Book Review: Historical Fiction

Book Review: Sketch by Didi Oviatt

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SketchSketch by Didi Oviatt
Sketch is the fifth work I’ve read from Didi Oviatt. It tells the story of a group of young adults in Montana in the early/mid 20th century, just on the border of historical fiction for me — a perfect blend of setting, scenery, and the past. I’d consider it a lengthy novella that reads quite quickly, perhaps 2 hours on average. The kids are young, poor, and in need of guidance. They live off the land, have troubles with their parents, and refuse to admit their feelings for one another. It is, after all, nearly 80 years ago when life was quite different. Then… the serial killings start happening again.

Michael and John are brothers. They are raw, rugged, and tough. But not as much as Chloe, Michael’s secret crush. In a fairly opening scene, she kills, skins, cooks, and eats a snake. Steven enters the picture, and he’s a bit aloof. We know John has a thing for Misty, but when her father comes looking for revenge, readers learn Misty has gone missing. Is one of the group responsible? The sheriff and a few other law protectors get involved, then we start seeing the violence happening in this very tiny town which doesn’t even show up on a map. Now that’s the way to start telling a gory story – all the essentials for a dramatic confrontation and fearful denouement.

We’re quickly dropped into the scary search for Misty. When we find her body, scattered and dismembered, you know for certain — without a doubt — you’ve entered the world of Didi Oviatt’s marvelous imagination. In most of her previous works, readers are treated to that criminally insane killer who thirsts for blood. But she pushes it even further this time when we watch the visceral murder scene of two characters — one we could’ve guessed, another that was a shock. Oviatt clearly shows us why her antagonist stayed in hiding since the killings began over a decade ago. How could anyone not figure it out? Clever is her killer who knows what not to say.

When I pick up an Oviatt book, I’m guaranteed a thrilling adventure / killing spree with the finest finesse and balance of drama, dialog, and murder during the high points. You swiftly turn the pages. You briefly skim something that seems non-essential because you just HAVE TO FIND OUT what’s happening, then you’re forced with your tails between your legs to return because you know you missed a clue five lines earlier. Don’t do it! Read every word and enjoy the boiling as it explodes. Unfortunately, it’s so good that it’s too hard to slow down; she makes you thirst like the killer for your own solution.

Add to it, in this case, a setting when there were no cars in Montana, people took the law into their own hands, and murders went unsolved for longer periods of time. Wow, this was a ride. And what the killer keeps in his/her little jar of mementos is sickening. But of course, it’s brilliant. I enjoyed this latest edition from Oviatt’s startlingly vivid imagination. I’ve got one more book to finish reading all of her work, and I’m very curious to see how it compare — it’s a different genre, so that’ll be something to look forward to this fall. Congrats on another winner!

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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 stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. My new book series, Braxton Campus Mysteries, will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations but with a twist. There are five books: Academic CurveballBroken Heart Attack, Flower Power Trip, Mistaken Identity Crisis, and Haunted House Ghost. I read, write, and blog A LOT on this site where 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 Golden Hour by Malia Zaidi

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The Golden Hour (Lady Evelyn Mystery #4)The Golden Hour by Malia Zaidi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Golden Hour is the fourth book in the ‘Lady Evelyn’ mystery series, a cross between a historical fiction and cozy, written by Malia Zaidi. In this latest caper, Lady Evelyn travels to Scotland to keep watch over her aunt who’s been acting stranger than usual. Within a few days, a young maid is found murdered in the gardens and an unsolved murder from years ago resurfaces. Both have connections to her family, and Evie (a nickname for Lady Evelyn, by some) won’t leave the situation alone. Amidst the staff and a neighboring home for veterans of the war, our culprits also include Evie’s aunt, uncle, and maternal cousins. Which one of the entire lot is guilty?

Zaidi achieves a perfect balance of historical details and dialog to transport readers to the setting, both Scotland and the 1920s. Through Lady Evelyn’s charm and wit, she easily elicits all the information she needs to decide who is telling her the truth and who is trying to keep her in the dark. Daniel, her sort-of-not-really-yet fiance, remains behind in London until the very end, allowing her to investigate as she sees fit. Even Briony, another paternal cousin, doesn’t make the trip to Scotland, so we’re introduced to all new characters, including Aunt Agnes, the woman who raised Evie as well as a woman we’ve known very little about. Now, we do… and there’s a striking balance of old schoolmarm and loving aunt mixed about. I love her character the most, I think.

