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.

The Simple Wild

Rating: 
Author: K.A. Tucker
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub date: Aug. 2018 (read Nov. 2018)

5 Stars?! Are you okay Maria? Are you really going to give a romance novel 5 stars??

This book was so out of my element that I feel like it actually came full circle so that it was exactly in my element. I don’t read very many purely romance novels, but I definitely love a good romance subplot in other genres. However, I was drawn to this book for the setting over the plot. I’ve been obsessed with Alaska ever since I read The Great Alone earlier this year and I couldn’t turn this book down,

I say it’s out of my element because it’s romance. But the setting is right up my alley. I’ve been living in Vancouver for the last five years and I’ve become a little bit obsessed with the great outdoors. I spent almost every weekend this summer either hiking, backpacking, camping, or kayaking, so I love books with isolated settings. Even though I would have had a totally different approach to visiting Alaska than Calla did, I still found this book very relatable.

Calla Fletcher was born in Alaska, but she’s spent her entire life in Toronto. Her mom fell in love with an Alaskan bush pilot, but she couldn’t handle the Alaskan wilderness and moved back to Toronto when Calla was only 2. Her dad, Wren, couldn’t bear to leave his plane company, Alaskan Wild, and over time, Wren and Calla became estranged.

Fast forward 24 years; Calla is 26 and has just been restructured out of her bank job. She loves city life and has been pursuing fashion and lifestyle blogging with her best friend Diana when she receives a call from Alaska that her Dad is sick and this may be her only chance to finally re-connect with him and re-visit the place where she was born. She’s out of a job and her and Diana think the photos would be great for their blog, so she makes the trip up to Bangor, Alaska.

In the beginning, Calla struggles with Alaskan life. She’s used to fast paced city life, being able to get a soy latte where ever she wants, and spending lots of time every day making herself look good for photos. Next to the wild people of Alaska, she seems vapid and vain. I’m a lot different than Calla. I don’t wear very much makeup and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at wearing the same grungy outfit every day if I had to (I certainly would never bring two large suitcases on a one week trip to the wilderness). But even so, she’s very relatable. I understand her desire to look good and take beautiful pictures. She’s in the great unknown and I would definitely be posting pictures all over my instagram if I was her. But she has a hard time adapting to the change of pace in Alaska and struggles with other emotional issues, like re-connecting with her sick father.

The setting of this story was different than I expected. I was expecting the gorgeous mountain and glacier views that I got in The Great Alone, but what we get instead is a dingy little town in the middle of the flat, Alaskan bush. I thought Tucker’s description of the run-down buildings when Calla first drives through town was so great because I could just picture this little town in my head and because it doesn’t have the stunning mountain backdrop that I was anticipating, it was a lot easier to relate with Calla’s initial culture shock. This book ended up being a lot more than just the setting of Bangor, but the community of it. You really get a sense of what it’s like to live in a backwater community in rural Alaska – the way people depend on one another and support each other. It gave the setting depth. And though Calla was slow to appreciate it, she got there in the end.

This was my second romance book in the last month (recently read Colleen Hoover’s, All My Perfects) and what I liked about both books was that they weren’t solely romance novels. I wouldn’t really even call The Simple Wild romance because it has so much else going for it. This book is really about all the different kinds of love in the world. It’s about making peace with your past, being open to new experiences, and making time for the things that really matter to you. Tucker strikes a wonderful balance between Calla’s relationship with her dad, the romance, and all the different kinds of platonic love that are showcased in this book.

So on to the romance! I haven’t even mentioned Jonah yet. It’s obvious from the synopsis where the book is going, but it was a super fun ride. Jonah is Wren Fletcher’s best pilot. He’s a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he has a lot of love for his job and helping the villages scattered around Alaska get the supplies and resources that they need. He will go above and beyond to help someone in need. But this is not the person Calla first meets. Wren sends Jonah to pick Calla up in Anchorage and they get off to a bad start. Jonah has seen girls like Calla before and he doesn’t have any patience for them. He thinks she’s entitled and vapid. But Calla also has little time for Jonah. He’s rude to her from the get go and dismisses her intelligence. It’s the classic couple hates each other, misunderstands each other, and then loves each other dynamic. But it worked.

Calla is many of the things Jonah thinks of her, but she is not dumb and she does care about her dad and his business. In the same way, Jonah was many of the things she thought about him, he was very mean to her and his honesty starts them off on the wrong foot, but he is also a deeply caring individual. I definitely loved Jonah. Any guys who loves the outdoors already has brownie points in my book and I liked that he was honest, even though it was sometimes hurtful. He realized his mistakes and apologizes in his own way, but I think he also had a lot of fun bantering with Calla and kept it up because it was fun for him to set her off kilter. I also loved that he was able to laugh at himself and his joy for life.

