Sunday, December 03, 2023


Title: Summers Under the Tamarind Tree  

Author: Sumayya Usmani

Publisher: White Lion Publishing

Pages: 223

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐




Summers Under the Tamarind Tree is a book that you need to get yourself, particularly if you like what is popularly known as ‘desi’ or Indian cooking.


The first thing that caught my eye were the pictures in this book. They captured vignettes of life in Pakistan in glorious colour. They were a reminder of how similar our two nations are and of the common roots we share. They included generic images of life in Pakistan as also family pictures.

Beginning with a bit of family history, the author quickly shifts to talking about the methods of cooking that elevate a dish, and then to sharing the recipes of the dishes that graced her own table.

The author talks about traditional methods of cooking like bhunai, tadka, dum, dhuri (smoking). The latter is guaranteed to raise the flavour of a dish by many notches. Andaza as a way to navigate cooking is commonplace across the Indian subcontinent.

The book is directed at a Western audience and reminds them to learn to play with spice, something cooks and aficionados of the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent know instinctively. Such readers have much to learn from the chapters on spice blends.

The dishes include cholay ka salan (chickpea curry with tomatoes), aloo ki bhujia (spicy potatoes with nigella seeds and fenugreek), khagina (spicy scrambled egg with tomatoes and coriander—in India we call this dish bhurji), sweet semolina halva (with pistachio and rose water) and sabudana kheer (tapioca pearls with coconut and pistachio dust). As far as I was concerned, it read like the description of our staples and favourites.

Then there was bhutta (barbecued corn with chilli and lime), Hyderabadi-style samosas (filled with red onion mint and green chilli), spiced lentil bun kebabs—dishes whose flavours I can endorse from my experience this side of the fence.

There were other delicious dishes that one could have as treats. These included apple pakoras spiced with chaat masala, dahi vadas, shakarkandi (baked sweet potato with chaat masala).

But some things were new to me. The onomatopoeic sounding kat-a-kat (stir-fried and steamed chicken liver and kidneys) and sweet potato and squash parathas.

The bread staples included tandoori roti, naan, puris and makkai ki roti.

The rice recipes included khichdi and mutton pulao, attock chana rijai (minus the chana, this is the brown rice made by our Parsi community), Afghani lamb pulao, saffron rice, meatball and beef pulao.

The meat dishes included coal-smoked Bihari beef kababs, Railway mutton curry, coal smoked lamb keema, Peshawari namkeen gosht, Punjabi aloo gosht, attock chapli kabab, lamb karahi with fennel and coriander, mutton chops. Rose garam masala and Hunter beef were new to me.

The chicken delicacies included Baluchi-style chicken sajji, masaledar batair (spicy stir-friend quail), karahi ginger chicken, Karachi-style chicken tikka, Lahori chargha, chicken makhni handi (with coconut milk and fenugreek), Lahori murgh chholey (chickpea and chicken curry).

I can only imagine how fantastic the flavours of all these dishes would be,

My only grouse was that the book should have been proofread better. Not that you’d notice.

This was one book whose photos alone should make your mouth water. It deserves a place on your kitchen bookshelf.


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


Title: Gone Tonight  

Author: Sarah Pekkanen

Publisher: St Martin’s Press

Pages: 336

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


I had high expectations from the book from the Dedication itself. It was a quote from author Fennel Hudson, who has written a series of journals about leading a quiet life. The quote says, “Find a part of yourself hidden in the twilight.’


Interesting how a quote from such a journal should have inspired a plot like this.


Catherine and Ruth Sterling are the only family each knows. Their world is small and it’s about to get smaller. Because Ruth is beginning to forget; she is showing signs of dementia, and daughter Catherine, training to be a nurse, can see the symptoms. On the cusp of moving out to another city to pursue her dreams, she knows she can’t possibly leave her mother alone in this condition. And that’s exactly what Ruth wants: to prevent her daughter from leaving her side.


But Catherine has many questions and she’s old enough to rebel, to give up the itinerant life. Moving every few years, never making any friends, her mother constantly looking over her shoulder.


Now with time running out before her mother’s memories are completely gone, Catherine needs to know about her mother’s past, her family and the man she thinks of as her sperm donor.


