Friday, February 12, 2021


Title: One Thousand and One Days
Author: Renee Frey
Pages: 181
Publisher: Authors 4 Authors Publishing
My GoodReads Rating: 

The Prologue is the 1001st day since the wedding and Sutaita, the daughter of the Chief Vizier to Sultan Shahryar, expects to be killed as she has run out of stories.

The story begins on the day when Ja’far, Chief Vizier, runs out of maidens. Only his two daughters, Sutaita and Dunyazaade remain. He must either offer them in marriage to the Sultan, or be executed himself.

Every night Sutaita begins to spin a yarn, and every morning she ends the story with the ultimate cliffhanger, one that allows her one more day of life so she can take the story to its conclusion. It seems like a great solution but it can’t last forever. Before long, lack of sleep begins to take a toll on the Sultan and he figures out his wife’s tactics.

Sutaita does not know that it is the infidelity of the Sultan’s first wife that has doomed all his wives to death the morning after the wedding. But she is determined to find the truth behind the edict that every wife of the Sultan be executed the morning after the wedding. With the sword hanging over her head, she lives from day to day, never sure which day will be her last.

As time goes, Shahryar feels compelled to tell Sutaita stories of his own. True stories, but told like fiction, to heighten certain facts and withhold others.

The story is written in the first person POV of Sutaita and the Sultan on different days after the wedding. With each account, we move ahead in time until the 1001st day. The descriptions are beautiful; the local colour and culture evident.

Sutaita is drawn to learning and wisdom and subjects like philosophy and mathematics. She goes to her wedding-funeral, armed with stories.

With all the restrictions, one imagines of the time and the culture, it is heartening to read about the affection and love in Sutaita’s family.

The book reiterates the power of stories to heal, to entrance, to teach. The most succulent fruit I know of… the ending of a story. At one point, Shahryar says, No one in their right mind would try to change someone by telling stories. but that’s exactly what literature sets out to do. Sutaita’s experience proves a truth that every book lover knows, that stories can save you.

We are also reminded of the connectedness of stories, when Sutaita admits her familiarity with Greek tragedies, Egyptian myths and Indian epics.

Unlike the original collection of stories known as the One thousand and one nights tales, which brings us the stories but tells us nothing about the emotions of the woman who recounted them, Renee fills in those blanks.

While I was heartened by the story element of the book, at some point, my interest began to wane. The fact that there was no real antagonist made the danger tepid. There is no antagonist here, except the demons that Shahryar carries within his breast.

The constant thrust and parry between what Sutaita felt and believed and what the Sultan did felt exhausting to read. As the Sultan continues to withhold secrets, life between the couple becomes a complicated and intricate dance where we’re both so focused on not stepping on each other’s toes that we’ve stopped seeing each other. A beautiful line but unable to lift the tedium of the narrative.

Also, the use of the word, books, felt out of place. Unless the author meant a bound volume. I was also put off by a conversation in the last chapter when Sutaita, unable to believe what the Sultan has just said, says, “Come again.” This is the kind of colloquialism that stands out for all the wrong reasons, particularly in a book set in ancient Egypt.

As a child, I used to wonder if they had any other conversations at all, or if it was just story after story, night after night for a thousand and one nights. Thank you, Renee. This was a story I'd forgotten I wanted.

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

Friday, February 05, 2021

Book Review: 337

Title: 337
Author: M Jonathan Lee
Pages: 233
Publisher: Hideaway Fall
My GoodReads Rating: 

I had made up my mind to like 337 ever since the voice of the as-yet-unnamed narrator pulled me out of my world straight into his story in the first chapter. 

Reading on, I met 12-year-old Sam, younger brother Tom, his father, mother, and paternal grandparents, Gramma and Gramps at their annual picnic. There is an air of slight unease at the picnic which Sam latches on to and passes on to us.

The next morning, Mum disappears, leaving behind her rings and a note addressed to their father.

