I’m so excited to be participating in this cover reveal. I’m a huge supporter of getting women into STEM fields (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, if you haven’t heard of it before!) and the Brave New Girls anthologies raise money for the Society of Women Engineers scholarship […]
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, but was recently relocated to That Artsy Reader Girl. Well, some of these choices are vastly different to the ones I’d drafted up months ago. That’s because in the last couple of weeks I’ve […]
‘Murders, unfortunately, always come with murderers attached.’
The Wells and Wong detective society have only investigated one mystery: The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie.
Or, at least, they had… Until Hazel Wong stumbles across the body of Miss Bell, the Science Mistress, in the Gym.
Hazel runs to find Daisy Wells, the President of Wells and Wong, but by the time they return the Gym is empty, nothing but a bloodstain marking the spot where Miss Bell had been moments before.
When Miss Bell is absent the next day it’s obvious that Hazel wasn’t seeing things, and the Wells and Wong detective agency have a deadly case on their hands.
Murder Most Unladylike has a quaint, old-fashioned feel. This is thanks to the setting, as the events of the novel unfold at Deepdean, a boarding school for girls, in 1934. There’s an adorable little glossary included at the end of the book explaining the definitions of terms you may be unfamiliar with (such as San or squashed fly biscuits), which reminds you that this is marketed as a book for children… But Murder Most Unladylike has universal appeal.
Whenever I read adult novels with mysteries, one of my first complaints is that I’m able to crack the case too early. For me to really enjoy a mystery novel, it needs to keep me guessing, and Robin Stevens makes it impossible to point your finger at the culprit until very close to the end of the novel. It amazes me that this is written for children because the twists and turns are very intricate, but they’re beautifully unravelled and explained. No one will be left confused or disappointed at the end of this story.
As well as focusing on the mystery, Murder Most Unladylike also tackles the issue of being an outsider. Hazel comes from Hong Kong, and because the novel is set in 1934 this makes her an oddity. People are afraid of her.
‘Usually, once they know me, English people simply pretend that I am not Oriental, and I simply do not remind them about it. But sometimes they slip, and little bits of nastiness that are usually hidden come sliding out of their mouths, which can be quite difficult to politely ignore.’
Hazel and Daisy become friends fairly quickly, but only after Hazel figures out that Daisy pretends to be less smart than she is to fit in. While that’s not a great lesson to teach young readers (and is the only reason I didn’t give this book five stars) it’s a very believable exchange. Unfortunately a lot of people do feel as though they need to hide their intelligence to be accepted.
Because their friendship has ups and downs, Hazel and Daisy’s friendship is realistic. I found myself desperate to be part of their gang! They’re both very strong-willed and independent, which causes friction when they disagree on the direction the investigation should take, but it’s great to see such vibrant characters being written for children.
It’s particularly brilliant that Deepdean is a school for girls: I can’t remember any books like this being around when I was younger, so all of the detective novels I devoured as a child were always male-led. The reason why the Murder Most Unladylike series is popular is obvious, and I’m disappointed in myself for waiting this long to pick up the first installment.
I started Arsenic For Tea this morning and I’m already almost halfway through it: expect a review of that book coming late in the week! If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t hesitate any longer or you’ll end up regretting that decision as much as I am.
If you’re interested in learning more about Murder Most Unladylike, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon Affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!
Have you read any of Robin Stevens’ novels yet? If so, what did you think?
Although the relentless rain refused to stop for a single second, the room – and the courtyard outside – were packed with people desperate to see The Wombats. The Liverpudlian trio have built a loyal fanbase over the past 15 years, and with the release of […]
Almost a year has passed since Highly Suspect last toured the UK, but it’s been an uncharacteristically quiet one for the rock ‘n’ rollers. After releasing two full-length albums in the space of 16 months, the Massachusetts trio have presumably spent the past year working […]
A couple of weeks ago I hosted the cover reveal for Travis M. Riddle’s second novel, Balam, Spring, and I’m excited to welcome the author himself to the blog to answer a few questions for us.
