Member Reviews

A Bitter Remedy is the first book in a historical murder mystery series by Alis Hawkins. Released 25th March 2023 by Canelo, it's 368 pages and is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links.

Academic mystery lovers are in for a treat. Set in the late 19th Century in Oxford, in and around the college, a firmly unrepentant young female academic chafes against the restrictions imposed on her because of her sex (female), her upbringing (unconventional), her cultural origin (Welsh), and her intellectual capacity (head and shoulders above the other (male) students). She has allies, but most of the time they seem to be thwarting her in their belief that she's her own worst enemy in terms of ruffling feathers to force progress. A Gordian knot, indeed, and she's the sword to cut through it.

At its base, it's a historical murder mystery, woven around historical Oxford and the burgeoning forensic knowledge of the times. The story is told around a framework of actual historical events and characters; woven skillfully and seamlessly, so that it's not always clear what elements are fictive and which are real.

The characters are very well rendered and believable. Non's passionate frustration is *palpable* and she's sympathetic and real. The plotting is tight and well paced, and the mystery itself is cleverly constructed and surprisingly complex and nuanced. It's full of pathos, for (unnecessarily inflexible) social constrictions, sex and gender roles, rigid class structure, and the casual cruelty inflicted on those who "didn't belong" or rebelled against the status quo.

Four stars. Very strong. It would be a good choice for public library acquisition or home use. There are two books extant in the series thus far. It would make a nice buddy read or book club discussion. Definitely one that will appeal to fans of C.S. Harris, Andrea Penrose, and Anna Lee Huber.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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It's 1881, and the setting of this mystery is Jesus College at Oxford. Author Alis Hawkins populates her story with real and fictional people, as well as introducing me to some truly weird, wacky, ill-informed and even dangerous tonics and other "cures" for sexual and other complaints.

The two protagonists in this Victorian mystery are Rhiannon Vaughan and Basil Rice.

Rhiannon 'Non' Vaughan is one of only a few women who are allowed to attend lectures at Jesus College. The women are under a number of constraints, but Non is there regardless. She is constantly chaperoned by Lily Maddox, and is under the guidance of the Association for Education of Women (AEW), who hope that the women currently at the college can, through their behaviour and manners, essentially open the door for others.

Non is of Welsh descent, and wants to learn what she can from a Welsh professor in Jesus and return home to teach and widen appreciation for her language. She also knows Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), with whom she's been corresponding for years about cyphers.

Non is frequently incensed by the restrictions she finds herself under, which is so different from the life she lived with her sea captain father. Non is censured repeatedly, by the College Principal Dr. Harper and the AEW, and frets, fumes and yells about her situation frequently. She also has more or less nonstop internal conversations/arguments with her deaf twin Hara, who died at the age of six.

Basil Rice is a don, who teaches Greek drama, and also has a secret relationship with a local surgeon. Basil is devastated when Tommy informs him that he'll be leaving for London to get married.

Basil is forced by Dr. Harper to investigate the death of one of Basil's students, and quickly resolve the matter to prevent any stain on the College's reputation.

Even while Basil pursues his own line of inquiry, Non is pulled into the matter through her chaperone Lily, who knows the dead student's landlady. Non notes various details, and begins asking questions of other students.

The two end up collaborating, and rope in one of the students Non has found helpful,. The three discover the complicated life the dead student lived, as well as his connections, including the exploitative relationship he had with his guardian, and the various illnesses, real or imaginary, that the young man suffered from.

Basil and Non learn that there is much more going on in the College and Oxford than either anticipated, but they do solve the mystery.

I enjoyed this dark story, and appreciated all the interesting historical details woven in so well by the author. I think that Basil has good potential as a character and investigator, and Non does too, particularly if she discovers a way to manage her temper, which causes her more trouble than she needs. A little subtlety, and maybe taking a few deep breaths when dealing with the many irritants around her in the next instalment , which I'm eager to read, would be great.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Canelo for this ARC in exchange for my review.