Then we’re back to the present 25 years later. His father calls him to let him know that his grandmother is in a nursing home and that she is dying. Tom is in London, living in a haze of substance abuse and music, and can’t be persuaded to go. It’s up to Sam.

And even though Sam has not seen his grandmother in 19 years, not since they had a huge argument, he agrees to go and see her. Against all odds, Gramma begins to show improvement, even sitting up to have conversations. Sam uses the opportunity to question her, hoping to get answers to the question of why his mother abandoned him and his brother. There is so much he does not know. Why would a loving mother desert her children?

What is the truth? Will he know it before Gramma dies? Will he ever find the closure he seeks?



The book is written in the first person PoV of Samuel Darte. Some of the chapters were very short. I loved the chatty style with which Sam lets us into his world. You get the hint of abuse, but the pace is very slow, and we learn facts very slowly, as they might be understood by the child that Sam was or as he feels comfortable revealing them to us.

Samuel is a good man who believes that every creature needs love. You feel for him, still being bullied even as a grown man. You feel for him, his life and that of his brother, arrested by tragedy and broken family dynamics, unable to ever restore the balance of their lives.


The writing is poignant and real. I have waited at the deathbed of a family member for long enough to know how painful it is. The descriptions of Gramma at St Dymphna are not pretty, but as starkly real as they come.



There were a lot of asides relating to Sam’s work-from-home situation, but they help us to see the dead-endedness of his life. The hours spent on the MySnug homepage attest to the emptiness of his life as he fills the ruthless minutes, his whole life an exercise in doing time. His investigation into his mother’s disappearance beats time with the timesheet that his company requires him to maintain.

Sam’s family is not a warm place of comfort to begin with. His grandfather, ravaged by memories of the war, takes out his demons by bullying his wife and family. His father learns the same behaviour and acts just as badly towards his wife. Both women are subjugated by their husbands. The only difference is that Gramma stays, while Mum leaves.

We come to know of how Sam’s family dynamics are forever altered by the disappearance of his mother, the subsequent turmoil that he and his brother are thrown into, the police interrogations, and the emptiness in their lives. We learn about his relationship and brief marriage and how it disintegrated.

We see the abuse that is a constant in their home, and through it, the author paints a picture of the hidden scars that children bear as a result of this toxic atmosphere in their home. We learn about lives gone haywire, when we are pushed into erroneous decisions and misjudgments.  


The characters were all real and flawed, all messed and messing with others. The story grew so organically, emerging out of the character’s actions that even though I was really annoyed with the manner in which one of the characters behaved, it didn’t feel like a plot hole, but as the huge blunders that real people unthinkingly commit.

Sam, for the most part, and later, Tom, were well etched, mending fences and making the best of the cards that grownups, who should have known better, had dealt them.


The best part of this book for me, apart from the story and the characters, was the language. I loved the similes. The vibrating phone hanging precariously like a mountaineer over a precipice. The inside of Gramp’s mouth while he is eating is like being in a kayak or on a waterslide.

Sam tells us about the fake stuff masquerading as news while real news is crushed like ice in a blender.

The steam from Sam’s kettle dispersing in all directions like the mushroom from an atom bomb.

A hanging silence fills the space between us like a hammock between trees.

Like a bucket under a neglected tap.

And the best: Sam’s mother’s voice, as recreated in his memory is honey and candyfloss and golden syrup and sweet tea. It is clean as cotton and fresh as toothpaste. It is soft and clear and sounds like purity itself.

In a later chapter, he describes her voice in this way: It is the sound of pure crystal glass. Of precious stones. Of innocence.


The last few chapters have an air of finality about them. The end of a marriage, a life nearing the end, and hopefully a release from the trauma that has been Sam’s to bear for almost all his life. But the end is also about reconciliation with Gramma, re-connection with Tom, forgiveness and a letting go of the past and all that was, and opening oneself to the present and what is here and now, allowing it to grow and flourish.

Sam shows himself to be a bigger and better man than his father and grandfather ever were. There are lessons this book emphasizes, about relationships and family, that aren’t even said. This was a beautiful book.


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


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