Not Waving, Drowning: Mental Illness and Vulnerability in Australia – Sarah Krasnostein

Quarterly Essay #85

Mental illness is so prevalent that it’s likely either you or someone you love will have lived experience. If it hasn’t impacted you personally, it probably means that it hasn’t yet, not that it won’t. 

Almost half of all Australian adults will experience mental ill-health during their lives, and almost one in five will meet the criteria in a given year. These numbers have likely risen during the pandemic. 

In this essay, Sarah Krasnostein traces the way mental illness has been managed (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, poorly managed) over time in Australia. They outline the trauma experienced by convicts and the “increasingly lethal, state-sanctioned attempt to eradicate Aboriginal people” (a minimum of 270 massacres over 140 years, beginning in 1794!!) before exploring our asylum days, beginning with Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, Australia’s first purpose built psychiatric facility. 

Krasnostein evaluates our current system, where money buys you care if you’re cis, heterosexual and white, while pretty much everyone else has to fight for the scraps, if they can find any. 

What is known as “the mental health system,” for example, is really just billions of human interactions. And that is where the problems lie. 

We go down the rabbit hole of how people with mental illness are marginalised, looking at the failure of individuals, institutions and society at large. I grew weary hearing about the cascade of inquiries into the mental health system that consistently result in recommendation after recommendation that are not acted on.

We can memorise the stats and read the policies but what really stays with me are peoples’ lived experiences. You can intellectually know that people with mental illness disproportionately experience homelessness and that the ‘service gaps’ are really service chasms, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. 

Being introduced to Rebecca, who despite being found not fit to stand trial and not guilty because of mental impairment, was imprisoned and kept in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day simply because there was nowhere else for her to go? Her story is going to stay with me. So is Daylia’s, a woman with a history of setting fires in order to try to gain control over her life.

The story of lived experience that stood above all others for me, though, was that of Eliza. A young woman who has survived extensive childhood trauma and is living with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, Eliza is now a peer worker, working to reform a system that in many ways has failed her. To say that I am impressed by her resilience and courage is an understatement. We need to be listening more to people like Eliza.

Quote I loved whose context I can’t remember but would be appropriate in so many situations

absence of evidence is not evidence of absence 

From the ‘I bet whoever approved this name didn’t give it a lot of thought’ files

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare have spreadsheets collating cause of death called General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM). 

Because there is no systems change without relational change – and no relational change without personal change – perhaps our best hope lies in a critical mass of those who are privileged by the current economic and social model following the lead of those people with lived experience and making the radical choice to normalise their own vulnerabilities – not just by refusing to participate in the stigmatisation of mental illness, but by calling out Othering in all its pernicious forms. 

There were a couple of quotes from the Correspondence section about Jess Hill’s The Reckoning that I wanted to make note of: 

Adrienne Rich wrote that when a woman tells the truth, she creates “the possibility for more truth around her.” 

Hannah Ryan & Gina Rushton

Silence and withdrawal by the many is what enables crimes by the few. 

Malcolm Knox

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, drug addiction, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, physical abuse, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mental illness is the great isolator – and the great unifier. Almost half of us will suffer from it at some point in our lives; it affects everybody in one way or another. Yet today Australia’s mental health system is under stress and not fit for purpose, and the pandemic is only making things worse. What is to be done?

In this brilliant mix of portraiture and analysis, Sarah Krasnostein tells the stories of three women and their treatment by the state while at their most unwell. What do their experiences tell us about the likelihood of institutional and cultural change? Krasnostein argues that we live in a society that often punishes vulnerability, but shows we have the resources to mend a broken system. But do we have the will to do so, or must the patterns of the past persist into the future?

“In our conception of government, and our willingness to fund it, we are closer to the Nordic countries than to America. However, we’re trending towards the latter with a new story of Australia. The moral of this new story is freedom over equality, and one freedom above all – the freedom to be unbothered by others’ needs. However, as we continue to saw ourselves off our perch, mental health might be the great unifier that climate change and the pandemic aren’t.” —Sarah Krasnostein, Not Waving, Drowning

Friday the 13th #1: Church of the Divine Psychopath – Scott Phillips

Welcome to Camp Crystal Lake: Blasphemy Edition 

Father Eric Long has had a revelation. The time has come for sinners to be judged by the Heavenly Vessel, A.K.A., Jason Voorhees. 

“Big guy. Hockey mask. Has issues?” 

The one and the same. 

