Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Title: Orphan Monster Spy
Author: Matt Killeen
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Pages: 423
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Orphan Monster Spy is the rapid progression evident in the life of 15-year-old Sarah, blue-eyed and blonde, surname unknown, whose mother is shot dead by Nazi soldiers at a checkpoint, just as they are about to flee.

Life is about to get very dangerous for Sarah. It is August 28, 1939, the beginning of World War II when Nazi supremacy is at its height in Germany. Not a propitious time to be an orphan and the worst time to be a Jew.

The Jewish Sarah, daughter of a non-Jewish German father who turned away from them once Hitler proclaimed war on Jews, must now fend for herself, live by her wits, and escape she knows not where.

By chance, she is led to Helmut Haller, a Nazi. But Haller is only pretending to be a Nazi. His true self, Captain Jeremy Floyd, is a spy against the Nationalist Socialist regime, and nurtures Jewish sympathies. He is also a consummate actor and he teaches Sarah to hone her innate skills.

Meanwhile, the threat posed by the Nazis is growing. They are like mold. They’ve grown and now they’re everywhere.

Hans Schafer is a Nazi scientist who is developing a bomb that can flatten a city. Schafer has a daughter, Elsa, who is Sarah’s age, and is studying at a prestigious school. Haller gets Sarah admitted to the school and entrusts her with the task of infiltrating Fraulein Schafer’s life, and her home and stealing the blueprints relating to the bomb.

But the mission is not going to be easy. It is a tough job even for a 15-year-old, let alone one that is undernourished enough to pass for 11.

Sarah’s peace of mind is threatened by Von Scharnhorst, the head girl, also known as the Ice Queen, who could spell the end of her mission. For Elsa belongs to the Ice Queen’s coterie. To make matters worse, the spectre of the Reich hangs over the school, making it far deadlier than the average battlefield of American High School.

In a culture that stresses on the survival of the fittest, the timid girls are bullied. The girls are known by their surnames, all personal touch and individuality erased. The strongest girls are drunk on notions of supremacy.

Survival means identifying yourself with the Nazi cause. Each time Sarah chants the Fuhrer’s name, she feels as if a piece of her has died. Increasingly grubby and unwashed.

As each step takes her closer to her mission, she feels more miserable, understanding the inherent dilemma of being a spy. Joy and misery cooked in the same pot, tasting of both and neither.

The story makes the war come alive, the horror of it, the meaningless deaths, of people caught unawares by events larger than they should have been. We hear of Kristallnacht, the terrible night when Jews were attacked in their homes and establishments, the violence becoming mainstream for the first time.

As the horrors mount in magnitude and intensity, we see the pain inside Sarah increase. At first the pain is tiny, like something her mother would keep expensive jewelry in. Over the six years of Nazi power, it becomes a traveling trunk, varnish blistered and swollen, until Sarah imagines herself becoming the box.

We suffer many heart-in-the-mouth moments on behalf of Sarah and there are so many of these moments. No child should have to suffer fear the way Sarah does, and yet Sarah is only a fictional representation of the countless kids that did.

I liked the character of Sarah, her resourcefulness. I adored her naivete and childlikeness and admired her precociousness and maturity. How she acts like a little girl, yet is capable of thinking on her feet when the need arises. I found it interesting that she looks at people’s bookshelves to see what kind of people they are.

There are many facets to Sarah. She quotes from the Arthashastra, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” She is a gymnast who practiced at home when Jews were forbidden to compete. Who saw Jesse Owens live and experienced vicariously the thrill of beating the “superior race.”

She is a good person, who is forced into the character of a Monster, while at the school. But she is still a child, even if she is forced into adulthood. When she is happy, she feels a happy little ripple of tingles like the night before a birthday.

Sarah grows on us. We get recollections of her early childhood when she was starving, her mother too ill to work. It’s hard to tell whether this part of the narrative is a memory or a nightmare. Perhaps it is both.

The book is peppered with German words, which lend a great degree of authenticity to the story. There are some beautiful lines that stand out, a lot of them coming in the dead mother’s voice.

Sarah’s mother’s voice eggs her on. It teaches her to pay attention to the other characters in the cast, to feed off them.

You play the part all the way into the wings, on into the dressing room. You don’t stop until the final curtain.

Take the horror and use it.

Stay in character. You can be at the back, stuck in the chorus, but there will be one person staring right at you if you drop your mask.

Haller tells her further, Never lie when you can tell the truth.

Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth, Haller says at one time. Orphan Monster Spy is also a piece of art that helps us understand better the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime.

At another point, Haller describes the insecurities thrust on them as a result of Nazism in this way: Like a badly written book that had to be read to the end.

Orphan Monster Spy, on the other hand, is an extremely well written book that I savoured to the end. I was sorry to say goodbye to Sarah and Captain Floyd.

