Review and Giveaway: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

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Synopsis from Good Read:

For fans of Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn comes an electrifying novel of stunning psychological suspense.


I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a  fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.

Black-Eyed Susans

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Black-Eyed Susans will be available August 11, 2015

Heaberlin effortlessly weaves together past and present into one suspenseful tale of a woman trying to outrun her monster. Ignore the Gillian Flynn comparison. Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans is so good it doesn’t need it.

Black-Eyed Susans is not your usual serial killer story. Details to what exactly happened to Tessa when she was taken at sixteen are kept vague. The horrors the other girls in the grave may have faced are also not expounded upon. There is no grand speech from the killer explaining what made him/her the way he/she is. The story is really more about Tessa’s journey to recovery, which after almost twenty years, is still not quite finished.

Tessa is the lone survivor of the Black-Eyed Susan killer. She testified against the man who is now on death row with very little time left. When Tessa finds the out of season black-eyed susans planted outside her bedroom window she believes it’s the work of the killer, her monster. And it isn’t the first time it’s happened. She joins the team working to free the man she helped convict before it’s too late. In doing so she is forced to confront secrets she’s kept and memories she’s repressed.

Tessa was a likable heroine. Other than being super protective of her teenage daughter and that the other “Susans” talk to her in her head, she’s not as crazy as you might think she would be. She’s paranoid (maybe even rightfully so), but she’s functioning and has made a good life for herself and Charlie, her daughter. Adding to the paranoia brought on by the flowers she finds outside her window, she starts receiving gifts from her childhood friend Lydia, who she hasn’t seen since the trial ended about twenty years ago. Lydia and her family disappeared into the night and no one had heard from them since.

The story is told in alternating chapters of Past and Present. I’m a big fan of multiple timelines and it’s done excellently here. There were several chapters that ended in cliffhanger moments and the next chapter you were in a different timeline. It definitely kept me turning the pages, feeling unable to stop because the story was continually suspenseful in at least one timeline at any given time. After the first two parts of the story, the third is told in Tessa’s Present and Lydia’s Past, and one chapter from The Monster which was also very effective story telling.

This is a very character-driven novel, which I loved. I feel like we really got to know Tessa, even though she was not always the most reliable narrator. I liked all of the side characters, her daughter Charlie, their neighbor (and comic relief) Effie, the lawyer and love interest Bill, Charlie’s father Lucas, and the forensic scientist Jo. I also felt the side characters from the Past, Lydia and the therapist that is helping prepare Tessa for trial, are very well done.

There’s not much more I can say that wouldn’t involve spoilers. Overall, I really enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans. It was a well paced, character-driven, suspenseful novel that I couldn’t stop reading. And during the few times I wasn’t reading – for silly things like work – I was thinking about reading it. I would definitely recommend it to fans of Suspense and character-driven novels.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars

Now for a Giveaway!

Enter the rafflecopter below for a chance to win a copy of Black-Eyed Susans! Please note that if you win, your information will be forwarded on to the publisher so they can mail out the copy. US only (sorry international friends)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS

I can’t help myself and have to mention one more thing. THIS DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the book, please don’t read any further.

While we find out who the killer is, we never get his/her name at any time throughout the book (I went looking for it while writing my review because I couldn’t recall it and realized only pronouns or his title was used). I think this is a brilliant, subtle narrative device which reinforces the theme of the story being about Tessa and not the serial killer.

That said, I still wish there would have been a little more info on the killer as to the how’s and why’s. But, as I mentioned earlier, this story isn’t really about him and it doesn’t really detract from the story not knowing those things.

Review: I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1) by Barry Lyga

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad?

Jasper “Jazz” Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could—from the criminal’s point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo’s Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret—could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

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I Hunt Killers has been on my radar for a while now, but it’s not an e-book at my library and I’m super stingy about buying books from authors I’m unfamiliar with so it’s just been sitting there patiently on my TBR shelf. I recently won a giveaway for a Nook Book of my choice and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally check this out.

I’m a fan of serial killer plotlines. The psychological impact on the characters always makes for some compelling characters, which I love. I Hunt Killers is a new twist on the genre that I haven’t read before. The main character is not the cop/law enforcement officer chasing him down or the serial killer, but his son. Billy Dent is the world’s most notorious serial killer and has over 120 kills to his name. He’s used several different personas, “The Artist”, “Green Jack”, “Hand-in-Glove”, and  has taught his son, Jasper (“Jazz”) everything he knows in hope that he will carry on “the family business.” Jasper has no intention of following in his father’s footsteps, but the brainwashing he received from Billy all those years has seriously messed with his head and he is constantly on alert for the stray thoughts or incident that could easily push him over the edge to becoming his father.

The character development in this book was phenomenal. I really felt like I got into Jasper’s head throughout the story and it was not always a pleasant place to be. I’m a fan of the tv show Dexter and this book has a bit of a Dexter vibe at times. Dexter’s struggle with his “dark passenger” is similar to how Jasper struggles with Billy’s voice constantly in his head – telling him how to kill and that he should.  Jasper tries to combat the increasingly alluring inner voice by repeating a mantra of, “People matter” to remind him that they aren’t the insignificant and disposable things to be used for his own purposes, as Billy taught him. He keeps pictures of all of Billy’s victims on his bedroom wall to be reminded of what he doesn’t want to be. When a new serial killer shows up in town he’s desperate to help – not just to prove to the town that it isn’t him, but to prove to himself that he’s on the right side.

While he tries to ignore the most gruesome of Billy’s teachings, he has become a master manipulator and often utilizes those skills to get him what he wants. He usually knows that it’s wrong, but he also justifies it to himself and this peek into the possible sociopathic mindset is part of what makes his character so interesting.

I really enjoyed Jazz’s best friend, Howie, as well. He was a great side-kick, comic relief, but also got in on some of the action. His hemophilia is also an interesting addition to his character. He’s physically extremely vulnerable and thus an easy target, which makes for a surprising choice of BFF for a could-be serial killer. I also liked the sheriff, G. William, and Jazz’s girlfriend, Connie.

Overall, I enjoyed I Hunt Killers and am glad I finally got to read it. I haven’t encountered many YA books that pull off suspense and creepiness the way that this one does. It’s dark and slightly gruesome, but it’s balanced out with a bit of humor. While there were a few predictable moments, I was often in suspense. I loved the characterization of Jasper. I’m looking forward to see what happens in the rest of the series.

I struggled a bit with what to rate this, but I think because of the unique plot idea and the great characterization, I’m going to bump up my original 3.5 to 4.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

4 stars