A melodrama about love and revenge, Hotel King tells a story about a heiress who's in search of finding her father's murderer and a man who seeks revenge to his "mentor" who'd raised him with deceit, and how they've fallen in love despite all obstacles which are thrown in the their paths. 

The story opens with two young boys, Jayden (starring Lee Dong-wook) and Ju-han (starring Jin Tae-hyun), who are street beggars and they failed to provide their earnings to some crime gangsters. Needless to say, they'd a good beating from them but being the eldest one, Jayden fought back and accidentally shot the leader. His savior, Lee Jong-goo (starring Lee Deok-hwa) is a crippled man who took him under his wings, trained him to be a hotelier and told him that he is to seek revenge from Chairman Ah Sung-won, who's a top hotelier at that time. He also told Jayden that Chairman Ah is his father. 

With this thought in mind, Jayden plans his move to get close to Chairman Ah but he died before Jayden could do anything. Rumors claimed that Chairman Ah was hit badly by depression, but Jayden thinks otherwise. Then came Ah Mo Ne, the daughter of Chairman Ah and she's there to claim what's remaining of her father - their prestigious seven-star hotel, Ciel. And this begins the drama and romance between Jayden and Ah Mo Ne. 

I thought the premise is quite intriguing; plus there's a cast of characters who are interesting in their own way. One could see different characteristics through each of them, and let your emotions be evoked by their behaviours. I liked how the mystery is wrapped around initially and have you wondering about a few characters, but the suspense was dragged for too long and there are scenes which I felt was unnecessary. 

That said, I liked how the characters of Jayden and Ah Mo Ne are played out. Their dislike towards each other in the beginning to towards their goal in finding out the truth adds a warm touch to this melodrama. I liked seeing the change in Jayden and Mo Ne; the former from a cold-hearted man to someone who feels remorseful, and the latter from an airheaded heiress to someone who feels for her employees. Secondary characters such as Ju-han and his adoptive mother (starring Kim Hae-sook) portrays a bittersweet relationship between mother and son, but what perplexed me is the relationship between Jayden and his "mentor". To avoid spoilers, all I've to say is it's unbelievable. 

Overall I enjoyed this melodrama but felt it'd be better if it's not dragging. The ending is a satisfactory one but personally I felt it was somewhat anti-climatic. Still, I've to applause for the excellent acting skills of the cast, especially Lee Dong-wook who played Jayden. It pained me whenever I watched him cry. Yes, he may be a cold man with a strong competence but he's a human after all. 

Finally, as today is the last day of 2014, I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year! I hope everyone has a great and wonderful year ahead! 


I know there's still a few more days left before this year ends; and knowing my reading progress would be slow with all the holidays and other stuff going on, I doubt I'd squeeze in any more books before the end of the year, thus there goes this post. 

This year has been a good reading year for me, at least as compared to the last. According to my list, I'd read a total of 44 books to-date. The amount may not be many, but based on the quality side it's been a good one to me. Here are my top ten reads of 2014 (not in any order): 

1) Alphabet House by Jussi Alder-Olssen 

I've read many good reviews of Jussi Alder-Olsen's Department Q series; and although I've yet to read any of them, this standalone is enough for me to rave about this author's writing. Filled with great characterisations and taut tension, this book is a true page-turner; it's a true action thriller that have you hold your breath and race through the pages until you get to the bottom of it. I'd love to go through that reading experience, again. 

2) Wolf by Mo Hayder 

Mo Hayder. Oh how I love this author's works! Her standalones are a good read, but it's her Jack Caffery series that makes you hope for more. Jack is a flawed character but that doesn't stop me from liking him. He has a past that haunts him, and though that makes him vulnerable, he never let that weakness takes him down when solving cases. He's one of my literary crush, there I've said it. 

3) Now You See Me by Sharon Bolton 

Now You See Me by Sharon Bolton is an intense read. Female detectives are as mesmerising as their male counterparts; in fact they are much braver in my opinion given that they do not cower what seems to be a male dominance world with their machismo. Lacey Flint is one fine example and I'm also hoping to see romance blooms between her and DI Mark Josebury in the near future. Obviously they care a lot about each other but didn't want to admit it. 

4) Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 

Me Before You is definitely one of the most emotional reads I read this year. Though it's a love story, I'd say it's more of an inspirational story filled with love and selflessness. I liked the concept about these two very different individuals who have their own struggles but nonetheless go out of their way to encourage and try to make each other's life happy and satisfying. This novel definitely makes me think about my life and be grateful of all the things I have, most especially my family and friends. 

