Let’s Get Festive! Blog Tour: Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

Image created by Erin Hamilton

This December I am delighted to be one of Santa’s little book bloggers, bringing you reviews of a selection of great books to put you in the festive spirit. Each day one blogger will present you with a seasonal favourite which we hope you might enjoy reading during the holiday season!

I love pretty much everything about Christmas and have read a vast range of Christmas books over the years, so it was quite a struggle to select just one! However, one of my favourite genres to read on a cold winter evening, tucked up by the fire as the weather does its best to send shivers down the spine, is detective fiction, particularly from the golden age writers of the 1920s and 1930s. Therefore my choice for this blog tour is Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens.

This is the fifth book in Robin Stevens’ brilliant series of Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries and combines an intriguing plot with a wonderfully atmospheric Cambridge setting and my favourite festival, Christmas. It really is a perfect example of detective fiction for a confident reader of 9/10+ to enjoy independently, or for adults and children to share during the Christmas holidays.

Set in the few days running up to Christmas 1935, the story begins with the Honourable Daisy Wells and her best friend Hazel Wong (The Detective Society) travelling to Cambridge to spend their school holiday visiting Daisy’s older brother, Bertie. From the very outset this book grabbed my interest because on the train journey Daisy is reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers which would have been newly published at the time and which is one of my favourites! In echoes of that classic work, Daisy and Hazel are to stay at a fictional women-only college, in this case, St Lucy’s, where Daisy’s Great Aunt Eustacia is a mathematics don. Additionally, they team up their detective investigations with their friends Alexander Arcady and George Mukherjee, known as The Junior Pinkertons; although Daisy is aggrieved that simply because she is a girl, she cannot access some colleges in order to carry out all the investigations herself.

Her brother Bertie is at the fictional Maudlin College where he has become friends with twins, Chummy and Donald. The elder twin, Donald, is due to inherit his family’s vast wealth on his 21st birthday on Christmas Day. According to Bertie, Chummy has always been the dominant brother and is furious that he will inherit nothing and is trying to persuade his brother to let him have a say in how the money will be spent. Bertie also tells the girls about the unkind pranks that Chummy plays on Donald as well as some details about a series of accidents that have befallen Donald recently. Alexander and George have heard similar stories from George’s older brother Harold, and a note left for Daisy and Hazel by their former Head Girl warns them that Bertie is mixing with the wrong crowd. The four junior detectives decide that a plot is afoot and a tense investigation to try to avert a tragedy unfolds.

There is something so satisfying about reading a beautifully structured detective mystery, trying to sift the clues from the red herrings and solve the puzzles before the fictional sleuths. Robin Stevens gives us not only a tremendous plot, but continues to develop Daisy and Hazel’s characters, places you in the heart of an ancient university and weaves feminist themes into the story too. The archways, lanes, steep college stairwells and walled gardens of Cambridge become spookily atmospheric in the deep winter nights:

it felt as though the shadows had real weight to them here, or perhaps it was only that the streets were all so narrow, and the walls so very high.

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Hazel is experiencing the painful emotions of first love, flustered and embarrassed every time she talks to Alexander and mortified that he seems to only have eyes for Daisy. Meanwhile, Daisy has met her intellectual match in George, the first person who is able to see through her charm offensive to the deep intelligence that she has hidden from everyone but Hazel.

The racist attitudes of the historical period are explored as are the prejudices against women in the intellectual environment and wealth inequalities. The contrast in fortune between the male college, Maudlin, and the female college, St Lucy’s, is perfectly outlined in the descriptions of the food on offer at each. When the girls are invited to supper at Maudlin they are treated to a feast of roast beef, whilst at St Lucy’s supper comes from a tin! As in all the MMU books, food, and especially bunbreak is taken extremely seriously and the descriptions of the warmth and bustle of the festively decorated Fitzbillies tea rooms bring moments of Christmas cheer to the story, as Chelsea buns and steaming cocoa are consumed whilst theories and clues are discussed. As an aside, if you ever find yourself in Cambridge, you really must try the sticky buns from Fitzbillies! Daisy and Hazel’s friendship and loyalty to each other shines through every page and the importance of finding a “family” who love and respect you for what you are is a key thread.

