Friday, July 29, 2022

Book Review: THE AUCTION

Title: The Auction
Author: Elci North
Publisher: Self-publishef
Pages: 502
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


The way to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. Where does the way paved with bad intentions and totalitarian control lead? Dystopia, for sure.

Jane, a student of software engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, gets drunk and sleeps with her classmate Dave Stowe and gets pregnant. Now in her second trimester, they are married, but Jane does not love him. Angelica dares gay Eric to do it with a woman and gets pregnant. Visually impaired Millie and her husband, Jason, are pregnant after 13 years of marriage and a number of miscarriages. Wendy, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, is pregnant after being raped by a psycho who breaks into her room while she is asleep and rapes her while holding a knife to her throat. She is constantly raped and tortured by her husband.

According to the law, women must marry the biological father of the child they are carrying. But Angelica doesn’t want to marry Eric. She wants to marry Angus, a rich lawyer who she loves.

The law also says that a mother may not study or work until her child turns 18. Also, couples must give up the child they bear to the government and must bid for and buy a child from the government-run auction. These laws, enforced by the Office of Reproductive Oversight, have been passed by President Boyce, who wants to bring back the Second Halcyon Days, similar to the 1950s and early 1960s.

Jane works on a secret project for her husband’s department. Angelica, who routinely uses drugs, pays Jane to buy her clean urine. When Jason meets with an accident, Millie is deemed unfit to live alone. Wendy’s husband is arrested for breaking the rules of his parole, and she has nowhere to go.

All four of them are sent to McKee Place, a jail for pregnant women who have broken the law or have no family member to care for them. But what the government doesn’t know is that the women may be bringing about a revolution.


The book is set in America in the future. The exact year isn’t clear, but it is after 2166. Each chapter in the book consists of first person past tense PoVs of Jane, Angelica, Millie and Wendy, in that order. The portions that are in the PoV of Wendy and those that relate to Jocelyn, another young girl, who is pregnant, in particular, make for disturbing reading.

The main narrative is interspersed with Flash Newsbriefs relating to political policies and the consequences they lead to. These are at first interesting, as the consequences of women withdrawing from the labour force mean labour shortages. But then the effect peters out, when there is more of the same.

The prison doesn’t feel like a prison at all. The women call it a “spa by the river” in a mocking tone, but the way they behave, it does appear as if they are on vacation. The menace exuded by the Office of Reproductive Oversight is not really felt. President Boyce who calls the shots doesn’t have an active role, beyond the Flash News Briefs, giving him an insubstantial air.

For a novel set in dystopia, we never get the impression of the characters being in danger ever. Even the Office of Reproductive Oversight is a silly little thing, getting flummoxed when two women tell them their appeal committee is invalid.

There were a lot of spelling errors in the copy. For instance, one of the characters talks about feeling ‘self-conscience’, rather than ‘self-conscious.’

There is altogether too much dialogue about banal, ordinary things. There is a lot of repetition with characters repeating their stories to different people in different words.

Towards the end, the book becomes increasingly more unconvincing as if the author just wanted to get the book done. The entire plan to take down the auction is propped on such a flimsy base as to be almost laughable. If the author had put some details about how Jane intended to hack the system etc, it would have helped. But all we get is that there are a lot of hackers in Russia, and Jane can’t explain things because her friends won’t understand. The hacking sounds like a ridiculously easy solution.

Also, the shipping of contraband books about the real history of the US happens easily, facing no objection from the authorities. The parts which Jane reads and explains are tedious.

The constant references to Angus’ sexiness and his perfection lose their novelty soon enough, but the characters don’t stop talking about it.

Millie’s heightened, almost superhuman, sense of smell should have been integrated into the plot, rather than being just an attribute of hers, used to tell the others about when meat is rancid. For a while, I hoped she might solve the mystery about whoever died in the room. But that didn’t happen either.

The arc of many of the characters is left incomplete. We learn nothing about the babies that the women give birth to. For all their grief about Wendy, they don’t seem to care as much about her child.

For a story that claims to be about women’s empowerment, the women get rescued by the men for the most part. It is Angus’ money that seems to buy a lot of concessions for them even in the prison.

The only reason Wendy has to die is because there is no loving male in her life. Otherwise, her depression isn’t very convincing.