I sure hope there’s a Book 2.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Title: The Punishment She Deserves
Author: Elizabeth George
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 692
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Lately, it seems I’m only reading series, and clocking in too late. The Punishment She Deserves is the 20th book in the Inspector Lynley series, a series I’d never heard of before. But one that I liked enough to consider reading the other books.

The story begins on December 15, year unknown, when Gaz Ruddock, a police community service officer, breaks up the merrymaking of college students gathered at a local pub. The students include Finnegan Freeman, Dena Donaldson, Bruce Castle and Melissa Lomax.

On May 4, the following year, we presume, we meet Barbara Havers from the Metropolitan Police department. She is a detective sergeant at New Scotland Yard. She reports to Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, who in turn reports to Detective Chief Sergeant Isabelle Ardery. DCS Ardery and her superior, David Hillier, are both fed up of Barbara and her unconventional behaviour and are looking for an excuse to transfer her.

Ian Druitt, a deacon, is arrested on charges of paedophilia. Taken into custody by Ruddock on a night when the regular police staff is busy with a spate of burglaries, Druitt dies in custody, and investigators deem it a case of death by suicide.

Druitt’s father, a wealthy man, refuses to believe the allegations against his son, or the judgement of suicide, and calls for an investigation. Isabelle and Barbara are assigned to Ludlow, the site of the incident, to determine whether the investigation was properly handled.

While Isabelle is convinced, Barbara believes that there is more to the situation. She soon becomes convinced that Druitt might have been murdered. She succeeds in convincing Lynley that her suspicions are right, and before long they are both sent back to Ludlow to investigate the truth behind the allegations against Druitt and the death.

Since the dateline does not include the year, it is initially hard to figure out the order in which events take place and which event influences which one. The story starts on December 15 and then jumps months forward to an entirely different set of characters, leaving us clueless about what might have happened on the 15th.

There were so many characters in this book. Initially it was hard to see how they were connected, and the point behind them all.

Each character seems to be on its own trajectory. We learn that Melissa, a brilliant student at college, suddenly decides to drop out and get married. That Finnegan’s mother is worried about him and has assigned Ruddock to keep an eye on him. That Finnegan’s parents’ marriage is on shaky ground. That Dena and Bruce have some relationship drama going on. That Dena has been through something unspeakably horrible in the past. That Melissa’s sister has killed herself and the family is disintegrating, even as the marriage of her parents has completely fallen apart.

There were some common themes that showed through these stories. Of men and women, several of them mothers, making terrible mistakes, but eventually, seeking to right things, make amends for what has gone wrong. And so, while there were terrible sins, there was also forgiveness and redemption.

As each of these stories played out, I wondered what they were doing there, and how they were related to the death that Barbara and Lynley were investigating.

My interest flagged just a wee bit but then again the delays and parallel track stories made this police procedural seem more realistic rather than the stories of Holmes and Poirot making deductions out of thin air, which though fun (and I speak as a huge fan), aren’t real.

I liked Barbara right from the start, and resented the derogatory tone with which Isabelle looked down upon her, and I positioned myself firmly by the side of Barbara. I was also impressed with the characterization of Lynley, who is an anachronism, a good man and a good policeman, wrapped in the body of a thorough gentleman.

There is drama in everyone’s lives. Barbara has the professional fear of transfer, besides the tap dancing class that colleague Dorothea cons her into taking up.

Isabelle is about to lose her twin sons as her ex-husband and his wife are planning to take them to New Zealand, her alcoholism might cause her to be fired from the force. Lynley has relationship troubles.

I liked the author’s style of writing: She decided to hold that on another burner of the cooktop.

Of Rabiah Lomax’s solicitor, Aeschylus King, He always sounded like a combination of an eighteenth-century gentleman, Confucius, and a fortune cookie.

What ran between them would have kept a refrigerator operational for at least a month.

I also liked the banter between Thomas Lynley and Barbara, where retort follows repartee, and they can finish each other’s sentences. It was good to see the manner in which they worked together. There were many lines when I chuckled softly to myself.

The conversation on the murder scene in Psycho was funny, as was the bit about Peace on Earth, the all-rounder at their hotel in Ludlow. There was also a reference to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca de Winter who was murdered. There is a Shakespeare quote, the lady doth protest too much, and a reference to Cinderella’s coachman turning into a pumpkin, besides Lynley’s reference to Oedipus.

The author did a good job of bringing England to life. The descriptions conjured up images of the countryside of England. The British slang, with its repeated references to words like bonk, chuffed to bits, bloke etc, was interesting, though a little confusing at first, but I ‘twigged on’ to it eventually.

