Berkley | 1 December 2020 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

Professor Naya Turner's life has always been simple and routine. She's devoted to her work but the university is undergoing a restructuring so that means their flailing department might land on a chopping block anytime. To cheer her up, Naya's bestie suggested she shed her usual self and do something fun for an evening in town, such as making a to-do list and challenge herself to various tasks which are out of her norms. Starting off with striking a conversation with a stranger at the bar. Naya isn't totally against the idea, after all her bestie is coming along and she might not be doing anything from the list at all. But a family emergency came up and Naya is left alone at the bar. 

But Naya's loneliness is only temporary after she met Jake who's also nursing his drink alone. Jake is visiting for a business meeting as well as his friend's wedding party. A boisterous bachelorette party nearby prompts him to strike a conversation with Naya and both of them hit it off quickly. Naya thinks Jake is funny and friendly and soon she finds herself sharing her to-do list with him. Jake tells her that he could check off the items on her list, starting with buying her a drink and ending with a no-strings-attached hookup. But their so-called date doesn't seem to end there that night, as Jake wants to get to know Naya more and vice versa. 

And as fate would have it, Jake happened to be the management consultant hired by the University; and by the time Naya finds out it's a little late to retrace her steps (and her heart). Aside from the complications of their relationship, Naya also has to face the wrath of her ex-partner after learning that he'll be working in the same university as her. Losing her job and/or love is one thing, but having to deal with his ex-partner's threats and abusive behaviours is another thing. 

I haven't read a romance for a while so this was a refreshing read to me. I loved the interactions between Jake and Naya and I thought Jake was a catch - he's funny, considerate and understanding. Naya, on the other hand, appeared to be strong on the surface but deep within she was simply a woman who's looking for someone who'd understand her and respect her. Although this is a romance, it also delves into some serious subjects like domestic abuse and gaslighting and these scenes are particularly hard to read. But Naya was a changed person by then so she wouldn't submit to her ex's behaviours. I enjoyed this book (minus the abusive parts) and all the more for the author's writing. I'll definitely keep a look out for her other books. 

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HarperCollins | 2 February 2023 | 336 pgs
Source: Library 

Isabelle Drake's world has turned upside down ever since her young son, Mason, disappeared from his bedroom a year ago. With no clue and evidence, the police have stopped looking and even her husband, Ben, wants her to move on and keep herself together. Isabelle has a tendency of sleepwalking during her childhood days and while the issue seems to have stopped as she gets older, she couldn't help but to think if she's responsible for Mason's disappearance. After all, she has a traumatic past after the passing of her younger sister and she's not sure if she has fully healed from that unfortunate incident.

Despite everything, she has not given up on searching for Mason so she decided to take things into her own hands by holding talks and eventually allowing herself to be interviewed by a true crime podcaster named Waylon Spencer even though she isn't keen of this idea in the beginning. But Waylon had solved a cold case before and Isabelle is interested to see how he could assist her if they decided to work together. However, Waylon seems to have motives of his own and as Isabelle continues to be troubled by her insomnia in connection to her past, she isn't sure what and who to trust anymore, including herself. 

I enjoyed the twisty ending, but the journey to the end was long and a slow one. Don't get me wrong, I love a slowburn thriller, but there wasn't much to hold my attention in the first three quarters of the book and truth be told, I wasn't enamoured by Isabelle’s constant whining and her reckless behaviours (e.g. why did she invite Waylon to stay with her? He may be her working partner, but she's all alone at home and he was still an outsider after all.) The writing was great but too wordy and poetic for a suspense thriller (perhaps it's only me). That said, many Goodread readers loved this book so please do not let my opinions deter you from reading it.  
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St. Martin's Press | 3 January 2023 | 288 pgs 
Source: Library 

"Houses remember." With this sentence it begins the story in Rachel Hawkins' latest release set in Orvieto, Italy. 

Emily and Chess are good friends since young but their friendship kind of fizzled out as the years go by. Both of them are writers; the former writes cozy mysteries and the latter self-help books. When Chess suggested a trip to Italy one day, Emily knew this would be a chance to reconnect with her and that the trip would reignite her creativity in writing the next installment of her bestselling series. 

