Review #22: Dark Paradise *Spoilers*

Dark Paradise by Gene Desrochers

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Published on 25 June 2018

I was approached by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

After the unexplained death of his wife in Los Angeles, Boise Montague decides to go back to his native Carribean island of St Thomas for a change of scenery and with hope of rekindling some old friendships. Once there, he discovers that his oldest school friend, Roger Black, became a drug dealer and got killed in what the police assumed to be a settling of scores between drug lords. Unconvinced by the police’s explanation, Boise, with the help of reporter Dana Goode, sets off to unravel what really happened to Roger.

To be completely honest with you guys, I’ve got mixed feelings about this book. I liked that it’s set in a struggling Caribbean island so the setting differs to most murder mystery novels, and it does transport you there. The fact that the author used the local dialect also enhances this feeling of authenticity and exoticism. The author very successfully describes an island where poverty has struck and the only sources of income come from tourists and the odd politicians visiting; and even the police system is somewhat corrupt.

Now the part that I struggled with is the believable-ness of the story. Boise has literally just landed on the island, and within a couple of days, manages to convince a complete stranger to take on an investigation with him, even though none of them are qualified for the task. In particular, the part with the pizza shop owners baffled me. Boise and Dana manage to break into a crime scene and all they find is a pizza box, so they decide to go and talk to the pizza shop owners and within an hour or so of talking to them, they convince them to come along and help them rescue a kidnapped victim. This just doesn’t seem realistic to me. There’s also a lot of running around and interviewing random people, most of which are too briefly mentioned to really make a mark on the story. I know this is supposed to be a fast-paced action story, but it felt excessive and unnecessary. None of the characters, apart from Boise, are given enough back story for the reader to relate to them. There is just too much going on at any one time, and it overshadowed the characters development.

Now, when it comes to Boise himself, he is somewhat of a lovable character. Devastated by the death of his wife and prone to chronic health problems, he has become dependent on pain killers and beer. I believe that he set himself the mission of discovering what happened to his old friend as a way to regain some sense of purpose in life and possibly righting some wrongs (since the death of his wife remains a mystery). However, I found his way of going about it problematic. For example, he goes to someone’s house to ask them some questions. When the lady won’t tell him all that she knows because she needs to leave for work, he follows her to her place of work and basically stalks her all day until she finishes her shift and drives home, where he follows her again and as she says she’s leaving for the airport, he books himself tickets on the very same plane and follows her back to St Thomas. Now, this is not diligent detective work, it’s just downright stalkerish and creepy. I don’t know about you, but if a random guy was following me around all day, I would call the police within the hour and get him arrested.

Finally, I wasn’t particularly surprised by the resolution of the crimes and therefore not very impressed. Overall, I liked the exoticity and unusual setting of the book but the plot itself fell a bit short.

Review #21: Sun Shed

Sun Shed by Lee Thomas Ward

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Published on 14th December 2017

I was approached by the author and given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

In Sun Shed, we meet Alistair Dunn, an old man who’s been living in isolation in the middle of a prairie since the death of his wife. When a couple of youngsters break into his house and destroy his sun shed (a collection of prisms that his wife had hung in a shed), he is devastated but he certainly didn’t expect them to come back a few days later. This time around, he lets the boy go free but orders the girl, Liri, to help him rebuild the shed as a form of payment for the damages caused. As days go by, Alistair and Liri form an unusual friendship as Alistair recounts stories from his past, stories that Liri was completely unaware of but that hit home nonetheless.

Sun Shed transports the reader back to North America in the 1930s to a town of pioneers who settled there after chasing the last of the Indians out. In a town where there isn’t much to do, Arvin starts hanging out with the wrong crowd, out of boredom and as a means of making extra cash. That’s when he convinces his girlfriend Liri to break into an old man’s house and steal his savings. From there, Arvin’s character only goes downhill while Liri takes a liking to the old man and sees an opportunity to redeem herself.

The characters development in this book is very good. We’re back in the 1930s in a macho town and Liri is so used to being mistreated by the men in her life that when Alistair starts showing her attention, she assumes he only wants to have sex with her. Only once she realises it isn’t the case can she start to trust the old man and find a grandfather figure in him. As they spend time together, Alistair recounts how he first came by the prairie, and the timeline then jumps back to the 1870s when pioneers and Indians were battling for the land.

Most of the men in this book, apart from Alistair, are completely despicable especially in the way they think of and treat women. The author also managed to capture this sense of despair as they are stuck in a small town with no bright future in sight and seem to think that becoming a gangster is the only way to make some cash and make a life for themselves.

This is not usually the type of book that I read and I’m not even sure what genre it would fall into (possibly historical fiction, even though it isn’t set that far away in time) but I liked it. It is very realistic of a 1930s society, it is well written and it does transport you back in time.

Review #20: The Turn of Midnight

The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

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Published on 4th October 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The year is 1349. The people of Develish have been living in quarantine under Lady Anne’s orders and have miraculously survived the plague that has been wiping the whole of England clean. However, while closing the town off permitted them to save their lives, it is now causing its own set of problems. Food supplies are running low, and unless someone is willing to venture into the outside world in search of food, the people of Develish now risk succumbing to starvation.

I will start off by saying that this is the second book in Minette Walters’ The Black Death series (the first one being called The Last Hours) and I obviously only realised that after starting to read this one (somehow, I have a knack for doing that). However there is an extensive description of the characters and their back stories at the beginning of the book which helped me get the gist of what was going on. So, it can be read as a stand-alone book, but I still feel like I would have enjoyed it more, had I read the first one beforehand.

This story for me was quite different to the historical fiction that I am used to read and it is, in part, because of Lady Anne’s character. Her husband Richard, Lord of Develish, succumbed to the pestilence so she took it upon herself to protect the rest of their people and quarantined the town in order to prevent the spreading of the disease. Lady Anne is a well educated and very compassionate woman. She is also a figure of authority and has earned her people’s respect and devotion after saving them from the plague.

The character of Thaddeus Thurkell is just as interesting. He was born a serf but gained his Lady’s admiration after proving his value to her (namely by venturing into the outside world with a group of young lads in search for food and news from neighbouring towns). He is a strong-willed, vigorous and kind character and the boys that surround him have naturally fallen under his authority. As a repayment for all he achieved for Develish, Lady Anne comes up with a plan of pretending that he is a distant relative to her and making him Lord of Athelstan, therefore raising him to the status of noble man. While the people of Develish are happy to accept this since they love and respect Thaddeus as much as they do Lady Anne, people from different towns will try and make Thaddeus out to be an impostor, mainly because he is “dark-skinned” (as described in the book) and they cannot accept that someone who isn’t white could be anything but a serf.

I’ve read some people say that Lady Anne’s beliefs and behaviours are too modern for a story set in 1349. I don’t agree with that. After all, it might be historical but it’s also a work of fiction so anything goes. I like Lady Anne, she has a lot of feminist qualities and it’s refreshing to see that portrayed in a Middle Ages society. Also, I’m sure that there were women with similar beliefs and behaviours in those days too, it’s just that they’ll have been squashed from the history books.

While I found a lot of criticism about Lady Anne in other people’s reviews, not many have mentionned Thaddeus Thurkell’s “dark skin”. It is clear from the book that Thaddeus isn’t white (though it isn’t clear what race he actually is) and that’s one of the main reason why people are so ready to accuse him of being a fraud. By raising him to the status of Lord, Lady Anne is being progressive for her time (once again, some people might argue that this is too modern to be realistic but I think it’s a nice touch, to me Minette Walters is giving representation to people of colour, who didn’t have any back in those days and it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the usual rigidness of historical fiction.)

Religion also constitutes a big part of the book as people wonder whether the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins, and whether only sinners died from the pestilence. Differences of opinions between priests start to emerge and people can’t decide who to listen to anymore. While the people of Develish managed to survive the plague by maintaining standards of hygiene and steering clear from infected people; people from different towns believe that their fate is in God’s hands. Their devotion to God is so that they cannot fathom any other method of surviving and they will therefore label Lady Anne and her people as a bunch of heretics for daring to think differently.

When you think about it, all about this book is progressive for the time period that it is set in: the place of women and people of colour in society and the turning away from God as being the be all and end all of everything; and that’s what makes it so interesting. As I said before, historical fiction can be quite rigid as it tries to mimick the customs of the time period it reflects, but this one offers different perspectives while still remaining believable.

I would give this book a four stars out of five, only because it was harder to follow without having read the first one, but otherwise this is a very impressive piece of work by Minette Walters!

Review #19: One Day in December

One Day in December by Josie Silver

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Publication date: 16 October 2018

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

One day in December, as Laurie is on the bus home, she spots a young man sat at the bus stop. Their eyes meet and she is instantly convinced that this is the man of her dreams. Except that she will never see him again, or at least not until a year later when her best friend Sarah introduces Jack, her new boyfriend, to her. Laurie recognises him straight away but he seems to have forgotten all about that day at the bus stop. One Day in December is a tale of love, friendship and heartbreak. It spans over a few years and we follow Laurie and Jack as they try to build a friendship and fall in love with different people.

This is your typical romantic comedy book and if that’s one of your preferred genres then you will definitely love this one. To be honest, after trying to make sense of The Clockmaker’s Daughter (and failing miserably) this book came as a breath of fresh air since it is so easy to follow.

It was en enjoyable read and I did like the fact that it spans over a few years, which very few books do, as we can see the characters lives evolve and their interests and emotions change as they grow older. It reminded me of Romeo and Juliet‘s star-crossed lovers story, as Laurie and Jack seem to always fall out of sync. But since it’s a modern day romance, it’s not quite as dramatic as Shakespeare. I’m sure a lot of people will be able to relate to the characters in one way or another. Who has never fallen in love with someone they couldn’t have, ha?

The characters are very lovable, especially Laurie and Sarah, but none of them are picture perfect, they all have their flaws and shortcomings which make them all the more relatable.

However, while it was an enjoyable read, I did feel like there was something missing (as I usually do when reading romances, which is hardly ever). It’s nothing to do with the story itself, it is well-written and complete, but I just couldn’t help but get bored after a while and I’ll be happy to move onto something a bit more complex for my next read. Nothing wrong with this book, I just have high expectations as a reader which romance novels never quite satisfy.