Book Club Mom’s summer recommendations – grab a book and some fresh air!

Image: Pixabay

Summer reads have a certain feel about them and grabbing the right book can take you back to when you had long lazy days stretching out in front of you. Now, for many of us, it’s more a matter of creating the mood of an endless summer. So steal an hour, find a nice place in a park, in your yard or even at home with the windows open, and dig into a book that will grab you right away. Here are some recommendations to help you choose:


Dig Right In

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – light, entertaining historical fiction during the late 1800s when billionaire American families match their daughters with cash-poor dukes and princes in need of American money.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer – set in Greenwich Village, NY, Greta discovers her 1985 self living in two other time periods, one in 1918 and one in 1941.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – historical fiction and fascinating portrait of Truman Capote and his distinct sides, as both pet and confidante to the New York upper class, and serious writer.

Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed – great story about a mother who believes she is doing the right thing, but can’t see its impact until decades later.


Family Dramas

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – a complicated family from Baltimore, full of secrets and an unacknowledged division between its members.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – great family saga that begins in the 1960s with six kids from two different families, thrown together because of an affair, a divorce and then a marriage.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub – light beach read about a dysfunctional family on a trip from Manhattan to Spain for some forced family vacation fun.

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde – a man goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, changing his life in unimaginable ways.


Historical Fiction

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – classic tale about post-war immigration from Ireland to America.

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor – set in NY in 1950 during the Red Scare, the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, arrested for spying for the Russians.

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – biographical novel about Emily Dickinson and a fictional coming-of-age story about her young Irish maid.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – a look at Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and their six-year marriage, spent mostly in Paris.


Secrets and Suspense

The Dry by Jane Harper – atmospheric thriller set on the edge of the Australia’s bushland during a devastating drought.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey – an old woman on the edge of dementia falls into a confused world of memories and suspicions, certain that her friend Elizabeth is missing.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian – a flight attendant wakes up after a night of heavy drinking and discovers she is in bed with a man who has been brutally murdered.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Young Adult story about mysterious events of one summer, forcing a family through painful changes.


I hope you find a good place to escape for a bit. What will you read?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Miracle Creek
by
Angie Kim

Rating:

To what lengths would you go to achieve normalcy? To fit in? To have the kind of regular life that everyone around you seems to enjoy? Would you lie? Would you commit murder? Would you frame someone else for the crime? These questions are rooted in Miracle Creek, a mystery/courtroom drama in which a young mother stands trial for the murder of her 8-year-old autistic son.

In her debut novel, Angie Kim shows how a controversial treatment for autism and other health problems can lead to desperation. Parents and others in this story hope that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (H-BOT) will correct, reverse and improve autism, brain damage and even infertility, and give their families the normal lives they deserve.

The story takes place in 2008, in Miracle Creek, Virginia, and is set at the Yoo family’s H-BOT facility where they call their chamber the “Miracle Submarine.” After years of sacrifice, Pak Yoo, his wife, Young and their teenage daughter, Mary, have moved to Miracle Creek to set up their business. Young and Mary have been in the country for four years, waiting for Pak to join them. He has been a “wild-goose-father” in Korea, working for an H-BOT company and preparing to come to America. They are certain this is how they will secure a future for Mary.

Regulars include three hyper-focused mothers who are desperate to improve their children’s, and their own, lives and a young man seeking fertility treatment. During one evening session, an explosion rips through the barn where the chamber is housed. Two people are killed, including the boy, Henry Ward, and others are severely injured. Henry’s mother, Elizabeth, had chosen not to enter the chamber with her son that night and everyone suspects murder.

The story quickly advances one year to the trial where testimony and back stories fill in missing pieces, with just enough lies, secrets, rivalry and false friendships between the mothers to cast doubt on others besides Elizabeth. In a parallel story about fitting in, the reader also learns more about Pak Yoo, his family and their struggles to assimilate into American life, including the prejudice against and ignorance about their Korean culture.

Throughout, Pak is honor-bound to lead and protect his family and Young must decide whether to obey or to think for herself. In addition, Mary’s secret teenage life reveals a shocking relationship with repercussions that shake both their family and the others involved in the treatment.

One of the strongest parts of the story is how Kim’s characters experience a range of troubling emotions including resentment and wild fantasies about being freed from their burdens and contemplating whose life is more worth saving, a sobering look at the roller coaster lives of special needs families.

I enjoyed reading Miracle Creek because of its original ideas and engaging plot and recommend it to readers who like character-driven stories about the devastating impact secrets can have. I’m looking forward to future stories by Angie Kim!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Club Mom’s May recap – books, birthdays and a graduation

I don’t know what happened to May, but here we are at the finish. It’s a big month for birthdays in my family and we squeezed in a college graduation too! It’s always nice to settle into a comfy chair during the down times and relax with a book, a show or a puzzle.

I’ve become a bit crazy with a word game I have on my ancient Kindle called Every Word: Crossings, and I have been playing it obsessively. I never look at that as a waste of time, though. Things like that always help me sort out my day.

