Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (#13) by M. C. Beaton

Published: March 2003 (print)/12 March 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books/Audible
Pages: 212/6 hrs and 34 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  ★ – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin has just about had it – James has abandoned her, the new neighbour has made an unseemly proposition, and the new curate seems to be taking a more than normal interest in her. Now he is dead.

This was a pretty forgettable book despite it having a few decent components. Beaton keeps us in Carsely but instead of the usual characters like Charles, Roy and the dreaded James we get to discover more of the villagers and the broader community while keeping familiar faces in Bill Wong and Mrs Bloxby.

Agatha is a mixed bag here, she has sworn off men, still has complicated emotions and pining towards James, and thankfully hasn’t fallen head over heels with new neighbour John and started imaging a life together. Her openness about her investigation is nice, she openly tells people she isn’t officially anybody and yet still tries her luck at asking people questions. This is all in an effort to help clear her friend’s husband’s name so credit to her for trying to help, it’s one of the few times her input is justified and isn’t about clearing her own name.

Her own life once again becomes in danger but while it’s predictable, it’s a nice consequence of Agatha running around butting in trying to solve crimes she has no real business solving. Her ability to stumble into revelations is hardly a good justification but Bill and Wilkes put no real effort into stopping her so they certainly can’t complain.

The reveal is relatively clever, the twist and surprises are interesting but Beaton still needs to work out where she is taking these characters because every moment of growth and positive change we see it is either contradicted or backpedalled soon after. The exploration of side characters was a nice change too, fleshing them out to become more than one dimensional. Bill’s love quest continues and we see more of John’s character than we have previously. Agatha learns some more about herself which was some good growth and I liked her decision to help out in the community with her PR skills. It’s these parts of Agatha I enjoy seeing – her input into to community and trying to be a good person for good causes instead of insulting everyone and being brash and abusive.

I don’t know whether it was because the story was lacking or because I had been reading these back to back but this isn’t the most memorable book. It’s not quite formulaic but not revolutionary either. So many of Beaton’s books are memorable for the wrong reasons though so being forgettable is probably the best thing for this one.

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Shrek! by William Steig

Published: 1st September 1993Goodreads badge
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Illustrator: William Steig
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Shrek, a horrid little ogre, goes out into the world to find adventure and along the way encounters a witch, a knight in armour, a dragon, and, finally, a hideous princess, who’s even uglier than he is!

The story is relatively simple, being a fairy tale and a picture book this isn’t surprising but there is still a great story being told. Steig’s given Shrek a fairy tale story of his own which involves leaving his home, a prophecy of sorts, and many encounters along the way to find a princess.

Through the narrative we learn about who Shrek is and what he is capable of. He is portrayed early on as incredibly ugly, but as the story goes on we learn he is a gruesome character; he has an odour, abilities magical and poisonous, and eats lightning.

The illustrations are great, they may not be intricate or overly artistic but they convey Shrek’s ugliness and the ugliness of his parents, as well as depicting what is happening through the text.

The whole book is not told in rhyme but there are riddles and rhymes in fortunes, signs, or conversations which play into the fairy tale genre and the mixing of talking animals, fairy tale creatures and humans is well done.

The movie obviously took this basic story and key components and ran wild with it to great success but this story isn’t lacking either. There is a great backstory to Shrek and his own adventure that stands on its own away from the film. Steig has taken on the fairy tale genre and created a story with a unique plot and given a story to an unlikely creature usually not given a protagonist role in fairy tales.

You can purchase Shrek! via the following

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Published: 3rd May 2016 (print)/4 August 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Flatiron Books /Macmillan Audio
Pages: 280/6 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Samia Mounts
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.

I read this after Russo’s other book Birthday but while I liked this I think Birthday was a more powerful story. Even though some tough issues are raised here like transphobia, bullying, abuse and violence towards trans people, it was still a relatively minor part of the story. The main plot points are about Amanda at her new school, making new friends, falling in love and trying to reconnect with her estranged father.

There are stereotypes and easy roads taken to make Amanda’s story work which Russo admits to, but that is ok because this isn’t a story about Amanda’s transition (though we do get her full backstory through well placed flashbacks), this is about her life now and how she is navigating a new school, new relationships and her first love.

