Member Reviews

Many thanks to Canelo, Netgalley and Alis Hawkins for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Let me begin by telling you this was 100% my first experience of cosy crime ficition. I don't think I can adequately describe the sensation other than to say that Hawkin's writing feels like a hug!

Let's get to it:
- I love dual POV but even more so when they are two very distinct and different characters. Hawkins has a real talent when it comes to bringing out the voices of Basil and Non; the way they think, speak and process information is different and I adore this attention to detail.
- The setting - we really get two different settings, and I mean this in the sense that we have Basil's Oxford and Non's Oxford and as a reader we see how much of an advantage Basil has compared to the lengths at which Non has to go to, to have a fraction of the same experience.
- A famous face pops up during the book and I found this rooted the book further into the time period and gave it an air of authenticity!
- The time period is a really interesting era; Oxford are in the early years of accepting women but there's still a long way to go.
- The focus on the lesser known (and equally as fabricated) condition that afflicts men in the same way that Hysteria apparently afflicted women. I hadn't previously known about this at all so it was both fascinating and educational!
- The rapport between Non and Basil, but also an honourary mention goes to Tarley Askew who is the definition of a golden retriever masquerading as a human being. I loved him!

Easily Five stars!

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Many thanks to NetGalley and Canelo Crime for this Advanced Reader Copy and the opportunity to review “A Bitter Remedy.” All opinions and comments are my own.

If you want to be hit over the head with “the plight of women trying to attend Oxford lectures for the first time in the 1880s,” then you’ve come to the right place with “A Bitter Remedy.” You’ll hear about how difficult it was on practically every page. I could have done with a lot less of that; I’m not from the “explain like I’m five” school of knowledge. Add to that the discussion of (imaginary) male diseases, the attempt to treat said diseases, the alternating first person chapters, and the talking to (and answers from) the heroine’s dead sister, well, it was all a little too over the top for me. It doesn’t help that I didn’t find the two primary characters Rhiannon “Non” Vaughan and Basil Rice (who’s got issues of his own), people that I much cared about.

A historical note explains about the historical accuracy of the story; the real people, places and things. As a murder investigation (thanks to Non for that), “A Bitter Remedy” works well, with some questions and yes, surprises. I just didn’t like the path it takes to get there.

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The blurb mentions that this one is for fans of Sarah Waters and Kaite Welsh and I love both of these authors (especially Kaite Welsh who is very underrated), thus I was intrigued by "A Bitter Remedy". The story sounds right up my street, but unfortunately, I had some issues with it too.
First things first, I really enjoyed the Oxford and university setting. Women getting into universities is a topic I'm very interested in and I know how difficult it was. My biggest problem here was our heroine, Non. She seemed to look down upon every women she met. She seemed to be one of the "not like other girls" characters and I'm over these. It's not a compliment to be so different from all other women.
Hawkins highlighted the difficult situation of men and women in Victorian times which I appreciated through. All in all, it was a mixed bag for me, but I'm nevertheless curious what Non will be up to next.

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Review in progress and to come.

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley and am voluntarily leaving a review

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Really wanted to like this book, as the premise sounded like something I'd enjoy, but I just couldn't get engaged with the story. The mystery was almost talked around without probing it enouh and it became frustrating.

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4.0/5.0

Oxford, 1880's. A undergraduate is found dead in his lodging rooms setting into motion an investigation which will take some very unexpected turns. Centred around the experiences of Non, a female Welsh student fighting for her right to attend lectures at Oxford University in a time dominated by men.

I found Non to be such a refreshing female lead character - no frills or graces.

The premise behind the book was very interesting - not your average Victorian serial killer murder mystery! I felt Alis Hawkins explored true Victorian Oxford well and introduced a really interesting cast of characters who I cannot wait to join on my adventures throughout Victorian Oxford.

Thank you to Netgalley and Canelo Crime for gifting me an e-arc copy of this book.

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Normally I don't go in for mysteries or literary series of any kind, but I loved absolutely everything about this book by Alis Hawkins, and despite being first in a series, I found it perfectly satisfying as a standalone read. The setting is 1881 Oxford's Jesus College, where antagonism brews over the Association for the Education of Women (AEW) allowing female representatives to attend lectures and also where third term student Sidney Parker has been found dead! The title "A Bitter Remedy" cleverly applies to the mysterious death on campus, and to the pervasive issues of gender and cultural biases as well. The alternating narrators, Non (Rhiannon) Vaughan and Basil Rice, complement each other brilliantly; she the Welsh AEW and he the conventional yet closeted Oxford man maintaining a proper friendship despite opposing views and backgrounds.

