HarperCollins | January 2018 | 448 pgs
Source: Purchased

The Woman in the Window has been all over the blogosphere lately and it was hard to ignore giving all the hype surrounding it. I dived into this book blind and with high expectations, after all a few of my favourite authors have praised this book fervently. And most of all, it has an unreliable narrator who is an alcoholic and has a few issues (which sounds right up my alley.)

Dr Anna Fox's profession is a child psychologist. She is also an agoraphobiac who is depressed and traumatised by a past event. She is separated from her husband but she does communicate with him and their young daughter from time to time. Living alone and housebound (though she has a tenant who lives in the basement), she finds solace and entertainment through the Internet, giving online advice to a few people like her, binge watching her favourite black and white Hitchcockian films, and watching her neighbours through her camera. All seems to be well until the Russells move in.

The Russells consist of three members: Alistair, Jane and their seventeen-year-old son, Ethan. Anna is fascinated by her new neighbour; they remind her a bit of her happier days with her family and the life she used to have. One day, Ethan drops by Anna's house to pass her a gift, saying it is from his mother. Subsequently, Anna gets to meet Jane and they hit it off well, sharing drinks and playing chess at Anna's house until one evening she witnessed something horrifying to Jane through her camera.

However, when the police comes and the interrogation begins, no one seems to believe Anna given her history of depression and her bout of drinks and medications. And when Alistair brings Jane along for the police interview, Anna is shocked to find a stranger instead. Is she delusional all along? Has she imagine someone to find that she doesn't exist at all and that it's all in her head?

If you are a fan of psychological thrillers and unreliable narrators, Anna wouldn't be a stranger to you. Like the other unreliable characters of the same genre, they are most often annoying and some even seem unlikeable, yet they intrigue you in a way and you couldn't help but to be invested in their story, no matter what kind of a person they are and/or the issues they are dealing with. This is the beauty of unreliable narrators and the essence of psychological suspense because they just suck you in. Anna was an interesting character but I have to say I have mixed feelings about her though. On one hand I felt sorry for her and the bad things she'd gone through yet on the other hand, I was perplexed over her bad decisions and wondered why she did this and that, without much explanations given. 

While The Woman in the Window was suspenseful, there were also some slow moments, too. Anna's behaviours might also put off to some; for she drank too much and occasionally mixing her drinks with her medications. This plus what she did in her house as well as her wandering thoughts took up much of the first part of the story but I suppose it was for the buildup of intensity and to give readers some doubts about Anna's credibility. Despite the bits of dragging, the progress of the story was smooth and it allows a fast and easy reading with the short chapters.

As for the twists and turns, there was the first one which I felt has been used before but even though I was surprised by the ending, it wasn't shocking to an extent that left me speechless (I blame it on my high expectations and the anticipation of something different which would knock my socks off.) That said, it was still a good read though, and I'd be interested to watch the film adaption once it is released.

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Simon & Schuster UK | July 2017 | 496 pgs
Source: Library

The Caller is the eighth book of Chris Carter's Robert Hunter series and I've to say it works well as a stand-alone since I've not read any of the previous installments yet this book provides enough background of our lead character, Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD Homicide Special Section, which deals solely with serial and high-profile homicide cases. 

The story opens with a horrific crime whereby the murderer has his victim tied to a chair as he makes a video call to the victim's best friend. The rules of his game is simple: answer two of his questions correctly and the victim's life would be spared. The questions aren't that hard as it involves the victim, but the murderer has done his homework beforehand and knew that his questions would stump his target. Not only that, he is vicious to an extent that any wrong answer or refusal to answer or watch the video would result a punishment to the victim. Karen Ward died because Tanya Kaitlin didn't know her best friend's cellphone number. With the convenience of speed dial function and our reliance on it, people would seldom commit to remember the numbers unless necessarily and the murderer knew Tanya's weakness through the social media platform, which is another way to find people's profile and status easily if one is careless with his security setting. 

Before Hunter and his assistant, Carlos Garcia, have found anything surrounding Karen's murder, the murderer has moved on to his second target, then the third in a span of five days. Each victim died terribly and like Tanya, the victims' friend or family members are forced to witness the death of their loved ones after failing to answer the murderer's questions. The murders were brutal and were described explicitly so it is not for the faint of heart. 

While it wasn't easy to read through these parts, I've to say this story was fast-paced and very suspenseful as I raced through the book and wondered how Hunter and Garcia would hunt down this monster without any clues since he was clever and was always careful when evidence traces are concerned. The author has done a great job in fleshing out the characters (in particularly the murderer and Robert Hunter) as well as exploring the psychopath's state of mind and Hunter's profession through his expertise in criminal psychology. While it was satisfying to see there was justice towards the end of story, it was also sad to learn about the murderer's past and what drove him to insanity (not a spoiler since the murderer's identity and motives remain vague until towards the end of the book.) 

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Sourcebooks | October 2016 | 320 pgs
Source: Library

A senior field trip is supposed to be fun, right? Well, maybe not in this story. 

Sera isn't keen to go for a field trip initially but rules are rules and they've to stick to it no matter they like it or not. What turns out to be a typical hiking trail becomes a nightmare when a flash flood cuts off the small group of eight into an even smaller group as the remaining three couldn't make it on time across the river as the heavy current hit on them. Divided by the river and with no signal on their cellphones, they decided that they could move on once the weather is cleared. But, they are wrong. Instead of moving on, they find themselves stuck in the remote, isolated woodland with a few incidents which struck them as scary. 

For starters, the four seniors who made it across the river woke up feeling groggy and suspected they are being drugged. Their teacher-in-charge, Mr Walker, hasn't come out of his drugged state and it terrifies them, not to mention if he would wake up at all. Then, they found their wrists are marked with a wording in dark ink. Lucas is marked as Dangerous, Jude as Deceptive, Emily as Damaged, and finally Sera as Darling. 

