Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens

I can’t take a picture of my copies YET as I bought/borrowed them as ebooks to read during evenings/nights getting Peapod back to sleep! But the first and last have sprayed edges now, so I’m hoping this is in the pipeline for all of them and will be buying them all as they come out like that!

Way back at the start of 2018 I was sent a copy of A Spoonful of Murder from the publishers to read and review. I really enjoyed it and made the decision to go back and read the whole series in order…and then everything else (new books, life, having a baby) took over and its only in the last couple of months I’ve managed to do it by using the ebooks on my phone in the evenings whilst settling Peapod.

I won’t do a full review of them all, but in place of a WWW Wednesday this week, I’ll give a brief rundown and my (hopefully spoiler free) thoughts on the series overall (basically I love it). So, let’s begin…

Murder Most Unladylike

In which we meet Hazel and Daisy at Deepdean and see them solve Miss Bell’s murder.

I really enjoyed this – I loved Hazel as a narrator and, although I didn’t warm to Daisy in quite the same way, I really liked getting to know them and Deepdean with its Big Girls and bunbreaks and tuck boxes and prep.

I really like the pages of notes summarising the suspects and case so far too. Although I was still useless at guessing who the murderer was!

Arsenic for Tea

Maybe because I still hadn’t properly warmed to Daisy yet (or maybe just the toffs in country houses vibe) but this was a book that divided me a bit.

I found Daisy’s family hard work (apart from Uncle Felix who had enough mischief to save him!) and while I know some of them (no spoilers) were likely intended to be less than loveable, others should have elicited a bit of sympathy at least but just grated on me.

That said – I loved the actual murder, the setting and way it took place, and I thought Miss Alston was a brilliant character, as was the victim (though one in a very likeable way and one in a list despicable one!)and yet again I couldn’t guess who did it!

Hazel and her support of Daisy endeared herself to me even more, and I even softened a bit towards Daisy too.

First Class Murder

I really enjoyed this, I thought the setting of the Orient Express was so much fun and I liked seeing a bit more of Hazel’s background and personality too through having her dad with her on the trip.

I also liked meeting Alexander and seeing them gradually (and in Daisy’s case begrudgingly!) begin to make friends and work together.

I thought the cast of suspects was brilliant in this one too and I got a bit closer to guessing this time but I think Daisy would still take a dim view of my detecting skills!

Jolly Foul Play

This was probably my least favourite of the series. It took me a lot longer to get into, and while I did very much get into it in the end and there was lots I really enjoyed, the heavy school/friendship groups and relationships themes weren’t really my thing. However, I have to say they were very relatable and well-written. In particular, Daisy and Hazel’s falling out was very hard to read as it felt so believable and I was willing them to make up!

What I did really enjoy in this one was the inclusion of Kitty, Lavinia and Beanie in the Detective Society’s activities!

Mistletoe and Murder

I nearly skipped this temporarily so I could go back to it at Christmas, but in the end I listened to Amy‘s (my Murder Most Unladylike guru!) advice to read it in order and I’m so glad I did!

I really loved this one. I loved the Cambridge setting, which was described so vividly, as was life there. And I was pleased to see the way it really highlighted the disparity between men and women there too.

I also liked both Daisy (who had been steadily growing on me since book 1) and her brother Bertie (who I really wasn’t all that keen on in AfT) an awful lot more in this one.

There were some excellent characters/suspects and I was pleased to see The Junior Pinkertons join the investigation (although I have to confess, I’m with Daisy and much prefer George to Alexander!)

The Christmas morning ending was so festive it will rival a Hogwarts Christmas in my fond, Christmas scenes in books memories too!

Cream Buns and Crime

I’m cheating a bit and using my WWW Wednesday post comments on this one, as they sum it up very well!

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens (ebook)

This is a really fun addition to the series with shorter mysteries from The Detective Society and The Junior Pinkertons, as well as recipes, code breaking puzzles and information about real unsolved crimes and authors.

I loved that a lot of it was written ‘by’ Daisy and it has firmly cemented her place in my affections after an uncertain start. She’s bloody brilliant and I love her.

My favourite parts have to be Daisy being a ghost which absolutely cracked me up and the chapter written by Beanie and Kitty – I loved hearing more from them, Beanie especially who I think is wonderful!

A Spoonful of Murder

And so we’re back to the book I started with. I toyed with not re-reading this as I was desperate to read the latter books that I’d not yet read, but in the end decided to see how it differed this time around having read the previous books.

