Book Review: Members Only by Sameer Pandya

Members Only
Sameer Pandya


Professor Raj Bhatt is having a terrible week. He’s made an offensive comment to a prospective member of his tennis club, students from his Anthropology class are protesting remarks he made in class, and his son is in trouble at school. Raj has all the credentials to be accepted in elite circles: an Ivy League doctorate, a professorship, and a white wife. He’s also a member of an exclusive tennis club, a place where his wife grew up and a place he and his kids already love. But Raj didn’t grow up with the elite. His grandparents did well in Bombay, but when Raj’s mother and father moved the family to the United States, they had to start over. As an immigrant, he’s aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle slights towards him and other minorities in professional and social circles.

So to be accused of reverse racism on several fronts shakes Raj to the point of collapse. How can he make people see he’s been misunderstood?

It starts with the offensive comment. Raj was merely excited that people of color were being considered for membership and blurts out the worst possible thing. The membership committee is outraged and embarrassed and the prospective black couple, a prominent cardiologist and trauma surgeon, rush out before Raj can apologize.

What’s at the core of this scene and others in Pandya’s debut novel is the bundle of complex issues of racial and religious discrimination, class distinction, feeling inadequate and being an outsider. It’s ironic for Raj because, as an anthropologist, he chose his profession to understand human societies and cultures.

I had done it because I loved the idea of talking to people and trying to understand them, to see how different they were. And perhaps, if I dug far enough into their lives and histories, I could discover how similar they were too,” he says.

I enjoyed this fast-moving and very readable story. Raj’s character is well developed and wonderfully human, a reflection of how complicated prejudices and misconceptions can be. Pandya places these problems in the middle of a contemporary marriage, where pressures to have it all and maintain an image can distort what it means to be happy.

Members Only tackles difficult and modern problems, ones that its characters seem unlikely to entirely resolve. But the story is also full of compassion, forgiveness, hope and several touching scenes. I recommend this book to readers who like stories with realistic characters who make mistakes, but who are good people underneath.

Members Only will be released on July 7, 2020. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Agatha Christie


I’d known about Agatha Christie’s books, but I’d never read one until I picked up The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Published in 1920, it is Christie’s debut detective novel and is set in England, outside London. Christie introduces her now well-known character, Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee and “one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.” Poirot became a long-running character in Christie’s writings and appeared in thirty-three novels, two plays and more than fifty short stories.

In this story, Poirot investigates the poisoning death of Mrs. Emily Inglethorp at the family estate, Styles Court in Essex. Emily’s two stepsons and others at Styles are convinced that Alfred Inglethorp, their mother’s new and much younger husband, is the killer. And he has a  motive, they believe: Emily’s fortune. As a favor to his friend Hastings, also a guest at Styles and narrator of this story, Poirot investigates Emily’s death. Hastings is recovering from war wounds thanks to John’s hospitality and has always wanted to be a detective. He happily becomes Poirot’s eager assistant.

In a thorough and sometimes indirect and mysterious style, Poirot interviews family members and guests including stepsons John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife, Mary; Emily’s loyal friend, Evie Howard; and Emily’s protégé, Cynthia Murdoch. Maids and gardeners also share important clues and Christie includes helpful floorplans to explain the layout of the house, crucial to understanding the events of Emily’s death.

One of the major issues is Emily’s will. There have been many versions and a last-minute revision. No one is sure what changes have been made and a lot is at stake. John and Lawrence, country squires, have no real source of income and they also fall under suspicion. Another fact to sort out is the strychnine that killed Emily. How was she poisoned and who acquired the strychnine? There are several possibilities. A curious side character is Dr. Bauerstein, who happens to be a poison expert. He’s staying in the village while recovering from a nervous breakdown.

Hastings may be Poirot’s helper, but Poirot likes to keep his ideas close to the vest, leaving Hastings, and the reader, in the dark for periods of time. He gets it all right, of course, in genius style because he quietly notices details and considers possibilities others have discarded. Poirot’s methods are amusing to witness because they show how people become frustrated when they don’t get immediate answers.

