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

Published: 19th October 2003 (print)/1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
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.

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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
Publisher:
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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The Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland

Published: October 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Nick Bland
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Popcorn is, quite simply, the friendliest chicken at Fiddlesticks farm! When she finds a Fabulous Friend Machine in the barn, she sets about making some brand new friends. But behind the screen of the Fabulous Friend Machine, maybe her new friends are not so friendly after all…

This is a fantastic book about the innocence of using the internet as well as the dangers. Popcorn’s innocent quest to find more friends soon becomes an out of control situation she has to try and contain.

I loved that Popcorn isn’t really seen to be at fault in this, her naivety and her pure hearted intention comes up against the unruly and unregulated internet world in the “friend machine” and what happens is a great metaphor for the kind of situation to find yourself in and one a great message can be drawn from.

Being wonderfully kind and fabulously helpful is a great trait but Bland shows us that being so wonderfully kind and fabulously helpful can get you into trouble, especially if it comes at the cost of losing your real friends.

The illustrations are great, Bland made them colourful and realistic while also having a cartoon quality, especially with the personification of these animals. The line is blurred between acting natural and having human behaviours and they easily captures the everyday life at Fiddlesticks Farm.

The message not only about being internet safe, but also about not forgetting about the real world and real friends is gentle and not preachy which could have been an easy choice to make.

You can purchase The Fabulous Friend Machine via the following

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Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Published: 7th June 2016 (print)/7th June 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Crown Books/Listening Library
Pages: 272/4hrs
Narrator: Jazz Jenning
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

Separate from the picture book Jazz co-wrote, this is an autobiography and educational story about Jazz’s life growing up and her trans journey. The subject of being trans is addressed in a way that speaks to kids and adults and the story is told with a youthful tone but one which is blunt and honest.

Jazz has a good memory of her experiences, that plus the combination of stories from her parents her journey offers an informative story of her life. I was impressed about the soccer battle that had such a wide impact on the country. It goes to show how such a seemingly small issue can become huge and important so much it makes national attention.

It’s obvious some words she uses have been learnt later on but used to explain situations when she was younger, but I liked that approach because it gives clear terms for experiences that adults can understand that a child may not be able to articulate. It’s just as important for the adults to understand Jazz’s story as it is for kids and while the story is understandable for kids, it isn’t written in a childlike way full of vague metaphors or uncertain descriptions.

The fights and battles Jazz experienced, as well as her own reflections on her feelings and thoughts growing up are fantastic insights into the life of a trans kid and it’s incredible Jazz has shared her story with everyone.

Jazz narrates the audiobook herself which only enhances the autobiographical nature of her story. This is an educational book and one I think would benefit all audiences. It is a first hand experience of a trans kid and the language Jazz uses and the topics covered make it a great read for those trying to understand.

You can purchase Being Jazz via the following

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Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Published: 5th September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Pages: 183
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When Liza Winthrop first lays eyes on Annie Kenyon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she knows there’s something special between them. Soon, their close friendship develops into a deep and intimate romance. Neither imagined that falling in love could be so wonderful, but as Liza and Annie’s newfound sexuality sparks conflict in both their families and at their schools, they discover it will take more than love for their relationship to succeed.

This was a beautiful story to read. I found whenever I stopped reading I longed to come back. Garden tells the story of Liza who is reminiscing about meeting and becoming friends with Annie before a mysterious incident happens that has kept Liza from contacting her.

The writing is easy to fall into and it flows beautifully as you read so you find yourself turning page after page. There was a lovely story being told and I loved the naivety, the passion, and the free spirited nature of these girls. The descriptions are beautiful and honestly it’s incredible how Garden has captured the growing relationship and the act of falling in love between these two girls.

It is of course also a heartbreaking story. For all the beauty and eloquent writing about two teens finding each other and falling in love there is the society around them intent on demonising them if they ever found out. It isn’t only Annie and Liza’s lives under scrutiny either and Garden does a fantastic job of capturing the whole story and all the players in it. Garden balances telling the story while also pointing out society’s failings remarkably well. It says so much but it works within the realm of the story world and never seems out of place or comes across as moralistic or pushy.

Garden tells the story in both past and present tense and the mixing of flashbacks and Liza’s present situation as she writes letters to Annie is incredibly well done. There are well placed clues and mystery around what separated these girls and as readers you’re caught up between watching them fall in love while also wondering what has come between them.

What I found amazing about the whole story is you never felt unsatisfied and it was sometimes surprising to be flung back into the present after having escaped so completely into the past through Liza’s words. I loved this book from early on and it stayed an amazing story throughout. From being a ground-breaking book of its time in the 1980s this story has held up and remains a fabulous and emotional story about first loves and the power and intensity they can have.

You can purchase Annie on My Mind via the following

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