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!

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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.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin HannahThis one is absolutely incredible! The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a story that must be shared and read over and over again. Hannah shares with us the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, young women living in France during WWII. Hannah has done a fantastic job here, the book has great character construction and many different dynamics running throughout.

The elder sister, Vianne, has always been the weak one. When her husband is drafted for the war she has no choice but to stay strong for her daughter. Through Vianne’s story we get a glimpse into the life of a mother trying to survive through German occupation, while starving, freezing, and hosting German officers in her home.

Isabelle, the younger sister, is wild and has few thoughts for the consequences that her actions will cause. All her life she has felt unloved, a motherless girl being pushed away from a father and sister who cannot cope with the loss, kicked out of every boarding school she’s attended. When she joins the resistance against Germany she finds herself right in the center of it all.

The Nightingale is a beautifully written story and so terribly sad. These women are so brave, and although they are fictional, they represent very real people. I loved this book and highly recommend it to everyone, not only historical fiction lovers.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown AmericansThe Book of Unknown American, written by Cristina Henriquez, focuses on the lives of immigrants from South and Central America living in the United States. I was drawn into this story because of the multiple perspectives that Henriquez writes from. Readers look through the eyes of children and adults, citizens and undocumented residents and learn of each of these character’s frustrations.

While the book contains narratives from many characters, the main story follows Maribel, a girl who has suffered a traumatic brain injury; which causes her family to move to the US in an attempt for a better life and a school with supportive programs. She meets a boy living in the same apartment complex and when she seems to be improving after spending time with him, they find an unexpected connection between them.

To be honest, the ending of this book disappointed me. While I felt that the story was interesting, I felt like the final scenes strayed from that main topic and became unfocused. I wish Henriquez had gone further with her characters because I would have liked to learn more about them.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book for the perspectives of multiple immigrants living in the U.S. and for the insights into the hardships experienced while looking for a better life.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is an enchanting story centered on a young girl and boy, Celia and Marco, who are unknowingly bound together. Their mentors have each entered these “special” children into a magical challenge that plays out over the course of their lives. The arena for this challenge is none other than a night circus, a traveling group that shows up unannounced across the globe.

The circus becomes completely intertwined with the challenge, filled with tents full of magic and fantastical illusions. Morgenstern did a good job of illustrating the challenge with stunning descriptions that help the reader imagine the unknown.

Along with these magical enchantments, I was drawn into this story because of the wacky characters with their bizarre, and sometimes stunning, acts. For me, this wasn’t a page gripping book, but it was very well written and I was intrigued all the same.

Another twist to the story comes when these challengers start developing feelings for each other…Will they fight to the finish or will love triumph all? You’ll just have to pick up The Night Circus to find out!

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy NelsonA few pages into I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, I was feeling a bit skeptical about the story. While my attention was instantly caught by all of the imagery and colorful descriptions, I wasn’t sure how an entire book like that would go. I had no reason to worry though because this story was pretty fantastic.

Through I’ll Give You The Sun, a YA novel focused on twin siblings, we witness the very complex relationship between Jude and Noah. While the pair is obviously deeply connected, the siblings simultaneously harbor aggressively competitive feelings that cause them to do awful things to one another. The book switches between loving interactions and vicious fights, an interesting aspect that kept me completely enthralled.

The heartfelt characters and their wild imaginations were what really pulled me into the story. Their stories made me feel for them, for their pain, their passion, their lies and their loves.

Are YA novels only for teens? Definitely not when it comes to I’ll Give You The Sun.

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest ClineWhat does it mean when you’re flight’s delayed? This past weekend it meant that I had more time to read! With the extra time, I was able to dive into Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a sci-fi novel set in the year 2044.

USA Today describes the story pretty perfectly:

“Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.” – USA Today

In this story, Earth has plummeted into decay and Cline paints a horrifying picture through his “stacks”, trailers that are stacked up on top of each other and are only stabilized by weak metal pipe structures.

People escape this harsh reality through Oasis, a virtual world where people can be whoever, or whatever, they want. The creator of Oasis, James Halliday, has passed away and left behind the challenge of a lifetime. Whoever can solve his highly complex scavenger hunt filled with puzzles, video game challenges, and 80’s pop culture trivia, will win Halliday’s fortune and control of Oasis. Wade Watts, an anti-social teenager, finds himself catapulted into fame when he finds the first piece of Halliday’s puzzle.

As someone who is not very savvy in video game jargon, I thought Cline did a pretty good job of keeping technical descriptions straightforward. Despite a few scenes where my mind wandered in the face of ultra-detailed descriptions, I was able to keep up for the most part.

I don’t read a lot of sci-fi books, but I enjoyed Ready Player One. The story was interesting, the dialogue was entertaining and the topics were relatable. Cline brought depth to the story by touching on issues that the world is dealing with today, including global warming, pollution, monopoly power, and the risks that technology presents to overpower our lives so much so that we forget to live in reality.