I enjoyed reading this mystery, which is not solved until the final pages, but which Poirot fully explains to his naïve assistant.

I must mention, however, several racist characterizations in the book, something Christie has been criticized for and which are completely unnecessary to the storyline. Although I’m unsure of when this happened, the Anti-Defamation League complained about Christie and American publishers were allowed to remove offensive descriptions from some of her books. There are several articles about Christie’s depictions.

ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, May 14, 2018: “The erasure of race in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None by Blake Allmendinger”

The New Yorker, August 16, 2010: “Queen of Crime – How Agatha Christie created the modern murder mystery” by Joan Acocella

Canadian Jewish News, January 23, 2020: “Was Agatha Christie an Anti-Semite?” by Michael Taube

So although The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a clever story and marks the introduction of Poirot’s character, these comments took away from my reading experience.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Darlene Foster

Author name: Darlene Foster

Genre: Middle-Grade Travel/Adventure/Mystery

Books: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; Amanda on The Danube: The Sounds of Music; Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind; Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action; Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady to be released Spring 2021

What’s your story and how did you become a writer? I am a Canadian author who has written the Amanda Travels series featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves travelling to unique places where she encounters mystery and adventure. Readers of all ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. I’ve won prizes for my short stories and have been published in various anthologies. I have also written a bi-lingual book for English/Spanish readers.

I grew up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, where I dreamt of writing, travelling the world, and meeting interesting people. I come from a long line of storytellers and have been telling tales for as long as I can remember. My grade three teacher encouraged me to write my stories down, and when I was twelve I had a short story published in a local paper. It was about an amusing experience two young girls have while shopping in a department store. Little did I know, all those years later, I would publish a series of books about two girls having adventures in various countries.

I believe in working hard to make my dreams come true. Over the years, I have had wonderful jobs such as being an employment counsellor, ESL teacher, recruiter and retail manager. I would write whenever I had a few spare minutes. I am now retired and write full time. When not travelling, meeting interesting people and collecting ideas for my books, I enjoy spending time with my husband and entertaining dog, Dot. Dreams do come true.

How do you balance your work with other demands? When I worked full time, I made sure I wrote two hours every day, usually in the evening after dinner. Now that I´m retired I´m not as organized, but I write every day. I could be at my computer all day, but my dog makes sure I get up and take her for walks and my husband makes sure we eat something together.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life: There are many, but the one that comes to mind is the first time I got on an airplane, at age 27, and travelled to the UK. It was a dream come true, and I was so happy and excited. It was the start of my love for travel which eventually launched my writing career.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner? I am a dedicated panster. I have tried planning and it just doesn´t work for me. The only thing I do is create a mind map with the locations that will be in the story. These mind maps are very messy and wouldn´t make sense to anyone else.

Could you write in a café with people around? I haven´t done this but I think I could. Once I get into a story, nothing distracts me. I’ve made notes in cafés as I people watch and listen in on conversations. The thought of sitting in a coffee shop in Spain or France writing away appeals to me.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it? Because Amanda travels to a different country in each book, I always include some words in the language of the country she is in, which readers say they enjoy. Amanda isn´t fluent in other languages, so I make sure the other characters can speak English and sprinkle in the odd word in their first language.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now? That is such a difficult question as I have many favorite books. As a child, one of my favorite books was Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery and as an adult, I guess it would be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. But there are many other books I love. Right now I am reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, and I am loving every word.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader? I love to read, in any format. I alternate between printed books, both hardcover and paperback, and books on my eReader. Holding an actual book in my hands is still a great feeling.

Do you think print books will always be around? Yes, I do. Many folks still like to hold a book in their hands. A funny thing, I found that kids, even in this digital age, still prefer a print book.

Would you ever read a book on your phone? I don´t think so as it would be too small for me.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else? I love my Android tablet.

