[Joint Review] Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong #1) by Robin StevensTitle: Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong #1)
Author: Robin Stevens
Published: June 5th, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbookdepositorygoodreads

Like the tagline says: There’s been a rather shocking murder at Deepdean School For Girls… Hazel Wong, a third form student, found the dead body of the science mistress in the gym. But by the time she comes back with her friend Daisy and a prefect, the body has disappeared. So the girls have to solve the murder, but they also need to prove that a murder happened in the first place. Daisy is excited at the idea of having their very own murder to investigate, but Hazel more realistically wonders what will happen if the murderer decides that they’re getting too close to the truth.

Ren: Set in an English boarding school in 1934, Murder Most Unladylike is a bloody good read. From the first page, it’s packed full of words and customs from that era, and I was completely immersed in Hazel and Daisy’s world. I loved that the author sounded very authentic, and the characters were always rooted in their time, without inexplicably displaying modern sensibilities. Plus, they have bunbreaks. I love that. Bunbreaks. In which they eat squashed flies.

Isa: I might have had a minor breakdown when they first mentioned bunbreaks. BUNBREAKS. How cool is that? Personally, I wouldn’t eat the squashed flies (ew, raisins), but I would very much welcome any and all bunbreaks thrown at me. Aside from the bunbreaks, I really loved the characters. They were a healthy mix of imperfect people and I really loved that. Too often characters in books are too perfect or too stereotypical or even just mere caricatures of a few traits thrown in a pot, but not so with Murder Most Unladylike. Daisy (why do I always want to call her Diana?) is headstrong and opinionated to a fault, but she also has a heart of gold when it counts and truly cares about Hazel, who has a bit of a pash on Daisy.

Ren: A pash, for the uninitiated, is a kind of girl crush. All the weird old-timey words are explained in the book, and there’s also a glossary at the end. I had the kindle edition so there was no way for me to scroll back and forth easily, but I assume if you had the dead tree edition you could refer to that if you got confused. Which you shouldn’t, since our narrator Hazel does a great job of explaining it all. I have a bit of a pash on Hazel, who gives us a unique perspective on English boarding schools since she’s from Hong Kong and has been sent overseas to get a perfect English education. Being an outsider, it makes sense that she would question the very English tradition of hitting each others with sticks — sorry, I meant playing hockey — under the rain… She’s torn between being herself and wanting to fit in, which is very relatable.

Isa: Yeahhhhhh… I don’t so much have a pash on Hazel but a full-blown crush. What a cutie! If only she weren’t jailbait, I could smooch her cute face and initiate her into the Order of Canoodling Ladies. Of which there are a bunch, by the way. My cold little heart and I were most pleased by the subtle (or blatantly in-your-face) references to canoodling ladies, hehehehe. And that’s another thumbs up to the author! I found it very refreshing that such things were included because, dude, those things do occur at all-girl schools and they did occur in the past and they way the author treated it was neither gimmicky nor swept under the rug. That, too, was very relatable, at least for me. And if I’m quite honest, it was the thing that excited me the most. (I’m pretty sure I yelled “LESBIANS!” at Ren when I first realised it.)

Ren: (You did. I’m pretty sure my reaction was “BUNBREAKS!” because they’re higher in my priorities. But yeah, I liked the non-gimmicky inclusion of lesbians and I was sad for the Maths Mistress who was obviously in love with the victim.) As for the murder itself, I have to say that I’m like Daisy: I absolutely love mysteries! I grew up with my mum’s Agatha Christie novels, so I really appreciated all the references to the popular mystery books that Daisy was reading and hiding from Matron. This particular mystery was rather easy to figure out for me, I guessed the killer very early on because of the way the author kept trying to divert the reader’s attention to the other suspects, but even so I was charmed by the characters and the setting and I enjoyed reading about how Daisy and Hazel solved the murder. It’s a proper English mystery crime, too, with enough clues that you may be able to figure it out if you like that sort of things.

