Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Case of the Hidden Flame by Alison Golden – Book Review

Book: The Case of the Hidden Flame
(Book 2 in The Inspector David Graham Series)
Author: Alison Golden
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Number of pages: 130 pages
Publication date: 12 December 2015

A new cop. A murdered lover. An eccentric community.
Detective Inspector David Graham has just arrived on the island of Jersey, taking over a rag tag team of questionable commitment and skill at the Gorey Constabulary, a team that he is supposed to lead and develop into a cohesive investigative unit.
Within minutes, his first challenge presents itself when ex-soldier, Colonel Graves, finds a dead body on the beach. As the military man kneels down, he discovers it is his soon-to-be fiancé half buried in the sand…
In a small resort like Gorey, this event is monumental, and almost unheard of. The rumors swirl yet it is the new Detective Inspector’s job, with a bag still packed and travel dust on his shoes, to ferret out the clues and solve the case…while bringing his team along to assist.
With a Sherlock soul, The Case of the Hidden Flame packs humor and intrigue onto a small island of eccentric characters, roiling sea undercurrents, and deceptive coincidences – all accompanied by a fine cup of tea.

Book Review by Nadaness In Motion

"You know I've been here five minutes, right?"
"And you know we haven't had a murder here since the Newall Brothers axed their parents for their inheritance money, back when you were in college?"

The Case of the Hidden Flame by Alison Golden is the second book in the Inspector David Graham Series. The book brings back a few of the characters from The Case of the Screaming Beauty, along with new people. It can be read as a standalone.

I loved the charismatic – for me – Inspector Graham, who loves his morning tea, and who literally grows on you as you read these books (I read 3 books in the series consecutively!)

Graham leaves the busy London with its dark memories and settles in the small island town of Gorey. There he is to head the small police department, known as a constabulary, and three police misfits: Harding (the serious one) and Roach and Barnwell (the funny ones), "a rag tag team of questionable commitment."

Graham has to turn the three into mystery-solving and crime-fighting officers, which paves the way for lots of humor.

As soon as he arrives on Gorey, Graham is confronted with mystery after the other. In The Case of the Hidden Flame, Graham has to deal with a nearly-crippled doctor who is found dead and buried on the shore of the White House Inn, where he is to stay.

"Mrs. Taylor worked to find balance between helping the police and carrying out much-needed rumor control, lest her guests suddenly decide to check out en masse in a fit of panic and ruin the Inn's precious summer."

Graham and his team interview many people at the Inn, while some appear to have harbored ill intentions towards the late doctor, some don't seem to be related to the case at all. Graham and his team struggle to find the culprit in an Inn, known to be a home for the elderly and retirees.

In The Case of the Hidden Flame, it takes some time to determine whether the "case" is a murder or accidental death. Still, I enjoyed the story. It was a bit slow at first but picked up.

"The least welcome category of deaths for a detective [was] victims who were found alone, with little forensic evidence, no witnesses, and no immediate suspects or motives."

To the police officers, known as constables in the novel, Detective Graham acts oddly. But he plans to teach each one of them how to handle things and make them rise from merely taking tickets and processing mini-burglaries to solving crimes.

Having read subsequent books, I've noticed that Graham is an excellent leader, knowing how to utilize and develop each of his team's skills.

Unlike The Case of the Screaming Beauty which was a bit grim, The Case of the Hidden Flame has lots more humor, making it a fun read.

"[Mrs. Taylor] was proving to be quite the store of gossip, which made her an ideal source of information in a case like this."

The Case of the Hidden Flame is a different kind of cozy mystery in the sense that it's the police who are looking into the murder, as opposed to the norm where there is an amateur sleuth.

In terms of character development, Graham is already a developed character but the sergeant and two constables are the ones who see significant growth throughout the books.

The book was divided into only seven chapters, which made the chapters quite long.

I like how Golden uses Graham and pathologist Dr. Marcus Tomlison as tools to educate both readers and the police trio.

"Unlike most police officers, or even members of the general public, Graham was aware that asphyxia was a mode of dying, not ta cause."

Overall rating for Alison Golden's The Case of the Hidden Flame: 4.5-5 stars.

Add the book on Goodreads.

Other book reviews in this series: (All coming soon to Nadaness In Motion)

The Case of the Broken Doll
The Case of the Missing Letter

Start reading the first book in this series, The Case of the Screaming Beauty when you subscribe to Alison Golden's newsletter. I downloaded The Case of the Hidden Flame when the author made it free for a week as part of her #StayHomeReadBooks series.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur - Book Review

I hadn't heard of Rupi Kaur before but when I picked up The Sun and Her Flowers by chance, I discovered she's popular contemporary poet and author. I also learnt that this is her second – and apparently widely anticipated – poetry collection.

That said, when I started reading I felt that there was such a big hype about this book and that I was put off by it.  

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur is divided into 5 chapters: Wilting, Falling, Rooting, Rising and, Blooming.

I felt that the poems, or rather short quotes first two sections were sappy. I was put off by them and was seriously considering NOT finishing the collection. However, the third section "Rooting" showed a significant change in both the content and level of writing, as if the author had suddenly grown up.

Most of the poems in The Sun and Her Flowers are untitled, a few have the sort-of-title at the end, and every now and then there is one long piece with a title. This makes it quite hard to point out which pieces I liked (which weren't that many).

"love does not look like a person
love is our actions
love is giving all we can
even if it's just the bigger slice of cake
love is understanding"

The above extract is from "what love looks like" one of the longer pieces in Kaur's collection. Another long one is "questions" which ironically has no question marks. It's also long, dull, and sappy, unlike its predecessor.

Another thing about punctuation is that The Sun and Her Flowers has zero punctuation. I know many poets are doing this with their poetry nowadays BUT the problem lies when as a reader I can't tell if the line I'm reading is meant as a thought or question. There were parts when I was utterly lost and only realized that I should have been reading questions not thoughts. The confusion irritated me.

"why are you so unkind to me
my body cries
cause you don't look like them
i tell her"

Many pieces aren't poetic or what I'd describe as poetry; more like quotes. You know those quotes people share on Instagram and Facebook. They're great, just not poetry in my opinion.  I found some of the pieces to be recitable but not poetic, like "home" a long sad piece about a rape.

Starting "Rooting," many poems focus on the themes of maturity, womanhood, being an immigrant and a refugee. Starting this section, we see a major change and development from the previous sections; lots of growing up.

One of the strongest pieces in The Sun and Her Flowers is in "Rooting" and it's called "advice i would've given my mother on her wedding day." This piece is a mixture of short poem-like-pieces and 'bits' in the form of bullet points and advice. The first advice is "you're allowed to say no."

The poem "accent" is one of the stronger pieces in the collection. One of my favorites too.

There's a lot of experimentation in The Sun and Her Flowers. Some good, some not so much. But that's the normal case with poetry collections. You can't like every piece.

The saddest poem in The Sun and Her Flowers is "female infanticide," which shows women struggles in the course of hundreds of years. I loved the progression. Despite centuries passing, women are still struggling. 10 stars to this one.

Every few poems are accompanied by some artwork, I don't know what this type of art is called but it's not paintings. Also, some pieces are in short paragraphs.

One of the things I disliked about The Sun and Her Flowers, and I'm glad I had an e-book for this not a print one, is that some pieces were just a line. Yes, a page with one line and move on. That's wasted paper if you ask me. I suppose I don't view one-liners as poetry but at least they could have been combined in a single page with *** between each.

Another thing is the flow of the pieces; many aren't what you'd call poetic. They read like prose, including the poem "broken english." It's a great piece but it would have been better off placed in paragraph format than an attempted poem. It also had many words that felt like the Kaur was showing off vocabulary and was distant even though the poem is about her mother.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about Rupi Kaur's The Sun and Her Flowers. I was expecting a lot more from it. It's a good read, not amazing. There are powerful poems but there many weak ones. I think the "bestselling status" earned from the first book made many people pick this up.

The book's style reminded me of Amanda Lovelace's poetry collection The Princess Saves Herself in This One. The style being, the short pieces and the titles being the conclusion of the poem.

Overall rating for The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur: 2.5-3 stars.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

No Longer Safe by A.J. Waines – Book Review

Book: No Longer Safe
Author: A.J. Waines
Number of pages: 377
Publisher: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Publication Date: 4 February 2016

I've wanted to read A.J. Waines for years. I've featured Waines on my blog a few times through blog tours. I finally decided I'd start with No Longer Safe, which having finally finished it, I have some mixed feelings about it.

I started with this book because in one of our interviews Waines said: "In No Longer Safe, ALL the main characters have psychological ‘issues’! Some of these are clear from the start, other ‘defects’ start to emerge as the story progresses. Like ordinary people, the fictional characters try to hide their behaviours and coping strategies, so the reader comes up against lies, secrets and deception. In No Longer Safe, no one is who they appear to be…"

How's that for enticing a reader?

It worked for me. And Waines was right; you could easily see the characters' traits the moment they open their mouths.

No Longer Safe is narrated from two first-person perspectives; that of Alice, a naïve and shy young woman who idolized her university friend Karen, and Karen, a conniving woman, who used Alice but also helped her get out of her shell.

The main view point is Alice's, while Karen gets a few short chapters to give some backstory and the other side of things. Karen's chapters feel like she's writing in her diary.

