Book Review: General Fiction

Book Review: Blood Sister by Kenna McKinnon

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Why This Book 
I’d heard a few good things about Blood Sister by author Kenna McKinnon from some fellow readers and decided to take a chance on it. It was published in 2015 by Creativia and has a very unique set of characters and multiple voices (you’ll get this joke later on)… let’s get on to the review.

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Plot, Characters & Setting 
Set in contemporary Canada, this quirky novel tells the story of two vicious murders of the town mayor and doctor in Serendipity. While the police lead the investigation, they’ve called in a consultant private-eye who has a unique relationship with the detectives working on the case. She’s a schizophrenic who still hears voices and is currently on a stress leave while she re-adjusts to new medication levels. As if that’s not enough of a reason to draw you in, Annie is married to another interesting fellow, Samir, a Sudanese man who has a few issues of his own to deal with, but they may just be trying to pull the wool over their guardian’s eyes… as they’re barely in their early 20s and not quite ready to be on their own based on a few crimes they too committed in the past. Add in a sexy new detective named Mark Snow who just happens to have the same initials as the possible murderer and you’ve got yourself quite a corker to figure out!

Approach & Style 
I read this 294-page mystery and suspense novel over ~4 hours on my iPad via Kindle Reader. It’s broken into ~90 chapters which means each one is relatively short around 3 to 4 pages. While it could be difficult to tell who’s talking, given all the personalities sometimes taking control of Annie, author McKinnon has kindly italicized those moments so readers are quick to follow along. The story is told in third-person POV with a perspective focusing on the main character, Annie, and her adventures not only in solving the crime, but deciding how to handle her relationship with Samir and feelings for Mark.

Key Thoughts 
Let’s focus on the mystery first. Two dead people always make a story more complicated. Was it a single murderer, a serial killer with more victims in his/her plan, or just two very unrelated incidents. Lots of red herrings and different motives, both real and faked, help move this plot along nicely.

You’ll either love or hate the characters. They are portrayed quite well, so it’ll really come down to your ability to see through the quirks and nuances versus the games they seem to be playing with each other and within poor Annie’s mind. I’m in awe of how the author kept this all in line!

There are a lot of side-stories going on which help keep readers interested in all the action and characters. Between birds and cats, foreigners and natives, old historic beliefs and medical approaches, the novel seems to have a bit of everything. It’s a lot to keep track of, but imagine what that’s like for Annie who has to try to assemble all the clues while her schizophrenia idles up and down depending on her adjustment to the medicine.

Throw in a bit of romance, some Canadian humor, and the potential for some fun and silliness, you’ve got yourself quite a unique read. If you’re looking for something different and logical in its own right, this would be a great choice to push your reading comforts. The best part is following Annie’s mind and voice throughout the story. She’s got a lot of charm and intelligence, and you never quite know what she might say out loud unintentionally. I know a few people like that!

Summary 
This was a unique book and I don’t think I expected it to be what it turned out to be — but that’s certainly not a bad thing either! It has all the drama, mystery and suspense you’d expect in this type of novel, but it gives you a very different setting and tone as part of the ride. I like when books throw me for a loop, especially when you need to re-orient how you think in order to align your reading style. Kudos to the author for finding great formatting, approaches and character descriptions to help make everything pop on the page.

 

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

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Book Review: The Whole of the Moon by Kevin McManus

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Why This Book 
I’ve been reading a few books from the publisher Creativia in the last year. I was looking for something set in a new (to me) location and liked the summary of The Whole of the Moon, written in 2016 by Kevin McManus. It definitely hit the spot and I would recommend it to others.

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Plot, Characters & Setting 
Conor Doyle, a late 20ish Irish lad, returns home from London in the mid-1980s for Christmas break to visit his parents. He runs into old friends from school and falls back into a routine of meeting them each night for drinks at the local pub. He soon learns a respectable villager was run off the road by an unknown the car the day before he arrived. As he begins to reconnect with his friends and listen to different stories around town, he learns the identity of the hit-and-run driver. It’s someone he knows, too. Conor struggles with keeping the secret, as well as crossing the line from friend to lover with an old flame. It all comes to a head in a big confrontation when secrets are exposed, and the cops are hot on the tail of the driver.

