Monday, December 28, 2020


Title: The Arrangement
Author: Miranda Rijks
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Pages: 270
My GoodReads Rating: 

This book was okay, but the description on the cover, A psychological thriller with a stunning twist,' was a stretch of the imagination. The premise of this book was better than the execution.

The Prologue is written in the third person present tense PoV of the killer, as he/she watches the victim and then kills her in cold blood.


In Chapter 1, we are taken to the first-person present tense PoV of Grace Woods, a divorced single mother of two girls, 21-year-old Abigail and 17-year-old Ella. We meet Grace on the morning on which the police inform her that Abigail, who had gone on a holiday to Cape Town, has been found dead on a beach there.

Grace’s ex-husband Bob is now settled into his new life, with wife Sue and 5-year-old son. But Grace whose life is invested in her daughters finds herself broken and relapsing into an alcohol addiction that she had steered away from for a decade. Her best friends, Natasha and Ruth pitch in to help the household.

Slowly Grace discovers things about Abi that she finds hard to believe. She learns that Abi was a sugar baby, who had three regular sugar daddies, that she arrived at Cape Town a full five days before she was to meet her close friends, Becky and Ethan, the daughter and son of Natasha and Ruth respectively, and that she was pregnant.

South African police arrest a drug addict for the murder of Abi and close the case, but Grace can’t accept this as the truth. Her intuition tells her that Abi’s death was not a random killing.

But somebody is not happy with Grace’s snooping. She begins to receive threats and feels conflicted about whether to look for the truth or get on with her life. When her anxiety gets the better of her, she takes recourse to alcohol, and slowly loses her grip on reality.

Will Grace solve the mystery of who killed her daughter? Or will the killer get to her?


Between the main narrative from Grace’s PoV, we see blog posts from Anya’s blog. Anya was the pseudonym under which Abigail featured on the sugar daddy site. The style of writing is markedly different from the style used in Grace’s narrative.

The author did a fabulous job of showing Grace’s decline, the speed at which she gives way, giving in to her addiction and messing her relationship with her only living daughter, Ella. It also prompts us to think of her as being a not-quite-reliable witness.

But it occupied far too much space in the story. I can’t stand it when protagonists give in to their alcohol addictions and sleepwalk their way through the plot. It’s an easy plot trope that almost all thriller authors take recourse to, particularly if the character is female. I’d like to see a novel in which the protagonist isn’t addicted to substances of any kind.

The book unwittingly poses a critique of marriages, where ultimately every secure relationship seems to show the strain. The other characters such as Natasha and Ruth have stable marriages, but the chinks in their relationships are showing.


The book held my interest well, but I would have liked it even more if there had been less of Grace’s alcohol addiction and more of the dynamics between the sugar daddies and the sugar babies. The book purports to hinge on the arrangement and I expected to see more of that. It was unbelievable that a sugar daddy would pay vast sums of money for a platonic relationship. Those old men are sleazy and they aren’t about to shower fortunes for some pleasant chit-chat.

At the end of it, I didn’t know what to think of Abi. I didn’t find her likeable, certainly not the way her close friends projected her as having made the world a better place. Just how did she do that? Becky and Ethan both swore that she was a great friend, but we didn’t get to see any of that in real time.

Also, Ella, at 17, should have been a lot more mature and at least attempted to understand her mother. There are kids way younger who mature fast when tragedy enters their lives. But Ella chose to cry for help and run to her father’s house.

Some more chapters from Abi’s PoV might have helped us to understand her motivations. The blog posts are not enough. 

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Thursday, December 24, 2020


Title: Rea and the Blood of the Nectar (The Chronicles of Astranthia #1)
Author: Payal Doshi
Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press
Pages: 350
My GoodReads Rating: 

Twins Rohan and Rea Chettri live with their Amma and maternal grandmother, Bajai, in Darjeeling. On the cusp of their 12th birthday, Rea is upset that her mother always seems to favour her brother over her. It’s bad enough that Rohan has more free time and less responsibilities than she does. Rea also finds out that Rohan, who rarely has any time for her these days, plans to celebrate their special day with a midnight cricket match played with his new friends.

When Rohan fails to return home after the cricket match, Rea can’t escape the thought that something bad has happened to him. In her nightmares, she keeps getting a message from Rohan that says, Find me or I die. Yet, strangely Amma and Bajai make no effort to look for him, acting as if they truly believe that he has gone forever.

Then Rea’s nightmares lead her and Leela deeper into the forest. Seeking the help of a local woman, Mishti Dadi, who knows magic, they are led through a portal that leads them into an enchanted world, Astranthia.

But the land is also home to the dreadful Queen, Razya. Will Rea and Leela be able to save Rohan? Or will they be trapped in this land forever?


The book was well written, creating the right kind of imagery with the description and the riot of colour. There was just enough detail to pull you into the story. The description of the phantom bus in Rea’s dream reminded me of Harry Potter in the Knight Bus.

