Member Reviews

An Unlikely Duo..
The first in the Oxford Mysteries, set 1881, Jesus College Oxford and a death at lodgings is to prove suspicious. University misfits, Non and Basil, team up to form a most unlikely duo as they aim to delve deeper into the circumstances surrounding the death. The deeper they dig, the more alarming their findings. With a beautifully done setting, a keen historical eye exploring the society and attitudes of the day, comes a carefully plotted and hugely atmospheric mystery.

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1881 Jesus College Oxford. After the death of a student, Fellow of the college, Basil Rice, and female attendee Rhiannon 'Non' Vaughan investigate his death.
A difficult read for me as I found Non totalling annoying and irritating and there didn't seem to be many totally likeable characters. The mystery itself was okay.
Overall just about enjoyable read.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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This is a very promising start to a new series set at Oxford in the 1880s. Rhiannon, a young Welsh woman known as "Non", has been permitted to attend lectures at Oxford, one of the first women to earn that privilege. When another student is found dead in his lodgings, Non can't help but get involved in discovering the truth behind his death. Non is smart and stubborn and chafing under the restrictions place upon her due to her gender. I loved her character, but she does share the narration of this book with Basil, a fellow at Jesus College who is also a bit of a misfit. Non and Basil form an uneasy alliance to uncover the truth behind Sidney Parker's death, with all sorts of interesting discoveries and secrets revealed along the way. Basil's character was fine, but Non's was fantastic and far more engaging, and I found myself waiting impatiently to return to her viewpoint during each of Basil's chapters. Hopefully Basil will be more fleshed out in future volumes, or else Hawkins will turn over the series entirely to Non. Thank you to NetGalley and Canelo Publishing for a digital review copy.

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A refreshing mystery novel thanks to its characters particularly that of Non! I enjoyed her being witty, feminist and Welsh as well. Lots of references are made between the Welsh and English which was very interesting. The plot is complex and riveting; the storyline is captivating because of its focus on certain medical and medicinal remedies of these times (true facts), as well as life at Oxford university and the role of female students. I enjoyed it very much!
I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley and I am leaving voluntarily an honest review.

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Bitter Remedy is a well written murder mystery placed on a backdrop of Jesus College during the Victorian period. Interwoven with the plot are themes of women's struggle to acquire an equal education as their male counterparts, the disdain and danger homosexuals faced, and the unscrupulous quack remedy trade that flourished without any governmental oversight. There were great characters whose personalities and circumstances set them up as human embodiments of the social issues of the time. While not exactly dark academia the story illustrated the dangers and roadblocks faced by people surrounding academic institutions at the time. It was a rather long story, and I feel that at least 20% of it could be trimmed off near the end. Overall it was a good read.

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4.5 ⭐️ rounded up

It was the cover of this that first caught my eye and then when I realised it was a mystery set in the 1880’s, against the background of Oxford University I definitely wanted to read it.

This is set around the time of the advent of the women’s college movement and so we see that through the eyes of one of our main protagonists, Rhiannon “Non” Vaughan. She is one of the first women to be allowed to study and attend lectures at Jesus College and is a feisty, intelligent young woman who refuses to let the supposed ‘limits’ of being a woman deter her from her path. Our other man protagonist is Basil Rice, a Jesus College fellow who has his own secret he needs to keep hidden. They both find themselves involved in the mystery surrounding the death of an undergraduate. They are both complex characters and are surrounded by a small cast of equally well described and interesting characters.

This was a great story with the fictional mystery cleverly interwoven with true historical details and factual characters of the time and setting. I found myself taking note of several people to explore later. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I’m already looking forward to book 2 in The Oxford Mysteries series.

I’m writing this review voluntarily and very willingly in exchange for the free copy of the eArc which I received very kindly from the publishers and NetGalley.

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When I run across a truly interesting historical mystery, I stop paying attention to almost everything else, and A Bitter Remedy, by Alis Hawkins, is most definitely interesting.

Set during the 1880s, when Oxford University allowed women to attend lectures with permission of the instructor—but not to enroll in classes or earn degrees—A Bitter Remedy allows us to view those times through the perspectives of multiple individuals, many of whom were vulnerable within the patriarchal structure of the University because of their gender and/or sexual orientation. A Bitter Remedy features two narrators (who alternate chapters).

First, Non (short for Rhiannon), who has had quite an unusual upbringing and is aware of her own exceptional intelligence, attends lectures as allowed. Non is regularly incensed by by both the ignorance and the privilege of the men who are the "real" students at Oxford.

Second, Basil, a Don in his thirties who's facing the loss of a longtime lover (at least that's how Basil has been seeing things) and an ongoing effort to hide his homosexuality.

Other characters, many of them drawn from history, include
• The women and men of the AEW, the Association for Education of Women, which has been waging a long, piecemeal battle to allow women entrance into higher education and whose struggle for educational equity is frequently shaped by their desire to seem unthreatening to men.
• Annie Rogers, a historical figure, who in 1873 managed to sit both junior and senior exams at Oxford without revealing her gender. She earned the top score on both exams, which would have earned a scholarship for a man, but was shunted aside, with the academic support going to the men who had scored below her. She has since suppressed her iconoclasm in order to work in more conservative ways with the AEW.
• Basil's former lover, who never viewed their relationship as more than "fun," and has decided it is time to move to London for a more interesting teaching position and to find a wife, begin producing children, and generally conform to heteronormative standards.
• Lewis Carroll (yes, that one), who has long had a correspondence with Non about cryptography and has founded a puzzle club to mark her arrival at Oxford, but who still can't understand why Non would want anything other than a life of domesticity when she's done attending lectures.
• John Rhys, another historical figure, the first professor of Celtic at Oxford, whose books on the Welsh Language have inspired Non's move to Oxford.

Sidney Parker, an unhappy Oxford student and tutee of Basil, who has never fit in well at Oxford and has been allowed to live off-campus in an exception to university policy, is found dead, and most people are more than happy to call his death natural in order to avoid scandal. But neither Non nor Basil share this view and begin investigating.

I don't want to say more about the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but let me assure you that Hawkins has created a mystery that is worthy of her cast of characters. Fans of historical mysteries, those interested in the histories of women's education and gay identity, who have a soft spot for Carroll, or have followed the history of language use in Britain (with the imposition of English as the dominant language and the denigrating of other languages, including Welsh), are going to find A Bitter Remedy a delightful read. The publishers have made it clear that A Bitter Remedy is the first novel in what will be an ongoing series, which leaves me feeling celebratory and eager for more.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.

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3.5 stars.

Pulled in by the cover, stuck around for the feisty welsh woman, who was not afraid to live her life her own way.
Pleased that this is first in a series, as I enjoyed the adventures and sleuthing of Non and Basil.

Great story, that I wasn't always sure I could guess where it was going.
Always good when that happens.
Worth a few hours of your time.

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