Book Review: Three novels by Ruth Ware

I didn’t immediately jump on the Ruth Ware bandwagon after reading In a Dark, Dark Wood back in 2016. I liked the book just fine, but I wasn’t feeling the immediate pull to read everything from the author.

Three years later, I decided to give it all a go, starting with Ware’s fifth novel, The Turn of the Key, which was published this summer. This one does a stellar job of using setting as a character since the story takes place in an old Victorian home that’s been internally updated to be a smart house. You get old haunting vibes with the knowledge that anyone could be watching you via cameras.

Rowan Caine answers an ad for a nanny at Heatherbrae House in the Scottish Highlands, but what she doesn’t realize is that she’s walking straight into a nightmare. A child is going to die (not a spoiler) and she’s going to prison for murder (also not a spoiler).

The story is told in epistolary form (via letters from Rowan to her lawyer), which can get tedious at times, but it’s still a clever way to tell a story when it’s almost entirely in flashbacks. The narrative is highly suspenseful throughout and even creepy at times. It’s definitely my favorite of Ruth Ware’s books.


I was so pleased with The Turn of the Key that I immediately went on to The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ware’s fourth novel.

Harriet Westaway, “Hal”, lives modestly in Brighton as a tarot reader on a pier. One day she receives a letter informing her that she is the chosen recipient of a substantial inheritance by her grandmother in Cornwall. That would be great news if Hal’s grandparents hadn’t already died years ago.

However, since she’s desperate for money (to pay off loan sharks) and tired of living pound to pound, she decides to attend the funeral to see if she can get away with accepting the inheritance without anyone being wise to her scheme. Of course, it’s not going to be easy.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is less suspenseful than The Turn of the Key, but it still kept my interest because I wanted to untangle the knot. Each member of the Westaway family had a secret to keep, and it was a fun ride with Hal to see where each puzzle piece fit.

This book was advertised as an “unputdownable thriller,” but I challenge the “thriller” part. I did get through it quickly because I wanted to know how Hal was related to everyone – or if she even was related to them at all.


Since I was on a roll with Ruth Ware books, I finally picked up her second one, The Woman in Cabin 10, which was published in 2016.

The story begins with a burglary. Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist (dream job!) and had the unfortunate experience of a traumatic break-in. To escape the fear she feels at home, Lo leaps at the chance to take part in a luxury press tour on a Scandanavian cruise. One night on the water, she sees what she believes is a woman being tossed overboard to her death. Lo cannot let this go, despite a full search aboard the ship and everyone reassuring her that she didn’t see anything.

A few things: The initial burglary put Lo in a state of constant anxiety, so her narration was irritating to the point that I didn’t want to hear any more in her voice by the middle of the book.

Secondly, the pacing seemed to drag. I understand the need to create claustrophobia on a small cruise liner, to agitate the reader so he/she *feels* the tension, but I became too frustrated with the slow pacing (combined with the tight living quarters and Lo’s anxiety) that I could not finish the book.

That’s right. I didn’t finish it.

Of course, I wanted to know how it ended, so I read a summary online and immediately felt relieved that I didn’t suffer the rest of the book for that storyline. The Woman in Cabin 10 has been my least favorite Ruth Ware book thus far. I don’t recommend it.

I’ll give The Lying Game a go soon. Then, I’ll be up to speed.

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2016

In 2015, I read 53 books, verifying to myself that I could, indeed, read 50 books in a year. For 2016, I gave myself a break and set a goal of 40. If all pans out by New Year’s Eve, I will have finished 46 books (45 on paper, one audio).

Of those, I chose ten favorites with ease. Numbering them 3-10 was even easier, but depending on the day, my top two choices could be swapped. It could go either way. That’s what happens when a book reaches Ken Follett and Khaled Hosseini levels. Those books have their very own shelves.

To be on my Top Ten, the book has to be all-consuming. Not only does the writing have to be fluid and paced, the plot has to be imaginative and addictive. The book has to take over my whole brain so that I’m thinking about it while I’m driving and running and I must ten minutes here and there to read. It has to hit me in the gut or keep me up at night or break my heart. I want to feel it.

The genre doesn’t matter. On this list are thrillers, post-apocalyptic stories, fantasy and contemporary narratives, well-known authors, not-so-well-known authors, and subject matters that range from fashion and terrorism and murder to historically and culturally specific events. Each book is linked to my original review. Enjoy, and Happy Reading in 2017!

10. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant. Funny, quirky, and strangely troubling as it pertains to our national security. All Boy Hernandez wants to be is a fashion designed. How unfortunate to be mistaken for a terrorist! Be careful who you trust!

9. Station Eleven. This was the first book I read in 2016 and it was such a great choice! Though I’m not usually into post-apocalyptic fiction, I found Station Eleven to be endearing and unique in its focus on a traveling symphony in a post-apocalyptic reality. When there is no electricity, no means of transportation, and no way to communicate with one another, you must whittle humanity down to its very basic form and see what survives.

8. Long Man. Set over the course of three days in 1936, Annie Clyde Dodson refuses to surrender her property to the government and the TVA. It doesn’t matter that it will all be under water soon anyway. She won’t do it. But just when her resolve reaches fever pitch, her three-year-old daughter Gracie goes missing. With all her might, Annie Clyde must keep the government at bay and find her daughter alive. The pacing of this book is so steady, so even. It was hard to put down.

7. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Clay lands himself a job at a bookstore and immediately knows the place is super weird. The contents, the layout, the patrons. All weird. But he needs the job so he can’t be picky. It isn’t long before Clay is swept into a centuries-long adventure that feels like an Indiana Jones movie. This book gets extra points for its attention to detail in typography. Design nerds will love it.

6. You. Before this one, I’d never read a book written in second person, but now that I have, my standards are very high. We read You from the point of view of Joe, a sick, twisted, vulgar young man who is transfixed by Beck, a girl who is cute and oblivious to so much attention. Readers are in Joe’s mind so deep that it’s hard to crawl out. And actually, I didn’t really want to. (The sequel, Hidden Bodies, is on my must-read list.)

5. Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Having just read this one, it is still fresh and tender in my mind. It is 1987 and June Elbus has just lost her uncle to AIDS, a confusing and troubling disease that the 14-year-old doesn’t understand. Finn was a renowned artist and also June’s godfather and closest confidant. While her family just wants to move on with their lives, June is unable to, especially after Toby, Finn’s partner, who is also dying, extends an invite to grieve together. The two develop a secret, sympathetic friendship that teaches June about life and love in more ways than she imagined.

4. The Winter People. This one had me on the edge. Unable to read it at night, I hurried to The Winter People first thing in the morning and read it over the stove top while cooking dinner. When it got dark outside, I put it down. Set in West Hall, Vermont, over two time periods, it focuses on the murder of Sara Shea (1908) and Alice (Present Day), who lives in Sara’s old house and has gone missing. Sara’s old diary has been unearthed, and there are things that happen in the woods behind the house. And then there’s that closet that’s been boarded up, and the strange passageways inside the house that only a few people know about. There are a dozen little mysteries that form one big crazy equation, and Ruthie, Alice’s daughter, sets out to solve them all. IT IS SCARY GOOD.

3. The Snow Child. Having just finished this one a couple of days ago, I’ve pinpointed a new reason why it moved me so. Beyond its magnificent style and elegance, more than its magical setting, The Snow Child tugged on a part of my heart that has long since healed. Infertility is a wretched beast, and the loss one feels when she’s told she cannot bear children is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. When Jack and Mabel, painfully childless, build a girl out of snow, it’s done in fun, with imagination, with a nod to what might’ve been in another lifetime had things worked differently. And yet, when a girl appears in the Alaskan wilderness, the couple doesn’t know what to do with her. Call out to her? Bring her inside? Is she even real? The Snow Child is beautiful in so many ways. If you’re going to read it, make sure you read it in wintertime.

2. The Devil of Nanking. Grey is a 23-year-old Brit who’s traveled to Tokyo to find a survivor of the 1937 Nanking Massacre. She’s spent a decade trying to prove something she believes to be true, and this survivor supposedly has footage of some kind that confirms it. This story is nail-biting and brutal. Like The Winter People, I read it at every free moment. The author is vivid in her details, even the most horrific ones. I’ve never read another thriller like it. It is perfect.