Approach & Style 
I read this 124-page novel in two hours on my iPad via Kindle Reader. It’s the first book of a two-book series thus far told in third-person POV with a perspective on Conor Doyle. The opening chapter covers the actual hit-and-run accident from the perspective of the victim, but otherwise the focus follows Conor around. It has a very authentic Irish feel to the story, the language and the setting. Quite a strong and easily-understandable read.

Key Thoughts 
McManus is a strong writer, especially when it comes to immersing readers in the culture of a 1980s Ireland. Between references to cultural phenomena, on-going politics, and the general way in which people speak and interact, readers will be swiftly taken to the village of Ballinastrad in County Sligo. I have a strong affinity to anything UK and this book is an example of why. I found myself thinking about the people and the views for several days after finishing the novel. That’s how you know the author has made his/her positive impact on the reader.

One of the reasons I found this book so enjoyable is the simplicity of the story, which is a bit odd for a guy who normally looks for ingenious or twisty plots. On the outskirts, it’s the impacts of a hit-and-run accident tied together with the discovery of a secret being kept among friends. In McManus’ novel, the beauty of this story comes from the aura or ambiance within the setting. Whether it’s the tone of the conversation, the description of the land, or the way the main character steps through his day, you feel a connection to Conor’s need to experience a break from the normal busyness of life by returning to his hometown.

I traveled with him on his journey re-living the past and falling back in love. I remembered the bonds you build with friends while hanging out at a bar. And I recalled the disappointment of making the right decision even when you know it will hurt many people in the end. The story is real and it will push you to question loyalty versus heart.

Summary 
I’m really excited to read the second book which was published just last year. It’s in my reading queue and will probably land sometime around April or May. Maybe you should read this first book now and join me later for a buddy-read of the second, Under the Red Winter Sky.
About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
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Book Review: Lovesick by Jacqueline Levering Sullivan

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Why This Book 
Someone suggested the book to me after I completed reading something else, noting the two had similar tone and style. I really enjoyed the first novel, which made me keen to read Lovesick by Jacqueline Levering Sullivan. It was one of the remaining books I have in my queue that I committed to read in early 2018 (I’m on a role — this was the seventeenth book I read in January), so I dove right in; I’m glad, too. It gets a very high 4+ star rating from me… probably a 5 on Amazon given the definition there and a 4 on Goodreads.

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Plot, Characters & Setting 
The YA novel takes place in 1950s in a small US town focusing on Jeanmarie Dowd, a 16-year-old girl trying to get through high school without falling apart or getting in trouble. She’s had a crush on her best friend’s boyfriend, Chuck, for years. Jeanmarie’s older sister, Iris, has somehow gotten herself involved with a few people suspected of being Communists. Her mother and step-father are at a loss over what to do with both girls. Throw in a few crazy friends, escalating health issues and a situation with the police, Jeanmarie is caught between every possible teenage issue in a time when forgiveness wasn’t very easy.

Approach & Style 
I read this 170 page young adult novel on my iPad through Kindle Reader in about 90 minutes — it’s short and easy to digest, but very full of emotion and complexity. It is broken into 29 chapters, each relatively short between 4 and 8 pages, focusing on specific scenes or events that happen to the main character, her family and friends. It is told in first person POV with a perspective focus on the main character, Jeanmarie Dowd.

Key Thoughts 
If there were ever a book to transport you into the feel of the 1950s, this was it. I may not have been been born until a few decades afterward, but I still know what it was like… and Sullivan found a perfect balance of fear, loyalty, rigidity, change and intimacy. Between the words and the setting, you are transported to a different world and understand why things happen the way they do for each of the characters.

Jeanmarie is a beautifully written character. Although she does something wrong/bad, you know she never intended to hurt anyone, and you easily recognize she probably should have had it all along. That said, the punishment she (and others) suffer, is quite a tearjerker. I love the balance of rivalry and connection with her sister. I adore the relationship she has with her parents. It’s amazing to see how she and Chuck remain friends, including her connection to his parents. The end will hurt a bit, but in a way, you almost know from the very first page, it’s gonna happen.