There is no explanation for why Dave and Angus don’t believe the government’s propaganda, considering that the government has been spreading it for nearly a century. Also, why Angelica’s father and Angus are willing to spend their own money to bring down the government without any political motivation? Angus claims to want to bring down a system that denigrates women and yet he too hopes that his baby is a boy.

At one point, Wendy goes into a high-security floor of the prison where prisoners, deemed to be flight risks, are incarcerated in solitary confinement. Yet she escapes from there, and the author doesn’t tell us how.

The book is set more than 100 years into the future, but there is no mention of newer technology. Granted that communication technologies are deliberately kept low-key by the government, even the surveillance technology is exactly as we know it is in the present time. Even medical technology seems to be at today’s level. Dave returns from Russia, and says, they have made amazing advances with virtual reality. Bah! Virtual reality is already making waves today. Over 150 years later, you have nothing to add about the technology. The author has set the book in the future, but not created any setting in terms of time and socio-economic conditions prevalent.

Many of the readers compared this book to The Handmaid, but for me, this book was far from impactful. That was partly to do with the less-than-forceful plot resolution, and also with the fact that we in India are descending into a dystopia that is far worse than anything found in these pages. Being forced to marry somebody we don’t love is already a reality for many women around the world.

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

Book Review: THE PROMISE

Title: The Promise

Author: Emily Shiner
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Pages: 251
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


Wealthy lawyer Scott Anders is so devoted to his wife, Erin, that he keeps tabs on her. He has rigged the house with hidden cameras and taps her phone, all in an attempt to keep her safe. He persuades Erin to donate a kidney to a single mother, Kathleen, who needs it.

While Erin agrees to do so, what she doesn’t know is that she is the one who needs a kidney and that Scott has paid a huge amount of money to unscrupulous Dr Thomas, who has lined up Kathleen’s twin as a possible kidney donor for her.

What Scott doesn’t know is that Kathleen has some devious plans up her sleeve and they aren’t in favour of Erin.


The book is written in the first person present tense PoV of Scott, Erin and Kathleen. The prose is tepid. It seems as if the narrative voice almost addresses us as readers, and that takes us out of the story.

I particularly hate it when characters get a thought that makes me shiver but push it away, unwilling to give it any more of my time and energy just to push the plot forward.

Much of the writing, in all three PoVs, is repetitive, belabouring a point long after it has been made. Over and over, we are told that Erin is good and kind. The over-explanation is extremely tedious.

The same thoughts are expressed in different ways in chapter after chapter, with very little changing in the real world. Words, phrases, plot, everything is repeated. The overall effect is that of an under-developed plot stretched thin.

None of the characters are likeable. Erin is stupid and doesn’t question anything. She comes across as holier-than-thou, babbling on and on about her desire to save Kathleen’s life, and I just couldn’t figure out what she did all day. Also, she’s just a decade older than Kathleen, yet she thinks of the latter as a daughter.

Scott spies on his wife and brags that even if his wife were to pick her nose, he’d know. He is just too controlling, and constantly repeats that he just loves her so much. Sorry, but that’s obsession, not love.

Kathleen is horrible but she doesn’t make a mark. She has the potential to be a very menacing character, but the endless repetition ends up undoing whatever effect the author strives for. Her motivations are the most ridiculous.


There are some inconsistencies and omissions. In Chapter 7, Scott tells us that Erin can’t cook, that if she made scrambled eggs, they would taste like rubber. In the same chapter, he lets on that during their courtship, she used to make hot meals for him.

Erin calls Kathleen, saying that her husband told her that she needed a kidney and that she, Erin, was willing to donate hers. In her own PoV, Kathleen keeps thanking Dr Thomas for finding Erin, when it is Erin who has sought her out.


Each of the three main characters think they are outsmarting the others, but they are only fooling themselves. In truth, there were no secrets at all. Each character insists on repeating their motivations and intentions over and over again. The chapters end on what is intended to be a mysterious note, but the effort falls short of the mark.

Some things remain unclear. How could Erin not know that she suffers from kidney failure? And why on earth does Scott want to hide it from her?

In Kathleen’s mother’s obit, which we learn that Erin put together, it is mentioned that Francine, mother of Kathleen, had heart disease and Alport Syndrome, the disease that Kathleen suffers from. Why was this fact not mentioned before? The character only harped on about her weak heart.

Also, Alport Syndrome is a genetic disease. Yet Kathleen keeps insisting that it is only a matter of time before her daughter gets it, never once mentioning the fact that her mother has it too and that it is an inherited condition.

