review

Book Review: Lady on the Hill: Biltmore Estate by Howard E. Covington, Jr.

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Book Review: I read Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon by Howard E. Covington Jr. over the last two weeks, absorbing a few chapters each night to reminisce over my stay at the beautiful estate last September. I miss it and want to go back right now, but alas, a short book review will have to do.

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Summary 
It’s a 3.5 star read for me — a good account of the transition of the estate from what it originated as through what it became in early 2000. I don’t often read non-fiction unless it’s someone famous I admire in history (I don’t read current celebrity/political books, just not usually my thing) or a great account of some marvel or period in history. This fell into the second category, as I was anxious to learn about how the Vanderbilts changed over the years. It’s hard to maintain a fresh voice in a book that is informational. At times, I felt this was a tad dry, even for the type of book it is. I went in knowing there’d be information dumps, partial history and a different take on how it currently runs. I learned a lot more than I did on my visit, but at the same time, it felt like it was missing enough of a lure to keep me wanting to read more. The writing is strong. The information is great. Yet, it came from a starting place of facts rather than the passion behind everything that went into the estate. You feel it from the Cecil family in a few chapters, but not always. The author did a good job at balancing all the information, and it’s worth a read for anyone who loves the estate. If it’s your first time to get acquainted, it might be a difficult read. All in all, I’m glad I revisited the place and took the time to read over several weeks in between other books, as it made the magic last a bit longer.

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: Where the Moose Slept by Atwood Cutting

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Book Review: ‘Where the Moose Slept’ by Atwood Cutting (fellow blogger!)

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Why This Book 
I met a wonderful blogger about three months ago who I began exchanging emails with each week, chatting about books, life, and many other topics. After a while, she casually mentioned her book, which of course led me to reading a little more about it and her. I recently started a new segment on my blog called ‘Author Alert,’ where new authors can share a message with my friends and followers – Atwood Cutting, author of Where the Moose Slept: An Account of Two Late-20th Century Pioneers Who “Saw the Elephant” on the Last Frontier, is today’s (Fri 12/15) latest author. But first I had to finish reading her book this week and write this review…

Approach & Style 
I read this ~300 page book via Kindle Reader on my iPad in 4 hours over three days. It is a cross between fiction and non-fiction, as it is a true account, almost a journal, of a woman and her family’s experiences; however, a few things were changed around in how the story was told so that it reads more like a story. Atwood tells accounts of her life through letters home to her mother, in episodes focused on their trek around Alaska, and via pictures from the entire time period.

Plot, Characters & Setting 
Kate and Tim Peters were recently married, making the trek up to Alaska for the oil boom during the mid-1970s, several years after college. Picture frontier life in a more modern world (still didn’t have electricity in the beginning, tho!) and learning how to adapt to life in the wilderness where animals — and people — attack. Through building a home, getting to know their neighbors, learning how to adapt to married life, finding ways to earn money and survive, they meet some potentially life-long friends (I only read the first book… not sure of the ending even though I know and chat with the author) in this beautiful backdrop where the moose sleep – in search of seeing the elephant (you’ll have to read the book to know what that means).

Key Thoughts 
Atwood’s voice is the best part of the book. Writing an account of your life, understanding what to include about the mundane versus existing parts of your life, is critical. Through the characters, Kate and Tim, she achieves a charismatic and earthy combination of humanity. Life for many of us who live in a city or the suburbs seems difficult, but you don’t know difficult until you truly rough it on land that’s never been lived on before. Seeing (the pictures are fantastic) and reading about their lives gives you a bit of the goosebumps, worried for their safety and mental health. It can be lonely and cold; it can be dangerous and boring. But through trust and a strong relationships, two people can achieve a lot of success — success which is measured differently when you go through a non-traditional path (building your own house in frigid temperatures with practically no neighbors around in a place you’ve never been and no knowledge of how to make it all work!), but in the end, you still experience that wonderful amazement of knowing you did it all with your own two hands.

This is the kind of book you want to read when you are bored with mysteries or general fiction, when you need something inspirational without being pedantic. It’s a light yet heavy account of a really different side of life, one we should all experience for ourselves at some point. But if you’re not the kind of person who will rush off to Siberia or Alaska, then dive into this book for an intense picture of what it might be like. You’ll enjoy some of the sentimental moments and many humorous conversations between Kate and Tim. I won’t spoil them here, so go read it.

