Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (#8) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 15th December 1999 (print)/ 1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 196/5 hrs and 37 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The local ladies all deem Mr John a wizard, so when Agatha finds a few grey hairs on her head, she makes a beeline for the handsome Evesham hairdresser. As well as sorting out her hair it soon becomes clear the charming man also has designs on her heart – but their future together is cut short when Mr John is fatally poisoned in his salon.

It’s hard to pick up an Agatha Raisin book randomly in the middle of a series because they so often follow immediately on from one another you feel like you’re coming in the middle of a scene. Even when Beaton recaps about who everyone is and how Agatha ended up in Carsley the stories still open following on from the last chapter of the previous book most of the time. This is one of those times where the events of the previous book are still playing out.

I really enjoyed this story, probably in part because there was a good murder to focus on, and because James was not in the story so there was less pining and whining going on about him. Agatha’s vanity is out in force and so are her judgements. For someone so scared of being judged by others, she does a fair amount of judging of her own.

The murder is intriguing, a lot of misdirection but it ends up being relatively obvious. But it’s easy to get caught up in the characters and their misadventures while they try and solve the mystery so it is quite enjoyable. Agatha pushes boundaries and breaks so many laws while she inserts herself into this investigation but that’s part of her charm and Beaton does show there are often consequences for doing so, this is no exception.

I loved how we saw more of Charles, he is a fun character who flits in and out of Agatha’s life as he pleases. He is also a good friend to her and they have a better relationship than Agatha does with most people. She frustrates him and he can be flippant and self-centred but at this point I think every character except Mrs Bloxby and Bill Wong are self-centred in some way. His inclusion added some fun and humour into the books which had been missing for a while and it gives readers a break from all the bland or horrible characters we’ve seen so far.

After a few dodgy storylines I’m glad that the stories are seemingly back on track. I know when all the characters are back in the picture it will probably revert back to despair and lovesick Agatha but Beaton can often write an interesting murder mystery so hopefully that outweighs the rest.

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Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Published: 30 May 2017 (print)/7 May 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Greenwillow Books /Harper Audio
Pages: 385/8 hrs and 51 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Kelly and Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

I really enjoyed this book, it was wonderful and a little heartbreaking and surprising but there was also a great familiarity too. The characters and their relationships felt real and each character was fleshed out, even if they were only minor characters I still got a sense of who they were. There are strong friendships that are established but also fresh new ones that grow and seeing Eliza work through these with her own anxieties and coping mechanisms was extremely validating.

Online communities and forums get great representation and reading a book that celebrates loving something enough to create art and fanfiction in a normal, non-judgemental way is great. Zappia captures the relationships and friendships of online interaction really well and I loved how she makes a point of explaining how these connections are just as meaningful as in person friendships.

However, for a story about online communities and finding friends across the country bonding over common interests I will admit I hated that Zappia uses the worn out irksome trope of the “40 year old dude in a basement” which alone is annoying but Zappia goes a little bit further adding insult to injury with descriptions of having Cheeto dust on his fingers and “a Star Wars shirt that doesn’t fit his growing girth.” Look, I get it, it’s a well- known trope but it is a cheap joke and one that I am really tired of seeing dragged out, especially in this kind of book. There could easily have been a better line for Eliza’s apprehension, even just the age would have sufficed, we didn’t need the extra judgement and mocking, no matter the context. Just because it isn’t your fandom, doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

On the plus side, many other stereotypes are broken with the demographic and age of fans for Eliza’s work. I liked that popular internet content is showcased as being for all ages and can hold such important meaning in people’s lives, it isn’t only teenagers but adults too who enjoy the content and consume it and engage regularly as fans online.

It isn’t only the online experience represented well, Zappia also handles issues like depression and anxiety in realistic and believable ways. Eliza’s experience and her fears are conveyed through the narrative naturally and through Eliza’s eyes we see how her mind works to build up these feelings and what triggers them.

Overall I enjoyed this book for giving a space to celebrate the internet culture and the fandom experience. I love that it came from original content and wasn’t based on established media and at times I really wished I could read more of Eliza’s web comic.

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Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death (#7) by M. C. Beaton

Published: August 1998 (print)/ 1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Press/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 184/5 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin’s neighbouring village of Ancombe is usually the epitome of quiet rural charm, but the arrival of a new mineral-water company – which intends to tap into the village spring – sends tempers flaring and divides the parish council into two stubborn camps.

When Agatha, who just happens to be handling the PR for the water company, finds the council chairman murdered at the basin of the spring, tongues start wagging. Could one of the council members have polished off the chairman before he could cast the deciding vote?

Poor Agatha, still nursing a bruised heart from one of her unsuccessful romantic encounters, must get cracking, investigate the councillors and solve the crime.

Agatha’s previous life in PR is the initial focus of the story which is refreshing. I also love that we’re moving around to other villages so poor Carsley isn’t the only village losing residents or visitors on a regular basis. For getting out of the game Agatha gets dragged back into it fairly regularly, but even with the PR job and the new town to explore there isn’t a lot in way of plot. It was interesting enough but there isn’t a lot of substance.

There are a lot new characters as we’re introduced to the new village but there are enough regular characters that it isn’t unrelatable or off-putting. Most of them are introduced as Agatha attempts to investigate on her own, resulting in frustrations and aggravations and Agatha getting off side with people, in her defense they are annoying people.