The conclusion being, unsurprisingly, that I loved it even more! Although I knew there was a change in the character dynamics when I read it first, I couldn’t really appreciate it until I’d read the lead up and having done so, seeing Hazel become the confident, knowledgeable one and Daisy on less sure footing was even better to read.

The Hong Kong setting and reading more about Hazel’s family, life and background was fantastic and clearly well-researched. And the mystery, which I didn’t guess as I knew from the first time round, is a cracker.

I think my favourite thing about this is seeing no-nonsense, buck-up Daisy’s unwavering and utter support and comfort for Hazel. Written in a really believable way that absolutely fits their characters and friendship, it was lovely to see.

The Case of the Missing Treasure

A short, fun mini mystery. This was enjoyable to read and set the scene well for…

Death in the Spotlight

I loved this so much. It’s hard to say why without giving too much away but there’s…

  • A fantastic setting
  • Uncle Felix and Mrs M (back on governess duties and doing a commendable job!)
  • The dramatic appearance of an old comrade of The Detective Society which made me grin!
  • A little bit of Hong Kong Hazel back in London – including a very daring un-Hazel-ish mission!
  • The Junior Pinkertons
  • Equality and LGBT issues and representation is dealt with subtly but amazingly powerfully too
  • The BEST plot twists
  • Daisy and Hazel’s characters and friendship becoming even deeper and more brilliant.
  • So many obstacles to solving the case!

Phew! Just fab!

Top Marks for Murder

We’re back at Deepdean once more but so much has changed and Daisy especially is feeling it, but there’s nothing like a good murder to take her mind off things and bring her back to her usual self!

Just as clever and twisty in a very different way to Death in the Spotlight, I could not guess this one – or rather I could claim to have guessed since I pretty much suspected everyone at some point!

I loved seeing Kitty, Lavinia and Beanie really involved in this one too. I think their characters have grow n and grown over the series and it was lovely to really spend some time with them in this as they’re all do different and all great in their own ways (Lavinia and Beanie especially, sorry Kitty!)

I was also hugely pleased to see Inspector Priestley who is one of my favourite characters in the books and I really liked the way he was ‘deployed’.

I think what this series, and this book especially, does incredibly well is to take everyday issues of growing up, family life, changes, friendships and relationships and deal with them really well in the background. They never become ‘issues’ books but you will find yourself and situations you encounter I these books, as will all their young readers, and there’s a great comfort in that.

I love, love, LOVE this series. It has left a hole in my reading life, so I’m very much hoping there’ll be another one sooner than soon!

Thank you to Amy for keeping them on my radar and making sure I read them all eventually – I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed them all!

Have you read the series? Which is your favourite? Are you a Hazel or a Daisy (or one of the other characters!)?

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Tuesday Trio – Early Chapter Books

I requested and received copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

A trio of treats for younger readers – reviewing some of the early chapter books I’ve read recently.

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Paula Harrison is already a firm favourite with young, early chapter book readers and this first venture into the highly illustrated versions is likely to be just as popular as her Secret Rescuers and Rescue Princess series are.

This new series retains the animal theme, this time with cats. Kitty is a young superhero, following in her mum’s footsteps, with cat-like super powers – agility, speed, night vision.

In her first adventure, we see Kitty discover her super powers, meet her feline friends and overcome her fears to save the day.

With simply written text and lots of gorgeous high contrast, orange, black and white illustrations this will be an appealing book for those just starting to build their confidence with more independent reading.

Between a group of cats with very different personalities, family life and superhero escapades there’s a good mix of interests covered which will appeal to this age group – familiar enough to feel safe but exciting enough to add a bit of adventure.

Purr-fect (see what I did there?!) for fans of Isadora Moon, I can see this series really taking off.

Kevin’s Great Escape by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

I was a huge fan of the first Kevin book so I was super excited to receive a copy of book two, which I loved just as much!

Here we rejoin biscuit-loving roly-poly-flying-pony Kevin, best friend Max and his sister Daisy as Daisy’s favourite pop star Misty Twiglet (what a name!) moves into the area with her manager on the lookout for exotic pets for her mansion’s garden.

Of course, a flying pony would make an excellent addition to the collection but all is not as it seems and Kevin soon finds himself kidnapped!

There’s plenty of humour, as you’d expect, and a host of well-executed and exaggerated characters that stop just short of becoming caricatures – from cruel and cold-hearted music mogul Baz to hired heavyweight Lumphammer, to Misty Twiglet herself, the pop sensation (who “dresses like a posh cobweb” – I love this!) to goth teen superfan Daisy! Not to mention all the other creatures imprisoned alongside Kevin…

…and BEYONCE AND NEVILLE ARE BACK and playing their daring parts in Kevin’s rescue!

