Category: Book Talk

Book Talk: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto

Dang, will you look at that cover? That’s what grabbed me first and then, when I read the blurb, I was kind of smitten, aunties getting involved in hiding/disposing of a dead body? It sounds like a recipe for a lot of fun. And yes, it’s already been optioned and being made into a movie, next year, and the book isn’t even out yet! Can’t wait for both the book, and the movie.

About the Author

Jesse Q Sutanto grew up shuttling back and forth between Indonesia, Singapore, and Oxford, and considers all three places her home. She has a Masters from Oxford University, but she has yet to figure out how to say that without sounding obnoxious. Jesse has forty-two first cousins and thirty aunties and uncles, many of whom live just down the road. When she’s not writing, she’s gaming with her husband (mostly FPS), or making a mess in the kitchen with her two daughters.

About the Book

When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is inadvertently shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for the family wedding business—Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream flowers.

But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love–and biggest heartbreak–makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?

DIAL A FOR AUNTIES
Jesse Q Sutanto
Berkley Books, April 27 2021
Paperback, 352 pages
Romantic Comedy

To Read, and what to Read, that is the question!

I was so excited to get three new books this week that I started one last night, the one sat atop my TBR, which, as it happens, was SLOW HORSES by Mick Herron. And, oh dear. I was either not in the mood for this one, or, it isn’t really my kind of read. Not sure which. But, only a couple of chapters in, and already, I’m struggling with the prose. It’s written in short, sharp, almost jarring sentences that are very abrupt.

While this might be the author’s way of making you feel the sense of urgency as our erstwhile spy, River, runs around Kings Cross Station chasing a suspect bomber, it made it difficult to read. There is no flow to the story. Things are either half described in a sort of shorthand way, or, worse, over detailed in their description.

And where the opening chapter should be tense and strained as our spy chases down a suspect, it reads like a badly edited telegram from another era. All sharp and disjointed. And when River chases the bomber down into the underground, instead of being caught up in what should be a terrifying moment, it all kind of fizzles to an abrupt end. Yes, even as the bomber blows himself up, along with, we are told, 120 other people aboard an underground train.

The target pulled a cord on his belt.
And that was that.”

Really? And that was that? Who’s writing this, Donald Trump speech writer?

Then, further in, the author tells us about a hypothetical person sat atop a double-decker London bus, looking up into a three story building’s windows—Slough House—and what they might see there. Several pages then go on the explain how dull the paint job is. Emphasising the colours of the walls—grey and yellowing from nicotine stains—how dirty the windows are, how there is little or no life beyond the glass, and then, about the front door that’s not a front door.

All this torpid description goes on, and on, and, dare I say it, on—ad nauseam.

Hardly the stuff of either a spy novel, or a thriller. What’s more, I really don’t need to read 3 pages of how the rain was dripping down his collar and soaking his back. Because he’s on a stake out for a journalist’s garbage bag.

Let’s remind ourselves. This is a two-time CWA Dagger award-winning series. Yeah, really? No!

I’m shelving this one along with STASI CHILD by David Young, which also had a torturously slow start and a very unlikeable set of characters. All I can say is, I’m probably not in the right mood or headspace, and will set them aside till after the new year.

I think I need Inspector Chopra and some Mumbai whimsy in my life right now.

My Latest Book Haul

Oh, I do love to go book shopping and because I love to buy books as much as I love to read books, I have to temper myself. And while I haven’t actually set myself a budget, I do try to only order 3-4 books a month, given that’s usually how many I read. That said, however, because of this damn virus, and all but being housebound, I am reading more, and yes, therefore, buying more.

What can I say, we’re all probably as bad as one another and why not. Who needs an excuse but hell, I’ll take this one and run with it. So this latest book haul includes:

All The Devils Are Here — Louise Penny

This is Louise Penny’s latest, and the sixteenth Three Pines Mystery (Sept, 2020) featuring the redoubtable Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. And, Toto, we’re no longer in Québec this time around, but the city of eternal light, Paris.

“On their first night in Paris, the Gamaches gather as a family for a bistro dinner with Armand’s godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. Walking home together after the meal, they watch in horror as Stephen is knocked down and critically injured in what Gamache knows is no accident, but a deliberate attempt on the elderly man’s life.
When a strange key is found in Stephen’s possession it sends Armand, his wife Reine-Marie, and his former second-in-command at the Sûreté, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, from the top of the Tour d’Eiffel, to the bowels of the Paris Archives, from luxury hotels to odd, coded, works of art.