The mother and daughter begin to try to deceive the other, the one to protect her daughter from the horrible secrets of her past, and the latter to ferret out those very secrets. Both are suspicious of each other, wary of each other’s secrets, but their love holds them together. Meanwhile, there’s a danger getting ever closer, hurtling towards them.


The book is written in the first person PoVs of Catherine and her mother, Ruth, in alternate chapters.


Speaking of women, Ruth says, We vanish in the eyes of men when we hit our forties. We dive into roles like motherhood and our identities slip away. We disappear at the hands of predators. We’re conditioned to shrink, to drop weight, to take up less physical space in the world.


Our brains form memories constantly from the second we wake until we fall asleep. But if the moment we mentally capture doesn’t interest with our attention, we lose the recollection forever. Emotional significance also helps move our memories into our longer-term stockpiles.


I appreciated the bits about Alzheimer’s Disease that the author inserted into the story.


The only issue for me was that for the greater part of the book, Ruth and Catherine are just dancing around each other. It’s frustrating for us. The secrets are revealed slowly, closer to the end, when the pace picks up.


My feelings towards both of them changed as the book progressed. The secret when it finally blows up is certainly huge, but I had serious questions about how Ruth managed her life, particularly when Catherine was a baby. It’s not as easy as the lack of detail has us believe.


Also, why couldn’t Ruth have told her daughter the secret? They would have understood each other better, and have been able to deal with it together.


But then we wouldn’t have had this delicious plot that managed to ratchet up the tension towards the end, and deliver on its promise.


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


Saturday, December 02, 2023


Title: That Night in the Woods

Author: Kristopher Triana

Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications

Pages: 336

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


Of all the different kinds of horror stories, the slash-and-gore fest is the one I dislike the most. There seems to be no point to the violence, which intensifies, until it seems to head towards a deadly collision. It’s all a bit too overwhelming for my taste.


More than 25 years after high school, Scott Dwyer invites his old high school friends, Jenny, Tracy, Corey and Mark to his house in their old hometown to honour the memory of their old friend Steven who has died recently.


Something truly scary happened the last time they were all together in the woods behind Scott’s house, back in 1995 during Halloween. These woods were infamously called Suicide Woods, because a number of teenagers went into the woods and killed themselves.


Severely traumatized, the friends all fled town after high school, never returning until now. In all these years, they have had no contact with one another, never seen or spoken with another one of their friends, until now.


But this reunion is anything but innocent. The horror that terrorized them still awaits them. And this time it’s not about to let go.



The author brings us up to speed on the lives of Jenny, Tracy, Corey and Mark, in their early forties, as they face stagnation in their lives. It is clear that the thought of returning to their hometown scares them all for some reason, and yet their curiosity trumps their sense of reason.


Unfortunately, this update about each of these four characters comes over four long chapters, delaying the point at which the story actually starts. Also, what was the point in giving us all those details about the character’s personal lives, if it wasn’t going to matter at all except to let us know that they were all unhappy with their lives.


Even once they meet, the real point of the story takes a while to show up. The friends are too busy fantasizing about each other, and basically reverting to their teenage selves, forgetting that they should have evolved.


What the author says about places being haunted by the emotional impact of the deaths of the victims and of the feelings of the killers and those who survive the victims made sense.


The book needed to be proofread. There were lots of spelling and grammatical errors that could have been avoided. In describing Traci, the author uses the phrase, ‘extenuating those long legs,’ when he should have used the word, accentuating.


But some lines in the book were well written and stood out. Here’s a sample:


Blaming scary movies, heavy metal, video games, and gangster rap was just a pathetic effort to explain and understand human atrocity. If someone had murder in them, their influences were irrelevant. They would have gone on to kill, no matter what. Lust, greed, and politics were the true instigators.


Sometimes the mind forgets because it must do so to stay sane.


People say the beasts come out at night. But it’s not the night; it’s the darkness. Whether the darkness of the woods or the darkness of a movie theater—it’s all one. In darkness the evil things know they won’t be seen. In the shadows, they can do whatever they want to a little girl.