This is loads of fun, with fun poked at the characters lovingly, and relationships between Max and Kevin, as well as between Max and Daisy, drawn with warmth.

There’s a great balance found between the hectic, hare-brained hustle and bustle of adventure and the feel good family factor.

Just as good as book one, this is another brilliantly daft, fast-paced adventure that’s guaranteed to have you giggling.

Jasper and Scruff by Nicola Colton

Jasper is cultured, well read and fed, and enjoys the finer things in life, which is why he’s hoping to be invited to join illustrious and exclusive members club The Sophisticats by impressing them at dinner. After all, it’s important to have the right friends too.

Everything is ready for a perfect evening, until Scruff makes an appearance while Jasper’s out shopping for supplies.

In a take on the classic theme, Scruff is everythibg Jasper’s not – a dig fir a start, and a hairy, slobbery, all-over-the-place mess of one at that. He’s also enthusiastic, friendly and persistent.

He takes a shine to Jasper and despite Jasper’s best efforts to dissuade him (cue funny games of fetch and hide and seek) turns up at Jasper’s just in time to cause chaos at the Sophisticats dinner party.

At first Jasper panics, but as his guests become increasingly rude, he starts to realise just what makes a good friend and who the right friend for him might be.

It’s a sweet message that’s balanced by mishaps and mess making for a fun and lively text and even livelier illustrations that will both engage and encourage newly independent readers.

This first book sets the scene brilliantly for countless adventures from this unlikely and very funny duo, and I look forward to seeing what madcap mishaps they get involved in next!

The Time of Green Magic

I requested and received a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay. Cover art by

Hilary McKay’s Skylark’s War was one of my favourite books of last year.

And this has leapt straight into my favourites of 2019. I wrote on twitter when I finished it that it felt like “a duvet day of a book” and it absolutely does. Released this week, it is the perfect read for cold but cosy autumn days as the evenings draw nearer.

Unlike The Skylark’s War, The Time of Green Magic is set in the present day. But, like Skylark’s, it deals with the thorny issues of growing up – friendships and fallings out and first crushes and family.

It specifically focuses on changes to the family dynamic, as Abi’s Grandma – who until now has helped bring her up – returns to Jamaica and she and her dad move in with his new partner and her sons, Max and Louie.

I was really pleased (but not at all surprised) to see the ‘everyday-ness’ of the difficulties in this change. You’ll find no wicked stepmother here, no cruel or tormenting older siblings, no-one ignored or bullied or mistreated. This is very much a book about the fact that change, especially a change in home and family dynamics, no matter how positively or lovingly handled, can be hard. And that that’s ok.

The way Hilary McKay writes families is both hugely perceptive and filled with warmth. Both here and in Skylark’s, her characters have a depth and reality that’s rare to see, and their relationships feel incredibly familiar and believable too.

The characters themselves are immensely likeable, especially little Louie who brought bags of humour to the book and utterly stole my heart!

Alongside these contemporary themes, it also ‘stars’ a wonderful old house, brimming with atmosphere, ivy and, it seems, magic.

This atmosphere is helped wonderfully by Hilary McKay’s masterful use of language. The description, phrases and vocabulary used are beautiful, funny, observant and detailed.

This combination of old and new, real and fantasy and the way nature and magic are intertwined with the way the characters cope with everyday struggles is very clever and well-balanced and gives the book a modern-but-not sort of feel. If it was a dress, it would be vintage but bang on trend today.

Abi is struggling with the upheavals in her life and we see her retreat into books. So immersed does she become that they almost feel real – she can smell, taste and touch it all, its almost like she’s there…

Meanwhile, six year old Louie is finding the change hard too and we see him cope with a new (imaginary?) friend Iffen – an increasingly big, cat-like something.

But is it all in their imagination? Or is there something else at play?

I loved the way this book took the ideas of imaginary friends and the way books can be an escape and made it real with an incredibly subtle and unique sort of magic. The best sort that leaves you questioning if it’s real, magic, imagination or a mix of the three.

This is an absolutely wonderful book and one of my favourites of the year. Full of humour, warmth and a magic all of its own.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear

I requested and received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta

So, I liked Sophie Anderson’s first book The House With Chicken Legs, but I didn’t love it the way everyone else did. So I was keen to read this, but my expectations were firmly in check.

I absolutely love, LOVE, LOVED it.

