Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

It’s no secret that doomsday, post-apocalyptic novels are in right now. What I enjoyed most about Station Eleven is that it didn’t focus so much on the chaos surrounding a devastating, world-wide plague, but gave the readers glimpses of the lives right before and fifteen years following the terrible flu. Instead of centering on how people fought and survived in the beginning of the epidemic, Station Eleven reflected how people were able to survive long-term in the wake of a fast-killing virus.

The novel begins on stage, where Arthur Leander has a heart attack while on stage performing in King Lear. As a EMT named Jeevan Chaudhary jumps on stage to help Arthur, child actress Kirsten Raymonde watches the horrible scene unfold from backstage. Arthur dies as the curtain drops. Later that night, in an unrelated incident, a deadly flu virus begins to spread worldwide. Jeevan and his brother shut themselves into their apartment in an attempt to wait out the epidemic.

Flash forward fifteen years and Kirsten Raymonde is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. This group of thespians travels between the settlements of the now-ravaged world, performing Shakespeare and concerts for the remaining communities in this new world. They encounter a corrupt prophet who attempts to keep them trapped in his twisted little town.

Station Eleven jumps back in time to tell the story of Arthur Leander’s life, who has a surprisingly strong connection to the survivors in the post-apocalyptic world. We learn more about Jeevan and his life before and after the flu. This novel is beautifully written, it captures your attention and reminds us to appreciate all the little beauties our imperfect world offers us. Definitely worth a read.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This is definitely a book written for middle-aged moms, but I absolutely loved it. I’ve read two of Moriarty’s other books and loved them both. Definitely a good summer read that will keep you entertained.

Big Little Lies focuses on the lives of three women, whose children are all in the same kindergarten class. Jane is a young single mother who is trying to navigate a new town and a new school for her son, Ziggy. On the first day, she meets Madeline, a older mother who is loud, welcoming, and maybe just a bit crazy. Madeline takes Jane under her wing, sensing that Jane has some past hurts that need to be brought out into the open. Madeline helps introduce Jane to all the mothers at Pirriwee Public School, including Celeste, a beautiful, quiet, and slighly off-beat mother of twins.

This novel bounces back in forth in perspective as we learn about Madeline’s troubles with her teenage daughter and ex-husband’s new family, about Celeste’s secret marital struggles, and about Jane’s emotional issues, which seem to revolve around the mystery of Ziggy’s father. Each chapter brings the reader one step closer to the fateful charity Trivia Night at the school, where someone tragically dies.

I usually am able to figure out the big twists and I swear this book kept me guessing until the end. I woke up my poor brother at 12:30am last night because I shrieked “OH MY GOD” when I got to the twist. It was so good. Really a good mystery. And, if you’re into the sorts of books that middle-aged women read at book clubs (which I so am), it’s definitely worth a read.

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi

This novel was intriguing, mysterious, fun to read, and just plain weird.

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty centers on a group of friends, who call themselves the Knights of Creation, and follows their lives in New York City. In the group, we have Barb and Lily. Barb, a strikingly beautiful woman, chooses to make herself look ugly using her skills as a costume designer because she believes that will help her find love. Lily, on the other hand, is unfortunately ugly by traditional standards and tries anything she can to get the attention of the man she loves, but who doesn’t love her back. To add to this drama, the friends also discover there is a murderer in their mix and try to figure out who it is.

This book is not linear in the traditional sense and is filled with elements of magical realism/surrealism (I was always bad at telling the difference between those two). There are moments that come out of seemingly no where and make little to no sense. But it was sooo good. Very off-beat, but really fun to read because you never knew what would come next.

Worth a read if you like Woody Allen movies and the works of authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

Kristin Hannah is pretty high up there on my favorite author list and her newest novel, The Nightingale, moved her up a little bit higher. Hannah’s writing is beautiful, descriptive, and full of feeling.

The Nightingale takes place in Nazi-occupied France in the midst of World War II. The novel follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, whose lives during the war dramatically differ. Vianne’s husband goes off to fight in the war, living Vianne to care for their young daughter. When the Nazis take over Vianne’s town, a soldier boards at Vianne’s house, forcing Vianne to align with the enemy in order to protect herself and her daughter from harm. Isabelle, on the other hand, cannot sit idly by. Isabelle searches for a way to play an active role in the war and joins the French Resistance. She continues to risk her life time and time again to protect the lives of Allied soldiers.

Weaving between the sisters’ perspectives, The Nightingale shows what life during wartime truly is: filled with pain and love but also full of love. I loved reading this novel – the characters were wonderfully developed, the story intriguing and the ending heartbreakingly beautiful. Definitely worth a read.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This book. This book. This book. I don’t know how to accurately convey my feelings about this book because there are just too many wonderful things I could say about it.

Jandy Nelson is without a doubt one of the most beautifully descriptive and imaginative authors whose work I have read. While her writing style might not be for everyone, I loved the way she was able to create two completely different characters and weave together their stories into one cohesive and dynamic novel.

I’ll Give You the Sun follows the stories of twins Jude and Noah as they navigate the ups and downs of growing up. Marketed as Young Adult Fiction, I think that this book is suitable for all ages. The novel alternates between the two twins stories of growth. We follow thirteen-year old Noah as he falls in love with the boy next door and struggles with societal and familial pressures. In tandem with Noah’s story, we step forward three years and follow Jude’s story as she comes to grips with a terrible tragedy that has ultimately torn her and Noah apart. We see Jude grow and learn how to love and put her life back together.