The descriptions of Sanober forest and the fantastic kingdom of Astranthia evoked an otherworldly atmosphere. The author did a truly fantastic job with the world building.

It felt good to read an Indian story with an Indian protagonist, where young Indian kids might have the leisure of being able to understand without an explanation. The smattering of Indian words that peppered the narrative were fun to read.

Even though I’m no cricket fan, I enjoyed reading about the midnight match. It had the right blend of action, emotion and pace.



But beyond this, I had issues with parts of the writing. There were many awkward sentence constructions. Rea wanted to tell Amma she didn’t care and that she was welcome for helping her on a day when she had an extremely important plan to carry out.

Possessives were another problem. For ex, Meet outside our houses at 11.45 pm for Rohan and my birthday cricket match. 


her and Rohan’s bedroom 


Or does your intelligence match that of a six-year-old’s?

Another problem lay in the wide use of multi-syllabled words, unrequired in middle grade fiction. The Queen cachinnated in loud chuckles. Not only does the word, cachinnated, call attention to itself, it’s not something a middle grade child would be aware of. There are many such words strewn throughout the book, that make one feel that the author relied a little too much on her thesaurus. 

The author has come out with a strong story. The indiscriminate use of big words weakens the prose.

At one point, Rea is described as having spots-clouding-your-vision anger which sounds colloquial and leads us straight out of the story. There were also several proofing issues in the Kindle edition that needed looking into.



Among the characters, we don’t really get a chance to get to know Rohan too well. But Rea gets an opportunity to emerge out of her own shadow and grow as an individual. At the beginning, she has no friends and is an average student at school, picked on by the mean girls. Feeling unloved by her mother and alienated from her twin brother, she makes for an unlikely hero.

I liked Leela from the beginning. Her act of rushing to Rea’s house from the principal’s office is a hoot. She is a solid friend, who takes her friendships seriously even though Rea doesn’t return the friendship for a long time. She lives up to a friendship that doesn’t yet exist in Rea’s eyes. The subplot of Rea being unable to reciprocate Leela’s loyalty and friendship was interesting.

Leela and Xeranther give Rea a much-needed lesson about friendship and loyalty.

This kid, Leela, deserves her own place in the sun. Her own mother forgets her name and no one in her very large joint family even notices that she’s been gone for three days – she’s a story waiting to be told.

It also seemed a little odd that no one from the village raised a hue and cry about the missing boy. In a real world, somebody ought to have complained to the police, unless that is a reflection on our society and how self-involved we have become.

One last issue. Towards the close, Xeranther reassures Rea, We are going to get him (Rohan) out, adding, I have an idea. But he doesn’t do anything about the rescue. Did the author forget?


Despite these issues, I liked the book, and I hope the author will come back with just as smashing a story for the second book in the series.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Title: Britfield and the Lost Crown
Author: CR Stewart
Narrator: Ian Russell
Publisher: Devonfield Publishing
Pages: 361
My GoodReads Rating: 

The book reminded me of a modern Oliver Twist, in so far as its beginnings were concerned. Like Oliver, 12-year-old Tom, the hero of this novel, is an orphan, one of many who are given a measly meal and assured of shelter in exchange for working hard in a factory that the owners of the orphanage own. For the Grievous family, the orphanage, Weatherly, is a good way to be assured of cheap labour to run their factories while getting a good subsidy from the government.

One day while smuggling out a book from the Grievous family library, Tom comes to know that his parents may be alive. He is determined to find them, but he won’t leave without Sarah, his best friend, who is in solitary confinement.

Staging a daring rescue of Sarah and a subsequent escape, Tom and Sarah escape in a hot-air balloon. They head to London in search of his family, armed with just one clue, Britfield.

They discover soon enough that the name Britfield is no longer welcome in England today. There is a dangerous history attached to it, and the danger is very much alive.

As they travel through Windsor Castle, and Oxford University, and a church, they depend upon the kindness of strangers to escape notice. And strangely, many go out of their way to help them. But Inspector Gallowstone (or is it Gowerstone?) is hot on their trail as is Speckle, a cruel supervisor from Weatherly. Will Tom and Sarah find out the truth about Britfield? And will they find his parents?


This was my third audio book. The best part of this book for me was the narrator, Ian Russell. He enlivened this book so much that I didn’t even miss reading for myself. His voice was pure magic. He succeeded in pulling off so many voices, including a Russian accent for a small piece of dialogue. 

He even managed to hum and sneeze while remaining in character. The only parts at which I cringed were when he tried to speak for Sarah. It made Sarah come across as slightly dim-witted and annoying. A fact not helped by the fact that she wasn’t coming up with too many great ideas on her own and seemed to depend on Tom.

The book is filled with a colourful cast of characters, including Speckle, the supervisor, Mr and Mrs Grievous, Inspector Gallowstone and Professor Hainesworth.