Initially, it seemed to me, that we were given far more information about the personal lives of the characters than was necessary for the resolution of the crime. As the book plodded on, I realized that since this is a series, loyal readers would welcome the chance to know more about the characters.

Overall, I liked the author’s style and the slow, simmering way with which everything came together.

But be warned that at 692 pages, the story took far too long to reach its conclusion. Also, be warned that the book contains references to sexual activity and some bad language.

I would have appreciated a few hundred pages less. Fortunately, every single loose end was tied up satisfactorily.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


Title: Murder On Union Square
Author: Victoria Thompson
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 304
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Murder on Union Square was the 21st book of the Gaslight Mysteries series, and so there was much that I could not relate to. Even so, I plodded through, hoping the mystery would make for enjoyable reading.

It didn’t.

Sarah and Frank Malloy want to adopt Catherine, the illegitimate daughter of David Wilbanks and actress Emma Hardy. Emma’s husband, actor Parnell Vaughn, is willing to sign away his custody rights, but actress Eliza Grimes, who claims to be his fiancée, insists on payment of $1000.

On the day when Frank goes to the theatre to get Vaughn’s signature, he comes across the bloodied body of Vaughn. Just then Eliza shows up and accuses Frank of having murdered Vaughn.

Frank is arrested and later released on bail. The lawyer assures Frank that he can bury the case so he is free to live his life. But Frank is determined to solve the mystery and expose the real killer.

Sarah and Frank work jointly on the investigation, with Frank’s assistant Gino and the couple’s nanny, Maeve, also aiding in the investigation.

The suspects are Adelia Hawkes, who played the part of the leading lady to Vaughn’s leading man, despite being Vaughn’s senior by 15 years, and who professed to be in love with him. There is Adelia’s husband, Baxter, who must have resented his wife’s sexual relationships with Vaughn.

There is Eliza, who claims to be Vaughn’s fiancée, and Armistead Winters, the man who is in love with Eliza, and resented her closeness with Vaughn.

Lastly, there is theatrical agent Dinsmore who was the last to see Vaughn alive.

The background became clear soon enough. Apparently, Frank ran a detective agency, after having unceremoniously lost his job in the police force. And Sarah is a former midwife who is building a maternity clinic.

Right away I must say that I wasn’t too impressed with the mystery. It didn’t seem solid and airtight, which is the impression that a good murder mystery should leave you with.

The author indicates that the mystery is compounded by the fact that the murder happens in the theatre so anyone could have killed him and washed the stains off. What’s more, all the suspects are actors, and therefore, capable of playing roles, and lying artfully.

While the story starts with the couple wanting to adopt Catherine, we don’t see much of the child. The plot revolves totally around the murder.

Because the state of forensic medicine and investigative methods are far less developed, Frank and his team have no option but to question the suspects in an attempt to get at the truth. So they end up splitting hairs over the details in suspects’ accounts in their bid to tease out the killer.

Even so, it is annoying when they keep asking repetitive questions, hoping to catch suspects lying or hoping to encounter inconsistencies in the stories. 

Each time they think of something new, they return to the same suspects with a few more questions. I’m surprised the suspects allow them to hang around for so long.

Also, the part where Frank, Sarah, Gino and Maeve sit down and chat with each other, exchanging findings and trading suspicions was tedious.

The senior Mrs Molloy was another irritant. Apparently, her role was to innocuously suggest some breakthrough, on account of the fact that she devours film magazines. She was a very tepid character, despite the author's attempt to pass her off as someone formidable.

Another thing that rankled was that when most characters expressed unwillingness to speak with Frank because he was the prime accused, he defended himself saying, if I had killed him, would I be so eager to find out the truth? Pretty lame defence.

What’s more, even after they figure out an important clue, they don’t solve the mystery, but keep going around and around in circles.

The pace does not ever speed up and there is no sense of a deadline menacing over them. As a reader, I didn’t feel compelled to guess the identity of the killer. On the contrary, I felt a huge sense of boredom, hoping they’d come up with something quickly.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Monday, April 30, 2018


Title: The Girl I Used To Be
Author: Mary Torjussen
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 368
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Girl I Used To Be was my second book by Mary Torjussen, the first being Gone Without a Trace.

The Prologue takes us back 15 years ago on August 15 when something unspeakable happened to a young unnamed girl.

15 years later, in the present day, we meet Gemma Brogan, owner of her own real estate agency and happily married to Joe and mother of three-year-old Rory.

She has a problem with alcohol and has financial issues caused by an economic slump and the fact that Joe is a stay-at-home dad.

Away at a conference, Gemma ends up drinking a little too much during dinner with a prospective client, David Sanderson. That night, David kisses her outside the door of her hotel room. She hides this fact from Joe, and wallows in guilt at the memory of the kiss that she never wanted. But her biggest nightmare begins a month later.

