Thursday, September 22, 2022


Title: The Necklace

Author: Matt Witten
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Pages: 304
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Susan Lentigo’s 7-year-old daughter Amy was raped and murdered twenty years ago. Now the monster responsible is going to be executed at a penitentiary in North Dakota, and Susan plans to witness the much-deserved execution of the man she thinks of as the Monster. And yet, something feels off.

Her friends raise funds to enable her to make the road trip to Dakota. But her car breaks down, and her money is stolen. She has to take a series of buses, sleeping at bus stops and washing up in diner bathrooms. Her struggle without money, being temporarily homeless, is hard, but the desperate mother rallies on, determined to make it to the execution. 

About 20 years ago, the death of her daughter broke her family, as husband Danny divorced her and re-married and is now living with his wife, son and daughter in a distant town. But Susan is still holding on to her rage and grief, unable to forgive or forget, hoping the execution will bring closure.

But then she discovers a clue that shows that the wrong man may be killed in the execution, while the real killer gets away scot-free, if she doesn’t succeed in convincing the police to re-open the investigation. Her own daughter is lost to her, but maybe she can save another little girl from a horrible fate, and save the man she has called the Monster.

But are her suspicions right? Or is her grief-ridden mind making another mistake?

The book is written in the 3rd person limited past tense PoV of Susan. Alternate chapters are presented in the Then and Now timelines. The Then narrative is related to the disappearance of Amy, the investigation and the trial, while the present narrative takes us along with Susan on her difficult journey to North Dakota. Once the Monster is sentenced and her marriage breaks down, the narrative remains focused on the present day.

The Necklace of the title refers to a necklace that Susan and Amy had strung together, one that Amy vowed never to take off. Made with colourful plastic dolphin, duck and unicorn beads, the necklace was never recovered, and the police believed that the killer had retained it as a souvenir.

The basic premise of this novel is horrifying for any parent.

I liked the fact that Susan got by on sheer pluck and persistence, despite being hampered by lack of money and zero tech skills, buoyed along by the goodness of strangers. The extreme cold in the North and the long distance she has to traverse to reach her destination are other challenges that confront this single mother. This road trip gone sour is described well.

For a long time, the Monster isn’t given a name and we’re left puzzling over his identity. We first hear his name at the 36% mark, when Susan first becomes aware of him.

There’s a race-against-time element about the finish which comes at the 96% mark, just when the book is about to run out of breath.

I thought the book could have done without the romance. Susan’s life was so filled with turmoil at this time, the romance felt intrusive. For a mother who’s so focused on justice and doing the right thing, taking time off for love seems uncharacteristic. I thought the hint of the romance should have been saved for the Epilogue.

Also, the book started way too early. I almost lost interest at the beginning. It should have started with the crime and the information about the stringing of the necklace should have been presented later in a flashback, rather than opening the book with it.

We never get to know why the perpetrator did what he did. There’s no closure on that, and this feels like an important piece missing. Also, I would have liked a little more information on the Monster in prison.

The author names way too many characters in the first chapter, that have no place in the narrative. Amy’s friends, Kate, Sherry and Sandy, are mentioned by name when they have do nothing but chug beer in the first chapter.

Trigger warning: Rape and murder of children.

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


Title: Secrets Between Friends

Author: Tracy Buchanan
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 253
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Prologue begins 20 years ago, when the narrator and we witness the aftermath of a horrible crime, as the battered body of a young man is consigned to the waves. This chapter was very intriguing and reeled me into reading the rest of the story.

Liz once dreamed of being a journalist; now she is a divorced postie, delivering the mail in her hometown of Easthaven, England. Fighting a legal battle with ex-husband Scott Thomson for the custody of teenage girls, Ruby and Mia, she is constantly belittled by her wheelchair-bound mother who has always been mean to her.