I liked the way each chapter ended. It was also good to see the solidarity and the banter between the orphans. It was also good to see Tom getting over his claustrophobia and Sarah her fear of heights in order to plan their escape. There’s a positive lesson for kids right there.

But I wasn’t so sure about the hot air balloon escape. It was unbelievable that a hot air balloon might be available just like that, and that the kids would figure out how to use it, as if it were the easiest thing in the world, just by fiddling around with the levers and the knobs. 

Unbelievably, it’s also running on a full tank, so they don’t need to re-fuel either. They spend the whole night in the balloon and come out unscathed, not needing to use the bathroom even after they land.

The fact of Tom’s identity was so obvious but nobody seemed to catch on.

Generally, I don’t mind cliffhangers, as long as they are tastefully done.  But here, I felt more than a little disappointed. The author has been saying that this is the first of seven books. I can’t imagine that there would be six more books before resolution comes.

The only reason I enjoyed this one was the narrator. 

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Book Review: THE WATCHER

Title: The Watcher
Original Title: Der Beobachter (German)
Author: Charlotte Link
Translator: Stefan Tobler
Publisher: Pegasus
Pages: 416
My GoodReads Rating: 

The story leads us to follow a disparate set of people who seem unconnected at the outset.

The novel begins with two elderly women, Carla Roberts and Anne Westley who live alone and are isolated from friends and family. Carla, a divorcee, lives on the top floor of a high-rise building while Anne, a widow, lives alone in a beautiful cottage on the edge of town. Both women die horrible and brutal deaths, at the hands of an unknown killer.

DI Peter Fielder and DS Christy McMarrow are unable to solve the mystery of these deaths.

There is Gillian Ward, a beautiful and accomplished woman who, along with her husband, Tom, manages the business they have both set up together. But Gillian feels increasingly alienated from Tom who is more committed to his business and his tennis than to his wife. Their 12-year-old daughter Becky is resentful and rude towards her mother.

Feeling unloved and resentful, Gillian finds herself driven into the arms of John Burton, Becky’s tennis trainer, who was once a police officer who had to leave Scotland Yard under suspicious circumstances. Those circumstances relate to an accusation relating sexual aggression against a young woman.

Gillian confides in her closest friend, Tara Caine, a lawyer, about the fact that she has strayed out of her marriage, and about how conflicted she is regarding her feelings for John. Soon after this, Tom is murdered in his own home.

Accusation falls upon Samson Segal, an unemployed 34-year-old man who lives with his brother Gavin and sister-in-law Millie in the house the two brothers have inherited from their parents. Samson is shy and reclusive and lacks confidence. He longs for a happy family of his own, a career which brings him joy, but he does not have the drive to reach out for these things. He spends almost all his free time watching the Wards, especially Gillian, who he longs for but not at the cost of breaking up her family.

Could Samson have caused the death of Tom or is he being framed for the murder by someone else? Will the police be able to solve this crime?


There were just too many characters in this novel, and we received detailed back stories to almost all of them, which made for tedious reading. Even the inspector had a thing for his sergeant, which was pointless from the point of the story.

The characters were connected to each other in such flimsy ways that it didn’t really hold my interest.

The portion that describes the killings from the killer’s point of view were in the past perfect tense, which increases the distance between the reader and the event being described.

Much of the book went on and on. It would have been better if the book had been cut short by 100 pages.  

The novel raised several social issues such as loneliness and isolation, being uncared for, the difficulties in marriages and relationships, parenting challenges, sexual abuse, even paedophilia, etc, but none of them were dealt with in a convincing manner.


The conclusion seemed forced to me.

Monday, December 14, 2020


Title: Cozy Case Files, A Cozy Mystery Sampler, Vol 10
Author: Ashley Weaver, Carolyn Haines, Ellie Alexander, Jane K Cleland, Donna Andrews, Vivien Chien, Elizabeth Penney, Diane Kelly, Cate Conte and Susan Cox
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Pages: 300
My GoodReads Rating: 

A Deception at Thornecrest by Ashley Weaver: A pregnant woman, Amory Ames, is disturbed when a young woman, Imogen Prescott, tells her that she has married Milo Ames, Amory’s husband, a few months ago. In the rest of the novel, Amory, heroine of her own book series, will go on to solve the mystery behind the killing of the stable-hand.

Hidden Treasures by Jane K Cleland: Josie Prescott and her husband Ty buy a new house. The previous owner, Maudie, has been moved to an assisted living facility by her nieces. Then the nieces want a trunk that, they claim, Aunt Maudie forgot to move.

Author Jane K Cleland, according to her bio, once owned her own antiques and rare books business. Her personal experience and knowledge enhance the book.

In a Midnight Wood by Ellen Hart: The body of Sam Romilly, a high school student who disappeared, is found 20 years after the fact. The body is found buried beneath the grave of the principal’s wife.