Prior to the trip, Chess has booked themselves into Villa Aestas. Once known as Villa Rosato, the high-end holiday house is also famous by the stay of a notorious rock star and his entourage way back in 1974. Noel Gordon was on the verge of losing his creativity spark, so he planned on a Summer trip at Villa Rosato and invited up-and-coming musician Pierce Sheldon, his girlfriend, Mari, as well as her stepsister, Lara. Alongside was Johnnie, who was Noel's friend-cum-drug dealer. It was supposedly to be a trip of fun and relaxation, but the group’s dynamics took an ugly turn and ended one being dead. 

Despite what happened at Villa Aestas, Emily and Chess are intrigued by the past and Emily even think that there might be more to the story and she's keen to find out more. After all, what could motivate her creativity more than this? But as Emily digs further, the tension between her and Chess also rises due to some unforeseen circumstances and a secret one harbours from the other. Will history repeat itself in Villa Rosato? 

I enjoyed this story a lot. I loved the alternative storyline between the present and the past. Villa Rosato was atmospheric on its own but regrettably there wasn't much coverage of this rented holiday house but there was sure a lot of tension among Noel's group of friends. It was a treat reading how the story in 1974 unfold; and how intriguing to learn more about the dynamics between Emily and Chess in the present at the same time. I've read comments by some readers that they preferred more of the present story, but in my opinion both are good and equal in terms of intrigue and one wouldn't stand out and/or proceed without the other. If you ask me, I was most intrigued by Mari as a character; not only was she a writer like Emily and Chess but her inner thoughts as well. I think the ending is a love-it or hate-it kind of closure and personally I found it quite fitting to the overall tone of the story. 
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Flatiron Books | 28 February 2023 | 336 pgs
Source: Library 

Naomi, Cassidy and Olivia are best friends since their childhood days. During those times they spent a lot of their moments roaming the woods and playing the Goddess Game - their own game made up of three different goddesses who they believe to have their own strengths and magic. Some might say they're simply silly girls game, but the three girls think their imaginative goddesses play an important part in their lives and they gave them courage and confidence. Sadly, their happiness came to a halt after Naomi was attacked and she lived to identity the perpetrator who stabbed her seventeen times. Alan Michael Stahl was eventually put in prison after the girls' testimony and for nearly two decades they've somehow left that horrifying past behind until Alan's death (of cancer) in prison brought back their unpleasant memories. 

Naomi, now a wedding photographer who struggles to make ends meet, reunites with her two friends in Chester after hearing Olivia's remark about coming clean from a secret they've since hidden those two decades ago. To complicate matters, Naomi is approached by a guy named Ethan who does podcast and he's interested in interviewing her, especially he has some questions surrounding Alan's trial and her testimony. These circumstances propel the story forward as the reader learn more about the past through flashbacks and the present through Naomi's unreliable narrative as she come to realise that her memory of that fateful day might be tainted. 

To begin with, I enjoyed the author's writing. The story was engaging and her characters were well described and well developed. However I've to say while there are some parts which are good, there are times I wished some chapters read quickly instead of fillers. Naomi's narrative was well done but I didn't like some of the decisions she made, e.g. how silly to explore the crime scene alone. As far as the suspense goes, there are some clichés and predictability but there was the final twist which I didn't see coming, which was a good thing. This book is Kate Alice Marshall's debut adult thriller but she's written novels for YA and middle grade. I can't wait to read what she'll write next. 
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Macmillan | 18 August 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

Inspired by Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, this latest release by Alice Feeney was an engaging tale of a dysfunctional family and how their doom was fixed when a family gathering forced them to unravel their secret past. 

This was a great psychological thriller which I'd suggest diving in totally blind so I tried my best to keep this minimal. Daisy Darker, our protagonist, was an intriguing character from the start. She was born with a broken heart; and her relationship and the dynamics with her family was the core of this story. The isolation at Daisy's grandmother's estate on a private island in Cornwall provides a claustrophobic feel to the family's tension, further trapping them and forcing them to probe into each member's inner dark thoughts and secrets after someone was found dead overnight. 

