William Morrow | 12 July 2022 | 336 pgs
Source: Library 

I've enjoyed most of Carol Goodman's books I read thus far. She's excellent in creating atmospheric settings and a cast of intriguing characters and this book is no exception. And as much as I enjoyed the above, I wasn't in love with this book. 

To begin with, the premise was good. It was set in several years after the 2020 pandemic but a new virus surfaces (yikes!). Lucy Harper and her husband, Reed, decided to seek refuge on his family’s private island off the coast of Maine together with a few of their close friends. The group of seven understood the threat of the outside world and thought it was a good choice to stay isolated, with minimal Internet and social media if possible (especially the latter since they didn't want to announce their location). As they quarantined themselves in the island, the dark history of the island resurfaced as Lucy found a journal chronicling the island’s history as a quarantine hospital for typhus patients and that the island might be cursed after what happened in the past, involving one of Reed's ancestors. But Reed was reluctant to say more regarding the past, either he was spooked or there's some dark family secrets. 

Lucy didn't give up and continued in reading the journal discreetly. It was also at that moment that the dynamics between the group started to change and some members started to badmouth and take sides. It wasn't until an incident happened and the group started to wonder if the island was indeed haunted or if someone amongst them had an agenda including murder. 

This book has all the tropes for a locked room mystery. Atmospheric setting, a cast of intriguing characters, a mysterious past surrounding the location and/or characters; and a murder that changed all the dynamics. All these elements sound intriguing but the pace was slow, the characters unlikeable and while the journal entries were interesting, they're long and most of all, I thought the motives in the end felt a bit flat (and ridiculous) to me. That said, Carol Goodman is a good writer and I hope her next book will be better. 

I took an unexpected blogging break so this explains my belated post and also my absence in blogs commenting. I can't believe 2022 is coming to an end soon and I hope next year will be a better one in every aspect. Usually this time around, I'd have a post of my favourite reads of the year ready (or posted) but I've not written anything since I've yet to go through my list due to my break. 😅 Still, I'll have it done soon and last but not least, I hope the new year bring you happiness, peace and prosperity! 

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HarperCollins | 31 March 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

I was impressed by Sarah Pinborough's past novel, Behind Her Eyes, as I thought the plot was refreshing and twisty. However, I'd lukewarm feelings about this book and I'll get to that shortly. 

Emma Averell is a successful lawyer who balances her career and family life well but is afraid of her 40th birthday approaching. She has her reasons since her mother has gotten mad towards reaching forty and due to this and her estrangement with her mother due to a traumatic past, she's left quite haunted by the emotional turmoil and all these exacerbate her insomnia issue coming her 40th birthday. In addition, her relationship with her sister Phoebe hasn't been good and her sudden arrival leads her wondering if she has an agenda. What follows is Emma's bout of anxiety and in between her paranoia and her insomnia problems you began to wonder if she's really gone mad or if she (or the reader) is being gaslight. 

So here are my thoughts about the good and the not-so-good. To begin with, Sarah Pinborough has a way of writing that sucks you in. Her characters are usually complex yet intriguing and even if they aren't reliable, the reader is attracted by their narratives. Also, the subject matter in this book is a common issue in today's society so it makes the reader feel relatable and empathy towards Emma. As for the not-so-good part, it was slow and repetitive at times. Emma could get on one's nerves with her constant whining (about hitting the big 4-0) and truth be told, I found it lacking in the thrill department until the last third of the book; and by then it didn't help with how I felt about the overall story. That said, I still find the premise interesting and that it'd be an even more intriguing read with better execution. 
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Knopf | 30 August 2022 | 496 pgs
Source: Purchased 

The Dragon's Promise is the final book of a duology and it picks up right after the end from Six Crimson Cranes. Shiori, our heroine, has gone off to Ai'long (the kingdom of the dragons) so that she could save her country and also to return the pearl to its rightful owner, the Wraith. The pearl played an important part in this story since in the previous book she's made a promise to her late stepmother, Raikama, that she'd find the owner and return it to him. 

