Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Review: REGARDING ANNA

Title: Regarding Anna
Author: Florence Osmund
Publisher: Kindle
Pages: 273







Losing both her parents in a carbon monoxide poisoning upsets Grace Lindroth’s life. Her future is upset even further when a search through the attic of her childhood home reveals evidence that she may have been adopted, that her real mother was in fact a certain Anna Thalia Vargas, not the Lindroths who raised her.

Anxious to find answers, Grace hastily changes her plans to be an interior decorator and decides to become a PI instead. She encounters a lot of difficulties in her struggle to find answers, and the truth, she learns, does not always set you free.

As a PI, she is not very successful, and she seems to have more misses than hits. Of the hits she has, most seem to be solved by the clients themselves. The Green Teen case is followed through by the missing teen’s own mother and aunt. 

Grace admits that being a PI isn’t about being like Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe. Even so, I was amazed at how naïve she is. She couldn’t see that Elmer Berghorn, her landlord, was a shifty character, even though a child could have told her that. I could understand that she wouldn’t have some kind of Spidey sense to warn her, but she seemed short on common sense and high on naivete too.

At some level, she aroused my sympathies. When she is upset, she has a compulsive need to iron something, anything. This is the first time I’ve seen a character in a novel begin so friendless. Of course, she is to an extent ‘adopted’ by the tetchy Minnie Lawless, but I wondered why. As a character, Grace wasn’t particularly endearing. I couldn’t see why Minnie had to make Grace’s concerns her own. Maybe Minnie‘s loneliness had a lot to do with it.

Minnie Lawless was one reason why the plot kept rolling. On her own, I doubt Grace would have achieved much. Minnie also manages to enlist the help of handyman Tymon Kossack, the other stellar member of the supporting cast, who practically carries this book on his shoulders. I loved reading about this elderly gent who carries a torch for Anna, and is willing to help Grace because of the resemblance he sees between Grace and Anna.

Naomi Step, the oomph-exuding Girl Friday that Elmer hires and Grace comes to rely on, is another interesting character. She is remarkably efficient, contrary to Grace’s preconceptions.

It is these minor characters that completely aced this book for me. Fortunately, Grace was smart enough to defer to them and give them their place in the sun, wherever they deserved it.

I found the whole idea of probing the pasts of characters long since dead quite fascinating. Grace gets the opportunity to make her own family history come alive.

The ending was a twister that I really didn’t see coming. It made the task of plodding through this one completely worth it. Besides, the style of the writing was nice and laid back and it was one of those times when I wasn’t looking for anything taxing.



Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Review: THE DEPOSIT SLIP

Title: The Deposit Slip
Author: Todd M Johnson
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 368







I would never have believed that this book was Todd Johnson's debut. He writes in an accomplished style you might well associate with someone who has published before.

Looking through her father’s safe deposit box at the local bank, Erin Larson finds a deposit slip of over $10 million. But Ashley State Bank refuses to acknowledge the money; it won’t answer any questions, and dismisses her claim as fraudulent. The bank uses scare tactics to frighten her into leaving let alone. When Jared Neaton, a young lawyer who has started his own firm after 5 years of working at big shark Paisley, is unsure of whether to take on Erin’s case, Paisley lawyers Marcus Stanford and Franklin Whittier III employ the same strong arm measures to scare him off.

But Jared has no paying cases and he needs a breakthrough case to help him crawl out of the financial hole he is in, even if the fee he might receive is contingent to him winning. As his financial troubles tighten around him, Jared begins to worry, yet he feels compelled to fight Erin’s case.

Stanford and Whittier take advantage of the fact that Jared is understaffed and underfunded and also the fact that the bank is a pretty mean adversary. They try bullying, aggression and intimidation. They keep setting up barriers in Jared’s path. 
We get a sense of the options closing in on him, even as the 
level of intrigue and conspiracy keep getting heightened.
At one point, Jared unethically makes use of a client’s money to fund Erin’s case.


I admired the author’s research on the legal and banking industries and how things work there. Incidentally, Todd is a practicing attorney, and he puts his knowledge and experience to good use here.

The author must be credited for the characterization. We get a sense of the type of restrained cruelty that Stanford might be capable of as well as of the unrestrained aggression of Whittier. Against the foil of their characters, and on his own too, Jared stands apart as intelligent, principled and willing to stand up for the truth. He comes across as a strong character who has the guts and the conviction to fight for his case. 

