Tag Archives: M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin Round Up; Curious Curates, Haunted Houses and Christmas Crimes

So my Christmas holidays started with the news that I had a stomach ulcer, which put paid to much merriment then and there (snowballs etc) and then I got a stonking cold within two days. Bah humbug, was how I was feeling. So what did I do? I ordered in plenty of ginger beer (Gran swore by this and it does kill a cold and sore throat honest) took to my bed and dusted off my Agatha Raisin series. I say dusted off because I have almost the whole series yet shockingly, I am actually a little bit disgusted with myself, I have not read any for TWO YEARS?!?!?  Well, to make up for it I binged.

For all those snobs out there who might think my love of Agatha Raisin is bonkers or a step into cosy crime I say you are all fools and good day to you. Firstly, Agatha Raisin books have become New York Times Bestsellers, though so did Fifty Shades of Grey I am aware. Secondly and I think most tellingly, M. C. Beaton is the most borrowed author in libraries in the United Kingdom with the Agatha Raisin’s being the most borrowed and I can see why. You know what you are going to get.

Constable Books, 2003 (2010 edition), paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Within turning the first few pages of Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate I knew I was back in a world that is familiar and going to give me just what I want, some escapist fun. The faithful characters who live in the fictional Cotswold village of Carsely are all waiting for me from the off. Agatha as usual is a bit bored having solved a case, maybe having been and done a PR freelance job in London for her gay best friend Roy, and now being back with her cats and pondering about why she is single, probably whilst eating a microwave meal and thinking something saucy about her male neighbour of something bitchy about one of the women in the Carsely Ladies Society.

Yet there has been a change in Carsely of late, there is a new curate and the ladies in the village are all besides themselves for Tristan Delon is a dish. Agatha has decided, after her second failed marriage and rebuff of her handsome crime writing neighbour John, she is off men for life. Yet when Tristan comes round and invites her for dinner she practically swoons. After dinner she can almost see her life ahead with a toy boy, until the next day when the potential toy boy is found dead.

Whilst she has sworn of her amateur detecting, when the eye of suspicion turns on the Vicar though Agatha knows she must clear the name of her best friend’s (Mrs Bloxby) husband she starts to do some digging, the initial clues coming from her dinner spent with the man himself. What follows is, as always, a wonderful darkly funny bumbling investigation where you may just guess that Agatha will solve it all (badly and possibly by fluke) whilst causing more mayhem (one scene with a suit of armour had me laughing, and then coughing) for about ten minutes.

Constable, 2003 (2010 edition), paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Next up was Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House where initially there is no body to deduce but some ghost hunting. As usual Agatha is bored having solved a case, maybe having been and done a PR freelance job in London for her gay best friend Roy, and now being back with her cats and pondering about why she is single, whilst having a fag and trying to ignore the new handsome neighbour Paul Chatterton.

Yet when she hears of a haunted house in a neighbouring village she, with Paul who she initial fobs off, turns ghost hunter to no great results other than embarrassing herself. However several weeks later the owner of the house, Mrs Witherspoon, is found dead with a broken neck and something seems suspicious. So naturally Agatha starts to investigate yet soon discovers with a woman like Mrs Witherspoon, whose daughter describes as ‘an old bitch’, there are many, many people who might have liked to have killed her. Yet which one did, and for what reason?

Again, I raced through this one which actually seemed to have a slight change in its formula, for once it isn’t Agatha who is so hapless and also there is a really interesting historical link to it all, there are the return of an old face or two, none of which I will say more about it for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say I loved it and was thrilled at the end where, and this is not a major spoiler as it in the blurbs of the later books, Agatha is setting up her own detective agency. Hoorah!

‘I hope you’re not doing anything to interfere with our investigations,’ he said.
‘Simply paying our respects.’
‘A word of warning to you Mrs Raisin. It’s only in books that old biddies from villages can help the police. In real life, they’re a pain in the arse.
‘Just like you,’ said Agatha savagely. ‘Sod off.’

Now the amateur detectives in you out there will notice I mentioned Christmas crimes. This is because by the time this goes live I may well have read two more Agatha Raisin stories since then, Agatha Raisin: Hell’s Bells and Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble which are both Christmas specials and *mumbles* are also ebook short novellas. ALSO (as if this wasn’t enough Agatha Raisin delight) on Boxing Day, my favourite day of the year, there will also be a new adaptation of Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (the first one) on Sky 1. (All trailers here.) More below…

I have to say the jury will be out for me on Ashley Jensen as Agatha but M.C. Beaton has said on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that she is amazing so we will see, I am very much looking forward to watching it over Chrimbles though. Anyway, if you haven’t given Agatha a whirl then please do and if you have tell me all about it…

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, Constable & Robinson Publishing, M.C. Beaton, Review

Your Country in Ten(ish) Books…

I don’t want to call this a challenge, or even worse a meme (do you remember when we all did those back in the day?), yet I am thinking that this could be a fun exercise if you lovely lot would like to join in. What the funk am I talking about, well you would be right to ask as once more I assume you dear reader/s get updates from me telepathically. Enough waffle Savidge, just get on with it. So as some of you will know I host/co-host a couple of book based banter podcasts; You Wrote The Book, Hear… Read This and The Readers. My normal co-host for the latter, Gav, is having some time off and so I have been joined by the lovely Thomas and seeing as Thomas is in Washington we have been looking at America and the UK, or even America vs. the UK. A fortnight ago we discussed American classics and I came up with the idea of both Thomas and myself creating two separate lists of the ten books that sum up our countries for us and ones we would give to someone if they moved to their country to ‘read up on it’. So I thought you lot might like to join in…

17451-01Initially I have to admit that I thought this would be stupidly easy. The British Isles are relatively piddly in comparison to the mammoth size of other countries. I didn’t envy Thomas and his 50 states to cover in ten books. As I thought about it more and more though I suddenly realised it was actually much more of a mission than I had supposed. For a start we had agreed to only have authors from our own counties books. So instantly one of my choices ‘The Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks was discounted, as it is set in Eyam (the only place outside London to get the Black Plague and self sacrifice itself to save others) which is just down the road from my home town in Derbyshire but she is from America. First hurdle.