Without telling too much about the plot, all I can say is this duology is about magic, family bonds and a star-crossed love. Princess Shiori was a courageous character who'd never adhere to political rules and would fight her way which she thinks is right. Perhaps with this characteristics, she often finds herself stucked in dangerous situations but fortunately she has a great assistant in the form of a paper bird called Kiki. Her relationship with her brothers was close and that was revealed in the previous book where Shiori tried every means to save them after they'd turned to cranes through a curse. 

Shiori's journey to Ai'long might not be smooth but she has the help from Seryu, the heir of the Dragon's King and Takkan, her childhood friend and her betrothed. Seryu was such an intriguing character but alas, his appearance only covered one-third in this story and that left me perplexed over the choice of this title. And if Takkan didn't leave me a deep impression in the previous book, he's definitely grown on me in this installment. His courage, his understanding and his love towards Shiori could melt any girl's heart and he's quickly become one of my favourite characters in this book, aside from Kiki that is. 

The battles towards the end with the demons were all too much and convoluted along the way and I wished it was better executed. All in all, it was a fun book but Six Crimson Cranes remains my favourite. If the author read this review, perhaps she could consider writing a spin-off about Seryu in the near future? 

Finally, I want to thank my long-time book buddy, Lark, for reading this duology with me (please check out her blog here for her review). This book marked the end of our buddy read for this year but we'll have more coming up in 2023! 

Here are the questions from Lark after our read: 

1. Out of all the magical elements and different legends in this story, which were your favorite?
Each magical element and legend in this story is special and unique in their own way. While I think Shiori's brothers transformation of the cranes left me a deep impression, Kiki's lively existence (through Shiori's magic) kept me entertained throughout the duology. I loved her loyalty and enjoyed reading her banter with Shiori. I think she's one of the important roles that keep this story going.  

2. If the author writes more books set in this world, which characters would you most want her to write about next? 
Seryu. Hands down. I most definitely want to hear more about his stories and adventures in Ai'long. 
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Minotaur Books | 31 May 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

In this first book of a new series featuring homicide detective Mallory Atkinson, author Kelly Armstrong takes her readers through time and space to Victorian Scotland in 1869 to solve a murder case - a mystery in which somewhat related to her harrowing encounter that may have led her going back in time. 

Mallory was visiting her dying mother and while she was out for a breather, someone attacked her after she thought she heard a woman screamed in distress in a dark alley. When she woke up, she found herself in a foreign land dressed in Victorian housemaid attire. She later learned that she'd woken up in Catriona’s body and she was the woman who was murdered in the same spot where she was assaulted in present time 2019. 

As much as Mallory was shocked about the time travel and the body swap, her curiosity and her role as a detective quickly allowed her to adjust to the life as a housemaid to Dr. Gray, her employer. Dr. Gray was an undertaker, but he was also a medical examiner who assisted (discreetly) Detective McCreadie in his cases. McCreadie's recent case was a strangulation of a young man, and Mallory found the attack quite similar to Catriona’s and herself which made her think that the murderer might be of the same person. Without arousing Dr. Gray's curiosity about her true self, Mallory has to learn to adapt to the Victorian lifestyle without the modern gadgets but would she be able to catch the murderer so that she could return to the present world? 

Well, I'd had so much fun reading this book! Basically, it has all the elements I love in my reading: time travel, suspense, Victorian setting and most of all, likeable characters such as Mallory and Dr. Gray. Their banter and their differences (in most aspects) entertained me but what I liked most is reading about Mallory's input of the modern investigative theories in Dr. Gray's findings and making sure that they wouldn't disrupt the origin investigation methods. The secondary characters are well-portrayed as well and allowed readers more than a glimpse of their various roles and their interactions with other characters. Overall, this was an engaging read and I can't wait to find out more of Mallory's adventures in the next book. 
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