ISBN-13: 9780349004587
Publisher: Virago Press
Publication Date: 28 August 2014
Format: Trade Paperback, 576 pgs
Source: Personal Library

I've only read one book by Sarah Waters - Tipping the Velvet, and loved it. There's something about her writing that feels magical to me, and I couldn't help but feel entranced by her story. I've a few of her other books on my shelves but haven't got around to reading them. Then her latest release, The Paying Guests, hit the shelves and I thought this time round I'd get to it. 

Without revealing too much, all I can say is this story is character-driven as well as plot-driven. The setting is 1920s Britain; WWI had ended and the British are trying to pick up their life after the war. Though still somewhat affected by the aftermath of the war, they too, welcomed the emerging of the new world where it'd bring them great promise and modernity. 

Frances, our protagonist in her mid 20s, lives with her mother. Her two brothers died from the war and her father had passed on thereafter, leaving them with debts. To make ends meet, they decided to take in lodgers, or "paying guests." Her boring and mundane life took on a turn after the young Barbers couple's arrival and things are never the same, again. And that's about all I can tell you, for any more information I'd risk spoiling it.

Once again, I was captivated by Sarah Waters' superb storytelling and her characterisations. She has a knack of writing unforgettable female protagonists, no matter you like them or not. Frances gave me the impression of an open minded and independent female. The Barbers couple seem like any other married couple who have their ups and downs. As for Frances' mother, she is kind and conservative and I liked her well enough.

Although this story is set in post WWI London, there's not too much of the history being covered but is more of a backdrop to the story. Readers would read about the differences of classes during that period but they are not overly elaborated. For these two subjects I felt a bit disappointed because I'd like to read more about them but alas, I suppose the plot is the main focus and another thing is, Ms. Waters is good in describing events with exceptional vividness so that took my mind off of that little disappointment. 

As much as I enjoyed the story, I felt something is lacking but I just couldn't put my finger on it. Ms. Waters' prose is lovely, but I think there are times I felt it drags a little, especially the first part of the story. However, once we are familiarise with the characters' and know where the story is leading, the pace quickens and I couldn't wait to finish it. 

So, did I like the book? Yes, but not well enough like Tipping the Velvet. I can't say I loved the characters, but they do left an impression on me. And finally, I think this is a book fits for a good discussion. 

ISBN-13: 978-1444755572
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: 28 August 2014
Format: Trade Paperback, 528 pgs
Source: Personal Library

I wished I've got the other edition of The Secret Place. I mean, if I didn't specifically browse through the thrillers section, I'd have missed this shiny new book by Tana French. Without any option (this is the only edition on shelf), I grabbed it. And because this is Tana French, I decided to overlook the plain cover; after all I've waited for this book for a long time (I'm sure TF fans out there will agree with me.) Pardon my rant. 

In The Secret Place, we have Detective Stephen Moran as the lead character. Readers who read Tana French's earlier books would remember him. For readers who haven't read them, it's not a problem as Stephen is more of a supporting character then. This book gives us more than a glimpse of him, since he's working alongside with Detective Antoinette Conway. Detective Conway is a new character, but not one to be dismissed easily due to her strong personality. She's outright blunt and doesn't hold her punches. I suppose she has to portray that image as I can imagine how tough it'd be to be the female in a men's field, and it's the elite Dublin Murder Squad, so to speak.

Stephen Moran isn't from the Murder Squad; he's working with the Cold Cases but one day, Holly Mackey passed him a card she found posted on their school notice board (the school named it The Secret Place where students could post their thoughts there anonymously). The words glued on the card read "I knew who killed him". It also shows a picture of Chris Harper - a popular boy from a boys' boarding school not far from St. Kilda's, who was killed on the campus of St. Kilda's a year ago. This case was filed under Cold Cases since the squad couldn't find any clues no matter how much they digged. Moran, on the other end, thinks this might be his big break to making into the Murder Squad.