A Garland of Bones by Carolyn Haines: Private eye Sarah Booth, on a road trip with her best pals during the Christmas season, finds herself encountering one accident too many. When too many people begin to get hurt, she is determined to catch the wrongdoers.

Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews: Meg is part of the Helping Hands for the Holidays project, volunteering to help neighbours with things they can’t get done. She is assigned to help Harvey Dunlop with his hoarding problem. But then Harvey gets wondered and  Meg begins to wonder which of his hoarded possessions led to his death.

A Whisker of Doubt by Cate Conte was good. Even though I am not a cat lover at all. Maddie James runs a cat café and volunteers to help feed feral cats in a gated community. But some of the residents aren’t pleased with their efforts. There is a lot of friction, and then one of the residents is found dead.

Without a Brew by Ellie Alexander: Sloan Krause and her boss, Garrett, run an inn which specialises in beer. One of the brewery patrons, Liv Paxton, has an unpleasant encounter with some other patrons. The unpleasantness escalates until Liv disappears.

Bending the Paw by Diane Kelly: The police team of Megan and her dog, Birgit, are called to the scene of a brutal murder. But the strangest thing is that while there is blood everywhere, there is no victim. For once, they will have to find both murderer and victim.

Thread and Dead by Elizabeth Penney: Iris Buckley’s apron shop is doing well. When the rich and reclusive spinster Eleanor Brady calls her home to have a look at her trunks full of vintage fabrics and buy whatever she likes, it’s an offer that Iris just cannot resist. But Ms Brady has rented her house to a team of environmentalists, and one of them is killed.

Killer Kung Pao by Vivien Chien: Lana Lee runs her family’s Chinese restaurant, not an easy task. Then she witnesses a car accident in the parking lot and finds herself involved in more than she can handle.   

The Man in the Microwave Oven by Susan Cox: Theo Bogart has left her old life and town behind and started a new life with a new name and history. Fleeing from a tragedy in the past, Theo finds that the peril from her past is far from over and that someone she knows might be a murderer.

In each case, we get the synopsis and about three to four chapters of each novel. I felt as literary agents must feel when they have to make up their minds about a book based on a few chapters.

This is certainly a good way for readers to be introduced to new authors, and for new authors to make a splash with their target audience.

Garland of Bones and The Gift of the Magpie took too long to come to the point, and at the end of it, Garland of Bones had lost me. Other than that, I liked most of the others, and look forward to reading them.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)


Title: Murder Among Friends
Author: Janice Foster
Publisher: Joffe Books
Pages: 245
My GoodReads Rating: 

DI Stephanie Warwick is called to the scene of a murder. The murder has been called in by a 45-year-old former teacher turned special constable Jane Bell, out on her very first shift.

The victim turns out to be Mark Ripley, who used to run a group that claimed to teach any man to attract a woman into sleeping with him. His methods, he used to claim, were loosely based on the wildly popular book, The Game, by Neil Strauss.

Warwick finds Jane extremely annoying. She thinks the older woman is too self-assured and resents her for not heeding her authority.

At first Jane is keen on learning more about the case. On another of her shifts, she encounters Ryan, a student who is also attacked on the head, and she wonders if the cases are related. Then she herself is attacked and the case becomes personal. She makes her own enquiries and keeps her findings to herself, knowing that Warwick will not appreciate her snooping.

When Ryan’s friend, Kylie Bright, tells Jane about a man who stalked her at a restaurant, Jane wonders if he has something to do with the case. Then Kylie is murdered, and Warwick gets Jane suspended.

Was the murderer part of Mark’s group or is the killing a random one? And can Warwick or Jane solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?


The book is written in the 3rd person past tense limited point of view of Warwick and Bell in alternate chapters.

It touches upon the subject of misogyny, where some men seem to think that women have no agency, and that it is up to the man to take whatever he wants regardless of what the woman might think. It also indicates an unwillingness to face rejection.


It’s the classic pairing that works so spectacularly in books and films. Experienced person versus the rookie, but together they make a good team. 

Unfortunately, Warwick and Bell have no intensity or chemistry of any kind. Neither of them can stand the other for most of the book. So I can’t imagine how book 2 will go, considering this is the first in the series.

Warwick doesn’t endear herself to us. She has an equally clinically sterile working relationship with DS Elias Harper, her subordinate.

Of course, Warwick has her own demons. An abusive ex-boyfriend, Cal, who still taunts her in her dreams and occasionally in waking moments too.

Jane, on the other hand, is a widowed English language tutor, whose loving and supportive circle of friends more than make up for her two kids who remain unavailable to her throughout the book.


The return from the flashback to the present was not done smoothly. There were also some proofing errors. “On the small size,” instead of side. Harper was called Hunter a few times.

There are a lot of architectural bits of information about the city, but they don’t give you the impression of the city as a whole. The narrative was all tell, and no show.