In summary, if you want to exercise your intelligence whilst enjoying a thrilling work of historical detective fiction then this is my recommendation for your December reading list. Do check out all the other stops on the blog tour for a fabulously wide range of other recommendations.

If you are interested in the other MMU books, you can read my series review here and my review of the final book Death Sets Sail here.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.
Cover image by Nina Tara, published by Puffin Books

Author: Robin Stevens

Illustrator: Nina Tara

Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

” All right,” said Daisy. “But – oh, if only something interesting would happen!”

This book in three words: Detective Society Forever!

It’s been a few weeks since I read and reviewed this perfect finale to the Murder Most Unladylike series and every time I spot it on the bookshelf I just want to pick it up again! I am still in awe at the way that Robin Stevens pulled all the threads together to complete the collection and I am so pleased that the book has become so successful.

To read my full review of Death Sets Sail, please click here – you will also find links to my reviews of all other books in the series.

#20BooksOfSummer: Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens

Well, I’ve only reached #Book5 of my #20BooksOfSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com, mainly because I’ve prioritised new books sent by publishers rather than those which were on my original TBR list. However NOTHING was going to stop me reading Death Sets Sail as soon as it was published, this final book in a much loved series had a huge emotional pull for me.

As a brief introduction for anyone who is not familiar with the Murder Most Unladylike series, the first book appeared in 2014, written by debut author Robin Stevens and described as a cross between Malory Towers and Agatha Christie. I read the first couple as bedtime stories to my youngest, took her to several hugely entertaining book festival events where she became a loyal fan of Robin Stevens and a fully-fledged #DetectiveSociety devotee. I have not met a single child who has not become a fan of the series after reading any one of the books.

Fast forward to August 2020 and Death Sets Sail is launched in an extravaganza of gold foil, sprayed blue edges and excitement combined with slight apprehension from long term fans. I imagine that it must have been quite a daunting challenge to complete the series in a manner which would allow the characters of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong to continue to mature but also bring their adventures to a satisfying conclusion. In this reviewer’s opinion, Robin Stevens has achieved this goal in tremendous style and I thoroughly enjoyed this murder mystery despite finding something in my eye towards the end!

I do not want to discuss the plot in too much detail for fear of giving away spoilers therefore I will just give a brief outline. Daisy and Hazel have been invited to spend the 1936 Christmas holidays in Egypt by their school friend Amina El Maghrabi. Hazel’s wealthy father has agreed to travel from Hong Kong with Hazel’s two younger sisters May and Rose to join the girls on a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan. To complete the young detective contingent on the cruise The Junior Pinkertons, George and Alexander, long term allies and rivals of The Detective Society, have also contrived to join the cruise. Fellow travellers include Amina’s former tutor Miss Beauvais, George and Alexander’s tutor Mr Young and The Breath of Life Society, a cohort of wealthy British eccentrics who believe themselves to be re-incarnations of Ancient Egyptian deities. Hence the stage is set for an exquisitely plotted MG homage to Death on the Nile.

Robin Stevens has honed her craft brilliantly over the last six years and has constructed an entertaining murder mystery which you just can’t put down once you’ve embarked. I love the way that she doesn’t gloss over the unacceptable attitudes to race that were prevalent in the 1930s. Issues of cultural appropriation and white privilege are highlighted and the need to remove these attitudes from society is made plain. Hazel, who started the series as a shy and insecure arrival from Hong Kong has blossomed into a confident young woman who is proud of her talent for logical deduction, able to stand up to her father and is no longer prepared to defer to Daisy on everything. The Honourable Daisy Wells is still inclined to be “Daisy-ish” meaning that she single-mindedly pursues her own agenda, dismissing the suggestions or feelings of others at times, but is ultimately the courageous best friend that we would all wish for in a crisis. She has the ability to strengthen Hazel’s nerve when required with a muttered “Buck up, Watson!” and their unbreakable friendship is one of the joys of this series.

