“The Maid” by Nita Prose

Genre: Clue-Like Mystery The Maid
Publisher: Penquin-Random House
Pub. Date: Jan. 04, 2022

I am not often a fan of cozy mysteries but I did enjoy, “The Maid,” Nita Prose’s debut novel, which is satisfying on every level. A guest is found dead at a posh city hotel, and the major suspect is Molly Gray, a cleaning servicewoman who takes unusual delight and pride in her work. Molly Gray is a quirky girl who probably is on the autism spectrum.  She doesn’t understand the complexities of social interaction and frequently misinterprets others’ intentions. This is how the hotel bartender, who she has a crush on, exploits and uses her in a drug ring. While some readers may be able to figure out who the killer is right away, that will not spoil the novel. The story is more about Molly and her development as a person. This is a heartwarming tale that will have you rooting for Molly, and maybe like myself, help one remember that there is a real person with feelings inside all of us.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“This Shining Life” by Harriet Kline

Genre: General Fiction/Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: June 22, 2021

The Shing Life

This character-driven novel is a sweet yet sad story that revolves around Rich who is a husband, father, brother, and son. Rich will die in the novel. We know this from chapter one. The book takes you through his prognosis until his death and his family’s grief afterward. The author’s descriptive writing will bring you into the mindset of a dying man. As well as his family members who are trying to digest his upcoming death.

Most of the characters have quirky yet lovable personalities including Rich’s 11-year-old son, Ollie, who is autistic. Although, Ollie is very hard to live with his parents adore him. Rich is the best with him when dealing with his rituals. Can you imagine being a parent of a child who will not leave the house without all his socks in case his feet get wet? Yet, Ollie is such a tender and frequently confused soul that it is hard not to like him.  The author never actually states that Ollie is autistic but it becomes obvious through his words, actions, and rituals.  Rich wants to reprimand his parents that it is not Ollie’s fault that their grandson can appear to be disrespectful.  He is not.  It is just that his brain is wired differently. Unfortunately, when he finally gets the courage to confront his stern and ridged father it is too late. Rich is already gone. The message is obvious.

There is much more in this touching family drama than Rich’s premature death.  The author takes on many themes, living with a disability, adult unresolved painful childhood memories, chronic depression, and the stages of grief. Sometimes I thought the author went too heavy on the characters’ exhausting emotions.  It became tedious to read. But then again, maybe that was Kline’s point—to put the reader up close and personal to the death of a loved one.  However, for me, sweet Ollie is what grabbed my interest and held it throughout the novel.  Watching the boy struggle to understand just what is exactly expected of him when the answer is outside his reasoning melted my heart. Without being preachy, the author gives a lesson in patience, understanding, and the meaning of true acceptance.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review

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“Miracle Creek” by Angie Kim

Genre:  General Fiction/MysteryMircle Creek
Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton
Pub. Date:  April 16, 2019

This complex novel begins with a tossed cigarette causing an explosion that kills two people in what is believed to be premeditated murder.  Still, the story can read more sci-fi than murder-mystery.   This is because of a seemingly bizarre treatment for autism.  Parents who are seeking a miracle cure take their children into a large chamber that looks like a submarine.  The families take ‘dives’ where they are exposed to high levels of pressurized oxygen.  This is an actual treatment commonly used in Asia named “hyperbaric oxygen therapy” (HBOT).  This reviewer needed to google to learn that fact.  You can even buy a chamber online.  Turns out, the author was not bending reality.  Learning this took some of the fun out of the story, but have no fear, this is a very good murder-mystery. The author is a former litigator, which makes for authentic courtroom scenes.

The story centers around a South Korean American couple and their teenage daughter who recently arrived in the United States.  They own and run a small HBOT facility.  A mother and a child, not her own, both die in the chamber due to the explosion.   The mother of the deceased child was taking a parental break and she remained outside for that fatal session. This mom has been known to show her burnout and has said, while the other mothers only thought, “Sometimes I wish my child was dead.”   For this reason, she becomes the murder defendant on trial.  But the author keeps us guessing.  Could it have been the owners, who needed the insurance money?  Or perhaps a protesting mom who does not believe in the therapy?  All the twists make for an entertaining read.  What makes the story complex are the aspects of the characters’ individual lives.  The exhaustion and depression that comes from the daily superhuman caregiving demands placed on the mothers, the difficulty of the immigrant experience, the confusion of the teen who wants to go back to Korea, despite being more American in her speech and mannerisms than her parents will ever be.  It has been reported that HBOT can help with many other medical issues; a white American doctor married to a Korean American woman participates in the dives because his wife says it will help them conceive.  He personally believes the treatments are nonsense but appeases his wife, putting himself in what he considers a humiliating position—Great tension.

Combining a murder-mystery with family issues, the immigrant experience, and the keenly felt, heart-wrenching emotions of the parents makes for an interesting use of the genre.  There is even an emphasis on the social drama provoked by different parenting beliefs.  A group of protesting moms feel those who put their kids in these chambers (which can on rare occasions be dangerous) do not accept their children as they are, and want to ‘fix’ them.  They hold signs reading “I’m a child, not a lab rat.”   In the April 2019 Asian American Writers Workshop (AAWW) interview, the author’s shares that her own son received HBOT treatments.  Once again, Kim uses her personal experience to create a powerful human story disguised as a legal thriller.  Kim’s courtroom drama will pose threat to any others out there.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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