The Ministry of the Heavenly Vessel are going on a road trip because it turns out that Father Long isn’t alone in his delusion. Like all good cult leaders, Long has managed to convince his entire flock to sell all of their worldly possessions and hand the proceeds to him. They’ve secured the lease to Camp Crystal Lake and the entire congregation are moving in. 

It’s not like the Father’s going to let a little thing like the fact that Jason is currently fish food prevent him from carrying out his mission. After retrieving a soggy Jason from the depths of Crystal Lake and nailing him to a cross (twice), freaky Father sets out to resurrect him. Jason’s going to church! What could go wrong?! 

Meanwhile, a strike team from the Agency, a covert branch of the government, are also making their way to Crystal Lake. Because what this situation desperately needs is more firepower. Besides the arsenal that the churchies apparently brought with them, that is. 

“I saw this in a horror movie once” 

A church, a strike team and Jason Voorhees converging on Camp Crystal Lake may sound like the beginning of a really bad joke but what it actually is is a recipe for a really big body count. I’m guessing that this “God-sanctioned Jason Voorhees bloodbath” takes place on Friday the 13th but no one ever showed me a calendar.

So, who are the victims this time around? This “salad bar of murderous possibilities” consists mostly of the strike team and church members. 

“Straight to hell for you.” 

It’s hard to figure out the exact body count but we’re talking more than fifty.

The people start dying in the prologue but these kills happen before the events of this book so I’m not counting those.

There’s a strike team mission prior to Mission Hockey Mask where a couple of strike team members stop breathing and all but two of the baddies have the kind of bad day that prevents you from having any other kind of day ever, but we don’t know how many there were to start off with.

The strike team members, some of who appear to be most content when they’re busy fighting amongst themselves, are lining up to die.

* Jeff Townsend – the six foot six leader of this suicide mission. He’s probably going to go down with the metaphorical ship.
* Walter Hobb – he’s five foot six, has soap opera looks and he’s recently suffered a serious case of demotion. He can’t see so well out of one of his eyes as a result of the mission that put him in the bad books but he’s a main character so he might just get to go home to his wife, Lauren. Lauren is pretty peeved that Hobb signed up for Operation Suicide By Jason. She runs a used bookstore, though, so she’s definitely going to survive. Not even Jason is going to lay a machete on someone who takes such good care of books.
* Samantha Noon – she’s 20 and a total badass. But… she has sex during the book and anyone who ever took Horror 101 knows that’s a death sentence.
* Chris Seaver – Townsend’s second in command for this mission. He also has sex, with Noon. Nice knowing you, Chris.
* Benjamin Hurley – he’s given a first name but I don’t remember hearing anything that could be accused of being a backstory. That doesn’t bode well for him.
* Bruno Ortega – he’s a pervert. Enough said.
* Acheson – he’s relaxed enough to leave his gun outside of reaching distance while he wanders around in the lake. Seriously, Acheson?
* Moseley – he’s a medic so he’s got to survive long enough to try to put intestines back inside bodies, right?
* Lovinger – this guy loves Burt Reynolds movies. Make of that what you will.
* Stilton, Blair, Leonard, Sisson, Garb, Connolly, Howard, Chaffin, Marr – the author didn’t care enough about these dead men walking to give them first names.
* Hurley, Miller, Hall – these men don’t get names until their death scenes. This may be a clue.

Then there are the true believers who, after the initial slaughter, get together for a cuppa. As you do. 

“Trouble has found its way to our little ministry.” 

* Father Eric Long – he’s the reason we’re in this mess to begin with. The way he spiritually guides three widows is beyond creepy.
* Kelly Mills – although she’s only 26, Kelly has a backstory. She doesn’t believe in God but she does believe in Long. Well, she wants to get in his pants, anyway. 
* Curtis Rickles – this former marine is the most detestable waste of oxygen you’ll find in this book. When he’s not shooting people, he’s busy sexually assaulting a minor. He needs to die a really drawn out, creative death.
* Don James – one of the Father’s inner circle, Don’s a biker with tattoos he probably got in jail.
* Meredith Host – 17 year old Meredith is at Crystal Lake with her parents, who are in their 60’s. Kelly is her best (only?) friend. That’s not to say this virgin doesn’t have lust in her heart.
* Roger (or Robert) – okay, so we don’t even know for sure what this man’s name is. That’s not a good sign.
* Denice Keenan, Jennifer Crenshaw, Lorelei Picardi, Charlotte Rutherford – these women share a cabin with Kelly, one of our main characters. These women may need to be sacrificed for the greater good if Jason wanders in. Especially Denice. She chose the bottom bunk so she’s more accessible.
* Travis Hornby, John Sullivan, Mark Brody, Susan Perkins, Susanna Brookwalter – yeah, I don’t know enough about these people to ensure their survival.
* Patricia Krenkle and Manny Krenkle, Mr and Mrs Host – do we know what Jason’s views are on marriage?
* Stan – I feel like there was a Stan but now I’m not so sure. 
* Ronald Shearing, Joseph Bookwalter – we know they existed only because we know they died.

