Review: A Very English Murder by Verity Bright

A Very English Murder, by Verity Bright

Format: e-Arc

Published date: 7th April 2020

⭐️ 2 / 5

Thank you to NetGalley who kindly provided this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’d like to apologise for this long overdue review. I was sent this e-ARC a while before lockdown began. A busy few weeks at work pre-lockdown and the initial lockdown blues of being unable to concentrate enough to read have prevented me from reading and reviewing this book. I did manage to read this in its publication week and I’m happy to be finally sharing my thoughts.

Plot

Our protagonist, Lady Eleanor, witnesses a murder. Except the body vanishes, and the police seem to have no desire to investigate. So Ellie begins sleuthing around the village to solve the murder herself. On the surface this is my perfect book. This concept is so intriguing and I thought this would be a real brain teaser of a novel. Unfortunately not.

The plot began painfully slowly and didn’t really start getting anywhere until around half way through. Honestly I thought the whole first half of the novel could have been cut and it wouldn’t have impacted the story. There was one small side character introduced in the first few chapters that popped up again later in the novel to be useful in ultimately solving the crime, but otherwise there was nothing remotely useful or entertaining in the first half of the novel. Once the plot finally got a move on, everything was very predictable. I felt like there were a lot of missed opportunities for real red herrings and twists to really get the reader going. Unfortunately, I felt the plot was severely lacking in this area.

There was a lot of effort made to drip feed Eleanor’s backstory into the novel. This was the main thing that kept me interested in the book. All I wanted to know was what happened to Ellie’s parents and more about her global travels. *Spoiler alert* we don’t find out what happened to Ellie’s parents. I can only assume this is planting seeds for later books in the series however the mystery element of this mystery novel was not executed well enough for me to read another book in this series.

Characters

Ellie is a confusing character. She spends the first 20 chapters doing absolutely nothing except despising other characters in the book for not taking her seriously because she’s a woman. Bright uses Ellie’s every line of thought or dialogue to express that the police in the little village Ellie now lives in is backwards as there are no female officers. She constantly provides social commentary that the men around her are underestimating her before she even opens her mouth based on the fact she’s a woman. She even goes as far as to suspect characters of murder based on how they treated her as a woman and not a shred of motive or anything remotely relevant. The first couple of times it’s brought up, fine, that’s setting the scene. But after that? Honestly, Jesus Christ I get it. The novel is set in 1920s England. We know the social position of women in this time. I felt it was irrelevant to the plot or the character development, especially considering no semblance of a plot was taking place. The second the plot began heading somewhere, the ridiculous commentary stopped clearly showing it served no purpose.

So Ellie was set up as being very pro-women’s rights and very forward thinking for her era, so I thought ‘great’! Surely this means Bright is going to use her protagonist to shut down irritating tropes of women in the 1920s right? HAHAHAHA WRONG. Every time an attractive man enters her field of view she suddenly can’t function and goes weak at the knees. It’s all blushing and feeling faint when an attractive man strays too close. Very cliché.

So which is it? Fainting flapper girl and a hopeless romantic, or trailblazing modern roaring 20s woman (who FYI could have romance without the stereotypical weak, woozy, fainting cr*p).

Clifford, the butler, is a pain in the rear. One of his personality quirks is he is very pedantic. Fine, that’s established early on. But sometimes it feels like this gets in the way of meaningful dialogue and it SERVES NO PURPOSE. Honestly so infuriating.

I did however love the rest of the cast of household staff who each had distinct personalities, really contributed to Ellie’s character development and felt like tangible people.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately this book just left me feeling kind of meh. For the most part it felt like I was reading FanFiction of something, and I’d like to point out I’ve read novel-quality FanFic, but this is more an inexperienced author who hasn’t found a voice. The voice is confused, the third person narrative doesn’t work when Eleanor spends so much time inside her own head and voices dialogue to the dog instead of having the novel written in first person…but maybe that’s just me?

I’m really upset that I didn’t enjoy this book as the blurb sounds like everything I adore in a novel. I really expected so much more from this book…

I’d like to thank NetGalley again for sending this e-Arc to me in exchange for an honest review.


Blurb:

Move over Miss Marple, there’s a new sleuth in town! Meet Eleanor Swift: distinguished adventurer, dog lover, dignified lady… daring detective?

