[Ren] Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2) by Robin Stevens

Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2) by Robin StevensReview copy badgeTitle: Arsenic For Tea (Wells and Wong #2)
Author: Robin Stevens
Published: October 27th, 2014
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 teacups

Once again we travel back to 1930s England, land of murders and bunbreaks, where schoolgirl detectives Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are spending the hols at Daisy’s ancestral home. There’s also some family members and friends staying over for Daisy’s birthday party, and everyone knows what happens every time a group of Englishmen have a party in an isolated country house: someone’s going to get offed. Predictably, Hazel isn’t too pleased with having to deal with yet another murderer while Daisy is jumping at the change to solve the mystery before the adults… at least until she realizes that there’s a very good chance that someone in her family is a killer.

So I was going to do a serious (aka boring) review as usual, but then this happened:

…Okay then. This is going to be easier for me since I only have muddled, incoherent thoughts about this book. Usually when I read there’s a part of me that’s dissecting the plot and the characters and filing everything away for later. In this case however my train of thoughts was more like HAZEL IS MY BABY! OH LOOK BUNBREAKS!!! IS THAT UNCLE FELIX??? YAY DAISY!! OH NO DON’T CRY!!!! LET’S SOLVE THE MURDER!!!!!! FRIENDSHIP!! WHO DID THE MURDER?????? YAY TEATIME AGAIN!


An accurate representation of the reviewer reading the book.

First books are a gamble because I don’t know if I’m going to love or hate a series until I start it. But second books are the real test, especially when the bar has been set pretty high. “Murder Most Unladylike was pretty much perfect, how is it possible to top that?” I wondered as I perused the book’s page on NetGalley. This is totally what I told Isa at that time, and not “oggjhfjfnmas[expletive] i’m gonna request it and then cry when they reject me because our blog is not popular”.


Reviewer’s reaction on receiving an advance copy of the book.

It hadn’t occurred to me at first that not all Wells & Wong books could be set at a boarding school. I do love boarding school books, but yeah, it’d get a bit implausible in the end if they just kept killing off the Science mistress every schoolyear like they did with DADA teachers in Harry Potter. So while I got the change of setting, and I loved Fallingford, also like Hazel I felt a bit homesick for the familiar background of the school from the previous book. Reading about Daisy’s family was just like meeting someone you’ve heard a lot about. Especially Dashing Uncle Felix (yep I’m pretty sure that’s his full name) whom I’d be dying to learn more about since Isa pointed out that he’s the mysterious uncle who taught Daisy how to break into a car and told her that dead bodies are heavy.


In my mind Dashing Uncle Felix looks a lot like Rupert Everett with a monocle.

Everything is very British, including the fact that Daisy’s birthday party is a “children’s tea party”, whatever that means. From what I gathered, it means that there are children around and people serve themselves (shock!) instead of needing a butler to hand them the scones. Obviously it doesn’t take long before one of the guests drops dead… no, wait, it does take a while because apparently arsenic doesn’t work instantly like in the films. Anyway. Eventually one of the guests drops dead, which is very sad.


All that wasted tea and cakes. A tragedy.

Who ruined the tea party?? Hazel would like to go back to a time and place when it was safe to have tea without having to wonder if it was poisoned. If she read more of Daisy’s books she’d know that it’s too late by now: if you solve a murder, you’ll spend your life stumbling into dead bodies. Well-known cosmic law. Just look at Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher, it’s a wonder there was anyone still alive in their village!


But let’s have a cuppa anyway, poison’s no excuse to miss tea.

So Hazel and Daisy are investigating the crime, but (obviously) the house is isolated and (obviously) this means the murderer must be one of the guests. Usually, you know, who cares. The detectives are usually guests themselves, the reader has only just been introduced to those characters. HOWEVER! This time the moment when Daisy realizes “whooops is Mummy or Daddy a possible murderer?” is also the moment when I realized “whooops I’m too emotionally invested in those fictional characters”. So I have my list of suspects, and I’m trying to guess the culprit as usual, but my thoughts are all skewed because I DON’T WANT THEM TO BE GUILTY, DAISY WILL BE SAD!