Warwick and Jane seemed to arrive at the same conclusions through different means, and in Jane’s case, it really was serendipitous.

The dialogue was clunky and boring, with characters sharing the same information with different sets of people.

The action didn’t feel urgent at all. In fact, all the pressures that Warwick faced were self-generated. There was no pressure from the top, even after a second murder took place. Her backstory with Cal was a plot that might have been interesting enough to read as the main plot rather than being hurried through as the flashback.

I picked up this book because I found the premise interesting, but the execution left a lot to be desired. The wrap-up was hurried and inconclusive. The book title was most inappropriate, and the picture on the book cover irrelevant. 

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Friday, December 11, 2020

Book Review: WARPAINT

Title: Warpaint
Author: JJ Maya
Publisher: Amazon Media EU
Pages: 198
My GoodReads Rating: 

Willow Campbell, a 33-year-old makeup artist with no family and no friends but her colleagues and her overbearing roommate, leaves hometown Glasgow in Ireland to go live with her handsome new American husband Rick Delgado in New York. Rick has an apartment in Manhattan, and though she has only known him for six weeks, what could go wrong? The course of their love is charted in a little yellow book, and Willow is full of hope.

Willow is sold on romance but it is a rude awakening that awaits her in New York. On arriving at the building, she realises that the fancy apartment of her dreams is nothing but a loft reeking of cigarettes and infested with ants. Worse, she finds in the bathroom scanty underwear and other evidence of a woman’s presence.

Rick’s ex-girlfriend, Isabella, tells Willow that she is expecting Rick’s child. Suddenly nothing is right. Desperate to escape the shame of having to be deported back to the life she left behind, Willow must find herself a job while proving to the authorities that she and Rick are happily married. It is the only way that her Green card can be processed.

She finds herself a job at a department store, D’Arcy, somehow breaking through the reserve of the formidable owner, Gigi Gerson, known to her employees as Mrs G. She finds a friend in Jackson, a fellow Irish who came over with the man of his dreams and found despair. But it isn’t smooth sailing. Isabella is also employed at the same department store and Willow finds herself thwarted by her at every step.

But Willow is too angry with Rick to even attempt a compromise with him. Especially after she buys a ticket to Glasgow and is convinced by Jackson to give her romance with Rick another chance. She returns to the apartment, hoping to find Rick heartbroken and finds Isabel and Rick doing things they shouldn’t.

But then Mrs G offers her a way out. If she can win the makeup competition, then she could cement her place in America. But Isabella is offering stiff competition. Will she succeed?



This chick-lit book was a fun read. I liked the idea of Willow making her own place in a foreign city, moving on from the obscurity of her life in Glasgow to working as a makeup artist in New York, totally unfazed by the disaster that her romance had turned into.

Willow is the kind of character who acts first, and thinks later. Most of the problems she suffers are a result of her failure to think things through.

Music plays a huge role in the book between songs playing in Rick’s home, Jackson’s home, or D’Arcy’s, it seemed as if everything had a musical score which spoke to Willow.

One thing I really liked was how New York felt like a character in itself. The author re-created its crowds, its culture and its vibe. It piqued my desire to see this glorious city for myself someday.

There were some mistakes. A man called Cecil is qualified as the doorman of the apartment building the second times his name is mentioned, not the first, leaving me to wonder who he was.

Another thing that I found irritating was the one tear and the two fat tears that were constantly sliding down Willow’s cheeks. Rick had a single bead of sweat. Just as annoying.

The whole romance between Willow and Rick would have felt more real to us if we had seen their courtship up close, but we are only part of the picture after

I’m not generally into makeup, but in Willow’s hands, makeup is warpaint that gives people confidence by helping them to hide their blemishes.

Willow made me care about her even though I generally don’t care about the fashion and makeup industry. 

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Thursday, December 10, 2020


Title: The Secrets Between Us
Author: Black Swan
Publisher: Plough Publishing House
Pages: 544
My GoodReads Rating: 

Devastated by the loss of her child due to stillbirth and the subsequent and the subsequent unfaithfulness of her partner, Laurie, Sarah is an emotional wreck. On a trip to Sicily with her sister May and brother-in-law Neil, Sarah meets Alexander in the hotel in which they are staying. She is drawn to Alex and his nearly-seven-year-old son Jamie, whose mother Genevieve has left their home.

After an impulsive act of sex, Alex invites Sarah to come and stay with him in his home in Burrington Stoke, look after his son as a “paid nanny and housekeeper” and explore their relationship. Sarah agrees, even though her family warns her not to go. She feels that both she and Alex have experienced heartbreak and that they might be good for each other. Also, having lost her child, her mothering instinct is aroused at the sight of Jamie, and she insists on going.

