Under a Gilded Moon by Joy Jordan-Lake

Several months ago, Under a Gilded Moon (Amazon) (Abebooks) was offered as part of Amazon’s First Reads program and I picked it up for free. The plot, surrounding the building of Biltmore in North Carolina, seemed interesting to me, but didn’t get around to reading it. Then, I noticed the Audible version was only $1.99 and decided I’d rather listen to it than read it. Maybe that was my mistake.

“Biltmore House, a palatial mansion being built by the Vanderbilts, American “royalty,” is in its final stages of construction in North Carolina. The country’s grandest example of privilege, it symbolizes the aspirations of its owner and the dreams of a girl, just as driven, who lives in its shadow.

Kerry MacGregor’s future is derailed when, after two years in college in New York City, family obligations call her home to the beautiful Appalachians. She is determined to distance herself from the opulence she sees rising in the Blue Ridge Mountains, however close its reach. Her family’s land is among the last pieces required to complete the Biltmore Estate. But something more powerful than an ambitious Vanderbilt heir could change Kerry’s fate as, one by one, more outsiders descend on the changing landscape—a fugitive from Sicily, a reporter chasing a groundbreaking story, a debutante tainted by scandal, and a conservationist prepared to put anyone at risk to stoke the resentment of the locals.”

Under a Gilded Moon could have been a great novel. Exploring the building of the palatial Biltmore estate in North Carolina during the Gilded Age and the displacement of many of the residents could have been a compelling story. Unfortunately for me, it was not. I actually listened to the audiobook back in late November and promptly forgot most of the details of the book. So I listened to it again last month and I still came away scratching my head.

While some characters and elements of the plot have some basis in reality like the Vanderbilts and their friends, as is the case in some historical fiction books, the main characters are a complete fiction. And I didn’t get a feel for them due to lack of development. I know a little bit about the Vanderbilts and very little about Biltmore beyond the basics, and after listening to Under a Gilded Moon, I still feel the same way.

The narrator’s attempts at a southern accent were just “meh”. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t connect with the novel and it’s attempts to draw me in. I never felt full invested in Kerry’s plight, nor to the murder of the reporter sent to North Carolina to cover the building of Biltmore, nor to the residents who were displaced by the building of the estate. It felt almost like this book were a sequel to something else, because the background development of the characters was sadly lacking.

Under a Gilded Moon could have been such an interesting exploration of of wealth and poverty, of naivete and ruthlessness, as well as interesting background for one of the largest occupied homes in the United States but for me, it missed the mark.

This is the 15th book I have listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.

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