Sunday, September 23, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Leaves by Michael Baron

Leaves (Gold Family #1)
Michael Baron

Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Publisher: The Story Plant 
Page Count: 366
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review

Welcome to Oldham, CT, a small town rich in Colonial heritage while being utterly contemporary. Situated along the Connecticut River Valley, Oldham bursts with color every fall, as the leaves on its trees evolve into an unmatched palette of scarlet, orange, purple, yellow, and bronze. For more than three decades, the Gold family has been a central part of Oldham in the fall, its Sugar Maple Inn a destination for “leaf-peepers” from all over the country, and its annual Halloween party a stirring way to punctuate the town’s most active month.

But this year, more than just the leaves are changing. With the death of their parents, the Gold siblings, Maria, Maxwell, Deborah, Corrina, and Tyler, have decided to sell the Sugar Maple Inn, and this year’s Halloween party will be the last. As October begins, the Golds contend with the finality that faces them, and the implications it has for a family that has always been so close. For some, it means embracing new challenges and new love. For others, it means taking on unimagined roles. And for others, it means considering the inconceivable. Complicating it all is a series of “hauntings” that touch each of the Gold siblings, a series of benign interventions that will remain a mystery until October draws to a close.

Filled with romance, tension, and unforgettable family drama, Leaves is the first in a series of novels about a world and a family that readers will want to make their own.
What Stephanie Thinks: The five Gold siblings' lives—their loves and losses and new beginnings—in their parents' wake come alive in Baron's newest novel. We unravel their deepest of fears and strongest of desires as we follow their daily proceedings leading up to the annual Halloween party the Golds have been known to throw in Oldham; the first one they've had to host since their parents have died. 

Baron's style is lyrical, smooth, and casual. I don't think it's particularly beautiful or mesmerizing, but it's definitely not bad. I feel some of his dialogue is rather stilted, but eh... at least it makes sense. Same thing goes for the overall plot too: I like the idea of the trials and tribulations of the stressful party-planning sans mom and dad—especially the way it's so organized and straightforward—but in the end, it's nothing riveting. 

Although Mama and Papa Gold may be gone, their presence remains powerful in the spirits and minds of each brother and sister. It was interesting to be able to shadow each individual sibling dealing with the same hell but different devils, but I found it a little dissatisfying that none of them were necessarily connected. Rather, there are just five separate story lines that only have supporting characters in common.

We've got Tyler who, as a character, I didn't care much for, but whose story I loved. It's the quintessential narrative of naïve lovers and first heartbreaks. He as a character is dislikable (i.e. short-tempered and curt), but I think that's mostly because he is so superficial. I felt this way about the others too; I wish Baron would have gone into more depth with all of them. Then there's Deborah, who's reasonable and realistic—the inspired and bequeathed chef of the family. Her story of new love and new hope is exciting and heart-melting; I loved it through and through. Corrina is another relatable character, the under-appreciated wife and stepmom with true-to-life frustrations. She's probably my favorite character; Baron does an excellent job at bringing her flaws, and her beauty, to life. Maria is a recent empty-nester who's got nothing but good in her heart. I liked her as a character, but couldn't find myself connecting with her as much because her appearance was, again, so superficial and short-lived. Last, there's Maxwell, the politician of the house, who's supposed to be portrayed as a strong leader of a character. I, however, couldn't find much to like about him, though I did find myself aching for him anyway. His personality is presented poorly (not that he's a bad person, but that there's not much said about him), but his situation is mournful, and it's one I wanted to reach out myself to help mend.

The most compelling aspect of Leaves is that we, as readers, do not know which story will end happily and which will end in tragedy. The best we can do is hold on, even when the ride gets bumpy, and hope to be able to find out. While I can't say Leaves is anything spectacular because it seems just like a shallow collection of stories about each Gold sibling, it's a pretty easy read that flows well and is full of the sentiments in life that matter most: being resilient, finding and maintaining love, and always keeping hope.

Stephanie Loves: "[Tyler] lay back in bed, thinking, this isn't a convenient time for me to lose my mind."

Radical Rating: 8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