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I found myself more engrossed in this book than I expected to be. For reasons unconnected to the content, this book has been on my virtual bookshelf for quite a while. Once I started it, I was invested in the outcome. It was slightly longer than I would have wanted it to be, which is the reason for the rating, but it was an interesting narrative.
Non-Vaughan found a place in Oxford in 1881 with the help of some more influential women, and she chaffs at the restrictions that come with her position.
When the story begins, her forthright attitude puts her in the bad books of men in her class, which further puts her in trouble. A man has been found dead in his room, and the possibility of suicide would look bad for the college, paving the way for higher-ups to want to hush the whole thing up.
Basil is a college fellow with his own secrets. He ends up helping Non but has his own parallel enquiry happening, just like she is making her own way into figuring things out.
There are some tense moments, some politically charged ones that give a better idea of the world at the time, and finally, the ending twist was entirely unexpected.
I am usually in two minds when something this unexpected happens at a time that I think a book is done, but this time around, I think it improved my overall experience!
I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction and mysteries.
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.

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Rhiannon ‘Non’ Vaughan is a young Welsh polymath and one of the young women newly admitted to lectures at
Jesus College, Oxford, in 1881. When one of her undergraduate colleagues is found dead at his lodgings, she becomes involved in solving the case. Non works with her guardian Lily and college fellow Basil Rice to discover the secrets behind the murder. But Non may find her lecture privileges revoked if she continues to be her true self. Likewise, Basil risks his reputation if he chooses to trust Non.
I appreciated Non's indepedence and determination. The restrictions on women annoyed me, as they did her. The
The focus on Welsh culture was interesting.
The story's sexually-charged content isn't my cup of tea. But I like Non and would read more books in this pro-female series just to learn more about her.

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An undergraduate is found dead at Jesus College in Oxford 1881. Medical examination reveals unexpected findings and the guardian blames the college for his death. Basil Rice, a college fellow with secrets of his own, is forced to act. The tragic event attracts Rhiannon 'Non' Vaughan, one of the young women recently admitted to lectures. Her being female, she is not allowed to become involved. Non and Basil form an alliance and find that the spires of Oxford aren't what they seem....

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I love crime fiction so I knew I had to give this book a try. It’s set in Victorian Oxford and begins when an undergraduate student is found dead in his rooms.
Rhiannon (Non) and Basil, a student and tutor, form a partnership in order to investigate.
The book is well researched and well written with the pov switching between Non and Basil. It took a bit of time to pick up pace but was worth it.
This book was a great introduction to Hawkins’ new series and I would recommend it and will continue the series.

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This was a good historical mystery. Sadly my enjoyment was marred by the intensely irritating main character. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.

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A Bitter Remedy by Alis Hawkins is set in Jesus College, Oxford, in 1881. The story begins with the death of a young undergraduate in his lodgings, prompting a shocking discovery during the subsequent medical examination. Basil Rice, a fellow at Jesus College who harbors a secret, is compelled to intervene when the deceased student’s guardian accuses the college of responsibility and threatens scandal. In doing so, Basil becomes entangled in the tragic life of Sidney Parker.

The mystery captivates Rhiannon ‘Non’ Vaughan, a young Welsh polymath newly admitted to university lectures. Despite her fervent desire to contribute and prove herself, Non encounters resistance from both the college principal and influential women associated with Oxford’s recently established female halls. Undeterred, Non’s relentless determination and sharp intellect lead her to forge an unlikely partnership with Basil – two outsiders in the university setting. Together, they assume responsibility for investigating Parker’s mysterious demise.

As Non and Basil delve deeper into their investigation, they encounter corporate misconduct and unscrupulous medical practitioners that challenge their preconceived notions about the idyllic facades of Oxford’s renowned spires.

While I found A Bitter Remedy to be an enjoyable read overall, it had its shortcomings. The book’s cover perfectly complements its compelling storyline – an observation worth mentioning. I particularly appreciated the author’s meticulous research on Oxford as it added depth and atmosphere to the narrative. However, I must admit that I found some parts of the book to be excessively slow-paced and repetitive. Additionally, Non’s character proved rather grating on my nerves; she came across as annoying throughout the story. Therefore, this novel is a mixed bag for me – with its strengths lying in its well-crafted setting but hindered by pacing issues and a bothersome protagonist.

**ARC Via NetGalley**

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This was an interesting historical fiction murder mystery that kept me company during my rainy weekend. I enjoyed reading this first installment of the Oxford Mysteries series and would love to read the next ones too. It's a story about two main characters, an intelligent, anxious Jesus College fellow with a big secret, Rhiannon “Non” Vaughan, a bold, intelligent, straightforward, unwavering young Welsh woman that is a new student in the university lectures at Jesus College. They both go through a few "adventures" to investigate the death of an undergraduate.
It is a multi-layered story, with twists, turns, and a few surprises that kept me reading forward.
It was also interesting that the story is historically accurate with time, places, and people.

