Friday, December 31, 2021


Title: A Treasury of African American Christmas Stories
Author: Bettye Collier-Thomas
Publisher: Beacon Press
Pages: 248
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a collection of short stories and narrative poems written by black writers and political activists. The writing in this book forms part of the black literary tradition that flourished after the Civil War in America. This was literature as a form of political and social activism and it brings out the subjugation of black people in America.

I am mostly unfamiliar with the history of African-Americans in the US. Apart from a brief acquaintance that has emerged from the reading of books set in the American South, I know almost nothing of the struggles that black people have faced.

Each of the 4 poems and 18 stories is preceded by a detailed bio of the authors, the greats of black literature. The editor takes the trouble to give us the context and the history, helping us to appreciate the story better.

The Sermon in the Cradle by WEB DuBois sets the story of the Nativity in Benin in Nigeria, rooting the greatest story set in Bethlehem in Nazareth in another place and time. One in which the Baby Jesus continues to be sought by the powerful who seek to do Him harm.

A Carol of Color by Mary Jenness reminds us about how white Western culture has appropriated Jesus for itself, making Him white-skinned and blue-eyed in their own image. It was the imagery I grew up with too. To this day, the majority of churches in India continue to display Western iconography. This poem, though short, was apt.

The Christmas Reunion Down at Martinsville by Augustus M Hodges is a long, narrative poem, set in Kentucky around 1893. The poem introduces us to three generations of a family as they gather for Christmas. We come to know of the joys, struggles and history of Uncle Joe and Aunt Sallie Moore. Their story is emblematic of what African-Americans lived through as slaves, and after being given their freedom. We get a clear picture of the cruelties of the plantation owners and the patrollers they hired to control their slaves.

The Children’s Christmas by Alice Moore Dunbar lets us see Christmas through the eyes of give children who have never known the joys of Christmas. There is Julia, the daughter of an alcoholic, single mother, to whom Santa brings ‘another beatin’. Matilda, Jewish, growing up in an orphanage, knows nothing about Christmas but longs for a doll from Santa. Florence, who doesn’t have warm clothes, thinks Christmas means cold weather. Frank, nursemaid to his baby brother, longs for a toy at Christmas. Hattie is blind and sees nothing of the splendour of Christmas décor.

Christmas Eve Story by Fanny Jackson Coppin is a feel-good story. Two orphans, Maggie and Johnny, from a dirty hovel are adopted by a kind stranger after the death of their mother.

Mollie’s Best Christmas Gift by Mary E Lee shows us what Christmas was for middle-class black children. This story puts Christ back into Christmas at a time when feasting and gift giving had become popular.

A Christmas Story by Carrie Jane Thomas is about little Minnie, who plans to stay up to meet Santa and ends up dreaming about him.

Fanny May’s Christmas by Katherine Davis Tillman introduces us to Fanny May, whose mother is ill. Her father’s salary is low, and it doesn’t look like she will get a gift for Christmas. But of course, her parents and friends pitch in to give her an unforgettable Christmas.

Elsie’s Christmas by Salem Tutt Whitney is another heart warming story about little Elsie, who wants a doll with a pretty brown face, for Christmas. This was a time of reinforcement of racial pride. 

General Washington – A Christmas Story by Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins was a story with a big heart. My heart went out to 10-year-old Buster aka General Washington. I particularly loved the tongue-in-cheek, indulgent tone of the narrator.

The Autobiography of a Dollar Bill by Lelia Plummer helped us understand the plight of impoverished young black street kids through the eyes of a dollar bill.

Mirama’s Christmas Test by Timothy Thomas Fortune shows us how upper-class black women took it upon themselves to improve their lot in life through hard work.

A Christmas Party That Prevented a Split in the Church by Margaret Black is a story of black church women trying to wield autonomy. This story had Jane Austenish overtones.

The Three Men and The Women by Augustus M Hodges, the only author to have a story and a poem included here, was about race relations. This story was dark and brought up the reality of lynching and the smug superiority that condoned and encouraged it.

It Came To Pass – A Christmas Story by Bruce L Reynolds was a sweet story about a miracle healing.

A Christmas Journey by Louis Lorenzo Redding was the complete opposite, ending on a dismal note, out of place with Christmas.

Uncle US Santa Claus by James Conway Jackson was a poem that demanded from the government the same rights and freedom to exist and thrive enjoyed by white people for the black people.

The Devil Spends Christmas Eve in Dixie by Andrew Dobson talks about the meaninglessness of Christmas rituals, and the mindless gaiety that it represents today, particularly when so much hate abounds in the form of lynching. This one is just as relevant in today’s time. This poem was hard-hitting.

In One Christmas Eve by Langston Hughes, a little boy is disillusioned and frightened when he learns that Santa Claus is just an old, white man.

Santa Claus is A White Man by John Henrik Clarke uses the same theme, but works out a darker ending. Once again, a little boy discovers that the myth of Santa Claus is a farce. Only this time, the child narrowly escapes a dire fate.

Merry Christmas Eve by Adele Hamlin is the beginning of a sweet romance.

White Christmas by Valena Minor Williams is also about Santa Claus, but brings in hope that things could be better for the little protagonist.

All in all, certainly a collection of stories that touched my heart. 

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2021


Title: Poison Orchids

Author: Sarah A Denzil and Anni Taylor
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services (Self-published)
Pages: 428
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Psychologist Megan Arlotti is appointed to work with two 19-year-old backpackers, British Hayley and Australian Gemma who escaped from the clutches of Rodney White, a man who had held them in captivity and planned to kill them. The girls are found by a truck driver who fights White and saves them.

But the danger isn’t past. The stories of the two girls don’t match. Senior detective Bronwen McKay and Arlotti question the girls, only to find two completely different stories about what occurred over the last three months. There are unanswered questions relating to the clean white dresses worn by the girls on the night of their escape.

Desperate and out of money, the two sought work at a mango farm whose owner, Tate Llewellyn, a wealthy chemist, welcomed them. Life in the farm is idyllic, peaceful and beautiful with fruit-picking, campfires and waterfalls. And then suddenly it isn’t.

Are the girls hiding a secret?


The books is written from the third person omniscient point of view of multiple characters, in the past tense. The book is disturbing in its content and tones. There are references to sexual assault.