There’s a fine balance of detail regarding the Communist plot, the health scares and the way life actually happened in the 1950s. It’s never too little or too much, just the right amount. You want more, and maybe the book could have had another 40 to 50 pages to draw out even more emotion, but it’s quite good as it stands. The pages turn themselves as you excitedly fall into their magic.

Sullivan creates strong characters within a charismatic setting. She excels at defining relationships not only in words and dialog, but also in distance and what is never actually said between people who should have had a conversation. Less is more sometimes, and this might be a perfect example of that old adage.

Summary 
I recommend this book highly, especially to those who can handle a few tears and a couple of punches to the gut. It won’t make you cry the whole time, but in just the right places, you’ll get a tad weepy… then find your happiness. It evokes a 1950s ambiance which isn’t always easy to do. I look forward to reading more from this author.

About Me 
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

Book Review: Funeral Platter Stories by Greg Ames

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When the publisher of Funeral Platter: Stories, written in 2017 by Greg Ames, reached out to me to offer an opportunity to read his collection of short stories, I was honored. I love when that happens, but I had so many in my queue to read, what’s a guy to do? I also am not a typical short story reader, but I agreed to read it in early 2018. I just finished it last night on a train ride from NYC to Long Island and gave it 3.5 stars.

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At ~250 pages, it’s a relatively short read I completed in about 2 1/2 hours. There are twenty short stories, ranging from 5 to 20 pages. Some of the content is more adult-oriented, but many are good for young adults, too. As is usual in a collection like this, many shined; a few fell flat. My favorites happen to be the first three: Chemistry, Discipline and The Life She’s Been Missing. In these, the narrator tells the story of couples or families interacting with one another — both the good and bad sides of life and relationships. He’s got a knack for diving right into the bizarre yet totally understandable moments we all face in life. And there are a few where we actually see ourselves as the main character, experiencing the absurdities life sometimes offers.

Quite humorous, very succinct in capturing character profiles. Although I wanted to hit, smack or kick some of the characters, they always made me react with a hearty laugh or a smirk and wink of at least one eye (two would be just weird). In Discipline, a teenager tries to convince his father that they should physically abuse a younger sister to teach her a lesson, but when that doesn’t work, he asks the sister if they should attack their father to teach him a lesson! It all ends with the son telling the family dog that he drew the unlucky straw and must be punished. Of course it’s humorous, so no need to be alarmed, as it was purely drawing on a minor detail of what the son was really trying to say about life. Same goes for the couple dating in Chemistry. At first, I thought… we’ve got a nasty mean girl and a cantankerous douche of a guy on a blind date. Slowly, I realized, they have been dating for a while and enjoy bashing one another as part of their foreplay. When it ends with them happily in love, you know I’m like “whaaaaaaaaaaaaatttt??????????????” but in the end, it really makes you laugh!

A few of the stories completely flew over my head. Perhaps I’m not that smart. Maybe you just need a certain kinda understanding about life. Nonetheless, I flipped the pages and ignored the ones I didn’t like. That’s how it should be… you can’t love everything, so enjoy what you can. The author’s style is good; it’s a fine balance of realistic humor coupled with extreme circumstances of situations. For instance… ‘Playing Ping Pong with Pontius Pilate’ — seriously, who would think of something like that? But if you read the story, you’ll get a good flavor of Ames’ tone. And when you get to the final one, trying to decide whether people did or did not die, you’ll find yourself confused and tantalized. But when they climb into the coffin together, your head will do a few new moves!

I look forward to reading more from him. He’s got that funky offbeat charm with a bit of old-school approach that reminded me a bit of the flavor you see in Kafka’s slice of life. Oh and by the way, there may or may not be a character named Kafka in one of the stories, too.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

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Why This Book 
The publisher of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, written in 2017 by Cherise Wolas, emailed me late last year to see if I’d be interested in reading the novel. I accepted the challenge and put it on my TBR, agreeing to read within the next few months. As I was cleaning out my TBR, I noticed this was still sitting in my queue, hence it became one of my first reads in 2018.

