Friday, March 27, 2020

REVIEW: A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

Title: A Good Neighborhood
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Genre: Adult Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderberry
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Acquired: Hardcopy sent via publisher
Goodreads: ADD

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door―an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he's made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn't want to live in Oak Knoll? With little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie's yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

Told from multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today―What does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don't see eye to eye?―as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

It's never easy to review a book that had good intentions; a book that set out to cast a huge spotlight on a still largely ignored social injustice. Fowler attempted that with A Good Neighborhood, and while her writing was purposeful, it lacked so much of what was needed for such a heavy topic.

The Whitman family has recently moved into their rebuilt home in the sprawling and coveted neighborhood of Oak Knoll, North Carolina, much to the annoyance and frustration of next-door neighbor, and professor of ecology, Valerie Alston-Holt, but to the extreme pleasure of her 18-year-old son, Xavier. Pleasure because the Whitman family includes 18-year-old Juniper, who Xavier immediately falls for. As their romance blooms innocently in the background, the forefront is filled with the legal clashing of Valerie and Brad Whitman, after Valerie opens a civil case against Brad for the destruction of some beloved greenery in her backyard. Disturbing secrets are leaked and relationships are tested in this narrative that strives to go beyond surface-level issues, and straight into those that are begging for more awareness.

The author took the time to add a disclaimer at the start of the book, letting her readers know that she, a white woman, would be writing about black characters within, and assured us that she took the appropriate measures to ensure accuracy regarding their experiences. I appreciated her efforts, but I sadly found that she missed the mark with this novel. The writing was great, and her message, an extremely important one. Overall, I just felt like she lacked realistic emotion and subtleties during moments, and dialogue, where her black characters were suffering the most unspeakable injustices. It was a quick and addictive read nonetheless, I just wish more care was taken with the subject matter and those involved.

Read if you like:

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Othello by William Shakespeare
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Key themes: 
racism, prejudice, family, relationships, power struggle, young love


credit: Goodreads author page

CLICK HERE to read about Therese on her author page.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

REVIEW: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderberry
Release Date: June 4, 2019
Acquired: Purchased for my collection
Goodreads: ADD

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

I will never deny you, book about books. Come to me in all of your forms and genres, and I will read you until the end of my days. Sorcery of Thorns was a book about books that weren't quite books, and that's where the disastrous adventure begins. In the vein of A Curse So Dark and Lonely, it was a narrative that handed us a heroine who at first seemed unlikely, but quickly became the embodiment of strength and resilience.

Elisabeth is a Great Library apprentice, which holds responsibilities that she has prepped almost her entire life for, and, after recent events, one that she definitely didn't: saving her entire kingdom from complete destruction. When one of the more dangerous "books" (or grimoires) escapes from the library, transforming into the living embodiment of the books' contents, Elisabeth is the only one to notice. After discovering her director murdered, she is then the one who destroys it. Her act of extreme bravery backfires when she is accused of the murder, and sent away to face trial by the 'Magisterium'. Her escort turns out to be Nathanial, a witty sorcerer she had a chance encounter with previously, and his mysterious and sly servant, Silas. With more attacks on the rise, can she trust this pair to help clear her name and expose the real culprit, or is she being led to her ultimate end?

I read this on the heels of another kingdom-saving narrative, so it was impossible not to initially compare the two. Though Sorcery of Thorns was quick to set itself apart with it's darker atmosphere, and complex characters. As a rogue standalone fantasy, it was dense in some areas, but rightly so, as to ensure a fully-fleshed story; a story that needed to end where, and how, it ended. Nathaniel was appropriately troubled, and Silas, magnificently flawed yet so compulsively likable—I could read an entire book about him, to be honest. I would have loved to read more of a backstory on Elisabeth, more moments from her youth and growing up as a 'true child of the library,' subsequently lending more belief to what we eventually discover about her.

My brain literally couldn't comprehend that there wasn't a book two, I was in spectacular awe of Rogerson's ability to write such an emotionally charged last chapter, and just leave it to simmer in our hearts; ignore the pressures of turning fantastic into a drawn out 3-5 book ordeal (not that I would have been against that, just saying). Regardless, Sorcery of Thorns is a book that is easily imagined, filled with cavernous castles, well-explained magic, and characters that are incredibly easy to become obsessed with. 

Read if you like:

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Key themes: 
magic, sorcery, betrayal, romance, friendship, heroism



CLICK HERE to read about Margaret on her author page.


Monday, March 16, 2020

BLOG TOUR: The Deep by Alma Katsu

Title: The Deep
Author: Alma Katsu
Genre: Historical Fiction-Horror
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Acquired: Egalley approved via Netgalley
Goodreads: ADD

From the acclaimed and award-winning author of The Hunger comes an eerie, psychological twist on one of the world's most renowned tragedies, the sinking of the Titanic and the ill-fated sail of its sister ship, the Britannic.