It appears that somebody is trying to blackmail her, but there is no demand being made by the blackmailer. First the bill for the dinner at the restaurant comes to her in the mail. This is followed by a photo of David kissing her, a video in which she is drunkenly cribbing about her husband, and then another video in which she is lying stark naked on the hotel bed, followed by the black lace panties she was wearing at the time.

Who is David, and why is he doing this? Will Gemma’s already strained marriage survive this burden? How far will the blackmailer go in his attempt to destroy her.

The story is well written and manages to hold our attention. Gemma is a character who has some strain from her past, but the fact that she has managed to some extent to put that strain behind her and live her life endears her to us.

The story is written in the first person past tense point of view of Gemma in Part 1. In Part 2, the PoVs alternate between Gemma and another character.

I didn’t like Gemma at first. She went on and on about how overworked she was, and how Joe seemed to relax far too much. She is aware that resentment can corrode a marriage, yet she continued to wallow in it.

But then as the book went on, I began to feel sorry for her. I began to understand why she made such dubious choices, and how deeply her past influenced her.

The book started on a good footing, but halfway through, I felt the pace suddenly increase, with nothing to show for it. The part where Gemma moved to her parents’ house with Rory seemed completely unnecessary, as she could just as well have seen the photos of the party sitting in her own home.

Other than Gemma, I didn’t feel invested in any of the characters. Joe seems to be rather selfish. Not only is he not interested in looking for work, he is keen on uprooting the family and moving to Ireland, for his own selfish desires, while the burden of keeping the family finances going falls on Gemma. 

Not surprisingly, Gemma resents the compulsion to sell and start afresh. It puts a strain on the marriage, a strain that is already building up on account of the things that she is hiding from her husband.

Rory seems unreal, talking like a much older child. Despite being only three, he didn’t speak like a child. My own kids used to surprise me at that age too, but this little chap correctly translated a French phrase, meaning, not in front of the child. And he isn’t even growing up in a bilingual household.

We don’t see much of Caitlin, and Gemma’s colleagues, Lucy, Sophie and Brian. As a result, they all came out rather bland. Rachel was the only character who got a bit of a back story which enlivened her.

On the other hand, Alex, a character who is very significant to the story, appears far more real, despite having the least visible presence in the story.

I was slightly confused when the author allowed two women to use the phrase, the girl I used to be, from the title. I also thought the book could have been much shorter.

All in all, I thought this one started well, but fumbled towards the end. I wasn’t too impressed with this one.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Title: A Brush WIth Shadows (Lady Darby Mystery #6)
Author: Anna Lee Huber
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 384
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

I had never even heard of Lady Darby. And in the very first chapter, she let on that she had participated in many murderous enquiries. How can enquiries be murderous, I wondered. Still I braced myself for a slow 1800s-pace read.

Sebastian Gage and his wife, Kiera, known as Lady Darby on account of her first marriage, both of who are enquiry agents, are invited to Tavistock Manor, the home of Viscount Tavistock, his maternal grandfather, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his cousin, Alfred, who walked out to the moor 11 days ago and never returned. Alfred is the heir to his grandfather’s wealth, and hence his grandfather wants him found.

The return home after 15 years is not a happy one for Gage, who had left the manor, vowing never to return, after his mother had been murdered. Worse, now that he is back, someone, it seems, wants them to leave, and is willing to resort to foul play to get rid of them.

At first, Gage and Kiera believe that Alfred is hiding somewhere, possibly with the connivance of his mother, Gage’s aunt, or his friends. Since Alfred’s brother, Rory, is next in line, they suspect him of having done away with Alfred, particularly when Rory starts behaving strangely.

Then as they learn of the Swing letters, letters sent to farmers and landowners, warning them to destroy their threshing machines or else make their wills, they begin to fear that Alfred might have met with foul play. And then Rory disappears.

Will Gage and Kiera find both brothers soon or will the unknown villain succeed in his dastardly plan?

The intrigue starts soon enough when somebody enters their room, and nearly attacks them while they are asleep. But these moments are not frequent enough. The pace is rather slow, as can be expected of a time when the fastest speed could only be achieved on horseback.

The state of medicine and the law are antiquated by at least a century. We see this when Kiera analyses the poison, she observes it, and examines consistency, colour, appearance, scent and taste. She cannot check the composition.

The mystery presents somewhat of a challenge, as the couple are plagued by the tension-fraught family dynamics. Gage’s aunt used to treat his noble-born mother and common father with disdain. She is rather hostile. The family also disapproved of Lady Darby on account of her past. Gage himself is deeply affected by the tension in the relationships, and cannot discuss the case with an impartial air.

