The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

The Glass Room
by
Ann Cleeves

Rating:

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope has another crime to solve when her neighbor, Joanna Tobin, goes missing and an influential professor is murdered. Could Joanna, who is off her meds, be responsible for the professor’s death?

In the fifth of the Vera Stanhope series, which is also a popular show on Netflix, the stocky, gruff and brilliant detective investigates Tony Ferdinand’s murder. With Sergeant Joe Ashworth at her side and Detective Constable Holly Clarke close behind, Vera steps into the unfamiliar realm of writers and publishers, all trying to either get in the game, or stay in it, at Miranda Barton’s Writers’ House.

Ferdinand has been found stabbed and crouching on the balcony off the glass room and Vera is first to question the set-up. “Did he sit on the balcony and wait to be stabbed to death? Or was he moved afterwards? I mean, this all seems madness to me.”

As Vera digs, it seems everyone has something to hide, including Joanna, who is at the house on scholarship. Is what she has written the source of the crime? Why is Miranda’s son Alex defensive about his knives? And what is tutor Nina Backworth’s alibi? She hated Ferdinand and so did Miranda! Others at the weeklong course include a successful crime novelist, a former truck driver with a fresh new voice, and a former police inspector.

True to Vera’s character, the sharp-eyed detective has equally acerbic communications skills, pitting Joe against Holly and irritating many. She may be an imperfect and lonely human being, but no one can match her intuition.

Set in fictional Northumberland, England, I thoroughly enjoyed the coastline setting and clever story, in which the author offers clues, but saves the crucial details for the finish. Vera may be gruff, but Cleeves shows the detective’s soft sides as well. This is the second Stanhope mystery I’ve read. (Check out my review of The Moth Catcher here.) and, while Vera and her crew are regulars, readers will have no problem jumping in wherever they please. I see this as a great way for readers to enjoy books from a series without having to commit to reading a long line of books and I recommend The Glass Room to readers who enjoy entertaining and intelligent mysteries.

Have you read any of the Vera Stanhope books? Have you watched the show? I checked out the first DVD at the library and will be watching it soon!

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The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife
by
Cristina Alger

Rating:

(and a half!)

When a private plane disappears over the Swiss Alps and reports of a wreckage follow, Annabel Werner must now accept that her husband Matthew is dead. She’s been the expat wife of an up-and-coming private banker for the powerful Swiss Bank. Now she’s a widow and she begins to question the details of her husband’s disappearance. Besides the pilot, the only other passenger was Fatima Amir, a wealthy and beautiful hedge fund manager, with family ties to Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. Matthew never discussed his clients with Annabel, but she will soon discover shocking and terrifying facts about her husband and Swiss Bank.

Meanwhile, investigative journalist Marina Tourneau agrees to meet a mysterious messenger in Paris and receive secret bank account data pertaining to Morty Reiss, a missing and presumed dead Ponzi schemer. This is the next big story, obsessively researched by Marina’s mentor, Duncan Sander. The media investigation will inevitably collide with Annabel’s digging and reveal a massive illegal private banking system in which terrorists, corrupt politicians, tax-evading CEOs and drug criminals all hold secret and dirty numbered accounts. Can the informants deliver the information before they’re tracked down and killed?

I enjoyed the fast-paced tension of this intriguing story, which gives readers an imaginative glimpse into the lives of the ridiculously wealthy. Plot lines are nicely tied together, with several interesting clues and finish with a satisfying conclusion and a couple of surprises. This is the perfect book for readers who enjoy stories about the glamour of high living, fashion, expensive art and sophisticated characters. Of course, the women are all stunningly beautiful and the men have piercing eyes and fantastic builds. And everyone went to either Harvard or Yale! I don’t think this detracts from this highly entertaining story, however, because the author delivers an intelligent plot with interesting characters.

I listened to the audio version, then read through the print, to get the facts straight. If you’re a listener, it’s good to just submit yourself to the plot and characters. If you want to keep track of who’s who, you might want to read the print version. I recommend The Banker’s Wife to readers who want to get away from regular life and enjoy an absorbing and fast-moving story.

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Book Club Mom’s March recap – a month of blog posts

Image: Pixabay

March powered through like a freight train on greased wheels and I’m happy to say I didn’t derail!

Spring has finally arrived and, for the first time since I planted bulbs, the bunnies haven’t chomped my flowers down to the nubs. That must be a sign of good things to come!

I had a busy blogging month. I read some good books, profiled two indie authors, brushed up on my vocabulary and grammar, wrote and shared some special posts and made a few YouTube videos.