I plodded through this book, wishing it would end already, but only because I generally make it a point not to give up on a book. That Night in the Woods is the sort of book that might appeal to others. It just wasn’t for me. 


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

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Title: Beautiful Bread: Create and Bake Artful Masterpieces for Any Occasion

Author: Theresa Culletto

Publisher: Rock Point

Pages: 176

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐


I’ve wanted to bake focaccia ever since I saw pictures of this beautiful bread on Pinterest several years ago.


The author has some good advice to offer: Draw pictures of the design beforehand to ensure ease of re-creation. Keep toppings to less than half of the weight of the dough.


She also offers tips on what to look out for when buying and storing fresh ingredients and the lowdown on essential equipment. The author also helps us with information on the vegetables to use to get specific design effects. These vegetables include onions, potatoes, leeks, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.


She walks us through techniques like lattice work, braiding and stencilling, which are a treat to watch. There is a detailed glossary of essential items, especially verbs I’d never heard of, such as degassing, dimpling and docking, in the context of baking.


There are recipes for various kinds of focaccia dough, including Basic White Focaccia, Basic Whole Wheat Focaccia, Dark Multigrain Focaccia and Sweet Focaccia.


A chapter on Flowers teaches us to craft designs of flowers on the focaccia. They include Sunflowers, Wrapped Bouquet, Spring Tulips, White Irises in a Vase, Dahlias, Cherry Blossoms and Bouquet of Calla Lilies.


Another chapter, Artist Inspired, shows us designs inspired by great painters. These include Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Open Flower, Takashi Murakami’s Happy Flowers, Pablo Picasso’s Faces, Wassily Kandinsky’s Circles in Squares, Claude Monet’s Lily Pond and Alma Thomas’s Brushstrokes of Color.


Nature Inspired, another chapter, shows us designs inspired by Fall Leaves, Under the Sea, Tree of Life, Wood Grain Charcuterie Board, Sandcastle, Happy Trail Mix, Solar System and Pomegranate.


Focaccia for Holidays and Specia Occasions shows designs for Valentine’s Day Roses, St Patrick’s Day Lucky Clover, Easter Basket, Thanksgiving Cornucopia, Christmas Tree, Cinnamon Star, Game Day and Celebration Fireworks.


The chapter on Traditional Recipes shares recipes for Chocolate Hazelnut Filling, Cinnamon Filling, Sweet Lemon Cream, Evergreen Sauce, Basil Pesto, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto and Quick Pickled Vegetables.


The designs are so beautiful, they’re a work of art in themselves. It seems a shame to have to cut and eat them. Hopefully we’ll just get so good at baking these that we’ll be able to make many more and allow our own creativity to lead the way.


These are details and tips no YouTube videos would share with you. This is a book that serious and first-time bakers of focaccia will consider a treasure.  


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


Monday, November 27, 2023

Book Review: DON'T FORGET ME


Title: Don’t Forget Me

Author: Rea Frey

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Pages: 269

My GoodReads Rating: 


Ruby night, formerly Winslow, is grappling with the mysterious disappearance of her 17-year-old daughter, Lily, and the abandonment of her husband, Tom, when she comes across a partially decomposed body in the lake one morning. Everyone in the neighbourhood believes that it is Tom’s body that has been found, but Ruby doesn’t think so.

Detective Ellis suspects Ruby of the crime. As an abused wife, she had the motive to kill her husband.


Then Cassie, a neighbour, is found dead, and Ryan, another guy from the community, a day later, both killed the same way as Tom.


Ruby joins a group known as the Murderlings, that solve cold cases for fun. Now she turns to the group for an answer to who might be the real killer.


Meanwhile, Ruby’s own secrets are messing with her mental health. She’s losing chunks of time and repressing painful memories. Detective Ellis is convinced that the killings have some link to Ruby.


The book is written in the first person past tense PoV of Ruby in two timelines, Then and Now. The narrative is interspersed with messages from the neighbourhood forum, which give us an idea about the pulse of the community.


I guessed the identity of the killer around the 70 percent mark.


The police were rather inept. Aside from suspecting Ruby, there was no evidence of any method in the investigation. Despite suspecting Ruby of the murders, she is allowed to go home. Nor does anyone tell her not to leave town.


