Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies, and Liquor (#17) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st September 2006 (print)/1 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 231/6 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★ – 1 Stars

Cotswold detective Agatha Raisin lies to herself, hoping skimpy lingerie will suit her ex’s surprise holiday. He lies to himself, remembering childhood heyday of Snoth-on-Sea as sunny, now a wreck in a cold windy storm. Aggie threatens obnoxious guest Geraldine, later found strangled in Aggie’s lost scarf. Aggie can try drink, but needs all her friends when bodies pile up.

If I thought about it, every book with James Lacey is terrible, and Agatha is a better person when he isn’t around. Less than 1/5th of the way through I was already back to hating James and hating Agatha for who she becomes when she’s around him. I had such hopes for her after the last book, she was sensible, looking for companionship but not going after every neighbour that moved in with lust. She’d stopped going on about James and put herself in her work and her friends again. Now this is all undone.

Whilst Agatha is giving James another chance she gets caught up in another murder where she is a suspect. These can be hit or miss but because Agatha is stuck with the insufferable James it ruins any chance of enjoying anything else. You can see Agatha trying to break free from James but her desire to give him another chance is a complete disappointment.

All the regular characters make an appearance to try and help Agatha, you can see they are growing and evolving so that’s a benefit since Agatha isn’t allowed to.

Prejudices are ongoing with Agatha surprised that Harry, who dresses in punk clothing and has a shaven head, is considerate, while Patrick, who wears “conventional dress” could be considered attractive. It’s just criticisms and judgemental observations after the other. And the fact Beaton has Harry suddenly say they look foolish and wish they’d never gotten the piercings is so bizarre to me. Beaton is trying to bland down the world one book at time, just as she was adding some interesting characters.

These books were published in 1990s and 2000s, in that time society changes, language changes, and references change which I understand, you can pick that up from the way she writes her earlier books to these ones, but this one was published in 2006, there’s no excuse for this kind of writing.

There are endearing moments, but then there are also times you hate the main characters because Agatha and James will drive you up the wall. What is a quirk or personality trait for some characters, the fact these two change so much is ridiculous. Actually, James stays the same, but it changes from being a problem to not clearly on how Beaton feels on a particular book.

I truly don’t know what to expect with this series anymore. The vast differences in ratings so far is bizarre. In the beginning they were gradually getting better, characters were evolving as we got to know them and while the stories weren’t perfect they were decent enough. Now they have swung so wildly it’s hard to know what the next one will bring and characters flip suddenly between stories you don’t know what’s going to happen.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Audible

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Published: 17th January 2017 (print)/17th January 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Recorded Books
Pages: 294/9 hrs and 35 mins
Narrator: Tom Picasso
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   – 1 Star

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

When I realised Silvera had another book out I picked it up instantly because I adored They Both Die at the End, but it didn’t take me long to realise that this book and that book are vastly different in terms of enjoyment.

I kinda see the point. Theo is already gone, and we flash back and forward to how the memories Griffin has are all that’s left versus how he is living his life now. But on the flip side – it’s boring. Even listening to this at 2x speed did not help me get through this faster. Every time I thought I was close to finishing I still has ages to go.

It was definitely a combination of a few things. I didn’t have any connection to these characters, they weren’t one dimensional exactly but at the same time there isn’t any depth or emotion to them that I could find substance in.

There’s emotion of course, we get descriptions and experiences of their time together and how Griffin feels after Theo is gone but it only ever felt like words. The story takes place so close after his death yet I kept thinking it was months afterwards the way everyone behaves and how hollow the words felt.

There’s a little bit of “mystery”. Theo’s death is a slow reveal and we find out gradually what happened, all the different layers and circumstances, but at the same time it meant nothing. Even the eventual reasoning didn’t make sense and at times the circumstances and the behaviour between Wade, Griffin and Jackson felt unnatural and clunky.

Good points: Silvera portrays compulsions well with Griffin’s behaviour about counting and routines. His OCD is not a focusing factor, but it isn’t treated as a background feature either. It butts into scenes, affects interactions, and has flare ups based on experiences and events but being OCD isn’t the focus of Griffin’s story which was nice. It wasn’t about him having OCD and Silvera keeps the balance of it being a part of Griffin and not the point of the story well.

I cannot understand how someone who wrote They Both Die at the End, a beautiful, philosophical, amazing book also wrote this. I know this came first and writing evolves, but they both came out in the same year and the shift from this to that is drastic. I’m now wary with his other books because knowing it could go either way I’m going to have to do a little bit more research than picking up a book based on author alone.