Here’s a quick “ICYMI” summary of what went down in March at Book Club Mom. Click on the links to visit each post.


Book Reviews

Mar 3: The Widow by Fiona Barton
Mar 11: Transcription by Kate Atkinson
Mar 22: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Mar 24: What If? by Randall Munroe
Mar 30: How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery


Mar 6: Giselle Roeder
Mar 19: Gina Briganti

I love meeting indie authors and I’m always looking for new profiles to post. If you are interested in being featured, please email bvitelli2009@gmail for more information.


Grammar and Vocabulary

(Images: Pixabay)

I may have majored in English, but I make plenty of mistakes. These grammar and vocabulary posts are my way of staying fresh with the rules:

Mar 5: On vocabulary, words both big and small…
Mar 21: “Into” and “in to” – are you into it?
Mar 28: Using ellipses – are you doing it right?


Special Posts

I shared two posts written by my son, Austin Vitelli. The first is a book review and the second is a feature article that appeared in The Morning Call on March 26.

Mar 6: Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman – thoughts on NFL legend Walter Payton
Mar 26: How 3 former Lehigh football players and their friends started a record label


Guest Post on author Jill Weatherholt’s blog

I was excited to be featured on Jill’s blog, where I talk about my blogging experiences (and mistakes!) and tackle the tricky question of what to do when I don’t like a book.

Mar 29: Welcome Book Blogger Book Club Mom


I’m still learning the technical side of making videos, but I’m having a lot of fun along the way. I have some new ideas for April, so stay tuned!

Mar 7: Self-publishing – here’s how we did it!
Mar 13: Walking and listening to audiobooks
Mar 20: Audiobook update and general news!


I hope you had a great month too! Looking forward to more fun in April!

Image: Pixabay

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From the archives: The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien

the silver crown picThe Silver Crown
by
Robert C. O’Brien

Rating:

I really enjoyed this children’s book. My sixth-grader was reading it in school and I decided to read it too.

It’s a story of 10-year-old Ellen who, on her birthday, wakes up to find a jeweled crown on her pillow. Before her family wakes up, Ellen puts the crown in her purse and sneaks out of her house to walk to a nearby park. Soon after, she hears sirens and discovers that her house has burned to the ground and her family is nowhere to be found. And thus begins her journey to find her Aunt Sarah and escape the mysterious people who are chasing her.

Ellen meets many during her time on the run. Some are good and some are evil. Ellen develops a strong bond with 8-year-old Otto, a young boy living in a house in the woods with an old woman he calls his mother. This book has an edge to it that younger kids’ books don’t. There are frightening characters and scary situations and difficult good-byes between Ellen and the people she meets. Despite these losses, many are turned around at the end. I think this book is perfect for a middle school student. The fantasy element allows the reader to experience danger, fright, bravery and loss, with a comfortable ending.

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Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Bluebird, Bluebird
by
Attica Locke

Rating:

Darren Matthews is a conflicted Texas Ranger and now he’s in hot water with the force for helping out a family friend facing murder charges. On suspension, Darren is not technically a Ranger, but he can’t resist going rogue with a new investigation. In the tiny East Texas town of Lark, a black man and a white woman have been murdered, days apart. Is there a connection between the two? Darren suspects it has something to do with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, but there are many other factors, including the complex relationships between the people of Lark. As a black Ranger, Darren must step between centuries-old racial tension and make sense of these crimes.

Darren, whose identity is tightly tied to Texas law, is also under pressure from his wife to leave the Rangers and return to law school. But that may be impossible. Land, birthrights and the pride of the Ranger uniform are powerful forces and she doesn’t get it.

The story takes place at several places in Lark, a dot along Highway 59, the main road in East Texas. Geneva Sweet owns the sole café that welcomes blacks and her regulars are like family. Wally Jefferson, a white businessman, is the big landowner in a brick mansion across the street. There’s an unexplained history between the two, shown in equal measures of tension and familiarity. Up the road sits Wally’s ice house, friendly to whites, but hostile to blacks.

Bluebird, Bluebird is much more than a murder mystery. It’s a story of race, family, secrets and East Texas, a land that has close ties to the South and Louisiana culture. Outsiders have a hard time understanding, or gaining trust from the local folks, where even secrets between enemies are closely held. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the first in the Highway 59 Mystery Series. It finishes with a bombshell, setting the reader up for lots to think about until the next book comes out in September 2019.

I recommend Bluebird, Bluebird to readers who enjoy mysteries in which complex characters with mixed loyalties must face difficult choices.