England, 1920Eleanor Swift has spent the last few years travelling the world: taking tea in China, tasting alligators in Peru, escaping bandits in Persia and she has just arrived in England after a chaotic forty-five-day flight from South Africa. Chipstone is about the sleepiest town you could have the misfortune to meet. And to add to these indignities – she’s now a Lady

Lady Eleanor, as she would prefer not to be known, reluctantly returns to her uncle’s home, Henley Hall. Now Lord Henley is gone, she is the owner of the cold and musty manor. What’s a girl to do? Well, befriend the household dog, Gladstone, for a start, and head straight out for a walk in the English countryside, even though a storm is brewing… 

But then, from the edge of a quarry, through the driving rain, Eleanor is shocked to see a man shot and killed in the distance. Before she can climb down to the spot, the villain is gone and the body has vanished. With no victim and the local police convinced she’s stirring up trouble, Eleanor vows to solve this affair by herself. And when her brakes are mysteriously cut, one thing seems sure: someone in this quiet country town has Lady Eleanor Swift in their murderous sights… 

WWW Wednesday 22 April 2020.

This Book Tag is hosted by Taking On A World Of Words.

What I’ve read, What I’m reading, What’s next.

What I’ve Read

Title: Hold Back The Tide

Author: Melinda Salisbury

Star rating: 5 / 5

After attending the book launch for Hold Back the Tide in the middle of March (the last weekend I left the house before lockdown), I read this in two sittings right afterwards.

This book is a punchy, thrilling, and quite frankly terrifying little novel. Set in the wilds of Scotland, we follow 16 year old Alva and her murderer father’s lives on the Loch. Just as Alva is ready to carve her own path, everything she thought she knew flips on its head and she must survive unbelievable horrors past and present.

Hold Back the Tide is Melinda Salisbury’s first stand-alone novel and I loved it. Very unsettling from the beginning, this is an eye-opening spin on the consequences of our abuse of natural resources. I would also happily state that the first chapter is easily the best YA novel opening I have ever read. Alva is also a kick ass protagonist and sports my own horrific brand of gallows humour.

In short, I would highly recommend this book.

What I’m Currently Reading

Title: A Very English Murder

Author: Verity Bright

Star rating prediction: 2.5 – 3.5 / 5

First impressions:

I assumed I was going to adore this book from the offset because it’s set in 1920s England with an amateur female detective sleuthing around. However, so far I’ve found the protagonist mostly irritating at best. The plot concept is great (Lady Swift has witnessed a murder but there is no body, the scene is clean, yet everyone is acting shady and then the victim turns up dead elsewhere in an apparent accident), but so far it’s less ‘getting on with the plot’ and more ‘the author has a bee in her bonnet over 1920s sexism’.

Baring in mind the era this novel is set in, I fully understand the situation with regards to men’s attitudes towards women at the time. Even a little bit of set up to paint that picture is absolutely fine. However, every third paragraph the narrative is side-tracked by Ellie’s social commentary of historical sexism.

‘Oh that man is disregarding my opinion because I’m a woman.’ 3 sentences later: ‘Oh I wish we had female police constables in this village like in some of the northern cities, but even those women are babysat by men on the force.’

It’s the 1920s. We got it the first time you mentioned it. We’re in an era 2 years post some women getting the vote. Society is male-dominated and backwards. Fine. Understood. Get on with the plot.

I’m over half way through and so far not a lot has actually happened. Here’s hoping it improves because I really want to like this book…

What I’m Reading Next

Title: Orphan Monster Spy

Author: Matt Kileen

Blurb:

A teenage spy. A Nazi boarding school. The performance of a lifetime.

Sarah has played many roles – but now she faces her most challenging of all. Because there’s only one way for a Jewish orphan to survive at a school for the Nazi elite. And that is to become a monster like them.

Survive. Deceive. Resist.

They think she is just a little girl. But she is the weapon they never saw coming… with a mission to destroy them all.

Review: One Of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

One Of Us Is Next, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 382

Published: 9 January 2020

⭐️ 5 / 5

YEESSSS. I’ve been waiting (very impatiently) for this book ever since it was announced. This is the sequel to Karen M. McManus’s debut novel, One Of Us Is Lying. This, as McManus writes in her acknowledgements, is the ‘Maeve book’, and I adored it! This is definitely my favourite out of the two One Of Us novels and I devoured it in 2 days. Here is my non-spoilery review – and I apologise in advance for the amount of shouty capitals I’m probably going to use. Grab a cup of tea and read on.

