Review: The Frangipani Tree Mystery (Ovidia Yu)

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Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Constable
Publication date: June 1st, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 320

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Blurb:
First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore.

1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin’s daughter dies suddenly – and in mysterious circumstances – mission school-educated local girl SuLin – an aspiring journalist trying to escape an arranged marriage – is invited to take her place.

But then another murder at the residence occurs and it seems very likely that a killer is stalking the corridors of Government House. It now takes all SuLin’s traditional skills and intelligence to help British-born Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy solve the murders – and escape with her own life.

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I was pretty excited when I received The Frangipani Tree Mystery for review. I’m always on the lookout for diverse reads by diverse authors, and a crime-cum-historical fiction written by a Singaporean Chinese sounds amazing.

Throw in the fact that this was set in 1930’s Malaya/Singapore before the Japanese occupation in 1940’s, and I was hooked. The premise for this book is so interesting and unique that after reading this book, I feel like every South East Asian should read this book. Because finally we have a book that we can relate with in a historical sense!

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The Frangipani Tree Mystery is about SuLin, a Chinese Singaporean who took on the role as a nanny for the British acting governor’s daughter after the previous nanny died from a balcony fall. This book is a crime fiction as we see SuLin try to solve the murder of the nanny, alongside an additional murder that occurs afterwards.

Not only do we have a diverse main character in this book, we also have a main character that is disabled. SuLin suffers from polio and limps while she walks. But this adversity doesn’t hinder her from solving the murders at Frangipani Hill as she’s very smart and quick on her tongue. From simple beginnings as the granddaughter of a famous along to carving her own path away from traditional cultures, SuLin is a wonderful character to witness her development in this book. Her wit and resilience was wonderful to read, and I just love strong female characters.

She also takes care of Dee Dee, a 17-year-old girl who suffered irreversible brain injury. As a result, Dee Dee acts like a 7-year-old, the age she suffered the injuries, with no indication of growing in mental maturity. The struggles to care for a special-needs kid are highlighted in this book, and it was done so well in my opinion.

I honestly wished we had books like this during my primary and secondary school years. It would have been so much fun to learn about Malaya this way, because all the characters written in this book are exactly how we were taught back in school. You have the 2 main races of Malaya: Malay, Chinese and Indian. All three living harmoniously until the British came to colonize us. There was this one particular scene where a British male character was seen asking SuLin whether she trusted the Malay gardener and Indian cook. And SuLin replied that only the ang mohs (white people) wanted the locals to believe that each race was dishonest and non-trustworthy.

Let me tell you something, seeing the terrible racist things that are happening now, SuLin’s words ring truer than ever.

The accuracy in which the characters are written during that period is impeccable. I felt so much nostalgia for each South East Asian character that probably were reflective of every person my grandparents knew when they were living in Singapore in that period. You have each character that brought about a sense of belonging to how life was back then. It was representative of how simple things were back then. From the way they cooked their food, to the way they talked, and to the traditions of the Chinese and Malays highlighted in this book. Everything about The Frangipani Tree Mystery is authentic.

I must bring into light the wonder of this book for using Hokkien and Malay languages! I was so shocked to find a Malay poem inserted within the first few chapters that I squealed in delight. Small details like the type of language used and anecdotes infused in the book are what gives the book an authentic vibe.

You have SuLin preparing nasi lemak and fish curry in the book. You have an Indian cook preparing crispy , fried ikan bilis. You have the superstitions surrounding frangipani trees, or kemboja in Malay, and how they’re bad luck because they’re technically “grave flowers”.

You even have the legendary Biskut Ais Jems making an appearance in the book!

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I mean, if you never ever had these as a kid, growing up in Malaysia or Singapore, what kind of childhood did you even have???

The endless Malaya traditions included in this book are what I enjoyed the most. I’ve never read a novel that could portray and embody so well all the traditions and cultures I’ve experienced growing up.

Asides from these brilliant flashbacks, I found the plot to be alright. Nothing special that gripped my attention hard, but the adventures of SuLin and Dee Dee were enough to keep me reading until the end. The plot was a bit slow somewhere in the middle before picking up and ending a bit abruptly. But otherwise, it was a pleasure to travel to 1930’s Singapore and get inside the head of a local nanny.

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Overall, I really enjoyed this wonderful gem of a book. It is unique and needs to get out in the book industry more. The diversity and rich history portrayed in the book are what make The Frangipani Tree Mystery a brilliant read. The fact that it’s a fusion of crime and historical fiction adds brownie points to the package!