But Sarah’s dream of setting up home with Alex and his son seems doomed. Jamie is deeply suspicious of Sarah. Genevieve’s wealthy family, especially her mother Virginia Churchill, is standoffish, while her step sister, Claudia, is friendly towards her. But Sarah knows that the animosities persist. The villagers are resentful of Sarah, seeing her presence as evidence of Alex’s crime, and of his shamelessness in bringing home his mistress.

Sarah is torn between the suspicion that Alex may be responsible for Genevieve’s disappearance and her love for him. Could he really have done away with her? Could a man like him, so charming and loving and kind, be capable of killing to get his way? Could he kill again?

The book is a re-telling of Daphne du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca. Genevieve is perfect, like Rebecca. Everyone in the village liked her and everyone, especially her own rich family, the Churchills who own the quarry and a great deal of property in nearly half the village, is suspicious of Alex, believing that he has something to do with Genevieve’s disappearance. That he is hiding something. Alex himself thinks that she has gone away to be with some lover that he doesn’t know of.

Like Manderley, the village of Burrington Stoke is picturesque, despite the quarry in the neighbourhood. There is also the hint of a ghost that plagues Sarah. The descriptions of the ghost are good, scaring Sarah and us, while we are at it. Sarah believes that the ghost she is seeing is that of Genevieve.



I feel conflicted about Sarah. Like her family, I disagreed with her decision and thought Alex to be too good to be true. Another thing that seemed odd was how she was so fond of Jamie, particularly when the kid didn’t bond with her at all.

Of the minor characters, I loved both May and Neil. Neil, in particular, was totally supportive of Sarah. Both of them were willing to do whatever it takes to keep her safe.

Even Claudia, Genevieve’s half-sister, and Betsy, the woman from the village who is the only one who holds a completely unselfish friendship with Sarah, stand out of the crowd. They were very real.

Another thing I enjoyed were the detailed descriptions, with just enough detail to paint a word picture. The house, Avalon, was big and rambling and creaky, adding to the atmosphere.


I lost interest in the book for a brief while. I only plodded on because I have a thing about not giving up on books. At 544 pages, this one was way too long. A good 200 pages could have been cut down, if Alex had quit brooding and come clean with Sarah.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020


Title: The Gospel in Dickens: Selections From His Works
Author: Charles Dickens, Gina Dalfonzo
Publisher: Plough Publishing House
Pages: 264
My GoodReads Rating: 

As a child, when I read the abridged editions of Charles Dickens’ novels, I had an overwhelming impression of bleakness. It was only when I read the complete novels while pursuing my BA in English Literature that I became aware of the essential faith, the consistent belief in the good and the right, that informed his novels and shone through his writing.

I only managed to read Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities in their entirety. The earnest desire to someday finish reading all his novels remains unfortunately just an earnest desire.

That is why I was glad to read Gina Dalfonzo’s book. I am so happy that she considered Dickens’ work a fit subject for intense study as part of the Gospel In series.

Much of the theme of the book is set in context in the foreword by Karen Swallow Prior where she describes Dickens' compulsions and beliefs against the background of the time and place in which he lived and wrote.

The book quotes liberally from Dickens’ voluminous body of work, including 17 novels and 3 minor works. We are treated to excerpts from Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Hard Times, and several others. The most iconic characters from his novels, including Ebenezer Scrooge, Sydney Carton (as a child, I was struck by how self-sacrificing he was and how he had been Christ-like in giving up his life in place of another), Miss Havisham and Madame Defarge.

The author divides her book into three sections, Sin and its Victims, Repentance and Grace, and the Righteous Life.

Through large chunks of quoted text, the author draws attention to how each of Dickens’ villains sets out to tell the reader what kind of behaviour and conduct Christians must and must not display in their lives.

No part of any novel is meant for entertainment alone. There is scathing irony and ferocious sarcasm on display as Dickens points out the hypocrisy of the powerful and wealthy.

Religious hypocrisy is called out at every stage, proving just how offensive Dickens found that character trait.

I must commend the author for the painstaking manner in which she has mentioned each noteworthy character in Dickens’ novels, good and bad, alike, and delineated with copious examples why they deserve to be emulated or decried. If you need a push to head back to reading the Dickens novel you abandoned a long time ago, this book might just drive you to it.

But the admiration of Dickens is not blind. As Prior points out in the foreword, for all his larger-than-life world view, as exemplified in his writing, Dickens didn’t often show his best face at home. She points out his many flaws on the domestic front.


The only issue I had with this book was that the formatting in the Kindle made the footnotes hard to read. Also, there should have been some differentiation in terms of font or point size or even style for the portions quoted from Dickens. In the absence of this differentiation, it’s hard to tell where the author’s commentary ends and the quoted text begins. 

I am inspired to re-read my copy of A Tale of Two Cities.

(I read this book through Edelweiss. Thank you, Edelweiss, the author and the publisher.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2020


Title: Murder in Old Bombay
Author: Nev March
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Pages: 400
My GoodReads Rating: 

It’s always a delight to read a book set in a locale one is familiar with. And this book is not only set in my beloved city, it is even set at a time when it was still Bombay, long before its name was changed and its cosmopolitan vibrancy obliterated forever.