On top of that, the characterisations and the characters developments are great, too. The author has done a great job in describing their personality but yet not revealing too much at the same time. However I've read that there are some mixed reviews about this book and while I could see their point, I thought the ending was twisty and clever. In fact, this is my favourite amongst all of Alice Feeney's books so that tells how much I enjoyed this book. Have you read this? I'll be curious of your thoughts if you did. 
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Feiwel & Friends | 23 August 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Purchased 

[May contain spoilers of the first book, A Magic Steeped in Poison

There are times that you loved the first book of a series so much so that you harbour lots of hope, anticipation and expectations for the next installment. That's how I felt with this duology - I loved the first book but this, not so much. 

This book picks up where the first book left off with the return of the Banished Prince to take over the throne of Dàxi through the help of Chancellor Zhou's dark plots and conspiracies, leading to the people living in fear as many are poisoned and the court officials and disciples from the Wulin are being controlled by dark magic. 

Although Ning is glad to be able to revive her sister, Shu, out of her deathbed after the tea poisoning, circumstances didn't get any better as they find themselves on the run together with the princess and her bodyguard. A boy Ning once fancied and trust leads to more complexity in their ambiguous relationship, for Kang is the son of the Banished Prince and while there's a sense of righteousness in his blood, the fact that their kinship remains. 

While the first book is filled with the intrigue of the tea magic and the intensity of the competition among the Shénnóng-shi, this book lacks the two i's (intrigue and intensity) and on top of it the first half of the story moved slowly with nothing much happened except more court politics. The interactions among the characters were minimal too and while the alternative narratives between Ning and Kang gave the reader a glimpse of their inner mind, they weren't enough to make the story more engaging. The pace only picked up towards the last third of the story but then it came a bit too late and a bit too fast for wrapping up the whole story. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this duology. I was entranced by the fantastical world of the tea magic as well as the role and the skills of the shénnóng-shi. I'd definitely want to read more of Judy I. Lin's books in future. Last but not least, I want to thank Lark for reading this book with me. Go visit her blog here and see what she thought about this book. 
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Atria/Emily Bestler Books | 21 February 2023 | 320 pgs
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss 

What'd you do if you're an aspiring writer who receives an opportunity to attend an exclusive, month-long writing retreat at the estate of your favourite author; never mind that someone has pulled the string for you and that your frenemy is attending the retreat, too? 

Alex, our protagonist, is elated when she heard that she'd be attending a writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo, even with the knowledge that Wren, her former best friend turns rival is also attending. There's some history between them and the reader would find out the reason as the story progresses. But, there's more dynamics behind their relationship once they've stepped into Roza’s isolated mansion. There are other three attendees as well and Roza announces that they'd have to complete an entire novel from scratch after their stay and the winner of the best novel will receive a seven-figure publishing deal. 

The task seems simple enough, but as Alex gets to know more about the other three attendees (and not to mention facing Wren) including Roza’s erratic behaviour, she begins to wonder why they're selected in the first place. But Alex is adamant to finish the novel despite having writer's block for a while; and through the one-to-one writing séances with Roza she begins to share about her past with Wren and in return, Roza offers some advice about writing and in particularly the history of the Blackbriar estate where they're currently staying. 

Alex thinks that as long as she could finish her novel and make it to the top, her life will get better once she leaves the Blackbriar estate. But the writing itself is not the only challenge, Alex soon finds out that the other attendees harbour some secrets of their own and aside from Wren's cruel mind games, Roza’s demands have become more unconventional and worse, unethical. As bad things start to happen within the isolated haunted estate, Alex has to find a way to escape from the place alive. 

There're several things I liked and disliked about this debut book. To begin with, I loved the author's writing style and the claustrophobic feel of the setting. The premise was refreshing and the characters were flesh-out and intriguing in their own ways, especially the erratic author Roza Vallo. The first half of the book was good and engaging, but the story started to go downhill when Roza started to show her erratic side and the unexpected genre/occurrences that were mixed in this thriller which had me thinking that the connection was getting further away and lost from the plot, thus the outcome didn't work for me. That said, it was still a good read for a debut novel and I look forward to the author's future releases as I enjoyed her writing style. 
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Angry Robot | 8 November 2022 | 400 pgs
Source: Library 

This book has "movie adaptation" written all over it. A folk horror set in a remote snowbound Peak District, well could you sense the thrills and the intensity already? 

The story begins with our heroine, Constable Ellie Cheetham, finds a body and initial speculation is that he drank too much and froze to death, considering his reputation as a good-for-nothing and an alcoholic. However, there's something strange about the victim, Tony Harper's gesture. He was found clutching a knife and appeared to be hiding from someone. And what most stranger is the odd mark that was drawn on a stone beside him. Ellie couldn't explain this strange occurrences, but there's another bigger problem for her ahead as she has to deliver the bad news to the Harpers family and they're bent on or engaged in lawless violence. 

What follows next are more disappearances and unexplainable causes after more bodies are found, and Ellie and the few of the residents have to face the horror that they might be dealing with something more sinister and more terrifying than the menace of the Harpers family.

Isolation and fear are the core elements in this atmospheric folk horror tale. Added to the draw is our fearless heroine, Constable Ellie Cheetham, who carried an emotional baggage from her broken family yet one who stands strong for the villagers when destruction struck. And speaking of characterisation, the Harpers family played an important role in this story regardless of their notorious deeds and the author described each of these family members' characteristics incisively and vividly. However, there're something more that I wished the author had worked on it to make this book a better read, such as the history and more information about the ancient evil and cutting down a few chapters in between which seemed to drag a bit. Nevertheless, it was a compelling read and fans of classic horror will probably enjoy this. 
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Simon & Schuster UK | 29 September 2022 | 400 pgs
Source: Library 

This book features one of the most unusual families I've ever read and if you've watched this movie, Ready or Not, they've similar vibes though this is more of a whodunit kind of story. 

Harriet Reed is basking in her success after selling her first thriller book and while she is writing and worrying over her second book's deadline, her mind nowadays is occupied by her engagement to Edward Holbeck. Edward is a perfect man in many women's eyes - he's young, good-looking and he's the heir to a successful and powerful family who has their name and reputation well-built over decades. 

When Harriet first receives an invitation from Edward's sister for a drink, she's nervous yet she's excited too. She could tell the Holbeck family exudes power and authority after Mathilda's assistant changed her meeting appointment with her publisher so that she could attend the meet up with Mathilda. Granted, the publisher is a part of the Holbeck's business conglomerate and Harriet only finds out much later. It's not long that Harriet is invited for dinner with the family and she finds herself attracted by Edward’s father's charisma yet there's an edge behind his cool demeanour which she couldn't put her finger on. 

But Harriet is quick to impress Robert Holbeck so when he hands her a cassette tape of a book he's been working on, she couldn't say no. And the more Harriet listen to it, the more Robert's narrative read like a murder confession than a fiction. And as if this isn't enough, the Holbecks has several (weird) traditional family games which they'd play during occasions which scare her. Harriet isn't sure if all these are simply part of their plan to test her loyalty; if not would she be able to escape from the Holbecks' mind games? 

As much as the story goes, I think it was a bit far-fetched yet it was very entertaining and unputdownable. The characters drove you crazy yet you couldn't shift your attention away. I'd mixed feelings towards Harriet though; one moment I felt sorry for her and then frustrated and annoyed at her actions next. Robert's narrative was intriguing and I always love reading a frame story. I'd have given this book a 4-star but alas that ending (more of the motive) felt a bit ridiculous in my opinion but suffice it to say there wasn't any boring moments so overall it was an engrossing read. 
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Feiwel & Friends | 29 March 2022 | 384 pgs
Source: Purchased 

A Magic Steeped in Poison is Judy I. Lin's debut and the first in a duology featuring a fantastical world of shennong-shi (Master of Shennong magic) and the art of tea brewing and magic set in the imperial city of Dàxī. 

