Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Tell No One
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Dr. David Beck’s life fell apart eight years ago when his wife Elizabeth was taken by strangers. Even though a serial killer sits in prison, Beck can’t move on. He trudges through life and work as a pediatrician in a low-income New York neighborhood. The years have passed, but how can he let go of his best friend and sweetheart?

When Beck receives a computer message, he’s certain it’s from Elizabeth because it’s about something only she would know. But there’s a warning: “Tell no one.”

Readers are in for a wild ride as Beck tries to make sense of this message and later instructions. Set in New Jersey, New York and parts of Pennsylvania, the story revolves around Beck, his sister Linda and her partner, plus-size supermodel Shauna, as well as Elizabeth’s cop family. Added to the mix is the powerful billionaire, Griffin Scope, a third-generation rich guy. Scope is consumed by avenging the death of his golden-boy son Brandon and by preserving Brandon’s good-works charitable foundation, headed, coincidently, by Linda.

Several messages later, Beck is certain Elizabeth is still alive. He needs help and turns to Shauna. Shauna keeps him grounded, but events get out of hand when Beck becomes a wanted man for murder.

Coben leads the reader through the preliminaries, then adds a great variety of side characters, including my favorite, the conflicted Tyrese Barton and the unknowable bad guy Eric Wu, someone you don’t want to meet in an alley. Other characters with questionable morality, but a sliver of conscience make this story more than just a thriller, but an interesting character study.

In addition to an exciting plot, Coben’s writing style is full of dry humor as well as many laugh-out-loud moments, as Beck somehow escapes certain death, more than once.

Just as in an action movie, Tell No One is a terrific, fast-moving suspense, with twists and turns to the final page. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy reading about the battle between good and evil in a highly entertaining story.

And if you like watching action movies, Tell No One was adapted to the screen in the French film of the same name. Read all about it here.

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Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Baby Teeth
by
Zoje Stage

Rating:  3.5 bookmarks

Here’s a psychological thriller that will make you very uncomfortable. What are Suzette and Alex to do when life with their demonic 7-year-old daughter gets dangerous? Try to understand? Rationalize? Maintain a normal façade? What’s their breaking point?

Hanna is an adorable little girl, on the surface. But she refuses to talk and plays her parents against each other. No school will have her, so Suzette has tabled her art career to home school Hanna while Alex builds his new Scandinavian design business in Pittsburgh. Mommy is the bad parent. Daddy can do no wrong. And when Daddy’s away, Hanna’s evil deeds become more and more alarming.

When Hanna finally speaks, it’s in the chilling voice of an alter ego.

Zoje Stage’s debut thriller poses an interesting dilemma and her characters shoulder additional complex problems. Suzette comes from an unhappy childhood and struggles with Crohn’s disease. Alex wants the perfect family and misses many signs that their life is in trouble. Hanna is, well, we don’t know. The reader can only try to understand her and see what happens.

In addition to the uncomfortable subjects, readers should brace themselves for graphic language and ideas. Stage’s rough descriptions and dialogue can be very jarring. I found some of this excessive and much of it did not seem to fit her characters, who are portrayed as smooth and sophisticated. Perhaps that’s the point however, their façade is nothing like who they really are.

Alex and Suzette ultimately seek professional help which gives the reader better insight into Hanna’s problem, or maybe it doesn’t.

Themes of unconditional love, marriage, family, careers, and self-preservation run through Baby Teeth, making it a relatable story for all readers.

This is the kind of book that demands you read it straight through. Stage has created a powerful momentum and I couldn’t rest until I finished.

I received an ARC of Baby Teeth from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. While there was a disclaimer at the beginning assuring readers that all formatting issues would be addressed, these jumps and other rough draft problems were more frequent than other ARCs and were a bit of a distraction.

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Book Talk – The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

Every Christmas my dad gives the women in our family a book. We each receive a different title, chosen specifically for us. I like this tradition. It reminds me of years ago when he used to pick out books for me and my siblings. This year I received The Rooster Bar by John Grisham.

