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.
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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


Rating: 
⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
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. 

Once There Were Wolves

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Charlotte McConaghy
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Aug. 2021 (read Oct. 2021)

It’s fitting that Once There Were Wolves is my last post of 2021 because (unless I happen to read a really good book in late December) it was my favourite book of the whole year! I read Migrations last year and really liked it, so I was cautiously optimistic about Once There Were Wolves. I wasn’t sure if maybe McConaghy was a one-trick pony, but this book has firmly cemented her as an auto-buy author in my books!

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this book since I read it and I have a feeling it’s going to be my favourite read of 2021. I can definitely see how this book might not be for everyone, and I could see Migrations being the more universally accepted book of the two, but I loved everything about this book and actually preferred it.

Once There Were Wolves is set predominantly in Scotland and is about the expedition 30-year old Inti Flynn is leading to re-introduce wolves into the Scottish Highlands. Wolf territory has been shrinking over time and a (real) project to re-introduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 was hugely successful. The prey had been taking over the park and without predators to keep them in check, were over-eating the flora and causing erosion at streams and water sources. The wolves completely changed the landscape of the park, breathing new life into the wilderness and bringing a balance to the ecosystem.

Inti’s childhood was split between Australia and the wilds of British Columbia and she travels to Scotland with her twin sister, with whom she is very close. Unfortunately, she is not welcomed by the farmers in Scotland and receives a cold reception and opposition to her work. Nevertheless, she finds some allies and is determined that her project be a success. But when a villager turns up dead and the townspeople suspect the wolves, Inti makes some questionable choices.

So the plot is pretty straightforward, but like most of my favourite books, this is not a plot driven novel. The key word when talking about this book is atmosphere. Charlotte McConaghy is a talented wordsmith, but part of what makes her novels so compelling is her ability to create a very strong sense of setting and atmosphere. The loneliness and wild of the highlands seeps from every scene and creates this overarching feeling of great loss and sadness. It maybe sounds a bit depressing, but it’s also enthralling. It’s not a fast paced story and yet I was totally invested in Inti’s project and her past.

McConaghy’s characters are broken and damaged people and as she slowly reveals their histories to you, you become more and more invested in their characters. This is not a happy story and it deals with difficult and complex themes like abuse, violence, trauma, and how our childhood and formative years can impact us into adulthood. I feel like McConaghy packs so much punch in so small a novel. There are so many parts I haven’t even touched on yet – Inti’s relationship with the town sheriff, her relationships with her family members, and the fact that Inti has a rare condition called mirror touch, which causes her to literally feel what she sees those around her experiencing.

It’s ambitious for a novel that’s under 300 pages, and yet it all works. McConaghy doesn’t waste time on things that don’t matter and she trusts her reader to draw their own conclusions from the story rather than spelling everything out for us. I feel like there were no ideas out of place. To write such beautiful prose, while also delivering on a character driven mystery novel is an impressive feat!

Definitely a trigger warning for rape and domestic violence. But I do feel that McConaghy handles these topics well. I’ve read several rape/harassment scenes this year that really bothered me because I felt that they were included for shock value, whereas I think in this book they are handled with sensitivity and purpose. It is not included to shock us, but rather to invite the audience to reflect on the devastating impact to the victim and how those events influence and shape a person. It is a dark book, but also a hopeful one. Inti is a broken person, but like the wolves, she is willing to try again, to try and heal herself and keep moving forward. The wolves can heal landscapes, but maybe they can also heal people and communities.

5 stars – I can’t wait to read this again soon.

Side note: I can’t help but mention that I find it fascinating that prior to her two literary novels, McConaghy wrote YA fantasy. I have no idea how they compare in terms of writing, plot, or quality, but I do find it a bit annoying that she seems to be trying to distance herself from them and pretend they don’t even exist. Her author blurb on the back of the book literally calls Migrations her “debut novel”. Like I get trying to re-invent yourself, but that’s a straight up lie. What’s wrong with making your debut in the YA fantasy scene? Be proud of all your books and where you started, it just shows your versatility and growth as an author.

Firekeeper’s Daughter

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Angeline Boulley
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery
Pub. Date: Mar. 2021 (read Apr. 2021)

I’ve been putting off reviewing this book and I’m not sure why. Firekeeper’s Daughter is getting so much buzz this year, and with good reason. First off, the cover art is dreamy, and second, it’s the most wonderful mix of genres. It’s YA, which I know might be a turn off for some, but there’s so much else going on in this book, you don’t need to be a young adult to enjoy it.

Daunis Fontaine is an unenrolled member of the Ojibwe Nation. She’s about to start her first year of College and despite her lofty dreams, she decides to stay home for College to be closer to her mom and grandmother after the death of her Uncle. Daunis is a shining star, but unfortunately drugs have started making their way around her town and on the reservation. After a shocking murder, Daunis becomes entwined in the drug investigation and goes undercover with the FBI. They think the drug producers might be using traditional tribal medicine to create a new hallucinogen and Daunis is able to use her traditional knowledge to help in the investigation.

Daunis is a great character and Boulley does some really interesting things with this book. Daunis is coming to terms with the deaths of multiple people who were important in her life and the struggle of finding where she belongs. She’s biracial, so though she’s accepted within the Ojibwe Nation, she’s not an enrolled member and always feels one step removed from the tribe. She has a traumatic family history, having lost her Dad young, but has a close relationship with her step brother, her mother, and her Dad’s extended family. 

What makes this novel special is that it blends so many aspects of Ojibwe culture into the narrative. Boulley is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians and sets the story in an area that she knows well. She tackles a lot of different issues in her book, from racism and drug abuse, to grief and growing up. It’s a murder mystery, while also being a family drama. My only complaint is that it’s just too long. 500 pages is long for any book, but especially for a YA mystery novel. It felt like it took a long time for the narrative to really get going. It wasn’t uninteresting and I felt like I was given adequate time to really get to know and love the characters, but it was a little overdone and I think 100 pages could be cut without losing the impact of the story.

Otherwise, I would still recommend. We are seeing more and more books from indigenous authors, but this one definitely blew up in a big way, which is great to see. Definitely hope to see more from this author!