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

Published: 23rd September 2009 (print)/01 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
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

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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
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.

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Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

Published: 1 May 2013 (print)/1st May 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
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


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Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came (#12) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 19th October 2003 (print)/1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books/Audible
Pages: 213/6 hrs and 18 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ – 2 Stars

One of the things I noticed about this book was it was longer than the others. This isn’t a quick and simple story like the majority of Beaton’s previous books were where we’re in, there’s a murder, we sleuth and deduct and solve it before wrapping it up rather suddenly. Of late a lot of them have been ending with addition chapters or epilogues that give an insight into the next book, a long extra teaser to entice us in I suppose, but the books still followed the same formula as before. This one however is drawn out and the story really gets into the character’s lives which is great in the absent of a strong plot.

The reoccurring sweeping statements about giving up on men are brought out once more as are the ongoing quest to stay young and obsession with looks. We’re saved from the James aspect with his sudden removal from Agatha’s life and my personal favourite Charles Fraith also vanishes for a while but there is a new neighbour in the revolving door that is the cottage next door and Agatha joins forces with him on her new investigation. Thankfully there is a lot less of the obsession Agatha had over James with John – I was surprised she doesn’t initially fall at his feet like she usually does but I loved that we saw some actual growth in Agatha after her recent heartbreak.

With this story delving deep into the characters, something we don’t usually get, we learn a lot about John, get more about Mrs Bloxby and her husband, Roy makes an appearance and we even get more insight into Agatha as Beaton shows us some more of her vulnerabilities and the true affect her failed marriage had on her.

With a local murder to focus her attention Agatha stumbles about in her attempt to solve it. The use of disguises and wigs makes it’s comical but in a way it helps to be disguised if you’re going to intrude on people and start questioning them. At her core Agatha is essentially incredibly nosey and butts in, this is the method of her investigations also.

The plot is weak but with the focus on the characters it’s easy to ignore that. It was an ok read, nothing much too it and a lot of themes were just rehashed from past books but it progresses Agatha’s story along so that’s something.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell (#11) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st January 2003 (print)/1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Robinson Publishing/Audible
Pages: 256/7 hrs and 17 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ – 2 Stars

Recently married to James Lacey, the witty and fractious Agatha Raisin quickly finds that marriage, and love, are not all they are cracked up to be. Rather than basking in marital bliss, the newlyweds are living in separate cottages and accusing each other of infidelity. After a particularly raucous fight in the local pub, James suddenly vanishes-a bloodstain the only clue to his fate-and Agatha is the prime suspect.

Determined to clear her name and find her husband, Agatha begins her investigation. But her sleuthing is thwarted when James’s suspected mistress, Melissa, is found murdered. Joined by her old friend Sir Charles, Agatha digs into Melissa’s past and uncovers two ex-husbands, an angry sister, and dubious relations with bikers. Are Melissa’s death and James’s disappearance connected? Will Agatha reunite with her husband or will she find herself alone once again?

I am going to keep this short because I have nothing of substance to say about this book other than it makes me so angry that it was ever published. The plot is weak, the writing is repetitive and normally this makes it endearing because age obsessed Agatha tries anything she can get her hands on the stop her aging, but this time I couldn’t get into the swing of it because the mess Beaton has left us with gets the majority of my focus.

The Agatha/James relationship is toxic and there is no dancing around it anymore. It isn’t just the obvious issues from before they got together, now it’s a marriage of accusation and bitterness. They fight and Agatha is belittled by James, her inner monologue shows she knows how James treats her and you wish she’d be whisked away by a friend far from him. The red flags that came up before this marriage now line the garden as decoration and yet still we have to read about this relationship.

The fact that James was in a relationship with Melissa in the previous book, then suddenly proposes to Agatha only to go back to having Melissa as his mistress is something I cannot even fathom. I just need to know what Beaton intended by writing it this way. Is this how she thinks relationships work? That it’s a good story for readers? There are a thousand other ways Beaton would have written this. It could have easily been a case of where both characters were infatuated, got together but it didn’t work and they realised they were better as friends than lovers. It didn’t have to be this toxic or infuriating or so poorly handled and I honestly wished James death for most of this book.

Things we can always rely on though is Beaton’s inability to come up with any more creative descriptions as we’re stuck with Agatha’s bear like eyes once more and her perpetual “early fifties” age. I hope now that the James thing is tried and tested we can move on towards Charles as a possible love interest. He is brutally honest and flighty but he does treat Agatha as a friend and seems to respect her. It’s interesting how the amoral character of the series ends up being the better one of all of them.

In summary: James is abusive and Agatha is a fool. But there is a fun cosy mystery to solve around it so it’s fine?

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Love From Hell via the following

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