Catherine Gaskin’s THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN

The Property of a Gentleman cover artworkETA: New cover for the ebook! I do prefer it to the original cover for the re-release  (right), but my comments below re the original retro covers still stand…

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I’ve a bit of a soft spot for modern Gothics, and so when I was offered a review copy of Catherine Gaskin‘s THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN, I took one look at the blurb and was sold.

A poignant, thrilling tale, full of intrigue, mystery and romance.

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 inhabitants, each with their own secrets and desires.

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.

1250541The book was first published in 1974, so falls into the category of “past contemporary” stories that always intrigues me.  Social norms and mores of a bygone era are captured unconsciously on the pages because the era is not at all historical to the author – it’s the present, and as a result, I feel as though I get this sneaky peek into what life really was like back then* (always allowing for any author biases and artistic licence, of course…).  It’s the little things that add an extra dimension to the story for me – in PROPERTY, we have Jo, the heroine, smoking cigarettes with wild abandon (and in bed!) and all the characters appear to have cigarette cases of their own.

As for the story itself, you’re immediately plunged into the mystery that is Thirlbeck, this isolated manor with hidden art treasures in the middle of the Lake District.  The brooding country house atmosphere of Thirlbeck contrasted nicely with Jo’s trips to the metropolis that was London, which certainly felt very real and had a genuinely British feel – which made a single throwaway reference to “soccer” all the more jarring and had me wondering whether I’d missed the fact Jo was American (she wasn’t).  That aside, I did like Jo’s London, especially when we spent time at the art auction house where she worked (loosely modelled on Christie’s, according to the author’s note) .  If you were wondering, the title of the book comes from that world, and I thoroughly enjoyed the related nuggets of information scattered throughout the book:

There could be heartbreak behind the sale of some single item, or a whole collection, cloaked, the owner hoped, by the discretion of Hardy’s and under the obscure designation of “The Property of a Gentleman”, or some other kindly shield and salve for pride.

Catherine Gaskin. The Property of a Gentleman (Kindle Locations 216-217). Corazon Books.

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However, I have to say that I felt a bit let down by the romance subplot.  Although the eventual romantic interest was telegraphed clearly to any romance reader, there was something lacking – I was left thinking it could have been more.  But I loved Jo’s independence and the way she tackled life.  There was a nice twist at the end, which I didn’t see coming at all (make of that what you will – I admit to being notoriously oblivious at times), and an ending that tied up loose ends rather nicely.

So a satisfying read overall – I’d never heard of Catherine Gaskin before this, but having looked her up, I can see she was a prolific writer, and I can only hope more of her backlist gets released in digital form**.

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*As an aside, I wonder what people will be saying about today’s contemporaries in fifty years’ time…

**Though perhaps with covers that retain something of the original feel?  The original hardback and paperback covers of PROPERTY (which I’ve included in this post) have this retro charm about them which I love.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

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Weekend Linkage

Random collection of links, with a bonus digression into what I’m not liking about NA at the moment…

16056408While we’re talking NA, I’ve noticed the genre doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once did – and what’s starting to pall for me is the number of characters with a traumatic past (hidden or otherwise).  Thinking back to when NA first burst onto the scene (and I admit I was late onto the bandwagon so am open to corrections!), the breakout authors had protagonists who had some sort of distressing event in their past, and that was the springboard for the primary conflict in their stories.  And as it obviously worked for them, more and more authors used the same formula, and now it feels to me as though this device has begun to define the genre?  It’s almost like it’s not an NA unless something dreadful has happened to the main character.  To me, however, when something becomes so endemic in a genre, it loses its impact – it’s probably no coincidence that the NAs that have worked best for me is where the protagonist is “just” an ordinary person.

Books for February

Not a massive number of new releases on my list this month, which means I can ramble on a bit more?

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17874997Suzanne Brockmann‘s DO OR DIE (romantic suspense): Pre-ebooks (yes, in those long ago days), the big decision when it came to new releases was whether I would (a) pre-order and get the online discount, but wait a bit longer to get my hands on them or (b) haunt my local bookstore on the off-chance they actually had them in on release date, and pay full price.

With Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter books, I usually went with option (b) – that was how much I loved them.  After the 16th (or so) book, she wrapped up that series (to be fair, it was probably about time) and ventured into a near-futuristic world, which was umm… a bust for me (to put it mildly), and I resigned myself to the fact that I was just not loving her books anymore.  And then she announced she was starting a Troubleshooters spin-off series – I guess I’m not the only one who didn’t love her new series?  So new protagonists etc but a (semi-)familiar world – I’m hoping this one has both the action-packed story, humour, and chemistry that her Troubleshooter books always brought to the table.

