St. Martin's Press | 5 January 2021 | 304 pgs
Source: Library 

When I first heard that The Wife Upstairs is a Southern Gothic twist on Jane Eyre, I knew I've to read it. 

Jane Bell (not her real name) moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to escape from her past. Having lived by a foster care system, she knew how harsh life could be and with a secret to hide, she changed her identity and become a dog-walker in Thornfield Estates where the rich resides and no one will notice even if she's stolen a few pieces of their jewelry. Jane knew she could never fit into the community of those bored and gossipy housewives, until a chance encounter with Eddie Rochester changes that fate.

Eddie is charming, handsome and a widower. Having lost his wife, Bea, six months ago, Eddie remains a mysterious resident considering he rarely mingle with the others. Surprisingly, Jane and Eddie hit it off rather quickly and in no time, Jane soon catches the attention of the other housewives and gradually becomes part of the group. She then learns a bit more about Bea; that she was a successful retail entrepreneur and she and her other friend, Blanche, were both drowned in a boating accident. Their bodies were never found, and the sad tragedy becomes a memory within the community but Jane is intrigued by Bea and most of all, is curious about her relationship with Eddie and the boating accident as well. As things began to escalate between Jane and Eddie, Jane's curiosity towards Bea also intensifies as it seems Eddie is keeping some secrets of his own. Is Eddie who she thinks he is? Perhaps Bea's death is not accidental as everyone thinks it is? 

This book was a page-turner. The author has a way of writing that pulls you in and never let go and all the characters are intriguing, too. While there're a few elements which are reminiscent of Jane Eyre, this book stands firmly on its own with the writing and tone. The characterisations are well depicted and though most of them aren't likeable, it clearly defines the social class differences and the behaviorism which ensue as a result. I'd mixed feelings towards Jane as on one hand, her situation was pitiable yet on the other hand, she could be despicable in some ways. The suspense was another draw of the story, though the ending could be fairly predictable if you're a regular reader of the suspense genre but still, that didn't diminish my reading pleasure as I mentioned before, the author's writing was engaging. I'll be curious to see what she has in store next. 
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Berkley | 21 July 2020 | 400 pgs
Source: Library 

Road trips are supposed to be fun, right? Well, not the case in this book.

Beth, Portia and Eddie Morgan are siblings and they haven't contact one another in years. When their grandfather passed, the three siblings come together not to grief but to go on a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish before securing their inheritance. There are some "rules" to follow stated on the will; and one of them is not losing their grandfather's ashes as they go on the trip. Beth and Eddie brought their spouses along while Portia is single. 

Now family ties and relationships can be complicated; and the reader soon learned about this three siblings' childhood and their memories and secrets surrounding their missing elder sister. Most of all, it also tells about their road trip with their grandfather when they were young; along with the family dynamics and how it'd implicate the current situation they're all in now. 

As they begin their road trip, they soon learn that trust could be easily diminished by a simple act and it'd be hard to earn back that trust especially if that person happens to be your spouse. Secrets aside, the group of five also faces the threat of a black car following them and finding ways to disrupt their journey, although they couldn't find any proof and the driver is good at playing cat-and-mouse game with them. It's no surprise that this trip get them all on edge and agitated, but they'll strive on since money is a powerful motivator and nothing could get in their way, not even murder. 

This book wowed me on so many levels. First, there's the plot which I find it so refreshing. The dynamics between this group of dysfunctional siblings and their spouses add some drama and intrigue to the story, but most of all, Beth's voice and her inner thoughts really got to me. She's sharp, snarky and she knows how to hide her feelings well. She has a dark side, but then so do her other siblings so no one is likeable or trustful here. Aside from Beth's narrative, I was also drawn by the anonymous journal entries written during the past and they definitely add some mystery and depth to the story. Overall, this was a highly addicting read albeit some craziness to it (the ending left me stumped, though); and I bet once you've closed this book you'll be thinking of this story whenever you go on a road trip. 

Note: The author stated that all of the attractions, tourist sites, and museums in this book are real (e.g. Helen Keller's House in Alabama to Codger Pole in Washington, just to name a few). 
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Berkley | 18 February 2020 | 315 pgs
Source: Library 

Former NYPD detective Shana Merchant had a brush with death thirteen months ago after she was abducted by a notorious serial killer. Flawed and not fully emotionally healed from the abduction, Shana's condition has improved a little after seeking treatment from a therapist, who's stopped seeing her as a patient ever since they'd started seeing each other. He's now her fiancé. 

Since Shana's condition has gotten better, she's now back to work in her fiancé's sleepy hometown in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York, and find herself working with local investigator, Tim Wellington. He's received a call from a Sinclair family that one of their family members is missing. Shana and Tim are assigned to travel to the island to gather more information with the assurance from their department that more manpower would be dispatched thereafter. However, Shana and Tim gather little information except to learn that Jasper, the missing man, has left no traces except a blood-soaked bed which he'd shared with his girlfriend. His girlfriend claimed she didn't hear anything, but that's maybe her mind is fuzzy from the drinks they'd had the previous night. 

Tim's initial guess is that they're dealing with a runaway case, but Shana doesn't think so after interviewing the Sinclairs (including their caretaker and the girlfriend) and find their dynamics complicated and on edge. To complicate matters, Shana and Tim find themselves cut off from the mainland and police's manpower as the storm strikes the island, leaving all of them stranded and with a possibly restless murderer around. As Shana continues to find the truth and secrets surrounding the Sinclairs, she is soon faced with more uncertainties as Tim's reliability is thrown into question and her biggest challenge is finding faith in herself again as her trauma-fueled flashbacks are returning and she has no one to rely on but herself. 

