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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Harper Voyager | 17 March 2020 | 432 pgs
Source: Library 
Crush the King is the last installment of Crown of Shards series and not surprisingly it was packed with more actions, more magic, and of course more murderous machinations and courtly intrigue surrounding rival kingdoms, Bellona and Morta. 

In the previous two installments (Kill the Queen and Protect the Prince), the reader read about how gladiator Everleigh Blair had took the throne of Bellona after the mass murder of the royal family, leaving her the last Blair to continue with the legacy and to lead the kingdom despite her role and her lack of experience. While Everleigh may be lacking in some courtly matters, she is after all a warrior trained gladiator but she has immunity to magic, which is her strength considering she also could "smell" magic and destroy them if necessary. Everleigh has never forgotten about the Seven Spire massacre and has vowed to take revenge and that time has finally come with the arrival of the Regalia Games, whereby the warriors, nobles and royals from all the kingdoms will come together to compete in various sporting events. 

Everleigh may have a grudge against Maeven who had murdered the last queen, but she is more wary of her half brother, Maximus, the conniving king of Morta who doesn't take humanity kindly and will dispose anyone who gets in his way. Although Maeven is his half sister, she's also considered a bastard sister to Maximus so he often give her a cold treatment, which in turn leads to another interesting segment to the already complicated courtly machinations. 

This installment may be the last of the series, but I felt the ending leaves some possibility of a future book featuring the world of Crown of Shards and true enough, the author will have an all-new trilogy coming out in July 2021 featuring a new heroine (well, not new if you read this series). Truth be told, I was actually sad to see this trilogy has come to an end. It was like reading an adventurous coming-of-age story although this isn't categorised as YA genre. It was great to see how Everleigh has matured over the time and see her ambition changes for the sake of Bellona and the people. Her relationship with her friends was one of the fun things to read alongside the battles and they definitely deserve some attention considering they're Everleigh's entourage when plotting and fighting are concerned. I also find the worldbuilding fascinating; and not to mention the magic elements and the Strix creatures which give magical power to anyone who drinks their blood. I'd recommend this series if you like an extraordinary fantasy. 
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HQ | 7 January 2021 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

77-year-old Judith Potts is single and lives alone in a mansion inherited from her late aunt, Betty. Judith is happy with her life; after all she doesn't have to report to anyone and she can drink whisky anyhow or anytime she likes. She passes her time setting crosswords for the national newspapers and life doesn't get much better until one evening changes her life thereafter. 

On that fateful evening, she is out swimming in the Thames and she hears shouting from her neighbour's garden, followed by the sound of a gunshot. She then reports what she's heard to the police, hoping they'd send someone to investigate but they don't believe her and thought she might have heard wrongly. Afterall, Marlow has a low crime rate and it is not often they'd come across a serious crime, let alone a murder case. But Judith trusts her instincts and decides to investigate for herself. Her determination has paid off as she eventually finds her neighbour's body but the police thinks there's a possibility between the case of an accident and a suicide attempt. 

Judith didn't want to argue with the police and their disbelief has further fueled her determination in solving the case more. She is soon joined by the neighbourhood's dog walker, Suzie, and the prim and proper Vicar's wife, Becks. Together they formed "The Marlow Murder Club". What begins as a simple sleuthing soon becomes their "full-time job" as they realise they may be dealing with a serial killer when another body is found. Together with DS Tanika Malik (who's come to acknowledge their individual abilities eventually), they'll soon learn that some residents aren't who they seem to be and that one day the past would return to haunt no matter how one keeps it quietly. 

This book was a delight to read. Perhaps that's a wrong word to use considering this is a book about murders, but I loved the author's prose (serious yet humorous at times) and most of all, the various cast of characters that make this mystery so much intriguing through their dialogues and their characteristics. Judith was a remarkable character; she was a true hero (yes, she does wear a cape sometimes) and I liked it that she's feisty and opinionated and doesn't allow anything (or anyone) to bring her down. Her friendship with Suzie and Becks made me smile; and then there's DS Malik who brings in some conflicts to the story through her own issues and how she and the trio work together to crack the case. I also liked it that the mystery was multi-layered and like Judith's crossword puzzles, you need to think from various angles and other possibilities, too. As you can tell, I enjoyed this book and I'm glad to note that a sequel will be published in December 2021 (source).