Ning has been living in guilt since the death of her mother and her younger sister seriously sick with poison. It isn't her fault actually; who'd have known that the tea bricks are laced with poison? Nonetheless Ning blames herself for her negligence for not detecting it earlier. To save her sister, Shu, from following their mother's fate, Ning leaves her hometown in Su to the imperial city of Dàxī for a competition that would allow her to receive a favor from the princess should she be the winner. 

On her way to the palace, she meets a boy who intrigue and capture her attention at the same time. Little does she know that she'd soon cross path with him again and learn his true identity once she's in the palace. Though winning the competition is Ning's goal, she soon finds herself embroiled in the politics and conspiracies within the palace and all the more with the rise of a revolt led by the General of Kăiláng, who's being exiled and better known as the Banished Prince. Is there a hope for saving her sister now that the kingdom is threatened by the rebellion? 

Ah. I loved this fantasy a lot. I'm a big tea drinker so when I read the blurb and learned that teas play a major part in this story, I knew I've to read it. And I enjoyed the story, too. Ning was a likeable character who's courageous and determined and I loved her fighting spirit and her devotion towards her sister. The tea brewing and the tea concoctions (sounds a little like Traditional Chinese Medicine), together with the various magic cast by the shennong-shi are fun to read, though some of the tasks required for the competition made it so hard to read. But, there's also some heartwarming moments as well, e.g. the friendship between Ning and Lian (fellow participant), and the palace kitchen staff's loyalty and helpfulness when Ning was in danger. 

All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely and I'm glad my book buddy, Lark, shared this reading journey with me (visit Lark's blog for her review). 

Finally, here's my answers to Lark's questions:

1. What are your favorite tea ingredients, and if they had magical properties, what would they be?
One of my favorite tea ingredients would be chrysanthemum flowers and goji berries (with a few rock sugar). They make a refreshing drink and I read that this concoction is a powerful boost to improve our eyes' health and cool our body heat. If they had magical properties, I wish they could eliminate all the cancerous cells in our bodies. 

2. What characters do you hope to see more of in the next book? And which character surprised you most in this book? 
I've a few characters in mind, but the one who stands out amongst the rest is the General of Kăiláng. Considering his exile and the uproar of the rebellion towards the end, there's so little information about him and his appearance was minimal (perhaps in the next book, A Venom Dark and Sweet?) 

As for the character who surprised me most, she's none other than the princess, Ying-Zhen. She gave me the impression that she's a person who guard her feelings well so it's hard to decipher what kind of a person she is. I suppose it's necessary considering her role as a princess and she couldn't wear her heart on her sleeve. 
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Quercus | 29 September 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

This is the third installment of Elly Griffiths' Harbinder Kaur series and I've to admit I'm addicted to this series since book one. While each book can be read as a standalone, I'd recommend reading them in order for the characters developments. 

The story begins with Harbinder now serving in the Met as a DI in the Homicide and Serious Crimes Unit and her first case involved a prominent MP who is found dead during a school reunion party at Manor Park School. At first glance, Garfield Rice's death seems likely to link with drug overdose with the syringes found at the crime scene but forensic later claims that this isn't the case. 

To complicate matters, Harbinder's subordinate, DS Cassie Fitzgerald, is present at the same reunion party. She and Garfield were schoolmates alongside with a few others who are known as "The group" back during their school days twenty one years ago. While this group of seven members differ in characteristics, status and moral values, they've one secret which they've shared within themselves - the murder of a schoolmate named David Moore and they're all complicit in the crime, though it is also stated early on in the story that Cassie was directly involved. As the story progresses, Harbinder couldn't shun the feelings that these two cases might be related despite the years apart. Is Garfield's death simply a political motive given his upcoming campaign and some enemies he'd met along the way? Or is it Cassie or one of "The group" who wouldn't mind killing again for some reason? 

