The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things (#1) by Carolyn Mackler

Published: 3rd April 2018 (print)/4th May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books /Recorded Books
Pages: 256/6 hrs 28 mins
Narrator: Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Fifteen-year-old Virginia feels like a plus-sized black sheep in her family, especially next to her perfect big brother Byron. Not to mention her best friend has moved, leaving Virginia to navigate an awkward relationship with a boy alone. He might like her now… but she has her doubts about how he’ll react if he ever looks under all her layers of clothes.

In order to survive, Virginia decides to follow a “Fat Girl Code of Conduct,” which works, until the unthinkable causes her family’s facade to crumble. As her world spins out of orbit, she realises that being true to herself might be the only way back.

I didn’t realise this was originally from 2003 because it felt more current but it was rereleased in 2018 as an updated version and despite never having read the 2003 version, I can definitely imagine why some of the advice and content might be not only outdate but promoting the wrong things. Given the subplot though I’d be curious to see how that was dealt with in 2003.

It’s always curious reading books set in the US because they have some very specific and weird subjects I never had in high school like Global Studies and one solely on Geometry. Rarely a mention on broader subjects, certainly this time there’s no mention of Maths, English, or simply Science. Granted Virginia goes to a posh school so maybe they’re beyond the simple subjects. There’re the usual stereotypes too of the popular kids, dorky kids, and ‘regular, I don’t fit in a group’ kids whatever that means, but you always need the outsiders to even the outsiders groups I guess.

Virginia is very confident in her lust for the baseball players, which you know, good for her. It was nice to see her unashamedly gawk at them and dream about them. But she also very unhappy at the start of the story and seeing her grow throughout is encouraging and definitely this is where a lot of the updated mentality and society changes can be seen. Mackler doesn’t fix everything, the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ approach works to an extent but as a story showing how “the privileged girl also has problems” it has some merit but falls flat at times.

I love these absent families that don’t notice their kids are taking afternoon classes, wandering the city all day or aren’t in school. Though the way Virginia describes her parents skipping out most days and weekends it makes sense. Her family is also super rich so there’s probably a bit of parental neglect to ride on. The second house and the travelling parents isn’t something you need to read between the lines for, if it isn’t said outright it’s certainly inferred.

Content warnings for obvious things like fatphobia and bullying, but there is a subplot of Virginia’s older brother date-raping a girl which Virginia crosses a lot of lines in as well which was a weird decision to make by Mackler. There’s also self-harm and a horrible Fat Girl Code of Conduct to deal with, and while they’re addressed, the solutions and recoveries to Virginia’s problems felt rushed. Not saying there isn’t a shift in her mentality which is great, but it is a fast turn around and given how ingrained it is at the start, such a shift feels too simplified.

Despite a few flaws it is a well written story. It’s captivating, engaging, and the complexity of the material does show that people are complicated, you don’t know what other people are going through, and everybody has something their worrying about despite public appearances.

You can purchase The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things via the following

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See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Published: 17 May 2022 (print)/12th May 2022 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster
Pages: 432/12 hrs and 50 mins
Narrator: Emily Lawrence
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Barrett Bloom is hoping college will be a fresh start after her messy high school experience. But when school starts on September 21st, everything goes wrong. She can’t switch out of her Physics 101 class even after being humiliated by the awkward guy sitting next to her, and she botches her interview for the college paper. At a frat party that night, she accidentally tips over a tiki torch and sets the place on fire. She panics and flees, and when she realizes her roommate locked her out of their dorm, she falls asleep on a couch in the common room.

The next morning, Barrett’s perplexed to find herself back in her dorm room bed, no longer smelling of ashes and crushed dreams. It’s September 21st. Again. And after a confrontation with Miles, the guy from her physics class, she learns she’s not alone—he’s been trapped for months.

When her attempts to fix her timeline fail, she agrees to work with Miles to figure out what’s going on. They start skipping their classes in favour of the library and research trips that take them into the unexplored underbelly of the university and across state lines. As Barrett starts to fall for Miles, the two of them must find a way to grow and change alongside the shifting fabric of the universe. But the one question they can’t answer is what they’ll mean to each other if they finally make it to tomorrow.

I love a time loop. Give me time loop stories every day of the week and I will be one happy reader. There is something about watching people cycle through the different stages and emotions when they’re stuck in time and seeing what choices they make, how they justify their actions and their theories on how and why they became stuck in the first place that is so wonderful to read about.

Obviously readers never get stuck in time loops because I wouldn’t try to escape until I’d finished reading all the books on my shelves. It’s all robbing banks and illegal or absurd activities, never finally having the time to catch up on your reading.

I really enjoyed the narrative Solomon has created. What I love about these stories is you can experience the same day over and over but one new action, one time to change things slightly can bring about new information that you never even knew was being hidden from you and between Barrett and Miles’ stories I loved having these little snippets of their lives revealed, each having an impact at the right moment. I was intrigued that through the whole thing we never see Miles’ side of the story, which was the right choice in the end because Solomon’s reveals are timed so perfectly there was no other way.

