20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2014
If you put Nancy Drew in a boarding school, set it in the 1930s and sprinkle heavily with Sherlock references, bunbreaks and Cluedo, you’re getting close to describing the sheer charm that is Murder Most Unladylike. I absolutely adored Robin Stevens’ debut novel featuring the first case of the Wells & Wong Detective Society. As a warning, you will definitely want to read this book with a cup of tea and baked goods within arm’s reach.
And if you need more to sell you on this book, there is a map (!) of the Deepdean School for Girls and a cast list up front so you can follow along as the girls try to convince everyone their teacher was murdered and also solve the whodunit. Plus, the cover is gorgeously blue with striking graphics and typography and would look great on your shelves. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I love this book so much but everything about it is simply lovely.
The main girls are wonderfully likable and memorable. Popular girl Daisy Wells is full of confidence and bravado, president and leader with her shiny blonde hair and ease about life. You definitely want to be her friend, although sometimes her ego and determined attitude gets in the way of the truth. My favourite of the two was definitely narrator Hazel Wong, the thoughtful and quiet Watson to Daisy’s Sherlock and secretary of the society. She starts off a foreigner and outsider, but becomes Daisy’s closest confidant and her smarts and intuition eventually save the day. Their friendship was strong, and I loved that it wasn’t perfect, that they argued and disagreed. It made it feel more real.
The story is smartly written and read like a true detective story. The girls were very meticulous about solving the case, and the book shows glimpses of Hazel’s casebook throughout the story, with an updates on each piece of evidence and alibi carefully recorded within. It was clever, engaging, and best of all a very realistic way for two 13-year-olds to solve the mystery.
Basically, I can't recommend this enough—it's got friendship, mystery, intrigue—everything you want in a middle grade book that is thoroughly enjoyable for young and old alike. It will also introduce you to bunbreaks, the glorious mid-afternoon tea and cake time that I think should definitely be brought back into fashion. (At work. Everywhere.) I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel, Arsenic for Tea, for more of Daisy and Hazel’s adventures!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2014
A delightful combination of 1930s school story and murder mystery. Miss Bell has been murdered, her body is missing and the teachers all seem to believe she's resigned suddenly. It's up to Daisy and Hazel to prove that a murder has been committed and find the guilty party.
Daisy and Hazel are wonderful characters with personalities that complement each other whilst also leading to conflict between them as the story develops. The plot is fast-paced with plenty of twists and turns and the period detail is lovely - midnight feasts and hockey games abound. I can't wait for the next book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2014
This book contains almost all of my absolute favourite story things: a 1930s boarding school, a murder mystery and squashed fly biscuits. Hazel Wong is the most delightful narrator - her voice is pitch perfect as a non-English girl in the most English of environments. The friendship between Daisy and Hazel is fantastic - not always easy, but always believable and entertaining. And the way their Detective Society sets about solving the murder of Miss Bell - even when no one else knows there has been a murder - is perfect. I can't wait for more from Wells and Wong!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2015
Originally published at http://solittletimeforbooks.blogspot.co.uk/
It took me weeks of hearing how charming and fun and utterly wonderful Murder Most Unladylike is before I caved and requested it from NetGalley – it’s just not something I would pick up myself. I am so, so glad I listened to my Twitter feed!
A middle grade murder mystery set in a 1930s all girls boarding school brings too things to mind immediately: Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton – two things I bypassed completely in my childhood. They never appealed to me and now having read Murder Most Unladylike, I have no idea why. I think I missed out. I love the strong sense of place of a boarding school, the subtle differences of a familiar environment set eighty years ago, the intense friendships forged and how easy it is to sneak out in the middle of the night to investigate a murder.
The novel was set out in a way that suited the story perfectly. It was segmented into developments of the Case of Miss Bell as the book itself is Hazel Wong writing up their investigation as the Detective Society Secretary. I really liked the handwritten suspect list which was updated every so often with new evidence, alibis, motives and ruling outs. I especially liked this set up as Hazel is the sidekick in the operation for the most part of the novel, and yet it’s her that’s telling the story.
