Thursday, December 19, 2019


Title: Lock Every Door
Author: Riley Sager
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 381
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Lock Every Door begins with an excerpt from the fictitious The Heart of a Dreamer by Greta Manville, a book about a young girl called Ginny who has just secured a home in the Bartholomew, a building that spells the residential address of the city’s elite.

The book is written in the first person present tense PoV of Jules Larsen, and alternates between the present tense, now, and six days ago. As the chapters go on, the flashbacks count down from Six Days Earlier.

Aged 25, Jules is, as the book begins, hit by a car on the busy road outside the Bartholomew. Thereafter she tells us from a secret location about her misadventures in the Bartholomew.

Days earlier, Jules answers an ad advertising a job as an apartment sitter. Recently laid off, cheated in love, broke and homeless, it was the job of a lifetime. All Jules would have to do in return was to stay in the most luxurious and spacious apartment she had ever seen, on the topmost floor of the Bartholomew for three months and be paid $4000 per month.

The catch is that she is not permitted visitors or socialising with the other residents. Despite the restrictions, Jules makes a new friend, Ingrid, another apartment sitter, who shares with Jules her fears regarding the Bartholomew. The very next day, she leaves all of a sudden.

Jules is determined to find out what happened to Ingrid, as a way of getting closure with regard to Jane, her older sister who had suddenly disappeared without a trace at age 17.  But in the Bartholomew, it seems, everyone keeps their minds firmly fixed on their own business.

Jules meets some of the other residents of the building, including the handsome Dr Nick who is her neighbour, and literally the boy next door. She also meets Greta Manville, the bestselling author of The Heart of a Dreamer, a book that had been a favourite with both Jules and Jane. The other residents she meets are former soap opera actress Marianne and her dog.

Jules’ best friend, Chloe, sends her a link to more information about the curse of the Bartholomew, a fact that unnerves Jules. Even though everyone is friendly, Jules quickly learns that nothing is as it appears in the Bartholomew.

The danger mounts before she can safeguard herself. As she looks into the history of the building, she becomes aware of others like her, apartment sitters, people who checked in but were never heard of again. Jules will be able to get out of the Bartholomew alive. That we know at the beginning of the book. But at what cost?

I’ve read Riley Sager’s book, The Last Time I Lied before, and I knew I was in for a racy read with this one too. I was not disappointed.

Jules’ attempts to learn more about the building and its nefarious intentions quickly become our own, and her efforts to plan her escape become heartrendingly real.

It’s all very intense, and that dumbwaiter in the room, I thought it was really cool, and used to such suspenseful effect too.

Between the gargoyles and the spacious décor, the descriptions are intense, and remind you that not all prisons are of the barred type.


Title: The Bromance Book Club (Bromance Book Club #1)
Author: Lyssa Kay Adams
Publisher: Headline Eternal
Pages: 352
My GoodReads Rating:

I don’t generally read romantic fiction, but, at one level, I liked this book because it broke out of the confines of the genre to make men see things from the perspective of women. To help men understand how women want to be treated and what they want out of a relationship.

Thea and Liv come from a dysfunctional family. Dad is a serial cheater, soon to be married for the fourth time. Mom is a narcissist who stopped caring for her daughters when her marriage broke up.

Thea and Gavin Scott, a professional baseball player, get married within a few months of knowing each other after an unplanned pregnancy. The birth of twin girls later, the marriage becomes stale and Gavin spends too much time on the circuit and drifts away from his wife.

On the night of a big grand slam win, Gavin comes to know that Thea has been faking an orgasm all through their marriage. Angry, he moves out, and Thea seeks a divorce. A drunk Gavin confides in his mates, all alpha males, and they offer to help him win his girl back with the help of a romance novel, Courting the Countess, and their generous advice, all part of the Book Club they run, dishing out relationship advice based on romantic fiction.

Will the efforts pay off? Will Gavin win Thea back or is it the end of the road for them?

The two stories play out parallelly with Gavin learning from the earl from the book, Courting the Countess. I liked the way the author made real life imitate the book.

The book draws parallels between life and fiction. We are all the sum total of our experiences at any given time, and our reactions to things are shaped by them. Just like in romance novels. Whatever a character went through before the start of the book will eventually determine how they react to things that happen in the book.

It also talks about the concept of toxic masculinity where women and their habits and attributes are mocked. It also touched upon the relationship between parents and children, between couples in a marriage and how marriage demands work.

