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review 2018-11-20 14:37
Domestic noir, dark humour, and a fantastic new voice
My Sister, the Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite

Thanks to NetGalley and to Atlantic Books (Doubleday) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The title of this book hooked me. The fact that it was set in Lagos, Nigeria, made it more attractive. I could not resist the cover. And then I started reading and got hit by this first paragraph:

“Ayoola summons me with these words —Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”

Told in the first person by Korede, the book narrates her story and that of her “complex” relationship with her younger sister, Ayoola, beautiful, graceful, a successful designer, beloved of social media, irresistible to men, the favourite of everybody… She’s almost perfect. But, there is a big but, which you will have guessed from the title. She is a serial killer.

This is a short and very funny book, although it requires a certain kind of sense of humour on the part of the reader. You need to be able to appreciate sarcasm and dark humour (very dark) to find it funny, but if you do, this is a fresh voice and a different take on what has become an extremely popular genre recently, domestic noir. I kept thinking about the many novels I had read where I had commented on the setting of the book and how well the author had captured it. There are no lengthy descriptions in this novel, but it manages to capture the beat and the rhythm of Lagos (a place where I’ve never been, I must admit) and makes us appreciate what life must be like for the protagonists. Because, although Ayoola is a murderer, life goes on, and Korede has to keep working as a nurse, she is still in love (or so she thinks) with one of the doctors at the hospital, their mother still suffers from her headaches, Ayoola wants to carry on posting on Snapchat, the patient in coma Korede confides in needs to be looked after, the police need to be seen to be doing something, and there are more men keen on spending time with beautiful Ayoola…

I found Korede understandable, although I doubt that we are meant to empathise with her full-heartedly. At some points, she seems to be a victim, trapped in a situation she has no control over. At others, we realise that we only have her own opinion of her sister’s behaviour, and she has enabled the murderous activities of her sibling, in a strange symbiotic relationship where neither one of them can imagine life without the other. We learn of their traumatic past, and we can’t help but wonder what would we do faced with such a situation? If your sister was a psychopath (not a real psychiatric diagnosis, but I’m sure she’d score quite high in the psychopathy scale if her sister’s description is accurate) who kept getting into trouble, always blaming it on others, would you believe her and support her? Would you help her hide her crimes? Is blood stronger than everything else?

I loved the setting, the wonderful little scenes (like when Tade, the attractive doctor, sings and the whole city stops to listen, or when the police take away Korede’s car to submit it to forensic testing and then make her pay to return it to her, all dirty and in disarray), the voice of the narrator and her approach to things (very matter-of-fact, fully acknowledging her weaknesses, her less-than-endearing personality, sometimes lacking in insight  but also caring and reflective at times), and the ending as well. I also enjoyed the writing style. Short chapters, peppered with Yoruba terms, vivid and engaging, it flows well and it makes it feel even briefer than it is.

If you enjoy books with a strong sense of morality and providing deep lessons, this novel is not for you. Good and bad are not black and white in this novel, and there is an undercurrent of flippancy about the subject that might appeal to fans of Dexter more than to those who love conventional thrillers or mysteries. But if you want to discover a fresh new voice, love black humour, and are looking for an unusual setting, give it a go. I challenge you to check a sample and see…

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review 2018-08-26 15:04
A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) (Audiobook)
A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock Series, Book 1) - Sherry Thomas

After the train wreck that BBC's Sherlock has become, and since RDJ's too busy being Tony Stark to return to the role, there hasn't been much in the way of good Sherlock adaptations lately. Elementary is actually a lot better than I thought it'd be, but it's still only something I watch when there's nothing else to watch.

 

I was hoping that this reimagining of the Holmes-verse would fill the void. Unfortunately, when you get a gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes - here named Charolette Holmes - you get a protag who is into froo-froo fashion, closely monitors the size of her double chin, and has a love interest despite having no interest in love or marriage. But she doesn't mind the idea of being some guy's mistress some day, as long as it's the right guy. Because girls need love interests, dontcha know! *sigh*

 

We also get a big long familial drama llama to give Charolette an origin story which gets her out the trappings of marriage

by becoming a big ho. *gasp* Or the Victorian England version of a big ho. Which means she gets one married guy to boink her once. She figures that way, she can blackmail her dad into living up to his promise to see her educated or she'll tell everyone about said boinking. Unfortunately, that cat got out of the bag before she could put her nefarious scheme to good use. And now she's sloppy seconds with loose morals that no one respectable will be seen dead with. ... Unless they are dead and she's solving their murder.

(spoiler show)

She couldn't just have one of those cool, forward-thinking dads who realizes his daughter's not suited for marriage. Nope, no education for his inquisitive genius. That'd be too simple.

 

So it's not until a good half of the book passes before we even get to the new Watson (who's pretty cool but not a doctor, or even a midwife or a healer) and the duo start to get down to the business of solving small little mysteries.

 

Meantime, Inspector Treadles is corresponding with who he thinks is Sherlock via his friend Lord Ingraham to get help solving a case. "I sure wish A.C. Doyle had written a story from the POV of Lestrade," said nobody ever, but we get that here anyway. Treadles is a nice bloke and all, and very sharp, doing much of the legwork himself and getting the job done just fine with just a couple of letters from Sherlock. He doesn't even meet Charolette face to face until the second half of the book.

And then Charolette has to go through this whole ruse of pretending Sherlock is sick in the room next door and hearing everything they say, because she's smart enough to know no man will listen to her on her own. Of course, there's only so long this ruse can last before it's discovered, so I'm glad the story ends with Treadles in the know.

(spoiler show)

 

Livia, Charlotte's sister, is sweet enough but not too prominent a character in this first book.

She will fill the role of chronicler, though, and she'll rewrite the real mysteries into fictionalized versions of them, so that this becomes the original A Study in Scarlet.

(spoiler show)

All the interconnections of the various lords and ladies and high society is pretty bland. And the killer

gets away scot free. Which really is fine with me, considering the killer did society a huge, huge favor, but still! There was no confrontation with the killer. Charlotte gets a note from the killer that explains everything. The end!

(spoiler show)

 

This story read more like bad Jane Austen fanfic than like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and that expectation clash meant it took me awhile to get on board with what the story was doing and with the large cast of regular characters and the POV switches. I'm hoping that now that the ridiculous origin story is out of the way, the next book might see some improvement and a better focus on the mystery aspect. I'm not necessarily in a rush to get to the next one though.

 

Kate Reading did a good job with her performance. She's clear and concise, does a reasonable job varying the voices enough for all the characters and gives the story a sense of life. No complaints there.

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review 2018-08-10 19:48
A blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, with a conflicted
Saigon Dark - Elka Ray

Thanks to the publishers, Crime Wave, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel is a thriller that takes place within the domestic sphere and one of its unique features is that it is set (mostly) in Vietnam. The main character is a paediatric surgeon, Lily, whose family escaped to the United States when she was a child, and after studying Medicine decided to go back and work there. Although she is a successful professional, her personal life is not a happy one. Her husband, another doctor from a similar background to hers, has left her, and her youngest child, a little girl, suffers from a rare genetic condition, and she does not know how well she will develop. Tragedy strikes; the character seems unable to react rationally due to the pain and makes one disastrous decision after another. We all know that secrets have a way of coming back and biting us, and although Lily is quite lucky, not even she can escape the consequences of her actions, or can she? (I am trying not to reveal any spoilers).

The novel is told, in the first-person, from the point of view of Lily, and as was the case with a recent novel in the same/similar genre I read and reviewed, that might be a problem for some of the readers. It is impossible not to empathise with Lily, and although some of her reactions are bizarre, the author is very good at getting us inside her head and making us understand her disturbed mental state. Perhaps we think we would never do something like that, but we can understand why she does. Personally, I did not sympathise with her (or even like her very much) and at times felt very frustrated with her. I had to agree when one of the other characters told her that she was selfish, blind to other’s needs, and she never thought of anybody else. This is all the more evident considering her privileged existence in contrast to that of the general population, and how much of what happens is a direct result of her actions and her decisions, whilst others are victims of the circumstances with no options to escape. She seems to realise this towards the end, when even her son is more together than her, but all that notwithstanding, the action of the novel is gripping, and it is impossible not to feel curious about what will happen next and wonder if fate and karma will finally catch up with her.

The novel moves at a reasonable pace, at times we seems to be reading a standard domestic drama (about child-rearing and the relationship with her new husband), whilst at others it is an almost pure thriller, and we have blackmailers, red herrings, betrayals, and plenty of suspects. I think those two elements are well-combined and are likely to appeal to fans of both genres, although those who love hard thrillers might take issue with the amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept some of the events in the novel.

The ending is fairly open. Some questions (perhaps the main one) are resolved, but some others are not, and this might be frustrating for readers who prefer everything to be tied up in the end. There is a hint of some insight and growth in the character, but perhaps not enough considering the hard lessons she’s gone through.

There is some violence (although not extreme), serious issues are hinted at (domestic violence, poverty, bullying), and I particularly liked the realistic setting, and the way it depicts Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon, the big social differences, and the expat scene.

In sum, a blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, intriguing and heart-breaking at times, which takes place in an unusual and fascinating setting, recommended to those who don’t mind first-person narration and slightly open endings and who prefer their thrillers with more drama and less emphasis on procedural accuracy.

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review 2018-08-09 03:48
Page of Tricks (Inheritance #5)
Page of Tricks (Inheritance Book 5) - Amelia Faulkner

Heed the warnings for this one because this gets dark:

Mental torture, forced drug use, drug addiction, detailed description of past child sexual abuse, violation of autonomy 

(spoiler show)

 

I was worried after the last couple of books that this series would end with a whimper instead of a bang, but thankfully I had nothing to worry about. And I can reiterate, definitively, that book 4 can be skipped as everything that's revealed there is brought up here - not in every detail but enough to know what you missed. I was also worried I'd have to endure more of Freddy and Mikey's POV, but thankfully that didn't happen. Sadly

Freddy and Mikey are still alive at the end of the book, so I might have to put up with them again later,

(spoiler show)

but I can deal with that when I get there. I was hoping to see 

the ever-elusive Nicky but he was again MIA. I'm getting mighty curious about him and what powers or abilities he may or may not possess.

(spoiler show)

 

The big showdown with the Duke has come at last and it's just as messed up as I'd thought it'd be. I got so angry at Freddy and Mikey multiple times, and I still can't really buy their relationship - and thus Freddy's motivation. I'd more easily believe that Freddy's pride was insulted by his dad presuming to take a plaything away from him than I do that he actually cares about Mikey but whatever, it was a smallish part of the plot and not lingered over too much.

 

It was neat to see Windsor take a more active role in the story, now that he's a little older and learning new words. :D Lawrence and Quentin are put through the ringer in this one though and it's often difficult to read because all their weaknesses are used against them.  Both of them have grown and changed so much since the first book and their adventure here tests all of that growth to its limits. I really had no idea how this was all going to be resolved, which just added to the angst and intrigue. 

 

This was a wild ride and once the action gets going it doesn't really let up until the end. It was hard to put down at times and it went quickly. We get a nice little epilogue that hints at what the next arc is going to be dealing with, and I for one will be eagerly awaiting that release.

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review 2018-06-24 19:45
Reeve of Veils (Inheritance #4)
Reeve of Veils (Inheritance) (Volume 4) - Amelia Faulkner

Hmmm, not sure what to make of this one. 

 

First, this goes back to Knight of Flames timeline and gives us Freddy's POV, so there's a lot that's repeated. Pretty much the first and last quarter of the book, in fact, and I ended up skimming the bulk of those parts, looking only for new details. About the only new thing we learn during those parts is that Freddy's a bigger jerk than I originally thought he was. We get confirmation of his powers, which are more extensive than hinted at prior to this.

 

As for the new stuff in the middle, well... Freddy's a jerk and I prefer not to read POVs of jerks. Mikey's somewhat better, but he's been a victim for so long that he (and Freddy) actually deludes himself into believing he's left that behind even as he willingly becomes Freddy's literal plaything. Which brings me to the second thing.

 

Second, there's just no way to see Freddy and Mikey's relationship as anything other than D/s, which is a dynamic I don't enjoy. Just because Freddy thinks he's doing good by Mikey and Mikey's getting out of the ghetto doesn't erase that. Freddy might want to see themselves as equals for whatever reasons he needs to, but they're really not.

 

Plus, Freddy's just not that good of a guy. He's not a complete bastard, but he's barely one sidestep away from Kane - and even that's only until he succeeds in his plan to off dear old daddy, which I assume is the next book, and then he will be exactly like Kane. (Actually, I'd argue that he's worse than Kane, since at least Kane's victims know they're victims. Freddy's don't.) Morals and ethics mean nothing to this guy. Or to Mikey. So I guess they are perfect for each other in that respect, but they're certainly not a couple I'm rooting for or care about, and the insta-love here is just completely unbelievable given that Freddy's practically a sociopath.

 

Ok, I give Freddy credit for not violating Mikey's sexual consent (or so he claims). But since he violates consent in every single other respect with everyone around him, that credit doesn't get him very far. It gets him a crumb. A crumb ground into dust.

 

The good news is you don't actually have to read this book. The last two books made it perfectly plain that Freddy's manipulating Laurence and how, and that he's trying to line up Quentin to kill their dad. So this book ends at pretty much the same point as the previous book, just with a bit more info than we had before. 

 

Two more little nitpicks:

 

Mikey's a drug dealer and a high school dropout who's never been outside San Diego. He's not going to measure distances by kilometers. This same thing happened with Laurence in the last book. We use feet and miles in the USA. There are various conversion charts and calculators available online. This sort of error shouldn't happen, and it pulled me out of the story both times.

 

And lastly, mailbox flags work the exact opposite of how they're used here. When you have outgoing mail, you raise the flag. When the mailman comes, he lowers the flag and leaves the incoming mail. If the flag is up, that means the mail hasn't been delivered yet, not that it has been.

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