No Longer Safe opens with Alice getting an invitation from her once-upon-a-time friend Karen Morley, to spend two weeks in a remote house in the Scottish highlands. Karen claims she wants to reconnect after several years' disappearance. Alice immediately jumps at the opportunity and heads to the location Karen had sent her.

"You made me feel so safe, without any sting of judgement."

However, once she arrives, Alice senses that Karen isn't as friendly as she used to be and soon discovers that two more people had been invited. So it's not exactly some a happy reunion. Not to mention, the two other friends, Jodie and Mark, are an odd pair from university days that Alice doesn't like.

One night, Alice wakes up to find a dead man in her room and Karen convinces her that they need to cover it up. Throughout the novel, the reader is unsure what happened exactly. Who killed him? How? Why?

The pace in No Longer Safe is quite slow. And the chapters, though there are 58 of them, are too long, in my opinion. Yes, there are short ones; those from Karen's perspective and the later chapters when the speed picks up. But I found this to slow down the already long novel.

From chapter 1, the reader can feel that Alice is infatuated with Karen and that she has an inferiority complex:

"You were my inspiration, the person I wanted to be."

"If you were a Porsche, I was a clapped out Morris Minor – with an emphasis on the 'minor.'"

Character development is different in No Longer Safe. How? Let me explain without spoilers. We see that Alice, the main narrator, begins to realize how gullible and trusting she'd been at university but is now, slowly, discovering that her so-called friends weren't what they appeared to be. She understands that Karen had been using her.

One of the comments I wrote about Alice, while reading No Longer Safe, was "infatuated with a complex, yes. Stupid and doesn't notice things, no," which plays in Alice's character development both compared to university days and during the course of the novel.

As the story progresses, Alice reflects on things that have happened at university, including what Karen told her once that struck with her: "This could be useful one day – never give up leverage easily, Alice."

There tons of quotable lines, images, ideas, and dialogue in the novel.

Despite the pace, I enjoyed reading the novel. Alice is relatable. She's a shy girl who was infatuated by the popular girls at university. She was willing to do things for them to be part of their clique. Now, years later, she's still willing but she's also growing, maturing.

In a way, I felt that No Longer Safe is all about character. The ending was jarring for me and in a way had me thinking of another psychological thriller I read a while back, which is Lies She Told by Cate Holahan. Don't get me wrong, the novels are completely different but sometimes you make connections or get this feeling that one book or story reminds you of another.

Overall rating for No Longer Safe by A.J. Waines: 3.5 to 4 stars. Yeah, I can't really decide. I'm still struggling with the ending. The pace definitely put me off but the characters are rich in issues and complexities.

"Am I safe? Am I really safe here? Or were things about to get even worse?"

You can check out an excerpt from Chapter 6 from No Longer Safe on Nadaness In Motion.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Case of the Screaming Beauty by Alison Golden - Book Review

Book: The Case of the Screaming Beauty
Book 1 in the Inspector David Graham Series
Genre: Cozy mystery
Number of pages: 152

"That's the thing about murder, isn't it? They never quite happen as one would prefer. For the most part, they're crimes of passion, committed suddenly and without much planning."

The Case of the Screaming Beauty by Alison Golden is the first book in the Inspector David Graham cozy mystery series.

The series is set in the UK, but the first book is set in Chiddlinghurst – I struggled to pronounce that name throughout the book. The novel opens with a married couple in their sixties, Amelia and Cliff, who have inherited The Lavender, a countryside bed and breakfast (B&B).

The setting is beautiful from the start and you can't help but love the couple, especially Amelia. However, early on Amelia hears one of her guests screaming, only to knock on her door and find the woman, Norah, all smiles. A day later, they discover Norah dead in the bathroom.

"It makes me nervous when there isn't even the whiff of a suspect. Tends to mean that there's a juicy backstory I haven't heard yet."

Enter Detective Inspector David Graham, whom the series is primarily about. Graham has to sort through little evidence and a strange pool of suspects to find out Norah's killer.

The Case of the Screaming Beauty is my first read for Alison Golden, but certainly not my last. I've already downloaded a few of her books in this series because I'm part of her newsletter and she's offering 1 free book a week as part of her #StayHomeReadBooks hashtag on Twitter and Newsletter. So, yes, The Case of the Hidden Flame, here I come.

Unlike other cozy mystery series where there is an amateur sleuth, the main character in The Case of the Screaming Beauty, and later books in the series, is a police officer.
I also liked how Alison Golden sprinkled bits of information on how things are processed like when getting samples.

"Bert drew blood for toxicology screens and requested a full work-up of the lab results, which would show, among other things, whether Norah was pregnant, taking drugs, drunk, or poisoned."

The Inspector David Graham series is indeed a combination of cozy mystery with a CSI-like feel. And I loved it!