Second Hurdle. I wanted the book to reflect a current vision of the British Isles, as I went through my shelves I was surprised (especially as I think I don’t like them, clearly I am a liar to myself)  how many of the British Isles books I owned were about WWI or WWII. This then meant a book like Sarah Water’s ‘The Night Watch’, which depicts war torn London, was therefore banished. However eventually I got there, though I have since realised I missed Edward Hogan’s bloody brilliant The Human Trace’ out of it, and found my eleven books – yes I cheated a tiny bit with an additional novel, but I made this game up. I wonder if Mr Monopoly ever tried that at Christmas gatherings, anyway here it is with the book title, author, place and mini summary for you…

The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy (London) – Set in Loughborough Junction in South London, this is the tale Robert, owner of a dry cleaners, as he says goodbye to his business and the area he knows. It also looks at the customers who come, from all walks of life, to his shop and the little things they leave behind that they forget yet which tell many a tale.

The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn (Birmingham) – Frank is a local news presenter and personality. Recently he has become rather obsessed both with the people and the places of his city that others seem to forget. What about all the people with no one to care for them, who die alone and what of the bits of our cities architectural and cultural heritage are we all too quick to gloss over or tear down  and cover with something prettier?

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Norfolk) – Not officially set in Norfolk, that is just my guess, this is the tale of Arthur Kipp as he settles the eerie estate of Eel Marsh House and Alice Drablow. A book which wonderfully conjures the atmosphere of some of Britain’s coastal villages, and the literary heritage of a cracking good ghost story.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Edinburgh) – Possibly not the most evocative tale of Scotland but this is something I clearly need to address. This is set during Edinburgh’s famous festival and really brings the hustle and bustle of that place to life as well as being a great crime novel with a very good sense of black humour, you will laugh.

The Long Falling by Keith Ridgway (Northern Ireland) – Grace Quinn is a woman deeply unhappy living in the rural wilds of the North Irish countryside. However after a turn of events (which will make your jaw drop) she heads to Dublin and the home of her son. Ridgway looks at the differences between city life and rural life in Northern Ireland and also the differences between the generations.

The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall (The Lake District) – One of the most ‘earthy’ books I have ever read, yet if you asked me to explain the term ‘earthy’ I would find it very hard to explain. Set in the infamous heat wave of the 1970’s Spencer Little is a stranger who settles in a village in the middle of nowhere, but why? A tale of suspicious townsfolk and one which also lifts the lid on the secrets behind closed doors, especially as the heat makes people do unusual things.

The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough (Wales) – Set in the Welsh Countryside this tells the story of two very different neighbouring farms and the sons of which who make friends. One, Robin, from a hippy family the other, Andrew, from a family so impoverished he is almost feral – why does he choose to sleep with the farm dogs rather than his family?

Agatha Raisin & The Quiche of Death – M.C. Beaton (The Cotswolds) – A bit of light relief amongst these books with the no nonsense former PR Director now come amateur sleuth as she moves from London to the idyllic Cotswolds only sometimes people don’t welcome an outsider… Murder and mayhem ensue in the most wry and cosy of mysteries with a thoroughly modern Anti-Marple.

Rough Music by Patrick Gale (Cornwall) – A book that celebrates Cornwall and also a sense of everyone’s nostalgia from younger years. We follow Julian back to a fateful summer holiday in Cornwell which leads to many family secrets being revealed and how we see things differently as adults.

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (Brighton) – Going back in time a little and looking at the place no deemed the gay capital of England, and a celebrated seaside resort, when it had a much more underground and shady sense of place. We follow Marion and Tom who are both in love with the same man and how society at the time informs their decisions and their lives.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson (Great Britain all over) – My slight cheat as I think this book, which travels all over England and Scotland, really looks at English society from the 80’s which is very similar to today and the real sense of what it is to grow up working class in our country rather than the often emphasised ‘Hampstead’ view.

So there you have it, that is my list of books that encapsulate the British Isles for me. I know that Thomas is working on his list of ten books which as soon as it goes live I will link to, its is now live here. I can say I have read two of them (one a major hit, one a bit of a dud with me) and am really excited about trying all of them. In the meantime you can hear us talking about them on this fortnight’s episode of The Readers.

What do you think of the list? I know it might not be the most conventional but to me it seems the truest for me personally. Which of them have you read? Who fancies giving this a go themselves? I would so, so, so love if some of you did be you in the UK, America, Australia, Japan, Canada, India, France… anywhere, and spread the word. Basically have whirl, over a few days (it took me four) and link back to it here so I can come and have a nosey, go on, you know you want to…

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I’m Sick… But The Cats Are Blogging!

Since the excitement of a few days in London (which I have realised I took almost no photos during) and the rollercoaster thrills and spills of judging the Not The Booker I have come down, quite literally from all those highs, with a really nasty cold. I don’t want to say flu as its not quite there but it isn’t far off. So I have actually been spending more time being grumpy, feeling a bit sorry for myself and listening to audiobooks as my eyes were so sore.

