Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Title: You Look Beautiful Tonight

Author: LR Jones

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Pages: 352

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

I came close to giving up on this book several times. At 88 chapters, this one is a long read. It should have been a lot shorter, considering that precious little is happening. There is a lot of unnecessary repetition.

I generally have a thing for books set in libraries, but here no amount of convincing on Mia’s part could make the Nashville Library interesting for me.

After a confusing opening in the present time, in which the narrator thinks they’ve committed some crime, the story takes us back in time two months ago.

Mia Anderson has always been ignored, by her mother, when she was a child, and by everyone now. The only two people who see her are best friend Jess Pierce, a rich beautiful columnist, and Jack, her best friend at the library, where she works.

When Jess opens accounts for herself and Mia on a dating site, Mia expects to be ignored. But she begins to get messages from a good-looking civil engineer called Adam Roth. She keeps his existence a secret from the two Js in her life.

Meanwhile, Mia’s father has invented a solar light that can revolutionise the lighting industry. But her mom and dad have secrets from each other, and Mia suspects that one of them is cheating on the other.

The story is written in the 1st person present tense PoV of Mia.

I liked Mia at the beginning, but the story didn’t live up to the intrigue that the premise suggested. She keeps saying the same thing, telling us that being unseen is both painful and comfortable for her. That’s when she began to grate on my nerves. She couldn’t seem to make up her mind whether she wanted to be seen or ignored.

It’s a thriller, but it’s only at the 50 percent mark that any danger appeared on Mia’s horizon, and even then the danger was uninteresting. Prior to that, it seemed to be a romance.

Better editing was required. Mia tells us twice that Jess’ parents were killed in a car accident. One thing that I found really annoying was how people don’t leave rooms in this book; they depart. People don’t turn around; they rotate.

The chapters take us back and forth between the present and the past. But the timeline isn’t updated and the author fails to tell us when the chapters in the past catch up with the present.

Also, the story should have remained in the past and moved on chronologically to the present. The teaser relating to the present failed to clock in the required intrigue.

The constant reference to a particular letter opener, which might be a bookmark and might also be a weapon, was annoying.

In Chapter 62, Mia tells us she doesn’t know how she forgot that Jack is a comic geek. Pretty convenient way of introducing a detail which had never been mentioned before.

In the same vein, she tells us that she's always ordering things from Amazon. She tells us this only when she finds a gift on her doorstep long after the halfway mark.

I didn’t like any of the characters. Mia, Jess, Jack, Adam; they were all unimpressive and flat. Mia had no character arc to speak of, although she claimed she had changed.

There was only one quote that stood out for me. Always the “honey” endearment when she wants something, as if years of salt can be removed by sugar.

The book might be a trigger for child sexual abuse.

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

Book Review: THE DUNNIE

Title: The Dunnie
Author: Keith Thomas
Publisher: Night Platform Book Company
Pages: 145
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Dunnie, a horrible and beastly creature, supposedly based on English-Scottish folklore, is a creature that personifies our worst habits. While the book makes for good reading as a tale of horror, it misses out on a deeper characterisation of Asher, his days at school, and his grief and rebelliousness.

Mary Schwob Arceneaux wakes up in the middle of one night in 2008 to discover that Frank, her husband, a man who has abused and belittled her for 24 years, is not in bed. When she goes looking for him in his favourite room, the library, she finds him engaged in a bizarre ritual with Terry ‘Goat’ Pratt, a man she detests as much as she detests Frank.

Fourteen years later, Frank has dementia and is losing control. His daughters, Zoe, with partner Faith, and Beth, with her 12-year-old son Asher, have returned home to help put his affairs in order.

Asher’s school has threatened to expel him over various infractions. Beth hopes that spending time with his grandfather and playing in the woods around their home will help calm him, and save him from inheriting the rage of his grandfather, once an abusive brute who mysteriously turned benevolent around the time of Asher’s birth.

