The Maid

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Nita Prose
Genres: Mystery
Pub. Date: Jan. 2022 (read Mar. 2022)

The Maid was my Book Club’s pick for March. I admit I wasn’t super enthused for it because mysteries aren’t generally my favourite, but it had good early reviews, so I was intrigued. Unfortunately, very little about this book worked for me and it was not popular in our book club discussion.

The Maid tells the story of Molly Gray, a young 20-something woman raised by her grandmother and working at an upscale hotel as a maid. In her work, Molly mostly blends in with the shadows, but when she discovers one of the hotel guests dead in his bed, she is catapulted into the limelight and her awkward social demeanor makes her one of the prime suspects. 

Let’s start with talking about the writing style. It wasn’t my favourite, but it reminded me a bit of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, with less charm. It’s never stated outright, but Molly struggles with how to interact in social situations and I think the reader can assume she likely falls somewhere on the spectrum. Her grandmother played a large role in helping Molly navigate the world, but has recently passed, leaving Molly struggling both socially and financially. As the protagonist, I thought the writing style suited Molly’s voice, but sadly the characterization and storytelling were lacking. 

Molly grows a lot throughout the novel, learning about herself and others around her as several new people enter her life to help her through the police investigation. But while she supposedly grows as a person, her growth didn’t feel organic or natural to me. The entire story happens in the span of 5 days and was too neatly packaged for me to buy into it. Molly has struggled her entire life with social interactions and suddenly at the climax she has all these revelations about how other people react. I thought this to be super unlikely if she has struggled her whole life with reading people and I didn’t think it was a particularly good message, as if people on the spectrum can suddenly change the way they see and interpret the world.

But my biggest problem with the book is that the plot is just not very sophisticated. For a mystery novel, I found it to be incredibly boring. I wanted the mystery to be clever and have lots of twists and turns, but the author reveals almost everything to us upfront! It’s clear that there’s something sinister going on in the hotel, we don’t necessarily know who the murderer is, but we know who the key suspects at the hotel are, so it’s not a stretch to see where the story is going. Arguably there are a few twists towards the end of the book, but even these fell flat to me. So before I get into discussion about this in the spoiler part of my review, I’ll just say that I wouldn’t recommend this book because unfortunately it’s lacking in both plot and characterization. 

Okay, now for SPOILERS.
What drove me nuts at the end is that this whole book is marketed and sold as a “closed door mystery novel” reminiscent of Agatha Christie. People love these kinds of books and it’s a great premise. So WHY IN THE WORLD is the murderer not someone from inside the hotel! It’s such a cop-out and just read like lazy writing to me. The author hands us Rodney and Giselle on a silver platter as suspects in the drug scheme at the very least, but even if they didn’t commit the murder, there were still lots of other suspects – from the hotel manager, to Cheryl, to Juan Manuel, to the other maids, and of course, even Molly. I was just flat out annoyed that the author decided to make the murderer someone from outside the hotel. It’s disappointing and it’s not clever. I could understand why Molly would want to protect Giselle (if she was the murderer), but I really don’t see why she would protect Ms. Black. She had no reason to keep this information secret.

Then there’s the unnecessary twist near the end where Mr. Preston appears to reveal that he is Molly’s grandfather?! It wasn’t totally clear to me if this was the case, but I don’t think it added much to the novel and it actually, if anything, made me more sad because it means Mr. Preston likely only ever wanted to help Molly because she was his granddaughter and not just because he happened to like her. Also the whole lawyer bailing Molly out of jail thing seemed super unlikely to me.

Finally, my friend at book club brought up an excellent point about the very end – why on earth was Charlotte questioning Molly on the stand? Molly was no longer a suspect, she was only a witness, so she would have been questioned by either the prosecution or the defense (for Rodney), neither of which Charlotte was likely to be representing. It’s a small detail, but it does highlight the lack of forethought that seems to have gone into the novel. I just didn’t think the plot was sophisticated enough. It was too easily resolved and the character growth too easily realized. It had the potential for a good story, but sadly, I just don’t think this author is there yet. 

So 2.5 stars from me – not a favourite, nor would I recommend.