Plus, he has his own demons in the shape of this father, Samuel, who fell from grace when he was caught stealing from his own company, and the Lutheran Church that forsook the family in their hour of need.

Although there are two pretty women here, in the shape of paralegal Jesse Dickerson who is Jared’s assistant, and Erin who is his client, we readers know nothing about which of these he is attracted to. If at all. That, I felt, was a good thing. It kept the attention firmly focused on the case, without any distractions breaking the momentum.

Among the women, Erin comes across as the weakest. She wants to know the truth about her father, where he got the money from, whether he got it legally, but we are not impressed with her motivation.

Carol Huddlestone, the librarian, is far more feisty a character, as is Jessie. Even Cory Spangler, the intern who worked at Ashley State Bank, is more vibrant. Despite knowing the threat to her life, she chooses to come to Ashley and testify.

Besides these, we also sense the desperation of small time farmer Joe Creedy, the oily slickness of banker Sidney Grant, the arrogance of the Paisley lawyers. We know the latter as well as if we ourselves were suffering on account of their machinations.


Although it is Erin’s case that this book is about, we don’t really know much about her. We don’t get to see her point of view. At a deeper level, both Jared and Erin are longing to make contact with their fathers. Jared has been estranged from his own father since the crime and Erin from hers due to isolation. Now it is Jared’s possible resolution of the problem that stands between her and her father’s image as an upright man.

The author has given us some quotable quotes too. Litigation is just war by other means. A war for the hearts and minds of the judge and jurors. Of course, in the courtroom no blood is spilled. At least none that reaches the floor.



Todd has shown enough talent here to depose John Grisham as the reigning king of courtroom dramas. He has shown genuine skill and craft in this book, his debut novel. And while I’m not familiar with American legal procedure, this thriller certainly kept the pace going. The twists and turns just keep taking us by surprise, page after page.

The setting, Minnesota, plays a huge part here, with its winter pushing the plot along towards the climax of the book.

The drama here is not limited to the courtroom alone. There is plenty of explosive action visible in other locations as well as in the characters’ lives.

Because Todd is a Christian author, there's more to The Deposit Slip than the pursuit of justice alone. There is also the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, as Jared struggles to find it within himself to forgive his father. His feelings towards his father are at the heart of his determination to fight Erin's case, no matter what the cost to himself. 

This is also the story of a tiny minnow fighting against the big sharks for justice. Such stories always appeal to me. Forced out of their defenses, the minnows always find deep reserves of strength within themselves.

My only grouse was against the the tipping point that leads to the culmination of this story. It was something that I felt very let down by. Revealing any more would mean spoiling the story for you. Something I would not want to do.


Todd Johnson’s debut novel is a forceful read. I look forward to more from him.




Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Review: LUTHER AND KATHARINA

Title: Luther and Katharina
Author: Jody Hedlund
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Pages: 386








The book begins on a cliff hanging note. Katharina von Bora, dedicated to the convent as a five-year-old, is preparing to jump off the second storey window, and escape to a new life, along with eleven other nuns.

In the outside world, Martin Luther’s writings have already begun to incite a revolution. Katharina and her fellow nuns who have read his writings, which were smuggled into the abbey, have been infused with hope that God’s salvation will not be denied to those who have a family.

When it becomes too hard for the sisters to stay in the Black Cloister, Luther arranges homes for them. Katharina is assigned as a servant in the home of Elsa Reichenbach, the mayor’s wife.

Both Luther and Katharina struggle against the growing attraction they feel for each other. Luther’s own life is in danger and he cannot bear to endanger another’s. Katharina, having long been deprived of the privileges that are hers by birth, longs for them and cannot bear to think of herself as a commoner.

I found myself warming to the character of Katharina from the beginning. She is an amazing character and we begin to appreciate her in the slow manner that Luther does, even though her character failings are all too apparent. She feels entitled by virtue of her high-class birth and wishes to live a life of ease. She cannot see the sliminess of Jerome Baumgartner, a rake who only wants to bed her. Of course, she has spent the greater part of her life in the abbey, and has therefore no idea about the true nature of people. Even so, the obstinacy with which she clings to the trappings of high class is annoying.

These failings are offset by her deep sense of compassion, her willingness to help those in need, her deep affection even for her maid, Greta, and the sense of rejection and abandonment she carries with her ever since her father left her at the convent.