Lonely and despised by his family, Frank underwent an occult practice to rid himself of his anger. The anger was expelled from his body and took the shape of an evil creature, the Dunnie, that needed to feed on small animals to stay alive.

Now the Dunnie has grown and her anger has increased and Asher's grandfather can no longer control the creature. Will Asher succeed in keeping his family safe?


Speaking of the curiosities in his grandfather’s collection, Asher says, “They’re not so bad,” to which Beth responds, “In the daytime, they’re not.”

Another time, when Asher says, “Pa never really seemed to care much about money,” Beth says, “When you’ve got enough of it, you don’t.”


In the best traditions of the horror genre, we are moved to care for Asher, who is hurting and misunderstood. In the same vein, Beth disregards Asher when he sounds the voice of alarm


Asher gets into trouble at school. He is unable to process his grief in the wake of his father’s death. We are not told who his father is, or how he died, which is a big omission in the family’s back story. Clearly it’s important, since Asher is unable to cope at school.


Since so much of the story hinges on Frank’s anger issues and his belittling of his wife and children, it would have been great to actually see that angry display of rage, set against the vision of the lovely grandfather that Asher knows. Both these significant personality changes are only told to us, never shown.


Also, Mary is missing from the present-day events. We learn much later that she has died. Again, an omission. Since she was the one to bear witness to the strange ritual that changes Frank, she should have been around to experience this difficult time.

Mary had the makings of a good character.


In fact, after Mary’s death, none of the living female characters are strong enough. It is only the men who make things happen, including Frank, Asher, Goat, the strawman.


Apparently Frank attaches as little importance to women. Why else would he burden a 12-year-old boy with information about the Dunnie? Such a serious matter should have been shared with his two adult daughters and yet when Asher asks him why he won’t tell his mom and aunt Zoe and the police, Frank says the police would not believe him. He has nothing to say about Beth and Zoe.

Ironically, the Dunnie, the beast of a monster goes by the pronouns she and her.


I liked the writing, especially the bits about the house and Goat’s house and the strawman. In fact, I found the strawman scarier than the DUnnie.


The Dunnie was a great horror novel, but I would have liked it to go beyond. The issues relating to anger, grief, domestic abuse, dementia, even the soul and its significance, remain unaddressed.


The book also includes an excerpt from the author’s next book in the series, The Mutter.

Stories need to be dangerous, Pa tells Asher. This one certainly is.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2023


Title: Barbarians at the PTA
Author: Stephanie Newman
Publisher: Skyhorse
Pages: 288
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐

Victoria Bryant, a psychologist and single mother to 10-year-old Rachel, decides to move to another town after she finds evidence of her fiance’s sexual indiscretions and calls off the wedding moments before she is about get married. She hopes the new place will help her to forget him and start afresh.

But the fresh start turns out to be a challenge. Rachel’s school is a minefield, with certain moms in the PTA acting vicious towards Rachel. As the other kids mistreat Rachel and their moms, chiefly, the queen bee, Lee, make snide remarks against her, Victoria finds that it is much harder to solve her own problems.

The premise of this book wasn’t new and I kept hoping for a good plot twist or the writing to make it worth my while. But that didn’t happen. The issue of bullying and intimidation at school by children, even by their mothers, has been written far more effectively.

I didn’t warm up to any of the characters. They were all flat and uninspiring. Victoria herself was very boring, and Jim, her love interest, for all her gushing about his physical attributes, was insipid. The romance took up too much space. 

I found it odd that Victoria was so eager to jump into bed, given her history with her fiancé.

Between the mothers, their daughters, and in some cases, the fathers, there were far too many characters in this book. Apparently the profusion also confused the author, because she kept qualifying Katie as Audrey’s kid, Lexi as Jess’ kid etc.

The chapter ending aspired to do some foreshadowing but ended up being banal.