Part II takes us back three months when Hayley and Gemma first met. We get to experience their stories firsthand. It is good to see the sudden and then gradual manner in which the friendship grows.

This part was almost like a young adult novel. We see youngsters getting together, the backpacker culture, forming new relationships, and jealousies arising out of perceptions of closeness with the handsome Tate, benign and patronising, at the centre of it all. The man seems to be a good employer, working them hard but paying them well too and giving them a good life. Or so it seems. A few privileged people are allowed access into his inner chambers where they can view his prize orchids. It’s a great life. But then paradise turns ugly.

Part III brings us back to the present.

The plot was good and the pace was right, but stylistically there was room for improvements. In Bronwen’s PoV, one para talked about Joe, her partner’s sloppy habits and then the next shifted to Rodney’s house and the change is abrupt.

The writing was good. I got gooseflesh when Hayley recalled the memories of the cold place.

The author brings up stuff about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the fallible nature of memory, how they can alter under influence.

I also liked the manner in which the authors re-created Australia for us. Its heat, its natural beauty. The descriptions flow smoothly.

The book ends on a frightening note. These two authors are definitely on my To-Read list from now on.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


Title: The Sneezing Christmas Tree
Author: Aaron Kerr
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 40
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Alice, her younger brother, Tommy, and their parents are out looking for their perfect Christmas tree. After a long search, they finally find a tree they all like, and Tommy decides to christen the tree, Emily. They bring Emily home, thinking that she’s a perfectly normal tree, and then the sneezing begins.

The book is written in the first person PoV of Alice. The pages are peppered with beautiful illustrations. I read this book two days before Christmas and got my kids to read it too. I knew just as soon as I began reading it that it had the potential to be a story that my kids would love.

There are lessons for little ones about not keeping secrets from our parents, as also about seeing trees as living beings who bring untold wealth to our world, the importance of creating happy memories for ourselves and of finding one’s purpose in life.

The best part about this book is that it puts Jesus Christ firmly at the heart of Christmas.

The entire story is tied up with humour, as in the camouflage pajamas, and warmth. The Sneezing Christmas Tree is a special treat for all ages.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Title: Three More Months

Author: Sarah Echavarre
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 319
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Chloe Howard is a busy woman. Her work, as pharmacy residency program director at a medical centre, takes up all her time, leaving her unable to make time for her mother, Mabel, and younger brother, Andy. Her mother constantly berates her for over-working, and Chloe agrees to take time off work and visit her mother.

But the night before the visit, Mabel suffers a cardiac arrest. By the time, Chloe gets home in the early hours of May 7, Mabel is dead. Chloe and Andy give way to grief, but for Chloe, the grief is compounded by guilt, at not having spent more time with her mother.

Two days before the funeral, Chloe wakes up to find her mother alive and well. What’s more, it’s March 30. Grateful for the second chance she has, Chloe decides to spend more time with her mother, to do more things as a family.

Her therapist thinks the change in the timeline is merely Chloe’s worst fears manifesting themselves and appearing real. But Chloe knows she must use the time to heal the rift between her mother and her sister, and work on her mother’s health issues. She plans ways to get her mom to eat healthier, and spend more time in meditation and exercise.

The second chance is a lifesaver, offering many people the chance to make good. But Chloe, and we, can’t help waiting for the shoe to drop. Something’s gotta give, and it does, in a small well-executed turn of events.

The book is written in the first person present tense PoV of Chloe.
Mabel is a Filipino immigrant, so there is a smattering of Ilocano words and phrases throughout the book, besides the mention of various foods from their cuisine. There was only one error here. Chloe’s aunt, a staunch Catholic, asks Chloe about Mabel, whether the latter used to “accept” Communion. The right word is “receive.”

There’s far too much back story in the first chapter. I almost gave up reading. For instance, Chloe’s best friend, Julianne, is described as having shoulder-length light-blonde hair and normally pale-pink lips shellacked with ruby-red lipstick. Then her mother’s lips are described as normally shellacked in bright-red lipstick. Again, mom’s hair is shoulder-length raven-hued hair. For some strange reason, the author kept describing the hair of various minor characters. These details did nothing but add to the word count. 

In another instance, the narrator over-explains what her mother’s perfume means to her. After her sudden death, the perfume is comfort and torment all at once to the daughter. The phrase hits home and needs no explanation, but Chloe goes on to tell us exactly why it brings both comfort and torment, thereby nullifying the effect achieved by the phrase.

There was a lot of repetition in the dialogue and characters told each other things they ought to have known. The writing could have been better style-wise, but the emotions that the author highlighted were relatable.

I could feel the pain of Chloe at the loss of the woman who had raised her singlehandedly after her deadbeat dad gave in to an alcohol addiction and abandoned the family.

The characters were all likeable. It was nice to see the bond between Mabel, Chloe and Andy, and to see Andy’s girlfriend, Hannah, and Chloe’s best friend, Julianne, pulled into the loving embrace of this family.

This book would have been better if the middle portion had been cut down. There is too much detail about Chloe's efforts to help her mom get healthy.

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2021


Title: The New Friends

Author: Daniel Hurst
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Pages: 258
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


The Prologue warns us about a couple’s new friends who turn out to betray them in the worst way.

British couple Becky and Jamie, who’ve been married for ten years, go off on a short budget holiday in the off-season to Spain. There they meet fellow Brits, Phil and Mel, who live a charming lifestyle, having retired after making some savvy financial investments. Jamie is intrigued and wants to know more so he and Becky can also set their financial troubles aside and plan for a baby.

Becky and Jamie are working class people who enjoy their lives but hope for better days. They will learn soon that not all friends have your best interests at heart. 

The book, written in the first person present tense PoVs of Becky, Jamie, Mel and Phil, is a quick read.
There are 46 chapters, with the perspective shifting in each chapter from one character to another, moving the story along and keeping us engaged. Unfortunately, each perspective is firmly mired in long narration and indirect speech.

There’s a big lesson here on being wary of scamsters and of get-rich-quick schemes. 

I found Becky and Jamie very naïve. Neither one bothered looking Phil or Mel up on social media, or even asking for their full names, falling for their lines completely. Also, it was odd that Jamie would transfer money to another person rather than opting to invest in stocks in his own name.
I began to warm more to Mel than even to Jamie or Becky. She was in a conflict situation, willing to make a huge change in her life but unable to.

This is the second Daniel Hurst book I’ve read, the first being The Promotion. The style of writing is very similar. Both plots were interesting, but I felt let down by the long passages of indirect narration. Dialogue is brief, and all the action is swallowed up by the indirect narration. Also, none of the characters have surnames, which I find annoying.

The repeated foreshadowing becomes a drone when it comes once too often.

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

Friday, December 10, 2021


Title: Nanny Dearest

Author: Flora Collins

Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 325
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Motherless Sue Keller, having lost her mother to cancer at the age of three, becomes depressed when she loses her father to a cardiac arrest when she is in her mid-twenties. One day, she meets her nanny, Annaliese (Annie) Whittaker, outside church, and they renew their acquaintance.

Having been raised by her father, after the death of her mother, Sue used to feel smothered in that relationship, and has longed for answers. She wants to fill in the gaps in her memories and learn more about her parents. So the sudden appearance of her nanny makes her regress emotionally and she longs for the comfort that Annie once brought to her, even though the memory of those times eludes her now.

Before long, the two are inseparable. Sue’s best friend, Beth, is unhappy with this strange friendship, but Sue rejects her complaint and allows herself to break away from all her previous friendships, and even her job.

Initially, everything is smooth sailing for Sue. Her nightmares are gone, and she sleeps better even without medication. But Beth keeps insisting that there’s something off about Annie.

Before long, Sue is thinking like Annie, taking decisions like her, longing for her approval. Until she comes to know of what Annie has been doing to her little niece and nephew, her sister’s kids, who are her charges. And then she wants out.


The book is written in dual PoVs at two different timelines. So we have the PoV of Sue in the present day and that of Annaliese from May to July 1996. Both accounts use the present tense, a style that always makes the writing more real.

The writing makes us warm to each narrator, inviting us to understand them better. Even so, I thought the writing and the imagery evoked were way better in Annie’s PoV than in Sue’s. This makes Annie more compelling, compared to Sue.


There is a quiet and delicious air of menace about the book. We get the sense of a warning, that there’s going to be trouble.

The book takes a long time developing its premise. I didn’t complain, cruising on the prose which was really good. I kept reading, stifling my impatience, telling myself that with writing like this, the development was bound to be worth waiting for. I felt myself carried forward by the air of expectancy that the prose created.

And the writing was really good. Silence can be better than words, that it can fill people up with just the right amount of presumptions. A pregnant pause can imply anything.

It’s the oddest sensation, walking through these halls, like I’m exploring the body of a stranger who has a loved one’s donated organs.

The little truths dropped simply.

Part of the privilege of being rich is luxuriating in oneself.


Annie’s PoV didn’t shy away from talking about things we rarely see in fiction: narration around excretion, vomiting, sickness, euthanasia and death, things that might seem off-putting. The description of a miscarriage is given: There was the red, the viscous clotted balls the devil had taken from her as it exited, dangling scraps of flesh stuck in its fangs.


But beyond a point, I lost interest. The twist came at the 64 percent mark, but without the excitement I hoped for. The wait had been for nothing.

Sue’s PoV was repetitive; the bits about working from home after her dad’s death were told to us several times. She claimed to have a bond with Lola and Jordan, but we don’t feel that bond.

For a long time, I thought that the relationship between Sue and Annie was going to turn sexual or at least predatory, but it didn’t.

I didn’t really like Sue or Annie. The fact that Sue wanted a maternal bond with her nanny, at her age too, seemed odd. In fact, none of the characters were likeable at all, except for Beth and Gavin, Sue’s boyfriend, to an extent for their willingness to support her.

There is love in the Keller family, but it doesn’t get a chance to bloom. It would have been nice to see more of Sue with her parents.

There were themes relating to grief, the loss of a spouse or a parent, or an unborn child that could have been developed. The relationships we lose and how we try to fill the holes left behind. But these themes weren’t dealt with at all.

The resolution took too long. And one major plot point was left unaddressed. A faster pace would have helped. Also, if Sue had found herself in more danger. Readers want to see characters get in trouble, and get out of it. But Annie, after showing off her evil side in a highly charged scene in which a poor cat is tortured and killed for no reason at all, doesn’t do anything by way of challenging Sue.

Most of all, I didn’t like the way the book ended. It was utterly bizarre. The animal abuse wasn’t mentioned at all. And the big reveal is told to us earlier on, so when Sue gets to know of it, it’s totally anti-climactic for us.

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

Friday, December 03, 2021


Title: The Library: A Fragile History

Author: Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen

Publisher: Profile Books
Pages: 528
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


I’ve always been fascinated by libraries. They are my favourite place to be in. So I was more than eager to read this one.

The Library: A Fragile History takes us on a wonderful journey of discovery, from the earliest collections to the most respected libraries that stand today, against the backdrop of the development of paper and printing, the period of the Renaissance and later, the Reformation.

The book was an eye-opener. I had not imagined the richness and variety in the history of the library across nations and cultures. Nor the remarkable developments in the evolution of the book from handwritten manuscripts, boasting of elegant calligraphy, lavish colours and other decorative flourishes.

It was fascinating to read about the development of paper and how it displaced parchment, which had earlier displaced papyrus, how print enabled the democratisation of libraries and about how the gradual evolution in reading tastes, with the novel and female authorship first disapproved of and then accepted.

Initially, libraries were a treasured part of the monastic life, until members of the nobility began to acquire books. The Franciscans and the Jesuits had a lot to contribute to the proliferation of books. In fact, St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was the first one to take the appointment of a librarian seriously. Earlier, the role of a librarian was not as defined.

The significance of the library meant that for a long time, people believed that libraries should only edify; reading for entertainment was frowned upon, as was romance as a genre.

Detective fiction was the first genre to gain a huge following. The growth of escapist literature opened up the world of books to the general public.

The author tells us about how libraries have evolved over the years, with the cathedral silence of libraries a thing of the past. Libraries in the Renaissance period were convivial social spaces, in which books jostled for attention alongside paintings, sculptures, coins and curiosities. Finally, the emergence of the public library as we know it today, in great part owing to the munificence of philanthropists, and the subscriptions-based library.

Libraries also developed tremendously on the back of the empire and colonisation with hateful ideologies like Nazism also leaving their own stamp on their development.

The continuous evolution of the library reminds us that the news of the death of the library and of the book are greatly exaggerated.