I AM EMOTIONALLY COMPROMISED BECAUSE OF FICTIONAL CHARACTERS!

Safe to say, I didn’t figure out the culprit before Hazel and Daisy solved the case. I guessed some things, and I might have put some of the pieces together if I stopped to think about it, but I couldn’t stop because for the last few chapters I was glued to my kindle and crossing all my fingers that everything would end well. In between there were a lot of shenanigans that mostly I didn’t mention because I didn’t have suitable gifs on hand, I’ll just say that my favourite scene was probably the one with Daisy under her bed. I think I liked Daisy a lot more in this book (which means I liked her lots and lots, since I already liked it a fair bit in MMU).

I miiight like MMU a little bit more because of the setting (boarding schools yay) but overall: THIS BOOK, I LIKE IT!

So, now that I’m done being excited about the awesomeness that was this book, FIRST CLASS MURDER (WELLS & WONG #3) IS GOING TO BE SET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (DURING THE HOLS??) AND THAT’S PRETTY MUCH THE BEST SETTING EVER SO GO READ ARSENIC FOR TEA, AND IF YOU’VE READ IT THEN READ IT AGAIN. Or idk go back to Deepdean and the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Regular reviews will resume as soon as I stop flailing, in the meantime you can communicate with me through gifs of British actors and biscuits. Bye.

Ren

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[Ren] The Jade Temptress (Pingkang Li Mysteries #2) by Jeannie Lin

The Jade Temptress (Pingkang Li Mysteries #2) by Jeannie LinTitle: The Jade Temptress (Pingkang Li Mysteries #1)
Author: Jeannie Lin
Published: March 3rd, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

This second book in the series returns to ancient China and to the Pingkang Li pleasure quarter to explore the story of Mingyu, the sister of the first book’s protagonist and one of the most celebrated courtesans in the city. It took me a while to get into this book, I started it right after finishing the first one but I kept putting it off because it couldn’t hold my attention. Eventually, though, the interactions between the two leads got me hooked.

I liked this book way better than the other one, overall. I’ll admit that for me only two things really matter in regard to romances: writing style and protagonists. In this case I felt as if both were better compared to The Lotus Palace. For the writing, it might be simply that this time I already knew in advance that the plot would be too convoluted to try and guess the murderer and so I just focused on the romance part. But I also felt as if there were less loose strands at the end, less last-minute all-changing revelations. This made it much easier for me to focus on the personal aspects of the case.

As for Wu Kaifeng and Mingyu, it really boils down to personal preference: I found their romance much more believable, and their obstacles much more realistic. I’m also a fan of love-hate relationships (or hate turning to love as in this case) so this book was right up my alley. I still don’t understand while M/F authors write series about different couples linked by family or friendship ties, as opposed to M/M authors who write series about the same couple evolving over time; but I do enjoy getting to spend multiple books in the same world, and in this case having Mingyu’s backstory from the first book definitely helped because this book could start in the middle of things without having to setting up the scene.

I don’t know if Jeannie Lin is planning to write more books in this series, but if she did I’d definitely want to read Wei Wei’s story!
Ren

[Ren] Jewel of the Thames (Portia Adams #1) by Angela Misri

Jewel of the Thames (Portia Adams #1) by Angela MisriReview copy badgeTitle: Jewel of the Thames (Portia Adams #1)
Author: Angela Misri
Published: March 23rd, 2014
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblegoodreads

I really wanted to like this book. On the surface, it’s got it all: in the 1930s Portia Adams moves from Toronto to London on her mother’s death, and she discovers she inherited the famous apartment at 221B Baker Street. With the help of her guardian, the ~mysterious~ Mrs. Irene Jones, Portia starts investigating her ~mysterious~ grandfather… I’m using the term very loosely here, since the solution of this mystery is immediately obvious thanks to the anvil-sized hints that everyone keeps dropping. In fact, I was almost surprised by the predictable plot twist because I’d started to think that it was too obvious and her grandfather couldn’t possibly be… well, spoilers.

