4 star, adult

Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Image result for the death of mrs. westaway Harriet Westaway – better known as Hal – makes ends meet as a tarot reader, but she doesn’t believe in the power of her trade. If she did, what would the cards say about the choice that lies ahead of her?

When Hal receives a mysterious and unexpected letter bequeather her a substantial inheritance, she knows that it wasn’t meant for her because Mrs. Westaway is not her grandmother. Struggling with crippling debt, Hal is presented with a difficult choice: ignore the letter, or use her cold-reading skills to potentially claim the money and change her life.

After a loan sharks pays Hal a threatening visit, she decides to attend Mrs. Westaway’s funeral. she meets the family at Trepassen House, the Westaways’ country estate. Once there, Hal discovers more secrets than she could have ever imagined. There is something very, very wrong with this family, and somehow Hal and the inheritance are at the centre of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

4 Drink Me Potions

Never believe your own lies.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway begins as an almost innocent backdrop of a story. Classic rich grandmother leaving behind a massive fortune in a dramatic reading of her final will. However, the story (and mystery) is so much more than what can be seen on the surface. Behind layers of lies and deceit lies the story of a girl who has never known family, struggling to find her place in a world which seemingly has no place for her.

This mystery follows the life of our protagonist, Harriet (aka Hal), who was born into a poor life and tries to make ends meet providing tarot-reading services on a pier. This is important, as the tarot cards become the crux upon which the story moves along. It is completely fascinating and enthralling, as the whole mystery is almost like a lengthy tarot card reading on its own. As the suspense unfolds, each path is laid forward by the explanation of a different card, and this really gave the whole story a mystical element. Even if you don’t believe in such things, Ware really gives it life in this number.

One for sorrow, Two for joy.

Hal was raised by a single mother, who tragically passed away in an accident when she was eighteen, leaving her an orphan. Forced to take up her mother’s role in tarot reading with no family to turn to, her life takes a surprising turn when she receives a letter indicating she is a beneficiary in Mrs. Westaway’s will. As her crippling debt comes catching up to her, she is forced to go to Trepassen to find out what is in store for her in the Westaway family.

Preparing herself to attend her “grandmother’s” funeral, she does not realize what she steps into when she arrives. Behind every member of the family seems to be another door, with secrets of their past hidden. While every mystery may be like this, instead of a murder mystery, this story revolves more around the secret of Hal’s past – just how is she linked to the Westaway family? And will she be caught in her own lies as she tries to take a piece of the Westaway fortune with her to repay her debts?

The whole novel has a very ethereal quality and an air of mystique. It is impossible not to follow along the signs the cards give, and the omens given in the magpies as we follow Hal down the dark alley of her past. The overarching theme of mysticism and cold-reading are beautifully woven into the story, and spellbinding really is the word to describe this page-turner of a suspense. Definitely an enjoyable read – full of mystery even without revolving around a murder.

Overall Recommendation:
If you are into mysteries at all, and the suspenseful writing of a whodunnit novel, this book is definitely for you. This story features a young adult fighting her way through thick and thin, with only her tarot cards and cold-reading skills to guide her through. While understandably the whole art of tarot may be met with skepticism (admittedly for me as well), this book definitely paints it in a different light. Additionally, it really was well woven into story and really was the propelling force of the whole suspense. I definitely recommend this one!

4 star, adult

The Witch Elm by Tana French

Image result for the witch elm

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

4 Drink Me Potions

‘I’ve always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person.’

Going into this book, I had expected some sort of existential, philosophical discovery kind of journey, but that is really not what I got. Instead, it was a murder mystery sort of novel (my favourite!) with a large twist. In The Witch Elm, Toby is a well-rounded, generally deemed good person, who suffers a life-changing event and is seemingly never the same after. Struggling with his head injury, Toby rapidly finds himself in a state of constant confusion, with muddled memories adding to his paranoia.

Having escaped to the Ivy House for refuge with his dying uncle, things quickly turn around when a skull is discovered inside a large elm tree in the garden. Again Toby’s life is plunged into mystery, with detectives and police at every corner. Who around him can he trust, when he can’t even trust his own memories and character?