How long could you go without checking your phone? I don´t use my phone much as it has limited data and it´s a pay as you go plan so I don´t want to run out of minutes. But, I check my emails and social media constantly on my tablet or laptop, which is distracting while writing. I couldn´t go more than half a day without checking my social media sites.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening? I don´t listen to audiobooks but I think they are wonderful, especially for the elderly who can no longer read or for someone who does a lot of driving.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform? I love using social media to market my books. My favorite platform is my WordPress blog.

Website and social media links:
Website: Darlene Foster
Amazon author page
WordPress Blog 

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email for a bio template and other details.

On virtual book hauling

So last week I went to a virtual conference sponsored by Library Journal. I attended in a webinar on Editors’ Picks and got a chance to learn about a lot of new books coming out. I didn’t know what to expect, but I have to tell you it was a lot of fun visiting all of the publishers’ virtual booths and seeing so many new books!

I also came away with a lot of ARCs, many via NetGalley and some PDFs. All titles will be released this summer, into the fall and a couple in 2021.

I’m looking forward to reading these books, despite the problem of already having too many books in my pile.

Here’s what I got and hope to read this summer:

Waiting approval, but I got a special NetGalley widget from Library Journal so I think they’re a go.

Don’t these book covers look nice? What’s on your summer reading list?

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Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead


Cora is a young slave on the Randall cotton plantation in antebellum Georgia when Caesar approaches her with a plan to escape. He tells her she will be his good luck charm, but he’s picked her because he knows she can make it. Cora’s strong and determined personality will help them escape the brutal treatment they can no longer endure. And as a young woman, she is now defenseless against Terrance Randall’s abuse. Cora’s mother, Mabel ran for her own freedom when Cora was a girl. Now Cora is an outcast living on the plantation’s “hob,” a place where slaves are banished by other slaves.

Shortly after they run, they are chased by a group of slave catchers and Cora kills a boy who attacks her. Via the Underground Railroad, they find their way to safety in South Carolina. But something isn’t right and Cora is soon on the run again. And she’s being pursued by a slave catcher named Ridgeway whose reputation is at stake. Ridgeway failed to capture Mabel when she ran. Now he’s determined to succeed and restore Terrance’s confidence in him.

In Whitehead’s interpretation, station agents from a real underground railroad system, built by blacks and white supporters of freedom, help Cora move from state to state. The risks are great for Cora and those who help her and some will pay with their lives.

What do I say about a book like this, read at a time like this? Though Whitehead’s depiction of slavery and oppression is from a grim time in American history where slavery in the south was accepted, his characters’ messages continue to ring true. Cora’s story is a reflection of innumerable stories of how poorly blacks have been treated in this country.

What makes this book excellent is how Whitehead’s characters represent complicated and nuanced views of slavery and oppression.

For example, Colson offers a keen insight into Ridgeway’s belief in what his own father taught him about a Great Spirit. He tells Cora, “All these years later, I prefer the American spirit, the one that called us from the Old World to the New to conquer and build and civilize. And destroy that what needs to be destroyed. To lift up the lesser races. If not lift up, subjugate. And if not subjugate, exterminate. Our destiny by divine prescription—the American imperative.” That’s a scary quote, but these are the shameful words that others throughout history and in present day have spoken.

Cora’s fight for her own freedom is the most central to the story because it represents an imperative for basic human rights. The people who help her, blacks and whites, have varied reasons for helping and for me, offer hope as I relate her story to present time. White shop and saloon owners who live above railroad stations, station agents, and citizens offer help. In particular, Martin Wells, a white station manager in North Carolina, risks his family’s life to hide runaways in his attic, despite his wife’s opposition. His wife, though, is terrified and has her own complicated story. Elijah Lander is a biracial and outspoken abolitionist, who grew up in privilege and uses his stature to make speeches and distribute pamphlets.

One complicated and realistic character is Mingo, a former slave who purchased his own freedom and believes blacks should disassociate themselves from weaker blacks. For Mingo, his cause is his own and his view is narrow.