The big reveal about the non-existent twin is pathetic.

The Prologue does a poor job of foreshadowing. The resolution is weak and the twist in the Epilogue unimpactful.

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

Friday, July 15, 2022


Title: Good Husbands
Author: Cate Ray
Publisher: Park Row
Pages: 386
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Three women, Jessica Jackson, Stephanie Brooke and Priyanka Lawley, strangers to each other, get an identical letter from a woman called Holly Waite, who tells them that her mother, Nicola Waite, was raped 30 years ago in 1990 by their husbands, Maximilian Jackson, Daniel Brooke and Andrew Lawley. For all of them, in marriages of love and trust, the allegation in the letter is deeply disturbing.

The letter evokes different reactions. Jess wants the truth. Priyanka is at first determined to protect Andrew, then loses confidence in him and is undecided about what to do. Stephanie wants to protect her husband and save her family, no matter what. While the other two would prefer to hide from the truth, Jess eggs them on, seeking to band together as a team.

Jess makes it her goal to get justice for Nicole, and Holly too, knowing that the truth could upset their lives and break up their marriages and families.

But will they ever get at the truth, and will justice be served?

The novel is written in the first person present tense PoV of Jess, Priyanka and Stephanie. The book is written in three parts, The Letter, The Diary and The Key, each of which drive the action onward.

The premise is a weighty one. A strong woman in a committed marriage learns that her husband has raped somebody in the past. How would she react?

I liked the writing. Here’s a sample:

It’s so temperamental, sexual interplay. One word, one look can alter things dramatically… Attraction is just smoke and mirrors. So fragile, desire can vanish at any moment.

Bitter looks ugly when unwrapped.

At 400 pages, the book is long, with not much action filling up those pages, but although I found myself impatient, I wasn’t bored. The author raises the point about the steady breakdown of democracy in many countries, including India.

The novel meanders a lot, going into questions of male privilege, testosterone, even marital sex, whether a wife can say No, and the age-old assumption that when a woman is raped or sexually assaulted, she was ‘asking’ for it. How the blame is shifted on to the girl, while the perpetrator is condoned.

There is an extensive section about the gaslighting that women are subjected to. And above all, the institution where the heinous act was committed, Montague Club, where women weren’t even allowed in until the 80s.

I found Priyanka’s job very interesting. Although ungraded, we need more discussions on such subjects for young people and teenagers.

I was happy to see an Indian character, ticking off the diversity quotient. I was happier still to know she wasn’t a stereotype. The only mistake was the author’s acknowledgement of her Punjabi Indian heritage. Bandyopadhyay, Priyanka’s surname, is Bengali, not Punjabi.

Stephanie was the character I warmed the least to. She was the most unwilling to believe in the veracity of Nicole’s story, believing the lies about the woman’s promiscuity and how she asked for it. But I also felt sorry for her once she revealed that she learned to keep my sentences short because he often interrupts me when I’m speaking, doesn’t ask what it was that I was going to say.

Priyanka changes her stance when she is confronted by all the lessons around consent that she teaches her students.

Jess is the driving force, for the greater part of the book, the only one to believe Nicole. Of the three women, she has the most powerful and unwavering moral compass. Between them, the three women spanned the gamut of reactions to rape.

Even the men are each representative of a type. There is the ‘weak’ Mr Nice Guy, the brash, militant type and the one who gets by on his looks.

Each of the characters went through turmoil in their respective lives, and they all underwent change.

This was a book about strong women, every single one of them, major and minor characters alike. I also liked how every single thread was resolved, and every character given closure, down to Shelley Fricker. In the end, this band of women stood up for their own against the power imbalance.

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


Title: The Influencer
Author: Miranda Rijks
Pages: 308
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Nathan Edwards is raising two daughters, 15yo Isla and 13yo Chloe, since the death of his wife, Sacha, of cancer ten years ago. He is now engaged to Marie, their former au pair. He runs Sacha’s Sanctuary, a charity for the homeless, in memory of his dead wife.

When Skye, a famous social media influencer with a multi-million following, offers to be a brand ambassador for the charity for free, Nathan is confused, even as his daughters are thrilled and completely enamoured with her. He wonders what such a famous person expects to get out of a tie-up with his charity.

Nathan knows that an association with Skye would change the fortunes of his charity, but he can’t help but think that it would not be good for him or his family.