The story was told in three narratives with present and past timeline: Harbinder, Cassie and Anna (one of the group members) and each of their voices add intrigue and depth to the story. Harbinder has become one of my favourite female detectives and I loved her calm, competence and meticulous mind in her investigations. She's family oriented (she's single but she's close with her parents) and I enjoyed reading her relationship with her two flatmates and her two other invaluable subordinates, DS Kim Manning and DS Jake Barker (both whom I hope we'll see more of in this series). Also, the London setting and Bleeding Heart Yard (a courtyard in Holborn. Read more here) add intrigue and atmosphere to the suspense and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Overall a good read if you love police procedural and a strong female character. 

Harbinder Kaur Books in order

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Michael Joseph | 29 September 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

This is a compilation of a passion project (and not to mention her debut short story collection) C. J. Tudor had put on the back burner, but decided that instead of scrapping a book which she didn't feel good enough due to the difficult times she'd been through (the pandemic and her father's passing), she thought that this shorts collection seemed like the perfect opportunity instead of skipping a publication year (in 2022) and letting her readers and her publishers down. 

I rarely read short stories, but I couldn't turn this book down because it's Tudor's and this is one of my favourite genres. Without further ado, here's my brief write-up of the eleven tales and my favourites highlighted in red. 

End of the Liner - A scary story about a virus obliterated the world and for decades people are living their life on giant cruise ships in the middle of the ocean. There're rules within the cruise and while the passengers are more or less satisfied with their confined life, something seems to be off. 

The Block - A group of friends decided to explore an abandoned building and stumbled upon some scary creatures. 

Runaway Blues - This is a story about twisted love and revenge. The ending is not what you'll think and expect. 

The Completion - A ruthless property agent who'd do anything to get the deals sealed, until he meets his next client - a strange old man living in Bragshaw Manor. 

The Lion at the Gate - A graffiti that comes alive? Perhaps you'll have to think twice before touching that paintings in this short. 

Gloria - Gloria first appeared in Tudor's second novel, The Taking of Annie Thorne. The author had a huge soft spot for this character and always felt that there was a possibility that she might one day return. So here it is - a chanced encounter between a hardened mercenary and a girl with a strange gift (you wouldn't guess this one.)

I'm Not Ted - This story was super short, and a bit strange. A person who claimed he wasn't Ted found himself in a luxurious building with everything nice equipped. A mistaken identity? Probably not. Just a test of your temptations resistance. 

Final Course - In an apocalypse world of darkness, a father and daughter travel along eerie country lanes after an invitation for a reunion gathering at an isolated manor. The manor is exceptional, except that the good old schoolmates have somewhat changed. And the host has a motive - a plan to engage his invitees to commercialize the apocalypse, but it comes with a price. 

The Copy Shop - What if you could replace anything old or broken with a copy better than the original? An original tale about reproductions with a bit of Stephen King vibes. 

Dust - A woman went to Gran Canaria to escape from her past. The stay at Villa de las Almas Perdidas was supposed to be a great escapism, but then there's Calima wind and the place was often coated with layers of fine sand. But this wasn't the worst, she'd have to remember what she'd done in the past or she'd never leave. 

Butterfly Island - A frightening story about killer butterflies and a murderous psychopath roaming the island. There's no closure to the ending, and the author stated that this is one of her favourite short stories that she might expand it into a novella one day (Please do! I want to know what happened in the end!)

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Pushkin Press | 2 September 2021 | 304 pgs
Source: Library 
Translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie

The blurb read like a psychological thriller but it was actually more like a noir fiction centering on domestic abuse and the interactions between the perpetrator and the victim. 

Sandrine has a low self-esteem and often views herself as a fat and ugly woman. Constrained by the harsh society's standard and her self loathing views (much often contributed by her unhappy childhood), she lives her life miserably alone until she meets Langlois; a man whose wife has mysteriously gone missing and is left with their young son, Mathias. For a while, Sandrine is happy living with them as Langlois seems to be good and attentive to her. But, Sandrine does wonder about his missing wife at times and how she's the "Second Woman" given her plight. It's not long when Langlois becomes a selfish and manipulative man who starts controlling Sandrine, leading her to become submissive and always wary of his moods and behaviours. The story then starts to shift when Langlois's missing wife returns. 