Emotions are at the forefront of a lot of the story as Agatha continues to recover from James and her feelings for him; she’s hurt, angry and alone. Finally in an effort to move on she finds comfort in someone else she meets while working which sets off the village gossip and people start judging her business. Character descriptions are always very basic and never change in these books; Agatha is perpetually in her early 50s with bear like eyes and great legs, and while normally her age isn’t a huge factor to anyone but herself, this time her age is a talking point of every one as she falls for a younger man.

Roy Silver makes another appearance and even beyond the James/Agatha romance stretch is the one where Agatha keeps in touch with this man. He isn’t classed as a friend, he is always an ex-employee and he often does more harm than good and is more self-centred and career focused than Agatha. But he is the way in for Agatha to do some PR business and gets the story going and with James working in competition he’s someone she can investigate with.

Overall it was a good story, the character’s stories progressed even if the murder and mystery aspect was a letdown.

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Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist (#6) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st April 2010 (print)/ 1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 212/5 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

In this sixth entertaining outing Agatha leaves the sleepy Cotswold village of Carsely to pursue love – and finds a murderer. Spurned at the altar, she follows her fleeing fiancé James Lacey to Cyprus, where, instead of enjoying the honeymoon they’d planned, they witness the killing of an obnoxious tourist in a disco. Intrigue and a string of murders surround the unlikely couple, in a plot as scorching as the Cypriot sun!

It seems while we’re still in the midst of the wedding drama aftermath there’s going to be some focus on Agatha and James. Even in another country with another murder the focus still revolves around the pair of them and their glaring incompatibility. There’s no mistaking Agatha’s desperation this time as she literally stalks James when he leaves the country and goes on the holiday they’d planned for their honeymoon. James hasn’t improved either; you can’t quite believe the James/Agatha story should go on the way he treats her. It isn’t that he can’t express his emotions, it is that he’s an absolute horrible person to her and then turns around and asks why she’s crying after he’s berated her.

The actual story is way too long, it drags on for the sake of pages or words and there’s no substantial mystery to cling onto. There’s no connection to these characters so when one is murdered it isn’t a big deal and Beaton doesn’t try to make us get to know or care about them. Agatha can’t do much investigating herself so nothing happens except her exploring the islands, fighting with James, sulking, and eating or drinking. Not even the apparent threat on Agatha’s own life wasn’t engaging enough. I usually get through these books quite quickly but this one seems to have dragged on. With a terrible plot it’s harder to forgive all the other problems but with six hours of nothing happening and horrible characters there isn’t a lot redeeming it except maybe we see more character interactions and advancement on their story but that’s frustrating as well. I’ll be grateful when we return to the simple village life where Beaton’s writing thrives.

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Loveless by Alice Oseman

Published: 9th July 2020 (print)/9th July 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins Children’s Books /HarperCollins Publishers Limited
Pages: 435/12 hrs and 27 mins
Narrator: Elisabeth Hopper
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ ★   ★  – 5 Stars

It was all sinking in. I’d never had a crush on anyone. No boys, no girls, not a single person I had ever met. What did that mean?

Georgia has never been in love, never kissed anyone, never even had a crush – but as a fanfic-obsessed romantic she’s sure she’ll find her person one day.

As she starts university with her best friends, Pip and Jason, in a whole new town far from home, Georgia’s ready to find romance, and with her outgoing roommate on her side and a place in the Shakespeare Society, her ‘teenage dream’ is in sight.

But when her romance plan wreaks havoc amongst her friends, Georgia ends up in her own comedy of errors, and she starts to question why love seems so easy for other people but not for her. With new terms thrown at her – asexual, aromantic – Georgia is more uncertain about her feelings than ever.

Is she destined to remain loveless? Or has she been looking for the wrong thing all along?

I ADORE this book. I love so many of Oseman’s works but this one I fell into and didn’t want to climb out of again.

Georgia is a great character, she has friends, lives her life, has great plans for after high school, but she also has a weird feeling she isn’t like other people. I loved how this is explored naturally and how it comes about organically and not in a way where the character is aware of what they’re feeling or experiencing. Georgia’s cluelessness until put in certain situations or asked by people makes this story wonderful because we go on Georgia’s journey with her instead of coming to it after the fact and have her explain it to us.

Oseman does a wonderful job at explaining what asexuality is and what it feels like in a way that feels natural in the narrative and never becomes overbearing for the reader. It is used as a way of explaining things to readers who may not know about it through the characters but there never felt like there was a moment where the story stopped so we could get The Explanation.

The story got better and better as it went along, there’s Shakespeare and love, a houseplant that is so metaphorical it would make every English teacher ecstatic, and there are teenagers at uni feeling feelings and working out who they are and it’s messy and beautiful and full of the power of friendship and it is also full of love.

Elisabeth Hopper does a superb job as narrator, her voice is fantastic for these characters and I love how there’s an instant connection, I was into this story immediately. Another bonus is Hopper is a genius and can pronounce all the wonderful “asdkfjugfk” moments in text speak and the random noises that are made when you excitedly text. I have typed them, I have read them, but I don’t think I’d heard them being pronounced until now and it was great.

I am only new to reading books that are clearly about asexuality and not just briefly implied but this might be my favourite because it’s a solid story on its own but it is also a wonderful narrative that explores discovering who you are, realising there’s nothing wrong with being different, and finding acceptance and a place in the world.

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