Many of the earliest fans of the MMU books will now be aged 15/16, the same age as Daisy and Hazel appear in this book, and will identify with the girls maturing and experiencing their first loves. I have a favourite quote by Farrah Serroukh, Learning Programme Leader at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) in the Reflecting Realities (2018) report “The space between what is written and what is read is often a safe space in which we can make sense of our lives and the world around us.” Robin Stevens has presented Daisy’s sexuality as a natural part of the story and kept the content entirely suitable for an MG readership. I would imagine that presenting a lesbian character as a strong confident protagonist rather than a victim of bullying will help everyone to feel accepted for who they are and encourage acceptance of others. At one point in the book Hazel reflects that “there is no one way for a heroine to look or be.” which for me perfectly encapsulates the core message of the Detective Society.

Finally, it should be said that Robin Stevens has thoroughly researched the Ancient Egyptian content of the story and as this is a period covered by the primary school history curriculum there will be many cross curricular opportunities for using this book on top of the obvious ReadforPleasure! With its shining golden cover and beautiful design and artwork by Nina Tara this truly is a book to treasure and a perfect ending to a series that has accompanied many young bookworms through childhood.

You can read my reviews of the first seven books in the MMU series here.

You can read my review of Book 8: Top Marks for Murder here.

You can read my review of the World Book Day 2020 title The Case of the Drowned Pearl here.

Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robin Stevens

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

 

To take part, the steps to follow are:

 

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.

 

  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.

 

  • Write three words to describe the book

 

  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

 

 

Author: Robin Stevens

Illustrator: Nina Tara

Publisher: Puffin Books

 

Favourite sentence from Page 11: “He was not formal with her as he had been with us, and Karam bent towards him and nodded – they seemed to know each other well.”

 

This book in three words: Murder, Mystery, Friendship

On the day that the title of the final book in the series will be revealed, I thought I would use #MGTakesOnThursday this week to celebrate my love of the Murder Most Unladylike stories.

Since first reading Murder Most Unladylike to my daughter as a bedtime story when she was still at primary school, we have both been hooked on the adventures of The Honourable Daisy Wells and her best friend Hazel Wong. Robin Stevens has created two iconic characters and written a marvellously entertaining set of beautifully plotted murder mysteries which tick all the “read for pleasure” boxes. You can read my reviews of the first seven full length mysteries here and Top Marks for Murder here.

For World Book Day 2020 a mini-mystery was published, The Case of the Drowned Pearl which I did not manage to review at the time, so belatedly, here is my review:

 

It is testament to this author’s brilliant plotting that she is able to write a self contained murder mystery within the space of 80 pages. All existing fans of the MMU series are likely to want to get their hands on this mini mystery and it is also a good place to start for children who are maybe not quite ready to read one of the longer books yet.

The story takes place in a rain and wind-swept British seaside town where Daisy, Hazel and the two junior Pinkertons, Alexander and George have been taken for a short holiday by Daisy’s mysterious uncle Felix and aunt Lucy. The older relatives are obviously investigating a mystery on behalf of the un-named secret spy agency they work for but having to pose as a normal family on holiday hence the addition of the young detectives.

From the moment they enter the down-at-heel hotel, which definitely doesn’t live up to Hazel’s expectations, they find themselves witnessing a heated conversation between two swimmers with aspirations for medals at the Berlin Olympic games which are due to take place the following month. The next morning on a pre-breakfast trip to the beach where Daisy has insisted they should all have a bracing swim in the chilly sea the children are astonished to stumble upon the drowned body of Amber Braithwaite, Britain’s best hope for a gold medal at the Olympics.

Of course our keen amateur detectives soon spot the clues that hint that this is no accidental drowning at sea but another murder mystery for them to investigate and fans of this series will love watching the young detectives at work.