Isa: I’m not that into mysteries, I’m afraid, mainly because I’m just not as invested. I like reading about the solving of a mystery, but unlike other people I take no joy from figuring out the culprit myself. Though I might make a somewhat satisfactory Watson to Ren’s Holmes, I suppose. I’d be pretty good at the whole writing down important things that you tell me, I bet. Anyhow, despite my general indifference to mysteries I did enjoy this one! I may not be into the solving but it was a compelling mystery and for somebody who didn’t guess the culprit it was quite fascinating to see Daisy and Hazel figure it all out. The author did a great job with that, it really felt as if I was by their side all the time and sharing the experience with them!

Ren: Isa would be an excellent Watson, though I’d be a rubbish Holmes because I’m a wimp and I wouldn’t want to run around chasing murderers. I’m quite happy sitting back and reading about Daisy and Hazel’s adventures instead of being by their side. The girls are really interesting characters and I’m looking forward to how they will evolve, since it seems this will turn into a series. Book two is set at a house party in the country, and while I’ll miss the school setting it will be fun to see Daisy’s family.

Isa: I’ll miss that too, but then I am sure we’ll see some familiar faces, like King Henry! And we might get to meet Daisy’s mysterious uncle! (Fingers crossed that he turns out to be the dashing Uncle Felix who is mentioned in the summary for book two.) All in all I’m terribly chuffed about the first book and I think it totally deserves the four teacups we’re giving it. The writing is compelling and never fails to deliver, and the setting and characters are particularly fabulous. If only there were happy homosexuals (alas, they never are in fiction) and more detailed descriptions about bunbreaks, I’d be willing to give it five. ;)

Isa and Ren

[Joint Review] Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Keeping the Castle by Patrice KindlPick For Me badgeTitle: Keeping the Castle
Author: Patrice Kindl
Published: June 1, 2012
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

Seventeen-year-old Althea lives with her family (a mother, two stepsisters, one little brother) in a crumbling castle in Northern England. Being pretty and penniless and extremely practical, Althea has decided that she will marry well and rescue her family from their genteel poverty. There aren’t many eligible men in the town of Lesser Hoo, especially after Althea’s sharp tongue sends her latest suitor running, but when the young and attractive (and rich) Lord Boring arrives, Althea resolves to marry him and solve her financial problems. Also because Lord Boring is young and attractive. But mostly because he’s rich. It’s too bad that Althea’s meddling stepsisters, Lord Boring’s very rude friend, and a whole host of neighbours, keep getting in the way…

Isa: Soooo, Ren picked this book for me in the May Pick-For-Me (I feel like I always say that in PFM reviews, despite the giant badge at the beginning of the post…) and I REALLY ENJOYED IT. I was determined to read it soon regardless of the PFM going on, but I’m glad that Ren’s choice pushed me to definitely go for it this month because it was really lovely.

Ren: And Isa loved it so much that I was spurred to read it too, and now I’m hijacking her review to rant about how good this book was. Like she said, it’s a lovely story: it’s funny and lighthearted and has all the elements I like in a Regency romance, while avoiding stale tropes and clichés. For example, Althea is very different from the usual romance heroines!

Isa: Which was really great. In general, the book was great and not at all what I expected. (Though I can’t even say what I expected, but it wasn’t this.) As usual I’m a victim of shiny covers, so the whole Regency setting came as a bit of a surprise (why? Isa, why??? your thoughts regarding this literally make no sense????) but it was definitely a welcome surprise! I know Ren reads a lot of Regency romance, so she’s already in her element when it comes to the genre, but for me it’s a bit different. I enjoy them, but I often struggle through them too. Don’t know why that is… perhaps because in my mind they just appear as this giant cluster of longwinded run-on sentences where the protagonists take ten pages to describe the exact way in which they are doing their needlework. Even though that isn’t remotely accurate in actuality!

Ren: Well… no, it’s not, really. But to be honest I started reading in the m/f romance genre only a few months ago myself. I’m not disparaging the genre, quite the opposite since you know I’m addicted to it, but the thing is that so many historical romances are just so serious! The heroine and hero are pining and angsting and crying because of their epic love, and so on.

Isa: That’s exactly it! There’s only so much angst and pining and seriousness I can take.

Ren: Keeping The Castle on the other hand focuses on humour and witty banter, and the last chapters made me smile so much that my face hurt. And Althea is very different from the usual romance heroines!