The forum provided comic relief and an unwelcome distraction that added nothing to the place or the plot.


The timeline was rather confusing. The Then timeline consisted of two different periods: Before Lily disappeared and Tom left, and Ruby’s own childhood. Particularly in the period before Lily disappeared, there were some comings and goings with reference to Lily and Tom that I found hard to keep straight.


Overall, the premise was good but the execution needed further polish. The pace was off and the writing loose.


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


Sunday, November 26, 2023

Book Review: BRONSWOOD


Title: Bronswood

Author: Marissa Vanskike

Publisher: Marissa Vanskike

Pages: 316

My GoodReads Rating: 



Heather Hartford is happily married to Nick, a handsome and wealthy man who cares deeply for her and her two children, Charlie and Theodora. Her ex-husband, Paul Lauer, an abusive and violent man, is seeking shared custody of the kids. Heather’s best friend, Zola, thinks Nick is too controlling but Heather dismisses her concerns. She knows what an abuser looks like.


Meanwhile, Heather is being welcomed by Liv Osborne, Harriet Porter and Shay Stafford, the high-profile PTA moms at the prestigious Bronswood elementary school where her son has been accepted.

Heather is nervous, wanting to be accepted by them, yet uneasy about the unsigned notes she has been receiving of late, notes that warn her that something foul is going on, notes that keep coming. She wants to believe that her life is perfect, but her sense of unease persists.


Then one day Charlie disappears from school. The camera footage shows that Heather picked him up, but she knows she hasn’t. With Nick and the school blaming her, Heather begins her own investigation into Charlie’s disappearance, only to find that he is not the first schoolboy to have disappeared from Bronswood.


Will Heather ever find her son back? Or will he be lost to her forever?


The story is written in the third person present tense PoV of Heather. The book raises the issues of abuse, physical and violent, in the domestic space.


The story should have started with something more immediate than a catchup session at a coffee shop between Heather and Zola. It was the most boring way of bringing us up to speed. It was only after Charlie’s disappearance that the story took off.


The chapters weren’t too long, but the action was well paced, and the characterization was good for the most part. Headmistress Rosler was a minor character I never want to meet.


Nick was rather creepy. He selected, on a daily basis, the clothing that Heather and the kids would wear. Heather was also forced to note down all that she ate and drank in a food journal, which Nick regularly inspected.


He [Nick] was the picture of a concerned father, while Heather played the part of a raving lunatic tells us all we need to know about anyone would perceive the couple.


I liked Heather, particularly her diligent efforts to find her son. That she has the responsibility of looking after toddler Theodora, while she goes about her investigation, adds to her difficulties.


There’s a hint of the supernatural around the conclusion, which isn’t out of place.


While I liked the book, there were some things I didn’t like. The amount of food that gets thrown down the disposal chute is utterly distasteful. I cringed every time Heather cooked some dish or the other and then tossed it away without a thought.


There were other issues about the book that got in the way of a satisfying read.


There was no tangible explanation for why the antagonists did what they did. How their back story justified their actions in their minds. Why were second graders being kidnapped? Why only boys?


The mystery of why Charlie’s teacher was known to Heather as Miss Kilgore when she was apparently Miss Crawford wasn’t addressed.


Smaller points that rankled:

Why does Heather have golden orbs, cracked gold lanterns and oversized ribbons in her basement? Things that are used as part of gala décor are in her basement?


The names of the husbands and children of Liv and Shay were mentioned, but Harriet is also a PTA mom, but we get no mention of her husband or child.


I wish writers didn’t repeat names or have two characters with names beginning with the same letters, particularly if they are interacting together in scenes. Heather and Harrier together were confusing. Also, there was a parent called Caleb Landers and a child called Caleb Norton. The surname of the journalist who writes about the disappearance changes from Cannon to Colins.


It’s strange that Theo never once asks about her brother, even though, at nearly three, she’s old enough to ask. Heather tells us that the two used to play together, but Theo doesn’t seem to register that her brother isn’t home. That was odd.


Stephen was a character who was built up and made much of, but he didn’t serve any purpose in the story.


Had these issues been resolved, I have no doubt Bronswood would have been an even better read.


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



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