5) Still Life by Louise Penny 

Louise Penny astounded me with her first book of the Inspector Armand Gamache series. Great plot, great characterisations and great suspense all in one. A true crime thriller fan wouldn't ask for more. Inspector Gamache is a hero; one I admire and respect not only for his intelligence but his humbleness as well. I can't wait to read the rest of this series! 

6) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell 

Eleanor and Park. My heart warmed just thinking of their sweet little love story. I loved so many things about this story; the imperfection of Eleanor which makes her so much more of a real person than a fictional character. Then there is Park, whose actions definitely speak louder than words and his love for Eleanor is beyond words could describe. This story makes you believe that courage and hope could definitely ward off obstacles. And finally, not be afraid of differences. Yes! I love that spirit! 

7) Help for the Haunted by John Searles 

I love reading ghost stories; and I'm not talking about those traditional, cliché ones that goes bump in the night. Although Help for the Haunted does have some creepy stuff going on, the core of this story is about a family's tragedy and how the protagonist set her journey in pursuing the truth surrounding her parents' death. Heartbreaking as it is horrific, this is definitely one unique ghost story to me. 

8) I'll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin 

Kyung-Sook Shin is a South Korean author and I don't think I've read any South Korean literature before her. That said, I was pleased to discover her name and read I'll Be Right There; a poignant story about friendship and the journey of four young people set during the South Korean political times in the 1980s. Bittersweet yet beautiful, Ms. Shin has crafted an unforgettable story about their dreams and their struggles. Though it's a fiction, I felt the realism throughout the story. 

9) The Secret Place by Tana French 

Tana French. She's another must-buy author for me. Her writing is just beautiful and her suspense always keep you at the edge of your seat. Her books may not feature the same protagonists every time, but they are mesmerising and grew on you the more you get to know them. This is a good option if you like suspense and didn't want to stick to one main protagonist. After all, Ms. French has a team of great detectives in her good hands and I'm sure you could find a few of your favourite characters there. 

10) The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters 

Sarah Waters' prose is simply beautiful; she's also a great storyteller. Her characterisations may be complex at times, but I believe they all have their weaknesses when it comes to love. After all, love comes in all kinds and they can be, well, complicated. I also liked the multi-layered plots and most of the times the endings astounded me. I may only have read two books by Sarah Waters, but they are enough to wow me and make her one of my favourite authors to read. 

There you have it. What are your top ten reads this year? 

ISBN-13: 9780062328021
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: 6 January 2015
Format: Paperback, 384 pgs
Source: Publisher

Greek mythology, Bulgarian folklore, and the taste of first love - this about sums up the story of Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova. 

The story opens with the Bulgarian legends of the samodivi - forest witches who are believed to beguile and entrap men and then consumed them with vengeance by taking out their eyes and hearts. 

Thea Slavin hears of this legend from her father, but only after her persistence and that she'd promise to let go of finding her elder sister's past; in which everyone believes Elza was dead but unsure of what happened and why. Her body was never found. Thea, however, is very curious about her sister and she intends to find out as much information as she could while in Princeton, the same college where Elza was studying before tragedy strikes. 

Thea then knows of a mysterious guy called Rhys when she was playing Chopin music during a performance. She is intrigued by him, but she is also wary of his behaviour because he seems possessive although he admits he isn't a one-woman guy. To complicate matters, Thea later finds out that it was Rhys' younger brother, Jake, and not Rhys who left a stalk of rose for her during the performance. Who are these two brothers really, who have intrigued her and have her attracted to them at the same time? And as the more she finds out about Elza, the more she is convinced that Elza is connected to Rhys and Jake, and that is where she will learn of a shocking truth surrounding a myth which consists of the darkness of rituals and sacrifices. 

Wildalone is a good read if you are into fantasy, myth and romance all in one. I enjoyed reading all of the above elements, however I felt something was lacking in this novel but I couldn't put my finger on it. Perhaps it is the characters, because I didn't really care about them. The two brothers, Rhys and Jake, are interesting but that is about them; Thea is one brave and determined girl but at times she just infuriated me with her indecisiveness. The positive side is, I thought the myth and the legends are nicely written and they blend in well with the atmospheric plot. As the back blurb suggests, this novel would appeal to readers who are into the characters as fascinating and compelling as those of Diana Gabaldon, Deborah Harkness and Stephanie Meyer. 

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. 