Well, I am still feeling pretty crap but my eye ache has moved to my throat and nose so at least I can read again and this morning I decided I would grab some books of the shelves that would be perfect reads and this was the haul I managed very groggily and swiftly before disappearing into the depths of my duvet once more…

Ill Books

Before we discuss them, yes you’re right that is an ebook in the mix of all of these treats. I have discovered, begrudgingly, another perk in the world of ereaders that if you are stuck in bed and ache too much to do too much a few swipes and there is your next read. Last night I simply couldn’t resist a new Susan Hill ghost story in the form of this ‘Kindle Single’ perfect for the time of year ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. I am very much looking forward to it. As I am also looking forward to reading the next, for me not actually the newest, Agatha Raisin mystery ‘Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate’ (I have let Agatha for too long). I also have Victor & Rolf’s ‘Fairy Tales’ which sounds amazing with tales like ‘Disco Hedgehog’, Flowerbomb’ and ‘The Fifth Perfume Bottle’. Finally, but by no means last, I thought as the nights are getting darker (well the days are in my sick suite as I have not allowed the curtains to be opened) it was time for some crime and I need to catch up with my favourite duo Rizzoli & Isles. So that should see me through a day or two while I get this out my system.

Now I mentioned the cats were blogging. Well they aren’t blogging here. In fact, as part of a special ‘Cat Day’ in honour of the ‘The Big New Yorker Book of Cats’ they have blogged for Windmill Books and you can see it here. I think they believe that book offers will be flying in. They are acting like they are really chilled about it…

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…But we know the truth. Do have a look at them discussing ‘Living With A Book Lover’, they are quite cute after all, if incredibly naughty for not letting me know a think about it, ha!

Hope all of you are well? What are you reading at the mo? Is it good or bad? Which books do you turn to when you are poorly? How cute are cats reading?

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The Case of the Missing Servant – Tarquin Hall

Not being funny but I would never have thought I would be recommended a book by both Gav of Gav Reads (his review here) and also my Gran, yet in the case of ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’, the first Vish Puri mystery by Tarquin Hall, these two recommendations came most highly. Had Gavin not chosen this book for The Readers Book Club earlier this month I would definitely have ended up reading it on their recommendations and the fact that this was a crime series set in India, a country I am rather fascinated by though I have not had the pleasure of visiting yet.

Arrow Books, 2010, paperback, 312 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Vish Puri is one of India’s leading private detectives, well that is what he would have you know although occasionally you are left to wonder how much of that is truth and how much is pomp. In the main Vish’s line of detection is that of families wishing for one of their offspring’s betrothed to be investigated for their background and if they might be an ideal addition to the family. It isn’t the most glamourous or exciting investigating but occasionally there are instances with twists. However off and on Puri gets a real mystery and in ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ Puri is hired to find the maid servant of Ajay Kasliwal, a prominent lawyer, who he has been accused of murdering since her sudden disappearance. It is cases like this Puri thrives on, they are also the kind of cases where one might make enemies which might be why someone is trying to get Puri killed.

One of the things that I most admired about ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ was how Hall created a genuinely intriguing mystery that managed to really look at Indian society and how it treats the classes/caste system in many ways. He looks at how things have changed in India over the decades and how the modern world is changing time-honoured traditions for everyone living in the country. It gives the book an additional depth, on top of the intrigue of the mystery that is at the forefront of the book. From the judicial system, or lack of it, to the situation with arranged marriages Hall manages to really encapsulate a country in a time of great change.

“In the old days, there would have been no need for Puri’s services. Families got to know one another within the social framework of their own communities. When necessary, they did their own detective work. Mothers and aunties would ask neighbours and friends about prospective grooms, and the families’ standing and reputation. Priests would also make introductions and match horoscopes.
Today, well-off Indians living in cities could no longer rely on those time-honoured systems. Many no longer knew their neighbours. Their homes were the walled villas of Jor Bagh and Golf Links, or posh apartments in Greater Kailash. Their social lives revolved around the office, business meetings and society weddings.”

Another thing that I really liked about the novel was that it is really a book of team detection. Puri might be the lead detective yet really he can, to a degree, be rather bumbling and without a team around him it would be highly unlikely that he could solve the puzzle by himself, though he would have you think the contrary. I mean without Facecream, who he sends to pretend to be a maid and spy on the Kasliwal family, or Tubelight and Flush who do some of the menial hunting (and truly dangerous and physical things) he wouldn’t be able to solve everything that came his way.

“Puri had positioned two of his best undercover operatives, Tubelight and Flush, down in the street.
These were not their real names, of course. Being Punjabi, the detective had nicknames for most of his employees, relatives and close friends. For example, he called his wife Rumpi; his new driver Handbrake; and the office boy, who was extraordinarily lazy, Door Stop.”

I also greatly admired Hall’s way of interweaving several mysteries all at once. In some crime novels we simply get one criminal on the run doing all sorts of horrendous things. With Vish Puri we not only get ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’, we also get three investigations into future spouses of families (one is ending at the start of the book, one sort of peters out and vanishes, one has a brilliant twist which I loved) and on top of that we get Puri’s own mother investigating who has tried to shoot her son. This strand for me, and indeed Puri’s mother, really stole the show for me and I loved every single chapter with her in it, in fact I am hoping that she gets her own standalone series.

 “Puri had learned from hard experience that it was impossible to hide dramatic elements in his life from his mother. But he would not tolerate her nosing about in his investigations.
True, Mummy had a sixth sense and, from time to time, one of her premonitions proved prescient. But she was no detective. Detectives were not mummies. And detectives were certainly not women.”

This I suppose is a positive way to tap into some of the flaws that I found in the book. Firstly I wasn’t sure if it knew what sort of crime novel it wanted to be. In some ways, particularly with its sense of humour and the bumbling and pompous Puri at the helm, it felt like it was a cosy crime novel (which as a fan of M.C. Beaton I have no prejudice about at all) yet with its additional depth and uncovering of Indian society it also felt like it was trying to be a more thought provoking novel too – yet in being both something was lost from both parts. I do wonder if having read Kishwar Desai’s Witness The Night’ first some time ago, which was the latter but very funny with its darkness, might have had something to do with this, maybe.

