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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As the Pig Turns (#21) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 11th October 2011 (print)/21 Oct 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 292/6 hrs and 32 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★  – 1 Star

Winter Parva, a traditional Cotswolds village, has decided to throw a celebratory hog roast to mark the beginning of the winter holiday festivities and Agatha Raisin has arrived with friend and rival in the sleuthing business, Toni, to enjoy the merriment. But as the spit pig is carried towards the bed of fiery charcoal Agatha–and the rest of the village–realize that things aren’t as they seem.

I hated this book. So much so I think I scrubbed it from my mind which is why I had to force myself to revisit it and remember what actually happened where I was promptly reminded exactly why I hated it. The premise was interesting and yet was extremely poorly executed that it came of nothing and by the time the book ended the story had shifted so much you forgot it even started with a murder.

This is another “Agatha publically threatened the person who ended up dying” story so while it is a local cop who has died, he was mean and ruthless and everyone didn’t like him, including Agatha. So instead of being left out of the investigation as a person of interest she is butting in to clear her name. Again.

All of the usual players are involved, James, Toni, Charles, Roy, and a few new characters who were introduced in the previous book. I’m amazed Toni is still putting up with Agatha given how she is trying to micro manage and dictate how she should live her life but that is the least of the problems in this book. The fact anyone could mistake a human for a pig is one thing, the other is the end result that made no sense and the lazy writing that is once again proving that Beaton does not care about these books anymore.

The writing is jarring and the explanations for things are convoluted and ludicrous, I’m curious if Beaton actually believes these things or not. There are inconsistencies and the plot drags as if trying to fill in extra pages without adding to the story in a substantial way. Characters get away with things that simply would not happen, and there’s so many side tangents it’s a wonder why we’re wasting pages on things that go nowhere. You could almost use this time to add depth to the story, to the characters, to anything, but it’s all boring nonsense that is easily forgettable. Even the added drama and character danger isn’t engaging.

I’ve mentioned before these books used to be around four hours now they are around six, those extra two hours have definitely seen the writing and plot suffer but as this is book twenty two I think Beaton’s writing is so bad because she does not care. These books were never perfect but they were decent stories and they’ve been falling in quality for quite a few books now which is a shame. The trend of having the final chapter/epilogue act as the first chapter or introduction to the next book to lure you in does little and it’s only the fact I’m determined to finish what I started and read this series is what’s keeping me going.

You can purchase As the Pig Turns via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body (#21) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 2010 (print)/14 Oct 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Constable & Robinson Ltd /Audible
Pages: 199/6 hrs and 15 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ ★  – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin has always been ambivalent about holiday cheer, but her cosy little village of Carsely has long prided itself on its Christmas festivities. But this year Mr. John Sunday, a self important officer with the Health and Safety Board, has ruled that the traditional tree on top of the church is a public menace; that lampposts are unsafe for hanging illuminations; that May Dimwoody’s homemade toys are dangerous for children.

Things have reached such a desperate pass that the Carsely Ladies’ Society joins forces with the ladies in the neighbouring village of Odley Cruesis to try to put a stop to Mr. Sunday’s meddling—only to find that someone has literally put a stop to him with a kitchen knife.

Agatha’s detective agency is on the case, but when a man has made as many enemies as John Sunday, it’s hard to know where to start.

We’ve had another Christmas (blink and you’ll miss it) and miraculously Agatha is still in her early fifties. I can’t remember which book it was but there was another one that had two Christmases in it and 21 books into this she is no longer in her early fifties no matter what weird time bubble they’re all living in.

I mentioned last time about things taking a long time, this takes place over the year and the fact people are still able to recall a murder so clearly and be as invested in it is a slight stretch, though I guess small town life people are quite nosey as has been shown through this series. Also over the course of the book quite a few more people end up murdered so that does keep the village interest high.

Agatha is still Agatha, I saw another review describe her has irascible which I absolutely love. It explains a lot about her and fits the myriad of moments where the second she gets inconvenienced or put out she turns to angry outbursts and starts insulting people or threatening to kill them. The stilted conversations reminds you again that Beaton can’t write a believable young adult conversation or stop herself from trying to mould them into the kinds of people she thinks they should be and their awkward dialogue reflects that.