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Transcription
by
Kate Atkinson

Rating:

Juliet Armstrong is eighteen years old when signs up with the MI5, a department of Britain’s Security Service, to help fight the infiltration of German and Fascist sympathizers. It’s 1940 and her job is to transcribe the secretly recorded conversations of informants who think they are meeting with a German Nazi. Agents have rented two London apartments and installed recording devices in a shared wall. In one apartment, Godfrey Toby poses as the German. In the other apartment are Juliet, Toby’s handler and a technician, recording, transcribing and writing reports.

Soon, in addition to transcribing, Juliet takes on an alias and heads out to the Russian Tea House to befriend an English matron whose husband is in prison for being a Nazi sympathizer. Juliet must get information about the Right Club, a group of powerful sympathizers and get her hands on the club’s Red Book of members.

That’s the set-up of Transcription, a sort of light historical spy novel, in which Juliet moves among agents and counteragents, never completely sure who’s on what side and leaving the reader to guess.

The story jumps between 1940 and 1950, where Juliet works at Schools Broadcasting, part of the British Broadcasting House. Something happened in 1940 that has caused Juliet’s group of spies to scatter and her secret past begins to haunt her when she sees the enigmatic Toby walking down the street. She will soon confront others from her spy days and try to make sense of her involvement during the war.

I was looking forward to reading this book because of how much I loved Life After Life and A God in Ruins, but I did not like the story as much. There were too many characters to keep track of and the complicated plot did not hold my attention, despite the story’s sometimes light and farcical tone. I kept waiting for something more to happen. I liked reading about the Security Service, however, and imagining the life of secret agents. I also enjoyed the author’s writing style, which is full of meaningful phrases that tie the story and characters together. That is also the author’s style in Life After Life and A God in Ruins.

I especially liked when Atkinson used one of my favorite lines from Life After Life, “You’d better come in,” spoken several times in that story when trouble arrives at the door. At two different times in Transcription, Juliet says the same thing. I love that kind of dialogue. I only hope I could be so calm! But I just didn’t care much about what happened in Transcription. Maybe it’s because Juliet’s character is hard to know and the mystery that surrounds her a little silly, leaving me to wonder if that’s what the author intended. I couldn’t decide, so I’m calling this one just an okay read.

If you haven’t read Life After Life or A God in Ruins, read those before you try this one. They are excellent. Then you can decide.

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The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow
by
Fiona Barton

Rating:

Jean Taylor discovers a new freedom when her husband suddenly dies. Now a widow, maybe she can reveal the dark secrets they have kept. The press wants to know her story—can she trust the reporters who have camped outside her door?

When they first marry, Glen seems like the perfect husband, but he slowly reveals a controlling nature, first in how they set up their house, and later in how they live their lives. As a young bride, she yields to Glen’s directions. But the game changes when the police come to their door asking Glen about the disappearance of a two-year-old girl.

At Glen’s urging, Jean embraces the phrase “stand by your man” and she’s good at it. She doesn’t know what she’s hiding, but she wants to believe him.

Glen tells her,

This is a terrible mistake, but we mustn’t let it ruin our lives. We need to stay strong until the truth comes out. Do you think you can do that?”

And she replies,

Of course I can. We can be strong for each other. I love you, Glen.”

That’s her mantra, until a few of the secrets surface.

The Widow is a suspense novel and psychological study about the horrifying secrets of an offender living in plain sight. It’s also a look at family and the strains of a childless marriage. The story is balanced by the police investigation, led by an obsessed Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes, and includes a look into the procedures, power struggles and politics in his department. In addition, Fiona Barton has used her journalism experience to show how reporters and newspapers write their stories, the tricks they use to get people to talk, and their strategies to steal stories from each other.

The Widow is a fast read, with a couple twists, but a fairly predictable finish. Reviews have compared it to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, but I would put it on a tier below those engrossing thrillers. Nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing how Jean handled the truth and thought the author did a good job describing Jean’s predicament.

I recommend The Widow to readers who enjoy a quick suspense novel and stories about secrets.

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Book Club Mom’s February recap – a month of blog posts

February was both cold and icy in my world! Image: Pixabay

Phew! February was a short and busy month, both here and out in the world. I’m sure it’s the same for all of you. I try to visit as many blogs as possible, but sometimes I run out of time. Some of the bloggers I follow post weekly or monthly summaries and I’ve always found that helpful because I don’t like to miss out!

So here’s an “ICYMI” summary of what went down in February at Book Club Mom. Click on the links to visit each post.


Book Reviews – I don’t always power through books, but I do try to read one book a week. That’s about all I can handle. Here’s what I read this month:

Feb 2: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Feb 11: The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi
Feb 19: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Feb 25: Leaving the Beach by Mary Rowen


I enjoy meeting indie authors and learning about their books and lives. I aim for one feature a week. Keep those requests for profiles coming!

