Tuesday, September 28, 2021


Title: The Promotion
Author: Daniel Hurst
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Pages: 408
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Imogen Stone might have been the next boss at the unnamed bank at which she is now the second in command. But the mistake of embezzling funds from a client’s deposit to pay for her father’s financial mistakes costs her dear. Her colleague, Michael, discovers her secret. And even though she has long since paid back the money, he blackmails her into stepping out of the race for the top post and let him take it. Now he’s her boss, and he enjoys toying with her, frustrating her at every step of the way, making her life hell.

Work tensions aren’t the only thing that Imogen is struggling with. She is also worried about her father who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease and needs to move into a care home.

But how far can Michael push Imogen before she snaps?

The book is written in the first person present tense in alternating points of view of Imogen and Michael. Michael’s pov shows his arrogance, and Imogen’s her desperation.

The constant harping of what Imogen had done is repetitive and takes away from its enormity.

At first, Michael came across more as annoying than dangerous. But subsequent events prove just how dangerous he is. As a reader, I could feel Imogen’s frustration at being in the position she found herself in. But it was also hard to imagine an intelligent woman taking such a grave risk, knowing she would definitely be caught.

The pace was relentless and Michael kept upping the ante against her. Nor was Imogen a passive character. The parry and thrust between them was intense and nerve wracking. For a while, things get blurry in the heat and dust of the battle, and it seemed that both characters were just as unlikable. But Imogen wins our interest because of her struggles with her father’s illness and her boss’s non-stop attack against her.

Of course, we know in the Prologue itself that Michael is going to die. But the question of how his death will come about and what Imogen’s fate will be still persists. The twist, when it comes, takes Imogen and us by surprise. There is a shocking (to Imogen) revelation that reminds us that people are not who they seem, and that we all wear different faces.

Despite this, I felt conflicted towards both the characters. I have no doubt about the credibility of the premise. I didn’t feel good about either of the characters, even though Imogen was hardworking.

Other than Michael and Imogen, and her father, William, to some extent, all the other characters were flat. None of the co-workers are even given surnames. In fact, Michael’s surname is revealed only at the 62 percent mark. Imogen’s husband, Evan, had almost nothing to do. He seemed totally unreal. Michael’s wife, Crystal, is only a name.

I liked the note on which the book ended but it would have helped to see more action and dialogue rather than the lengthy narration and internal monologue in which the author presents both accounts. 

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


Monday, September 27, 2021


Title: Brilliant Disguise (Charlie McClung Mysteries #1) 
Author: Mary Anne Edwards
Publisher: 338
Pages: Sellem Books
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐

Marian Selby is just settling in for a quiet night when she hears a gunshot and then screams. These are followed by police sirens. Marian’s dear friend, Dianne Pannell, is taken to the hospital, where she dies on the operating table. Dan, her husband, seems distraught, and Katie, their 6-year-old, is screaming. Amid the confusion arrives Maggie, a friend of Dan’s, and Chief of Police and Dan’s best friend, Perry Miller, who quickly closes the case, deeming it a suicide.

Detective Charlie McClung, who has sought a transfer to this quiet town, is surprised at the speed with which the case is closed. His suspicions are aroused further when Marian insists that Dianne was being abused by Dan, and that her death was a murder.

The book, set in June 1982, is written in the 3rd person limited point of view of Marian, Charlie and Perry.

The prose is marred by awkward tenses in the same sentence.

I didn’t like the author giving us details about Marian’s physical beauty. As if she wouldn’t be real to the reader unless a man inventoried all her attractions. Why did the author have to make McClung register Marian’s beauty with so much emphasis, that too at the scene of a crime? Thankfully, Marian found it inappropriate. 

Earlier on, we learn that Marian has a bookcase, spanning a whole wall, and that she loves reading. She even wears a T-shirt, with the legend, So many books, so little time, when she first meets McClung. But thereafter we never catch her with a book throughout the story. 

On the contrary, she bakes and cooks entirely too much. There were several long descriptions of the meals she cooks for McClung, complete with emotions awry and lengthy descriptions of meals and endless carafes of coffee.

I appreciated the fact that Marian had a strong faith in God. She emphasises her faith and trusts in God to look after her. When she is stressed after Dianne is shot, she keeps repeating the Lord’s Prayer to herself.

But the rest of her attitude was highly uncharitable and unchristian. She actually shudders when she sees Maggie rub “her man hands with lotion.” That was crass.

