Where Beauty is Opulence and Death: a Review of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

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Genre:
Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: February 6th, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 434

Series: The Belles #1

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Blurb:

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

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“May you always find beauty….”

Just like everyone else, I was stoked when The Belles came out. A brown girl on the cover, looking gorgeous and slayin’ it, no doubt is bound to be an epic fantasy read no?

Well, I have my reasons on why I didn’t exactly enjoy The Belles as much as everyone else did.

First off, the plot was excruciatingly slow. Is there some new trend in YA Fantasy where the plot takes 200 pages to build? Honestly, I haven’t got a clue how did I survive 200 pages where nothing happens and Camille, our protagonist wanders from client to client doing beauty work.

But despite a very slow start, I must admit the world building and writing in The Belles was very good. We’re introduced to a vibrant world of colors and jewels and extravagant customs that make the Orleansians such unique human beings. Being born gray and colourless, people of Orleans need to pay to get beauty work done on them in order to stay beautiful. Now, this is the most disturbing part of the book in my opinion. Constantly having to get beauty work done on you and trying to keep up with the latest trend….where have we heard that before? The Belles questions very well how media has played with the beauty image card for too long, leading to people not satisfied with their looks. This definitely made The Belles such an interesting read to begin with.

Asides from the world building and satisfactory writing, I don’t see what the hype surrounding The Belles is about. The protagonist is one of the least memorable aspects of this book, having so little to do with the scenes and not actually doing much asides from trying to figure out who she should please in the palace. It got a bit irritating when she did that one thing to someone, as if she’s weak when she was portrayed to be brave and a bit reckless from the beginning.

We were introduced to so many characters who played a crucial part in the ending of The Belles. Granted, these characters had very questionable traits in the sense of not being solid enough to give off memorable impressions. For example, I would have loved to know more of Belle history and of Camille’s other 5 sisters, but unfortunately the story revolved entirely on her adapting as the favourite Belle at the palace. Even her love interest fell bland for me, with no substance leaving me thinking “Good God, what does she see in him?”. But, if you’ll be reading The Belles for one reason, let that reason be for the princess. Her cruelty and savage personality is so delicious, she was the only thing I was most interested to read about in the end.

Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with The Belles but can see the appeal and why people are obsessed with the world CLAYTON has built in Orleans. I still think this is worth a try. Let me know if you’ve read it! Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 3.46.50 PM

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

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Across The Sea and Further: a Review of Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav

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Genre:
Poetry
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 224

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Blurb:

Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav picks up from her previous international bestselling books including Love & Misadventure, Lullabies, and The Universe of Us, and sets sail for a grand new adventure.

This completely original collection of poetry and prose will not only delight her avid fans but is sure to capture the imagination of a whole new audience. With the turn of every page, Sea of Strangers invites you to go beyond love and loss to explore themes of self-discovery and empowerment as you navigate your way around the human heart.

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“I don’t think you need to be in love to write. But you had to have been once”

I’ve always found poetry collections so hard to review. Not because they failed in making me feel something, but rather their ability to make me connect with the words will have me at a loss in writing a proper review.

Sea of Strangers was such a pleasure to read. The last poetry collection by Lang Leav I read was Lullabies, which was too depressing that I chose not to read The Universe of Us and Memories. But I’m glad I got the chance to try  her newest collection of poetry. Sea of Strangers has the perfect mix of empowerment, first feelings of love, and the inevitable conundrum of having your heart broken leaving you empty. But Sea of Strangers isn’t as heavy as I thought it would be.

Perfect for a quick read over the weekend, it’ll bring you to sweet memories of true love and what it means to love yourself and all of your being.

I found it was such a nice change from the previous materials by Lang Leav that I’ve tried. Sea of Strangers takes us on a journey to appreciate words more than ever. I’ve dog-eared so many pages and even wrote annotations at the sides for poems that reminded me of my past feelings.

“I wondered who they were and what destiny had in store for them. Will they remain strangers or become friends – perhaps even lovers?”

Overall, a great poetry collection to have on your shelf. I absolutely adored it and highly recommend Sea of Strangers!

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Thank you Times Reads for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review!

A Dark Mysterious Fairy Tale Unravels in the City: a Review of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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Genre:
Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: February 8th, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 359

Series: The Hazel Wood #1

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Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began

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“Look until the leaves turn red, sew the worlds up with thread. If your journey’s left undone, fear the rising of the sun.” 

