ISBN-13: 9780062257642
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: February 2016
Format: Hardcover, 336 pgs
Source: Library

Influences often play a part in our lives. How many times have we been influenced by someone who has different thought/taste from us? Influential can help pushes one to be a better person or to a higher place if they are positive; likewise they can also be negative if they are portrayed wrongly or unwisely. 

This book tells a tale of a single mother and her eight-year-old son under the influences of others and how their lives change after meeting the Havillands couple. 

Helen McCabe's first meeting with Swift and Ava Havilland was at an art gallery opening. Her life is going through a transition then as a DUI conviction has caused her to lose not only her driver's license but the custody of her son, Oliver, as well. She still gets to see Oliver on Saturdays, but it is nothing like seeing and holding Oliver everyday. Oliver used to enjoy the time spent with his mother, now he becomes quiet and his attention focuses only on TV and any portable gaming device after he has moved to his father's place. Helen's life is miserable; her photography job is getting nowhere and she spends most evenings at AA meetings after the DUI charge. But after meeting Swift and Ava, Helen feels like she has suddenly found a direction to leading a better life and that is to forge a friendship with them and to gain their trust. 

Becoming friends with the Havillands seems easy to Helen as they are philanthropists and they are passionate animal lovers. Their kindness on the homeless and helpless always leave Helen in awe and despite Ava suffers from a spinal cord injury and has to be confined in a wheelchair, it never stops her from doing the good deeds. Helen never questions her injury, and Ava never talks about it, either. Ava soon trusted Helen enough to give her a photography/cataloguing job capturing pictures of her art collections at home and invite her to all their parties. It is like Helen has become part of their family.   

Then Helen meets Elliot, a quiet and uncool accountant on an online dating site and they hit it off quickly. However, the Havillands disapprove of her new love and dismiss him as boring. Helen likes Elliot a lot, but she also doesn't want the Havillands to think differently of her. After all, they are her only friends and her "saviour". Plus, they play an important role in Oliver's life. Oliver has fallen under Swift's charm and looks up to him like a father he never gets. Then tragedy strikes and Oliver has witnessed a devastating accident that would threaten Helen's friendship with the Havillands. 

Under the Influence might come off as a slow start in the beginning as we get to glimpse into Helen's unhappy life and see how she forms a friendship with the Havillands. Both Swift and Ava make an intriguing couple; they are the "backbone" of this story and you will be charmed by their generosity, their ever cheerful and positive traits in life; just like the way Helen did. As much as they appear to be a perfect, glamorous couple, there is something about their perfection which makes you question about them and the momentum only begins when Helen meets Elliot and we start to see a small crack in their friendship. Then, the story shifts quickly and even have that little feel of a thriller which had me very engrossed with the ending. 

Although this is a story about influences, it is also very much a story about consuming friendship, of being fitting in and of possession. It was a captivating story which had me sympathise with Helen. Her love and her yearn for Oliver's custody broke my heart and all the time while reading this story I'd hope she would get a happy life, with or without the Havillands. I like Joyce Maynard's writing and her storytelling since I read her previous novel, After Her and I was glad to note this latest release didn't disappoint. Now I need to go check out her earlier books. 

ISBN-13: 9780812997743
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date: January 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 pgs
Source: Library

Set in Idaho Falls during the early 1960s, The Longest Night tells an emotional and an unforgettable story of the challenges and struggles faced by a military family and how a nuclear accident changes their lives altogether. 

Paul and Nat Collier knew each other when he was a twenty-year-old army lad while she a nineteen-year-old girl who loves nothing more than freedom and the ocean. Paul is quiet and reserved by nature and it is no wonder he was attracted by the cheerful and friendly Nat at first sight. They got married soon and have two lovely young daughters thereafter. Being an Army Specialist, Paul's latest assignment is to travel to a remote military town in Idaho Falls where he would help oversee one of the country’s first nuclear reactors, the CR-1 which needs manual labour and monitoring to keep it running. It is a risky and dangerous job, but the men at the testing station feel that as long as they always stay vigilant they would be fine. 

Paul thinks so too until he discovers that the reactor is compromised while making his rounds one day. He brought this issue up with his superior, Master Sergeant Mitch Richards, and the answer he gets is a new core would be replaced soon and they shouldn't raise too much of an alarm as long as they don't raise the critical rod above four inches high; a safety protocol which every of the operators know by heart. But Paul doesn't think so, and to complicate matters Richards has behaved inappropriately towards Nat during a party and all these has made Paul very displeased with Richards. 