I felt there was a greater depth here than in THWCL, though it retained the readability (is that even a word?!) of Sophie’s first book, as well as her distinctive style.

It was such a moreish read, and the fact that many of the chapters are a tale being told makes them much shorter than average MG chapters too and so perfect for those ‘just a bit more’ moments (and also perfect for readers who feel overwhelmed by long chapters/books).

These tales were one of the things I loved best about this book. Sophie Anderson’s passion for and knowledge of folk and fairytales really shines through in this book, even more so (if possible) than it did before!

The way it was told through stories within the story was simply magical. I really sank into the tales that were told and I thought the way they gradually helped to unravel the main tale was incredibly clever and so skilfully done.

I also found I got behind Yanka in a way I never really did with Marinka. And I really did get behind Yanka. I suspect this is because I felt more common ground with her – those feelings of not quite fitting in, of being a part of a group, but always slightly outside of it too, were all so familiar.

Whatever my reasons, she was a great main character and I loved how we saw her grow and change over the book, especially where she acknowledged past mistakes or errors of judgement (both her own and others’) and learned to move on, though not necessarily to forget. Complex feelings and themes were touched on with subtlety and perception.

Yanka’s ‘herd’ is wonderful too (Mousetrap especially!). A fantastic mix of creatures and personalities add humour, energy and a certain edge to the story, whilst also making the point that we each have our strengths even though it may not always seem like it, and that we don’t have to be the same to be together.

There is also a message of doing together what you would struggle to do alone; of asking for and/or accepting help when it’s offered, of not being too proud or self-conscious or worried to do so. This is something I really struggle with and I loved the way it was addressed – it didn’t make it seem easy to do, but gently suggested it was worth trying.

The setting is richly described, with close attention to detail and the depiction of life there really adding to it. I felt I was there. It was made even more immersive through those folk tales Yanka is told throughout the book – they give the place a history and I absolutely loved the idea of Anatoly’s map with a little detail added on each of his visits to represent a new story. I believe there will be a map in the finished version and I cannot wait to see it.

On that note, the illustrations are gorgeous and so fitting for the story. I was so so lucky to receive a hand-printed proof with previews of the interior art and they’re just as rich and atmospheric as you could want.

This is going to be a truly stunning book.

Full of traditional folkloric magic, with humour and the increasing tension, danger and drama of Yanka’s journey keeping it fresh and exciting for modern readers, this is one of my stand out books if the year so far.

Picklewitch and Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin

I received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own.

Picklewitch and Jack and the Cuckoo Cousin by Claire Barker and Teemu Juhani

I reviewed the first Picklewitch and Jack book last year and I LOVED it, so when I was offered a copy of the new book to review I leapt at the chance.

I wasn’t disappointed. This more than lives up to the expectations built by book one!

Much of what I wrote about the first book stands true about this one as well.

The language and writing style are as vibrant, pacy and original as ever and remain perfectly pitched – accessible but in no way dumbed down.

“As secret as a nut in its shell.”

And there are some wonderful invented words and phrases adding spark and humour – think Roald Dahl’s BFG and you’re on the right lines for Picklewitch’s vernacular.

“I can’t be dealing with mooncalves and frazzlers.”

Picklewitch

The illustrations are stylish and expressive, with the characters’ very different personalities shining through and Picklewitch’s love of the wild and nature made visual.

There is again a glossary of Picklewitch’s words, a selection of spells and recipes, nature guides a la Picklewitch at the end of the story and they’re an absolute delight – I grinned and grinned reading them!

The characters remain true to themselves – Picklewitch is still a cake-loving, slightly bonkers, brimming with confidence, rule-breaking/making, tree-dwelling witch and Jack is still a school-loving, rule-following, bit-of-a-worrier Boxie who lives in the house attached to Picklewitch’s garden.

But they’re given chance to grow and develop in this episode as well, which – especially in Jack’s case – is lovely to see. Yes, he’s still a worrier but he’s taking more chances, starting to make friends, enjoying life more… Picklewitch, whilst being a terribly bad influence, has of course been a fantastically good one!

And for her part, she shows in this book just how smart and loyal this apparent kidder really is, whilst – of course – retaining her pride, her irrefutable manner, her incredible knack for absolutely always being right and of course her enormous sense of fun.

Picklewitch and Jack’s friendship is put to the test in this book, when Picklewitch receives a letter

“Do witches get letters?” asked Jack, squinting into the sun.

“All the time,” she said.

“Have you ever had one before?”

“No.”

from a mysterious, and hitherto unknown, cousin saying he’s coming to stay.