This series is strong. Although it’s on the longer side (page count) and has a large amount of description about the times / locations, it’s charismatic and engaging. It won’t be read in one setting, but you can push through in a few, enjoying each trip to a different aspect of life the main character experiences. Sometimes it’s like Downton Abbey, others it’s more like an Austen novel in terms of how the story is told. Either way, I’m a huge fan, and I really enjoy learning as much as about this historical setting as I do solving the murders.

In this one, we have lots of little twists to keep us guessing, and in the end, I did figure out the suspect before Lady Evelyn… but only because I’ve read so many books in these genres, I’m getting good at my educated guessing! LOL Nonetheless, I am sad to wait for the next one, as I’m caught up in this series now… and this book has only been out for a few weeks. Oh well… I’ll carry on, but I’ll be among the first to get the 5th whenever it’s released.

View all my reviews

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. My new book series, Braxton Campus Mysteries, will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations but with a twist. There are five books: Academic CurveballBroken Heart Attack, Flower Power Trip, Mistaken Identity Crisis, and Haunted House Ghost. I read, write, and blog A LOT on this site where 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: Climbing the Coconut Tree by S. C. Karakaltsas

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Climbing the Coconut TreeClimbing the Coconut Tree by S.C. Karakaltsas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A majority of my reading comes from the mystery, thriller, and historical fiction genres. Occasionally, I step outside these realms to sample new authors or topics. Climbing the Coconut Tree is one of those occasions where it’s not the typical read for me, but it absolutely has elements of mystery and focuses on a specific historical period. I saw the author’s book reviews and interaction via blogs, social media apps, and websites and decided to give something new a chance. I’m glad I did!

The novel is based on real-life events from ~75 years ago in the Pacific Ocean when cultures were clashing and emerging in a world very far from my own. The author, and many characters in the book, are Australian. An island’s population has been drastically impacted by the various wars and visitors over the years, but in particular in recent periods. The story chronicles the life of several who try to protect what they can, balancing the true purpose of non-natives being on the island against those who want to take back what is theirs and others who were made promises about a better life. Tragedy ensues, and readers are left quite curious to learn more about what really happened so many years ago between the Chinese, Japanese, natives, and other visitors.

When I began the book, the most apparent thing to me was how well the author assembles descriptions of either people or settings. Much of the first portion has minimal plot, so we focus on what a few key people think about the island and what’s happening in the world around them. We get to know the mindset of the characters and create a vivid picture in our minds of the location we probably have not ever seen, nor might not ever see. By midway, the plot evolves slowly until we see the growing tension among the various classes and populations. Karakaltsas weaves a light but powerful level of drama within the words she chooses to tell the story. By three quarters of the way through, the mystery elements kicked in and I found myself intrigued to learn what really happened on the island. I won’t say anymore, so that I don’t spoil any plot lines.

I’m glad I went in to this one knowing nothing about the history of the place. It might’ve ruined the story for me if I already knew the outcome. It’s sparked some interest in the reality of the situation, so kudos to the author for inspiring readers to want to learn more about the events. I look forward to seeing more from this writer, as she has a strong handle on turning real-life events into tales that entertain and awaken her readers.

View all my reviews

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. My new book series, Braxton Campus Mysteries, will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations but with a twist. There are five books: Academic CurveballBroken Heart Attack, Flower Power Trip, Mistaken Identity Crisis, and Haunted House Ghost. I read, write, and blog A LOT on this site where 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: Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

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Daughter of Moloka'i: A NovelDaughter of Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Around ten years ago, someone in my book club selected Moloka’i as our monthly read. I wasn’t sure I’d like the book as I knew very little about Hawaii or leprosy, but it was a chance to learn. By the end of the novel, I was in tears and had scheduled a trip to visit the islands. It was a major hit at our book club meeting and I fondly recalled the book for several years. Last month, I was searching NetGalley to see what was newly released when this book showed in my queue. WHAT, A SEQUEL? I quickly requested it, waited days to find out if I’d be granted the approval, and messaged my former book club members to tell them about it. When I was awarded the book, I moved it up the queue and read it this week. This novel was truly a wonderful read and lived up to the first book; it’s a high recommendation from me.

The sequel starts in the 1920s at an orphanage where Ruth, a young girl, has been dropped off by her parents, for adoption. While she didn’t have leprosy, Ruth’s parents did which meant they couldn’t raise her for fear of further spreading the disease. Ruth waited years to be adopted because she’s half-Japanese and half-Hawaiin; few potential adopters were interested in taking her with them after a visitation. All Ruth wants is her own pet — a cow, a dog, anything… but the orphanage can’t allow it. One day, a Japanese couple arrive and adopt her. Ruth finds a wonderful home and everything she deserves falls into place — for a few years. Her adoptive father’s brother asks them to move from Hawaii to California to help farm his land. They do, but they find resistance to Japanese by Americans. By the time Pearl Harbor occurred, life for anyone of Japanese descent in mainland America was impacted. Ruth and her entire family, including new husband, Frank, and their two kids, were placed in various relocation camps across the Western US. Pain, death, and regret follow the family for a few years.

