HQ | March 2018 | 368 pgs
Source: Purchased

Having read B A Paris's previous two novels, Behind Closed Doors and The Breakdown, it is no surprise that her latest release was high up on my to-read list considering she usually writes compelling thrillers with intriguing yet complicated characters. I'm glad to report this one is no exceptional. 

Layla and Finn are on a vacation in France and when the latter stopped their car at a service station for a break, Layla has mysteriously vanished after Finn returned to his car. Finn later told the police about the events leading up to her disappearance but not everything. With no answers and the police finding nothing, Finn then return to the UK feeling unsettled.  

Twelve years later, Finn has already moved on and is thinking of settling down with Ellen, who is Layla's elder sister. Just as he thought he could finally let the past rest, someone left the Russian dolls around Finn and Ellen's house subsequently. Now the existence of Russian dolls are significant to Finn and Ellen as they remind them of Layla. Back when Ellen and Layla are children, they have their own set of Russian dolls and no one knows the meaning behind these Russian dolls except for the three of them, including Finn's good friend, Harry, since Ellen told him. The emails are the last straw as Finn is adamant that whoever rattles him know a lot about his relationship with Layla but who and why after all this time?  

Once again, B A Paris has delivered a suspenseful thriller with enough twists and turns to throw the readers off the track. While having engaging characters and intriguing premise are essential to entice the reader's attention, personally I feel it is all about execution and how successful the author lead the readers into following (believing) the direction(s) he/she has planned until the truth hits them. For this case, Finn's first person narrative works perfectly since the reader has no clue what's what but to follow and trust his account. The two time frames "Now" and "Before" further intensify the suspense, giving the reader a glimpse of the past while at the same time expecting 'the axe' to fall anytime in the present. The case of misdirection is skilfully applied in this story and avid readers who are into the psychological suspense may be able to guess the outcome but ultimately it is the ride which is what made this book such an enticing read. 

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This 2017 South Korean movie depicts the story of a female assassin and her espionage missions so be forewarned that there's violence and gore.

Since a girl, Sook-hee had seen enough terrors and the cruelty of life ever since she witnessed her father being murdered by his friend over greed. Just when she felt hopeless, a man rescued her and through him she was raised to be a deadly assassin. But unexpected circumstances arises and she found herself captured and kept in the cell in an intelligence agency. There, she underwent a plastic surgery and took on a new identity. Sook-hee became history and Chae Yeon-soo was born. The agency has promised her freedom after ten years of service but before then she has to take up all the missions assigned by them with no questions. Meanwhile, the agency has also planted one of their male agents (starring Sung Joon) to spy on her, posing as her next door neighbour. 

Yeon-soo has no problem with the agency's stringent condition although her attention is mainly on her young daughter. Her relationship with her "neighbour" becomes a bit complicated as she finds herself liking him, but a mission leads her to confronting her past and unlocks a few dark secrets which results to an explosive revenge and Yeon-soo knew she couldn't turn her back no matter how much she look forward to normalcy.

I've to admit I'm squeamish when violence and gore are concerned but I thought this movie was quite well executed and that the shooting technique (no pun intended) is artistic in some ways (e.g. the opening scene made you feel like you're Sook-hee in a video game). While there are lots of action scenes and one might expect the story is filled with cold-blooded characters and more revenge and killings, surprisingly there is still a thread of humanity left as the story progresses. Is there even a love story here? I'm sure inquiring minds want to know. Yes, there is, although it is not a major plot and it doesn't end happily. This is not a movie for everyone, that's for sure, but it is a thrilling ride for fans of the genre and Kim Ok-bin portrayed her roles (be it Sook-hee or Yeon-soo) perfectly through her expressive acting skill both in the fighting and emotional scenes. 

(The Villainess trailer)

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Crooked Lane Books | December 2017 | 384 pgs
Source: Library

1888, Whitechapel, London. Sarah Bain, our main protagonist, is a photographer who earns her living by taking illicit boudoir photographs of the town's local ladies of the night. A spinster and a past filled with unhappiness and doubts surrounding her father's disappearance, she often wonders if her father is still alive or dead in a riot when she was only ten. Through her work, she befriended a few women despite their lowly background and their profession so when news of her two models were found brutally murdered within weeks of one another, she begins to suspect it is more of a murderer's act than mere coincidence. Most of all, she feels she is somehow responsible for their death considering that the pictures she took might have fallen into the hands of the murderer, thereby given him some faces to strike. 

