Tuesday, June 28, 2022


Title: The Perfect Family
Author: Lorna Dounaeva
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Pages: 313
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Victoria Hill has the perfect family. Joey, 9yo, is well-behaved and a musical prodigy, and Anna, at 14, is a model student at St Bernard’s School. Victoria herself is an Environmental Ambassador at Joey’s school. She and her husband, Kit, a stockbroker, have a huge house and are doing very well. But the truth is that the couple are paranoid about having their secret revealed.

When Joey’s teacher, Miss Henley, suggests that he might be autistic, Victoria goes into denial mode, unaware that Joey has stopped taking his pills. Meanwhile, Anna has begun to rebel and has made friends who are undesirable in Victoria’s eyes. Victoria is barely holding it together when Belinda Donovan asks for a piano class for her son, Ricky, both she and Kit baulk at the idea. They are both afraid of the consequences of Belinda learning a truth they have tried hard to run from.



The book is written in the 3rd person past tense point of view of Victoria and Anna. We are also given excerpts from Joey’s diary.


The pace of the book is slow. The first hint of the extent to which she is willing to go to preserve the façade of the perfect family comes at the 57 percent mark. Thereafter it’s downhill.

The book offers a subtle critique on the lengths some people go to maintain a façade, especially for social media.

None of the characters are really likeable. In Victoria’s case, she starts out as unlikeable, and then her behaviour worsens. Because she had a less than perfect upbringing, she is determined to ensure perfection for her family in every aspect. While the motivation may be sound, the way she goes about achieving it is not.

Kit gets short shrift. He rarely takes any action, unless directed to do so by his wife, and so, he comes across as flat. He doesn’t even have any deep connection with the children. It is Victoria who makes all the decisions.

Some of the details we are given about her are bizarre. On a day on which she has lots of housework to do, she remains on hold on a call to a busy restaurant, Harry’s Burger House, we are told, for a full hour, before hanging up. Surely if she were that obsessed, she’d hang up and actually go to the place. Also, it’s crazy that a busy restaurant doesn’t cut the call but lets her hold on for an hour.

I liked the cover, the cracked windshield against the house was beautiful. It served to remind us readers of the perfection that was threatened for the main characters.

The ending was really twisted, and not in a good way. It was completely unbelievable. Nothing that had happened before prepared us for the end.

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

Monday, June 27, 2022


Title: The Mommy Clique
Author: Barbara Altamirano
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Pages: 203
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Elise is the queen bee of the Mommy clique. Kelly is her right hand, sycophantic and ingratiating. Ronnie has no place in this adult version of high school, though she has made herself quite comfortable by gleaning secrets about the others. Gail is the wannabe, never at ease with herself.

When Beth returns to her hometown in Connecticut to care for her sick mother, along with her husband and three children, she is lonely. Despite herself, she feels drawn to the Mommy clique, consisting of Elise, Kelly, Ronnie and Gail.

What follows is a series of pranks, all designed as part of a bizarre initiation. Because Elise has decided that Beth is to be the target.


I thought it would have been better if we had been introduced to Beth before the other characters. Beth is the protagonist in this grown-up drama; we should have had an opportunity to bond with her first. Instead we meet her after we get to know the other four women.

I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. They were selfish and cold. All in all, there’s too much drama at a school bus stop. It was for the most part meaningless and confusing. I couldn’t see why anyone would want to put up with it.

The writing was tepid and indistinguishable from one PoV to another. It’s hard to keep track of whose PoV it is. As if there wasn’t enough confusion for the reader from five PoVs in Chapter 1, the author decides to hand out titles and then refer to chapter names using the titles, from Chapter 2.

As the book picked up steam, it got better and the voices became distinct, but I still couldn’t imagine grown women behaving like this.

Elise calls Gail’s Halloween party costume “more sedated” than her usual style. More sedated?

The names could have been chosen better. Beth’s husband is Rick and her son is Ricky. This becomes confusing for us.

Going by the title, I had assumed that the book would be about the rivalry in the PTA. This was just too unreal.

The ending was particularly disturbing. In a world in which sexual assault and rape are justified because the woman “was asking for it,” or “deserved it,” the final resolution smacked of insensitivity and cruelty.

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

Friday, June 24, 2022


Title: Family Matters
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Pages: 500
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Family Matters is all heart, just as all stories about families are. The story of an ordinary Parsi family made worthy of our attention.

Nariman Vakeel is a 79-year-old Parsi man mollycoddled by stepson Jal and stepdaughter Coomy Contractor, the middle-aged, unmarried children of his dead wife, Yasmin. A widower, he suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, but his spirit is unshakeable.

When Nariman has a fall and fractures his leg, Coomy, unwilling to put up with the inconvenience of looking after him, bamboozles Jal into agreeing with her plan and dumps the old man on his daughter Roxana, who lives with husband Yezad Chenoy and two sons, 13yo Murad and 9yo Jehangir, in a very tiny apartment in a building called Pleasant Villa.

The arrangement is supposed to last only 20 days. Coomy tells Roxana that Nariman may return to their large 7-room flat in a building called Chateau Felicity, once the cast is removed. But Coomy has no intention of letting Nariman return.

Meanwhile, Yezad, frustrated with the inconvenience of having a bedridden man take up space in his little home and the additional expenses demanded, plans a little deception at work.


The story is set in Bombay, in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the horrible riots that ravaged the city, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It was then that the city shed its lovely skin and turned into something ugly.

I treasured the stories about Bombay, seeing in Mr Kapur, the owner of Bombay Sporting Goods, where Yezad works, a kindred spirit.