Back in the 1990s, I tore through The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client. I wonder if he remembers this? These were excellent stories and the movies were also very entertaining. A few years ago I read The Racketeer and remembered why I liked John Grisham books.

So The Rooster Bar is waiting for me and I’ll get to it soon. Meantime, here’s a quick blurb from Amazon:

Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.

But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right?  Well, yes and no . . .

Pull up a stool, grab a cold one, and get ready to spend some time at The Rooster Bar.

John Grisham has written thirty-one novels, one nonfiction book, a story collection, and six novels for young readers. You can learn more about him at jgrisham.com.

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Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End
by
Sebastian Barry

Rating:

Thomas McNulty and John Cole are just boys in the 1840s when they meet under a hedge in a Missouri rainstorm. McNulty is an orphan from Ireland and Cole, from New England, has been on his own for a couple years. They know they will fare better if they stick together. A strong friendship protects McNulty and Cole during their early days as dancers in a miners’ saloon and later as soldiers in the Indian wars and the Civil War. Questions of morality, faith, and fate run through McNulty’s poetic narrative in a style like nothing else, mastered by Sebastian Barry. It’s an impressive feat that a writer can take a piece of ugly American history and throw a moving balance between love, friendship, honor and duty and the brutal violence that comes with following orders.

We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world.

Together they enlist in the army, travel endless days and nights and are charged with the dirty business of clearing the western land of Native Americans. Fierce battles between their troops and tribes from the Sioux make the reader question again the senseless killings and how soldiers, many with nowhere else to go, must reconcile their actions with a need to survive.

McNulty wonders if God is looking out for him. He’s never sure.

The world got a lot of people in it, and when it comes to slaughter and famine, whether we’re to live or die, it don’t care much either way. The world got so many it don’t need to.

Somehow McNulty and Cole survive the Indian wars, but not without deep scars and their time fighting the Rebels during the Civil War presents them with many of the same moral dilemmas, especially when they come face-to-face with their enemies.

There’s no soldier don’t have a queer little spot in his wretched heart for his enemy, that’s just a fact. Maybe only on account of him being alive in the same place and the same time and we are all just customers of the same three-card trickster.

And despite the ugly time period, the men form strong bonds with their commanders and fellow soldiers, for it is in battle that characters are formed. Bonds break, however, when unspeakable violence causes Barry’s characters to look out for themselves, the point at which the story changes from broad battles to personal struggles.

The only solace McNulty finds is in his deep love for Cole, and for Winona, their adopted Sioux orphan girl. The men in their camp and the people they meet later accept both Winona and their gay relationship, a surprisingly modern portrayal that represents one of the author’s important themes: acceptance. Through McNulty, Barry shows a complicated country of diverse backgrounds and cultures, trying only to survive, but willing to defend themselves to the death.

The end, despite violent and often hopeless events throughout the story, points to happier days, as McNulty reasons with optimism:

Life wants you to go down and suffer far as I can see. You gotta dance around all that.

McNulty’s character is a genius and eloquent storyteller, with poetic insights that explain love from all sides. I highly recommend this terrific book. While short (259 pages), you will not want to rush through it because Barry has carefully chosen every meaningful word.

I had not read anything by Sebastian Barry before this, but he is a well-known and highly respected Irish poet, playwright and novelist. He has won many awards, is a two-time Man Booker Prize finalist and has won the Costa Book of the Year prize for Days Without End (2016) as well as his 2005 novel, A Long Long Way.

On a side note, Barry relates that McNulty’s character was shaped by his teenage son, Toby, who recently came out as gay. Barry dedicated the book to Toby and says in an article from The Guardian (read here), “My son instructed me in the magic of gay life.”