We read about some libraries that I certainly hadn’t given much thought to. The libraries of Jesus’ apostles, the writings that were later canonised in the New Testament.

I was happy to see that the National Library of India, in Kolkata, formerly known as the Imperial Library, found mention in this book.

How easy it is to destroy a library and how hard it is to build one, is the thought that struck me. In fact, the very ideas of the library has faced persecution, with libraries being vandalised and destroyed. I read with a sense of sorrow about the ethnic biblioclasm, the wilful destruction of the public library in Jaffna in Sri Lanka and that of the Bosnian state library in Sarajevo.

In modern times, the popularity of the library has suffered on account of radio, television¸ cinema and the Internet.

For those fascinated with libraries, this book is a trove of information. The research that must have gone into this book is a labour of love. The author tells us about the quantum and nature of famous book collections down the ages. The book is peppered with a few old photographs and illustrations.

My only grouse was that the book had an excessive focus on the US and Europe, besides Australia, New Zealand and Russia. There was virtually nothing about famous libraries in India or Asia, apart from stray references to the library of Mughal Emperor Akbar and the Chinese invention of paper. Nor was there any information about libraries in India before the East India Company arrived on the scene. Canada found no mention, nor did much of South America.

Aside from these misses, the story of The Library is a story of the growth of libraries that is bound to appeal to lovers of books and libraries everywhere.

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2021


Title: Wunderland
Author: Jennifer Cody Epstein
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Pages: 373
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


We meet Ava Fischer in 1989. She receives a carton that has upended her world. The carton arrives from Bremen in Germany and contains a package with the ashes of her dead mother, Ilse, and a bunch of unsent letters, addressed by Ilse to a woman called Renate Bauer.

Through the letters, Ava (and we) begin to piece the history of Ilse and Renate together.

Growing up as teenagers in 1933, Ilse von Fischer and her best friend, Renate Bauer, are inseparable. They share all their secrets about teenage crushes and love each other like sisters. It is a friendship that means everything to them.
But a terrible history is unfolding in the country, and life, as they know it, is going to be horribly transformed. Businesses owned by Jews are being boycotted and shut and the Nazi insistence on the perfect Aryan model is making itself felt.
Ilse joins the BDM, a group of German young women being trained in the ideology. She sinks deeper in her belief in the Reich. The friendship is severed totally from her side.

When Renate and her family are castigated and reviled as Jews, Renate learns to embrace her newfound identity, placing the two former best friends on opposite sides of a great divide.

Meanwhile, Ilse has her own secrets. There are many things Ava doesn’t know,. Why she was abandoned in an orphanage as a child, where Ilse was during those years, her father’s identity being the biggest mystery. Will the letters and the confessions in them finally bring the truth home to Ava?


The book is written in the 3rd person present tense point of view of Renate and Ilse from 1933 onwards.
We have all read accounts of the Holocaust and World War II, but the unique viewpoint of this work of historical fiction made the horrors of the Holocaust vividly real. The two young girls, on the cusp of adolescence, find their friendship and their beliefs sorely tested, their lives torn apart on account of a cruel betrayal of one friend by the other.

The research that must have gone into the writing of this book is incredible. We see the birth of hate and war, and the geopolitical tumult that led to the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

The chapters relating to the destruction of Jewish businesses were painful reading. They bring alive the mob mindset of the rioters, how they see themselves as patriots who are wreaking destruction in support of a greater cause.

The writing was beautiful. What were their final thoughts as they lay bleeding in the snow or mud?... Or had they realised by then that it was all nothing more than a vicious trick; a foolish fable concocted by a madman whose only legacy would be the rest of the world’s loathing and revulsion?in

Here's another:

Not just the camaraderie she felt within the crowd’s collective fury, but a thrill of shouting…at her mother’s generation… wide wall of silence and complicity as the world erupted in napalm, flame, and corruption.

Living in an India whose very Indianness and democratic values are in question, we have deadly parallels to the Nazi regime. We have a megalomaniac in power who is promising to restore the country to its past (read: mythological) glory, but is pushing us back in time. The regime is succeeding in its aim to polarise the country and demonise its minorities. Not unlike Hitler and what he did with the Jews.

In the characters of the Bauers and the von Fischers, I see how my own compatriots have been polarised, as if a line had been drawn separating the two.

Renate’s parents, a doctor and a professor, hate Hitler but Ilse’s parents believe in him, another similarity with the India of today. Ilse herself believes that being part of the BDM is her chance to be part of something bigger.

This was a beautiful novel, one that particularly resonated with me because of the times we live in. 

Friday, November 12, 2021


Title: The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan

Author: Rafia Zakaria

Publisher: Beacon Press

Pages: 265

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


This book, with a tagline, An Intimate History of Pakistan, aims to catch one family, the Zakarias, at a moment that is both private and public. It is a moment that pertains to them as a nation, as well as at a deeply personal level.

On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, plunging Pakistan into turmoil and aggravating the chaos in the life of one family. On the same day, the author’s uncle, husband of her father’s sister, Aunt Amina, was rushed into surgery after suffering a sudden stroke. Uncle Sohail survives and Benazir dies. These two events alter the personal history of the Zakarias and the history of the nation respectively.

The assassination of Benazir is the opportunity for the hardliners in Pakistan to take charge, impacting the state of women’s rights in that country.

 But this is not the first time, the personal and the public have come together for the Zakarias. Much earlier in April 1986, Benazir Bhutto had returned to Karachi after a 7-year self-imposed exile, following the imposition of martial law by General Zia-Ul-Haq and the execution of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

 Parallelly, one morning in December 1986, Aunt Amina had rushed into the Zakaria home, her life in disarray, with the news that Sohail, frustrated with his wife’s inability to conceive, planned to take on a second wife, one of his colleagues, with whom he had fallen in love. It is the most ordinary of days that enclose tragedy within their sealed lips. Ironically, the second wife isn’t able to conceive either.

The author, a dangler on the edges of adult conversations, as all writers must be, guesses rightly that married women do not spend the night at their maternal home.
Sohail adds another floor to the house, moving his first wife upstairs, out of sight, where she becomes a pariah, spying on the happenings below. Aunt Amina is the Upstairs Wife. I felt her pain and sadness. In many ways, it is the pain of the deserving being cheated of their rights.

As one person dies and another survives, author Rafia wonders about the nature of prayer, how their prayers were granted but their fervent prayers, decades ago, that her aunt may conceive were denied.

