Tag Archives: #mystery

Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight onto life in fictional small-town Japan.

Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.

My Blurb (3 stars)

Judging by the book’s blurb alone, it is doubtful that I’d have picked it up. Judging by the cover, I would have definitely added it to my TBR but who knows when I’d have read it. However, a quick look at the author’s Indonesian surname clinched it. If you don’t already know, I was born & grew up in Indonesia. On the other hand, this may be a bad thing cuz you know you expect a lot from your own countrymen or women (or maybe that’s just me…).

I thought it was a little bit iffy that the book is fully Japanese (set in Japan with Japanese MC, etc). Then again, as we grew up (in Indonesia) obsessed with everything Japan (their mangas, dramas, etc), it’s really not a strange choice at all. I am a big fan of Japanese lit myself… I’ve read my share of mangas, watched J-dramas, & read a number of novels too. From all this, I’d say that Clarissa Goenawan has made a fair representation of Japanese style of living. I wonder though what Japanese people actually think…?

In essence, I do feel that this book is quite Japanese. The strange dreams (Haruki Murakami, anyone?) and relationships (brother-sister, teacher-student, etc). I loved Murakami’s books so I didn’t mind the dreams and in a way, maybe this author seeks to emulate him? And those relationships… well… I’ve seen them in mangas (especially ones for mature audiences) but I’m so glad that there were lines that were not crossed in this book.

The story is being told from the sole perspective of Ren Ishida who came to the town of Akakawa because his sister has been murdered. At the beginning, he just appears to be lost and aimless… in his grief, he drifted and some things just kind of fell on his lap. I don’t feel like he actively tried to investigate his sister’s murder so I don’t see this novel as the usual who-dun-it. He was driven more by his dreams to find something of which he wasn’t quite sure what. Will the truth destroy him or set him free?

“Sadness alone can’t harm anyone. It’s what you do when you’re sad that can hurt you and those around you.”

The reading was easy and quite enjoyable. There were some parts which I thought were kinda stilted but not many. I loved the little town with its gothic-esque feel. The MC, Ren, was easy on the eye & developed to grow easy on the heart too. If you like everything Japanese, you may enjoy this easy fare (in comparison to Japanese works that is).

About the author

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel, Rainbirds, is the winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies, such as The MacGuffin, Your Impossible Voice, Esquire, Monsoon Book, Writing The City, Needle in the Hay,
and many others. She loves rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.


Find Clarissa on:  website  |  goodreads  |  instagram  | twitter  |  facebook


Review: The Fifth Letter

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Do you have a group of best friends? Do they know everything about you or do you think you know all there is to know about each other? I have a group of my own best friends; four of us grew close during high school – almost like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina. Like them, 3 of us are married with children and one has just found The One and about to tie the knot in a few months’ time. *sniffs – am so very happy for her*

The beginning of their friendship is almost laughable. It was pointed out to them that they all have 2 things in common: surnames starting with “C” and their star signs (Scorpios). It’s not the silliest thing that have begun deep friendships, of course, but this was the basis that Joni decided that the four of them are meant to be best friends forever. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most innocent start of the group…


Years later, they were still good friends. They see each other regularly and even have girls weekend away sometimes. This weekend though, things rather fell apart. They decided to each write an anonymous letter of secrets to tell each other. It really wasn’t that easy to be anonymous when you know each other well and in addition to that, Joni found a fifth letter with a rather menacing tone. What is she to do with it? Is she supposed to do anything about it?

I really enjoyed the beginning of The Fifth Letter. The stage was being set with Joni finding the letter, her confessional conversation with a Catholic priest (my favourite character), then flashbacks to their teen years. I started smiling on page 3 and found at the end of my train trip, that I still had a wide smile on my face. It wasn’t just funny but the flashbacks also remind me of my own memories of my friends. I didn’t actually like any of these 4 ladies even though I can identify/empathise with all of them in one thing or another. Joni, being the main protagonist and whose perspective we read from, can be very frustrating! She is lovely really but oh, she can be so blind! In saying that, however, I also couldn’t really pick the fifth letter writer. And that precious ending, oh wow, I was literally choking with laughter!

What began as a rather humorous and reminiscing read, this novel took a turn into a dark complex of human emotions. These women each have their own issues which they feel they cannot voice yet that is the first step towards healing. The Fifth Letter engages the reader to look beyond the surface, to check our unrealistic expectations of women and see them as a person, an individual, who is not perfect (no one is perfect) and needs loving supports.