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The Perfect Roommate by Minka Kent

The Perfect Roommate
by
Minka Kent

Rating:

Is there such a thing as a perfect college roommate? Lauren Wiedenfeld and Meadow Cupples are about to find out. Lauren’s been looking for someone to help with the rent and Meadow is desperate for a place to live. But the college seniors couldn’t be more different. Lauren is rich and beautiful and knows the ins and outs of the Meyer State College party scene. Meadow spends most of her time studying and working for the Sparkle Shine Cleaning Company. They could be good for each other, right?

But this isn’t a story about college friendships because something more sinister is going on. Should Meadow turn down Lauren’s invitations and resist her new friend’s efforts to make her over? For a girl with an unhappy past and no money, it’s too hard to say no. Soon Meadow is completely in the mix, with new clothes, new hair, new friends and lots of drama. Lauren seems to fight with her boyfriend Thayer, a lot. And their friend Tessa likes a guy who pays more attention to Meadow. A side story involving the pregnant wife of the hot English professor may help round out the story, or muddle it up.

Readers may sympathize at first with Meadow, the story’s narrator and underdog, but her motives become more ambiguous and her actions more reckless as the plot develops. A shocking campus murder brings everything to a head as the reader wonders who can be trusted.

The only way to know is to keep on reading this fast-paced and entertaining psychological drama. Plenty of twists and time-released developments guarantee surprises to the finish. It’s a quick, surface-read, and a fun way to spend part of your weekend. A few typos take a bit of the polish away, but the reader will quickly forgive at the next turn.

I recommend The Perfect Roommate to readers who enjoy fast-moving thrillers with two-sided characters and motives.

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“In the Gloaming” by Alice Elliott Dark

in the gloaming

“In the Gloaming”
by
Alice Elliott Dark

Rating:

I did not know the word “gloaming” when I first read this story years ago. It is a word from Scotland that describes the peaceful twilight of a summer evening. I found this short story in the 1994 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolfe and Katrina Kenison.

“In the Gloaming” is a story about an adult son who has come home to die and about a mother and son who reach for each other during these final days. It’s also about family and the connections between a mother and her children and a marriage that is distant.

Alice Elliott Dark has a great writing style and you feel like you are right there with Janet and Laird as they sit on their deck and talk. You feel the peace of the moment and the false hope that these days will go on and on. As Laird’s health worsens, you also feel Janet’s jittery panic. The story comes around and creates new connections at the end, and that gives you hope and comfort. It felt very real.

There’s a great interview in the back of this collection and the author talks about what was going on in her life when she wrote “In the Gloaming.”  She says,

I see it as a story about a woman trying to be a decent mother, a subject that was very much on my mind at the time I wrote it. I had recently become a mother, and was having bouts of vertigo whenever I thought about the scope of this new relationship.

This story first appeared in The New Yorker in 1994. Dark has also written two short story collections, Naked to the Waist and In the Gloaming, and one novel, Think of England. She is an Assistant Professor in the MFA program and the English Department at Rutgers University.

naked to the waist picthink of england pic


Note:  HBO made “In the Gloaming” into a TV movie, which was directed by Christopher Reeve, and stars Glenn Close, Bridget Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert Sean Leonard. Although the HBO version has the son dying of AIDS, this was not exactly how the story was written. Dark notes,

The story was not conceived as being about any disease in particular. AIDS came in when Laird made a remark about his immune system, and I left it at that.


I like short fiction because it forces the reader to confront an emotion or situation in just a few pages. That leaves plenty to think about! Some readers prefer longer books over short stories. I like both! What’s your favorite genre?

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Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be Different
by
Maria Semple

Rating:

Eleanor Flood’s life is teetering on a cliff, even if she doesn’t realize it. Everything is off-kilter, including her marriage and the graphic memoir she’s been writing for way too long. In addition, their third-grade son, Timby, is having stomach problems. But on this Seattle morning, Eleanor resolves that this day will be different: “Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being.”

Despite her resolve, the day begins poorly. Her husband Joe, a highly respected hand surgeon, is face down at the kitchen table, arms splayed, and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Timby is in the bathroom putting on scads of makeup. What to do? She thinks she will find inner peace at her poetry lesson, but a call from Timby’s school summons her to the nurse’s office. Timby has another stomach ache.

