Publication Date: October 2015
Format: Paperback, 352 pgs
It seems like I couldn't get enough of Kelley Armstrong’s books lately. After finishing her first three books of the Cainsville's series, I was very glad to find she has a new standalone - a YA novel about hostage situation and survival. I have read several books about hostages but they are more to mysteries and police procedural, rarely YA so I was quite intrigued by this book.
The story opens with our protagonist, Riley Vasquez, being haunted by a brutal murder of the Porters' family she was babysitting for. At the time of the murder, she had her attention on the child in the room upstairs so the moment she heard gunshots, she hide under the bed with her. Though she was viewed a hero after the tragedy for saving the child, Riley couldn't help feeling guilty for hiding under the bed doing nothing while the murder took place within the house. Her mother and older sister thought it would do her some good if she is to spend a weekend away at a therapy camp, alongside with five other teens who have 'issues'.
The camp is actually an isolated building which used to be a warehouse; it is then restored with metal steel doors for security and there are no windows. Handphones are not allowed and the exits are all sealed shut. The group's real nightmares begin when three masked men burst into the building and take them all hostage. Max Cross is one of the other victims; a guy who is suffering from Schizophrenia and his condition is controllable under medications. Riley thinks he is full of himself at first, but when dangerous circumstances force them to be together when the others are either hurt or dead, she realised that looks can be deceiving and most of all, they have to rely and trust in each other, issues and all, to get out alive.
Once again, I found myself engrossed in Kelley Armstrong’s storytelling and the way she writes well-developed and layered characters who made me care for them. Aside from the intrigued plot, what also makes this book stand out is these characters struggle with their own mental issues and how the hostage situation has made them stronger despite their conditions and weaknesses, especially Max. Max isn't a character whom I feel warmed up with at first glance but he grew on me the more I flipped through the pages. I also liked the interactions between Riley and Max; their exchanges could range from humorous to sarcasm, and from honest to sincerity but ultimately it is worthwhile to 'watch' them battle their own demons and the real 'demons' as well. I wouldn't say this story is entertaining given the dark elements but it provides an insightful look at the challenges the mental illness patients are going through and how the society view them.
December is usually a busy month for us all - not only because of the festive season but also it is school holidays; the time whereby many parents would take their time off to spend more time with their children. This December, my husband decided Taiwan would be the destination for our vacation so that was where we were last week.
We went for a 8-days guided tour package and the journey covered the following provinces: Taichung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Nantou, Hsihchu and Taipei. We had been to Taipei a few years ago but the other places are new to us. And since we covered these places for merely a few days, the schedules were all pretty tight so it goes without saying we changed hotels every night.
I took a few dozens of pictures and while it is impossible to share them all here, I created some photo collages highlighting some of the places we had went to.
Night markets everywhere. One wouldn't go hungry even late at night outside.
Some of the places we went (clockwise to centre for all collages):
- Beautiful painted walls (situated near the Beimen Crystal Church)
- JingZhaiJiao Tile-Paved Salt Fields
- Sun Moon Lake - this is the only structure which survived the earthquake which had ruined Sun Moon Lake back in 1999
- Beimen Crystal Church
- Wen Wu Temple, that is dedicated to Confucius, Guan Gong and Yue Fei
- Miaoli's Schokolake, where we made some DIY chocolates
- A vampire-themed restaurant (which I'd failed to note down the name due to my enthusiasm in joining the group to call out a "password" before getting into the restaurant (which is a rule, so the reception staff said)
- Taipei 101 World Building
- Green Green Grasslands, famous for its picturesque natural setting and of course, sheep
- Leofoo Village Theme Park
A few picturesque shots I took:
- Short cruise around Sun Moon Lake
- Inside Green Green Grasslands
- Inside Green Green Grasslands
- Sun Moon Lake
- Inside Miaoli's Schokolake
A few random shots I took:
- Taiwan High Speed Train
- A beach at Cijin Island
- A beach at Cijin Island
- Kaohsiung Rail Station
- Blue sky filled with cotton-candied clouds (couldn't remember where)
The things we ate:
- One of our vegetarian meals
- Seaweed wraps
- Vegetarian burgers at Leofoo Village Theme Park
- Cheesy baked rice at Miaoli's Schokolake
- Honey Star honey & butter snacks from Korea. Korean snacks seem to be the "in" snacks in Asia
Some of the attractions at Leofoo Village Theme Park
Some animals which we saw at Guanshi Leofoo Resort (we stayed for a night there; it was a great experience waking up with the animals, so to speak.)
We travelled via SilkAir to and fro for our trip. The top two pictures were taken by my 7-year-old daughter, who had the privilege of taking the window seat.
So that is all on our vacation. Reading wise, I have to admit I only read a few pages during the flights and needless to say, no chance to read during the trip. Our Taiwanese tour guide was a man in his mid forties and he was one of the best tour guides I have met throughout our travelling journeys. Funny, knowledgeable and deeply patriotic towards his country, he shared with us lots of insightful things about life (and of course, the history and political stuff of Taiwan), his few working experiences as well as other informations which had either keep us intrigued or entertained. All in all, it was an enjoyable trip. My two daughters said they would like to visit, again.