I'll kick right off with the one thing that made me request this book on Netgalley: The gorgeous cover. It imOriginally reviewed at Words in a Teacup.
I'll kick right off with the one thing that made me request this book on Netgalley: The gorgeous cover. It immediately caught my eye and I adore it so so much. The blue background, the cakes, the title font and position... it just makes for such a gorgeous composition! (Though I have to say that the original UK cover from 2013 is lovely too. That one would fit right in with my Lucy-Anne Holmes books!)
There's a lot of talk about various cakes in the beginning, and though I would've enjoyed more details about the cakes, I really liked that! Cake! The world needs more cake. Holly, the main character, bakes cakes on commission and that's how she meets Ciaran after all. No epic love story between those two without the cake, yo. Or story of facepalm-inducing awkwardness, because that's what happens. Really, Holly is so socially inept, it's a miracle that they even have customers? But it's awfully funny, too, because as a reader you just know that occasionally the love interest will overhear the stupid things that come out of the MC's mouth and it made me giggle like a fool.
I also giggled like a fool every time Ciaran did something awfully sweet. Boy, that man would do anything for Holly, and it makes me swoon a little, no lie. And giggle. Lots of giggling. I'm silly like that.
Of course there are also things I wasn't too fond of. There's minor writing things like grammar issues and strange formatting (only an issue with my digital ARC file, I am sure), especially where there could be ligatures on actual paper (i.e. every time there was an "fl" in a word, there'd be a space between the f and the l in my ARC), but I got used to that quickly and just ignored it. No need to nitpick about that, considering that it's not the finished copy.
Another thing that might make other readers skip this book is the predictability. It's extremely predictable. I didn't mind so much because, quite frankly, if I request chicklit I expect to be served just that. I actually quite enjoy formulaic prose like this. There's all kinds of ~deep~ fiction out there, loads of action-y and political stuff in dystopian novels, your typical love triangles in YA, etc., but sometimes I just want to read something cute that will make me happy in the end and make me giggle and that's when I turn to chicklit. No shame in the predictability of that.
What bothered me more in regards to the writing was that the author kept beating around the bush on some issues where it was really unnecessary. Like, really, if you're going to have one of your characters let out some swearwords, don't mince them down? Using "mutha-funkin'" only makes it look ridiculous because everyone knows what that character is actually saying, so why not just write it down like that. Nobody says mutha-funkin'. Nobody. Similarly, if you're going to give your readers some sexy bits (yay, sexy bits! I was pleasantly surprised!) don't turn it into an innocent mystery that makes one question what exactly it is that is ~down there~.
Though maybe that's just how Holly's POV works. Which is a shame. Truly, if the book had been written from Ciaran's POV or even from a 3rd person perspective, I might have enjoyed it more than I did, because Holly is incredibly infuriating as a character. I adored a lot of the secondary characters, especially the ones that have a connection to Ciaran or build one to him; there's Mary, Mrs Hedley, Fergal, Toby... I adored them! They were a great secondary cast and gave the book an extra kick. Not so much on Holly's side. You see, Holly doesn't seem to have any friends at all aside from her colleague and her sister? And as far as those went... I couldn't get a handle on Jesse at all, he was all over the place, and Martha was possibly even more infuriating than Holly.
My biggest issue with Holly, however, is that she has no agency. At all. And everything she does is just a reaction to what others do. For instance, Charlie and Holly's past with him and Charlie's own individual past? I understand why the bigger bits of that can't be changed, but I really did not care at all about his oh so tragic childhood or his oh so noble plans to do whatever it is he wanted to do because it was really irrelevant to the story. Charlie was just a plot device for Holly's character, to give her a past and some issues, but it wasn't much more than that. Sure, without Charlie the book couldn't exist the way it does since he's crucial to the premise, but it was often overdone and unnecessary. But it's not just Charlie, it's also with the other characters. Jesse suggests a thing to her, she reacts; Martha suggests a thing to her, she reacts; her neighbour tells her a thing, she reacts; Ciaran does something for her, she reacts. She never seems to make the first step in any of her decisions.
Then there's Holly's continued issues with herself. They're understandable and even expected, but you'd think that at 95% on my Kindle she'd eventually stop running away from Ciaran. It goes like this: Ciaran tries to impress Holly, Holly squeaks and runs away. Ciaran tries to apologise for his privileged lifestyle, Holly judges him and runs away. Ciaran continues to woo her and somehow magically succeeds (congrats, buddy, Holly had a sane moment!), but afterwards when he's gone -- because, you know, poor guy has a life too -- Holly wallows in self-doubt and moreover keeps ascribing traits and flaws to him that are out of this world. The guy clearly adores you, Holly, why do you keep insisting that you're just a one-off for him? Especially when he keeps coming back?! He doesn't deserve to be treated that way, really.
Enough with the ranting, though, because, yeah, there were a lot of things that bugged me, but I wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't liked it. Honestly, Since You've Been Gone has a lot of ups and downs but I enjoyed it all the same. It'll be out in the US on July 29th and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for some light women's fiction who won't mind the predictable bits....more
This was a pretty lovely read, and I think if I had been younger, I might’ve enjoyed it more.