Eleanor, Steve and Frenchie never leave Lefty’s so unless Jason’s feeling a bit parched, they’re probably okay. Sonia, the waitress, will probably make it as well. 

There’s an unnamed farmer driving a chicken truck in the general vicinity but he’s smart enough to keep driving so I’m fairly certain he’s going to keep breathing until at least the next time Friday the 13th rolls around.

This book reconfirms why this place is known as Camp Blood. The insides are now your outsides action is fairly consistent, once you get through the extensive backstories of a couple of contenders.

After the prologue, Jason doesn’t even get to kill anyone until page 172. His first kill is probably his best, although the next three are pretty decent as well. I came for machete slicing and dicing and Jason squishing heads like watermelons. Jason got a bit lazy in this book, primarily introducing people to his machete. Some kills only warranted a sentence and others happened off the page.

Rivalling Jason’s machete in the body count are guns. There are also five funerals we need to attend for people whose COD will need to be determined by a coroner because, while I’m guessing they were shot or met explodey ends as a result of a grenade, I don’t know for sure.

The rules that govern who should die in Jason’s world were pretty much thrown out the window in this book. The pure and hell bound were both fair game.

The person I most wanted to die did but their manner of death didn’t live up to my hopes. It needed to be less generic and much more painful and dramatic.

I wondered how much gunfire Jason could take. Hundreds of bullets didn’t slow him down at all. Speaking of not slowing down, honouring his ability to walk faster than his victims can run, Jason somehow managed to make a return trip to somewhere that takes half an hour to drive to in record time.

Handy hint: When the leader of your church starts citing Waco to guide you through current events, you may be in a cult.

Best description

Blood shot skywards like a gory lawn sprinkler. 

Content warnings include sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a couple of scenes.

Next Friday the 13th readHell Lake, where an executed serial killer meets Jason in hell.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The first in a brand new series of Friday the 13th shockers! Jason Voorhees is reanimated and worshipped by a bizarre religious cult. When a SWAT team is called in, it’s time for Jason to go about his bloody work and wages a one-man war against both sides.

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.

On Reckoning – Amy Remeikis

This is such a small book but it packs a punch. Tracing the political floundering that was evident from the Prime Minister’s initial response to Brittany Higgins’ allegation (I hate that word but … Australian defamation law, etc) that she was raped in Parliament House to the dismal response to those made against a senior minister of government, the rage is evident – and justified.

Sometimes you read a book that says many of the things you want to say, only better. This is one of them. I tried really hard to minimise the amount of quotes I wanted to include here but, as you’ll see, I failed miserably. 

I present to you the sentences I couldn’t leave behind: 

Lines were drawn between those who lived in the before time, and those who knew what the after felt like. 

Staying quiet can save your life, but eventually, all that quiet begins to scream. 

Your body can’t forget trauma. It holds the sights and the scents and the sounds deep in your tissue. 

We all know someone who has been sexually assaulted, or know of someone who has been, but we never seem to know the perpetrators. And yet, that’s statistically impossible. Someone is carrying out these assaults; someone is creating this trauma. 

There is every chance that someone in your everyday life is someone else’s monster. 

Anger can be destructive, but it can also be transformative. Used well, it can bring about a necessary clarity, stripping back all the frosting to what lies rotten underneath. 

Flight, fight, freeze and fawn, and everything in between, are completely legitimate responses to fear, and if you are having a fear response, you’re in an unsafe situation. 

In 2020, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported that about 15,000 women came forward to report a sexual assault. Only 2 per cent – or about 300 – of those cases led to a guilty verdict in court.
And those were the ones that made it to court.
Commissioner Fuller himself reported that only about 10 per cent of the sexual assault allegations taken to NSW officers led to charges being laid. Of that 10 per cent taken to court, only 10 per cent would lead to a conviction. 

Not everyone can tell their story. And no-one has to. After everything else has been ripped away from you, your story is your own. Telling, not telling – none of it makes you any less brave, less worthy. Just putting one step in front of the other after all you’ve been through is more than enough. Your story belongs to no-one but you, and you don’t owe it to anyone to share. 

There’s no right way to do any of this. Remember that, and do what it is that works for you. 

Reckonings don’t come for free. It’s always been broken people, patched back together, who pay. And pay they do, to try to make sure those coming after them will never know what it costs. 

I only wish this book was longer.

Content warnings include domestic and family abuse, miscarriage and sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

On Reckoning tells of the moment when the personal became very political, when rape became the national conversation.

What happens when the usual political tactics of deflect and dodge are no longer enough?

A reckoning.

The Guardian’s political reporter Amy Remeikis has spoken before about being a survivor of sexual assault, but Brittany Higgins going public with her story ripped the curtain back not just on political attempts to deal with real-world issues, but also how unsafe women can be, even inside the most protected building in the country.

Amy didn’t expect to see political leaders fumble the moment so completely. And what followed was people taking back the conversation from the politicians.

On Reckoning is a searing account of Amy’s personal and professional rage, taking you inside the parliament – and out – during one of the most confronting and uncomfortable conversations in recent memory.

Someone in Time – Jonathan Strahan (editor)

Self confessed romantiphobe here. So why did I put my hand up to read a romance anthology? In my defence, there’s time travel, one of my very favourite things to read about and do. Shh! You’re not supposed to mention that bit.

Also, there are contributions by two of my favourite authors, Alix E. Harrow and Seanan McGuire, so it was kind of inevitable that this book would find its way to me in every timeline.

Roadside Attraction by Alix E. Harrow

When Floyd approaches the pillar of sandstone covered in graffiti, he’s certain he knows what he’s searching for. 

“Did you find your destiny?” 

The Past Life Reconstruction Service by Zen Cho 

Rui is using the Past Life Reconstruction Service because he’s seeking inspiration. 

“Your dream won’t affect anyone or anything else. The most it can do is change the world inside you.” 

First Aid by Seanan McGuire 

Taylor has been preparing for her one way trip to Elizabethan England for years. 

There was no going back. There never had been. 

I Remember Satellites by Sarah Gailey

When you work for the Agency, a short straw trip means you’re not coming back. 

Everybody draws the short straw in the end. 

The Golden Hour by Jeffrey Ford 

Mr Russell is trying to write his novel when he meets the time traveller. 

“Past or future?” I asked.
“Where the clues lead, young man. Where else?” 

The Lichens by Nina Allan 

There’s something important in the past that’s not accessible in Josephine’s time. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here fantasising about the idea of books being able to be transported to the past. 

So you know about lichens?

Kronia by Elizabeth Hand 

So many fleeting moments, finding one another over the course of lifetimes. 

Unrecognized: I never knew you.

Bergamot and Vetiver by Lavanya Lakshminarayan 

To save the past, this time traveller is willing to destroy their future. 

“To thirst is to be alive, but to devour is to be monstrous.” 

The Difference Between Love and Time by Catherynne M. Valente 

Loving the space/time continuum can be complicated. 

Be my wife forever, limited puddle-being. 

Unbashed, Or: Jackson, Whose Cowardice Tore a Hole in the Chronoverse by Sam J. Miller 

It all comes back to this moment. 

“Walk me home?” 

Romance: Historical by Rowan Coleman 

Communicating through books is probably the most romantic thing ever. 

Beth steadied herself; after all she had spent her whole life in training for this moment, preparing unreservedly to believe in the impossible.

The Place of All the Souls by Margo Lanagan

In that realm, they’re perfect. In this one, they’re happily married … but not to one another. 

Whatever came of the discovery, there was at least a moment’s peace to be enjoyed, now that she knew. 

Timed Obsolescence by Sameem Siddiqui

Two time travellers meet throughout time. 

“Was discovering random historical factoids what drew you into this line of work?” 

A Letter to Merlin by Theodora Goss 

Guinevere loves Arthur in every lifetime. 

“You’re going to be dead in twenty-four hours. Would you like to save the world?” 

Dead Poets by Carrie Vaughn 

The love of poems and poets. 

The study of literature is the process of continually falling in love with dead people. 

Time Gypsy by Ellen Klages 

Sara Baxter Clarke has been Dr. McCullough’s hero since she was a child. 

“I’m offering you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

I have four favourite reads in this anthology: the two I was here for in the first place (no big surprise there) and two by authors who were new to me. 

Rowan Coleman’s story made me tear up. It was also the only story that made me interrupt the reader sitting beside me (who was partway through a chapter of the book they were reading), declaring that they need to read this right now. In case you’re wondering, I was forgiven; they loved it as much as I did. It’s just such a beautiful story.

Ellen Klages’ story, where heroes can live up to your expectations, had me railing against injustice even as I was feeling all mushy about the growing love between the protagonists.

The bottom line? If a romantiphobe can find so much to love about this anthology, then the rest of you are in for a treat.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, death by suicide, domestic abuse, homophobia, miscarriage and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with a few sentences.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing, for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Anthology of inclusive tales of people through time looking for one another and for ways for the world to be better.

Even time travel can’t unravel love.

Time travel is a way for writers to play with history and imagine different futures – for better, or worse.

When romance is thrown into the mix, time travel becomes a passionate tool, or heart-breaking weapon. A time agent in the 22nd century puts their whole mission at risk when they fall in love with the wrong person. No matter which part of history a man visits, he cannot not escape his ex. A woman is desperately in love with the space/time continuum, but it doesn’t love her back. As time passes and falls apart, a time traveller must say goodbye to their soulmate.

With stories from best-selling and award-winning authors such as Seanan McGuire, Alix E. Harrow and Nina Allan, this anthology gives a taste for the rich treasure trove of stories we can imagine with love, loss and reunion across time and space. 

Including stories by: Alix E. Harrow, Zen Cho, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Gailey, Jeffrey Ford, Nina Allan, Elizabeth Hand, Lavanya Lakshminarayan, Catherynne M. Valente, Sam J. Miller, Rowan Coleman, Margo Lanagan, Sameem Siddiqui, Theodora Goss, Carrie Vaughn, Ellen Klages.

Enough – Harriet Johnson

In her work as a barrister, Harriet Johnson has seen how the criminal justice system can work and also how it can fail women. In this book, Harriet outlines many of the ways violence is perpetrated against women, how the justice system responds to it and how it can be more adequately addressed as well as prevented.

An overview of the law, statistics and case studies are presented about various ways that women experience violence: homicide, sexual violence, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, stalking, street harassment and online harassment. 

The author clearly points out that even though a dark picture can already be painted using the statistics that are available, there are entire groups of women whose experience is not even captured in them.

If you’re not from the UK, you’ll find that the definitions of offences, the laws that relate to them and the maximum applicable if someone is convicted won’t line up with the laws of your country. The statistics are also UK specific, although most didn’t seem dissimilar to what I know of stats from other countries.

None of the suggested strategies for ending violence against women surprised me. They focus on prevention, as well as making improvements to the systems that are currently in place. It’s about having enough resources and training. It’s taking a long, hard look at the way police and the courts respond to violence. It’s including marginalised women in the statistics because if we don’t have a clear picture of what’s happening, then how can we ever expect things to change.

Favourite quote: “the culture you get is the behaviour you tolerate.”

Content warnings include mention of ableism, death by suicide, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, homophobia, mental health, misogyny, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, for the opportunity to read this book. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This is a book that calls time on the endless tide of violence against women and the failures of our criminal justice system to respond.

From barrister Harriet Johnson, Enough lays bare the appalling status quo of abuse against women in our society, offering an irrefutable case for why change is needed in policing and justice. Most vitally, it also gives a manifesto for how to get there.

With expertise, clear-sightedness and appropriate fury, this book helps us see where women are suffering – from homicide to domestic abuse to street harassment. It exposes the ways the criminal justice system lets women down – from officers failing to properly investigate to a lack of consequences when police behaviour is unacceptable, to backlogged courts and the realities of convincing a jury.

Addressing misogyny is to everyone’s benefit and the answers aren’t simple. Enough is the call to arms we can – and must – all get behind.

The Tangleroot Palace – Marjorie Liu

While I’d already well and truly fallen in love with Monstress, I hadn’t read anything else by this author. After being wowed by this collection, I will now be working to rectify this egregious mistake.

Sympathy for the Bones

Clora works with bone needles and thread. She doesn’t make mistakes. 

Fear of a hoodoo woman was natural. Fear was how it had to be. 

The Briar and the Rose

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, we meet the Duelist who, on Sundays, is called Briar. While six days a week are devoted to violence, the seventh contains love. 

The Duelist had learned, long ago, that oppression could be defeated only through study; like a sword, the mind must always be tended to if it was to aim true. 

The Light and the Fury

Superheroes, war and crystal skulls. 

“Can you be what they need?”
“No,” she said quietly. “But I can try.” 

The Last Dignity of Man

His mother named him Alexander Lutheran. Wasn’t it inevitable that he would aspire to become Lex Luthor? 

And he has lived up to that name, in more ways than one. 

Where the Heart Lives

This story takes place in the Dirk & Steele universe, well before the events of the first book in the series. Although I tend to stay as far away from romance novels as possible, I’m intrigued enough to want to dive into the first book. 

“We all have our homes,” she said quietly. “The ability to choose yours is not a gift to take for granted.” 

After the Blood

Amish vampires! A sequel to the novella, The Robber Bride, which I now need to read. 

Only so long a man could keep secrets while living under his family’s roof. 

Tangleroot Palace

When Sally’s father arranges for her to be married to the Black Knight of the Poisoned Cookies (not his real name), she decides to turn to the Tangleroot forest for help. It’s not like she’s got anything to lose.

Bonus points to the raven in the tree next door that believes in book-life symmetry, waiting to caw until the exact moment the raven in the story did. 

“Most people, when they have questions, ask other people. They do not go running headfirst into a place of night terrors and magic.” 

It is rare for me to love a short story collection more than I love the idea of it but this one exceeded my expectations.

The Light and the Fury was the only story I wasn’t immediately captivated by. The rest, I adored, but none more so than The Last Dignity of Man

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, death of animals, miscarriage and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to fall in love with this collection.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

New York Times bestseller and Hugo, British Fantasy, Romantic Times, and Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel Monstress, Marjorie Liu leads you deep into the heart of the tangled woods. In her long-awaited debut collection of dark, lush, and spellbinding short fiction, you will find unexpected detours, dangerous magic, and even more dangerous women.

Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of travelling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.

Concluding with a gorgeous full-length novella, Marjorie Liu’s first short fiction collection is an unflinching sojourn into her thorny tales of love, revenge, and new beginnings.

A Dark History of Sugar – Neil Buttery

There’s nothing sweet about the history of sugar. Having already read A Dark History of Chocolate, I had some idea of what to expect. 

Even so, it was horrifying reading chapter after chapter about slavery. Centuries worth of humans enslaving other humans to produce something that was once reserved for royalty but we all now have a taste for. Not content with the human cost of producing sugar, we’ve also done irreparable damage to the environment. 

Interestingly, it turns out a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.

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Besides coating medicines in sugar to make them more palatable, it has also been used to ‘treat’ a number of conditions. One of my personal favourites was a remedy to treat conjunctivitis, “made up of powdered sugar, pearls and gold leaf that was blown directly into the eye.” It’s also been prescribed “to treat diseases of the loins, urinary tract, eyes and chest as well as headaches and inflammation.”

I learned how food manufacturers massage portion sizes so it appears their products contain less sugar than they really do and how they try to hide sugar in plain sight by calling it any number of things on the packaging. 

By 2018 there were at least fifty-six names in use for sugar in ingredients lists. 

This book, exploring both the production and consumption of sugar, was very well researched. It provides a detailed history but, for the most part, it’s just so depressing. 

The World Wildlife Fund reckons that sugar is ‘responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other crop.’ 

This is not an easy read but it is an eye opening one.

Content warnings include death by suicide, miscarriage, racism, sexual assault, slavery and torture. Images that accompany the text include those that depict slaves being abused and killed and a close up photo of an ulcerated foot.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Pen & Sword History, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books, for granting my wish to read this book. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A Dark History of Sugar delves into our evolutionary history to explain why sugar is so loved, yet is the root cause of so many bad things.

Europe’s colonial past and Britain’s Empire were founded and fuelled on sugar, as was the United States, the greatest superpower on the planet – and they all relied upon slave labour to catalyse it.

A Dark History of Sugar focuses upon the role of the slave trade in sugar production and looks beyond it to how the exploitation of the workers didn’t end with emancipation. It reveals the sickly truth behind the detrimental impact of sugar’s meteoric popularity on the environment and our health. Advertising companies peddle their sugar-laden wares to children with fun cartoon characters, but the reality is not so sweet.

A Dark History of Sugar delves into our long relationship with this sweetest and most ancient of commodities. The book examines the impact of the sugar trade on the economies of Britain and the rest of the world, as well as its influence on health and cultural and social trends over the centuries.