From left to right, HL Carpenter, Pamela S. Wight, Kathleen Jowitt

Feb 7: HL Carpenter
Feb 15: Pamela S. Wight
Feb 24: Kathleen Jowitt


General Interest – I have a lot of fun thinking about book trends and book related ideas. And because I work in a library, I’m surrounded by books and often get the scoop on what’s new from my work friends.

Feb 4: Litsy – have you heard about this social media app for book lovers?
Feb: 12: When “silent” characters find their voices
Feb 18: The characters you love to hate: the role of the villain in stories
Feb 19: New York Books – the list is growing!
Feb 20: Book Talk – Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer
Feb 26: Books with double titles – am I seeing things?


On YouTube – I’m still experimenting with ideas and settings. I’m working on a “field trip” video for next month, but I’m waiting for the weather to improve. So these two posts are from my couch:

Feb 16:  Books my kids loved – I can’t let go of them!
Feb 27:  Love of reading can come at any age!


It was a good month here and out in my other world. I hope you had a good one too!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach
by
Jennifer Egan

Rating:

How exciting to choose a book you know nothing about and immediately love it! I had seen Manhattan Beach on display at the library where I work, and the other library book club had already read it, but I never asked my work friend what it was about. And I blindly selected it for my own book club. Talk about being a pantser!

Manhattan Beach has a 3.8 star average rating on Amazon, with over half of the reviewers giving it a 4 or 5, but the rest of the reviews are 1-3 stars. This book is a winner with most and not so much with others. Well, it’s a winner with me! It’s full of complex characters, twisting plot lines and overlaid with the conflict between doing the right thing and doing what you have to do, with heavy consequences on both sides.

Set in New York during the Depression and World War II, the story begins in 1937 with Anna Kerrigan as a young girl. In these early years, Anna has a strong bond with her father, Eddie and she shadows him on mysterious work errands. At home, her mother cares full-time for Anna’s crippled younger sister, Lydia, a source of guilt, shame, resentment and love in different measures for each of them. On one errand, Anna meets the powerful Dexter Styles and without knowing why, senses an important connection between the men.

Eight years later, Eddie is missing and Anna has a job measuring parts at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the hub of wartime repairs and preparations. And then she meets Styles again at one of his nightclubs. Determined to understand his relationship to her father, Anna sets off on a dangerous course in both her personal life and at work, where she has become the first female civilian diver. In this section, Egan includes interesting descriptions of how divers trained and worked, a dangerous activity and much different from resort dives of today!

What I liked best about Manhattan Beach is the way the author allows the reader inside the heads of her characters. I understood them much better, knowing how they made their decisions and I sometimes liked the ones with questionable morals more, because I could see their predicaments. Several of them grapple with the ethics of their work, and a few will do whatever it takes to protect their family. I particularly liked the slow reveal of Eddie’s character, who travels with many of the wrong people, but has a lifelong desire to do what’s right.

I also enjoyed the way Egan describes New York during this time period. It’s loaded with regular people, gangsters, bankers, and laborers, trying to get by in any way they can and, even when they are at cross purposes, there’s a sense of unity to win the war. Who gets by and who has the upper hand can quickly change, and that’s what kept me happily reading to the finish.

I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to readers who like historical fiction and big stories with strong female characters.

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When “silent” characters find their voices – books with silent characters

Silence is never forever, especially in stories about characters who’ve been keeping quiet. These three “Silent” books are good examples of how quickly lives can turn upside down when a character finds her voice. From a patient who refuses to speak, to a sister who has left her family, to a wife who is tired of looking the other way, stories with characters like these are always great reads!


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides  – Alicia Berenson does something strange after she kills her husband. She stops talking. Not another word. Nothing to the London police, to her lawyer, and still now, years later, nothing to the doctors at the Grove, the psychiatric ward where she lives. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.


The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain – When buried family secrets surface, one thing is certain: once revealed, nothing will be the same. Riley McPherson has grown up believing her older sister Lisa, a talented violinist, committed suicide. She’d always thought that her sister’s depression was the reason. But that may not be what happened.


The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison – What’s beneath the surface of a seemingly happy relationship? Jodi and Todd have a smooth way of being together and it’s worked for twenty-some years. They’ve never officially married, but it doesn’t matter. This is a marriage and they have a nice rhythm, live a very nice life and have everything they want. Then we get to know them a little better…


Have you read any books with “silent” characters? Leave the title in the comments!

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