ISBN-13: 9780143124542
Publisher: Viking Penguin
Publication Date: 30 July 2013

Format: Paperback, 400 pgs
Source: Personal Library

My first Jojo Moyes book, and oh how it made me smile, laugh and cry at the same time. Me Before You tells a story of two people, who are so different from each other in so many ways and how their encouragement and love for each other wins the battle of all. 

Louisa Clark is a twenty-six year old girl who finds satisfaction in working in a café. Though life is simple and hard (the family struggles to make ends meet), she feels happy. She's into a relationship with her boyfriend, Patrick for some years and she could foresee her future settling down with him not far away from her home in a few years time. 

Unfortunately, she has no control what lies ahead as Frank, the café owner has decided to close the café and she has to look for a job. With limited skills she is forced to take up a job as a caregiver. 

William Traynor is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Before the tragic accident he has always lived a huge life; he travels, do extreme sports and life has never been more carefree and luxurious with the money his family has. He himself has an ambitious career and many people would do anything to get that kind of life he's living. But alas, obstacles come in all kinds and Will is unfortunate to be the recipient of the worst kind. One couldn't blame him for being acerbic, moody and bossy. After all, he used to be the golden boy who has everything. 

Lou, at the other end, has no experience in caregiving but the pay is good. She only has to endure Will's temperamental moods for six months, no matter how tedious it would be. And as the days go by, they begin to open up and learn some new things about each other. Just as Lou feels she's not so intimidated by Will, she then learns that Will has had a plan long after the accident and it horrifies her. 

And then there's the struggles Will's parents have to face regarding his decision. It definitely pained me to read parts of Will's mother's thoughts (as below), which I'm sure all mothers are able to relate to: 

"I looked at Will and I saw the baby I held in my arms, dewily besotted, unable to believe that I had created another human being. I saw the toddler, reaching for my hand, the schoolboy weeping tears of fury after being bullied by some other child. I saw the vulnerabilities, the love, the history. That's what he was asking me to extinguish - the small child as well as the man - all that love, all that history." 

Me Before You is a moving, tear-jerker story but what I liked is not only the emotional factor but the inspiring and motivational spirits that prompt you to think beyond this story. I liked it that the journey Will and Lou had gone through have changed and gave them new perspective of a life they've not lived before; way before Will's accident, and way before they even knew each other. It was simply... I couldn't describe that feeling actually, just that it'd touched me immensely. Most of all, I liked it that Will and Lou have pushed beyond their comfort zones for each other's sake. Their thoughts, their gestures are simply selfless, touching, and so, so beautiful... If anyone ask me if I've read anything meaningful and memorable this year, I'd say this is it. 

ISBN-13: 9780312948559
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 1 May 2007
Format: Paperback, 336 pgs

Source: Personal Library

Ms. Penny introduces us Chief Inspector Armand Gamache from the Surêté du Québec in this first book of the series. The setting is a picturesque Canadian village which is named "Three Pines", whereby everyone seems to know one another in this rural, quiet countryside. Their crime rate is near to nil, since it is a small community and the villagers feel there's no need to even lock their doors; they are that trusting. Unfortunately, that trust is shattered when a dead body is found from what seems to be a tragic hunting accident. Inspector Gamache and his team are called to investigate this case. 

The villagers are shocked to learn that Jane Neal is dead. Jane was a retired schoolteacher and was well liked to the villagers. She is a quiet but observant lady, and her best friend Clara Morrow felt life had played a cruel joke to them all. After all, who would want to kill a quiet, retired schoolteacher? Inspector Gamache, however thinks otherwise. For starters, the arrow which is believed to have killed her on the spot, was never found. And reports have shown that that shot was meant to kill, but the question is, who and why? Before Jane's death, she had submitted her drawing to be considered for an exhibition. Now Jane was not an exhibitionist by nature, and not even Clara has been to her living room, so it is perplexing that she'd decided to submit her work, even if it is hideous in anyone's eyes. Surely she has a message to convey, and died because of it? 

This book is simply a page-turner. I was drawn by the mystery as well as the characterisations, in particular to Inspector Gamache. He is a very observant and patient man; he is always calm and detailed in accessing each situations and his team respect him not only of his position but also as a person overall. Even when trainee Agent Yvette Nichol is assigned to his team and apparently has sabotaged his plans a few times, Inspector Gamache gave advice to her like a mentor, and on occasions even gave her chance when she somewhat sabotaged a few of their plans. I have to confess I was never warmed up to Agent Yvette; she was too arrogant and stubborn. The relationship between Inspector Gamache, Yvette and Jean Guy Beauvoir, who's Inspector Gamache's second in command, is another factor which makes this mystery such an interesting read. 

Back to Inspector Gamache again. What I liked about him is he was a thoughtful man, above all. He believed in his instincts, and he was not intimidated nor affected by how's the systems work. And most of all, I liked it that he discusses his cases with his wife and hear her views. This not only reflects how close their relationship is but also deep down what kind of a person he is - humble, respectful and not afraid of being different. 