Liz doesn’t need any more drama in her life. But that’s exactly what she gets when her former best friend Tamsin Lakewell, now a famous poet, returns to Lakewell Manor along with her fiancé Carl to grieve the death of her mother. The two haven’t seen each other in 20 years, not since the night Gabe Arnaud, the man they both loved, died a horrible death.

Friendless and lonely, Liz takes the opportunity to re-connect with Tamsin, but discovers, a day later, that there is another woman in the house pretending to be Tamsin. She decides to resolve the mystery. Who is Fake Tamsin, and what has she done with Tamsin? More importantly, is the secret that Liz and Tamsin have hidden over 20 years about to destroy them?


The book is written in the first person present tense PoV of Liz Barrowman, now and 20 years ago when she was only 16.

The description of Easthaven was lovely. The sense of intrigue and mystery were handled deftly. The links between the past and the present were handled smoothly. The narrative was well-paced, with details peeled off bit by bit. We never find our interest flagging. The writing was good. Here’s a sample of the prose:

Sitting with the very poison ivy that tangled its limbs around my own childhood.

There’s only so many times woodworms nibble at a piece of furniture before it begins to weaken.


The creative arts and social media play a big role here with a lot of the characters pursuing their creative side. Liz wants to be a journalist, Tamsin writes poetry, Ruby has a Tik-Tok channel called Young, Beautiful and Dead, and Gabe is a photographer and an aspiring novelist. Minor characters Imogen and Celia are social media influencers.


Liz has a good sense of humour and is sensitive. She was a flawed, all-too-human character. Her actions, guided by love for those she cared for, weren’t always sensible. Her troubles kept increasing, causing us to remain invested in her. Another positive attribute of hers is that despite having an emotionally abusive mother, she is a loving and supportive mother to her own daughters.

All this I figured out later. Initially she didn’t come across as a likeable character, with her penchant for making notes on people’s personal lives, and what appeared to be, until we got details later, snooping into people’s private correspondence.


Liz’s mother was an awful character. She constantly belittled her daughter and idolised her cheating ex-son-in-law, Scott.

The final change of heart that Scott has is unconvincing.

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

Thursday, September 15, 2022


Title: A Gracious Neighbor
Author: Chris Cander
Publisher: Little A
Pages: 304
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Martha Hale has a happy life with her lawyer husband, Lewis, and son, Harry. Their lifestyle isn’t as privileged as that of their neighbours, and Martha doesn’t have any friends, but she doesn’t let it bother her.

When old high schoolmate Minnie Wright nee Foster moves in next door, Martha, who spent her teenage years trying to befriend Minnie, sees this as her chance to re-initiate a close friendship with Minnie. 


The book, set in an upmarket neighbourhood in Texas, raises the themes of jealousy and satisfaction with one’s lot in life. It also reminds us that perfection is an illusion. Even Minnie’s house, for all its perfection, harbours huge cockroaches, an insect universally looked upon with revulsion.


At first, I found Martha hard to like, but slowly I developed a grudging tolerance towards her. She was kind and she had her heart in the right place. Of course, the effects of her actions weren’t always as she expected or hoped for. She overthinks the problems in her life and resorts to solutions that are inane and doomed to fail. She takes her self-styled role as Good Friend and Neighbour so seriously that she doesn’t even realise that she is transgressing boundaries that should not be crossed.

There was a singular loneliness in the characters’ lives. Martha was lonely, but so were the others, even those whose lifestyles were better than her own. 

It was a slow burner of a novel, so slow that the author even manages to name-drop one of her other books into this one.

After the 28% mark, chapters began to end on a vaguely ominous note. But it was only at the 53% mark that the action promised to get into a higher gear. The first hint of trouble came at the 80% mark.

The plot was a loose series of events. On the surface, there seemed an excess of minutiae about Martha’s life. But it did feel like a build-up at some points.

Even though the pace was slow and it was more of a character-, rather than plot-driven book, we read about Martha’s day with a sense of foreboding, knowing that something is about to go wrong.

Some issues I had: The cuisine served by the restaurant they went to for their anniversary dinner should be North Indian cuisine, not Northern Indian.