ISBN-13: 9780751540451
Publisher: Sphere
Publication Date: 3 September 2009

Format: Paperback, 515 pgs
Source: Personal Library

The Concubine's Secret (aka The Girl from Junchow) is the sequel to The Russian Concubine (my review here). Our heroine, Lydia has since moved on with her life, leaving China and her Chinese lover, Chang An Lo, to search for her father back in her country land, Russia. She is still somewhat in shock to learn that her father had survived from the Bolshevik army so many years ago and is now captive in a prison camp. Together with her half-brother Alexei, they began their search for their father. Lydia couldn't bear the thought of leaving Chang, but she knew that the Chinese Communist Party needs him and that someday they would reunion again. 

Chang, on the other end, is adamant over their mission in driving out the Nationalists Party, but deep inside his heart he still felt for them whenever he succeeded in destroying the troops. He thought about the families and loved ones who are waiting for all of them. After all, they are all the same. And then, there are his doubts in their leader Mao Tse Tung, as he isn't sure if he is the right person to rule China, given his corruption, his lust for power and his ruthless actions. Would Mao bring to China the justice and equality it craves? And finally, would fate allows him to reunite with Lydia again should he travel to Russia as part of a Chinese Communist Party delegation to meet the Russian leader on Communism exchanges? 

Back in her country land, Lydia has never felt any closer to her half-brother although her Russian is rusty. Though she isn't familiar with the land anymore, her hope in finding her father is high. But, danger looms in Moscow as in Junchow, China. In fact, the danger doubles as not only she has to thread carefully with the Commandant and his wife (who may hold some information to the prison camp where her father might be) but also Alexei being a member of a criminal brotherhood, after an incident which almost had him killed. 

Despite this is the sequel to The Russian Concubine, this book could read as a standalone (there are flashes of some main scenarios like how Lydia and Chang was acquainted and so forth so readers get a gist of the background). While I think The Russian Concubine was a great read, this sequel gives us a more in-depth view of the two lead characters' struggles and dilemmas as not only they have to face the consequences of being caught if seen together but also the unforeseen circumstances that lies ahead should they choose to be together. We see a more matured Lydia in this sequel, in terms of her thoughts and her fiery determination still remains as strong as ever. Chang, on the other hand, became more sentimental as compared to Lydia, which I thought is a romantic notion since he felt so many emotions of both China and Lydia in The Russian Concubine. In fact, I'd seen him as a man who treasure sentimental values aside from his loyalty, and these make him more charming underneath his cool, calm demeanour. 

Once again, I found myself engrossed in this historical fiction. Filled with adventures and romance, it had me captivated throughout the story as I found myself rooting for Lydia and Chang, hoping that their relationship would conquer every obstacles which are thrown into their ways. And the same goes to finding her father. All in all, it was an intense and satisfying read.

ISBN-13: 9781471137358
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Publication Date: 30 September 2014

Format: Hardcover, 432 pgs
Source: Personal Library

This story is told in second person point of view. Joe, who is working in a bookstore, is instantly smitten with aspiring writer Guinevere Beck the moment she steps into the store. Joe is our narrator and he's addressing to Beck throughout this story. I have to admit second person POV is my least favourite style amongst all. Not only it is the least commonly used POV in fiction but also I think the effectiveness is not that great but I was intrigued with Joe's thoughts so I read on. 

Beck isn't shy to talk to strangers and she loves sharing her thoughts online (as Joe found out later through the stuff he read on her site). As if that aren't enough, she's also an exhibitionist (as Joe knew through his stalking) and she seems to have a huge crush on a man called Benji. Joe is determined to make her his; he broke into her house to read her stuff when she was away. He pocketed her mobile when she thought she'd lost it, and knew all her comments and movements through the emails she responded to her friends (she didn't want to delete her old lost mobile in case her mother freaked out; plus she thought it wasn't a big deal). Joe's behaviours are deemed abnormal and all his acts make him an obsessive stalker. 

However, Beck isn't really an angel either. She is self-centered; she likes having flings and there of course, she likes talking with strangers. The thing is, she hardly mentions Joe to her friends, despite her habit of sharing gossips and trading stories with them and this makes readers wondering where Joe stand. At times like this, it somewhat makes readers feel sympathetic towards him, given what he had done for Beck and she didn't appreciate or reciprocate his feelings. It felt strange, given he is a stalker. But of course we all knew this obsessive relationship would quickly spiral into something uncontrollable, and this is where the (creepy) thrill element comes in. 

