Book Review – The Good Neighbor

Author: A.J. Banner

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Pages: 206

Rating:

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Sarah McDonald lives a comfortable life as a successful children’s author and wife to a handsome dermatologist, Johnny. Living in a quiet suburban area of Washington state, there are few complaints Sarah has about her life. Until the night Sarah wakes up to realize her neighbors house is on fire, with their entire family, two parents and their four year old girl trapped inside.

Sarah and the rest of the neighbors rush to help the family escape their burning home while the fire department is en route. Knowing there is little time to save anyone inside, Sarah rushes into action. Sarah’s determination saves young Mia’s life. The last thing Sarah remembers is seeing debris falling from the sky just as she gets the preschooler to safety.

the good neighbor

Sarah wakes up in a hospital bed with her husband, Johnny. While only suffering a concussion and non life threatening injuries, Sarah’s life is changed when she learns that young Mia was the sole survivor of the fire, and that her own home was destroyed when the fire spread across the adjoining trees.

As Sarah tries to hold herself together in spite of her losses, she realizes just how much of her identity was tied up in her home. Her home work studio is gone ,and her neighbors are offering cryptic messages that only add to Sarah’s sense of loss.

How well does Sarah know her neighbors? Does she even know those she loves and trusts the most?

Banner’s short chapters and quick pacing make The Good Neighbor a fast paced, attention grabbing read. It’s easy to empathize with her loss, anyone would feel derailed by the loss of their home.

While Sarah is not a materialistic or vain person, losing her entire home challenges both her identity and her sense of security. As the details of how the fire started come to the surface, Sarah has to piece together who she can trust. Unlike the stories she writes, Sarah’s choices could have life altering affects.

The Good Neighbor keeps a steady pace with an unnerving sense of doubt seeded in Sarah from the beginning. Where the novel falters is in it’s character depth. While we get a fair amount of character development in both Sarah and some other key characters, it can be challenging to empathize with them at times. Sarah’s decisions and thought process do work well in building her growing unease and sense of uncertainty, there are times when her actions are frustrating and seem to contradict the intelligent, capable woman we know she is.

A strong debut from Banner, this psychological thriller warns readers that while the physical aspects of a home are insignificant, the loss of a home can expose truths that have the potential to shatter a person’s entire identity.

A.J. Banner’s second novel, The Twilight Wife, was released in December, 2016 under Touchstone (Simon & Schuster).

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books on My Spring TBR

Here we are, another Tuesday, another top ten list. The Top Ten Tuesday meme was started over at The Broke and the Bookish blog. If you haven’t participated before or aren’t familiar with the meme, it’s a weekly themed top list related to, you guessed it, all things books. It’s a fun way to really go through your shelves and TBR piles. This week, it’s all about the Spring TBR list. As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m not always a fan of TBR lists, but when it comes to listing the books I’d like to read in a season, it feels less daunting. Here’s what I’d like to get through as the snow starts to melt.

Top 10 March 16

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

In my post on reading inspirations, I mentioned that I was inspired to reread this classic novel in the wake of Harper Lee’s death. While it isn’t a book I immediately fell in love with as a high school student (eons ago!), I’m excited to read this as an adult and see how Lee’s ideas resonate with me today. I haven’t read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel in a  good while so this will be a nice reintroduction to that level of literary accomplishment.

9. Go Set the Watchman by Harper Lee

This book got so much attention when it was released in July 2015. The long awaited followup to To Kill a Mockingbird, I can’t tell you how many people I knew who were practically foaming at the mouth to devour this book. While I know there’ s a fair bit of controversy about how good of a book this is (what highly hyped book doesn’t have controversy?), for the most part I’ve heard good things. Either way, I’ll be interested to see where Lee takes things in this follow up novel.

8. Cress by Marissa Meyer

I’m ashamed that this is even on a TBR list as I’ve had this book (and TBR’d it) so many times. I loved Cinder and Scarlet and in many ways was dying to continue the series, but I just keep picking up other books. I own everything up through Winter, and I want to get caught up. I think part of my problem with these books is they’re so fun I just don’t want them to end. If you’re unfamiliar with the Lunar Chronicles, these are fairy tale retellings that are done with a gloriously kick ass flare. Cress (book 3) continues the story of Cinder and Scarlett, but also introduces Cress, a Rapunzel like character. Part fairy tale, part Sci Fi awesomeness, Meyers is one of those authors that can get most anybody to ignore everything else and devour a book. I know this one will go quickly.