Contrary to popular belief that the Victorians were a prudish lot, Lady Darby and Gage enjoy their romp in the sheets, and the narrative tells us that often enough. Only they prefer to use words like relations and distraction to describe it. Of course, this is a mystery, not erotica, so most of the telling is suggestive, rather than revalatory, in nature.

The writing evokes the notions of the time when good manners and good breeding were considered synonymous with good character. It is in this spirit that Lady Darby describes the behaviour of Lord Glanville, friend of Alfred, as being inexcusable, as he has not been raised badly or had the disadvantage of being an American.

We also get an understanding of the norms and mores that were in practice in a noble household, the relations between the masters, the Viscount, Dowager Baroness Langstone, and the servant class, including Hammett, the viscount’s butler. And everyone, servants and aristocrats, equally pretentious in their own way, scoffing at those who don’t live up to their exacting high standards.

It was such a tiresome time, when a lady needed help to dress herself, when husbands and wives were allotted separate, adjoining bedrooms. The book brings that out well.

The author does a great job of invoking the period, from the costumes, (women could not respectably wear pantaloons and riding boots.) to the fact that women had no identity or authority of their own, except as given to them by the males in their lives. Gage’s grandfather thinks women should be deferential. Some things sadly remain unchanged today. Women then, as today, are described as saucy bits o’ muslin askin’ for it.

We also get a sense of the dark myths and legends that prevailed in an era when so much was still obscure.

The language also helps place the period. And so we have a surfeit of words like countenance, demeanour. scowl, thusly etc and phrases such as “no love lost,” “neither hide nor hair,” “on some lark,” “in one fell swoop” etc. The phrase, the other side of the blanket, is used to describe illegitimacy. Rory describes the swing letters as naught but toothless yammering.

The descriptions of the outdoors were beautiful. The moors have always fascinated me since Emily Bronte used it as her setting in Wuthering Heights. Here, the author uses the setting to create a deep sense of mystery.

The manor had the feel of Manderley, in Rebecca, where the very house appears treacherous.

Kiera is an interesting character on account of her background (her former husband used to force her to make anatomical drawings), but she wasn’t as feisty as I would have liked her to be. The background was something that she referred to often enough, but since this was my first of the series, I felt a little lost.

Her past, when she was treated like a social pariah, makes her a very interesting character. It was nice to see her respond to the loneliness of Lorna Galloway and accept the tentative offer of friendship she offered.

The story showed a lot of promise that petered out towards the end. There were secret passages in the house which offered a lot of potential. In the end, however, it seemed like more of a family drama than a thriller, with Gage spending far too long confronting the demons of his past.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Thursday, March 08, 2018


Title: Close to Home (DI Adam Fawley #1)
Author: Cara Hunter
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 320
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

An 8-year-old girl, Daisy Mason, disappears from her home while her parents, Barry and Sharon, are hosting a barbecue party. DI Adam Fawley believes that it is someone close, a family member or someone in the community who is responsible.

Adam and his team, Gareth Quinn, Chris Gislingham, Verity Everett and Andrew Baxter, among others, question the neighbours and guests. The fate of Daisy takes a dangerous turn when her leggings are found all bloodied in a bin. That’s when the police discover something even stranger. The kid that everyone thought of as Daisy at the party wasn’t Daisy at all. So where is Daisy?

There are other questions that bother Fawley. Why is Barry so defensive under questioning? Why does Sharon appear so cold and calculating? And surely there is something wrong with Daisy’s older brother, 10-year-old Leo, who appears secretive and strange?

As the police struggle for answers, public opinion heats up, and the pressure to solve the case mounts up. But will the police find Daisy or will it be too late?

Along the way, we are taken on flashbacks of the day of the disappearance, dating back to the day before the disappearance, and then 2 weeks, 42 days, 55 days, 68 days, 69 days, 71 days, 79 days, 94 days, and even 106 days before her disappearance. The earliest flashback goes back all the way to the year 1991 when Sharon is a child of 14, who has just lost her little sister.

With each flashback, secrets and lies come tumbling out and more elements fall into place. But we are unable to piece them together and we wait for the police, who do not have the benefit of these flashbacks, to do that for us.

As the flashbacks go further and further back in time, I wondered why they didn’t start at the earliest period and then go forward in time, so we could see how things turned out. At first, I could not understand the reason for why these flashbacks weren’t converging on the day of the disappearance, but by the end of the book, I understood why it was so.

The story is written in the first person present tense point of view of Adam, as also the 3rd person present tense viewpoints of Everett, Quinn, Gislingham and the other characters, including the members of the Mason family and the teachers. The format is rendered even more interesting by the addition of tweets, FaceBook posts, transcripts of key witnesses being questioned, emails and news reports. These elements add layers of authenticity to the narrative.

Pop culture references to fairy tales such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, films like Brave, and the names of football clubs (The quip on Aston Villa was funny) and TV police procedurals also helped root the story in reality.