I loved how this novel went back and forth between time and perspective, while telling a larger story about love, loss, and family. I couldn’t put this book down and thoroughly enjoyed every page, every line, every word that Jandy Nelson put on the page. Definitely worth a read.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It felt like an adventure, but it wasn’t so fast-paced that my anxiety was through the roof. It was well-written and beautifully thought-out.

After losing his web design job during the Great Recession, Clay Jannon enters into an old and mysterious bookstore searching for a job. At Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Clay works the overnight shift, which brings only a few very eccentric customers who only check out books from a certain section. As Clay gets to know the store and the owner a bit more, he discovers that there is much more than reading happening at this bookstore. Clay is thrust into a world of secret societies, age-old mysteries, and the battle between technology and books.

Again, I really really liked this book. The story line was engaging and thought-provoking. I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of books and technology and this book brought up a variety of thoughts and issues on how to bring those two seemingly different things together. Definitely worth a read.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve been having trouble in the past week or two finding motivation to read, which is embarrassing and hard for me to say because reading is my thing. Maybe it’s because real life has been so busy, but I think a huge part of it is that I haven’t been connecting with books that I’ve been reading. So I decided that maybe it’s a good idea for me to reread books that I love but haven’t written about yet. So here we are with book one of the “Get Michelle to Love Reading Again” Initiative: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Cath’s entire world revolves around Simon Snow, a fictional series created by Gemma T Leslie (think Harry Potter but darker). Cath and her twin sister, Wren, grew up loving the books, constantly rereading them, talking about them on online forums, and writing incredible amounts of fan fiction dedicated to Simon Snow. However, as they enter into college, Wren decides she needs to branch out more, leaving Cath behind with only the fandom to keep her company.  We see Cath struggle through freshman year of college, including difficult classes, problems with her dad at home, and a tough roommate who has a “boyfriend” that is always hanging around. Through it all, we’re rooting for Cath to realize she too can be happy. Guess you’ll have to read it to see if that happens!

I really love Fangirl a lot. It’s incredibly well written – Rainbow Rowell really knows just how to transport you into someone’s mind. When Cath was experiencing all those awkward freshman year moments, it felt like I was reliving that tough time as well. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone in the suffering! I love that there are excerpts of both the “real” Simon Snow series and of Cath’s fan fiction in this novel. It was nice to have those little breaks in reality. I’d love to read full length versions of both those things!

This is 100% YA fiction and it is wonderful. Worth a read if you’ve ever gotten so entrenched in a fandom that there’s no end in sight – haven’t we all been there?

The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie

The Matched trilogy is a classic dystopian YA novel in which life is absolutely “perfect” because the Society plans and chooses everything for their citizens, including their life partners. When Cassia is matched with her best friend, Xander, it seems as though her future will be ideal. However, when she checks her Match data card later and sees another boy’s face, she begins to doubt the Society and the future they have planned for her. This trilogy follows the stories of Cassia, Xander, and Ky, the mysterious boy on the data card, as they grapple with questions of love, survival, and choice.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this trilogy. At times, the story lines could be a bit convoluted, but overall this was well-written. The romance aspect is definitely a key element to this series, but I enjoyed it and thought that the dynamics between the characters were especially engaging. I really enjoy reading dystopian novels because they really push me to think about the future I’m headed towards. Although I would not call this an intellectual novel, this book definitely made me think more about control and perfection within society and that’s always a good thing.

Bottom line: If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games/Divergent Series, try this trilogy.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot centers on Alice (shocker!) a 39 year old woman who falls during her spin class, hits her head, and forgets the past decade of her life. Imagine her shock when she wakes up in a hospital and learns that she is getting divorced, has three kids, and is about to turn 40 years old. Alice must navigate this new life, while trying to figure out where everything went wrong and why her life now seems so lonely. Throughout the novel, Alice gets back pieces of her memory that help her to understand why things have turned out they way they have. But is it possible to fix everything?

Sorry if that description sounds incredibly cheesy, summaries are not my strong suit. What Alice Forgot was a very entertaining read, especially because I am a big fan of amnesia redemption stories. I love the idea of getting a new perspective of your life and making you think about what is really important. Liane Moriarty does a great job of creating mystery about Alice’s past, so as a reader you want to keep reading to figure out what really happened. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about in this novel was the letters from Frannie (you’ll understand if you read) because they felt superfluous and I didn’t find them particularly engaging.

Definitely worth a read if you’re in the market for an easy-to-follow yet interesting novel.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

So good. I was glued to this book and read it in 4 hours. It was that gripping. If you are a fan of Gone Girl or Hitchcockian thrillers, this is a must read.

The Girl on the Train is written from a few different perspectives, but focuses mostly on Rachel. To put it delicately, Rachel is having a tough time sorting out her life. Every day, Rachel’s commuter train stops at a signal, which gives Rachel the perfect view of a seemingly happy suburban couple, who she names “Jess and Jason.” Rachel dreams up a magical life for this unsuspecting couple, imagining them as a perfect couple, with a perfect life. However, one day Rachel sees something that shatters the illusion and cannot keep it to herself. Soon, Rachel becomes entwined in the life of this couple in dangerous and thrilling ways.

If I haven’t made it clear above, you should definitely read this book. It is enthralling, engaging, and intriguing. It’s not a happy, fluffy novel, so don’t read it expecting any of that. But it is well-written and full of mystery.

If you read it, let me know what you think in the comments below!