Someone, or something, is haunting the ship. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the passengers of the Titanic from the moment they set sail. The Titanic's passengers expected to enjoy an experience befitting the much-heralded ship's maiden voyage, but instead, amid mysterious disappearances and sudden deaths, find themselves in an eerie, unsettling twilight zone. While some of the guests and crew shrug off strange occurrences, several--including maid Annie Hebbley, guest Mark Fletcher, and millionaires Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim--are convinced there's something more sinister going on. And then disaster strikes.

Years later, Annie, having survived that fateful night, has attempted to put her life back together by going to work as a nurse on the sixth sailing of the Britannic, newly refitted as a hospital ship to support British forces fighting World War I. When she happens across an unconscious Mark, now a soldier, she is at first thrilled and relieved to learn that he too survived the tragic night four years earlier. But soon his presence awakens deep-buried feelings and secrets, forcing her to reckon with the demons of her past--as they both discover that the terror may not yet be over.

Featuring an ensemble cast of characters and effortlessly combining the supernatural with the height of historical disaster, The Deep is an exploration of love and destiny, desire and innocence, and, above all, a quest to understand how our choices can lead us inexorably toward our doom.

What an incredibly brilliant idea for a narrative. The titanic, on it's own, was such an incredible feat of modern engineering, and it's ultimate demise, such a timeless tragedy. Katsu created with The Deep, something that can also be considered timeless, in it's melding of history with horror; factual, and non-factual character depictions with the added allure of the paranormal.

Annie Hebbley survived the infamous sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and after a brief stint in an asylum, where she attempted to ignore it's grip on her mind, she registers for a nurse aid position aboard the newly minted Brittanic (a sister ship to the Titanic, and an ocean-bound hospital liner for those injured in the first world war). Simultaneously, we experience both Annie's timeline on the Titanic, and her present-day on the Britannic in 1916. Annie's time spent on the first ship was defined by more than just it's tragic end, as a specific group of guests convince her that mysterious instances aboard are the work of paranormal entities. Years later, on her second sailing, Annie comes face to face with one those guests, one that she had thought she'd lost forever, both physically and emotionally. The impossibility of it brings back both dark memories, and a sinister threat that they thought they left behind.

Even while I was reading The Deep, my mind strayed to the author's backlist titles that I would have the pleasure of reading once I was done. Katsu's writing, for me, was true storytelling. It was immersive, and deliciously mysterious, it brought to mind the narratives of the greats like Christie, and Conan Doyle. I'll admit that, alike the aforementioned authors, the joy was in the writing itself, and not so much the genre it was promising. The 'horror' aspect was minimal, and served mostly as a decorative background for the in-depth character explorations that took the forefront. I became so heartrendingly attached to so many of the backstories, and present stories, in this narrative—I could read an entire book on Caroline Fletcher or Madelaine Astor. 

I can't wait to become completely entranced by Katsu's future work!

Favourite Quotes

"His fingers dart around the edges of a cigarette he twirls in his hand, and she can think is ease. She has never felt that. She is more like the cigarette itself, passed from hand to mouth to earth, sucked dry and then forgotten. Or perhaps she is the smoke, blown into the air, made invisible at the meeting of the lips."

"The living are often anchors for the dead. The old newspaperman Stead's words come back to him, how the dead want to lay down their troubles and escape to the next world but it's the living, unable to let go, who keep them here. Love and desperation like heavy chains lash them to the earth."

Read if you like:
Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Key themes: 
occultism, spiritualism, death, trauma, tragedy, love, destiny



CLICK HERE to read about Alma on her author page.
A huge thank-you to FFBC Tours for allowing me to participate in the tour, and for G.P. Putnam's Sons for approving an egalley via Netgalley to review!

Click here to view the tour schedule, and enter for your chance to win a copy of the book!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

REVIEW: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Title: My Dark Vanessa
Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
Genre: Adult Contemporary 
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Acquired: Egalley approved via Edelweiss
Goodreads: ADD

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naive teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victim hood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

March 2020: To Be Read


Behold! The month of buddy-reads and readathons! a.k.a the month I spend reading literally 5+ books at once and hoping against hope that I don't mix up storylines or the more guaranteed scenario: I burn myself out. I also really want to work on knocking out a solid number of backlist titles, and review the egalleys I downloaded in Edelweiss that seem to all be releasing in March.

As always, keep an eye on my Instagram at the end of the month for the 'March New Release Giveaway' announcement!

Here are the 14 books (+ blog tour read) I have planned for March: