Brand new review: My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa

By Ekta R. Garg

September 15, 2021

Genre: Mystery/thriller

Release date: September 14, 2021

Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars

A young woman finds her roommate murdered. Plagued by memories of her troubled childhood, she tries to figure out what happened to her roommate while also fighting her personal demons. Author Amanda Jayatissa puts in place several thriller elements but ultimately disappoints in her debut novel My Sweet Girl.

Paloma Evans is freaking out. Her roommate, Arun, is dead. Murdered to be exact, and she’s the one who finds his body. While her feelings toward Arun swing between benign and disgust, she certainly didn’t want him to die.

The fact that she found Arun face down in a pool of his own blood is disturbing enough. But Arun recently tried to blackmail her with personal information, and Paloma knows that makes her look culpable. At the very least, it makes her look suspicious. Her last communication to him was an angry text, and she’s horrified to think how the police will view that.

She needed Arun—his rent, anyway. Despite being adopted by a couple of wealthy means, she’s recently been cut off from her parents’ money. Without the stability of those funds coming in, Paloma has been scrambling to pay her bills. She’s gotten involved in some shady ways to earn money, but renting out the second bedroom in her overpriced San Francisco apartment helped. Until Arun went and got himself killed, that is.

Worse is who Paloma thinks is responsible for the murder. She knows no one will take her theory seriously, but it’s the only explanation she has. In the orphanage in Sri Lanka where she lived until she was 12, she and some of the other girls used to scare one another with the story of the ghost Mohini. Even though the Evanses adopted her and gave her everything she could ever want and more, some superstitions die hard. Paloma is convinced Mohini traveled to California with her and was waiting for the right moment to scare her again. Killing Arun seems to be the right time.

On top of everything else, Paloma can’t stop drinking. It’s her way of coping with all the hardships in her life. Once she finds Arun’s body, she leaves her apartment and moves into her parents’ fancy home in the suburbs. There she starts watching the neighbors who, in turn, spook her with their seemingly suspicious behavior. The longer Arun’s murder goes unsolved, the more she’s convinced that someone or something is out to get her. But who? And why?

Author Amanda Jayatissa uses her own heritage to form the backdrop of this book but doesn’t take full advantage of it. Paloma could have been adopted from any foreign country with a culture of ghost stories, and the result would have been the same. While the publication of an Own Voices book is to be applauded, there’s not much here that makes the Sri Lankan culture in particular stand out.

What does stand out, however, is Paloma’s penchant for swearing. The story is littered with the f-word with several uses on every page. It becomes tiresome and almost offensive at points. Also, it stands at odds with the implications of Paloma’s childhood. If her mother was so perfect and such a public figure loved by all—and one of those mothers who constantly offered Paloma advice on how to maintain appearances—wouldn’t she object at some point to the language Paloma used?

Also problematic is Paloma as an unreliable narrator. Readers spend the majority of the book inside her head, and at times the running internal monologue drags the pace down. Paloma spends a great deal of time wringing her hands. Her almost perpetual drunkenness marks her untrustworthy. Had she engaged in her surroundings in the way that the protagonists of The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl did, the book would have been much more engaging. Instead, readers get a main character who is sitting around feeling sorry for herself and who is letting her alcohol-infused state cloud everything from her judgment to her vision.

The book also suffers from a mild identity crisis. Is it supposed to be about different cultures? Is it a straight-out thriller? Is it a character study? The novel attempts to be all these but succeeds at none.

A twist in the plot late in the book lifts it for a short time, but the climax drags it right down again with a monologue and an ending that will leave readers thinking, “So what?”. I recommend readers Bypass My Sweet Girl.

Newest review: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

By Ekta R. Garg

Sept. 1, 2021

Genre: YA mystery

Release date: Aug. 31, 2021

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

A teenager follows in her famous big brother’s footsteps and turns sleuth when a woman goes missing. Undaunted by society’s expectations of her gender or her age, the teen uses her wits and her resources to work on the case. Author Nancy Springer continues the wonderful adventures of her spunky, refreshing young heroine in her newest book Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche.

Despite what London naysayers might think, Enola Holmes is quite capable of taking care of herself. Never mind that she’s only 15; as the younger sister of the world-famous Sherlock Holmes, Enola has the smarts, the charm, and the determination of her older brother. She also has something he doesn’t: the advantage of female wiles. When it comes to solving cases, Enola doesn’t hesitate to use any combination of all of it.

Of course, Sherlock would rather she not solve cases at all. Since he and Mycroft, the other Holmes sibling, found Enola after the disappearance of their mother, Enola seems bound and determined to stick her nose into his business. While he doesn’t mind admitting that she does have a keen eye for detail and a sense of bravado necessary for sleuthing, Sherlock is constantly battling with Enola on her impetuousness.

It’s this very quality that lands Enola her next case. A woman shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep one day while Enola is checking on her brother who seems a little out of sorts. The woman, Letitia “Letty” Glover, is worried about her twin sister, Felicity. Not long ago, Felicity married the Earl of Dunhench. Now word has come that Felicity has died and already been buried. Nothing for Letty to do now, the earl says.

Letty refuses to believe the letter, however. She and Felicity shared everything with one another, and Letty suspects foul play. The woman’s story touches Enola’s heart, and she promises that she’ll do what she can to find out what happened to Felicity.

Sherlock agrees to join forces with Enola, and together brother and sister start sifting through clues and interviewing people close to the earl. What follows is a case that involves Enola’s dear friend, the Viscount Tewkesbury, several changes of hats, and a strong-willed horse with a mind of its own. Enola finds herself in danger and the strangest of circumstances more than once, but like her brother she refuses to give up until she solves the case.

Author Nancy Springer recreates London in the 1800s with precision. She balances all of the elements of high society and fashion with the challenges a young woman faced back then to pursue acts of substance. Through it all, she also establishes the bond between Enola and Sherlock with ease. Brother and sister frequently get in each other’s way but also rely on one another when the stakes matter most, which will endear them even more both separately and as a unit to readers.

Springer offers modern readers the best of classic novels in fresh, exciting prose. Readers will have no trouble cheering on Enola as she outwits the earl, his henchmen, and even Sherlock from time to time. The Viscount Tewkesbury’s presence provides friendship without the pressure of a romantic entanglement. Clearly Enola is having way too much fun solving cases to put her heart on the line for anyone, and she doesn’t mind it. Neither will readers.

In addition to being a satisfying look at life in that time period, the mystery also builds and will hold readers’ attention. Young adult and adult readers who love old-fashioned stories with a modern feel will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Binge Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche.