Review: A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

This is one of those books that grabs hold of the reader right from the start and doesn’t let go. From the start, everything slowly revealed about these characters expertly drew me in and made me want to know more.

The titular ‘good neighborhood’ is Oak Knoll, an aging, suburban area full of close-knit neighbors and gorgeous old trees. Valerie Alston-Holt is a widowed, middle-aged Black professor of forestry and ecology. Her main passions have been raising her smart, soon-to-graduate biracial son, Xavier, and doing what she can to protect nature and the environment. Xavier has a bright future ahead of him and all is well until the neighborhood begins to change as homes of aging neighbors are bought up, torn down, and replaced with McMansions by ‘new money’ people. Enter local celebrity Brad Whitman, whose HVAC business is popular and prosperous. Brad moves his family next door to the Alston-Holts, after first clearing the lot of all of its old trees to build his new home. While Brad’s family appears traditional and happy from the outside, things are not as they seem and his stepdaughter, Juniper, is troubled. The two families are very quickly at odds, and a blossoming romance between Xavier and Juniper does nothing to help that.

Fowler’s writing is truly excellent: descriptive while being very to the point, and her use of apparently multiple 3rd person narratives from the perspective of some unnamed neighbors was brilliant and effective. The timing is great, and the story moves along such that I had no time to be bored.

The story itself tackles a whole lot of hot-button issues: racism, profiling, sexual abuse, white privilege, power structures caused by economic differences, Christian conservatism, and ecological conservation. While it’s not an in-depth study of any of these issues, the author does manage to keep all of the balls in the air and bring everything together nicely. The end result is a heart breaking and powerful cautionary tale.

If you’re looking for an uplifting novel, this is probably not the book for you. While there is sunshine, there’s a lot more gloom, and from the very beginning, our Greek chorus narrators have warned us that it will not end well. Still, a totally engrossing read that make me think and hurt my heart.


Review: A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers

How great is this cover!?

Long time, no blog! Although I have transitioned to working from home part time/in the office the rest of the time, I feel like I’m running in circles and constantly on edge with the current state of the world during this pandemic. I’m finally starting to get into a rhythm with my new reality, and reading (and actually comprehending what I read) is getting easier. Thank goodness!

A Witch in Time was a perfect escape read for me. It has all of the things I love in a novel: historical fiction, a bit of romance, multiple timelines, and solid writing, with the added bonus of some paranormal magic.

Helen is a present-day magazine exec in Washington DC who begins to remember her past lives (and loves), beginning when she was a young woman in 1895 France. As Juliet, she was the young muse and lover of an older, married Parisian artist. When her mother—a witch—attempts to curse the artist, she botches the spell and ends up binding Juliet to the artist for all time, dooming her to relive their failed affair and die tragically young through history. Luke Varner is a minor demon who is assigned to maintain the curse and look after Juliet, and he’s been helplessly in love with her in each of her reincarnations. Juliet/Helen is a witch herself, and has gotten stronger with each life, and Helen struggles to find a way to stop the curse forever before she runs out of time again.

I was completely absorbed in the story and adored the main character in all of her incarnations. As Helen remembers each of her 3 past lives, we get an interesting trip through time and around the world. The romance is nicely crafted, and I was very much invested in the characters. I love the way the story is structured and the pacing is great. The ending did feel a bit rushed, but the epilogue went a long way to redeem it. Overall, an excellent story.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my copy.