Summary 
I’m normally a fiction reader, who will throw in 5 to 10 non-fiction books each year. When I do, they’re usually based on a famous figure in history or a remarkable informational piece. When I chose Atwood’s book, I knew it would be a different kind of read because it was a personal journey with an incredibly charming voice — that alone makes it worth the read. But once I started it, the story became so much more. I look forward to reading more from this author and will keep on chatting with her to see how everything turns out in her life.

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: The Party by Robyn Harding

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Book Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars to The Party by Robyn Harding.

the party

Why This Book
The publisher, Gallery Books, sent me a copy of this book either because I won a Goodreads Giveaway or they thought I might like the book (I get lots of books and I can’t remember how this one came to me exactly). I’m trying to close up my 2017 Reading Challenge and clean off all the outstanding books my bookshelf, so this one’s turn was up next!

Plot, Characters & Setting
Hannah is turning 16. Her parents throw her and some friends a party in the basement of their $2.5 million San Francisco home. Hannah invites some of the popular girls, as her fame is on the rise. She wants to fit in, but the girls bring alcohol and drugs. When something awful happens, her parents, Jeff and Kim, are thrust into a lawsuit and a divided high school. Hannah’s friends are typical 16-year-old girls searching for acceptance and adult experiences. Kim and Jeff’s marriage is having a few issues and they are each keeping a secret from one another. Their friends aren’t sure what’s wrong, but someone isn’t telling the truth about the night of the party. The novel explores the lengths to which parents will go to protect their children, as well as those young adults will go to keep their own secrets.

Approach & Style
I read this 340 page paperback book in two sittings over the course of one day. It absorbed me! It’s told in third person POV from the perspective of 4 or 5 main characters. Chapters alternate their focus, revealing different aspects of a story over the course of a 6-month period. The writing is clear and concise, which made it quite a quick read.

Strengths & Concerns
Harding quickly makes you dislike these characters, which is a good thing. I was immediately taken back to what life was like in high school for many students. While I felt some components were an exaggeration, I also know that things like this happened to varying degrees. For the most part, it really captured the reality of what 16-year-old girls go through, but it also showcased a particularly nasty strain of kids hoping to climb to the top. It angered me (the plot), but it also impressed me (the quality of the details). I enjoyed the leaps between different characters. It was a page-turner for me and brought me back to when I once lived in San Francisco.

On the flip side, the ending was not what I wanted nor expected. It had a few too many open questions. For a story with lots of tight components, I think this was a bit of a let-down. Ultimately, I’m not sure if I learned a less or just saw a slice of life during a short time period. I’d be fine if it were either case, but it was a bit too blurry. I definitely took sides in the conflict, which makes me wonder what kind of a person I am… in terms of who I rooted for. While I understand both sides, ultimately, the wrong people were punished for something they had little responsibility for. At the same time, it propelled the lives of every person in that school toward a new direction. If everything came together better in the end, this would have been a solid 4-rated book for me, but it unraveled in a few too many places so I knocked a half star off.

Final Thoughts
I’d still recommend this book despite the ending which threw me too much. You’ll be drawn in and really enjoy witnessing the battle, as there isn’t necessarily a right and wrong in an unfortunate accident like this one. It’s a strong point of view and really shows the differences in the way parents and children think.

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: Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

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Book Review: 4 out of 5 stars to Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak.

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Why This Book
I was surfing NetGalley when this one appeared on my screen. Given it’s a family drama, one of my favorite sub-genres, I had to read it. I’m on a kick to finish reading all my NetGalley books by 12/31 before I can request anything else, so this moved to the top of the list. I added it as a book on my ‘Book Bucket List’ on my blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com/my-very-own-book-bucket-list/, where my followers choose one book for me to read each month. This was the winner for December, so I moved it up the queue.

Plot, Characters & Setting
The Birch family, parents Emma and Andrew, have two daughters, Olivia and Phoebe, in a small lovely English town. Olivia is visiting for the first time in a very long time, taking a week’s vacation from her work in Africa. Due to working with a particular type of disease, she and her family must live in quarantine for 1 week to ensure the disease doesn’t spread. Each family member has their own secret, which are all starting to come undone during this week long exercise in re-connection. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s a very warm-story about how everyone relates with each other, or fails to connect, over the course of this 7-day period. A few visitors stop by the house, not realizing they must stay once they’ve been exposed, which makes the drama level heightened.

Approach & Style
I read the Kindle version on my iPad of this 350 page book over the course of a week. It’s a contemporary fiction family drama novel told from the perspective of each of the major characters in the main family. The novel is in third person POV with relatively short chapters.

