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

Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th March 1999
Publisher:
Penguin
Pages: 133
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

“Dear Your Majesty the Queen,

I need to speak to you urgently about my brother Luke. He’s got cancer and the doctors in Australia are being really slack. If I could borrow your top doctor for a few days I know he/she would fix things in no time. Of course Mum and Dad would pay his/her fares even if it meant selling the car or getting a loan. Please contact me at the above address urgently.

Yours sincerely,
Colin Mudford.

P.S.
This is not a hoax.
Ring the above number and Aunty Iris will tell you.
Hang up if a man answers.

I know this probably doesn’t quite count as a true LGBTQIA book so I may be cheating a little here including it in my Pride Month. I first read this for uni back in 2009 and really enjoyed it. I loved the play on words Gleitzman has with the title and I liked how such a short story could contain such deep and meaningful content while still being simple and at times even humerous.

The narrative is told through Colin’s third person perspective and it’s a great tactic to understand Colin’s age and mindset. His naivety and childlike logic about what is happening and how every problem has a simple solution or was an egregious injustice made you understand that even at twelve Colin’s world had simple answers and solutions.

When I first read it I don’t remember thinking how strange it was to send Colin away to England while his brother was sick. I understand the reasoning of his parents but I also feel that it would be a terrible and selfish thing to do and I love how this is reflected in the story. Colin’s various schemes to cure his brother are fanciful but full of heart and with the logic of a twelve year old who doesn’t know any better they make perfect sense in his head.

It is a fleeting moment Colin spends with Griff and Ted, fleeting really in a lot of ways because of the length of the story but Gleitzman has captured a lot of heart, a lot of innocence and a lot of compassion in a light on the outside deep and moving on the inside narrative. Having Colin know and understand about AIDS and homosexuality as well as the slurs used towards gay men at the time is beneficial because the narrative explains it to readers through Colin’s comprehension without it needing true explanations from adults in the story. I also liked that Gleitzman has him knowledgeable about these things but doesn’t let the stigma interfere with his good nature and kindness.

The realism is beautiful and heartbreaking and Gleitzman balances this sweet story of a kid writing to the queen and trying to track down doctors to help his brother alongside serious social issues and medical realities that don’t always have a happily ever after.

Dear Grandpa by Kate Simpson

Published: August 2019 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen & Unwin
Illustrator: Ronojoy Ghosh
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

A picture book about the special relationship between a boy and his grandfather, who stay close even when they are separated by distance.

Grandpa, did you know that if you rub a needle with a magnet, one end will point to the north and the other end to the south? In the south there’s an apartment building 160 metres tall. From the balcony, you can see the entire city. There are cinemas and ice cream shops … and me!

As Henry measures the distance between his new apartment and Grandpa’s wooden house under the mango tree, Grandpa works out how close they really are. A moving story that celebrates the bond between a boy and his grandfather.

This is a great story about families who live far apart but can still have meaningful and connected lives. We learn about Grandpa and Henry through their letters to one another – the content of which explores facts Henry’s learning and we learn about where he lives and what he has been doing as he recounts it to his grandpa.

Simpson shows us that Henry is loving and likes to share fun facts with his grandpa while Grandpa is supportive of his affection and adds his own fun to the letters as well. Telling these things in a letter to his grandpa is sweet and it shows the fun whimsical relationship the pair have.

Ghosh’s illustrations are a beautiful addition. The letters between Grandpa and Henry take centre stage but around them Ghosh has created stunning illustrations about their content with everything from a picture of Henry’s new neighbourhood to a beautiful two page spread of blue whales and Grandpa floating through the milky way. What I love about these illustrations is Ghosh alternates between Henry’s life and the real world and Grandpa’s exaggerations.

The symmetry between the start and end of the narrative is clever and I loved how it created a nice frame not only story wise, but by creating similar emotions that we experienced at the start but which have evolved as we’ve read the story.

This is a beautiful story about missing family but still being able to connect with them and share your lives with them. The relationship comes across the page as you go back and forth between the pair, Simpson capturing the light but deep connection between grandfather and grandson remarkably well. There is a lot said in these pages and even through the most innocent and whimsical interactions it tells so much.

You can purchase Dear Grandpa via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

AWW Update Jan – Mar

While I have read a lot so far this year (she says when she’s actually three books behind schedule), it seems almost none have been Australian. With the first quarter of the year gone I need to step up my game because I will be very behind soon on my projected goal of reading 40 and reviewing 35 books for this year’s AWW.The fact I have only read one book is abysmal and even the fact I reviewed four they were all read in previous years so it’s not a good start.

I have so many physical books I want to read but I am still on the audiobook path so my options are sparse unless they are picture books I stumble across. I have a few novellas I’ve been wanting to read so I might ease my way back into physical books and see how I go. I am a lot better than last year at reading physical books so I am going to take the slow and steady approach, a lot of it this time round is the time to sit and read too so it will be a delicate balancing act.