Hi, Travis! First of all, can you tell us a little bit about what made you want to become a writer in the first place?
I’ve always been fascinated by storytelling. There’s something so satisfying to me when you see a character develop, or little nuggets of a story starting to come together and create something coherent and amazing. I love examining the structure of how stories are put together, whether it’s in a book, a movie, a game, or whatever else. Getting narrative pieces to fit together is a fun puzzle that is always such a thrill. It’s a great feeling when you start to get those pieces to fit together and you begin to suspect you’re creating something special.
How did the idea for Balam, Spring come to you?
Well I went into it wanting to write a specific kind of narrative, but to say what that is would spoil the story, haha.
In addition to that, I wanted to write a fantasy novel that was unlike a lot of the fantasy I’d been seeing lately and what someone would generally think of when they hear ‘fantasy’, Meaning I didn’t want something grand and epic, I wanted it to be a small-scale, personal story about a handful of individuals, so containing the entire narrative to one single town was a natural fit that also allowed me to really delve into the backstories of these characters and the town itself.
And finally, as I got deeper into writing the story, which is about an unknown illness gripping this town called Balam, I started to think about it in relation to my stepmother’s battle with cancer, and so that played heavily into the broader themes of the story and the emotional arcs of some of the characters.
If it won’t spoil the story, are you able to tell us a little bit about your favourite character in Balam, Spring?
That would have to be Ryckert. He’s a rocyan, which in this world are basically hulking half-human half-dog people. By the time the novel starts he’s retired from being a mercenary and has moved away to Balam after certain sour events in his past and isolated himself from the rest of the town. Once the sickness starts to spread, though, his curious nature gets the best of him and he feels an irresistible urge to solve this mystery. The friendship he develops throughout the course of the novel with Aava is probably my favorite thing I’ve written, with their drastically different personalities and outlooks that are united by their desire to help others.
Wondrous, has a child protagonist and appeals to a younger readership, while Balam, Spring is an adult fantasy novel. Did you decide to challenge yourself to write something for a different audience before beginning the novel, or did it happen naturally?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision to change audiences. Wondrous actually wasn’t written specifically for a younger audience either (and my goal was to gear it toward all ages, so older readers should get something out of it too) I just had a story I wanted to tell, and telling it through the eyes of a young boy was the best way to get those ideas across. So for Balam, Spring it was just a matter of what worked best for the story I wanted to tell, which was something with much darker and more adult themes than what Wondrous tackled.
Have you got an idea of what you’re going to write next?
I’ve got a few ideas formulating, but nothing too concrete or fleshed out yet. I’d like to possibly explore a new genre or subgenre of fantasy, perhaps something horror-related, but we’ll see!
About the author:
Travis M. Riddle lives with his pooch in Austin, TX, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English Writing & Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University. His work has been published in award-winning literary journal the Sorin Oak Review.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Travis, for allowing me to interview him and for giving such great answers to my questions. You can find Travis on Twitter, read more about Balam, Spring on Goodreads or get hold of a copy here.
(Disclaimer: If you purchase Balam, Spring using my Amazon Affiliate link, I’ll receive a few pennies in commission at no extra cost to you!)
I’m hoping to get my review of Balam, Spring up by the end of the month, so make sure to come back later to see what I thought!
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, but was recently relocated to That Artsy Reader Girl. Because it’s Valentine’s day tomorrow, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a love freebie week. I’ve decided to take this opportunity to choose ten books […]
I’m combining my reviews of The London Eye Mystery and The Guggenheim Mystery because they’re both rather short books, so I don’t have an awful lot to say about either of them. That’s not a negative thing: it’s because I was so absorbed by both of the plots […]
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that there are a lot of controversial authors writing YA novels. Recently, it seems as though a new author to blacklist is revealed every day. It makes it impossible for me to find the energy to pick up their books, because I know that my feelings about the author will impact upon how I read their novel.
But is this fair?
On the one hand, no. If you haven’t read a book, it’s impossible to have an informed opinion of it. The author’s harmful behaviour might be absent from the story. They might write the most realistic characters/setting/plot that you’ve ever encountered. Their book might become your favourite novel of all time.
