Beating About the Bush (#30) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 3 October 2019 (print)/ 24 October 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 236/6 hrs and 22 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

When private detective Agatha Raisin comes across a severed leg in a roadside hedge, it looks like she is about to become involved in a particularly gruesome murder. Looks, however, can be deceiving, as Agatha discovers when she is employed to investigate a case of industrial espionage at a factory where nothing is quite what it seems.

The factory mystery soon turns to murder and a bad-tempered donkey turns Agatha into a national celebrity, before bringing her ridicule and shame. To add to her woes, Agatha finds herself grappling with growing feelings for her friend and occasional lover, Sir Charles Fraith. Then, as a possible solution to the factory murder unfolds, her own life is thrown into deadly peril. Will Agatha get her man at last? Or will the killer get her first?

Thirty books. Have I really suffered through thirty of these books? Though surprisingly I did not suffer that much this time around which came as a shock to no one more than myself. I went in with trepidation given past evidence and while it wasn’t perfect, there was a spark of the old writing style and structured, edited, and coherent storytelling.

The old outlandish plots are back with Agatha falling in love with a donkey whose been accused of murder. It was a strange shift from the Agatha of late, it was a refreshing change and so out of the blue it was easier to go along with it and revel in the absurdity of it all. The humour shown in earlier books is back, this time written well and used by characters in enjoyable ways so you fall comfortably into the story and accept it.

Agatha’s usual jealousy of Toni is there, a new love interest though as unsustainable as the others, and while the key characters get a mention, they are barely featured in the story. An offhanded reference here, one line there, they are hardly main players this time around as the focus is on the bigger plot of Agatha, Toni, and the donkey. Everything isn’t fixed entirely, the predictability remains, the outlandish outbursts and short temper of Agatha rains down on those who cross her, and we can’t have a new book without Agatha getting herself into dire strife. Things are better but there are no miracles.

Beaton passed away while I was reading this book and at the time I did hope someone was going to keep writing them because it looked like Beaton was finally realising that Charles and Agatha should be together. Reading the summary of one of the upcoming books I’m learning this was never going to eventuate. I’ve been burned before and watched good character development be pushed back into the box for worn out tropes and lazy writing so I have little hope on that front. The will they/won’t they is a good tantaliser but there must be a day when you can’t string it along forever. It’s actually annoying Beaton died after this book (if she was actually still writing them) because it’s the closest we’ve come to having Agatha and Charles get together and it’s a shame we didn’t get that as a reward for all the pain and suffering we’ve put up with. If nothing else the only thing I wanted as a reward from enduring thirty of these books was the two of them getting together and this is the closest Beaton has come without actually doing anything about it.

Because it’s taken me two years to write some of these reviews because of *gestures at everything* three more books have been published. Now, I don’t think I have the strength to read those three books but at the time this was the latest publication. This was my goal. This was where I wanted to get to and given the way this whole grand plan of mine worked out I think I’m going to stop. I read the thirty published books through 2020 and while it’s taken me longer to review them than planned I have met that goal and I don’t know if I feel inclined to keep going with the series. I’m calling that a win and while this was the most enjoyable book in a long, long while, I will wait and see if my own curiosity tempts me to see if the writing really does change with this new author and pick it up again. But if I’m honest with myself I really don’t think I’ll be back.

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Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer (#29) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 2 October 2018 (print)/4 October 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 233/6 hrs and 25 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

The team of bells at St. Ethelred church is the pride and glory of the idyllic Cotswolds village of Thirk Magna, together with the most dedicated bell ringers in the whole of England: the twins Mavis and Millicent Dupin.

As the village gets ready for the Bishop’s visit, the twins get overly-excited at the prospect of ringing the special peal of bells created for the occasion and start bullying the other bell ringers, forcing them to rehearse and rehearse . . . so much so that Joseph Kennell, a retired lawyer, yells at the sisters that he ‘felt like killing them’!

When the twins’ home is broken into one night and Millicent is found dead, struck from a hammer blow, suspicion falls onto the lawyer.

Will Agatha unmask the real killer and clear Joseph’s name?

I gave this book two stars because I didn’t want to claw my eyes out listening to it like I have in the past but that doesn’t make it good it makes it bearable. It’s so long winded and disjointed with random events and jumps there isn’t a coherent story to really pay attention to. I found I could tune out and come back in and have it in the background and not lose what was happening because nothing is actually happening of any consequence.

Agatha is in a foul mood for the entire first part of the book and all the characters are angry or abusive. Everyone goes from zero to threatening death when mildly inconvenienced and no one can yell at anyone without wishing them dead because they will end up dead a page later. I understand there is a formula to these mysteries, but a formula is different to the exact same thing happening in the same way every single time. We should be able to have multiple suspects in ways other than publically calling for their demise.

There were no pleasant characters and even the familiar regulars seem put out. People go from zero to abuse and while there are no swear words, calling every character a bitch or slut is tiring not to mention a little jarring in a cosy. The writing contains the same sexism and misogyny it’s always had but with James barely in the story thankfully it isn’t through him, Agatha does a lot of it herself.

One thing I noticed is no one is really sad about the death of anybody, and there are plenty to pick from this time round. Even the death of one of the multiple romantic obsessions and affairs Agatha has in this book isn’t enough to pull any great sympathy. The second they’ve died it breaks the spell and she’s back lusting after the next warm, breathing male in the nearby radius.

Somewhere along to way the police stopped telling Agatha to stop interfering and instead now tell her and everyone else things all the time. I guess there’s only so many times you can weakly say “no, don’t, stop” and then have no follow up consequences. The constant ringing of press was ridiculous and annoying too, the police should definitely stop Agatha from doing that, no matter how accepting they now are of her involvement.

The continuity and structure of the storyline is shot with scenes fractured and all over the place, there’s mistakes where main characters have their names changed, not to mention no solid connection to previous books. The budding romance between Charles and Agatha is gone, Agatha’s perpetual unhappiness is a far cry from the rough around the edges but sharp and competent woman we were first introduced to. For someone stuck the same age you can’t even wonder if her sudden despondency is due to her aging, it seems to be a character shift and not one for the better. Despite this our descriptions never change, that is something you can always rely on from Beaton and her bear-like eyed glossy haired woman with the long legs.

It was always a rare delight when you have a little more character development or background revealed because there is no escape from these cyclical stories. Any progression is shoved back down and reversed immediately in the next book and it frustrates you as a reader to see good work being undone. If characters could grow properly it would make for a much better series, you may sacrifice being able to pick up the books at any point in the series but with the poor quality this late in the series it really couldn’t hurt to try and make them tolerable.

You can always tell what year these books were written because social commentary makes its way in through Beaton’s writing and this time we’re treated to Brexit getting mentioned. Keeping Agatha perpetually 53 is one thing not to date your books, but that is certainly one thing that will.

After a while you get sick of Agatha being almost killed and saved, traumatised or totally fine depending what is needed for the story. Epilogues end up being the resolutions to the book and the murders of the next book and as a cliff hanger to lure you in it’s a poor attempt when you’ve had no desire to finish the current one.

It’s amazing to look back at my earlier reviews and see I gave them four stars, something I couldn’t comprehend doing now and they certainly had their issues them. One theory I have is Beaton getting older, or her reluctance to keep writing the series but had an obligation whether she cared about it or not. Another was that they’d started to be ghost written, which would explain the lack of consistency and each book undoing the progress of the last. It isn’t like they were amazing to begin with, but there has definitely a shift that’s been detrimental.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer via the following

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Blob by Anne Appert

Published: 14th September 2021Goodreads badge
Illustrator: Anne Appert
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Blob is a creature of indeterminate kind. Blob can be a giraffe, cotton candy, and even an octopus. It’s not until a negligent (albeit well-meaning) narrator continuously calls them “Bob” that Blob starts to question who they really are.

After a series of funny yet enlightening discoveries about all the possible things they can be, Blob realizes that the best thing to be is…


(With the L.)

The story is written as a dialogue between Blob and the narrator alongside cute illustrations. The story follows our introduction to Blob as they demonstrate all the wonderful things they can turn into as well as work out who they want to be.

It’s funny be also endearing to watch Blob’s journey of self-discovery and Appert’s illustrations are creative and charming which show off a lot of Blob’s personality. I love Blob’s design and the way the illustrations are laid out on the page adds to the story.