The so-called barbarians were rather unintimidating. Even the word, Barbarian, sounded like an exaggeration. The viciousness was largely restricted to exclusion. Given that bullying in most books covers far deadlier pranks, this one, with nothing more than being left out of party lists, and sitting alone in the dining hall, and even the planting of a vaping device, seemed like much ado about nothing.

Each time the kids are nasty to Rachel, she reacts in the same way. It was only at the 56 percent mark that Victoria did something that might have propelled the action forward. But she didn’t act on it at all.

The ending was the only lively part of the book, but even that fizzled out soon enough.

There were some typographical errors too. Victoria tells Rachel that she has invited Jim over on Friday. A paragraph later, she says, “Before I knew what hit me, it was Saturday.” -- the day Jim turns up. Many paragraphs later, we come to the next morning which is, once again, is Saturday.

The book seemed extremely long, thanks to the non-stop thrashing over the same issues without any resolution. For much of the time, we don’t get a sense of anything happening. I was surprised to see that it was only 288 pages.

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


Title: The Concierge
Author: Miranda Rijks
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Pages: 260
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐ (Actually 1½)


Ally Greystone, an actor longing for her big break, finally lands an important role in DeLucci Productions’ new film, The Insomniac. Unfortunately, the long hours and the attendant stress take a huge toll on her, and she barely has any time for husband Rob, daughter Carly or sister Simone. When she suddenly dies in a car accident, and police investigations find an overdose of meth in her system, Simone cannot believe it. She suspects foul play, but the police are convinced it is an accident.

Since the car belonged to the DeLuccis, Simone is convinced the couple have something to do with her sister’s death. After all, Braun was the director, and Marigold ‘Goldie’ was the producer of the film. Simone wrangles a job as their concierge, hoping to learn something that can re-open the murder investigation.

She ends up learning of the dysfunction in the DeLucci family. At 17, daughter Rose is rebellious and going around with a rather dodgy older man, while Florian, at 13, is bullied at school. Will she discover the truth about her sister’s death?

The book is written in the 1st person present tense PoV of Simone, Goldie and Rose. At first the three PoVs seem disparate and unconnected, but soon a vague link between the three begins to emerge.

It’s a quick read, and I suspect it might have been a quick write for the author.

The tendency of characters to suddenly embark on a description of their surroundings is very annoying. Here Goldie suddenly describes one of the rooms to us, and it sounds fake and takes us out of the story. 

I didn’t like any of the characters. Braun was rather bland, despite the author’s attempts to project him as some kind of a rake. and Rose’s arc was completely unbelievable and led far from Ally’s story. In fact, that’s another thing I didn’t like about the resolution. The mystery of Ally’s death is resolved but in a by-the-way manner, not by Simone’s efforts at all.

I was unimpressed with the manner in which Simone goes about her investigations. Her methods are amateurish though sincere. Her deductions are knowledge she has stumbled upon. She goes about her task without any real planning or thought.

There are three times when Braun and Goldie have cause to be suspicious of Simone, but they set the thought aside and go about their day. How strange is that?

Goldie is remarkably naïve as a character, blindly believing her daughter even though she knows that Rose is not truthful.

Florian had the potential to be a sympathetic character, to play a greater role in the plot, but he never has a chance. Even his problems are dismissed in a few sentences.

We never get to know Carly either. She too remains a flat character.

The ending went off at breakneck speed, resolving issues without conviction. There was a forced happily-ever-after element about the ending, with some characters suddenly living improved lives

There is a larger theme about dysfunction in families but it gets lost in the melee.

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

Book Review: ALTERED

Title: Altered (Justin Wright Suspense Series Book 1)
Author: Rob Kaufman
Publisher: Independently published
Pages: 286
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (Actually 2½)

Justin Wright, a counselling psychiatrist, has a new patient, Frank Devlin, whose behaviour ranges from timid to cheeky, sometimes within minutes. Even his clothing appears cobbled together by a mix of personality types. Frank suffers from anxiety attacks and frequently loses time. He needs help.

Justin is concerned, particularly when one of Frank’s alters threatens to harm anyone who gets in his way.

