It’s time for our monthly book reviews. This month we are going to review Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen. Once again, while our opinions about each book were somewhat similar, we did have some differing thoughts.
Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.
May’s Review: I heard a lot about this book, and was on a rather long waiting list at the library. I loved how this story began. The main character, Rachel, viewed the world and her former neighborhood everyday from the window of a train, peeking into and creating stories of the people she viewed in their homes. I discovered early on that Rachel’s character was definitely flawed, desperate, and somewhat humorous. There are many twists and turns in this novel and I have to admit, I found the ending rather weak and somewhat predictable. It didn’t live up to my expectations.
June’s Review: This book has so much hype surrounding it and it seems that everyone is reading it or has read it. Honestly, I didn’t think that it was worth all of the hype. I liked and hated the narrator, Rachel. Because she is unreliable it is hard to tell what to believe and what not to believe. However, the end made me so mad that I wanted to throw the book through the window. The ending seemed forced and contrived. Keep breakables away from you when you start reading the conclusion of the book.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.
May’s Review: I have read several books of this genre, and thought this was a well done story about the resilience of people in a post-apocalyptic world. Although this novel was rather dark, I liked how the story’s characters were everyday people trying to adapt to their new environment. The book goes back and forth in time, which gave me a glimpse into the lives of the characters, before their lives are forever changed. I did find the traveling symphony of Shakespeare to be somewhat lacking in interest, however and usually skimmed through those chapters rather quickly. Overall, I liked the writing and would recommend this book.
June’s Review: The genre of this book is not something I typically gravitate towards. I generally do not like doomsday or dystopian stories but I loved this book. The writing is beautiful. I was fascinated about how much the physical part of the world can change in a relatively short period of time if humans are not around to maintain it. I loved the stories and how they ultimately fit together. It is an interesting story of how humans adapt if their world drastically changes but yet still struggle to maintain parts of that world that they thought especially beautiful or worthy. I read this book at least a year ago, and this story still haunts me. A must read that combines both tragedy and beauty.
At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
In this thrilling new novel from the author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands.
After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind.
The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.
As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.
May’s Review: As a huge fan of Water for Elephants, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Sara Gruen’s newest novel. I enjoyed how this book combined historical fiction, with a little bit of fantasy and loved that the majority of the story was set in the beautiful country of Scotland. Maddie’s character, who is very spoiled and superficial, goes through a wonderful transformation throughout the course of the novel. She pulled me in right from the start, and I absolutely loved her at the end of the book. A must read.
June’s Review: A story that combines World War II and the Loch Ness monster, how can you go wrong? I really liked this book. It was fascinating how some young people of privilege lived during this era, although it can be said that some of that still goes on today. The parts about the Loch Ness monster were interesting because I have always thought of it as a myth but it seems that in this era (or at least these characters) really thought it to be true. A compelling story that pulls you in and invests you in the life of the main character, Maddie. I found myself rooting for her as she matured and found happiness.
Let us know if you have read or read any of our picks and your thoughts. -May and June