Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer (#29) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 2 October 2018 (print)/4 October 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 233/6 hrs and 25 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

The team of bells at St. Ethelred church is the pride and glory of the idyllic Cotswolds village of Thirk Magna, together with the most dedicated bell ringers in the whole of England: the twins Mavis and Millicent Dupin.

As the village gets ready for the Bishop’s visit, the twins get overly-excited at the prospect of ringing the special peal of bells created for the occasion and start bullying the other bell ringers, forcing them to rehearse and rehearse . . . so much so that Joseph Kennell, a retired lawyer, yells at the sisters that he ‘felt like killing them’!

When the twins’ home is broken into one night and Millicent is found dead, struck from a hammer blow, suspicion falls onto the lawyer.

Will Agatha unmask the real killer and clear Joseph’s name?

I gave this book two stars because I didn’t want to claw my eyes out listening to it like I have in the past but that doesn’t make it good it makes it bearable. It’s so long winded and disjointed with random events and jumps there isn’t a coherent story to really pay attention to. I found I could tune out and come back in and have it in the background and not lose what was happening because nothing is actually happening of any consequence.

Agatha is in a foul mood for the entire first part of the book and all the characters are angry or abusive. Everyone goes from zero to threatening death when mildly inconvenienced and no one can yell at anyone without wishing them dead because they will end up dead a page later. I understand there is a formula to these mysteries, but a formula is different to the exact same thing happening in the same way every single time. We should be able to have multiple suspects in ways other than publically calling for their demise.

There were no pleasant characters and even the familiar regulars seem put out. People go from zero to abuse and while there are no swear words, calling every character a bitch or slut is tiring not to mention a little jarring in a cosy. The writing contains the same sexism and misogyny it’s always had but with James barely in the story thankfully it isn’t through him, Agatha does a lot of it herself.

One thing I noticed is no one is really sad about the death of anybody, and there are plenty to pick from this time round. Even the death of one of the multiple romantic obsessions and affairs Agatha has in this book isn’t enough to pull any great sympathy. The second they’ve died it breaks the spell and she’s back lusting after the next warm, breathing male in the nearby radius.

Somewhere along to way the police stopped telling Agatha to stop interfering and instead now tell her and everyone else things all the time. I guess there’s only so many times you can weakly say “no, don’t, stop” and then have no follow up consequences. The constant ringing of press was ridiculous and annoying too, the police should definitely stop Agatha from doing that, no matter how accepting they now are of her involvement.

The continuity and structure of the storyline is shot with scenes fractured and all over the place, there’s mistakes where main characters have their names changed, not to mention no solid connection to previous books. The budding romance between Charles and Agatha is gone, Agatha’s perpetual unhappiness is a far cry from the rough around the edges but sharp and competent woman we were first introduced to. For someone stuck the same age you can’t even wonder if her sudden despondency is due to her aging, it seems to be a character shift and not one for the better. Despite this our descriptions never change, that is something you can always rely on from Beaton and her bear-like eyed glossy haired woman with the long legs.

It was always a rare delight when you have a little more character development or background revealed because there is no escape from these cyclical stories. Any progression is shoved back down and reversed immediately in the next book and it frustrates you as a reader to see good work being undone. If characters could grow properly it would make for a much better series, you may sacrifice being able to pick up the books at any point in the series but with the poor quality this late in the series it really couldn’t hurt to try and make them tolerable.

You can always tell what year these books were written because social commentary makes its way in through Beaton’s writing and this time we’re treated to Brexit getting mentioned. Keeping Agatha perpetually 53 is one thing not to date your books, but that is certainly one thing that will.

After a while you get sick of Agatha being almost killed and saved, traumatised or totally fine depending what is needed for the story. Epilogues end up being the resolutions to the book and the murders of the next book and as a cliff hanger to lure you in it’s a poor attempt when you’ve had no desire to finish the current one.