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead

Author: Elle Cosimano
Genres: Mystery
Pub. Date: Feb. 2022 (read Feb. 2022 on Audible)
Series: Finlay Donovan is Killing It #2

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It was an impulse purchase for me last year and I ended up really loving it, so this was one of my most anticipated reads for 2022. I can’t help but always compare this book to a train wreck because the plot goes off the rails in the most out of control way and I just can’t look away from it!

Finlay Donovan is not high brow literature in any sense, but it’s one of the most fun mystery thrillers I’ve ever read. It reminds me a lot of How to Get Away with Murder in that the plot keeps escalating so quickly that it’s hard to imagine how your characters got here, but unlike HTGAWM, Finlay Donovan never takes itself too seriously. Cosimano creates the most hilarious characters and has a heavy dose of comic relief, so even though the plot is super compelling, it’s never dark or bleak. 

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead isn’t quite as strong as the first book, but I still think it’s a romping good time. It starts off a little bit slower and I got frustrated by Finlay and Vero keeping secrets from one another, but the plot picks up quickly and they get back to the same kind of shenanigans as the first book. If you get annoyed by characters who miscommunicate and make stupid decisions, then this book is probably not for you, but if you’re here for a super fast-paced good time then I think you will like this sequel.

I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s definitely one of those books you should read blind, but I just wanted to say that, Damn, I was into Nick in this book. I couldn’t really remember him from the first book, but he made a nice addition to this storyline. The only thing I thought could be improved was that the author/book writing plot aspect was too deja-vu from the last book. We get a new mystery, but some of the plot still felt recycled from the first book. 

The ending makes it pretty clear that we’ll be back for a 3rd book and I will 100% be continuing with this series. Highly recommend the audiobook, the narrator is excellent!

Apples Never Fall

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pub. Date: Sep. 2021 (read Oct. 2021 on Audible)

Apples Never Fall is my book club’s pick for November. We’ve read a lot of Liane Moriarty books in the club and she does consistently write good books, but nothing has ever quite had the same impact as Big Little Lies and I’m starting to get a bit fatigued with her writing. This book was fine – I didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, pretty standard 3 star read. 

Apples Never Fall focuses on the Delaney family, Joy and Stan and their 4 adult children. They are a family of tennis players and have had a pretty decent life until a girl named Savannah shows up on Joy and Stan’s doorstep and subsequently moves into the house, puting the Delaney children on edge. When Joy Delaney goes missing a year later and Stan looks poised to take the fall for her disappearance, it stirs up old resentments in the family and brings some family secrets to light.

Let’s start with what I liked about the book. It is a pretty good character portrait of each of the Delaney’s. Sometimes things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface and Moriarty explores the theme that every marriage has its weaknesses, no matter how stable or loving it may appear from the outside. Moriarty tackles a lot of issues, from gender roles, to mental health, to physical health, to domestic violence, to the weight of our parents expectations and how they shape children into adults. 

What I didn’t like – Moriarty tackles a lot of issues. While it’s great that she highlights some issues that you don’t often see portrayed, such as dealing with chronic migraines and the fatigue of domestic labour, I think she was a little too ambitious. I felt like she tried to cram a lot into this book and it made it all seem a bit surface level. For example, I don’t think we really ever went in depth to Amy’s mental health issues or the shortfalls in Joy and Stan’s marriage. There’s a lot to dig into, but Moriarty spreads herself too thin to do any of these issues justice.

But even though she couldn’t quite tackle everything, this book was still too long. I felt like she didn’t do the issues justice and yet she still somehow spent too much time waffling on each of the characters. I felt like there was so much thrown in that just wasn’t needed. This is a mystery novel at its core, but the pacing gets caught up in so much background information on the large cast of characters that I felt the story never really picked up any momentum. I thought Savannah was a really interesting character and I wanted to know more about her and her past, but we get so much info about each of the boring Delaney siblings that I just lost interest and when we finally do get some insight into Savannah’s psyche, it’s just a bit too late.

Because sadly I just didn’t find any of the Delaney’s compelling. Joy was by far the most interesting to me, but I had almost no interest in Stan or any of the siblings. I just didn’t care about their problems. They’re a pretty well-to-do middle class white family and it was honestly just boring. I didn’t care about their tennis drama, I was unsure why I should care about Harry, and all of it just kept distracting me from the only parts I was interested in – Savannah and what happened to Joy.