I definitely got a kick out of all the pranks they played on one another. I was a little concerned when he stole her make-up bag because make-up is definitely a crutch for some people and has the potential to be pretty traumatizing (plus there’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving make-up). But I ultimately decided it was okay because Calla’s prank on Jonah was pretty bold and could easily have crossed the line. She pulled a prank on him that made him more attractive to her and by swiping her make-up from her, he was essentially doing the same thing.

Overall this book makes me yearn for more quality new adult fiction. I am years past lusting over the 17 year olds in YA contemporary and most YA fantasy, but I can’t yet relate to books about parents, their kids, and their failing marriages. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good family drama, but I think the romance in this book appealed to me so much because it’s actually where I’m at in my life. I’ve talked a few times about how literature needs more books about college and university (which I still think it does), but I also think we need more books about mid to late twenties, when people are out of school and starting to figure out their lives, but haven’t yet settled down into the standard family dynamic. I would love some great new adult reads. I’m sure they’re out there already, but they definitely aren’t getting the kind of love and promotion that other types of books get.

Finally, I loved the ending of this book. I love books that hit me with tough choices. Nothing annoys me more in love triangles then when the author makes one of the triangle into a jerk so that we don’t have to feel bad for them getting the axe. There’s no love triangle in this book, but I love stories and decisions that have two equal sides that are both valid. I love when the author doesn’t try to push us toward one ideal or the other or write the story in such a way as to make one choice easier or more obvious. Calla and Jonah are basically re-living her mother and fathers love story. Calla is a city girl, Jonah’s in love with the wild. They know there’s an expiration date on their relationship, but they fall in love anyways. There’s no easy answer to their dilemma. One of them has to be willing to move for the other to make it work and no one wants to be the one to either give up their life, or ask the other to give up their life. I thought the ending happened just a little bit too fast, but I really liked how Tucker approached their conflict.

So overall, I really liked this book. My only problem was that it took me a little while to get into it at the beginning. I’m not really sure why. I wouldn’t change the beginning. Overall it’s a bit of a slow burn type novel, but it reads really fast and once I got invested in the characters, I totally flew through the book!

 

SPOILER: The ending is still left pretty vague, but I really liked Jonah’s compromise. It actually broke my heart to see him in Toronto because it’s obvious he wouldn’t be happy there and that it would never work. But he wasn’t willing to give up and he was still willing to move somewhere where they might both have a chance at being happy. Would moving to anchorage so that Calla could still have a semblance of city life be enough? Maybe not, but I loved that he recognized what wouldn’t work for them and decided to try and find something that would work. With this approach, I feel like there are a lot of places that the two of them could be happy. There are many Canadian centres where Calla and Jonah could make a life and still be on the brink of rural life. It was such a simple approach and I really think it could work for them. Relationships don’t have to always be about sacrifice – they shouldn’t be about sacrifice – but about compromise, and this compromise made me really hopeful for this fictional couple. Plus I think it sends a way better message then having Calli give up her life in Toronto for a guy. Women and girls have been preached that message enough.

September Summary

I was on vacation for 2 weeks in September, so I’m pretty satisfied with what I read this month. My monthly challenge was to start re-reading the Throne of Glass series in anticipation of the series finale coming out at the end of October. My monthly summary is:

Books read: 8
Pages read: 3,312
Main genres: Fantasy
Favourite book: Wuthering Heights
Favourite Re-read: Crown of Midnight

Like I said, I started off the month with the first 3 books in the Throne of Glass series: Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire. I’ve been dying to re-read this series for a while now, but I made myself wait until closer to the release of the last book so that it would all be fresh in my mind. Throne of Glass was one of my first major fantasy series, so I was curious if I’d like it as much the second time around, and I absolutely did! I’d forgotten just how epic Crown of Midnight was and I even upped my rating of Heir of Fire from 3 stars to 4 stars the second time around. I enjoyed it a lot more this time.

I read two audiobooks this month as well. I bought a copy of Wuthering Heights on Audible on impulse when they had it on sale for $5. I listened to Emma earlier this year and was keen to try out another classic. What I was not expecting was how much I absolutely adored Wuthering Heights! I know it’s a polarizing book and I know a lot of people who hate it. I kind of anticipated I wouldn’t like it as I don’t love a lot of classics, but I was so very wrong. I won’t go into detail what I loved about it though as I wrote a very detailed review about my thoughts.