I also didn’t really think (and I wonder if this is why the Poirot comparisons have been made) that Hall liked Puri very much and was actually using him as a figure of fun in more than just a ‘ha, ha’ way. It could be, as Gavin mentions on The Readers Book Club (and we have a small tiff about it) that it is a debut novel. This could also link into the fact that I don’t think anyone could guess the culprit, as it felt a little bit like a triple twist thrown in at the end last minute, whilst I don’t expect to guess every crime novels denouement (I’m not that clever) I want to at least be able to try.

‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ leaves me a little conflicted. On the one hand I loved the fact that the book gave me so much more (I haven’t even touched on the fascinating bits about the history of Indian detection) than I was expecting and met the eye, all done without trying to prove a moral point or bash me over the head with research. Yet occasionally I didn’t connect and I am wondering if it was with Puri himself? Overall though I enjoyed it, see I am puzzled.

I think I will have to try another one to make my mind up about this fully which shouldn’t be difficult to do as they have become so popular. With two more already published, another on the way, and mentions in this book of Puri’s past cases like ‘The Case of the Missing Polo Elephant’, ‘The Case of the Pundit with the Twelve Toes’ and ‘The Case of the Laughing Peacock’ it looks like there will be plenty more to choose from, though as I like to read a series in order I should try the second, ‘The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing’, next – though I do know the ending having read some of it to Gran in hospital. Hmmm.

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Filed under Arrow Books, Review, Tarquin Hall, The Readers Podcast

Other People’s Bookshelves #13 – Simon Savidge

Okay, so I thought I would do something a bit different with Other People’s Bookshelves by taking part in it myself. My thoughts behind this were that a) no one likes to be number thirteen (and indeed I am really, really superstitious about the number myself) and b) as it is my birthday tomorrow I might as well make the whole weekend all about me. I am half joking with that last comment, sort of. Ha! So today I will share with you my shelves and indeed my book boxes and who knows you might even get to know me a little better. How weird to be interviewing myself…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to keep every single book that I read, yet this all stopped when I was living in London as after a few years I simply didn’t have the room and so I had to get tough. I have to admit I did use to keep books on my shelves that I didn’t really love but just wanted people to see that I had read, so was good to be tough. However now I have much more room and indeed have bought lots more bookshelves so I can see my old ‘hoard everything’ tendency is creeping back. That said though when the new shelves were sorted I rearranged everything and did get rid of ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The White Tiger’ so maybe the habit won’t die out. You do have to be careful of mood though, some books you love some days and less the next. It is tricky. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

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Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I have always had them in alphabetical order on the shelves of books I have read in the lounge. Until the weekend before this I did actually have crime on separate shelves from fiction and non-fiction, I think I was playing at having a bookshop in my head, now though everything is mingled together genre wise, but in author surname order.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I think the first book I bought with my own money wasn’t actually until my twenties because I had relatives that bought me books and I was hooked onto the library at an early age thanks to my mother. I also had a spell from my mid teens to early twenties where I went completely off reading and didn’t pick up a book for, wait for it, six years. Can you believe that? The first two books I bought then were Agatha Christie’s ‘4.50 from Paddington’ and ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, both of those are definitely on my shelves.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I did used to have my Agatha Raisin books, and indeed my favourite childhood books, hidden away in the bedroom because I thought people would judge me. Now they too are mingled in with everything else since the new shelves have come in. I have decided that I am not going to feel to feel guilty about books anymore, especially if they are a pleasure to read, life is too short. Yet I think I might start to tell myself off if I don’t get better at giving up on books I am just not enjoying. I am guilty of that quite often and it causes reading funks.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Funnily enough Simon, it would be the Conan Doyle book of short stories to which you refer. I also have lots of books that my Granddad, Bongy, made for me when I was younger. Those are both to be found stored away by the bed just in case.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

It was ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind and it was indeed one of the first forays into adult fiction that I had. My mum was always keen to let me read whatever I fancied really, she vetted everything but only with a quick glance and I think, like with my much younger siblings, she just wanted us to embrace reading without forcing it down our necks. Best way to do that was just to let us all read pretty much what we want and never refer things as adult, young adult or kids fiction. I have read ‘Perfume’ twice now, the second time – back in my early mid-twenties – I felt I was reading a completely different book, I don’t think I got all the nuances at a younger age which only added to the initial delight of the book second time around. Oh and yes, it is on the shelves now.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I am lucky in the fact that I get a fair few books free through the blog and work. That said I am amazed at the fact that no matter how many books I have there are always more and more books that I want. I have the library for those books, or indeed charity shops though the library is now my place of preference, and if I really, really, really loved them then I would definitely want it on my shelves.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I am going to cheat with two. ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris which I finished a few days ago and adored, I now want to read EVERYTHING she has ever written. I have also just popped ‘The Life of Pi’ on the shelves, I leant it to my other halves mother (who I talk about books with a lot) but I don’t really like lending books and so when I spotted a pristine second hand one bought it to go back on the shelves so I don’t have to ask for mine back. It is a weird tick I have, I know she will look after it, and yet… Ha!

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Hmmmm, I would sound spoilt if I said yes. If you mean on my ‘books I have read’ shelves in the lounge there are a few books I have loaned and never seen again, especially swapping my tie in edition of ‘Wicked’ for the stunning American import I had, and a few that have gone missing in my many moves. If you mean in the ‘books to be read’ shelves and boxes in the bedroom I should say no with over 600 of them – yet Deborah Levy’s ‘Black Vodka; Ten Stories’ and Chris Ware’s ‘Building Stories’ are calling out to me. I am hoping I get some vouchers tomorrow and can get those. Oh and all the Persephone books that I don’t have of course. No rush though, a good library is built slowly.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

That it is an explosion of eclectic tastes and voices from someone who reads widely and clearly can’t decide what genre of book they really love or what their particular taste or penchant is in books… something I am getting more and more comfortable with as I get older.