Now I want to talk about the ending though, because that was fascinating. Again, I felt the pacing was a bit off. The book seems to come to a conclusion which I found fairly unsatisfying, but I was mystified to see I still had an hour left on my audiobook after this revelation. There is a second, shocking ending which is the part I found fascinating and would have loved to have seen developed a bit more. But unfortunately it comes a little too late in the story and made me question what was the point in including it at all? It is surprising, but I felt there’s so much more Moriarty could have done with it that would have made for a much more compelling book overall. 

So in conclusion – the book was fine, but I wish it was 100 pages shorter and explored a bit of a different angle. The family dynamics were interesting, but in the long run, forgettable. 

Finlay Donovan is Killing It

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Elle Cosimano
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. Date: Feb. 2021 (read Apr. 2021 on Audible)

I listened to this entire audiobook during one rainy weekend while doing jigsaw puzzles and LOVED it! GabbyReads recommended it on her booktube channel and said it was a good audiobook, so I downloaded it on Audible and was immediately pulled into the story. The whole plot is an absolute nightmare train-wreck, but in the most unputdownable way!

Finlay Donovan has recently divorced her husband after he started shacking up with their realtor and she’s struggling to manage her two kids while simultaneously trying to deliver on a book deal for which she has huge writer’s block. She’s spent the advance on her book and the bills are piling up – if she doesn’t submit the rest of her book soon, she might be asked to return the advance.

She meets her agent in a shop to discuss the outline of her murder mystery and an eavesdropper misinterprets their conversation, thinking that Finlay is actually a hired killer. Finlay receives an anonymous note with a huge sum of money to dispose of the woman’s husband. The whole thing is a huge misunderstanding and Finlay tries to tell the woman she’s not a killer, but after doing some research on the husband and reflecting on the huge sum of money, is it possible she could be?

It sounds like an intense book, but the writing is so light and the author packs a ton of comic relief into the narrative that made it such a fun read. It reminded me a little of How to Get Away With Murder because of the run-away storyline. Finlay is a mess and she always seems to be a step behind everything that’s happening around her, which would make for a very stressful reading experience if not for Finlay and Vero’s comedy. 

I don’t want to give anything away about the story because you should definitely experience it for yourself – I’ll just say that Finlay and her sidekick, Vero, make for some truly excellent heroines. I don’t normally give 5 stars to mystery novels and this is by no means quality literary writing, but it was just so much fun to read and when I reflected on it, there was really nothing I would change about it, so 5 stars it is! Recommend if you’re looking to get out of a book slump!

A Murderous Relation

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2020 (read Apr. 2021)

I’ve been having so much fun reading a Veronica Speedwell book each month. This was book number 5. I don’t think I liked it quite as much as book 4, but a solid follow-up for sure! Since we’re so far into the series, I’m not going to bother blurbing this one and it will contain SPOILERS, so if you’re thinking of reading this series, check out my review of the first book, A Curious Beginning, instead.
I really liked A Dangerous Collaboration because we finally got some movement on the Veronica/Stoker front, which continues (slowly of course) into A Murderous Relation. I think it’s a wise choice on Raybourn’s behalf because romantic relationships are so much of what makes a series like this compelling and if you plan to continue on with the series for an extended period of time, you need to keep the drama! 

So I liked that there was progress in this book. As usual, Veronica and Stoker are up to some wild antics when they infiltrate a sex club to steal a diamond. Raybourn always has the most devilishly intriguing and risqué plots, but it’s part of what makes the series so fun. I liked that this book had a lot of action in it. Some of the other books are a bit slow to get started, but I didn’t find that to be the case with this one. The only thing that I didn’t like was that it was more or less a repeat of the plot of the first book. Obviously there are some changes and I really liked Eddy’s character, but overall a little disappointing not to see the author come up with something different. 

Again, I guess that’s one of the challenges with so long of a series. I did kind of feel like book 5 would actually make a good ending point for the series. We get really good closure at the end of this book and I wonder how much further Raybourn will really be able to take this series and still have it be meaningful. I really respect authors when they know the right time to walk away from a series.

So I haven’t decided if I will read the next book or not. There’s only 1 more that’s been released and since it’s only available in hardback (my collection is all paperback), I was thinking I might wait a year and read it once it’s released in paperback, if I still feel like continuing the series. Part of me definitely wants to continue because the characters are so much fun, but I also feel really satisfied with how far I’ve made it in the series, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see!