Meanwhile homeless teen Skye, in the past, on the run from a dangerous ‘safe’ home for vulnerable teens, faces numerous threats posed by drug peddlers, potential rapists and wild animals, while living rough on the street. She is confused at the offer of friendship from teenage heiress Tiffany Larkin.

The novel is written in the first person present tense PoV of Nathan in the current time, and Skye Then, in alternate chapters. The Then is when Skye was 17 years of age, about 11 years ago. After a significant event in 2008, the point of view timeline changes to Skye in the present time, once again alternating with Nathan’s PoV in the present. 

I loved the style of the narration, the action sequences and the dialogue. Unlike the characters in the two previous books, The Arrangement and You Are Mine, by this author that I’ve read, here the characters don’t make any stupid choices just for the sake of advancing the plot.

There are unsaid lessons about the perils of social media fame, a world which supposedly prizes the need for authenticity, and yet revels in its fakery.

The characters are good and believable. The only one I didn’t care for was Marie. She seemed too passive and insubstantial. Nor did I care much for the relationship between Nathan and Marie.

The twist is a good one. What isn’t good is the manner in which it is revealed to us. The police figuring out the truth is organic and believable. But the perpetrator writing of their crimes in a letter to a person who will never get that letter doesn’t work at all.

The book ends on a high note, a cliffhanger of sorts. It’s not suggestive of a sequel, but is definitely an upping of the ante.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2022


Title: Endless Fear
Author: Adrianne Lee
Pages: 249
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

At age 14, April Farraday’s life changed when her mother, actress Lily Cordell-Farraday, fell down the stairs and died. That was 12 years ago. Since then, April has not been able to get the thought out of her mind that she may have been the one to push her mother down.

Having spent the intervening years in a sanitarium, April is now back at Calendar House, her old home, where she has been invited for the formal engagement party of her stepbrother, Thane Garrick.

An ominous note has warned her to stay away, but April is determined to go, hoping to unlock the memories around her mother’s death. Meanwhile, it appears that whoever sent the note has some dangerous plans for her. Accidents keep happening to her, and April is unsure who to trust.

Is old love Spencer to blame, or her stepmother, Cynthia? Will she recover her memories in time or end up losing her life?


It was hard to get a timeline on this book, but since none of the characters had cellphones, I assumed it was the eighties.


The passages written from the viewpoint of the villain of the piece were rather weak. The entire mystery felt very tepid at the end of it all?


There were a lot of proofing errors in this book. Some of the descriptions are banal. With her blood the temperature of ice water. In the same paragraph, we get her mouth felt as dry as the desert outside, her palms as damp as the dew on the cacti.

We are told that April’s father forgot ‘amenities,’ instead of the right word, ‘niceties.’


The descriptions are another annoyance. There are repeated references to the colour of character’s eyes and hair, which is distracting and takes away from the action. Spencer’s hair is at first chocolate, then coffee brown, and then chocolate again. His eyes are dove gray, then pewter.

The number of times that Spencer and April kiss each other before Spencer pulls apart is once too often. The forward and backward dance between them continues throughout the book. The entire misunderstanding between them could have been sorted out if they had only spoken, but neither seems to have the good sense to do that. And so, we are left with a book which could have been shorter.

There is a lot of repetition. A lot of characters staring at each other over a certain number of ‘long seconds.’

The Farradays name their children after the month in which they are born. So April’s dad is August, her aunt is called March, and her half-sister is called July. This comes across more as a gimmick than an eccentricity. What if a boy were to be born in May or June? Or a girl in February?

Crusty old Aunt March didn’t get enough space in the book. And then there was all the skirting around Spencer. April though of Cynthia as her stepmother, and Thane as her stepbrother. But Thane’s twin brother, Spencer, was not once referred to as a stepbrother. That was awkward.


Title: Madeline’s Miracles
Author: Warren Adler
Publisher: Stonehouse Press
Pages: 360
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Virginia Sargent, a commercial artist living the California lifestyle with her stockbroker husband, Jack, and twin pre-teen daughters, who are undisputed masters on the soccer field, meets an enigmatic woman at her beauty parlour. That woman is Madeline Boswell, and she knows everything about Virginia and her family.

Virginia feels drawn to her, and before long, as Madeline’s predictions begin to come true, she begins to trust her completely. She becomes so obsessed with Madeline that she makes her the sole subject of her canvas. She truly believes Madeline’s promise that she can keep their family safe and happy, help them achieve their dreams and protect them from all dangers.

