Book Review – The Good Neighbor

Author: A.J. Banner

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Pages: 206

Rating:

threestarclear

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).

Continue reading

Book Review – Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Published: May 31st, 2005

Pages: 331

Rating:

fourstarclear

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.)

Continue reading

Book Review – Reconstructing Amelia

Author: Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: Harper Perennial 

Release Date: December 3rd, 2013

Pages: 400

fivestarclear

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.

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1) by Alexandra Bracken Review

The Darkest Minds Cover via Goodreads

The Darkest Minds Cover via Goodreads

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Published: 2012

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Length: 528 pages

Rating:

fourstarclear

Ruby Daly awakes on her tenth birthday to find that her parents have no idea who she is. Ruby lives in a world where children ages ten to seventeen are often inflicted with an incurable disease that gives them unbridled power. No one knows what brings about the condition and there is no apparent cure. Ruby’s parents fear that she is a run away and therefore dangerous, calling in the government’s special forces to take her away to a rehabilitation camp for ill children in her native state of Virginia.

Ruby spends the next six years in the worst camp in the United States. Classified by colors to identify each camper’s type of ability, Ruby and all her fellow campers are treated as prisoners and are kept under strict watch. They are unable to voice their opinions, to learn about the outside world, or to interact with family members. They are told that their powers make them freaks and that they should under no circumstances attempt to control or use their powers, that they will simply be killed as using such powers puts everyone at risk.

When Ruby has a once in a life time chance to escape her fate, she takes it. Not knowing how much she can trust her rescuer she knows this is her only true chance at survival. The outside world is desolate and barren. People are rarely seen, and those that are become agitated quickly. Everyone is defensive and fearful.

Ruby quickly learns that her rescuers may not be as truthful as she once thought and again, finds a way to escape them. It is then that she finds Zu, Chubs and Liam other camp escapees who traveled across state lines in hopes of finding a rumored Slip Kid. The Slip Kid is supposed to provide a safe haven for kids like Ruby, Chubs, Zu and Liam. The only problem is, the location of the Slip Kid’s camp is secret.

As Ruby and her new found friends venture to find others like them, to reconnect with their families and to find some sort of stability in a crumbling world, the kids each learn about themselves, their abilities and each other. They find that appearances are often not as they seem and they must constantly make choices between what is stable and what is right.

The Darkest Minds does not hold back on action, brutality or intrigue. While Ruby battles with learning to accept who she really is and what her powers allow her to do, she must also learn to adapt to those around her, to understand that there can never truly be a normal life after her experiences at camp. That a family is something she will likely never know again.

While The Darkest Minds is like a mashup of the Xmen and The Hunger Games. The power struggle and abilities provide unique opportunities to their owners, but the landscape and environment of the world presents dire consequences for exposing yourself or trusting others too lightly.

The Darkest Minds is the first book in the Darkest Minds Trilogy. The second novel, Never Fade and the conclusion to the trilogy, In the Afterlight are available at major book retailers. The Darkest Minds trilogy also boasts two novellas, In Time (which takes place between books 1 and 2) and Sparks Rise (which takes place between books 2 and 3). You can learn more about Alexandria Bracken’s works on her website.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell Review

LandlineCoverImage

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Published: July 2014

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Rating:

fivestarclear

Rainbow Rowell’s fourth novel Landline brings us the story of Georgie McCool, a thirty-something comedic TV writer living in Los Angeles. From the outside looking in, Georgie appears to have it all – a promising career, a loving husband Neil and two healthy, happy girls. In reality, Georgie’s marriage is strained. She works far more than she should and comes home late each night knowing Neil isn’t happy with how their lives are playing out.

When Georgie finds out that she has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pitch her dream project to one of the biggest network producers around, she is ecstatic until she learns that the meeting is set for two days after Christmas, when Georgie is supposed to be on a family vacation in Omaha visiting her mother-in-law with Neil and the kids. Georgie only sees one option, to postpone the trip to Omaha and stay home to work on her big pitch. It isn’t what she wants to do, but turning down this opportunity would be the biggest mistake of her career.

When Neil decides to take the girls to Omaha without her, Georgie begins to realize she may have made the wrong choice. Telling herself it will be fine, Georgie goes to work and does as best she can, knowing she is missing out on her girls. Knowing Neil isn’t going to let this slide. What she doesn’t expect is that Neil avoids her calls. When she calls to check that they got in safely, he isn’t available. She talks to her mother-in-law, the girls, but never Neil (he’s always in the shower, sleeping, at the store). That evening Georgie truly wonders if her marriage is in ruins.When she discovers an old landline phone that can magically call Neil back in their college days, she wonders if she could possibly fix the issues she and Neil have before they take root.

