Monday, December 29, 2014

Julie's Review: Snobs

Author: Julian Fellowes
Series: None
Publication Date: January 24, 2006
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 288
Obtained: borrowed from a friend
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Bottom Line: Interesting look at British society but not really my cup of tea
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: From the creator of the Emmy Award-winning Downton Abbey..."The English, of all classes as it happens, are addicted to exclusivity. Leave three Englishmen in a room and they will invent a rule that prevents a fourth joining them." The best comedies of manners are often deceptively simple, seamlessly blending social critique with character and story. In his superbly observed first novel, Julian Fellowes, creator of the Masterpiece sensation Downton Abbey and winner of an Academy Award for his original screenplay of Gosford Park, brings us an insider's look at a contemporary England that is still not as classless as is popularly supposed. Edith Lavery, an English blonde with large eyes and nice manners, is the daughter of a moderately successful accountant and his social-climbing wife. While visiting his parents' stately home as a paying guest, Edith meets Charles, Earl of Broughton, and heir to the Marquess of Uckfield, who runs the family estates in East Sussex and Norfolk. To the gossip columns he is one of the most eligible young aristocrats around. When he proposes. Edith accepts. But is she really in love with Charles? Or with his title, his position, and all that goes with it? One inescapable part of life at Broughton Hall is Charles's mother, the shrewd Lady Uckfield, known to her friends as "Googie" and described by the narrator---an actor who moves comfortably among the upper classes while chronicling their foibles---"as the most socially expert individual I have ever known at all well. She combined a watchmaker's eye for detail with a madam's knowledge of the world." Lady Uckfield is convinced that Edith is more interested in becoming a countess than in being a good wife to her son. And when a television company, complete with a gorgeous leading man, descends on Broughton Hall to film a period drama, "Googie's" worst fears seem fully justified. In this wickedly astute portrait of the intersecting worlds of aristocrats and actors, Julian Fellowes establishes himself as an irresistible storyteller and a deliciously witty chronicler of modern manners.  

Review: Snobs is an interesting look at modern day British society and the rules that surround it. Besides our narrator, I found all of the characters pretty insufferable but I also think that pretty much the point. They are all wrapped up in the have and have nots because it matters where you came from and what/whom you are after.

What I really enjoyed was the outsider perspective of the narrator, who was friends with Edith. He skirts the class issue because he's an actor and well no one takes them seriously. In fact, my favorite chapter was the one where he tells us readers about how he met and eventually married his wife. While Edith's marriage was being tested, he was finding and wooing the future Mrs.

I don't think I'll ever truly understand British society because so much of it is pretentious and based on the history of the family name, that it escapes me.  Plus the nicknames they have for each other are so hideous, I'm not quite sure how anyone agrees to be called them!!

If people think we have a problem between percentages here in the USA, then they should probably study British society. 

If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, then this book is pretty much up your alley since the author of this book is the creator of the show.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Julie's Review: When It Happens To You

Author: Molly Ringwald
Series: None
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: It Books
Pages: 272
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Well-developed storylines that intersect
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: When it happens to you, you will be surprised. That thing they say about how you knew all the time, but just weren't facing it? That might be the case, but nevertheless, there you will be. Molly Ringwald mines the complexities of modern relationships in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories. Writing with a deep compassion for human imperfection, Ringwald follows a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors while they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life — revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all. In "The Harvest Moon," a stay-at-home mom grapples with age, infertility, and an increasingly distant husband. In "Ursa Minor," a former children's television star tries to rebuild his life after being hospitalized for "exhaustion." An elderly woman mourns the loss of her husband and her estranged relationship with her daughter in "The Little One." In "My Olivia," a single mother finds untapped reserves of strength to protect her flamboyant six-year-old son who wishes only to wear dresses and be addressed as Olivia. And in the devastating title story, a betrayed wife chronicles her pain and alienation, leading to an eviscerating denouement. As the lives of these characters converge and diverge in unexpected ways, Ringwald reveals a startling eye for the universality of loss, love, and the search for connection. An unflinching yet poignant examination of the intricacies of the human heart, When It Happens to You is an auspicious literary debut.

Review: When It Happens to You has been on my bookshelf since I received it for Christmas in 2013. Shame on me but this is pretty typical. If you are wondering if it's THAT Molly Ringwald it is and she has a flare for the written word. Sometimes stories that are supposed to link, don't really seem to flow together but Ms. Ringwald makes all of the characters interesting. Plus they do all tie to what I would say is the main story; Greta, Charlotte and Phillip.

