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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden - Book Review

Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden

Series: Inspector Corravan #2 (Standalone)

Publication Date: 11th Oct 2022

Genre: Historical Mystery 

4.5 Stars 

One Liner: This is good! 

*****


Sep 1878, London

Pleasure boat Princess Alice collides with an iron-hulled collier, Bywell Castle, in the Thames. Princess Alice is torn apart, and 600 passengers are in the waters. With only 130 of them surviving, the case is one of the biggest accidents on the river. 

However, the problem is that the collision may not be an accident. It appears that the Irish Republican Brotherhood planned the incident as a way to demand the restoration of the Irish Home Role. 

Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan is on the case. His Irish roots and connection could help him solve the case or put his life at risk. The increasing violence in Whitechapel adds to his troubles. Colin, the youngest Doyle, seems to be in the middle of it. Corrovan has no choice but to save the Doyle family. After all, they are his family, albeit adopted. 

But can Inspector Corrovan get to the heart of the matter before it’s too late? The life of the Irish in London is horrible as it is. Will his investigation make it worse? What will it do to him? 

My Observations: 

The book works very well as a standalone (I read book one though I confess I don’t remember much, which isn’t uncommon). 

Corrovan’s character arc is getting better and better. I love that he has issues but does justice to his job as a policeman. 

The side characters are just as important and do their bit to keep the story going. They aren’t mere cardboard pieces but are growing similar to the main character (except for a couple, maybe). 

What I love in the book is the theme. It deals with the Britishers’ hatred for the Irish and how this causes long-lasting repercussions on the poor and innocent. The writing is hard-hitting and straight to the point.

The themes of politics, gang wars, racism, personal prejudice, deliberate misinformation (some things don’t change), etc., are handed with a deft hand. The book is darker than the previous one, but nowhere does it get hyper, dramatic, or preachy. 

There’s quite a bit of philosophical introspection (which reduces the pace), but it is a part of character development. I see how this might led to crucial revelations and developments in book three. 

What could have been better are the pacing and the blurb. I didn’t read the blurb until I finished the book (I requested a copy when I saw the series title and didn’t bother with the blurb) and noticed that it reveals a little too much information. A tighter blurb will make the book more intriguing and effective. And maybe Belinda could have had more space. 

To summarize, Under a Veiled Moon is an excellent and strong continuation of the series. Pick it up when you want something thought-provoking and slow-paced. 

Thank you, NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books, for the eARC.  

#NetGalley #UnderaVeiledMoon 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

A Song of Comfortable Chairs by Alexander McCall Smith - Book Review

A Song of Comfortable Chairs by Alexander McCall Smith

Series: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #23 (Standalone)

Genre: Mild Drama, Cozy Mystery (without murder) 

4.3 Stars 

One Liner: Heartwarming; a comfort read (but go with the right expectations) 

****


Grace Makutsi's husband has a furniture business, which is in trouble. An international is selling furniture for cheaper prices. While Phuti Radiphuti is particular about quality and comfort, the new competitor is intent on sales and profits. 

Grace and Mma Ramotswe meet Grace’s childhood friend Patience, who appears to be dealing with her own issues. Mma Ramotswe comes up with ideas that might solve both issues and provide a happy solution for all of them. 

But are things as easy as the plan? How will Grace Makutsi and Mma Ramotswe handle the latest complexities?

The story comes in the third person POV. It alters between limited third-person (of both the leading ladies) and omnipresent narration. 

The last time I read a book from the series was about a decade ago. I picked it up at random from the library and wasn’t impressed by the lack of dead bodies in a cozy mystery (blame it on my bloodlust). Comparing it to Agatha Christie’s book didn’t help. Still, I was compelled enough to finish the book before turning to a murder mystery. 

Now I see why the series is successful and much loved. The book doesn’t really fit any genre. The mysteries are not ‘mysteries’, but aspects of one’s life- things we see in society, issues someone has to deal with, and decisions people need to make. 

The narration is relaxed and takes time to gather momentum. Even then, it is languid and lingers here and there before coming to the main point. The writing has a semi-stream-of-consciousness style (an incident happens/ new info is revealed, and one of the leading ladies thinks about something relevant from the past). Once I got used to this, I could sync my reading style with the narration. 

The book has a good dose of social commentary but doesn’t overdo it at any point. Mma Ramotswe’s calm acceptance of whatever life throws at her helps ground the narration. 

Coming to the main issues in the story, things don’t take off until the second half. The first half gathers information in bits and pieces, while the ‘solving process’ begins in the latter part. Of course, we know what and why already. It’s how that matters. One solution is simple, and the other is well… elaborate and dramatic. The teeny twist at the end adds a cheeky charm to the book. 

To summarize, A Song of Comfortable Chairs is the kind of book you want to sit with on cold noon and warm your heart. It isn’t a typical cozy mystery or drama. It’s a comfort read that’ll make you think and smile at the same time. 

Thank you, NetGalley, Penguin Random House Canada, and Knopf Canada, for the eARC. 

