My name is Kylie Sebert. I'm a native of Spirit Lake and currently living in the literary hub of Portland, Maine! I have Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, with an emphasis in fiction, and now hope to begin a novel writing career. As with most writers, one of my passions is discovering and reading great books. I hope my reviews will spark an excitement for literature in people around the Iowa Great Lakes area!
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
There is nothing like cuddling up with a new Ruth Ware novel, knowing you’re about to go for a ride, with no idea where you will end up. Her stories are full of mystery and a tense atmosphere that resides in every page of her work.
In her newest, we meet our protagonist, Harriet, as she is teetering on the brink of disaster. Why not throw her a few more trials? She is a broke Tarot card reader, with debt collectors starting to threaten her, when she receives a letter that could change everything. The letter informs her that her grandmother has died and she could be coming into a considerable inheritance, however, Harriet knows her grandparents are dead, and that the letter must be a mistake. Desperation is powerful, and can persuade just about anyone to ignore their conscience. Harriet is as desperate as they come, so she chooses to journey to the English countryside manner for her “grandmother’s” funeral, where she meets her long lost “family.” As you can imagine, that many secrets can lead to nothing good. As Harriet gets to know this family, it is soon evident that her secrets are likely the most innocent and the situation becomes darker and darker.
This is a classic thriller with a spooky setting that makes you feel trapped right along with the characters. It is filled with moments that will make your heart race and send chills through you. They say that Ware is the Agatha Christie of our time, and I would say she also strongly channels Edgar Allen Poe. Think, unforgettable scenes comparable to The Tell-Tale Heart. This is one you won’t want to miss.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
There are 1000 ways to die in Alaska
In her newest novel, Kristin Hannah delivers everything I wish for when searching for great fiction. She transports the reader to the wild 1974 Alaskan frontier with her skillful artistry, painting a vivid picture of this wilderness, showing not only the unbelievable beauty it offers, but also the unmistakable danger. Hannah uses dark and light in a brilliant way, contrasting the long days of the Alaskan summer to the dark endless days of the winter. She takes her readers and her characters on a perilous journey that seems to continuously get worse and worse.
We meet our protagonist, Leni, as a teenager. She’s trying to figure out her place in the world, while also trying to figure out how to keep her family together. Her father, Ernt, is a former POW from the Vietnam War. He is a man so changed by his experience there, that he often becomes unrecognizably cruel to Leni and her mother, Cora. He is convinced that a huge life alteration will fix everything, so they move to Alaska. As you might imagine, this is only a temporary solution. It starts as an exciting change, with the family immediately being taken in by a tight knit community of Alaskans, and learning to live off of the land. However, their first winter reveals they are not only ill-prepared to live in this harsh environment, they vastly underestimated the extent of Ernt’s mental illness.
This is a story of survival in every sense of the word. It’s about the many ways love rules our lives, and it’s the journey of a girl fighting her way into womanhood. It may keep you up all night until you know what happens to this cast of fascinating characters.
Hannah’s previous novel, The Nightingale, was an incredible achievement and difficult to top, however I believe she came as close as she could with this beautiful work. Highly recommend giving this master of the craft a read.