In this case, my reading history works against me. I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve read all the stories and watched my fair share of adaptations. Sometimes there are books that offer a fresh take on the Arthur Conan Doyle canon. In this case, though I couldn’t buy into Portia’s connection to the canon characters. It’s like with Robert Downey Jr: I enjoy his films but he’s not Doyle’s character.

Moreover, Portia has a rather bland personality, and the secondary characters have no personality at all. There’s the constable with “future love interest” stamped on his forehead, the Scotland Yard inspector who’s suitably impressed by the 19yo detective, the ~mysterious~ Mrs. Jones and… not many others. The book is divided in four parts: the first is about Portia leaving Toronto, the others are three different mini-mysteries. Unfortunately, the book’s sluggish pace and the lack of interesting characters made it a chore to finish it.

The second case (the mysterious illness) was by far the most interesting. The gothic atmosphere reminded me of the canon stories and the plot was ingenious. Unfortunately it was also the case most riddled with mistakes, such as “reticule” (a small purse) used to mean… a cupboard, I think?

Given the amount of beta readers cited in the acknowledgements, I would have expected to find way less grammar mistakes, plot holes, or stray Americanisms.

Overall, while I’m not thrilled by this book or its heroine, I think it might appeal to people who are less of a Holmes fanatic and prefer light mysteries.
Ren

[Ren] A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford #3) by Charles Todd

A Bitter TruthTitle: A Bitter Truth (Bess Crawford #3)
Author: Charles Todd
Published: August 30th, 2011
Rating: 2 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

This is the third book in a series about a WWI English nurse who solves crimes. It was a huge letdown, because I liked Bess in the first book, but the plot of this book was a complete mess. It starts off as a typical cozy mystery in which someone is murdered and everyone at the manor is a suspect, but the bitter truth about this book is that you have no chance in hell to solve the mystery. The rules of fair play whodunnit are completely tossed out of the window, and in the last few chapters a secondary character appears out of the blue with a piece of information that explains the motive for the crime, which is completely different from what you’ve been led to believe up to that point and impossible to guess.

I found that really disappointing, because of all the time wasted on talking to all the other suspects and pursuing other leads. If the authors were going to make a random character the murderer, they could have spent more chapters developing the main character. Bess does a lot of, well, to be frank, she acts like a criminal. She’s complicit in the kidnapping of a young child from her caretakers, for example. One could make the case that she was trying to act in the child’s best interests and that the war made circumstances different, but to me it looked as if she has no idea what she’s doing. She hurts a lot of people out of thoughtlessness, but it’s all glossed over because she’s meant to be a good character.

Then there’s the matter of Roger, who hit his wife hard enough to give her a concussion, but that’s also forgotten when he becomes friends with Bess. I don’t know about you, Bess, but if I know a man has a history of violence, is always angry, and is a suspect in a murder inquiry, I wouldn’t want to follow him if he says he wants to talk in private. But, like everyone is fond of saying at every turn, who cares about a small disagreement between man and wife as long as the sanctity of marriage is saved. I would have accepted it if there had been some kind of commentary from Bess along the lines of “this is how people think in this day and age and it sucks but what can you do” like her interior monologue when she first saw Lydia’s bruises. But that was before meeting Roger. After she meets Roger he seems like a nice person so she conveniently neglects to think about Lydia’s concussion ever again. Plus, everyone including Lydia agrees that it’s her fault for making him mad after all.

So yeah it was a mess of a book and killed all my interest in this series with one fell swoop. I wanted to find out more about Simon Brandon and about the Australian soldier, but I prefer my mysteries (and my characters) to be a little less random. I’m afraid this is yet another series in which I’d recommend to read the first book, pretend it’s a standalone, and don’t bother about the rest.
Ren

[Ren] The Lotus Palace (Pingkang Li Mysteries #1) by Jeannie Lin

The Lotus Palace (Pingkang Li Mysteries #1) by Jeannie LinTitle: The Lotus Palace (Pingkang Li Mysteries #1)
Author: Jeannie Lin
Published: September 1st, 2013
Rating: 3 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

A historical romance/mystery set in a place other than England? What is this sorcery?! This was, more or less, my thought process when I picked up this book. It’s set during the Tang Dynasty in the Pingkang Li, the pleasure quarter of the capital. Yue-ying is maidservant to a courtesan, Bai Huang is a spoiled nobleman’s son. Together, they solve crimes!