And when they make their way to find out the situation of the other three campers who are stuck opposite the river, they are horrified to see something disturbing hanging from a branch. It appeared to be a severed finger belonging to one of the campers but they could find no one there. What happened to them? Apparently they aren't alone as they thought and that whoever marked them must have known them well enough to brand them according to their issue. But Sera doesn't understand hers - Darling doesn't seem bad, does it? Or does she mean something special to whoever who had marked them? 

While the book blurb and the opening of the story straightaway captivates the reader's attention with an intense situation, it fell short on the developments - both plot-wise and characters-wise. I felt myself fidgeting like the characters; nervous yet unsure where the direction would go as the story progresses with nothing much happened except that the characters were going in circles with their fear and doubts towards one another. I suppose this was a buildup of the tension and suspense because the second half read fairly quickly and my assumptions started to accumulate. While the ending caught me by surprise, it didn't really satisfy my curiosity as I thought some parts seemed a bit unbelievable. Nevertheless it was an entertaining read albeit the few things I mentioned. 

Last but not least, I want to thank Lark for this buddy read. As with our previous buddy reads, we would ask each other questions pertaining to the book and the following questions are from Lark to me:

1. Which of the four main characters did you like most? And which did you like the least, and why?
Truth be told, I didn't really like any of the characters though I sympathised them given their issues. If I've to choose one to like, it would be Lucas. There was a side of him which surprised me. As for the one I liked the least, it would be Jude because of his cynicism.  

2. Would you read this author again? (Or if you have read her before, how did her other book compare to this one?)
Yes, I'll definitely read this author again. I've not read her books before so I'm glad to have discovered a new-to-me author via this buddy read.  

Now go visit Lark's blog to read her review and her answers to my questions. 

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Here is a list of books I read in 2018 (sorted in alphabetical order by the author's last name.)

The Caller by Chris Carter

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards

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Atria Books | October 2017 | 384 pgs
Source: Library

Where should I even begin this? This novel has struck a deep chord in me in so many ways. Filled with various complicated issues yet thought-provoking in every ways, this novel allowed me to think of things which I've not thought of in another perspective and I'm glad the story has shed some new light in those areas.

To many others, the Voss family is eccentric, flawed and full of secrets. At its core of this story is seventeen-year-old Merit Voss who feels she is the odd one out in her family. She feels ignored, not appreciated and most of all, indifference to her family members. Her father is an atheist who rarely pay any attention to them except himself, her illness-stricken mother lives in their basement and her stepmother is her mother's former nurse. She isn't close with her elder brother, Utah and her little half-brother is too cute to judge. The relationship with her twin sister Honor is anything but close as their personality clashes. Honor is the beautiful and outspoken one, while Merit keeps to herself and is a plain Jane; which is strange given they look identical.

Merit also collects trophies which she didn't earn; she would buy them from the local antique shop whenever she feels miserable. While browsing the shop for her next trophy one day, she encounters a boy named Sagan. She is attracted by him instantly due to his spontaneity and the way he looks at her differently from other people but she quickly discovers that it is because Sagan has mistaken her as Honor. Though Merit tries to keep a distance from him, Sagan continues to attract her with his wit, his artistic skills and the way he portrays life in general.

At this period, Merit goes through a rough patch watching her family's indifference and feeling fed up of knowing (keeping) their secrets while they go through life as if nothing happens until she decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she's never been a part of before leaving them for good. But her plan fails, leaving behind several consequences which leads her thinking if what she'd done is right. And then, there is Sagan and his family because every time Merit asks about them he either clam up or change the subject.

This is my third Colleen Hoover book and I've to say this is poignant and the most powerful among the three I read. Long story short, this is a book about family, friendship, love and it also deals with a few heavy subject matters which I think is important and worth pondering about. For the third consecutive year, Colleen Hoover is a Goodreads Choice Award winner for Best Romance but in my opinion this is so much more than a romance. I loved how this book made me laugh, cry and be hopeful at the same time. Recommended.

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Hello! I hope you had a wonderful holidays. I still can't believe that 2017 had gone by just like that. Nevertheless, a new year means a new beginning and I wish you all the best and that 2018 would be a fruitful year for you no matter what you do. And of course, a great reading year for us book lovers! 

So, I took a short break off of blogging the last week of December and had a short vacation at Malacca, Malaysia. Have you been to Malacca? It is dubbed "The Historic State" and is a state in Malaysia (more info here.) Though a short trip, it was a refreshing one for me - lots of shopping and eating. I attached a few pictures of the places I visited for the inquiring minds. :-)

Christ Church Melaka

Colourful wall art, isn't it? It had certainly brightened up my walk along this street.

Jonker Walk is a place filled with ethnic and cultural flavour. The street here is filled with historical houses dating back to the 17th century and it has shops selling various items, such as textiles, antiques, handicrafts, local food, etc. I bypassed the above store which sells traditional wooden clogs as well as a few other miscellaneous stuff. Wooden clogs are such a rare sight nowadays and seeing it has definitely reminded me of the olden days as I remember seeing my late mother wore it when I was a girl (why, I even wore it myself for fun!)  

The Airbnb we were staying had a wonderful view. Our unit was on the 35th floor and this was taken from the balcony. 

I think one of the best thing about our stay is this pool, in which one could swim while enjoying the picturesque view of Malacca.  

Now back to normalcy (ha!) and reading-wise, I finished reading Without Merit by Colleen Hoover (review forthcoming) the last week of December and am currently reading One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards (buddy read with Lark) and The Caller by Chris Carter. Both are intense and I can't wait to find out what happened next. 

So, what are you reading? 

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