Moran knew Holly as she was a witness to a case years ago. Her dad is a detective too. St. Kilda's is a prestigious school where the girls of the upperclass families go to. While Conway wasn't impressed with the status, Moran was intrigued by the overall image since he didn't belong and knew he would never belong in the long run anyway.

Who killed Chris? Was it a nun who thought he had compromised one of the girls? Or was it the school groundskeeper who had a drug possession record? Detective Conway thought they would not ruled out the girls, since she knew there are cliques, in particularly two cliques who always seem to be at loggerheads with each other ("razor blades in their hair", in Conway's own term), and who wouldn't want attention from the boys from St. Colm's? However, their headmistress assured them that the girls would do no such thing, given their upperclass status and the school name.

Tana French is a master when it comes to the characterisations and building atmosphere and intensity. Right from the beginning, you could just sense the forebrooding atmosphere. That sense is subtle, yet you know something is there and it makes your mind wonder. The suspense is thick to the point that you have the overwhelming feel to finish the book, yet at the same time you want to savour the suspense which is keeping you entranced. A dilemma, I know.

What I also liked about this book is the exchanges (chemistry?) between Moran and Conway. They may not share the same wavelength and class, yet the more I read about them the more comfortable that feeling I got from them. Yes, I think Ms. French is good in building connection between characters too. She also did a great job in describing the feelings and thoughts of the teenage girls, from the mean girls right to the loyalty and sentimental ones (made me think of my good old school days, yeah).

I hope Tana French's next book will feature Detective Antoinette Conway. She may be tough and appears to be cold but I quite admire the way she works. Although The Secret Place is a good read, it's not my favourite TF book. In the Woods still remains on that favourite spot and hopefully that place would be replaced by her future releases. I'm waiting. 

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee 

I notice post-apocalyptic and dystopia themes seem to be all the rage lately. Honestly speaking, I don't minding reading them. With a good plot and great characterisations, they could linger in your mind for a long time.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner. I have this book for a while but just never got around to reading it. It is one of those reading mood thing, which I'm sure many readers are able to relate. I'm also one of those readers who would prefer to reading the book first than watching the film adaptation, but sometimes it's the timing that overtakes the mood and The Maze Runner is one of those moments.

Thomas wakes up and find himself in an elevator. He has no memory who he is and why he's lying in the elevator. When he steps out of it when it landed, all he could see is a vast land and some boys about his age. They "welcomed" him to the glade; an enclosed environment where they grow their own food and supplies given from below. Every 30 days a new boy will arrive to the glade and Thomas, no doubt is a newbie. They teach him all the knacks of living there, but told him not to enter into the maze under any circumstances.

Thomas gets curious and that feeling intensifies after he saw a few boys entering into the maze when its door opens during the day. The answer he got is they are the runners and they are trying to find a way to escape through it that surrounds their living space. However, it has taken them years as the maze changes; plus there are dangerous creatures looming around it too. Thomas wants to be one of the runners, but the others felt he isn't ready but of course there's always the surprise. 

Then a comatose girl arrives with a strange note, and they are more determined to find ways of escaping when they knew the elevator will no longer comes up to the glade. That also means their supplies would be cut off too. They are on their own, and whatever are in store for them. 

I have to say The Maze Runner has a great concept. I have always been fascinated by books or movies that have a maze or lybrinth setting. The possibilities there are endless. Intrigue or horror? Or better still, both. I remember Stephen King's The Shining and there's a scene of a maze too. That film is a classic and to this day that particular scene of a boy running from his father at the hotel's hedge maze still lingers in my mind. The concept, no doubt, is different but what I'm trying to say is mazes have a mysterious factor that is captivating.