You is a dark, twisted and compelling story about obsessive relationship and deceit. Because this is written in second person POV, Joe's thoughts and behaviours shine like neon lights, signalling his dark and "protective" side. However, the more we get to know Joe, we also found out that he is actually a clever, well read person and a discipline man too. What scenario looms ahead became unknown, because the more Joe shares his thoughts, we began to see something different as well. 

I wanted to say this story wasn't appealing to me for a few reasons but I couldn't. For starters, the second person POV doesn't fit my reading but in this case it fits the stalking theme. And, there isn't any likeable characters here but they are interesting in their own way. It makes you think of some people's behaviours and how judgemental we can be at times. Then there is also this unreliable factor which makes you wonder about Joe and Beck; what kind of a person they truly are. And finally, which book lovers doesn’t love a bookstore setting and having some bookish references here and there? 

Note: There are some graphic account in terms of sexuality and language. 


ISBN-13: 9781633751521
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication Date: 17 November 2014
Format: eBook, 334 pgs
Source: NetGalley

Top Chef Tilly Danes is pissed with Maxwell Etheridge, an international food critic who slammed her on his blog, on the day of the big Personal Chef Showdown for the Culinary Channel. If it's not for the owner of the Channel, she wouldn't be rubbing elbows with that man. 

Jordan Kelly shares the same sentiments with Tilly. Like Tilly, he is a chef and both of them own a restaurant of their own. He too, is invited by the Channel to be one of the judging panels for the show. Despite their dislike towards the arrogant man, they aren't really in friendly terms. Tilly thinks Jordan is too charming and a flirt, while Jordan thinks Tilly is too tough and independent for a woman in his opinion. You can say they are nemesis in each other's eyes, still they tolerated each other. 

As much as they dislike Maxwell, they couldn't imagine anyone murdering him, especially not having one of his organs severed. Unfortunately, Tilly and Jordan are the twosome who have found Maxwell's dead body in his suite before the show. And since Maxwell is not a well-liked person, it seems difficult to pinpoint anyone. Everyone becomes a suspect; from the host, the contestants and even Maxwell's lover. 

Added to the story is Detective Jericho's attraction towards Tilly. Though Tilly is somewhat flattered by his admiration, she isn't ready for a relationship, especially she got pregnant when she was fifteen and the two relationships thereafter made her think that it is hard to find a decent man and get settled down. 

Now Jordan and Tilly may hate each other guts, still it doesn't please Jordan to see Jericho and Tilly as a pair. And despite their awkward situation, they find themselves working together with the investigation. The owner of the Channel claimed their involvement in the case might help to boost viewership but they know better. 

Romantic suspense is one of my favourite genres. I think a great romantic suspense is having these two elements well balanced with interesting characters. In this case, I think the suspense (intensity as well as the police procedural) element in Recipe for Love did not feel up to par. However, the exchanges between Tilly and Jordan could be amusing at times, though. And if you are going for the romance the chemistry between Tilly and Jordan is sizzling, from their snarky comments to the opposite attracts. While I find Recipe for Love an entertaining read, I couldn't help feeling let down on the suspense part (and not a glimpse of some food recipes and cooking too? Aw.)

ISBN-13: 9781843915447
Publisher: Hesperus Press Ltd
Publication Date: 11 August 2014
Format: Paperback, 522 pgs
Source: Personal Library
Translated from the Danish by Steve Schein

This story is split into two parts with different settings. The setting of the first part is WWII Germany. However, this is not really a war story but more of a psychological wartime thriller about two RAF pilots' harrowing experience after escaping from death and finding themselves in a more dangerous position. 

James Teasdale and Bryan Young are from the British flight crew. They are two out of the twelve crew to have selected for a mission. Their job is to take photographs of the aeroplane factories at some designated locations and map out the area thoroughly, including the railway network around Dresden. The Intelligence had a hunch that these factories produce synthetic fuel and that they could lend impetus to new German V-bomb projects. And after James and Bryan have completed their jobs, they would rejoin through formation on its way back to England. 

Unfortunately, the bad weather is just the beginning. Despite the place is heavily guarded, they managed to have the photos taken but in the end, they couldn't escape the fate of having their plane shot down. Still, Lady Luck decided to give them a chance as they parachuted out of the plane before it landed. On cold ground, it made it even harder for them to run but they have no other options. They jumped into a train after spotting a railway line. A transported hospital train, it is the start of their nightmarish trip after they have swapped places with two wounded and barely conscious SS officers. They later learnt that the patients sharing the same carriages with them are all mentally ill, and their destination is the Alphabet House, a secure mental institute for high-ranking officers damaged by war. The other threat they are to face is four malingerers within their ward who would do anything for their own greed and freedom. 

