Grove Press | 12 June 2018 | 176 Pgs
Source: Library 
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

36-year-old Keiko Furukura has been a society misfit since young. She doesn't really know how to interact with others; and what she expresses or does at times may seem inappropriate or unsound to others although her intentions are simply innocent and to get things done in her own ways. Her portrayal may lead to some wondering if she's autistic but the direction wasn't clear. At the age of eighteen, Keiko dropped out from school and began working at a convenience store, "Smile Mart". For once, she finds peace and purpose in her life and she realises that in order to fit in with the society, she has to act "normal" like others. Like following the rules from the store manual, she does her best in copying her colleagues' mannerisms, speech and even their fashion sense. 

Keiko may have perfected her speech and mannerisms as the time go, but she has other problems to face, such as the pressure of finding a husband and getting a "real" job. When she crosses path with an ex-colleague, Shiraha, she begins to think that perhaps she could lend a helping hand considering he is a misfit, too. This leads to misconceptions from her family and colleagues as they think that she's finally found someone and the latter embrace her more warmly into their groups. Keiko values her friendship with her colleagues, but in her mind she's wondering if she should be content living a troubled normal life rather than a carefree abnormal one. 

At its core, this book is about meeting societal expectations. Keiko was an empathetic character who thinks nothing much about herself but more of how she should portray herself and being accepted by the society regardless of her unusual characteristics. This isn't to say Keiko is wrong, but since the autistic spectrum was never fully explored (perhaps intentional by the author?), it is easy for the society to interpret her as an "outsider" - someone who simply doesn't fit in or adjust. While this perception happens anywhere around the world, it was strongly felt through Keiko's narrative as the role of men and women are often viewed differently based on their culture, mindset and any other issues. Work culture and gender discrimination (Shiraha's views will anger many women so I won't go there) are also explored here; and you'll learn more about the job and responsibilities of a store clerk through Keiko's eyes (she's a devoted employee and definitely deserves an award in my opinion). Overall this was a quick read and an interesting portrayal of an extraordinary quirky heroine in today's society conformity. 

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Riverrun | 18 March 2021 | 480 pgs
Source: Library 

This book is the third installment featuring DS Alexandra Cupidi and the more I read of this series the more I'm liking it. 

Alexandra and her colleague, Constable Jill Ferriter, are called to look into a case after a couple discovers a body in a freezer in an empty mansion which is up for sale. Since the owner hardly lives there, no one knows how or why the body was buried there. The body was later identified as a Vincent Gibbons, who was a naturalist and was active in a protest campaign of a housing development and its developer, Whiteland Fields. The campaign is valid to some locals, even Cupidi's teenage daughter, Zoe, think that the developments will threaten the badgers setts which have been around for decades and not to mention would cause a disruption to the wildlife. To complicate matters, Jill has just began to date Harry French, who's the developer and later becomes their suspect after a human bone was found buried within the development site. The discovery of the bone is purely accidental, thanks to the digging of an old badger after his terrority has been compromised. 

Cupidi's investigation of the bone led them to a case of a boy who went missing twenty five years ago. These two investigations soon caught the interest of the Housing minister, and Cupidi later find herself being caught in the world of politics and the environmentalism issue specifically the protection given to badgers by the law. As Cupidi digs deeper (pun intended) into these two cases, it becomes clear that there is a connection but there's no evidence and worse still, someone will go to any lengths to stop Cupidi's further investigation, including murder. 

Once again, I find myself drawn to William Shaw's writing and the developments between Cupidi and Ferriter as the series go. The countryside setting in Dungeness, Kent, is vividly described and I liked it that the author even feature the perspective of an old male badger in this installment. This endearing creature plays part of an important role in this story and I find it refreshing reading about their habitats and livelihood through his eyes. There are multiple threads to this story, but they're nicely linked and there're also enough red herrings alongside a few issues like class divide, abuse and even civilisation (which is always a thought-provoking topic). This book works fine as a standalone, but it is best to start from the first book as far as characters developments go. 

The DS Alex Cupidi Series:
#1 Salt Lake (my review here)
#2 Deadlane (my review here
#3 Grave's End
#4 The Trawlerman
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Atria Books | 4 May 2021 | 384 pgs
Source: Library 

48-year-old Jennifer Barnes receives the most shocking news when she goes for her doctor’s appointment after a series of symptoms that's plagued her for months. She has glioblastoma - a brain cancer and that she has only six weeks left to live. The test result reported that there's a high dose of lead in her blood and that this may have already started a year ago as the tumor started to spread gradually. 

While Jennifer is reeling from the news, she's also curious about how the lead got into her body in the first place. She knew that plumbing that contains lead can contaminate water, or they could be leached into food or drinks as well. Jennifer could only suspect her husband because he's been pestering her for a divorce for a while and she didn't give in to his request. It isn't that she still has feelings for him, she's just angry that he has had an affair and he's leaving her for a much younger woman. 