Can you tell I really enjoyed this book? Yes, I think Ms. Penny had written this fine story like a piece of art; the plot and details all planned and laid out beautifully, challenging her readers to find out the flaws (in this case the mystery) if scrutinised carefully. I was in awe with the story overall. And then there's the characterisations, with Inspector Gamache on the top of the list. Last and not surprisingly, this first book of the series was the winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards. Of course I'll be sure to check out the rest of this series. 

ISBN-13: 9781442474260
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Publication Date: 7 October 2014

Format: Hardcover, 400 pgs
Source: Personal Library

Hush, Hush Saga's author, Becca Fitzpatrick has a new standalone out and unlike her previous fantasy romance, this time round she delves into romantic thriller, with a treacherous backdrop of the mountains of wintry Wyoming. 

Britt and Korbie are best friends in high school they have decided to take a hiking trip during their spring break. This is the first time they would go hiking on their own and stay in Korbie's family lodge at Idlewilde. Korbie's older brother, Calvin, would be tagging along since Korbie's parents wouldn't be with them and Britt has mixed feelings with him joining them since he had dumped her on the night of her school dance a year ago, plus she isn't really over him, yet. 

Despite all that, Britt is looking forward to the trip. And most of all, she wants to prove to Calvin that she could do all the things on her own without him (or anyone) breathing on her neck. Unfortunately, the weather isn't cooperating. The unexpected heavy snowfall has forced them to seek refuge at a secluded cabin with two good-looking young men, Shaun and Mason. Britt had met Mason at a gas station before she set her trip, and she was grateful that he'd helped her out by posing as her boyfriend to spite Calvin, even though she didn't know him or ask him to. 

As much as Britt is glad to see Mason again for assistance, he however acts like he doesn't know her and his attitude towards her is cold and unfriendly. It took them a while to realise that Shaun is taking them hostage and they need her help in guiding them out of their place towards the forest, after hearing that Britt hikes and may know the area. 

Although this story is very much about hostage and survival, the core of this story is the matter of trust and how Britt sees the three guys as her harrowing journey goes. Shaun seems to be the ultimate bad guy throughout the story; as he had shot a few people who got into his way. Mason, on the other hand, may seems to be the cold and quiet one but on several occasions he has somewhat saved Britt from Shaun. Perhaps he's trying to save his own butt as Shaun could be authoritative and ruthless if things don't go as he wish. And then there's Calvin, who cheated on Britt before they broke off and then witnessing an unbelievable act which is so unlike him. Or is this the real him? 

Though the story isn't something new, it has enough suspense to keep me reading on and had me guessing who's the good guy ultimately. I have to admit there are parts which I wasn't totally convinced or agreed with, but since this is also a story about finding the truth, I decided that is enough to satisfy my justification (curiosity). 

ISBN-13: 9781594745263
Publisher: Quirk Publishing
Publication Date: 23 September 2014
Format: eBook, 240 pgs

Source: NetGalley

"A Better Life for the Everyone" - That's the slogan for Orsk; an all-American furniture superstore in Scandinavia drag, offering well-designed lifestyles which is below prices of a certain Swedish furniture superstore (you know which one), or so it claims. Orsk's well-calibrated system, their wide range of products and well-oriented customer services are the draw, but for whatever reasons the store is falling short of corporate sales expectations, and it's not even the lack of customers that does it. 

Amy, an employee in Orsk, has requested for a transfer to another outlet in Youngstown. She used to work there but she couldn't stand Basil, the newly appointed manager who always seems to stand in her way and use any excuses for a reprimanding. She had had enough and was waiting for that transfer documentation to go through until something weird happened at Orsk. Damaged merchandises are found when they open their store in the morning, though the staff who work on the last shift has claimed all merchandises are in good order before they leave the store. Basil proposed a plan to Amy and Ruth Anne, another employee of Orsk, to work extra shift at night so they could catch the culprit. However, they are not to utter this plan to anyone, as Basil stated this to be a covert operation. However, it isn't robbery or vandalism they have to deal with but a pack of creepy crawlies with their leader who claims is a warden before Orsk exists. 

Horrorstör has all the elements of a horror story; a spooky setting (never mind it's not a haunted house) of an enclosed superstore with no convenient exits nearby (claustrophobia is another creepy factor here) in the middle of the night, and of course those paranormal activities that make you bite your nails. The furniture maze indeed provides a great atmospheric setting, as one never knows what is lurking behind those closets. Characterisations wise is average, for there isn't anyone I felt stands out; perhaps Amy if I have to choose one, since the frightful incident has changed her overall perspective in her work and life in general.     

That said, this interesting setting is not the core highlight; the story layout is another thing that I feel would catch any readers' attention as each chapter begins with an illustration of a furniture product with a faux Scandinavian name which so reminds me of a catalogue; and as the story progresses these products become more sinister and dangerous looking. I have to say my reading experience with Horrorstör is quite a refreshing one; and I can imagine reading from a print copy doubles that feeling (mine is an eBook version). And I suppose I'd always think of this book whenever I make a trip to that certain Swedish furniture store.