On the other hand, a story is something created in the mind. If your mind is a place of hatred and bigotry, it’s likely that will express itself in your story in some way, shape or form, no matter how subtly. If you disagree with the opinions an author spouts on social media, it’s likely that you’ll disagree with any morals or ethics featured in their novel.
An author should understand the importance of editing. If that means that they cut their most candid thoughts out of their social media feed, that’s one of the perils of being in the public eye. Social media should not be used as a dumping ground for disgusting diatribes, and anyone who uses it in such a way should not be placing themselves in a position where they can be seen as role models for a younger generation.
Writers should also understand – and respect – the importance of reviews (and the reviewers who write them). It’s true that a review could make or break a book but, as long as the comments made are based on evidence rather than bias, that’s a risk you take by releasing your story into the world. I don’t believe that authors should never read reviews. If they contain constructive criticism and steps to take to improve, they can be valuable for a writers development. However, I do believe that authors should never respond to bad reviews.
A good example of what not to do comes in the form of Taryn Bashford. Bashford, author of The Harper Effect, threatened a reviewer with legal action because she awarded her book a mere two stars. Her review justified why she could only give the book two stars, but Bashford still thought it was appropriate to make slanderous comments in the attempt to discredit her opinion. That backfired, with a large amount of one star reviews flooding in on Goodreads due to her behaviour.
But Bashford is far from the only YA author to come under fire.
Where do I start?
With Michael Grant, who not only implied autistic children were a burden but also responded to a review? (Two black marks against you, Grant).
Or Tommy Wallach and his insensitive jokes about suicide? (YA Interrobang wrote an in-depth article on that debacle).
Or Scott Bergstorm and the #MorallyComplicatedYA storm? (The Daily Dot wrote a great piece on this).
Or Claire Hennessy – the inspiration behind this post – who went on a one-minute-long rating spree, marking diverse novels as one star reads without leaving even a sentence to explain why?
In fairness to Hennessy, she rated the above novels two days ago… It could be a case of review to come, but how rapidly she rated the books makes me doubt that.
As I said earlier, you can’t truly have an informed opinion of a book without reading it yourself. That’s why I’d never rate a book without reading it, no matter how much I disagreed with the behaviour of its author.
However, that doesn’t stop me from judging the books. I have a huge TBR pile, and if an author gives me an excuse to throw their book in an unhaul stack, I’m going to take it. There’s no point in wasting your time reading something that will fill you with rage and irritation, which your preconceived notions will already convince you to be biased against.
This is the reason I’ll probably never read a book by Grant or Wallach (I say probably – pigs might fly!) and will likely be avoiding Hennessy’s novels in the future. It’s a shame, because I adored Nothing Tastes as Good… But I don’t want to support any authors who seem to forget that they have a job which relies on their reputation whenever they log in to social media. It’s easy enough to set up a personal, private account for these things: you don’t have to mix business and pleasure.
How do you feel about problematic authors? Do you give their books a go, or do you automatically blacklist them? Leave your comments down below: I’m interested to get some more thoughts on this topic.
Following the revelations of the past weekend, it would be remiss of me to not edit this post and include a link to this article which was featured on School Library Journal. If you scroll down to the comments, you can see names such as James Dashner, Sherman Alexie and Jay Asher being outed as sexual harassers – behaviour which is far more problematic than the instances I’ve referenced above.
If there was a grey area as to whether it’s acceptable to judge a book by its author, that uncertainty has now been erased. Do not support abusers. Believe victims.
I’d like to thank all of the brave people who are stepping forward and raising their voices, regardless of the backlash that they may receive. Hopefully the publishing industry will listen and take steps to make the YA community a safer place, because authors writing for young people must be held accountable for this kind of atrocious behaviour.
I wasn’t planning on writing a full-length review for Second Best Friend, because it’s only 137 pages long. However, I read it in one sitting on Monday and I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it since. I loved Non Pratt’s Unboxed – her first collaboration with […]