Faber & Faber | 3 March 2022 | 336 pgs
Source: Library 

Nine random people from various locations receive an envelope with their names on it. There's no return address; and inside the envelope contains a single, folded sheet of white paper. Nine names are printed on the list and each of these nine recipients will find his or her own name on it. Perhaps it is junk mail, or perhaps it is a joke. But as each day passes by, these recipients will soon find out that they're targeted and one by one they're going to meet their end. But no one knows why and the motive. And as these nine people wandering clueless with a foreboding mood, so do the reader as the suspense intensifies. 

Without saying too much, all I can say is this isn't my favourite Swanson book. But of course there're still some things that I liked; such as this work is a homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None but Swanson's story stands on its own. The eliminating style (of the victims) always make it an easier read (though it's wrong to think of that from another perspective) and the chapters are short, which made it even better.

Now onto the things I didn't really like. Nine characters mean nine perspectives, and they could be confusing from the start but this issue will go away as the story progresses (and yes, the eliminating part plays a part, too). Since there're nine characters, it could be hard making a connection with them and well, some of them were unlikable, too. The story wasn't fast-paced and the reader mostly learned about their personality and their mundane lives until the last quarter of the book in which the pace started to pick up. But alas, it all fell short to me with that anticlimactic reveal and not to mention the motive. Despite these, I didn't dislike the book (because it's Peter Swanson and I love his writing style and the suspenseful atmosphere he's always so good in creating) but this book just isn’t for me. Still, I always look forward to his new release and I hope his next book will be better. 

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Atria Books | 23 August 2022 | 320 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss 

I've read and enjoyed a few of Catherine McKenzie's books and I've to say each of her book was mesmerizing in some ways. Her writing style is engaging as always; and I'm often intrigued by her characterisations and the different topics/elements she put in her books and leave readers pondering about the issues and the ending aftermath. This book is about women empowerment, conspiracies and revenge and you know you're in for a wild ride when a group of five women meet up for a networking event which they believe will help in their career and change their outlook in life in general.  

Nicole Mueller is the lead character of this story and her once brilliant law career is falling apart. She and her husband, Dan, live in an apartment which is once owned by his late aunt but it's never made clear that the property would belong to them. After all, Dan's estranged mother and sister are still around and who knows when they'll come after him one day with this property issue? Just when Nicole feels so helpless with her situation, she receives an invitation from an exclusive women’s networking group called Panthera Leo. It stated that membership is anonymous and that every member is a successful professional. Thinking that it wouldn't hurt to try, she signs up for their retreat in Colorado despite Dan’s concern that it might be a cult group. 

The retreat takes place in an isolated location and Nicole is blindfolded throughout the journey before reaching the destination. There, she meets the two founders of Panthera Leo, Michelle and Karma; as well as four other women who'll make up her Pride. Nicole soon learns that these four successful women are members before; and she's quickly bonded with them through some challenging activities during the retreat and most of all, the group’s core philosophy that they're an elite girl's club in a boy’s club world and that they'd take their corporate world by storm. But the more Nicole stays with the group, the more she realises that Panthera Leo might not be what she thinks it is and that there's always a price to pay for everything.

Please Join Us has a refreshing premise and combined with McKenzie's writing style it made an addicting read. Most of the characters aren't likeable, but they're intriguing in their own ways. The first half introduced us to these group of women, their bonding and what has gone through their lives so it was a slow buildup but was quickly replaced by suspense once an important event took place and affected Nicole's thoughts and plans with Panthera Leo. Overall I enjoyed it but there are some parts that I felt disbelief and perplexed, too. Still, it was a engaging read and it tackles the reality and the challenges the women often face especially working in a male-dominated corporate world. 

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HarperCollins | 20 January 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

Where shall I even begin? This book has received lots of hype and glowing reviews and while I enjoyed the book, it wasn't my favourite and I'd some issues with it. 

So the book opens featuring 25-year-old Molly Gray working as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. She was morally upright given all the advice passed down by her late grandmother; however she'd some difficulties understanding social cues and behaviours at times so she might be autistic, though it was not clearly stated and may be intentionally omitted by the author for the plot directions. Molly was a great worker and she took pride in her job. She cleaned the rooms diligently and given her obsession with cleanliness, it is no wonder the rooms are often left in a state of perfection before the new batch of guests arrived. 

Molly had seen all types of people through the nature of her work; and among all is the rich and mighty Blacks couple who's long-term residents of the hotel. Mr Black was a property tycoon so he was always away, leaving his second young wife in the hotel room. Mrs Black became friends with Molly quickly partly due to boredom and Molly's easygoing demeanour, but most of all she finds herself needing someone to talk to. Then one day, Molly found Mr Black dead in his room and ultimately became the prime suspect as she was dragged into all kinds of life complexities - be it her financial woes or her conflicts with her superiors. Added to the plot was her infatuation with a bartender and her acquaintance with a Mexican immigrant who may or may not connected to Mr Black's mysterious death. 