Meanwhile, Justin’s relationship with his older son, Dylan, is tense. Wife Mandy doesn’t know how to restore peace between her husband and son. Justin is also concerned about Kyle, Dylan’s roommate and best friend, who blames himself for the abduction of Michael.

The book is written in the past tense in the 3rd person limited PoV of several characters.

The sections that included Frank and his alters were the most interesting. I’m no expert but the bits relating to the psychology of dissociative disorder felt natural and believable. The author was clearly in his element while talking about the alters or during Justin’s sessions. Most of the other interactions appeared awkward.

Justin and his family, in comparison, were uninteresting. Even the dialogue was stilted, unnatural, and fake. Here’s an example:

Describing a dream, Mandy tells Justin about something upsetting she saw behind her son. A normal question would be, what did you see, but Justin asks, “And what’s so bad about that?”

The story needed the services of a good editor. There were some typos and issues.

As far as I could tell, Frank was the host, and there were three alters, but twice, I found characters speaking of the wrong number. Once, a character counts Frank among the alters, when he is very much a real person. Justin finds evidence of him in the obituary of the newspaper.

Getting Justin’s wife to describe his physical appearance to him on the phone was a tacky move. We could have done without the description. Also Justin repeatedly telling Mandy that she was beautiful was annoying.

Nathan referring to Justin as Dr Wrong was rather childish, in an alter that prided himself on being strong and mature.

While in Mandy’s third person PoV, we learn about a tragic event that took place in the past, when (Justin was eighteen years old, Michael only eight.) Michael is supposed to be their son. How could Justin have been eighteen when Michael was eight? Nor was it Dylan the author was referring to. Considering that Michael was eight about seven years before the present day, it couldn’t have been Dylan who was eighteen then, given that he is at university in the present day.

In Chapter 8, Justin is reading a news story relating to the unnatural death of a man. In the photo accompanying the news story, Justin can see the ear of someone standing on the dead man’s left side. He also sees other people’s arms around the dead man’s shoulders. We are told, “Justin figured the pic must’ve been taken at a party.” And yet two sentences previously, Justin surmises that the photo was taken posthumously.

The extended scene featuring Kyle and his parents was unnecessary. He wasn’t that significant a character, and his presence didn’t affect later events all that much. The author should not have devoted so much space to Kyle’s feelings, particularly when the Wright family was reeling under the weight of a tragedy.

There were some issues that didn’t sit right with the plot. Justin not bothering to meet Alex, Dylan’s roommate, given Mandy’s misgivings, particularly when he was so attuned to her. Also, Justin seemed remarkably calm after a particular plot event took place in his office.

The trauma faced by Frank is very disturbing and may act as a trigger for those who have experienced severe physical, mental and sexual abuse as children.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, paving the way for Book 2.

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


Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 368

My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Elena and Bill Richardson are a rich couple who live in Shaker Heights, a small town built on the ideals of perfection, with their four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy. When artist and single mom, Mia, and her 15-year-old daughter Pearl move into the rental owned by Elena, they are free spirits that don’t fit into the rule-abiding perfection of Elena’s life.

Soon Moody, curious about the tenants, befriends Pearl. Before long, she becomes a close friend of Lexie and Trip too, invited to their parties, at home in their surroundings.

When Elena’s best friend adopts a Chinese-American baby, the action sets Elena in direct opposition to Mia, whose coworker is the baby’s biological mother. Elena is convinced that the way to help her friend keep the baby is to ferret out the secrets in Mia’s past. She has no idea that it will upturn her own life.

The title, Little Fires Everywhere is literal. As the book begins, we find ourselves outside the Richardson home, watching the large house burn, because of little fires that someone has lit in all the rooms. But it is also figurative, referring to the manner in which the perfection of Elena’s home and life is going to come undone.

The two worlds of Elena and Mia are about to collide – we get a sense of that. Each little action has a consequence. Events prove inexorable with the characters helpless in their face.

