Friday, 27 February 2015

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Alternate Title: Murder Is Bad Manners
Series: Wells and Wong, Book One
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Format: Paperback
Published5th June 2014
Number of Pages: 352
Book: Paperback
Genre: Mystery, Crime Fiction, Murder Mystery, Historical, Suspense, Thriller, Action-Adventure, Middle Grade, YA, YA-Child Crossover
Recommended Age: 9+
Contains: Death, Mild Swearing and Alcohol References
Author's Site: Robin Stevens

“Are you sure we shouldn’t just go to the police?” I asked.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Daisy severely.  “We don’t have any evidence yet.  We don’t even have a body.  They’d simply laugh at us.  No, we’re on our own.  And anyway, this is our murder case.”

When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up a secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they can’t find a truly exciting mystery to investigate.  (Unless you count The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie.  Which they don’t.)
Then Hazel discovers the body of the Science Mistress, Miss Bell – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared.  Now the girls have to solve a murder, and prove a murder happened in the first place, before the killer strikes again (and before the police get there first, naturally).
But will they succeed? 
And can their friendship stand the test?

I've been hooked to murder mysteries for as long as I can remember and I've read and watched so, so many – all different sorts, in all shapes and forms.  But in all my murder-mystery-ing, I've never read anything like Murder Most Unladylike.  It was fun and light, but also addictive and suspenseful.  Young and old crime fiction fans like me will adore it – it's just impossible to resist!
“We're still the only people who can solve the crimes."
I had to admit that Daisy's logic made sense.  Under the circumstances, in fact, the Detective Society had never seemed so important.'  
The year: 1934.  The location: Deepdean School For Girls.  The Mystery: The murder and disappearance of Miss Bell.  The Detectives: Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells of the Wells & Wong Detective Society.
When Daisy Wells decides that she and her best friend, Hazel Wong, will set up a Detective Society at Deepdean School For Girls, she hopes for exciting cases.  But she gets none.
And then Hazel stumbles across a body in the gym – literally.  She runs to find Daisy, but by the time they return, the body has vanished.  Without the body, they have no evidence – and no chance of proving a murder has taken place.
So Daisy decides that she and Hazel will serve the murder, much to Hazel's horror.
And so they begin finding clues, following suspects and making secret inquiries, with Hazel writing down everything they find.
Soon, the stakes rise and the girls find that proving the murder happened might be even harder than stopping the killer striking again – and remaining friends throughout the investigation...
Up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t read this book, even though I'd heard so many good things.  I don’t know why I hadn’t read it – Murder Most Unladylike is so my kind of book!  I mean, Nancy Drew-Sherlock types in a boarding school in the 1930s trying to find a killer?  C'mon, tell me that doesn’t sound totally awesome?!  So when I got the chance to review the book, I said: YES PLEASE!  And man, Murder Most Unladylike exceeded my expectations.  It was so much fun – and so utterly addictive!  I started reading, just planning on reading a few pages, and then before I knew it I was halfway through and utterly hooked, unable to stop reading.  Always a good sign in a mystery!
Hazel was brilliant – level-headed, sweet, a little nervous, but understandably so!  She was far more sensible than Daisy, more likable too, since her ego was nowhere near as big and she was much more sympathetic and in touch with her emotions.  Daisy, however, intrigued me more.  She looked like the perfect little British girl, but she was really this logical, rational, genius, sceptical want-to-be detective with a brilliant mind and intuition.  She was a bit like Sherlock: at times it was hard to know why you liked her, but she was so intriguing it was hard not to, even when she did these strange things and showed her shockingly large ego.  
The relationship the two of them had was rather intriguing – and by the end the perfect tortoise-and-rabbit example of murder mystery solving (read MMU and you'll get it).  I loved how close the girls were, and yes, they still had little spats – but they made up.  I liked watching Daisy evolve into a better person and Hazel evolve into someone a little more daring.  They were so good for one another and really grew in the short space of the novel.
The other characters were varied and brilliant: each was original and real, unlike many younger murder mysteries, where there are cardboard-cut-out characters.  I won’t say any more on the characters: don’t want to give you any suspect-spoilers!
I will talk about the writing, ‘cause it was simply smashing: it felt totally perfect for the era!  I adored it – it felt as if I'd been transported back in time!  Hazel's voice was brilliant and addictive – her compassion and humanity really came across – and I simply loved the casebook style of writing.  There was lots of suspense in Murder Most Unladylike, but humour too.  Some bits (mainly involving Daisy's brilliantly barmy plans) made me laugh out loud.  And all the while, the suspense grew!
A murder in a boarding school, two girls determined to find the killer...  C'mon, how can't you want to find out more?  There was a real Nancy Drew feel to Murder Most Unladylike – only I adored MMU way more than I ever liked Nancy Drew.  As with all good murder mysteries, there were twists, false turns and red herrings – along with numerous suspects.  I was quite proud of myself by the end: I'd had a suspicion for quite a while that turned out to be true – of course, I had two or three similar suspicions that were completely terrible...  But still!  I've always enjoyed murder mysteries and Murder Most Unladylike totally appealed to my life-long love of the genre, making me even more excited than a Diagnosis Murder marathon!
As for the setting: loved it!  I've always found the archetypal British boarding school to be a fascinating place for a story.  Put said story back in the 1930s and you get a deliriously happy book addicted girl!  I mean, I loved the boarding school setting so much I just wanted to go back in time and go to Deepdean – be in the Detective Society with Daisy and Hazel, sneak around solving a murder, have bun breaks and just do everything!  Someone invent a time machine ASAP!
I also adored all the Sherlockian nods in Murder Most Unladylike: as a Sherlocked gal, I found this addictive!  And seeing the diversity in the book was awesome too: canoodling between men and women and two women, a Chinese Watson, the younger girls “pashing” on Daisy...   Oh, and the map and character list at the front and 'Daisy's Guide To Deepdean' at the back were just awesome!  I loved both – especially Daisy's guide: her voice was brilliant and so Daisy!
I've not had so much fun reading a book for ages as I did reading Murder Most Unladylike.  Utterly compelling, captivating, fun and addictive, I easily read it in one sitting and was left feeling desperate for more.  
Oh, I just can't recommend this one enough!  I absolutely adored it and cannot wait to get my greedy little hands on the next Wells and Wong book!  With enough thrills to keep a crime junkie like me happy and more than enough light hearted silliness to entertain all, Murder Most Unladylike will appeal to everyone – and everyone should read it, ASAP!