The Witch Elm follows the main protagonist, Toby, who starts off high and mighty (though not too haughty) but quickly falls to rock bottom. Even we ourselves as readers are not sure if we can trust Toby with his disjointed memories. This made for a very interesting read as usually a whodunnit novel doesn’t involve yourself as a prime suspect. Everyone appears suspicious, but we also can’t rule out ourselves as a possible suspect either, making this story an exciting journey from the beginning all the way to the dramatic climax and denouement.

I really enjoyed that this book explored a lot of aspects of identity and self-awareness. How much does who you are as a character really play into your actions? Also, how strongly do people judge your actions by how closely it matches your perceived character? There is a very interesting exploration of this whole reality versus perception of character and actions that is a motif found throughout the whole book.

The beginning did start off a little bit slow for me, and the lucky nature of Toby was a little bit irritating. But as I got to about half-way through the book, I actually found myself really entranced in the whole scenario, not unlike how Toby must have been feeling in the book himself. Each persona in the book was well thought out and developed in such a way that even though everyone’s character was clear as day, it was difficult to pin down any incriminating evidence. Just when you think that things are about to be resolved, things take another tumble and whirl around until the very final resolution. It was definitely an exciting roller coaster of a journey that was gripping all the way to the very end.

Overall Recommendation:
A haunting story of rediscovering yourself on the backdrop of a murder mystery. Toby is a classically lucky guy up until he slides right to the very bottom. The story follows him as he struggles to remember what might or might not have been, and who he can trust when a human skull is found in his garden. The Witch Elm is a gripping tale that explores how the perceived reality versus the actual truth might differ. What we discover about our true selves might sometimes be better left unknown. If you enjoy a thrilling murder mystery where literally everyone is a suspect, you will probably enjoy this book. If you like that idea with the addition of a self-(re)discovery journey layered on top, then I would definitely recommend this book.

book tag, Uncategorized

25 Bookish Facts about Fives

Hey y’all! Just wanted to continue this new trend/tag set by Andge. Being new, hopefully this is a chance to get to know me slightly better too!

Again, this was not our own creation, but over yonder, by Sara @ The Bibliophagist! Make sure to check out her site and show her your support too :)!

I am taking inspiration from Andge’s facts, so bear with me! Time to find out my own similarities with her too, it seems.

1. My favourite book is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Just something about its enchanting story, and its dramatic twists and turns and heart-wrenching journey just tears me apart every time. Nothing has matched that for me yet, so it is my favourite book of all time at the moment. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it!

2. I tend not to re-read too many books. Unless I absolutely adored them and just have to re-immerse myself into that world. – Andge (I had to keep this one, it’s literally me to a tee.) Books I re-read mainly consists of…just Harry Potter (wingaaaardium levioooosa)

3. I grew up reading mostly fantasy books. I love magic. Anything magical. Anything where there’s a realistic world….except with magic. How I dream of having powers of my own haha! Specifically, I read books like the Magic Treehouse series when I was much younger.

4. I do not borrow from the library, but do spontaneously purchase from the store. I should really borrow more from the library. I used to do it a lot when I was younger…why did I ever stop? Must be my laziness…but honestly a great place to be! Now I just browse in the store and pick up good deals! And suggestions from Andge, of course.

5. Yes, I have a kindle, but paper all the way. Once again, my laziness prevails, because I’m too lazy to purchase/look for the e-versions of books. I like being in the store, judging books by their covers (gasp!), finding value books or getting suggestions!

6. I read very quickly (compared to average). I tend to blitz through books pretty quickly, especially the more interesting ones, because I simply cannot put it down. Or if it’s a mystery that I need to know the ending of. Fun fact: I finished a whole mystery novel during one of Andge’s shifts, just standing there waiting for her!

7. I never read multiple books simultaneously, I read books sequentially. Maybe it’s some sort of obsession with finishing books? I can’t leave something hanging, but more likely  because I will forget the plot when I try and revisit it. Fortunately, I read quickly so it’s not too big of an issue.

8. I’ve only ever DNF’d one book. I definitely agree with Andge on this one. I just can’t do it. The one time I did I was in grade 6 and it was some odd book that I just didn’t care about (The Leap or something). Usually I’m smarter though, and just by reading the little blurb and perhaps a couple of pages, I can usually decide whether I will finish the book or not.

