Thursday, November 27, 2014

{Review} THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN by Catherine Gaskin

ASIN #: B00GM03K3G
File Size: 1527 KB
Page Count: 318
Copyright: December 5, 2013
Publisher: Corazon Books

Book Description:
(Taken from Amazon)

Shortly after her mother's death in a Swiss plane crash, Jo Roswell is sent from the London auction house where she works to the remote and mysterious Thirlbeck – stately home of the Earl of Askew. Jo's task is to evaluate the house's contents for a sale, but she soon finds herself drawn into the complex lives of Thirlbeck's past and present inhabitants, each with their own secrets and desires.

Robert Birkett, the Earl of Askew, has returned to Thirlbeck after many years abroad. A decorated war hero, he has also spent time in prison after a fatal car accident for which he was blamed. Carlota, the Spanish Condesa, is the Earl's sophisticated yet possessive companion.

Meanwhile, Nat Birkett, a distant cousin of the earl, is the reluctant heir to Thirlbeck. A local farmer, his passion is for the land rather than titles and possessions. Following his wife's mysterious demise at Thirlbeck, he is also the single father of two young boys.

George Tolson is Thirlbeck's brooding keeper, who jealously guards the property from unwelcome strangers. By Tolson's side is Jessica, his intelligent but fragile granddaughter, who must be protected from herself.

During her stay, Jo is absorbed by the tragic story of The Spanish Lady, whose young life was cut short at Thirlbeck many centuries before. She also encounters La Española, the brilliant diamond which, according to legend, brings disaster to all who try to possess it. And she is shocked to learn of her own mother's connection to Thirlbeck.

Jo will struggle with difficult discoveries as she unlocks the puzzles which link Thirlbeck's past and present residents.

Mandy's Review:

This novel was initially published by Doubleday in 1974. I can tell a vast difference in the writing styles of today's writers and those that wrote 40 years ago. The language in The Property of a Gentleman is more refined whereas today's novels have language that's more modern in vernacular. And, let's face it peeps, how we speak today is nowhere near refined.

Jo's involvement in the Thirlbeck assessment happens by chance. One of those "in the right place at the right time" incidents. When she arrives at the estate her emotions are in a turmoil. She loves it, then she hates it. It's not until she leaves Thirlbeck that she realizes how much she longs to return.

Nat and Jo's growing romance almost seems non-existent when you read the novel but, again, that's something to do with the way authors wrote their novels back then. They're different enough to complement each other's weaknesses while having enough similarities to keep them together. When it's Nat's turn to take over the title of Lord Askew will Jo still be around?

Honestly, I almost didn't finish this novel. The chapters were W-A-Y too long. I became frustrated with almost every one of them. The only reason why I didn't quit reading was because of the plot. The story is fantastically written. This is one of those novels where important facts are revealed a layer at a time and not all at once. I love that. It helps to keep a reader's interest when an author shows that kind of restraint. Those who enjoy a well-developed mystery will enjoy this (somewhat) antiquated novel.

*An ecopy of this novel was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

{2014 TBR Pile Challenge Review} BLUE BLOODS by Melissa de la Cruz

ISBN #: 978-1423101260
Page Count: 336
Copyright: March 27, 2007
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; Later Printing Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

Schuyler Van Alen is confused about what is happening to her. Her veins are starting to turn blue, and she's starting to crave raw meat. Soon, her world is thrust into an intricate maze of secret societies and bitter intrigue. Schuyler has never been a part of the trendy crowd at her prestigious New York private school. Now, all of a sudden, Jack Force, the most popular guy in school, is showing an interest in her. And when one of the popular girls is found dead, Schuyler and Jack are determined to get to the bottom of it.

Schuyler wants to find out the secrets of the mysterious Blue Bloods. But is she putting herself in danger? Melissa de la Cruz's vampire mythology, set against the glitzy backdrop of New York City, is a juicy and intoxicating read.

Kathy's Review:
(Copied with permission from her personal blog, Grown Up Book Reports)

Maybe it’s because I just finished a hoity-toity, Pulitzer-winning novel, but Blue Bloods felt a little, I don’t know, beneath me. It definitely felt like YA writing, and not the John Green kind of YA writing that adults love too. I actually didn’t know going into this book that it was written for a YA audience. Having read Witches of East End, which felt more grown-up, I was ready for this book to read much along those lines.

