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.