Star Rating:
4½ Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
Young Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lane
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Series: Study, Book Two
Publisher: Mira
Format: Paperback
Published29th February 2012
Originally Published: October 2006
Number of Pages: 432
Book: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Paranormal, Magic, Romance, Mystery, Suspence, Action-Adventure, YA, YA-Adult Crossover
Recommended Age: 14+
Contains: Violence, Death, Swearing, Alcohol, Sexual and Sexual Assault References
Author's Site: Maria V. Snyder


Controlling the past.
Controlling the future.
With an execution order on her head, Yelena has no choice but to escape to Sitia, the land of her birth.  With only a year to master her magic – or face death – Yelena must begin her apprenticeship and travels to the Four Towers of the Magician’s Keep.
But noting in Sitia is familiar.  Not the family to whom she is a stranger.  Not the unsettling new facets of her magic.  Not the brother who resents her return.  As she struggles to understand where she belongs and how to control her rare powers, a rogue magician emerges – and Yelena catches his eye.
Suddenly she is embroiled in battle against good and evil.  And once again it will be her magical abilities that will either save her life… or be her downfall.

Yelena has had to leave her home – her kingdom – and flee to Sitia, the place of her birth but a place she knows nothing about.  In Sitia, she will train her powers – must train and control them, or else be put to death in one year’s time.  And so she goes to the Four Towers of the Magician's Keep, a place where magic is taught to those like her. 
In Sitia she is also reunited with the family she was taken from so long ago.  They are all strangers to her but are welcoming – loving.  All except for her brother, Leif, who seems to hate her. 
Caught up in struggles that are political, magical and emotional, Yelena is already dealing with a lot.  The emergence of a powerful magician, targeting young girls, just creates more mayhem. 
Of course, Yelena gets involved in the investigation.  With magic as powerful as hers, she will either flourish here amongst those like her, or... she will perish... 
I finished Poison Study and then instantly cursed myself – quite creatively too – in my head for not buying the rest of the damn books at the same time.  So I ordered the second two in the Yelena Zaltana series on Amazon, vowing that if they didn't get here soon I would just buy them again on my Kindle.  I was so excited when I saw a book saying: 'A Yelena Zaltana Novel' on the bottom.  And then I cursed again – even more creatively – when I realised it was the third book not the second!!  Magic Study did arrive the next day but it was still too long!  I dived right in the moment it landed on my doorstep!
Now, I have this habit of writing down quotes as I go through a book.  It's a habit I should really stop because it means that when I read a book with loads of quotes I love I end up writing down half the blinking book.  I don't even really know why I do it...  I think in case I want to use them in the review or make a picture quote of the book...  But Magic Study...  Well, it was one of those books that was just too good to stop!  I literally could not stop.  It was that good.  Sure, it wasn't quite as good as Poison Study, but there really wasn't much in it. 
I really loved how Yelena grew in this book: she was so much stronger and such a good person, better than before.  She'd really come into her own as both a woman and a magician.  Of course, she still has the pesky habit of rushing in without thinking – generally with bad results – but she's growing stronger too.  She's able to kick some butt and she uses her family and friends' help when she needs it.  Do I wish she'd trust the Council and Irys more?  Yes.  But I also got her reasons for not trusting them.  Yelena isn't perfect and I think that's why I like her so much: she's tough as nails, but flawed and vulnerable too.