I liked the fact that she was 47. Older people aren’t often represented in novels. But her reaction to the onset of menopause was entirely caricaturish. The author made her out to be a snivelling mess of emotions, which is not what menopausal women are like. For the most part, the book is entirely frothy and light, until Marian’s grief gets the better of her.

Marian cries all the time, blaming it conveniently on her inability to get over Lee and on menopause.

On a side note, I wonder why Americans use so much tissue paper. Here Marian plows her way through whole boxes of the stuff, with McClung conjuring up tissues whenever it seems like she is going to cry. Why can’t she use a cloth handkerchief? It can be used, washed and re-used, and is so much better for the environment.

There was another mistake. In one sentence, Officer Stokes is the subject. The next sentence uses the pronoun, he. Naturally, I thought the pronoun referred to Officer Stokes, but, no, it referred to Detective McClung.

One grammatically incorrect sentence talks of ‘empty bottles laying everywhere.’ Another tells us, ‘No one can be that good of an actor.’ One character is said to have sobbed like a little girl.

With Perry having closed the investigation, McClung knows that some foul play is at work. He promises Marian that he has some connections of his own to call on. But the promised connections are not called on until the 87 percent mark in the book.

The insipid romance overshadows the murder investigation. McClung shares the autopsy report with Marian, and seems completely besotted, doing very little by way of investigation. Marian claims to be determined to nail the killer. But she lets the romance and the cooking sidetrack her all the time. The characters indulge in far too much eating and drinking.

I know it’s 1982, and forensic science isn’t as advanced as it is today. But Marian is actually daft enough to wash away the incriminating muddy footprints in her yard.

There’s even a subplot about Marian’s dead husband, Lee, encouraging her to begin a new phase of her life with McClung.

All said and done, I couldn’t care about Marian. She was projected as an epitome of perfection, cooking and baking with elan.

McClung too is rather tepid. As a cop, he doesn’t get to do anything. The details of the drug deal were never revealed, even though some drama was created.

The title makes no sense. Nor did the drop of blood on the watch dial on the cover. This wasn’t a Cozy Mystery at all. Just cozy fiction.

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

Friday, September 24, 2021


Title: The Gardener
Author: Anne Ferretti
Publisher: Independently published
Pages: 232
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Riley lost her parents in a car accident when she was just 10. Her father saved her but died trying to save her mother. Her mother’s body was never found. The experience gave her supernatural powers. She can see coloured auras around people that help her know their emotions. She has also come to know of people called Voids, pure evil, who have a white aura.

In the present day, Riley is a detective, using her unnatural abilities for good. Her new partner, Liam Silverman, is brash and young, and she is just figuring him out when they come to know of a five-year-old girl, Sarah, bloodied and missing a fingertip, but otherwise unhurt wandering the street. Her observations of her days in captivity lead the police to the horror of finding the body parts of seven young children in an abandoned dockyard, with the seven severed heads in the garden of an unused house.

The body count keeps piling up, and Riley comes to know of a serial killer, whose kills seem to be inspired by the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow? The serial killer, named the Gardener by the media, keeps committing more heinous killings, using medieval torture devices, matching his kills with each line of the rhyme.

The leads converge around Robert Pearson, a hedge fund tycoon with a strange relationship with his adoptive mother. Why is the Gardener killing people who have an association with Pearson?


The description of the accident was heartrending. The powerful writing made me feel the child’s pain.

The book has been written in the 3rd person past tense limited point of view of Riley and Robert. The descriptions of the killings didn’t make me feel squeamish in the least, and I appreciated not losing my dinner.

I liked all the characters, especially Riley. Her ability set her apart from other detectives of this genre. It was nice to see the slowly growing bond between Riley and Liam. Even Mary didn’t come across as evil, but as someone with a compelling backstory that we would learn about in time.


Another change was the cooperative working relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the FBI. In most books and films, the two are constantly sniping at each other.

I also liked the fact that Riley didn’t have a boyfriend. It’s very annoying when the love interest takes up too much room in a police procedural, especially one involving a serial killer and numerous bodies. Even later when Riley did get into a relationship, the focus remained on the job.

Another good thing was the manner in which Riley and Jason, the FBI agent, revealed bits of their past to each other. Slow and steady, while they are driving to a location, not interrupting the action. The banter between Riley, Liam and Jason, and even Paul, the captain, was good.


This was a ARC, so I hope the few errors get corrected. In one chapter, the bodies are found in various stages of ‘composition.’ That should be changed to decomposition.

