Sunday 5 April 2015

Recommendations: Arsenic For Tea, Othergirl and River Daughter

I've switched to mini recommendations for the foreseeable future to try and clear something of a backlog. Hope no-one minds!

Thanks go to the publishers for providing these three for recommendation consideration; much appreciated!

I enjoyed Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens, which introduced us to a pair of fun detectives in Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, and gave them an intriguing mystery to solve. The sequel, Arsenic For Tea, is, for me, a massive step up from a good starting point. We get a more difficult murder to solve, a wider array of suspects, and real emotion as headstrong Daisy is forced to face up to the fact that the murderer of a rather nasty guest at their country house might be one of her own family. Hazel continues to be a complete delight as a narrator and I was touched by her experiences with casual racism – even from some of the nicer characters – and the way that Daisy, for all her faults and impulsiveness, isn’t prone to this and just sees and values Hazel as a friend and fellow investigator. The period detail is great and I loved the setting – great work, Robin Stevens! Can’t wait for more from this delightful duo of detectives, with First Class Murder coming soon and books 4 and 5 recently announced!

Othergirl has been one of my most-anticipated reads for ages - Nicole is awesome and she's a former children's bookseller who's got great taste in YA books. Naturally, that doesn't guarantee she's a good writer, but it certainly doesn't hurt the chances.

Thankfully, she certainly is a good writer. I really enjoyed the central friendship here, between narrator Louise and superhero Erica, while the hint of romance for both characters is well-handled. Erica's development as a character seems very realistic (in so far as that word can be used to describe someone who can fly and produce fire, anyway!) It's easy to sympathise with her as she tries to get used to her powers and, sometimes, lets them go to her head. It's the story of their friendship, and makes the point that sometimes having a loyal friend who you can trust can be just as important as having special powers. In addition, there's great world-building and an intriguing plot, while there's lots of fun nods to classic superhero stories - Nicole is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to comics!

I enjoyed Jane Hardstaff's first book, The Executioner's Daughter, and thought it had perhaps the best opening chapter in recent memory. In that, heroine Moss was forced to pick up the head of Sir Thomas More after his execution, and her disgust at her job and desperation to leave the Tower of London shone through perfectly. I felt that if the rest of the book didn't quite live up to that truly splendid start, then few books could, and it was still an excellent historical adventure with an interesting central pairing of Moss and boy thief Salter, and said at the time I was looking forward to more from Hardstaff.

Well, we have more, and she's delivered a top-drawer adventure here. We get more Moss and Salter, who continue to be brilliant characters, but we also meet the mysterious and charismatic Eel Eye Jack, and Jenny Wren, a girl who takes on fearsome animals in vicious pit fights. I was wondering whether this was going to develop into a (fairly rare for MG) love triangle between Moss, Salter and Jack, but it takes a much more realistic and intriguing turn as Moss is torn between her own optimism and willing to think the best of everyone, and Salter's general cynicism, particularly when it comes to Jack. The character development is superb, the historical setting is brilliantly described and the pacing is pretty much perfect. A magnificent achievement and neck and neck with Allan Boroughs's stunning Bloodstone as the best MG released so far this year for me.

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