The author talks with sensitivity and compassion about such subjects as the loneliness of old age, the frustrations of middle age, and the stress of having too many needs and not enough funds to satisfy them. He also highlights the issue of arranged marriages, a hoary Indian tradition which takes away the agency of choice from mature youth.

He has a gift for making the mundane pressure cooker whistles, ordinary stories of life in a Parsi colony come alive. This is life, bared in all its splendour and imperfection. The sights and sounds of everyday India transmuted to prose.

Despite its sheer breadth and length (at 500 pages), the book doesn’t seem lengthy. We are wholly invested, seeing the hubris of the characters, their arrogance and helplessness.

There are no villains here. Just people reacting to situations, not always wisely. The minor characters have extended sections and their own backstories, which makes them come alive. We warm to them, even though their lives intersect with the main plot only in passing. Vilas Rane’s letter writing, Daisy who plays the violin, Edul Munshi, the fixer-upper who breaks more things than he fixes, all their stories are utterly moving.

It was especially heartwarming to read about Nariman’s bond with his grandsons. The financial struggles of Yezad and Roxana were the stories of countless families across the land, where one meagre salary is stretched paper-thin to cover the needs of many.

Nariman is relatable and likeable. The tremor in his legs gives him the appearance of some pervert jiggling his thighs.

Nariman’s Goan girlfriend, Lucy Alvarez, is described by his parents as a firangi. Completely relatable in a country in which for all our diversity, we are all outsiders to the others, seeking the continuation of our legacies with those like us. The novel gives us many examples of this. There is also the prejudice of the Shiv Sainiks against the locals, Parsis against the ‘ghatis.’

Those who lived through the ‘90s will be reminded of the high-handedness of the Shiv Sena’s hardline Hindutva stance then, and their hypocrisy in hosting Michael Jackson while denigrating all things Western.


The book took me back to the 90s when the poor and middle class depended on the public distribution system and the ration card was an important document. Vilas Rane writing letters in three languages for the unlettered, in an era in which letter writing was the primary mode of communication. Family matters shared on paper, magic for the recipient. Like perfume. You don’t apply a whole bottle. Just one dab will fill your senses. Words are the same – a few are sufficient.

Parsi words like lufroo, buckro and the names of Parsi dishes like eedu, dhandar patiyo etc add a homely touch. I also found the names very interesting. The Contractors with the disaster in the ceiling, Vilie Cardmaster and her matka fixation, Munshi with his handyman obsession, the names are sometimes apt, at other times ironic. Pleasant Villa wasn’t all that pleasant for those that lived in its tiny apartments, and Chateau Felicity was mired in generational unhappiness. There is a theme running through the novel about reaping what one sows.

The cover was simple yet telling. Because the man on the cover has his back to us, it’s easy for us to imagine Nariman through his entire lifespan.

My only grouse was that the epilogue was much too long and didn’t feel like a wrapping up but a treading into newer waters. The back blurb wasn’t quite accurate, making Yezad’s deception out to be far worse than it was.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Book Review: MURDER AT THE BRIGHTWELL (Amory Ames #1)

Title: Murder at the Brightwell (Amory Ames #1)
Author: Ashley Weaver
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Pages: 336
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The very first line, It is an impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions. With that almost Austenian beginning, the novel began.

While romance as a genre isn’t my preferred choice, I don’t mind it if it shows up in other genres, just as long as it stays unobtrusive. I had hopes it would be so, given that there was the word, Murder, in the title. But it wasn’t so.


Amory Ames’ marriage is strained within just five years. Husband Milo neglects her and prefers to spend all his time gambling in Monte Carlo. Amory regrets her whirlwind wedding with him.

When former fiancé and old friend Gilmore Trent invites her on a seaside holiday to the Brightwell hotel to warn his sister, Emmeline, to break off her engagement with her fiancé, Rupert Howe, an untrustworthy cad, Amory readily agrees.

At the hotel, Milo shows up, testing her friendship and Gil’s intentions towards her. When Rupert is found murdered and Gil arrested for the crime, Amory is determined to find the real killer and prove Gil’s innocence. Will she succeed? Or will the killer strike again?

Also, as Milo ingratiates himself to her, can she sort out her feelings towards Milo and Gil?


The story, set in Kent, England, in 1932, is written in the first person past tense point of view of Amory.

I liked the author’s descriptions. She describes a mismatched couple as something akin to a cinema star on the arm of a parish priest. Of another character, she says, The sort of person one liked at once, but for whom the fondness fades after a short time.

Amory’s back story, her issues with Milo were written well, but they took away the focus from the murder.

Amory was a good strong character. She is willing to stand up for herself, even if it means facing ridicule and going against the social mores of her times, and she dislikes the term, husbandly rights. She is quick on the uptake and has a delicious sense of repartee. Most of the time, she didn’t do stupid things to advance the plot.

The author makes a comment on the upper class who, no matter what the tragedy, still put social niceties above everything else.

In keeping with the traditions of the Grand Ole Dame of Mystery Fiction, the book is chock-filled with characters, but the air is more that of a cozy mystery than anything else.

The author or her editor would do well to pay more attention to her sentence construction, particularly sentences with ‘one’ as the subject.

I found the pace a little rushed towards the end, compared to the beginning and middle which devotes too much space to the stay at the hotel and the holidaying. I also had my doubts about the names, Milo and Amory, particularly in the England of the 1930s, when most classical literature of the time featured characters with traditional names.

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


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