And I went a little overboard with my Barbie doll posts (see below), but it’s been fun (for me, at least!) sharing something that I loved as a girl.


This month, I read and reviewed three regular books:

 

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – if you like mystery series, this is the first of the Bess Crawford stories, set in England during World War I. I enjoyed both the characters and the historical setting. The author, Charles Todd, is actually a mother-son writing team.


More and more, it seems, fiction books are being co-authored and this month I wrote a post about this very thing!

Author teams and pen names – if the story’s good, does it matter? Not to me!


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – in this memoir about becoming a female scientist, Jahren writes a compelling personal story about family, love, friendship, mental health and the difficulties of earning a living as a scientist. (Jahren made it big, after a long road, and has won many awards.)


The Beneficiary – Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of my Father by Janny Scott – a biography of Robert Montgomery Scott, written by his daughter. A tale of four generations of a wealthy Main Line, Pennsylvania family and their 800-acre estate and the complicated relationships among family members.


As I mentioned above, I also started a series that celebrates books about the Barbie doll’s 60th birthday. Here are the first two posts, indulging my obsession. I’ll share my final Barbie post next week.

Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967 by Sarah Sink Eames


May was a busier indie author month. I introduced three hard-working writers:

Richard Doiron
Lucia N. Davis
Frank Prem

If you are an indie or self-published author and would like to be featured on Who’s That Indie Author, please email me at bvitelli2009@gmail.com. To shake things up, I’ve updated my interview with a new set of questions!


Next week, we’re starting a Summer Reading program at the library where I work, so I’ll be signing up for that. I plan to work these two books onto my list:

June book previews: Lot – Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim


And last, I was sorry to see that American author Herman Wouk died on May 17, at age 103. I’ve enjoyed many of his books and think I will go back to some of them this summer. I had a fun time looking at these book covers – did you notice that the last two, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, fit together to make a bigger picture?

Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

I hope you had a good month, out in the world and between the pages. I’m looking forward to a good summer!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

June book previews: Lot Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Here are two books that have settled into a place on my coffee table. They have been patiently calling to me and I am determined to read them in June.


Lot Stories by Bryan Washington

A collection of 13 short stories set in the city of Houston, Texas. Told mainly by the son of a black mother and a Latino father, a young man who is just beginning to figure out who he is. “Bryan Washington’s brilliant, viscerally drawn world vibrates with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home.” Because I like short fiction, I’m already drawn to this collection. I like that the stories are integrated and think I will enjoy this debut.


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

I don’t know how best to describe this debut novel except to share parts of the inside jacket description:

“A literary courtroom thriller about an immigrant family and a young single mother accused of killing her autistic son…”

The book takes place in rural Miracle Creek, Virginia and is about “an experimental medical treatment device called the Miracle Submarine. A pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic ‘dives,’ it’s also a repository of hopes and dreams…” During treatment, the oxygen chamber explodes and kills two people and these events lead to a murder trial.

I haven’t read a courtroom thriller in a long time, so I’m looking forward to what sounds like a unique story!

Do these books interest you? What is next on your list?

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A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

A Duty to the Dead
by
Charles Todd

Rating:

If you’re looking for an entertaining historical mystery, you’ll enjoy A Duty to the Dead, a story set in England during World War I. This is the first book of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, written by a mother-son duo, who introduce Bess as a highly skilled young nurse aboard the doomed HMHS Britannic. Bess narrowly escapes death when the ship hits a mine and soon an unfulfilled promise to a soldier on an earlier ship assignment nags her. Arthur Graham, a dying English soldier, begged her to deliver a curious message: “Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. But it has to be set right.”

Bess knows it would have been her failure if she had died before trying to reach Arthur’s brother. And although her father, the retired Colonel Richard Crawford, is grateful she’s alive, he advises her, “But you have a responsibility not to put it off again. A duty to the dead is sacred. I needn’t tell you that.”

When Bess delivers the message, Jonathan Graham acts strangely. She’s fulfilled her duty, but she can’t let go. A medical emergency delays her departure and soon Bess is caught up in the Graham family affairs. Her nursing skills prove helpful, but her curiosity leads to hints of a chilling family secret. There’s only one person who can explain, but he’s locked in an asylum.

I enjoyed this mystery as much for the story as for its cast of characters. The Graham family has a lot to hide and although the people in the small town of Owlhurst can’t figure things out for themselves, they help Bess put the pieces together. And it becomes clear that her duty to the dead extends way beyond her promise to Arthur Graham. Interesting side stories enhance this mystery as the reader sorts out facts and events.

A Duty to the Dead is a fast and light read, but it also includes serious themes such as the damaging effects of war on both soldiers and families left behind, as well as the young men deemed unfit to serve. In addition, the author challenges the reader to think about responsibility for a crime. Does the blame lay on just one person, or do conspiracy and complicity make others just as guilty?