I missed Valek all the time he wasn't there and then felt my heart do a little flutter every time he reappeared, often in some bizarre disguise.  Valek is sweet and hard, protective and trusting of Yelena's ability.  He lets her do her thing, but he's always there for her too.  Why I love Valek in one sentence?
"I'll be close by if you need me, love."
I also love this little scene between Yelena and Valek, where Yelena is nervous and Valek is... Valek:
"This is dangerous."
"I knew falling for you was dangerous, love."
Yeah.  I melt every time he says 'love'.  I think it's leftover from my Spike-addicted days.  I always did have a thing for the bad boys...
Now, my favourite characters in the previous book, Yelena and Valek aside, were Ari and Janco.  You guys can't even begin to fathom how pleased I was when the two of them popped up again!  But we were also introduced to a whole range of new, brilliant, evil and sometimes bizarre characters.  I really liked Irys – she was a really awesome teacher.  The Zaltana clan were brilliant – and so bonkers!  Leif intrigued me and I'm so excited to see more of him.  Moon Man was brilliant; gotta love the cryptic ones!  Dax provided comic relief in the Janco-less times.  And then there was Cahil... who I did not like.  At all.  
But I think my favourite character in Magic Study just had to be Kiki.  Now who's Kiki, you may wonder.  Well, Kiki was Yelena's horse.  Weird favourite character, right?  Not if you've read this book.    
I adored the world building in Poison Study.  My love only grew as I read Magic Study.  Because now there wasn't just Ixia, but Sitia too!  A land of magic and clans, a land (for the most part) without poison and secret spying.  The cultures of the different clans intrigued me, as did the differences between the two lands of Ixia and Sitia.  
Maria Snyder's writing and plotting were pure genius – as always.  The writing was beautiful and hooking and not too heavy.  The plot was addictive and just the right pace (fast and exciting but not neglecting world building).  I loved how it built all the time, with plenty of action, and came to an impressive conclusion.  I was a bit exasperated that Yelena has yet to learn the advantages of patience and assistance, but she's pretty badass, so it was all cool.  And I also liked the way Maria dealt with sex in the book.  Yeah, this bit is random, but I need to mention it.  Maria didn't just ignore the fact that Yelena's a girl in love with a bad-boy boyfriend (heart mate) who called her 'love'.  There was no lengthy description, almost no mention of S-E-X at all, but you knew what was about to happen.  I think it's a good way to deal with sex: let us know it's happening, it's natural, but not with all the... graphic details.
I adored Poison Study and it really was one hell of an act to follow.  Magic Study fell a little short, probably due to the only intermittent appearances of my three fave boys, but it kept me hooked and just as invested.  The world building was epic, the action addictive and the characters believable.  It also had the best horse in the history of the world – of any world, even.  
I love Maria V. Snyder and, of course, she didn't disappoint with Magic Study.  It was a worthy sequel to one of my favourite magic books.  I can't wait to continue with the series – with Fire Study and Shadow Study!  Eek!  I don't have to leave Yelena and Valek!  Yelek?  Valena?  Someone needs to come up with a shipping name!  I would, but I'm too busy grabbing my copy of Fire Study!

Star Rating:
4½ Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
Grisha by Leigh Bardugo
Throne of Glass and A Court Of Thorns And Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Happy Reading