It is 1892 and the strange case of a double suicide has rocked the city. Two young Parsi women, 19-year-old Bacha Framji and her husband’s 15-year-old cousin, Pilloo, jump down to their deaths from the Bombay University clock tower within minutes of each other. Three men, the Parsi Maneck Fitter and two Muslims, Seth Akbar and Saapir Behg, are arrested for the murders and subsequently acquitted for lack of evidence.

Captain James Agnihotri, son of an Indian mother and an absent British father, has no family, nothing to belong to. Raised in an orphanage by Fr Thomas, he is unwelcome on both sides of his heritage. But it also works to his advantage, as he can fit in anywhere. If one fits into the picture, few people looked closer. 

He has retired from the army after his unit is disbanded. Recuperating from his injuries, he reads about the clock tower deaths in the newspaper. He is haunted by a letter that Bacha’s husband, Adi, has written to the editor of the newspaper. The last line of the letter, “They are gone, but I remain,” haunts him and he decides to help.

James suffers the same guilt, at knowing that his fellow comrades in the army are dead, but he has survived. He feels compelled to solve the mystery behind the deaths and help Adi Framji to find closure. A fan of Sherlock Holmes, James is hired by Adi to solve the mystery. He becomes a private investigator.

Adi cannot believe that his wife could have killed herself. Employing Holmes’ methods, James sets about investigating the murder. But early in his investigation, he is viciously attacked. And the attacks continue. Clearly, somebody is afraid of the truth coming out.

James’ investigation takes him to Kasim, Pilloo’s father’s servant, and to the fictional princely state of Ranjpoot, and to the nephew of the queen, Prince Nur Suleiman. There’s another game afoot and the British are watching, and it seems that James might be just a pawn in the scheme of things.

Will James help Adi to find the answers he seeks?


Meanwhile there is a slowly brewing romance between James and Adi’s feisty younger sister, Diana, and there’s a sweet little subplot relating to whether that romance has any future or whether it is doomed from the start.

At first, the author describes Diana as Her eyes were brown velvet and then her laugh as water tumbling over river stones. I liked the metaphor, and perhaps James did too because many pages later he is back to describing her laugh, as water gurgling over river stones.


The story is written in the first-person past tense PoV of James. James was a great character. His needs, fears and compulsions were all believable. His self-deprecatory humour and his other character traits help us to warm to him.


I have always been intrigued by stories of India during the time of the British Raj. This story brings to life the culture of the Parsis, the life of privilege and wealth that many of them enjoyed by virtue of their industriousness and innovativeness.


The narrative is beautiful. The references to Chor Bazaar, Hanging Gardens, Bandera as also the University etc made for enjoyable reading. The author has recreated the period, in terms of the conveniences that were available then. For instance, the use of words like secretary for bureau etc. It feels natural to slip into 1892, and imagine oneself there in that long-ago time. The use of spellings like Cawnpore, Bandera etc also help to root the book in that time. The historical information is presented as fact without colouring it with any kind of sentiment.

The only word that didn't quite fit in was patsy, which is an Americanism dating back to the early 20th century, and therefore out of place in the India of 1892.

The characters all grew on me. Adi, Diana, Burjor, Mrs Framji, Chutki, Fr Thomas.

There are plenty of references to AC Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, who also happens to be one of my favourite characters. Also, to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

The book brings out the conflicted loyalties of the times. About how some people identified with the Indian freedom struggle while others enjoyed privilege


What I didn’t like so much was the amount of time spent away from the core mystery of the novel. The Karachi battle and all the other skirmishes in Pakistan should have been toned down further. I didn’t grudge the five children as they showed James’ nobility and goodness.

The murder mystery promised a fair bit of intrigue, but it was stretched out too long. The writing was good and so the book held interest, but James’ battle scarred past intruded far too much into the present. The book should have kept its focus on what the title promised us.

James’ back story, the battlefield skirmishes were good, but they should have been cut down further. I wanted to read more about the murder. It took the focus away from Bombay.

I loved the cover, with its sepia tones, so reminiscent of the heat and dust of the city.

I was prepared to like this book from the title itself.

Nev, you had me at Bombay.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Monday, December 07, 2020


Title: Double Deceit
Author: Julienne Brouwers
Publisher: JB Uitgeverij
Pages: 370
My GoodReads Rating: 

Jennifer Smits, a doctor, and her husband, Oliver, a hotshot lawyer, are facing trouble in their marriage. They go off with their two-year-old son Tim to a weekend getaway to rekindle the spark. But after a quarrel, Oliver goes out for a walk, has a fall and dies. Jennifer is left bereaved.

While looking through his stuff, Jennifer finds evidence of an affair. She calls the woman, Sandra, from his phone and questions her. Soon she is convinced that Oliver was consumed by some irregularities at his firm, Mason and McGant.