Plot

I was mildly concerned about how this book was going to pan out, mainly I didn’t think there was anything left to say after the conclusion to the first book. How on earth is a book like that supposed to be followed. I didn’t want a rehash with new characters – like the nightmare that is Grease 2…I had absolutely nothing to worry about! The mix of new characters is balanced perfectly with checking in on the Bayview Four and co. This allows us to catch up with our favourites to see how their life has moved on after the Simon drama, whilst also allowing One Of Us Is Next to stand on its own. This also builds Bayview more as we move away from the high school and further into the society and local community, which was really great.

We follow 3 point of view characters who start off as friends and/or loose acquaintances, and steadily become a firm friendship group with all the peaks and pitfalls that come with that. Maeve (Rojas! Yes, Bronwyn’s little sis), Phoebe, and Knox feel different to the Bayview Four as these 3 consciously choose to be friends whereas the Bayview Four were total strangers simply thrown together. (I promise I’ll try to stop the comparisons soon but it’s so difficult when the story doesn’t follow straight on). Their friendships really are at the heart of the plot as there’s a lot more ‘downtime’ for the characters in this sequel. Another thing that shines through and really sculpts the plot is sibling relationships in all of their forms. We see every spectrum of what that looks like from joined at the hip, to suffocated, overwhelmed, intimidated and feeling like you’ve got a tough act to follow, and siblings who cannot stand to be in the same room with one another. This book also radiates love. Sibling and family love, platonic friend love, and of course the mushy kind of love which made me CATCH ALL THE FEELINGS.

I really liked the premise of the school-wide truth and dare game, although I do question how on earth everyone’s phone numbers were retrieved and compiled – unless we assume everyone is able to access the school register as was used in One Of Us Is Lying. American readers, tell me: is this a normal thing?? In UK schools there’s no way anyone could gain access to student phone numbers except the school office and data prevention stops that kind of information from being shared. Honestly this is my one niggle with One Of Us Is Next because this isn’t answered even when we eventually find out the culprit. The truth or dare game builds suspense well in the first quarter of the novel, then the pace and tension fizzles out until all of a sudden it rears its ugly head and bites back. The London commuters who witnessed me finishing this book on the bus can attest to that following my very audible reactions…

The plot is very cleverly done and I don’t think I fully appreciated it until all the threads suddenly started dropping into place. At the end of chapter 28 I had it all figured out (still squealed my way through it despite heavily suspecting what was going on. Holy sh*t it was TENSE). And I almost got it completely right. Until one final twist. Damn Karen M. McManus and her genius. SO GOOD. Honestly this book is a masterclass in YA thriller/mystery and I NEED ANOTHER BOOK RIGHT NOW PLEASE.

Characters

I really enjoyed our trio of POVs equally. They all had such different lives, personalities, and personal struggles and I loved exploring all of it. Maeve was a stand out favourite for me, but there was a reappearance from a minor One Of Us Is Lying character who steps up to not only become an almost key player but he’s shot straight up my list of fictional boyfriends 😂. It never fails to impress me how many of the side characters are complete, tangible, 3-dimensional characters. Even the parents of the new characters, who may only get a couple of scenes. We have a very good idea of their lives and what sort of people they are. The only exception would be one boy’s father who drops off the page for no apparent reason after stirring a hint of trouble, but I’m probably just being picky now.

I’ll also say it again: SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS. Love, love, love all of it. It’s wholesome and emotional and raw and it’s glorious.

Final Thoughts

PLEASE. READ. THIS. BOOK.

That is all.