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Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of my responses and/or any of the books I mentioned?

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Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came – M.C. Beaton

I have backdated this review; I am not posting it on the 23rd of April but actually on the 26th. This is for no other reason than the fact I have a huge pile of books which need reviewing and I want them out in the world. Being an over thinker, about everything it is ridiculous, I thought that people might think I was hiding these books away in the blog in a slightly guilty manner. The Agatha Raisin novels are indeed deemed a ‘guilty pleasure read’, yet I feel no guilt reading them at all. They are a delightful escape especially seeing as with this one, which is the eleventh in the series, M.C. Beaton seems to have changed things a lot.

Constable and Robinson, paperback, 2006, fiction, 224 pages, from my personal TBR

My love for the Agatha Raisin escapes I allow myself sporadically (well you don’t want to read a series too quickly do you) is strong, yet I am not the sort of person who is so blinded by the enjoyment I can’t see their faults. All of them so far have been great, but dare I say that the Agatha, James Lacey and Sir Charles love triangle has become a little formulaic. On one hand you know where you are, there is a certain familiarity to it, on the other it can be a little predictable. Well in ‘Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came’ there is a big change. If you are reading the series in order you might want to skip the next paragraph or two though for some spoilers…

You see Agatha and James are getting a divorce and Sir Charles has met someone else. So now, along with possibly the darkest murder in the series yet, we have some new characters coming in, such as crime writer John Armitage, and we see a slightly new Agatha too. Agatha has been away in the South Pacific taking a break from life to lick her wounds post divorce and also to get a bearing on her life. When she returns she witnesses the sighting of a drowned women dressed in full bridal attire. Agatha being Agatha decides that she must find out more and so we know we have a new case of amateur detection on the go.

What I particularly liked about ‘The Day the Floods Came’ was the fact it seemed so much darker than the previous novels. It still has that comfortable village life feel, the bumbling characters and waspish wit, and yet there is a real unease here. Agatha finds herself, sometimes to comical effect, submerged in the world of clubbing and drugs (something which normally turns me off a book) and youth culture. Despite her being quite a brittle character she also seemed warmer and more empathetic and yet even more no nonsense at the same time, she really is a woman after my own heart. Most importantly, I didn’t have a clue who the killer was.

So all in all, ‘The Day The Floods Came’ is one of my favourite Agatha Raisins yet. Still escapist, funny and familiar, so I can get lost in the world of the Cotswolds that I like so much, and yet with a certain freshness and even slight edge to it that makes me want to pick up the thirteenth (hopefully not unlucky) in the series very soon. Lovely stuff!

It’s nice to have a favourite series and get the comfort and the surprise element isn’t it? Which series do you love? Are you and Agatha fan or can you just not see the point? What are your thoughts on ‘guilty pleasure reads’? You can hear myself and Gavin talking about just such a thing on The Readers here.

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Why Does Literature Seem To Snub Genre?

I seem to have a backlog of random posts on my thoughts about the book world and reading at the moment. It seems I am having a phase where every book I read sparks a question about my reading habits or reading in general. I hope you all enjoy these posts because there is going to be quite an influx of them over the next few weeks. The first of these that I want to talk about came from my review of Penny Hancock’s ‘Tideline’ yesterday when I said it was ‘the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature’ because this is something that seems to be a common misconception in the book world or in bookish circles. Why can’t a crime novel, and indeed any work that is deemed genre, also be deemed ‘literature’?

My initial line of thinking is the fact that on the whole crime novels are not particularly known for being flowery, you can’t really make a dead body picturesque can you – though you can make it haunting and atmospheric, yet flowery prose doesn’t mean that a book is literary either does it? Crime novels, and I am focusing on these as they are the genre I read the most outside what people deem ‘literary novels’, by their nature have to focus on plot and they have to have pace. This doesn’t have to come at the expense of good writing though as I find with authors like Kate Atkinson or Susan Hill the writing that they use in their ‘crime’ novels (atmospheric, observational, vivid) is the same as they use in the novels that would be put in the ‘fiction’ section and which are deemed to be much more literary because they lose the crime tag.

I have just recently given up on a very ‘literary’ novel because while the writing was stunning the book itself wasn’t going anywhere. The plot was there but it was fizzling out, it was dragging, and I was getting increasingly bored. So I gave up. That very rarely happens to me with a good thriller. With literary novels you often here the phrase ‘a multi layered novel’ have any of these people read the aforementioned Kate Atkinson (whose use of small coincidences to twist a tale is fantastic) or Sophie Hannah by any chance as both these authors created tales which are definitely multi layered, whilst being gripping reads with big stories at their heart, and I do think every reader loves a good ‘story’. Many people will say that genre fiction is train station or airport reading, but isn’t that in itself interesting that when people go away they want those sorts of books? Here we could go into the dangerous territory of ‘readability vs. literature’ so lets move swiftly on…

The other misconception I have often heard is that crime novels, or any genre novel actually, often feature one dimensional or rather stereotypical characters. I always find myself wanting to shout ‘what about Sherlock Holmes, people actually wrote to the man, they thought he was real’ to this, but I suppose that’s classic crime so doesn’t fit in with my discussion on modern crime now, though it was deemed literature in its day. If I was discussing chick-lit I would here use the Jane Austen argument and how at the time it was not deemed as ‘literature’ and look at how she is hailed now, Charles Dickens is another one, paid per word as a regular newspaper serialisation, now heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to have lived by many.

Let’s get back to the characters in modern crime though. I think we could find the ‘stereotypical’ characters in almost every novel we read, does ‘stereotypical’ therefore actually mean the true to life people who live next door or you might pass by on the street? What of one dimensional characters? I read few crime novels where this is the case, they wouldn’t work for me as a read if they were. Again there are a number of authors, including the above, where I could say this statement was untrue; Tess Gerritsen (I read the Rizzoli and Isles series because I want to know what they are up to, I like them, I feel I have gotten to know them over a series) and Val McDermid (Jacko Vance might be my favourite serial killer ever, if one can have one) for starters.