As a reader, I came to tears several times, but they also have wonderful moments and relationships that deliver a strong balance in emotional terms. About 2/3 into the book, Ruth receives a letter from her biological mother explaining why she was given up for adoption. Should Ruth meet the woman? Who is she and what is her connection to the characters from the first book in the series? Author Alan Brennert delivers a powerhouse of emotions and history in this sequel which I feel is definitely a parallel match. Not only do we learn about the culture of Hawaii but about Japan in this second installment. To understand what happened to Japanese-Americans in the 30s and 40s was difficult and crushing. It was equally as crushing as the deaths at Pearl Harbor and in WW2 as a result of all the fighting, but the focus here was on those around Ruth and her family.

The book ultimately chronicles Ruth’s life from age 3 to 55 when she’s grown with her own kids who are beginning to think about marriage in the late 1960s after the Korean War efforts. We walk step-by-step with her as she loses family members, gains new ones, finds her connection to animals in a second life, and understands who she really is. The language in this book, whether it’s Hawaiin, Japanese, or American English, is inspiring. It shows the flavor of the world Ruth lived in, both good and bad. At times, I laughed. Others, I teared up. To see a 50-thousand foot version of someone’s life throughout the middle of the 20th century during many horrific wars is quite impacting. We learn of a few different things that happened during the first book that we didn’t know then, but from a different perspective. We re-visit a few of those scenes again just to make connections. It’s quite comforting and eye-opening to learn things that we hadn’t know happened to Ruth’s family before she was born.

I can’t say enough good things about this sequel… perhaps in a few parts it was a tad slow and repetitive, but that’s so minor, it didn’t bother me. I still give this book a full 5 stars.

View all my reviews

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. My new book series, Braxton Campus Mysteries, will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. There are two books: Academic Curveball and Broken Heart Attack. I read, write, and blog A LOT on this site where 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 House at Riverton by Kate Morton

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The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kate Morton came into my life just under 3 years ago. I don’t remember how, but I picked up one of her books and absolutely fell in love with her writing style, characters, and multi-dimensional storytelling abilities. After almost 3 years, I’ve finished reading all 6 of her books; it’s a tad amusing that the last one I read is actually the first book she wrote — The House at Riverton, or The Shifting Fog, as it was previously known. For me, she’s the queen of historical fiction when the focus is on ‘ordinary’ families in a world from ~ a century ago. The House at Riverton is no exception, and while not my favorite of her tomes, is quite a splendid novel very reminiscent of Downtown Abbey.

In this book, Grace is ~100 years old and dying very soon. She has a story and a secret about the past to tell her wayward grandson who’s gone missing after his wife died of an aneurysm. Through flashbacks and other POVs, we learn about Grace’s time as a maid and ladies maid in the Hartford family household. We witness conversations in the current period between Grace and Ursula, a film director telling the story of what happened when a family friend and renowned poet committed suicide in the 1920s at the Hartford estate. We find out who actually loved whom, and which family members shouldn’t have been trusted. All set against the gorgeous backdrop of the English countryside, it’s a powerful and emotional tale about fighting your desires and knowing when it’s time to give in.

One of the things that made this book so appealing is how similar it was to Downton Abbey. There’s a family torn apart by war. Girls cannot inherit their father’s estate. Love between classes is forbidden. Estates cost too much. A daughter must marry into a wealthy family to survive. But then it goes off on its own path with a murder, an affair, and a past indiscretion connecting two people who never knew until it was too late. Morton can weave the most elaborate stories to warm the heart. I feel such passion and connection with her words and imagery. I can think of no other author who evokes such lyrical enthusiasm and despair in a scene on multiple levels that overwhelm you and excite you at the same time.

While a majority of this book is amazing, there were a few areas that I struggled with… hence 4 stars. The beginning is a bit too slow; it takes time to develop characters, but Morton uses a few different techniques to foreshadow what’s to come in the future almost crossing that invisible line with audience. For example, there’s a paragraph ending a chapter that actually speaks to readers saying, “You think she should have done this, but no, instead, she does this… and this is why what happens to her later was so painful.” I paraphrased to not give away any spoilers, but you get the basics. Another concern I had was how certain storylines were left too open-ended for my taste. We know two characters re-connect 40 years later, but how / why. We know there was a blood relationship between two characters, but was it ever acknowledged? We know one character leaves a letter to another, but what happened with the gift she also left behind? Who was Lady Clementine and how did she fit into this family?