That having been said, I still ripped through this book and am considering reading more of this series. Basically, the story revolves around rich, teenage vampires. Some nice ones and some bitchy ones. Just like in high school. Except everyone at high school is super rich. And there’s really no blood sucking, at least not in this one. There’s a few attacks, but your basic vampire stuff doesn’t really happen here. de la Cruz means to bust up some of the vampire stereotypes and create a new kind of immortal with this series. Can they go in the sun? Check. Does garlic repel them? Nope. Can you kill them with a wooden stake or silver bullet? Negative. Uh-oh.

So the mystery at the heart of Blue Bloods, and perhaps at this series, is, WHO or WHAT is killing off the vampire Blue Blood race? And how does our main protag Schuyler (sorry, but I can’t stand that name) factor in to this?

Looking for an alternative to Twilight, or just a fun, campy YA series to occupy some of your free time? Give this one a whirl. If you’re looking for something to stimulate your mind, look elsewhere.

BTW – this is another 2014 TBR Pile Challenge Book. Almost done!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

{Review} THE VINEYARD by Michael Hurley

ISBN #: 978-0976127567
Page Count: 384
Copyright: November 25, 2014
Publisher: Ragbagger Press

(Taken from back cover)

Ten years after their college days together, three wounded and very different women reunite for a summer on the island of Martha's Vineyard. As they come to grips with the challenges and crises in their lives, their encounter with a reclusive poacher, known only as "the fisherman," threatens to change everything they believe about their world--and each other.

Charlene's Review:

Charlotte, executing a well-devised plan to end her life and reunite with her deceased daughter; Turner, running from divorce and trying to find her place in life; and Dory, wealthy with family money and destined to its’ ties, all come together for a reunion summer at the Vineyard. When Charlotte meets "the fisherman", the plans and goals of the summer start to change, and each must find their own way back. Is "the fisherman" a miraculous healer with divine gifts, or a scourge to the economy of the small community?

There is so much wrapped up in this novel that it is hard to single out a place to begin. In the first page, we learn of Charlotte’s plan. When she meets the mysterious fisherman, her plans are thwarted and she is led to Father Vecchio, a rather slimy individual that unveils the dilemma of religious leaders and their power over their believers.

The Vineyard is a story of absolution. Whether it be spiritual, emotional, or physical, each of the characters are searching for some sort of pardon. Mr. Hurley expertly casts a pall over false prophets and enlightens the reader to unexplained possibilities that triumph over evil, while leaving the reader to decide for themselves what "the fisherman" is truly capable of.

Beautifully crafted, flawlessly written, and a resounding novel of friendship, pain, and ultimate forgiveness. 5 out of 5 stars!

*A physical copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 24, 2014

{Review} REVIVAL by Stephen King

ISBN #: 978-1476770383
Page Count: 416
Copyright: November 11, 2014
Publisher: Scribner; Original Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life.

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It’s a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Frank Norris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Mandy's Review:

I know, I know. Who needs to write yet another review of Stephen King's Revival? At the time I'm typing this, there are already 370 reviews on Amazon alone. Normally, I'd wait until the fanfare dies down before sharing my review but ... it's King. Enough said.

The first two paragraphs (which I've edited below) set up the entire novel.

In one way, at least, our lives really are like movies. The main cast consists of your family and friends. The supporting cast is made up of neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and daily acquaintances. There are also bit players: the supermarket checkout girl with the pretty smile, the friendly bartender at the local watering hole, the guys you work out with at the gym three days a week. And there are thousands of extras - those people who flow through every life like water through a sieve, seen once and never again.

But sometimes a person who fits none of these categories comes into your life. This is the joker who pops out of the deck at odd intervals over the years, often during a moment of crisis. In the movies this sort of character is known as the fifth business, or the change agent. When he turns up in a film, you know he's there because the screenwriter put him there. But who is screenwriting our lives? Fate or coincidence? I want to believe it's the latter. I want that with all my heart and soul.