I loved the chemistry between Gavin and Brader Mack more than that between Gavin and Thea, or even that between Thea and Liv. And that’s saying a lot, considering that Gavin and Thea do have a lot of chemistry together, and Thea and Liv are so supportive that it is stifling; Liv behaves like a petulant teenager in her interactions with Gavin. My vote goes to the chemistry between the men. This was bromance all the way.

Also, Mack made for a far more interesting character than all the other characters combined.

The efforts of the club members are amusing. The sort of thing that girlfriends do for one another. In fact, Thea’s back story made better sense the way the club members explained it than when Thea lived it.

Now for all the things I didn’t like:

For all the aura surrounding Gran Gran in Thea’s mind, the woman’s quotes are rather banal and insipid. Unfortunately, the woman is prolific; her quotes are peppered throughout the book. The only one of her quotes that made sense was A lonely marriage is the worst kind of lonely there is.

I didn’t like Thea. Her back story, her struggles as an individual, her woes in the marriage, none of it appeared convincing to me. Gavin was extremely one-dimensional. Between his jock masculinity and the sex he was supposedly good at, there wasn’t much to him.

Towards the end of the book, Thea finds Gavin’s stock of romance books, lent to him by his friends, and reads from the one that has directed his course, namely, Courting the Countess, or at least that’s what we’ve been led to believe. Only now the name of the book has changed to The Annoyed Countess.

There is altogether too much sex in the book and far too little communication. Thea and Gavin spend far too much time being horny. The merest suggestion of sex, along with actual gestures of love and thoughtfulness would have been better.

The club of men learning about women from romantic fiction was the only sweet thing about this book. The two stars are for them, and for the sweet cover.

Book Review: ANNIE

Title: Annie
Author: Leonore Fleischer, Carol Sobieski
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Pages: 192
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

The novel by Leonore Fleischer is based on the screenplay of the 1982 film by Carol Sobieski. I had watched the film as a young kid. I had a mop of curly hair then and imagined that I was some kind of an Annie myself.

Annie is one of 60 orphans at the Hudson Street Home for Girls. The keeper, Miss Hannigan, is mean and mistreats the girls, reserving all her love for her gin. But Annie is unperturbed. She has a Dream that someday her parents will return to fetch her. They will claim her and the proof of recognition will be the halves of a locket they and she have.

When she is invited to live with billionaire Oliver Warbucks for a week as part of a PR exercise to make him appear human, she quickly endears herself not only to the staff members and Grace Farrill, Warbucks’ secretary, but also to Warbucks himself.

So much so that that Warbucks even wants to adopt her. But Annie won’t have it. She still pines for her parents. To fulfill her dream, Warbucks offers the windfall of $50,000, a bumper amount, to the parents. But will Annie find her loving parents or is there foul play in store for her?

What I liked about the book, apart from the rags-to-riches story, was the historical, political and social context that made the story real. Set in 1933 at the height of the Depression, preceded by a time when everybody was having a wonderful time, doing the Charleston on the brink of a volcano.

The writing was indulgent towards all the characters, even the villainous ones, even in the midst of the caricaturing. There was a generous dose of sensitivity and humour.

The world of communications, we are interested to observe, is just about opening up, and radio is hugely popular.

The introduction of Sandy, the dog, and his first, in hindsight, fortuitous, meeting with Annie is beautiful.

The author paints such a realistic picture of life during that time, complete with the action on the street in New York.

Of course, in keeping with the times, Asp and Punjab are created with the greatest excesses of ostentation, complete with mystique and magic, but they fit in the luxurious world of the billionaire.

There’s even a chapter devoted to Warbucks and Annie’s meeting with President Roosevelt, which allows us to see a marvelous invention, the helicopter, in action. It is an invention which will play a crucial role later on in a thrilling rescue sequence.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


Title: Surviving Goodbye
Author: Morgan Parker
Publisher: QuoteStork Media, Inc
Pages: 234
My GoodReads Rating:

Elliot Fitch, a quintessentially good guy, loses the love of his life, Karen, to a terminal disease. On her deathbed, Karen tells him that their daughter, Elena, is not his.

A year after Karen’s death, Elliot is still consumed by hate and is a floundering mess. He has not gone to work, and just hangs around the house, eating takeout and letting his 16-year-old daughter, Elena, manage herself as best as she can. His wife’s revelation is eating at him, and he can’t help but torture himself with thoughts of who Elena’s real father could be and how he managed to be deceived so badly.

