Ask Again, Yes

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Mary Beth Keane
Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pub. date: May 2019 (read Jul. 2019)

This is the exact kind of literary fiction I love to read. After last year’s fantasy-fest, I’ve been reading a lot of different stuff, much of which falls into the general and lit fiction genres and I’ve really been enjoying it. Ask Again, Yes gives me so many vibes from Little Fires Everywhere (even the cover looks the same!), but it definitely holds its own in the genre.

Ask Again, Yes tells the story of two families that grew up together in New York state and the impact and consequences of their actions over 4 decades. Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope worked together for a brief time in the police force and end up living next door to one another in Gillam. Both their wives are pregnant around the same time and while Lena Gleeson gives birth to 3 daughters, Anne Stanhope struggles with fertility before eventually giving birth to a son, Peter. Anne never got along with the Gleeson’s and when her son, Peter, and the Gleeson’s youngest daughter, Kate, become best friends, all parents struggle with it, eventually leading to a tragic event in Peter and Kate’s 13th year.

Eventually everyone goes their own separate ways, but the consequences of that night ripple through everyone’s lives for years after. It’s not a fast moving story and I could definitely see some people struggling with it, but Keane explores a lot of different themes and I thought the book was super insightful into different human behaviours.

Ask Again, Yes explores a lot of different questions. Can we ever escape the past? Can we learn to forgive those who have hurt us? Are we really capable of change? Are our behaviours learned or inherited? It’s a sad read at times and hopeful at others. But what I really loved was how well developed and how genuine every single character was. When it gets down to it, I didn’t actually have very much in common with any of the characters, but their thoughts, emotions, and reactions are all incredibly relatable. On paper their relationships look great and if you try to articulate how they aren’t, it’s really hard, and yet you understand why some of the characters make such bad decisions.

As someone who is getting married within the month, I was so anxious reading about some of the relationships and marriages in this book. More than one marriage is challenged; some of them fail, others survive. But what made it so scary was that I felt most of the problems in the relationships were solvable, and yet I understood why someone might choose to walk away from that relationship anyways. A scary thought when you’re getting ready to walk down the aisle yourself, but impressive for an author. She has incredible insight into human nature and I had no trouble believing that the characters would act the ways they did.

Overall I didn’t think this book had quite the charm of Little Fires Everywhere. I think they both had a lot of interesting things to say, but Ask Again, Yes does drag in some parts, whereas I always felt propelled forward by the narrative in Ng’s books. But it still explores a lot of relevant themes and I found it a little more realistic in its character portrayals. Mental Illness is a big part of this book, although I struggle to verbalize what the theme was. Mostly it was just something that was present throughout the book. Keane never tells us how to feel about it, but does demonstrate how our feelings on mental illness have grown over the decades. It’s not something to be ignored and it’s not something to be ashamed of. Recommend to lovers of character-driven stories.

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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!