Back to your cup of tea. ❤️

Blurb:

Welcome back to Bayview High… It’s been a year since the events of One Of Us Is Lying.But nothing has settled for the residents of Bayview. Not now someone has started playing a sinister game of Truth or Dare. Choose truth? You must reveal your darkest secret. Choose dare? Well, that could be even more dangerous. Even deadly. When the game takes an even darker turn, suddenly no one at Bayview High knows who to trust. But they need to find out who is behind the game, before it’s too late.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop

The ‘Maeve book’, the sibling book, the ‘YOU MUST READ THIS’ book! #OneOfUsIsNext

Review: Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep A Secret, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 336

Published: 10th January 2019

⭐️ 5 / 5

After reading One Of Us Is Lying, I was excited to read another Karen M. McManus book as soon as possible. I would go as far to say that she is a contender for one of my favourite authors. I love that crime/thriller/mystery (a genre I LOVE) is starting to appear as a leading sub-genre of young adult and it’s being done SO WELL. McManus is leading the charge with excellently written YA mysteries and I hope she’s publishing books annually for a long time to come. Those of you who have read my review for One Of Us Is Lying will know that I really enjoyed it, and I preferred this novel so get ready for me to blow the trumpets at Two Can Keep A Secret!

Plot

Two Can Keep A Secret is told from two narrative points of view: Ellery, niece of a girl who vanished during her senior prom decades ago; and Malcolm, brother of the prime suspect in the murder of a second prom queen 5 years ago. This worked really well for weaving the plot threads of the two previous unsolved murders into the central action of this novel. I usually struggle with multiple narrators because I tend to favour one and resent having to endure the other POV, however McManus uses this to build tension and set the pacing which drove me mad – a clear indication of a good mystery novel for me. I got the sense of multiple timelines without time jumping (which is another trope I dislike for the most part and was glad it was so expertly worked around) giving me 3 murder mysteries for the price of one. The choice of narrators was also very cleverly calculated as this expanded the world building. Although Ellery and Malcolm were friends, they didn’t cross over too much meaning that we could explore more of the town through each of our narrators. The small-town setting was done really well and used very well too. Coming from a small(ish) town myself, I felt the local drama/curtain twitching/nosey neighbour elements of the plot were very accurate and added to the mystery as you’re left wondering how such a busy-body community could be harbouring so many unsolvable secrets. I got absolutely lost in this novel and easily polished it off in one sitting, which I would happily do again and again. Honestly, I did guess part of the outcome around half way through (far later than I did with One Of Us Is Lying though) however there were plenty of other twists that I didn’t predict. This book was definitely a firm favourite YA Murder Mystery read of 2019 for me.

Characters

I really enjoyed the point of view of both POV characters. Ellery was very relatable for me as a fellow true-crime addict. I love that fictional young women obsessed with true crime and murder mysteries are starting to emerge in novels, especially in this section of YA. It’s nice to see myself in books – and come on, we all secretly adore serial killer documentaries don’t we 😉 ? She’s a feisty, intelligent character and we need more Ellerys in our fiction. Ellery and her twin Ezra have an excellent rapport/banter going on and McManus has written this sibling relationship very well. Malcolm is the second POV character and I honestly just want to give him a hug. Mia finishes off the 4-strong friend squad that’s central to the novel and she is a diamond of a character too. The extended cast include popular Katrin, who happens to be Malcolm’s step sister, work colleague Brooke, and the twins’ gem of a grandmother. Each of the characters are fully realised and flawed and believable. McManus constructs an air of suspicion around each of them too which constantly played with my opinions of them. I really hope she finds a way back to these characters as she has with Bayview High and One Of Us Is Lying.

Final Thoughts

I hope this somewhat lengthy review conveys just how great this book was. One of the easiest 5 stars I’ve given for all of my 2019 reads, and a book I fully intend to re-read this year too. Keep an eye out for my next Karen M. McManus book review this month as I read One Of Us Is Next after its release this week!

Blurb:

A perfect town is hiding secrets. Two teenagers are dead. Two murders unsolved. And a killer who claims to be coming back. Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news and where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted them to Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but it could all change when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. And the return of Malcolm’s brother doesn’t help matters. But his return is just a coincidence… isn’t it? Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears. As they race to unravel what happened, they realise every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe. And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

2019 Wrap-Up

This year has been an odd one. The final weeks of university caused me to have another improptu hiatus from my book blogging/bookstagram life. Summer came and went in a blur of exam re-sit stress.  I quit a job I hated. I somehow succeeded in getting a full time job and my feet firmly in the door of my dream career, despite not having a degree classification or a graduation date in the near future.