When Elena tells him that she is pregnant, as a result of trying to seek affection elsewhere after Elliot checked out mentally, and that the father of her child is not interested in being a part of her life anymore, Elliot decides to find out who her biological father is and help Elena out.

This is followed by some crazy adventures as Elliot gets into all kinds of wild goose chases to get to the bottom of the mystery. Along the way, he befriends Veronica, a single mother who works as a delivery girl. Veronica offers to help Elliot out in his quest. In doing so, she slowly becomes a part of his life.

But how are they going to find the truth when there are absolutely no leads, and the only person who knew the truth is dead?

The story is written in the first person PoV of Elliot, who comes across as a good guy, but not a sensible one.

What I couldn’t stand was the language; it was atrocious. I could let some examples of bad language slip by, if it was required, but here it just went on too long. 

None of the characters were well developed. I didn’t feel convinced about anyone’s motivations. 

Plus the ending was completely lame and farfetched.

There’s a self-deprecatory reference to the author in this book when Jamie, Karen’s brother, says, “I’ve read Morgan Parker novels that made better sense.”

I can’t say the same unfortunately.


Title: Someone Knows
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons
Pages: 400
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Allie Garvey was 15 when she and three of her school mates, David Hybrinski, Sasha Barrow and Julian Browne, played Russian roulette with an unloaded gun that Julian found in the woods. Only the gun turned out to be loaded and a new boy, Kyle Gallagher, who had just moved into their gated community ended up dead. The death was deemed a suicide.

The other kids were all cooler, and it was pure happenstance that Allie became part of their circle that day. She is a misfit in their group, and she knows it.

At the start of the school term, their own inter-relationships are in a tumult. Sasha is older and sophisticated and used to playing boys for her own ends. Julian has a serious crush on Sasha and stalks her every chance he gets. David, still exploring his sexuality, begins a tentative relationship with Allie, while nursing a secret crush on Julian. Kyle is a loner, who keeps to himself, until he develops feelings for Sasha.

Following the death of Kyle, the four kids lose touch with one another. For 20 years, they maintain no contact with one another, as they grow up and establish themselves in various professions. And then they meet again, at the funeral of David, who has killed himself.

Allie looks forward to the meeting. She is anxious to know how the others have fared. Her own sense of guilt at her complicity in the death of Kyle has never let her rest. She doesn’t know how to live in the present and the future at the same time.

Will Allie ever get rid of her guilt and be happy? Or is she doomed to suffer for the part she played? She cannot shake off her sense of guilt. How unfounded is her sense of guilt?

The Prologue is in the 2nd person present tense point of view, while the rest of the chapters are in the 3rd person past tense point of view of various characters. Each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different narrator and takes the story forward from the point at which the previous narrator stops. Each viewpoint plays its part in drawing us in.

In an attempt to throw light on the four main characters, the author also takes us into the drama taking place in the lives of their parents. We get chapters from the third person PoVs of Bill Hybrinski, Barb Gallagher and Linda Garvey, the father of David, mother of Kyle and the mother of Allie respectively, besides those of Daphne and Scott Browne, the divorced parents of Julian.

Scott is cavorting around with young women, not that older than his son. Bill is struggling to make ends meet after running the risk of losing his small business and borrowing heavily from Scott. 

Barb is struggling financially and emotionally after her husband, Dr Brian Hammond, was arrested for sexually abusing the pediatric patients under his care. Son Kyle too is struggling to cope. They have moved here to escape the harsh media glare at their old town. Then Kyle and Barb’s idyllic life is threatened when the local paper carries a report on Brian’s crime.

As in The Lord of The Rings, a book referenced in the Prologue, there is a breakdown of order and chaos ensues, in Allie's life.

I liked the manner in which the author discussed issues of legal guilt and moral culpability, and the need for redemption. 

The book was interesting, but I didn’t care much for the PoV chapters of the parents. It added too many subplots to the book, and pages to its length, neither of which enhanced our reading pleasure.


Title: One Fatal Mistake
Author: Tom Hunt
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 310
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Involved in a hit-and-run accident, honours student Joshua Mayo and an unnamed friend decide to run away and burn the tell-tale signs of their guilt, rather than come clean and face the consequences. They abandon the dead man in the Hawkeye Wildlife Management Area (HWMA). But Joshua is consumed by his guilt and reveals the truth to his mother, Karen, who is a single mother. 