I've to admit this story was hard to read in so many ways. First off, the extensive self-loathing thoughts of Sandrine and the abusive relationship between her and Langlois. Then, there's the omission of quotation marks (in which I'm not a fan of) and also the story is more "telling" than "showing" but I understand the latter as a form of writing style given the first person narrative. In spite of the darkness of the story, little Mathias was the saviour to me as his appearance and his child innocence lit some light during my reading journey. This is not a book for everyone yet it's an important subject which we cannot ignore or turn away from. 
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Harper | 15 February 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

Two female employees are working late in their offices of fashion conglomerate Claudine de Martineau International (CDMI) on a Sunday night. Lucy Barton-Jones is the HR director and Shay Lambert is the newly hired legal associate whose aim is to work hard for her financial woes. On that fateful night both of them meet at their thirtieth floor elevator lobby on their way home, each preoccupied by her own thoughts. But when the elevator open its door on the ground floor, one woman is found dead. What happened inside the elevator and is it murder or suicide?

While the book synopsis sounds like a locked-room mystery, it's actually read more like a legal thriller with an unreliable character. The author has nicely weaved an intriguing suspense with multiple intricate relationship and issues within CDMI. As most of the story progression somewhat revolves around Shay's profession and her findings, so there's a lot of legal jargon which would either bore or enlighten the reader. I'd no issue with this as my main focus was more onto the mystery and the lead character. Given her dire circumstances and labelled as a suspect, surely there must be something more than meets the eye. 

The first half of the story was fast paced and compelling as it depicts the action and covers some of Shay's past; the second half was bogged down by several aspects surrounding CDMI's operation mode and the like but the pace was quickly picked up once again towards the relevation. While it was a slowburn thriller, one of the strengths is the authenticity in the legalese since the author is a former lawyer. Overall it was an intriguing read and I'd recommend this if you're a fan of legal thrillers. 
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Counterpoint | 9 August 2022 | 240 pgs
Source: Library 
Translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda

This is a collection of five short stories about five different women who had walked through the path of grief, heartache and harrowing experiences but all had come out from their journey a different person and onto their ways to recovery.

The first story "House of Ghosts" was a melancholy story about Secchan and Iwakura in which their parents own a restaurant and a pastries shop respectively. Secchan has an interest in carrying on her family's business but Iwakura is the opposite. A chance visit to Iwakura's house leads Secchan to see him in a new light and has evoked much feelings in her especially after she's witnessed the ghosts of an elderly couple who used to live there. This isn't a horror story but one which will lead you into thinking about the simplicity of life and the warmth surrounding the relationship between people. This was one of my favourite stories in this collection. 

The other three stories, "Mama!", "Not Warm at All" and "Tomo-chan’s Happiness" explore the change of each characters after they've encountered some life-altering events which leave emotional scars on the characters but managed to walk out of their nightmares through the help of another person and/or a situation that change their mindset. 

"Dead-End Memories" was another favourite of mine and one which left a deep impression on me. It was a well written story about how Mimi managed to walk out from her heartache after witnessing her fiancé cheated on her. Her acquaintance with Nishiyama and their interactions were the highlight of the story and Nishiyama's free-spirited ways and advice play an important part in Mimi's overall perception of happiness. That ending brought a lump to my throat. 

Although these stories may seem simple and not that intriguing to an extent, the beauty lies in the author's writing and the way she could weave an ordinary day-to-day life stories into something thought-provoking and moving. Happiness, the other theme in this collection, may seem unattainable to some but it's always been there if we decide to pause and reflect on the tiny moments which make us happy. 
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Berkley | 16 August 2022 | 352 pgs
Source: Library 

I chose this book to kick off the new year. After all, nothing could go wrong with a romance and that title sounds cool, isn't it? 