The issue isn’t what is happening to Eleanor, it’s how she reacts. Questionable decisions and outrageous actions send her into a crazy, no logic, self-absorbed spiral. It’s a reader’s train wreck—impossible to look away.

At the core of Eleanor’s imbalance is a lonely and unhappy childhood, documented in a book of drawings entitled The Flood Girls, and presented to her sister Ivy. But something else is wrong. Joe is leading a secret life.

As Eleanor catapults herself into one disaster after another, the reader wonders where on earth this story is going. Chapters are varied, some are narrated by Eleanor, others jump back in time and are told in third-person, with The Flood Girls drawings in the middle. As the story gains momentum, the urge to read on is fueled entirely by a need to know what Joe is doing.

I don’t know what to call this book. Before I learned the truth about Joe, I liked that the characters were headed for disaster (more train-wreck reading) and thinking there would be a big and satisfying confrontation, but I was sorely disappointed with the finish, making me wonder just what Semple is trying to do with this book.

I also found Semple’s characters hard to like. Eleanor is selfish and quirky. Timby is unrealistic, Ivy is too shattered, etc. Joe’s character is the most human, but nothing fits together.

Despite these remarks, Today Will Be Different is an easy read, with some clever dialogue and a few entertaining outrageous scenes. Seattle readers will enjoy the references to various public places and football fans will appreciate Pete Carroll’s gum-chewing cameo in the book.

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The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves

The Moth Catcher
by
Ann Cleeves

Rating:

Genre:  English murder mystery

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope and her team have little to go on when a house sitter with a PhD and a former teacher are murdered near the English Northumberland village of Gilswick. Are the murders connected and how?

Vera is a shrewd investigator, but the case is a puzzle. Why would Patrick Randle, fresh out of university, defer a research position and sign on as a house sitter? Who was Martin Benton and what happened when the two met? Detectives Joe Ashworth and Holly Clarke are at Vera’s command and they soon discover a possible connection: moth catching. This strange interest, shared by both men, may be the link.

There is much to understand, however, including the relationships between three retired couples who live down the lane. They call themselves the “retired hedonists” and seem to be good friends, but Vera senses an undercurrent. Other characters with shady or unknown histories make the mystery a challenge for readers who like to crack a case before the last page.

This is my first Ann Cleeves mystery, but fans will know the Vera Stanhope character well and may have watched Vera, the British television series, starring Brenda Blethyn. Cleeves has created a unique personality—Vera is middle-aged, overweight, controlling, a little obsessed, with a few regrets and buried insecurities. But she’s a genius detective who knows how to dig. She is often bossy with Joe and Holly, who have their own talents and a little personal baggage. Both Joe and Holly silently crave Vera’s respect and confidence, and hope for one of Vera’s rare nuggets of praise. I enjoyed this work dynamic and think it’s one of the book’s strongest elements.

I also enjoyed the author’s descriptions of homes, their interiors, and a sort of running commentary on what the gardens were like and whether or not they were weeded. Food and caffeine sources also get frequent mention, keeping the reader amused.

Cleeves’ characters struggle with many issues. For Vera, Joe and Holly, they question their career choices. The hedonists secretly wonder if retiring out in the country has given them enough to do with their days. Other themes include family, money, relationships and women’s roles.

Although Cleeves includes many interesting personalities and scenery, I was disappointed by the plot. I’m a “go along for the ride” mystery reader, so it didn’t bother me that the finish was difficult to predict, but the moth catching angle fell flat, especially the author’s reference to global warming. Moths became a small and irrelevant connection and I felt misled by the title.

Despite this gripe, I enjoyed The Moth Catcher and would recommend it to mystery readers who like strong personalities and entertaining commentary.

Are you a mystery reader? What do you like best about this genre?