The second audiobook was Neverworld Wake, a young adult/sci-fi/mystery thriller novel about a group of teenagers forced to live the same day over and over again. It had an interesting enough plot, but I didn’t love it because I thought it could have been better executed.

I also read two ARC’s this month, although I was a bit late reading the first one as it’s already been published. I read The Lost Queen, which is the first book in a new historical trilogy about 6th century Scotland, and Girls of Paper and Fire, a new YA fantasy book that I’d been hearing lots of good things about. The Lost Queen fell into the trap I’ve been having with a lot of my books lately in that I liked it at the end (appreciated the story), but found it kind of boring to read. In contrast, Girls of Paper and Fire was wonderful and kept me on the edge of my seat with the most wonderful queer relationship at the center of the story.

Finally, I read a short graphic novel/web series that’s set in Vancouver called Always Raining Here. This one was a quick read to boost my numbers, but I keep seeing it at my local bookstore and was intrigued about it. It’s about two gay high school students and the pressures of succeeding in high school and the struggles of being a gay teenager. I had mixed feelings because I liked parts of the story, but found other parts extremely problematic.

Anyways, I read some pretty large books this month, several were over 500 pages, so I’m quite happy with what I read and thrilled to be heading into October and November, which are easily my favourite reading months!

The Lost Queen

Rating: 
Author: Signe Pike
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: Sept. 2018 (read Sept. 2018)

Thanks to Touchstone for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My blog has been pretty silent over the past week. I’ve been on vacation, so you’ll have to forgive me for my continued absence next week. As a result I haven’t been doing that much reading, but I did finish The Lost Queen, which I received back in August from Touchstone and have finally found time to read.

The Lost Queen is the first book in a trilogy set in 6th century Scotland. It’s recommended for fans of Outlander (which I love) and Philippa Gregory books (which I’ve been meaning to try). It features Langoreth, one of Scotland’s former queens, who has mostly been lost to history. Langoreth was the twin sister of the man who inspired the well known character, Merlin, and had a huge impact on Scotland herself. Signe Pike delves into the histories of both Langoreth and her brother, Lailoken, starting with their childhood and formative coming of age years.

I have mixed feelings about the book. The authors note at the end was fascinating – I love historical novels that explore the history of lesser known figures, especially women because women’s history is rarely recorded and often lost. But I struggled to stay engaged in the book. I’ve had this problem with several books this year (Naomi Novik’s, Uprooted, and Madeline Miller’s, Circe, come to mind), reflecting on the book, I generally enjoyed it and learned a lot, but it wasn’t that enjoyable a reading experience.

I did find this book a bit better than previous books in that I got pretty into it in the last 30 percent and I am interested to see what happens to these characters. We’re told in the book summary that both Langoreth and Lailoken led remarkable lives, but we don’t discover in this book what made their lives so remarkable. This might be why the book read a little slower and may have lended itself better to a single volume instead of a trilogy. It was pretty slow moving and served mainly to introduce us to the characters and the setting. I think it has the potential to get much better in subsequent books.

However, the setting was pretty great. I can say for sure that I’ve never read a book set in 6th century Scotland. I’m not sure I’ve even ever read a book set in the 6th century. I haven’t read a lot of old, old history, so I found this fascinating in that the history is so ancient that England and Scotland don’t remotely resemble the countries they are today. This was a time when Christianity was starting to spread. Scotland had always practiced the “old ways”, but in an effort to gain support from powerful Rome, Christianity comes to the country, creating tension between this new religion and the old ways. It’s incredibly frustrating to read about the injustices committed in this book in the name of Christianity, but still relatable to today.

I also appreciated the familial relationships. So often in this time period, women were seen as little more than property. But I liked how both her father and brother respected and treated Langoreth. Everyone was forced to acknowledge that despite their wishes that things could be different, Langoreth would need to wed to form political alliances for their kingdom. Both the King and Lailoken see value and strengths in Langoreth outside of being a wife, but they also acknowledge that in their time and age, marrying is one of her greatest strengths as well.

Like I said, I struggled with the book in the first half, but ultimately I am interested to see what happens to Langoreth in the next 2 books and to discover what makes her such a remarkable woman. I think this book could have been shorter and I’m hoping for more action in the next book, but I really liked learning about the spread of Christianity and the tension it created in it’s condemnation of the old ways.

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!