Karen has worked hard to raise her son after her divorce, and the effort had nearly paid off. Joshua was about to start college. Until the crime threatens to unravel their lives.

Karen decides that there is too much at stake, that she cannot jeopardise her son’s future, and she should therefore help him cover his tracks. Joshua heads off to the woods where he has dropped a glove that could be traced to him, and jeopardise the future that is awaiting him. Karen follows him.

There they encounter Ross and Amber, who along with Ross’ brother, Shane, have just robbed a bank. Ross and Amber ditch Shane at the bank and escape in the car with the money. Then the car breaks down and they are forced to walk through the HWMA.

All four encounter one another and the situation gets worse. One fatal mistake snowballs into another, and it seems as if all the characters, Joshua, Karen, Teddy, Ross, Amber and Shane, make that one fatal mistake which dooms them. 

From then on, the action continues to blow up furiously, as all the characters make questionable choices in their quest to escape retribution. The best thing about this book was that the story began well, starting with a breathtaking pace and not letting go of it. Before long, all the characters are pulled into the main conflict.

It's hard to say anything more without giving away spoilers. This is a classic case of getting mixed up in somebody else's nightmarish drama.

All the characters are caught up in explosive solutions.  Unlikely alliances are formed as characters seek to escape from the sordid mess they find themselves in. 

Despite the violence in this book, and there was a lot of it, there was also a lot of love in this book, between Ross and Amber, between Joshua and Karen, and between Joshua and Teddy, his father. 

There are only a few characters but they are all important ones, pushing the story forward.

The conversations were a tad repetitive at times as when Teddy or Joshua tried to explain the rationale for their actions to Karen, on multiple occasions too.

The lengths to which Karen was willing to go to save her son were unbelievable. Of course, there were times when I wished she and Joshua would just come clean to the police but that was not to be.

Amber's flashbacks were awkward. The shift from present to past were not handled well, but the shift from the past to the present were smoother.
Despite Amber’s belief in Ross’ goodness, there wasn’t much evidence of it. And those who took wrong actions paid for it.

A hundred pages before the end, it didn’t seem like any happy ending was in sight.

This was a solid thriller, a little unbelievable, but I enjoyed it. But I appreciated the theme of the novel which was about the inevitability of retribution.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Title: The Other Americans
Author: Laila Lalami
Publisher: Pantheon
Pages: 320
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

In these times of heated debate about migration policies, about the rights of those seeking refuge or the right to build their lives in America, this book takes us into the lives of some other Americans. They are first- or second-generation immigrants, all wanting a piece of the American Dream for themselves.

The book is presented to us from multiple viewpoints. We have here the first-person point of view of Nora, her father Driss Guerraoul, her mother Maryam, childhood friend Jeremy Gorecki who is now a police officer, investigating officer Erica Coleman, and Efrain, an undocumented person who witnessed the accident. We also read of the first-person account of Anderson Baker, who runs the bowling alley next to Driss’ diner.

Driss Guerraoul is killed in a hit-and-run accident while returning home from the diner he owns. The police don’t treat the investigation with the seriousness it deserves, reserving the tough questions (did he drink, gamble or do drugs, have enemies, owe money?) for the dead man’s widow instead of pursuing the driver of the car.

Nora, a jazz composer born to immigrant parents, is upset about her father’s death. He was the only one to believe in her, unlike her mother, who was only proud of her older daughter’s achievements. Nora’s father had rejected the theory that his younger daughter was slow and that there was something wrong with her. Affected by a syndrome called synesthesia, Nora used to hear music in colours, a phenomenon not unheard of among those who show a talent for music.

Nora’s sister, Salma, is not happy about the fact that their father named Nora the beneficiary of his insurance policy.

Then Nora learns of her father’s affair with a much younger woman, and of how he planned to leave her mother, and it makes her feel differently towards him.
Her POV also gives us a peek into the world of music, with compositions and festivals that she struggles to make a mark in.

Jeremy is an insomnia suffering part time police officer who is pursuing his education. His account tells us about his friend Fierro, who he met in the War, and Fierro’s ex-wife Mary, and his boss, Vasco, and at first we don’t see why we are being told about these people.

Efrain is the first to witness the accident that claims the life of Driss. He flees the scene of the crime, afraid of calling attention to his undocumented status and losing the life that he and his wife Marisela have been able to build for their two little kids.

