Mini Book Reviews: July Part 2

After getting on so well with book reviews earlier in the year, I’ve slipped behind again – I’m blaming this reason and that alone! We’ve just got back from our honeymoon this weekend (posts to follow!) and I’m feeling SO much better right now than I was before – I’d forgotten how nice it was not to feel exhausted and poorly all the time – so I’m planning to use this little second trimester break to catch up. Let’s get going!

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena* – 7/10

Plot: A collection of guests arrive at an isolated mountain lodge hotel in the Catskills in the middle of a winter storm and are almost immediately cut off by the weather. Each guest has their own backstory, from the couple attempting to rekindle their romance after many years to an author working quietly on her book and friends reconnecting. Then suddenly one guest turns up dead and the book plunges into a “whodunnit” murder mystery as more and more guests are picked off. All they can do is wait out the storm and try to stay safe from the murderer in the midst.

My thoughts: I love a good murder mystery on TV, and this style of whodunnit was so similar to the stories we often watch like Midsomer Murders, Father Brown or Lewis, as in, it had that element of being slightly ridiculous and amusing at the ways and predictability of how people were dying, but also entertaining, in only that strange way murder mysteries can sometimes be. It wasn’t anything brilliant, but at under 300 pages with a cozy and almost romantic snowed-in setting, it was a quick, fun read that was difficult to put down as you sped through it to find out the killer.

Educated by Tara Westover* – 7.5/10

Plot: This isn’t technically a “plot” as this novel is a memoir. It follows the life of Tara, a girl growing up in a “survivalist” family in Idaho, documenting the challenges and trials of living as part of a family that doesn’t believe in relying on the government or mainstream society, and as such, the children don’t go to school. Tara does break away as she grows and heads to university, somewhere where everything is unfamiliar and often confusing as she tries to reconcile how she lives with how the rest of the world does, eventually heading overseas to Cambridge and exploring how life can be there.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this read that took me totally away from my normal way of life to experience something entirely unfamiliar to me. I’ve always been a little bit intrigued by homeschooling, having been through formal education from 3 to 21, and having taught at a school myself too, however this was very different to what you’d tend to think of as homeschooling, with a lot more focus on working for the family, no matter the danger or hazards. There were parts that were hard to read and times where you wanted to scream through the pages to do something different because it seemed so ridiculous to put themselves at risk, but learning about a new way of living was fascinating.

The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware* – 8/10

Plot: Hal, Harriet Westaway, a cold-reading fortune teller on Brighton’s pier, receives a letter telling her of the death of “her grandmother” and bequeathing her an inheritance. The problem is that she knows this relative may not really be her own. Still, she travels to strange and eerie Trepassen House for the funeral, meeting her “uncles” and their families, where it quickly becomes clear that, in fact, she does have a connection to the family after all. Can she keep up the ploy, using her cold-reading skills, or will she give in and admit the truth?

My thoughts: I LOVED the setting of this novel at Trepassen House – crumbling estates with a creepy history are the best, and this one does it very well. On top of that, the slow unraveling of the plot with a variety of kindly and, frankly, quite creepy characters was excellent. It’s a book with several layers and clues hidden and planted among them all that come together in the end. I’ve read criticisms that it has a lot of plot holes, but honestly, those that may have appeared to me weren’t so significant that it ruined the reading for me – in fact, this spellbinding novel has become one of my favourites of late.

Munmun by Jesse Andrews* – 5/10

Plot: Imagine a world where your wealth determines your physical size – where people scurry around the size of rats avoiding those who are bigger than buildings. This is where Warner and his sister, Prayer, live. After their father’s death from a clumsy larger child and mother’s injury, they set out into the world to try and make their way – to increase their education, wealth and size. But the world isn’t quite so accepting of them, landing them in all sorts of situations.

My thoughts: The blurb of this book really drew me in and I was excited to read it, but sadly it fell short of my expectations. I’d anticipated reading something more of a dystopian fantasy fiction novel that explored the politics of this strange world, but what I got was something a bit confused and confusing. Sadly the way it was written just didn’t gel with me – I can totally understand why it was written like this, to mimic the limited education and understanding that the smaller people have, but it just hindered my enjoyment of it. I also struggled to gel with the storyline, finding it pretty dragging. The dream world that they fall into at night was a very strange fantasy world it took a while for me to get my head round. Like I said, a really interesting premise that hasn’t quite reached my expectations, though others have loved it for the reasons I didn’t click with it, so give it a go if the blurb intrigues you anyway!

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey* – 7.5/10

Plot: Jen and Hugh sit by their daughter’s bedside in hospital after a harrowing experience: 15 year old Lana has been missing for 4 days following a countryside retreat with her mother. She’s injured and confused, unable to tell them any details about where she’s been or what’s happened to her. The story is told in flashbacks from Jen as she tries to find out the truth, back to Lana’s childhood and through their trip together up until the point Lana disappeared.

My thoughts: This novel is a cross between a thriller and mystery, with some delves into the difficulties of family relationships and mental illness thrown in too. It was an intriguing read that had me hooked, wanting not only to find out what had happened to Lana, but why and more about her as a character. It was a slow builder, focusing more on the troubles of the past before ending up at a pretty big banger of a reveal. I enjoyed both the slower parts and more gripping, thrilling parts equally in this and would definitely recommend it.

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