All is not lost though, I have read or reviewed some books by Aussie women so that’s something at least. I am now hoping to use the shock that I’ve read so few spur me on for the next three months and get my numbers up — in the meantime I’ll be glad it’s not zero.

 

AWW21 BOOKS Jan-Mar

Theodore the Unsure by Pip Smith – Review

Darkest Place by Jaye Ford – Review

Meet Me at the Intersection ed. Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina – Review

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil – Review

The Fire Wombat by Jackie French

AWW21 TOTAL

Read: 1/40

Reviewed: 4/30

 

Book Launch: Crackenback by Lee Christine

My last in-person book event was March 2020 so it was curious that my next in-person one was March 2021 almost to the exact day. Also wonderfully coincidental, both of those events were to celebrate the release of a new book by Aussie author Lee Christine. I didn’t get to do a write up of the first event because the world broke soon after and my attention was diverted elsewhere, but this time I am excited to share my adventures (I may still write up the other launch, we’ll see what happens).

The book launch was held at Belmont Library in Lake Macquarie and we were told by wonderful host Julie that it was also their first event since COVID put a stop to in-person events. Lee was in conversation with Jamie Lewis about her new book Crackenback, set among the Snowy Mountains and it was a delightful couple of hours to learn about how it came about.

Jamie Lewis in conversation with Lee Christine at Belmont Library

Crackenback isn’t a sequel to Lee’s previous book Charlotte Pass it is a standalone novel, however a few of the characters might be familiar. Lee told us she tried to not put too many references to Charlotte Pass in there, but there are a few vague mentions given the same detective is involved; as Jamie put it, it’s a separate story but part of the same world Lee has created.

Jamie spoke with Lee about given Australians love the outdoors so much, it’s only fair our serial killers would too and Lee told us how real life killer Malcom Naden was the main focus of her research. The way he lived for so long on the run, how he was resourceful, hardened, and knew how to live off the land was the information she needed for the story. She also spoke about how our National Parks are so vast and so intimidating themselves that they are often the perfect place to hide out and become victim to.

Lee spoke about the characters in Crackenback and how small actions give us insight into who they are, and how sometimes even the slightest thing can change a reader’s view of a character. This is why she was so careful in how her villain was portrayed and how the other characters behave too. They are all counterpoints to one another, reminding readers of the stakes and relieving some tension for the reader.

Jamie brought us back to the landscape and how it is a point of tension itself within the book, and how it and the weather is like another menacing character to contend with. Lee described the area around the Snowy Mountains as being dotted with huge granite boulders and snow and wind, ice, mist and fog all adding to the perilousness of the place. It also heightens the sense of claustrophobia of being trapped in the lodge with no way out without succumbing to the elements.

Lee’s book with our complimentary merch.

When the issue of setting a novel in 2020 came up Lee told us her worries about whether to mention the COVID issue. Luck was on her side because there was still a snow season and the police kept working so her story was realistic, but there was also a worry that including a mention of the pandemic would not only date the book, but be a turn off for those who had lived through it and didn’t want to then read about it. With Lee’s books used as an entertaining escape, people wouldn’t want to read about their daily lives and in the end there is only a brief and vague mention as recognition.

Jame mentioned that there is a lot playing with reader’s minds in the book. The aim of writing, Lee said, is wanting the readers to be emotionally invested in her characters. She needs readers to worry so much they will wonder how the characters will get out of the situations she puts them in. With crime stories we know there are goodies and baddies, ultimately knowing how it will go, but it’s the how in between – as Jamie said it’s the playing with reader emotions. Jamie also mentioned there are strong themes of revenge and second chances, Lee agreed and said with second chances there’s always a chance of hope which is important. There are also themes of fate and the intrusion of the past which make this a beautifully complicated sounding story.

The conversation carried on to cover how characters are named and the importance and fun that can be had with secondary characters before Lee and Jamie discussed how tough it was writing parallel story lines. Exposing readers to what was happening at the lodge while also what is happening with the police meant there was a need to keep readers informed but the police one step behind. This, Lee said, was another chance to worry the reader if the two would ever converge or if it would be too late.

As the afternoon drew to a close Lee teased us with information about the third book, set in the same region and another crime to solve. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’ll be attending the book launch for that book as well!

Crackenback is now available for purchase, as is Lee’s previous book Charlotte Pass. If you love books filled with intrigue, mystery, a touch of danger on all sides as well as a plot that keeps you guessing that Charlotte Pass is for you. I have yet to read Crackenback but based on what I heard this weekend and what I have heard from others it’s a thriller that sounds just as compelling.

You can purchase Crackenback via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Author Info

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