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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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The blurb for The Neighbors describes it as "an insidiously entertaining tale of psychological suspense and mounting terror by the boldest new master of the form, at the intersection of Basic Instinct and Blue Velvet". It's the story of Andrew Morrison, who leaves home after a row with his alcoholic mother, moves into a rundown property with a deeply unpleasant housemate, and finds himself fascinated by Red and Harlow Ward, the strangely glamorous couple next door who seem keen to take him under their wing. To me, this all sounds quite promising.

Unfortunately, The Neighbors simply fails to deliver on pretty much every level.

First of all, Andrew - who is also irritatingly referred to as Drew and Andy throughout, despite the narrative being from a third person omniscient point of view - has little in the way of either depth or backbone. His departure from his mother's home is not especially convincing, and nor is his response to the strange reaction he gets from his new housemate Mickey (sometimes called Mick, which irked me as much as the Andrew/Drew/Andy business) when he arrives after agreeing to move in. He's perturbed by Mickey's incredible rudeness upon his arrival, but fails to confront him about it or even question it, despite Mickey being a old childhood friend. Moreover, his obsession with the Wards simply doesn't seem credible. Admittedly, Andrew might be looking for a mother figure or a family unit, given his background, but I still fail to see why he'd a) develop an erotic fixation with an obviously mad middle-aged woman solely because she's well-groomed and makes him some cookies or b) believe for one moment that a suburban couple could possibly need to pay him to work full-time simply on some low-skilled maintenance jobs around the house. Why does this not make him in any way suspicious?

Similarly, while we're constantly reminded that Harlow Ward is an attractive woman, there is no real explanation for her apparent magnetism or her ability to manipulate her husband into turning a blind eye to her blatant violent lunacy. It's simply not plausible in any way. I kept suspecting that there might be some sort of supernatural element to it, as this seemed the only possible explanation, but no, it's nowhere near as interesting as that.

Red Ward is largely devoid of character, as is Mickey. Harlow herself is essentially just a dangerous nutjob, and while some cursory effort is made to explain her psychological issues, it's a pretty poor one that's also tastelessly dismissive of the type of experience she's been through. And there is little suspense, either, simply because everything is so obvious and happens with such unlikely speed. There are no real surprises, and no attempt to build any kind of atmosphere.

Finally, the quality of the writing overall seems low to me. It's all telling and no showing, with clunky exposition and asides on the characters and their behaviour that take the place of character development through action and dialogue. Harlow Ward, supposedly the all-important, all-powerful lynch-pin of the novel, is reminiscent "of that Mad Men show - her hair, her clothes; they were profoundly retro". Is that kind of lazy catch-all, shorthand description really the best the author can do?

I honestly hate writing bad reviews, and I can usually find plenty to enjoy even in a book that didn't really work for me. Unfortunately, not this time.
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on 25 March 2017
The success of this for me that the author gave the reader all the facts up front, but made you want to read on to see if Andrew or Mickey were going to stand up to Harlow. I found myself willing them to do something to get out of her grip.
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on 11 April 2017
I really enjoyed this book. Quite creepy at times, with excellent twists. I would not recommend reading alone at night!
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on 19 July 2017
A deep thriller, based on the mental stability of the characters. Rather predictable. An easy read..
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I had hopes for this book, reading the blurb it sounded like something that was meaty and a cracking read. In Creekside, a town in Kansas, Andrew Morrison is moving in with an old schoolfriend, who he hasn't seen or spoken to in some time. On a lovely street which seems like an idyll Andrew finds that his friend lives in the only ramshackle house, derelict and looking like it will soon fall down. With the perfect house next door, and the ideal neighbours, things aren't necessarily as they seem.

