Saturday, February 28, 2015


Title: Dreams Don't Lie
Author: Anusuya M
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 252

Dreams don’t lie by Anusuya M, a novel of the paranormal thriller genre, is an unpolished debut novel that has a lot of potential.

Wasim Khan is a software engineer who lives in Bombay with his mother Rubina, and younger siblings Karim and Sarina. His father, Shakir, works in the Gulf. Wasim is plagued by the same recurring nightmare in which he sees a woman with a baby fleeing for her life, before being attacked and killed by a knife-wielding attacker. 

Despite enjoying his job, he feels restless and longs for adventure. He joins a gang, managed by a man called Kranti. The gang undertakes dangerous adventures for the purpose of doing good.

While on an assignment for this group, he witnesses the death of his father, and becomes aware that his father is not his father. He also learns the truth about his own identity, that he is actually Shiv Dayanand, the scion of an extremely wealthy family from Shanpur and heir to a huge fortune. He also learns that his parents were murdered, betrayed by a family member. Determined to avenge his parents’ deaths, he visits Shanpur. 

But nothing is as it appears. Wasim/Shiv will need every ounce of his courage, besides some help from beyond the grave, if he is to solve the mystery.

Very soon, you find yourself drawn into the world that Anusuya creates. Steadily but relentlessly, she piles up one devastating realization upon another, as we, and Wasim, slowly come to terms with the kind of person that Aditya, his father, was. The author packs it thick with all the revelations, and just when you think that you could not take any more, the paranormal element kicks in.

I liked the character of the girl, Neha, Wasim’s colleague, who is infatuated with him. She is feisty and vivacious and has the confidence to go after what she wants.

Anusuya does an equally good job with the other characters too. Even though we are not given descriptions to most of them, the characters grow on us through their interactions, which come across as believable.

Bonus points to her for pulling off the challenge of the pace so effectively. Shuffling her chapters between Wasim’s love life to his secret life in Kranti’s group to his home life, she ends each chapter well, leaving you wanting to know more.

I liked the way that Anusuya unraveled the truth about Aditya, bit by bit, through his father’s journals and his own investigations. I also liked the way in which she led Wasim down through various investigations and then brought him to a dead-end. It heightened the excitement of the plot.

If only she had managed to get the technicalities of the writing under control. At many points through the novel, it was distracting when the point of view shifted between paragraphs in the same chapter.

The story of Ankita, Neha’s roommate emerges as a subplot that did not fit in very well with Wasim’s story.

The novel is riddled with grammatical errors. It badly needed a good editor to comb through it. At various points, there are pronouns missing, as seen in four consecutive sentences in the Prologue that began with the words, The guest house.

The Prologue began with the first person account of a woman, presumably Anjali, who speaks of her husband, Aditya. Midway through the account, without warning, it changes to the third person perspective. The shift is most disconcerting.

There were times when the tense changed from one sentence to another in the same paragraph. All these errors exist in the Prologue. All in all, it contained the worst writing in the book. Thereafter the writing began to get better as if the author were beginning to ease into her craft and enjoy it to the fullest.

The rest of the novel suffers from questionable punctuation, particularly when the author employs direct speech. There are spelling errors too, for instance, leceherous instead of lecherous, and burgers who steal instead of burglars. I had to make a conscious effort to put these issues out of my mind, and concentrate on the plot which, to her credit, Anusuya pulls off superbly.

There are some continuity issues too, Wasim tells Kranti about Sharath Bejwa, but some pages later when mention of him crops up again, Kranti asks Wasim who the man is, and Wasim explains all over again, forgetting that he has already explained once.

In another instance, Aditya writes in his journal that Anjali’s mother died during her birth. But when he visits her home, there are pictures of the parents with her as a baby.

Despite having an attacker sneak up on him to kill him, Wasim still does not lock his room.

Certain conventions are flouted with impunity. When the scorpion tattoo is spoken of, Wasim remembers having seen it before. Even though we’ve trailed him for most of the book, we don’t know anything about this tattoo. According to the conventions of the genre, if a thing is critical, it must be introduced to the reader beforehand.

The dialogue too could have done with a little more work.

