Review of Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Published on August 11, 2015
by Ballantine Books

Source: bought

Plot Summary for Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive. 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 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. 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?

Review of Black-Eyed Susans 

Black-Eyed Susans had a lot of interesting aspects. It is the story of the surviving victim of a serial killer with amnesia and her guilt over the fact that her testimony sent a man to death row.

It's also the story of her relationships in the present with her daughter, a DNA expert, and the lawyer for the man on death row. Finally, it covers relationships in her past with a therapist and her best friend. 

The story is told in a past/present alternating format (not my favorite) that took me some time to adjust to, but once I figured that out I found the book to be a fun, page-turning read. 

Characters with amnesia are also not my favorite, but I liked the fact that we got to see two Tessas -- the scared girl who develops psychologically induced blindness after her ordeal, and the confident adult who is wrestling with the implications of her testimony decades before against the man she thought was her attacker.

Black-Eyed Susans definitely has a few twists up its sleeve, and while though I thought the ending was a bit of a stretch in terms of plausibility, I did like the fact that all the information you'd need to solve the mystery was there for the reader to find.

In a Dark, Dark Wood
by Ruth Ware

Published on August 25, 2015
by Gallery/Scout Press

Source: eARC from publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from Goodreads: Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

My take:  As I've mentioned in some previous posts and reviews, I love British crime fiction. I'm not sure what it is that makes me so fond of it -- maybe the contrast between a slightly buttoned-up culture and the crime element? I don't know. I'm also quite the Anglophile.

In a Dark, Dark Wood shares a couple of elements with Black-Eyed Susans: a character with amnesia and a narrative that shifts between past and present. Nora, a recluse and writer, gets an invitation to the hen party of a friend she's lost touch with. She reluctantly agrees to attend, and is soon hanging in a snowy, ecluded English country house with a small group of people she barely knows. Can anyone say Ten Little Murder Victims ? (I love that the characters crack jokes about that book.)

Before long, we flash forward to Nora in the hospital, injured and confused. She learns that someone at the party has died -- but who? and how? I related a lot to Nora. I'm a bit introverted and bookish, and it would be my worst nightmare to be trapped in a house with weird stuff happening. Like Black-Eyed SusansIn a Dark, Dark Wood gives the sharp-eyed and detail-oriented reader all the clues he or she needs to figure out what happened in that isolated house. That's a big thing to me - I hate mysteries and thrillers where stuff just comes out of left field and the reader didn't have a chance to figure things out. Some readers may figure out exactly what happened (I put some of the pieces together, but not all) but to me, that's an important part of the fun.

Which of these books is right for you? Black-Eyed Susans is a little more gruesome and had a lot more procedural stuff (DNA and legal stuff) while In a Dark, Dark Wood was more creepy and suspenseful.


  1. I have Black Eyed Susans and am really excited for it . In a Dark, Dark Wood sounds awesome and I will be adding it to my TBR - Great reviews!

  2. I really want to read Black Eyed Susans - while I hadn't heard of In a Dark, Dark Wood prior to this, I'll be adding it to the TBR pile as well. I seem to be going through a crime/psychological mystery phase at the moment.

  3. Everyone seems enchanted with Black Eye Susans, and I really want to try it too :) The Dark, Dark Woods doesn't sound bad either. Brilliant reviews, Jen.

  4. Black Eyed Susans is new to me and I'm really digging the feel of this one from your review!

  5. These both sounds amazing! I'll be checking out Black Eyed Susans!

    Happy Reading
    Patrick @ The Bookshelves

  6. They both sound like books I would enjoy! Great reviews :)

  7. I read Black Eyed Susans and kind of loved it. The ending was such a surprise to me! I had not heard of In a dark, dark wood but it sounds awesome as well.

  8. I am not a big mystery/thriller reader but I do like the sound of these two!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  9. I like the theme of your reads today, Jen. :)

  10. I like mysteries and thrillers but lately I don't get to read much about these anymore. Will look up the books you mentioned! :)

    Precious @ Fragments of Life

  11. they both sound really good and I haven't heard of either. I think I like the creepy over the gruesome but I like legal stuff too. Well I just have to read both.


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