It’s amazing to look back at my earlier reviews and see I gave them four stars, something I couldn’t comprehend doing now and they certainly had their issues them. One theory I have is Beaton getting older, or her reluctance to keep writing the series but had an obligation whether she cared about it or not. Another was that they’d started to be ghost written, which would explain the lack of consistency and each book undoing the progress of the last. It isn’t like they were amazing to begin with, but there has definitely a shift that’s been detrimental.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer via the following

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Every Heart A Doorway (#1) by Seanan McGuire

Published: 5 April  2016 (print)/5 April  2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher: Audio
Pages: 169/4 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Cynthia Hopkins
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

In a premise that reminded me of Miss Peregrine initially, the story is about a girl who arrives at a boarding school for people who have travelled through portals into different worlds – lands of Nonsense, Logic, Fairy – and returned home changed and unsatisfied. Not that that’s what their families are being told.

The story captivates you from the beginning and I was drawn into this world of pretences and misleadings about Eleanor and this boarding school and what it actually did. As the story goes on you learn more about the worlds and the school, about children who have returned from their travels through doorways and how they are coping with being thrust back into their old lives whether by accident or through no choice of their own.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and the tone McGuire has used – it’s fun and talks to the reader in conversational tones, not nonsensical or anything but matter of fact and with a mix of logic and nonsense while maintaining the seriousness. It’s hard to describe exactly but I loved it immensely.

The mystery was clever and I loved how there was surprises and shocks that come almost immediately changing any theory you may have even started to develop. Each character’s personality brings something to the story and it was hard not to marvel at McGuire’s imagination at these unique characters and their own histories and experiences.

I loved each of the characters we’re introduced to. I don’t want to spoil each of their journeys because I think discovering them is half the fun but I will say there is great representation, there is celebration of the quirky, the unusual, and while kids will always be kids, seeing a place that tries to promote and encourage unusual hobbies, to keep safe those who were cast out, and to embrace the different, was delightful.

I listened to the audiobook which was an excellent decision because it really heightened that unique writing style, and by the end of the book I was enraptured and was surprised how despite being only a short novella it was the perfect length. McGuire told a wonderfully interesting story and gave us detailed and fleshed out characters, a complicated mystery as well as introducing us to this entire new fantasy reality all while keeping it at 175 pages. It’s hard not to marvel at such a feat and I am definitely excited to explore this series and see what else McGuire has in store.

You can purchase Every Heart A Doorway via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Witches’ Tree (#28) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 3 October 2017 (print)/ 23 November 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 192/6 hrs and 33 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Cotswolds inhabitants are used to inclement weather, but the night sky is especially foggy as Rory and Molly Devere, the new vicar and his wife, drive slowly home from a dinner party in their village of Sumpton Harcourt. They strain to see the road ahead―and then suddenly brake, screeching to a halt. Right in front of them, aglow in the headlights, a body hangs from a gnarled tree at the edge of town. Margaret Darby, an elderly spinster, has been murdered―and the villagers are bewildered as to who would commit such a crime.

Agatha Raisin rises to the occasion (a little glad for the excitement, to tell the truth, after a long run of lost cats and divorces on the books). But Sumpton Harcourt is a small and private village, she finds―a place that poses more questions than answers. And when two more murders follow the first, Agatha begins to fear for her reputation―and even her life. That the village has its own coven of witches certainly doesn’t make her feel any better…

I didn’t care much about the murders or the mystery, I paid more attention to the filler bits about the characters and their day to day which is odd since usually that’s the tedious part. This time around it was certainly the more interesting part of the book.

I have no issue admitting I have no idea what was going on in the wider story, a lot of little things happened that involved a range of people that favoured my attention more. I genuinely got to the end and realised I had no idea who had been the murderer. It could be Beaton brushed over it so quickly that it truly was a non-event but I think that the murders are less of a feature in these books of late. So often they seem to take a back seat to the general interactions around Agatha and other characters, despite this approach rarely paying off successfully.

The different village is always a nice addition. I think you really can’t sustain multiple murders in a single village, even if they are always the newcomer. Beaton’s crude humour and jarring references can shock you from what is meant to be a cosy mystery but so many books in you can only roll your eyes and keep going.