While these elements were interesting, the Twitter conversations quickly became tedious and excessive, especially when they stretch over pages. Thankfully, they disappeared during the investigation, then began to show up once again, as the case appeared to be wrapped up by the police.

I found this book disturbing on account of a number of factors, including the dysfunctional family unit, the danger posed by a paedophile gang that abuses young children, and the sheer horror of a young child vanishing so completely from the comfort of her home.

The omniscient narrator takes us into the lives of the protagonists. The characters are all well-fleshed out. Especially the parents, Sharon and Barry Mason. Their behaviour is odd; it seems as if they are guilty and hiding something. As we come to terms with their behaviour, we see the influence on the kids, and understand the influence of the family unit on the individual.

Leo was the one Mason that my heart went out to. He is so secretive, and withdrawn. Knowing that he was bullied at school, and unloved at home, was bad enough. When I learned that Leo suffered from Fetal Alcoholism Syndrome, I wanted to reach into the pages of the book, and give him a warm, reassuring hug. It was yet another reminder that so much of our physical and mental makeup is inherited, and how we live our lives with the odds stacked against us, thanks to decisions made by others.

Daisy herself, though only an innocent child, sometimes comes across as mean and manipulative in the flashbacks. Despite her flaws, I liked Daisy for her concern for Leo, for the fact that she tells her father that he made it to the school football team, when Barry pays no attention to his son at all. Even though, for the most part, she doesn’t seem likeable, we, as readers, don’t lose sight of the fact that she is still a child who needs to be rescued and brought home quickly.

Adam has his own family history, which is not fully explored, but which we see in bits and pieces. He and his wife, Alex, lost their young son, Jake, to suicide. His loss causes him to take the case more personally, and I appreciated the fact that he understood Leo’s desire to self-harm: Doing this hurts less than all the rest of the hurt, doesn’t it? It makes it feel a bit better. Even if only for a little while.

The police team was able and efficient. Led by DI Adam Fawley, and ably supported by Gareth Quinn, Chris Gislingham and Verity Everett, I liked the dedication with which they worked first to find Daisy safely, and then to seek justice for her. I’d like to see this team in action in another book.

Neither the police nor I had the slightest clue about what could have happened to Daisy and where she might be. Even so, I was impressed with the turn of the investigation, and the manner in which the police built their case.

As the investigation proceeds, we find the accusing finger pointing at different people in turn. And because of Fawley’s contention that it’s the closest people that are to blame, we can’t help but look askance at Barry, Sharon and even Leo.

The book was tightly plotted and I was impressed with the resolution of the case, and with the fact that random details about the father’s profession and mother’s behaviour were carefully tracked. It was only when the twist showed up in the Epilogue that I felt cheated.

No matter how twisted the twist, there must be an explanation for why a character did what they did, and how. None of those answers were forthcoming.

It was misleading that the Prologue and the Epilogue took us in different directions; that the Prologue did not, in fact, reveal its promise at all through the course of the book.

Had the twist been better explained, I would have given this book 5 stars. As it is, I’m going with 4.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Title: The Joy of Mindful Writing: Notes to inspire creative awareness
Author: Joy Kenward
Publisher: Leaping Hare Press
Pages: 144
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

No book on writing can teach us how to write. It can, however, coach us to write better, steer us to think more effectively. And that is why they serve a purpose.

Writing my first book has been a long-held dream, one that I find myself deferring at the close of each year. I picked up this book in the hope that a mindfulness infused approach would help me put pen to paper and finally finish that manuscript.

I was certainly in a position to benefit. Hard-pressed as  I am for time, I find myself routinely giving way to doubts about whether my writing is of value and whether  the world  cares.

When I first started reading, I wondered what mindfulness had to do with writing, but I was convinced soon enough.

The author builds a most effective case for mindfulness, arguing how the heightened level of awareness and attention to detail that listening to all our senses brings to our lives can only enhance our writing.

The mindfulness exercise where you notice your breathing and accept the thoughts that pass through your mind calmly and without judgement helped centre me on the task at hand.

The list-making technique and senses meditation, the walking meditation, the meditation where you write down your daydreams, and respect your tools etc are all designed to induce a sense of calm, where you are able to set aside all distractions, and focus on the task at hand – filling the blank paper with your thoughts and emotions.

The Joy of Mindful Writing benefits from the sense of calmness that the author creates. She seeks to inspire us to give life to our creative voice, to use the right words to create mood and atmosphere.

The author advocates that we buy books to help our writing. Dictionaries, books on English usage, grammar, punctuation, quotable quotes, rhyming, and the meaning of names, and a thesaurus. Except for the rhyming book and the book about the meanings of names, all the others have a place of pride in my collection.

She takes us through the elements of writing, from constructing the narrative, building the structure, to doing the right research. She tells us to imagine an ideal reader who will attentively ‘listen’ to our work. She adds that the intention for the book will emerge.

She brings out the difference between journaling where you express your own inner thoughts and feelings… as closely as possible and fiction where we must try to write opinions that are not your own, and to make them convincing.

Write about what you love, she says. It makes research more appealing.

Mindfulness, according to the author, allows greater access to our knowledge, experiences and emotions, enabling us to be original and creative.

The book raised within me the hope that it was not impossible for me to gain creative awareness.

The author, who suffered from dyslexia as a child, credits her parents and Mr Lewis, her class teacher when she was 10 years old, for gently and patiently enabling her to enjoy reading and writing.

At the end of it all I found it hard to believe that the author ever suffered from dyslexia. So fluid is her writing.

Reading this book helped me nudge myself out of my laziness and start writing again. I've written more in the last month than in the six months preceding that. Mindfulness has definitely helped me.

(I read this book through NetGalley.)

Monday, February 05, 2018


Title: Haunting of Rachel Harroway Omnibus
Author: JS Donovan
Publisher: Kindle publishing
Pages: 376
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The book consists of three short novels, beginning with a prequel, and going on to the solving of a cold case more than 40 years old.

In 1983, Reginald and Lilith live with their children, 9-year-old Amanda and 7-year-old Benny, in their sprawling home, Hadley House, when two masked men enter and shoot them all down mercilessly.

In 2009, Rachel and her husband, Brett, buy the house and move in. She is an artist, specializing in creepy art. He is a nature photographer.

Strange things happen from the very beginning. Doors swing wide open. Things are found in places other than where they had been kept. An annoying couple, Shaw and his wife, Eva, insist they want to buy the house.

The odd thing is that only Rachel senses the fact that something is odd about their new house. Brett remains blissfully unaware. It doesn’t help that Rachel’s mother has been institutionalized. Rachel’s efforts to convey what she is sensing lead others to question her sanity. Rachel herself fears for her own fate.

While in the basement, she is assaulted by horrific episodes of objects flying at her, spiders attacking her, until finally the dead kids reveal themselves to her and ask for help in nailing their killers. Anxious to regain her peace of mind, Rachel goes about investigating the deaths, against the wishes of Brett. Her poking around ruffles feathers, and before long, she and Brett are attacked in their own home.

At the close of this book, Rachel discovers her calling, solving cold murder cases, thanks to her Gift of being able to see dead people, a gift that her mother had. She is invited by Detective Jenson Peak to join the police department and help them solve cases.

In the second book, Haunting of Rachel Harroway, Book 1, which opens years after the prequel, Rachel has accepted Peak’s offer, and now partners with him in solving cold cases. They are called at the scene of a crime where the bones of a 17-year-old girl, dead for 40 years, have been found. Soon Rachel sees the spirits of seven teenagers, all of who were killed in the same manner by a serial killer.

When the body of another teenager is found, killed in the same manner, Rachel and Jenson realise that the killer is very much alive. Now their own lives are in danger, as the serial killer, now a respectable man, tries his best to add Rachel and Peak to his body count.

The third book, Haunting of Rachel Harroway, Book 2, continues the story begun in Book 1. It begins with the discovery of the body of the serial killer, who has been killed by an unknown murderer. Rachel and Peak race to find out who killed the serial killer and if this murderer will strike again. To make matters worse, the serial killer, though dead, plagues Rachel with visions of torture that feel all too real, and threatens her with everlasting torture unless she manages to bring his killer to book.

The descriptions are good and set the mood. The sense of dread that the author evokes in us at Rachel’s plight feels real, even though the tropes used to evoke fear, the silhouette in the mirror, the tug on the shirt when there’s no one around etc, are the usual ones over-used in most paranormal fiction.

Rachel’s character is well drawn. The book gives us the right amount of back story for her, helping us to relate better.

There are several errors like "Reginald raised his aims." Brett is misspelled as Bret in one place.

In one place, the author says, “the sharp of an L.” It should clearly have been ‘shape.’ In another instance, the author says, "After some undisclosed amount of time…" Maybe it was part of an earlier draft that the author failed to weed out.

In the first part, I had an issue with the omniscient narrator’s tone of disrespect. The librarian at the Hudson Library is referred to as “a crone,” while in another case, Rachel’s mother is described as “went off her rocker.”

A good editor could have corrected the grammar and eliminated the shady phrasing. In certain places, the sentence construction was quite awkward. Thankfully, the errors are far fewer in number in Books 1 and 2. Either the author got his act together or he found himself a better editor.

