Penguin Publishing Group | March 2018 | 336 pgs
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

In 1994 Vermont, Deb Sheridan was strangled and dumped in the middle of the former sports field on the abandoned grounds of Idlewild Hall (a former girls' boarding school which was closed and abandoned since 1979) on Old Barrons Road. She was twenty then. Her boyfriend, Tim Christopher, had spent twenty years in the prison for the crime though he'd claimed he was innocent. Fiona, Deb's younger sister was seventeen then and the murder had torn the family apart. Despite twenty years have passed and Tim was put behind bars, Fiona who is now a journalist with Lively Vermont, still harbours doubts about the truth surrounding Deb's death since no footprints or tire tracks were found and there was no logical way how Tim could dump Deb's body without leaving any traces. Her curiosity is further sparked when someone is restoring the abandoned Idlewild Hall. Who is the new owner and what's the motive for this restoration project? Fiona Sheridan is keen to find out, after all it is near the site where her elder sister's body was found. 

In 1950, Katie Winthrop, Roberta Greene, CeCe Frank and Sonia Gallipeau are students of Idlewild boarding school. Most students are enrolled there for a reason and they aren't entirely good - they are either sent there for misbehaviours, complicated family issues or no one wants them. Nevertheless, the four girls bonded quickly regardless of their personality differences or their personal baggage. They are the Idlewild girls who aren't intimidated by talks and rumours except for one thing - they are all scared of Mary Hand; a specter who is believed to haunt the Idlewild ground and that her baby was buried in the school's garden. As they live in fear surrounding Mary Hand's rumours, it was until Sonia's disappearance that allowed the other three girls to set their fear aside to look for the truth regarding their missing friend. What really happened to Sonia? 

These two different incidents in two different timeframes may not seem to have any connection but they do in a way, as Fiona found out towards the end as she searches the truth surrounding Deb's death and then stumbled upon a truth of the past along the way. There are many dark sides to this story - the creepiness of Mary Hand and her hauntings, the horror of the Nazi and the women's concentration camps back in the 1940s (this is Sonia's story but I'd leave it to you to find out yourself) and finally, the evil minds of the human beings who would do anything for their own benefits. 

Simone St. James excels not only on the storytelling part but also skillfully connecting the two events and made this both a creepy and suspenseful read as a whole. Needless to say, the book held my attention throughout my reading journey and I'm glad to say I've found a new favourite author after having read her two previous books (Silence for the Dead and An Inquiry into Love and Death). 

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Michael Joseph | January 2018 | 352 pgs
Source: Purchased

This debut novel by C.J. Tudor is part coming of age, part psychological suspense which had me captivated from the beginning till the end. 

Told from a first person perspective and with two time frames shifting back and forth (1986 and 2016), at its core this is a story about a past event which had affected the lives of five teenagers and how it comes back to haunt them when they are adults. 

Eddie Adams and his friends are twelve when they first stumble upon a body in the woods in their neighbourhood in Anderbury. To be precise, the body is dismembered and they didn't really find it accidentally. Directions marked by chalk lead them into the woods and before that, they have had fun conjuring secret codes using chalk and each of them has their own coloured chalk to indicate their identity but none of them is white. So who is this Chalk Man and most of all, why them? 

Back to the present, Eddie is now a teacher and when he receives a letter with drawing of a chalk figure, he knew what happened in the past isn't over and it is finding its way back to the group of five childhood friends who used to be close together. Years and circumstances have distanced them, but Eddie still keep in touch with Gavin (Fat Gav) and David (Hoppo) occasionally. The mystery gets more obscuring when one of the group, Mickey, turns up at Eddie's house and make a proposition of writing a book of the events happened back then in 1986 and then it is like they are back in their teens when the chalk figures start appearing again. This time around it leaves them with more questions instead of answers and it gets creepier as the truth starts unravelling. 

Foreboding and filled with twists and turns, The Chalk Man will satisfy readers who love a good suspense and characters development. Well crafted and well written, the story had captured the emotional and struggles of the characters as they grow from teenagers to adults and Eddie's voice is both addictive and compelling (and oh, what an ending!) A great debut and a new author to look out for.

Before ending this post, I'd like to thank Lark for this buddy read (please also check out Lark's review and the Q&A here). Below is some questions from Lark to me regarding the book: 

1) What did you like best about the way C.J. Tudor wrote this book?
Foreboding, unpredictable and a cast of intriguing characters. Truth be told, I'd no idea where the story is leading and it was so much fun watching the story unfolds. The author has also captured the teenaged life of the characters beautifully; in fact the flashbacks are the draw for me in this book not only it is the beginning of the series of consequences which would happen later but also they capture the voice and the innocence of each teenager's mind.  

2) If you were going to give Eddie and his friends new nicknames, knowing what you know about them now, what names would you give them?
Hmm... that's a tricky one. I'm bad in naming names so I've absolutely no idea what to name them. However, I think Gavin's nickname (Fat Gav) is the most fitting among all given his build. 

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Hodder & Stoughton | March 2017 | 288 pgs
Source: Library

"The Roanoke girls seem to have it all. But there's a dark truth about them that's never spoken. Every girl either runs away, or dies.

Lane Roanoke was a troubled girl. Her relationship with her mother was anything but close. When her mother committed suicide when she was fifteen, she had nowhere to go to except to her mother's old hometown in rural Kansas. Lane wasn't close with her grandparents either, but they took her in. Lane then learned that she had a cousin who was six months younger than her. They got along quite well, and Allegra was more than thrilled to show her around the house. However, there was one thing that bothered Lane, and that was the generation of the Roanoke girls before her. From what she'd learnt from Allegra, they either ran away or died and Allegra didn't elaborate much further. Lane finally knew the hard truth one day and left Kansas but Allegra refused to leave, claiming it was her home and everything. 

