5 star, adult

ARC Review: Breathless by Amy McCulloch

A high-altitude thriller that will take your breath away–Cecily Wong is on her most dangerous climb yet, miles above sea level. But the elements are nothing compared to one chilling truth: There’s a killer on the mountain.

Journalist Cecily Wong is in over her head. She’s come to Manaslu, the eighth-highest peak in the world, to interview internationally famous mountaineer Charles McVeigh on the last leg of a record-breaking series of summits. She’s given up everything for this story–her boyfriend, her life savings, the peace she’s made with her climbing failures in the past–but it’s a career-making opportunity. It could finally put her life back on track.

But when one climber dies in what everyone else assumes is a freak accident, she fears their expedition is in danger. And by the time a second climber dies, it’s too late to turn back. Stranded on a mountain in one of the most remote regions of the world, she’ll have to battle more than the elements in a harrowing fight for survival against a killer who is picking them off one by one.



**Breathless comes out May 3, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

‘There’s a murderer on the mountain. Run.’

Breathless quite literally lives up to its name in this spellbinding story that had me gripped from the moment. Equal parts exhilarating and knowledge seeking, I was thrilled with the tension and mystery as the author intended, but I also learned so much about mountain climbing that I lived these experiences almost vicariously through these characters.

Cecily Wong is part of an exclusive team assembled to climb the last of the 14 mountains greater than eight-thousand-metres above sea level, Manaslu, alongside the legendary mountaineer Charles McVeigh. Unfortunately, she feels she has so much to prove to him (and the rest of the very experienced team) because she’s known as the girl who could NOT summit even a smaller mountain. But getting to exclusively interview Charles on the condition she summits is the chance of a lifetime and everyone plus their mother knows that.

I love Cecily’s perspective throughout this whole book. She’s a rather newbie climber so the logistics and extensive training that comes with mountain climbing is explained in the book for us who have no idea what this world is like. However, I don’t feel it’s too technical and boring at these parts because it’s so ingrained into what is happening in the story. The team requires acclimatization at higher altitudes before they can climb so high so of course, we follow that journey with them. It’s never an overload of information and everything is potentially relevant.

Besides the newbie perspective, Cecily is an empathetic protagonist because she sees people with a less detached attitude. Perhaps it’s because she’s yet to really experience the life and death moments in a place literally called “the death zone” like her fellow experienced climbers. But in this way, her heart and journalistic instinct leads her down a path that may be hold more secrets than she’s prepared to find.

Most importantly, the pacing was fantastic! I never felt bored as the team moved their way up the mountain. The first death occurs not too far into the book so it really sets the tone – is there something more to this death or is it her paranoia? In low oxygen atmospheres, it’s even a possibility hallucinations run rampant so we’re left questioning Cecily’s (and our) judgment of what’s really happening.

I will say this book balanced thriller and mystery very well. There’s the whodunnit if these deaths really were attributed to homicides instead of accidents, but also that tense feeling that something’s not right in the most remote landscape on Earth.

To end off this review, I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved the experience of reading this book. It’s like McCulloch took us on this journey to Manaslu’s summit with the amount of details and descriptions.

The peak stood out, its enormous bulk an ominous black mass against the sparkling night sky. It dominated the horizon, stretching up into the heavens, and the summit wore the stars like a crown.

It’s truly an adventure in a book but also a reminder to sometimes take a breath and admire this world and our tiny place in it. When faced against the elements found at such high altitudes, we may appreciate more what life entails when death may be just a breath away.

Note: all quotes are subject to change upon final publication

Overall Recommendation:

Breathless takes you on the most amazing journey that mankind can partake in – climbing one of the tallest mountains in the world. The prose is so immersive I truly felt like I was there with our protagonist, Cecily, facing the unknowns and her fears. Unfortunately, there’s also something else afoot on the mountain but we may not be able to trust our judgment when the high altitude sickness comes in. This is the best kind of thriller/mystery and Amy McCulloch did it so well. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed if you pick this up.

3 star, YA

Review: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.

11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.



Does anyone else just have the song Somewhere Only We Know stuck in their heads whenever you see this title? No? Just me?

I had the pleasure of reading this book as an audiobook during some down time, which definitely enhanced the experience in my opinion. Otherwise, this rating may have dropped by 1.

