Tag Archives: leah stewart

THE NEW NEIGHBOR by Leah Stewart

download-2Another book that I was glad to finish, and don’t want to spend a lot of time reviewing…

The New Neighbor by Leah Stewart is (presumably) a psychological thriller about two women living in a small Tennessee town who are each hiding secrets. Jennifer Young and her 4 year-old son Milo move into a small rental house on a pond, where Jennifer wants to hide away from the world after the death of her husband. Her neighbor across the pond, 90 year-old Margaret Riley, becomes intensely interested in Jennifer and devotes her time to finding ways to get to know her.

Margaret, too, is mysterious – she never married, and is carrying some long buried secrets from her years as a nurse on the battlefield in World War II. She is intensely lonely, yet also equally unlikable, which makes it very hard for others to get close to her.

Margaret and Jennifer’s worlds intersect when Margaret hires Jennifer as a massage therapist as a way to get her into house on a regular basis. This develops into Jennifer helping write down Margaret’s memoir, a plot device that allows Margaret to tell her stories and Jennifer to react in ways that reveal more about herself. Meanwhile, Jennifer tries to make friends and build a life for herself and Milo without revealing anything about the circumstances of her husband’s death.

The Suspenseful Questions We Are Supposed To Want Answers To:

  1. Was Jennifer responsible for her husband’s death?
  2. What happened to her daughter?
  3. Is Margaret gay, and was she in love with her best friend (a fellow nurse)?
  4. Was Margaret responsible for her best friend’s death?
  5. Will Margaret tell anyone about Jennifer’s past?

In the end: a big meh from me. I invested way too much time into this book and ultimately didn’t really care about the characters or what happened. Stewart is a good writer, and I particularly liked her use of details and observations throughout. But there was just too much of both, and not enough suspense. I look back on 288 slow pages and think to myself, “What was the point?” No major bombshells, and a very unsatisfying ending that made me dislike both women more.

I’d skip this one.


Island Bookstore Picks

Last week, I was in Corolla, NC on vacation. Despite my current book bankruptcy, I couldn't resist a visit to Island Bookstore, one of my all time favorite bookstores. The fiction section, as always, was full of books that I hadn't heard of before but which look promising. And, I bought one book – One Day, by David Nicholls - which I talked about here.

Here are some of the books that I noted while I was there.

Husband and Wife, by Leah Stewart. From Amazon: "When novelist Nathan Bennett confesses to his wife, Sarah, right before a friend's wedding that he slept with another woman (his novel is titled Infidelity), Sarah's concerns shift from whether the dress she plans to wear to the wedding makes her look fat to what she will do about her future and that of their two young children, Mattie and Binx. What follows is an unflinching look at what happens when one's identity is shattered, and what-ifs and past choices come back to haunt the present." You can read more about Leah Stewart in this interview

Guide_commoner The Commoner, by John Burnham Schwartz. From Amazon: "Schwartz bases his finely wrought fourth novel on the life of Empress Michiko of Japan, the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family. Haruko Tsuneyasu grows up in postwar rural Japan and studies at Sacred Heart University, where she excels—particularly and fatefully—at tennis, which provides her entrée to the crown prince, whom she handily beats in an exhibition match. After more meetings on and off the court, the prince asks Haruko to marry him. Persuaded by their mutual attraction and by assurances that the break with tradition will usher in a modern era, Haruko ultimately agrees, against her father's wishes, to become the first commoner turned royal. But, as her father had feared, her freedom and ambition suffer under the stifling rituals of court life. Eventually, Haruko succumbs to the inescapable judgment of the empress and her entourage, falling mute after the birth of her son, Yasuhito." Bookslut says,"Ultimately, Schwartz’s novel is a graceful narrative flight circumscribing the internal struggles faced by women from all cultures whose loyalty, duty and honor to oneself and one’s legacy are more important than the oldest traditions, however noble or common they may be."

Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith. From Amazon: "A timeless classic is reborn! From Betty Smith—author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of the most beloved novels of the past century—comes an unsentimental yet radiant and powerfully uplifting tale of young hearts and marriage. In 1927, in Brooklyn, New York, Carl Brown and Annie McGairy meet and fall in love. Though only eighteen, Annie travels alone halfway across the country to the Midwestern university where Carl is studying law—and there they marry. But their first year together is much more difficult than they anticipated, in a faraway place with little money and few friends. With hardship and poverty weighing heavily upon them, Annie and Carl come to realize that their greatest sources of strength, loyalty and love, will help them make it through." Life Wordsmith calls this book "sweet and very readable".

One final note to share. A few weeks ago I mentioned a book that I saw at BEA – the I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook. It arrived in the mail on Friday, and I like it already! I made a couscous dish tonight and look forward to making many more recipes using Trader Joe's ingredients. Thank you to Ulysses Press for sending me a copy.

THE MYTH OF YOU AND ME by Leah Stewart

I am always drawn to books about friendship, especially those formed during our formative years.  Often, however, I find these books ultimately disappointing in how they explore the development and — usually — the demise of these relationships. Either their complexity isn’t adequately acknowledged, or the retelling of the story of the friendship, often through flashbacks, winds up too hazy or nebulous to convey what actually happened.  A recent example is The Evolution of Jane by Cathleen Schine.  It’s about a 25-year old woman who unexpectedly comes across her childhood best friend, from whom she had become estranged. In the end, I found the story of their friendship unfulfilling and entirely forgettable – I can’t even remember what actually drove them apart or how they re-connected. 

140009806801 So, in my never-ending quest to find satisfying books about friendship, I came across The Myth of You and Me, by Leah Stewart.  I can’t find many reviews of this book, which came out a year ago and is about “the complicated heart of friendship,” according to Amazon. Reader reviews are pretty good – most are 4 or 5 stars, but I can’t tell if this is chick lit or actually a good book. The author’s website, which allows readers to post their own stories about “best friend break-ups, make-ups, and everything in between,” suggests that we might be veering dangerously into Oprah territory, but I am willing to give this book another look.

Has anyone read The Myth of You and Me?

What books have you read about friendship that you’d recommend? Send in a comment, below.