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.

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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

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Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came (#12) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 19th October 2003 (print)/1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books/Audible
Pages: 213/6 hrs and 18 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ – 2 Stars

One of the things I noticed about this book was it was longer than the others. This isn’t a quick and simple story like the majority of Beaton’s previous books were where we’re in, there’s a murder, we sleuth and deduct and solve it before wrapping it up rather suddenly. Of late a lot of them have been ending with addition chapters or epilogues that give an insight into the next book, a long extra teaser to entice us in I suppose, but the books still followed the same formula as before. This one however is drawn out and the story really gets into the character’s lives which is great in the absent of a strong plot.

The reoccurring sweeping statements about giving up on men are brought out once more as are the ongoing quest to stay young and obsession with looks. We’re saved from the James aspect with his sudden removal from Agatha’s life and my personal favourite Charles Fraith also vanishes for a while but there is a new neighbour in the revolving door that is the cottage next door and Agatha joins forces with him on her new investigation. Thankfully there is a lot less of the obsession Agatha had over James with John – I was surprised she doesn’t initially fall at his feet like she usually does but I loved that we saw some actual growth in Agatha after her recent heartbreak.

With this story delving deep into the characters, something we don’t usually get, we learn a lot about John, get more about Mrs Bloxby and her husband, Roy makes an appearance and we even get more insight into Agatha as Beaton shows us some more of her vulnerabilities and the true affect her failed marriage had on her.

With a local murder to focus her attention Agatha stumbles about in her attempt to solve it. The use of disguises and wigs makes it’s comical but in a way it helps to be disguised if you’re going to intrude on people and start questioning them. At her core Agatha is essentially incredibly nosey and butts in, this is the method of her investigations also.

The plot is weak but with the focus on the characters it’s easy to ignore that. It was an ok read, nothing much too it and a lot of themes were just rehashed from past books but it progresses Agatha’s story along so that’s something.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell (#11) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st January 2003 (print)/1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Robinson Publishing/Audible
Pages: 256/7 hrs and 17 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ – 2 Stars

Recently married to James Lacey, the witty and fractious Agatha Raisin quickly finds that marriage, and love, are not all they are cracked up to be. Rather than basking in marital bliss, the newlyweds are living in separate cottages and accusing each other of infidelity. After a particularly raucous fight in the local pub, James suddenly vanishes-a bloodstain the only clue to his fate-and Agatha is the prime suspect.

Determined to clear her name and find her husband, Agatha begins her investigation. But her sleuthing is thwarted when James’s suspected mistress, Melissa, is found murdered. Joined by her old friend Sir Charles, Agatha digs into Melissa’s past and uncovers two ex-husbands, an angry sister, and dubious relations with bikers. Are Melissa’s death and James’s disappearance connected? Will Agatha reunite with her husband or will she find herself alone once again?

I am going to keep this short because I have nothing of substance to say about this book other than it makes me so angry that it was ever published. The plot is weak, the writing is repetitive and normally this makes it endearing because age obsessed Agatha tries anything she can get her hands on the stop her aging, but this time I couldn’t get into the swing of it because the mess Beaton has left us with gets the majority of my focus.

The Agatha/James relationship is toxic and there is no dancing around it anymore. It isn’t just the obvious issues from before they got together, now it’s a marriage of accusation and bitterness. They fight and Agatha is belittled by James, her inner monologue shows she knows how James treats her and you wish she’d be whisked away by a friend far from him. The red flags that came up before this marriage now line the garden as decoration and yet still we have to read about this relationship.

The fact that James was in a relationship with Melissa in the previous book, then suddenly proposes to Agatha only to go back to having Melissa as his mistress is something I cannot even fathom. I just need to know what Beaton intended by writing it this way. Is this how she thinks relationships work? That it’s a good story for readers? There are a thousand other ways Beaton would have written this. It could have easily been a case of where both characters were infatuated, got together but it didn’t work and they realised they were better as friends than lovers. It didn’t have to be this toxic or infuriating or so poorly handled and I honestly wished James death for most of this book.

Things we can always rely on though is Beaton’s inability to come up with any more creative descriptions as we’re stuck with Agatha’s bear like eyes once more and her perpetual “early fifties” age. I hope now that the James thing is tried and tested we can move on towards Charles as a possible love interest. He is brutally honest and flighty but he does treat Agatha as a friend and seems to respect her. It’s interesting how the amoral character of the series ends up being the better one of all of them.

In summary: James is abusive and Agatha is a fool. But there is a fun cosy mystery to solve around it so it’s fine?

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Love From Hell via the following

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Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Published: 7th June 2016 (print)/7th June 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Crown Books/Listening Library
Pages: 272/4hrs
Narrator: Jazz Jenning
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

Separate from the picture book Jazz co-wrote, this is an autobiography and educational story about Jazz’s life growing up and her trans journey. The subject of being trans is addressed in a way that speaks to kids and adults and the story is told with a youthful tone but one which is blunt and honest.

Jazz has a good memory of her experiences, that plus the combination of stories from her parents her journey offers an informative story of her life. I was impressed about the soccer battle that had such a wide impact on the country. It goes to show how such a seemingly small issue can become huge and important so much it makes national attention.

It’s obvious some words she uses have been learnt later on but used to explain situations when she was younger, but I liked that approach because it gives clear terms for experiences that adults can understand that a child may not be able to articulate. It’s just as important for the adults to understand Jazz’s story as it is for kids and while the story is understandable for kids, it isn’t written in a childlike way full of vague metaphors or uncertain descriptions.

The fights and battles Jazz experienced, as well as her own reflections on her feelings and thoughts growing up are fantastic insights into the life of a trans kid and it’s incredible Jazz has shared her story with everyone.

Jazz narrates the audiobook herself which only enhances the autobiographical nature of her story. This is an educational book and one I think would benefit all audiences. It is a first hand experience of a trans kid and the language Jazz uses and the topics covered make it a great read for those trying to understand.

You can purchase Being Jazz via the following

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