One simile that stood out for its visual imagery: She felt like cheese melting between two warm slices of toasted bread.

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


Title: Believers and Hustlers
Author: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Publisher: Iskanchi Press
Pages: 380
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Ifenna Obumselu, a young journalist, is sent to cover the inauguration of ‘the biggest church in the world,’ with a seating capacity of 1,20,000 worshippers. This is Heaven’s Gate cathedral, the new global headquarters of Rivers of Joy Church in Lagos, Nigeria. The church is headed by Pastor Nicholas Adejuwon, the Daddy Founder, and his wife, Pastor Nkechi, also known as Mummy General.

When he steers away from the scripted question and asks about the death of a pastor while the church was under construction, Ifenna is fired from his job and becomes suspicious about Pastor Nick’s actions and motivations.

He decides to start an anonymous blog to expose some of the corruption he has encountered.

Will he succeed in exposing the corruption? And will his reporting make a difference? 


The chapters alternate between the 3rd person past tense PoVs of Ifenna, Nick and Nkechi.


The narrative included a lot of words and expressions from Igbo and Yoruba. These added a lot of colour without taking away from our understanding of the story or our enjoyment of the writing. The only word I knew was wahala, which means trouble.

The similes were rooted in the culture.

Like ants to sugar. 

The television shrieked, like freshly cut onions poured into hot groundnut oil.

Eyes like the red of hibiscus.

Like puffs of pepper spray.

The forlorn look on a character’s face is described as: like the chaff of an orange after all the juice had been squeezed out of it.


There were a lot of minor characters who are unrelated to the main plot, but help us understand the main characters better.


The Believers and Hustlers of the title refers to the prey and the predator. The book highlights the quirks that dot religious circles, the rampant corruption with people fooled by pastors into buying into a gospel of prosperity, with ordinary people being asked to pay for luxuries for the pastors and church leaders, who sell high-priced tickets to heaven. The racket that the healing sessions are, how they make money off the desperation of the gullible, the hypocrisy of trading in religious symbols while lacking true faith.

But religious corruption isn’t the only problem. Traffic police run their own racket, extorting money. The journalists get paid by the businesses they cover, the editors want their cut.


One interesting thing I learned was that Nigerian Christians cut cakes after counting down to the spelling of the name of Jesus and that Nigeria has a tradition of renaming cars they do not manufacture.


I particularly liked Ifenna’s writing, visible in his pieces for the newspaper and in his blog. The stories he writes are about the degradation of the human condition. There are versions of this in every country. His blog too is well written, the words chosen carefully for the impact they could achieve, the posts charged with passion and overflowing with sarcasm.

This was my first novel by a NIgerian author and I enjoyed it. The author adopts a teasing yet indulgent tone towards his characters, and towards the culture as a whole, their foibles and eccentricities, describing the easy manner in which people pick up foreign accents. The links between present day events and the flashbacks, very tricky to get right, were handled smoothly.

The ending was believable, rooted in reality, yet I found it disturbing and disappointing. I had hoped for a resolution that would resolve the problem the book began with, but I guess it can never be resolved. As long as there are believers in this world, there will be hustlers too.

I highly recommend this one.

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


Title: A Perfect Nanny (Giffort Street #1)
Author: Marian D Schwartz
Publisher: Gristmill Publishing
Pages: 38
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐

This very short book is more like a short story. It is written from the Point of View of Elizabeth, a woman who is now a grandmother. She was a child when her neighbours, the Whittakers, hired Meddie as their housekeeper and nanny. Meddie knows everything that happens on Giffort Street.

Meddie is cold to everyone except the Whittaker girls, Candace and Margaret. The nanny has free rein in the Whittaker household. So strong is her influence that she is the one who decides the age gap between the children.

When Elizabeth’s father dies, her mother takes up a job and sends her off to spend time with Meddie and Margaret, until Elizabeth’s older brother, Will, comes home.