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Plot, Characters & Setting 
Joan Ashby as a young girl wanted to be a writer. She wrote all the time, publishing her first book by 23 to rave reviews. She even had a list of things to do, which included never to fall in love or have a family. Writing was all she ever wanted until she met a man, fell in love, married and had a child. Then a second. Even though she and her husband had agreed – no children! The book chronicles her life from about 23 to 53, covering the growth and maturity of herself and her two children, including the ups and downs of her relationship with the husband. Set in various cities between the US and India, Joan raises her family, writes and travels, all trying to find herself and be the best woman she can be. She meets many influential women who help organize her life and path, deals with devastating actions from each of her family members, and learns how to deal with something always stepping in the way of her success. It’s literary fiction — a true novel that will make you think about personal choices, giving up things for others and understanding when it’s okay to be selfish.

Approach & Style 
I read a physical copy of this ~550 page book over the course of 4 days, a majority of it on two 2-hour train rides near NYC where I live. There are ~50 chapters, each between 10 and 15 pages long, telling the story in third person POV. This is not your typical novel in that it only follows around the main characters; instead, it is two different books within one novel. Approximately 2/3 of the novel, ~ 350 pages, are the story of Joan Ashby’s life, but the other ~200 pages are short stories or sections of various novels that the author Joan Ashby has written throughout her career; these stories provide deeper layers into her thoughts and relationships, as she often tells the story of her own life through other characters. To be honest, while some of the stories were helpful, having ~200 pages of this book dedicated to that style was way too much. I found myself skimming those sections all too often, understanding I might have missed a few key points of the overall novel, but happier to focus on one drama at a time!

Strengths 
The story is simple, yet full of complexity and intensity. Joan’s approach to life, her internal thoughts and what she actually says and does, vary distinctly and vastly. This is the greatest strength of the novel — a woman readers will identify with, but also get angry with. Choices are presented in a light and casual manner, yet all the ramifications are immense.

Her sons are painted with a beautiful set of images and words. They are real, but they feel so far away. You want to hug them one moment, then cover their heads with a pillow case and smother them the next. BTW… it’s an expression — I’m not advocating this as a method to handle people you don’t particularly like at any given moment. And for the sake of irony, I’m writing this as if I were thinking exactly like Joan. It is my life/review to do what I will. LOL

On a more serious note, it’s spectacular when it’s spectacular, which is at least 50% of the book. The story pulls you in. The characters are diverse and basic, yet charming and frustrating. It’s a fine balance, and Wolas impeccably draws a wide array of issues and reactions that keep you thinking and page-turning to guess what Joan may say or do next. Just reading about Joan’s daily routine was vivid and exciting, even when it was merely running errands around town.

Concerns 
As mentioned earlier, the stories within the story were just too plentiful. A few were touching and provided some much needed balance to the overall narrative of Joan’s life story. Some went on for twenty pages and truly felt like a roadblock to a successful read of the book. Perhaps as a separate collection of shorts, I might have enjoyed them more. Instead, I found myself eager to get back to the main plot, feeling a bit overwhelmed, and in need of a red pen to edit!

I struggled a bit in the beginning with Joan’s attitude towards a few things in her life. She eagerly tells us how and why she treats her two sons differently, but everything else about her is balanced and fair. She chose to keep the pregnancies, despite not wanting children. She never seemed like someone who would treat them differently, but it was a key aspect of the novel, so I suspended a bit of disbelief and kept on moving… in the end, it’s important to the overall perspective of her behavior, but I think it needed another round of analysis on why Joan behaved the way she did in certain circumstances. Too little left out in some areas, too much included in others.