And for some reason, I couldn't help but feel that The Case of the Screaming Beauty reminded me of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile. The two are worlds apart but there's that feel.

When I finished reading the book, I learnt that Golden describes Inspector Graham as a kind of Hercule Poirot and I could totally feel that. Also, the ending where all the suspects were gathered for the finale is very Agatha Christie.

Golden describes Graham as "a British detective who is part-Sherlock Holmes, part-Poirot, and, of course, uniquely himself."

The only thing I disliked was the long chapters. The book is divided into 7 chapters, some I think were over 20 pages long. It was a quick read, but it would have been faster if there were more chapters. 

Update: In her newsletter dated 27 May 2020, author Alison Golden said she had included an epilogue to The Case of the Screaming Beauty. In addition, she said: "I also responded to a reader request to shorten the chapters. I did that by splitting each chapter into three."

My overall rating for The Case of the Screaming Beauty by Alison Golden: 4.5 stars.

Note: You can get The Case of the Screaming Beauty for FREE when you subscribe to author Alison Golden's newsletter.

Add the book on Goodreads.

Other reviews in this series:
The Case of the Hidden Flame
The Case of the Broken Doll
The Case of the Missing Letter

Connect with Alison Golden via Twitter, Facebook, her Website, where you can sign-up to her Newsletter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Collection of Dreamscapes by Christina Sng – Book Review

Book: A Collection of Dreamscapes
Author: Christina Sng
Genre: Poetry Collection, Twisted Fairy Tales, Dark Poetry
Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press
Publication Date: 16 April 2020

Number of pages: 170

A Collection of Dreamscapes by Christina Sng is a poetry collection divided into 5 sections and featuring an array of beautifully dark poems.

I particularly enjoyed the rewritten "Fairy Tales" and "Myths and Dreamscapes" sections.

A Collection of Dreamscapes opens with "Allegra," a 5-star stunning and beautiful mythological story within a poem. I absolutely loved this one. I must note though, that the poems in this opening section should be read in order – as I realized – but you will enjoy them nonetheless.

As I said, I loved the "Fairy Tales," where Sng takes on common tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast and twists them all. Sng also has several different stories/poems about a single fairy tale, like Rapunzel.

My favorites were: "Little Red," "Snow," "The Girl from the Tower," "Jack and the Giants," and "The Mermaid."

"Snow," the poem on the Snow White and Seven Dwarves tale, is different from anything I've read. Sng introduces ideas such as social media into the story. That said, I felt the poem was a bit long, less poetic in some places, and unbelievable in others. Still, it was definitely a far cry from the prince charming theme known for these types of tales but still Snow White wasn't the strong woman, unlike Sng's version of The Red Riding Hood.  

An interesting take is Sng bringing the modern world into the fairy tales. Interesting but a bit jarring still. You can find this in "Snow" and "Rapunzel."

"Beauty Sleeps for a Century" is a good rewrite of the Cinderella story, however, there was a significant repetition of "but" throughout that, for me, disturbed the flow of the poem.

I also liked how Sng mixed some of the tales together as you'll see in "Cinderella," "Always a Beast" and "Living Well Is the Best Revenge."

I absolutely loved "When There Are Monsters." It’s a dark and powerful piece and easily relatable to the real world, where monsters aren't just confined to books or TV screens.

The poem "The Monsters Within" is one of the more gruesome pieces in A Collection of Dreamscapes. It sent shivers down my spine. Similarly, "Violation" is a dark, gruesome and heartbreaking piece.

"In the Tall Grass" is a full on sci-fi poem. And I've never read a poem like it before. It's interesting, exciting, and definitely different.

I absolutely loved "The Lady of the Lake," with Sng's take on it; dark but brilliant. I wish I can quote it whole.

"The Joy of Sewing" is a creepy and gruesome piece that reminded me of the movie The House of Wax.

One recurring problem for me with A Collection of Dreamscapes is that many of the pieces read as more prose than poetry. An example of this is seen in "The War of the Fall," which has a great story but is not very poetic. I also found the sequence of the poem to be a bit confusing.

I have no problem with free verse, I write in it mostly myself but when writing in free verse there is a fine line between just dividing your sentence and having poetic flow to the piece. At the end of the day, you want people to read your free verse pieces as poems not as a newspaper article.

Other recommended pieces in A Collection of Dreamscapes: "Margritte of Mer," "Concepts," "Lobotomy," "Annalise Wanders the Forest," "Noonwraiths," and "The Tooth Collector."

Overall rating for Christina Sng's A Collection of Dreamscapes: 4 stars

Originally I rated this collection 3 stars, but upon an inspection while writing the review, I think the book deserves 3.75 to 4 stars.

Note: I received an advanced reader's copy (ARC) of A Collection of Dreamscapes by Christina Sng from Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. This review is part of National Poetry Month.