The setup of this story was great - chilling, atmospheric and with a touch of Agatha Christie vibe. The dynamics and the complexity relationship of the Sinclairs, combines with the claustrophobic setting, made a riveting read and all the more seeing Shana battling her own demons. The Sinclairs make up of a cast of unusual characters and while not all are unlikeable, their morality is most often questioned and what motivates Jasper's disappearance remains the crux of this thriller. There's also an exploration of Shana's relationship with her fiancé; considering she was his patient before. All in all, this was an intense thriller which captivated my attention from the beginning till the end and I'm glad to note that Shana will make her appearance again in the next book, The Dead Season

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Headline | 21 January 2021 | 432 pgs
Source: Library 

The weather has been getting warmer over here and while I couldn't do anything about it, I could indulge in a book set in a cold place and let my imagination run wild. While a murder plot isn't what I'd had in mind, I thought it still makes a good temporary fix considering how much I like reading a locked-room mystery. 

The book opens with Milla getting an invitation for a reunion in the French Alps resort from one of her friends whom she didn't contact for ten years. She and Curtis go way back and they were all at the height of their snowboarding career then until Curtis's younger sister disappeared. While Milla doesn't want to be reminded of the past, she does miss Curtis and has been wondering how he's been doing. She is glad to find their other three friends are also coming along, until they reach the destination and find it totally deserted. Thinking it is off-season, they dismiss the unsettling feeling until their icebreaker game turns menacing. 

As they question themselves and the purpose of the trip, it turns out that no one really knows who has sent the invite and that someone wants them to be there for solely one purpose - to find out the truth surrounding Saskia's disappearance since her body has yet to be found. As the group of five struggles to find ways of leaving the place with limited manpower and resources, their biggest fear is that they didn't know who to trust and that their secrets ten years ago are about to come to light. 

Atmospheric and filled with intensity, this debut novel by Allie Reynolds easily captured my attention not only of the chilling premise but also the theme surrounding the story - snowboarding. Ms Reynolds was once a freestyle snowboarder in the UK top ten at halfpipe so it was a treat and an eye-opener to read about the experiences and challenges of snowboarding alongside the suspense (my deepest respect and admiration to all the athletes who train hard for their love of sports no matter how risky some of them can be). 

The balance between intrigue and intensity was effectively narrated by two alternative timeline and while this is a common trope used in many thrillers, this will remain as one of my favourites as far as (writing) style is concerned. The cast of characters are also well depicted through their personality and exchanges; as well as who they are and how they behave under a hyper-competitive and a dangerous environment. A captivating debut novel and I'll be sure to look out for the author's future releases. 
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This week, allow me to take a break off of book reviews and let me introduce you to three K-dramas which I watched lately. (Currently watching Mouse and Navillera which are still ongoing.)

The Penthouse: War in Life (Season 1 & 2)

If you're into melodrama with a cast of secretive, unreliable characters, then look no further as this story will blow your mind with the twisty plots and developments as each episode goes. 

In a nutshell, this story is about power, wealth, ambitions and revenge surrounding a few residents living in a luxurious apartment named "Hera Palace". These various families are ambitious and like comparing and playing mind games while their children attend the same prestigious music school and like their parents, they'd do anything to outdo the others until someone died. The cause and effect of that murder quickly escalates into something more sinister as it brings out the darkness in these residents' mind; leading them to playing cruel games and more murders. 

Season 1 was exciting, but Season 2 got a bit old with what looked like more revenge and unbelievable plot twists (spoiler alert: resurrections of some characters so they could surprise and plot their plans of revenge and the games go on. Seriously?) And that's not the end of it as there'll be a Season 3 and it'd most likely air in June (?) 2021 if according to plans. I don't know about this upcoming season as it feels like a big stretch to me (hopefully, there's a sense of redemption and closure in some of these characters' awful actions.) That said, the cast performance was great and despite the over-exaggerated plots (and lots of yelling and throwing tantrums) at times, it still makes a (fun?) and an addicting watch if you're into twisty plots and twisted characters. (3.5 out of 5 stars round-off for both season)

Beyond Evil

This crime suspense drama won my approval with its intriguing premise, perfect story execution and not to mention the excellent performance of the cast. 

This story surrounds two detectives and depicts their differences from their background, personalities and their ways of solving cases. Lee Dong Sik (played by Shin Ha Kyun) works as an officer at Manyang Police Substation in a small city and beneath his quiet demeanour, he is actually a sentimental person who hasn't got over his traumatic past as a suspect of his sister's murder. In a village where the residents never tell and remember, it is hard to gauge their minds although they're quick to support one another should an outsider tries to invade into their lives. 

Detective Han Joo Won (played by Yeo Jin Goo) feels the unity of the Manyang residents after he is transferred to the same police substation and is assigned as Dong Sik's superior (also his partner). Joo Won comes from a distinguished background given his role at Seoul Police Station and that his father is nominated to be the next Commissioner General of the National Police Agency. 

The dynamics between Joo Won and Dong Sik is explosive, but a serial murder case forces them to work together; which in turn also raises some suspicion among the police staff if Dong Sik is involved and whether or not if Joo Won can be trusted considering he's an outsider. 

Despite the slow beginning, this story would capture your attention once the momentum picks up and questions will be raised as each character becomes unreliable and their actions blurry as the story progresses. There are lots of twists and turns as expected in this kind of story, but the draw lies in the two lead characters and the atmospheric Manyang with its close-knit community; which is full of secrets as it turns out eventually and how it'd impact everyone even after there's closure. Highly recommended! (5 out of 5 stars)
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