Dishing the Dirt (#26) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 14th September 2015 (print)/11 February 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 304/6 hrs and 29 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★  – 1 Star

A therapist had moved into the village of Carsely and Agatha Raisin hates her. Not only was this therapist, Jill Davent, romancing Agatha’s ex-husband, but she had dug up details of Agatha’s slum background.

Added to that, Jill was counselling a woman called Gwen Simple from Winter Parva and Agatha firmly believed Gwen to have assisted her son in some grisly murders, although has no proof she had done so.

A resentment is different from a dislike and needs to be shared, so as the friendship between James and Jill grows stronger, the more Agatha does to try to find out all she can about her. When Jill is found strangled to death in her office two days’ later, Agatha finds herself under suspicion – and must fight to clear her name.

I have seen a few reviews mention an Agatha Raisin drinking game but you could also do a Bingo based on the formulaic events that happen in each book. I certainly think it would be a more interesting way of experiencing the series.

The stories are still going the same unengaging way – some character thinks they can solve the murder before Agatha or the police and then they get killed before they tell anyone. Everyone is rude and instantly jumps to abusing people and calling them a variety of colourful names. The immediate answer to any inconvenience is to threaten to kill someone which means of course that someone will end up dead in the next chapter. It’s the same every time and while formula is good, and expected in a cosy, there is no creativity, imagination, or variation on any of these. The plot is all over the place, there are random characters and scenes and none of it was important and if it was it was so late in the story I didn’t care. It’s flat and uninteresting and grating on the nerves.

I can’t decide if Beaton wants only murders now and minimal village life because there’s no village normalcy anymore. No ladies society, no fetes and no village people other than token characters like Mrs Bloxby who only pops in as a plot device half the time.

What doesn’t help is Penelope Keith, who normally is fabulous, has the same voice for many of these characters so they all screech in the same way. I guess when all the characters start being abusive and screeching you only can screech in one way.

Honestly the only saving grace is Charles who flits in and out as he pleases but he speaks his mind and there was a time a few books back I thought he and Agatha were going to get together which would do the series a huge favour. Charles is a delightful character, he has his flaws but the banter and dynamic between himself and Agatha is always enjoyable and I love seeing their interactions.

I’ve definitely decided that Beaton hates these characters and writing these books. It’s the only explanation for why they are so flat and feel like scenes tacked on to one another with no thought or care. I know Agatha’s behaviour and the outlandish behaviour by the entire cast are meant to be humorous but they end up making me angry at the stupidity of it all. Agatha hates everyone, all her friends annoy her and the solutions to everything are either get married and give up her job, or go on holiday and get over the trauma of nearly being murdered. Because when you’re attacked and almost strangled to death in your own kitchen it’s brushed over as a non-event and people expect you to recover immediately from your trauma. The fact Agatha is still shaken by it is the only redeemable part of her character because it shows she’s not completely hollow.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Beaton, who published this book in 2016, has a scene with a man who initially is described as liking to wear dresses, but by the time Agatha meets him, she insults him, and Beaton can’t decide if he is a man who likes dresses, a cross dresser, or a trans woman because in the space of a few sentences she infers all three.

I had to pause the book in disgust when the word “Tranny” was used because it was so offensive, even if it was in relation to a shop name. This is unacceptable even for Agatha Raisin. The fact the sentence finishes with “for people like you” and then this person thanks her for helping them is pushing even my limits to finish this godawful series. The term transvestite is repeatedly used after this and it’s just wholly unpleasant. The whole series is filled with offensive terms, the earlier books repeatedly had Agatha threatening people by saying they should get AIDS so it isn’t beyond Beaton to use this kind of language but it was a surprise given this wasn’t the early 90s but published in a time I thought people, or even a few editors if she even uses them anymore, would know better.

