The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ruth Ware
Genres: Mystery
Pub Date: May 29, 2018 (read Apr. 2018)

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Okay, first off I love Ruth Ware and I don’t know why! I generally give her books 3 stars and yet I find them so compulsively readable that I always come back for more. I should probably start rating them higher because I cannot say no to a Ruth Ware mystery.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway was quite different from all of her other novels. It still features a young English woman as the protagonist, but the mystery element was structured differently in this book and I wouldn’t call this one a thriller. At times the central mystery seems quite obvious, but you’re never really sure what is going on or if you have it right.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway tells the story of Hal Westaway and the Westaway family. Hal is just 21 years old and after losing her mother 3 years prior in a hit and run, she is very much alone in the world. She has no family and in her struggle to make ends meet and pay the bills, she has lost contact with any friends she once had. Her mother was everything to her and she takes over her mothers booth as a tarot card reader on the Brighton Pier to survive. But Hal is falling further and further in debt and they are starting to catch up with her.

Then one evening she receives a letter about the death of Mrs. Westaway, her grandmother, and that she has been named in the will and requested at Mrs. Westaway’s estate. The problem is that Hal’s grandparents have been dead for 20 years and she believes she must have received the letter in error. But the promise of a handout is too alluring and Hal wonders if she can trick this estranged family and walk away with enough money from the will to pay off her debts.

Things are definitely off with the rest of the Westaway family though and Hal quickly starts to wonder whether everything is actually as it seems. I think Ware does an excellent job writing Hal in this story. She is totally believable and I could totally empathize with the financial mess she’s found herself in and the desperation of trying to do whatever she can to pay her bills. I enjoyed her story arc and growth throughout the novel.

I didn’t like the rest of the Westaway family though, which I guess is kind of the point because they’re all flawed and their flaws make you wonder what is actually going on with this family and what is their real history. But I found it hard to connect with any of the other characters and I didn’t find the main twist very surprising. It’s more of a “wtf is going on in this book” moment and when the twist is finally revealed it’s not really that shocking – it was totally what I was expecting, I just wasn’t really sure how the author would take me there. I also thought the red herring was super obvious, although still pretty ominous and I do think it added to the story.

Overall not my favourite Ruth Ware book, but don’t doubt for a second that I won’t still be first in line to read whatever she writes next!

Advertisements

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Erika L. Sánchez
Narrated by: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Oct. 2017 (read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I listened to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter on audiobook and it is definitely the fastest I’ve ever listened to an audiobook! I LOVED IT!

I’ve written a few times about how I don’t love fiction audiobooks because I think they can be very unforgiving of an author’s writing and for some reason hearing fiction read out loud always seems to make the writing sound cheesy or lame. I think non-fiction translates better to audiobooks overall, but this is hand-downs my favourite fiction audiobook that I’ve listened to and I think the narrator, Kyla Garcia is TOPS!

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was a National Book Award finalist in the young readers category and tells the story of Julia, a teenage daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants. Julia’s older sister Olga has just died tragically in a road accident and her whole family is reeling from the loss. Julia’s mother always viewed Olga as the perfect daughter and Julia’s sharp contrast from Olga creates a lot of tension with her mother, who doesn’t understand why Julia is so difficult.

Julia is 15/16 years old (can’t remember) and she is extremely brash and confrontational. She’s constantly picking fights with those around her, she lies to her parents, she can be vulgar, and she is of course, grieving. In the wake of Olga’s death, Julia starts to discover some of her sister’s secrets and finds that her sister may not have been as perfect as she led everyone to believe. She struggles to justify this new Olga with the sister she knew and in her grief, she acts out against her friends and family.

A lot of the reviews for this book are pretty critical of Julia and I can understand why a lot of readers didn’t like her. She’s not a particularly likable character, but like Scarlett O’Hara, her flaws were what I loved about her, and I definitely loved this character. I have to give some of the credit to the narrator because I thought she captured Julia’s voice and the tone of this novel perfectly. Her Mexican accent was fantastic and she absolutely read this like an angst-y, grief-ridden teenager.

Julia had a lot of spunk and while I couldn’t believe some of the things she was gutsy enough to say to people, I thought she was incredibly relatable as a teenage daughter of immigrants. She’s grown up in completely different circumstances than her parents and they struggle to relate to each other. She’s lived her whole life in the shadow of her perfect older sister and even though Julia is really smart and accomplished herself, she’s always been overshadowed by her sister in her parents eyes. She is critical of Olga’s desk job and can’t imagine settling for a job like that when she wants to be a writer, but her parents are critical of her dreams because they don’t believe a writer is a real job and as people who have done labour their entire lives, they can’t imagine anything better than Olga’s desk job.

Following the death of her sister, her mother suddenly wants to try and give Julia everything she was never able to give Olga. She fears for Julia’s safety and is extremely protective of her, forbidding her to go to parties or spend time with boys. But Julia just wants to live her life and the wedge between her and her mother only grows bigger. Julia becomes depressed and overwhelmed by the constant pressure to be more like Olga and how critical her mother is of everything she does and wants.

While I thought Julia sometimes took things too far, I was incredibly sympathetic for her. She is grieving and her world is crumbling and she has little support to navigate the scary new world around her. I thought this book was so well written and that Sanchez captured what its like to be a teenager so well.

The only reason I rated this 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars is because I didn’t love the last third of the book as much. Julia eventually goes off to Mexico for a period of time and I didn’t think this added a whole lot to the story overall. She does learn more about her family there and starts to better understand her mother, but I felt these epiphanies still could have happened in America and that removing her from America made us have to press pause on the rest of the drama in the story, which made it feel a little bit disjointed. There’s a lot of plot points that surface in the last few chapters of the story and they felt a little out of place because her trip to Mexico disrupted the flow of the story.

But overall, I absolutely loved this and I would highly recommend the audiobook. I’m not convinced I would have liked this quite as much if I’d read it because I thought the narrator did such a good job as Julia!

Scythe

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Read: Dec. 2017

 

Scythe is another one of those 3-star books that is just so hard to rate. It raises a lot of really interesting questions and the second half of the book is pretty great, but the first half is such a snooze-fest!

I didn’t plan to read this series because it sounded pretty dark, but then I got a galley of the second book in the series, Thunderhead, so I decided to give it a go. Scythe is a utopian novel set in a version of the world where we’ve have basically perfected technology and solved all the problems of the world. Humans have reached the pinnacle of medical discovery and figured out how to make themselves immortal, as well as the pinnacle of technological advancements and have created a perfect artificial intelligence called the Thunderhead that now governs the planet. There’s no more sickness, no more poverty, and no more crime.

The only thing that remains outside of the jurisdiction of the Thunderhead is the Scythedom. Once humans obtained immortality, they had to find some way to manage population control, so they selected and trained an elite group of scythes to “glean” (kill) humans in order to maintain the earth’s population relative to the amount of available resources to continue living a comfortable existence. No one but a Scythe can permanently kill a human (if they die any other way they are just revived, Scythes carry out a permanent death). The Scythes are supposed to be live a humble existence separate from the rest of humanity and demonstrate compassion and justice in their gleanings. But over the hundreds of years of the Scythedom, some of them have started developing alternative opinions on the role of Scythes.

This story is about 2 teenagers, Rowan and Citra, who have been selected to apprentice to become Scythes. What I really liked about this book was how much it made me think. It raises some really great themes about living. In a world where we have made ourselves immortal and eliminated all forms of oppression, what really makes life worth living? We can’t really feel pain anymore and all of our accomplishments are meaningless because there’s nothing else left to be discovered or improved. In a world without suffering, can we really understand emotions like happiness and joy? Are these things humans can even experience anymore?

Then there’s the question of who deserves life and death? The Scythes all have their own strategies for “gleaning” and we are slowly introduced to several of them over the course of the novel. Should Scythes try and emulate the kinds of deaths that occurred in the age of mortality and target the same demographics? Should they look for people to “glean” who seem ready to move on or seem to have become stagnant in this life? Or just say ‘to hell with it’ and glean whoever they want? It’s up to Rowan and Citra to determine what kind of Scythes they want to be.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it took so freaking long to get going! I was really intrigued with the concepts, but Rowan and Citra are asked to basically give up their entire lives and to KILL people and it felt like it wasn’t even that big a deal. Where was the emotion? the drama? the angst?! They are 16 years old afterall and they just felt way too mature. I guess that is kind of the point though. They are selected for their maturity and empathy and in this new age where your emotions are constantly monitored and tweaked by “nanites” in your bloodstream, it’s almost impossible to emote in the same way that humans do now.

I get the whole exploration of how to be a Scythe, but I also felt like the whole thing was stupid and should have just been left to the Thunderhead to glean an appropriate percentage of old people every year. Why emulate deaths of the past when you don’t have to anymore? Why have to live in a world where children and young people die? In this world though, you have the option of “turning the corner” and returning your body to any age you want over the age of about 25, so there’s not really old people anymore and even though people are old in mind, they’re still able to have kids whenever they want. So theoretically, you’d still always be gleaning someone’s mother or grandmother, even if you didn’t glean children.

But I’m getting too far into the details. The second half of the book was happening! It has way more action and I found it hard to put down once I got past the halfway point. The plot reminded me a little bit of Hunger Games though. I feel like I’m going to be thinking about this book for awhile, so it’s definitely got that going for it, it was just a more detached kind of writing style. I tend to gravitate towards books that really emote and make me FEEL all the things. This book definitely made me think, but I always felt a degree removed from the characters and it made it a little harder to empathize with them.

Anyways, this is a much longer review than I thought I would write, but it did help me figure out some of my feelings on this book. So let’s call it a 3.5 stars. On to Thunderhead!

History is All You Left Me

 

Rating: ⭐
Author: Adam Silvera
Genres: Young Adult
Read: Aug. 2017 on audiobook

 

History is All You Left Me has been getting a ton of great reviews, but I had a hard time getting into it.

This was my second audiobook, and while I definitely enjoyed it more than my first audiobook, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, I still didn’t love it. However, my dislike for Beneath a Scarlet Sky had to do with the writing, while I fear my dislike of History is All You Left Me may have been because of the narrator. I really didn’t like the narrator for this audiobook. He was whiny and annoying to listen to and I felt like he didn’t get the tone of the book right. I almost want to read a hard copy to see how I interpret the tone, but I know I’ll never be able to sit through it again.

It’s definitely a sad book. Griffin is dealing with the loss of his best friend and first boyfriend Theo. He broke up with Theo prior to his death, but anticipated they would one day get back together and was still in love with him. In his grief, he turns to Theo’s new boyfriend Jackson for comfort, but forsakes his other friends who are also grieving for Theo.

I think this was a good book about love, loss, grief, and moving on. But it also had a side story about Griffin’s struggle with OCD that I couldn’t really get into. I’ve never had OCD, so I have no idea how well it was portrayed, but I felt Griffin’s struggle with OCD could have been a story on it’s own and I’m not sure it worked for me in this book. But maybe it’s inclusion meant a lot to readers with OCD, so I don’t want to dismiss it.

In the end I’m giving it 3 stars because I do think it was a decent book, but the narrator kind of ruined it for me, so I would definitely recommend reading over listening for this one.

Note: I moved this review over from my goodreads account. I have read several more audiobooks since I read this book and I’m finding that I don’t really like listening to fiction, so that may be a factor in my dislike of this book. I’ve switched to mostly listening to non-fiction and have found it a lot more enjoyable.