Somewhere Only We Know is reminiscent of Gayle Forman’s Just One Day type of romance wherein our protagonist sets out on some wild one-day adventure with someone new generally across a wonderful locale. Mix into this is the celebrity meets ordinary citizen trope and that seemed like the perfect combination in a relaxing read.

And for the most part, it was. Lucky was a character I could sympathize with as she struggled with anxiety while juggling the demands of a successful K-pop career. The K-pop industry is known for its intensive training to shape their stars – aka investments – into a marketable star. Lucky was in the midst of this, about to embark on the next frontier in her career – America.

But then she meets savvy Jack, just trying to survive and figure things out in his life after high school. Having moved to Hong Kong with his family for his dad’s work a year ago, he found himself doing well in celebrity tabloid work in this city that still felt new to him in some ways. What were the odds he’d bump into an actual celebrity without maneuvering himself into such a situation?

The premise was cute. You know things will go down weirdly once Lucky found out her identity as a K-pop star was blown and she’s not just a fun, ordinary girl Jack decided to show around the city. But it sure took a long time to get there. The buildup was almost too long because Jack figured out who she was fairly early on in the book, and we’re just left feeling sorry for poor naive Lucky as Jack continued with his deception.

The romance that also builds as the two went around exploring Jack’s favourite places was also a little hard for me to always believe. I understand the connection for Lucky as this was the first guy she ever really got to interact with outside of her management’s scrutiny. There’s this newfound freedom that’s exhilarating and can easily be transferred to the person who brought such a gift to her. For Jack? Was it just because she was famous? I don’t think so, yet her excitement over absolutely everything didn’t make her personality shine through as much when this overshadowed everything else about her.

What I will say that really saved the story comes down to two things:

  1. I absolutely adored the locale in this book. There aren’t any YA books I’ve found that feature Hong Kong so prominently. As this is where my family is from, reading the descriptions of the food and tourist areas Jack brought Lucky to was an excruciating yearning to revisit this wondrous city. If Hong Kong is known for anything, it’s the amazing variety of foods. I loved listening to the book describe in detail things I remember from my past visits that it almost felt like I was back there.
  2. The other thing is the ending. Once you hold out for the climax when the other shoe finally drops, it’s totally worth it. I loved the way the author chose to deal with the aftermath of what you’d totally expect is going to be a messy fall out. It wasn’t prettily wrapped up in a bow, but it also brought a sense of joy and realness to this story.

While there were clearly pros and cons to this book, I still had a good experience with it. I love travel escapism books and this totally delivered, especially in a city that most YA never gets to see up close and personal. The Asian culture shines through in implicit ways because it is literally the backdrop of everything happening. It makes me feel proud to see my city represented like this, and I’m so grateful to Maurene Goo for writing it. I would still tell you to give this novel a chance. You never know if it’s the next read you’ll fall in love with. And maybe want to book a ticket to Hong Kong right away (when it’s safe to).

Overall Recommendation:

Somewhere Only We Know was an ode to Hong Kong, my family’s city, that made me want to be there with our protagonists as they embarked on a one-day wild trip around all the wondrous sights and foods. Lucky was a sweet but naive girl who struggled secretly on her own as she put on a different persona for her fans as a wildly popular K-pop star. When she finds the one boy who didn’t seem to know who she was, she obviously uses this newfound freedom to explore. While the premise was fun and cute, the execution could’ve been a little faster paced as we’re always left waiting for the other shoe to drop from near the beginning once Jack, our love interest, couldn’t keep up his deception. The ending was worth the wait though, and this book overall was entertaining and full of book escapism at its best.

4 star, YA

Review: Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Series: Love & Gelato #3

Santorini felt like an island holding its breath. As if it were keeping in a secret…

Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.

When she arrives in gorgeous Santorini, things are just as awkward as she’d imagined. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. Liv doesn’t want to get sucked back into her father’s world. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo, her father’s charismatic so-called protégé, to witness her struggle.

Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.



What was lost is now found.

A slightly different take from her other travel inspired novels, Jenna Evans Welch takes us to the beautiful island of Santorini in this latest novel, Love & Olives. While we still get the chance to explore around and “see” the different tourist attractions here, it’s a lot less focal to the story. The main attraction is this: a hunt for the lost city of Atlantis.

That’s right, folks. They are searching for Atlantis. Liv’s father abandoned her when she was a child to go in search of his lifelong dream of Atlantis, and now she finds herself on Greek soil for the first time to join her father in his excursion. Sounds like there’s bound to be lots of intense emotions flying around on this vacation, hmm?

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