Book Review

Iced In Paradise

Iced in Paradise

  • Author: Naomi Hirahara
  • Genre: Cozy Mystery
  • Publication Date: September 3, 2019
  • Publisher: Prospect Park Books
  • Series: Leilani Santiago Hawai’i Mystery #1

CONTENT WARNING: murder, chronic illness, addiction, infidelity, mention of child abuse, stalking, racism

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Leilani Santiago is back in her birthplace, the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, to help keep afloat the family business, a shave ice shack. When she goes to work one morning, she stumbles across a dead body, a young pro surfer who was being coached by her estranged father. As her father soon becomes the No. 1 murder suspect, Leilani must find the real killer and somehow safeguard her ill mother, little sisters, and grandmother while also preserving a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend in Seattle.

I’ve really been enjoying cozy mysteries lately, and I came across this one at the library. While I only visited Hawaii for a 10 day trip, I truly enjoyed it, and figured it could be a great setting for a cozy mystery. Unfortunately what sounded like a great story kind of fell apart in the execution. This book and I just weren’t a good fit.

The description of the setting was perfect. It made me feel like I was right back in Hawaii, and had me dreaming of shave ice. There was a lot of pidgin included in the story, and from what I can recall (although I’m definitely no expert), it sounded pretty legit from what I heard among the locals. Fortunately, there was a glossary at the back of the book (so if you do plan to read this I’d suggest grabbing a hard copy rather than an ebook). 

I struggled to connect with Leilani, and she’s the most well-developed character. She’s a hard-core pessimist. I understand that the difficult life circumstances she’s experienced have molded her personality, but it’s hard to like a character who is literally a walking thundercloud all the time. Even worse, there are a lot of characters thrown at us, and it just felt not a single one of the side characters were developed very well at all. They were just kind of there. After a while, I was able to keep track of Leilani’s sister’s names, but none of them really had distinct personality traits. Honestly, neither did her friends, family members, or any of the people in the area. 

According to the blurb, Leilani was trying to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend, but the relationship definitely didn’t seem like a priority to her at all. There was no substance to their relationship, no connection, no emotional support, nothing that I like to see that makes it feel real. It just felt like an unnecessary side note — it didn’t add tension or emotion, and it didn’t move the plot along in any way. 

Speaking of the plot, this was where I struggled with the book the most. There were elements of the story that just add up. Genres tend to follow patterns, and while some books can deviate from the norm and shine, this one fell short of the mark for me. While a lot of the story is spent chasing dead end clues that just didn’t really fit into anywhere, I was incredibly frustrated to realize that the killer was a character that barely even appeared in the story. There weren’t any surprising plot twists that led to a gasp. Even worse, there were so many loose ends hanging around at the end of the story. And I can’t share one of them without being spoilers, but I’ll just say that something with a swastika appears in the story and is not resolved in a culturally sensitive manner. 

I understand the desire to hook readers into a new series. But as a reader? I prefer to continue reading series because I truly enjoyed the ride, rather than because there’s so many loose ends that I have no choice but to keep reading in the hope that they’ll be resolved in the next book.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.


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