I liked that Blob stands up to the narrator as they keep getting things wrong and presuming things about them. Appert shows that there’s still time to find out what you want to be and to have the courage to go after it. It’s a deceptively simple story but one that shows taking chances and standing up for who you are despite what other people say you are is always worth the risk.

You can purchase Blob via the following

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Every Heart A Doorway (#1) by Seanan McGuire

Published: 5 April  2016 (print)/5 April  2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher: Audio
Pages: 169/4 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Cynthia Hopkins
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

In a premise that reminded me of Miss Peregrine initially, the story is about a girl who arrives at a boarding school for people who have travelled through portals into different worlds – lands of Nonsense, Logic, Fairy – and returned home changed and unsatisfied. Not that that’s what their families are being told.

The story captivates you from the beginning and I was drawn into this world of pretences and misleadings about Eleanor and this boarding school and what it actually did. As the story goes on you learn more about the worlds and the school, about children who have returned from their travels through doorways and how they are coping with being thrust back into their old lives whether by accident or through no choice of their own.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and the tone McGuire has used – it’s fun and talks to the reader in conversational tones, not nonsensical or anything but matter of fact and with a mix of logic and nonsense while maintaining the seriousness. It’s hard to describe exactly but I loved it immensely.

The mystery was clever and I loved how there was surprises and shocks that come almost immediately changing any theory you may have even started to develop. Each character’s personality brings something to the story and it was hard not to marvel at McGuire’s imagination at these unique characters and their own histories and experiences.

I loved each of the characters we’re introduced to. I don’t want to spoil each of their journeys because I think discovering them is half the fun but I will say there is great representation, there is celebration of the quirky, the unusual, and while kids will always be kids, seeing a place that tries to promote and encourage unusual hobbies, to keep safe those who were cast out, and to embrace the different, was delightful.

I listened to the audiobook which was an excellent decision because it really heightened that unique writing style, and by the end of the book I was enraptured and was surprised how despite being only a short novella it was the perfect length. McGuire told a wonderfully interesting story and gave us detailed and fleshed out characters, a complicated mystery as well as introducing us to this entire new fantasy reality all while keeping it at 175 pages. It’s hard not to marvel at such a feat and I am definitely excited to explore this series and see what else McGuire has in store.

You can purchase Every Heart A Doorway via the following

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My Own Way by Joana Estrela Translated by Jay Hulme

Published: 1st March 2022Goodreads badge
: Wide Eyed Editions
: Joana Estrela
: Jay Hulme
: 40
: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Small children are often asked to choose between a gendered binary–”boy” or “girl”, “pink” or “blue”. This colorful picture book smashes these stereotypes and encourages the reader to follow their own way!

“Girl or Boy?”
What brings you joy?
“Pink or blue?”
It’s up to you.

With vibrant illustrations and concise, poetic text, this powerful book teaches young children that there are no limits in what you can do and who you can be.  You are unique!

Translated from the original Portuguese by award-winning transgender poet Jay Hulme, My Own Way is an important, timely, and beautiful celebration of identity, difference, and respect.

I picked this book up with reasonable expectations but I wasn’t expecting it to be as profound and lovely as I did. There are sometimes only three words on a page but they are impactful words. The story reminds the reader that it’s up to them to decide who they want to be. It starts off familiarly with the choice of blue or pink, girl or boy, emphasising what brings you joy is most important.

There’s wonderful messages that whether man or woman you should be as kind as you can, also that boy and girl doesn’t cover everyone and you might be both or none. I love that a book with such simple text can actually be more impactful than a story where a child is exploring their identity through a plot. Those are amazing as well, but I loved the simplicity of this.

There are fantastic lines like “your truth isn’t hidden underneath your clothes” and “your truth is something only you can know”. Kids should be told they can be and feel however they want and it’s ok, that there’s more to them than whether they are a boy or a girl and Estrela and Hulme do that beautifully. There is also a great message that it’s up to each person to say who they are and no one else.

The pictures are simple and minimal on character detail but they accompany the words well. Full page and brightly coloured they stand out with unusual colour combinations as well as great symbolic use that colours don’t always match the people society expects them to match.

With only a few words there is a lot of important lessons being learnt and I’m amazed that so much can be said with so few words and I applaud Estrela and Hulme for presenting it so well.

You can purchase My Own Way via the following

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