Through different circumstances, Sarah befriended a few people from all walks of life (a street urchin, a gay aristocrat, a Jewish butcher and his wife, and a beautiful young actress) and they formed a team to investigate the women's death and to find out the identity of the Ripper. Alongside the investigation, Sarah finds herself attracted to police constable Barrett yet she doesn't know if she could trust him or not. Since young, Sarah had an unforgettable experience involving the police when they barged into their house for the arrest of her father and it had impacted her ever since. 

Despite the team's determination to catch the Ripper, their efforts get them nowhere but danger instead as Sarah soon finds her teammates getting hurt the more they are digging into it. Sarah decided it is best to act on her own as she crosses Whitechapel's dark alleys to find the truth and discover a few things which don't match her findings. 

To begin with, I liked the idea of this new take of Jack the Ripper. In fact this is the main reason I picked up this Victorian mystery and all the more that it features a female sleuth. However, these are the only two things that I liked about this book as for the rest it failed to captivate me. While the plot was intriguing, it was repetitive at times. Sarah was an interesting character and although I liked her determination, I felt most of the scenes are focused on her interactions with her teammates and although there is nothing wrong with this, I found the pace to be somewhat slow and at times boring, which isn't a good thing considering this is a mystery. All in all it was a fresh take of the Ripper but I wished the execution was better. This is the first book of Laura Joh Rowland's Victorian mystery and her second book, A Mortal Likeness, is already released in January 2018. 

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St. Martin's Press | October 2017 | 240 pgs
Source: Library

There are quite a number of books on retelling or reimagination with a different twist and Pride and Prejudice is among those top of the list and I can see why considering it is a well loved classic by many readers. While there are some which fall under the fresh, creative category, there are also some which are simply disappointing. 

In this gender-swapping set in contemporary America, 29-year-old Darcy Fitzwilliam is a beautiful and a successful hedge fund partner in a well known firm in New York. She hasn't set foot in her homeland in Ohio for almost eight years, not even for Christmas until news of her sick mother made her go home to spend the season with her family. 

As in Fitzwilliam tradition, they always hold their annual Christmas party and this year is no exceptional. Darcy is "forced" to reunite with her friends considering she has left quite an impression leaving home for New York. On the top of her "not-to-see" list is Luke Bennet, the smart and sardonic slacker son of their neighbour. They don't hate each other, but they don't like each other too. After a night of too many eggnogs, they found themselves in a compromise situation and although Darcy brushed it aside as just another one-night stand, she couldn't help thinking of him thereafter. But could they fall in love given her pride and his prejudice against big-city girls like her? 

To begin with, I thought this book has lots of potential. I always love a retelling and I'd read one or two of those of P&P in the past and enjoyed them but unfortunately I couldn't find myself liking this one although I wished I did. I think the main reason is the characterisation and also the emotional depth wasn't enough to entice me. I liked Elizabeth from P&P, but Darcy (never mind the gender swap and everything else) didn't really leave too much of an impression on me other than that she was super wealthy and she behaved like a teenager at times; which I hate to say it but alas that was how I viewed it. Overall I think this book didn't work for me but if you don't mind something light and entertaining then this book may probably fit your reading preference. 

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Faber & Faber | September 2014
Source: Library

I've been meaning to read this book for a while, since I'd read Peter Swanson's other later releases and enjoyed them. This book has the style of a contemporary noir and is plot driven with a pair of intriguing characters. After finishing this book I wasn't sure what to think of the overall plot and the direction which this story finally led to, but I did know I've tons of things to say but ultimately it just left me flabbergasted. 

To begin with, our main protagonist George Foss is a man in his forties and he is living a simple, bland life. He has a job in a magazine industry and his on-off relationship with Irene Dimas is anything but exciting. During a night out drinking at a bar, he thought he saw his first love, Liana Dexter. He and Liana knew each other in college and they hit it off quickly. George is smitten by Liana because she seemed different from the other girls. And George is a good guy in Liana's eyes so it is no surprise they become a couple in no time. After their exams Liana left for home and the next thing they know Liana committed suicide. George then began a trip back to her hometown to look for answers and found out a few, but they are rather vague. 