But the character who tugs at my conscience is John Valentine, a light-skinned Ethiopian who marries a black woman and buys her freedom. He starts a farm in Indiana to help runaways. Valentine explains,

I didn’t grow up the way you did. My mother never feared for my safety. No trader was going to snatch me in the night and sell me South. The whites saw the color of my skin, and that sufficed to let me be. I told myself I was doing nothing wrong, but I conducted myself in ignorance all my days.”

Something in the front of my mind.

Thanks for reading.


Who’s That Indie Author? John W. Howell

Author name: John W. Howell

Genre: Thrillers mostly

Books: My GRL, His Revenge, Our Justice, Circumstances of Childhood, The Contract

What’s your story and how did you become a writer? I was held prisoner of organized commerce for over forty years. Once I broke out, I started doing what I had wanted to do for all those forty years and that’s write. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So far, I have five books published and have finished the sixth which should be ready in June. I live in Lakeway, Texas with my wife and our spoiled rescue pets.

How do you balance your work with other demands? My writing comes first and then after it is done, I spend no less than three hours on other than writing projects. So, my day really breaks down into writing and non-writing. I never spend a whole day doing one or the other exclusively. I think balance is achieved by doing a little of both every day.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life: I have to say one of the happiest moments of my life was the birth of my daughter. The labor was long and hard, and she was born breach. I was so worried and when I finally held her in my arms and looked into her face, I could almost not contain my joy.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner? I am a dyed in the wool pantser. Most of the time I allow the characters and the story to carry themselves. I do have a rough idea of where I want the story to go but do rely heavily on going with the seat of my pants. One thing I do is lay out the last three lines of the story. In this way I at least know where all this “pantsering” will need to end up.

Could you write in a café with people around? I can write anywhere. I don’t need silence to concentrate. Right now, I’m writing outside while Twiggy my French Bulldog is having a shouting match with the neighbor’s dog.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it? I have only done a couple of lines of dialog in German. The way I did it was to Google ‘English to German translation,’ and up popped a neat translation engine. I typed in the English phrase and out came the German.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now? My favorite book caused me to want to become a writer. It was On the Beach by Neville Shute. What fascinated me was how the characters all dealt with the fact they were going to die. Right now, I am reading one of Mae Clair’s Hodes Hill thrillers, Eventide.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader? I was about to say “propped up in bed” but then re-read the question carefully. I used to be a purist in only reading hardcovers. Then I got a Kindle about seven years ago and as they say, my life changed. The idea of being able to get any book I want in ten seconds convinced me that the Kindle was my reading device of choice.

Do you think print books will always be around? I think there will always be a demand for printed books. There is something to be said for holding an actual book in your hands that the Kindle does not replicate.

Would you ever read a book on your phone? I suppose I would if there was no other way. Call me crazy but I don’t see my phone and me reading books together.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else? iPhone

How long could you go without checking your phone? I never check my phone anymore. I have it on silent and totally ignore it. I have to confess I also have an Apple Watch. It constantly looks at my phone and then tells me everything I need to know instantly. (I know it’s cheating.)

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening? I have not gotten into audiobooks. I do want to convert mine but am trying to figure the best way to do it.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform? I like Twitter, my blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Website and social media links:
Blog – Fiction Favorites with John W. Howell:
Facebook: John Howell
Twitter: @HowellWave
Authorsdb: John W. Howell
LinkedIn: John W. Howell
Goodreads Author: John W. Howell
Amazon Author: John W. Howell

Awards/special recognition: Honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Short Story competition. Circumstances of Childhood – Finalist Top Shelf Indie Awards. The Contract – Finalist Indie Book Awards. Winner American Fiction Awards. Semi-Finalist Chanticleer International Book Awards. Finalist IAN Book of the Year Awards

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email for a bio template and other details.


Hello – I’m reblogging this from my Books to Pen blog. A little personal, but I thought I’d share. Do you ever feel better once you get something down on paper (or on your computer)? I do!