I’m repeating myself here but the clear downfall of these stories was definitely extending them from four to six hours, or whatever the page length equivalent was. The extra length has completely lessened their quality. When they were shorter they were nice and concise mysteries which wrapped up while still having character depth and exploration. Now they are longer and the stories are drawn out, when the main mystery is solved another pops up and the remainder two hours is spent dragging it out. I also think as Ms Beaton ages her own opinions are bleeding onto the page and it ends up being a long rant about society and the youth and how no one is a lady anymore. It’s amazing she has time to fit a murder in amongst that.

You can purchase Dishing the Dirt via the following

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The Blood of an Englishman (#25) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 16th September 2014 (print)/11 February 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 294/6 hrs and 18 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Even though Agatha Raisin loathes amateur dramatics, her friend Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar’s wife, has persuaded her to support the local pantomime. Stifling a yawn at the production of “Babes in the Woods,” Agatha watches the baker playing an ogre strut and threaten on the stage, until a trapdoor opens and the Ogre disappears in an impressive puff of smoke. Only he doesn’t re-appear at final curtain.

Surely this isn’t the way the scene was rehearsed? When it turns out the popular baker has been murdered, Agatha puts her team of private detectives on the case. They soon discover more feuds and temperamental behaviour in amateur theatrics than in a professional stage show—and face more and more danger as the team gets too close to the killer.

You can really start to see a lack of care in these stories. New characters that can be introduced and removed in one book, no need for backstory or cementing into the established world, simply in and out and on to the next thing. I had to reread this story because I couldn’t recall much of what happens and having reread it I can attest that is because nothing actually happens. It’s a boring story, nothing is memorable and the investigation is filled with a lot of nothing that can’t keep your attention. The plot seems to be random scenes pieced together that have the thinnest connecting thread if any.

Clearly Beaton has given up the complex community of earlier books and now focuses on these extra characters but none of them have any depth. Most pop in an out in one book and they are as shallow and ludicrous as each other. The only characters that keep being included are the detective staff, though less so in this story, and Charles. Beaton includes familiar characters as a reminder that they still exist but they serve no real purpose to the story. James is barely mentioned, Mrs Bloxby has a few scenes but it feels more like a reminder that other people live in this village than actually contribute to the story.

The descriptions are repetitions of the same ones trotted out book after book. Honestly if I hear one more time about Agatha and her long legs and glossy hair I think I might just scream. I have no other image of this woman except long legs and glossy hair. I think somewhere a few books back there might have been a mention of “frumpy” in her lesser moments but what does that even mean? Beaton seems to have found her descriptors and refused to budge. No matter how much time has passed these are the facts of these characters and nothing else will be said of them. Small, bear-like eyes, long legs, glossy hair. Not to mention twenty five books in and Agatha is still in her early fifties.

Beaton’s opinions are out in force again about the state of society as well as whatever the current issues are at time of writing making casual comments about sexual assault and paedophilia, much like the earlier books she jumps to reducing serious issues to crass comments by characters. The mystery almost didn’t matter as a lot of time was focused on Agatha and her “unfortunate obsessions” as they’re called (of which there are many this time around) where she lusts after the latest attractive man she comes across. You’d also think a book that had such a gruesome death would be more interesting but I’ve expected too much.

Moving away from the set cast of characters is a hindrance because there isn’t a lot to keep your attention. New people who haven’t been well developed don’t hold your interest if you aren’t going to include well known characters that can tie things together. It’s another book following the usual formula with the addition of having random scenes added in that serve little to no purpose. It’s a shame Penelope Keith had to keep reading these if I’m honest.

You can purchase The Blood of an Englishman via the following

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Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Published: 4 October 2016 (print)/4th Aug 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House Australia
Pages: 320/8 hrs and 1 min
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★  – 1 Star

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him-at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl-she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

I’m sad this wasn’t a great Aussie YA because we usually do it so well. The Americanisation was disappointing when I learnt Sutherland was Australian and we missed out on a great Aussie story. I thought it was a bad American book but when I realised it was a bad book Americanised for the overseas market somehow that was somehow worse.