For two people who both lamented how they had no friends and were lonely I was a smidge disappointed it didn’t stop with them becoming great friends but that isn’t what these YA stories are about, it’s about finding love and all that stuff. I’m not a total cynic, Solomon has done a great job with this story because the slow build up and the multiple loops are a great way to explore both characters and I love that there was time to explore a full range of emotions and see great character growth on both sides.

It’s classed as a YA and while both characters are still teenagers it’s their first day of college, a unique blending of their high school time and on the cusp of their new beginnings. It is a good choice because it’s a turning point from their high school selves and the start of something new, and it allows more freedom for the events in the story without limitations.

The resolution of the time loop is fantastic and Solomon never takes the easy road with answers or explanations. I loved the complexity of the story and the hints and themes running throughout that mean nothing but mean everything as well. When you get to relive the same day over and over little nothings become big somethings if you make a different decision.

You can purchase See You Yesterday via the following

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Hiss and Hers (#23) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 4th December 2012 (print)/5th December 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 277/6 hrs and 25 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Agatha has fallen in love – again. This time it’s the local gardener, George Marston, she has her eye on. But competition for his attention abounds. With her shameless determination Agatha will do anything to get her man – including footing the bill for a charity ball in town just for the chance to dance with him.

But when George is a no-show Agatha goes looking for him – and finds he has been murdered, having been bitten by a poisonous snake and buried in a compost heap. Agatha and the rest of her crew plunge into an investigation and discover that George had quite a complicated love life. And if Agatha now can’t have George, at least she can have the satisfaction of confronting those women who have and finding a murderer in the process.

I am honestly only reading these books to finish the series at this point. I’m aiming for book 30 and I’ve come too far and suffered too much to stop now. Agatha is as vain and foolish as ever and once more the quality of these stories has dropped dramatically.

Beaton’s well-worn plots get pulled out again as Agatha goes after a man she met ten minutes prior. George has been the local gardener and one Agatha has recently become infatuated with but alas his murder gets in the way of any chance of a relationship – that and Agatha didn’t seem to be his type.

The problem is always there’s a good tight story at the beginning which seems to unravel and fall apart by the end. Scenes are set and you get great descriptions of the weather and current village life and then a few chapters in it all disintegrates.

This time the main characters have been pushed aside to near casual mentions, one line to remind the readers they still exist. This is a far cry from the early books where they were much more rounded characters who had their own histories and personalities. I understand at this many books in you don’t need to rehash the ongoing life of Mrs Bloxby, but I know so many readers pick these books up at random and to have this be their first experience of the village and these characters it’s amazing Beaton doesn’t try harder to have decent representation (though I am not the least bit surprised).

The wholesome village life has also been affected. The story escapes any depth whatsoever by throwaway lines about how the village has changed with new people moving in all the time so there’s no need to get to know the characters or find out who they are if it’s not the same people we’ve known from the earlier books. It’s lazy writing to avoid having to remind readers there’s a greater world beyond Agatha’s ageless existence and her love affairs and it saves having to think up any more plot or substance around secondary characters.

The series as a whole should have ended many books ago and it would have done Beaton a great deal of service not having to keep this series alive when the quality has suffered so greatly to the point of being detrimental. Pushing out those extra pages has stretched into weaker and weaker plots and scenes sewn together randomly with no clear cohesion is confusing to read.

I’ve said before I think Beaton’s own opinions come through her characters, not only Agatha, which you used to be able to pretend was part of Agatha’s personality. Now it’s happening with other characters and through the general narration and there are multiple occasions where Beaton uses derogatory terms for various people and is essentially judgemental and offensive to pretty much anyone it’s hard to see any character or narrative purpose than simply being offensive.

Keith, again, excellent narration, makes the ordeal bearable and after having sat through many hours of Agatha it’s good to keep the same voice for the characters and not have to readjust to anybody new.

Nobody is coming to these books for believability, but there should be a least a hint of possibility that don’t take you out of the story. On top of the outlandish plot decisions, it’s the same formulaic cycle we’ve seen before: Agatha’s infatuation, a death, her role as a suspect, her attempt to clear her name and annoying a lot of people in the process, an attempt on her life, and a resounding resolution by luck, poor police work and criminal stupidity. It’s great to have a reliable formula when done well but Beaton can’t create a solid story anymore that makes these formulas work anymore to any real degree of reader satisfaction.

There isn’t anything overly complex in these murders, it’s all about characters and their intentions and misgivings but a non-complicated murder mystery should not equal a boring or poorly developed one either.

You can purchase Hiss and Hers via the following

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Preserving the Evidence (#2) by Kaz Delaney

Published: 23rd May 2022 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Tule Publishing
Pages: 322
Format: Paperback
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Baker and amateur sleuth Rosie Hart finds herself embroiled in a brand new mystery in her new hometown of Airlie Falls. There’s a murder, an unidentified body, missing money, a late mayoral election challenge, a strange gathering of socialites at a mansion out of town, and strangers who aren’t who they claim to be. Oh – and an unknown woman who seemed to be being forced into a car against her will on the night of the town meeting. Rosie is sure they’re all connected, but the Sheriff isn’t convinced, and she’s afraid there’ll be more bodies to add to the tally if he doesn’t quickly unmask the murderer. Then all evidence suddenly points to her best friend, local newspaper owner and editor, Midge Moyal as being the murderer. Now Rosie knows she is the one who will have to prove Midge’s innocence.

Convinced the answers are at the mansion of the murdered man, Frederick Clausen, Rosie feels the only way to get them in to go undercover and pretend to be one of those bored socialites. It’s a brief stint and proves, if nothing else, that she’s no actress. But it wasn’t all in vain. Answers are starting to drop into place and suddenly Rosie realizes she’ll be lucky to get out of this one without more than a batch of burned Buried Treasure Cookies.

Note: I was provided with a copy for review.

In book two Rosie has settled into the town quite well and has established her baking prowess to the town’s favour. Her relationship with Jonas is going well and everything is wonderful until another murder hits the town and strange things are happening and the mysteries keep piling up.

This was a slower pace than the previous book, which was fine having established our characters and Rosie in the previous novel we could afford to unfurl this new mystery in a new way. With a few things happening the focus is split and the nature of the accusations allows for a slower pace in uncovering the culprit.

As the mystery hits home and starts to affect beloved characters it’s a fun development that adds intrigue as the reader you try and work out why people are being framed and to what end. Side characters introduced in the previous story feature again, including the Fab Four who are always a delight; and the pros and cons of a small town community is reinforced as the various events play out.

There is a solid recap of the previous book without it feeling forced for those who need a refresher or who picked the books up out of order. Delaney weaves it into the story smoothly so it never feels like it’s been inserted unnaturally into the story as a reminder.

There are multiple mysteries happening side by side – the mystery body, the murder, as well as the woman that Rosie keeps seeing but can never find. I liked the sleuthing Rosie did to uncover it, there is an air of amateur detective work but a lot of it is Rosie working it out for herself, or actively becoming involved to help save her friends. As a result there are a few run-ins with local law enforcement and blundering her way through undercover operations but that is part of this charm. Rosie is never trying to be a detective but she is trying to solve mysteries in her town, especially those affecting her friends.

Delaney has included an excellent collection of misleading information, red herrings, as well as twists and turns to keep you guessing. By the end of the story as you piece all the hints and clues together the ending comes as a satisfactory surprise and one that shows that cosy mysteries can have thrilling moments of danger, excitement, and suspense. I can’t wait to see what awaits Rosie in book three.

You can purchase Preserving the Evidence via the following

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The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase (#2) by Greg Cox

Published: 25th April 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Tor Books
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Mystery Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Stories have power.

In 1719, Elizabeth Goose published a collection of rhyming spells as a children’s book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.

Now, strange things are happening around the world. A tree-trimmer in Florida is blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, a woman in rural Pennsylvania is attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes, and a college professor in England finds herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Flynn AWOL–again–it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed.

I adored the movies and television series The Librarians so finding out there were further adventures in book form was a pure delight and they did not disappoint. They were written while the show was airing with the understanding we know who these characters already are, but they are also whole new adventures for them to go on and mysteries to unravel.

Delving into the realm of nursery rhymes and other literature as if it were real or based on fact has always been a fun topic, I loved seeing it in Jasper Fforde and I loved it here. Of course the history of nursery rhymes is filled with half-truths and unknowns which makes it perfect for the Librarians universe.

All the characters are here – Jenkins, Baird, and the three new librarian recruits and Cox has depicted them as they appear in the show. Their mannerisms, voice, thoughts and style all correspond with the people we’ve been introduced to and even if this is your first introduction to them, there are enough scatterings of information and backstory that you can pieces together who these people are. This is book two officially but can easily be read out of order, as I did while I tracked down book one. There are references to past cases but whether they are in the previous book, in the show, or that happened off screen is unknown but it helps to add to their experience, backstory and their mission.

For a book with some good action scenes, all of which are well written and quite vivid, it is also a slow story of research and piecing together many clues with side quests that prove distracting in a good way. You definitely sense their frustrations of trying to fix one problem when other smaller problems keep popping up to hinder their progress. The Librarians was always about action and drama and chaos and Cox brings this to the page very well. The distribution of research and investigation, coming together into one bigger plot is great and it lets you play along and try and solve the mystery as well, working out what things mean and what piece of information is important.

What I love about these kinds of books is its connection to reality; they try to link it to real people, provide reasons and history about the various artefacts while also keeping the magical element of the Library. Every story, myth or riddle is based on a truth is a good way to look at the Librarians universe and logic so to have rooms filled with tridents and treasure chests, things manifested from rhymes, stories and legends is wonderfully clever and I love it.

The climax and resolution is incredibly clever because it plays on what you know, if you know the Librarians history, but it also allows the possibility of multiple other events and outcomes and trying to work out which one Cox will choose is a fun game on its own. I’m so glad this book lived up to my expectations and gave the perfect balance of mystery, adventure, as well as humour and being delightfully cheesy at times as well. A great addition to the Librarians collection.

You can purchase The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase via the following

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