As the narrative interweaves the past and the present together, we read about the volatile events in Pakistani history as well as the less violent but still momentous events in Aunt Amina’s life. As history unfolds through the eyes of the author as a child, she comes of age, having deeply absorbed and understood the weaknesses, hopes and errors of a fledgling nation.

The family history is intertwined with social and political history. We see the births of the key members of the Zakaria family, from Abdulla, Rafia’s father, to Amina, her aunt, and the family’s immigration to the newly-born Pakistan. Slowly they begin to settle down, trying to live their lives against the backdrop of larger-than-life events such as the division of Pakistan’s West and East, and the wars against India.

Their hope of a better life among Muslims is scuttled as India-born immigrants are viewed with suspicion and hostility. Later as the country vigorously adopts Sharia law and gets increasingly Islamized, we read about how women often get short shrift, how the First Lady was instrumental in forging a law that a Pakistani Muslim man not be allowed to take a second wife without the permission of the first wife.

The events in the book happen in Karachi, in Pakistan, but they might as well have happened in India. The very first sentence tells us about the tendency to leave barred windows ajar, the sounds of children playing, hawkers advertising their wares, car horns blaring, exhaust fumes blending with cooking smells painting a picture of small town and big city life that would be perfectly at home anywhere in India. There were so many cultural resonances despite the different faiths and cultures.

I liked how in their innocence the kids agree that they never liked Uncle Sohail before, but now they hate him.

The writing is beautiful, conjuring up a world of images that is at once exotic and familiar. My mother’s wide smiling mouth gathered into an uncertain tightness, as if pulled by a drawstring.

A lane of houses all mismatched in height is described as The awkwardness of a group of mismatched cousins pushed together in a hurried family portrait. 

 Two of the four stars that I have awarded are for the beautiful prose.

But the lack of a cohesiveness that binds the parallel strains gets in the way of us feeling totally invested. The history of the nation and the family are presented simultaneously, but the connection between them is tenuous at best, and sometimes there is no connection at all.

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

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Book Review: KNIFE EDGE

Title: Knife Edge (The Dark Power of Three #1)
Author: David Callinan
Publisher: Endeavour Venture
Pages: 379
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Ella Fallon is miserable, teased and belittled as an ugly bitch at Winfield, the college she has been admitted to on scholarship. A straight-A student, she believes she is ugly. The only friend she has is Ed Leeming, just as intelligent and just as reviled for his looks.

Both Ella and Ed are constantly humiliated by Scott Stockton, the scion of a wealthy man, who is the biggest donor to the college. Scott is manipulative, vicious and mean.

Thomas Startz is a cosmetic surgeon who runs an enterprise called Heaven’s Gate, where he surgically alters the looks and bodies of paying clients. The biggest proof of his skill is his sister, supermodel Holly Startz.

During the graduation race, Scott pushes Ed into the valley. He survives but is in a coma.

Ella’s path crosses with Thomas, who transforms her face, opening up her world. When both Ed and Ella become more beautiful than their wildest dreams could have hoped for, they begin to long for revenge. But where will the thirst for revenge lead them?

The book highlights the fear of aging and the desire to retain one’s beauty at all costs. The story show us how beauty opens doors for the characters while those with the slightest blemish are looked down upon in a world that worships perfection. It also raises questions on how far it is okay for science to play god.

The author is good at the descriptive and narrative bits. I got a sense of the landscape, the harsh desert, the massive topographical elements.

The writing was eclectic and vibrant in some places and totally uninspired in others. In one chapter, there was a mention of a “leering, sweating and bug-eyed face staring at her triumphantly through gritted, uneven and tobacco stained teeth.” How can a face stare through teeth?

Elsewhere, the narrator tells us, “For some, the pursuit of beauty conjured its own particular terror. For others, beauty was nothing but the beginning of terror.”

Revenge is a dish best served cold, is how the phrase goes, not taken cold as it is in this book.

Scott has the look of a man, we are told, who has just noticed the lion’s cage is open and the wind has changed direction.

In Chapter 5, we are told that the Rockports were not close as a family, but the surname is Stockton throughout the book, so I wasn’t sure what the Rockport name meant.

The name, Scott Stockton, twists the tongue and sounds like a caricature, which is what the guy is.

I wonder what kind of research the author must have done before writing this book. The effort has helped ground the book, despite the futuristic setting.

I found the presentation annoying. There were no connections between scenes or any indication at all that the scene was about to shift focus or perspective, making for an abrupt change.

While in Holly’s viewpoint, the author references Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, and I was excited at the possibilities this might suggest, but that thought turned out to be literal.

All in all, there was so much that was happening in the book. It felt a bit like the author had bitten off more than he could chew. The book felt as if it were all over the place, making the resolution appear weak. It’s also very coincidental that the two persons in a coma should both recover miraculously at the same time. These random coincidences reduced the credibility of the story.

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Book Review: ONE EYE OPEN

Title: One Eye Open
Author: Alex Grecian
Illustrator: Andrea Mutti
Publisher: TKO Studios
Pages: 100
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


One Eye Open by Alex Grecian reminded me of The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs. Their basic ideas were pretty similar.

Charlotte Jessen dies under mysterious circumstances, killed perhaps by her husband of 42 years, Tor. Her daughter, Laura Roux, returns to her childhood home with her teenage daughter, Juniper, two days after her mother’s funeral. The mother and daughter are recovering from a tragedy. Laura’s husband, Jacob, was killed in a tragic accident while attempting to teach Juniper how to drive.

They are here for good, although Juniper doesn’t know it initially. Laura hopes this will be their new beginning.

But Juniper is not happy with having to move to this small village in Denmark, away from her life in the US. To make things worse, she finds the townsfolk rather odd, every one of them behaving suspiciously.

Then Juniper comes to know of a horrible tradition that has prevailed over centuries. One that arose out of the need to ensure that there are enough hands to reap the harvest that the endless wheat fields in the village are blessed with.

But that’s the thing about tradition. It has to be repeated.


The book is written in the third person limited PoV of Laura, Juniper and Kaspar.

This was my first attempt at reading horror. It was disturbing but so well written that I just kept on reading. Who would have thought something as innocuous as wheat fields could induce a feeling of discomfort and horror? But the author has done it.