You can purchase History is All You Left Me via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Escape Manual for Introverts by Katie Vaz

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Pages: 144
Format: Graphic Novel
Genre: Non-Fiction
★ – 1 Stars

Feeling cornered at a wedding reception by gossipy guests? Stuck at a holiday party that lasts forever? This beautifully illustrated book is the ultimate funny, sometimes absurd guide to escaping those painfully awkward situations.

Trapped in an airplane seated next to a chatterbox? Are you hosting a dinner party with people who just won’t leave? Katie Vaz has the key to your escape. The Escape Manual for Introverts guides readers through different scenarios with themed chapters (“Friends,” “Relatives,” “Strangers,” etc.). Each chapter covers a range of situations, from an invitation to karaoke night to group lunchtime. And she offers a number of escapes for each scenario: bringing odoriferous foods to lunch for a while, having a pet (real or imagined) that “requires” frequent check-ins, and even investing in a jet pack. This book features Vaz’s full-page illustrated spreads, hand-lettering, and spot illustrations. From the silly to the sincere, Vaz’s clever, hilarious escape plans and bizarre excuses speak to the introvert in all of us.

I am always wary about these kinds of books not only because it’s always focused on the introverts and never on the extroverts but because introverts are often portrayed in negative ways. Even this book, which I thought was going to be at least funny if not relatable in a way, is a poor construct of comics, advice and what is probably meant to be humour but never comes across as such.

For something that’s supposed to be a fun guide for introverts it’s really disappointing. There isn’t any real substance here, not that I expected it, but I was expecting fun cartoons and recognition about experiences like I have found in other similar books. Instead this is a book that offers up suggestions and excuses about how to get through the day around people and it makes introverts look like horrible antisocial people who need to lie in order to get by in the world.

The layout is sparse which only makes it even less interesting. The words are minimal and the pictures are useless, the entire thing was essentially a How To on not talking to anyone and avoiding being around people at all times which is not what being an introvert is about.

Vaz mentions in her authors note that it’s meant to be a cheeky book, but she also says she hopes introverts and other socially awkward people can use these tips. I can see how a few may be useful, the less extreme ones but there are a lot of farfetched ones too. The advice varies from a few reasonable things like how to get off phone calls quicker and avoiding small talk but the majority are things like eating pungent foods to avoid people wanting to be near you and various other subterfuges which again, probably are meant to be funny, or actual advice I have no idea how I’m meant to interpret these suggestions.

This is an annoying book all round as a guide or as a fun book looking at introvert behaviour. I would like to know where are the myriad of books for extroverts telling them to stop talking so much and being so loud all the time? Not to mention how to enjoy an introvert’s activity and company without judgment or belittling, instead there’s more of this nonsense.

You can purchase The Escape Manual for Introverts via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Published: 10th July 2007 (print)/22 December 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster/Audible Studios
Pages: 294/6 hrs
Narrator: Sunil Malhotra
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

Why did I read this? I saw three one star reviews before I started but decided to see for myself. Yeah, no. One star is about right. Look, it isn’t the worst book I have read, but the fact it is trying to tell a trans story and if I, with my limited knowledge and experience, know that this is a terrible story then I can only imagine how any trans people reading it must feel.

I disliked this pretty early on. There is one sentence that told me this story wasn’t going to be right and it only got worse as it went along. The entire thing revolves around Grady and his attempt to be himself. Commendable, brave, all those things in a small town USA high school of course were going to be a challenge, but where Wittlinger has failed is she’s made these big emotional and social changes into small hurdles that all get overcome and resolved in the space of a few weeks and now everything is ok. I felt it brushed over trans issues quickly and at times barely mentioned anything about them at all.

Away from that, the characters themselves had no depth, they are forgettable, one dimensional, and honestly some of things coming out of their mouths is problematic on a whole different level. They are quick things, often said in a single sentence but stick with you. There’s racism, fatshaming, whatever it’s called where we’re still apparently making fun of people for “being a geek”, plus there’s a whole thing about trying to hook up with a girl who has a boyfriend. It’s as if Wittlinger needed to make everything around Grady nice so when the few bad things happen it stands out, but also have everyone around him be less somehow, so these key characters could feel superior. It felt weird and grubby at times and I hated reading about the mocking of these characters.

The one saving grace of this story is that it’s short. Malhotra does an ok job on narration, there isn’t much distinction in his voices for each character but I was too focused on the issues with the writing to worry too much about the voices. The stereotypes, the sexism, and the insensitivity throughout is astounding and it is evident Wittlinger has no concept of what being a boy means other than a short haircut and typical boy clothing. I am so glad I have read and know there are better trans books out there to enjoy because if this was my first point of call to books about coming out or an introduction to the trans community I would not only horribly misinformed but incredibly disappointed.

You can purchase Parrotfish via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

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Amazon Aust | Audible

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