Book review: The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu

The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A new author! And a new mystery series! (For me, anyway.) The setting for this series is in 1930s Singapore, when Singapore was a British colony. It’s a period and place in history that I know very little about, and I love how I can learn more about it while enjoying a well-plotted, well-placed mystery. (Dead bodies always make learning history more fun.)
The heroine of the series is Chen Su Lin, a young orphan girl from the powerful Chen family. She assists the Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy with a murder investigation by providing local insights and sharp observations.
The description of Singapore and its stratified society is fascinating without being too preachy. Su Lin is a lovely, smart, and interesting narrator. And I have found a new fun and engaging mystery series!



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Book review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Prequels are difficult. Because the readers (assuming they have read the subsequent books) know how the book turns out, it’s difficult to build up suspense. And origin prequels are especially difficult because everything isn’t supposed to work quite as smoothly as in the subsequent series (temporally speaking, not publication date speaking), and the author has to be cognizant of that when developing the origin story.
All of those caveats aside, if you are a fan of the Valdemar novels by Mercedes Lackey, this is quite a nice origin prequel. The author wisely focused on character development and the origin story rather than the buildup of suspense. If you haven’t read any of the Valdemar books yet, this is a good place to start. (The Heralds of Valdemar series and “By the Sword” are my personal favorites.)
I certainly will be reading the next book in the origin series to see how Valdemar develops and grows.
(I’m actually giving it 3.5 stars, which is impossible to do on Goodreads. :))



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Book review: Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I had read the first of this series a long time ago because it’s Jane Austen and a mystery, what is there not to like? But as I recall, the debut novel didn’t grab me, and as my TBR list grows daily, I set this series aside. But the author also writes the Merry Folger mysteries set in Nantucket (as Francine Mathews), which I’ve really enjoyed, and I thought I’d give this series a second chance.
My impression of this book is more positive than my memory of the first novel in this series. The author incorporates phrases from Jane Austen’s works into the books, which is fun for Jane Austen devotees. In addition, this book has an interesting plot and while I don’t think the culprit was difficult to pick out, I like the indirect tribute to “Pride and Prejudice.”
It’s a nicely themed series and this book, at any rate, is a quick and engaging read.




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Book review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was really looking forward to reading this memoir, and it did not disappoint. Michelle Zauner isn’t perhaps the most likeable person, especially as she relates her childhood, but she is bluntly honest about herself, her relationship with her mother, and her life. A lot of her experiences resonated personally with me, but even if you aren’t the child of immigrants or of mixed race, the themes she writes about–love, family relationships, grief–are universal. The author and her family expressed much of their love through food, and the author’s descriptions of cooking her way through grief were especially poignant.
It’s a straightforward read, and anyone who has dealt with the death of a loved one, especially a parent, will find much to relate to in this breathtakingly honest and heartbreakingly honest memoir. I highly recommend it.



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Book review: Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A re-telling of the Cinderella fairy tale that turns everything you know on its head. In this version, the evil stepsisters are good, and Cinderella is bad. Now the stepsisters are accused of escaping from prison, killing Cinderella, and are on the run. (Just for the record, the statements are true, false, and true.)
The re-telling is creative, imaginative, and fun. The story is irreverent, humorous, and a sly dig about confirmation bias. The romance is a bit deliberately topsy-turvy and quite fitting given the topsy-turvy nature of the story. The book is an enjoyable read and makes you think about all of those traditional fairy tales and how they could be turned upon their heads in a re-telling.
I’ve greatly enjoyed all of this author’s fantasy stories. (I haven’t yet embarked on her urban fantasy series yet.) And I look forward to reading more of her work!



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Book review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A lighthearted frothy fantasy/romance. The book ostensibly takes place during the Victorian period and has many of the components of a Regency romance (I use “Regency romance” broadly and not at all accurately when it comes to time periods). The author then added elements of magic, several cups of irreverence, and a dash of humor, stirred it, and turned it into a fun, quick, and enjoyable read. It’s a great spring break/summer vacation beach read (or something to read while taking a break from studying).
No great secrets of life imparted–just an easy read if you want to give your mind some rest and relaxation and escape.




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Book review: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Erik Larson is fast becoming one of my favorite non-fiction authors. Who else could take 2 years from World War II and turn it into compelling reading about Winston Churchill and the war between Britain and Germany?
Quoting from diaries and letters by the main protagonists and their families (and others), the author paints a picture of Winston Churchill and his family, Churchill’s friends, allies, colleagues, and enemies, and the efforts of the British government to meet the German threat and cajole FDR and the Americans into joining the war. It’s all fascinating reading–from the London Blitz to the fancy parties given by the upper crust in defiance of the war, to Hitler’s mischaracterization of Britain to attempts by various Germans to defeat Britain/negotiate peace with Britain. It is an amazing series of events to have been crammed into twenty-four months.
The one weakness of this book is that because the author chose to focus on a two year period, he needed to include a lengthy epilogue to wind up the various story lines of the various characters. It is necessary and well-written and interesting, but it does somewhat detract from the narrative arc of the book. (If I may be so bold, it’s somewhat like the five endings Peter Jackson put into “The Return of the King.”) It makes for an anti-climactic ending.
That being said, if you are interested in history and World War II European theatre history, this is a must read.



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Book review: Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


First in a mystery series. (Because, of course, why finish any of the many other series I’ve started? I am beginning to think I have commitment issues.)
This was a fun and good read, with interesting characters and a well-constructed plot. It helps if you’ve been to Nantucket, not because the mystery is lessened at all, but because it’s fun to identify the various types of people and the landmarks that are mentioned throughout the book. The tension between the locals and the off-islanders is real and accurately portrayed with nuance and complexity.
The author also writes as Stephanie Barron with a Jane Austen mystery series, which I will have to re-start. But this contemporary mystery is intelligently written and the literary skill of the author adds to the enjoyment of the book itself.
Note: the first few books of the series came out many years ago, but the author has revised and updated them as part of re-launching the series and adding to it.






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Book review: Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am generally not a fan of contemporary romances, preferring historical ones. I picked this one up because (i) it was a Christmas romance (and I am a sucker for those); (ii) it’s a novella so I knew I could get through it quickly; and (iii) the author is the wife of the owner of the surfing school we use when we visit Hawaii (no joke).
I was quite pleasantly surprised by the book. Novellas are difficult because you don’t have the page length to fully develop the characters. But the characters were all likeable, the author has a deft touch for setting and a gift for depicting a scenario that fleshes out minor characters and gives insight into the main characters, and the Christmas setting gave off warm and fuzzy holiday vibes.
I will definitely pick out another one of her books when I am in the mood for a contemporary romance. The author has a lovely writing style that is warm, gracious, and friendly.



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Book review: Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the first in a series (because, of course, I have finished reading all the other books in all the other series I have started). This book caught my attention because it takes place in Singapore in 1910 during British colonial rule, and it’s a period I know very little about.
I really enjoyed the debut novel to this series. The heroine is strong-willed but flawed, and the portrayal of the constraints of her position as a woman as well as the privileges of her position as a British white woman are both realistically described with little fanfare. The plot is interesting and well-paced. Even though you know the heroine survives (because, a series), the anticipation towards the climax is well done. And the author does an excellent job of portraying Singapore as it was with all its warts without either being preachy and with a deft touch, as the best historical mystery authors can do.
I have already bought the second book in the series and look forward to learning more about the main characters and Singapore during this time period!




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