Her adult triplets, on the other hand, took the news differently. Emily is the eldest and a fraternal triplet unlike Aline and Miranda. Emily has her own family and issues but she's willing to stand by her mother's side physically and emotionally. Aline and Miranda aren't close with their mother, but Aline agrees to look into the lead issue (she's in bio research field) and even the imprudent Miranda moves into Jennifer's house although one might wonder about her reason and think of her financial difficulties. But despite everything, the daughters feel that Jennifer is being paranoid in doubting their father, and this leads Jennifer wondering if her condition has worsened as she starts imagining things. Or is it not? 

I've read and enjoyed a few of Catherine McKenzie's previous novels so I was excited to read this latest book but regrettably I didn't feel the same thrill and excitement I'd had with her other books. To begin with, I didn't feel any connection with the characters. Perhaps they're all unlikeable characters, but still Jennifer's sensitive role didn't allow me to fully empathise with her either and I think it might be more or less to do with her voice in this story. While I understand this is more of a domestic drama than a psychological thriller, I was fazed as well as saddened by the dynamics of this (dysfunctional) family. Unfortunately, I couldn't discuss the issue without spoiling the story but nevertheless, this still made an interesting read based on the identities and characteristics of the characters. Although this book isn't a favourite, I'd still look out for McKenzie's future releases. 
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Michael Joseph | 21 January 2021 | 400 pgs
Source: Purchased 

If anyone ask me how would I describe C.J. Tudor's books, I'd say they're brooding and foreboding; and that she sure knows how to get her readers invested in the characters she's created. 

The Burning Girls started with a bang with an explosive prologue which the reader will soon know it's a flashback. What follows thereafter is our protagonist, Reverend Jack Brooks learning that she has to transfer to a small church in Chapel Croft until they've found a replacement. Jack doesn't want to go, partly of her 15-year-old daughter Flo, but they've given her no choice. 

Jack and Flo soon learn that Chapel Croft is far more than a quiet English countryside and it has a dark history surrounding the Sussex Martyrs during the religious persecutions of Queen Mary in 1556; whereby eight villagers were burnt at the stake, including two young girls. Each year on the anniversary of the purge, the residents will set alight of some small twig dolls they called Burning Girls to commemorate and honour the martyrs who died. As much as Jack is intrigued by this age-old tradition, she's more concerned about the suicide of her predecessor, Reverend Fletcher and the disappearance case of two young girls thirty years ago. No one knows what happened to Merry and Joy after all these time, but the residents assume that they'd simply run away from home and have gradually accepted their disappearance. 

As Jack and Flo try to adjust to their new life in this close-knit community, bad things start to happen. For starters, someone is sending her mysterious twig dolls, then Flo claims she's seen the apparitions of the burning girls in the chapel. And of course, the question that plagued Jack regarding Reverend Fletcher's suicide and why no one wants to talk about it. As much as Jack wants to find out the truth, she's also concerned about Flo's safety and well-being especially with her interactions with two teenage delinquents and a guy whom Flo just got acquainted with. And then, there's someone from Jack's past whom she tries to avoid has come to Chapel Croft for her.  

As you can see, there are multiple layers and subplots to this pacey story and despite the various threads Tudor has laid out, the conclusion was nicely tied up in a bow. The atmospheric setting was well done - from the creepy old chapel to an abandoned old building in the woods filled with graffiti of various evil symbols. The portrayal of the characters are vivid and believable; and I liked how Tudor created Reverend Jack Brooks to be a flawed, complex character with strength and weaknesses, as well as her role as both a (woman) vicar and a mother with different perspectives. Without saying more, this was an intense and a riveting suspense which I'm sure would thrill Tudor's fans and gain new readers as well. 

Last but not least, I want to thank Lark for reading this book with me as part of our buddy read "assignments". Please visit her blog for her review and the Q&A. Here's her questions to me:

1. This is the second book by C.J. Tudor that we've read together--which one did you like better, The Chalk Man or The Burning Girls? Why?
I enjoyed both of the books, but I think I loved this one a bit more because of the atmospheric setting, the characters (in particularly Reverend Jack Brooks and Flo) and the various genres/issues implemented into this story. (Click here for Chalk Man review.)

2. How do you feel about the role that the legend of the burning girls played in this novel? (Too much, or not enough?)
I'd expected that there'd be more backstory of the legend of the burning girls, but regrettably there aren't much elaborations about them as I thought the martyrdom might add more intrigue and depth to this story. Then again, this is only a part of Chapel Croft history and not the main core of the story so I'd let this pass. 😉

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