That’s all I can say about it. It seemed as if it was just getting warmed up when it ended abruptly. I felt cheated. All that mystery built up for nothing. In the end, no resolution at all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


Title: Lovely Girls
Author: Margot Hunt
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Pages: 302
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Kate Turner and her daughter, Alex, have moved to a small town in Florida from New York. Kate hopes the move will help, that she and Alex will make new friends, and put their tragic past behind them.

Alex has a run-in with Daphne, Callie and Shae, three mean girls at her new school, but Kate is befriended by Genevieve, Ingrid and Emma, the mothers of those girls.


The book is written in the first person past tense PoV of Kate. This main narrative is interspersed with transcripts of the footage from Alex’ video diary.

I could relate to Kate, to the fact that she was swamped with life and had no real friends. But I couldn’t understand her desire to be friends with Genevieve and her clique, while completely disregarding how fake they were.

The dialogue between Kate and Joe Miller, the handsome single father she befriends, is quite lame.  The writing too was rather prosaic. At one point, Kate tells us that she is ‘incandescent with rage.”

I didn’t like any of the characters. Kate herself appeared rather petty in her attitude towards her neighbour, Lita Green. Granted that Lita gossips a lot, but that didn’t condone Kate’s high-handed attitude towards her.

Also, she complains about Alex having distanced herself but makes rather feeble attempts to get closer to her.

The novel went on for far too long. The middle should have been cut down. It added nothing of value to the narrative. The action picks up towards the end, by which time we are nearly running out of patience.

I wish authors would stop resorting to the Mean Girls trope. It’s been done once too often, and in this novel, there isn’t even a valid reason for why the girls act the way they do.

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


Title: Entry Wounds

Author: Brandon McNulty
Publisher: Midnight Point Press
Pages: 362
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. A cursed gun that fuses itself to your hand the moment you touch it and doesn’t let go till you have killed six people.

Ken Fujima, a substitute teacher, hopes to get a full-time position but is thwarted once too often. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Michelle Salto and her sister Hannah set out to seek revenge on the two members of the Japanese mafia, the yakuza, who shot their parents in cold blood 20 years ago. The girls’ lives are destroyed on account of the sins of their parents.

Receiving a cursed gun in a package from their father’s friend, the girls set out to kill their parent’s killers. The sixth man Michelle kills is Ken’s father.

When Ken picks up the gun, it sets off a chain of death and destruction that can only end after he has killed six people. Ken thinks he can fight against the instinct to kill, but the gun has a mind of its own, and it is thirsty for blood.

Ken, the son of an honest mother and a father who used to be a gangster, has a strong moral compass. Forced to kill, Ken seeks to play vigilante against the appetite of the gun.

But will his morals stand against the will of the gun?

The writing was powerful.

He tore the details out of himself like bits of shrapnel from a festering wound – painful yet necessary.


The main characters are Americans of Japanese origin. There aren’t too many characters in this book, but they all have a key role to play.

The narrative was smooth, well written and well paced. It was almost like a detailed screenplay. I could easily imagine the action.

The very first chapter, with the writing so spare yet lush, felt like a short story. Things got better from there. Starting from a difficult situation, the author keeps upping the ante for the main characters. The addition of crazy and bizarre characters like Robby and Chrissie does nothing to make things easier for Ken. These are people whose moral compass is already soiled thanks to drug abuse.

The author tells us that Ken had developed a tolerance towards the absurd. But to us, as readers, the events playing out don’t appear absurd. Instead we watch the action unfold with bated breath.

The book raises moral questions. If you were forced to kill somebody, would you? If the choice wasn’t yours to make, how would you react?

It also reminds us that our actions have the potential to affect the lives of others long after we are gone.

This is my first book by Brandon McNulty but it won’t be the last. I sure hope there will be a book 2, an Exit Wounds, in the future. There are far too many loose threads, Robby, Takahashi, Angela, Ken, that need to be tied up.

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


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...