Well where do I begin. I read the raved reviews on Goodreads and the high ratings given. But within 200 pages in, I still couldn’t get into The Hazel Wood. And here are some of my reasons why.

The main protagonist of The Hazel Wood is Alice who lives on the run with her mother, Ella. She knows very little of her recluse author-grandmother, Althea other than the fact she wrote Tales of the Hinterland, a fairy tale book with dark, twisted tales inside. Little do we know, Hinterland proves to be very real and Alice gets sucked into its weird parallel world in order to save Ella, who went missing.

The entire plot fell very flat to me. All 357 pages of it felt excruciatingly painful to finish because it seems MELISSA ALBERT randomly puts Alice in various scenarios with very little finishing as an excuse for a plot. The writing and cast of characters were not as great as I expected a 4-starred-on-Goodreads book to be. Every chapter felt like an awkward transition for Alice, who throughout the entire book, floated around not actually doing anything. And it frustrates me because at a point in the book, Alice claimed to be smart and brave for she is Althea’s granddaughter. But her actions were far from brave or bold as there was always someone to save her ass from a messy situation. It became clear towards the end of The Hazel Wood that Alice can’t seem to function well on her own. Sparse scenes where she supposedly ‘thinks on her feet’ were too weak to make an impact in The Hazel Wood.

As if it wasn’t bad enough, The Hazel Wood just had to have the most annoying protagonist ever. I’m sorry, but Alice did not appeal to me in any way. Sure she came off as this angry, reckless teenager in the beginning, but she truly was without her own rational sense of mind. Alice was whiny, temperamental, and treated her friends who tried to help her terribly. Not to mention, it was a bit weak of her to start regretting her attitude when one of them had an accident. Also, her story did not develop fully in The Hazel Wood because it had such a shaky start. I wish Melissa Albert had given much thought to the type of protagonist The Hazel Wood should have. I truly despise books with female characters who cannot defend themselves nor have their own vision of what needs to be done in the story.

And it amazes me how she survived throughout the entire ordeal– oh wait, that’s because she had a bunch of other characters keeping her from actually dying. Silly me. Must be nice to have someone have your back the whole time without you having to think at all.

Overall, this was one of the weakest first novel in a YA Fantasy series I’ve ever read. I definitely will not be continuing the series. I still have no idea how Sony Pictures has bought the rights to making The Hazel Wood into a movie. You can give The Hazel Wood a try, and I hope you enjoy it more than I did!

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Thank you Times Reads for providing an ARC in exchange of an honest review!

The Bumblebee Stripes Take NYC: a Review of Still Me by Jojo Moyes

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: January 23rd, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 489

Series: Me Before You #3

Me Before You reviews:
#1 Me Before You
#2 After You

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Blurb:

Lou Clark knows too many things . . .

She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London.

She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down.

Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt.

Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.

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Warning: Spoilers from Me Before You and After You

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“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.” – Will Traynor, Me Before You

From the moment I turned to the first page of Still Me and I hear Lou’s voice in my head, I knew I’ve reconnected with an old, dear friend. That was my emotion the entire time I read Still Me. A part of me has found home in Lou’s life and her emotions have become my own.

Hands down Me Before You was truly heartbreaking for me and remains one of my favourite fiction/romance reads. Its sequel After You did not live up to the hype of its predecessor and whilst I could find reasons to enjoy it, After You felt very lackluster. But Still Me recovered the entire series back to its glory, because we get to see Lou in a new light which still feels oddly familiar.

But don’t be fooled by the blurb! While it gives off the vibe of a romance-y novel in the making, Still Me focuses more on Lou’s new adventure as the strong-headed Agnes Gopnik’s assistant. She finds herself in New York, a place where Will once worked and lived in years before. And as the months passed, Lou discovers more of herself and after a series of unfortunate events, finds herself questioning her true purpose in life.

And what Will actually meant when he said “Live Boldly, Clark“.

“I would have molded myself to fit him. I would have slowly shed the clothed that I loved, the things that I cared most about. I would have transformed my behavior, my habits, lost in the charismatic slipstream of his. I would have become a corporate wife, blaming myself for the bits of me that wouldn’t fit…”

I truly loved Still Me because we get to see how far Lou has come in figuring out what she wants in life – professionally and in relationships. As she realises how important it is to find a life purpose before diving into a relationship, I couldn’t help but feel a kindred spirit in Lou. Her babbling nature and outrageous bright outfits are a welcoming sight every time you turn the page in this book. It’s exactly like catching up with an old friend over a cup of tea.