Yet, despite achieving so much on a personal level in terms of setting myself up for the future, I still feel like I didn’t DO anything. No abroad holidays like I did in 2018. In fact, I barely left London except to visit my family in the South West and a week on the Isle of Wight. I still haven’t written my book or improved my French and Italian like I wanted to. Still can’t play the piano. I feel like all I’ve done is work and study, and some of that I didn’t do very well…

This year has also seen yet another huge reading slump as uni has ruined reading for pleasure for me (don’t panic, it looks like I’m finally on my way out of it though).

So, out with the old, and in with the new. Good riddance 2019. Please let 2020 be the beginning of my roaring 20s decade of dreams and make the decade which will see me turn 30 (EWW NO I’M A 90s BABY AND I REFUSE TO GROW UP) so much better than the decade of my teenage and very early 20s.


What I’ve Been Reading in 2019

I didn’t manage to meet my Goodreads goal of 50 books for this year which I’m really disappointed about…

I re-read lots of things I enjoyed and started 2019 off with one of the biggest books I’ve ever read – Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree. Nearly 900 pages of dragons and badass women which I read in one crazy caffeine-fuelled 18 hour sitting the night before the book launch. (A book I still haven’t had time to write a review for).

However, here’s some highlights and lowlights of what I did manage to read this year:

(One of my) Favourite Reads: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

I LOVED THIS BOOK. Jackson has written a very strong debut. The plot had so many different threads woven through it and it was seriously impressive. Pip is absolutely my favourite protagonist in a very long time, I wish I had a friend like her. This book made me laugh and cry. I am over the moon to hear that this book is getting a sequel and I can’t wait to see what Pip gets up to next.

Most Pleasant Surprise: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Book blogger, YouTuber and creative Lucy Powrie has just released her debut novel into the world. At only 18 years old she has managed to write the book I desperately needed as a 15 year old. TP&HS touches on many themes including not fitting in, divorce, and bullying but has a core of friendship and the love of books. I thought it was very well written and Lucy provides a refreshing new YA voice, standing far apart from the other books born out of YouTube fame. I am very exited to read the rest of this series when the time comes.

Most Anticipated: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Nearly 35 years after the publication of The Handmaid’s Tale, the most anticipated sequel of the decade (or the last century even) was published. I really, really enjoyed it. It was terrifying and relevant and a real philosophical and literary masterpiece. Do I think it deserved The Booker Prize? No, probably not. I think this was a reparation for The Handmaid’s Tale not winning it when it was nominated back in ’86 (a book that thoroughly does deserve that award IMHO). Either way, this was the best book launch I’ve ever attended and I feel lucky to have been alive, and front and centre, for this monumental moment in literary history.

Biggest Disappointment: Finale by Stephanie Garber

The third and final instalment of the Caraval Series was finally published at the beginning of May. I have been desperate for this release all year! I thought this was an appropriate end to the series however I did find it slightly predictable and the book fell a bit flat for me, as did the entire series. Keep an eye out for my full review coming soon.


My Pick of What I’ve Been Watching in 2019

Jane the Virgin. Murder Mystery. Designated Survivor.
NB. I do not own these images. Image rights belong to Netflix.

The final season of Jane the Virgin was everything I needed and more. The whole series has been beautiful, wholesome, and hilarious. I highly recommend it for some lighthearted dram-edy (and a glorious Telenovela education!).

The new comedy from Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, Murder Mystery, is absolutely brilliant. This married couple from New York, a hairdresser and a NYPD cop, finally go on their long-awaited European vacation/honeymoon. They end up on a yacht with Luke Evans, David Walliams, Gemma Arterton, and a host of other great acting talent, and become embroiled in a murder investigation. Hilarious fun and a nice quick 1hr 40min watch.

Designated Survivor season three finally streamed on Netflix after inexplicably being cancelled (I MEAN?!!) by ABC at the conclusion of season two. Netflix saved the day and I binged the new season in an afternoon. DRAMA, DRAMA, DRAMA. This series is a must-see!


Next Year…

At the moment I’m enjoying reading murder mysteries, both classic Agatha Christie and books that fall into the Young Adult Genre. I will be reading more of these in 2020. PLEASE LEAVE RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE COMMENTS – I’m looking for books similar to One of Us is Lying and Two Can Keep a Secret.

I also aim to finish/re-do my Jane Austen Reading Challenge this year which you can keep up to date with on my Instagram Highlights at @beauteaful.reads

As if we’re entering the year 2020?!

Happy New Year, Readers 😘