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This is a good mystery and I enjoyed the vivid historical background and the plot that kept me guessing.
I wasn't a fan of Non that I found a bit to strongheaded for her own good even if I understand she's trying to overcome the walls she find as a woman.
It's the first book in this series and I think it will surely improve.
3.5 upped to 4
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review.

From looking at most of the other reviews, it looks like I'm in the minority on this one, but the others who didn't enjoy this story didn't enjoy it for the same reasons as me. I found this incredibly difficult to get into and the main character was very grating to read. I figured instead of investing a lot of time hoping it would get better, I decided to cut my losses and move on to a different book.

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Hawkins' debut in the Oxford Mysteries series is an intriguing historical mystery set in 1881 Oxford, England. Told in dual narrative, Hawkins' MCs are complex and yet still incredibly likable. Additionally, I found the look at Basil's life as a 2SLGBTQIA+ man interesting. And I loved the inclusion of Rev Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll as Non's friend. I very much appreciated reading about the Welsh experiences at Oxford and the struggle women experienced gaining entry into higher education. Most importantly, Hawkins' mystery plot is well balanced with plenty of clues, red herrings and suspects that will have you guessing till the last page. Be aware that this book explores historical medical practices and while not graphic be sure to check the CWs. I look forward to reading further investigative tales of Non and Basil.

I received this eARC thanks to NetGalley and Canelo in exchange for an honest review. Publishing dates are subject to change.

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This first book in the Oxford Mysteries Series introduces us to a fabulously feisty female lead, Rhiannon Vaughan (Non). Non is newly attending lectures, one of the first women to do so at the college. While at a lecture by Basil Rice, she overhears details of the death of an undergraduate Sidney Parker, when the session is interrupted.

Non and Basil form an unusual alliance to unravel the mystery of Parker's death after his guardian threatens to slur the college's reputation. Together they romp through the bigotry, misogyny and expectations of Victorian Oxford to find out what happened to Parker.

The first third of the book is a slow burn, but this is likely to ensure the set up of the characters, time and place for later books in the series. Still, once it got going, it was very entertaining. I rushed to the end, where a final twist caught me unaware and added to the story's intrigue.

There's a lot to like about the first book in this Historical Crime Fiction series by Alis Hawkins. I'd love to read another adventure, including Non and Basil.

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A Bitter Remedy by Ali’s Hawkins is a new historical mystery told in two perspectives: Non Vaughn’s (a female attending lectures at Oxford) and Basil (one of the college dons). When a student dies suddenly, both Non and Basil are drawn into the investigation of his death which may not have been as accidental as originally thought. Non is a feminist in a world where women are supposed to want to marry and have babies, but all she wants to do is be independent, seen as an equal to men and be allowed to pursue academia. Basil is a closeted homosexual (obviously it’s illegal back then) who is friends with Non. The beginning of this book was pretty slow for me but at about 65% it finally takes off and suddenly it’s twists and turns at every page. While I enjoyed Non’s character, I didn’t find her believable for the time period. I also didn’t see what the point was of Basil’s perspective. He didn’t really contribute much and even the inception of their friendship was never really explained. I thought the mystery element in this was great. I did not see the twist coming although in retrospect I really should have, but the beginning was so slow I couldn’t make the conclusion until it was too late. I also feel like Non’s relationship with one of the undergrads was not exploited to completion and just teased at which was very unfulfilling. I would have rather they just have a friendship and she not have any remotely romantic feelings for him. All in all it was an ok book, but just didn’t hit home for me on quite a few points.

Thank you to @netgalley and Canelo for the provided ARC to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Thank you to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A beautiful, perfectly written book with a stunning cover. Full of suspense, historical detail and intrigue. A recommended read.