 9. I’m pretty bad with remembering author’s names. Oops, I am sure this is a major faux-pas! Guess I’m not a true bookworm. That being said I am learning to be much more cognizant, because what kind of bookworm doesn’t remember an author’s name? I guess it’s just because I’m usually stuck in the world that the author has created, making me forget sometimes where the real credit is due (I’m working on this, I promise!).

10. I tend not to stop reading in the middle of a page. More of my pickiness showing I’m sure. I just have to get to the end of a chapter or at least some sort of reasonable ending before I put the book down!

11. I can literally forget everything just to read. Who needs to eat, who needs to sleep, who needs to shower? I would literally just read for the rest of my life if my eyes let me. I remember once reading the whole Twilight saga in grade 9 in 3 days…may or may not have forgone studying for a science test (oops!).

12. I’ve tried writing, but I just can’t get into it. Does anyone remember Nano? I’ve tried it a couple of times but I can just never bring myself to do it. I think it’s something inherently tied to the fact that I think my own artistry is never as good as someone else’s. Maybe one day.

13. I read in low light most of the time. Yes, I know, I know, terrible. I promise I don’t do it if I don’t have to. But most of the time I just want to be comfortable and reading my book so that I can fully immerse myself in the world as my imagination runs wild.

14. My guilty pleasure kind of book are cheesy romances or rom-coms. This is Andge’s but definitely also my guilty pleasure for sure. I just like books with heavily developed romances, and sometimes the only books that give me what I’m looking for are exactly what is most embarrassing to be seen reading…

15. I was one of those kids who could be found at the library often. My dad would take me and just leave me there. I would borrow six books at a time, read them all and repeat next week. What I wouldn’t give to have that kind of time again.

16. Most of my friends don’t enjoy reading. So sad! I mean, some of my friends do read occasionally, but no one really appreciates them as much as I do. It was nice to catch up with Andge and find out that we had this in common (and here I am because of it!)

17. I prefer softcovers to hardcovers. Is that weird? On the one hand, the pure aesthetic value (and protection) that a hardcover offers is wonderful. On the other hand the price tag on it for literally the same book is sometimes just not justifiable. The real reason is that it’s easier to open and flip through a softcover rather than the hardcover though. It also just feels more like reading a book to me, for some reason.

18. I’ve never tried an audiobook. While it seems to be a big trend, I don’t particularly see the appeal. Especially when I myself am a fast reader, it seems hard to justify. That being said I would still be open to trying it.

19. I love comparing movies to books. I’m that snob who will be like, wasn’t that dress supposed to be blue? Why is it teal in the movie? Yup, that’s me. Sometimes it’s better for me not to read the book or not to watch the movie out of the pair, haha!

20. I even like reading textbooks. WHAT? Yeah, I’m that kind of nerd… Something about learning from a book just satisfies something in me, it is very odd indeed. But with the diagrams and everything, it’s just nice. Really helped with studying in school for sure!

21. I love discussing books. I feel that overall books are so much more enjoyable when it can be shared with someone. It’s like watching a great movie that no one else has watched – it just isn’t as fun. I have so many ideas about the characters and questions about the world and what not, it is just so much more interesting to have someone to bounce the ideas off of.

22. I will read books that are deemed classics, even if I don’t enjoy them. I just want to be cultured! But admittedly, this often leads me to really dread these books. But at least I can say that I’ve read them to anyone who asks!

23. I stopped reading for a short while during university. Somehow the university life just occupied me completely and I forgot about books for a bit. I am definitely thankful Andge re-introduced books into my life so that I could once again be in one of my happy places (and be here to share it with all of you!)

24. I am sometimes afraid to start a book. Especially if there’s something coming up that should be more important. It’s dangerous for me to start a book. If I get too hooked, I literally put everything else down to finish the book as fast as possible. Certainly not always a good thing when I should have other priorities!

25. I use scraps as bookmarks while only occasionally using my nice bookmarks (when I remember to). I HAD to keep this, because PLEASE DON’T DOG-EAR YOUR BOOKS. Okay, PSA over. I always want to keep my book as pristine as possible. I learned the hard way what happens when you lend your books to friends…(did I mention it was my copy of Memoirs of a Geisha? CRIES…). Never again.

So, do you sound like me with any of these above peculiarities on books and reading? Leave a comment below to share our similarities and/or differences!