TL;DR version: I pre-ordered the ebook and am reading it right now.

Navy SEAL Ian Dunn went rogue in a big way when he turned his talents to a lawless life of jewel heists and con jobs. Or so the world has been led to believe. In reality, the former Special Ops warrior is still fighting for good, leading a small band of freelance covert operatives who take care of high-stakes business in highly unofficial ways. That makes Ian the hands-down choice when the U.S. government must breach a heavily guarded embassy and rescue a pair of children kidnapped by their own father, a sinister foreign national willing to turn his own kids into casualties. Shockingly, Ian passes on the mission… for reasons he will not–or cannot–reveal.

But saying no is not an option. Especially not to Phoebe Kruger, Ian’s bespectacled, beautiful, and unexpectedly brash new attorney. Determined to see the abducted children set free, she not only gets Ian on board but insists on riding shotgun on his Mission: Impossible-style operation, whether he likes it or not.

Though Phoebe has a valuable knack for getting out of tight spots, there’s no denying the intensely intimate feelings growing between Ian and Phoebe as the team gears up for combat. But these are feelings they both must fight to control as they face an array of cold-blooded adversaries, including a vindictive mob boss who’s got Ian at the top of his hit list and a wealthy psychopath who loves murder as much as money. As they dodge death squads and play lethal games of deception, Ian and Phoebe will do whatever it takes to save the innocent and vanquish the guilty.

Or die trying.

Out now

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18143924Sharon Lee‘s CAROUSEL SUN (urban fantasy): Or small-town fantasy.  I mentioned this in my January new releases because Baen releases the ebook a month early, so although technically a February release, I’ve already read this.  I was looking forward to this follow-up to CAROUSEL TIDES – I had a couple of minor niggles around pacing and voice (which I mentioned in the comments to Laura’s GR review – and will get my own review up at some point…), but overall a decent read and I really like the unusual (for a UF) setting.

 A gripping contemporary fantasy thriller from master storyteller Sharon Lee, award-winning co-creator of the highly-popular Liaden Universe® saga.

When magic meets mundane, sparks fly: these are exciting times in Archers Beach, Maine! A unprecedented Early Season has united townies and carnies in an effort to expand into a twelve-month resort, recapturing the town’s former glory.

Kate Archer, owner-operator of the vintage wooden carousel, is caught up in the excitement—and is quite possibly the cause of it. Because Kate leads a double life, as carny, and as Guardian of the land. Her recent return to the home she had forsaken has changed the town’s luck—for the better—and energized the trenvay—earth and water spirits who are as much citizens of the Beach as their mundane counterparts.

But the town’s new energy isn’t the only change afoot. Joe Nemeier, the local drug lord, whose previous magical consultant was vanquished by Kate, has acquired a new ally—and this one plays with fire.

Out now

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085286-fc222Diana Wynne Jones & Ursula JonesTHE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA (MG fantasy): I had to double-check the publication date on this as I think the US version is out later in April, but yes, the UK version looks to be pubbed end of February.  This is the book that Diana Wynne Jones was in the midst of writing when she passed away, and I believe her sister finished it.  So I’m not entirely sure it will be “proper” DWJ – but the plot sounds totally DWJ and I cannot wait to read it.

The brand new and final novel from the magical and whimsical pen of ‘the Godmother of Fantasy’, Diana Wynne Jones; co-authored with her sister Ursula Jones.

Aileen was supposed to grow up magical – just like the other women in her family. Unfortunately, she’s just found out that the magic seems to have skipped a generation… but that’s not her biggest problem right now.

In her world, there are four Islands of Chaldea. The largest and most magical island has been cut off from the other three for decades – and is slowly draining the magic from them.

But now a prophecy has come to light. Someone from Aileen’s island will gather a man from each of the three islands, bring down the magical barrier, and unite them with the fourth island again. And according to the king, that someone is Aileen’s Aunt – who insists on dragging Aileen along. AND the boy Aileen is sure she’ll marry (one day); AND the local boy with more brawn then brain. Someone seems to want to stop them too… someone with an interest in keeping the Islands apart. But still, with magic on their side, nothing can go wrong. Right?

Out Feb 27 (UK)

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Other books I’m interested in:

Tell me about your February new releases list – any must-gets I’m missing?