I've read several reviews which compare Molly to Eleanor Oliphant but personally I didn't find any similarities there. Molly was an interesting character but there was an inconsistency of her behaviours depending on situations (or the plot?). The secondary characters are one-dimensional and stereotyped; and I didn't know if I should empathise or be annoyed with them. Finally, there's the twist towards the end which come out of nowhere and was featured more as a surprise element in my opinion. This was an interesting case of character study from some aspect, but I felt Molly was wrongfully portrayed to suit the plot directions. Perhaps I was just sensitive but there are some readers who loved this book though, so I'd suggest you give this book a read and find out yourself. 
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Knopf Books | 6 July 2021 | 464 pgs
Source: Purchased 

Kiata has long been forbidden of magic. Shiori, the only Princess of Kiata, however has the capability of making paper birds come alive or making things bloom and while her acts are considered harmless, she keeps her skills a secret until the day of her betrothal ceremony. When her forestalling the wedding goes wrong and her magic catches the attention of her stepmother, Raikama; the latter is quick to take actions of her own.

Now Raikama, who's also known as the Nameless Queen (because no one knows her real name), has some dark magic herself and to prevent Shiori from talking about her hidden capabilities after a chance event, she turns Shiori's six older brothers into cranes and that Shiori could never talk to anyone about them. For any word she utters, one of them would die and on top of that, no one would be able to recognise Shiori because her head is covered with a bowl, therefore concealing her eyes and it could never be removed under Raikama's curse. 

Leaving with no choice, Shiori is forced to work in a village's inn as a kitchen helper as she tries to find ways to search for her brothers. While the chances are slim, her hope arrives when she meets a kind soldier who would inadvertently change her fate. While Shiori continues to face the challenge of not speaking while searching for her brothers, she discovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne. 

This was an enthralling read with reminiscent of The Wild Swans, The Six Swans and a Chinese mythology of The Lady of the Moon (only vaguely referred to). The author has successfully entranced the reader through her captivating worldbuilding that consists of a shape-shifting dragon called Seryu and a talking paper bird called Kiki; who both play a significant role to the story. The characters are well-portrayed and Shiori was a feisty heroine who has a strong bond and loyalty to her family. Her banter with Seryu and her interactions with Kiki often brought a smile to my face; and even the romance moments were heartwarming as well. The only complaint I had was, there are some parts which made me feel I was missing something as they're not fully elaborated, hopefully there'll be a clearer explanation in the next book, The Dragon's Promise. Finally, I want to thank Lark for reading this book with me (please check out her review here). Buddy read always double the reading pleasure and makes the journey even more fun! Below are her questions to me regarding this book:

Were you familiar with the Brothers Grimm story The Six Swans before reading this book? And did you have a favorite fairy tale growing up? If so, which one and what did you love about it? 

I'm ashamed to say I haven't read all of Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales and The Six Swans is one of them. While I've lots of favourite fairy tales, the one which stands out amongst the rest is The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. It was such a beautiful story even though it has a sad and a melancholy ending. I loved it that the little mermaid was courageous to sacrifice oneself for the sake of love; and that even though she was given a chance to become a mermaid again, she chose not to kill the prince out of love and selflessness. I've read the book and even watched the animated film countless times but have never gotten tired of it. I hope I'd get the chance to watch the musical one day. 

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Corgi | 22 July 2021 | 400 pgs
Source: Library 

The Dare is basically a story revolves around two teenage girls and how a tragedy would lead to revenge and the unravelling of past secrets would both surprise the protagonist and the readers as well.

Thirteen-year-old Alice Dawson and Lizzie Molyneux are best friends. Lizzie has epilepsy and there are times she would be unconscious of her behaviours whenever it hit her and often the aftermath causes her confusion and doubt since she has no recollection of what really happened. This happened when both girls are playing by the train tracks and they'd a spat over some minor issues. Unfortunately Lizzie's epilepsy is triggered at that moment and the next moment she comes to, Alice is killed by the passing train. While there is no evidence and on top of Lizzie's epilepsy that shows anything suspicious, Alice's friends and especially her eldest sister, Catherine, is sure that Lizzie is responsible because she is jealous of Alice. 

Moving forward to Lizzie's adulthood twelve years later, she is still haunted by Alice's death and that unknown moments before tragedy struck but she is glad to have found someone whom she could lean on. Ross Murray is a GP and his schedules are often full but he's been very supportive and understanding for Lizzie. Their life is happy until someone from the past reappears and Lizzie's discovery of some hidden secrets shattered her hopes of finding peace and moving on. 