♦ ON THE UPSIDE ♦
Flavia was adorable! She’s into chemistry, very no-nonsense about the state of affection in her family and a very, very curious child.
There was a lot of culture shock on my part, most likely due to somehow expecting the story to be set much earlier than it was really set (it says 1950, so I have no idea why I thought differently), but it was a good kind of shock. It was really interesting to read about Flavia’s world and how things sort of worked back in the day.
♦ FAVOURITE QUOTE ♦
Nobody loved me, and that was a fact. Harriet might have when I was a baby, but she was dead. And then, to my horror, I found myself in tears. I was appalled.
♦ ON THE DOWNSIDE ♦
Unfortunately, the mystery just dragged on for too long. I have a limited attention span as it is because I am a goldfish, and this was really trying for me. I wanted to know all about the mystery, but it just took forever and there was so much unnecessary yammering about things unrelated to it. :(
Flavia was often too adorable. I know, I said it was a good thing, but eventually it gets old when the kid is just reciting random chemistry babble. Especially to someone who gloriously flunked chem in high school.
I also think that the family dynamic could have benefitted from somebody who actually cares about Flavia. She must lead a pretty loveless life (obviously, because she’s dead serious in the quote I included) and that’s a shame considering that she has two sisters, after all. An absent father I understand, even some sort of sibling rivalry, but there’s hardly any love shining through at all. I never know whether they truly care when she’s missing or whether it’s just for appearance’s sake, you know? That’s pretty frustrating to read about.
♦ SHOULD YOU READ IT? ♦
Tough question. You should pick it up if you like small mysteries and don’t mind that the book could’ve benefitted from some heavy editing to clean up some of the “useless” information. It’s a nice read for a younger audience around Flavia’s age....more
Like the tagline says: There's been a rather shocking murder at Deepdean School For Girls... Hazel Wong, a third form student, found the dead body of the science mistress in the gym. But by the time she comes back with her friend Daisy and a prefect, the body has disappeared. So the girls have to solve the murder, but they also need to prove that a murder happened in the first place. Daisy is excited at the idea of having their very own murder to investigate, but Hazel more realistically wonders what will happen if the murderer decides that they're getting too close to the truth.
Set in an English boarding school in 1934, Murder Most Unladylike is a bloody good read. From the first page, it's packed full of words and customs from that era, and I was completely immersed in Hazel and Daisy's world. I loved that the author sounded very authentic, and the characters were always rooted in their time, without inexplicably displaying modern sensibilities. Plus, they have bunbreaks. I love that. Bunbreaks. In which they eat squashed flies.
I might have had a minor breakdown when they first mentioned bunbreaks. BUNBREAKS. How cool is that? Personally, I wouldn't eat the squashed flies (ew, raisins), but I would very much welcome any and all bunbreaks thrown at me. Aside from the bunbreaks, I really loved the characters. They were a healthy mix of imperfect people and I really loved that. Too often characters in books are too perfect or too stereotypical or even just mere caricatures of a few traits thrown in a pot, but not so with Murder Most Unladylike. Daisy (why do I always want to call her Diana?) is headstrong and opinionated to a fault, but she also has a heart of gold when it counts and truly cares about Hazel, who has a bit of a pash on Daisy.
A pash, for the uninitiated, is a kind of girl crush. All the weird old-timey words are explained in the book, and there's also a glossary at the end. I had the kindle edition so there was no way for me to scroll back and forth easily, but I assume if you had the dead tree edition you could refer to that if you got confused. Which you shouldn't, since our narrator Hazel does a great job of explaining it all. I have a bit of a pash on Hazel, who gives us a unique perspective on English boarding schools since she's from Hong Kong and has been sent overseas to get a perfect English education. Being an outsider, it makes sense that she would question the very English tradition of hitting each others with sticks -- sorry, I meant playing hockey -- under the rain... She's torn between being herself and wanting to fit in, which is very relatable.
Yeahhhhhh... I don't so much have a pash on Hazel but a full-blown crush. What a cutie! If only she weren't jailbait, I could smooch her cute face and initiate her into the Order of Canoodling Ladies. Of which there are a bunch, by the way. My cold little heart and I were most pleased by the subtle (or blatantly in-your-face) references to canoodling ladies, hehehehe. And that's another thumbs up to the author! I found it very refreshing that such things were included because, dude, those things do occur at all-girl schools and they did occur in the past and they way the author treated it was neither gimmicky nor swept under the rug. That, too, was very relatable, at least for me. And if I'm quite honest, it was the thing that excited me the most. (I'm pretty sure I yelled "LESBIANS!" at Ren when I first realised it.)