Non had a twin sister until the age of six, and as heartbreaking as that is, I do love that she continued talking to Hara inside her head ever since. The dialog, plot and pacing throughout this mystery are all so engaging, on so many levels, I tore through it and eagerly await the next Oxford Mystery or indeed anything else I can find by Hawkins.

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I have been thoroughly enjoying Alis Hawkins' Teifi Valley Coroner books, so I was excited to receive a pre-release review copy of the first book in her new series, A Bitter Remedy.

A Bitter Remedy is about a young, scarily intelligent Welsh woman, Rhiannon (Non) Vaughan, who has arrived at Oxford to study. In 1881, women may attend select lectures at Oxford, but cannot become a cap-and-gown student of the university, join a college or attain a degree. Non is determined to make the most of the opportunity to learn, despite the uneven playing field and her frustrations with the discrimination.

When an undergraduate is found dead in suspicious circumstances, Non joins forces with a college don, Basil Rice, to investigate what has happened. There's plenty of action, charging around Oxford on a tandem tricycle and trying to avoid causing a scandal. I also enjoyed the historical aspect - real historical people appear in the story - and the way that Non's Welshness helps her solve the mystery.

A highly recommended read!

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As a massive fan of this author’s Teifi Vallley Coroner series, I was very excited to see she’d be starting a new historical fiction series, this time set in Oxford. However, I didn’t at all expect the struggle I dealt with to get into this story, and I’m sorry to say I barely made it past the 20% mark before deciding I wouldn’t finish A Bitter Remedy.

That’s mostly due to the main character of Non, who pretty much aggravated me from the very first second she was introduced to me. What an awfully selfish, egocentric, arrogant and annoying person she is. Sure it would have taken women like her to make a difference, but not like this. She ruffles feathers all the time, including mine. Furthermore, I couldn’t see a reason at all for her to interfere as she did, getting involved in a death that had nothing whatsoever to do with her.

As opinionated at Non is, her counterpart Basil is extremely weak. I assume his part was created to show the scenes where Non wouldn’t have been allowed to be, but this is one grey little man who often seems afraid to speak his mind. But other than that, there is very little difference between the two characters and if it hadn’t been for the chapter headings, I would have had a hard time figuring out who was speaking.

I’m afraid I found I stopped caring about any of the characters or the plot, and the amount of rolling my eyes at Non was beginning to make my head hurt. I’m hugely disappointed because I very much expected to enjoy this one as much as Hawkins’s previous books. Unfortunately for me I didn’t and I’m sorry to say I won’t be picking up this series again,

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First, it is obvious that the author has done a great deal of research about 19th century medical disorders and life/order within Oxford Colleges which is a plus and is well-written if, at times, somewhat repetitive. The story has intrigue - dead student with issues of sexual dysfunction (19th century style), quack remedies that kill, coded diaries, family grievances, The two main characters are an Oxford don (Basil) with gay inclinations that he has to hide, given the times; and a Welsh woman (Non) being allowed to attend lectures but spending a lot of time railing against the system - women not being considered able or suitable for an academic system. I get her frustration, I really do, but her continual rantings do not seem to be the best way to get women considered let alone accepted. The story was told by these two but I found it hard to tell them apart at times other than the hint at the start of the chapter which is odd given her assertive nature and Basil's being the opposite. There's too much about how brilliant Non is - decoding the coded diaries, knowing important people to badger to get a post mortem carried out for example. I would be happy to read another story by the author but I do hope that both Non and Basil can mature a bit. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy.

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I read this book in 1 sitting - so it’s doing a lot of things right! The suspicious death of a lonely Oxford undergraduate brings together two Welsh scholars - one of the first women admitted to study, and a lecturer with secrets to hide.

I thought the time period - Victorian age Oxford, just as women were getting access to the university - was fascinating, and the business of quack remedies for men (looking to restore/protect their masculinity) a fresh perspective on the era.