Ms. Ringwald has a way of making you both empathetic to Greta and to Phillip as well. Greta thinks that she has the perfect marriage, well maybe not perfect recently but certainly it has been up until now. Whenever a character thinks that, immediately my "impending doom" antennae goes off. You just know it's foreshadowing.

While the troubles that find Greta and Phillip are a bit cliche, it doesn't feel like it. While there is no such thing as a fresh look at infidelity, what's fresh is how it's presented. You get to look at it from all points of view. You see how others view them and how they view themselves. You also peer in on how they both try to pick up the pieces of their shattered life.

There were a few times where the timeline would shift and I would be a little lost. Those were things that should have had better flow but overall it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book.

When It Happens to You is a look at love in all it's various forms: lust, deep love, love for your child(ren) and family. Love is universal but how we express can vary depending on the receiver.

If Ms. Ringwald decides to write another novel, I will definitely be reading it.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cover and Title Survey: Suzanne Redfearn

In 2014, I reviewed a fantastic book called Hush Little Baby. Today I am honored that the author Suzanne Redfearn has offered to have our blog be a part of her search for the cover and title of her new book.

Do you enjoy novels by Jodi Picoult, Liane Moriarty, JoJo Moyes or Anita Shreve?

Then you are the perfect reader to help up-and-coming author Suzanne Redfearn choose the title and cover for her next women’s fiction novel.

For participating, you will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble. Click here to participate. Suzanne will be notifying the winner herself! Good luck!

Contest ends on 12/21/14.

 photo PriceWePay1_zpsa0c80995.jpg  photo PriceWePay2_zps2efff5a1.jpg  photo NoOrdinaryLife1_zpsee752ded.jpg  photo NoOrdinaryLife2_zpsdce21a6f.jpg

All designs are the property of Grand Central Publishing, are not final, and subject to change. Scanning, uploading, or electronic sharing without permission of Grand Central is prohibited.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jenn's Review: The House of Hades

Author: Rick Riordan
Series: The Heroes of Olympus #4
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Pages: 597
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Rating: 5.0
Bottom Line: Fantastic development and penultimate showdown
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Blurb:  At the conclusion of The Mark of Athena, Annabeth and Percy tumble into a pit leading straight to the Underworld. The other five demigods have to put aside their grief and follow Percy’s instructions to find the mortal side of the Doors of Death. If they can fight their way through the Gaea’s forces, and Percy and Annabeth can survive the House of Hades, then the Seven will be able to seal the Doors both sides and prevent the giants from raising Gaea. But, Leo wonders, if the Doors are sealed, how will Percy and Annabeth be able to escape?

They have no choice. If the demigods don’t succeed, Gaea’s armies will never die. They have no time. In about a month, the Romans will march on Camp Half-Blood

Review:  I held off on reading this because the cliffhanger at the end of The Mark of Athena was pretty steep and as The House of Hades is the penultimate book in the series, I was afraid this would be worse.  I needn't have feared as the ending was tame in comparison.  However, I was glad I waited because it was good to jump right into The Blood of Olympus.

Knowing there is an entire novel ahead, you know Percy and Annabeth aren't going to splat when they land in Tartarus, but Riordan manages to prolong the anguish anyway by starting the novel with the remainder of the team on the Argo II.  Things above ground have gotten harder and everyone on the Argo II is feeling the loss of Percy and Annabeth.  Their path to the House of Hades will be the most trecherous yet and they will have to stop blaming themselves and pull together to get there. They will also need to learn to trust themselves.

When we finally get back to Percy and Annabeth (five chapters in!) they are still in free fall.  Rick Riordan's separation of this pair in the first two books made me crave their reunion so that even thought they are in Tartarus it is a relief that they are together.  Tartarus is about punishment and it causes Percy and Annabeth to evaluate the choices they have made in their lives... it's enough to throw anyone into despair.  But these two have always been stronger together and being together is what pulls them through.

Perhaps more so than the rest of the series, The House of Hades is about coming into their own.  Each of heroes must make tough choices and learn to be comfortable with who they are.  I think that is why this is my favorite of all the books thus far.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Julie's Review: The Story Sisters

Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: None
Publication Date: June 1, 2010
Publisher: Three River Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Mystical Realism
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: A heartbreaking story about what lengths sisters go to protect each other
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Her new novel, The Story Sisters, charts the lives of three sisters — Elv, Claire, and Meg. Each has a fate she must meet alone: one on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the corridors of her own imagination. Inhabiting their world are a charismatic man who cannot tell the truth, a neighbor who is not who he appears to be, a clumsy boy in Paris who falls in love and stays there, a detective who finds his heart's desire, and a demon who will not let go. What does a mother do when one of her children goes astray? How does she save one daughter without sacrificing the others? How deep can love go, and how far can it take you? These are the questions this luminous novel asks. At once a coming-of-age tale, a family saga, and a love story of erotic longing, The Story Sisters sifts through the miraculous and the mundane as the girls become women and their choices haunt them, change them and, finally, redeem them. It confirms Alice Hoffman's reputation as a "writer whose keen ear for the measure struck by the beat of the human heart is unparalleled".  

