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

Published: 14th September 2015 (print)/11 February 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
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.

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Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Published: 4 October 2016 (print)/4th Aug 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
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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As the Pig Turns (#21) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 11th October 2011 (print)/21 Oct 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 292/6 hrs and 32 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★  – 1 Star

Winter Parva, a traditional Cotswolds village, has decided to throw a celebratory hog roast to mark the beginning of the winter holiday festivities and Agatha Raisin has arrived with friend and rival in the sleuthing business, Toni, to enjoy the merriment. But as the spit pig is carried towards the bed of fiery charcoal Agatha–and the rest of the village–realize that things aren’t as they seem.

I hated this book. So much so I think I scrubbed it from my mind which is why I had to force myself to revisit it and remember what actually happened where I was promptly reminded exactly why I hated it. The premise was interesting and yet was extremely poorly executed that it came of nothing and by the time the book ended the story had shifted so much you forgot it even started with a murder.

This is another “Agatha publically threatened the person who ended up dying” story so while it is a local cop who has died, he was mean and ruthless and everyone didn’t like him, including Agatha. So instead of being left out of the investigation as a person of interest she is butting in to clear her name. Again.

All of the usual players are involved, James, Toni, Charles, Roy, and a few new characters who were introduced in the previous book. I’m amazed Toni is still putting up with Agatha given how she is trying to micro manage and dictate how she should live her life but that is the least of the problems in this book. The fact anyone could mistake a human for a pig is one thing, the other is the end result that made no sense and the lazy writing that is once again proving that Beaton does not care about these books anymore.

The writing is jarring and the explanations for things are convoluted and ludicrous, I’m curious if Beaton actually believes these things or not. There are inconsistencies and the plot drags as if trying to fill in extra pages without adding to the story in a substantial way. Characters get away with things that simply would not happen, and there’s so many side tangents it’s a wonder why we’re wasting pages on things that go nowhere. You could almost use this time to add depth to the story, to the characters, to anything, but it’s all boring nonsense that is easily forgettable. Even the added drama and character danger isn’t engaging.

I’ve mentioned before these books used to be around four hours now they are around six, those extra two hours have definitely seen the writing and plot suffer but as this is book twenty two I think Beaton’s writing is so bad because she does not care. These books were never perfect but they were decent stories and they’ve been falling in quality for quite a few books now which is a shame. The trend of having the final chapter/epilogue act as the first chapter or introduction to the next book to lure you in does little and it’s only the fact I’m determined to finish what I started and read this series is what’s keeping me going.

You can purchase As the Pig Turns via the following

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Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Published: 4th June 2019 Goodreads badge
Square Fish
Pages: 281
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

Alice had her whole summer planned. Nonstop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library-employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated–or understood.

I picked this up after the praise it got for being a good asexual book but it’s not great on a lot of other fronts. I know I am probably disliking a book based on character behaviours which are valid and not every character is perfect or likeable, but there are also structural and plot issues too.

I stopped and started a lot, there was a lot of eye rolling, and general confusion about the story. I don’t know what I thought this was going in, but it’s not what I expected.

In terms of the rest of the writing, it’s jarring – too many side comments in brackets, which obviously I do myself so I’m not faulting them, but there were a lot to the point of disruption. Plus a lot were less for commentary and more for things that either could have been explained better in narrative or were obvious and didn’t need additional clarification. I’ve seen a few comments that it might be the third person writing when it should be first which might have helped it flow a bit better, especially if Kann wants to include so many of Alice’s thoughts and opinions.

The repetition and overuse of “cute” makes Alice appear naïve almost childlike, and her dialogue is annoying in other ways as well. Whether it was because she was questioning her sexuality or lack thereof she couldn’t be mature, she needed to be regressed in some way and naïve I don’t know; even if it was unintentional that is how it came across.

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Ryan and Feenie but they are side characters to Alice and the little bits we get are nice but only liking side characters isn’t really a wining feature of a book.

Alice is from a rich family but wants to make it on her own. Her family is overbearing and her mum uses her siblings to manipulate her into doing things she doesn’t want to do which is terrible but brings a nice complexity to the characters when there is little substance elsewhere.