Russo’s author note at the end talks to her readers, trans and otherwise about how to approach Amanda’s story. She admits she took liberties and made the process seamless for Amanda where it otherwise shouldn’t have been to make the reader accept Amanda more easily, but she acknowledges that many other people don’t have such luxuries in real life. I liked this addition because it would be so easy to dismiss Amanda’s experiences because she had it easy and things were perfectly aligned for her, not to mention for people to assume this experience was universal when it isn’t. In doing so Russo makes the story afterwards the focus and Amanda’s life now rather than before where the main story lies.

Having said that, it isn’t a perfect road for Amanda – I hated that for the entire time I was waiting for the reveal about her past and for the town and/or her friends to turn on her. There are so many trans stories and they shouldn’t all end in revelations resulting in abuse and rejection but while some of Amanda’s story had rule bending, I appreciated Russo not sugar coating the entire experience.

Despite being #OwnVoices it still falls into YA tropes and stereotypes; it is cheesy and sappy at times, but if you’re after a sweet romance with the small town aesthetic that so many US YA books have then this is right up your alley.

You can purchase If I Was Your Girl via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam (#10) by MC Beaton

Published: 15th April 2001 (print)/26 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Audible
Pages: 197/5 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

When a fortune teller from a previous case informs Agatha Raisin that her destiny–and true love–lies in Norfolk, she promptly rents a cottage in the quaint village of Fryfam. No sooner does she arrive than strange things start happening. Random objects go missing from people’s homes, and odd little lights are seen dancing in the villagers’ gardens and yards. Stories soon begin circulating about the presence of fairies.

But when a prominent village resident is found murdered, and some suspicion falls on her and her friend Sir Charles Fraith, Agatha decides she’s had enough of this fairy nonsense and steps up her sleuthing for a human killer.

The prickly yet endearing Agatha will have fans dangling in suspense: Will she catch her crook–and a husband?

This is the story about Agatha and her desperate need for love and having someone in her life. Her own insecurities means she drops everything at the words of a fortune teller to find love in Norfolk. Thankfully the entire book isn’t about her finding love – there is a curious mystery going on and it was a fun mix of local lore and the entire village playing tricks on the newcomer.

The mysteries go from small and seemingly innocent to substantial and murderous. Of course as Agatha and Charles get embroiled in the accusations and suspicions but with their banter and comradery they make a good pair to start clearing their names and finding the truth. This is where Agatha takes off her lovesick hat and gets down to sleuthing. Even in a different village it was fun to get to know a new cast of characters, especially as they interacted with Agatha and the mystery at hand.

The mixture of real murder and magical fairies made for an interesting read and having Agatha alone by herself for a time gave us a chance to see her by herself and not performing for others. Even when she meets the villagers their interactions aren’t instantly accepting and it’s great to see this play out.

Then comes the downfall.

With a plot twist that comes from absolutely nowhere we also return once again to the story of Agatha and Why She Still Wants to be with James Lacey Because Every Single Person Thinks He Is a Terrible Human Being. I was so proud of her initially, her growth around him was making her mature and she had some grace and dignity back but Beaton tosses that aside in an instant for a relationship she herself isn’t even trying to orchestrate realistically.

I couldn’t quite see this relationship before they got together, I certainly can’t see it now, especially when Agatha appeared to be getting over her infatuation and the drama of the last time they tried this. James is cold and neglectful, he is dismissive and it frustrates me to no end because we see Agatha have a nice fun time with people like Charles Fraith, and how she is around other people but her life still will snap back to revolving around James in an instant and as much as she annoys me, she does actually deserve better. There is no cute “will they/won’t they” there is nothing riding on whether this might suddenly turn – Beaton makes it obvious they are a bad match so I don’t know why we must put up with this.

It goes beyond story because at some point you are being disrespectful of readers who can see this is unrealistic and trying to push the same failed relationship instead of letting characters move and grow into new relationships for the sake of main characters is insulting.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam via the following

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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
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.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death via the following

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