In the second part of the story, the scenario changed and thirty years have passed. Germany was capitulated; Bryan is moving on with his own business in England and James' life remains unknown after Bryan managed to escape from the Alphabet House alone. It was only a visit from Captain Wilkens, a former intelligence officer whom Bryan had briefly met after the rescue that makes Bryan want to dig up into the past, again. He is set to find James at any costs, but that also means crossing paths with his tormentors once again, those malingerers from the Alphabet House

I think the premise is intriguing, but what also makes this story an interesting read is James and Bryan. They may be college mates and combat buddies, but their personality differ vastly and at times it seems it is impossible that they could work together. James seems to have the say and make most decisions under many circumstances, while Bryan is the simple and more practical one. It would be rather interesting and amusing to see their personality clash under other (normal) circumstances, but with this gloomy setting it just complicates matters. 

Alphabet House is an extremely intense psychological thriller that had me at the edge from the start till the end. Jussi Alder-Olsen is well known for his Department Q series, which I have yet to explore, thinking that this standalone would be a great start to familiarise with his writing style and the storytelling. And I have to say they didn't disappoint me. His prose is wonderful; and the pace and the intensity are excellent. It had me thinking about friendship, love and survival all in all; it was both a compelling and thought-provoking read. I found myself at a loss for words after reading the last page because I was still grasping of the meaning of the outcome. Bottom line, I was simply blown away by this story. I think this would be one of my top reads this year. 

ISBN-13: 9780765328687
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication Date: 17 June 2014
Format: Paperback, 336 pgs
Source: Personal Library

As this is a sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood, please note there are some spoilers in this review pertaining to the first book. However, my thoughts would be vague for this sequel. 

Six months have passed since Anna Korlov sarcrificed herself and was perished to hell, together with the Obeahman who'd tried to kill them all. Cas, our hero, has difficulties forgetting Anna despite his sidekicks, Carmel and Thomas, asked him to let everything go. How could he, when she had saved him twice? Plus, he has fallen in love with her. Despite Anna is a ghost and she would never come back, Cas still pines for her and thinks no other girls would be able to compare with his dear Anna. 

Missing her or not, Cas now finds himself seeing Anna everywhere. Is it real or just his hallucinations? He has no answers; but there's one thing he wants to know is, what happened to her after she opened that door to Hell in her basement on that fateful day. 

Girl of Nightmares takes off right where Anna Dressed in Blood left. In this sequel, we see a more vulnerable Cas. He's still a warrior in every sense, but his fighting spirit clashes with his doubts; thinking if Anna is back and/or if she suffers where she was perished. He's suffering too, both in his mind and heart. I missed the old witty Cas back in Anna Dressed in Blood; however this vulnerable side of him made me think that he too has sentimental values, and not just any boy who would forget and move on. For this, I couldn't help but to feel empathy towards him. Thomas, on the other hand, has made me looked at him in a new light in this sequel. If I thought he was nothing but a psychic in the first book, then this sequel has made him into someone more important; someone whom Cas relies on when he is in need of him. 

If Anna Dressed in Blood is an action-packed paranormal, then I have to say Girl of Nightmares has something more; it was emotional and there are definitely more actions, since Cas and his sidekicks would do anything to save Anna from Hell, and from the Obeahman. The journey there was an extremely intense read! 

I was sorry that this story has come to an end; I'd enjoyed it so much. The ending. . . I just have to say it was satisfying. I couldn't think of any ending better than that. 

Oh, before I end this post, Ms. Blake has another new paranormals out - Antigoddess and Mortal Gods, and I'm very curious about these two books. Hopefully they would be as good as Cas and Anna's stories. 

ISBN-13: 9780765328670
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication Date: 3 July 2012

Format: Paperback, 320 pgs
Source: Personal Library 

I'm late to the party, at least when Kendare Blake's books are concerned. But of course, as they always say, it's better to be late than never, so here I am. 

I'm always fascinated by the ghost slayer theme, be it movies or books. I'm not talking about the hardcore horrors, just the entertaining and fun ones that allows me to escape from reality once in a while. Reality can be harsh sometimes and we all need something fun and adventurous to take our minds off even if it's only for a while. Reading Anna Dressed in Blood did that to me because it's a story between a ghost slayer and a ghost called Anna, whom he'd set his eyes on to slay since hearing about her hauntings. But most of all, this is also a love story and I knew I'd be in for a good reading treat. 