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Review: Crooked House (Agatha Christie)

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Genre:
Crime, Thriller
Publisher: HarperCollins Publisher
Publication date: 1949 (Original Publication)
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 302
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Blurb:
In the sprawling, half-timbered mansion in the affluent suburb of Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides lies dead from barbiturate poisoning. An accident? Not likely. In fact, suspicion has already fallen on his luscious widow, a cunning beauty fifty years his junior, set to inherit a sizeable fortune, and rumored to be carrying on with a strapping young tutor comfortably ensconced in the family estate. But criminologist Charles Hayward is casting his own doubts on the innocence of the entire Leonides brood. He knows them intimately. And he’s certain that in a crooked house such as Three Gables, no one’s on the level…

REVIEW:

Why hello there! It has been way too long since I last reviewed here. I do apologize for the lack of posts for this blog. Life has been hectic with so many personal and work commitments that I had to put reading, and blogging, on hold. I do miss blogging and bringing you loads of recommendations, so hopefully I’ll be back to blogging regularly starting this May 🙂 I’ve got a few book reviews up my sleeve!

So on to my latest review!

“I’ve never met a murderer who wasn’t vain… It’s their vanity that leads to their undoing, nine times out of ten.They may be frightened of being caught, but they can’t help strutting and boasting and usually they’re sure they’ve been far too clever to be caught.”

Crooked House happens to be my first Agatha Christie. This was a gift from a friend and whilst I wish I could have started with And Then There Were None as my first AG book, Crooked House is a good enough book. Nonetheless, I now understand why AG is so famous as a crime writer. Her writing is simple enough to follow along and her plots always, always keep you on your feet! I remember reading this on the train, and I almost missed my stop numerous times because I was too engrossed in the whole book!

“Curious thing, rooms. Tell you quite a lot about the people who live in them.” 

Crooked House lets us peek into the peculiar house of the Leonides where a mysterious death has taken place (which is how all of AG stories start, I’ve heard). While the plot takes you on this journey to better know the family and the young man associated with them, it does have an air of cliche-ness surrounding it where you try to figure out who the murderer was and whether s/he was obvious in the book. But despite that, you have this sense of feeling that you’re closer to figuring out who the murderer was and how great it would feel if you had gotten it right.

AG plays with our emotions and sets a suspenseful setting while reading her book. And I love books that just grabs your attention from the beginning and makes you think in order to solve the case. And while AG is a well known crime writer, she didn’t become popular by writing cliche plots and endings….

“What are murderers like? Some of them, have been thoroughly nice chaps.”  

This story grips you in from the beginning and the plot twist will shock you (apparently she’s very good at these too). I thoroughly enjoyed being surprised as the murderer was revealed and thought this book was an overall nice read. It gave me a fresh new insight to how crime fiction is written! Give it a go if you want to try out crime fiction. I’ve only tried a handful and AG is definitely someone you shouldn’t miss out on reading!

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Review: The Gun Seller (Hugh Laurie)

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Genre: Crime, Thriller
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 1996
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 340
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Blurb:
When Thomas Lang, a hired gunman with a soft heart, is contracted to assassinate an American industrialist, he opts instead to warn the intended victim – a good deed that doesn’t go unpunished.

Within hours Lang is butting heads with a Buddha statue, matching wits with evil billionaires, and putting his life (among other things) in the hands of a bevy of femmes fatales, whilst trying to save a beautiful lady… and prevent an international bloodbath to boot.

REVIEW:

I have so many mixed feelings for this book! On one side, I love the humor and sarcasm infused within the book. It was truly written with the persona and voice similar to that of Dr House from the House series where Hugh Laurie is hugely known for.

On the other hand, I’m beginning to realise that spy novels aren’t really my thing.

The Gun Seller is about Thomas Lang, an ex army man, who finds himself in the middle of a secret organization set to create war in order to sell one of their defense weapons. That’s the gist of the book and Lang was blackmailed to enter the organization. Along the way he questions the justice in his actions and involvement that plays around with the lives of other people. There were a lot of politically incorrect statements intentionally set within the book. Laurie questions the stability of a government and what it means to actually take care of the millions of lives under your protection.

“Having a vote once every four years is not the same thing as democracy.”  

I truly enjoyed this solely for the numerous times I laughed out loud at the cynical sentences and sarcastic comments about life, love and money.

“It is the middle of December now, and we are about to travel to Switzerland – where we plan to ski a little, relax a little, and shoot a Dutch politician a little.”  

The plot is a bit too slow for me, but no doubt this book would probably appeal more towards male readers who have interests in movies like Die Hard or Mission Impossible. Since I am neither a fan of these, I didn’t get to enjoy the book in its entirety.

I do however would recommend this if you’re looking for a good laugh and some misadventures that reminds you of Dr House if he were an international spy. Imagine all the cynicism and sarcastic comments directed at pretty girls… And I do hope you enjoy this more than I did!

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling (Robert Gailbraith)

Genre: Crime

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis:

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

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