Tag: 5 stars

The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
Author: Denise Kiernan
Published: September 26, 2017

Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars

Book Description:

The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.

The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

Orphaned at a young age, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser claimed lineage from one of New York’s best-known families. She grew up in Newport and Paris, and her engagement and marriage to George Vanderbilt was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House.

Before their marriage, the wealthy and bookish Vanderbilt had dedicated his life to creating a spectacular European-style estate on 125,000 acres of North Carolina wilderness. He summoned the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to tame the grounds, collaborated with celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000-square-foot chateau, filled it with priceless art and antiques, and erected a charming village beyond the gates. Newlywed Edith was now mistress of an estate nearly three times the size of Washington, DC and benefactress of the village and surrounding rural area. When fortunes shifted and changing times threatened her family, her home, and her community, it was up to Edith to save Biltmore—and secure the future of the region and her husband’s legacy.

The Last Castle is the uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.

Kim’s Review:

This is a great history book! I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Biltmore has a special place in my heart; I’ve been visiting since I was a kid and it ignited my imagination as a place of finery and magnificence! I’ve said many times that if you haven’t been to visit, you should and I hold to that.

Kiernan laid out not just the history of the house, but the people who built her. George Vanderbilt is the height of refinement and education and Ivan and I have already decided that we need more dapper gentlemen like him. Edith was a classy, yet humble woman who accomplish much. I grew to love them the more I learned and I’m so happy that their legacy survives in that estate.

As a historian, I was happy with the way Kiernan presented the facts. She did extensive research and put all kinds of resources throughout the book. The personal letters were fascinating. I also loved how she focused on the trailblazing that happened at Biltmore. The National Park Service practically started on the estate and the agricultural and forestry development procedures were revolutionary. Overall, this was a great and easy read and I learned a lot!

Purchase Links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Here a few pictures of Kim and Ivan at Biltmore:

The Suicide House by Charlie Donlea

The Suicide House
Series: Rory Moore/ Lane Phillips #2
Author: Charlie Donlea

Published: July 28, 2020
368 Pages

Reviewed By: Jessica
Jessica’s Rating: 5 stars
Dates Read: August 20-September 3, 2020

Book Description:

A chilling murder in a prestigious prep school is at the heart of this riveting new novel from acclaimed author Charlie Donlea, featuring forensic reconstructionist Rory Moore and her psychologist partner, Lane Phillips.

Inside the walls of Indiana’s elite Westmont Preparatory High School, expectations run high and rules are strictly enforced. But in the woods beyond the manicured campus and playing fields sits an abandoned boarding house that is infamous among Westmont’s students as a late-night hangout. Here, only one rule applies: don’t let your candle go out–unless you want the Man in the Mirror to find you. . . .

One year ago, two students were killed there in a grisly slaughter. The case has since become the focus of a hit podcast, The Suicide House. Though a teacher was convicted of the murders, mysteries and questions remain. The most urgent among them is why so many students who survived that horrific night have returned to the boarding house–to kill themselves.

Rory, an expert in reconstructing cold cases, is working on The Suicide House podcast with Lane, recreating the night of the killings in order to find answers that have eluded the school, the town, and the police. But the more they learn about the troubled students, the chillingly stoic culprit, and a dangerous game gone tragically wrong, the more convinced they become that something sinister is still happening. Inside Westmont Prep, the game hasn’t ended. It thrives on secrecy and silence. And for its players, there may be no way to win–or to survive. . . .

Jessica’s Review:

YES!  A thriller I really enjoyed and have been lacking in that lately!  From the first two sentences, you know you are in for a gory ride: I killed my brother with a penny. Simple, benign, and perfectly believable. 

We have all kinds of dynamics that make this one super interesting:  The setting of a prestigious prep school and a teacher kills some students!?!?!  And a year later the survivors start killing themselves?!?!?!   Something else must be going on! 

We have three different sections of the book: Journal entries, the time period of June 2019, and present day of August 2020. Better yet is that the chapters are extremely short and it’s hard to put down because the next chapter isn’t that long!  This one is meant to be binge read, it is that intense. I loved how everything came together and I never figured out the killer or motive so I was shocked when we had the big moment in the climax of the novel.

This is the second in the series that feature Rory and Lane.  Poor Rory has some issues herself and also what could classify as a creepy hobby, which is also written in a way that you find it interesting, which I never would have thought of this particular hobby as interesting!  We also get to see her work on her hobby.

 All of Donlea’s books can be read as standalones, but if you have read Donlea’s previous novels, you get some takeback from those.  This is my first Donlea novel and I would love to read his others!

Many thanks to the publisher Kensington Books for granting me a copy to read and review!

Purchase Links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK


A Release Day Double Review of The Companion by Katie Alender

Today is release day for The Companion by Katie Alender and today I bring you a double review for it!  This double review is not with Kim, but my friend Yami, who runs her own Facebook page: A Bookworm’s Thoughts. We received our copies from the publisher G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers via Bookish First on the same day and I approached her on if she wanted to do a double review and she said sure!

The Companion
Author: Katie Alender

Published: TODAY, August 25, 2020
448 Pages

Book Description:

The other orphans say Margot is lucky.

Lucky to survive the horrible accident that killed her family.
Lucky to have her own room because she wakes up screaming every night.

And finally, lucky to be chosen by a prestigious family to live at their remote country estate.

But it wasn’t luck that made the Suttons rescue Margot from her bleak existence at the group home. Margot was handpicked to be a companion to their silent, mysterious daughter, Agatha. At first, helping with Agatha–and getting to know her handsome older brother–seems much better than the group home. But soon, the isolated, gothic house begins playing tricks on Margot’s mind, making her question everything she believes about the Suttons . . . and herself.

Margot’s bad dreams may have stopped when she came to live with Agatha – but the real nightmare has just begun.

Jessica’s Review:
Jessica’s Rating: 5 stars
Dates Read: August 11-18, 2020

This is the first book I have read by Alender, and it will not be the last. From the beginning we are pulled in to the accident that Margot survives.  Margot tell us the story in first person, so we are along with her for the duration of the novel.  We experience everything with her from the group home to moving in with the Suttons. 

This is a standalone YA/Horror novel and you know something that is going on is just not right.  It is not gory horror, but psychological and a very quick read.  It really was one I did not want to put down! I wanted to know how this one was going to end! Yes, it is somewhat predictable but to get to the ending and then be thinking “What did I just read!?!??!?” But this is meant in a great way!  Even better is that we have a satisfying ending. 

This is one where you cannot say much as it is best to go into it not really knowing much, but do read this if you enjoy thrillers and horror.  You won’t regret it!

Many thanks to the publisher G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers for granting me a copy via BookishFirst.

Yami’s Review:
Yami’s Rating: 4.5 stars

Another of Katie Alender’s book that I enjoyed. This one was more of a thriller. Poor Margot went through a great tragedy in the beginning of the book. Being the only survivor from a car accident with her family is such a horrible thing. So when a family decided to take her into their home, you would hope things will get better for her but right from the start you know things are just not right. I figured out a lot of the stuff from the beginning but it was still an enjoyable, crazy ride. I don’t know how much I could say without giving anything away so I will just end it here. Also, I was very happy with the ending.

Check out Yami’s Facebook Page and give her a like if you wish!


Purchase Links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK