Gone Girl

Gone GirlTitle: Gone Girl
Author:  Gillian Flynn
Genre:  Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher:  Broadway Books
Release Date:  June, 2012
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Kindle Purchase
Pages:  422

Date Finished:  July 26, 2014
4.5 Stars

Goodreads Description

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

My Review

I’ll admit I was late to the party on this one.  My crazy rebellious streak rears its ugly head at the strangest things sometimes.  As Gone Girl was receiving tremendous buzz last year, I flirted with the idea of reading it, but ended up refusing just because everyone else was reading it.  I know, I’m weird like that.  I finally relented because this was last month’s pick for our book club.  I have to say…I was impressed.

Gillian Flynn has quite a way of sucking you into her twisted, macabre rendering of reality.  I say her rendering of reality because I can’t imagine anyone really being as sick and twisted as these characters.  There may be people out there like this, but thank goodness, I’ve never met any of them.  Manipulation is taken to a whole new level.

The beginning was a little slow.  As you become acquainted with Nick and his missing wife, there was some definite drag.  Most mysteries start this way, though.  The story has to build; You have to learn the characters and the back story.  Flynn does give you a few twisty tidbits as you go, but it’s mostly a building exercise.  The most interesting part of it?  The entire opening section is meant to manipulate the reader.  Our minds automatically start trying to figure out the mystery.  Flynn relies on our human nature to totally mess with our heads.  Trust me, don’t try to figure it out because Flynn is going to rip the rug right out from under you at the half-way point.  Just believe me, the characters are manipulating each other and the author is manipulating the reader.  I hate spoilers in reviews, so I will leave it that.

The ending aggravated the crap out of me because there was no finality.  But, that’s life isn’t it?  Most things don’t get wrapped up in a nice, neat package for us.

Typically, I need a character I connect with to really like a book, but I hated all these characters and it didn’t really bother me.  None of them were likeable in the slightest.  Well, I liked Nick’s sister, Go, but she was not a main character.  These characters were deeply flawed, manipulative, and conniving.  Basically, they were just icky.  Of course, I don’t think Flynn really meant for the reader to like them.  The plot doesn’t really lend itself to likeable characters.

Wrap-Up

My book club thoroughly enjoyed this book.  We actually liked it so much, we decided to read Sharp Objects this month.  Our plans are to go see Gone Girl (the movie) opening night and have our Sharp Objects book discussion afterwards.  I’m not really convinced Ben Affleck is a good choice for Nick, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt.  I have heard rumors the movie rearranged the ending a bit.  Usually it makes me mad when a script writer takes creative liberties, but I actually hope they do on this one.  I want some satisfaction!!

If you are on the fence about reading Gone Girl, I say give it a shot.

A Discovery of Witches (Re-read)

8667848Title: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls #1)
Author:  Deborah Harkness
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Paranormal Romance
Publisher:  Viking Penguin
Release Date:  February, 2011
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Kindle Purchase
Pages:  579

Dates Finished:  Sept 9, 2012 & Aug 17, 2014
4.5 Stars

Goodreads Description

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

My Review

I loved this book the first time I read it, and I loved it all over again during my re-read.  With the third book of the All Souls Trilogy, The Book of Life, recently being released, I had to re-read A Discovery of Witches.  I could remember the gist of the story line, but I knew I had forgotten the details.  Trust me, this is not a series in which you want to forget details.  Deborah Harkness has spun an intricate web of characters and story lines which delight at every turn.

Diana Bishop is the heroine of the novel.  She starts off as a socially awkward historian who loves nothing more than being submersed in her world of academia.  Her books are safe and far away from the world of witches in which she was raised, but when she accidentally calls up an old, enchanted book from the library stacks, Diana sets off a bomb which sends ripples through the underworld.  She has no idea the single event of opening a book will set her on a path that will not only change her life, but the future of every witch, vampire and deamon in existence.

There is history and science and witches and vampires and love and intrigue and time travel and just about everything else you could want in a good book.  I do have one warning…this book is LONG.  I can’t really say the author should have chopped out a bunch of useless info, because there really wasn’t any useless info.  Everything furthers the story in one way or another.  Even if it doesn’t seem to be that important in this book, it comes into play in the next.  Deborah Harkness definitely has her crap together.  I love good world building and she does it wonderfully.