Val McDermid once said to me ‘it’s not the crime that’s the really important thing to me, it’s what crime or murder does to the people surrounding it that truly motivates me’. I have paraphrased there, sorry if you read this Val, but I think is one of the true signs of why crime can be counted as literature, it looks at how humans are conditioned to react, emote and deal in extreme circumstances. People say ‘oh but crime stories are so farfetched’ but they happen and often it’s the most bizarre crimes that have us sitting watching the news and saying ‘oh you couldn’t have made that up’ and ‘how would you deal with that, can you imagine?’ With a book you can from the safety of your sofa, just as you can being in a war torn country, having been bereaved, experiencing dictatorial leadership or simply being in a very dysfunctional family. All these things people are experiencing all over the world but just because it’s not happening to us or those we know doesn’t mean it is ‘farfetched’. Also thanks to crime in translation we learn about other cultures through the subject matter dealt with by the novels of the likes of Henning Mankell or Natsuo Kirino.

Of course there is some badly written and one dimensional drivel out there on the crime shelves, but the same applies to literature doesn’t it. We also all have different tastes. I have always found it interesting when I have reviewed an M.C. Beaton and then had emails saying people won’t read my blog any more as they thought I only read ‘proper’ books. What constitutes a ‘proper’ book I do not know, any ideas?

I am fully aware that I can fall prey to the same issues with other genres (aliens… like they exist) though I have just read a stunning werewolf novel (no, really) and indeed I have been umming and ahhhing about reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ because I have heard rave reviews from people I trust and think the premise sounds interesting, but from just looking at it my mind says ‘chick-lit’ and I switch off, this has happened whenever I have been recommended Marian Keyes, which has happened a lot. Am I then adding to the literary snobbery myself, I hope not, and may now rush and get ‘Me Before You’ just to prove a point.

This might be one of those posts that often appear on Savidge Reads where I start with a question that has been buzzing around in my head, write about it and end up asking more questions than I can answer and coming out the other side without a conclusion. It is a subject that interests me and one I would love to have a good old natter with you all about, so your thoughts please…

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Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell – M.C.Beaton

I was talking about the Agatha Raisin novels the other day and some people were really shocked that I liked them (aka judged me). ‘I think they must be your guilty pleasure’ one of these new acquaintances said (though how long we will be acquaintances after Raisin-Gate I am not sure), my response was ‘well maybe… only without the guilt’. For me Agatha Raisin is someone, I know she isn’t actually real, who I turn to when I am feeling a bit down in the dumps or when I need a break for some of the more thought provoking literature I might have devoured. I seem to have tripped myself up there and accidentally sounded like a snob, I am not a snob, I love these books and part of reading is about simple escapism and reading pleasure and that for me is Agatha Raisin.

You know what you are getting when you open an Agatha Raisin. People are going to get murdered, most likely in Carsley where Agatha lives (unless, as is her want sometimes, she has taken us on holiday with her) and that Agatha is going to somehow end up snooping and trying to solve the murder whilst getting the backs up of all the police, suspects and loved one surrounding the case of the deceased, generally through offending with her blunt personality and endless sarcasm.  We have all this once more with ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ only this story has even more of a personal twist for one of the suspects, who promptly disappears, is James Lacey, Agatha’s husband.

Constable and Robinson Books, paperback, 2006, fiction, 224 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In fact the whole Agatha and James thing, which has been going on throughout the eleven books so far and I am guessing will continue to do, is in many ways the heart of this book. Things have not been marital bliss for Agatha and James, they live in separate houses though next door to each other for one, and after James thinks Agatha has had an affair with Sir Charles (another recurring character in Agatha’s life) he has an affair with Melissa, a local bit of stuff, who then ends up dead and prime suspect number one, James, vanishes. Of course the reader knows where but it is up to Agatha to find out and clear his name whilst doing so and of course I am not going to spoil this one any further.

I will be honest and say that ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ wasn’t my favourite of the series so far but I did really enjoy it. I enjoyed going back to the Cotswolds and catching up with the acidic and very funny if heartbroken, Agatha and also seeing Mrs Bloxby, Roy Silver and Bill Wong and how they were all getting on. I also enjoyed following the trail of clues and red herrings and not having a clue who the killer was until just the right moment. It’s was just the escapism I was craving and reminded me why I have an Agatha on the bedside at all times, you never know when you might need that comfort read one dark winters (or summers, or any evening really) night.

Are you a fan of the Agatha Raisin series? Have any of you read the other series by M.C.Beaton, or the stand alone novels and how did you get on? I haven’t ventured yet. And what, if you have one, is your guilty free guilty pleasure read?

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Agatha Raisin – The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Day 13

Please accept my apologies this is a late post, this may become a pattern as Larry the Laptop (my computer and one of my closest allies, is ill). I need a lovely shiny new laptop to fall out of my advent calendar, or just find one on a pavement whilst walking home or maybe a Christmas angel could send me one magically… cough….

So today I want to give you all the chance to be possible winners who can have the joys (or the acidic wit and charm) of Agatha Raisin in your lives. I was going t give the entire series away but I have done that before and so to give you all the chance of a taster of Agatha you could win one of a lucky two sets of three Agatha books, a Christmas treat, the companion guide and the latest in the series…

  

All you need to do is pop to this post here, all about Agatha of course, and tell me in the comments there what your guilt free guilty pleasure read is and why? You have until 11am GMT December  16th, so good luck!

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One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… & Five (Again!)