As with all of Robin‘s previous books you are drawn into Daisy and Hazel‘s world and cannot help but admire the spirit of these two girls as they defy convention and expectations to solve another mystery. Their interaction with the Junior Pinkertons has developed over time to show their increasing maturity; their friendship and understanding of each other’s personalities continues to grow. Daisy can still be infuriatingly self-centred but you just can’t help loving her spirit and Hazel as ever is the voice of kindness, calmness and reason as she puts up with Daisy’s superior antics, supporting her friend and growing in wisdom herself.

This book nicely sets up the final mystery, due to be published later this summer. I cannot help feeling a sense of foreboding for the destiny of my favourite member of the detective society. I am torn between being desperate to read the final adventure and feeling that it is going to leave me heartbroken. I think I’ll be ordering a box of tissues alongside the book!

 

Top Marks for Murder by Robin Stevens

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The penultimate Detective Society mystery sees our intrepid duo, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, return to Deepdean School after an absence of several months, to find that the school hierarchy has shifted sufficiently to disturb their equilibrium.

They are welcomed with delight by their dorm-mates and additional society members Beanie, Kitty and Lavinia, but much to Daisy’s consternation she is no longer the darling of the school. That position has been claimed by new arrival Amina El Maghrabi, for whom Daisy’s former acolytes cannot perform any service too small. Understandably, Daisy is sent into a moody depression by this turn of events whilst trying to maintain her customary appearance of nonchalance. However, she cannot hide her true mindset from loyal and kind Hazel, who recognises that Daisy needs school to remain constant as she struggles with her personal feelings, and does everything in her power to cheer Daisy’s mood. 

With the tension building as the 50th Anniversary Weekend celebrations approach, when Daisy and Hazel’s parents will be conspicuously absent, it is almost a relief for the girls to find themselves once more in the midst of a murder investigation! This time the very survival of Deepdean School for Girls depends on their sleuthing abilities.

On the Friday morning of the celebratory weekend Beanie witnesses a man appearing to strangle a woman on the crest of a distant hill. By the time she summons the other girls to the dorm window, the suspect is nowhere to be seen and the usual school subterfuges have to be employed to enable a Detective Society investigation. The adventure is afoot, and the chain of events that follows held me gripped until the end.

I don’t want to say any more about the engrossingly complex plot for fear of giving away any clues or plot spoilers. However, once again Robin Stevens has crafted an entertaining murder mystery, filled with vibrant characters, false leads and subtle clues. I read in an article that Robin Stevens got the idea for the initial murder scene whilst sitting waiting for a train at Bath Spa and gazing at the hillside in the distance. I sat on that same platform many times as a student (a very long time ago) which makes this particular book even more special to me!

I also love that enclosed within the highly entertaining detective story we are given an insight into the personal challenges facing the main protagonists. Daisy’s family has been torn apart by the scandal that took centre stage in Arsenic for Tea and she has suffered a blow to her self-esteem as her prestige at school has been tarnished. Hazel is also coming to terms with her family’s behaviour and scandal recounted in A Spoonful of Murder. Beanie has suddenly grown into her intellect and has to cope with family illness, Lavinia must get used to her new-found status as a tennis ace and her Dad’s brash girlfriend, and Kitty is suffering the teenage plight of owning “embarrassing” parents and an irritating younger sister! All of these issues are handled sensitively by the author, in a way that is likely to spark recognition and reassurance amongst her readership.

As a series of books to “read for pleasure” from the age of roughly 9+ I highly recommend the Murder Most Unladylike series. They have entertained a member of my own family right through primary school and she is already looking forward to the final book which will be published shortly after GCSEs end this summer. You can read my short reviews of the earlier books in the MMU series here.

Series Review: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

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I am prompted to write this post just before the release of the special 5th anniversary edition of Book One in the Murder Most Unladylike series. I simply cannot believe that it is only five years since I first encountered The Detective Society! October 2014 was memorable. My sister phoned one evening to tell me she had heard an interview with a young writer on Woman’s Hour, and she was sure the story discussed would appeal to my book-mad youngest child. The author was Robin Stevens, the book was called Murder Most Unladylike. Intrigued, we downloaded the first book to the Kindle that night…and we were hooked!

