Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance (#15) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st December 2005 (print)/10 June 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 256/6 hrs and 10 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Infuriated that her holiday was ruined by a mugging, Agatha Raisin decides to open up her own detective agency. The romance-minded sleuth is thrilled by visions of handsome fellow gumshoes and headline-making crimes—but soon finds the only cases she can get are a non-glamorous lot of lost cats and an errant teenager. But when a wealthy divorcée hires the agency to investigate a death threat against her daughter Cassandra, Agatha thwarts a vicious attack on the heiress bride. Now Agatha is in hot pursuit of the culprit. But when the groom’s father turns up dead, Agatha must untangle a growing list of suspects, from Carsely’s quiet village lanes to Paris’ most fashionable streets. Soon the wilfully undaunted Agatha is in trouble with French and British police; on the outs (again) with old friends—and dead in the sights of a murderer.

Finally a breath of fresh air and a new direction for the characters to go in. After 14 books there’s something new happening and a real chance for Agatha and these characters to grow and develop, hopefully without being flung back into bland, one dimensional people on a whim.

It was a fascinating decision to have the main story not be the focus of the book, instead there’s a lot of character interaction and small details that fill the pages instead. This could be in part because there are so many new characters and new situations to unfurl, but it was also a nice change to focus more on characters and delve deeper into their relationships and lives. It’s often the more pleasing parts of these books when done properly.

With the creation of the detective agency we aren’t stuck on the single case now either and Agatha has slightly more legitimacy to butt in everywhere. There are lots of different cases to focus on too which allows good side plots away from the main one and means there doesn’t need to be useless fillers in between key discoveries.

I loved the new influx of characters we get to know and love how the old characters remain and are incorporated into the story. The story felt real and I loved that the new employees felt genuine in their work roles, even without getting a lot of depth. If this agency remains I can only imagine they’ll develop as the series goes on.

I enjoyed how murderous everybody became through this story, it was fun and added some of the eccentricity that’s been lacking. Agatha grows up a bit in this book which has been needed for a long time. She is less vain and focuses more on her work.

It isn’t a perfect book though by any means, Beaton still includes some standards of opinionated characters that moan about the state of society – complaints about Americans and swearing, about “youths” and other remarks. Previously these have often come from Agatha and I took it to be one of her fun quirks we had to deal with but these come from a lot of different characters which makes me think these are coming from the author instead, inserting her opinions because sometimes it feels out of character.

The formula is there though slightly more detailed. Agatha can’t solve anything without being put into peril herself but I appreciated that there was a more complicated and decent plot after the mess the last few books have been. It was a much more enjoyable experience and makes you remember that these books, while never perfect, didn’t used to be so terrible.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance via the following

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History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Published: 17th January 2017 (print)/17th January 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Recorded Books
Pages: 294/9 hrs and 35 mins
Narrator: Tom Picasso
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   – 1 Star

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

When I realised Silvera had another book out I picked it up instantly because I adored They Both Die at the End, but it didn’t take me long to realise that this book and that book are vastly different in terms of enjoyment.

I kinda see the point. Theo is already gone, and we flash back and forward to how the memories Griffin has are all that’s left versus how he is living his life now. But on the flip side – it’s boring. Even listening to this at 2x speed did not help me get through this faster. Every time I thought I was close to finishing I still has ages to go.

It was definitely a combination of a few things. I didn’t have any connection to these characters, they weren’t one dimensional exactly but at the same time there isn’t any depth or emotion to them that I could find substance in.

There’s emotion of course, we get descriptions and experiences of their time together and how Griffin feels after Theo is gone but it only ever felt like words. The story takes place so close after his death yet I kept thinking it was months afterwards the way everyone behaves and how hollow the words felt.

There’s a little bit of “mystery”. Theo’s death is a slow reveal and we find out gradually what happened, all the different layers and circumstances, but at the same time it meant nothing. Even the eventual reasoning didn’t make sense and at times the circumstances and the behaviour between Wade, Griffin and Jackson felt unnatural and clunky.

Good points: Silvera portrays compulsions well with Griffin’s behaviour about counting and routines. His OCD is not a focusing factor, but it isn’t treated as a background feature either. It butts into scenes, affects interactions, and has flare ups based on experiences and events but being OCD isn’t the focus of Griffin’s story which was nice. It wasn’t about him having OCD and Silvera keeps the balance of it being a part of Griffin and not the point of the story well.

I cannot understand how someone who wrote They Both Die at the End, a beautiful, philosophical, amazing book also wrote this. I know this came first and writing evolves, but they both came out in the same year and the shift from this to that is drastic. I’m now wary with his other books because knowing it could go either way I’m going to have to do a little bit more research than picking up a book based on author alone.

You can purchase History is All You Left Me via the following

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Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Published: 1st September 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins
Illustrator: Esphyr Slobodkina
Pages: 48
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Caps for Sale is a timeless classic beloved by millions…one of the most popular picture books ever published! Children will delight in following the peddler’s efforts to outwit the monkeys and will ask to read it again and again. Caps for Sale is an excellent easy-to-read book that includes repetition, patterns, and colors, perfect for early readers. This tale of a peddler and a band of mischievous monkeys is filled with warmth, humor, and simplicity and also teaches children about problem and resolution.