I liked how the author used this time period to show what people do during wartime and how their perceptions of danger change. Bess Crawford, barely out of her teens, has developed a courageous, confident and independent character, which serves her well as both a nurse and an amateur detective. I expect she will handle many challenges in the next books with the skills she shows in her first adventure. A Duty to the Dead was published in 2009 and there are eleven more for fans to enjoy. You can see the full list here.

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall
by
Noah Hawley

Rating:

Is it good luck to survive a plane crash over the Atlantic? Most would think yes, but Scott Burroughs, after a heroic swim to safety, with four-year-old JJ Bateman clinging to his neck, may wonder. Because he will soon find himself caught between competing government agencies searching for a cause and the media’s ruthless pursuit of a story, any story, even if it’s unfounded.

When Maggie Bateman offers Scott a seat on her private plane, he sees the quick jaunt from Martha’s Vineyard to New York as a way to avoid the ferry. Scott, a moneyless artist and recovering alcoholic, is an unlikely passenger on a plane for the ultra-rich. The remaining passengers include Maggie’s husband, David, a cable news mogul, their two young children, Wall Street millionaire investor Ben Kipling and his wife, Sarah. A body guard, two pilots, and a glamorous flight attendant complete the list, each with a story. But only Scott and young JJ will survive to tell what they know of it. The media won’t believe Scott and JJ is only four. The rest is up to investigators.

Everyone wants to know what made flight 613 go down. Was it terrorism? A conspiracy? Something else? The news machine has plenty of fuel for the fire, fanned by sensationalist ALC News personality Bill Cunningham, whose means to get a story are not always above board. And initially lauded as a hero, Scott soon becomes the target of the investigation, once his artwork is discovered. Is there meaning in these shocking portrayals?

Broken into chapters about each passenger and with descriptions of Scott’s paintings, Hawley’s story allows readers to develop their own theories. Many answers lay hidden in the airplane’s two black boxes and the truth will come out if they are recovered.

Before the Fall is not just about a plane crash. It’s a commentary on heroism, personal strength, wealth, power, the media and the question of “information versus entertainment.” It’s described as an international thriller and suspense novel, but I think it’s just a great story about how the truth is often obstructed by the human tendency to jump to conclusions. Heroes and happy endings are also hidden, but they’re in there somewhere.

Before the Fall is the winner of the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2017 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel. I recommend this book to readers who like big stories, with each character contributing to the plot surrounding a single event, and to readers who enjoy books that represent our society’s mishmash of beliefs, values and questionable morals.

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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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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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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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Blue Monday by Nicci French

Blue Monday
by
Nicci French

Rating:

Before I tell you why I loved this terrific book, I want to give you a little background about the novel and the authors. Published in 2011 and set in London, Blue Monday is the first in a series of eight mystery thrillers featuring Frieda Klein, a highly regarded psychoanalyst who, in this story, becomes entangled in a kidnapping investigation. Nicci French is the pseudonym for married suspense writers, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Together they have written over twenty books. You can find out more about Nicci French and the Frieda Klein series here.

Blue Monday’s story begins with Alan Dekker, one of Klein’s patients, who is tormented by disturbing recurring dreams of a young boy. Dekker is desperate to have a son of his own and the boy in his dreams eerily resembles recently kidnapped five-year-old Matthew Faraday. What’s the connection?

“This is the place where you’re allowed to say anything. There are no limits,” she tells Dekker. But is that really the case? In no time, Frieda finds herself in the middle of the investigation, led by Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. He wonders if Matthew’s disappearance is related to a similar kidnapping twenty years earlier. A concrete evidence detective, he must then rely on Klein’s unconventional methods, and giving into her ideas may take them down the wrong path.

Getting to know Klein is not an easy task. Only happy when in control, professionally and personally, she relies on long late-night walks through deserted London neighborhoods to clear her head. Readers get to know her as she manages relationships with several secondary characters, including Sandy, a new love interest who wants a bigger commitment.

One of the things I enjoyed about Blue Monday is that it is a character-driven mystery. The authors’ characters are both interesting and complex, with their own sets of problems. They give the reader plenty to think about as they come into contact with what I’ll call the authors’ mood influencers: the dark London streets, deserted neighborhoods, gray fog and mist, all connected by the various rivers that run into and through the River Thames. In addition, I especially liked reading about Klein’s apartment, a safe spot she fiercely protects against intrusion.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing the authors’ clever and changing plot development. Twists and turns to the very last pages make Blue Monday a highly entertaining book. Some hanging details and a whopper development at the finish set the scene for the next book, Tuesday’s Gone. I’m looking forward to working my way through this series.

I recommend Blue Monday to readers who enjoy interesting characters and the challenge of unraveling a smart mystery.

And what’s the meaning behind the book’s title, Blue Monday? It “is about beginnings but also about the difficulty of beginning, its pains and regrets and fears. It also happens to be the title of two (very different) great songs—by Fats Domino and New Order,” explain the authors. (Read the full interview at penguinrandomhouse.com.)

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