7. Fairest by Marissa Meyer

This in-between novel in the Lunar Chronicles (published between Cress and Winter gives us a look at the series villain Queen Levana. Being a much shorter book than the prior installments, I’m interested to learn about the Queen, what her motives are and what keeps her moving forward. Some of my favorite novels in a series expose the characters you think you know and give you something much different to consider about their actions (like The Vampire Lestat). If this one really flies, I might start up Winter (book 5) to get myself closer to being completely caught up with this series.

6. The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner

This book has been on my radar for a while. Set in a quiet, idealistic town in Washington state, Sarah has to come to terms with her husband’s unexpected death. As she beings to solve the puzzle of his death, she learns there is much more to her quiet little town than she anticipated. I’ve noticed that people always seem to compliment Banner for giving this story a fresh voice. While popular suspense novels are often inventive and shocking, I don’t often find people saying that the author’s voice is so distinct. I’m hoping this read doesn’t disappoint.

5. Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

After reading Reconstructing Amelia earlier this year, I have been aching to read more of McCreight’s works. Where They Found Her was actually the first book of McCreight’s that discovered, but I decided to pick up a copy of Reconstructing Amelia and read that first. Another suspense novel, Where They Found Her challenges the ideas of family and the impact of your past on your present state. As a parent and an avid fan of psychological thrillers, I am anticipating this to be a heart pounding read.

4. The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

This fresh release (February 2016) is like a dream. Full of sailing, fantasy, adventure, and what seems like a diverse cast of characters, The Girl from Everywhere looks to be a promising read. The summaries and descriptions I’ve read of this novel give me the impression that it’s whimsical and fun, but will leave a long lasting impression on it’s readers. As her debut novel, I’m interested to see what Heilig’s writing is like.

3. Hold Still by Lynn Steger Strong

I almost didn’t put this book on my list, because in some ways it reminded me a little too much of Reconstructing Amelia in the mother/daughter dynamic. Still, the storyline interest me enough to give this one a try. I won’t lie, the Amazon Best of the Month award and positive Goodreads reviews swayed me to keep this book on my list. Stories about family, relationships, and personal growth can be  a valuable addition to our lives, or they can come up short and leave us wanting more. I’m hoping the latter will not be true for Hold Still. 

2. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Of all the horror stories available today, Bird Box is the book that I’ve heard the most praise for in terms of being utterly terrifying. Horror is the genre that kept me reading as a young child so anything in the genre that promises to deliver in a big way excites me. This novel promises to combine McCarthy’s storytelling style with King’s masterful horror roots. As a huge fan of both authors, I’m curious to see how Malerman weaves his story in a way that pays homage to these literary giants while keeping things unique to his own voice.

1. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

As the first novel in the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go introduces us to a kid named Todd. Thanks to an infection, Todd can hear the thoughts of those around him and vice versa. As Todd is approaching his birthday, and therefore closer to becoming a man like the rest of the town, he learns something that will forever change how he views the world. While I’ve been a bit reluctant to start a new series (because I have a few I need to finish), I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read from Ness in the past. I’m hoping this story lives up to everything I’ve heard about it over the years.

That’s all for my Spring TBR list. What are you reading this spring? What new releases are you looking forward to the most?

 

Top Ten Tuesday Image via The Broke and The Bookish

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Book Review – Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Published: May 31st, 2005

Pages: 331

Rating:

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Seventeen year old Kaye has had a particularly challenging life. From not fitting in (and even her best friend thinking her head is always in the clouds), to moving around often and having a fairly dysfunctional family life, Kaye has to balance undue adult responsibilities with being a teenager who no one quite understands. Kaye’s mom is a struggling musician with a creep for a boyfriend. A fight with the boyfriend causes Kaye and her family to uproot from the city and go back home to grandma’s house in New Jersey.

tithe cover

Kaye tries to fit in with her old best friend Janet again, though it’s been years since they’ve seen each other. As Kaye mingles with Janet’s new crowd of friends, she discovers that there’s still something about her that is a bit off kilter from the rest of the group. Janet remember’s Kaye’s fascination with the fairy (fae) friends (Gristle, Lutie-Loo, and Spike) that occupied much of Kaye’s free time. Because Kaye wasn’t even a teenager when she first left Jersey, she doesn’t doubt it when her friends and family suggest her fae friends were simply a part of her active imagination. Still, upon returning to Jersey, Kaye couldn’t help but think about her old fairy companions.