You may be wondering why I held back that 1/2 star on my rating.  It’s because Harkness doesn’t go into much detail about the logistics of time travel.  There are some important things that have to be answered when you get into time travel, like “What if you run into your former self?” or “Does your former self disappear from the past when you appear there from the future?” etc., etc.  Harkness basically tells Diana and the reader that you just have to trust the universe to work it all out.  I felt like she just didn’t want to be bothered with the time travel details.  So, that was my only pet peeve with the book.  I couldn’t give it a perfect 5 stars for that reason alone.

I hope you’ll give this one a shot.  It’s really a great read!

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall ((5 Stars))

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan DoyleTitle: The Revenant of Thraxton Hall
Author:  Vaughn Entwistle
Genre:  Fiction; Fantasy; Mystery

Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Release Date:  March 25, 2014
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  ARC from Netgalley
Pages:  336

Date Finished: March 19, 2014
5 Stars

Goodreads Description

Arthur Conan Doyle has just killed off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem,” and he immediately becomes one of the most hated men in London. So when he is contacted by a medium “of some renown” and asked to investigate a murder, he jumps at the chance to get out of the city. The only thing is that the murder hasn’t happened yet—the medium, one Hope Thraxton, has foreseen that her death will occur at the third séance of a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research at her manor house in the English countryside.

Along for the ride is Conan Doyle’s good friend Oscar Wilde, and together they work to narrow down the list of suspects, which includes a mysterious foreign Count, a levitating magician, and an irritable old woman with a “familiar.” Meanwhile, Conan Doyle is enchanted by the plight of the capricious Hope Thraxton, who may or may not have a more complicated back-story than it first appears. As Conan Doyle and Wilde participate in séances and consider the possible motives of the assembled group, the clock ticks ever closer to Hope’s murder.

My Review

I loved this book!!  I don’t know if it was my Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle obsession or just the book itself, but I loved it.  Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a Sherlock Holmes novel (even though he does make a couple of appearances).  The relationship, however, between Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde did remind me of the interactions between Sherlock and Watson.  They played off of each other brilliantly throughout the book.  Arthur played the straight-laced, stodgy Scot, while Oscar played the flamboyant, eccentric Irishman.  They are opposite sides of the same coin and Entwistle breathed life into them.  I wanted to be a part of their party.  I wanted to join in their witty banter.  I wanted to have them as my friends and traveling companions.  I know those are really nerdy things to say, but you just fall in love with some characters.

The plot was reminiscent of the old school mystery writers such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.  It was British, it was intricate and it didn’t take itself too seriously.  It was a little more predictable than the mystery classics, but I didn’t care.  I won’t say that I had it all figured out, but I had a hunch that turned out to be true.  That didn’t ruin it for me at all.

Wrap-Up

Again…loved, loved, loved this book.  If you have an interest in mysteries or literary characters or great characterizations or wonderful male relationships, read it.  It was a fun and fast read.  I really hope this is the first of a series.  I’d read the next one in a heartbeat!

Special Thanks

A special shout-out to Netgalley, Minotaur Books and Vaughn Entwistle for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

The Kitchen House ((5 Stars))

The Kitchen HouseTitle: The Kitchen House
Author:  Kathleen Grissom
Genre:  Fiction

Publisher:  Touchstone
Release Date:  February 10, 2010
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Purchased from Amazon
Pages:  369

Date Finished:  1/4/14
5 Stars

Goodreads Description

When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family. Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

My Review

The Kitchen House was one of our book club reads, and I’m sorry to say I did not pick it.  This book was beautiful.  The characters were tangible and you care about their well-being from the moment you are introduced to them.  The story line is a bit different from most slave related fiction.  Lavinia is actually an indentured servant as opposed to a slave.  She is white, but because her parents die in transit from Ireland, she becomes the property of the Captain due to money owed.  Upon arriving home with a little white girl he has no intention of keeping in the big house, the Captain gives her to Belle to look after.  The rest of the tale, tells Lavinia’s interesting story of living on a rural, southern plantation as a white slave.

As I stated before, these characters are tangible to the reader.  You want to climb into Mama’s lap and let her pat you and sing you to sleep.  You feel Belle’s love and hate for her father and brother.  You share Lavinia’s confusion about where she belongs.  Kathleen Grissom does each character justice, even the not-so-lovely ones.  All the way through the book, I kept wondering if these were real people, if Grissom was simply breathing live into people who had really existed.  Either way, they are real to you by the end.

As much as I love a great character-driven book, there is much, much more to enjoy here.  The story line carries you through Lavinia’s extremely tumultuous life, from being nothing but a slave, to being the belle of the ball, and back again.  There is a lot of conflict and it often comes from very unexpected sources.  It makes you question where “home” really lies and what makes a family a family.  There are tons of twists and turns which keep you guessing all the way through.  Not to mention, Grissom’s writing is spot on.