And, just like that, I've fallen back in love with the mind of Stephen King ... but I digress. This could easily become an ode to King, but I'll try to stay on track with my review.

Jamie is the youngest of four siblings. They live in a small Maine town and go to church faithfully. When Charles Jacobs arrives on the scene, he does so as a young minister ready to be over his own congregation. The connection between Jamie and Charles is automatic ... almost electric ... and that bond stays strong throughout their lives; causing Charles to use Jamie at his discretion and causing Jamie to question the loyalty to a past friendship when it's becoming clearer and clearer that Charles may be a little too zealous (i.e. crazy).

Charles' interest in energy turns into an obsession over time. He harnesses the energy and is able to centralize it so that he can perform "miracles" on people who are seriously diseased and even dying. A small percentage of the healed have some serious side effects that seem unrelated: A person eating dirt, another stabbing himself in the arm, another seeing prisms of light in the world, and the list goes on. They all culminate and are explained in the result of Charles Jacobs' final miraculous act.

I must say, it takes a lot to scare me. A lot. Revival didn't scare me ... which is not why I read Stephen King's work. It's always a nice plus when his work can scare me. The main reason I love this particular novel was because it made me think about human nature. It caused me to consider my life and see if there was a fifth business in my own movie. Is there someone that comes into my life only during a moment of crisis?

There are some comparable elements to past works by King. For example, many people are scared of clowns and spiders, but how many people are scared of ants? Perhaps if they're ginormous and have screaming human faces on their legs as they crawl out of a human's mouth ... well, that might give someone some unpleasant dreams (not me, though). The large ant was an It but this It was called Mother and it lives in a world behind this world. A world known as the dead zone, perhaps?

I did love this novel, but not for reasons you may think. I love it because I can see an evolved thought-process when it comes to King's writings. The way he intertwines the intricacies of the story is always amazing. He's always been able to take some small element from the beginning and intersperse it's importance all the way through. He's always been able to tie together multiple seemingly random incidents throughout his novels and combine them into one amazing conclusion at the end. That's why I love King. That's why I love his novels. Not because they scare me. Because he is one hell of a writer who is always evolving.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

{2014 TBR Pile Challenge Review} THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides

ISBN #: 978-0374203059
Page Count: 416
Copyright: October 11, 2011
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Limited Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.
As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

Kathy's Review:
(Copied, with her permission, from her personal blog, Grown Up Book Reports)

I loved Eugenides’ work on Middlesex, and so I selected The Marriage Plot, a Pulitzer winner, for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. This book is about smart people. Smart young people. Smart young people in love.

We begin with Madeline, a graduating senior at Brown University, majoring in English with a heavy focus on the Victorian writers, masters of the “marriage plot” novels, in which the story’s central focus is the marriage of its female protagonist. See: Jane Austen, et. al.

Rounding out this trio of young smart people in love is Leonard, Madeline’s boyfriend, who battles manic depression – kicked off after Madeline breaks up with him. And Mitchell, a student of religion, pines after Madeline, believing they should be together.

Crammed full of literary references only a diploma-holding Master of English Lit will understand or appreciate, this book falls short for me — at least in comparison to Middlesex. I found it fairly boring. I had little compassion for Madeline, in whom I felt greatly disappointed. As a character, Madeline lacks anything of substance that I could support as a female. I could empathize with Leonard’s depression and his inability to “snap out of it.” Madeline doesn’t seem to know how to deal with him, and treats it like something he can just decide not to be anymore. Mitchell seems to be some sort of hero in this story, and certainly his travails in Europe, India in particular, make him the most likeable of the three. That, and the fact that he doesn’t take advantage of Madeline when he has the opportunity to do so early on.

Eugenides writes about smart people and smart things but his writing itself is still accessible for the Average Joe. We may not get all the references, and there’s probably metaphorical stuff happening before our eyes that is basically invisible because we’re not smart enough to see it, we can still get through the story and have some basic understanding of the main plot, character development, and resolution. Why it went down the way it went down. If you’re part of the elite club that gets references to Barthes, and doesn’t mind boring characters having boring relationships, then have at it. I’ll stick to Middlesex.

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