I really liked the setting, I don’t think I read other books set in ancient China and the descriptions really brought the pleasure quarter and the marketplaces alive. The plot was rather clichéd, with a rich lord who falls in love with a poor (ex-)prostitute, but the unfamiliar setting made the story feel more original. I also liked Yue-ying’s determination and stubbornness. Bai Huang was somewhat more difficult to like: he acts like a dissolute young man who spends more time drinking with courtesans than studying, except that is only a façade and he’s a very respectful young man who wants justice even for the murder of a lowly prostitute; except sometimes he does act like a spoiled nobleman and tramples on Yue-ying’s feelings without even realizing it.

But I think this book’s biggest problem was that it couldn’t decide whether to be a romance or a mystery, and it jumped back and forth between the two. I really love mystery/romance books, but there has to be some sense to the plot. Here, the investigation would be stopped for ages while the characters made out, or alternatively there would be a whole chapter full of sudden revelations. It was confusing to say the least. There weren’t many characters, but the mystery was very convoluted and I gave up trying to solve it at some point and just waited for the characters to puzzle it out. Even then, I was confused because it turned out that they hadn’t really solved it, there were a couple of chapters that looked like an happy end, and then everyone was like “oh wait we forgot this thing so actually this is what happened and this other person is guilty”.

The romantic happy end was also rather unsatisfactory, because after Yue-ying and Bai Huang spent the whole book crying that they can’t be together because of their different class, it turned out that they could if only they asked his mother. Just… like that. It makes most of the book’s conflict seem rather useless. So I did like the characters and the setting, but I felt that overall the conclusion of the book was not very satisfactory either as a mystery or a romance. I’m reading the sequel now, about two minor characters, and I’m hoping the plotting will be less haphazard!
Ren

[Ren] Cut to the Quick (Julian Kestrel #1) by Kate Ross

Cut to the Quick (Julian Kestrel #1) by Kate RossTitle: Cut to the Quick (Julian Kestrel #1)
Author: Kate Ross
Published: March 1st, 1993
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

It’s difficult to sum up this book in a few words, because things happen very slowly, and they start in a roundabout way. Julian Kestrel, a famous dandy, is invited to the wedding of a man he barely knows. He thinks a stay in the country will give him a respite with his creditors, but his stay at Bellegarde is everything but peaceful. The groom’s family is at war with the bride’s father, everyone is hiding secrets, and there’s a dead woman in Julian’s bed.

Really brilliant Regency mystery. It reads like a cross between Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, which was perfect to me. The mystery was long and rather convoluted and I enjoyed it very much; this is one of those books, the ones that make me stay up unreasonably late because I just have to know who did it, and how, and why. I did guess some things, but not the murderer, because I fixated on the wrong person early on. Still, the solution was very satisfactory because it made sense to me (minus a certain necessary suspension of disbelief) and all the pieces fit neatly together.

I confess I might be in love with Julian Kestrel — I’ve always had a fondness for witty characters, and all of his dialogue is gold. He tries very hard to look detached and frivolous, and he does make fun of himself and others a lot, but underneath he cares more than he wants to admit even to himself. At first Julian’s reason for investigating is part intellectual curiosity and part wanting to clear himself and his valet, but by the end he feels compelled to see that justice is done, even though he’s become close to the people involved in the case. I liked that and I want to read more about him.