It is not often I find a book flawless, but this one definitely falls into that category.

Wrap-Up

I challenge you to read this book and not fall in love with at least one of the characters.  Grissom has filled these pages to the brim with life, love, hatred, and heartache.  I highly recommend The Kitchen House for book clubs because there is so much meat to chew on during and after reading.  I wholeheartedly encourage you to give this one a read!

The Winter People ((5 Stars))

The Winter PeopleTitle: The Winter People
Author:  Jennifer McMahon
Genre:  Fiction

Publisher:  Doubleday Books
Release Date:  February 11, 2014
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  ARC from Netgalley.com
Pages:  336

Date Finished:  1/27/14
5 Stars

Goodreads Description

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

My Review

It is not very often that I give a 5 Star review.  Even most of my favorites will only get 4.5.  Not to be a Negative Nancy, but I can usually find something in a book that irritates me.  The Winter People earned every single star of this 5 Star Review!!

Let me start with the characters.  McMahon made every character in this book interesting.  Usually each chapter covered a different character and, not once, did I find myself rushing through one section to get to the next, more exciting, chapter.  I really wanted to know what was happening in each storyline.  As you can tell from the synopsis, part of the book is set in 1908 and part in present time.  I have read a lot of books where this can become quite burdensome and/or tiresome.  McMahon gave each time period its own distinct voice, and all of it kept the plot moving forward.

The mystery aspect was fabulous!  There is a mystery going on in both time periods.  I really liked how McMahon kept the mystery intact in both sections up to the very end.  In a lot of books, the reader is made aware of what happened in the past to feed the present day story.  McMahon avoided this scenario, leaving the reader to figure out what was happening in both.  It leaves you with that “edge of your seat” feeling through most of the book.

The paranormal aspects were not overdone.  McMahon had the opportunity to really go overboard, but she refrained.  It was just the right amount of paranormal and horror.  The way McMahon handled it made the scenarios believable.  It had the perfect balance of creepy and mystery.  There was one chapter I knew was going to start with one of the creepier storylines, and I could not bring myself to read it right before bed.  I had to put the book down and start again the next morning in the daylight!

Wrap-Up

The Winter People has great characters, a wonderful plot, enough mystery to keep you guessing until the very end, and enough thrills and chills to make you sleep with a nightlight.  I cannot say enough good things about this book.  It releases today.  Go get a copy!  You’ll love it!!

Special Thanks…

I’d like to give a shout out to Netgalley.com, Doubleday Books and Jennifer McMahon for giving me the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

The Vanishing: A Review

The VanishingTitle: The Vanishing
Author:  Wendy Webb
Genre:  Mystery, Fantasy (Paranormal), Horror

Publisher:  Hyperion
Release Date:  January 27, 2014
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  ARC from Netgalley.com
Pages:  304

Date Finished:  12/28/13
4.5 Stars

Goodreads Description
Recently widowed and rendered penniless by her Ponzi-scheming husband, Julia Bishop is eager to start anew. So when a stranger appears on her doorstep with a job offer, she finds herself accepting the mysterious yet unique position: caretaker to his mother, Amaris Sinclair, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist whom Julia has always admired…and who the world believes is dead.

When she arrives at the Sinclairs’ enormous estate on Lake Superior, Julia begins to suspect that there may be sinister undercurrents to her “too-good-to-be-true” position. As Julia delves into the reasons of why Amaris chose to abandon her successful writing career and withdraw from the public eye, her search leads to unsettling connections to her own family tree, making her wonder why she really was invited to Havenwood in the first place, and what monstrous secrets are still held prisoner within its walls.

Review

This was one of the best books I have read in a while!  It reminded me a lot of the great old-school, gothic ghost stories.  A creepy old house, a creepy cast of characters who might or might not be what they seem, and a creepy plot with a female character who is trapped by her circumstances.  Oh, and did I mention ghosts?  This isn’t one of those books that tempt you with the allure of ghosts, but doesn’t deliver.  This one has real ghosts!  I found The Vanishing unexpectedly refreshing!

This book was full of likeable characters.  Julia was curious enough to keep you hooked on the story.  She was a bit gullible, but I couldn’t help but like her.  Amaris Sinclair was absolutely fascinating.  She was the supposedly dead gothic writer who has simply gone into hiding.  You want to know what happened to make her turn into a recluse at the height of her career.  Then, there is Andrew McCullough.  Whew!  Drew is a Scottish hottie who works as the stable manager/vet and may or may not be the original builder of the house from the 1880’s.