Jack is naturally anxious – what if Picklewitch has so much fun with her cousin she forgets about being friends with him? But when Archie Cuckoo arrives, Jack thinks he’s perfect – well behaved, interested in learning, smart (he even has a briefcase) – and they end up getting on splendidly.

But is Archie Cuckoo too good to be true? (Spoiler alert – Yes. Yes he is.)

He is in fact a brilliant baddie. I love how we see him charming/magicking his way into Jack’s life and the repercussions of this for Jack and Picklewitch.

There’s a serious story of friendship, loyalty and trust which underpins the humour, magic and dancing ants.

I think that’s what I love so much about these books – they zip and ping with energy, spells, flying feathers and creepy crawlies, and you will giggle from start to finish (I chortled my way happily through my lunch hour) but there’s also a huge amount of warmth, understanding and gentle reassurance for some tricky situations in there.

This second book in the Picklewitch and Jack series is just as full of heart as the first and has confirmed their place as firm favourites of mine. I can’t wait for the next one (roll on Autumn 2020!!)

Why You Should Read Children’s Books…

Those of you that read regularly will know I’m not one for getting reviews up immediately. I mull, I procrastinate, I reflect, I attempt to find the words to do justice to how the book has made me feel and to say what I want to say about it. Then I review about a month later when everyone’s already read it and moved on…

But this morning, I read this little gem on my way into work and just had to share it with you immediately!

Why You Should Read Children’s Books Even Though You Are So Old and Wise by Katherine Rundell

It’s only short so there’s not too much I can say without feeling like I’m going to spoil it, but suffice to say I began by folding down the corners (yes, shoot me now) on the pages that said something that really spoke to me, only to find I was folding down the corner on nearly every page.

I always struggle when asked why I read children’s books – although for the most part I’m not asked, I’m just given strange looks or people assume it’s just for my job (it *is* for my job, but my job is my job because I read kids’ books not the other way around).

I can never find the words I want (I know, big shock, hey?!) to express what it is about children’s literature that I love. What that certain something is that the best of it contains. How transportative it can be. How well it acts as a guide to the less cheery sides of life whilst remaining (for the most part) steadfastly hopeful and determined to believe impossible things.

This essay from Katherine Rundell does what I cannot and makes the case for reading children’s literature in a warm, wry and knowledgeable way from historical, political and personal viewpoints. It has also reminded my love of fairytales and made me want to rush out and drink them all down.

Ultimately, it’s a book that, just like the best children’s books it is written about, filled me hope and utter joy and left a large smile on my face! Everyone should read it (especially those old enough and wise enough to think they know better!)

The Garden of Lost Secrets

I requested and received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own.

The Garden of Lost Secrets by A.M.Howell, illustrated by Amy Grimes

It’s World War 1 and, with her father ill having been gassed and her brother still away at the front, Clara is sent to stay with an aunt and uncle at the estate they work at, away from her city home and the threat of passing Zeppelins.

However, her aunt and uncle are nothing like the warm and friendly people she remembers. What’s more, there’s a locked room in the house and a strange bit outside at night. Perhaps most mysteriously of all there is rare and exotic fruit both being stolen from the greenhouses as well as seemingly being left around them. Not to mention the unopened letter Clara should have given to her parents before leaving but still has with her. Secrets abound.

I’m always a fan of books set during the war, but away from the actual fighting, so I was keen to read this and it didn’t disappoint.

I really liked the way the war was threaded through it. I thought it portrayed so well how it was almost just something abstract happening in the background of everyday life, with its ripples and side effects becoming more apparent in every day lives.

Likewise, it was a main theme of the story, but didn’t overshadow its mystery elements or themes of family, friendship, trust, secrets and loss.

Indeed, the mystery element helped the story feel really fresh and made it very addictive – it really kept me reading “just a bit more” and I liked the double mystery of both appearing and disappearing fruit.

It had the feel of classic children’s books from the past – Tom’s Midnight Garden springs to mind in particular, but thematic links aside, it just has something of that quality and style to the writing. Likewise, it was very reminiscent (in nothing but the best of ways) of Emma Carroll and the way she really captures a time in historical fiction, it is definitely one for fans of hers!

I loved reading about the author’s inspiration and research too (the book was inspired by a 100 year old notebook found in a shed at an estate like the one in the story and she spent a great deal of time there afterwards researching all aspects of the book) I think this definitely fed into the sense of time and place in the book, which feels so real and tangible.

Overall, a great historical mystery, well rooted in the period and with a cast of characters it’s easy to believe in.