William Morrow | July 2020 | 320 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss 

Having read three of Paul Tremblay's books and enjoyed them, I figured I couldn't turn down this latest release by him, especially since the theme hit a little too close to reality in a way. 

Massachusetts residents are living in worrying and fear. In just a matter of weeks, they've been overrun by a mysterious, insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, this disease has a short incubation period of an hour or so and once the person is infected, he'll quickly lose his mind and is driven to bite and infect others (which reminds me a bit like zombies but well, they aren't walking deads). With the hospitals being inundated with the sick and dying, the commonwealth has no other option but to have the state quarantined and under curfew. 

Natalie, who's eight months pregnant, is waiting for her husband's return from his grocery trip when horror strikes. In an attempt to save her husband who's being bitten by their infected neighbour, Natalie suffers the same fate as she, too, is bitten. Unlike her husband who is viciously attacked, Natalie's condition isn't considered fatal but she has to get to a hospital within an hour to receive a rabies vaccine, although it isn't a cure but it might buy her some time. Dr. Ramola "Rams" Sherman is a pediatrician and she happens to be a friend of Natalie. She agrees to bring Natalie to the hospital, knowing that she'll be breaking some safety protocols but aside from racing against the time, their biggest challenge would be the journey itself as they'd be faced with various kinds of dangers and most of all, how far would one go for survival, and for a friend? 

If you're familiar with Paul Tremblay's works, you should be aware of his creativity and his taut writing style when it comes to constructing a dark, horrifying story like this one. His characters are fleshed out and intriguing; the topics may be gruesome or unthinkable but in this case he also adds the humanity issue for the reader to ponder about -- to save or not to save under dire circumstances? And what would one do to survive? This was one fast and a compelling read (and such a timely one given the current pandemic situation) as the story took place over the course of a few hours so the reader could feel the sense of horror and urgency in parallel with the two characters. 

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MCP Books | April 2020 | 480 pgs
Source: Author

Salem, once known for the terrifying and dark horrors of witch trials, is the setting for this story although witchcraft and the likes are not the theme here. It is 1803 and the Puritan village in Massachusetts is now the wealthiest town in America. Captain Isaac McCallister is well known to the residents in Puritan, but that is partly due to his five harrowing years of slavery in Algiers. Now he is one of the successful tradesmen although the experiences he'd been through still haunts him. 

Eleanor Hampton is an eccentric young artist who's living with her mother and sister at Boxwood Cottage of the same village. She's independent and opinionated; but her tough demeanour could easily be misunderstood by others considering she's lost her father a few years back and she has to take on his role to support the family. Isaac's return has rattled her world because he's her father's step-brother and there's been a long-standing bitterness between the two families. On top of it, they've been living on his estate and Eleanor fears he'll claim back what's his and have them evicted. But as much as their heated exchanges and their family feud, Eleanor is drawn by his gallantry and his determination. To safeguard the welfare of her family, Eleanor offers her companionship as an exchange of their settlement but Isaac surprises everyone with his marriage proposal instead. Eleanor initially doesn't care much as she thinks nothing more about romances, but she didn't expect her feelings towards him changes the more they're together and when unexpected circumstances arise which involve a murder, Eleanor knew she will need that determination and courage to face down the threat out of Isaac's past. 

Heart's Blood, no doubt is a historical romance, but the setting was well written with lots of background information and this is no surprise given that Alice Von Kannon is an author and historian who's written for both History and the Discovery Channel. Although I enjoyed learning more about the two characters and their dynamics, the pacing was a bit slow from the start but I've to say they're well developed and fleshed out. Isaac's traumatic past wasn't an easy read, but yet it was a crucial part of the story which tells another side of him and how those experiences had altered his path thereafter. I don't think I've ever read a historical romance much like this book which is rich in history and adventures so it was quite a refreshing experience.

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Lake Union Publishing | June 2017 | 335 pgs
Source: Purchased 

Eleanor Harper used to work as a crime reporter until she finds the overall ordeal is too much to bear. When she knew that Cliffside Manor is looking for a new director, she decided to give it a try. Cliffside Manor is an exclusive, isolated retreat for the artists and writers where they could stay for a short period of time without being bothered by the outside world. Eleanor knows little about the retreat, but she is aware that it used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium founded in the 1950s by a local philanthropist called Chester Dare. Unfortunately, Chester and one of his daughters, Chamomile, had passed during an accident and Eleanor remembers interviewing the other daughter, Penelope (the present director who is retiring), back then when she was still a new journalist. Eleanor eventually got the job but what she didn't understand is, why would Penelope commit suicide after giving her the role? 