To get in our little slice of Australia there is a horrible stereotypical character which is absolutely painful. Sutherland should know how terrible this is for us to see the over exaggerated Australian in media and she should stop perpetuating it. It isn’t even that the narrator of the audiobook CANNOT do an Australian accent to save their life, but the dialogue Sutherland has written is so awful I kept having to pause it because it hurt to listen and I need it to stop. I couldn’t even stop and pick up my copy of the book because it’s not just the accent, I was not enjoying so much of this book and I could get through it faster listening to it.

I also find it hilarious that Murray who is so Australian it keeps being rammed down our throats, that his own parents would chastise Henry for using the word ‘bastard’. Like, give us some realism here please for the love of god.

I need to write or read a story where a teen’s favourite music is from the last 20 years and not something from before they were born. I get it’s probably easier to not date things or whatever, but if your goal is to create the Unique Girl and the Unique Boy then the fact it happens far too often diminishes that. There is another stereotype about how one kiss with a boy led Grace to come out as a lesbian and Henry’s favourite movie is Fight Club which is an interesting choice and given my opinions of Henry that doesn’t surprise me.

In a story where the word cripple is used, albeit by a character with a limp, to also have other characters wonder if it’s politically correct to mention someone has a limp was a curious contrast. It was a shock to hear the word cripple used and whether Sutherland justifies it by having a character describe themselves it still felt weird.

Grace wears typical guy clothes but it is stressed that she isn’t a tomboy. The role Grace plays is usually reserved for the boy in these types of YAs, the one who thinks the Deep Thoughts, but she is also playing her role as the Mysterious Girl that intrigues the boy who apparently has never seen another girl in his life. The self-reflection and acknowledgement of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t stop it from being an eye roll.

Henry is a romantic and a dreamer but he is also a fool. The way Henry talks about Grace is cringe worthy and he has already put her on a pedestal because she’s so intriguing. There isn’t anything remarkable about Grace, she is a normal, sarcastic, cynical teen and the book wasn’t doing anything to work against the tropes that has Henry wanting to “save her”. One redeeming factor is when Grace quizzes Henry on why he’s never had a girlfriend, one of the first reasons he gives is he’s seventeen and I will give Sutherland credit for that being a legitimate reason.

There were other issues as well. Betrayal of trust and stalking were twice used as a joke, and despite being published in 2016 there are two problematic jokes and gays and lesbians, plus one about AIDS being funny with no sense of irony that I can discern if that’s even an excuse.

It was basically for all this combined that I did not finish this book and left at the halfway mark. I’ve read reviews that the ending is good but aside from speed running the entire second half to have some reasonable ending isn’t too appealing. I’ve read other one star reviews that explain what’s wrong with this book a lot better than I can and it’s a comfort to know there’s others out there like me. I am contemplating watching the movie to see if it’s remotely tolerable and let me see the ending without need me to finish this godforsaken book but I don’t think I care enough about this book to watch the movie. If not a summary will suffice because I couldn’t keep going even to see if there was any redemption and I have a bad feeling the movie will take away any depth these characters had.

You can purchase Our Chemical Hearts via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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Something Borrowed, Someone Dead (#24) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 17th September 2013 (print)/03 October 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 304/6 hrs and 19 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Incomer Gloria French is at first welcomed in the Cotswold village of Piddlebury. She seems like a do-gooder par excellence, raising funds for the church and caring for the elderly. But she has a bad habit of borrowing things and not giving them back, so when she is discovered dead, folk in the village don’t mourn her passing too much.

Parish councillor Jerry Tarrant hires Agatha Raisin to track down the murderer. But the village is creepy and secretive and the residents don’t seem to want Agatha to find who the murderer is. Then Agatha’s investigations are hampered by the upset of discovering that her ex, James Lacey, has fallen in love with her young protégé.

The shift between these books that can go from horribly written to one that is actually decent is amazing. Decent for Agatha Raisin that is. There must be something in the water in the Cotswalds that make people go from calm to threatening death upon people at the slightest inconvenience.

The enjoyment of this book comes from the murder plotline and less so of the writing or extra content. Agatha’s obsession with her figure and the judgement towards other people are eye rolling and typical, but the fact Beaton managed an interesting premise for a murder and didn’t drive me up the wall reading it to execute it was something of a miracle.