Back at the testing station, the men continue to have problems with the stuck rod and Paul decided to confront Richards about the issue again but his anger got the better of him when Richards doesn't seem to acknowledge the danger of the faulty rod but displaying his authority and throwing off crude remarks. Paul saw red and a punch was landed on Richard's face. Whether if it is intentional or duty bound, Paul is then asked to deploy to Greenland to another station where they need experienced man like him. With a saddened heart, Paul leaves his family and it is also at that time when he learns that Nat is pregnant. 

Filled with loneliness and restlessness, Nat found a new friend in a local cowboy, Esrom. She first met Esrom in a diner and the impression he gave her is he is easygoing, cheerful and kind-hearted. He is also the one who extended help when Nat's car broke down and also offered to lend her his car, since his uncle runs an car auto shop and he always have a spare. However, their friendship invites gossip although they didn't do anything immoral. Nat couldn't explain her fluttering heart whenever she sees Esrom, yet she knows she still loves Paul and her family, too. 

When Paul returns to Idaho Falls, he gives Nat a cold shoulder after hearing Richard had babbled about Nat's close 'relationship' with Esrom. To clear his mind, he went off on a ride and saw several fire engines and ambulance on the highway towards the reactor and he knew something terrible must have happened. What follows is a tragedy and although Paul is officially off duty he still rushes inside the station, hoping to save his mates. Esrom is at the scene too, and by that time he has became a firefighter. What are the chances that they would all be saved from the radioactive and what it would take for Paul to save his own family? 

The Longest Night is a great book filled with emotions and a few thought-provoking issues to ponder about. First of all, it examines the fragility and tenacity of marriage and most of all, the many emotions many military spouses will encounter leaving for a new place and settling in. Finding companionship could be a challenge, and even in today's world where we are more open-minded, we still question ourselves if a man and a woman could remain as platonic friends, let alone the time back then. Ms William's writing is great too and there was never a dull moment as I raced through this book, and did I mention that this is her debut novel? Plot and characterisation aside, what made this book another memorable read is the nuclear incident and that this is inspired by a true story of the only fatal nuclear accident occurred in America on January 3, 1961 (You can read more here and here.) Although this is a grim story, it still paints an inspiring portrait of humanity. Highly recommended.


ISBN-13: 9780307388018
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication Date: August 2008
Format: Paperback, 368 pgs
Source: Library

Ismay and Heather Sealand are sisters who live with their mother, Beatrix, and Aunt Pamela in a two story flat. Their mother has schizophrenia after the death of their stepfather and Aunt Pamela is solely Beatrix's carer when the sisters are at work. 

When Ismay and Heather were teenagers, something happened in the family that would always leave a mark in their life. When Ismay was fifteen and Heather thirteen, their stepfather, Guy, died from drowning in the bathtub. Ismay and Beatrix were out shopping for school uniforms when the incident happened; Heather was the only one at home with Guy. When Ismay and their mother reached home they were surprised to see Heather's dress and shoes wet; it was then Heather informed them that Guy was dead. The police did question them and Beatrix mentioned no one was at home then except Guy himself; plus Guy was weak and had just recovered from his illness. Without further evidence, the case was dropped and they carried on with their life, although Beatrix and Ismay had this thought that Heather might have drowned Guy. Ismay knew that Heather had seen Guy made advances on her and although Ismay was attracted by Guy and welcomed his warm gestures, she wasn't sure if Heather could tell the difference. Despite this thinking, they all remained silent and kept their thoughts deep in their mind. 

When they reached adulthood, Ismay has a lawyer boyfriend and Heather is working at a hospice kitchen. Heather gets acquainted with the hospice nurse, Edmund, and they get together eventually. However, Edmund's mother, Irene, isn't pleased and has hoped that Edmund will go out with Marion. Marion may seem like a kind-hearted woman who enjoys the company of the elderly, but in truth she is hoping to gain their trust so that when they passed they will leave some of their shares to her, which she had done so before. 