One of my favourite meme’s (I have to say I have a love hate relationship with meme’s – in part because I have no idea what meme stands for) that I have ever come across was the lovely Simon of Stuck in a Book’s ‘One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four Book… & Five’ which was so brilliant I had to join in with it at the time. I just love having a nosey into what is going on in the book bit of everyone’s lives and this does prove a fascinating snap shot. So as he has done it again I simply had to join in, so here is mine…

The Book I’m Currently Reading…

As it is Halloween tomorrow and I absolutely love all things ghostly, I am tucking into a book described as ‘The Turn of the Screw reworked by Edgar Allan Poe’ and so far ‘Florence & Giles’ by John Harding is proving to be much more of a hit with me than ‘The Turn of The Screw’ was which sadly left me severely wanting. I am really enjoying the secretive book devouring thread that has been going on so far, bookish and ghostly – delightful. Let’s hope it keeps going so well, and also scares me.

The Last Book I Finished…

Another ghost story and one that did just what it should… scared me silly. Michelle Paver’s ‘Dark Matter’ took me from my old homeland of foggy Tooting in the late 1930’s we follow Jack Miller on a voyage to the barren, icy and dark expanse of the arctic and get embroiled in a genuinely terrifying tale. The hairs on my back stood on end and everything. Gavin and I have been reading this as an accidental first ‘joint read’ for The Readers which leads me to…

The Next Book I Want To Read…

This was the hardest to pick as I am trying to read in the most whimish was possible, however there is a book I do want to be dipping in and out of alot. ‘In Other Worlds; SF and The Human Imagination’ is a collection of the wonderful Margaret Atwood’s essays which covers the ‘sci-fi vs. speculative fiction debate’ along with superhero’s and Victorian otherlands. Gav and I are reading this as our next joint read as it seems the perfect book for us to discuss with our tastes. Me being a ‘lit-head’ and he being an ‘alien loving supernatural fantasist’ (ha, I can’t wait for him to spy that comment!)

The Last Book I Bought…

Is for a new book group I have started in central Manchester with my lovely American ‘buddy’ Joe. We have called ourselves the ‘Bearded Book Lovers’ as so far all the members are men and we all have beards. Will be interesting to see how this progresses as we have two lovely ladies who want to join. Hmmm. Anyway I have heard lots of good things about ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton and loved the sound of ‘The Rosamund Tea Rooms boarding house’ as the central place in a story set in wartime England in a small town on the Thames. It was also in Fopp for just £2 so I bought in bulk for everyone, not just me.

The Last Book I Was Given…

Was from my fellow ‘Bearded Book Lovers’ co-founder Joe who, like me, has a passion for all things M.C. Beaton and had spotted this title he had never heard of. Well I had never heard of this one off either and was frankly rather jealous, yet kindly I now have my very own copy of ‘The Skeleton in the Closet’ to read, it has a rather Halloween perfect title doesn’t it?

Well, that is me done. I have noticed that all the covers, bar the last one, are rather dreary and a bit grey, oh dear! Random. Moving on… Who else is joining in, or have you already? Do leave a link to yours in the comments below if you have done this, and if you haven’t do have a go and let me know afterwards. I am so nosey this is right up my street.

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The Comfort of a Series…

There is a real comfort in being able to open the pages of a book, cosy in your perfect reading spot, and being surrounded by a world that is familiar and where you are joined by some of your favourite characters. To me this is the joy of having an ongoing favourite series, and it’s been a saviour in the last few days after what had been a severe bout of readers block.

I had got myself into a vicious thought circuit of ‘why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything’ last week, something I seem to do which I am aware only adds to the pressure but it can’t be helped. I was well aware I had a few of the submissions for The Green Carnation Prize to get through, which has involved some stunning reading, as we announce the longlist in just over a fortnight – but I needed a break. I instantly thought ‘right time for something completely different’ and so pulled down the next of M.C. Beatons Agatha Raisin novels ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ (if anyone is sniggering, these are awesome books) and before I knew it I had devoured that and polished off the next one ‘Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came’. Then I got what I call ‘series guilt’.

In my mind ‘series guilt’, though maybe guilt isn’t quite the right word, is rather like when you have an author binge. You read one, want to read more and then think ‘hang on I have almost read all their books and I have no idea when the next one is out’. In the case of Agatha Raisin this doesn’t really apply, I have another eight (as I read two out of sync) to go. Yet I do get this with other series I read. Hence why I have stopped with Sophie Hannah, Paul Magrs etc, I don’t quite know when the next one will be so am saving the latest one for a while instead.

There are however three series that I will be playing catch up with as a bit of a reading treat for myself and because I know that I have quite a few more of the series of Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen to go. So expect to see these three books featured in more detail…

   

Isn’t it odd that these series are all crimes, well and one spooky-goings-on series? I think I need to be looking outside of the box. Though they are perfect for this time of year as autumn starts to show its true colours. I have also thought that the only way to not have to worry if a series is running out is to find some more to get into the swing of, and this is where you come in.  I would like your recommendations for some new series to find.

So I wondered if you would share your favourite series (or two) with me but also if you could let me know of any series of books which aren’t of a ‘genre’ so I can branch out. The only one I can think of at the moment is Anthony Trollope’s ‘Barchester Towers’. I know there are many more than just those, can you help?

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Oops, Sorry, Busyness & Readers Block Are To Blame…

I have to apologise, I suddenly realised that my blogging has sort of gone off kilter. It wasn’t an intentional break by any means but I am interestingly quite glad to have had it. Its been a rather mad week with the absolute high that was ‘Bookmarked Debut Night’ – which I will be doing a full report on later – and then the weirdness of the Manchester riots which left me feeling a bit ‘blurgh’. What also hasn’t helped so much is a big dose of readers block.