Now years older, Kaye learns that her ability to talk to and see the fairies is no mistake, she has a true connection to their world. Kaye is a changeling, an immortal who was swapped at birth with a human baby. Kaye’s role in the fairy world is significant, she is to be a sacrifice, the “tithe” that will allow the Unseelie court to bind solitary fae folk to the Unseelie court’s queen.

Through Black’s Fae world, we explore the ideas of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. While these historically accurate titles are adapted to Black’s world, the sense of light vs dark is noticeable. While the Seelie Court is not perfect, the Unseelie Court is downright scary. Black’s descriptions of the Unseelie are brutal and eerily mysterious. Many scenes read like something out of a Tim Burton film.

Tithe explores friendship, personal growth, and fantasy in a fast paced package. Kaye is in no way perfect, she has troubling family issues, yet she always seems to keep her head above water. From her unique appearance to her complicated friendships and the weight of knowing her role in the fae world will affect everyone.

Fans of Amanda Hocking and Marissa Meyer (read my review of Meyer’s Cinder here) who haven’t read Black’s work should enjoy this novel. While Tithe was published years before Hocking and Meyer’s popular works, the same light hearted, fun fantasy and paranormal elements are here. Like so many other fantastic female leads in YA novels, Kaye is the type of character we NEED in YA novels. She doesn’t always know how she’s going to accomplish her goals, but she marches forward, determined to succeed.

I’m curious to see what Tithe’s follow-up novel Valiant (Modern Faerie Tales #2) has to offer. (John Green’s reference to this second novel played a large part in peeking my interest in reading Tithe in the first place.)

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Harper Lee Reading Inspirations

Reading Inspiration #1

Instead of doing a typical TBR list, I wanted to try something different. The idea came to me shortly after the news that sadly, author Harper Lee passed away on February 19th, 2016. Knowing her as most of us do, for her works “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the 2015 release of her follow up novel “Go Set a Watchman”, I instantly thought of my first time reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” back in high school. As a book lover, I’m a bit ashamed to say I haven’t reread Lee’s work many times, but I still remember the deep appreciation I had for her work. Knowing my memories of her words, the scenes, her message were faded from years of other distractions, I decided that I would finally make time to reread Lee’s works.

This inspired me to think of my future reading lists as something organic, not something that I’m assigning myself. If there’s a new release coming up and I’m a book behind in the series, then I might be more motivated to include the unread book in my to-read list for the month so that I can dive right into the newest release, but I don’t want my future reading lists to become predictable.

I want my reading choices to reflect how I’m feeling. I want to let what’s happening in my life draw me to the books that may hold answers (or just distractions) from the more stressful times, and affirmations during the times when I need that quiet reassurance.

A few days ago, I started reading “Before I Go To Sleep” which I mentioned in my January ’16 TBR list. The last couple of months have been slow reading wise, but so far, Watson’s got me hooked.

(Bonus–I’ll have a review of Holly Black’s Tithe up soon!)

Whether you make strict to-read lists or pick your books at random, what motivates you the most to pick up a fresh book? Do you reread your favorites often?

 

Book Review – Reconstructing Amelia

Author: Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: Harper Perennial 

Release Date: December 3rd, 2013

Pages: 400

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15 year old Amelia Baron is dead, but her mother Kate knows there is more to Amelia’s death than her school, or the police are letting on. Kate carries a tremendous amount of guilt for not being there more for her daughter during her life, but now, she’s determined to find out what actually happened to her Amelia. In Reconstructing Amelia, we see Kate’s  search through Amelia’s life for clues about her death, the day to day life of a 15 year old girl that despite all her efforts, Kate knew so little about. Altering points of view between Kate, Amelia, and a harsh anonymous blog about the social goings on of her school, it quickly becomes clear that Amelia’s last few months of life were anything but simple.