I struggled with Rhiannon (“Non”) as a protagonist though. She had a lot of “not like the other girls” energy and disdain for all the women she interacted with who didn’t share her goals (get an education on par with men, become a scholar, never marry). Like, can’t we have women uplifting other women? Do we *have* to look down on women for being interested in fashion, marriage, getting an education for personal enrichment, etc? The women overseeing Non’s Oxford education made a lot of how Non’s outspokenness would make life harder for her fellow female students in an already misogynistic academic environment…but we never saw Non think about her fellow female students, nor did any of them appear on page. She just came across as selfish/inconsiderate, and I was hoping for a more inclusive kind of feminism, since there was a lot of interesting material on “the patriarchy harms men too” side of the equation.

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Ruthless producers and unscrupulous peddlers of deadly quack remedies are wreaking havoc among male students in this really sinister and utterly compelling murder mystery set at Jesus College Oxford in 1881...

A Bitter Remedy offers the reader a vitriolic attack on all the unavoidable gender bias and baffling social prejudices so prevalent in British Academia at the tail-end of the 19th century and a rather cynical portrait of Victorian stuffiness and the shabby hypocrisy that played such a major part in human relations at the time.

Violence, greed, poison, lies, quackery, murder and arrant mysoginy are very cleverly entwined in this devilishly plotted and exquisitely choreographed whodunit that really deserves to the discovered and enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever!
I simply can't wait for the next installment in this highly entertaining new series!

Many thanks to Canelo and Netgalley for this terrific ARC

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Set in Oxford in the 1880s, Non (Rhiannon) is a rare example of a woman allowed to study at the University. When a fellow student is found murdered she gets involved in tracking down the killer alongside her Professor, Basil Rice who she is already connected with... this is a story exploring outdated ideas around women, sexuality, equality etc and made me reflect how far we have come in this time, but where we still have much to do.

Living in Wales, I really enjoyed the references to Wales and Cymraeg, and as this is the first in a series I'm looking forward to picking up the next one!

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I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

This features Non, who is studying in Oxford, but as a woman in 1881 is not allowed to say she is studying at Oxford, or take the same exams as the men, or get a degree, or go anywhere without a chaperone. This is (naturally) frustrating for her, but the book does harp on about it repeatedly and at greater length than I would have liked. It also features Basil, a don, who is charged with keeping the lid on any scandal surrounding the death of one of his students, Sidney Parker. The mystery surrounding Sidney's death is quite interesting, although again the book does harp on (repeatedly and at length) about a fictitious medical condition I won't attempt to spell, which young men are being sold spurious remedies for. Non and Basil solve the murder although Non (of course) gets no credit for all the things she finds out because she is a woman (see above).

I thought the writing was good, except that Non's chapters and Basil's chapters sounded exactly the same - if I hadn't checked the chapter headings, I would only have been able to tell who was narrating from the context.

Enjoyable in a cozy sort of way.

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Rhiannon Vaughan (known as Non) is one of the first women to be allowed to attend lecture at Oxford in 1881. She’s Welsh and has chosen to attend lectures at Jesus College so she can study linguistics taught by Basil Rice who specialises in Welsh and Celtic studies. She also has a talent for mathematics and had been corresponding with Christ Church’s mathematics lecturer, the Rev. Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) about a shared interest in cryptology since she was a child.

When Sidney Parker, an undergraduate at Jesus College is found dead at his lodgings, Basil, as the boy’s tutor, is tasked with looking into the events surrounding his death, mainly to protect the name of the college. It’s clear that Sidney was in a terrible physical state when he died and Basil notices a large collection of patent medicine bottles in Sidney’s bedroom and realises this is something that needs to be followed up. Non wants to help, particularly since she has an interest in forensic science, but it is deemed too unseemly by the college and the women’s organisation overseeing the women studying at Oxford (the AEW – Association for Promoting the Education of Women in Oxford). Nevertheless, Non is headstrong and stubborn and fortunately for Basil and the college manages to inveigle her way into the investigation.

This is an entertaining and atmospheric mystery based on actual historical events and figures In Oxford at the time. Homosexuality and the misinformation fed to young men about their sexuality and how to control it are important topics in understanding Sydney’s death as is the trade in unregulated patent medicines at the time, which is illustrated with actual advertisements from the era. It’s also an interesting time for women, being allowed to attend lectures at Oxford (although not yet be awarded a degree as in Cambridge and U. London), but only if they are chaperoned and ‘behave with decorum’. Non finds the restraints on women incredibly frustrating and it’s not long before her anger at the way men treat her gets her in trouble with the college and the AEW for speaking up for herself. She will clearly need to learn to rein in her anger and find more subtle ways to navigate through this male dominated world in future if she is to survive. I enjoyed this start to a new series and look forward to seeing what Non gets up to next!