Isa: She really is! Althea was a refreshing change from what the dark recesses of my brain imagined. She’s witty and absolutely determined to find herself a rich husband, no matter what.

Ren: I loved that Althea’s goal is marriage instead of finding her soulmate. And I loved that she is beautiful even though not very accomplished, and she knows it and uses her looks to her advantage. It was a refreshing change from the usual heroine who’s incredibly talented but plain and so angsts about her looks until the hero sees her inner beauty.

Isa: Soulmates are useless anyway. Ain’t nobody got time for that. What if your soulmate is a boring vicar who keeps making fish faces? No, I think the best romantic matches are often made of people (or other beings, if you’re into that kind of thing) who can withstand a bit of healthy arguing and snappy banter. Which is what I loved about this! It reminded me a lot of the Parasol Protectorate series, which is equally witty and entertaining. And it’s not just the wit that was entertaining in Keeping the Castle. There’s also the general situation of Althea’s family that’s really tragic but also incredibly hilarious. Poor Althea for having had a grandfather who built a rickety castle on a cliff because he thought it was visually striking.

Ren: To be honest, it was striking! Just look at that adorable castle on the cover… I wouldn’t want to live there, especially with the leaky roof or the rats, but I could see why Althea didn’t want to lose it and I’d love to visit. Plus, the atmosphere is that of a typical English countryside village, and it’s full of ridiculous characters with names like Lord Boring, Lady Throstletwist, Dr Haxhamptonshire (pronounced Hamster) and so on. Everyone is delightful, and even the evil stepsisters amused me. Aside from Althea, my favourite characters were Mr. Fredericks (loved the banter!) and Miss Vincy (loved how she wasn’t reduced to the role of rival but had her own story instead).

Isa: Eheheheheh, I love the names, negl. It’s another one of the things that reminds me of the Parasol Protectorate. (You should read that, Ren.) (I mean, really. Lord Akeldama. You would love him. And Biffy. You would adore Biffy. Maybe I should sic Evy on you…)

Ren: (Yeeeah, right…) (We can talk about it after you read Captive Prince?)

Isa: I definitely agree with you on Fredericks and Miss Vincy. Any and all negative expectations I may have had were out of the window with these two. They were delightful and genuine, which counts for a lot when really most other characters don’t seem to have an ounce of common sense. Seriously, the whole village/town/smattering of estates must’ve known that Althea and her family weren’t exactly well off (and that’s putting it nicely) and yet they insisted on visiting with them. I love the way that was handled though! Not just the general plot but also the little things like Althea wrestling their domestic situation to suit the needs as best as they could!

Ren: I thought the same, but in hindsight it’s nice that they still visited and didn’t treat Althea and the Crawleys as social pariahs because they were poor. And I agree, it was great to see how Althea dealt with everything that happened. She’s funny and smart and resourceful and has more than earned her happy ending. Her, and everyone else in the story. Except for the ones who earned a stupid ending through their stupidity, but there’s no helping them really.

Isa: Frankly, it would’ve been disappointing if those hadn’t has a stupid ending because that wouldn’t have fit with the otherwise excellent writing. Well, mostly excellent writing. There was one thing that bothered me a lot, actually. I eventually got over it because I was just being unnecessarily nitpicky, but the author kept using ” tho’ ” as a substitute for “though”. Admittedly, I use “tho” as well when I’m lazy, but it kept disrupting the story for me. I’ve never encountered that before in historical fiction and it just kept making me think of internet things, actually.

Ren: Same here, tho’ (ha ha) I looked it up and it’s apparently a spelling that was occasionally used in letters and informal journals. Generally, I liked the writing style. Good banter, funny characters, a unique heroine: this book has it all and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it: fans of Regency romances should appreciate the freshness of the plot, while non-fans can get a glimpse of Regency atmosphere and wry humour.

Isa: Very funny you are. And you put it all very well there, I am jealous of your ability to use words. And because I can’t seem to add any more to this review other than flailing about how much I loved it, I’m just gonna add my favourite line from the book:

“I stared after the runaway couple with narrowed eyes and heaving breast. How could they? Without even discussing it with me?”

Isa: Althea’s thoughts and general disposition are just dead funny. Hands down one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and very deserving of the 4.5 teacups we’re handing out!
Isa and Ren