Review: Whenever I pick up an Alice Hoffman novel I am immediately transported to this world but only more magical. In The Story Sisters, the magic exists to block out the bad. It exists so that they can escape their troubles. It is Elv who is lost and who stays lost for most of the novel. She is troubled and we are given glimpses of why but it is never fully revealed. Ms. Hoffman doesn't have to spell it out to her readers, we can figure it out on our own. It is also Elv who is the most brave of the sisters. She is the one who protects Claire until it is Claire who tries to protect her.

Meg is the pragmatic sister, who ends up protecting Claire from Elv as she slips further and further away from her family. She is the one who ends up opening their mother's eyes to Elv's misdeeds. The misdeeds and aftermath will have lasting effects on her life.

My favorite character was Claire. She was the glue that kept the sisters together until she couldn't. She was the sweet, innocent one that knew there was evil in the world. She was the sensitive one. As she grew up, she withdrew into herself. It was art that saved her. It was within art that she found her voice.

Besides Claire, I loved their Ama, Natalia. She was always there for her daughter and her granddaughters. She was also very elegant and wise.

Ms. Hoffman always writes a novel that immediately pulls you in. She creates a world that you want to curl up in and get lost in. Her writing is poetic and lyrical. If you haven't read her, you should. I will be reading more of her books in the future.

The Story Sisters is about love, redemption and forgiveness. It is about figuring out who you are and who you are meant to be. It is about the bond of sisters, that can't be broken; even when it is.

Alice's Review


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Julie's Review: Brutal Youth

Author: Anthony Breznican
Series: No
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 516
Obtained: Be Books Consulting
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Interesting look at hazing and bullying in a Catholic high school in the 90s
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michaels has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies. To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.

Review: Brutal Youth is an intriguing look at bullying and hazing during the 1990s at a suburban Catholic high school. Being a freshman is never easy in any feat for anyone but when you are a bit different or don't quite fit in, it can be horrible. For our 3 incoming freshman, St. Mike's is anything from welcoming. From the teachers to the upperclassmen, no one makes it easy for Noah and Peter. Lorelei has it a bit easier because she eventually figures out how to play the game.

The teachers are no better than the students. Ms. Bromine is truly reprehensible. She is perhaps the worst character in the novel. Just the mere mention of her makes me disgusted. She's so miserable in her own life that she takes it out on the students of St. Mike's. She's so focused on getting one over on Sister Maria that she doesn't realize that it will all turn on her. She was definitely did not have the students best interest in her sights. Mr. Zimmer wasn't a bad guy, he was just sheltered as a kid and somewhat still sheltered as an adult. It was only a mater of time until a student takes advantage of his kindness.

The hazing goes from teasing, bullying to cruelty. Now, our three freshman weren't always so innocent either. They were mouthy and "stirred the pot" with the upperclassmen as well. Some of the freshmen ingratiated themselves with the seniors and while it might have spared them from some hazing throughout the school year, it comes back to bite them at the Hazing Picnic.

Each character carries their own secrets including the kids; Peter, Noah and Lorelei. None of them have a great home life, so the terror of high school doesn't offer them the refuge that each of them had hopes for it doing. Instead of finding refuge in each other, they use each other. Some more than others. There is no doubt that kids are cruel. There is no doubt that they have no clue about the lasting effects of their actions. Some situations shape how you will forever view the world.

Unfortunately for Peter and Noah, their interactions with both kids and adults will not have lasting positive effects for them. One of them will have more emotional scars than physical and one will have both. What's true for both of them, is they will have issues trusting. This is perhaps what strikes me as the saddest outcome for both of them.

No one ever said high school was easy. No one ever said that things that happen won't hurt. The thing is most of us get through high school with some bruises and scars. Most of us have fond things we loved about it and most of us have things we would rather forget. Most of us were teased in some way but for most of us it made us stronger. 

What  Brutal Youth highlighted for me was that bullying and hazing aren't new issues but just talked about now. What was the most disturbing is that the adults didn't really try to stop the behavior and in some ways they helped perpetuate it.  I can only imagine that as an adult it might be difficult to draw the line about what is considered "too far" but it is up to them to act like adults.