Wednesday, October 12, 2022


Title: Such A Beautiful Family
Author: TR Ragan
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Pages: 266
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Nora Ruth Harmon is an IT marketing whiz, living the good life with husband, David, and children, Hailey and Trevor. When Jane Bell, the founder and CEO, of a rapidly rising IT company, offers her a job at a fantastic salary, twice her current package, with flexible working hours, it seems to be too good to be true.

Pretty soon, Nora’s problems and work pressures begin to increase. The new job doesn’t give her the flexibility she thought she would have. Hailey, nearly 16, begins to act up, bringing home a boyfriend, Alex, that Nora disapproves of. She’s also worried about Trevor, who has withdrawn into himself after an incident in which he nearly drowned. Her dad’s dementia is getting worse.

As if all this isn’t enough, Nora suspects that her boss is trying to steal her family, by ingratiating herself with them, particularly whenever Nora is absent.

 Soon she begins to wish she had never accepted this job. How can Nora reclaim her family before it's too late?

I was intrigued by the Prologue, but the very first chapter was a let-down. The quality of the writing in the first chapter was all tell, no show. It felt like someone was telling us a story, a very boring one, without dialogue and, for the most part, without emotion. This chapter was a Story-so-far, with the author bringing us up to speed on whatever had transpired before events in the current timeline began. This can be very exhausting for the reader.

Thankfully, the writing got better afterwards, in subsequent chapters. Even the pace was quick and steady. It was a quick read, not really challenging but still capable of holding reader interest.


At one point the author tells us, Everyone loved David. Including Nora. But David was the least likeable among the characters. Jane too began to grate on my nerves. She felt pushy and aggressive.


The only characters I liked were Trevor and Tank. My heart went out to Trevor for his vulnerability and goodness, and to Tank for how big and adorable he was.


Alex had a blink-and-miss role. Towards the end, it felt as if the author was trying to redeem him in Nora’s eyes but the effort didn’t work out. Nor could I understand David’s indulgent attitude towards Alex, particularly when he reeked of cannabis.


The chapters were written in the 3rd person limited past tense PoV of Nora and Trevor. This caused confusion, especially when both of them were in a scene, because the narrative flitted between referring to Nora by her first name and as Mom in the same scene.


Incidentally, I wondered if Tank, the family dog, was written in later. The author introduced him to us in Chapter 6. Prior to that, Trevor celebrated his 13th birthday at home with his entire family, but Tank had not even been mentioned.

Also, we never get to know what happened to Allina, a crucial event in the Prologue.

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


Title: The House on the Lake
Author: Holly Hill Mangin
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 346
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Eve Beckett finds herself a guest at the mysterious Lake House, but she has no memory of having arrived there. It is an unsettling realization because Lake House is set on an island, and Eve is deathly afraid of water. She would never have chosen to come here. But she stays on, because there is something about the paranormal that appeals to her. Then her sister, Lyn, shows up, also with no memory of having arrived there.

There is something odd about the place. The caretakers, Gail and Hammond, behave strangely. Good looking Nick, who is in charge of maintenance, warns her against his dangerous brother, Ari, who is equally handsome. Eve finds herself drawn to both brothers.

The house, which bears an air of mystery, is rather strange. Rooms keep moving around. Then there is a ghost, a woman only Eve can see. Who is she? And what does she want?

Eve has her hands full, between solving the mystery of the ghost, the house, and figuring out how she got there, besides resolving her feelings for both the brothers. Meanwhile, the house is on a slow decline, with parts of it crumbling and decaying.

Will Eve get back to her home safely before the house is destroyed? Or will she be trapped in this place?


The book is written in the first person present tense PoV of Eve.

It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel. The writing is strong, the descriptions evocative, and I just loved the brooding artwork on the cover. 

I liked the premise of two sisters, twins, taking on a mystery. There is a mystery in their shared past that needs to be resolved, something to do with an accident. The dynamics between them are in full display here.

Eve comes across as an unreliable narrator, as she can’t remember why she is at Lake House. She also has frequent episodes of zoning out.

The mystery itself took too long to be resolved, and I lost patience and interest. The dialogue between Eve and the brothers was cheesy. I did enjoy the parts concerning the house.

The basic premise of the book is rather clever when you think about it. I appreciated the psychology of it all. But the sudden shift from thriller to philosophy was slightly unsettling, particularly when one is expecting the book to pan out like a thriller.

Among the characters, only Nick and Ari seemed well drawn. Both had a strong sense of magnetism. Eve was someone I felt indifferent to. I wish she had figured things out sooner.

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

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Book Review: RED RAIN

Title: Red Rain

Author: Lara Bernhardt
Publisher: Admission Press
Pages: 304 pages
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


Brace yourself, people, this is going to be a long one.

Olivia Montag, with a dead baby and a broken marriage behind her, flees to India from the US to escape her sadness. Flush with the promise of Eat, Pray, Love, she seeks to re-invent her life by volunteering as an English teacher in a school for the underprivileged in a village in Kochi, Kerala.

She begins to enjoy teaching, but then realises that as girls begin to menstruate, they are pulled out of school for lack of sanitary napkins and on account of prevailing superstitions. When she meets Mukesh, a man who has invented a machine to produce low-cost sanitary napkins, she is blown by its potential to create positive change and offers to buy the machines and help him set up a production unit in the village. But the going will not be easy.