I enjoyed Lesley Kara's The Rumour so I picked up this book with some expectations. The story switches between the past when they are teenagers and the present time in which we see the grown-up Lizzie who's trying to adjust to her new life. The characters are realistically portrayed and I enjoyed reading the friendship and dynamics between Lizzie and Alice. There is an unknown narrative alternating in between the two timelines as a mystery effect and although I'd somewhat guessed a part correctly, the ending still left some surprises and a sad revelation as well. Though it wasn't fast-paced or action packed for a psychological thriller, the strength was its well-developed characters and the gradual build of suspense as the story progresses. Overall it was a satisfying read and I look forward to her next release, The Apartment Upstairs, set to release in June 2022. 

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Atria Books | 22 February 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss 

Twenty years ago, 14-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into Octagon House - an abandoned house which no one dare to trespass. There are stories that it is haunted and that the owner had killed his wife and his two young daughters there. Although Clare and Abby came out safe and sound, Abby was somehow affected by the house and she's never the same again. 

Now that they're adults, both of them have lost touch over the years. It is only the news of Abby’s attempted suicide that bring them together again. While it was good news that Abby didn't die, she now lies in a coma but what Clare didn't understand is, why at Octagon House of all places? As much as Clare remains fearful of that house, she knows she has to return to that place to find the truth surrounding Abby’s suicide. But what she's learned has left her in doubt and more questions unanswered. For starters, why would Abby had her car filled with gas if she meant to die? And of course, why Octagon House when the place gave her bad memories? 

I've to say this book was an engaging read for a debut novel. Atmospheric and filled with suspense, there was never a dull moment throughout my reading journey although there're some parts that seemed repetitive but the mystery drew me in. Aside from the girls' childhood story, there're also two other timelines that go way before that introduce the origin of the house and its owner and the occupants that moved in thereafter. Despite a psychological suspense with bits of paranormal element, I felt the coming-of-age and the emotional depth between the girls are much stronger and better defined. Despite the little shortcoming towards the end, overall I still find it a satisfying read due to the engaging writing style so I'll be curious of the author's next release. 

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Chatto & Windus | 30 January 2020 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

Set in India at a basti (slum) consisted of the Hindus and the Muslims community, this story gives readers more than a glimpse about the various struggles of the residents living there as they go on with their lives. At its core of the story is 9-year-old Jai and his two friends, Pari and Faiz, whose lives are about to take a turn after learning the missing of their friend, Bahadur. 

Jai is a fan of many reality cop shows so it's no surprise that he's decided to find Bahadur through the few things he'd learnt from those shows. Together with Pari and Faiz, they search the neighbourhood, the night bazaar and even travel on a railway at the end of the Purple Line regardless of the dangers lurking around. They know they might get lost, or even meet up with the wrong people should they are not careful, but they're unstoppable especially Jai, who believes that their friend could be found through their persistency. But when more kids begin to disappear around their basti, they soon realise that they're both powerless and helpless with their poor situation and the indifference and corruption of their local police system. Division between the Hindus and the Muslims community widens as their distrust of each other arises since they could find no answers regarding the disappearance of the children. Intersperse with the mystery is the children's belief of the djinns and a vengeful woman ghost who look out for the girls from the perpetrators after her daughter died and the killer was never found. Whether if they're true or merely urban legends, Jai and the other children find some hope in these stories amid the sad reality and chaos in their little settlement. When tragedy hits home after Jai's sister is missing, Jai and his family's life would never be the same alongside with the other families who have lost their children. 

Deepa Anappara's writing was engaging from the beginning as she vividly described the (unnamed) slum and the residents' living lifestyle through Jai's eyes. Despite the saddened mood of a slum, Jai's narrative was often light-hearted and there were times their conversations were a little humorous, too. (Unfortunately my copy didn't come with a glossary list of the words they used so half the time I'd to guess or Google them myself.) The story could get a bit repetitive surrounding the missing children and how Jai was trying his ways to find them, but I came to understand the purpose as the story progresses as it highlights their helplessness as there's a social status difference between the rich and the poor, and how this division will colour the lens of justice and other things as well. This was a coming-of-age story, but it was also a heart-rending story based on hard facts about the missing children in India, gender discrimination and the social divisions that lead to some inequalities. 

Last but not least, I want to thank bookblogger and friend, Lark, for reading this book with me (check out her review here). Here's her questions to me: 

1. What did you think of the ghosts and their stories? And why do you think the author included them?

Ghost stories, urban legends, myths . . . we're all fascinated by them not only because they're mystical but in some ways there might be some truths in them. Take an example of the vengeful woman ghost, Junction-ki-Rani, in this story. Her story is true to the children in this book and they think her existence acts as a balance to the injustice they face in reality, as they believe her ghost was looking out for them as she searched for her daughter's murderer. I think the author was trying to portray the hope of the children amid their situation and the unfairness of all. 

