A Spoonful of Poison (#19) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 30th September 2008 (print)/01 Feb 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 288/6 hrs and 20 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Cranky but lovable sleuth Agatha Raisin’s detective agency has become so successful that she wants nothing more than to take quality time for rest and relaxation. But as soon as she begins closing the agency on weekends, she remembers that when she has plenty of quality time, she doesn’t know what to do with it. So it doesn’t take much for the vicar of a nearby village to persuade her to help publicize the church fete—especially when the fair’s organizer, George Selby, turns out to be a gorgeous widower.

Agatha brings out the crowds for the fete, all right, but there’s more going on than innocent village fun. Several of the offerings in the jam-tasting booth turn out to be poisoned, and the festive family event becomes the scene of two murders.

Along with her young and (much to her dismay) pretty sidekick, Toni, Agatha must uncover the truth behind the jam tampering, keep the church funds safe from theft, and expose the nasty secrets lurking in the village—all while falling for handsome George, who may have secrets of his own.

At book 19 it’s just passed the halfway mark in this series and this is indeed a middle book because it is quite forgettable. Even amongst the cookie cutter style of these stories and repetition this one hasn’t stuck in my head very well.

Away from Carsley we have a lot of new characters to play with, each getting the Agatha treatment but there was some variety in their characters. Agatha’s instant love and affection for the new man George goes over the same thing we’ve seen before, and even with new characters to get to know there isn’t anything different. There is extra story away from the main murder, padding details and random extra scenes but it was enjoyable enough. I understand that these are meant to work as standalones, you can pick them up wherever and not really need to know what was going on, but the amount of repetition those of us who do read the entire series has to put up with is frustrating.

The characters are unique and flawed which is entertaining but Beaton needs to learn to stop bringing out the same flaws each time, we do get another miniscule revelation of Agatha’s life but it’s not nearly enough given the amount of times we’ve been told about her bear like eyes, her ailments, and her body issues. What was interesting was that newcomer Toni gets additional focus as we see her pushed along by Agatha to branch out on her own, plus a new village of new faces to get to know and suspect, but what is a Raisin book without Agatha bringing up the rear with the usual complaints, brashness, and obsession of love and loneliness.

It also wouldn’t be an Agatha book without James making an appearance as we’re lured into the next book with his surprise engagement. Anytime James is mentioned it brings the tone down of these books and why Beaton keeps dragging him back into storylines where it doesn’t make sense is beyond me. Hopefully this time she can settle his storyline and move on.

You can purchase A Spoonful of Poison via the following

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You Were Made For Me by Jenna Guilllaume

Published: 11th August 11th 2020 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Macmillan Australia
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

The day I created a boy started out like any other.

Katie didn’t mean to create a boy. A boy like a long-lost Hemsworth brother: six-foot tall with floppy hair and eyes like the sky on a clear summer’s day; whose lips taste like cookie-dough and whose skin smells like springtime.

A boy who is completely devoted to Katie.

He was meant to be perfect.

But he was never meant to exist.

I was expecting a lot from this after having fallen in love Guillaume’s other book What I Like About Me and while it isn’t as fabulous as that, it does have heart and a fun story to enjoy. It was an interesting concept and one I think Guillaume does well making it light hearted with a little bit of strangeness, not to mention some humour, teen relationships as well as some more serious issues too. The characters are diverse and unique in their voices and personalities; Guillaume captures the teen voice and the impulsivity, the hormones and the heightened emotions come across with a simple but solid storyline.

I think I quite liked the lack of explanation about everything that happens. The unexplained magical realism was interesting because it’s so easily accepted that a person has been created and so much time and energy is spent containing him that there’s no need to find any real answers about how. Not that things are left completely in the dark, naturally the characters discuss where and how this could even be possible, but it isn’t an issue when no solid answers come up.

I liked the format of having two key characters chatting in the story as if they were writing it out in front of each other and including their conversations as well as the recount. It gives the story a great conversational feel and gives us easy access to Katie’s thoughts and feelings as she writes out what happened. The use of formatting is also played with to help distinguish between voices and they are nice breaks around the more traditional format of the rest of the book.

There are a few comments in other reviews about the girls sounding young and juvenile but while I can see this perspective, it’s also refreshing not to have them be too grown up, too mature or adult like; they are young girls, they are best friends doing weird, fun things together and being complete dags about it. It’s great. Yes they are growing up and exploring their feelings and relationships but that doesn’t thrust them into completely mature minds automatically.