#NetGalley 

*****

P.S: The book works as a standalone but reading at least one book in the series might be better. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Last Summer in Ireland by Noëlle Harrison - Book Review

The Last Summer in Ireland by Noëlle Harrison

Publication Date: 03rd Oct 2022

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Dual Timeline 

2.8 Stars 

One Liner: Tries to tackle too many issues 

*****
Something happens twenty years ago that changed the lives of the sisters Aisling, Mauve, and Naula. Nalua’s death and the subsequent events continue to impact everyone related to the sisters. 

Iris goes to Ireland after the death of her mother, Aisling. There is much she doesn’t know, and staying at Swan Hall (her mother’s family home) with her aunt Mauve leaves her with more questions than answers. 

Things come to light when Iris discovers Naula’s diary. However, her own life takes a drastic turn when history repeats itself. Can Iris come to terms with the past and her present? Where does it take her? 

The story comes in the limited third-person POV of Iris and Aisling and the first-person POV of Naula. 

What I Like: 

The setting, especially Ireland, is a tangible part of the story. It blends with the narrative to intensify the atmosphere. 

Naula’s POV in the first person is done so well that she comes alive in those chapters. The writing style suits the character’s personality. I couldn’t help but feel her sense of urgency and get involved in her drama. 

The story picks up pace in the latter half. Though none of the characters were likable, I wanted to read till the end. 

What Didn’t Work for Me: 

I don’t mind books with unlikeable characters, but this one made it hard to sympathize with the main character, Iris. There’s only one word to describe her- stupid. The plot depended on her being stupid. It might have worked better for me if this wasn’t the case. 

The book deals with many dark themes like catholic laws when dealing with unmarried pregnant girls, abortion rights, homosexuality, dysfunctional families, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, misogyny, postpartum depression, parental death, complex sibling relationship, single mother troubles, Irish politics (something to do with IRA), emotional instability, et al. 

This overload of themes makes the book heavy and tiring. Furthermore, the issues relevant in the current scenario are overemphasized. It felt like being knocked on the head with a hammer. 

Those pro-choice already know the ground reality. Those against it aren’t going to change their minds by reading a heavy-handed fictional drama. Speeches in fiction are not my favorite. When the similarities are clear as daylight, trust readers to connect the issues and think about them. That’ll be more impactful instead of forcing the issue. 

The blurb and the story’s core focus don’t align. I went into the book expecting family drama (which I got). But I also got a lot of social commentary. Now, if I knew what to expect, I’d take it in stride and go with the flow. Imagine Iris flipping over in the last part of the book when she’s been nothing but annoying until that point.

There’s a happy ending of sorts, which also did nothing to make me happy. Iris finding out the truth about her parent didn’t even create the impact it should have because it wasn’t the focal point. 

And finally, Iris wanted to be a writer. I was startled by her confession. Not being judgmental, but I didn’t associate her with writing based on the character arc. It was a shocker. 

To summarize, The Last Summer in Ireland is a dark read dealing with many themes and a current hot topic. It’s a mixed bag that could have been better with a restrained execution. 

I enjoyed The Boatman’s Wife by the author, but this wasn’t to be.  

Thank you, NetGalley and Bookouture, for the eARC. 

#NetGalley #TheLastSummerinIreland 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Death on the Pier by Jamie West - Book Review

Death on the Pier by Jamie West

Series: A Bertie Carroll Mystery #1 

Publication Date: 10th Oct 2022

Genre: Historical Mystery, LGBT

4 Stars 

One Liner: A good start to the series 

*****

Bertie Carroll is a successful playwright in the 1930s. He is in Brighton to watch the performance of one of his plays (the not-so-successful one) in the Palace Pier Theatre. Bertie meets an old friend, Chief Detective Inspector Hugh Chapman, and they attend the event together. 

A former Hollywood star, Celia Hamilton, is shot on the stage as per the play. But they soon realize that a murder took place right in front of their eyes. Hugh asks Bertie to solve the case as his partner. After all, why can’t a playwright who specializes in murder mysteries solve a real crime? 

Things get complicated as more information comes to light. It’s up to Bertie and High to find the killer and the reason for the crime. 

The story comes in the third-person POV. 

What I Like: 

  • The writing is easy to read and enjoyable. The pacing is steady almost throughout, though it dips a little in the last third. 

  • Bertie is a likable character, and so is Hugh. I’m already looking forward to the next in the series. The other characters are pretty much two-dimensional but do the job. 

  • Gertrude reminded me of Miss Lemon, except that she is more relaxed and cheerful. In fact, the book has quite a few touches of Agatha Christie’s storytelling. The final reveal is another example of this. 

  • I could guess the killer even before the murder happened. Of course, that didn’t diminish my reading experience as I wanted to see if I was right and find out how the crime was committed. 

  • The main character belongs to the LGBT community. Yet, this aspect wasn’t used as a banner on his head. I liked how it’s just who he is. There’s some discussion in a veiled manner (which will probably be revealed in the next books). Bertie and Hugh’s past seem like a potential subplot to connect the series. 

  • The theatre is another character in the story. The detailing shows the author’s experience in the field. But… (continued in the next section)

What Didn’t Work for Me: 

  • The beginning has a detailed description of the Palace Pier Theatre. While it helped visualize the place (after all, that’s where the murder occurs), it felt a bit too stretched. I enjoy descriptions, but this went a bit too long, IMO. 