I found there were contradictory moments around Agatha, it’s like Beaton couldn’t decide if she was fearful for her life or doesn’t care what happens, either through bravado or something else. Agatha must always have her life threatened by various people but this time she alternated between fearful and blasé. If it switched between books that would be one thing, but to have it change within the same book felt strange. This fits in with the overall inconsistencies of the story though, so many books lately need a tighter edit, both to stop inconsistencies and flesh out characters and dialogue more. With so many books now in the series it’s crying out for something new and fresh on the page instead of the usual diatribe.

James rears his head long enough to be an absolute horrible person and I don’t know whether the fact he is Agatha’s on and again off again neighbour, ex-husband, and once established character is why we can’t cast him out, make him move villages or outright murder him and dump him in a local pond.

I am still waiting for Agatha and Charles to realise they should be together. It is truly some of the only good writing in these books the interactions between these two. I like their banter and how Charles cares for Agatha despite the fact he is cheap and a philanderer, and Agatha cares about him in her own way. Beaton is definitely hinting at it and comes so close that to take the extra step it would be an amazing move, and one to finally stop her lusting after every man she meets. Redoing her makeup five times a day, changing her outfit all the time, and wallowing about her age, envious of teenagers and general irritability would all be fixed if she settled with Charles and be satisfied with herself.

I’m so close to finishing this series I can see the end in sight. I’m hoping for good and better things but I’ve been hit with whiplash before as all the progress made suddenly is shafted and we’re back to resetting the characters into shadows of their evolved selves. One can only reluctantly pick up the next book and find out.

You can purchase Agatha and the Witches’ Tree via the following

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Pushing Up Daisies (#27) by M. C. Beaton


Published: 20th September 2016 (print)/20 September 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 280/6 hrs and 22 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

When Agatha Raisin left behind her PR business in London, she fulfilled her dream of settling in the cozy British Cotswolds where she began a successful private detective agency. Unfortunately, the village she lives in is about to get a little less cozy. Lord Bellington, a wealthy land developer, wants to turn the community garden into a housing estate. When Agatha and her friend Sir Charles Fraith attempt to convince Lord Bellington to abandon his plans he scoffs: “Do you think I give a damn about those pesky villagers?” So when Agatha finds his obituary in the newspaper two weeks later, it’s no surprise that some in town are feeling celebratory.

The villagers are relieved to learn that Bellington’s son and heir, Damian, has no interest in continuing his father’s development plans. But the police are definitely interested in him―as suspect number one. His father’s death, it seems, was no accident. But when Damian hires Agatha to find the real killer, she finds no shortage of suspects. The good news is that a handsome retired detective named Gerald has recently moved to town. Too bad he was seen kissing another newcomer. But when she is also found murdered, Gerald is eager to help Agatha with the case. Agatha, Gerald, and her team of detectives must untangle a web of contempt in order to uncover a killer’s identity.

This is my only Bookish Bites Agatha Raisin review because a short review feels like it needs to be a Bookish Bites and not a regular one. Especially when the book summary is almost longer than the review.

The reason I have barely any notes is because it was a complete non-event. Nothing of any consequence happened that I recall and the events that happen were all over the place. Agatha has weird interactions with strangers and all the new characters have the same rude temperament that Beaton is fond of giving everyone of late.

Agatha’s agelessness rears its head again as she says she is 53. I don’t know why I can’t let this go but it annoys me so much. Time goes on, people reference past events, months and years are mentioned in the story but Agatha is not allowed to age. It’s such a weird line to draw. Maybe a few of these stories take place within the same year and those books where multiple Christmases happen are all part of a time hole that exists in the Cotswolds that everyone knows about and nobody mentions.

The fact I have no recollection of anything that happens in this book is unsurprising given how many of them are basically the same story with new forgettable characters each time. I considered rereading it to see if I could get better notes this time but felt that I didn’t want to subject myself to it again and given my rating I couldn’t quite find the inclination.

You can purchase Pushing Up Daisies via the following

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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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