Meanwhile, police reveal that there is no evidence of foul play. The only aberration is that Oliver is found wearing lacy panties inside his clothes at the time of his death.

Unsure of what to believe, but knowing only that something feels wrong, Jennifer calls Sandra for answers to her questions. Together they break into the premises of Mason and McGant and find a DVD of Oliver caught in a compromising situation. They also find some cryptic notes that Oliver had made just before his death.

Then Sandra dies in an accident. And a charming man, Dan Bernstein, who also happens to be a lawyer at Oliver’s firm, befriends her. Are all these incidents mere coincidences? Or is her life in danger?

Friends Lindsey, Frederique and Karen warn her to stay off the case, but Jennifer won’t listen to any of them. She is determined to find out the truth, no matter what the cost.


The book is written in the first-person past tense PoV of Jennifer.


I liked Jennifer. The determination with which she keeps going ahead, in spite of the risks, is admirable. She is completely believable as a woman who is unwilling to come to terms with the death of her husband, and whose home life, work situation and friendships are all affected by her search for her truth.

But there were still some character traits that I found naïve, at best, and stupid, at worst. She would ask suspicious people the most difficult of questions and then believe the answers they gave her. It was really a stroke of luck that things didn’t backfire on her immediately. 

Another example of this naivete, out of place in a medical doctor, is her insistence on touching the dead body of her husband, even though the policewoman has warned her that according to the rules, the coroner must first examine the body so as not to tamper with forensic evidence.  

I also dislike the much abused tendency on the part of female protagonists to consume alcohol in such copious quantities that they are no longer in control of themselves.

Among the friends, I liked Lindsey. She had a life beyond her friendship with Jennifer. Such a rare thing for a minor character.  Also, she says it like it is, and is rock-solid dependable. The friendship between the two women was captured well, the desire to be supportive, yet the exasperation when one’s friend does something that one clearly disapproves of.

Hans was another character that was reliable and solid. Jennifer was lucky to have him in her corner.

I also liked the way the author made Amsterdam come alive. A few more  descriptions about the city, its sights and its people would have helped though.

Dan Bernstein was just too good to be true. I also had an issue with the speed with which things were resolved. Literally, in one chapter. I would have liked to have more details regarding the resolution. That was a bit of a disappointment.

Overall, a good read. 

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)

Friday, December 04, 2020


Title: The Perfect Father
Author: Charlotte Duckworth
Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 400
My GoodReads Rating: 

Esther’s husband Robin is the perfect father to their two-year-old daughter, Riley.

After she was born, Robin took a break from work as a standup comic to look after her, while Esther went back to the career she loved. It was a sensible arrangement. Robin’s career had tanked and Esther had been promoted to PR Director, so it was the right thing to do. But gradually Esther becomes aware of Robin’s passive aggression, how he deliberately seemed to cast Esther in a bad light in front of their very impressionable daughter.

To make matters worse, Esther can’t trust Robin because he has once cheated on her with a small-time actress called Kim.

It is an unconventional arrangement, but it has worked for them so far. And now it is off.

Esther gets a text from Robin, a single word, Sorry. She rushes home, frantic, only to find that Riley has been taken away by Robin. She is still wondering where they might have gone when the doorbell rings and the police come in to tell her that Robin has met with an accident, and that he is in hospital.

When police question Esther as to why Robin might have taken Riley away and sought to disappear, she has no answer. Not for them anyway. But there are many secrets she is not prepared to tell them.

Not about the truth of what happened to her during her pregnancy, nor the truth about Kim.

What is that secret? And will Esther ever find Riley again?


Beginning in the Now, the story goes back to Three Years Earlier and is written in the first-person present tense points of view of both Robin and Esther in both timelines. There are no chapters but accounts of the two mail characters. Slowly we come to know of somebody called Sarah that Robin is obsessed with.  

At first, it’s all good. She loves him. He loves her. Then the chinks become clear to us. There’s a woman he can’t stop thinking of, and she has her secrets too.


About Vivienne, Esther says, Sometimes our friendship feels like an elastic band that’s worn too thin and might snap any minute. At another point, Vivienne admits to Esther that they haven’t been that close, and some time later, Esther calls Vivienne her best friend.


Robin’s stay-at-home status is unconventional, but it might also be something sinister masquerading as a new age man.



What would have made the book better was a few more glimpses into the reality of their marriage. The big reveal didn’t appear so convincing to me.


The women in this book were all strong. Even when they erred, they couldn’t be faulted for their intentions. Vivienne stood out for the quiet strength she imparted to Esther.

The author successfully manages to highlight a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which Esther suffers from during her pregnancy. It is a condition where pregnant women suffer extreme morning sickness and cannot retain any food or water, retching to the point of exhaustion. The book also raises awareness about diabetes which claims thousands of lives each year.

(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)


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