Ismay and her boyfriend, Andrew, have been together for two years but there is one problem which separates them - Andrew doesn't like Heather and Edmund and he hopes they wouldn't stay under the same roof. Ismay, on the other hand, is unsure if she should tell Edmund about Heather's teenage past and eventually decided to record her thoughts on tape, but that tape never falls onto Edmund's hands but onto some other. Andrew eventually found a gorgeous socialite and left Ismay. Heather has tried to coax the socialite upon leaving Andrew but failed. When the socialite was found murdered one day, Ismay feared Heather might have committed a crime for her once again. 

The Water's Lovely may be a subtle mystery filled with family melodrama but at its core it tells a relationship and the complexity between the two sisters' life. I really liked Ms. Rendell's writing; the way she built the suspense and how she constructed the plot as well as the characterisations all made this story a very compelling read. I couldn't say I liked any of the characters here; each of them was flawed and seemed to have an agenda but that was the purpose of this story. It made you wonder and that's what made this book a page-turner. Personally I  thought it was a very well crafted mystery although the intensity was different from the conventional suspense thrillers but I enjoyed reading it. A lot. 

ISBN-13: 9781780227320
Publisher: W&N
Publication Date: August 2015
Format: Paperback, 400 pgs
Source: Library 

December 23, 1980. A night flight bound for Paris crashed into Mont Terri, a snowy mountainside near the Turkish border. All the 169 passengers were perished except for an infant girl, who was thrown out from the plane before the plane caught fire. The media dubbed her as "the Miracle Child of Mont Terri", and just when the world is amazed and overjoyed by this little survivor, there comes a million dollars question. There were two infants on board and there are two families who came forward and claim the child. So is she Lyse-Rose or Emilie? The infants' age were merely a few months apart and given that DNA testing isn't introduced during that time, it was difficult to tell who's who given that family members who could recognise them were either perished or too young an age to be trusted. 

Eighteen years later, Crédule Grand Duc, a private detective is asked to investigate this mystery by one family. On the verge of giving up and committing suicide, the mystery suddenly dawned on him in his final moments. The notebook he had recorded during his investigations had now fallen into Marc's hands; a university student who has taken a liking to "Lylie", a beautiful university mate who has grown up from that unfortunate tragedy eighteen years ago. Marc intends to find out the truth but it seems he is not the only one who is looking for "Lylie". 

After the Crash is no doubt a very intense mystery that had me turning the pages. However, there was one thing that prevent me from enjoying and liking this book fully is the credibility part and the family melodrama which follows. While there are some characters who are interesting, such as the detective and even "Lylie" who remains vague, there are also some characters who would frustrate or infuriate readers. And then, there is that DNA part which perplexed me. It might be true that "Lylie's" identity wasn't identified due to the technology which wasn't common then, but the authorities or even the families would choose to remain "nonchalant" even when the girl has grown up and surely they could have her DNA tested and compare with the remaining family members? This book has a very interesting and intense premise but it lacks plausibility in my opinion. That said, the book was a page-turner and I'm sure it would appeal to readers who want an entertaining and an intense read. 


ISBN-13: 9780316335829
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: January 2016
Format: Hardcover, 368 pgs
Source: Library

I figured I better put up a review today since I might be swamped by the one-week school holidays next week. I hope you have a great weekend ahead and here's my thoughts on Travelers Rest

Tonio and Julia Addison, accompanied by their ten-year-old son Dewey, is travelling home across country after collecting Tonio’s brother, Robbie, from a rehab centre when the blizzard hit. Since it is night time and for safety reason, they decided to take refuge at Travelers Rest, an old hotel located at a small mining town called Good Night. 

However, Tonio finds Travelers Rest strange, and most of all it has no heating and the hotel looks quiet with only a staff at the reception. Tonio wants to continue with their drive but Julia is adamant about staying at Travelers Rest. With the snow piling and that there is a diner and bar nearby, Tonio gave in and they checked into Travelers Rest. 

Robbie is the first who check out this weird town. With his character and his somewhat lukewarm relationship with the Addisons family, it is not surprising that he would pocket Tonio’s money and wander to the nearby bar himself. Tonio may appear to be distant with Robbie, but Julia likes her brother-in-law and will subconsciously find herself comparing with Tonio. 