Summary & Next Steps 
Undoubtedly, Wolas is an amazing writer. Some of the passages were lyrical, intense and magnificent. I could never write like she does, I vividly recall thinking at a few moments. If Wolas can produce a novel like that, without all the additional superfluous or extraneous, I’ll be the first in line to buy it. But if it’s another like this, I would TBR it, but not rush for it. I would like to meet her — she seems quite brilliant, but in need of a push in more defined direction. I’m not saying I’d be the one to push her… just curious to see how she thinks in person on the fly, as opposed to a cultivated piece of writing. All-in-all, I’m glad I read this book and I really enjoyed large portions of it. If you can accept the things I noted as concerns, you’ll find some wonderful beauty in her writing style and choice of focus and perspective.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

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I read The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom several year ago and just realized I never wrote a review… so it gets a mini one from memory. I enjoyed this book. It had a great voice, interesting characters and good messages. I liked how each of the 5 people were connected in different ways, some surprise. The style grabs you. I thought it was a good intro to learn more about how this author writes. Spiritual without getting too religious. Witty and charismatic on some levels. Endearing to see how you watch other people live, as well as guess what happens when you die. I will definitely read more from the author.

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About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: Outside In by Doug Cooper

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Why This Book 
In early 2017, I had drinks with a former colleague when we discussed my goal to publish a novel that year. She had grown up with someone who published a book and offered to introduce us. I said ‘sure’ and never actually contacted the guy. Months later, I signed a contract to publish my book, then realized I never followed through, so I sent a message, we chatted a bit, and I thought… I should read Doug Cooper‘s book: Outside In. I got hold of a copy, it sat on the shelves for a bit, but I decided I wasn’t allowed to buy/download another book in 2018 until I finished everything I already owned… hence how this one got picked for January!

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Plot, Characters & Setting 
Brad Shepherd is a middle school teacher whose student overdoses in class. As part of the Administration’s way to handle the student’s death, Brad’s out of a job. He heads to Put-in-Bay, Ohio to meet a friend and have a summer off, where he can party for a little bit and find his new life path. When he arrives, a life he never knew, or perhaps had forgotten, begins to surround him: he’s quick to fool around with a bunch of women, drink himself silly and experiment with a range of drugs. Over the course of the summer, he makes several mistakes and finds himself going off into a darker oblivion. His family re-surfaces, and a friend has an accident, which helps re-structure his course, but life is definitely going to be different in his future.

Key Thoughts 
For starters, I’ll say the book is a very realistic portrayal of what could happen in this environment. It’s not something I’m familiar with, but based on tons of movies, other books and conversations that touch on these subjects, I’d comfortable stating it is accurately written. That said, it is not an environment I would ever want to be in, nor did I like ANY of the characters in the book. They were a mess, indulgent, immature and frustrating. BUT — that’s the point and they belonged being that way for the story. Cooper brought out my inner ‘angry man’ attitude over people who behave like this, so major kudos to him for a brilliant portrayal of his character set.

The writing has quality and brings to life both the background and the tone you need to be successful in a book like this one. While there are some plot points, e.g. the death of the student, the move to the island for the summer and the results of some of the drug overdoses, it’s essentially a story about a group of experiences people have while drinking and taking various drugs. It’s of course larger than just that simple observation, but you have to be comfortable reading about this side of life to enjoy the book. It’s not going to be ideal for everyone, but it definitely has a large audience to work with. Once you get beyond drugs/drinking, you start questioning how we make choices, our fears, what makes us fall for another person, how does someone guilt you into doing things…

The dialogue and narration provide all the details readers need to know what’s going on in the main character’s head; you will hear his voice, see his actions, know the reasons (most of the time) and follow along on his journey. Sometimes you’ll think he’s stupid and full of fault, others you’ll know he’s suffering from a tragedy and just floating around without any anchor. For those reasons, it is pretty obvious that this has happened and continues to happen to people going through this stage of life. The sum of the parts equal the whole for me with this book. It’s a solid read, full of a wide range of situations and thought-provoking ideas. I think if I had gone through something like Brad did, I’d probably like the book even more. I ended up around 3.75 stars.

Summary 
I’m curious to read his other novel, The Investment Club, about a group of people in Las Vegas going through some life experiences at the Blackjack table. It seems this is the realm the author writes in… that space where the group of people interact in ways we can all relate to, but not nearly as far into the depths… and I’m confident when he hits on topics that are more pertinent to me, I’ll be really invested in the novel and have an entirely deeper connection to the author and his work. For now, I’m glad I read this one and look forward to reading more.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My debut novel, Watching Glass Shatter, can be purchased on Amazon. I write A LOT. I read A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin.