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Book Review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

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The Family UpstairsThe Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell was one of my favorites so far this year. I’ve read several of her other books, and for me, this one is the best yet. I devoured the book in two chunks, one larger read in the afternoon and the other shortly before bed. I couldn’t fall asleep for at least an hour as my mind continued to process everything that had happened in the complicated and messy (in a good way) tale.

There are 3 main voices in the novel: Lucy, a runaway/homeless mother of two; Henry, the son of a former rich couple who fell for a scam; and Libby, a 25-year-old girl who inherits a house from the biological parents who committed suicide nearly a year after she was born. As the stories unravel, we begin to understand some of the connections between the three protagonists; however, in true Jewell fashion, what you know is not quite what you know. The lines are blurry, the connections are misleading, and the identities often change. If you just look at the shell of this book, Libby is a sweet and wonderful girl in search of the truth, Henry is quirky and possibly a little crazy, and Lucy is either truly down on her luck or causes her own pain time and time again.

That’s only the beginning. Lucy acts the way she does because of what happened to her as a child. We don’t know all the details, but it’s easy to judge her in the beginning. While I still think she should’ve been partially punished for some of her actions, all-in-all, she definitely suffered more than any human should. Libby is 100% faultless… and she’s the kind of girl I’d like to be friends with (before or after the money, in case you were wondering!). Henry… well… that’s complicated. Sometimes, he seems very attractive. Others, I think he might try to kill people because his brain is just a little different than the rest of ours. Was he a victim of his circumstances? Was he properly punished? Do we truly know the whole story, or only the parts he wanted to share with us?

This was the kind of book that leaves you puzzled in a good way. There is a lot left to a reader to decide. Jewell has written a defined ending, and we know what happens to everyone, but… there’s some doubt as to which version of the truth we want to believe. The relationships between Phineas, Lucy, Henry, Finn’s sister, the various moms and dads living in their lives, and the people they meet along the way are dark and deceptive. It’s a perfectly complex family drama that really hit the sweet spot for me.

Of course, there were a few areas I wasn’t 100% thrilled with, e.g. where did Julian go? why did Henry Sr. have so many strokes? how did no one discover the murders going on? I can suspend that bit of disbelief, but overall, it was inconsequential to the whole of the story for me. The writing style and tone are superb, thus I can only trim away a partial star. 4.5 from me… and I’ll definitely be reading more of the author’s novels 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 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 four books: Academic CurveballBroken Heart Attack, Flower Power Trip, and Mistaken Identity Crisis. 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: Alice by K. L. Loveley

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AliceAlice by K.L. Loveley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alice is a novel written by K. L. Loveley and published in 2017. I read another work by this author last year and enjoyed her writing style, plot, and character creation, prompting me to pick up one of her earlier books. Prior to the book’s opening, Alice’s husband cheated on her and left her quite unhappy. She put herself through school, raised their two children, and kept her focus on the future. A few years passed before she remarried and joined her family with his 4 teenage children. His wife had died, leaving a broken and disjointed family who never healed properly. Alice chose not to be the wicked stepmother, but unfortunately, their father wasn’t very strong at parenting. The stage is set for us as readers, and we can’t help but feel compassion for Alice.

In the first part of the book, Alice tries to handle everything that goes on in their new home, caring for both their aging parents, and being a mother to her own grown children who at times need her support but for the most part have become wonderful human beings. By the middle of the book, Alice can’t take the stepchildren’s awful behavior and leaves for 6 months to see if she needs a more permanent break. By the third part of the book, Alice’s life has fallen apart and she’s drinking daily to cope on her own. Except… she’s possibly gone too far in trying to remove herself from her surroundings.

For me, Loveley excels at creating emotional connections with characters. She knows exactly how to warm a reader’s heart or to anger their spirit. Alice was amazing and too understanding. Her husband was a weak fool; while he stepped up sometimes, he ultimately was afraid to hurt his children and therefore, he never disciplined them properly. All 4 of his children were monsters, especially when they were in their 20s and still living at home without jobs or paying anything to support the home. I wouldn’t have lasted as long as Alice, and if they were my stepchildren or children, they would’ve been given enough time to change their behavior, or they’d be kicked out WAY sooner. One interesting question the book poses: should teenagers / young adults be working while in school and if they do, should parents take a portion of their wages to teach them how to manage money, et al. Great concepts to address!

Lovely also shows the deep spiral one can fall under if they allow substances to make the day go by more easily. We watch Alice go from a glass of wine to a half-bottle to an entire bottle, and finally to shots and hard liquor multiple times per day. When she’s hospitalized, it’s awful to know the damage she’s caused to herself, especially through the alienation from everyone who loves her. Thankfully, she’s saved for a small time by someone new, and it’s this friendship which closes the book in a way that satisfied this reader. I really enjoy Loveley’s work and will definitely read her next book when 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 four books: Academic CurveballBroken Heart Attack, Flower Power Trip, and Mistaken Identity Crisis. 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 Devil’s Claw by Lara Dearman

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Why This Book 
I’ve built a good relationship with the publisher, Crooked Lane, who offered Lara Dearman‘s book, The Devil’s Claw, the first in her Jennifer Dorey mystery series, as a thank you for all the other books I’ve chosen, read, and reviewed from them. I’m closing out all my commitments this month to publishers before I tackle some open ARCs, hence why this book wound up as my first choice in February.

Devil

Plot, Characters & Setting 
Jennifer Dorey, a 30ish news reporter in contemporary times, returned from London to her hometown in Guernsey, a large island near France in the English Channel, after an attack over an article she had been writing on a scam over human trafficking services. When she arrives, she has memories of another attack when she was younger and the mysterious death of her father; however, that’s nothing compared to when she discovers a body on a beach near a cliff. Working with the local detective, Michael, they discover a series of murders that occurred throughout the last 50 years all with the markings of the Devil’s Claw. Jen and Michael investigate the past crimes, learning about improper police work, Nazi supporters, and a penchant for young blonde girls who hurt themselves. Everything collides when she stumbles upon the killer and is trapped in his/her menacing grip.

Approach & Style 
I read a hardback version of this ~325 page novel in five hours over three days. It is broken into 45 chapters, each relatively short around 8 pages, and told in third person POV. Chapters alternate perspective from the killer, Michael, Jen and a few other supporting characters. The characters revisit history multiple times, so you have to focus on what’s current and what’s historical, but it’s fairly easy to stay aware. It’s written from a UK style with some details specific to police procedures and news reporting local to the area. It read well, but at times felt a bit too formal and stiff. It wasn’t enough to cause any issues, but it could have been relaxed a tad more so build a better reader / story connection. I’m not sure if it was the writing or the personality of Jen; time will tell when we see book two.

Key Thoughts 
I enjoyed the debut book in this series. It has a slow build, keeps you guessing and offers multiple suspects. There are several side stories that eventually interweave in the plot, and it includes a few supporting characters who will likely continue into future books in the series. No one stood out other than the primary two, but with focus, I’m sure the depth will provide characters we crave reading about in the future. I love the connection between the private citizens and the owner of the newspaper. I was glad to see the partnership between the police and the news outlet. It felt real in both senses of what they did and they didn’t allow.

The plot was strong in terms of execution, red herrings, guesswork and inter-dependencies between all the characters and time periods. The ultimate reason for the murders isn’t as clear as I would have liked it to be; that said, it is good and keeps you turning the pages. You may just have some open questions in the end as I did, in terms of the Nazi connections, the reason the killer chose the victims (s)he chose, and how much the Devil’s Claw really had to do with it all. Nothing that threw me off, but I wanted it tied together more tightly.

Summary 
Dearman weaves an eerie story with a fantastic background setting. Guernsey was a new locale for me, but one that peaks a lot of interest. I’m curious to find out how much of what was in the book is truth versus fiction. Kudos to her for creating a new series with lots of possibilities.

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: Prayer for the Dead by James Oswald

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Why This Book 
About 6 months ago, I won a Goodreads giveaway from the publisher, Crooked Lane. They accidentally shipped this book instead of the one I had won. Rather than pull it back, they let me keep the book, but I hadn’t gotten to read it. On my quest to close out all ARCs, giveaways and books on my shelves before I download or buy anything new, Prayer for the Dead, the fifth book in the Inspector McLean thriller and mystery series, published in 2015, and written by James Oswald, was the oldest in my queue, as I work why way through the TBR I actually have copies of. I rarely read in the middle of a book series, but with 4 books prior to this one, it was too much to go back to the beginning, so I’ll start here…

oswald.jpg

Plot, Characters & Setting 
Set in current times in Edinburgh, UK, Inspector Tony McLean battles politics within his local police precinct and journalists with whom he has a very unsteady relationship. He’s also protecting a few local neighbors who are being vandalized and trying to re-build his former tenement after some accident that occurred in the previous novels. One of the journalists approaches McLean to ask for help with a missing colleague. Readers already know the colleague was sadistically killed in the opening chapter by someone with pseudo-religious or Masonic beliefs. A few bodies build up, and the cases all begin to collide. McLean learns he may actually be connected with the killer from many years earlier, and sets off to stop the serial murders with very little information. Includes some graphic violence, medical lingo, and police procedural language. No romance or side-stories, other than what he’s doing with his old tenement. A few minor things that might be good to know from prior books, but it can be read stand-alone.

Approach & Style 
I read the 340-page hardcover over 2 days in about 5 hours. Through ~75 chapters, the novel includes both 1st person and 3rd person POV. The killer appears in several chapters, disguised and talking to readers in 1st person POV, but the rest is mostly from McLean’s 3rd person POV. Perspective follows both around as crimes are committed and investigated.

Given it’s a police procedural, about some very religious and historical beliefs, and set partially in a medical environment, it’s not a run-of-the-mill thriller — there are many levels of technical details to weed through, particularly when it comes to UK police departments. I had no idea which type of investigator was more senior than the others, and they often refer to each other as Sir or Ma’am, so I was a tad lost. Not enough to stop me from reading, but enough that I wouldn’t say it was totally easy to adapt to for an American. Put a little chart in the back, please!

Strengths 
It’s complex, full of mystery and has lots of page-turning moments. There are enough characters to keep you guessing. The interweaving POV and perspective is handled adeptly. I liked the story and the way in which the murders occurred and how the investigations took place. Very detailed-oriented, and this makes me a happy reader! I also like the author’s writing style and feel connected to the development of the chapters and overall way things were described.

Concerns 
For one, the ending was way too quick. You don’t discover who the killer is or what his/her connection is to McLean until the last 15 pages. If that were the only concern, I’d probably have given this 4-stars; however, it was confusing and didn’t wrap up all the plot lines. I still don’t truly understand who was murdered years ago, whether the killer came back from the dead, or why one of the victims even died. Or even how the religious components truly fit in with all the other characters. I unfortunately must say this did not get fleshed out as well as it needed to be. Even if it’s a mystery thriller series, and more will be revealed later, as a whole book, it lacked a cohesive story that clearly set out the who/what/when/where/why of the crime.

Final Thoughts 
If this were the first book in the series, I’d have definitely passed on any future reads. Knowing it’s made it’s way to 5 books, through a traditional publisher, I’m certain I must be missing something, or that perhaps the earlier books were better. I probably won’t pick up another one, given my long TBR list, but I’d be curious to hear from anyone who has read the author before… what did I miss?

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.

Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

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The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I love mystery fiction, and in particular, the classics. Agatha Christie died in 1976, and I was born the following year. Two things come to mind… (1) It’s a good thing I wasn’t alive when she died because I would have been so miserable to be around. (2) Since I was born just about a year later, I’m wondering if maybe a small part of her lives on… as I love her genius and her works of literature… and I can re-read her books over and over again without ever getting bored.