1. The Secret History. Donna Tartt is good writer. A damn good writer. The Goldfinch proved it, but The Secret History solidified it. Though it’s nearly 600 pages, you don’t even notice it because the pacing is lightning fast. You don’t have time to sit around and wish the book would end already. Richard Papen is our narrator who tells the story of how he and his college classmates killed Edmund, nicknamed “Bunny.” Richard is troubled by what they did and by how they managed it after the fact. We’re all a little mad, but some, I believe, are more mad than others.

Writer nesting

It’s coming, and soon. That second novel is ready for attention. But before I withdraw to Scrivener and stream loud music through my ear buds to muffle the sound of my children, everything needs to be just so.

Isn’t that what nesting is? That preparatory time when every nit-picky thing has to be tended to? Bookshelves aligned, desk cleared, crevasses dusted. I pulled up Scrivener yesterday, in fact, but I couldn’t focus on the words because there were eight pens strewn about my desk. And then I noticed a stack of random receipts, a box of colored pencils, eraser bits, unopened mail, a role of tape, and crumbs from the brownie I ate four days ago. ALL THIS DISTRACTION.

So I clean and organize and nest. I’ve turned in the boys’ grades for the year, pulled out school books we no longer need, and dumped my overflowing garbage. I ran a scan on the computer, redesigned this blog for simplicity, and started the long, arduous process of deleting excess raw files on my hard drive, a task that will take me weeks to accomplish.

Become-a-writer

Do y’all do this? Fiddle about before starting something big? One might call this procrastination, but it’s not an issue of avoidance. It’s about creating an environment conducive for writing. I’m easily distracted, so there’s no way I can write dialogue or sketch a workable Freytag’s Pyramid if there are pencil shavings on my desk. It’s an impossibility.

I’m not sure how long this nesting season will last. It might be a couple of days, maybe weeks. I’m embracing it because it’s the process. Professional writers often say that to be professional one must write every day. It might be a single sentence or it could be 10,000 words. If writing a novel, I would agree. When I finally begin Mallory’s story, it’s likely I’ll write every day.

Until then, I see a long orange string on the floor and I must go pick it up.

Book Reviews: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton and American Sniper

NoaNoa is on death row in Pennsylvania for the murder of a girl her age. In a few months, she’ll be dead and she’s come to terms with it. She doesn’t even argue about being guilty or not guilty. Then the mother of the victim comes to visit her in prison and starts talking about applying for her clemency. They have five months to sort it out.

The story is written in first person but none of it is in chronological order. In between Noa’s accounts are letters written from the mother of the victim to her dead daughter, a strange but useful way to reveal information about the murder to the reader. By the last third of the book you know everyone is hiding something and it’s a quick race to the end to find out Noa’s fate and whether or not justice is truly served.

Unlike In the Woods, also a murder mystery told out of order, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton doesn’t weave so tightly that you have to pay attention to every single sentence. You can just read it and not spend time overthinking or trying to piece together the crime because the author is making you work for it. You know what’s up by the half way point, or at least you know the people in play are fishy. Yet, the ease of the narrative doesn’t take away from the thrill. You read fast because you care about Noa and you want to know if her X-day ever arrives.

Buy The Execution of Noa P. Singleton here.

AMERICAN-SNIPER-CoverPrior to starting Noa, I ended up reading American Sniper. Even though it’s a thick paperback, it was the quickest read ever because the writing was on a fifth grade level. The content is fully mature, but the writing was entirely like reading Dick and Jane. Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, when Chris Kyle got lengthy about describing the different sort of guns he used, my eyes glazed over and I skipped paragraphs. (I categorize guns by color, size, and weight. Is it black? Is it long and heavy? Short and gray?)

I’m glad I read it because it solidified that the book and the movie are separate entities. Sure, it’s the same Chris Kyle, the same wife, the same wars, but American Sniper The Movie is Hollywood script and therefore required a character arc, a plot, a climax, and a resolution. American Sniper The Book is Chris Kyle’s full account of his experiences growing up a cowboy, his experience in BUD/S, his definition of what it means to be a SEAL, and his overall intense passion for and focus on defending his fellow soldiers. You get the bigger picture, not just a glimpse of four tours and a career-long vendetta to kill an enemy sniper.

The movie was entertaining, provocative, and important, but the book is far more telling of who Chris Kyle really was. Upon finishing it, you knew Chris Kyle was anything but a coward.

Buy American Sniper here.