  • The book is dialogue-heavy. This isn’t an issue per se, but I found it tiring at a couple of places. 

  • A little more character development would have been great (we might see it in the coming books). 

To summarize, Death on the Pier is a good start to a historical mystery series, with a playwright as an amateur sleuth. It’s a light read. Pick it up when you want something to relax with.  

Thank you, NetGalley and Brabinger Publishing, for the eARC. T 

#NetGalley #DeathonthePier 


Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Mystery of Raspberry Hill by Eva Frantz - Book Review

The Mystery of Raspberry Hill by Eva Frantz

Publication Date: 13th Oct 2022

Genre: Middle Grade, Dark Fiction, Paranormal 

4.2 Stars 

One Liner: A touching and quick read 

*****

Twelve-year-old Stina knows she will die someday. She has tuberculosis but not enough money for treatment. Her widowed mother tries her best to take care of Stina and her five siblings. 

When Stina is sent to the Raspberry Hill Sanatorium for recovery treatment, she and her family are excited. It’s not every day that the poor have the same opportunities as the rich. However, Stina’s stay at the huge sanatorium has mixed results. 

There are secrets around her, and one such secret could put her in grave danger. What happened to the East Wing? Why are there no other kids recovering at the sanatorium? What secrets is the place hiding? Can Stina find out the truth before it’s too late? Does she have a chance to recover and live longer than she hoped? 

The story comes from Stina’s first-person POV. 

My Observations: 

The story has been translated from Swedish to English and reads well. It is short and fast-paced yet has enough material to entertain a middle-grader. 

The book starts with Stina announcing her impending death (because of TB). This is repeated a few times, which may or may not work for all kids. Of course, it is to be expected when Stina is the narrator. 

The atmospheric setting is done well. I could visualize Raspberry Hall and its gloomy surroundings. 

The occasional hits of cheeky humor keep the tone lighthearted despite the heavy topic. Stina makes some thoughtful observations. She’s a smart girl with realistic traits and reactions. 

A few scenes are convenient, and there are easy coincidences towards the end. However, this is a book for kids. They need some amount of positivity to believe in happy ever afters and magic. No complaints here (after all, I’m not the target audience for the book). 

The book can be finished in a single sitting. The way it blends death, health issues, poverty, greed, etc., with adventure, mystery, and bravery makes it a worthy read. I also liked how Stina makes some wrong assumptions instead of being right every time. 

The paranormal bits are an integral part of the plot. It’s easy to figure things out as an adult (though I think kids would, too), but that’s where the charm lies. 

The characters are well-defined (and yes, some are stereotypical, but who cares). I could imagine even those characters who didn’t have an active role in the story. 

To summarize, The Mystery of Raspberry Hill is a touching book with a lovable heroine and an intriguing setting. Just make sure your kids can read about death before picking this for them. Adults shouldn’t have anything to worry about. 

Thank you, NetGalley and Pushkin Children's Books, for the eARC. 

#TheMysteryofRaspberryHill #NetGalley

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Holiday Romance by Catherine Walsh - Book Review

Holiday Romance by Catherine Walsh

Publication Date: 04th Oct 2022

Genre: Contemporary Romance

4.3 Stars 

One Liner: A delightful read 

*****


Molly and Andrew have been flying home to Ireland for Christmas on the same flight for ten years. When the flight is canceled at the last minute, Molly is determined to ensure Andrew gets home to his family. She may not like Christmas the way he does, but she will do everything she can to help him. 

They race across the continents to get home on time. At the same time, they also seem to discover something more about their friendship. Maybe it’s time they examined their feelings for each other? Will this Christmas bring them happy-ever-after? 

The story comes in the first-person narrative by Molly. 

My Observations: 

This is such a cute and sweet story! It’s what we call Hallmark sweet, which I love reading once in a while. Christmas and heartwarming romance go hand in hand. I’m glad that my first Christmas book of the year worked well (touchwood). 

Despite being a first-person narration, the story has a good pace. It flatters only in the last quarter but gains some pace to settle down at a medium speed. 

The banter between the characters was fun, lively, and enjoyable. I liked Molly’s interactions with Gabriela, Zoe, and Andrew. It’s easy to like Molly. Her character is balanced to be sweet and a little annoying. Bonus points because she likes food. 

Andrew is just as good, a bit more assertive and confident but vulnerable enough to feel relatable. Hannah had a small role but makes her presence strongly felt. I like that kid. 

I like that the characters don’t drag issues or have communication issues. Sure, they don’t just blurt things out but aren’t afraid to talk about important issues (with good people around them to provide the necessary nudging). 

There isn’t much to dislike in the book. It handles a few themes with a light touch and sustains the lightheartedness throughout. It was almost a 5-star read for me. But I felt that the slow pacing towards the end dimmed the impact a little. The epilogue is cool, though. 

To Summarize, Holiday Romance is a heartwarming Christmas story about friendships, family, love, and being courageous to do what makes us happy. 

Thank you, NetGalley and Bookouture, for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

#HolidayRomance #NetGalley