ReconstructingAmelia

Wading through the grief of losing her only real family, her only child, Kate knows that nothing about the story fits. Amelia was a model student at her prestigious Brooklyn private school Grace Hall. She was studious, kind, and an asset to her school’s field hockey team. Amelia was quiet and had only one true friend, her lifelong best friend Sylvia, but she wasn’t completely miserable about her life.

Kate knows there is more than what the school is letting on about what happened to her daughter. Amelia was accused of plagiarizing a paper for her favorite class, a paper on To The Lighthouse by her favorite author, Virginia Woolf. Kate, Sylvia and the school staff knows that Amelia didn’t need to cheat on the paper, that she knew the novel by heart. Amelia was never one to contemplate suicide no matter how grim her situation may have been.

Kate begins to search through Amelia’s text messages and emails to try and uncover more about what could have lead up to Amelia’s suspension and death. With the help of a new police detective, Kate beings to learn that Amelia’s troubles were far greater than a school paper. Secret clubs, code names, young love, jealousy, intense bullying and friendship all culminated in Amelia’s life just before her death.

The back and forth between Amelia, Kate, the past, emails, texts, and the anynoumously written school gossip blog make Reconstructing Amelia a heartbreaking page turner. Amelia is the kind of kid that would make any parent proud. The level of pain she endures in the name of friendship, respect, and love among her peers is equally astonishing and heartbreaking.

While Kate uncovers what Amelia was dealing with in her own world, she is forced to face truths about her past, about Amelia’s father, and the role his identity plays in their lives.

Reconstructing Amelia is heart wrenching because it reads like a true account. While the story isn’t based on actual events, hazing, lying, and struggling to find acceptance happens daily in schools everywhere. Kate is flawed but strong, she isn’t afraid to admit to her past and yet, she tries so hard to protect her daughter from the consequences of her own mistakes.

McCreight’s story is haunting, imaginative, raw, and almost too realistic. This story is so well structured, the secrets keep coming. Just when you think it can’t get any more heartbreaking, any more shocking, this book sweeps you off your feet.

Consistently thrilling and never pretentious, Reconstructing Amelia is everything a novel should be — creative, emotional, and impactful. Amelia’s story is one that quietly digs it’s way into your mind and takes residence, refusing to let go after you’ve finished the story.

January 2016 Book Haul

The first book haul of the year! I don’t plan to do a haul each month, but I’m not going to say that it isn’t possible that new books may sneak their way onto my shelves each month. This month I have a good mix of both print and ebooks (yay Kindle!) to share with you. While I noticed that many of them have a similar theme (suspense, family, mothers), I am happy to say that each of these books were purchased because I was simply browsing and couldn’t leave without them. Two books on this list I’d planned to buy, but I still lingered over them for a while before clicking that ever so tempting “1-click” button. Lets dive into what’s on the list for this haul.

Tithe

tithe cover

As I mentioned in my TBR list for this month, I grabbed this book because of two things: it’s been highly recommended and the cover is awesome. Bonus – Fae. Who doesn’t love a good YA fantasy novel? I am really hoping this will be one of those books that just sucks me in and lets me get lost inside the story for a couple of days. It usually doesn’t take me long to read books of this nature when they’re as well written as everyone says this is.

Before I Go to Sleep

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This was another book that I mentioned in my TBR list as being something I have been looking forward to reading for quite some time. While the initial idea of the story has always intrigued me (a woman who has amnesia and while journalling in an attempt to regain her memory, discovers she told her future self  to not trust her husband), I always just let this one sit on the back burner when I’d go into a store or look around on Amazon. This too I expect to be a quick read.

What Was Mine

whatwasminecover

 

The cover and the title were what drew me to the print copy of this book when I was out shopping. While I’ve noticed that psychological thrillers from female authors are even more in demand than ever (thanks Flynn, Hawkins and others!), this one demanded attention. The story involves a woman named Lucy who takes a stranger’s baby while at a grocery store and raises the baby on her own without anyone knowing it wasn’t really her baby for twenty years. This story sounds like a great mix of suspense and literary fiction, something that’s almost too hard to imagine, yet keeps you reading despite your reservations. I am really curious to see what my feelings are about Lucy from beginning to end.