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Alis Hawkins begins a new dark Victorian crime series set amidst the dreaming spires of an Oxford in the 1880s, a blend of fact and fiction, featuring real life people and issues of the time. The headstrong Rhiannon 'Non' Vaughan is amongst the first women being allowed to attend lectures at Jesus College, with its Welsh connections, under a raft of restrictions, including being chaperoned by Lily Maddox, wear restrictive women's clothing, and more in a city where scurrilous gossip is rampant. She chafes at the patriarchal limitations and attitudes to women, her anger often pushing her towards confrontation, but she operates under the AEW, the Association for Education of Women, who need her to bend to the rules so as not to adversely affect the progress of other women.

Non has recently lost her beloved her sea captain father, and has only been able to come to Oxford to study linguistics under Professor Rhys due to a benefactor, under the current Jesus Principal Dr Harper, the college is aiming to downgrade its Welsh connections and history. Basil Rice is a Oxford don, who finds himself investigating the death of a hardworking if struggling student, Sidney Parker, at his lodgings. He finds himself partnering with Non, despite the fact she is not allowed, although I have to say he has little choice in the matter! Despite the constraints that Non faces, and this often includes conversing with her deaf twin, Hara, dead since she was 6 years old, Non goes on to pay a critical role in unearthing the truth about the dead victim. With Basil, she faces a complex case that lifts the lid on the unhappy Parker's life, his blackmailing and exploitative guardian, the illnesses he suffered, real and imagined, and the numerous unregulated remedies available in Oxford, and the fact that he was murdered.

Basil faces his own demons and struggles with his sexuality as he tries to come to terms with losing his lover, Teddy, who is leaving for London and planning to get married. Non has had a correspondence since she was 12 with Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), living at Christ Church College, on the subject of cyphers, this has now turned into a non-university Cypher Club. This is an engaging Victorian mystery that I enjoyed, the highlights of which were the descriptions of Oxford, a city I know well, and the state of the university in this historical period. I do think, however, that perhaps Hawkins has over egged the constant rage of Non at the unfair world she faces, mostly because it prevents Non from developing more subtle, better coping strategies and responses, plus this continuing characteristic will become increasingly far too predictable and boring in future books, she is supposed to be a bright and intelligent woman! Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

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1881 Oxford University. An undergraduate is dead, and some of the details are quite unusual. To avoid a scandal for the University, Jesus College fellow, Basil Rice is forced to look into events surrounding the death. But one misstep may see his own secret revealed. And it’s unfortunate for the University that Rhiannon ‘Non’ Vaughan decides to take an interest in the case. Non is one of very few young women who have been newly allowed to attend university lectures. She’s intelligent, inquisitive, and determined to prove that she’s just as good—or better than any of the men at Oxford. But it seems Basil and Non are the only ones who want to know what really happened to Sidney Parker.

What a superb historical mystery! Alis Hawkins has written a complex and well plotted story. She brings Victorian Oxford University to life through her vivid descriptions of the landscape and characters. She has also created two very engaging characters in Basil and Non. They also alternate as narrators, providing very different prospectives, and weaving their personal struggles within the University structure into their investigation. The historical aspects of the story (and historical figures)—attitudes towards women and homosexuality, medical quackery, class distinctions of the time, and even the fiefdom of Oxford University—make the story all the more interesting.

A captivating historical mystery. Can’t wait to see what happens next in the lives of Basil and Non.

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This page-turner is firmly anchored in the history of Oxford's "Welsh College" and its initial admission of female students. It introduces fascinating historical characters (Lewis Carroll, Sara Jane Rees, Lister) as Rhiannon Vaughan ("Non") investigates the unexplained death of an undergraduate. Her voice alternates with that of Basil, a male lecturer who is also (secretly) battling sexual and gender repression. As their investigation unfolds, Hawkins expounds on the new-fangled tandem tricycle, Victorian sexual misinformation, cryptography, penis rings, the coal trade, and patent medicines. Non's combativeness as a brilliant nonconformist is mitigated by the internalized voice of her conscience Hara, her deaf twin who died as a child. A friend says, "No wonder you're so determined. You grew up fighting for two."
While the characters are predictable, including an almost comically valiant potential suitor, I enjoyed the historical background and setting, especially learning more about Wales. The narrowness of women's lives in the Victorian era is common knowledge, yet as the author writes, "But accepting that something's true and being forced to see it for yourself are two different things."

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This is the first in a planned series, for which I thank the gods of reading; further, I implore said gods to speed the writing and publication of the next installment as far as divine power can manage.

Rhiannon -- Non -- and Basil, who take turns narrating, make an unusual mystery-solving team in several ways. For one thing, Basil is an invert so we can expect to be spared any slow-burn romance between them. For another, their friendship is complicated by their social situations: Basil is an Oxford don, while Non is a student of linguistics and a skilled amateur cryptologist at a time when women are just barely being allowed to dip their toes into university education. Basil, having just been dumped by his longtime lover, believes there's nothing for him in life but Oxford, and his consequent institutional loyalties sometimes place his interests at odds with Non's feminism and her anger at the limits set to women's achievement. He's also just the slightest touch priggish, so he's startled by Non's matter-of-factness about such things as the nonexistent disease of spermatorrhoea, spiked cock rings intended to prevent erections, and dead bodies in coal cellars.

The medical details here are gruesome -- fascinating and/or horrifying and/or offputting, depending on your tolerance for, well, grue. The murder victim has been torturing himself with various remedies for his spermatorrhoea; he also turns out to have suffered from some actual illnesses that would have made him plenty miserable even if he didn't feel it necessary to wear a spiked cock ring. (None of this really amounts to a spoiler, I promise.) So, fair warning that for some passages it helps to have a strong stomach -- though, since Bitter Remedy is a murder mystery, perhaps that shouldn't come as a huge shock.

I have two nits to pick: 1. "Rev" really should be spelled out. 2. Even I don't fuss editorially over the "like"/"as" distinction except in the most formal writing, but given the period setting, Non, Basil, and most of the secondary characters would have observed it. Such a small detail, but it's the kind that, if you notice it, will throw you just that wee bit out of the story every time.

This was an enormous amount of fun. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC, and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

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Look, I tried. I swear I tried, but I ended up DNF this at like 50% and then skipped till the end to see how they solved the mystery. I don´t think it was particularly my problem because I love historial fiction and I love mystery thrillers. But this book didn´t work for me for a number of reasons:
- Non, the female main character, is TOTALLY annoying. I found imppossible to empatize with her and her attitude of "I´m the smartest in the room and no one can compare, also, you´re all idiots because you don´t do things or think like I do". She was always speaking and making assumptions out of turn or without real proof (btw, how did she know Sidney was killed instantly? No one even sugested the death was suspicious when they told Basil and yet there she jumped saying she wanted to know / help). I spent all the time reading wanting to just get rid of her.
- Basil was a bit better, but didn´t click as he should. I don´t know if I was the only one, but he gave me vibes of secondary character with no personality (no, seriously, if Non was too opinionated, I felt Basil had absolutely no opinion at all; it´s a matter that he´s not confrontational, it´s a matter that he didn´t seem to think anything in particular in the chapters he narrated. As if he were just there to accompany Non and little else).
- The investigation was... Wow. Is this allowed? They move the corpse however they like, the police is like doesn´t exist (cause they never get called), they call amateurs to investigate (I still don´t get why they talked with Basil first) and the suspects go and talk without a care of who´s interrogating them (even thought all that talk of poor Sidney and poor prestigious college, and oh, my reputation). It like, dude, you´re even more sus. The dialogues in a lot of parts didn´t feel natural.
They spent more time trying to convince someone to examine the body and trying to find the cause of death than actually investigating the whole murder. I got bored along the way because in the middle of all that there was a lot of chapters of Non trying to act clever and telling how she was connected to famous / important people.
And even though Basil´s chapters helped to give me a rest of that nonsense, it wasn´t enough to keep me interested. So yep, that´s it, that´s my review. I´m not going to comment about how they solved the mystery because it´s a spoiler, though I was dissappointed in that as well.
I might still be interested in reading more of this author (because I saw she has other thrillers that look better), but I´m definitely not reading this particular series again.

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