The last few chapters of the book, soon after the police figure out the identity of the Gardener, seemed to be rushed. Despite the rushed pace and the frenzied action, there are no answers. Much of how he did what he did was not explained, and the book ended on a cliffhanger so closure will only come in the next book in the series. 

Towards the end of the book, it’s all Riley. Liam, Jason and Paul don’t figure at all. And it is odd that the guards should be so lax in a high security facility, despite being warned about the deviousness of the convict.

I’d like to read the next in the series.

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

Thursday, September 16, 2021


Title: Our Wicked Lies
Author: Glede Browne Kabongo
Publisher: BrowneStar Media
Pages: 329
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Alicia Gray has her life set. A successful lawyer husband, the first African-American man in his very prestigious firm to make partner, who adores her, two lovely teenage daughters, the oldest about to leave for college, and a massive, luxurious house in an expensive part of town. Yet she can’t help feeling that something is amiss.

When her husband panics visibly on receiving a call at the dinner table, and a neighbour makes a cryptic remark, she is driven to find out what he may be hiding from her. 

She finds email correspondence between her husband and a woman called Faith. It is the beginning of the unraveling of her marriage. 

Her husband has secrets, and so does she. 


The story is written from the third person limited pov of Alicia and Eliot. The narrative is interspersed with diary entries around the 72 percent mark. By the 75 percent mark, there are still twists hitting us.

It wasn’t long before I began to like Alicia, her simplicity and generosity of spirit shone through.

It was also refreshingly new to see American parents adivising their children about no sex before marriage, where most others might talk about protection.

The style was good, even though it leaned more towards women’s fiction than domestic thriller. I enjoyed the descriptions, especially those relating to Paris.

A few similes were forced, as “Fear swooped down like a murder of crows.” Also the usage of the tense is annoying and awkward. There were sentences with mixed tenses. 

Alicia was caught up in her own…confusion since she’d stood in Kat’s driveway and saw...

The word, saw, should have been replaced with seen.

The questions, What’s on your mind?, is asked by Dr Jack Witherspoon, Alicia and Eliot. This question isn’t as common as What’s up? Or What’s happening? So the repetition stands out.

The Spanish address, mija is a shortened form of mi hija (my daughter), but here it’s mentioned as maja.

The phrase, to go postal, was a new one for me.

The flashbacks felt awkward.

I would have thought the plural of De Luca should be De Lucas. Here the author kept referring to the family as De Lucases, which wasn’t the right word.

Until the 50 percent mark, we only contend with Eliot’s infidelity. After this point, the twists begin coming at us, one after another. The second half of the book packs a punch, with issues such as depression, infidelity and dysfunctional marriage.

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


Title: The Neighbor
Author: London Clarke
Publisher: Carfax Abbey

Pages: 326

Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Claire Vogel is a divorced mother of four girls who has a secret. A therapist, she likes to live on the wild side, stepping back just before she might tip over the edge. When she begins a flirtation with sexy, new neighbour Steel Nolan, odd things start happening around the house.

Before long, there is an unexpected murder-suicide in a family in the neighbourhood, and Annalen, her oldest, begins to suffer blackouts. Youngest daughter Paris expresses a vehement dislike towards Steel.

Meanwhile, one of Claire’s patients claims to be living a life that is a mirror image of her own, down to the smallest details. The woman even claims to be seeing a guy called Steel Nolan.

At first, Claire wonders if Steel is two-timing but then she gives in to his seduction and sleeps with him. It is the beginning of the worst nightmare of her life. Creepy things began to happen, with stuffed toys moving around, and her own children behaving as if they are possessed.

Then there is a creepy website that shows you your worst secrets and horrors from your past, things you cannot un-see.

Will Claire succeed in saving herself and her family?


The mood is deliciously slow, the details building up to give the book the vibe of a paranormal thriller.

There’s a minor subplot about her ex-husband, Gunnar, who has moved on and is married, and about the children’s interactions with her. This element led me to think that it might be a domestic thriller, but thankfully, it wasn’t so. The focus remains on the house, and what transpires within. Is it haunted? The author does a fantastic job of keeping us looking over our shoulders to see if ordinary objects around us have turned sinister.


I wish the author had given Claire two daughters less. Except for Annalen and Paris, the other two don’t get much space in the book, and I don’t see why they had to even be there. I couldn’t even remember their names.

To her credit, the supposed desire to live on the wild side doesn’t really show up much. I couldn’t see what the big deal was about it. For the most part, Claire is a sensible woman, genuinely loving towards her children and determined to keep them safe. I felt sorry for her. All she was trying to do was move on the way Gunnar had. Why does it always backfire on women?

Of course, she does behave in classic horror movie character style when it seems her instincts have gone to sleep and she doesn’t listen to her kids. If this element had not been there, the book would have been tighter and a few pages lighter. The climax requires us to suspend our disbelief and felt forced.

The Korean neighbour and her mother-in-law bring in a touch of Korean folklore which resonates within the novel, reminding us that stories from different cultures are more similar than we realise.


Annalen is nearing 15, yet she seems remarkably naïve. She catches her mother getting out of Steel’s truck, smoothing her dress down, and asks her, without a trace of sarcasm, what she was doing in there. How unbelievable is that!

Towards the end, when the horror element takes us out of reality and into the unreal, forcing us to confront the primal issue of Good versus Evil, we really begin to root for Claire as we wonder if there could ever be hope for her.


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

Wednesday, September 08, 2021


Title: Innocent Or Guilty? 
Author: AM Taylor
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 330
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book was one enjoyable and interesting read. The author turned the trope of the reliable/unreliable narrator on its head.

Olivia’s twin brother, Ethan, was arrested ten years ago for the murder of 18-year-old Tyler Washington, high school star and the son of the town mayor. Ten years ago, all the hip kids, including Olivia, were at a party at the home of Jessica Heng. From there, Tyler walked into the woods surrounding their town, and was never seen again. His body was found the next morning.

Ethan, who was never part of the hip set, is arrested for the murder. Since then he has been serving time, while his parents, elder sister Georgia and twin Olivia believe that he was wrongly convicted and struggle to get him a re-trial.

Ten years later, Olivia, now a lawyer, is contacted by Kat Thomas and Ray McKenzie of true crime podcast, Shadow of a Doubt, who are keen on featuring his case. She is not sure if it is a good idea, even though the cases featured in the last two seasons led to an acquittal and a re-trial. For one, Tyler’s mother is still the town mayor, and Olivia knows the going won’t be easy.

Even as the podcast arouses tumult in her life, forcing Olivia to confront her own secrets and lies, she faces another challenge at work in the shape of the defence of 22-year-old Reid Murphy who has been accused of beating the bigger James Asher into a coma.

Will the firm succeed in defending Reid? And will Olivia be able to prove Ethan’s innocence?


The book is written in the first person PoV of Olivia Hall, and is presented in two alternate timelines, the Then and Now. The Then narrative is written in the present tense while the Now is in past tense. In the present tense, the narrative is interspersed with the transcript of the podcast. The present tense makes us pay more attention to the events of the past.


There is more than a bit of swearing, which always seems unrequired to me. Even if the justification is that it’s how teenagers talk these days.

The book calls out the problems inherent in the legal system. It also reminds us to think of the kids who don’t fit into cliques and the loneliness they face, and about very real problems like bullying and drug use afflicting young people. Olivia also calls out the undue importance that appearances and the right image assume over reality. Power corrupts, as they say, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but in some cases, even the sensation of power can corrupt a person. As readers, we are left to wonder whether Tyler was really as wonderful a person as the town believes.

I liked the style of the writing. There was quite a lot of telling, but the language was so intense, I didn’t mind it. The tension is high as we wait for Ethan to finally be declared an innocent man.

Olivia is impatient, impulsive, acting before thinking but there were many points at which the writing seemed lazy. Surely the story would have been more credible if she had said more than, “It’s not what you think.”

On the other hand, I was impressed with Ethan, the strength of character he needed to possess, given how badly the cards were stacked against him, and the insularity of Twin Rivers. I mourned the loss of ten years of Ethan’s life.

The trope of the podcasts, which inspired the author, have been used remarkably well here. The style of Kat’s narration are rendered different from Olivia’s style.

The phrasing, “was/were sat/stood,” was awkward. In a story otherwise free of the smallest typos, this odd phrasing stood out.

At first it seemed that Reid’s case and Ethan’s might parallel each other ten years apart, and I was bracing myself for that. But in the end, Reid’s case took a backseat to Ethan’s.

But, in the end, there was another parallel that was very fitting to Ethan’s case.

The Killer You Know forces us to confront our lies and betrayals and how they affect lives. The ending was something I’d suspected for nearly two-thirds of the book, but the impact was no less because it was expected.

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


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