Reconstructing Amelia

ReconstructingAmelia

This book has been on my radar since I discovered McCreight’s second novel Where They Found Her. While this will be my first read from McCreight, I expect it to be intense. Reconstructing Amelia follows the story of a mother named Kate who is a lawyer with a daughter who attends a prestigious boarding school. When Kate finds out that her daughter is having behavior problems at school, she intervenes only to find out that her daughter is dead. As a Law and Order junkie, I can’t help but think Kate is going to be leaning hard on her legal system knowledge while simultaneously being engulfed in the grief hat only a parent who has lost a child can know.

The Night Sister

TheNightSisterCover

In Jennifer McMahorn’s The Night Sister, we are introduced to the eerie, mystery laden Tower Motel, located in London Vermont (hurray New England!). The abandoned tower caused a deep drift between three friends. When Amy, Margot and Piper were at the abandoned motel and found something that would change all of their lives, and their relationships with one another. While the story itself confirmed my decision to buy this book, it was the eerily haunting cover that lured me in. Something about it has that perfectly haunted, intimidating yet alluring quality that’s so hard to resist (and rarely disappointing). I don’t get around to reading horror novels as often as I’d like, so this should be a real throwback to my younger reading days when the genre dominated my bookshelves.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Two awesome things about this purchase: it was on sale for really cheap, and it gets me back into the Harry Potter world. I somehow didn’t realize I didn’t already own this book until I picked up this copy and was browsing through it. I didn’t start reading the Harry Potter series until I was in college (thanks to my amazing first roommate who had a non-HP intervention on me). Incase you aren’t aware, this book catalogues all the Fantastic Beasts and gives all the info you could want. With so much of an awesome focus on personal development in the HP series, I just couldn’t pass this one up.
That’s all for this book haul. Did you pick up any books this month? Did you get any awesome bookish gifts over the holiday season? If you have any opinions about these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

January 2016 TBR

It’s a new year, time for new reading goals and habits! While I haven’t done a TBR in quite a while, I want to get back in the habit of reading consistently. I never stopped reading, it just wasn’t getting as much attention as I’d have liked in 2015.

 

My goals for this month are modest as I want to make sure my goal is something realistic. Here we go:

Jan 16 TBR 1

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale/Modern Faerie Tales #1

 

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Genre: YA

Pages: 336

I first heard about this book on YouTube thanks to John Book Giving Guide video on the Vlogbrothers channel (though he references the second novel, Valiant). Since then, it appears that everyone else has read this (supposedly fantastic) novel so I had to buy it. Plus, I’m a sucker for amazing covers like this one.

Before I Go To Sleep: A Novel

 

Author: S.J. Watson

Publisher:  Harper Paperbacks

Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Suspense

Published: 2012

Pages: 368

I first heard about this from a vlogger in the BookTube realm a couple of years ago. From what I recall, she wasn’t an enormous fan of the genre, but was gifted the book and fell in love with the story. I know there’s a film adaptation from 2014 with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, so I may just watch the movie after reading the book and do a comparison post. I’m expecting to love this. Nothing gets me like a good suspense/mystery novel.

Beyond the Painting

Author: Masood Vahdani

Publisher: Partridge Press (Penguin Random House)

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 125

This is a YA novel that Vahdani kindly sent me to review over  on WOTN that I haven’t got to yet. Shame on me. Beyond the Painting is a dark YA fantasy story surrounding vampires and relationships. From the promising reviews and description Vahdani gave me, this story deals with vampires though thankfully, they aren’t the overly exhausted whimsical kind. While I enjoyed Twilight when it was happening (remember, Faulkner said to read everything), I get where everyone is “over” the vampire thing. Still, I’m intrigued by the idea of this story. YA fantasy done right is always a win for me. I’m curious to see if this lives up to my expectations.

While not technically part of my January TBR as I just finished it (and started in December), here’s a bonus read:

And Again

Author: Jessica Chiarella

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Literary Fiction

Pages: 320

This isn’t technically part of my January TBR because I finished it at the beginning of the month, but it’s worth your attention. I was lucky enough to be sent this as an advanced reading copy (ARC) late last year to review the piece for Word of the Nerd (if you aren’t aware, I write and edit there).  It comes out today and and was published by Simon and Shuster. You can read my review here if you want to hear my two cents. Quick opinion: this book will haunt you in all the best ways.

What are your reading goals for this month? Do you find TBR piles helpful?

Tell me what January releases have you running to the bookstore.