ARC Review: The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding // a WWII historical fiction novel with a twist of mystery

The title of this post is kind of boring, but I’m not exactly sure how to describe my feelings regarding this book.

In summary, it was just good. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of this a lot, and it was interesting to see the complicated relationships between all the characters. However, I didn’t come away with strong feelings of either loving or disliking it. It’s just a decent, and interesting book.

I’m going to try and talk about what I enjoyed and didn’t when it came to the plot and characters, and maybe doing that will help me explain why it was just a good book overall, and not amazing/awesome as I’d been expecting.

Some disclaimers: All spoilers will be in dropdowns, so you may skip them if you like. I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a review, however all opinions and thoughts are my own.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance, World War II

Book cover of The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding by Lydia Kang

The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding
by Lydia Kang

Brooklyn, 1942. War rages overseas as brother and sister Will and Maggie Scripps contribute to the war effort stateside. Ambitious Will secretly scouts for the Manhattan Project while grief-stricken Maggie works at the Navy Yard, writing letters to her dead mother between shifts.

But the siblings’ quiet lives change when they discover a beautiful woman hiding under their back stairs. This stranger harbors an obsession with poisons, an affection for fine things, and a singular talent for killing small creatures. As she draws Will and Maggie deeper into her mysterious past, they both begin to suspect she’s quite dangerous―all while falling helplessly under her spell.

With whispers of spies in dark corners and the world’s first atomic bomb in the works, the visitor’s sudden presence in Maggie’s and Will’s lives raises questions about who she is and what she wants. Is this mysterious woman someone they can trust―or a threat to everything they hold dear?

trigger warnings: death, murder, depression, anxiety, abuse, suicide (both attempted and committed)

The Characters

There are three main characters: siblings Will and Maggie Scripps, and a mysterious beautiful woman named Ruby Fielding.

Will is a simple and quiet man who works as a scout for the Manhattan Project (which was the name for the project that made the atomic bomb during ww2). He is Maggie’s older brother, and her only family. He has devoted a lot of time to care for his sister, having dropped out of university in the past when Maggie attempted suicide. Now, his singular focus is on becoming an indispensable part of the war effort through the Manhattan Project and taking care of his sister.

Maggie on the other hand is a very anxious and isolated young woman. At the start of the book, she doesn’t have any friends, and spends most of her time trying to find work, but being unable to keep a job due to her constant anxiety. She also seemed very depressed as she misses her mom (who committed suicide some years before), and even writes to her despite her mom being dead. Maggie also helps the war effort, by plane spotting and encouraging her neighbors to turn off their lights at night.

These two are going to have their lives completely turned upside down by the arrival of a richly dressed stranger under the steps of their house. The woman is unconscious when Will and Maggie find her, so they bring her in (thanks to the pleading of Maggie; Will actually came home first and saw her beneath the steps and continued right into the house, determined not to make the stranger his problem. I found that hilarious lol).

We got to better understand the kind of people that Will and Maggie are through their reaction to finding the woman. Maggie is a caring, nurturing soul, and she was determined to keep the woman and take care of her till she got better. We also saw that it was sort of an adventure for Maggie, as she was very curious to know the woman’s story, and potentially make a friend.

Will on the other hand could not care less who she was, and wanted her gone as soon as she woke up. He thought of her as a rich woman who had had a rather wild night and would simply bring unnecessary drama with her stay at their place.

GIF saying: No. Nope. Nah.
how I imagine Will felt when Maggie pleaded to let the woman stay

Unfortunately, he was somewhat right. The woman did wake up, and proceeded to beg them to let her stay and not call the police. A day become two days, two days became a week, and soon enough, she had planted herself into their lives. She initially called herself Laurel, but with a bit of research in the newspapers, Maggie and Will guessed that she was really Ruby Fielding, the missing fiancé of a rich man who had been hospitalized after being poisoned.

You can imagine that Will wanted her out right away. A drunk woman was possibly a 3 on his annoyance scale, but a potential murderess was way beyond anything he wanted to deal with.

But Ruby spun a tale for them, told them how she was worried for her life, and Will’s protests to the situation eventually lessened and died. Even he became curious about her, and began to look forward to coming home from work to see her.

The rest of the book then focuses on the relationships between the three of them, and how Ruby essentially drove a wedge between the two siblings. There’s LGBT representation here, as both Maggie and Will fall in love/become infatuated with Ruby, and she has relationships with both of them.

Her first relationship was really with Maggie, one that Will had an inkling about but didn’t question. It made Maggie so much happier, and also brought the two women together, even considering the slightly creepy tendencies of Ruby,

And I mean creepy. She filled a sink once with dead spiders. Other times, Maggie or Will would find dead rats lined up neatly by the steps, or other creepy things of the sort. Ruby also admitted to having a fascination with poisons (remember, she’s the missing fiancé of a guy that was poisoned), and even started her own little poisonous flower/plant garden at their house. It was all really disturbing and made me seriously question why Ruby was there.

GIF saying: Some people are OK, but mostly I just feel like poisoning everybody.
Ruby’s logic it seems

In Ruby’s chapters, we learn that she fled her fiancé Felix’s house and ended up at the Scripps place after seeing their address on Felix’s desk. The question still remains as to why she fled from her fiance (after potentially poisoning him) and is planting herself in the Scripps’ lives.

Click to see my thoughts on some spoilers

I never trusted Ruby to be the “good guy” and was worried for the siblings for multiple reasons. In her chapters, she says she’s staying to monitor them because she thinks Felix is planning something. But she was spying on them while at the same time growing relationships with them (manipulating them into trusting her?), she spoke German once in her dream (potential spy?), she had a horrifyingly morbid fascination with killing things and just leaving them there, and she knew too much about poisons for my own comfort (serious potential for murdering them at the dinner table!!).

personally, I would have kicked her out solely for having the audacity to just leave dead things all over the place.

I thought that, hypothetically, it was possible that Will and Maggie were the villains, and Ruby manipulating/spying on them would be understandable in that case, but from what I could see, the siblings were just ordinary people who were loyal to their country and fighting for it in their own ways (by this point, Maggie had joined the Navy Yard as a welder). Ruby, in my opinion, was the villain, because she was breaking the bond between the siblings and effectively ruining their lives.

Click to see more thoughts on some spoilers

There’s a point where she begins a relationship with Will, even though Maggie thought they had a relationship, and it breaks Maggie’s heart to see them. Honestly, I was annoyed then at both Will and Ruby, because it was just so unfair, and Will shouldn’t have done that to his sister. But I was mostly furious with Ruby for “playing” both sides.

Will’s relationship with her then becomes a problem with his work and goal to become indispensable to the Manhattan Project, which made me dislike Ruby even more. Maybe it was a bit misdirected since Will was also contributing to his own potential downfall, but Will had worked so hard to get to where he was and if Ruby hadn’t showed up, he would have continued working towards his goal. Will had also been my favorite character up to that point, but after that, I started to resent and dislike him.

There are other characters that were introduced, and Felix does come into the picture when he begins to…court? Maggie. Basically, Will had sent Maggie to Felix to find out more about Ruby since she wouldn’t tell them anything about herself. Then Maggie felt betrayed by Will and Ruby being together, so she started visiting Felix constantly and enjoying all his pampering and expensive gifts, kind of as a way to get back at her brother. However, it seemed that Felix was also using Maggie for his own purposes.

Basically, the web of deceit, betrayal, and manipulation just grew so much thicker as the book went on. I kind of grew annoyed as it continued, because I just wanted Ruby to pack up and leave so that Will and Maggie can reconcile and they can go back to their lives.

The Plot

Ruby’s appearance started the book off with a mystery. The main question for the first half or so of the book was “who is she, and why is she here”. As we slowly get to see the relationships and dynamics between the characters develop, we also get clues and answers to that mystery.

Ruby is running from her fiancé Felix. She’s convinced he will harm her if he knows where she is, and so she’s remaining at the Scripps’ place to protect herself.

At least, that’s the story that Will and Maggie believe.

Again, I was extremely skeptical of Ruby and took everything she said with a generous helping of salt. From reading chapters that were in her point of view, you know that there is more to this than just simply having a lovers’ quarrel with Felix.

There’s also Will’s job that has its own mystery. The Manhattan Project is understandably a huge secret, and though Will has guessed what the purpose of the project is, he isn’t technically supposed to know. The mystery begins when Felix is introduced in connection to the Manhattan Project, which is a reminder that Felix knew about Will before since Ruby found their address in Felix’s office to begin with. The question that remains is why?

I mentioned that Maggie had started a job at the Navy Yard, and she was actually able to keep that job down for the most part. She felt that it gave her purpose, and though it emotionally drained her, she was growing satisfied with it. She meets a woman also working there who becomes somewhat her friend, but even this friend seemed to be iffy and asked wayy too many questions for my liking.

All these questions, people, and sub-mysteries start to connect together in preparation for an amazing ending that I was not. expecting. at. all.

Never in a million years would I have guessed what was going to happen. I’m still pleasantly shocked about how it all came together. I’ll leave the rest of my thoughts on it in the spoiler dropdown below.

Click here to see my thoughts on some spoilers

Seriously, Maggie was the real “villain” this whole time??? Never, never would I have guessed that sweet anxious Maggie would be the villain. And I know yes, as the story continued, she kind of transformed and grew a little more confident in herself, especially after Felix showered her with “affection”, but I would never ever ever have guessed that she was helping her dad and supporting the Nazis.

I wouldn’t have even guessed that her dad was alive and not dead as Will had believed! It was a twist that I didn’t see coming, and I love that this book managed to surprise me like that. The way Felix and Ruby tied into the whole thing was also surprising. However, I’m still not a fan of Ruby even if it turned out that she wasn’t actually going around killing mice, and that her love for poisons wasn’t because she liked poisoning/hurting people, but more out of curiosity for the study of it.

I was so convinced that Ruby was going to be the villain in some capacity, and I guess I failed to be objective and remember that usually the person you think is the villain, probably is not. It’s always the person you’d least assume.

It’s kind of disappointing that Maggie ended up the way she was. She was just craving some attention and affection, which Will didn’t know how to give. And her believing that her father was “giving” it to her…he’s just a sleazy nasty manipulator, and I felt so bad for her. And to think that the letters she was writing to her mom were actually to him! I’d wondered, like how was she mailing them if her mother was dead? Where were they being sent to? But there was so much else going on with Ruby, Will, and the rest of the characters that it seemed inconsequential. Now I know much better, lol.

Basically, I very much enjoyed the mystery aspect of this, and I’m really glad that the ending managed to deliver one final epic twist.

Final Reflections

In the end, I enjoyed the mystery/plot of the novel more than I did the characters. All the complications with the relationships, and the constant deceit and manipulation made me dislike most of the characters by the end of the book, which took away from my rating for it, but the surprise ending still made this a pretty good read.

About the Author:

Lydia Kang's author picture.

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, adult fiction and non-fiction, and poetry. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Great Weather for Media. She believes in science and knocking on wood, and currently lives in Omaha with her husband and three children.

The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding will be published on May 1, 2022

May I have a word?

Some questions for you:

  • Are you looking forward to The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding?
  • I decided to add some gifs to this to break up so much text. What do you think? Should I consider using them more in future reviews?
  • What are some of your anticipated reads for 2022?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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