2. From roti to gulab-jamun, the author describes a lot of street food in this book. What's your favorite kind of 'street food'?

I love street foods. You can learn a lot about a country's culture through their foods and I think street foods represent a significant part of urban food consumption and the lifestyle of the country citizens. I've too many favourite street foods to list; and I love exploring them when I visit other countries. My most memorable street foods experience was in Taiwan. One of their famous street foods is stinky tofu and you can smell them even from a distance. I tried one eventually but I'd to pinch my nose to eat it (the taste wasn't that bad actually.) And well that'd be my first and last time to eat the stinky tofu. 

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Last year wasn't a good reading year to me. I read only 42 books (full books list here); which is 22 books lesser as compared to 2020. Aside from the pandemic and that life happens, I suppose procrastination also played a part of my slow reading progress. Now that the new year is here and it's always good to make some new goals and new resolutions, I've decided that I'll try to read as many books as I can but without too much pressure (although I need to work on the procrastination issue, hehe). 

As I read many suspense thrillers than other genres, it isn't surprising to see that the titles of that genre take up most of the slots (perhaps I need to work on reading more of the other genres, too). Without further ado, here's my Top Ten Reads of 2021 (not in any order and the titles aren't necessarily published in 2021. They are linked to my reviews for easy reference). 

- The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

- Hairpin Bridge by Taylor Adams 

- He Started It by Samantha Downing 

- Thief of Souls by Brian Klingborg

- A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia 

- Grave's End by William Shaw 

- The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood 

- The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor 

- Death in the Family by Tessa Wegert 

Honorable Mention

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

There you have it. What books are you looking forward to reading this year and do you have any new reading goals or resolutions? 

© 2021 Melody's Reading Corner (, All Rights Reserved. If you are reading this post from other site(s), please take note that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Here's the list of books I read in 2021. My Top Ten Reads of 2021 will be posted the following day and I apologise for the delay. The list is sorted out in alphabetical order according to the authors' last name for easy reference.  

The Turnout by Megan Abbott
Hairpin Bridge by Taylor Adams
The Push by Ashley Audrain 

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea
He Started It by Samantha Downing 

Crush the King by Jennifer Estep

His and Hers by Alice Feeney
Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

The Stranger Behind You by Carol Goodman

What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins 
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins 
Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier 
Over the Falls by Rebecca Hodge

Thief of Souls by Brian Klingborg 
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan 

林投劫 by 笭菁
水鬼 by 笭菁
魔神仔 by 笭菁
(The above three Chinese books are part of a horror series by Taiwanese author, Ling Jing)

The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson 
A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight 
Six Weeks to Live by Catherine McKenzie 
回到月亮许诺的那天 by Misa (Chinese romance)
祸害成夫君 by 莫颜 (Chinese romance)
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Falling by T.J. Newman 

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse 

Shiver by Allie Reynolds 

Survive the Night by Riley Sager 
Grave's End by William Shaw
The Trawlerman by William Shaw 
Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone 
A Fire in the Night by Christopher Swann 

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood 
The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor 

Death in the Family by Tessa Wegert 
A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams 

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Simon & Schuster UK | 1 January 2021 | 304 pgs
Source: Library 

This was the last second book I read in 2021. I'm late in posting my "favourite books of the year list" so I'll probably do this in the next few days, my apologies to my dear book friends. Now onto the book review. 

To begin with, this book was action-packed. A plane with one hundred and forty-three other passengers on board bound for New York. What they and the crew didn't know is that tragedy would strike soon except their pilot, Bill Hoffman, who's received a threat after the plane is in midair that his family is held hostage at their own house. Bill's choice is simple, according to the (Middle Eastern) kidnapper named Sam that all he has to do is to crash his plane or his family will die. Bill not only has to make this tough choice but he's also not allowed to tell anyone including the crew. On top of it, he may have to kill his co-pilot as instructed. However, Bill does has one reliable crew member in his team and she's none other than Jo, a long-time flight attendant who has a nephew working in the FBI. What will be their plan and would they be able to save everyone and not crash the plane in the end?

The story, though not new, was quite an engaging read but unfortunately I found it rather cliché and unbelievable at times. The characters, though interesting, were often stereotyped and are one-dimensional. However, I did like Jo and find some of her actions brave and commendable. Despite my lukewarm reaction to the book I still find it an entertaining read. I think I'd probably enjoy this a bit more if it was put onscreen and it seems like my wishes are answered according to this source.

It's Year 2022 while writing this and I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy New Year and may the new year brings you and your family happiness and good health. 

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