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HarperCollins | 12 November 2020 | 400 pgs
Source: Library 
Catherine Cooper brings the readers to a ski resort set in the chilly La Madiere in which nature, motives and revenge all play a part in this psychological thriller.  

The year is 1998 and we're first introduced to two brothers, Will and Adam Cassiobury, as they bring their girlfriends for a ski holiday in La Madiere. The relationship between the two brothers are somewhat strained since they often seem to disagree and argue constantly. On the other end, Louisa (Will's girlfriend) struggles to fit into the group given the differences of social and class status. When Will and Adam decided to take a challenging ski route together along the French Alps on one occasion, they lost their way and out of ambitious pride, Adam figured they'd find their way out themselves while Will argued they should find and seek help from their guides. Cameron, the guide as well as the chalet owner, worries more about the sales and reputation so he didn't react quickly to the disappearance of the Cassiobury brothers until at a later stage; by then it's impossible to ignore given the severity of circumstances and sadly, only one brother is found. 

Twenty years later, two families visit the same place for a luxurious holiday. The husbands knew each other for their business connections and Cameron is still running the chalets like before. This group of acquaintance has reasons behind their holiday and most of all, they're linked to the missing brother. When a snowstorm strikes and they're stranded in the resorts, their worry and fear is further escalated when a body is found due to the avalanche, leading them the question if it's the body of the missing brother in 1998. As the story progresses and more plots reveal, the reader will soon learn that there's more to the missing brother case and that there's more than one in the group who knew about the incident twenty years ago. 

There's something about claustrophobic setting and unreliable narrators, isn't it? This may be a common trope in the suspense genre but yet it continues to hold its appeal and most of all, they never get old (at least in my opinion). The Chalet ticked most of the boxes under my suspense criterion although I've to say I liked none of the characters here. (well, maybe except for one but . . .) The story is split into two timelines with multiple narrators and both have well-balanced contents and fleshed out characters. I liked the chilling, atmospheric setting of La Madiere and this remains as my favourite throughout the book as it was quite well depicted (and I've learned a few things about skiing, too!) Overall it was a good read for a debut novel. 

(I Googled the author and stumbled upon this interview.)

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HQ | 28 May 2020 | 384 pgs
Source: Library 

His and Hers gives readers three sides of a story - a divorced couple's POVs and the mysterious killer surrounding a murder(s) investigation. 

Anna Andrews has finally gotten the job of her dreams as a newsreader at BBC after her predecessor, Cat Jones, has gone away for her maternity leave. Anna thought she'd get the job permanently through her good performance, but her hope is dashed once Cat decides to return and take back her place. Feeling bitter and dejected, Anna goes back to being a correspondent and her big break finally came when she's assigned to cover a murder in the woods at sleepy Blackdown.  

DCI Jack Harper is Anna's ex-husband and their relationship is torn apart from a tragedy involving their little girl years ago. Jack's life has been mundane until he finds himself entangled in a murder case. It turns out that the murdered victim is someone he knew intimately and it seemed he might be the last person who'd seen her alive. Although the investigation team finds a shoe print around the crime scene, they've yet to pinpoint the perpetrator. Jack and his rookie partner, Priya, are assigned to this case and he's surprised (though not so pleased) to see Anna again under this circumstances. To complicate matters, Anna knew the murdered victim, too. They were high school friends and their friendship was great at some point until Anna saw through her motives. Jack knew about their past friendship but Anna didn't know that Jack was seeing her.  

Through alternative POVs, the reader gets to learn about the thoughts and mindset of Jack and Anna. The killer's narrative was understandably vague for suspense reason, but it does add some doubts about the credibility between Jack and Anna. There're also flashbacks of the past featuring Anna's high school days and her friendship with a few girls; as well as all the bullying which would come back to haunt them all as Anna soon finds her ex-school friends turn up dead one by one. Will she be next? Or are there something more behind Anna's and Jack's mind? Then there's Priya, who is working so hard to please Jack yet she's not totally upfront with him at times. 

Overall, this twisty psychological thriller kept me on edge and the plot and suspense was quite well-paced and nicely executed. The "whodunit" took me by surprise but I didn't really buy the "howdunit" as it seemed a bit far-fetched to me. That said, this minor complaint didn't deter me from enjoying the book. 

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