While teetering between desperately wanting to save her marriage and wanting to stay committed to her long time career goals, Georige finds herself constantly worrying about the steps she is taking. Can she really fix this? Is she really talking to Neil from the past or is she simply losing her mind? Will talking to him make a difference? Landline shows us how easy it is to be swept up in in our work and all the noise that surrounds us day to day. How lining up our future, no matter how perfectly we may try to balance it all, can rob us of what’s in the present, what needs our attention now, what might not be there tomorrow. Rainbow Rowell’s other adult novel, Attachments, and her two Young Adult titles, Eleanor & Park and Fangirl are available wherever books are sold.

 

Image Source  

Scarlet Review

ScarletCover

Author: Marissa Meyer

Published: 2013

Length 452 pages

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Rating:

fivestarclear

If you haven’t read Cinder (Lunar Chronicles 1), click here to read my full review.

In the second installment to Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, we meet Scarlet, a teenage girl living on her grandmother’s farm in rural France. When Scarlet discovers that her grandmother has disappeared from their home without warning, Scarlet knows her grandmother is in danger. The local police force seem uninterested in putting much effort into the search for her grandmother, assuming that she simply chose to leave on her own.

As Scarlet attempts to keep up the farm while investigating her grandmother’s disappearance, she meets an unlikely character named Wolf. As a hardened street fighter, Wolf stands out easily against the rest of the people in town. While Scarlet is reluctant to trust Wolf, as he seems to be hiding more than he discloses about his life, she finds herself accepting Wolf’s offer to help track down her Grandmother’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile, Cinder is attempting to escape her imprisonment for crimes of treason against the Commonwealth. If she cannot escape, Prince Kai will be forced to hand Cinder over to the Lunar Queen Levana (who sees Cinder as a threat that needs to be extinguished). As Cinder works toward freeing herself  and trying to navigate how to stop Queen Levana from taking control of the Commonwealth, Prince Kai is torn between protecting his country and tempering his feelings he still holds for Cinder, which he must keep secret to protect his reputation.

As Scarlet and Cinder each work toward finding the truth, they learn that not only are their paths crossed, but that their circumstances play a large role  in the world’s relationship with Luna and the Queen.

Scarlet’s story adds a fun twist to the tale of Little Red Riding Hood while expanding upon the world that is established in Cinder. Like Cinder, Scarlet, is a headstrong, determined and loyal girl who isn’t willing to give up on what she believes just because things become difficult to understand.

The latest installment to the Lunar Chronicles continues with Cress, which was released in earlier this year. The fourth and final book, Winter is set to be released in 2015.

Image Source

The Land of Dragor Book 1 The Gift of Charms Review

DragorCover

Author: Julia Suzuki

Published: Available September 4th 2014 (paperback)

Length: 288 pages

Publisher: John Blake Publishing

Rating:

threestarclear

This book was generously sent to me for review by Julia Suzuki herself. The Land of Dragor (Book 1 Gift of Charms) is British author Julia Suzuki’s first published work, and is set to be released in paperback for the first time in September of this year.

The Land of Dragor Gift of Charms follows a young dragon named Yoshiko who is starting off his education at the Fire School with all the other youngling dragons within the realm of Dragor. While he is initially excited to start school, Yoshiko quickly learns that he isn’t like the rest of the dragons in his school, or any other dragon he has met. While all other dragons have scales that are the same color as all the other dragons within their clan, Yoshiko has scales that change colors without provocation. This strange ability makes Yoshiko question who he is, how he fits into the world around him and leads him to be targeted by bullies at school.

As Yoshiko trains and develops his natural dragon talents,  learns the history of his world, and explores the land of Dragor, he begins to realize that being an individual gives him the ability to change the world around him for the better.

Despite some choppy dialogue, and  imagining dragons doing ordinary human activities such as cooking, shopping in a market, eating at a table (how do they hold things? What dragon needs a backpack?), the pacing of the story is well executed and would easily keep the attention of young fantasy and adventure readers.

You can pre-order The Land of Dragor ( Book 1, Gift of Charms) on Amazon.

Image Source