At the time of writing this review, there have been seven full-length books, a guide to detecting and three shorter mysteries published, with Book 8 due in summer 2019. These books cleverly combine the joys of boarding school stories (where the parents are out of the picture, so the kids can have adventures) think Malory Towers, St Claire’s, Hogwarts, with the delights of page-turning detective fiction (Agatha Christie for example). They are set in the 1930s, so no internet or mobile phones exist to spoil the suspense.

It might seem strange to say this, considering that each story features gruesome murder, but the recurring themes of this series are kindness, bravery, friendship and loyalty. All wrapped up in hugely enjoyable detective mysteries. Will you be able to solve the clues, discard the red herrings and spot the murderer before the intrepid “Detective Society” duo of Daisy and Hazel?

I shall try not to give away any plot spoilers…but please read on for short summaries of each of the books in the Murder Most Unladylike series . They look beautiful on your bookshelf with their rainbow coloured covers and sumptuous 1930s-style title font. As if this wasn’t enough – there are always maps inside the front covers and I adore books with maps! Pull up a comfy chair, get yourself a plate of cakes for bunbreak and enjoy!

Book 1 Murder Most Unladylike

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1934, deep in the English countryside we encounter Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells appears to be a quintessential upper-class English school girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful and from an aristocratic family. She is able to hide her extreme cleverness under a laissez-faire attitude from everyone but the equally smart new girl, Hazel Wong. Hazel has been sent from her home in Hong Kong to drizzly, cold England by her fabulously rich father who wishes her to experience an English education. She struggles to fit in to the rather racist surroundings until kind-hearted Daisy befriends her and enrols her as secretary of her top-secret “Detective Society”.

Their investigative careers begin when Hazel discovers the body  of Miss Bell, the science mistress, in the gym – but after dashing away to fetch Daisy, the girls return to find  that the body has disappeared! It is apparent to the young investigators that a killer stalks the corridors of their boarding school. Will they be able to outwit the criminal and protect the remaining staff and students?

 

Book 2 Arsenic for TeaMMUarsenic

A classic “country house” murder mystery! It is the Easter holidays and Hazel has been invited to stay at Daisy’s picture-book country house, Fallingford, with its maze, servants and state of faded grandeur. She is not the only friend invited to celebrate Daisy’s birthday. The guest list includes: Daisy’s brother Bertie who has invited his school-friend, Stephen; mysterious, replacement governess Miss Alston; Kitty and Beanie their friends from Deepdean; Great-aunt Saskia; dashing and brilliant Uncle Felix and Denis Curtis, a special guest of Daisy’s mother.

Both Daisy and Hazel detect that there is something “going on” with Mr Curtis, and they are both intrigued by frumpy Miss Alston’s reaction to this fashionable man. The mystery deepens when Mr Curtis becomes fatally ill at Daisy’s birthday tea, and the finger of suspicion points at Daisy’s beloved father, Lord Hastings! The Detective Society and associate members Kitty and Beanie have a case to solve. (My daughter loved this story so much that she recreated it as a Lego stop-frame animation. I shall put a link at the end of this post, but it does contain spoilers, so please don’t watch until you have read the book.)

Book 3 First Class Murder

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Hazel’s father is so upset that she has spent the Easter holidays investigating a murder that he decides to take her and Daisy away from England for the summer holidays to broaden their minds by exploring Europe on the Orient Express. He strictly forbids the girls from any talk of crime as he wishes them to have a luxurious, relaxing and culturally enriching holiday. However, as the travelling party makes their way to the first class carriage they encounter an extraordinarily wealthy heiress, wearing a glittering diamond necklace…and you just know that crime is waiting along the tracks! With a fabulous cast of fellow travellers, and Daisy’s choice of holiday reading material being “Murder on the Orient Express”, you know what to expect!