Maryam’s account tells us of her struggle to get her idealist husband to move from Morocco to California with three-year-old Salma and of the struggles they faced in their new country.

Driss’ account takes us on a ride into the past, back in Morocco, and the unrest they sought to escape.

Erica’s account shows us her own personal struggle with a workaholic husband and a son who isn’t doing well at school at all, and her professional struggle in trying to solve the crime. All she has are particles of the paint from the car to work with.

Each account tells us something more about the people. They are all facing their own troubles, living their own lives, while being connected with the dead man somehow.

The tragedy of a sudden death lies in how many things are left undone, the things that can never be again.

I found it odd that the author seemed so reluctant to give us the last names of the characters.

Nora, cheated on by all the men she has had relationships with, feels used and discarded. Jeremy has fought in the War, and is broken by his mother’s death and his father’s alcoholism. I longed to have these two broken people come together.

Along the way, the author makes interesting observations about the nature of memory:
Perhaps memory is not merely the preservation of a moment in the mind, but the process of repeatedly returning to it, carefully breaking it up in parts, and assembling them again until we can make sense of what we remember.

How strange the work of memory… What some people remembered and others forgot.

She also talks about the struggles that immigrants, particularly Muslims, face:

Growing up in this town, I had long ago learned that the savagery of a man named Mohammed was rarely questioned, but his humanity always had to be proven.

In the end, Nora does get the answer to her father’s death, but how she reacts to it is a different story.


Title: The Fall of Lord Drayson
Author: Rachael Anderson
Publisher: HEA Publishing
Pages: 296
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Lucy Beresford is not a woman who fits in in her time. She does not act according to the notions of propriety and decorum. Despite being a vicar’s only child, there is nothing remotely saintly about her. Her greatest weakness is her tendency towards creative truth-telling.

After the death of her father, Vicar Beresford, Lucy and her mother have been very kindly permitted by Lord Drayson to continue to reside in the dower house as long as they wish to. But now that Lord Drayson is dead, his son, the new Lord Drayson, Colin Cavendish, wants to oust the tenants and sell the property.

Landing up on their doorstep, he informs Lucy that she and her mother have two months to make alternate arrangements. Lucy has no idea what to do. They have no relatives, and no money. Who should she turn to for help?

She is also upset that he could so easily seek to break a promise given by his father to her mother.

When the young earl falls off his horse and loses his memory. Lucy and the maid, Georgina, rescue him and Lucy thinks that this is a good opportunity to teach him a lesson. She tells him that he is her servant, Collins.

The book is written in the third person past tense PoVs of Lucy and Drayson, as Collins.

I don’t generally read romances, but I started reading this one because of Lucy. She was so feisty, so completely uncaring of social mores that it was a pleasure to see how she ruffled feathers.

I stayed on for the banter and the quick repartee that constituted the conversation between Lucy and Collins. I also liked the fact that Lucy was her mother’s main confidante, that her mother actually sought her daughter’s advice.

There isn’t as much heartburn as such novels generally include, and the earl behaves far nicer than the limits of the genre permit. In fact, the earl even consults his wife when making decisions.

It’s only when Lucy moves to the earl’s home that the story becomes dull. I was surprised to see Colin’s mother take so easily to Lucy, as though the differences in station didn’t matter at all to her. Even if Lucy was gentry, surely she didn’t belong to a titled family. Nor did she have any wealth to her name.

Also, Lucy has no real rival for Colin’s affections, which was quite strange. Considering the wealth he had, there should have been another woman to spice things up, or at least some opposition that Lucy faced.

Amnesia to the extent that Colin faces is a favourite contrivance of novelists, though quite unlikely.

The fact that Lucy’s mother gets a second chance at love was nice.

All in all, much ado about nothing. Nothing really solid by way of plot.


Title: How Sweet the Sound
Author: Tara Sharp
Publisher: Sweet Lemon Drop Press
Pages: 108
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

The book begins in Pittsburgh in 1875. A nondescript orphanage is witness to the nuptials of Cleve Wilson and Mary Bone. It’s not a binding marriage, considering the minister is a snotty 10-year-old kid, and Cleve and Mary are both only 7. 

But for the little bride and groom, it is as binding as could be, and they take their vows seriously. Standing up for each other and supporting each other. But the romance is short lived.

Eleven years later, the authors take us to Washington. The kids have grown up, but the bridal couple have been separated. Mary remains in the orphanage, where she and the other girls are mistreated and made to work long hours doing the laundry. Cleve has been adopted by William and Cora Barlow of Montana, who had lost their 17-year-old son, and were looking forward to having a young child help them cope with their grief.

