Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia HeaberlinJust in time for Halloween this weekend, I finished Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin. An eerie murder mystery, this is a great one to pick up on a dark fall evening. While Black-Eyed Susans is a haunting story, it doesn’t have the chilling tone of a Stephen King novel that can leave a reader feeling jumpy and full of nightmares.

The scenes switch between Tessa, a mother in her mid-thirties, and Tessie, her teenage self twenty years earlier. When Tessie was sixteen she was found nearly dead, along with a pile of bones, in a patch of black-eyed susan flowers. As the lone survivor of the serial killer, police turned to Tessie for the murderer’s identity… the only problem is that she can’t remember what happened.

Throughout Black-Eyed Susans it is clear that Tessa has not been able to move on from the horror of that night. When a patch of black-eyed susans are planted under her window, Tessa fears that she and her daughter Charlie may have to face her monster once again nearly two decades later.

I enjoyed this mystery novel and it kept me pretty hooked. There were a few questions that I felt were left unanswered, but maybe that was Heaberlin’s intention all along, no matter how frustrating!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

A Hundred SummersThis is one of my favorite books and I don’t throw that term around lightly. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams is a fantastic historical fiction novel sharing the story of Nick and Lily. This was the first book I read of Williams and I have adored her writing style ever since.

A Hundred Summers switches between the years 1931 and 1938 in New York City and a nearby beach town where wealthy people spend their summers lounging by the shore. During present time in the book, 1938, Nick and Lily aren’t together, but when the story switches back to 1931 they are. The book is spent reconciling what happened between those years that tore the pair apart. Williams does a great job building characters and plot twists into the book to keep us readers guessing.

This story sucked me in and every misunderstanding between characters had me gripping the book in frustration. I love a book that makes me feel actively invested in the outcomes of the characters.

My one critique of A Hundred Summers was the ending, which was a bit random, but it worked. I loved this and every other book I’ve read by Beatriz Williams and I highly recommend her work!

Beloved Book Settings: London

Big Ben in London, EnglandToday I’m back with another beloved book setting: London! I absolutely adore London and I fell in love with the city after traveling there last year.

A few books that strengthened my love for London include:

  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for J.K. Rowling)

First of all, I love the dry and witty humor that is common among English people. I think tone is hilarious and love to read sarcasm in books because it pulls me into the story quickly.

London is a beautiful city, filled with a mix of traditional buildings like Buckingham Palace and the London Bridge along with newer modern buildings in the financial district. I’ve been swept away by a city that is both a buzzing business center and is full of historic monuments. I’m also very impressed by the tube; never have I seen a public transportation system that’s so efficiently zipping people around the city.

I have traveled through many cities in Europe (I studied abroad during college and tried to see as much as I could) and London continues to be my favorite spot. That’s probably why I am drawn to books set in the city, by reading them I can be transported there for a time.

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner With Who Do You Love, Jennifer Weiner has managed to turn a book about the struggles of life, love, and loss, into an engaging story. I think that’s what makes a great writer, the ability to turn mundane situations into a book worth reading.

Who Do You Love switches back and forth between Rachel and Andy, a pair that keeps ending up in each other’s lives. From a hospital waiting room to a teenage volunteering program to life as adults, they find themselves pulled back to one another.

Rachel was born with a heart defect and had grown up facing surgeries, hospital stays and coddling parents. Andy on the other hand, had grown up as a lonely child without anyone close to him besides his mother who had other things to think about. He was angry and felt unworthy of the love he desperately wanted, so he began to run. Running as hard, fast and long as he could, he began to see past the pain.

Rachel and Andy share a sweet love. It’s not the dramatic and perfect love of romance novels, but instead one of simplicity and connection.

This story is a good example of how character development can build a great story. Weiner brought Rachel and Andy to life in my mind and created a story that everyone can relate to in one way or another.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenI’m having a hard time deciding how to put my opinions of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel into words. I definitely liked the book; I’m just not sure how much.

On one hand, it’s a very interesting story, which centers on a massive case of the flu that has wiped out a majority of the world population and has left those remaining living in shambles.

Station Eleven jumps between decades, from before and after the collapse, and focuses on many characters whose lives are interconnected. We have Arthur Leander, a famous actor who dies on stage while performing a play on the evening when the sickness hits Toronto. Then there’s Kristen, one of the child actors performing with Arthur in the play, who survived the sickness and goes on to join the Traveling Symphony. We also have Jeevan, a training paramedic who realizes the epidemic is coming in time to store enough food to save himself.

My critique of this book is that I wasn’t able to connect with the characters as much as I would have liked. My favorite books are those in which I feel for the characters, but I don’t think that Mandel went far enough with her character development. They intrigued me, but not enough to make this book a favorite for me.

Overall, I liked this book and thought it was a unique choice that’s different from stories that I normally read.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesI give All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven a big thumbs up. I went on a road trip for work last week and listened to this YA fictional novel and found it to be both touching and heartfelt.

The story begins when two high school seniors, Violet and Finch, meet on the roof of the bell tower at their school, both contemplating what it would mean to jump off. Violet has recently lost her sister in a car crash and Finch has always struggled to find where he fits into the world and why any of it matters. On top of the bell tower they both feel lost.

Through this story they save each other and their journey is really sweet. Violet learns how to live again and Finch learns to be comfortable as his wild and charming self. Both characters had been through so much and I was really interested to see how they each handled their grief.

This book is really good and I recommend it! One fun fact about the audiobook; the male narrator sounded a lot like John Mulaney, the comedian, which was a nice added bonus.

The brilliance of Harry Potter on audio

 I have to hand it to Jim Dale, he does a fantastic job of narrating the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling on audiobook. While I prefer reading the books myself, I’m happy to listen to Dale narrate as I get ready for the work day or as I do chores around the house. The problem I find with many audiobooks is the narrator’s voice, which usually ends up distracting me from the actual story. I think that Dale does a great job of capturing each different characters’ accent and tone of voice really well. In this case I actually think he helps the book come alive because I get so sucked into the story that I honestly forget I’m listening to an audiobook
I’m currently listening the the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I had forgotten how funny the Weasley twins are and find myself cracking up at their pranks and experimental magical creations.

So if you haven’t tried listening to the Harry Potter series on audio – I highly recommend it. Not many people have time to sit down to read a seven book series, but listening to an audiobook is much more plausible. It honestly might be the only thing that makes cleaning the bathroom a not-so-bad task.