In spite of the errors, I found myself warming up to both Rachel and Peak, enjoying the tension as Rachel sees hundreds of dead people all around. All these dead people have died violent deaths, and are now looking to Rachel to give them justice and peace.

I look forward to reading more of Rachel’s cases.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Review: THE CHALK MAN

Title: The Chalk Man
Author: CJ Tudor
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Pages: 280
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor was truly an edge-of-the-seat thriller. The revelations kept popping right up to the last page. The author kept us peeling layer after layer. There was no respite at all. Some of the layers were so closely entwined that it was hard to tell where one ended and another began.

A girl’s body, minus the head, is found in the deep woods. Despite efforts, the mystery of who killed her remains unresolved, because of the missing head.

The story begins in summer in 1986. Eddie “Munster” Adams, and his friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky are at the fair. An accident at the Waltzer ride brings Eddie face-to-face with Mr Halloran, an English teacher at his school, and Elisa, a girl he thinks of Waltzer Girl, because she suffers a terrible accident at the Waltzer ride.

When Fat Gav receives a tub of coloured chalk as a gift on his 12th birthday, the friends each take home chalks of a particular colour and use it to leave messages for each other.

And then one day the chalk figures appear on their own, directing them to the woods where they find the body of a young girl.

Meanwhile, Sean Cooper, the older brother of Mickey, who used to bully Eddie, turns up dead in the river, and Eddie begins to have nightmares. Before long, Eddie begins to see white chalk figures everywhere, figures filled with menace. Are they real? Or spillovers from his nightmares?

Sean’s death causes Mickey to drift apart from his friends. Nicky leaves town with her estranged mother. 

Years later, in 2016, Mickey returns, wanting Eddie to collaborate with him on a book he wants to publish on the murder that had taken place 30 years ago. Mickey claims that he knows who killed the girl. And then he ends up dead. Police find a paper with a hangman drawn on it, and a piece of chalk in his possession. A replica of the paper that has been sent to him. Eddie wonders if the nightmares will start anew.

The story is written mostly in the first person past tense of Eddie in 1986 and present tense point of view in 2016. The two timelines are presented in alternate chapters.

The plot of the story is revealed very slowly. The disclosure itself comes so slowly that you might almost miss its significance if you aren’t paying attention.

Halfway through the book, I found myself still gingerly feeling my way through, wondering who was the girl whose body had been found, why the religious good didn’t seem so, and why the godless, denounced as evil by the religious, seemed to fumble on. Were the good completely good, and the bad completely bad?

For the child, Eddie, it is all confusing. His mother’s clinic conducts abortions, which are denounced by the anti-abortionists, but the protestors, speaking on the side of the good, are violent and vicious.

Eddie is a complicated character. As a child, he likes to collect things worth collecting and things that he thinks no one will miss. A habit he takes into adulthood.

Eddie has a lopsided worldview that does make sense. Often, what comes with age is not wisdom but intolerance.

What shapes us is not always our achievements but our omissions. Not lies; simply the truths we don’t tell.

And That’s how it is when you’re kids. You can let things go. It gets harder as you get older.

Kids’ worries are bigger because we’re smaller.

Being an adult is only an illusion. When it comes down to it I’m not sure any of us ever really grow up. We simply grow taller and hairier. ... Beneath the veneer of adulthood, beneath the layers of experience we accrue as the years march stoically onwards, we are all still children, with scraped knees and snotty noses, who need our parents. . . and our friends.

Your world shrinks as you grow older. You become Gulliver in your very own Lilliput.

Eddie’s humour also is subtle but strong. When he tells the lodge receptionist about Mickey losing his key card, he says, I wait for the significance of this to dawn. Moss grows around my feet. Glaciers form and melt.

Having had a beloved grandmother and aunts and uncles succumb to Alzheimer’s Disease, I could sense Eddie’s pain when he speaks about his father, a freelance writer, suffering from Alzheimer’s. He says, When the illness started to eat away at his mind, the first thing it swallowed was the thing he loved the most. His words.

Of Gwen, Hoppo’s mum, who also suffers from dementia, Thin, I think, that fabric between realities. Maybe minds aren’t lost.  Maybe they just slip through and find a different place to wander.

He also talks about First losing the objects, then losing the names for the objects. It’s my biggest worry too.

In fact, that was the bit I could relate to. I do a lot of crosswords and read voraciously, hoping to keep my mind sharp, hoping to keep the fear at bay.

Mr Halloran, nicknamed Mr Chalkman by the kids at school, is Eddie’s bogeyman. He is also his English teacher. Being an albino, Mr Halloran’s appearance causes people to look at him strangely. His words to Eddie are, Karma. What you sow, you reap. You do bad things and they’ll come back eventually and bite you on the backside.

For a debut, this one is straight-out fabulous. My mind is still spinning. I can’t wait for her next one.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).


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