There’s a lot of character action and conversations to suss out motive and intent, things happen that actually connect to the investigation and the side stories of characters when we get them are woven in a way that they still feel connected to the main story. There are throwaway lines that show time passing, Agatha taking holidays etc, but it keeps returning to interviewing people about the murder. The character interactions are more entertaining than reading long sections of narration which is probably why this was a better story than most.

There’s a couple murders in this one, the original and the second one that usually happens during the investigation of the first, typically after someone proclaims they know who the murderer is and then dies before telling anyone. The whole team gets involved and we see various avenues of investigation which is a change from quick mentions and having them behind the scenes and on other cases, even the non-detective gang help in their own ways.

The solution to having to extend the stories out this time involves having the main story for most of the book and then having a secondary mini plot afterwards to fill in time. The entire last hour was a side story that was what happens after the murderer is caught and it was a strange addition but I guess it’s a change to see what happens to the culprit and not just what new thing Agatha is up to.

There is also an unexpected addition about Toni that is tacked on at the end but given the haphazard nature of these books it’s easier to simply go along with it at this stage. The final pages feel like the start of a new book again as it introduces a whole other storyline but as a weird cliff hanger I guess it’s meant to lure you into the next one but with no real stakes, just pushing your curiosity about what’s going to happen next.

You can purchase Something Borrowed, Someone Dead via the following

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The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I (#2) by Carolyn Mackler

Published: 29th May 2018 (print)/29th May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books /Recorded Books
Pages: 304/7 hrs and 51 mins
Narrator: Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s been five months since sixteen-year-old Virginia Shreves thought her life was finally back on course: she has come to terms with who she is both inside and out, and she’s even started to rebuild her relationship with her older brother Byron, whose date-rape charge completely shattered everything.

But just as she’s getting used to the new normal, Virginia’s world turns upside down again. Sparks with boyfriend Froggy Welsh the Fourth fade, her best friend Shannon bombshells bad news, and then the police arrest Byron.

As Virginia struggles to cope, she meets Sebastian, an artist with his own baggage. The pair make a pact not to share their personal dramas. But secrets have a way of coming out, and theirs have the potential to ruin everything.

This sequel was published in 2018 so it’s clear after updating Virginia’s story Mackler felt compelled to keep the story going, either that or the compulsion for a sequel prompted a revision of the first. Either way it’s not a bad addition by any means, it’s the same characters and the tone is similar to the first book which works in its favour.

Plot wise I enjoyed that there were ongoing outcomes and consequences from the events in the first book. It’s only a few months later and it’s a nice reminder that things aren’t solved and wrapped up neatly at the end of a book. Having said that you don’t need to have read book one as the events previous are recounted fairly seamlessly, and the continuation of the story means nothing much has been happening in between.

There’s still talk around the sexual assault, and the fatphobia and body images aren’t gone which adds realism and believability to a story that previously tried to fix things a little too quickly. Previous characters return, some with more depth than before, and new antagonists bring conflict and a different type of drama.

I liked the introduction of Sebastian and how Mackler navigated it between Virginia and the bigger story. I would have been annoyed if they got close later in the book but the fact they become friends and maybe something more early on was a good distraction for Virginia and it allowed something to be only hers for a while. Of course it also allows for a bigger impact once all the secrets come out, classic storytelling. But Mackler handles it well and I liked how Sebastian and Virginia managed their relationship around the drama.

Virginia is once again shameless about her infatuations and her list. I also liked her approach to her brother and how she never really lets him off the hook for his actions. Trying to navigate that relationship now allows more growth for her, which is good as it shows there’s always more growing to do.

There are further reminders of the super-rich lifestyle as we delve into country clubs and nannies and it is very telling given how her parents react that there is a lot at stake about keeping up appearances and hoping things blow over around certain indiscretions. But overall it was an enjoyable story and satisfying to see further developments in Virginia’s story.

You can purchase The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I via the following

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Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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