The Good Neighbour by A J Banner
' A woman is like a tea bag, you never know what she's made of until you put her in hot water'
Honestly, when I read that I really wanted to laugh out loud. Come on, its so cheesy - who ever said that, we must put him or her in hot water! And to think a well known author would actually use this painfully awkward line in her book? What was she thinking??
Ok, I selected this book The Good Neighbour by A J Banner because the synopsis sounded really interesting. It is basically about Sarah Phoenix, a writer settles into life with her new doctor husband Johnny McDonald in Shadow Cove, Washington. One evening, when Johnny is away , a fire breaks out at her neighbour's place, destroying Sarah's happiness. She soon discovers an undercurrent of deception. She is forced to doubt everything around her - her neighbours, her friends and even her own loving husband. She is forced to ask - Can we really know the ones we love?
I did not enjoy reading this book, at all. It is supposed to be a riveting psychological thriller with unexpected twiets and turns. I fell for it!! Instead , I felt like I was reading my 14 year old daughter's essay! It didn't enrapture me like my earlier novels. It wasn't a delicious read. It was written just too simply and the story was unbelievable. The characters in this book never developed beyond boring cliches and stereotypes. Ms Banner relied a lot on decribing clothing, jewelry and scents rather than details which would actually reveal the characters' personality...I finished it quickly for 2 reasons - to start on my next book as I was so bored of this one and secondly to keep to my resolution to write one book review every week.
One other thing that kept nagging me throughout. I believe A J Banner is a psuedonym for Anjali Bannerji ( I saw this on the first few pages Text Copyright@ Anjali Bannerji and A J Banner was born in India). I think Ms Bannerji had wanted her name to sound more western to appeal to a wider audience. I believe she didn't want readers to write her off as another Indian writer. This is all my conjecture but could it be that she may not be proud of her Indian roots? Quite sad if it is so. You must always to be truthful to yourself. I shared my assumption with my girls. Riya, my 12 year old who then questioned me, 'Well, would you have bought the novel if she had used her real name?' I replied "Of course!' For me, a good book is a good book. Regardless of who wrote it. I do hope I am wrong in my overthinking.
Anyway, the 194 pages of this novel are easily readable in a few days. If you an avid reader, you will be bored out of your wits and you would definitely struggle to finish it. I should have read the review first. Available in amazon.com for US$9.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
'I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark....'
Dark Places tells the story of a 7-year old Libby Day who escapes from a horrible night in 1985, in Kinnakee, Kansas where her family is brutally murdered. I mean really brutally - axes and head blowing shotguns involved. She testifies that her 15 year old brother Ben did it. Then 25 years later, in desperate need of money, she reconnects with the players of that night to turn her tragic history into something money worthy. Through this process, Libby discovers the unimaginable truth and she finds herself back where she started - on the run from the killer!
I must say - this novel is indeed dark. As it was my first horror novel, I was quite apprehensive to continue after Page 47. I didn't read this novel in the evening too. It was just too scary. I did not want it to go to my head and give me nightmares... I mean when I read this Schoolyard Rhyme at the beginning,
The Days were a clan that mighta lived long
But Ben Day's head got screwed on wrong
That boy craved dark Satan's power
So he killed his family in one nasty hour
Little Michelle he strangled in the night
Then chopped up Debby: a bloody sight
Mother Patty he saved for last
Blew off her head with a shotgun blast
Baby Libby somehow survived
But to live through that ain't much a life
I knew I was about to embark on a really dark sinister novel. My 14 year old daughter Ranya read the rhyme and got a bit shaken. What a gruesome gory intro and it didn't help when so many bone chilling details were given in the actual murder accounts. And then there was another equally detailed account of a cow being sacrified to appease the Devil. I actually skipped that page! ( Shudder ). I can imagine what is going on in your mind. What a choice of a book to read!! I know, right??!! No, I didn't regret reading it.. Surprisingly. Thanks Aparna :)
The storyline was quite interesting and was well written. It was a real page turner. Libby's horrible encounter and what happens growing up with that kind of nightmare was well documented. She has become social outcast and can't leave a house or any place, for the matter, without stealing something. Anything small like salt shakers or body lotions....
As it was due for our book club meeting last Thursday, I had to read like 50 pages per day. It was really intense reading for a few days. I finished the 340 pages as quickly as I could - no choice, I had to. Not much blogging, not much watching TV or using my IPad. Just a whole lot of reading in between housework. I welcomed it. In fact, I actually get excited looking forward to read :) (Am I crazy or what?) It is so relaxing - a novel in my hand and a cup tea/coffee next to me. My kind of bliss. My family knows how much I love to read. Forget make-up, forget clothes or bags...Give me a great novel anytime and you will be in my 'good list' forever :))
Am I digressing? Anyway, if you don't mind a whole lot of mention of Satan, Devil etc and a lot of gruesome grisly details, do go ahead and read this book. Its not a yawn definitely. Voted one of the best books to read of 2009 by The New Yorker, a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Dark Plaes has also been made into a movie in 2015 starring Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Hoult. Don't bother watching this movie. It totally failed to capture the darkness of the novel. Taken very lightly. Worse book adaptation ever.
Dark Places, the novel, is available at Amazon at US$11 paperback version.
Have you come across a story told so well that you soon start believing it to be real? When the lines between fiction and non fiction start to blur? When every dream, every hope and every tragedy seems like your own?
Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen is an emotionally powerful story about a family whom you will not forget. It revolves around Mimi Miller who recounts her life, beginning in the 1960s in Miller's Valley, a small rural town in Pennsylvania, America. We are introduced to Mimi when she is 11 and she lives with her parents and her two older brothers Edward and Tommy. Her Aunt Ruth (who harbors a terrible secret) lives in a small house behind Mimi's and never leaves the confines of her home.
Her family has been rooted in Miller's Valley for generations, 200 years in fact. The farmlands have been threatened by government officials who want to transform the flood prone area into a reservoir. Imagine flooding 6400 acres of old family farms, small ramshackle homes and drowning the entire valley under water?? As the river is released in little by little dampening the ground, it also seems to drown people little by little, forcing secrets to surface and people losing their way of life. As Mimi grows up and faces life's challenges, she realises that the people whom she counted on are not there for her anymore. The only stolidity in her rapid changing world is Donald, her childhood friend who lives in California. The story ends when Mimi is 65.
Told entirely through Mimi, Ms Quindlen makes her characters so alive and so believable. A very interesting moving novel. A bit of a twist at the end, which I didn't see it coming. Kept me glued to its pages. So much so that my husband actually asked me - 'what is this -some marathon reading race?' I finished it in 3 days. I could have read the entire 257 pages in hardback sooner, if not for the mountainous amount of laundry after returning home from our year end holiday.
Some interesting quotes :
' I have clear memories from that time, but they are not the ones you'd think. They are never the ones you think....No, its strange little moments that live inside you and keep peeking out the windows that open suddenly in your mind.'
' Sometimes there are things that you have rehearsed so many times, thought about so often, that when they happen, its like they already happened a long long time ago.'
' No one ever leaves the town they grew up, even if they go'
Miller's Valley reminds us that the place you grew up can disappear but the people who lived in it will go on to live in your heart forever.
Available in Amazon for US$18 paperback.