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

 Amazon Aust | Audible

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

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (#13) by M. C. Beaton

Published: March 2003 (print)/12 March 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books/Audible
Pages: 212/6 hrs and 34 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  ★ – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin has just about had it – James has abandoned her, the new neighbour has made an unseemly proposition, and the new curate seems to be taking a more than normal interest in her. Now he is dead.

This was a pretty forgettable book despite it having a few decent components. Beaton keeps us in Carsely but instead of the usual characters like Charles, Roy and the dreaded James we get to discover more of the villagers and the broader community while keeping familiar faces in Bill Wong and Mrs Bloxby.

Agatha is a mixed bag here, she has sworn off men, still has complicated emotions and pining towards James, and thankfully hasn’t fallen head over heels with new neighbour John and started imaging a life together. Her openness about her investigation is nice, she openly tells people she isn’t officially anybody and yet still tries her luck at asking people questions. This is all in an effort to help clear her friend’s husband’s name so credit to her for trying to help, it’s one of the few times her input is justified and isn’t about clearing her own name.

Her own life once again becomes in danger but while it’s predictable, it’s a nice consequence of Agatha running around butting in trying to solve crimes she has no real business solving. Her ability to stumble into revelations is hardly a good justification but Bill and Wilkes put no real effort into stopping her so they certainly can’t complain.

The reveal is relatively clever, the twist and surprises are interesting but Beaton still needs to work out where she is taking these characters because every moment of growth and positive change we see it is either contradicted or backpedalled soon after. The exploration of side characters was a nice change too, fleshing them out to become more than one dimensional. Bill’s love quest continues and we see more of John’s character than we have previously. Agatha learns some more about herself which was some good growth and I liked her decision to help out in the community with her PR skills. It’s these parts of Agatha I enjoy seeing – her input into to community and trying to be a good person for good causes instead of insulting everyone and being brash and abusive.

I don’t know whether it was because the story was lacking or because I had been reading these back to back but this isn’t the most memorable book. It’s not quite formulaic but not revolutionary either. So many of Beaton’s books are memorable for the wrong reasons though so being forgettable is probably the best thing for this one.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal (#3) by Clint McElroy

Published: 14th July 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 First Second
Illustrator: Carey Pietsch
Pages: 272
Format: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

START YOUR ENGINES, friends, as we hit the road again with Taako, Magnus and Merle, the beloved agents of chaos from the #1 New York Times Bestselling books The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins and The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited.

Our boys have gone full-time at the Bureau of Balance, and their next assignment is a real thorny one: apprehending The Raven, a master thief who’s tapped into the power of a Grand Relic to ransack the city of Goldcliff. Local life-saver Lieutenant Hurley pulls them out of the woods, only to throw them headlong into the world of battle wagon racing, Goldcliff’s favorite high-stakes low-legality sport and The Raven’s chosen battlefield. Will the boys and Hurley be able to reclaim the Relic and pull The Raven back from the brink, or will they get lost in the weeds?

Based on the beloved blockbuster podcast where three brothers and their dad play a tabletop RPG in real time, The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal has it all: blossoming new friendships, pining for outlaw lovers, and a rollicking race you can root for!

The third graphic novel of The Adventure Zone podcast adaptation is as wonderful as the audio episodes it’s representing. This was my favourite arc of the podcast and seeing it come to life on the page with stunning illustrations and the humour and charm of the character dialogue is fantastic.

My favourite thing is at the start of the book there is a fantastic game board where you can catch up on what happened previously. With +1 and -1 consequences for certain events and a fun and informative way of reminding readers what has happened it is an incredibly clever addition that doesn’t take away from the incoming story but it adds a whole lot of extra entertainment.

The story combines Petals to the Metal arc as well as Moonlighting episodes once more. It’s a great way to combine the interlude episodes because they have a lot of important plot, and it’s a great frame for the narrative to have. Once again Pietsch is a master at including visual references from the podcast as well as creating incredible illustrations for the spectacular and creative narrative Griffin has created.

The standards of the novel series remain, each time a character is introduced they have a mini ID chart telling us about their race, class, and proficiencies like a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet but my favourite thing is the proficiencies change each time and are relevant to the scene at hand or are used to tell you a bit more about their character, always with the Pietsch humour attached.

The depiction of the battle racers and the action of the entire race was full of drama and action, often no words were needed as Pietsch captures facial expressions, and action incredibly well. It’s not all action though as the McElroy humour and the hilarious, weird, and sometimes strange moments from the podcast are included. There are also heartfelt moments that are beautifully conveyed and the alterations to the podcast are fantastic as it brings a more bittersweet moment of hope and rectifies previous miscalculations when it was a more free form storyline.

There’s the usual mystery and intrigue around the B.O.B and the mystery Red Robes which furthers the larger plot and it all fits together seamlessly for a well-rounded story and fantastic addition to this series.

What I love most about these adaptations is that the smallest thing reminds me of the magic of the podcast and it resurfaces my desire to relive it again for the first time because Griffin created such a beautiful and creative storyline and the boys as a group made a fantastic story. Seeing it transported into this graphic novel shows that while a few things have been changed and adapted for the format, the essence of the story is there, and these characters I’ve grown to love over the years come alive on the page. It’s a wonderful feeling to read these stories and be brought back to those moments alone listening to the audio and creating the story in my mind. The fact the book provokes the same feeling and emotion is a test to Pietsch and the McElroy’s skill.

You can purchase The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

 Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Shrek! by William Steig

Published: 1st September 1993Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Illustrator: William Steig
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Shrek, a horrid little ogre, goes out into the world to find adventure and along the way encounters a witch, a knight in armour, a dragon, and, finally, a hideous princess, who’s even uglier than he is!

The story is relatively simple, being a fairy tale and a picture book this isn’t surprising but there is still a great story being told. Steig’s given Shrek a fairy tale story of his own which involves leaving his home, a prophecy of sorts, and many encounters along the way to find a princess.

Through the narrative we learn about who Shrek is and what he is capable of. He is portrayed early on as incredibly ugly, but as the story goes on we learn he is a gruesome character; he has an odour, abilities magical and poisonous, and eats lightning.

The illustrations are great, they may not be intricate or overly artistic but they convey Shrek’s ugliness and the ugliness of his parents, as well as depicting what is happening through the text.

The whole book is not told in rhyme but there are riddles and rhymes in fortunes, signs, or conversations which play into the fairy tale genre and the mixing of talking animals, fairy tale creatures and humans is well done.

The movie obviously took this basic story and key components and ran wild with it to great success but this story isn’t lacking either. There is a great backstory to Shrek and his own adventure that stands on its own away from the film. Steig has taken on the fairy tale genre and created a story with a unique plot and given a story to an unlikely creature usually not given a protagonist role in fairy tales.

You can purchase Shrek! via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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