They managed to make do with their accommodation but the bad weather forces them to stay for another day and thus, they remain. However, it seems like the longer they stay they are bounded and allured by an unexplainable force which had them wander through the maze of the hotel's spectral interiors and soon the family members find themselves separated from one another and this is when the reader will follow their journey and enter into a strange realm where the past intersects with the present. 

Travelers Rest has all the elements of an intense supernatural thriller, but truth be told it is more of a case of characters study which allow readers to glimpse into the characters' minds and understand their individual feel of isolation; and how some past memories can have a hold upon us. While this isn't a bad story, I felt myself disappointed with Travelers Rest as I had expected it to be a spooky gothic read but it turned out to be something else. That said, it was still a worthy read once I got into the story and learnt something about this sad, trapped family. At times I found myself feeling sympathetic towards some of the characters; and it took me a while to connect with them. The only likeable (to say the least) character is young Dewey, who I think is smart at his age and appears to have some sense and control initially until he too was swept away by their circumstances. The ending offers the answers the readers have been wandering about but not necessarily a satisfying one. 


ISBN-13: 9780727885326
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: November 2015
Format: Hardcover, 224 pgs
Source: Library

Nicole Jones has been living happily in Block Island for the past fifteen years. She enjoys the close-knit community and that everyone seems to know everyone in that small island. Life there may not be as glittery as the mainland, but she knows she would be safe there. After all, Nicole has taken on a new identity and she intends to stay hidden there with no one who knew of her past except herself. 

Aside from staying hidden, Nicole is keeping herself away from computers and the Internet, not because she has no knowledge but on the contrary she is an expert and a computer hacker, too. When someone close from her past reappears in Block Island one day, she knew her new life is coming to an end and she has to face the past no matter she likes it or not. However, that person isn't the only one who is hot on her trails, for it seems there are other people who want her dead and in order to survive, she has to re-hone her computer and hacking skills to escape, even if that means putting herself and her friends in danger. 

I am new to Karen E. Olson's books but I am glad to say I quite enjoyed this intense suspense about a female hacker on the run. Nicole may have made mistakes years ago but she has matured and has become more conscientious than before. As I began to read more about her, the more empathy I felt towards her. This book also led me into thinking of the security of the Internet as well as the web services we so often use today; and that everything could be traced or hacked easily given the skills. 

Hidden is not fully the whodunit type (though it had kept me very curious!) nor a police procedural kind of thriller but instead it focuses more on the complexity of Nicole's double life and how she is dealing with her past which has eventually catches up to her. I'll be checking out her second book in the series, Shadowed,which I believe would be released in June 2016.  


ISBN-13: 9780385538497
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication Date: February 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 pgs
Source: Library

"Everyone in town had a story about the Devil's Hand, and though the stories differed in detail, one fact remained the same: it was an evil place, and bad luck to go there." Pg 59

To begin with, The Winter People is a disturbing, unsettling novel. The cold atmospheric setting, the characterisations and there of course the unsettling storyline. 

During the 1900s in West Hall, Vermont, there was a woman named Sara Harrison Shea. She had a happy family with her loving husband, Martin, and a little girl called Gertie. When Gertie was found dead one day, Sara went berserk. Martin tried to do anything to help bring his wife back, but Sara was gone emotionally. She was later found dead tragically one day. Nobody knew what happened; and from then onwards there were rumours that Sara's ghost walks the streets after midnight. The townspeople began to leave offerings on their doorsteps to prevent her from coming inside; and that practice continues to the present day. 

Present day: 19-year-old Ruthie Washburne never really believes in West Hall's rumours. Growing up in an isolated farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and younger sister, Fawn, her biggest dreams is to leave her sleepy town and live a "normal" life where Internet and phones are accessible. Life is simple and blissful for them until Alice goes missing one night. Ruthie only found out about her mother's disappearance the next morning since she was out late with Buzz, a boy whom she hangs out with. But that is not all, she also found an old journal belonging to Sara Harrison Shea hidden at her house. 

On the other end, Katherine is devastated over the loss of her young son, Austin, and her husband, Gary. Gary died in an accident two months after their son's passing. Katherine found out later that Gary visited West Hall on the day he died so she travelled to that place to search for some answers as to why Gary went there in the first place. 

What follows is a series of events that linked Ruthie and Katherine together; and through bits of legends and rumours surrounding West Hall as well as Sara's journal, they find out about the dark, horrific secrets which had happened so many years ago and how some people would do anything to get what they want despite the consequences. 

The Winter People has all the elements of a great psychological thriller. To top it off, the characters are all intriguing and the premise just blew me away. I wish I could say what most bothered me in this story but that would spoil everything. Suffice it to say it has a few topics worth thinking and discussing and the author pulled no punches when the imaginative is concerned; one factor which I truly appreciate in a story like this. A very absorbing story and an unforgettable premise; this would no doubt make it onto my top reads in 2016. 


Starring: Hwang Jung-eum, Park Seo-joon, Go Joon-hee, and Choi Siwon (Released in 2015, 16 episodes) 
Synopsis From DramaWiki:
 A romantic comedy about two past acquaintances who meet again after they went through reversal of fortunes and appearances.
Kim Hye Jin was a very pretty girl from a rich family. After her family's publishing company went bankrupt, she experienced hardships and then lost her beauty too. Ji Sung Joon was an unattractive boy with low self-esteem, but grows up as a handsome and successful editor. As fate would have it, both of them end up work at the same magazine publishing company.

I always find it sweet and romantic to see childhood friends turned couple as the time goes, be it books, dramas or in reality. What's better than that in a relationship, knowing and understand your other half and accepting who he/she is. 

This drama doesn't have too many intense scenes for it leans more towards the pure, sweet memories of first love. I liked the hero's loving devotion towards the heroine despite the fifteen years separation. We can see through his devotion through his several small gestures, and while I was frustrated that the heroine didn't want to acknowledge him in the beginning due to her appearance, I can see her point since the hero has become a good looking man while she was the complete opposite. 

Friendship and team work are also another important elements in this drama. I have always been curious of the magazines industry and I was glad to see some 'behind the scenes' here and to understand how the staff work to have that final copy of a magazine into our hands. 

I also liked the scenes between the heroine and one of the supporting characters, Kim Shin-hyuk, who is also working in the same magazine publishing company. He is funny, loud and a straightforward man but he is also a humble and a sentimental person too, which I liked best about him. He is the heroine's supervisor at work and they developed a close relationship. He fell for her eventually, even if she is a plain old Jane. 

Oh, I didn't mention that the hero and the heroine are co-stars in Kill Me Heal Me, acting as siblings although they aren't blood related and he has loved her secretly. I was glad to see their love blossomed in this drama.

(4.5 stars)

Starring: Yum Jung-ah, Ji Sung, Kim Young-ae (Released in 2011; 18 episodes)
Synopsis From DramaWiki:
For 18 years Kim In Sook has been ignored and never regarded as sister-in-law by her husband's brother and sisters. She's been isolated by everybody in her husband's family and she lived like an invisible person. Then things got worse when her husband died in a helicopter crash. Since then, her mother-in-law tried to deprive her of her guardianship of her son. Then Han Ji Hoon, who had a relationship with her in the past appeared as the lawyer of JK clan. And he witnessed her miserable situation. Then he decides to help her and resets his goal in life. That is, to turn In Sook, a woman who has been treated as rubbish into a Queen.
Ji Hoon leads a double life in JK clan, and makes arduous effort for the goal of saving In Sook. He finds that his feelings toward In Sook are more than gratitude and pity. She has become the only woman who makes his heart beat fast. It's just an untutored feeling. And he could abandon it just for the sake of In Sook. The story of Kim In Sook's battle against all odds to rise to the top of JK Group with the help of the lawyer Han Ji Hoon, a man who has supported her since they were children.

[Please note my thoughts below contain major spoilers]

Ah, there are so much hatred and emotions in this drama. Heated arguments, siblings rivalry, power struggles and revenge within a royal family (The royal family here refers to their strong connections and links with the political figures and its affairs.) which made me think they are enemies more than a family. 

What made this drama a worthy watch is the belief and faith of Kim In Sook and Han Ji Hoon for each other. Their trust in each other is so strong that they would risk their reputations and lives to protect each other. From the beginning, I have always wondered about Ji Hoon's feelings towards his guardian/sponsor, In Sook. After all, In Sook looked and acted more like his elder sister but I suppose love conquers everything. Their disappearance in the end was ambiguous for no one ever knows if they were perished or they have eloped. However, I'd like to think of the latter because it would be too sad to think otherwise.

(4 stars)