Still Me brings more new characters into Lou’s life. Ambulance Sam plays a bigger role as we see his and Lou’s relationship develop throughout the book. Snooty New York society are the prime highlight of Still Me, of which I much enjoyed reading about. And not to forget Will’s presence is very much felt in Still Me, as it should since he helped Lou so much to break out of her shell, even after his passing. And whilst there are a few characters that didn’t really have much impact on me, overall the book’s plot and cast of characters combination played out very well.

It has been a pleasure to go on Lou’s journey of self-discovery and see her grow into such an amazing person. In Me Before You, we see an uncertain young woman dedicated to save the man she loves and in After You we witness how difficult grief is when you feel you have failed. Still Me is the story of redemption and truly living every moment to the fullest.

I’d like to think Will would have been very proud of Lou’s journey and he’s cheering on from above.

“I think at some point, dear, you’re going to have to work out who Louisa Clark is.”

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Thank you Times Reads for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review!

The Reaper Returns in a Breathtaking New Trilogy: a Review of Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

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Genre:
Science Fiction
Publisher: Hodder Books
Publication date: January 16th, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 626

Series: Iron Gold #1 (Spin-off series from Red Rising trilogy)

Red Rising Trilogy reviews:
#1 Red Rising
#2 Golden Son
#3 Morning Star

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Blurb:

They call him father, liberator, warlord, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the pale blue planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-second of his life.

A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one. Witness the beginning of a stunning new saga of tragedy and triumph from masterly New York Times bestselling author Pierce Brown.

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Warning: Spoilers from Red Rising Trilogy.

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“Men call him father, liberator, warlord, Slave King, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the war-torn planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-third of his life.”

Iron Gold is the first installment in the new trilogy that takes place 10 years after the Red Rising trilogy ends, and it turned out to be a thrilling, action-packed read which exceeded my initial expectations of the book. I would recommend refreshing your mind of the events that took place in Golden Son and Morning Star in preparation to read Iron Gold.

Iron Gold changed the entire paradigm of the story set by PIERCE BROWN in the original trilogy, where it ended on an optimistic note for better efforts in abolishing enslavement and caste system. But Iron Gold now questions the efforts and lives required to rebuild humanity after a 700-year-old colonialism was shattered to pieces. The story finds us reunited with Darrow and the Republic which is now led by Mustang, alongside many old and new characters bound to get you emotionally attached.

The backstory of Iron Gold is the fight to retain all sense of peace and justice after 10 hard years of effort which doesn’t seem to be as fruitful as everyone hoped. How far must we go to save the future generation from history’s clutches of injustice and never-ending jaws of war? And just how many must be sacrificed for the future? As I read Iron Gold, I started questioning past decisions and war efforts that occurred in Red Rising trilogy to have had the inevitable consequences seen in this book. It’s pretty amazing how Iron Gold is so relevant in today’s political climate and the racial tensions we witness, which is what Brown was aiming to represent.

“After ten years of war, I no longer believe in moments of peace.”

Plot-wise Iron Gold started off very shaky, and surprisingly similar to Red Rising, Brown took a very long time to set all the foundations of the story. You might want to mentally prepare for it as the story gets very long-winded before it all starts to make sense. But towards the end, the plot was truly phenomenal. You’ll never know where the story is headed. And as with all adult scifi novels, always pay attention because bread crumbs are left in various places throughout the book.

I’d say Iron Gold did a wonderful job in kick-starting a new spin-off series, despite the uncertain start. And most of this is attributed to the fact that it has a new style of character POVs which I truly enjoyed. We saw everything from Darrow’s eyes in the original series, but in Iron Gold a cast of new characters spread across the Solar System give us new eyes into the past 10 years and what the future might hold. I love how 2 of these characters played such minor parts in the original series are revived to become essential elements and plot-influencers in Iron Gold.

“But history is so often molded from tainted clay by those who remain.” 

Overall, Iron Gold is a wonderful scifi book which I’d recommend to all scifi lovers.

Iron Gold has all the makings of an amazing scifi novel: badass characters, crude jokes, phenomenal plot twists, lots of deaths and space voyage beyond our imagination.

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

The Questionnaire of Love: a Review of 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicky Grant

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Genre:
Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: October 19th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Singapore
Page Count: 288

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Blurb:

Two random strangers. Thirty-six questions to make them fall in love.