The separation is upsetting for both of them, and they both close themselves to joy and hope. Their only solace is the memory of singing the refrain of the old hymn, Amazing Grace, together.

When the overworked Mary’s arm is crushed in a mangler, she is deemed useless to work and is cast out of the orphanage. A priest at a church helps her to sign up as a mail order bride. One of the men has written on behalf of his son, Cleve Barlow. Mary, who has now changed her surname, takes the first name as a sign from God and decides to go ahead, even though he may not be her Cleve at all.

Going to Montana, Mary recognises Cleve immediately. But he does not recognise her. Mary finds him a changed man, hardened and unwilling to open himself up to any happiness. Will they find joy together? Will Cleve accept his new destiny as the son of William Barlow?

The tone of the book was sweet and indulgent. This was a mail order romance, a genre in its own right, as I’ve come to know, judging from the number of books of the kind available. So there is no real criticism of the atrocities that little orphans suffer at orphanages.

It was highly sweet and a simplistic view of sorts. Both Cleve and Mary could have changed in the intervening years.

There was no real antagonist except Cleve’s unwillingness to open himself up. The ending seemed a little too pat for me. Still a sweet story.

Book Review: WATCH ME

Title: Watch Me
Author: Jody Gehrman
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Pages: 310
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Sam Grist has signed up for a creative writing course, not to improve his writing, but to get closer to the teacher, Kate Youngblood, with whom he is obsessed. He has devoured all her books and literally knows everything about them and her.

Her first novel, Pay Dirt, captivates him to the point of madness. He drums up his obsession to believe that they could run away to New York, where they would eat, write, have sex, repeat.

At first Kate, aged 38, can’t deny the attraction. Sam, aged 22, is so enigmatic, so forceful, she feels drawn to him. She tells herself that he is vulnerable. Divorced after having caught her ex-husband in the very act, she is lonely and feels undesired. She longs for male attention, to know that she matters as a woman. This is her weakness and Sam takes advantage of it. The fact that Zoe, her best friend is married and has a newborn baby who needs her completely also exposes her weakness.

Kate is excited about Sam's writing. She fantasises about being his mentor, helping him to hone and sharpen his writing. But Sam is not looking for a mentor so much as a lover.

But then Sam crosses the line, hacking into her email, breaking into her home and office, doing whatever it takes to get closer to her. In doing so, he is willing to remove the obstacles that stand in his way by any means possible. He will do whatever needs to be done to bring his fantasy to life, he and Kate together, writing bestsellers, and having a sexual, mutually obsessive relationship.

Hurt by her divorce, Kate worries that far from being attractive, she is no longer even visible to the opposite sex. Deeply messed up, at one level, she almost encourages his advances, or at least isn’t quite so forceful in discouraging him, just because it feels great to be wanted. She seems to be under his spell. 

She thinks, My life before thirty had a bouncy, upbeat soundtrack, a sinewy bass line with sex at the core. Now I’m in a silent movie.

The trouble is that even though she knows that there is a lot that’s off about him (To me, blood’s another substance, like rain or sap or ink), she can’t deny her feelings. This can only get worse. But how?

Sam’s writing is a close rendition of the truth. Kate wonders if he has killed before. 

Unable to seek advice from anyone, Kate is at the end of her tether. Zoe, is supportive, but can’t do much for her, hemmed as she is between a newborn and her own sleep deprivation.

To make matters worse for Kate, the head of the English department detests her and thwarts her at every step.
How will Kate extricate herself from this situation?

The book is written from the first person present tense PoVs of Sam and Kate.

As a character, I liked Kate. Her vulnerability, the fact that she was flawed enough to make faulty choices. I liked the fact that she loved books, loved the smell of them, loved writing, the art and craft of it.

Kate looks for the perfect metaphor even in the midst of the worst situations. She clings to her art, trying to make sense of the chaos around her.

Sam is a powerful character. Totally amoral, there is nothing he won't do to achieve his aims. The language from his PoV has a rough edge. His insults are sharp: She is young... it will be lifetimes before she's even progressed past infancy.

In a self-revelatory moment, he lets us see him fully. It's not healthy to show people the basement of your soul. Keep them upstairs. In the kitchen or the bedroom. Never give them a tour of your cellar, where the air is fetid and dark. Don't point out the cockroaches skittering across the dripping, slimy walls. Don't show them where you've hidden the bodies.