As much as Eleanor is perplexed and shocked over Penelope's act, she knew she has to stay on at Cliffside to welcome the fellows (in which the artists and writers are called) and assure that things are running as normal. As she gets to know more about the fellows as the days go, she is intrigued to learn that almost each of them has some connection with Cliffside Manor in one way or other, including herself considering she interviewed Penelope two decades ago. Eleanor begins to wonder if Penelope had intended to bring them together with a purpose but for what reason? 

I've to say this book was atmospheric and suspenseful. The characters are intriguing and fleshed out and I enjoyed reading about everyone of them, be them likeable or not. Eleanor's interactions with the fellows and a few of the staff at Cliffside took up most of the plot, but there was also a sense of foreboding, too, given the history and the dark past of Cliffside as the reader would later find out as the story progresses. I was totally captivated by the suspense and the ambiguous sense of things that go bump in the night, but I wasn't prepared for the conclusion that left me feeling. . . well, stumped. That said, it was still an enjoyable read and I'll definitely look forward to more works by this author. 

* This book was chosen by Lark for our buddy read some time ago but then the pandemic happened, forcing our libraries to close so our buddy read plan being pushed back. Lark managed to get her copy now that their library allows for curbside checkout, but ours remain closed until further notice (I hope the pandemic situation will get better for all of us; best of all, if there's a vaccine to it). Nevertheless, I'm glad we were able to read this book and I hope you'll visit Lark's blog after reading this (Thanks, Lark, for suggesting this book!) Below are Lark's questions to me on this book:

1. Of the five visiting artists--Cassandra, Brynn, Diana, Henry and Richard--which did you like best? And why? 
All the characters seemed fine to me, although I've to admit I didn't like Brynn due to her rude and arrogant demeanour. My favourite character among the artists will be Henry. He was kind and easygoing and I could feel his sincerity right from the start he stepped into Cliffside. 

2. If you could only use three words to describe this book, what three words (or phrases) would you choose?
Atmospheric. Suspenseful. Mind-blowing.

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G.P. Putnam's Sons | June 2020 | 368 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss 

Gillian McAllister's latest release is written in sliding door concept - a dual scenarios depicting the path the protagonist has decided to take after an unfortunate incident. 

Joanna and her friend, Laura, are having the best of their time at a bar when a stranger, who called himself Sadiq, invites them for a drink after their casual acquaintance earlier. Joanna didn't mean it to happen, but Sadiq seems eager to chat and when Joanna ignores him, he tries to grab and pull her towards him. Shocked, Joanna doesn't know how to react for a while until she moves away from him. But that isn't all, after Joanna leaves the bar she got the feeling that Sadiq is following her. While hurrying down the staircase she thought she caught a glimpse of Sadiq's red trainers and that's where she makes a snap decision; she turns and pushes him. Only that it isn't Sadiq but a random jogger and he tumbles down the steps and lies motionless, facedown on the ground. 

What happened thereafter is two scenarios - "Reveal" and "Conceal", depicts the cause and effect depending on Joanna's choice. If she calls the police, the man will live but that would put her own innocence at risk. She might be charged of assaulting and with no witnesses around, it'd a tough case to fight. But if she leaves quietly and pretends nothing has happened, the man will die but would she be able to go on living with guilt as she lies to her husband and friends? 

The Choice was a captivating read that not only the readers will find themselves get caught up by the dynamic plots but will also question themselves at the end in regard to the moral dilemma surrounding this story. While this isn't a typical psychological thriller, it sure is a thought-provoking novel that tells the different consequences through a split-second decision and how it'd change the life between the perpetrator and the victim. While I find this sliding door concept to be a refreshing read, personally I'm not a fan of it as I think it takes away some of the thrill and the focus (the real action of the event somewhat feel lost to me, if that makes sense.) 

Character-wise, Joanna didn't really leave a deep impression on me since I didn't really feel connected with her (maybe it's the concept) but I did feel what she'd gone through with both scenarios. That said, I'd still recommend this book if you love this kind of concept.

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