Some of those were loosely explained, but with a powerhouse like Morton, I expect everything to be properly tied together. I’m okay with vague, but there needs to be some clarity on what the ‘options’ are as opposed to just making a statement and never exploring the follow-thru aspects. That said, this doesn’t happen in her later books, so I think these were debut author style changes… and definitely ones I’m glad she eventually made. All said, it’s a must read. The book is slower than others, with less of a major climax, but fully immersive and extravagant in other ways. I am sad that it’ll be at least another year before her next one…

View all my reviews
About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and 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 –and multiple Readathons. 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 Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

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Ever since I read my first book by Kate Morton, I’ve been keen to read all her others. This month I went with The Secret Keeper since I tend to love books where there’s a secret buried somewhere that must come out despite every intent to bury it years ago. I was thrilled with the novel and can’t wait to take on the next one.

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The book takes place over a period of ~60 years focusing for the most part on Dorothy (Dolly) and daughter Laurel. We see snapshots of their lives while Laurel tries to unravel the mystery of a childhood incident where she’s certain she saw her mother stab a stranger. We see the perspective of a few other characters who interacted with Dolly when she was younger, as well as Laurel’s three sisters and one brother. It all comes together in a surprising conclusion where readers are forced to decide how we feel about an event that can be seen from many different angles.

Morton is the best at weaving together a story full of so many different side stories, you can never tell which will be the significant one to change the entire ending or plot arc to capture your shock. As this one moved along, I enjoyed the lyrical prose, tense dialog, well-drawn characters, and thrilling descriptions. About 75% through, when I thought I’d figured most of it out, I was feeling a bit disappointed. It was good, but that shock factor didn’t emerge as powerfully as I’d hoped. A few chapters later, in the most unusual place, I thought I saw an error. I re-read the passage twice, then realized — Oh, here’s that crazy twist! And what a fantastic one it was. 🙂

At that point, my opinion on the book shot up from a 4 to a 4.5. I would love to give it 5 stars, and it’s close, but there were a few moments of repetition and slowness that held me back. By no means did it make me want to put it down and wait days before reading again. It just didn’t force me to stay up super late… but that’s okay, sleep is needed, too. Overall, the story is very enthralling on many levels. You’ve got a backdrop of war, then modern social media times. You’ve got a mother who might or might not be lying or be a killer. As you read the historical portions, you can’t decide which of two girls is the one to believe. It keeps you going to the point you almost think they’re both lying, but which is the most pertinent among all the confusion?

Above all the plot and story, the settings are among the most gorgeous and captivating as any I’ve ever read before. Morton can describe the simplest things in the most complex terms, but it still makes me yearn for more. I never think “ugh, she’s completely overdone it,” but there are times when I would be okay with a few less words if it’s not ultimately important to the detail of the story. It’s a fine line, and in 98% of the cases, she’s spot on.

If you’ve never read her work, this is a good one, but I’d start with The Forgotten Garden then come to this one. I’ve two more left to read of hers, then I’ll probably have to wait a year for the next to be published. Oh well… sometimes patience is a good thing.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and 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 –and multiple Readathons. 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 Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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I chose this book purely based on its cover. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor looked gorgeous, and after seeing it all over Goodreads and thinking about the Cotswolds, I fell in love. Then I learned it doesn’t take place in England, but in Ireland, as well as that it’s based on a true story. Wow! Knock me over with a feather… all that said, it was a good book and I enjoyed it very much. I’d give it somewhere between a 3.5 and 4 stars rounded up.

Two young girls take pictures of faeries in Ireland during World War 1. One of them is a transplant from South Africa returning because her father must fight in the war. She bonds with her cousin, they become somewhat famous for their pictures as everyone thinks it’s real. Was it? In current day, a somewhat distant relative / friend (I’m being vague to not give it away) returns to the village to take care of her aging grandmother after her grandfather passes away. She’s contemplating breaking off an engagement and starting life anew. The stories intertwine and we learn what really happened with the photo of the faeries.

If this weren’t based on a true story, I’d have said the plot was too simple. Knowing it comes from a real-life experience, it makes the book a bit better. The author created a beautiful story. The characters felt real. I enjoyed the current story more than the historical one, tho. I felt the book had some literary merit, but at times, it was repetitive and listless… yet I also found it enchanting and vivid in many other places. I think it’s meant to be that way if you’re not aware of or fully caught up in the true story.

Gaynor’s writing is quite strong and made me keep reading. I will definitely sample more of her work in the future.

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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 novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. 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.