Daisy is the President of the Detective Society and she calls the shots. I have to admit that I ended up really disliking Daisy at points during the novel. Daisy and Hazel have a very unequal friendship, and though it’s not malicious or purposeful on Daisy’s part, I hate the way she pushed Hazel around and disregarded her opinions and feelings. I’ve been the sidekick in a lot of friendships and I know how horrible it can be – it made me react irrationally strongly to some of the exchanges between the girls! But both girls are such strong characters, each with different skills and personality traits to lend to their investigations which made them a brilliant detective duo.
The strength of character extended the whole cast of the novel, especially the teachers. Each was so distinct and played really strong roles in the hunt for Miss Bell’s character – it’s a great way to explore one of those things that was fascinating in primary and middle school – The Secret Lives of Teachers. It’s made me start to wonder all over again what my favourite teachers were up to...
Murder Most unladylike is witty, charming and so much fun and I can’t recommend it enough. I’m so glad book two, Arsenic for Tea, is coming out in January.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2014
Utterly charming mystery for middle grade readers. The author has created wonderful crime-fighting duo in Wells & Wong. Long may they continue to solve mysteries!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2014
I couldn't put this book down! Between the wonderfully crafted mystery, the well-researched historical details and the engaging characters, I easily missed my tube stop more than once. I only wished I could have spent more time with Hazel and Daisy. Bring on book two!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Welcome to Deepdean School. The year is 1934 and we are presented here with the ‘The Case of the Murder of Miss Bell’ undertaken by the Wells and Wong Detective Society. The detective society consists of just these two people, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, both of them only thirteen years old. The story is narrated by Hazel Wong.
When Hazel finds the body of Miss Bell lying dead in the gym she hurries off to get some assistance, but by the time she returns with others in tow the body has disappeared. Believing it to be a prank Hazel and her friend Daisy are sent to their dorm without any dinner. But when it is announced that Miss Bell has apparently resigned Hazel and Daisy believe that a murder is being covered up. Although their detective society has solved some petty things, this case is definitely looking to be something altogether different, and much bigger, and thus our intrepid duo investigates.
As this is narrated by Hazel Wong we read about her experiences when she first came to board at Deepdean, especially as she is clever and Chinese, and how she goes about fitting in. Along with this we see how the two girls go about solving the disappearance of Miss Bell, and especially how things start to become even more complicated when it looks like another teacher may have committed suicide. Trying to find clues and work out if alibis tie up the two girls have a lot of things to handle and this makes for a really good mystery.
Boarding school has always been a popular setting for children’s books but nothing has been that particularly good probably since Hogwarts and Harry Potter, and then along comes this. The setting is believable and the mystery is a solid one that should keep most children, and indeed adults engrossed. There are lots of things going on at the school, what with relationships and secrets, which makes this very realistic in feel. There is a glossary in this as well so that if you are unaware of what prep and other expressions mean you are able to look them up. In all this is a solid read and is sure to be a hit.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
First, some housekeeping. The "Wells & Wong Mysteries" are American reissues of the books in the recent British series titled "[The] Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries". The reissues are published by Simon & Schuster. The originals were published by Corgi. That's fine, but, the new publisher has changed at least the first book's title. So, this first book in the reissued series, "Murder Is Bad Manners" is the same book as the first book in the British series, which was titled "Murder Most Unladylike". Books from both series are available for sale on either Amazon or Amazon.co.uk. So, to avoid buying the same book twice, check publishers and book descriptions.
I emphasized the above because I hate it when publishers change titles and make it a chore to collect a complete yet unduplicated set of a favorite series. Moreover, the first Wells & Wong book is so good it is likely you will try to find others.
This book is an entertaining and satisfying combination of a boarding school story, an Agatha Christie style mystery, an historical mystery, (the book is set in the 1930's), and a friendship tale involving two remarkably different but equally appealing girl detective/heroines. Our narrator, Hazel Wong, plays Watson to Daisy Wells' Sherlock, but while Hazel is somewhat in awe of Daisy she is no second banana. Unusual for such a book, Hazel's narrative is conversational and a bit diffident, but bolstered by a keen eye, a touch of an edge, and surprising insight. English rose Daisy is a more complex character, sort of a Russian doll type of character, and effortlessly holds the reader's attention.