Theseus "Cas" Cassio Lowood is not your ordinary 16-year-old boy who loves having a little fun here and there. Sure, he loves good old fun but his idea of real fun is travelling to places and hunt ghosts down. He inherited his late father's athame; a deadly tool which allows him to kill the dead. His mother, on the other hand, has a knack in fortune telling and selling occult stuff online. One may call her a witch who's good with herbs but she's more like any mother who worries non-stop about their children. They also have a spirit-sniffing cat called Tybalt. 

Now Anna is a ghost unlike Cas has hunted and slayed in the past. Cas heard of her name through a friend, and apparently there's a legend of her haunting and killing people that scared most people. But, Anna Korlov actually had a sad story behind it. She was murdered in 1958 when she was on her way to a school dance; her white dress stained with blood. She'd kill anyone who steps into her old Victorian house. 

However, as much as Cas wants to slay Anna, he found out that beneath that scary demeanour Anna is simply an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl who's trapped in an old rage and revenge which makes her kills. And on top of it, Anna didn't kill Cas despite knowing that he wanted to kill her. 

There are some explanations regarding Anna's past and the way she died. But the climax of this story is when they encounter another supernatural who's more powerful and murderous than Anna, and by then Cas has found himself fallen in love with Anna. 

Told from Cas' perspective, Anna Dressed in Blood is an extraordinary ghost story in my opinion; one which is both horrific (there's gore but not many that would put you off) and romantic. Before then, I didn't know that these two elements could mix but it works beautifully in this story. So much so that it made my heart ache, just thinking about Cas and Anna and had me wonder how they'd get a happily-ever-after ending out of the mess they are in. Secondary characters such as Carmel (the popular girl in school) and Thomas (the psychic) add interest and entertainment to the story as they assist Cas in the ghost huntings. 

Overall I enjoyed this story. And I've to say the outcome of the ending left me quite speechless, which is a natural reaction given that there is a sequel - Girl of Nightmares. Needless to say, I'm going to devour it after writing this.

  • ISBN-13: 9780425215586
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication Date: 27 June 2007
  • Pages: Paperback, 528 pgs
  • Source: Personal Library

The Russian Concubine may have a romance theme, but it is also a historical fiction centering China's revolutionary stage during the 1920s, whereby there are protests and rage between the Communists and the Kuomintang Nationalists, with Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek as their leaders respectively. 

Weaving together with this epic historical is a love story featuring a Russian girl and a Chinese youth. Lydia, together with her aristocratic mother, Valentina, are exiled from their country Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. All the men are not spared, including her father, and they were either being captured or killed. Lydia feared her father was dead, after being taken away by the Bolshevik army and they are then forced to take refuge in Junchow, China. 

With no skills and knowledge of the Chinese language, Lydia feels like a fish out of water, but she's a survivor and most of all, she steals to make ends meet. She'd pawn away the things she has stolen and would lie to her mother about them, not wanting to worry her mother any further. It was by chance that fate allows her to meet a young Chinese Communist, Chang An Lo, on her way home after stealing a ruby necklace. He'd saved her from being caught, after all that necklace is both valuable and important and is to be presented as a gift to a diplomat's wife. Lydia couldn't stop thinking about Chang thereafter. 

Chang An Lo, on the other hand, is mesmerised by the fiery foxy girl he'd saved that day. He felt she is courageous and unlike other foreign young women. However, their romance is threatened by the clash of the Communists and the Kuomintang Nationalists. And not to mention they are spies and bribery everywhere that one never feels safe, as there are also brotherhoods triads in the already chaotic Junchow. Some foreigners who live in the International Settlement are besieged by their own rivalries and revenges as well. Overall it was bad times. 

Despite the grave theme, I was totally wowed by The Russian Concubine. It is an epic historical story which is rich with ethnic cultures, in particularly to the Chinese. Set in pre-revolutionary China, this story tells the journey of Lydia's escapades from Russia to China, and how she survives living in a foreign country with limited skills and language. The relationship between Valentina and Lydia, as well as Valentina's affair further add intrigue to the story. 

What I also liked about this story is the intertwining of history and romance. Both have interesting elements that kept me interested throughout the story; the history wasn't too dry or boring and the romance wasn't cheesy either. I think it is a well balanced read. There is a sequel to this book and The Concubine's Secret is definitely onto my to-read list.

Here's my thoughts on Kate Furnivall's The White Pearl, (the first book I read by her) which I thought was good too.