The other characters are also remarkable. Ross really had a gift for making everyone come to life through their descriptions and the way they talked. There were a lot of characters in the house, but I was never at risk of mixing them up or forgetting about someone. Every single character was the centre of their own story. It’s almost a pity I had to leave Bellegarde and won’t know how everyone will be getting on after the events of the story. Stunning debut and I’m looking forward to the second book.
Ren

[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

[Ren] A Duty To The Dead (Bess Crawford #1) by Charles Todd

A Duty To The Dead (Bess Crawford #1) by Charles ToddTitle: A Duty To The Dead (Bess Crawford #1)
Author: Charles Todd
Published: August 25th, 2009
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblebookdepositorygoodreads

Like many other English girls did in the circumstances, Bess Crawford signs up to go overseas as a nurse during the Great War. While Bess is tending to the wounded, a dying young man asks her to deliver a strange message to his brother: “Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. But it has to be set right.” Later, when her hospital ship is sunk and she’s sent home with a broken arm, Bess resolves to find this Jonathan and deliver the message. However, when Jonathan and his family act like they don’t know what the message means, Bess decides that it’s her duty to investigate and “set right” what Jonathan’s family is trying to cover up.

Overall, not a bad book. Bess Crawford is (much to my surprise and delight) a likeable narrator. She’s sympathetic and caring and paints a vivid picture of the cold English countryside during WWI. While the book takes a while to really pick up, the final chapters were filled with so much action that I couldn’t put the book down until it was finished.

While it was an enjoyable read, there were several things that kept bothering me. I was surprised to find out that the author (authors, in fact, writing under a nom de plume) has written several other books before this one. The writing felt rough and unpolished, especially the dialogue, since most of the times it consisted of characters spouting random pieces of information at Bess, followed by an unrelated question, followed by some other random information that Bess had to recall thirty pages later to advance the plot. Most of said plot is also very transparent. It becomes clear right away (even before you find out who was murdered and how and when) that you only have two or three possible suspects, and then it’s just a matter of following Bess along in her motorcar ride through Kent (and the occasional train to London) until she puzzles it out.

It’s not a bad ride, though, especially for fans of historical mysteries who prefer intriguing characters over fingerprint analysis.
Ren

[Ren] Kissing Sherlock Holmes by T.D. McKinney and Terry Wylis

Kissing Sherlock Holmes by T.D. McKinney and Terry WylisTitle: Kissing Sherlock Holmes
Author: T.D. McKinney and Terry Wylis
Published: July 31st, 2011
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 teacups
Find it at: amazonbarnesandnoblegoodreads

The premise: what if Holmes and Watson were more than friends? what if they were (gasp!) illicit gay lovers? Such a shocking premise, will say absolutely no one, knowing very well about the hundreds of thousands of Holmes fanfictions that have been written since way before the internet was even a thing. So yeah, this book is published fanfiction. Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing against fanfiction… as long as it’s good.

Urgh. This book. Quite possibly one of the worst books I ever managed to finish. It took me two months to get through all the purple prose and dead horse romance tropes and predictable plot twists, and in the end I think it was just bile fascination.

This book doesn’t just fail at being a believable romance, or a believable mystery, or a believed Sherlock Holmes story. It just… fails. Falls flat on his face after a couple of pages and doesn’t manage to get up. Ever.

Holmes and Watson are two lovesick puppies who’d rather spend the day cuddling and promising undying love to each other rather than catch a criminal. They bumble through the case, with Holmes failing every important deduction ever, but luckily the solution to the mystery falls in their laps. But it doesn’t matter because Holmes managed to impress the ladies at dinner with his deductions about cellos and gardening, so he’s a proper detective, see? And anyway there’s no need for any genius sleuth when the culprit is so obvious, they might as well have a sign that says “Hate Me, I’m Evil!” on their back. Everyone talks as if they were in the 21st century (save for one kid plagued by phonetic spelling) and they go around doing all kind of things that would have a Victorian lady in a faint, calling strangers by their first names and forgetting to wear gloves at dinner.

The thing that left me most baffled was that several reviews and blurbs state that the authors have a great knowledge of the characters and the historical period. Let me ask: where and when and how was that apparent? It takes more than offhand mentions of a country manor and horses and “English house parties” to make a historical novel. Just take the dinner scene. The characters address each other in the wrong way, address the servants in the wrong way, talk about all the wrong subjects, act inappropriately, and are improperly dressed.