Children are the theme here, forming the basis for many parallels between the two families and others in the neighbourhood. There are couples with many children versus those with none. The very fertile versus those that can’t have any. Those whose hearts and homes are hospitable but wombs are not. Those that have taken in another’s baby, and those that have had their baby taken away from them.

The bulk of the action in the book takes place during Clinton’s presidency and the news around Monica Lewinsky. The events at the national level, however, have little or no bearing on the events taking place in Shaker Heights.

The author writes with a sense of compassion, without taking sides or judging anyone and we find ourselves following her lead.

The women in this book were stronger. The men, in contrast, were flat. Of all the characters, my heart went out to Izzy and Moody, the two kids most taken for granted, the two kids that had it worst. The book ends without giving us much of a closure, but it was these two, the youngest of the Richardson kids, that I missed the most.

Elena was a complicated character. For all her enjoyment of children, she isn’t a kind mother.

The prose was beautiful. Here’s a sample:

Parents… learned to survive touching their children less and less.

To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.

The only issue was that the PoV was confusing. Omniscient at times, at others it would change from one character to another, often in the same paragraph. While in a particular character’s third person PoV, the narration tells us things it would be impossible for that character to know.


Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Phoenix
Pages: 321
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Camille Preaker, small-time reporter at a small-time paper, is assigned a case in her hometown, Wind Gap. Last August, a 9-year-old girl, Ann Nash, was found murdered, her teeth removed. Now in May the following year, a 10-year-old girl, Natalie Keene, has gone missing. Editor Frank Curry is convinced it is the work of a serial killer. Soon after Camille gets back home, the body of Natalie is found, with her teeth removed.

She’s also dealing with her own family issues, with her unresponsive mother, her detached stepdad, and a 13-year-old half-sister, Amma, she barely knows, who’s almost feral outside the house and dangerously dependent on her mother while at home.

Camille is determined to get an exclusive with the case, and help uncover the killer. But people are unwilling to talk to her. Each time, she finds a clue, it leads her down the wrong track. But maybe the answer is closer than she can imagine.



The book is written from the first person PoV of Camille

The author has the knack of handing out rare details, more expository than descriptive, that give us a deep insight into Camille. Alan is the opposite of moist told me more about her stepfather than a long paragraph of description could have.

In the same vein, we learn that Adora is a self-centred woman who believes that she grieves more fully than anyone else. Every tragedy that happens in the world happens to my mother. She is a woman who would not be distracted from her grief. To this day it remains a hobby.


Half-sister Amma, short for Amity, is a cross between innocent teen and grown woman.

Some of the details are gross. Other are too stark. Both kinds make for disturbing reading.

Many of these details emerge slowly, the ones that warn us not to believe Camille too much. She drinks to hide some horror in her past.

The information about the pig farm and its workers eating chicken tells us about the dynamics of small towns. It is an operation that Camille’s mother owns and earns over a million dollars of profits from. The other depravities and evils play out against the backdrop of this farm, and we learn that small towns are not immune to depravity. No place is.

The gossip sessions between the members of the school clique and how they act all pious even as they were bullies in their past and present lives shows the evil that continues.

I didn’t like Camille. Despite all the pain she’d been through, I didn’t feel any warmth towards her. Not even when Curry said that she was the most decent person he knew and that she treated people with dignity. I couldn’t see any evidence of that. I found her actions and reactions to be stupid.

On the contrary, I liked Frank and his wife, Eileen, more. I liked Frank Curry with the one telling detail about how he eyes toddlers from afar, while barking he didn’t want any. His kindness towards Camille is better seen in that light.

The romance between the Detective and Camille is weak and fizzles out.

The story has the mandatory twist, but I didn’t like the manner that Camille employs to get at the truth. It was weak and forced. I would have liked to see a greater number of suspects, but for the most part, we have John, and the reasoning around him was so lame, I couldn’t believe this book was praised by Stephen King.


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