Will Olivia give up in the face of opposition? Or will she stand up for the girls? And will she be able to get this crazy enterprise to work?


The book, written in the 3rd person past tense PoV of Olivia, starts out with the right intentions. Olivia has the desire to do good, and the author wants to highlight the ills that prevail Indian society. A lot of the stuff she talks about is real, dowry problems, the desire for a male child, the superstitions associated with menstruation etc, all stem from a patriarchal mindset that pervades social customs. A lot of women do not have much agency when it comes to making decisions for themselves.

The book also gets some cultural bits right, when it talks about the head wobble that means yes, the slight jerk that means no, and the sideways jerk that means, go ahead.


The hero of this book is Mukesh, based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who actually did everything that is attributed to Mukesh here. If you want to know more about this real-life hero, look him up on YouTube or watch his brilliant Ted Talk.


Olivia is a character whose heart is in the right place. Her self-esteem has taken a beating and we see the development in her character arc. I also liked the fact that the focus remained firmly on her, and the romance wasn’t forced on us.


On the flip side, the other teachers remained flat. When they were gathered together, it was hard to tell who was talking. Of the minor characters, Olivia’s fellow teachers, only Aubra stood out for her jealousy, Chris for his helpfulness towards Olivia, and Watisha for how she counsels Olivia. Melanie and Delilah don’t stand out at all. Delilah quotes from books, but that has no impact whatsoever.


The prose was rather too simple and repetitive, especially when it came to Olivia’s past memories of her ex-husband, Scott.

I forgave the positive intentions that the author started out with, but large parts of this book were cringe-inducing. American audiences might love it, but I resented the blatant poverty porn and the faulty perception of my country through the lens of exotica.

Early on, Olivia watches flocks of green parrots flying overhead in Delhi of all places. People have lived and died in Delhi without seeing the sight that Olivia sees. Clearly the author’s research has been pathetic.
When Olivia first meets Chris, he palms off some coins to a taxi driver who is trying to extort money from Olivia under false pretences. When she protests, Chris mouths crap about “the severe poverty some of the people in this country grapple with, and the number who go hungry every day.” I wanted to reach into the page and slap his sanctimonious spirit right off his face.

The white man saving the brown skinned children from starvation with a few coins. Saviour complex much?

Incidentally, Chris’ heart bleeds for the dishonest taxi driver and his children, but with the vendors in the shops, he haggles, instead of paying the price they ask. Why? Don’t the vendors have kids that might be starving?

Then we have Olivia, who is stupid enough to fly halfway across the world to a country she has, like the author, done zero research on.

She sees “bare-chested women scrubbing clothing against rocks in a putrid gray-brown river.” The same river in which she sees “a dead carcass float by,” lest you assume the carcass is alive.

Incidentally, Kochi, the city in which this book is set, is in Kerala, the state with the highest performance on several indices such as health, education, literacy, law and order, public welfare etc. Again, zero research. The basic premise of the book, girls being pulled out of school once they began menstruating, would not apply to Kerala. It is the height of ridiculousness to suggest that Kochi doesn’t have good sanitary pads.

Zero research on descriptions. Olivia tells us there are “tropical trees surrounding the school on all sides.” Tropical trees in a tropical country. Who would have guessed?

The whole thing about women not driving is another example of lack of research. Not everyone drives in India. That’s because cars are expensive, and not everyone can afford to buy one, but it’s also because the public transportation system is reliable and cost-effective and serves people’s needs well. A vehicle of one’s own isn’t a priority.

One of the characters, a British woman named Aubra, says, “This culture doesn’t accept women drivers. People would shout at us. Other drivers would be aggressive and maybe even try to run us off the road.” What bull crap! This is an example of reputation maligning.

There were around 429 thousand driving licenses issued among females across the Indian state of Kerala in fiscal year 2019, the highest in India. The total newly issued driving licenses in Kerala was over 10.5 million that year, out of which 14.9 percent were for women. Where did the author come up with the stupid information that she forced into Aubra’s mouth?

The teachers talk about taking a tuk-tuk. The right word, used everywhere in India, is autorickshaw. Tuk-tuk is what these vehicles are called in Thailand.

The food suffers in a similar fashion. Ms Vanya’s culinary skills never produced idli, dosa or sambar, the most well-known foods in South Indian cuisine and the staple diet of people there. Instead the narrative only mentions bland cauliflower, peas and potatoes cooked together, along with rice, dal and chapatis. Indian food is known for its diversity; these poor characters have been shortchanged. Again, meat isn’t “less readily available,” in India, least of all in Kerala which loves its beef.

Exposing one’s legs would be frowned on in rural areas, but it wouldn’t be “completely taboo.”

In one scene, where Olivia is trying to put together a first aid kit, we are told that Indians don’t understand the word, bandages. Ms Bernhardt, India has one of the largest populations of non-native English speakers anywhere. This scene is ridiculous.

A minor character, Rahul, we are told, “laced his fingers across the paunch beneath his ample shalwar.” The right word is kameez, which means tunic. Shalwar stands for the loose pants worn as part of an ensemble. Also, men in Kerala wear the lungi at home. The shalwar kameez is worn by North Indians.

I can understand the culture shock but the false information is annoying. The very title, Red Rain, was forced. It had no direct link with the main plot. I suspect it was included to highlight the menstruation angle.

All in all, not a book that deserves to be recommended.

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


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