Unless you’re looking for bad fiction, don’t read this book. It’s not even hilariously bad fiction, just terribly written.
Ren

[Ren] Why Kings Confess (Sebastian St. Cyr #9) by C.S. Harris

Why Kings Confess (Sebastian St. Cyr #9) by C.S. HarrisAvengers vs X-Men badgeTitle: Why Kings Confess (Sebastian St. Cyr #9)
Author: C.S. Harris
Published: March 4th, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 teacups

Why Kings Confess is the ninth book in C.S. Harris’s series of regency mysteries. I was going to make a post about the first books or maybe a series overview, but I figured I might as well talk about it here. Each book in the series is largely formulaic: there is a murder and Sebastian investigates, moving from the glittering ballrooms of the aristocracy to the poor houses of the East End in his quest for justice. This time the plot starts with Sebastian’s friend Gibson stumbling over the body of a young French doctor; the police insists that it was the work of footpads, but Sebastian isn’t so sure, especially when he finds out that the victim was in England as part of a delegation sent by Napoleon, and the (now-deposed) French royal family might also be involved… Something like that, murder with a dash of historical characters. However, far from becoming dull and repetitive over time, this series has sucked me in and I’m already looking forward to the next book.

The two main draws for me are the setting and the characters. I’m really nitpicky about historical novels because I read a lot of them and I can usually spot if an author has done her research or if she’s just talking about ladies in fancy dresses. C.S. Harris really knows what she’s writing about, there’s a great attention to details and the setting feels genuine. The characters too: Sebastian has somewhat modern sensibilities, for example in his attitude towards sexism and democracy, but he still acts and talks like he’s from the 19th century. This is also true about my favourite character, Hero Jarvis. In another book Sebastian makes the following observation about her: “however scornful Miss Jarvis might be of society’s strictures, she was still careful not to fall afoul of them”.

Hero, like countless other female characters, has realized that the rights of women in regency England are sorely lacking, and so she’s decided that she’ll never marry and instead she’s going to devote her life to social reform. But she’s far from running around wearing trousers and engaging in the kind of behaviour that would get her banned from polite society. Hero dresses in fashionable dresses that are suitable to her station, she brings her maid with her whenever going out because that’s what propriety dictates, and enlists Sebastian’s help because she knows that there’s some places where a well-born lady simply cannot go. Thus proving that a lady doesn’t need to flout convention to be a complete badass. (I’m keeping a tally of how many men she’s killed so far. It’s six. Hero sometimes needs help and sometimes she’s terrified and sometimes she’s hoping someone will save her, but she’s never helpless.)

As for the main character himself, Sebastian St. Cyr, the author on her website describes him as a mix of Mr. Darcy and James Bond, which… yeah, sounds about right. He’s the third son of an Earl and his father didn’t like him very much, but when he was a child his brothers died and so he’s now the Viscount Devlin and his father’s heir. (Devlin, not Devil, damn you autocorrect.) In the first book he’s just returned from fighting in the army, and he’s a bitter and disillusioned man. You can probably read Why Kings Confess without having read any of the other books first, because the recurring characters are given a short introduction and each book is a self-contained story with no cliffhanger, but you’d miss out on all the character development and revelations about Sebastian’s family history. He does start off drinking too much to forget about the war and fighting duels because he doesn’t care about his life, but two years later he’s quite happily married and frets about going out of town for a day because his wife is nine months pregnant.

To me, the personal lives of Sebastian and his family and friends are the strong suit of this book. The mystery of Damion Pelletan’s murder is well built and there are several plot twists that kept me guessing until the end. I did guess a few things, but the murderer turned out to be someone I had completely discarded as a suspect. However my personal preference is for detective novels à la Agatha Christie, while this is more of a thriller. Sebastian’s favourite method of investigation is confronting suspects and badgering them until they tell him some important plot point, which he uses to track down another suspect and confront them until they tell him something else that he didn’t already know. Rinse and repeat until you figure out who the murderer is.

So, on the strength of the mystery plot alone, I wouldn’t recommend this book. But as a part of a long-running series with solid storylines and complex, engaging characters? Definitely. If you like regency mysteries, dashing gentlemen and kickass ladies, you should check out the first book in the series, What Angels Fear, which has just been republished with a shiny new cover.

Ren