He has created the image of an insular community, holding dangerous secrets that have the power to turn against the community.

Most prologues are completely unnecessary, but here, the Prologue hitches us in, creating the right mix of intrigue and dread. Very quickly, we realise that something is terribly wrong.

Nine of the chapters began with beautiful watercolour illustrations that set its characters deeper in our minds. Of course, to be honest, I didn’t need the illustrations. My own imagination was doing a pretty good job of throwing up images to upset me. Having said that, I must say the illustrations were superb and added to the impact created by the book.

The writing was good, and the issues that it discussed, death, grief and loss are such as to resonate with all of us, particularly when the loss has been a sudden one. The accident which caused the death of Jacob was painful to read. We can relate to the pain of the mother and daughter.

Just one mistake, in Chapter 9, Kaspar turned into Konrad.

I couldn’t quite understand the title, One Eye Open. Perhaps it refers to the warning, Sleep with one eye open.

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

Monday, October 25, 2021


Title: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted
Author: Robert Hillman
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons
Pages: 304
My GoodReads Rating: 

It is both ironic and fitting that a book called The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted should have at its heart an everyman protagonist with the tender name of Tom Hope.

Tom, a socially awkward man, is a character that endears himself to us from the very start. When his wife of 22 months, Trudy, leaves him, he is heartbroken. Then one day, months later, she returns pregnant, and Tom learns to love the child, Peter, who receives no affection from his mother. Then Trudy leaves again, leaving Peter behind, and Tom and Peter are happy together. Tom cherishes the little boy as his own, and the little one, in turn, nurtures towards Tom a fierce loyalty.

Their happiness is short-lived, for Trudy, having found God in a cult, returns to claim him. Three-year-old Peter, forcefully taken away by Trudy, cleaves Tom’s heart apart more grievously than before. He learns to hide his sorrow and his acute loneliness by keeping busy. Just he, his dog, Beau, and the sheep. Working hard, his face was a terrain of wood dust traversed by shallow valleys carved by sweat.

And then one day, he espies a new shop with a sign in Hebrew, saying, To the God of the Hopeless, bless this shop. It is the Bookshop of the Broken Hearted.

Tom falls in love with Hannah, the owner of the shop, a woman full of life and colour who believes that For every book, someone loves it.

The flashback takes us to May 1944, when Hannah Babel, husband Leon and son, 3-year-old Michael, are being transported to an unknown destination in a wagon overcrowded with Jews. It is Auschwitz where some of the worst excesses of the Holocaust were wreaked. There Hannah loses both her husband and son and suffers unbearable heartbreak.


At first, the two stories of Tom and Hannah seem parallel, with seemingly no connection, but they do find their way to one another.

With Tom being what he is, we find ourselves feeling aggrieved, on his behalf, against Trudy, the wife who won’t stay faithful to a man who treats her well, preferring to go away with an abusive man.


The book is set in Australia. I enjoyed the descriptions of life on the farm, the work of milking and herding, Tom’s work as a farmer and handyman, and the descriptions of how the farm gets lashed by the elements. So also the descriptions of the carpentry, and the welding and fitting. Together they brought home to us the character of a man who was patient, hardworking and not afraid of labour, a man who was simple and deserving of so much more than life had doled out to him.

Bit by bit, Tom lets the little child, Peter, heal his heart. He is afraid to enjoy the happiness that has come to him in the shape of his child, fearing that the boy may be taken away from him. As the author says, The hammer blow that is expected, braced for, does no less harm than the ones that come from nowhere.

The writing in this book was beautiful. We can’t always discern happiness, strong happiness, without the evidence of laughter, whooping, the dancing of a jig. It’s possible to experience the most intense happiness of your life behind a  grave, withholding expression. As an adult, at least. Not usually at the age of eight. 

Hannah with her quiet wisdom is a character that will stay with the reader. She is afraid that the bookshop will bankrupt her or that Tom will stop loving her one day.

I just love unconventional love stories, and this one with Hannah being 12 years older than Tom was exactly that.

The spirit of hope pervaded the book. The Hungarian Jewish women were learning Yiddish in the dark from Lithuanian Jewish women even though they could well be dead in the morning. The hopelessness of Auschwitz against the Jews who preserved their own learning philosophy.

Robert Hillman is one author to watch out for. 

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021


Title: Whispers and Screams
Author: Kerri Lapierre and Nadia Teoli
Publisher: Independently Published
Pages: 66
My Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐

This book, with 13 stories of horror, promised to be one terrifying read. It was anything but.

The presentation needed improvement. The names of the stories were only mentioned in the Contents. The stories themselves were separated by images, but there was no mention of the names of the stories.

The stories were badly written. Tenses changed arbitrarily within paragraphs and even sentences. In one story, a sound is described as being too ornate to be made by the wind. Another sound is described as being ‘soft and quiet like a nursery rhyme.’

All the stories end abruptly. Short stories don’t allow room for much character development, but here, stories end before they even begin.

Come Closer was the only story that I thought could have turned out better if more effort had been put into it. The rest of them are all developments of banal ideas that you have read better versions of in other places.

Of course, the collection isn’t meant for grownups. But even my teenage daughter, who loves RL Stine, found the stories weak, unable to even create an atmosphere of foreboding.

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Title: Something Wicked (Andrew Basnett #1) 
Author: EX Ferrars
Publisher: Felony & Mayhem
Pages: 218
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Seventy-year-old retired professor Andrew Basnett moves into the cottage of his nephew, Peter Dilly in the country, while his own flat in London is being redecorated.

There he meets Peter’s neighbours, Jack and Amabel Fidler, Godfrey and Hannah Goodchild, Simon Kemp and his estranged wife, Ruth, who is the daughter of Pauline Hewison, the widow of Charles Hewison. Charles was shot dead on a day when heavy snow and an electricity outage had caused the village to be cut off from the town.

Pauline has been under suspicion for the killing of her husband. Everyone believes there is something wicked about her. The charge was never proved, with Jack and Amabel giving her a rock-solid alibi, but almost everyone else thinks she is guilty.

Now six years later, Henry Hewison, brother of Charles, is found dead in Peter’s cottage. Andrew believes there is a strong connection between the two killings. But the question is, is Pauline guilty or is the killer someone else?


A cozy mystery, this book fit right into the style employed by British mystery novelists of the last century. I could actually imagine the polished notes of a British accent delivering the narrative parts in a BBC production.