The era and the boarding school environment are authentically rendered. There is not a lot of authorly heaving and grunting as the scenes are set. The time and place and the little details of school life just naturally flow through the book. This is not one of those books in which it appears that the author is consulting note cards to make sure that all of her historical research is being included.
The mystery, as you might expect, isn't terribly elegant, but the girls' detecting is honest, their reasoning is rigorous, the solution is satisfying, and there are only a few convenient coincidences or chance discoveries. There is a fair amount of spying, sneaking, and brazening it out, which are played for fun. Classic mysteries are terribly difficult to write. Classic mysteries for middle grade readers, who can be literal and unforgiving, may be even harder to write. This one scores high style and fairness marks.
All of that said, though, I come back to the two heroines. Distinct, and distinctly different, they make a fine and appealing team. Their association, (it isn't necessarily a "friendship" as such), makes sense, and is much more nuanced than seems usual for a book like this. Of course there is some action and some suspense and a bit of danger, but the story always comes back to and revolves around these two interesting characters - how they cooperate, how they react to each other, how they react to events, even how they deal with the world. That's what distinguished this book for me, and that might appeal to others as well.
It’s 1934. Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are pupils at Deepdeen School for Girls, a boarding school where they have established their own secret detective society. Unfortunately cases are a little thin on the ground and to date, their only success has been in searching for Lavinia’s missing tie. But everything changes when Hazel finds the body of Miss Bell, the science mistress, lying in the gym, only for the corpse to go missing when she runs to get help.
Daisy is the only person who believes Hazel and both girls are determined to prove that the murder happened and find who dun it. However, conducting a secret investigation is a stressful matter as the girls bicker over suspects and motives and Deepdeen’s darkest secrets are revealed, threatening the lives of both would-be detectives …
Robin Stevens’ debut novel (the first in a series) is a delightful crime thriller for children aged 9+ that reads like Agatha Christie meets Enid Blyton. Stevens clearly loves the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and it shines through this book with the neat puzzle of the central murder and a full cast of potential suspects, each with their own motives and suspicious behaviours. Daisy and Hazel are an interesting duo – both come from a life of moneyed privilege but while Daisy is very much part of the English establishment, Hazel (with her Chinese parentage) will always be an outsider. I particularly liked how Stevens shows the casual racism at play in 1930s society and how that hurts Hazel, who tries so hard to fit in. I also liked how the tensions that develop between the girls magnifies their own insecurities and forces them to examine themselves and their own actions. Daisy and Hazel are given a fun array of classmates - my favourite being the hapless Beanie and also the younger girls who hero-worship Daisy and serve as her willing minions – but the teachers are equally entertaining and there’s a lot of truth in the depiction of the girls’ collective crush on their art teacher, The One. For all that this is a murder mystery, there really isn’t a lot of violence - beyond the murder anyway - although Stevens does ratchet up the tension and suspense in the final quarter as she brings events to a head. Ultimately, this is a really fun read and I can’t wait for the next book.
on 16 May 2015
t’s amazing to think that a girl’s boarding school in the 1930s could sound quite so much like the prep school I attended at the very beginning of the Twentieth Century, but it seems like some of the these values will always be engrained into parts of the British education system. I did find it eerily coincidental that the book includes a character called Felicity and that I had a games teacher called Mrs Hopkins when I was at school, too. Fluke details aside, I think that everyone, children and adults alike, will find something they can relate to in this very easy going novel. We might not all be the daughters of Lords or find ourselves in a different country miles away from our families, but we do all know what it feels like to be an outsider trying to fit in.
The story is told from the point of view of Hazel Wong, a foreign student who gradually becomes part of the institution herself. We’ll forgive the author for choosing a name which sounds an awful lot like Hazel’s country of origin, Hong Kong. There is a lot more to her characterisation than being purely an Asian stereotype.
There is a strong anti-bulling message which is refreshing to see in books for children and comforting to read to as an adult. The book promotes all sorts of lessons to its readers: women can be strong; children can know as much as adults do; it’s not ok to persecute others for being different; you should never be afraid to stand up to your friends and things may not always be as they seem. That’s quite a lot of moral messaging to cram into a relatively short murder mystery!