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Rhiannon Vaughn (Non) is a ‘wild thing determined not to be domesticated’ who has benefitted from Jesus College, Oxford beginning to allow women to attend lectures, much to the disgruntlement of the many male undergraduates and lecturers.
Intelligent, forthright and dogmatically independent, Non proves a formidable opponent for her male counterparts. When undergraduate Sidney Parker dies in suspicious circumstances, Non must negotiate a man’s world to apply her deductive skills, as well as her physical prowess, to solve the mystery of his death.
Much of the historical background of the novel is based in fact. Women were fighting to be allowed access to higher education, Dr Harper of Jesus College did support women’s education, Sarah-Jane Rees (Cranogwen), Non’s fictional benefactor, was an advocate for Welsh Celtic study and was a famous writer and speaker, patent medicinal concoctions were widely advertised as miracle ‘cures’ and did often include opium, and spermatorrhoea was blamed for many illnesses and was used to make money out of susceptible young men. References are made to Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and his recreational mathematics, to real places in Oxford, many of which still exist today, and quotes included are from contemporary materials. This attention to historical accuracy lends a convincing authority to the novel. So strongly does the history shine through, that the murder mystery is almost secondary to it.
The characters of Non and Basil, both of whom are swimming against the tide of Victorian conventional society and its expectations, are great characters, but it is Non herself who steals every scene. She is just a force of nature who compels you to root for her from her very first spat with an undergraduate ‘popinjay’ to her final meeting with college delegates.
This is the perfect read for anyone who loves Victorian historical fiction, especially if you live a strong, opinionated female lead, determined to break down the barriers of social convention.

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Finished ✔️ A Bitter Remedy by Alis Hawkins.
4 ⭐️’s
Kindle Unlimited: No
Excellent historical mystery dripping with atmosphere that exposes the chauvinism, misogyny, & bigotry of late Victorian England.
Fearlessly tackles taboo attitudes of the era.
Takes aim at misogyny, homophobia, & sexual politics.
An excellent addition to the historical mystery canon.
Perfect tonic for our times.
Absolutely brilliant.
Thoughtful, complex, and engrossing.
Superb atmospheric mystery to the last page.
Yes, I’d recommend
#DeesReading #DeesRecs #DeesBookRecommendations #BookNerds #BookNerdProblems #BookNerdsUnited #BookProblems #BookProblems101 #BookNerds101 #Bookworms #BookwormProblems #BooksOfFacebook #DeeTheBookReviewer #DeesReadOfTheDay #DeesBookOfTheDay #DeesBookReviewsOfTheDay #BookReviewer #NewToMeAuthor #AlisHawkins #ReadOfTheDay #BookOfTheDay #ABiitterRemedy @NetGalley

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This was always going to be a hit for me - a pioneering heroine taking on the exclusively male Oxford University in Victorian times. Yes, yes and yes. Add in poison, intrigue and murder and I'm totally sold.

The story follows the investigation into the death of a solitary undergraduate from Jesus College, Oxford, in 1881. His body is discovered in his lodging house by his landlady - but a search of his possessions yields little but some dodgy-looking proprietary medicines. Both his tutor at the university (Basil Rice) and a headstrong young woman attending lectures at the university (but not allowed - by virtue of her gender - to be a student) suspect that all is not as it seems...

For me - a historical crime fan who verges on the obsessive about the Victorian era - one of the key strengths of this novel is how 1880s Oxford is so vividly-realised and beautifully written. The book is packed with historical detail and even real-life figures - I am now going to be doing a lot of googling to separate fact from (very well-crafted) fiction. There are even contemporary adverts for some really worrying-sounding medicines - so far, so fascinating.

However, the historical detail doesn't distract from the story - and it is an intriguing murder mystery told in alternating chapters by Basil Rice and Rhiannon Vaughan (called 'Non'). Both are interesting characters in their own way, although obviously my heart belongs to feisty, brave and groundbreaking Non who is treading a very precarious path in attending Jesus College lectures when many do not wish her to be there - and will look for any excuse to have her barred. She throws herself headlong into academia, murder enquiries and discussions on topics not deemed suitable for young ladies - and I loved her for it.

The gender politics of the time running deeply through the whole novel is - at once - compelling and horrifying. Non is so shockingly out of place in a time when the patriarchal structures are so rigid - and even those open to women's education assume that Non is only there to catch a husband. Even the AEW (the Association for Promoting the Education of Women in Oxford) are so cautious that one woman doesn't sully the cause - poor Non can't win.