It is this good nature that causes Katharina to deny herself to Luther, first out of loyalty to her friend, Margaret, who is infatuated with him. Over the course of the book, I admired the transformation in her as she slowly began to understand that birth and status mean nothing.

I also liked the character of Justus Jones, Luther’s friend, for his biting sense of humour, his support of Luther and his willingness to speak to Katharina, when Luther won’t.

The writing is beautiful in its simplicity, evoking tender word images, Her blue eyes frosted like the water in his wash basin most spring mornings, that make the book come alive like a slowly crackling fire on a cold day. The descriptions are the kind that you would not want to skip. The account of the grisly sight of the hangings brought a lump to my throat.



Slowly we become aware of how Martin Luther’s preaching incites a revolution among the long-oppressed peasants who have been harassed by the clergy and the nobility. His outspokenness against the corruption and the dishonesty rampant amid the clergy of the time comes through clearly. He dismisses the relics in the abbey with these words: There are enough pieces of the true cross here to build a house. We also get an idea of how the peasants took the law into their own hands, plunging the countryside into chaos.



The history of the protests against the Catholic Church of the time comes alive. We realize the extent of the profligacy of the clergy, the corruption in the sale of relics and indulgences, the reign of fear practiced by the clergy and the nobility.

I found the Germanic custom of consummating the union in the presence of a witness rather weird.

It helped that I did not know anything about the life of Luther and Katharina. I wasn’t caught up in wondering which parts were true and which were fiction. It was only after I had finished reading the book that I began to read about the history of Luther and Katharina, and was amazed at how true Jody had stayed to the original account, while adding some uniquely fictional touches to build her story up.

The author succeeds in weaving history into this love story at appropriate moments well enough, in order to bring back memories of our history lessons learned decades ago, particularly the period of the Reformation against the Catholic Church of the time. Her research on the historical events that transpired at the time is commendable. We get a sense of the Reformation coming to a culmination, even as the unacknowledged love of Luther and Katharina comes to a crescendo.

Of course, the love story irritated me at times because neither party seemed to be willing to admit their feelings, hiding behind the façade of obligation, and Katharina just would not let go of her regret at having to marry a commoner.

I have not read love stories in a long time so the enjoyment that I derived from this one came as a total surprise to me.



"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."




Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: PIOUS

Title: Pious
Author: Kenn Bivins
Publisher: Invisible Ennk Press
Pages: 264








The book begins with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s quote: “No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

This is the premise of Pious, the story of Carpious Mightson who, years after being jailed for a crime, has now acquired a reputation for virtue in his suburban neighbourhood of Mechi Lane. Neighbours Lela and Drew Janson and widower Bernie Loomis look upon him with affection and respect.

When Ian Kaplan, a registered sex offender, moves into the neighbourhood, it sets the neighbourhood on edge. Carpious is unwilling to stand by Ian, lest his own past be dredged up. In an attempt to maintain his standing within the community, Carpious lies and denigrates Ian. Meanwhile, Alethea, Carpious’ ex-wife, shows up, demanding money, and reveals glimpses of his past, the secrets he hides, the lies that hold his current life together.

Carpious confesses part of his truth to Sydney, but not the whole, and all the time he withholds from Ian the forgiveness he seeks for himself.  That makes him flawed and very real. Bernie, on the other hand, shows himself to be a better human being and is willing to give Ian a chance.

But it isn’t Carpious alone who is wearing two faces. Drew has his own drama going on.

The book draws you into the lives of Carpious, Ian and Lela and Drew, with Sydney, Carpious’ girlfriend, and her son, Soloman, being secondary characters. Though a significant person in Carpious’ life, she is not important to the reader.

As the story went on, I liked Carpious less and less and began to feel slightly sympathetic toward Ian. The book told me a lot about how judgmental we tend to get, and how we are quick to pass sentence before we know the truth about other people’s lives. The chapters describing life in prison, both for Ian and for Carpious as also the ordeal undergone by both of them have been very sensitively and beautifully written.

Mechi Lane is untouched, but it is also insular in its refusal to accept that which does not fit its moral code. Just like we humans refuse to accept those who don’t fit our own moral codes.

The clashes between Carpious and Ian, both verbal and physical, are intense and project the scene in front of our eyes. During the most terrible of their confrontations, Ian is killed brutally by Carpious. This chapter ends with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Did I mention that I liked the manner in which Bivins makes use of quotes?

