Wednesday 25 October 2023

#bookreview: The Christmas Appeal | Janice Hallett

The Christmas Appeal (The Appeal, #1.5)The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn't really been looking to add ANOTHER ARC to the review list, but when the notification popped on Edelweiss saying that I'd been granted this DRC, I just had to make an exception.

EVERYTHING about the blurb appealed to me. The stage play, the Christmas setting, the murder mystery! What's not to love? On one hand, it was a sure hit because of the themes and tropes. On the other, it could turn out to be super generically uninspired...

What makes The Christmas Appeal an unconventional read is that there is no long-form narrative at all. I've read a few short stories that incorporate forms of text messaging and emails, but not a whole novella that's written entirely in emails, WhatsApp/text messages, police transcripts and the occasional newspaper article. It does, however, take a bit of easing into because of the way it's written. (Or maybe if you're forewarned by this review, you'll be able to sink into it right away.)

The Christmas Appeal is a comedy of errors, and it's pretty hilarious. You're seeing the events as it happens through the communications between the characters. It's not quite unbuffered thoughts, but you get to know them in the ways that they express (or expose) themselves to others, unhindered by side thoughts, or narrator's thoughts, or other kinds of wordy buffer. There were many oh ho! points especially when you get to some of the more backstabby and gossipy characters, so it was pretty fun to read through some of those texts (and also get annoyed by how stupid and/or annoying some of them are lol)

At any rate, as much as I enjoyed it and sped through it, it's not quite a 5-star read for me for the following reasons:
- It's framed around a bored, retired KC sending the communications (or notes from the "case") to his ex-students, who take it upon themselves to try to solve the mystery which, I guess, is okay - however, it felt like the weakest point of the entire setup.
- The body doesn't turn up until quite late in the story so the story could have stood alone as a farce without any murder.
- At the risk of a spoiler (?), the "murder" isn't really actually connected to anything that's currently happening. So that felt a little like a let down.

There were some allusions to the previous case (The Appeal) that I haven't read. I think that might have given more background to some of the characters but I could follow it easily enough without knowing what happened in the earlier book.

As a last note, I'm usually one for e-books nowadays, but this novella is probably best read/navigated in printed form. Despite the fact that it was written in mostly digital comms formats.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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The Christmas Appeal releases on Oct 24! Affiliate link below:

Friday 20 October 2023

#bookreview: Hantu Macabre | Jill Girardi

Hantu MacabreHantu Macabre by Jill Girardi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hantu Macabre started off great. Suzanna Sim, the half-American, half-Malaysian protagonist is based in George Town, Penang, so I started off loving the Penang vibes. The setting is described with so much detail and love that you can tell that Girardi really did enjoy living here. There's a series of grizzly murders and Sim sets off to solve them with the help of her assistant, a toyol named Tokek. Some of the cases take Sim to other parts of Malaysia as well, but I felt those places weren't described with as much care or detail as she did George Town.

The thing that ultimately felt off to me was the way it was written and/or structured. The series of murders are all interconnected, but in many ways, it felt like a bunch of short stories/novelettes that were put together instead of a cohesive novel.

Part I, the one titled "Hantu Macabre" itself, felt like the best part of the book.
Part II was a leeeeetle bit too outlandish for me, involving magical Japanese swords and undying generals from the Japanese occupation. But whatever. Here's where we figure out who the recurring antagonist is, and that she's going to be the actual main nemesis in this book.
Part III flipped back to a more Malaysian paranormal crime feel, and also reveals more about Suzanna Sim's past. It's the most substantial part of the book and should've probably been the climax. See, there was this big black magic event that happens and felt like it could be the Big Battle but it doesn't... end... there.
In Part IV, Sim spends a lot of time doing nothing especially interesting before the final show down happens. It does, however, also solve the mystery of Sim's past besides resolving the main crime issue of the whole book. And then it ends on a line, which I guess sets it up to have more books in the series.

Ultimately, I felt like, as a novel, Hantu Macabre started off with great promise but kind of petered out.

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I've been behind on posting reviews, so I figured eh, whatever, I'll post even if it's not a Wednesday. lol. So, bonus post, I guess? Or belated one.

This one's for October's TBR challenge. I have a couple of ARCs to read this week for books that are releasing in October, so I'll probably be skipping the stretch goal. 


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Wednesday 11 October 2023

#bookreview: The Blue Monsoon | Damyanti Biswas

The Blue Monsoon (Blue Mumbai, #2)The Blue Monsoon by Damyanti Biswas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I took a while to write this review because I've been having a tough time trying to reconcile my feelings about The Blue Monsoon. Where The Blue Bar was gripping and easy to love, ending on quite a hopeful note, this one picks up again two years later on a somewhat dreary note. And as the rains and flooding in Mumbai threaten Arnav's case, so does the dreariness sometimes overwhelm the reader.

When I say dreary, I don't mean that the story is slow in any way. It's quite as gripping as The
Blue Bar
, maybe even more so because we already know, and are invested in, the main characters. In this one, Arnav is faced by how much he doesn't perceive or understand because he is a high caste man in Indian society; Tara is struggling with her lack of independence due to her high-risk pregnancy and injury; Sita is just trying to do her job without complicated relationships; and in the midst of it all, the deaths--dismembered men with tantric symbols carved in flesh--and threats keep coming. Links to influencers and hopeful politicians again push these cases into the limelight... and maybe there's a point where Arnav's weariness seeps through the narrative and makes everything feel too much, too bleak.

In many ways, The Blue Monsoon is a critique on the lingering caste system in India; but more than that, it attempts to show how privilege blinds one to injustices, how affirmative action policies don't quite solve anything (and sometimes makes them worse), and how gender (or rather, being female) exacerbates everything. It's not an easy read by any means, but then again, none of Biswas's books are.

Overall, the Blue Monsoon is a dark, gritty, crime procedural/thriller and probably should come with some trigger warnings. (Some gore, including castration; sexual abuse and harassment; difficult pregnancies; discrimination/slurs against transwomen)

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Thomas & Mercer via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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