Renowned food historian Neil Buttery takes a look at some of the lesser-known elements of the history of sugar, delving into the murky and mysterious aspects of its phenomenal rise from the first cultivation of the sugar cane plant in Papua New Guinean in 8,000 BCE to becoming an integral part of the cultural fabric of life in Britain and the rest of the West – at whatever cost. The dark history of sugar is one of exploitation: of slaves and workers, of the environment and of the consumer. Wars have been fought over it and it is responsible for what is potentially to be the planet’s greatest health crisis.

And yet we cannot get enough of it, for sugar and sweetness has cast its spell over us all; it is comfort and we reminisce fondly about the sweets, cakes, puddings and fizzy drinks of our childhoods with dewy-eyed nostalgia. To be sweet means to be good, to be innocent; in this book Neil Buttery argues that sugar is nothing of the sort. Indeed, it is guilty of some of the worst crimes against humanity and the planet.

The Packing House – G. Donald Cribbs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

I can’t ignore these dreams. They come from somewhere. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something, but what exactly? 

Joel’s nightmares have been getting worse recently. It doesn’t help that his mother is emotionally unavailable and his father has been MIA for over half of his life. When one of Joel’s nightmares is recorded and posted online, it makes it even harder for him to cope.

Childhood sexual assault is always going to be difficult to read about. While there are more books being published where characters have experienced this, not enough are written from the point of view of male survivors. That’s what drew me to this book.

It’s hard to be objective when sexual assault and its impacts are addressed so I’ll focus here on what did and didn’t work for me personally as I read this book.

One of the strengths of this book was that it dealt with trauma that the main character didn’t always have clear memories of. Trauma encodes itself in the brain differently than non-traumatic memories and sometimes this means the memories aren’t accessible until the survivor is safe. Joel’s memories begin to resurface in the themes of his nightmares and in flashbacks. His understanding of what he’s experiencing doesn’t come all at once.

Some aspects of the story didn’t ring true to me. Once Joel talked about what happened to him, his nightmares seemed to disappear. While I hope this is the case for some survivors, this didn’t seem very realistic.

I couldn’t imagine the police, when they showed up to interview Joel at his home, finding it necessary to use their lights and siren to announce themselves. Surely a simple knock on the door would have done the trick. 

I’d also hate to think of a survivor being confronted by the police about such a sensitive topic in front of random family members or having to go with them straight away to the station in a police car to give a statement.

And why do the police say the perpetrator is “charged with” when they haven’t actually charged them yet? They hadn’t even interviewed the victim or conducted an investigation into the allegations.

With such an extended lead up to Joel remembering what happened to him, the events afterwards felt like a whirlwind. I was left with some pretty big question marks and some of those are because the book finishes so abruptly. I don’t know if a sequel is planned or not but here’s the short list of what I need to know…

Was Joel’s perpetrator responsible for what happened to the other boy we learn about from Joel’s childhood? Is there a way around the statute of limitations problem in Joel’s case as he’s only just remembered what happened to him? Does Joel get anything approximating justice from the legal system? Did the perpetrator also offend against Joel’s brother? What is Joel’s brother’s response to what happened to Joel? What possessed Joel to immediately set up candles when he learned what they meant for Amber?

There’s no indication in the blurb that religion is discussed in relation to the events in this book. Given that some readers will want to read it and others will avoid it for that reason alone, heads up: Christianity, including Bible quotes, are a part of this book.

Books in a book: Reading is one of Joel’s escapes. Throughout the book, he reads Fahrenheit 451The OutsidersThe Chocolate War and Catcher in the Rye

Content warnings include addiction (drug and gambling), bullying, domestic abuse, homelessness, homophobia, mental health (PTSD), physical abuse and sexual assault. Please be aware that the scenes describing childhood sexual assault are reasonably graphic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Cherish Editions, an imprint of Trigger Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When 16-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows his secret, one that he’s suppressed for ten years. Reeling as the whole school finds out the truth, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind.

However, life as a runaway isn’t easy, as Joel’s hallucinations and nightmares follow him into the wilderness. To stop them once and for all, he pieces clues together with flashes of the images that play endlessly inside his head – will he figure out the identity of the person who caused his nightmare before it’s too late?

Dark Stars – John F.D. Taff (editor)

Horror is something like black taffy these days, enough elasticity to stretch across any room (even the word “room” feels a little confining while discussing the modern state of horror: Is it a room actually? Could be something else), and you’ll find that elasticity here in the pages of this book. 

The Attentionist by Caroline Kepnes

Reg and Maeve really want Tony to call. Naturally, he’ll have a friend so the sisters will be able to go on a double date. 

The phrase you learn in school is fight or flight. As if those are the only choices. As if we’re all so quick to throw a punch or make a run for it. Some of us are slow. We just need a minute to think. 

A Life in Nightmares by Ramsey Campbell

When past and present, reality and nightmares collide. 

“I don’t know why I should dream about the past” 

Papa Eye by Priya Sharma

When Ravi goes to the island, they see life and death in a whole new light. 

“We’ve been struggling with how to explain it. Now you can see for yourself.” 

Volcano by Livia Llewellyn

A new job, a new colleague, a pervasive darkness. 

It still bothers me that I can’t remember last night. 

All the Things He Called Memories by Stephen Graham Jones 

When you’re quarantining with your partner, a research scientist, who wants to discuss your greatest fear. You know, besides the pandemic. 

“Because our minds are puzzle boxes,” Marcy said, obviously. “You can twist them this way, that way, and, if you’re really lucky, maybe once in a while you unlock one of them.” 

Trinity River’s Blues by Chesya Burke 

Jazz, a murder of crows and a woman who sees dead people. 

“This here … this is longing. Its power manifested. You don’t understand who you are and so you let your fears and insecurities control you.” 

The Familiar’s Assistant by Alma Katsu

Eric has spent weeks tracking him down. Now he’s standing at the vampire’s door. 

You can’t accept a monster in your life and think that you’re safe. That you’ll be able to control him. 

Swim in the Blood of a Curious Dream by John F.D. Taff 

Peter just wants to drive his son to their new home. The weather has other ideas. So does Peter’s dead wife. 

Because, as I’ve learned, separation doesn’t diminish the love a child has for their parent.
Nor does death. 

The Sanguintalist by Gemma Files

The blood speaks to Lala. 

Tell me now. Show me, if you can’t form the words. Let me see it.
Let me see it all. 

Mrs. Addison’s Nest by Josh Malerman

This all started in detention fifteen years ago. It ends now. 

REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE 

Challawa by Usman T. Malik

Karisma returns to Pakistan with her husband. While she’s there, she plans to do some research. 

“Challawa. A mercurial creature that shimmers and is gone. A mirage that evaporates when you get close to it.” 

Enough For Hunger and Enough For Hate by John Langan

Michelle is trying to track down her brother’s killer. And his body. 

“There was nothing I wanted more than to spend every waking second with her.” 

Usually when I pick up an anthology, it’s because there’s one particular author’s story I need to read. This time around, that author was Stephen Graham Jones. 

With anthologies, I always find the stories are a bit of a mixed bag. I love this because there’s usually something for everyone. I also dread this because I know it’s just as likely I’ll encounter stories that I’m not so keen on.

My horror preference is the “would you like more blood with that?” variety. I actively seek out reads where I have the overwhelming urge to look over my shoulder and question whether it’s safe to turn out the lights, as well as my decision to eat before reading. I’m not as comfy with ambiguity so some reads here didn’t work as well for me. 

I enjoyed many of the stories but they didn’t elicit fear in me. The most horrified I felt was when I realised I’d finished more than one story with no way of explaining what it was about because I had no idea.

One of my favourite things about anthologies is the opportunity to find authors whose books have somehow flown under my radar. While I loved the story I came here for, I was also introduced to two authors whose books I definitely need to investigate in the near future: Priya Sharma and Usman T. Malik.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, domestic abuse, miscarriage and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this anthology. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Created as an homage to the 1980 classic horror anthology, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, this collection contains 12 original novelettes showcasing today’s top horror talent. Dark Stars features all-new stories from award-winning authors and up-and-coming voices like Stephen Graham Jones, Priya Sharma, Usman T. Malik, Caroline Kepnes, and Alma Katsu, with seasoned author John F.D. Taff at the helm. An afterword from original Dark Forces contributor Ramsey Campbell is a poignant finale to this bone-chilling collection.

Within these pages you’ll find tales of dead men walking, an insidious secret summer fling, an island harbouring unspeakable power, and a dark hallway that beckons. You’ll encounter terrible monsters – both human and supernatural – and be forever changed. The stories in Dark Stars run the gamut from traditional to modern, from dark fantasy to neo-noir, from explorations of beloved horror tropes to the unknown – possibly unknowable – threats.

It’s all in here because it’s all out there, now, in horror.