Hildy and Paul each have their own reasons for taking part in the psychology study (in Paul’s case it is the $40, in Hildy’s the reasons are significantly more complex). The study poses the simple question: Can love be engineered between two random strangers?

Hildy and Paul must ask each other 36 questions, ranging from “What is your most terrible memory?” to “When did you last sing to yourself?” By the time Hildy and Paul have made it to the end of the questionnaire, they’ve laughed and cried and lied and thrown things and run away and come back again. They’ve also each discovered the painful secret the other was trying so hard to hide. But have they fallen in love?

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36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You is your typical YA Contemporary of two teenage star-crossed lovers who meet each other in a psychology study and answer 36 questions to determine intimacy effects in a digitally-obsessed generation. I sort of knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading this book.

And I pretty much got all that I expected. A cheesy love story where two teenagers start out hating each other before settling down to actually answer the questions and realising they have a lot to learn about one another. That said, there were a few elements of the book that I found myself enjoying, surprisingly.

Overall, the plot is nothing special. It’s a typical fluffy YA romance where you just know how it’s going to end. But, I found myself enjoying learning about Hildy and Paul as they answered the questions throughout the book. Grant did a fairly good job in arranging the story so that we saw glimpses of Hildy’s life as she chats to Paul and get to know him via the questions. The troubles she went through at home and how she opened up to Paul was one of my favourite parts of the book. It reminded me of my friendship with one of my best friends and how we’d throw each other questions just to know more of the other’s personal lives.

Other than that, I don’t find anything memorable about 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You. Hildy’s friends and family occasionally appear and don’t make much of a concrete impression. The book focused entirely on the two teenagers and their budding friendship. So if you enjoy reading about just two people falling in love, 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You is perfect for you.

But, bear in mind, this is a very fluffy read. So a lot of the conversations in here were cheesy and unrealistic. Hildy and Paul have nothing in common and Hildy isn’t really the kind of character I would root for. Her being whiny and desperate for love was kind of a turn off for me. But it was pretty easy for me to overlook those annoying traits and still enjoy the book to an extent.

Perfect for a quick summer read, 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You teaches us that there is always more to a person than meets the eye. 

 

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Thank you Pansing Singapore for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

Knock on Wood Cause They Have Faces On Them: a Review of The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

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Genre:
Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Singapore
Page Count: 384

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Blurb:

Inspired by the work of Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill and set in a crumbling country mansion, The Silent Companions is an unsettling gothic ghost story to send a shiver down the spine…

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself..

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Marked as one of my favourite reads for the new year, The Silent Companions is a gothic novel not to be missed. I don’t know how you can ever prepare yourself for The Silent Companions for it is a thrilling, creepy and highly addictive gothic novel with horror elements. The Silent Companions is set in 19th century England where Elsie, our protagonist, finds herself newly widowed and with child, in an abandoned mansion inherited by her late husband. In the attic (because that’s where all horrible, haunting things and creatures normally reside) Elsie finds wooden human portraits called Silent Companions of various characters and places them around the house.

Silent Companions are actually real, and if you Google it, you’ll find an interesting read of their Dutch origins and artistry. Why anyone would want life-sized wooden portraits is beyond me.

Not to mention they’re a fire hazard.

Anyway, The Silent Companions is my second gothic fiction and I’m beginning to fall in love with this genre. The Silent Companions no doubt kept me wide awake at night as I breezed through pages seeing the companions through Elsie’s eyes and experiencing the horrors that surround them.

I’m getting goosebumps just writing this review!

Purcell writes of tantalizing ghosts embedded within wooden portraits in the perfect Victorian era to engulf us in this haunting story. We read of Elsie hearing hissing noises from the attic and odd occurrences in the mansion during her stay. After the discovery of the companions, we see many unexplained events unfolding that always, always involved the companions. They appear around the house without anyone having moved them and they observe the occupants, haunting them in their creepy, eerie way. She delivers an intense story plot that leaves us wandering at the end of the mysteries of the paranormal. 

As an ancestor’s diary reveals the mansion’s dark history, we’re taken on a wild ride alternating between 17th and 19th century England. And as the companions reveal the reason behind their existence, you’ll no doubt be taken aback by the twists and scares that are bound your way.

Elsie and the rest of the characters in The Silent Companions are written so well that you will not forget them any time soon. Including the wooden companions. Oh, especially them.

If you’re looking for something to read during Halloween or something to scare the wits out of you in a subtle, quiet way, The Silent Companions is the perfect pick.

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Thank you Pansing Singapore for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.