Eleven years later, Lane received a text from Allegra but Lane never replied or contacted her. It was only later when she learned of her disappearance which had her return to Kansas with a sense of remorse. As much as she dreaded going back, she knew she owe it to Allegra and most of all, she has to find out the truth about her disappearance despite the darkness and ugliness of the Roanoke's family secrets. 

The Roanoke Girls wasn't what it seemed to be at first glance. The blurb offered nothing but a hint of family secrets surrounding the Roanoke girls. It had an atmospheric feeling though it was set in a small town in rural Kansas with agricultural farming as their core business. Told from two different time frames "Then" and "Now" through Lane's perspective, the story was intriguing and Amy Engel's writing was beautiful and had this reader hooked quickly. However, the story then took a turn and the secret was hinted out fairly early and thereafter my reading experience was no longer the same. Learning what the secret (subject) is felt like the rug was pulled out from under me because it was the last thing I'd expected from this story. It was unsettling and disturbing yet the author's writing and the mystery surrounding Allegra's disappearance pulled me back to the story. 

The truth in the end may deem as a resolution to Allegra's case but it offers no redemption quality as far as the story goes, which is a pity. This is not a book for everyone, but Amy Engel is a good writer so I may want to read her YA dystopian series (The Book of Ivy and The Revolution of Ivy). 

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A Korean Odyssey is a modern spin-off of the Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West (西游记)in which it depicts a tale of a Buddhist monk and his three divine protectors' mission and their journey to the 'western regions' to obtain Buddhist sacred texts and how they are met with various obstacles and challenges during their pilgrims journey. At its heart of the original story is the spiritual insight of the experiences they encountered and how teamwork and perseverance will push them onto their path towards enlightenment. 

While A Korean Odyssey retains the main cast of the original work, some of them have their roles switched (for the addition of the romance element) and I've to say the idea is a refreshing one. For instance, the Buddhist monk in the original work was re-script as a female human, Jin Seon Mi (starring Oh Yeon Seo), who is able to see otherworldly beings in this spin-off. Her encounter with Ma Wang (starring Cha Seung Won) (based on the Bull Demon King) as a girl is the start of everything after she has freed Son Oh Gong (starring Lee Seung Gi) (based on Sun Wukong), the Monkey King, from the Five Elements Mountain and a contract was sealed between them as a result. Now an adult, Seon-mi become Sam Jang (based on Tang Sanzang) since she was the one who has released the Monkey King from his prison. Son Oh Gong becomes her protector due to the magical bracelet (originally a head band) which bound him to her commands. 

What follows is a series of events which allow Sam Jang to interact with a few deities-like characters (and dispose of a few ghosts snd demons along the way with the help of Oh Gong) but the highlight would be the romance between she and Oh Gong and Sam Jang's summon to destroy a powerful black dragon before it escape into the world and causes destruction. 

While A Korean Odyssey tells a different story from Journey to the West, a few things retain such as the characters' characteristics and their abilities (for obvious reason) as well as the philosophy behind the original story, which is seeking true light in a dark world surrounded by the evils. The romance between Sam Jang and Oh Gong is a bold creation yet an original, refreshing idea. I absolutely loved the additional romance element and how it plays into a bigger scene in this story as it moves towards the finale, whereby one of them has to choose and make a decision surrounding the heavenly summon. A wonderful fantasy with a twist and I'd recommend this to anyone who loves this genre as well as fans of Journey to the West who don't mind a new perspective. (Trailer here.)

(My favourite OST - When I Saw You)

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Little, Brown and Company | January 2018 | 304 pgs
Source: Library

This first book of The Searchers series tells a story of a missing girl and the introduction of FBI Special Agent Elsa Myers. 

Elsa was sitting by her terminally illed father's bedside when she received a call from her superior. Seventeen-year-old Ruby Haverstock has disappeared from Forest Hills, Queens, and no one understand why she turned off the security camera at a local café where she worked before her disappearance. She left work on time so the abduction might have happened after that. Elsa interviewed a few of her friends and it seemed no one really knew about her movement before her disappearance. Her ex-boyfriend, Charlie, seems suspicious to Elsa initially due to the fact that he deals with meds (drugs) and will offer or sell them to the girls he fancies but after a few more interviews with her family members, Elsa learned that Ruby has stolen a fake gun from her father and whether if she is acting out of defense or something, again no one knew. 

Together with Elsa's newly assigned partner, Alexei Cole, they began their investigation search and found a person of interest who may have been killing for years. While Elsa's mind is mostly filled with breaking the case and of her dying father, another part of her is tormented by her self-destructive past, her relationship with her sister and her late mother who used to be abusive and controlling when she was a girl. 

Elsa is both a flawed and an intriguing character, and while the story sounds promising, I've to admit I lost my interest halfway through the book and subsequently I plodded along because I hate to DNF a book and wanted to give it a chance. I think one reason is I couldn't connect with the characters, in particularly Elsa since this is a book about her. I felt there was too little of the suspense part and more on her interactions with Alexei and her past (probably this is the first book but well, I'd have liked it more if there is a balance between the police procedural and Elsa's tormented past); which is not a fault but more of a different expectation on my end since I'd anticipated something more considering Elsa was pursuing a missing person case. There are mixed reviews of this book on Goodreads so obviously it is a matter of one's expectation and view. 

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