Thank you, Nicola Moriarty, for this novel and the chance to reflect of my own friendships. Like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina, I’m sure that we do not know everything about each other and that’s okay… I am certain, however, that none of us harbours any ill will towards anyone in the group 😀

Thank you Harper Collins Publishers Australia for providing paperback copy in exchange of honest review

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Review: A Curious Beginning

a curious beginningA Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

Historical mysteries featuring unconventional heroines are one of my favourites. On the top of my favourites are Phryne Fisher, Maisie Dobbs and Adelia Aguilar. Each of these series were unique in their own rights: Phryne Fisher’s mysteries are set in the 1920s and are such good fun to read, Maisie Dobbs are set in the same era but carry a more serious undertone with a rather Hercule Poirot sort of approach to the mysteries, and Adelia Aguilar is set in medieval England but with such a peculiar character, she appeals to you just as much as Phryne Fisher.

A Curious Beginning began well enough as we are introduced to Veronica Speedwell’s awry thoughts as she buried her aunt. It wasn’t long, however, before I found that she tries too hard to shock people and this really annoys me. I like shocking, unusual / unconventional heroines but in Veronica Speedwell’s case, it didn’t seem natural… it felt like a put-on act. There were also too many repetitions about her sexual adventures and her rule of keeping clear of British men… Say it once or twice but no more, please. I am sad to say that I do not like Veronica Speedwell.

On the other hand, I do love Stoker! I love his physique. I love his rudeness (you all know he’s hiding something, right?). I love the mystery of his past! I enjoyed most of the interaction between Veronica and Stoker and since I have a predilection for “circus” in fiction, I love that part of the story. The big twist or the reason Veronica is on the run, unfortunately, wasn’t a surprise to me. I was disappointed that the story was not more unpredictable.

The cover and the author were the first things to draw my interest. I’ve enjoyed Deanna Raybourn’s historical romance and really thought A Curious Beginning has good potential. It was a fairly easy read and I still enjoyed Raybourn’s prose; I’ve loved the world building in this novel. So, casting annoying main protagonist aside, A Curious Beginning was an entertaining read.

Thanks to NAL via Edelweiss for eARC in exchange of honest review

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Review: No Name Lane

no name laneNo Name Lane by Howard Linskey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: uncorrected proof courtesy of publisher

I have read my share of mysteries / thrillers / crime novels. I’ve read a wide range of them from police procedurals to the amateur sleuths (including those called ‘cozy mysteries’). From the blurb, I expected No Name Lane to be a police procedurals kind of mystery but it didn’t quite fit the bill as the journalist seems to be the one doing the detecting. In effect, the book sent me slightly off kilter since the police appear to be quite incompetent in solving mysteries.

”You’re more of a copper than a reporter,” [said the Detective Constable to the journalist]

There were 2 main perspectives: Tom Carney (journalist) and Detective Constable Ian Bradshaw. With Tom, we probed the mysteries from angles which would best present the stories to sell to newspapers. Tom was one of the local boys and as he’s not with the police, he has a better chance to speak with the villagers to dig into their stories. He might’ve been down on his luck but he is an intelligent man intent on solving mysteries. Tom’s perspective is the more interesting of the two as clues were dropped and secrets unfurled.

Detective Constable Ian Bradshaw hasn’t been doing too well either. He is a flop in his chosen career and he continues to blunder his way on the job. With Ian, we witnessed the highly political situation within the ranks and just how clicky his colleagues are; these are probably the reason for their ineffectualness. I found this to be peculiar in that whilst their investigations eliminate suspects etc., there doesn’t seem to be many clues uncovered to lead them to successful investigations.

There wasn’t an established firm relationship between Tom and Ian to begin with, so they weren’t quite working together. If this is supposed to be a first book of series, then it’s a fairly promising start. If not, it is interesting choices of POVs. In addition to these two, there were also Helen’s (a local journalist), the killer’s, and also a few visitations to the 1930s. This last was an absolute shock to my system as the chapters were told in 1930s whilst the rest of the novel is set in current times.

There were a number of things in this book which I thought were a bit of an odd fish. They’re not necessarily bad but they really threw me off. On another note, though, I really enjoyed the mysteries and I really liked Tom Carney. Despite the slow beginning, the pace of the story picked up quite well as soon as all characters introduced and was actually a captivating read. No Name Lane was a surprising read but with an engaging plot, I was caught in the thrill of the chase and enjoyed the twisting ride.

Thanks to Penguin Books Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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