Overall this is a nice light hearted teen romance that has pining and unrequitedness, plus all the key players in a teen drama but with a lovely Australian feel. It isn’t too deep either, despite the heavy topic of cancer and parental death which Guillaume navigates around wonderfully.

You can purchase You Were Made For Me via the following

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Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye (#18) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 2nd October 2007 (print)/02 Dec 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 234/6 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin is bored. Her detective agency in the Cotswolds is thriving, but she’ll scream if she has to deal with another missing cat or dog. Only two things seem to offer potential excitement: the upcoming Christmas festivities and her ex, James Lacey. This year she is sure that if she invites James to a really splendid, old-fashioned Christmas dinner, their love will rekindle like a warm Yule log.

When a wealthy widow hires Agatha because she’s convinced a member of her family is trying to kill her, Agatha is intrigued—especially when the widow drops dead after high tea at the manor house. Who in this rather sterile house, complete with fake family portraits, could have hated the old lady enough to poison her?

Agatha sets out to find the murderer, all the while managing a pretty, teenage trainee who makes her feel old and planning for a picture-perfect Christmas, with James, all the trimmings, and perhaps even snow.

It’s taken eighteen books before we get a proper backstory on Agatha and the story so far. Up until now there’s been little information on Agatha’s past and any recap on previous events has been minor.

The basic summary of this book is that Agatha is once again a horrible person in pretty much every situation she finds herself. She is racist, ageist, judgemental, and insulting in basically every description.

Agatha’s own issues about her age come through once more with Toni joining the team as she is considerably younger and why wouldn’t have the perpetual early 50s Agatha compare herself to a teenager in looks? Christmas doesn’t really come into play for much of the novel so it’s hardly a Christmas murder, but there is a festive mood if you count a Christmas dinner and Agatha pining once more for James.

Despite the bit of backstory provided there wasn’t much going on to capture any interest. The introduction of Toni provided some fresh characters and a new plotline to follow, though stereotypical at times seeing Agatha try and help the poor girl has its moments as the brash and horrible Agatha tries to show compassion and support to someone other than herself. The writing and descriptions are a bit turn off, and Agatha’s complaints are repetitive and now quite ludicrous as she bemoans the silliest things.

It has a murder in it that kept you thinking about so that’s something at least and the usual side characters bring some familiarity and relief even if they aren’t always the most in-depth people.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye 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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More Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina and Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer

Published: 27th October 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins
Illustrator: Esphyr Slobodkina
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Celebrate the 75th anniversary of the perennial favorite Caps for Sale with this never-before-published sequel to the beloved classic! In this first posthumous book from Esphyr Slobodkina, those mischievous monkeys are at it again, bringing laughs to a new generation of readers. The sequel, More Caps for Sale, picks up right where Caps for Sale left off, as the peddler comes face-to-face with those monkeys and their funny business yet again.

This sequel comes long after the publication of the first one in 1940 and is official in the sense that according to the authors note Slobodkina told Mulhearn Sayer to continue her work after her death and apparently they worked on this book together.

This story continues on immediately after the interaction with the monkeys in the first book as the peddler contemplates what occurred and how upset he is at not having sold any caps that day.

Once again the narrative uses repetition and mimicking in the monkeys actions and the peddler’s, and once again the peddler gets angry at the monkeys, somewhat incorrectly this time as they are less of a hindrance this time and more harmlessly mischievous.

The style of writing is similar to the first. The short sentences, the repetition as mentioned, and the basic story all feel like the original style Slobodkina wrote in. The illustrations are the same with the same basic but detailed style and if you combine the two together they could almost be the same story, a longer picture book with no deviation of story whatsoever.

The narrative asks questions to the reader which is engaging, just like the first story, and no doubt the antics of the monkeys will entertain kids. The monkeys have a larger role this time and do more than simply thievery in the first which is entertaining, especially given the peddler’s reaction and the impact that involvement has.

I don’t feel like the first book is ruined by this, it remains one of my favourite children’s books, but I do think it doesn’t hold the same standing. Whether that has to do with the additional author, the different era, or it was always going to be that way I don’t know. It’s a fun addition and with so many similarities it is still just as good as the original I think I’m always wary of posthumous sequels to famous books so long after the fact I probably go in unjustly sceptical before I start.

You can purchase More Caps for Sale via the following

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