Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto

warm-hearted | romcom | engaging

what it says on the cover …

When Meddy Chan accidentally kills her blind date, she turns to her aunties for help. Their meddling set her up on the date so they kind of owe her.

Although hiding this goddamn dead body is going to be harder than they thought especially when her family’s wedding business has THE biggest wedding of the year happening right now.

It turns out the wedding venue just happens to be managed by Meddy’s ex, aka the one who got away. It’s the worst time to see him again, or…is it? Can Meddy finally find love and make her overbearing family happy?

PUBLISHED: 29th April 2021
SHELF: Romance | Humour
AUTHOR: Jesse Q Sutanto
FORMATS: Paperback | Kindle | AudioBook

Thank you to @HQstories for running a #booktwitter giveaway earlier this year! I was chuffed to bits to win a finished paperback copy of #DialAForAunties for myself and my fellow #bookblogger, @TBRreviews

my review

Writing my review of Dial A For Aunties is rather like trying to restrain a slinky spring or a jack-in-a-box; it’s energetic, playful, exuberant and also rather surprising.  Surprising in the sense that, in amongst the comedy capers, murder, and a handful of romances, beats a cultural heart whose traditions, heritage and ceremonies brought an unexpected depth and  integrity to the story.

In all honesty, the first few chapters weren’t giving me ‘unputdownable’ vibes … but that changed as soon as I realised this was a story not to take too seriously.  The madcap plot line is pure slapstick. It lurches amusingly from the sublime to the ridiculous, recklessly pitching the impulsive characters headlong into a sequence of improbable and whatever-next situations that you should take with good-natured pinch of salt.

Twenty-six year old Meddy Chan is the book’s main character, but where Meddy goes, so too do her beloved Ma, and her three aunts – Big Aunt, Second Aunt, and Fourth Aunt.  I’m sure you don’t need me to explain that Ma is the second-youngest of these close-knit but quarrelsome sisters.  Having emigrated from Jakarta to California to escape an ancient family curse that left all the women as premature widows or divorcées, there’s a gently feminist motif to Dial A For Aunties, and it’s been tightly and tenderly bound in a sentimental, unconditional familial love.  For me, Ma and the aunties are the stars of the show; they bicker and constantly provoke each other, they’re spirited and cheeky with a depth of love for each other and for Meddy that pours out of the page. In an east-meets-west mêlée, the author makes the most of comical misunderstandings of language barriers, culture clashes, and the hazards of misusing of the aubergine emoji.

Meddy’s Ma is always on the lookout for the perfect husband for her only daughter … to the point where she poses as her in an online dating website, making generous use of aubergines and other euphemistic icons. As disastrous dates go, Meddy’s couldn’t be much worse … I mean, we’ve probably all made use of the bad-date-rescue-call once or twice, but how about tasering the guy?  And then dragging his body into the boot of your car? In well-meaning unison the aunts gather, characteristically squabble, and then embark on a series of increasingly complicated ‘solutions’ that sees them transporting the body in a cake chiller to the most high-profile, high society wedding of the year. 

Dial A For Aunties is a story of three parts, and by the end of part one I’ve given myself up to the marvellous absurdity of it, the author having established a charming balance of silliness and big-hearted affection.  Her scene setting is spot-on, to the point where my tummy rumbled enviously with all the foodie references … although Second Aunt’s suggestion of chopping up the body and making (lots of) curry did efficiently quell my appetite. During part two, the author uses the ceremonial wedding rituals to showcase her love and respect for Chinese and Indonesian traditions beautifully … all offset by the ongoing escapades of four opinionated ladies taking ever-more harebrained risks to hide a dead body in a luxury island hotel filled with two-thousand (I kid you not) wedding guests. 

And by part three?  

Well, it’s fair to say all bets are off. In the preceding chapters I was doing – IMHO – a pretty impressive job of keeping up with the unpredictable flamboyance of the plot.  Part two had introduced a Sheriff and an incoming tropical storm, so armchair-puzzle-solver me immediately leapt to conclusions … and they were way off! The author’s propensity for completely and utterly evading bland predictability is truly remarkable. Some of the last-minute twists were definitely cause for incredulous giggles, but there were others that required rather too large a leaps of imagination.  As for the storm, well it was handy for blowing away all the inconvenient details, both literally and figuratively.

Yes, I have enjoyed Dial A For Aunties, much more than I expected to, but I do have some buts.  They’ve arisen only because I would say I’m absolutely not the target market for the book.  Yes, I enjoy a story that’s unpredictable, and yes I have a good sense of (dark) humour, but I think I’m a notch older than the readers the author had in mind.  It was the vernacular that I was most out of tune with.  Only in fleeting glimpses mind you! 

  • Occasionally, I’d spotted sentences such as “I cannot.” My inner pedant was bellowing, ‘well what on earth does that mean? It’s an incomplete sentence! I cannot what?  What is this abomination?’  My poor, traditionalist brain simply could not compute … is this yoof-speak or is it an americanisation? To invoke the Aunts’ use of emojis, I was a bit 😤🤯😲 
  • I also found the language-flips a bit jarring; quite often in the dialogues the Aunts’ would flit from English to Mandarin and Cantonese.  I can’t dispute they brought authenticity to the dialogue between characters for whom English isn’t their mother tongue, but I feel that if the Mandarin and Cantonese words had been printed in italics it would have been easier to transition between them as I was reading.

So, heading back on track, please don’t over-think my two ‘buts’ in any way.  They are just my own personal taste – some might say obstinacy – and they in no way diminished my enjoyment of Dial A For Aunties. This is a big-hearted family tale whose culture, bonds and love have provided a rich and respectful foundation onto which the author has woven a colourful, absorbing and unpredictable comedic tapestry. It’s uplifting and rollicking good fun.

I’ve been buddy-reading Dial A For Aunties with Peter Donnelly @TBRreviews, and I think it’s fair to say that although we both went into this knowing it was very different to our usual reads, neither of us expected to have quite as much fun with it as we did.  It’s been cracking to have someone to share favourite moments and highlights with, not to mention falling quickly into the habit of guessing, ‘here’s what I think might happen next’ … usually to be proven wrong!  Thank you Peter for joining me in this highly enjoyable diversion.

I highly recommend you read Peter’s brilliant review too … click here.

bookshop.org | waterstones.com | amazon.co.uk

author bio

Jesse grew up going back and forth between Jakarta and Singapore and considers both places her homes. After completing a Master’s in creative writing at the University of Oxford, Jesse worked in the wedding industry while pursuing a writing career and now is the author of one adult novel and one YA novel, with more books in the pipeline.

Jesse is passionate about women’s rights and diversity in publishing. She regularly holds giveaways where she critiques queries or the first few pages, and she’s especially interested in helping writers from marginalized communities. Pop over to her website or any of her social media accounts to say hello and get in touch with her.

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