If Anusuya takes care to avoid all these issues, I think we can expect even better from her in her next book, which is most certainly on its way. Dreams don’t lie ends with the carrot of an impending sequel, an excerpt of which is included at the end of the book as a teaser.

(I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair review.)

Monday, February 16, 2015


Title: The Color of Justice
Author: Ace Collins
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Pages: 350

Shades of The Color of Justice reminded me of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, but that is because the basic premise is the same: A white man called upon to defend the innocence of a black man convicted of a crime against a white. 

The story begins in 1964 in the town of Justice, Mississippi, where a young couple out on a date find the brutally murdered, grotesquely twisted body of one of their friends, Becky Booth. The deeply segregated town moves swiftly and a young black boy, Calvin Ross, is arrested for her murder. The evidence against him is mostly circumstantial, but that is enough for the white-dominated town to believe him guilty and bay for his blood.

Cooper Lindsay, a dashing young lawyer, has moved his family back to Justice from Nashville. Busy working on establishing his practice in town, he is surprised when Hattie Ross, Calvin’s aunt, requests him to take up her cause and defend him.

A man with a conscience, Coop feels convicted by his late father’s sermons about the Good Samaritan and agrees to take up the case, hoping there will be no miscarriage of justice. Soon, the town turns against him, hating him for turning against his own kind. At first Coop believes that John David Maltose, the richest man in Justice, is also against Calvin. But he soon learns that Maltose, despite his wealth and reputation, is an upright man.

Investigating the case, Coop finds enough evidence to prove Calvin innocent but not enough to nail the actual killer. Soon after leaving the courtroom, both Coop and Calvin disappear and are never heard of again.

Fifty years later, Clark Cooper Lindsay, grandson of Coop and a lawyer himself, returns to Justice, hoping to find the truth behind his grandfather’s disappearance and give closure to his grandmother. This time he too is offered a case that will test his mettle to the fullest. This time the suspect is white and the victim black.

Maltose’s grandson has been accused of killing a black boy, his close friend. This time Coop has forensic evidence and other modern methods at his disposal. But will the challenge be too difficult for him? And will he solve the mystery of his grandfather’s disappearance while he is at it?

The book is fast paced. I could actually feel the excitement and the rush of wanting to know what would happen next and just how the investigation would pan out.

Another point that I liked is that the author does not paint everyone with the same brush. There are good people among the blacks and the whites, just as there are scoundrels among both.

In the tradition of the best of courtroom dramas, both the Coops have the best lines. They are principled and morally upright men. Unfortunately, there is a flip side to it. When the story jumps fifty years forward, and the leading man is the grandson, it becomes difficult for us, as readers, to distinguish between Coop Sr and Jr.

The story is engaging and pulls you in. Collins’ own convictions about racial issues come to the fore as Hattie says with deep conviction, “Hate just destroys everything it touches.”

The interactions between Hattie and the senior Coop were some of the finest in the book. As is the narrative, as Coop, both of them, slowly comes into his own, his deep conviction guiding him on in the investigation.

The book took much too long to get to the point at the beginning. There was no need to have wasted a whole chapter on the date that wasn’t between Wendy Adams and Frank Baird, and on the characters of the two youngsters, when the only purpose they were meant to serve took effect when Wendy stumbled on the body of her friend.

Also, on two occasions, the author did the summarizing through other characters, and that just didn’t sound convincing enough. First, the older Coop asks Estes, the sheriff, to tell him why he shouldn’t take up the case, and later, he asks his wife, to enumerate the reasons why he might be unwilling to take up Calvin’s case.

I also found the romance between Coop Sr and Judy a little annoying.

Other than these minor issues, I found The Color of Justice to be a beautiful and compelling novel.

(I read a Kindle version of this book on NetGalley.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: JO JOE

Title: Jo Joe
Author: Sally Wiener Grotta
Publisher: Pixel Hall Press
Pages: 314

Jo Joe is about the nature of memory, and about how our experiences and prejudices inevitably shape our beliefs.

The experience of Judith Ormand, the heroine of Jo Joe by Sally Wiener Grotta, reminded me of a quote by Nelson Mandela. “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

Judith’s return to Black Bear, Pennsylvania, the fictional and bigoted small town that she fled 17 years ago as a 17-year-old, is exactly that kind of a journey of self-discovery. A young woman of mixed ethnicity and the last surviving member of her family, Judith, nicknamed Jo, revisits the town her Gramma made her promise she would never return to.