The fact this takes place over a year is interesting because while the other stories weren’t exactly solved overnight, there were often only a few weeks of inaction, on occasion months; but this was a curious choice that made it less of a book about murder and more a snapshot of Carsely over a year that had a few murders in it which we move on from and reference ever now and again.

New characters are introduced and we see Toni trying to make something of her life with newcomer Simon but Agatha, who thinks she knows best, gets involved which was weird and incredible illogical but isn’t beyond what I expect of Agatha or Beaton at this point.

For all the faults in the writing and plot Keith does a superb job once again. Her narration is excellent and while listening to this kind of story tends to highlight the repetition and the jumping around of scenes it does make it more bearable.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body via the following

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There Goes the Bride (#20) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 23rd September 2009 (print)/01 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 277/6 hrs and 18 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Agatha’s former husband James is engaged to be married to a beautiful, young woman and Agatha has been kindly invited to the wedding. To take her mind off this, Agatha decides she has fallen for Sylvan, a Frenchman she met at James’ engagement party. To distract her still further she decides upon a holiday and flies to Istanbul, where unfortunately she bumps into James and his fianc e not once but twice – convincing him she is stalking them.

So when the bride is murdered on her wedding day, naturally Agatha is Suspect Number One – but then matters are turned on their head when the dead bride’s mother engages Agatha to take on the case of her murdered daughter! And very soon Agatha’s own life is in danger while she tries to solve the mystery of the corpse bride while fighting off (halfheartedly) the advances of a very attractive and determined Frenchman!

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this because even I can’t complain about the same things over and over again with this series. This plot was a mess. So many things happened, one after the other, sometimes on top of each other and you could barely adjust that one things had happened before it changed again.

The James/Agatha/new wife situation was a convoluted as you’d expect. Agatha is obsessing over James, falling in love with someone else, and trying to clear her name. Plus, no one seems to like anybody despite being in a relationship with them.

James is as horrible as ever, his self-centred misogynistic ways rear their head. Why Beaton is trying to bring back James only to have him leave time and time again is a mystery. It’s rehashing the same storylines of Agatha being in love, him being horrible, then leaving, her recovering only to have it cycle through again.

Beaton does reveal to us more about Agatha which gives us a bit of history on her life, and how she came to be how she is. There is a different side of Agatha that comes out every now and again, you see it sometimes when she is around Toni, around Charles. The vulnerable person who has a rough upbringing who is insecure and hurt, but that is often thrown against a shallow, abusive, selfish appearance that does make you less sympathetic to her plight.

In terms of audio Keith does a great job once again. Her narration is consistent and she does bring Agatha’s brashness to life, as well as the various other characters and their unique idiosyncrasies. With all the usual players involved we see regular characters in and out of the Cotswolds environment and the interactions with each other are always entertaining, even with the uninspiring writing.

The murder itself had intrigue, international crime and multiple bodies with uncertain connections but it also felt scattered. One saving grace is that sometimes cases take time. They span over weeks and months, there’s weeks where Agatha deals with other business with her agency – granted it’s summed up in one line as the same thing every time of finding lost pets and missing teenagers – but rarely is anything solved instantly which adds some reality, especially given the fewer resources. It also helps that characters are all too eager to give any information or access needed. The weak excuses and subterfuge always work, and even when found out people are still happy to oblige. It keeps the story rolling I suppose getting the answers you need without any real barriers.

The extra padding Beaton is adding to the stories recently never seems to fit. They are extra moments added in as weird side plots or scenes, and there’s multiple times you think the story is ending when it keeps going. By the time you get to the end of the book anything that happened at the beginning has no relevance. The murders have been solved, Agatha’s had multiple dates, done some local village good service, the agency has gone through an upheaval and she’s had a mini holiday. All of which sounds like it takes a lot of time but most of it is over in a chapter or less and the next random thing begins. Agatha and Charles had a moment together which I do always like because they are good together but on top of this weird mess of a book it didn’t really have an impact.

You can purchase There Goes the Bride via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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