This is a well-written and lively novel and one I'd recommend to lovers of historical crime fiction. Non is a character that the reader can easily get behind - and her world is engaging, realistic and vivid. It's a wake-up call for female readers to see how far we've come - and how much we need the Nons of this world to take the brave paths.

I'm heartened to see that this is being referred to on Amazon as 'The Oxford Mysteries, Book 1' because I am very much looking forward to see what Rhiannon Vaughan does next.

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What an exceptionally wonderful book. I will think back on this often, and what a joy to find all my ‘heroes’ in one book, - I am incredibly sorry that the story has now sadly come to an end.

I have been a huge fan of Charles Dickens, George Gissing, and Lewis Caroll et al. since childhood: they were the motivating factor to study English.
I hugely love anything that somewhat resembles Victorian; I also started to delve into Victorian post-mortem photography, which is incomprehensible to us today.

A Bitter Remedy is a Victorian whodunnit novel which deals with themes such as the role of women in society, marriage, money, morals and the early feminist movement.

I found the murder in the book secondary to the theme of the Victorian image of a woman and how she was expected to live her life. They were not supposed to go outside the domestic sphere unless accompanied by a chaperone or by a husband.

I liked the alternating perspective between 'Non' (an abbreviation of Rhiannon - mind the double meaning of 'non' ) and 'Basil'.
It does not matter whether 'Non' or Basil is speaking - in writing style, the writer has deliberately omitted the distinction between the two of them, for the sake of equality between the two speakers.
The writer has added all sorts of Victorian quirks, trivia, and famous personalities to the story, some of which was born of the writer's imagination, but the vast majority of which is based on truth.
I am just wondering why the author has added an internal dialogue with a deceased twin. I found this bit confusing, for me, that did not add anything substantial and could have been left out as far as I am concerned. Perhaps a hint at the huge infant mortality rate in those days?

Further, of course, it taps into the double standards of the Victorian age, during which female love was considered normal and was fully accepted; yet male love was punishable under the Labouchere Amendment, under which Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were indicted for 'acts of gross indecency.’

In this bizarre world, it was pink for boys and blue for girls; they were kept ‘sweet’ with opium tincture, mind ‘children should be seen and not be heard..’

I also liked the fact that the book covers Welsh, as a minority language (‘inferior’ in the eyes of Oxbridge English speakers ). I also belong to a group whose mother tongue is also a minority language (Frisian).

This novel proved to be a fantastic immersion in Victorian times, well researched and with tremendous eye of detail, almost Dickensian in style, and sublimely written -
I loved it!!

(... - and a final word for Basil & Teddy, there will always be room in my home and my heart for the both of you. -

Thank you Netgalley & the publisher for this arc. I leave this review voluntarily.

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A Bitter Remedy by Alis Hawkins
This book is planned to be the first in a series set at Oxford University in the late 19th Century. The main character is the formidable ‘Non’ or Rhiannon Vaughan. She is a headstrong young woman who is one of the first women to be allowed to attend lectures at Oxford although she is not allowed to gain a degree. She is chaperoned by Lily Maddox and finds it difficult to conform to the myriad of constraints placed upon her behaviour. She has led an interesting life in her native Wales – wearing trousers and sailing on her father’s ship.
She has come to Oxford to study at Jesus College due to its Welsh connections. She is keen to study linguistics with Professor Rhys and is friends with Basil Rice an Oxford Don. Basil is given the task of investigating the death of an undergraduate and is keen to avoid the college being brought into disrepute.
Non is keen to offer her services to help them investigate but it is made clear that her help is not required. She however is not to be dissuaded; she stubbornly continues and plays a vital role in uncovering the truth. Through the novel we learn a great deal about the trade in unregulated remedies to those who could not afford the luxury of a visit to the doctor. Many of these remedies contained opium such as Godfrey’s Cordial which was given to children. We encounter real life characters such as The Reverend Dodgson and Sarah-Jane Rees or Cranogwen who was a Welsh speaker, poet writer and a qualified master mariner.
This is an engaging mystery of the Victorian period but I think that Non is a little too ready to discuss matters such as men’s health, in particular spermatorrhoea, with anyone and everyone. She is widely proclaimed to be a clever woman and I am sure she would not go out of her way to antagonise people by discussing matters which, as a man quite fairly points out, even men would be hesitant to discuss openly.
Many thanks to the author, the publishers and to Net Galley for the opportunity to read the book in return for an honest review.

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