Peter has won tremendous fame after shifting gears and becoming an author of science fiction books. His character is like a Raymond West to Andrew’s Miss Marple, allowing his uncle the use of his cottage at no cost. The author references Agatha Christie not only by mentioning that Andrew enjoys reading her books (he reads two books out of Peter’s collection), but also through Peter's character.

It was interesting to read about a protagonist at 70, with the added risks from an advanced age. The author gives us a sense of the character’s age when she writes, There is nothing like the ageing of people much younger than oneself for making one feel really old.

I really liked Andrew. He is intelligent, and listens to the things people say and don’t say. He is intuitive when it comes to the tone and intent of what people speak. At 70, he is at what I see as the youth of old age, and very well suited to the role.

With just eight chapters, the book was a quick read. There was a faint tone of menace, exuded by the inclement weather, and the fact that the electricity is out for much of the time. The setting of a charming, if slightly isolated, English village at Christmas comes through.

The resolution was very satisfying and the book cover is utterly charming. 

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

Monday, October 18, 2021

Book Review: JUDGMENT

Title: Judgment
Author: Joseph Finder
Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 399
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐

Juliana Brody takes the decision to have one more drink while at a conference. It impairs her judgement and she ends up sleeping with a venture capitalist called Matias Sanchez. They decide that it is a one-night stand and they will never meet again.

But then he walks into her courtroom while she is presiding over a hearing on a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by Rachel Meyers against her former employer, Wheelz. She comes to know that Matias is in fact a lawyer on the Wheelz defence team. Juliana decides to be impartial but Matias intends to use his power to blackmail her. Juliana is threatened to rule in favour of Wheelz or lose everything that she holds dear.

When she goes to reason with Matias in his hotel room, and finds him dead, she realizes that the danger is worse than she feared. Clearly she is up against a very powerful enemy.

Trooper Markowski and Detective Krieger are on her trail, having found her sunglasses in Matias’ room. Duncan asks her to leave after hearing of her one-night stand, while Jake, her son, is busy vaping marijuana and losing interest in studies.

Is there a way out of this predicament for Juliana? Or will she lose her job, her reputation and her family?


The author makes us feel Juliana’s sense of entrapment. That she is a tough cookie is something we see for ourselves when she argues against Jake’s expulsion with the head of his school.

I didn’t like Juliana Brody much. Male authors often fail to get into the skin of a female character. At one point, she remembers husband Duncan’s dalliance, then, in the same breath, thinks she is lucky to have him. Looking at him in a picture pf peaceful domesticity, she feels the tears come on. The omniscient narrator tells us, this happens once in a while. And all along, the woman is ruthless in the courtroom. The combination just didn’t work for me.

On the other hand, the author’s sensibilities clearly lie with Duncan, showing him willing to take responsibility on the home front, despite being a busy law professor himself.

The title, Judgement, plays on several levels. Juliana is a judge and passes judgements. Now here is a judgement that affects her life. Meanwhile, her husband and son think she is too judgemental. Then there are the judgements she is subjected to as a woman. The higher you climb, the thinner the air gets and the ledge you walk on gets narrower and narrower.

The pressure on a woman to stay on the straight path is much higher than that on a man. This fact is brought out strongly. We are all standing on a fraying crust above a deep pool of magma. We’re one random fissure away from being incinerated… Complete control is always an illusion… There’s always magma underfoot.

There’s a lot of stuff about surveillance and the use of cutting edge technology. And it’s hard to believe that when the bad guys are as bad as they are here, with international crime links, with federal law enforcement not willing to touch them, Juliana thinks she can continue to play ball. It’s too unrealistic.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Title: The Identical Opposite
Author: Clay Savage
Publisher: Ocean Park Press
Pages: 274
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Paula Hickman, chronically depressed, lives with her professor husband, Alan, in a large house. When Anthony Mills, her former boyfriend, who she hasn’t met in twenty-five years, moves into the house opposite with his wife Hannah, Paula is shocked to see that she looks exactly like her.
But no one else seems to think so. They see a vague resemblance, but nothing like what Paula believes and insists is true.
Then Hannah is found murdered on the very night that Paula is found to have attempted to slash her own wrists. Did Paula give in to jealousy and kill Hannah? The jealousy that might have led her to kill her roommate, Emily Jenkins, because she dared express an interest in Anthony. That case was deemed a suicide, but was it Paula’s doing?
The trouble is that Paula’s own memories of that night are fuzzy, and she has no idea what she might have done. She doesn’t think so, but she can’t remember anything. And it doesn’t help that her journal offers glimpses into her worst self.
How can she prove the truth when she has no idea what the truth is? And is Paula the only one to have invented a persona to hide her true self?


Written in the third person omniscient PoV of Paula, a most unreliable narrator. The narrative takes us on a flashback, where we meet Allyson Clements, her boyfriend, Anthony, his younger brother Darius, and Paula’s roommate, a girl called Emily Jenkins, who dies after falling off the terrace of a building.

The book introduces us to the ravages of mental illness. Paula knowingly creates personas of herself to keep herself sane. As she tells us, To be self-invented is to be human. 

It also talks about depression and the toll it takes on individuals without making it sound pitiable and pathetic.

The style of the writing is gripping and engaging. The characters are well etched. I liked Jacob Russo for his paternal solicitude towards Paula. At 81, the man lets neither age nor infirmity stand in the way of his support of Paula.

I also liked Paula, and understood the demons that tore at her heart after all that she had been through. The lawyer, Lincoln Childress, also made an impression, not only with his overall persona and dedication to the case, but also with the single anecdote relating to his personal life that makes him less of a caricature, more relatable to us.

I found myself on edge, racing through the pages in my haste to figure out what happens next. The action is plentiful and well described, and the pace just right. The conflict resolution was handled well, albeit a little too swiftly. Bonus points for the completely apt image on the cover.

There were a few mistakes though. In Chapter 31, a character, Valerie, says, Viola, when she needs to say Voila. In Chapter 1, Paula plays a game of Truth or Lie with Alan, twice in the space of a few paragraphs. Then in Chapter 13, Alan reflects that Truth or Lie was a game they played very often. It seems odd that a game that two main characters played that often is mentioned twice in the first chapter, and then forgotten. A serious continuity issue there.

Another time a character is said to have wretched, instead of retched.