Our heroine, Phoebe Walsh, is a PhD candidate studying and analysing true crimes and the writers who write them as part of her dissertation. She's so obsessed with the genre so much so that she could imagine some homicide cases to a mysterious or a bad situation. She's imaginative and a little paranoid like that. 

With her father's passing and to clean out his house before reselling, Phoebe returns to her childhood home in Florida where she reacquaint with her younger brother whom she hasn't contacted in a while. Perhaps her late night arrival isn't a good idea given her over imaginative mind as she couldn't help but to think of all the bad scenarios when a guy approaches her and offers to help her move her desk (yes, she attached her desk onto her car's roof). Turns out he's her neighbour, Sam, but that didn't help in her lowering her guard around him. 

As cliché as this goes, Phoebe begins to see him in a new light as the time passes and her relationship with her younger brother deepens as they begin to share their thoughts and ideas for his proposal to his girlfriend. For a romcom, it was a fun read but I've to admit I'd a different expectation prior diving into this book as I thought Sam would be featured as a mysterious "dangerous" man and Phoebe would unveil his "mask" through several misunderstanding and "bad" encounters before she finds his true identity, ha. Phoebe wasn't a character whom you'd warm up to easily given her characteristics but once she'd let her guard down, she could be as good-natured like her younger brother, Connor. Overall it was an entertaining read and I quite enjoyed a few occasional true crime references throughout the book. 
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First of all, Happy New Year to you! 2022 has been an average year to me in all aspects; and all the more reading-wise since I'd barely hit the 50 mark in numbers. Nevertheless, reading and finding new-to-me authors are always a joy and as usual, I look forward to reading more books and sharing my thoughts of them with you in 2023. 

Since I hadn't been reading too many books in 2022, I thought I'd do something different this time around and instead of posting my Top 10 Reads, I'll list out the best of my best list and the ones which have left a deep impression on me (not in any order).

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara 
This book evoked so much emotions in me. Aside from the Indian setting, I've learned a lot about their living lifestyle (residents living in the slums) and the social status difference between the rich and the poor, and how this division will colour the lens of justice and other things as well. A sad but yet a thought-provoking read. 

Counterfeit by Kristin Chen 
This was a fun read; all the more if you're a (luxurious) handbag lover. Aside from the dynamics between the two main characters, there's also a message behind this story involving counterfeit handbags and illegal labour. I loved the light and darkly comic prose though I wished the dialogues have quotation marks! 

Bad Kids by Zijin Chen 
My best exploration of new-to-me author. I loved this book so much that I began my search of his other works (sadly, only found another titled The Untouched Crime since they're both translated works). At its core, this book highlights the human nature and how circumstances could force one to do something unthinkable. Recommended! 

The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan 
A compelling read and the balance between the suspense and the characters developments are good. This was one great suspense thriller that you need to dive into it without reading too much information about it. 

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon 
Jennifer is a great author in all aspects. Love her atmospheric settings and all the more her cast of intriguing characters. Her stories always give an element of surprise, and this book was no exception. I was drawn into this book not only for the suspense but also the author's writing and how she executed it like a fine art.

Happy 2023! Happy reading! 

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Here is the list of books I read in 2022. The list is sorted out in alphabetical order according to the authors' last name for easy reference.  

A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong 

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian 

The Heights by Louise Candlish 
Counterfeit by Kristin Chen
Bad Kids by Zijin Chen 
反转 by 凑佳苗

First Born by Will Dean

Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett 
The Night Shift by Alex Finlay 
Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay 
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

The Disinvited Guest by Carol Goodman 

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins 
Verity by Colleen Hoover 

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson
The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell 

The Dare by Lesley Kara 

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim 
The Dragon's Promise by Elizabeth Lim 

Please Join Us by Catherine McKenzie 
The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon 
The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan
The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan 


The Retreat by Sarah Pearse 
Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough 
The Power of Regret by Daniel H. Pink
The Maid by Nita Prose 

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager 
Nine Lives by Peter Swanson 
水之焰 by 松本清张 

请你拥抱我的恶梦 by 兔子说

天亮之后相爱 by 烟波

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