On this journey the Detective Society meet up with a  young male detective, Alexander Arcady, who is one half of the Junior Pinkertons with his best friend George, and who will feature in future MMU investigations.

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Blue Violet

Book 4 Jolly Foul Play

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It is the new winter term at Deepdean and Daisy is furious because she was looking up at the fireworks as a murder occurred on the school field! The murder victim was the school’s Head Girl, Elizabeth Hurst, who is described by our reliable narrator Hazel as someone who “was in the business of secrets.” She surrounded herself with a bunch of acolytes known as “the Five” and collectively they were hated and feared at Deepdean. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Elizabeth has been done away with in this school where murder seems to be quite expected – but will Daisy and Hazel be able to untangle a web of secrets and identify the culprit?

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Deepdean Vampire

Book 5 Mistletoe and Murder

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After an Autumn term investigating the murder of their Head Girl, Daisy Wells and Heather Wong need a relaxing Christmas break. So for Christmas 1935 they head Cambridge to visit Daisy’s brother Bertie who has completed his first term at fictional Maudlin College, and stay with Daisy’s Great Aunt Eustacia, a Mathematics don at fictional St Lucy’s College. It is also a chance to see Alexander Arcady again, and meet his best friend George, as they are staying with George’s older brother Harold who is also a student at the university.

Of course, with Daisy and Hazel in town, murder cannot be far behind, and this time The Detective Society are in a race with The Junior Pinkertons to see who can solve the clues first. With detectives as sharp as the cold December frosts this mystery will grip you and entertain you in equal measure.

Cream Buns and Crime: Detective Tips, Short Stories including the two mini-mysteries, Code-breaking Tips and basically a lot of background information on The Detective Society.

Book 6 A Spoonful of Murder

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Now it is Daisy’s turn to feel out-of-place and foreign as she and Hazel travel to Hong Kong to stay in the luxurious compound owned by Hazel’s father, Vincent Wong, an extremely wealthy banker. Interestingly, Hazel also finds that the two years she has spent in England have changed her outlook, and there are times when she struggles to be the dutiful, obedient daughter that she is expected to be … particularly following the brutal murder of a family servant and a kidnap!

A thrilling, fast-paced adventure set against the oriental backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous sites where Daisy and Hazels will need every ounce of bravery and ingenuity to take on the forces threatening the Wong family.

Mini-mystery: The Case of the Missing Treasure

Book 7 Death in the Spotlight

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In an attempt to keep Daisy and Hazel out of trouble and allow them to recover from their exertions in Hong Kong they are sent to stay with Daisy’s Uncle Felix and Aunt Lucy in London. Unfortunately, Felix, Lucy and even their maid Bridget are involved in “secretive work” meaning that they cannot always look after their young guests. Therefore, a marvellous scheme is hatched to allow the girls to become temporary cast members at the Rue Theatre, owned by one of Lucy’s contacts.

Daisy is overjoyed at the prospect of understudying the roles at this famous Shakespearean theatre, and although Hazel is more circumspect, she too finds the theatre “gloriously impressive”. It doesn’t take long for The Detective Society to uncover seething jealousy and unpleasant pranks amongst the cast members, and before you know it the stage is set for murder.

The Junior Pinkertons, Alexander and George, make a welcome appearance to provide detecting assistance on this case. Additionally, Daisy and Hazel have to examine their friendship and their feelings for other characters, making this the most mature of the books to date.

 

I have been fortunate to read all of the MMU books in order, but children who borrow them from the school library (where they are always in high demand) tell me that they are enjoyable no matter what order you read them in. The voice of Hazel is an absolute joy as she not only outlines every case in logical, forensic detail, but also analyses the behaviour of the characters who surround her, in particular Daisy Wells. The loyal friendship between the pair is at the heart of The Detective Society and I hope that their teamwork, courage and allegiance develops through many, many more mysteries. Highly recommended for ages 9+.

 

Here is the link to the Lego stop-frame animation of Arsenic for Tea – but please don’t watch it until you have read the book!