Takumi is super sweet, perfect looking, and health conscious bordering on annoying if Kann hadn’t restrained herself. I took it as a character choice and judged Takumi A LOT but I accepted his unconventional behaviour. But as the story went on there were a few scenes that became so incredulous I felt Kann took Takumi’s philosophies too far in unrealistic and absurd directions.  I am unreasonably including his disrespect of Winnie the Pooh in my otherwise reasonable dislike of this book.

Far from the weird asexual rep, let’s discuss the bad library rep. Alice mentions the library she works at is better than the industrial boring academic library because it has wonderful nooks and colours and feels cosy. And then not long after Head Librarian Essie and her discuss how it’s boring and nothing is happening and she hates having a boring job. Can I say, no matter what level you’re at, there is always something to do in a library. Stop perpetuating these bad myths I beg you. Yay for librarian characters that aren’t old women with glasses and cardigans but stop saying the job is boring.

My second issue is having a head librarian who seems to dismiss any form of communication that is not library related because they’ve “clocked on” (I mean having to remember to clock on and off each day even at lunch sounds nightmarish let alone the ban on normal conversations during worktime). Plus watching a staff member do storytime and be chastised for it seems unfair.

Frustrated librarian opinions aside, it’s possible a lot of this is my early dislike of this book and I kept finding fault everywhere that no one else has even noticed. I struggled to get into this book from the start and essentially skimmed the last 100 pages. It clearly wasn’t meant to be with this story which is a genuine shame. It’s been listed on so many book lists for good Ace representation it must be deemed enjoyable to those who read it and find it good representation.  However, this is the eighth book I’ve read that has asexual characters in it and even those that don’t have their asexuality as a focal point portray a better asexual person than Kann has with this.

You can purchase Let’s Talk About Love via the following

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Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies, and Liquor (#17) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st September 2006 (print)/1 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 231/6 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★ – 1 Stars

Cotswold detective Agatha Raisin lies to herself, hoping skimpy lingerie will suit her ex’s surprise holiday. He lies to himself, remembering childhood heyday of Snoth-on-Sea as sunny, now a wreck in a cold windy storm. Aggie threatens obnoxious guest Geraldine, later found strangled in Aggie’s lost scarf. Aggie can try drink, but needs all her friends when bodies pile up.

If I thought about it, every book with James Lacey is terrible, and Agatha is a better person when he isn’t around. Less than 1/5th of the way through I was already back to hating James and hating Agatha for who she becomes when she’s around him. I had such hopes for her after the last book, she was sensible, looking for companionship but not going after every neighbour that moved in with lust. She’d stopped going on about James and put herself in her work and her friends again. Now this is all undone.

Whilst Agatha is giving James another chance she gets caught up in another murder where she is a suspect. These can be hit or miss but because Agatha is stuck with the insufferable James it ruins any chance of enjoying anything else. You can see Agatha trying to break free from James but her desire to give him another chance is a complete disappointment.

All the regular characters make an appearance to try and help Agatha, you can see they are growing and evolving so that’s a benefit since Agatha isn’t allowed to.

Prejudices are ongoing with Agatha surprised that Harry, who dresses in punk clothing and has a shaven head, is considerate, while Patrick, who wears “conventional dress” could be considered attractive. It’s just criticisms and judgemental observations after the other. And the fact Beaton has Harry suddenly say they look foolish and wish they’d never gotten the piercings is so bizarre to me. Beaton is trying to bland down the world one book at time, just as she was adding some interesting characters.

These books were published in 1990s and 2000s, in that time society changes, language changes, and references change which I understand, you can pick that up from the way she writes her earlier books to these ones, but this one was published in 2006, there’s no excuse for this kind of writing.

There are endearing moments, but then there are also times you hate the main characters because Agatha and James will drive you up the wall. What is a quirk or personality trait for some characters, the fact these two change so much is ridiculous. Actually, James stays the same, but it changes from being a problem to not clearly on how Beaton feels on a particular book.

I truly don’t know what to expect with this series anymore. The vast differences in ratings so far is bizarre. In the beginning they were gradually getting better, characters were evolving as we got to know them and while the stories weren’t perfect they were decent enough. Now they have swung so wildly it’s hard to know what the next one will bring and characters flip suddenly between stories you don’t know what’s going to happen.

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

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