Strengths & Concerns
Hornak excels at creating distinct family members with believable characteristics and stories. I liked them all for different reasons, but even better as a family unit. The English setting is quite charming and helps shine a light on the type of ‘off-balance’ relationships going on in the Birch family. The story doesn’t get nicely wrapped up in a bow at the end, which is always a good thing — it’s nice to leave a bit of drama still circulating around the edges. The writing is crisp and clean. I find myself thinking about the family days after I’ve finished reading it.

While I enjoyed the construct of the seven day period, it felt a bit rushed as there is a bit of history to get caught up on with each character. It’s minor, and there’s really no other way around it (I’ve written a novel in a similar structure, so I totally get it!). I would have liked some additional content in the Epilogue to know where the characters went eventually; the current version was way too short. Both are minor and nothing to even distract or worry. I always try to leave a small suggestion.

Author, Other Similar Books, & Final Thoughts
I believe this is her debut, and it’s outstanding under that context. I truly look forward to reading more from her. Thank you to NetGalley for granting me the ability to read this book, as well as the publisher and 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.

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Book Review: Time of Death by Lucy Kerr

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A great read in a new series by Lucy Kerr with ‘Time of Death’ — my book review is below…

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Why This Book
I’ve read several books published by Crooked Lane, which led to chatting with their marketing department a few times. I was offered an opportunity to read the second book in this series, but since I’m a bit too Type-A, I had to go back and read the first book. It’s a great publisher, I love book series and the plot sounded interesting. I am clearing ARCs by 12/31 so I have a blank reading slate in 2018. I jumped on this one over the weekend in preparation for reading the second book in another week.

Plot, Characters & Setting
ER nurse Frankie Stapleton, 32, ends her third engagement in Chicago, then rushes home to assist her sister who’s having her second baby. Though she only plans to stay the weekend, as the family hasn’t been very close since Frankie left town more than a decade ago, she stumbles into a few too many problems. First of which is finding a man about to have a heart attack in the hospital where her sister is giving birth six weeks early. Frankie steps in, helps get the doctors to save the man and goes off to see her sister. Unfortunately, someone else with an ax to grind, steps in and kills the heart attack victim. Frankie looks guilty of doing something wrong and must fight to prove her innocence. Along the path, she runs into ex-fiance number one, as well as a few old friends, and some financial issues with her family’s hardware store.

Approach & Style
The 323-page book is told in first-person POV (except the Prologue) and focuses on Frankie. There are 35 chapters, which makes each relatively short at nine pages. I read the paperback in 4 hours throughout 1 day when I had some free time. It’s clear, direct and focuses almost entirely on the main story, while building the world of Stillwater General and the town Frankie will undoubtedly move back to if the series continues.

Strengths
Frankie is a fantastic character. She has flaws, but you like her. She pushes your buttons just enough and then pulls back. She’s smart, but also has a lot to learn about herself and life. She is methodical and independent, yet she asks for help from others. The plot is also very intriguing. It’s clear from the Prologue that someone is going to kill the heart attack victim, but we have no idea when. The victim knows something’s wrong with him, but even he’s unsure who did it, at first.

You’ll be pulled in right away when this story takes off. It’s rare I have a strong emotional connection, but this one made me focus immediately. Once Frankie arrives in the ER at Stillwater, she is a dynamo and you can’t decide whether you’re hurting more for the heart attack victim, Frankie’s third failed engagement or her sister who may lose her baby. I very much enjoy the author’s style, which balances detail and dialogue quite well. A clear recommended read from me.

Concerns
Very little. For the most part, everything flowed quite nicely. There’s a few areas of suspended disbelief, but not anything big. I struggled with the victim’s daughter so willingly connecting to the nurse who is named in the lawsuit, but it is a small town. I couldn’t quite tell what the family drama was in the past, but something felt like it was a little too rushed. I suspect that’s due to it being a potential plot in a future book (which is OK with me!). I also thought too many people were willing to sneak information to Frankie as she worked on the case, but in a small town, perhaps that’s just how it is. Nothing that alarmed me nor should it worry you. It’s good to push readers sometimes, at least I like when that happens. Boundaries are limitless in books.

Final Thoughts
For a debut in a mystery somewhere between a cozy and a thriller, it’s intriguing. It’s not quite a medical drama, but it’s got enough sophistication to push readers beyond normal laymen’s terms (which is a good thing). I will definitely read book number two and am quite interested in how this story will evolve. Thanks to the publisher for keeping me in mind for this and future ones.

