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 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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You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

Published: 25 September 2018 (print)/25 September 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press/Scholastic Audio
Pages: 256/ 4 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Alex Gino, Nora Hunter and Blythe Auffarth
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Jilly thinks she’s figured out how life works. But when her sister Emma is born Deaf, she realizes how much she still has to learn.

A big fantasy reader, Jilly connects with another fan, Derek, who is a Deaf Black ASL user. She goes to Derek for advice but doesn’t always know the best way to ask for it and makes some mistakes along the way. Jilly has to step back to learn to be an ally, a sister, and a friend, understanding that life works in different ways for different people, and that being open to change can make you change in the best possible ways.

Coming off the back of Gino’s other works I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book but I was surprised I didn’t love it as much as the others. While it covered important topics and explored a learning experience around important issues I couldn’t find a lot of love for the book overall.

As a character Jilly is young and naïve at 13. The way Gino has written her is hard to like, but you can see her good intentions behind her actions even if they’re wrong. Her perspective of her life and family as an only child becoming a sister and the challenges that brings was interesting and Gino gave her a good voice in that regard to capture her confusion, her good intentions and her sense of confusion as she navigates new ground.

I liked the online environment set up for the Roses and Thorns books Jilly loves and how the discussion forum is designed in the realm of the books. If you can get past that at 13 Jilly finds the ear of a person attractive, you can see how the friendships she’s formed on the forum are comforting but also how only knowing someone online can change how you see them because you’re only provided with the information they want you to see which can be different to who they really are.

Primarily this is a story about deafness, but it also covers racism too. I guess if you look at the surrounding characters like profoundinoaktown (aka Derek) and Alesha to be there to educate Jilly it helps but it isn’t their job to educate her about the Deaf or black community and in terms of story that is acknowledged in a small way which is commendable.

Jilly makes mistakes and learns from them, often when she is trying to help or through misunderstanding. I liked how Gino didn’t turn it into a huge fight or major issue, Jilly was wrong, she is corrected by someone who knows better and she accepts that even if she is a little hurt since she thought she was helping. Taking the time to listen to people when they tell you you’re doing or saying the wrong things is a great lesson to put in this story, especially one dealing with race and disability.

Having said that, there are other issues with this story away from the Big Important Topics that ruin this book without needing to delve deeper into meaning and intent and rights of authors. I felt the content, writing, and the characters all fell short. Even with Gino’s acknowledgement about their connection to the Deaf community it still feels like it is missing more substance. There’s a lot of unnecessary and annoying repetition around Jilly’s sandwiches and the conversations between Maisy and Jilly’s dad are incredibly irritating, and while I can see how Gino is trying to create a world around Jilly and these are the factors in it, it was too much at times to tolerate.

Despite the positive message I couldn’t get past the tedious repetition or the flat, one dimensional characters that are easily forgettable. In conjunction with the annoying writing which having to experience as an audiobook made it more noticeable and grinding, this story is average at best which is a shame considering Gino’s other works.

You can purchase You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist (#6) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st April 2010 (print)/ 1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 212/5 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

In this sixth entertaining outing Agatha leaves the sleepy Cotswold village of Carsely to pursue love – and finds a murderer. Spurned at the altar, she follows her fleeing fiancé James Lacey to Cyprus, where, instead of enjoying the honeymoon they’d planned, they witness the killing of an obnoxious tourist in a disco. Intrigue and a string of murders surround the unlikely couple, in a plot as scorching as the Cypriot sun!

It seems while we’re still in the midst of the wedding drama aftermath there’s going to be some focus on Agatha and James. Even in another country with another murder the focus still revolves around the pair of them and their glaring incompatibility. There’s no mistaking Agatha’s desperation this time as she literally stalks James when he leaves the country and goes on the holiday they’d planned for their honeymoon. James hasn’t improved either; you can’t quite believe the James/Agatha story should go on the way he treats her. It isn’t that he can’t express his emotions, it is that he’s an absolute horrible person to her and then turns around and asks why she’s crying after he’s berated her.

The actual story is way too long, it drags on for the sake of pages or words and there’s no substantial mystery to cling onto. There’s no connection to these characters so when one is murdered it isn’t a big deal and Beaton doesn’t try to make us get to know or care about them. Agatha can’t do much investigating herself so nothing happens except her exploring the islands, fighting with James, sulking, and eating or drinking. Not even the apparent threat on Agatha’s own life wasn’t engaging enough. I usually get through these books quite quickly but this one seems to have dragged on. With a terrible plot it’s harder to forgive all the other problems but with six hours of nothing happening and horrible characters there isn’t a lot redeeming it except maybe we see more character interactions and advancement on their story but that’s frustrating as well. I’ll be grateful when we return to the simple village life where Beaton’s writing thrives.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist via the following

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