It sends them deep into the secrets Armand’s godfather has kept for decades.

A gruesome discovery in Stephen’s Paris apartment makes it clear the secrets are more rancid, the danger far greater and more imminent, than they realized.

Soon the whole family is caught up in a web of lies and deceit. In order to find the truth, Gamache will have to decide whether he can trust his friends, his colleagues, his instincts, his own past. His own family.

For even the City of Light casts long shadows. And in that darkness devils hide.”

Slow Horses — Mick Herron

Oh, how I love me a good spy novel. I gobbled up a ton of John Le Carré back in the day, and then for dessert, consumed nearly all of Len Deighton’s series of books, Hook, Line, and Sinker. And then Game, Set, and Match. So I was happy to discover Mick Herron and the Slough House series.

“London, England: Slough House is where the washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated here. Maybe they messed up an op badly and can’t be trusted anymore. Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them. Maybe they just got too dependent on the bottle—not unusual in this line of work. One thing they all have in common, though, is they all want to be back in the action. And most of them would do anything to get there─even if it means having to collaborate with one another.

River Cartwright, one such ‘slow horse,’ is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations. When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda.”

Bad Day At The Vulture Club — Vaseem Khan

Another favourite series of mine is the Baby Genesh Agency books by Vaseem Khan. Funny, whimsical, clever, and oh so endearing, not only because our erstwhile hero, Inspector Chopra─who has an elephant for a sidekick─but because the stories, set in Mumbai, India, are so very different to the usual run of the mill for a crime series.

The Parsees are among the oldest, most secretive and most influential communities in the city: respected, envied and sometimes feared.

When prominent industrialist Cyrus Zorabian is murdered on holy ground, his body dumped inside a Tower of Silence – where the Parsee dead are consumed by vultures – the police dismiss it as a random killing. But his daughter is unconvinced.

Chopra, uneasy at entering this world of power and privilege, is soon plagued by doubts about the case.

But murder is murder. And in Mumbai, wealth and corruption go in hand in hand, inextricably linking the lives of both high and low.

So, what do you think? Three more excellent reads to look forward to. And you, dear reader, what are you reading or looking forward to reading next?

Looking for a Criminally Good Read

I’ve read 3 books since the start of October, one was a short novella that was supposed to be a taut futuristic thriller—Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds—and let me tell you, it was anything but. I followed this up with two crime fiction novels. Of the two novels one was exemplary while the other, well, wasn’t.

Let’s start with Overkill (2019) a debut novel by NZ author, Vanda Symon, which was less than stellar, to say the least. The story features Sam Shepherd, a feisty young rookie cop, or so we’re told. However, the more I read about her the less I liked her. For me at least, she came across as whiney, petulant, and prone to fits of temper—she threw her phone … a lot!

After a while, this kind of behaviour becomes tiresome. Add in a cast of secondary characters that had about as much depth as the paper they were printed on, and a story full of plot holes, and it became dull very quickly. Worse, the author was want to lead the reader to conclusions, rather than let the reader come across them organically. And let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than being spoon-fed a narrative.

The other thing I found unnecessary was the need for a prologue centred around a nasty murder, which seem to be all about the shock value. It just read like hollow violence given how staid and boring the rest of the book was.

All-in-all, this was a plodding police procedural, with little or no depth of story or characters.

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In stark contrast, the second crime novel I read, and one that was almost a palate cleanser, was Bitter Medicine (1987) by one of my go-to authors, Sara Paretsky. Her V. I. Warshawski detective series just goes from strength to strength. Each story is always so well-plotted and peopled with characters that really come across as fleshed out and always, all too human.

In Bitter Medicine, V. I. or, Vic to her friends, is wading her way—as usually—through a mess of leads over a fatal death of a pregnant young woman in hospital and the subsequent death of one of the doctors who treated her. I love how Paretsky takes the reader up and down the emotional highway, as Vic checks out one lead after another, piecing together how it was that Consuelo Alvarez, and her new born baby died. And how the brutal murder of Dr. Malcolm Tregiere ties in, if at all.

Of course, V. I. never solves the puzzle alone. She always relies on some great secondary characters to help her out along the way in the guise of her mentor, Dr. Lotty Herschel—who runs a women’s clinic in one of the poor areas of Chicago—and her reporter friend Murray Ryerson. Both are wonderfully written.

If you like your detectives smart-talking, hard-boiled, and female, then you can’t go wrong with a V. I. Warshawski novel.