There are tons of reviews of all her major works, and I don’t need to be repetitive in my review. What I’d really try to get across is why you need to read ANY of her works, and then why I’d suggest this one:

1. This was one of her first books, and I believe the first published one, in 1920, which means she was probably writing it exactly 100 years ago. And though some of the language is a little different, and it takes place with a different cultural atmosphere, the crux of the story — its plot, is appropriate at any point in time. People don’t love Christie for her beautiful language or her great ideas… yeah, she had some of those… but it’s her plots and characters that stand out. And those transcend time.

2. Who else can create such a puzzle that you are constantly trying to guess what’s going on? True, tons of writers today, but not 100 years ago. And even with modern writers, it’s often in a suspense and thriller type of novel, where it’s all about the chase. Christie was all about the calm approach to solving a murder. She didn’t try to end each chapter with a big WOW and heart-wrenching scare tactic. It’s simple evolution of a timeline, collections of clues, conversations with people… and then you start to see the puzzle come together. But at the last minute, you get the unexpected twist.

3. With this first book, you meet Hercule Poirot, one of her two popular detectives. Poirot is annoying. He’s painful. He will make you angry while you are laughing. And that’s the cool part. Columbo is the best comparison I can come up with. And I’m certain Columbo was based on large part by Christie’s Poirot.

So why this book???????

It’s the first in the series. It’s a prime example of why her stories work. It’s the ultimate tale – a family with secrets. It takes place in the UK… the best place to visit and perhaps live. I don’t live there, only visited it. :}

But it’s really the slow build-up of the clues that will have your mind working overtime. So… if you need a Christie stand-alone book, go to “And Then There Were None.” If you like female investigators, choose a Miss Marple. If you like a Belgian male detective, flip a coin and pick between Murder on the Orient Express or The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Both will be a great read. But if you need to start at the beginning, go with this one to see what an author’s first book looks like. Because if I didn’t have my Christie… I’d be like…

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write 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 also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can 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. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.


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365 Challenge: Day 28 – Scottish

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Scottish: containing roots from Scotland

There are lots of famous Scottish people I admire: Gerard Butler, Ewan McGregor (one of my favorite and most versatile actors), Annie Lennox, Sean Connery, Robert Burns… there are tons more, but I only picked the few I easily recalled and that I actually know things about or have seen things they are in. For example, Tony Blair is apparently Scottish, but I only know of him as a former PM for the UK. I couldn’t tell you very much about him, so I didn’t list him. But I guess I just did. Oh well.

As we finish the fourth week of the 365 Daily Challenge, it’s time to cover the last major ethnic and genealogical heritage within my DNA. Irish, German and English were the first few, and now we’re gonna chat about my Scottish roots. Based on my research through Ancestry.com, I’m around 12.5% Scottish, mostly stemming from my mother’s side of the family. There are 4 families from Scotland, out of 32 branches, focusing on the ones who immigrated from Scotland to the U.S. And those names are: (1) Robertson, (2) Wallace, (3) Hector, and (4) McGregor or McSwegan. I am not certain which is the correct last name because there are two marriage certificates when James Robertson married Margaret around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Both are New York marriages, both have all the same details for addresses and parental information, except on one certificate it shows her name as McGregor and on another, it shows her name as McSwegan. I can only assume it is the same woman, filled it out twice for some reason, and she was married once before my 2x great-grandfather, but I would likely need to go to Scotland to get more details. Some day!

So let’s talk about Scottish roots and stories. I love the accent. I love Outlander (who doesn’t)! I love Mary Queen of Scots. And I’ve started reading a new cozy mystery series with lots of potential. For those not familiar with my book reviews, check out the links to see another side of me. And when I Love Lucy went to Scotland in her dream, I loved it! There is so much rich culture and history in the country, beautiful landscapes and fantastic substance, I wish I had more Scottish blood in me.

But when I looked up the top ten traits of the Scottish, this time using a cross between Quora, Huffington Post and Answers.com, I had to wonder how much of these things are true: at least when it comes to me. Here we go, lasses and lads:

1 – Pale / Freckled / Ginger

  • We covered this one under Irish and English, so I’m not gonna repeat myself. I am. I was tempted to post a picture of an attractive red-head… but too many to chose from, so you get a bottle of soda!

  • Score: 1 out of 1.

2 – Violent

  • We covered this one under Irish, so again, I’ll skip it. I’m not.

  • Score: 1 out of 2.

3 – Sports-Lovers

  • We covered this one in the last few. I’m not a big sports guy. Who runs around on a field and chases balls purely to say I caught it in the end?

  • Score: 1 out of 3.

4 – Drinkers

  • We covered this one under German, Irish and English. The whole world seems to be. And while I drink a bunch, I wouldn’t fit this definition.

  • Score: 1 out of 4.

5 – Kilts & Bag-Pipes

  • I think kilts are gorgeous. I think they should be worn in the right setting. If you’ve got strong calf muscles, definitely flaunt them. If not, skip it. I’ve never worn one, but I’d like to and I’d ROCK it. But since I haven’t, I can’t claim it.
  • I find the sound hypnotic. In the funeral scene in my book, “Watching a Glass Shatter,” there’s a passage about bag pipe music that moves a character to tears. Writing it also moved me to tears. It’s a bit lyrical. You should read it here; it’s in the beginning of chapter 1, but read the whole thing. (Oh, how bad was that plug!). But I’ve never played one, nor been in the physical presence of one. So that’s a no for me sadly.

  • Score: 1 out of 5.

6 – Cheap

  • The word used was miserly, but I don’t agree. When I think of miserly, I think of Shylock from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” No… perhaps a little cheap is what they mean. And there’s a small part of me that is a bit cheap. I do spend money, and sometimes way more than I should, but my initial reaction to something is usually “and how much will that cost me?” I should give myself a few points to account for that…

  • Score: 1.25 out of 6.

7 – Haggis-Lovers & Poor Diets

  • I have never eaten haggis. Most people aren’t even sure what it is. I looked it up to be certain, as I knew it was the stomach of some animal. It’s sheep. And while we’ve covered my obsession with cookies, you also know my diet is generally healthy. So epic fail here.

  • Score: 1.25 out of 7.

8 – Can’t understand them

  • The accent is alluring. Charming. Exotic. Sensual. Rich. Many of us get chills when we here it. I’d probably do anything under the right circumstances, if someone spoke to me with an authentic Scottish accent. And yes, it can be a little hard to understand the person. Although not quite the same, people sometimes have a hard time understanding me… claiming I mumble and speak too softly. I suppose they are correct… it’s not that I slur, but since I’m quiet and shy, I tend to not speak too loudly unless in a work situation. So… I’ll give myself a few percentage points for this, but not a lot.

  • Score: 1.5 out of 10.

9 – Loch Ness Monster

  • While I love the concept of the Loch Ness Monster, and it’s used so often in books and film, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. Though it would be cool if it did! And I am not a monster, so I get nane. (none, in Scottish)

  • Score: 1.5 out of 10.

10 – Homophobic

  • Hmm… I don’t think I agree with this being a trait of the Scottish. But it showed up in 2 of the 3 places I looked for the “top 10” traits, so I had to include it. I’m just gonna go with… if you’re reading this post, you know me, or you live in the modern world, then no… this is ridiculous. I don’t think Scots are, and I am certainly NOT! Quell hypocrite!

  • Score: 1.5 out of 10.

How ironic… 1.5 out of 10 is 15%, which is roughly how much Scottish I have in me. I wonder… did I just work that math out purposely, or are these true and accurate tests for my DNA structure and personality characteristics. The world will never know…

Review: Treasures of Westminster Abbey

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Treasures of Westminster Abbey
Treasures of Westminster Abbey by Tony Trowles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d just visited Westminster Abbey and picked this up as a remembrance. It was a great account full of beautiful pictures. Worth a read for anyone interested in British history.

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