The book was about the personas we create to suit our needs and how everybody does it. We learn in the book, Perceptions are often a poor reflection of reality. This is the message at the heart of this book, one that is reiterated constantly.

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


Title: The Truth and Other Hidden Things
Author: Lea Geller
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 309
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Elsbeth (Bells) Walker, nearly 43-year-old mother of 16-year-old Sam and 13-year-old Alice, learns of a third pregnancy after a failed IUD on the very day that her husband, Harry, an English Professor at Manhattan University, loses both tenure and his job. Suddenly there are doubts about the future.

It doesn’t help that the Walkers are all over-achievers. Hanna Cohn, Bells’ mother, looks down on her for enabling her family. Neither Bells’ husband nor kids pick up after themselves, expecting her to feed and care for them. And both Bells’ mother and mother-in-law, Vivian, make her feel inadequate. The kids have their own issues, with Alice facing ADD and Sam keener on music than academics.

When Harry gets a job at Dutchess University at Pigkill, a small college upstate, it’s an opportunity to start afresh. But the challenges continue. The kids don’t take too well to the news of the move or the baby, and the local PTA moms, headed by glamourous Cynthia Plank, look down on her, she decides to vent her frustration anonymously through a column in a city newspaper that she is sure no one in Pigkill will read.

While she vents on the wrongs she sees around her, her own life seems to be rapidly crumbling around her.  How long will it be before her secret is out? And what will the fallout be?


Written in the first person of Elsbeth, the main narrative is interspersed with the column. The style promised to be funny and witty but I found it bitter and caustic from the start. Elsbeth was funny neither in the first-person narrative nor in the columns. The only exception was the chapter on yoga which was funny in parts.

I liked the premise with which the book set out. I thought it had potential, but it wasn’t fully explored. Bells came across as sanctimonious, and better than the others. She made no attempt to befriend anyone. Best friend Suki pointed out to her that she never reached out to make friends. She makes only one friend in Pigkill, but she abuses the trust in that friendship just to elicit some fodder for her column.

I did feel for Bells, especially when the other moms belittled her for not having high achievers for kids. But the gossipy tone of her column was a huge put-off for me. I found her obnoxious not only because she seemed to relish sharing salacious gossip, but also because other people’s sins were really not her business.

Her very first column is unnecessarily snarky and prompted by the feeblest provocation on the part of Cynthia and her coterie. The stuff she overhears the three PTA moms saying about her is hardly vicious enough to warrant the diatribe she unleashes upon them.

She also errs in misusing information told to her in confidence. She writes outrageous content that she doesn’t have a shred of evidence to support, driven on by the carrot of online validation.

Instead of describing this book as funny, I wish the blurb had brought up other issues such as post-partum stress, the fact that she receives no appreciation from her own mother, is never considered good enough, and is taken for granted by her selfish overgrown manchild of a husband and her selfish, demanding kids.

It was this background that made the story important and worth listening to. At heart, Bells is a flawed mother who makes many mistakes, but the challenges she faces are things that need to be brought into the open.

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

Monday, October 11, 2021


Title: The Adventures of Geraldine Woolkins
Author: Karin Kaufman
Publisher: Createspace
Pages: 142
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I read this charming book back in 2018, when my kids were quite young, but I never got around to posting the review. Back then, I had read it aloud to my kids, known on my blog as La Niña and El Niño, and they both enjoyed it thoroughly. Before long, they had become the characters, La Niña was Geraldine, and El Niño was Button, and by extension, I was Lily and the Husband was Nigel.

Geraldine Woolkins is a little mouse who lives with her father Nigel, mother Lily and brother Button in a hole in a tree.

In time she learns the importance of remembering the lessons from her past, how eating too many dandelions had caused her stomach to do flip-flops. Her parents teach her to enjoy nature in all its forms, squishy and scratchy. 

After a fire burns their tree down, Lily reminds her daughter, We can always start again… as long as we’re all together.

Geraldine wants to be brave. But she is small and quivering. A dreaded fox, Quinton Thrasher turns into her protector for the kindness shown by her father to him, a reminder that no good deed goes unrewarded.

There isn’t a real plot. But things happen, and the characters do what they do.

The Book of Tales is their wise book from which lessons are taught and passed on. The book contains stories of other animals that Geraldine and Button can learn from.


So many useful lessons within its pages. This is good advice for little mice and little humans too. How the paths we walk have been made by mice who lived before us and how we should learn from older folk and their experience. How you can’t know everything at once, knowledge takes time. When you’re a mid mouse, you’ll know these things. About the seasons and the regularity of nature, the mice learn, Nothing that God makes is taken away forever. The need to show gratitude before one partakes of a feast. Grace first, spoon down.

There are other lessons about not clinging to the past or chasing after the future. Lessons that could be easily extrapolated to the human condition.

Geraldine reflects on the things her parents tell her. Sometimes she has to think a lot before things make sense.

And what an endearing name for God, Very Very Big Hands, who can hold the world together and still care for the wellbeing of very very small mice.

When I read aloud that Geraldine’s mother wiped her hand on a leaf, La Niña said, in awe, “She has so many handkerchiefs,” unwittingly learning a lesson about the abundance in nature. Both kids talked about how it felt to have this book read aloud to them, like being enveloped in love and comfort.

This story was just brimming over with lessons. When Geraldine says that she does not like not-happy endings and when she and Button are impatient to reach the end of the story, Mama scolds them, The story takes as long as it takes, and no less. She adds, You must learn to let a story be… It ends when it ends. Not before and not after.

Geraldine also learns that Not all adventures are happy from beginning to end… Sometimes the very best adventures have sad parts. She believes, True stories were the best stories.


There are lessons everywhere and Nigel and Lily are wise parents, using the Book and every opportunity to share their values. Echoing Ecclesiasticus, Papa tells Geraldine, There’s a time to stay near the hollow, and a time to leave it. He warns, Don’t gather so many berries, you can’t carry your backpack.

Life can be full of dangers, especially when you’re a little mouse, but Papa says, There’s no adventure without peril. He also tells her not to be boastful, that the best she can do is try.

I liked the way the author described the manner in which Geraldine’s father opened the Book, wide, like the juiciest of walnuts. And Geraldine loved the very sound of the stories’ words and the way she felt when Papa closed the book and all was well.

This book is a treat for young kids.

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


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...