Books to Pen

She’d laughed with her neighbor at their ridiculous tears as they watched their five-year-olds march in a Chuck E. Cheese birthday parade. They’d both felt it, rising lumps in their throats and welling in their eyes, in embarrassing disproportion to the day. Their children were small and close and years away from leaving them. Without words, she and her friend knew what it meant and then it was stuffed deep.

Since then there had been many parades, ceremonies, and graduations and she’d felt the same way. Last year, a big graduation was hard on her as she remembered her parents at the one before that. It had been a difficult day with them. So much walking, so many arrangements and a close call as someone had bumped her father in line to get on the shuttle bus. The sight of his weak but proud figure as he struggled to find…

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Blog views and other obsessions – switching to new WordPress Block Editor on June 1


You’ve probably already seen this announcement after you log in, but it snuck up on me. As of June 1, the old classic editor is out and the new WordPress Block Editor is in.

A brief explanation:

If you’ve launched your site in the past year and a half you may have never seen our older editor and are likely already using the more recent WordPress editor. Those of you who have an older site, though, might recognize this editing experience…Read more here.

I talked about this in an earlier post and there was a lot of discussion. Since then, I’ve only had a little bit of experience using the Block Editor on my other blog. I was hoping to have more practice before the launch. I guess we will all get used to the new one, but I’m sure there will be growing pains!

Are you ready?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Who’s That Indie Author? Lillian McCloy

Author name:  Lillian McCloy

Genre:  Memoir / Travel Literature / Espionage

Book:  Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant: Undercover and Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  I was always a writer, since I was six years old. I wrote stories on the middle pages of my notebooks in school. Sometimes I would add pictures to go with the stories. Genius.

I grew up in Canada. I became a big band jazz singer and also worked as a secretary and a paralegal.  After I moved to San Francisco, I became Melvin Belli’s secretary. That’s when I met my husband Frank.

I write for pleasure, but I don’t really know the answer to how I came to write my memoir. I may have felt the need to write my story down after my house and everything burned in the 1991 Oakland hills fire. I wrote my manuscript a year later.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  Well, I am 94 years old, so this isn’t an issue for me. I’m blind from macular degeneration. I have no other demands.

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  Hmmm. I couldn’t answer that succinctly. I’d have to think about that for a while.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  I’m a planner. I’m a Capricorn and I’m very organized.

Could you write in a café with people around?  No, I like solitude and quiet.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it? No, I haven’t.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  My favorite book is Little Women, which I read when I was seventeen. And it’s still my favorite book. I am not reading now at all, because I am disabled, but I’ve always loved reading and having stacks of books from the library. Unfortunately, I am not able to read anymore. I miss it terribly.

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  I don’t even know what an eReader is. That was after my time. I prefer a hardcover. I like the smell of a book.

Do you think print books will always be around?  No. Sadly, I don’t think so. I think it won’t be very long before they just don’t bother anymore.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  No, I wouldn’t.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  A standard phone (landline) does me just fine.

How long could you go without checking your phone?  Always. I never check my phone. I wouldn’t know how to check a phone. Mine just rings.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening? I don’t listen to audiobooks because I don’t enjoy it. I think there’s too much acting going on with the voice. If everyone read books in a plain reading voice, I probably would enjoy it. They’re always trying too much to dramatize, and I don’t like that.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  My daughter Johanna has done all of my promotion. She says she does it on a dedicated Facebook page.

Website and social media links:
Facebook: bordertownpublishing

Awards/special recognition:  Certificate of Recognition from the California State Assembly 2017

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email for a bio template and other details.

On audiobooks and coloring

Photo by Pixabay on

One of the things I like to do while I’m listening to an audiobook is color. I’m no artist, but I enjoy coloring pages and hearing a good story. Very relaxing!

Today I’m sharing links to free coloring pages for adults and some audiobooks I recommend.

Art Is Fun


Just Color

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

What If? by Randall Munroe

Many thanks to my friend J. for giving me this idea yesterday!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!