Where this story starts to unravel though is in that it is so predictable, you know what will happen next, there is no thoughtful engagement between you and the book, it is as simple as 1+1=2. Although well written enough there is nothing to push this above countless other crime fiction/ thrillers, and so you do feel a tad underwhelmed, and in places you have to wonder if it is that believable. To a certain extent suspense has been pushed aside to give you instead 'flashbacks' into the characters' pasts. A quite quick read this is something to sit with in the garden or on the beach, where you are just looking for something to read that is easy and doesn't take much thought.
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VINE VOICEon 21 November 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I love a good psychological thriller so I looked forward to reading this book as it sounded right up my street. I was however disappointed as it just didn't hit the mark for me with its rather basic and very predictable plot. I was hoping for a much darker, sinister and intense kind of read - something that would really draw me in and keep me on the edge of my seat but sadly this book failed to do that. I would describe this as a quick and easy read which dosen't require much brain power.
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on 30 November 2012
Andrew (Drew) Morrison has literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire in his attempt to escape his agoraphobic, alcoholic mother. Ever since his dad left several years ago, Drew has been the "man of the house" taking care of all the household duties and working in an attempt to hold his meager "family" together. Now he has moved in with his childhood buddy Mickey, whose home and squalid lifestyle are made glaringly more obvious when compared to the manicured lawns, white picket fence and "home and garden" residence of the picture perfect couple residing next door to Mickey. From outward appearances the Wards are the quintessential couple with the smell of fresh baked cookies emanating from their fairytale home. Some may "get their kicks on Route 66" but this particular fairy tale is more the "666" variety. Harlow, the female resident of the house next door is a beautiful but evil enchantress. Her husband, Red, presents a puppy dog attitude of obedient loyalty and turns a blind eye while his little woman blackmails Mickey into joining her as she compulsively engages in acts of incest, torture and murder in an attempt to satiate her need for vengeance. It's almost as if Mickey and Harlow share a mental disorder with her being the manic part of the duo and he the depressive.

So with Mickey keeping his guilty secrets and Drew experiencing some overwhelming feelings of culpability for abandoning his mother, both young men are prime candidates for some inevitable and violent encounters with the wacky Wards.

Less the Blue Velvet/Basic Instinct genre that was advertised in the blurb, this is more "the novice writers' version of Stephen King meets Dean Koontz for an evening at Peter Straubs' home". Not bad, but not great either.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 28 August 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I expect psychological thrillers to have edge of the seat tension, darkness at the heart of the plot, scary themes and at least one sinister character. What I don't expect is to read a psychological thriller, promising all of the above, and find it so shallow and predictable I've guessed the ending half way through by which time I'm so bored I don't want to carry on. Oh dear; The Neighbors promised so much but delivered so little. The plot is basic, and centres around Andrew Morrison, a 23 year old living unhappily in Kansas and failing to achieve his ambitions. Andrew works in a shop and has dreams bigger than his bank balance and has to learn, the hard way, nothing comes for free. When things appear too good to be true, that's because they are! Themes of blackmail, nastiness and slight erotica ensue but I can't tell you more than that, the plot is so shallow I'd give the whole thing away if I went any deeper.

I've given 3 stars and not 2 because there's nothing wrong with the quality of the writing and Ania Ahlborn develops the characters nicely. The book is incredibly easy to read, and to follow, but my criticism has to be the predictability and simplicity of the plot.
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on 14 July 2013
This book is marketed as a dark thriller-type novel. It is so badly written that I wish I'd not bothered. The characters are very poorly developed and the story is SO slow. The climax of the story is boring and disappointing.
The author has taken some very serious and emotional issues (alcoholism, depression, incest and domestic violence) and somehow made them really dull. If I had experience of any of these issues I'd be upset at the shallow way they are used to try to sensationalise a story.
I rarely take the time to review books but this one was so bad I had to.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
THE NEIGHBORS tells the story of Andrew, a young man in his early twenties who has recently tried to make a new life for himself. Leaving his alcoholic, agrophobic mother behind, he takes up an offer from an old school friend to rent a room in his house. Filled with new hope for his future, Andrew soon discovers that his dream may not be all that he thought, as his friend Mickey's house has certainly seen better days. But their neighbours, Harlow and Red Ward, live in a house which is simply picture perfect. They seem like the perfect couple and, in different ways, they both offer Andrew something that he's looking for. But, could they be too good to be true...?

That is a brief synopsis of the book. Ahborn is certainly a skilled writer. Although it took a little time to set the scene as it were, once you got to the main part of the story it really took off. She gives you background information on all the main characters, making them feel more real. Harlow is especially a very damaged character - perhaps one of the most damaged that I have encountered recently within the literary world. Personally, although Ahborn gave background inforamtion for her husband, Red, I didn't feel that it explained fully just why he accepted her in the way that he did. Is love enough of an explanation? I would have liked to know more about his psychology, his reasons for staying and how he settled his conscience, but that is only a small gripe.

THE NEIGHBORS is a very dark book. Virtually all of the characters within it are damaged in some way. But, Ahborn has done a good job at bringing certain themes into focus. Perhaps the overriding one is the sense that everybody wants to feel that they belong somewhere. It highlights the importance of having dreams and aspirations; there is definitely a sense of is the grass greener on the other side of the fence? And, of course, there is the examination of love. This is not just restricted to intimate love from intimate relationships but also familial love - love between fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters and mothers and sons. Twisted love and the thin line between love and dependency is also examined. So, I would recommend this book but not as a light read. I read it quickly but it is not an easy book to read at times. It is also a book that stays with you after you have closed the final page.
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