Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (#14) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st March 2005 (print)/28 June 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 246/6 hrs and 39 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ – 2 Stars

Just back from an extended stay in London, Agatha Raisin finds herself greeted by torrential rains and an old, familiar feeling of boredom. When her handsome new neighbour, Paul Chatterton, shows up on her doorstep, she tries her best to ignore his obvious charms, but his sparkling black eyes and the promise of adventure soon lure her into another investigation.

Paul has heard rumours about Agatha’s reputation as the Cotswold village sleuth and wastes no time offering their services to the crotchety owner of a haunted house. Whispers, footsteps, and a cold white mist are plaguing Mrs. Witherspoon, but the police have failed to come up with any leads, supernatural or otherwise. The neighbours think it’s all a desperate ploy for attention, but Paul and Agatha are sure something more devious is going on. Someone’s playing tricks on Mrs. Witherspoon, and when she turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, Agatha finds herself caught up in another baffling murder mystery.

I was disappointed the haunted, paranormal aspect was solved so quickly, it was something different to focus on than bodies right away. The murder mystery aspect was relatively predictable but there is a lot more focus on the character interactions than any real sleuthing. All of the characters are vain and fools, so no one gets any real sympathy.

There are also continuity errors based on information in previous books about Charles which throws you a bit since they are huge revelations and changes that can’t occur in a matter of months. Whether the previous facts weren’t interesting enough for this new story and had to be retconned I’m not sure, maybe perhaps Beaton can’t recall her own story, whatever the reason it’s another sign of disregard for the readers, the characters, and trying to create a consistent, evolving storyline if things can change on a whim through books.

Agatha thinks about James less than she has in the previous two books which is a plus. Not that her obsession over men isn’t there, between her and Paul, and her and Charles and the whole mess in between it gets a tad involved. Stock standards are there too – her absolute obsession over her age and her weight, and she applies, reapplies, and freshens up her make up a few dozen times.

Something you notice when you binge these books is the lengths are getting longer. From an initial length of around four hours, the shift to six hour stories is becoming the norm and it isn’t to the benefit of the story. With two hours extra of story there is no real improvement on plot, people, character development or sensibilities. The approach instead is to fill the book with more padding and random scenes almost unconnected and personally I can’t see the benefit of this if we aren’t going to see any more depth of character, growth of any real kind, or something relevant to the plot. These aren’t enjoyable enough characters to want to spend time with them unnecessarily.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House via the following

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The Couch Potato (#4) by Jory John

Published: 3rd November 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins
Illustrator: Pete Oswald
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The Couch Potato has everything he needs within reach of his sunken couch cushion. But when the electricity goes out, Couch Potato is forced to peel himself away from the comforts of his living room and venture outside. And when he does, he realizes fresh air and sunshine could be just the things he needs…

Readers of all ages will laugh along as their new best spuddy learns that balancing screen time and playtime is the root to true happiness.

I am a huge fan of Jory John’s books and the Bad Seed series is one I’m growing to love because they are a clever and fun set of books that highlight different behaviours and situations that don’t feel like readers are being preached at yet a good message still comes through with brilliant humour and great illustrations.

This is book number four and as per usual the humour, the puns and play on words are divine. The different variety of potatoes are on show as Couch Potato tells us about their family and introduces us to their life. We’re told about the fabulous set up they have and the inventions and contraptions that means they never have to move from their spot on the lounge.

John never makes Couch Potato into a bad person (potato) for enjoying his life doing nothing but looking at screens all day, but through creative storytelling and a change in circumstance shows us that there is a better, more balanced way to live your life. I really enjoyed how through the whole story it’s Couch Potato’s own choices that change his circumstance. It isn’t his mother pestering him, or anything shameful, it’s his own realisation that maybe being inside all the time isn’t the best thing to do.

Key highlights are of course the potato based television shows including MadYam, Fries, and M.A.S.H.E.D. Oswald’s illustrations are once again filled with humour and help visualise John’s narrative and I absolutely loved how well the jokes worked for the potato world.

You can purchase The Couch Potato via the following

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Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Published: 5th March 2019 (print)/24 March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 480/9 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Nile Bullock
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★  – 1 Star

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favourite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

Lured in by the interesting blurb I’m annoyed to say this story had so much potential if I didn’t hate the writing. Also the main character, but I am blaming that on the writing because I think it’s not entirely his fault.

The issue I have with the writing is it’s cringe-worthy, long winded and often unnecessary. It’s painful to listen to I’m sure it would have been annoying to read as well. Having Jack’s narration spoken aloud in my ear made me realise how weird the sentences were and how the story is flooded with overly wordy similes and metaphors which go far beyond their purpose. Reynolds over explains things so not only are similes sprinkled in more often than necessary, he goes one step further adding explanations and examples of those similes which take away from the moment being described.

As a character Jack is annoying. I didn’t like his voice and Reynolds’ written him to be the “adorable dork” who gets the cool, interesting older girl but Jack is more on the annoying dork side of things and the weird, overly cute, eye rolling dialogue between the two was hard to bear.

I wanted to stop reading so many times but I was determined to stick with it at least until the first time travel, and then I kept telling myself to stay with it to see if there was an explanation for the Groundhog Day type situations. Thankfully Reynolds chooses a four month cycle which gives us time to explore the relationship and the impact it has on the wider friends and family group.

It was relatively interesting seeing the different actions having different outcomes, and yet despite the multiple cycles we spend with these characters, they still felt flat and one dimensional, like we never learn much about them past the things we need to know for the events in the cycle to occur.

Reynolds shows that Jack takes advantage of the knowledge he has of previous cycles but then becomes incredibly weird and the story shows multiple breaches of privacy and I have no doubt Kate wouldn’t have gone along with anything Jack did with his intrusive nature into her personal and medical life. Not to mention the ways he abandons and treats his friends with his choices.

Other downfalls of Jack’s character were the many sentences dedicated to talking about how attractive Kate was and there are even scenes where Jack is spending his time describing how attractive Kate’s face is while she’s talking to him but he isn’t actually listening to her tell him about her very serious illness. The line she was sexy when angry even happens which did nothing to help me warm to the writing, Jack or Reynolds.

Overall I was not a fan of this book. The story is a letdown, I don’t actually think Jack learnt anything substantial to make him a better person, there are great characters that are left on the sidelines until they’re required for the story and aside from a few moments of remorse Jack doesn’t change his behaviour in any real way to show he’s learnt from his actions over the time loop. Jack tells us it happened a lot more often than what he’s telling us, I can only be thankful that we weren’t subjected to having to read about them as well.

You can purchase Opposite of Always via the following

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Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

Published: 1 May 2013 (print)/1st May 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia/Naxos Audio
Pages: 336/8 hrs and 5 mins
Narrator: Matilda Reed
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sabine isn’t like anyone else. For as long as she can remember, she’s had two lives. Every twenty-four hours she “shifts,” living each day twice. In one life, Sabine has everything: popular friends, perfect grades, expensive clothes, and the guy everyone wants. In the other, Sabine’s family struggles financially, and her friends are considered rebels. But then she meets Ethan. He’s gorgeous and challenging, and he makes her feel like she’s never felt before.

All Sabine really wants is the chance to live only one life. But when this finally becomes possible, is she willing to risk everything – including losing the one person who might actually believe her – to make it happen?

CW: self harm, drug use, overdose, physical abuse

Note: This review contains minor spoilers

This is a reread of a book I first read in 2014 and I’m surprised that I’ve gone from a 5 star rating to a 2 star review. I think at the time I was amazed at how Shirvington created this world. Her creativeness of how Sabine shifted between worlds, how the rules were changing, what it meant for her life and her decisions caught me more than the problems I can obviously see now.

I did this as an audio second time round and to be honest it was hard to get through it. I had it on the fastest speed I could still understand and I was tired of this story fairly early. Once you see the problems it is hard to see past them.

I feel like having lived for essentially 36 years instead of her single 18 she should be more mature, smarter, and sensible than she is. Sabine has managed her two families and lives well enough — she can live two lives and not get them mixed up, has never forgotten which world she was in, but having lived twice as long as anyone else she is still acting foolishly.

No wonder she is sent to an institution because she’s clearly gone to the extreme self-harm approach instead of doing normal less extreme tests. The blasé attitude she has towards it as well is concerning. She can’t see anything wrong with it, she doesn’t think it’s a big deal and in a YA book especially, to show it as “no big deal” is incredibly troubling.

The abuse of power by Ethan when he was acting as her “nurse” while she was in the hospital crosses a lot of boundaries and whether Sabine wants him or not is no issue, but Ethan crosses a line, whether it’s because he believes her story and knows she isn’t mentally unstable is beside the point. I’m sure somewhere in there there’s an ethical issue as well, and a breach of privacy but I’m not sure on that one. It’s a vague set up Shirvington has going on.

It isn’t a bad concept to be fair, as I say, I did give it five stars the first time around. The ideas are interesting, I liked the fact we have no explanation of why and really the mystery isn’t the point of the story. It is what it is and we follow the change in Sabine’s life as suddenly the rules have changed.

As you read you make your own judgements about which life Sabine should live in and which one would benefit her. Both sides have pros and cons but as the story goes on you can see how the idyllic world may not always be what it seems. On a lighter note, I was annoyed Sabine didn’t use her two lives to her advantage more often. It would have been a great way to test out the consequences and the effects a lot better too.

Where Shirvington fails is that she included these Big Issues and she treats them as if they mean nothing. Not only the detailed description and flippant self-harm, but also abuse. Minor spoiler, but you can’t go from being assaulted to kissing and sleeping with someone else. It just isn’t possible – especially given the examples we’ve seen of how the mentality of the other life comes across. How Sabine is not still reacting from the other life when she shifts is unbelievable when we’ve seen her still reacting from a lot less.

I feel bad having such a shift in rating but I think it’s a good look at how upon initial readings you can get blinded by the overall artwork and not see the cracks that make up that artwork.

You can purchase Between the Lines via the following

 BooktopiaDymocks

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Mrs Honey’s Hat by Pam Adams

Published: 1st June 1980Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Child’s Play International
Illustrator: Pam Adams
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

One of a series of humourous tales about the misfortunes of Mrs Honey, the lovable grandmother. Why is everyone staring at Mrs Honey’s Hat? This classic story with clear text, repetitive refrain and a strong emphasis on days of the week is ideal for early readers.

I love this story. I read it as a kid and I always think about it. Through the course of a week Mrs Honey’s beautiful hat slowly gets transformed as things get stuck to it, fall onto it, and are replaced.

The story is structured around Mrs Honey’s daily activities on Monday through Sunday and how her hat is transformed day by day. On Monday the feathers are swapped with bubblegum and by the end of the week there is nothing of the original hat left except an interesting new creation.

It is a simple story but it is fun too because we follow Mrs Honey as she goes about her business, and then see the cause and reason why items on her hat disappear.

Adams’ illustrations are bright, bold and colourful. They are simple but do the job of depicting the scenes and various activities. This is a fun story about Mrs Honey and her hat as well as the personification of the animals around her who interact with her hat.

You can purchase Mrs Honey’s Hat via the following

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