The omniscient narrator draws back once in a while to offer a philosophical critique on the nature of life and happiness. I liked these portions; they reminded me of Hawthorne. In the grand old tradition of Hawthorne, the protagonist also has a symbolic name.

The author does a good job of unfolding the drama in the characters’ lives, the simmering tensions in the Jansons’ marriage.

The proofing errors in the story are an annoyance. Also, the usage of the present tense is a mistake. Bivins is not able to demonstrate comfort with it. He keeps slipping between the usage of the present tense and the past tense, which he adopts when talking about the past. But the sentences are awkward, and the transition between present and past is not smooth.

The author should have hired the services of a good professional editor to correct the tense-related errors that litter the book. They tend to jar on one’s sensibilities and interfere with the reading.

Sometimes it seems as if the author is not one person but two. How could the man who wrote Time has been said to “heal all wounds,” but in reality, time doesn’t heal anything. It simply passes, while the pain, loss, or trauma and how a person deals with it determines whether he is healed or worse than before also be the same person who wrote Atop the table is a remote control; an empty ornate vase; and four magazines neatly fanned out to reveal the titles – Forbes, Newsweek, Fortune and Financial Times – the last of which is some religious or financial trade magazine. Religious? Really?



But there’s far more to like here than dislike. The cover image, designed by Bivins, shows how we alone have the power to set ourselves free by ridding ourselves of our resentments and by accepting the healing that comes from forgiveness.

The name of the book is an ironical statement, an indictment of Carpious, who was nicknamed Pious in prison, and the mask he wears on Mechi Lane. He is unwilling to give Ian the grace he himself has received in abundance.

Fittingly, the children, Haleigh Janson and Soloman show a greater willingness to accept, forgive and move on. The adults of Mechi Lane are unable to see the experience in isolation. Sydney is the only exception to this behaviour and she shows strength of character by helping Carpious to change. I was also pleased to know that she had moved on, and that Carpious accepted that truth calmly.


The drama afflicting Drew and Lela finds no resolution in this book. Perhaps in time it will. Or maybe it won’t but already in the book, there is a sense of acceptance and resignation on the part of Lela.

The character of Carpious is a study in psychology. It is a reminder that what we do to children, they will do to society.
I felt a sense of shock as the mask began to drop off Carpious, revealing the type of person he really was.

But there is hope for Carpious, as there once was for Ian, and it is no mere coincidence that the same ragged dogeared Bible with half cover missing that once healed Ian is now in the possession of Carpious.


In the end, Pious has a lesson that we would all do well to learn. I look forward to Bivins’ other book.






Friday, January 15, 2016

50 Happy Things

This is a list of 50 things that made me happy in 2015. 

50 things that I was deeply grateful for. It was Dawn from Tales of the Motherland who got the idea to initiate this. She invited bloggers to blog about the 50 things that made them happy in 2015. 

So without any further ado, as they say, here's my top 50. There were others, but these are top-of-mind:


1) The Husband: We couldn’t be more unalike, and from my perspective, he can be a stubborn mule at times. Truth be told, so can I, so at least we have that in common. All the same, I love him very much, and I am grateful for his presence in my life.

2) My children, La Niña and El Niño, as I call them here. Their affection is open, refreshing, wild and uncontainable, and I feel privileged to receive it. The speed with which they come bounding towards me every evening when I get back home makes me feel honoured. I am grateful to God for the privilege of being a mother.

3) Compliments from my kids. The other day, El Niño told La Niña, “Mamma is very sweet, isn’t she?” Wow, I’m still basking in the warmth of that one.

4) My home: My heart aches when I see the homeless on the pavements in our city, their lives starkly open and vulnerable, their kids and lives exposed to the elements, and to the seedy underbelly most of us will mercifully never hear of.

5) Food to eat and water to drink: Clean and plentiful. It might not be gourmet, but as an ad on TV says, “It’s better, no?”

6) My parents: I am grateful that they are still healthy and able-bodied, still leading an active lifestyle. As they get older, I am grateful for each day. It’s a daily bonus.

7) My nephews: Their fierce affection brings me joy.

8) My brothers and sister-in-law: I’m grateful for the bond we all share. In particular, I’m grateful for how my sister-in-law has made herself a part of our family.

9) My in-laws: They look after my kids while the Husband and I are away at work. Thanks to their support, I have never suffered a moment’s uneasiness regarding the well-being of my babies.

10) Y and A: Two of my oldest friends. Not in age, but in the number of years, we’ve been sisters born of different mothers.