There are a lot of twists and turns throughout the book.  Just when you think you have things figured out, you realize you don’t.  Even the epilogue leaves you with a possible twist.

Drawbacks

Of course, there are always a couple of drawbacks regardless of how good a book is…

  • You really have to suspend your sense of reality in this one.  Julia makes some choices that no sane woman would make.  She chooses to overlook a lot of very strange occurrences, and she is way too trusting of these people she barely knows.  Of course, that is the way of most ghost stories.  Most people would never go to live with people they didn’t know.  Also, most sane people would run away at the first sign of a ghost, but ghost stories require a character who is willing to brave it all.  That is our fair Julia.
  • This book encompassed every trick of the trade from old-school ghost stories.  But Wendy Webb, the author, said, “I’m not trying to define a generation, or change the way you think about the world or your place in it. I just want to craft a good story that will delight you…and send some shivers up your spine along the way.”  Webb definitely succeeded in her mission.  Even using the same old trappings, Webb made it a very enjoyable read.
  • Julia has her first ghost encounter within the first couple of days in the house.  I wish that aspect of the story had been drawn out a bit more.  I think it would have heightened the creep factor exponentially.

Wrap-Up

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely!!  I’m giving it 4.5 stars.  I held back that 1/2 star only because some of Julia’s decisions were so incredibly unbelievable.  I hope you will read this one.  It was so much fun!

Special Thanks…

I’d like to thank Netgalley.com, Hyperion and Wendy Webb for giving me the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Smoke & BoneTitle:  Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Author:   Laini Taylor
Genre:  Young Adult; Fantasy

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date:  September, 2011
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Purchased from Amazon
Pages:  424

Read Dates:  Oct. 9-11, 2013
4.5 Stars

Goodreads Description
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Ok, I have made a discovery about myself.  I am either way ahead of the curve (loving a book before anyone else has even heard of it) or way behind it (like 2 years behind).  I rarely get caught up in the midst of a fan-girl outbreak mostly because the prickly side of me refuses to give in to the accolades and pomp some books receive.  With that being said, I apparently was way behind on this one.  I remember seeing this book featured on a “must-reads” section on a morning show last summer (2012) AND I remember thinking it sounded good, but for whatever reason, I never read it.  It also has shown up on my suggestion list on Amazon and Goodreads.  Still, I wouldn’t read it.  I didn’t even have a good reason, there was just something about it that turned me off.  Boy was my book-dar WAY off!  This was an excellent book.

Karou is a great heroine.  She is spunky and independent with just the right amount of bad-ass.  She has recently kicked a jerk out of her life because she realizes he is self-centered and has no one but himself in mind.  She hates being alone, but refuses to be anyone’s doormat.  She is not afraid to stand up for herself and what she believes in.  She constantly tests boundaries and sets her own rules.  She comes from a strange and colorful past filled with strange beasties, but also has large gaps in her memory that she longs to fill.  She is often conflicted about her motives and does not come across as overly confident or cocky.  Overall, I really liked Karou.  I also loved her sassy BFF, Zuzana.

The story really sucked me in right from the beginning.  I didn’t have any trouble connecting to the setting or the characters.  Having been to Europe, this story felt at home in Prague.  The dreary, old world aspect seemed to mirror Karou’s demeanor at the beginning of the tale.  She later meets Akiva in Marrakesh which also fits perfectly.  The bright colors, liveliness and fragrant spices of Morocco mirror her life after meeting Akiva.  Karou comes alive after meeting him.  Granted she did have a near death experience while meeting him, but I won’t give away any details.

The only hiccup in this really good book, was the “instant connection” in the love story.  This is one of my biggest complaints about YA fiction because the “love at first sight” plot device runs rampant in YA.  I personally do not put a lot of stock in the “love at first sight” thing, but I do believe in lust at first sight.  I think authors should give young adults a little something more realistic to strive for so they will know the difference between lust and love when they get smacked in the face with it.  Ok, I digress.  Anyway, I was a bit disenchanted for a while with the love story, but there was a perfectly good reason for the instant connection and I was placated by the author’s explanation.

I gave this one 4.5 out of 5 stars.  The story line really didn’t falter at any point.  The tale was admirably spun and it held my attention from start to finish.  There were no major lulls in the action and no plot problems that I noticed.  It was a really fun read and I will definitely be reading the next book in the series.

If you like YA and fantasy, this is the book for you.  If you like fantasy, but not YA, don’t read this.  The YA definitely shines through on this one.

COMING NEXT:  The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Book Club Read of the Month)