At first Jack is sceptical and spends time and energy trying to expose Madeline as a two-bit psychic and a charlatan. But when his daughter is saved from near tragedy at a football game, he becomes a fanatical convert.

Before long, Madeline is invited to live in their beautiful home, and the couple accord her the status of a demi-god. She dictates terms on every aspect of their lives, from their work, parenting and the stock market. They begin to follow her advice, no matter how outlandish it may seem. But then strange things begin to happen. Lines that should never be crossed are transgressed. Who is Madeline? Is she really clairvoyant, able to see the future and protect their family from unknown dangers, or is she nothing but a sleazy conwoman?

The story is written in the 3rd person past tense PoV of Virginia and Jack in alternate chapters. We don’t see much of the girls. For the most part, we are told that they are busy at soccer practice. It would have been interesting to have their 3rd person PoV too to see how their parents’ acceptance of this woman affected them, and what they made of it.

The writing is good, and the dialogue believable. The football match in which the twins work their magic is a turning point for the family and is well written.

While the author builds up the story well, the ending is not very convincing. There wasn’t enough conflict to make the characters credible. Also, we get to see Jack’s journey from scepticism to conviction, but for Virginia, it seems as if it takes almost nothing for her to become a complete believer. The fierceness with which she places Madeline on a pedestal, and worships her, treating her at once as a god and a mother made me uncomfortable.

There are references to sex, but they are not gratuitous, even though they are sickening to read about because of what they represent.

Madeline seems like a one-woman cult, and like Jack and Virginia, we hover between rejection and acceptance of the strange things happening in the life of the Sargents. Though a work of fiction, we have seen enough evidence of sensible people giving over their lives into the control of another person to know that such things are very much possible.

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

Friday, July 01, 2022


Title: The Caretakers
Author: Eliza Maxwell
Publisher: 313
Pages: Lake Union Publishing
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Caretakers is the story of two pairs of sisters. We have Tessa and Margot in the present day, and aged sisters, Dierdre and Kitty. Initially, we are unable to see how the two pairs of sisters are related, because they seem to have nothing in common. The connection between the two pairs of sisters is not immediately apparent.

Filmmaker Tessa Shepherd’s documentary about the unlawful incarceration of Oliver Barlow, convicted for the murder of a young Gwen Morley and serving his sentence for the last 14 years, wins him an acquittal and release. The film itself launched Tessa’s career into stardom, of sorts.
Now it seems, he has raped and killed again and Tessa is being hounded by the press and the victim’s father, who was the investigating cop in the Morley case, for being instrumental in the release of a killer. The news fills Tessa with guilt.
Meanwhile, the sudden death of her mother forces her to seek reconciliation with her estranged twin sister, Margot. The sisters inherit their mother’s home, Fallbrook, and come to know of the deadly secrets it hides within its walls. Decades ago, the family had been slaughtered. The piano teacher was convicted of the crime, but he may have been innocent. Since then, the house has been abandoned; only two elderly sisters, Dierdre and Kitty, stay behind as caretakers.
In the present time, there is some drama and history between Tessa and Margot in the past, which has led to their estrangement.


All these threads have to be tied together and how well they are tied together is what will give us satisfaction as readers. Unfortunately, all the threads, though tied up well, do not give equal satisfaction. The estrangement between Tessa and Margot was the weakest storyline.

The love and the fraught relationship between Tessa and Margot was the plot thread that interested me the least. The drama was unconvincing; nothing that couldn’t have been resolved by the two of them sitting together and talking. But the author let it get out of hand and it ended up taking too much space. The storyline involving the two elderly sisters and the one involving Oliver Barlow had far more potential, and it would have been better if the author had focused on just these two.

The book is written in alternating timelines from the 3rd person perspectives of Dierdre, Kitty and Tessa. The past that emerged from Kitty’s ghostly recollections was far more promising.

There’s an air of mystery and ghostliness particularly in the story relating to Fallbrook, and I really enjoyed those parts. I also loved the descriptions of the house and the ending to the Fallbrook storyline.

In Chapter 18, which offers a deeper introduction to Fallbrook, we read some of the most exquisite prose in the book. A house dies a slow death without a family to fill it.

Elsewhere, Hatred grows best in a place where love dies.

I would definitely read another book by this author.

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


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