11) The other meaningful relationships in my life: Too many. Some of them I have lost touch with, but they have sustained me when I needed the propping.

12) Restored friendships: I nearly came close to losing the friendship of two very good friends last year. Fortunately, we got away from the brink before we fell over the edge. I’m grateful that our friendship has moved passed the rift.

13) Getting in touch with good friends that I haven’t seen or heard from in decades: Towards the end of last year, I was able to get in touch with two friends I hadn’t seen since school. It felt good to catch up on the lost years, and I’m glad they’re just a phone call away now.

14) Michael Maam: My beloved uncle, my mother’s oldest brother. He passed away on March 31 last year. He gladdened the heart of my childhood. May God rest his soul.

15) Christmas, Easter, birthdays and other reunions with loved ones: I cherish these times when the entire family gets together.

16) Health and able-bodiedness: I’m grateful that sundry body parts haven’t started to creak yet. I am healthy and able to give myself to my family and their needs.

17) The education I have received: School and College. It has made me what I am. The learning and experiences forged the person I am, independent yet pliable, and confident too.

18) My love for writing: A blank page, a pen in hand, and the muse inspiring me faster than I can write. Ah, that is bliss! Thank you, God, for the gift of being able to express myself and to be able to touch other’s emotions through my writing.

19) My blog: My little corner of the Internet, uniquely me.

20) The city I live in: It’s crazy, crowded and chaotic. But I’m not leaving.

21) My job: I edit and write, and they pay me for it. Totally win-win.

22) The group I work for: The most ethical minded group in this country

23) My office – the physical space: The high ceiling, the burst of colour everywhere, the wide windows, the ornate pillars, the spiral staircases. The sheer sense of openness feels good.

24) Kindle: So many books on my Kindle, and so little time.

25) The Internet, Pinterest, blogs: For all the goodies, ideas, patterns, recipes, opinions on the Internet. Thank you for sharing.

26) The joy of baking: Hmm, nothing like the aroma of freshly baked goodies filling your house. Inhale. Plus, I have two assistants who are always ready to help.

27) The joy of crochet: One curved needle, and endless amounts of coloured yarn. I love crochet.

28) A crochet scarf project I completed recently: As a gift to a friend during an office Secret Santa. The jinx of the UFO (the many unfinished objects that clutter my life) has been broken.

29) The Great Railways: So they’re slow, and crowded. But hey, at least they’re moving. And they’re faster than any other vehicle in the city. At least until the Metro comes to my part of town.

30) The art gallery on my walls: I’ve run out of walls on which to display La Niña’s handiwork.

31) The baking shop I discovered last year: I was like a kid in a toy shop.

32) The rains that the city received last year: It wasn’t as much as much as the city has received in previous years, but at least our taps aren’t dry.

33) The rare occasions when I get a seat in the train on the morning commute

34) That I was able to fit into a new pair of jeans. I’d bought it after El Niño was born but had never managed to fit in.

35) That the alphabet cookies I made for my nephews’ birthdays were appreciated and polished off

36) For the daily conversations with my mom over the phone. If I don’t call, she worries and calls back. I am blessed to have her worry and fret over me.

37) That Dad and I have a relationship of affection and friendship between us.

38) Mayfeelings: It’s a website where people share their concerns and fears and everyone prays for everyone else.

39) Peace and harmony at home

40) Peace and harmony at work

41) A work-related promotion

42) The well-wishers in my life, and all those who’ve prayed for me.

43) Success in the 6-km Dream Run during the Mumbai Marathon last year. So what if it wasn’t the Full Marathon. I beat my own time by 5 minutes. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

44) That the nail of my big toe grew back. Simple joys are mine.

45) That El Niño began to pronounce the g and k sounds. Earlier gorilla used to sound like dorilla, and catch would be tatch. How delighted I am to hear the right sounds now! Now we only need to conquer the Rs.

46) That the intensity of my hair loss has reduced. These days I actually have good hair days. And that’s saying a lot. Not by Tresseme standards, of course.

47) The two baking sessions I attended last year. It helped to watch experts ace the cake décor bit. That’s been an area in which I’ve struggled ever since I started baking.

48) The gift of prayer and the many, many prayers that have been answered.

49) The healing sense of peace I experienced through the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation


50) The restlessness I feel ever so often, the reminder, from the Universe, that I have yet to achieve my life’s goal. It keeps me from feeling complacent.





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