Review | The Darkest Sin, by D.V. Bishop

DarkestSinI absolutely love murder mysteries set in convents. Blame it on my Catholic school upbringing; the secret lives of nuns have always fascinated me, and reading a novel about all the drama and intrigue that could lead to a murder within convent walls is just extra fascinating.

So The Darkest Sin hooked me immediately. Set in 16th century Florence? Extra drama! The Catholic Church was an even more powerful part of everyday people’s lives back then, so how would this setting influence the mystery? The person murdered in the convent was a man? Intrigue to the max! What was a man doing inside the convent?

And then as I read, the story drew me in even more deeply. I loved the protagonist, Officer Cesare Aldo and his co-worker / protegee Constable Carlo Strocchi, I loved their friendship and mentor/mentee relationship, and while they investigate separate crimes in this novel, there’s a wonderfully complex subplot about a strain on their friendship that just got me right in the feels. I felt for Aldo being unable to be with the man he loves, all because of societal prejudices, and there are tons of callbacks to plot points that I presume happened in the previous book, City of Vengeance. D.V. Bishop has crafted beautifully rich characters and.a complex world, and I was hooked all the way through.

The story follows two murder mysteries: Aldo investigates the dead man in the convent, and Strocchi investigates a dead body in the river. Both victims turn out to be horrible, unpleasant men, and I love how Aldo and Strocchi grapple with that. They’re committed to justice, because that’s their jobs, but when the killing is done by someone trapped in super complex and difficult circumstances, what would justice actually demand? It’s not so much a question of if killing can ever be justified, but rather, are there circumstances where punishing the killer may not actually be the just move? The characters’ stances are clear, but the questions remain for the reader to puzzle through ourselves.

I did also get all the intrigue I wanted from convent mysteries. The story delves into the politics within the Church — the abbey and the prioress are at odds over the future direction of the convent; the archbishop wants to shut the convent down; and the monsignor investigating the crime on behalf of the church just wants to check his boxes. I love how these politics dovetail with the intra-office politics of the courts — Aldo and Strocchi’s boss is a petty, small-minded man on a power trip, and while bad bosses suck in real life, they can be super entertaining in fiction! There’s also a lot about class differences and anti-Semitism and all sorts of other social issues that bring the story to life.

It’s a fascinating book, and given the way it ended, I’m curious where D.V. Bishop will take the story in Book 3.

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Thank you to Publisher’s Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Anni Dreams of Biryani, by Namita Moolani Mehra (illus. by Chaaya Prabhat)

AnniDreamsOfBiryaniThis children’s picture book is absolutely adorable! In Little India is a Biryani Cafe, run by a cranky Uncle who makes the most delicious biryani. Across the street from the Cafe lives Anni, a little girl who loves to cook and dreams of opening her own cafe someday. She’s determined to learn the secret behind Uncle’s biryani so she can make it for herself.

Both the story and the illustrations are super sweet and charming. There are some fun tips that Uncle shares with Anni about cooking biryani: use whole green chilies for one, and probably most important, stop asking questions and go try to cook the dish for yourself!

My only snag is that I wish the book included the recipe for Uncle’s biryani. For admittedly selfish reasons, I also wish that recipe would have included the secret ingredient that Anni says made it so special. But more broadly, I think that especially given Anni’s age, a kid-friendly recipe of how to make biryani yourself (with a grown-up, of course!) would have made this book even more special. The book does explain what biryani is, and it does give us a link to a biryani recipe online, but I think including a recipe on the actual pages would have been the perfect finishing touch.

Otherwise, the book is adorable. I love thinking of all the young aspiring cooks out there who’ll read this and be inspired to figure out the recipes behind their own favourite dishes. And with those descriptions and illustrations, I’m now super craving biryani myself!

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Thank you to Thomas Allen for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Digging Up Love, by Chandra Blumberg

DiggingUpLoveCoverI really, really wanted to love this one. The hero’s a palaeontologist, the heroine’s a baker and secret dinosaur nerd, the heroine has to deal with complex family dynamics, the hero’s super sweet and understanding… this book has so many incredible elements that are usually my catnip when it comes to romance novels.

Unfortunately, I found myself struggling to get through it. I did end up tapping out and DNF-ing about 2/3 through, so if the story suddenly picks up in the final third, I’m afraid I missed it.

The writing is solid, and the characters are multi-faceted with interesting backstories that help explain why it takes them 300 pages to get to their happily ever after. But I think I just kept hoping for more. I saw how both characters found the other attractive, and I saw a couple of moments where they connected emotionally, but I never really felt the chemistry and connection between them. I see the push and pull happening, mostly from Alisha keeping Quentin at bay, but almost like from a distance, in that I never really quite felt the tension keeping them apart.

I thought the author did a really good job in explaining why Alisha was so hesitant to tell her grandparents about her plans to move to the big city, but the novel also kinda presents her move as a done deal from the start. And even when circumstances make her delay the move, I never quite felt it was a real risk that she’d change her mind altogether. That detracted a lot of the tension for me, because I figure she’d just end up telling them at some point. And from stuff her grandmother says, I also think it’s not quite as big a deal as Alisha’s making it out to be. Not to diminish the complexities of family responsibilities, but this subplot felt more drawn out and complicated than it had to be.

And while I understand why Quentin would have a problem with that, given his romantic history with an ex who kept secrets, I also never quite felt why it would be such a big deal to him? There’s a huge difference between his ex’s secrets and the ones Alisha keeps, and a huge difference in the circumstances between the two. Most frustrating, I think, is that I’m not even annoyed at him for being so unreasonable; mostly, this barrier to their relationship feels too flimsy to take seriously, so it’s just a bit of a waiting game till he figures that out.

Ultimately, interesting hook, and I love that it features nerdy characters. I just never quite got pulled into the story nor invested in their relationship.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.