Twenty years later Liana is back and she needs George's help. George has begun to see her reason for her fake suicide, but what he doesn't understand is her request and why him. Nonetheless he decided to help her; after all he still reminiscent of their past and truth be told he has never forgotten about her all this time. But Liana's request is no ordinary task, and soon George finds himself in a seriously troubling situation. 

Fast-paced and intriguing, this book had me on the edge of my seat and while it was compelling, I was also frustrated by George's bad choices at times. Liana is an interesting character but she is hard to like, the same goes to George due to his stupidity naivety. The plot may be predictable but Liana was the draw in this story. She was unreliable yet she could be charming; I could see why George was drawn to her like a moth to a flame. This story is told between flashbacks and present so there is a better understanding for readers to connect whatever happened then together. I suppose the story, especially the ending, would lead to some discussions because I just couldn't fathom everything and most of all, I'd some questions for George. Hmph. That said, it was quite a thrilling ride for me and I understand that this book has been acquired for film by James Marsh.  

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St. Martin's Press | September 2017 | 304 pgs
Source: Library

This is the fourth installment of Amory Ames Mystery series set in the 1930s. Amory and her husband, Milo, always have their adventures set in various places in each of the book and this time around they bring readers to The City of Light - Paris. 

The Ameses couple is holidaying is Lake Como in Italy when Milo receives a troubling letter from his childhood nanny, Madame Nanette. She is vague in her letter although she stated that she'd like them to go visit her in Paris. Knowing his nanny, Milo sensed there is something going on and thus, they packed up and took a night train from Milan to Paris. As what Milo predicted, Madame Nanette is troubled with the events happened in her employer's household. Engaged as a nanny in the Belanger's household, Madame Nanette's circumstances is considered to be an awkward one considering she knew Helios Belanger since they were young. In fact, they'd liked each other at one point but things happened and time and psychical distance thrown them apart. By then, Helios' first wife had passed and he is currently married to a much younger wife, Beryl Norris. 

Now Madame Nanette believes Helios is murdered instead of a heart attack as what everyone has speculated. He was supposed to arrived back in Paris after his visit to his factory if Grasse but the plane had some difficulty with the landing. It landed roughly and ended up smashing its nose into the ground. According to the witnesses, he got out of the plane under his own power though he appeared to be dazed and was unsteady on his feet. He insisted on driving home himself and he seemed much better the following day and the matter was all but forgotten. However, two days later the maid found him dead and the official report had claimed it was a heart failure. 

Helios was a successful and a famous parfumier and he was supposed to release his newest, highly anticipated perfume. All things considered, it is no wonder Madame Nanette is skeptical by his sudden death and wonders if anyone wants him dead. After all, the members in the Belanger's household have been unhappy and the relationship has been complicated between Helios' young wife and his three adult children from his first marriage. Then, there is Herr Jens Muller, the German sculptor, who is in charge of designing the perfect bottle. Even Beryl isn't spared as she appears to be secretive and was seen going to places on various times. Amory and Milo could imagine the scenarios and wonder how Helios' death could impact on the sales of the new perfume, especially since this would be the last perfume he'd concocted. And of course there is the formula of the new perfume, which might fetch a great price if fallen into the wrong hands. 

With so many speculations and suspects in mind, Amory and Milo began their own investigations and although they work together in solving the case, Amory is annoyed by Milo's discreetness as she found he is keeping something to himself at times. Amory has begun to find their relationship to be a lot better as compared to the past and Milo has certainly paid much more attention and affection towards her lately but she couldn't help but to wonder what is with his discreetness. As the time goes on, each is certain that there is more than meets the eye and when the mystery is finally revealed the truth threw everyone off, including yours truly. 

Once again, I found myself immersed in Ashley Weaver's latest installment of her Amory Ames Mystery series (Though a series, each book can be read as standalone but I'd recommend reading them in order for the lead characters development.) The Golden age mystery elements is a draw on top of the characterisations and as this series progresses, I found myself liking Amory more due to her plucky demeanour, and well Milo is simply being himself - charismatic yet unpredictable. The premise was intriguing and I thought the closure (resolution) was a good one which I certainly didn't see it coming. 