Another thing I liked about this book was that there was so much related to the craft and the sheer exhilaration of writing. Kate needs to get a thousand words done each morning. Waking up dying to get back to the story only I can tell… because I have got a paragraph inside my head that has to come out. That paragraph turns into a page, and that page turns into a scene… I’m flying through the story, free-falling without a net.

The book captures the writer's life so perfectly. It never goes away, that sense that you have turned yourself inside out for the world, that you have slaved to expose every muscle, tendon and vein; in response, the world casually throws acid at your steaming innards.

Elsewhere she speaks of a war with words, my torrid affair with verbiage, my love-hate relationship with my characters.

She tells us about how the ideas come to her, all sagged and wilted after a few pages, their characters losing steam, wandering off into the fog.

She imagines her life as a book jacket blurb and describes it as trying to stuff a bag of squirming cats into a hatbox. She tries to milk her own life, squirreling away the details for later use.

I enjoyed reading about the classroom sessions in which the students all dissect and critique one another’s writing. The conversations on the craft of writing I lapped up.

The prose is beautiful. Isn’t it sad, the way we grasp the beauty of everything too late? We stumble through life like sleepwalkers, floating on the mundane, resentful of everyday inconveniences… Only in the last seconds of our lives do we realize how much we want to live.

The figures of speech were a treat: Vivienne tore through men in a way that was both casual and desperate, like a bulimic gorging on junk food she'll soon puke.

This story about obsession and dangerous desire was intriguing. On the lookout for more from this author.

Friday, December 13, 2019


Title: A Noise Downstairs
Author: Linwood Barclay
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pages: 368
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Paul Davis, a college professor, follows the erratic driving of his colleague and mentor, Kenneth Hoffman, thinking he is either drunk or sleepy. Only to learn that Kenneth has killed two women and is none too happy at being caught trying to dispose of the bodies.

Eight months later, Paul is slowly recovering from the trauma of being physically assaulted with an attempt to murder but the nightmares and fears and the sensation of sleepwalking through the day persist.

Hoping to put the trauma away, Paul decides to confront the evil head on. If I can look into the eyes of evil in the real world, maybe I won’t have to run from it in my sleep.

Charlotte, Paul’s second wife, gifts Paul an Underwood typewriter, to encourage him to put his thoughts into writing as a way of processing his fears and seeking healing. That’s where it begins.  Paul begins to hear the click of the typewriter keys in the middle of the night. 

But Charlotte, sleeping by his side, can’t hear a thing. What’s more, the typewriter always has a message waiting for Paul, one that seems to come from the dead women and tortures poor Paul.

Charlotte is at the end of her tether. She wonders if Paul is delusional, a theory which seems increasingly likely, given the fact that Paul’s memories are affected by the trauma. It’s either that or the alternative, that he is deliberately trying to drive her up the wall. Or that he is somehow responsible for whatever is happening.

It doesn’t help that Kenneth had made the two women type suicide notes on the Underwood typewriter he owned, one that he had subsequently disposed of and the police never found. Paul wonders if it is the same typewriter and if it is haunted by the spirits of the women he killed.

Will Paul solve the mystery of the haunted typewriter or will he give in to the nightmares that plague him?

We get the third person past tense PoV of Paul and of Anna White, his therapist, in alternate chapters. There is also a chapter from the third person PoV of Gavin Hitchens, Anna’s patient, who is a sociopath and suffers from a complete lack of empathy.

There are references to James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Water Mitty and Philip Roth’s Pastoral, in keeping with the fact that Paul is a professor of English Literature. Frank, Anna’s father, has been an animator at Warner Brothers, so he enjoys talking about Bugs Bunny and other animated series that he worked on.

The language is mostly clean, except for some use of the F- word.

There is no rational explanation for what is happening, and yet you know there should be one. This is not the paranormal at work. 

The thriller keeps you on the edge for the most part, and the resolution is neatly handled too. The twists kept coming, long after I thought I’d seen it all.

The person responsible turned out to be exactly the person I suspected, but the manner in which it was plotted was unlike what I had imagined.

I liked Paul, and felt upset at what he was going through. When the typewriter, which he and Charlotte had put away in the garage, shows up on his bedside table, it tips him over the edge.

The cover, with its close-up of the typewriter keys, was a neat touch. 

I look forward to reading more by this author.


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