(You did. I'm pretty sure my reaction was "BUNBREAKS!" because they're higher in my priorities. But yeah, I liked the non-gimmicky inclusion of lesbians and I was sad for the Maths Mistress who was obviously in love with the victim.) As for the murder itself, I have to say that I'm like Daisy: I absolutely love mysteries! I grew up with my mum's Agatha Christie novels, so I really appreciated all the references to the popular mystery books that Daisy was reading and hiding from Matron. This particular mystery was rather easy to figure out for me, I guessed the killer very early on because of the way the author kept trying to divert the reader's attention to the other suspects, but even so I was charmed by the characters and the setting and I enjoyed reading about how Daisy and Hazel solved the murder. It's a proper English mystery crime, too, with enough clues that you may be able to figure it out if you like that sort of things.
I'm not that into mysteries, I'm afraid, mainly because I'm just not as invested. I like reading about the solving of a mystery, but unlike other people I take no joy from figuring out the culprit myself. Though I might make a somewhat satisfactory Watson to Ren's Holmes, I suppose. I'd be pretty good at the whole writing down important things that you tell me, I bet. Anyhow, despite my general indifference to mysteries I did enjoy this one! I may not be into the solving but it was a compelling mystery and for somebody who didn't guess the culprit it was quite fascinating to see Daisy and Hazel figure it all out. The author did a great job with that, it really felt as if I was by their side all the time and sharing the experience with them!
Isa would be an excellent Watson, though I'd be a rubbish Holmes because I'm a wimp and I wouldn't want to run around chasing murderers. I'm quite happy sitting back and reading about Daisy and Hazel's adventures instead of being by their side. The girls are really interesting characters and I'm looking forward to how they will evolve, since it seems this will turn into a series. Book two is set at a house party in the country, and while I'll miss the school setting it will be fun to see Daisy's family.
I'll miss that too, but then I am sure we'll see some familiar faces, like King Henry! And we might get to meet Daisy's mysterious uncle! (Fingers crossed that he turns out to be the dashing Uncle Felix who is mentioned in the summary for book two.) All in all I'm terribly chuffed about the first book and I think it totally deserves the four teacups we're giving it. The writing is compelling and never fails to deliver, and the setting and characters are particularly fabulous. If only there were happy homosexuals (alas, they never are in fiction) and more detailed descriptions about bunbreaks, I'd be willing to give it five. ;)
Damn you, Ally Carter. You really need to stop writing books that keep me up until two in the morning on a woOriginally reviewed at Words in a Teacup.
Damn you, Ally Carter. You really need to stop writing books that keep me up until two in the morning on a work night. It's seemingly impossible for me to read for "just half an hour" because inevitably it'll turn into "just one more chapter" and that turns into "oh well, midnight 1am is not so bad?" which then morphs into "but I'm at 80%!"
In other news, I read Perfect Scoundrels in one go on a night before getting up early for work. As you do. I blame Ally Carter entirely.
As you can see from the rating, I really really loved this book. It was better than the second in the series (Uncommon Criminals), which wasn't bad but simply not as good as the first. Perfect Scoundrels, however, was AWESOME. Kat, Hale and Gabby are in the middle of a job when he's unexpectedly called away and in the resulting drama around the will of his grandmother Kat learns a lot of new things about her boyfriend and his family.
I really loved the insight we got into Hale's family this time around. We know all these things about Kat's family -- blood relations and makeshift family alike -- but Hale's a total mystery aside from the fact that he's a total charmer and a great asset to Kat's crew. Like Kat we don't even know his full name! Which is quite hilarious (and sad, negl) when she calls for Hale who stands in the middle of a group of other people whose last name is Hale.
Carter did a fab job with the plot this time, it was intriguing and kept me on my toes from start to finish. (On that note: WOMAN, THAT THING YOU DID BEFORE THE END WAS NOT OKAY, THAT WAS NOT AN OKAY THING TO DO!) Plus, it also allowed the characters to grow by leaps and bounds. I'm also really glad that Ally Carter has a way of writing teenagers that doesn't make me despise them. I often struggle with teenage characters and teenage drama because a lot of the time they end up being caricatures of randomly assembled stereotypes, but I enjoy Carter's books because these kids feel real.
"And so that means..." "We have to rob the Henley," Simon said. Kat sank onto a truly uncomfortable sofa. "Again."
While Kat and her crew aren't necessarily what you would call a normal representation of a group of teenagers these days, they're not plagued by overly dramatic character traits. Kat and Hale have girlfriend/boyfriend issues amidst the whole mystery surrounding his grandmother's will and it doesn't feel fake at all. Whether or not these kids are planning a heist or travelling to the moon or the chosen ones who are meant to lead the revolt that will revenge the planet or something, they still act like teenagers would act and that's a thing I don't see all that often in teen/YA literature, actually. Which is why I am continually impressed with Carter's books.
I also adored the topic of family in this book. There's all sorts of mentions of who somebody's family is (obviously Kat has a whole bunch of uncles who aren't related to her because hell yeah crime families) and who you can call your family and it made me tear up a bit because that's just so important! The fact that Kat's family (and not just her crew, but other members of her family) help Kat to try and fix this mess is not only entertaining (why hello there, Uncle Felix, I heard you look good in drag!) but also shows Kat and the reader that they still care about her despite the events of Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals.
All in all, I think 5 teacups are totally deserved. I just really loved this book and don't care about pragmatic ratings and weighing pros and cons because LALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS BOOK...more