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The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

The Secrets of Wishtide
by
Kate Saunders

Rating:

When Laetitia Rodd’s lawyer brother summons her for a meeting, she knows he has some work for her. It’s 1850 and the 50-something widow has made a name for herself in the Hampstead section of London. With an eye for detail and a nose for the truth, Lettie is a lady detective way ahead of her time.

The task seems straightforward enough: uncover the past of Helen Orme and thwart Charles Calderstone’s efforts to marry her. The wealthy and powerful Sir James Calderstone is behind this request. He’s pushing his son to marry Esther Grahames, a cousin and childhood playmate.

Posing as a governess for Charles’ younger sisters, Lettie moves in with the Calderstones at their Wishtide estate. And it isn’t long before a murder puts Charles in jail and presents Lettie with a much meatier case. Lettie and her brother are convinced Charles is innocent and to save him from the gallows, they know it’s a race to find a mysterious killer known as “Prince.”

The Secrets of Wishtide is the first book in the Laetitia Rodd mysteries. A huge fan of Charles Dickens, Saunders based her story on David Copperfield and uses her characters to develop themes of love, marriage, women’s rights, and class distinction, all in equal measure. In addition, several of her characters must live with their reputations as fallen women as they watch men pursue relationships outside marriage.

The story moves quickly, despite a long list of characters. While some expert mystery readers may be able to figure out who Prince is, key details reveal themselves only as the plot develops, making it an entertaining read.  I also liked reading about the creature comforts of the times – warm fires, hot tea, spirits and ale, good food and good humor. It seems as if the author is suggesting that, despite the hardships of the times, and the big trouble in which many of her characters find themselves, they seem to know how to make their own happiness.

The book finishes with a satisfying conclusion and hints of the future help the reader imagine what might happen in the next book. No doubt the side characters in this book will make appearances in the next and I look forward to seeing how Lettie’s character develops. I recommend The Secrets of Wishtide to readers who like entertaining mysteries on top of more serious themes.

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Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

Seven Ways We Lie
by
Riley Redgate

Rating:

High school is no walk in the park for seven angst-ridden teenagers and friendships are stretched to their limits when Paloma High School officials receive an anonymous tip about an inappropriate student-teacher relationship. In this debut novel, written by then-college student Riley Redgate, lies routinely mask the deep secrets and insecurities of students at a Kansas high school and, as the investigation continues, their secrets come out in painful revelations.

The story is written from seven different points of view which the author has matched to the seven deadly sins:  lust, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, wrath and pride, giving the reader the task of figuring out which character fits which sin. While some of them are friends, others are on the fringe, but the scandal brings them together and forces them to face the moral question of what to tell.

I enjoyed reading this YA novel. It has a clever structure and is very readable, but also addresses many important themes:  pressure to succeed, fitting in, bullying, friendship, love, teenage sexuality, loneliness and troubled family relationships. Despite the book’s heavy drama, the story has a prevailing optimistic message: that it’s okay to be different. In addition, I particularly like how the characters grow and develop strong relationships that would have been unlikely if there had been no scandal.

A couple things bothered me about the story, however. A student has overheard a conversation from behind a closed door, so no names come with the anonymous tip yet the school immediately runs with it. The principal calls an assembly and asks students for help in finding out who is involved. Then the school administration interviews each student and broadcasts updates and pleas for more information during the morning announcements. This approach seems highly unrealistic to me. No preliminary investigation before going public, full credence to the person who sent the tip. A later tip also leads to swift school action, with no checks to whether it’s valid.

My other issue is that each student seems to have a serious secret, brought on by intense personal and family relationship issues in which the parents play very passive parenting roles. Of course these problems are what drive the story, but the author’s many themes are compressed into the seven students, making me wonder if any of them know what a normal day is like.

To write a book like this while still in college, however, is a remarkable accomplishment and I think the author shows a lot of talent, particularly when she develops certain characters. I also love the cover, which is what attracted me to the book and convinced me to read it. I look forward to more books by Redgate and recommend Seven Ways We Lie to readers who like books with modern teen drama.

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