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: The Black Painting by Neil Olson

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Book review on ‘The Black Painting’ by Neil Olson…

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Why This Book
I stumbled on this via NetGalley several months ago. The cover was creepy and it revolved around a family mystery involving a missing painting and the death of a grandfather. I had to add it to my TBR, then they awarded it to me. I am trying to clear off all NetGalley books by 12/31 so I can start the new year with a clean slate, so this was last week’s choice.

Plot, Characters & Setting
The Morse family head passes away, leaving behind a few children and four grandchildren, all after his money to varying levels or degrees. He may or may not have a lot, they’re unsure. Yet there was a mysterious Goya painting that had been stolen and could still be lurking around. The family all come home to his Owl’s Point, New England estate to attend the funeral and will after someone finds him dead. Each family member, particularly the cousins, are all a bit kooky and very focused on the painting. As the story unfolds, you learn different components of the past, especially where everyone was the day the painting went missing. We soon learn the grandfather may have been murdered and the family begins pointing fingers at one another, including their grandfather’s housekeeper and confidant, Ilsa. There’s also a small fantasy element in knowing the painting might have a ghost that makes anyone who views it go mad.

Approach & Style
I read this ~300 page novel in 5 hours over a weekend. It’s told in third-person POV with a perspective from each of the major family members. I read it on my iPad via Kindle Reader.

Key Feedback
This was a tough read; I found myself skimming way too often. I very much looked forward to the family drama, suspense and mystery elements. These all existed, but something was missing. It was very difficult to connect with the characters, everything was quite vague. It felt like the story focused on the smallest of details and went on for pages on actions that had no true bearing on character development or plot. That said, the writing style and tone were very strong. The author clearly writes well, but I think the characters didn’t match the plot in this book. In the end, I enjoyed parts of it, but it could have been so much more with a different approach. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to others as a good read, but there’s nothing bad about it. It just didn’t have a great impact on me, perhaps I am the wrong audience for it.

Questions & Final Thoughts
So much about this book had potential. And for some readers, it’s probably going to be quite strong. For me, the most memorable component was that it just always felt 10% off the mark in terms of what I like in a family drama. I am curious to see other works by this author in the future, as I think the writing and talent is present.

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: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

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Another great read by J.T. Ellison with ‘Lie To Me’ — my book review is below…

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Why This Book 
I selected Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison, when it was available on NetGalley about 3 months ago, after enjoying a prior book by this author. I’m glad I did as it was very engaging and twisty. I chose it this weekend because I am trying to get to a ‘0’ count on NetGalley TBR books and other ARCs so that I can start 2018 with a clean and fresh slate to choose new reads.

Approach & Style 
I read this ~400 page book on my iPad through Kindle Reader over ~5 hours in one day. It is written in third-person POV from a few different character perspectives, including the killer, the husband and the wife. It switches back and forth a few times, but is usually clear and clean when it does.

Plot, Characters & Setting 
Ethan and Sutton, both authors jealous of each other’s work, have been married for a few years despite fighting a lot. They lost a baby a few years ago and there might have been an affair or two, it’s unclear at first. Sutton leaves a note that she needs space and no one should look for her outside their Tennessee hometown; Ethan thinks there is foul play and begins to check with her friends and family. Eventually, he loops in the cops and a full investigation opens. It’s difficult to provide anymore details without giving away the plot, but there are tons of twists involving bloggers, reviewers, friends, family and murders in another country. Nothing is as it seems and you never quite know who to trust.

Strengths 
The cast of characters is varied and diverse. You get a sense of love and hatred from almost all of them. The sub-plots are nicely woven into the overall story. The drama and suspense are at a good level — not too over-the-top, not too weak. The writing style is strong and inviting.

Concerns 
The two main characters aren’t very likable. They both seem to treat each other poorly, which makes readers uncertain about rooting for them. Ultimately, the he said / she said dilemma leaves you thinking at the end that there are a few too many open-ended situations. While some intensity and far-out plot points are necessary to keep the thrills high, there are a few pieces that either fell too short or went a bit too far for me. Not enough to have a problem with the work, but enough to hold it back from being a true stellar read. Overall, it’s a typical twisty thrill ride, but because of solid writing and good characters, I’d recommend it to others as a good read.

Author & Other Similar Books 
It’s very similar to Gone Girl. VERY similar.

Questions & Final Thoughts 
I like these types of books. I turn the pages quickly. I get invested. I like the balance between reality and chaos. The author is a good writer. It’s a definite recommend from me for a quick weekend read, but it’s not the “oh my god you have to read this book” type of situation.

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.