Books in order:
Murder at the Brightwell #1
Death Wears a Mask #2
A Most Novel Revenge #3

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William Morrow | April 2018 | 304 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Having read Peter Swanson's previous novels (The Kind Worth Killing and Her Every Fear) and enjoyed them, I was thrilled when I learned that he has a new book coming out. His latest work revolves around lies, obsessions and taboo relationships and although it was an easy, fast-paced read, it somewhat lacks the punch of his previous works, which I found brilliant and kept me on edge. 

This story is written in two time frames "Then" and "Now" alternatively and at times it reads like a coming of age as it centers around a woman named Alice, as we read about her teenage years and how she has grown up to be an attractive woman with dark motives. All the while, she has had a fondness with older men partly due to an unhappy adolescence. Her relationship with her mother is lukewarm and her attraction to older men only began with her mother's remarriage to Jake. This is simply one of the "Then" segments and I figured I should skip whatever transpired thereafter to avoid spoilers. 

Onto the "Now" segment, Alice has found her man in Bill Ackerson and thought she would live a happily-ever-after but that bliss is short-lived as Bill is believed to have committed suicide. Bill's son, Harry, is due to attend his college graduation ceremony and he rushes home upon receiving Alice's call. Harry has always thought his stepmother sexy and beautiful and it seems Bill's death has kind of bring them together as they lend support to each other and try to find out what had happened to the man in their life. Enter Grace McGowan, who is mysterious and alluring in her own way and she has aroused Harry's interest and curiosity. Who is this young woman and why does she seem to appear in their range right after Bill's death? 

As much as I enjoyed this story, I felt this was something different from his other works. The characters are intriguing but they failed to captivate me, no matter if it's secretive Alice or even young innocent Harry. Then of course there is the taboo relationships which is part of the plot, which I suppose may either raise a few eyebrows or be intrigued by the complexity and bizarreness of it. The suspense is fairly predictable at some point, and the ending seemed a bit too abrupt and convenient to me. Nevertheless, it was a readable story and Peter Swanson's writing sucks you in. I'm currently reading his first book, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart and I'm enjoying it so far. 

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Madame Antoine is a romance story between a fortune teller impostor and a psychologist with a psychological theme and if this isn't enough to attract your attention, the good-looking cast probably will.

Known as Madame Antoine, Go Hye Rim's (starring Han Ye Seul) profession is a fortune teller but that is a lie, including her story as being spiritually connected to Marie Antoinette but she is sharp and observant, thus most often she easily gain some information about her clients either through her insistent inquiries or their body language. She also runs a café so it is like killing two birds with one stone. A divorcee with a daughter who is studying abroad, she works hard to make ends meet. Despite her divorce, she still hopes for love and is a romantic at heart.

Choi Soo Hyun (starring Sung Joon) is a well known psychologist and is looking for a space to open his clinic. He found the perfect place, and it is located above Hye Rim's café. And the problem is, both the café and the clinic share the same name - Madame Antoine. Although Dr. Choi isn't bothered by it, Hye Rim sees red but she take in stride considering she needs the café to run both her businesses.

Despite their clash of personalities, they finally see eye to eye and Hye Rim even agree to participate in Dr. Choi's psychological test project although he didn't tell her the real reason behind the test. Truth be told, it is an experiment about love and Dr. Choi's goal is to prove that there is no true love and it doesn't exist. With other two men and himself acting as Hye Rim's pursuers, his motive is to make Hye Rim falls hard in love and ultimately declare her love to the man she's in love with in public. But of course there are complications and Dr. Choi soon finds himself falling in love with her as well.

Madame Antoine was a fun romcom and while I don't approve of Dr. Choi's project, I can see where his concern and doubts come from considering he is traumatised by a childhood experience whereby his mother left him to pursue a new life. There are also side plots involving a few Dr. Choi's patients with various mental issues as well as the romances of the secondary characters, but at its core it is very much a life story about Dr. Choi and Hye Rim and how they have struggled with their own fears and obstacles before they found each other. I may disagree with Dr. Choi's initial motive for his project (manipulation?) but I've to say I was totally touched by his actions in the end (sigh).

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