange that it wasn’t even a consideration. The resolution in this book that related to the person concerned was too easy for me.

I liked the idea of Ivy and Audrey’s points of view being written by different authors but if I didn’t already know this book was written by two people I never would have picked it. Usually I would think that this was a good thing, as the transitions between chapters felt fairly seamless. However, in this instance, I thought there should have been something obvious about the writing styles to differentiate the girls’ voices.

After the initial mystery was introduced the investigation didn’t move quickly enough for me for much of the book. I didn’t feel the urgency of the investigation. Towards the end of the book the pace picked up and I was really starting to look forward to getting some answers, but then the book just ended. Right in the middle of a scene.

There is a planned sequel, Two for Joy, currently scheduled for release in 2021. I knew ahead of time that this was the first in a series so I suspected I wouldn’t learn the answers to all of my questions here but I don’t feel like I got any of the answers I was seeking. Unfortunately, while I expected to be excited about the answers that will hopefully be revealed in the second book, I’m left frustrated by the lack of resolution.

There’s a website mentioned in the book that I obviously had to look up. The website doesn’t currently exist but perhaps it will by the publication date. Likewise, I tested out an email address but it was undeliverable.

‘I won’t cross the magpies, and the magpies won’t cross me.’

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children’s UK for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Illumen Hall is an elite boarding school. Tragedy strikes when the body of a student is discovered at their exclusive summer party – on her back is an elaborate tattoo of a magpie.

When new girl Audrey arrives the following term, running from her own secrets back home in America, she is thrown into solving the case. Despite her best efforts to avoid any drama, her new roommate Ivy was close to the murdered girl, and the two of them can’t help but get pulled in.

The two can’t stand each other, but as they are drawn deeper into the mystery of this strange and terrible murder, they will discover that something dangerous is at the heart of their superficially perfect school.

Welcome to The Magpie Society.

Megabat – Anna Humphrey

Illustrations – Kass Reich

Spoilers Ahead! (in purple font)

Daniel’s family has just moved to a new town. He misses his friends and isn’t looking forward to starting a new school where he doesn’t know anyone. It doesn’t help that he’s sure his new room is haunted.

It turns out the ghost is actually a talking fruit bat, who is also a long way from home. Megabat loves smoosh-fruit, buttermelon and Star Wars.

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Daniel is determined to return Megabat to Papaya Premium. These new friends are going to have to channel the Force if they’re going to succeed in their mission.

This was a really cute story for younger readers, with a focus on friendship. I loved Kass Reich’s illustrations, particularly those featuring Megabat.

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It did lose me a bit at the end when Megabat asked Birdgirl, his pigeon friend, to marry him but I’m probably overthinking it.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It’s big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it’s haunted … or is it?

Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he’s living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there. 

Daniel realises it’s not a ghost in his new house. It’s a bat. And he can talk. And he’s actually kind of cute. 

Megabat realises that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. 

Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you’ve got a new friendship in the making!