Readers block is a funny old thing isn’t it; you never quite know when it’s going to strike. Then it does and if you are anything like me it just makes you cross. This then makes you rush for any book that might spark it, which of course then doesn’t do the trick and so you end up merely getting all the crosser. It is like a wicked cycle.

I think the nerves for the first night of Bookmarked might have been the catalyst, and then the come down after such a great night left me not really wanting to reach for anything else. Plus I then had three more months of authors to sort (you wait till you hear the line up). So I gave myself a few days off and from Sunday to Thursday I barely read a word. I even ignored the pile of Green Carnation and ‘Reading With Author’ books I have stacked by the bed. However ‘Pigeon English’ called and, while it may not have been my favourite read of the year, you can see me and Naomi Wood discuss it tomorrow, it snapped me out of the block and I read it in two days – partly because of deadline and partly because it was so readable.

So now I feel like I am back in the reading world and am going to have a nice meander through my TBR (recently culled, which I still need to update on here) and start applying my Books Before The End of the World Rules to and get cracking. I have a feeling a Tess Gerritsen or M.C. Beaton book might be just the next read for me.

So what are you reading right now and what do you plan to read next? Any recommendations for any readers block sufferers out there?

P.S apologies if you tuned in and waited endlessly for me to be on BBC World Have Your Say yesterday which I posted about – and then deleted after feeling a bit miffed off, they didn’t call. Sorry.

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Cosy Crime Time…

Over the last few weeks, maybe even months, you may have heard me mentioning how my health has been all over the place. This of course has to some extent affected my reading, as while I have had more time for it in waiting rooms and on long bus journeys etc my mind hasn’t been able to concentrate on it in quite the way it should. Not quite readers block exactly more a reading head fog. Anyway this week saw the final results come in and it wasn’t the best news but it wasn’t the worse, it seems a certain bunch of evil cells (and you all know what I am getting at here) have set up home in my colon and over the next week we will be seeing what can be done (more procedures) and where we go next. I didn’t know if I should make this big news as a) I like to keep the blog positive b) I don’t want other people worrying c) I’m never sure how much sharing is too much sharing on the blogosphere?

Anyway, in general I’m doing ok with it all and dealing with it all in bits whilst remaining in quite a positive place. I finally feel like I know what I am dealing with and though its not great we aren’t at curtains just yet plus after having felt so sick over the last few months with no answer I now know it wasn’t just all in my head. I will admit though that I think for the next few days it’s going to need to be a time where I, through whims of course, turn to some comfort reading and one particular genre is calling out to me…

…Those lovely cosy crime novels. I have sifted through some of the many boxes of books in the house and come up with a delightful collection that are going straight on my bedside table for some fun reading times ahead. Some of them are old favourites like the wonderful Agatha Raisin, who I have also been listening to lately and really enjoying, plus some of the Edwardian M.C. Beaton mysteries that have recently been republished with lovely (rather camply fabulous I think) new covers. I am also going to crack on with a whole new series and author Lesley Cookman (though I know her through the Green Carnation Prize I have never read any of her books till now) which I seem to have managed to randomly get the whole ‘Libby Sarjeant’ series of after a trip away this week which I will be reporting back on tomorrow.

It looks like I have some marvellous murders ahead doesn’t it? I know I have some about a crime fighting cat; I just haven’t been able to locate those yet. I’ll have to have another hunt when I re-box my books that have started to go a bit curled in the garage. Which cosy crime novels do you turn to now and again? Any you would recommend I seek out I might have missed?

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Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body – M.C. Beaton

(Oops this should have gone live earlier but for some reason didn’t!) I don’t know about you but the ideal Christmas themed read for me (not Christmas time read full stop – I am debating a few giant books for that coveted role) is something that I can escape into, pick up and put down every so often when last minute shopping or potato peeling is required and then step straight back into. It needs to make me laugh, have me hooked and be a good excuse to remove myself from the family now and again (apologies if they are reading – but it’s true). So this year I plumped for the latest Agatha Raisin novel ‘Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body’, and broken my ‘ must read a series in order rule’ just as I did last year with ‘Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye’. I had high hopes I was in for a treat and was proved right!

Agatha has only been away a few days, on a very unsuccessful trip to Corsica to avoid Christmas only she realises she misses it, and in that time John Sunday a new resident in Carsley has been driving everyone in the village and the villages nearby mad with his health and safety rules and regulations. John Sunday is one of those terrible jobs worthy types who takes everything too far and makes everyone’s life a misery. He bans the Christmas Tree from the roof of the church as it may fall on someone, original Victorian wooden shelves from the local shop for fear of splinters, candles in church as they may burn people… the list goes on. So when he is killed in front of Agatha’s very eyes not only is everyone very relieved they are also all suspects and so while the police take on finding his murderer so of course doe Agatha.

I of course can’t tell you ‘whodunit’ as that would ruin the book for you. I can tell you that in getting to the cosy yet thrilling dénouement  Agatha gets herself in trouble, a muddle and a little bit of danger – so business as normal then. Only I always forget about the business and I can’t work out if I like it or not. Sorry, slight tangent diversion there but in the latest books  Agatha has her own detective agency and as I am reading further back in the series when she goes it alone a lot more I am unsure of how much I like this because I haven’t seen it naturally emerge yet. Not that this means you cant read Agatha Raisin at any point as a standalone novel, but why would you want to when there are 20+ books in the series and they are all so lovely (in a slightly murderous fashion).

I think out of all the Agatha Raisin books that I have read so far this might be the quickest one in which we get thrown instantly into the story and taken on a whirlwind of secrets and twists and turns as the tale unfolds in all its directions. If you want some fun and thrills over Christmas from the comfort of your own chair, and we all know how that feels after one too many mince pies, then I would suggest you give this book a whirl. I thoroughly enjoyed it! 8.5/10

Anyone else giving Agatha a Christmas airing at all? What Christmas reading have you got stuck into so far, any with festive themes?

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