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

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Hiss and Hers (#23) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 4th December 2012 (print)/5th December 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 277/6 hrs and 25 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Agatha has fallen in love – again. This time it’s the local gardener, George Marston, she has her eye on. But competition for his attention abounds. With her shameless determination Agatha will do anything to get her man – including footing the bill for a charity ball in town just for the chance to dance with him.

But when George is a no-show Agatha goes looking for him – and finds he has been murdered, having been bitten by a poisonous snake and buried in a compost heap. Agatha and the rest of her crew plunge into an investigation and discover that George had quite a complicated love life. And if Agatha now can’t have George, at least she can have the satisfaction of confronting those women who have and finding a murderer in the process.

I am honestly only reading these books to finish the series at this point. I’m aiming for book 30 and I’ve come too far and suffered too much to stop now. Agatha is as vain and foolish as ever and once more the quality of these stories has dropped dramatically.

Beaton’s well-worn plots get pulled out again as Agatha goes after a man she met ten minutes prior. George has been the local gardener and one Agatha has recently become infatuated with but alas his murder gets in the way of any chance of a relationship – that and Agatha didn’t seem to be his type.

The problem is always there’s a good tight story at the beginning which seems to unravel and fall apart by the end. Scenes are set and you get great descriptions of the weather and current village life and then a few chapters in it all disintegrates.

This time the main characters have been pushed aside to near casual mentions, one line to remind the readers they still exist. This is a far cry from the early books where they were much more rounded characters who had their own histories and personalities. I understand at this many books in you don’t need to rehash the ongoing life of Mrs Bloxby, but I know so many readers pick these books up at random and to have this be their first experience of the village and these characters it’s amazing Beaton doesn’t try harder to have decent representation (though I am not the least bit surprised).

The wholesome village life has also been affected. The story escapes any depth whatsoever by throwaway lines about how the village has changed with new people moving in all the time so there’s no need to get to know the characters or find out who they are if it’s not the same people we’ve known from the earlier books. It’s lazy writing to avoid having to remind readers there’s a greater world beyond Agatha’s ageless existence and her love affairs and it saves having to think up any more plot or substance around secondary characters.

The series as a whole should have ended many books ago and it would have done Beaton a great deal of service not having to keep this series alive when the quality has suffered so greatly to the point of being detrimental. Pushing out those extra pages has stretched into weaker and weaker plots and scenes sewn together randomly with no clear cohesion is confusing to read.

I’ve said before I think Beaton’s own opinions come through her characters, not only Agatha, which you used to be able to pretend was part of Agatha’s personality. Now it’s happening with other characters and through the general narration and there are multiple occasions where Beaton uses derogatory terms for various people and is essentially judgemental and offensive to pretty much anyone it’s hard to see any character or narrative purpose than simply being offensive.

Keith, again, excellent narration, makes the ordeal bearable and after having sat through many hours of Agatha it’s good to keep the same voice for the characters and not have to readjust to anybody new.

Nobody is coming to these books for believability, but there should be a least a hint of possibility that don’t take you out of the story. On top of the outlandish plot decisions, it’s the same formulaic cycle we’ve seen before: Agatha’s infatuation, a death, her role as a suspect, her attempt to clear her name and annoying a lot of people in the process, an attempt on her life, and a resounding resolution by luck, poor police work and criminal stupidity. It’s great to have a reliable formula when done well but Beaton can’t create a solid story anymore that makes these formulas work anymore to any real degree of reader satisfaction.

There isn’t anything overly complex in these murders, it’s all about characters and their intentions and misgivings but a non-complicated murder mystery should not equal a boring or poorly developed one either.

You can purchase Hiss and Hers via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

There Goes the Bride (#20) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 23rd September 2009 (print)/01 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 277/6 hrs and 18 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Agatha’s former husband James is engaged to be married to a beautiful, young woman and Agatha has been kindly invited to the wedding. To take her mind off this, Agatha decides she has fallen for Sylvan, a Frenchman she met at James’ engagement party. To distract her still further she decides upon a holiday and flies to Istanbul, where unfortunately she bumps into James and his fianc e not once but twice – convincing him she is stalking them.

So when the bride is murdered on her wedding day, naturally Agatha is Suspect Number One – but then matters are turned on their head when the dead bride’s mother engages Agatha to take on the case of her murdered daughter! And very soon Agatha’s own life is in danger while she tries to solve the mystery of the corpse bride while fighting off (halfheartedly) the advances of a very attractive and determined Frenchman!

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this because even I can’t complain about the same things over and over again with this series. This plot was a mess. So many things happened, one after the other, sometimes on top of each other and you could barely adjust that one things had happened before it changed again.

The James/Agatha/new wife situation was a convoluted as you’d expect. Agatha is obsessing over James, falling in love with someone else, and trying to clear her name. Plus, no one seems to like anybody despite being in a relationship with them.

James is as horrible as ever, his self-centred misogynistic ways rear their head. Why Beaton is trying to bring back James only to have him leave time and time again is a mystery. It’s rehashing the same storylines of Agatha being in love, him being horrible, then leaving, her recovering only to have it cycle through again.

Beaton does reveal to us more about Agatha which gives us a bit of history on her life, and how she came to be how she is. There is a different side of Agatha that comes out every now and again, you see it sometimes when she is around Toni, around Charles. The vulnerable person who has a rough upbringing who is insecure and hurt, but that is often thrown against a shallow, abusive, selfish appearance that does make you less sympathetic to her plight.

In terms of audio Keith does a great job once again. Her narration is consistent and she does bring Agatha’s brashness to life, as well as the various other characters and their unique idiosyncrasies. With all the usual players involved we see regular characters in and out of the Cotswolds environment and the interactions with each other are always entertaining, even with the uninspiring writing.

The murder itself had intrigue, international crime and multiple bodies with uncertain connections but it also felt scattered. One saving grace is that sometimes cases take time. They span over weeks and months, there’s weeks where Agatha deals with other business with her agency – granted it’s summed up in one line as the same thing every time of finding lost pets and missing teenagers – but rarely is anything solved instantly which adds some reality, especially given the fewer resources. It also helps that characters are all too eager to give any information or access needed. The weak excuses and subterfuge always work, and even when found out people are still happy to oblige. It keeps the story rolling I suppose getting the answers you need without any real barriers.

The extra padding Beaton is adding to the stories recently never seems to fit. They are extra moments added in as weird side plots or scenes, and there’s multiple times you think the story is ending when it keeps going. By the time you get to the end of the book anything that happened at the beginning has no relevance. The murders have been solved, Agatha’s had multiple dates, done some local village good service, the agency has gone through an upheaval and she’s had a mini holiday. All of which sounds like it takes a lot of time but most of it is over in a chapter or less and the next random thing begins. Agatha and Charles had a moment together which I do always like because they are good together but on top of this weird mess of a book it didn’t really have an impact.

You can purchase There Goes the Bride via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

  Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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.

You can purchase Between the Lines via the following

 BooktopiaDymocks

 Amazon Aust | Audible

Previous Older Entries