That said, as much as I find The Maze Runner intriguing, it doesn't hook me as I'd wanted to. I think the story and the characterisations are great, but there are times it left me wondering the purposes behind the overall scenarios. I felt the boys' determination and there are a few who are courageous enough, but somehow I felt it is as if they are waiting for something bigger to happen when they have the gists of what's happening around them. Perhaps this is done so intentionally to build up the intensity, but I felt it made the characters weak, and I'm sure some of them have great potential. My favourite character among all? Minho, the leader of the runner. 

Maybe my feelings might be different if I'd read the book first, I don't know, but I was a bit disappointed with the film. However, if you are going for the visual effects, you won't be disappointed.

At this point I'm not really in a hurry to read the book after knowing the gist of this first installment. That said, I understand there are readers who love this trilogy so this is probably just me. I may want to watch the second installment, being the curiosity type and I hope it'd be better.


ISBN-13: 9780062348876
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: 23 September 2014
Format: Paperback, 368 pgs
Source: ARC from the publisher

Jessica Blackwood was five when she first started learning magic from her grandfather. She came from a family of magicians but decided to leave the glamour and her past behind after a performance almost got her killed when she was twenty. It was also the same time she decided to leave her family and be on her own.

At present, she volunteered to teach magic tricks as a form of therapy at a children's hospital since college and continued all the way through her career in the FBI. She was in forensic accounting, not really an adventurous job but she took pride in her work and had managed to crack a few cases through her persistence and observations.

However her careful constructed world was turned upside down when the FBI wanted her expertise when someone called himself 'Warlock' had hacked into their network and left them a code, which led them to a body. Jessica wasn't into homicide, but the FBI thought maybe she could help unravel the mystery, given her name as a magician years ago.

Now the mysterious part is the victim, Chloe McDonald's body is only hours old in the spot where they found it, but the fact is she was already dead for two years. What made it so horrific is Chloe face was filled with horror and her body was still half buried in the ground; it appeared she was trying to crawl her way free of the earth where she was buried. The creepiest part? Her coffin was empty. 

While Jessica managed to make an explanation about what happened is a clever and elaborate combination of illusions, the team is wondering if it's the same killer who murdered the real Chloe, since the other Chloe appeared to have the same wounds at the exact location. 

While they were speculating, another bigger and unexplainable case dropped onto their lap, this time round is an airplane which was claimed to be an original Avenger bomber which was believed to be lost in the Bermuda Triangle in 1945. Would it be the Warlock's work, again? After all, the pilot who was perished in the missing plane was found too. 

As the FBI struggled to piece things together, Jessica feared that more victims would die under the Warlock's hands if they didn't find and stop him in time. But the Warlock seems to be a step ahead of them, and this made Jessica more determined to catch this man who thought himself a god through the "miracles" he conjured.

I really enjoyed reading Angel Killer. Aside it's an action thriller, I liked it that it's also packed with a magic theme and this made my reading experience a different one from the rest as I felt myself like an eager audience, watching those magic unfold in front of my eyes, except that it's on paper instead of in a theatre. It is no wonder the author could write it that way, since Andrew Mayne is a famous magician himself and is the star of A&E's magic reality show Don't Trust Andrew Mayne.

Written from Jessica's perspective, I found the writing style to be appropriate and convincing as Mr. Mayne takes his readers into her magical world and see how her mind works as she tried to "see through" his tricks and lead them to the clues he left behind. I liked Jessica as a character, but what really intrigued me is another character whom I felt is another great mystery to this story. Damian is Jessica's ex-boyfriend and he is charming and appears to be very devoted to her. But she broke up with him after knowing that he had deceived her with his multiple identities. Is he delusional? Or does he has something to hide? Jessica never knew, but she knew he's always there for her whenever she's in danger. Damian even left a few clues to her regarding the Warlock's works, and this made him a suspect.

Like Jessica, I don't know if I trust Damian but yet an instinct told me that he might not be a bad guy, even though he could be dangerous. I hope my instinct is correct. Although the identity of the Warlock is revealed, the ending gave the readers the hope of a sequel. I definitely want to read more of Jessica, and Damian as well.