Her Gramma’s death forces her to break that promise, and she returns for a week, determined to look through her maternal grandparents’ effects, retain and dispose of them as required and sell the house before bidding goodbye to Black Bear forever. The act of sorting through their material possessions dredges up long repressed and forgotten memories that Jo would rather not think about. Reviving those memories, she is forced to confront the demons that have stalked her since the day she came to stay in Black Bear after the death of her mother and the remarriage of her father.

Turned away and not fully welcome anywhere, Jo does not retain a sense of belonging towards any place in the world. The residents of Black Bear have always treated Jo with disdain and resentment. Her dark skin, flat nose and kinky hair set her apart from the all-white town. Her Jewishness is at odds with their Christianity. The question is, will Black Bear be any more accepting of her today than it was back then?

As a seventh grader, Jo experienced hate and bigotry at the hands of her school mates. Her only friend was Joe Anderson, who had coined the name Jo out of her initials, creating a name that bound them together. Joe stands up against the bullying she faces at school, fighting against the bigots and haters. And yet, one day, he suddenly turned against her, almost overnight, becoming one of the haters. That was also the dark night on which she is raped by Wayne, Joe’s older brother.

Back in Black Bear, Jo learns that in her will, Gramma left the hunting lodge and $100000 to Joe. Jo contests the will, believing that Gramma would never have included Joe in her will, and that he has deceived her into doing so. After all, Gramma distrusted Joe, believing that he would turn out to be white trash like his father and mother were.

The plot is not linear, but largely fragmented, as is to be expected considering that most of the significant people in Jo’s life are long gone, and must be re-constructed for us through memories, journal entries and other devices. Jo slips effortlessly between the past and the present.

I loved the characters of Grampa and Gramma as seen through Jo’s memories. The warmth of her relationships with her grandparents touches our hearts. They are warm and loving, but they cannot always protect her from hate.

Sally’s descriptions are the hallmark of this story. They make it come alive, bit by bit, layer by layer, using sounds and smells, and making us experience this fictional town of Grotta’s imagination. One gets an impression of every word picked purposefully.

Every word is pure imagery, painting a picture of the locale as seen through Jo’s eyes. Whether she is describing Black Bear of whether she lets us see Africa through Jo’s eyes, we feel enriched by the lush descriptions. These are not descriptions you’ll want to skip, so beautifully are they intertwined with the rest of the story.

To Grotta’s credit, Jo does not always come out squeaky clean. She is so consumed by hate and anger that she is surprised to see good in people. Even as she despises the others for their bigotry, she carries her own prejudices with her. She is surprised to learn that Maybeth Peters, the bitchy, busty head cheerleader and prom queen who used sex to get ahead and tyrannized high school, is now a hardworking single mother. And that her son is an upstanding young man who gets straight As in every subject.

In the end, it isn’t the characters alone who retain misconceptions based on prejudices. We end up making our own assumptions about the kind of people that Grampa and Gramma, Mom and Papa, and Joe were. Making Jo’s first person present tense account our own, we, as readers, accept her prejudices as our own. Through Jo, Grotta shows how our memories can become our ‘personal mythology,’ the prism through which we view the world, the philosophy that we forge for ourselves.

After all, we all live our lives based on the prejudices we adopt. And our experiences and memories influence our beliefs and vice versa. Of course, prejudices are based on experience and truth sometimes, and it is natural to have them. But we err in making them the guiding lights of our lives.

I learned so much about Judaism, especially its mourning tradition and the philosophy behind it.

Judith talks about the nature of faith, how it needs mass “reaction and interaction to make it real for us,” and yet how “when it isn’t your faith, how like primitive incantations it sounds.

The cover is eye-catching, with its half black and half white divisions and a jagged blood-red vertical demarcation between the two, and Jo written in white and Joe in black.

I only wish there were a happy ending written for Jo and Joe. But of course, forgiveness brings along its own brand of happiness. In the end, Black Bear both brings them together and tears them apart.

(I read a Kindle version of this book on NetGalley.)


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