I love old books that describe what the story is about in the subtitle so you know going in this is about caps and monkeys and monkey business but the story is delightful all the same. I’ve loved this story since I was a kid and it’s as fun now as it was then. There’s joy in seeing the peddler navigate the town with his caps, and his confrontation with the monkeys. Slobodkina’s writing is simple but amusing and it’s a nice adventure in the day of the peddler.

There’s repetition in the narrative and humorous gesturing in the illustrations when the peddler interacts with the monkeys and it’s great seeing even the simplest illustrations depict this gentleman stamping his foot in frustration at thieving monkeys.

The illustrations are simple but entertaining. The sight of the man with his numerous caps on his head is delightful and while the colours aren’t overly bold or bright the images reflect what is being described on the page.

The story isn’t overly complicated, nothing happens of consequence yet it’s cheeky and enjoyable to read and one kids could have fun with. I’m curious about the cover because at no point does he get in the tree, but it’s alluring at best if you want to give it a go.

You can purchase Caps for Sale via the following

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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Published: 7 July 2020 (print)/7 July 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Sourcebooks Casablanca/Dreamscape Media
Pages: 427/13 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Joe Jameson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I adored this book but I have found it incredibly hard to write a review for it which is always a weird experience. The set up for Luc and Oliver’s fake dating is interesting and realistic in that it is a wild idea that needs persuasion and rules which I loved because it is an inherently strange thing to start to do and seeing it being set up like a contract was great.

Having there be a semi long term date to aim for meant there was a solid investment in these boys that wasn’t the following week and it gave plenty of time for the plot to unfurl and have all the wonderfully devilish chaos, drama, emotional toil and evolution of feelings one needs for such a sweet story as this.

What I liked about this is the drama comes from two messed up people, one more open to admit they’re messed up than the other, and seeing the pair of them grow and learn, become comfortable with themselves and each other, but then also have to face their own fears breaks is brilliant.

Luc’s wall to suppress his feelings and not look any deeper than the surface is slowly broken down beautifully and the way Hall has built up his character for the reader means you understand him quite quickly but also have so much more to learn about him.

Oliver seems perfect from the start as we see through Luc’s eyes, but he too is broken down into more complex pieces and realise he’s putting up a wall and façade in his own way.

The story itself was well told, we explore the depth of their lives and see friends, colleagues and families in a way that makes them full, rich characters and you see the worlds in which they live where a fake boyfriend would be a necessity at times.

I loved the use of mirroring scenes and the in-jokes are incredibly cute. I love these boys and their unorthodox relationship and friendship and seeing them try to act naturally around one another when they are both a small mess is highly endearing and entertaining.

I haven’t read many (maybe any?) fake dating stories but this is a fantastic one because Hall gives it time to be convenient, messy, complicated and heartfelt and as the days and weeks and months go by the relationship between Luc and Oliver reshapes itself multiple times which benefits them both as people, but still leaves you wondering whether they will stay together in the long term.

The writing is amazing, the story is clever and funny, full of love and heartbreak, vulnerability and hope. For all the extra plot and life happening around them it all comes back to the focus around these boys which is perfect because they are delightful even when they’re being fools, which to be fair is a lot of the time.

You can purchase Boyfriend Material via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (#14) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st March 2005 (print)/28 June 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 246/6 hrs and 39 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ – 2 Stars

Just back from an extended stay in London, Agatha Raisin finds herself greeted by torrential rains and an old, familiar feeling of boredom. When her handsome new neighbour, Paul Chatterton, shows up on her doorstep, she tries her best to ignore his obvious charms, but his sparkling black eyes and the promise of adventure soon lure her into another investigation.

Paul has heard rumours about Agatha’s reputation as the Cotswold village sleuth and wastes no time offering their services to the crotchety owner of a haunted house. Whispers, footsteps, and a cold white mist are plaguing Mrs. Witherspoon, but the police have failed to come up with any leads, supernatural or otherwise. The neighbours think it’s all a desperate ploy for attention, but Paul and Agatha are sure something more devious is going on. Someone’s playing tricks on Mrs. Witherspoon, and when she turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, Agatha finds herself caught up in another baffling murder mystery.

I was disappointed the haunted, paranormal aspect was solved so quickly, it was something different to focus on than bodies right away. The murder mystery aspect was relatively predictable but there is a lot more focus on the character interactions than any real sleuthing. All of the characters are vain and fools, so no one gets any real sympathy.

There are also continuity errors based on information in previous books about Charles which throws you a bit since they are huge revelations and changes that can’t occur in a matter of months. Whether the previous facts weren’t interesting enough for this new story and had to be retconned I’m not sure, maybe perhaps Beaton can’t recall her own story, whatever the reason it’s another sign of disregard for the readers, the characters, and trying to create a consistent, evolving storyline if things can change on a whim through books.

Agatha thinks about James less than she has in the previous two books which is a plus. Not that her obsession over men isn’t there, between her and Paul, and her and Charles and the whole mess in between it gets a tad involved. Stock standards are there too – her absolute obsession over her age and her weight, and she applies, reapplies, and freshens up her make up a few dozen times.

Something you notice when you binge these books is the lengths are getting longer. From an initial length of around four hours, the shift to six hour stories is becoming the norm and it isn’t to the benefit of the story. With two hours extra of story there is no real improvement on plot, people, character development or sensibilities. The approach instead is to fill the book with more padding and random scenes almost unconnected and personally I can’t see the benefit of this if we aren’t going to see any more depth of character, growth of any real kind, or something relevant to the plot. These aren’t enjoyable enough characters to want to spend time with them unnecessarily.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

  Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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