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

Published: 1st September 2006 (print)/1 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
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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Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon (#16) by M. C. Beaton

Published: June 29th 2006 (print)/26 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 284/6 hrs
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin, recent divorcée, hates adultery cases and pompous Robert Smedley, but needs work. Unfortunately Mabel appears the perfect young wife, a pretty church volunteer. Agatha stumbles across dead missing teen Jessica, and investigates free for publicity. When Smedley dies from poison, Mabel hires Agatha, who brings in old friends, new hires, and finds the killers.

Agatha’s detective agency is still going strong, however things like missing cats, dogs, and teenagers get swept aside with multiple murders this time round. Yet despite this, Beaton still finds time to pad out the story with side plots.

The murders are interesting enough, and the reveal was satisfying which is what you want from a good mystery, logical and with a point. There is certainly a lot happening to focus on and a lot of characters to enjoy away from the murders themselves too which adds some more variety.

The story has moved on from the will they/won’t they between Agatha and James that took up so much time in earlier books, and thankfully has moved even further on from Agatha still lamenting about him. Old favourites remain like Agatha groaning about her perpetual early fifties and obsesses about men and love so nothing drastic has changed. I am glad though Beaton is mixing up the characters and storylines a little more.

The new characters introduced fit well into the story, not just living in the village and moving out at the conclusion for the convenience of the plot as the formula has been for a few books. The rotation of villagers leaving through murder, scandal or random chance meant people were coming and going fairly frequently it was hardly worth caring about them.

New regulars of the series are the employees of the detective agency. I liked the mixture of ages and motivations Beaton has chosen for these people; Harry is young and a punk looking for something to fill his gap year, Patrick is a retired police officer which is handy for connections and actual skill and training, and Phil is retired and looking for something to keep him busy and conveniently takes a decent photograph. It’s a mix that works and while they don’t all have complete depth or intricacies, they are enough to be decent characters. Beaton’s certainly presented us with a lot less before.

Charles is back which is always fun, and the regular characters play their formulaic roles. Again there are a lot snide comments and big opinions stated in the story that don’t feel like they fit within the story. It’s a hard line to decide if the views expressed and thought by the characters are their own quirks or Beaton’s own opinions about “these days” and “nowadays”. The judgement, mild offence, and criticism of everyone and anything comes across as mini tirades but it’s such a strange thing because it could be Agatha lamenting, or it is Beaton’s own criticisms about the changes in the world that she is projecting. It is consistent enough however that at least it is predictable even if it feels out of place.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon via the following

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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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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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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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