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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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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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient
by
Alex Michaelides

Rating:

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. Before the murder, they lived the good life. Alicia was a well-known artist and her husband, Gabriel, was a famous photographer. Now she sits silent. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist and he’s been obsessed with Alicia’s case from the beginning. So he jumps when a job opens up at the Grove. The doctors have given up on her, but Theo is determined to get Alicia to speak. Despite warnings from his boss, Theo digs so deep into Alicia’s psyche he may not be able to free himself.

What a great set-up for a suspenseful psychological thriller! I tore through this fast-paced story because I was both engrossed in the plot and anxious to see what Michaelides’ characters would do. The story is told from both Theo’s and Alicia’s perspectives, with Theo as the narrator and through Alicia’s journal entries. Readers will need to do some work, however, because they won’t get the full story from either, not until the finish where a final and unexpected twist explains it all.

Although plot driven, The Silent Patient is also a look at different psychologies and how vulnerable children are to their circumstances, especially in relationships to their parents and other family. Both Theo and Alicia suffered miserable childhoods and were subjected to pain and rejection. Through his story, the author asks important questions about nature versus nurture. Would his characters be different people if they’d had better childhoods?

Michaelides also cleverly ties The Silent Patient to the Greek play, Alcestis and the tragic choices that are made between Alcestis and her husband. I enjoyed this parallel very much and how it explains Alicia’s behavior.

The Silent Patient is the author’s debut novel and the type of book you want to start and finish in the same day. I recommend it to readers who like the fast pace of a thriller with the bonus of interesting characters and ideas.

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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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Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

Those Girls
by
Chevy Stevens

Rating:

Three teenage girls are on the run when they leave their small town of Littlefield in western Canada to escape an abusive past and start new lives in Vancouver. Can they forget the violence they suffered?

In this fast-paced thriller, Dani, Courtney and Jess Campbell never stop running from what happened in Littlefield, and the horrors they meet when their truck breaks down in Cash Creek. Dani’s the leader, Courtney’s the pretty one and Jess has the brains to do great things. But they must all work together to survive.

The scars of their abuse take different forms, probably the most interesting part of the story, as the three girls try to build normal lives in Vancouver. It looks as if they may succeed until Courtney’s boyfriend turns out to be bad news and she decides the only way to get rid of the past is to confront it head on.

But new dangers await the girls, now women. It’s a race against time culminating in a shocking finish.

Themes of female empowerment run strong in this battle between good and evil, as well as the importance of family and friends, and readers will have no trouble deciding which side to take.

A note of caution: Those Girls contains many detailed violent scenes and readers may question how necessary these descriptions are. I think that, while some of the early events establish the author’s characters, later scenes seem over the top. In addition, readers will need to let go of reality during the final showdown between the women and their abusers. It’s better just to go along for the ride than say, “That would never happen!”

I recommend Those Girls, with this warning, to readers who enjoy thrillers and stories about women overcoming abuse.

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For more stories about female empowerment and overcoming abuse, check out this audio book review of Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens, narrated by Rachel Fulginiti and Caitlin Davies.

Exposed by Lisa Scottoline

Exposed
by
Lisa Scottoline

Rating:

Simon Pensiera, one of the top sales reps from OpenSpace, the biggest office cubicle manufacturer in the area, has lost his job. After only one month of missing his quota, he’s sure he has been wrongly fired and that his termination is because of his young daughter’s leukemia and the high cost of treatments, including an upcoming bone marrow transplant. His boss, Todd Eddington, is worried about the insurance policy and tells him, “These expenses are going to kill us this quarter. It’s really too much. We can’t keep this up. They’re going to raise our rates.”

In comes Mary DiNunzio, Simon’s childhood friend from South Philly. She’s a lawyer now and has just made partner at Rosato & DiNunzio. There’s no question she’ll take the case, until Bennie Rosato tells her there’s a conflict of interest. OpenSpace is a subsidiary of their biggest client and Bennie isn’t about to jeopardize her relationship with Dumbarton Industries or Nate Lence, the company’s CEO and Bennie’s classmate from law school.

Pretty soon it’s Rosato versus DiNunzio and Mary must decide what to do. Her entire South Philly neighborhood, including a very sick little girl, is counting on her and she must find a way. And then, a shocking murder puts the wrong person in jail and Mary and her partner in danger. Can they solve the murder and fix things for Simon and his little girl, Rachel?

There are several subplots, including Mary’s relationship with the super-aggressive and take-no-prisoners Bennie, who used to be her boss. Both Mary and Bennie have significant others, which spices up the story a bit. Scottoline also describes Rachel’s illness, her treatments and preparation for a bone marrow transplant. Rachel is surrounded by a large, supportive family and neighborhood, which contributes to the author’s feel-good description of family and relationships. Much of the book is set at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and is a worthy shout-out to the great care she receives.

I had not read a Lisa Scottoline book until now. Scottoline has written twenty-nine novels and Exposed is the fifth book in Scottoline’s Rosato & DiNunzio series. The author provides plenty of back story and Exposed can be read as a standalone.

I went in with an open mind, however, I can’t say I enjoyed this book much. It was an easy read, but I found the plot far-fetched, a little boring and the characters stereotypical. In particular, Scottoline’s South Philly characters are over the top, especially her hard-of-hearing father whose dialogue is displayed in ALL CAPS. Scottoline also devotes the first half of the book to a dry legal debate about conflict of interest, so readers need to wait patiently for the action to begin.

In addition, editing mistakes, including repetitive phrases, dialogue and physically impossible descriptions, make me feel like this book was cranked out without much polish. I wish I could say I liked this book. I know the author has a huge fan base, but for me, Scottoline is a one and done.

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

 

Sharp Objects
by
Gillian Flynn

Rating:

Frank Curry, editor of Chicago’s Daily Post, thinks he’s doing a good thing by sending Camille Preaker to cover a murder investigation in her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri. Camille is just out of a stay in a psych ward and Curry thinks this assignment will get her back on track.

A nine-year-old girl has been murdered in Wind Gap and now a ten-year-old girl is missing. When the second girl’s body is discovered, details of the murder suggest a serial killer. Is the killer a stranger to the town or, more disturbingly, one of them?

Camille’s return to the small town is anything but a warm family reunion. It’s been eight years since she’s visited her mother, stepfather and younger half-sister, Amma. Readers quickly discover a strange and dysfunctional family dynamic. Adora Crellin is a controlling mother to thirteen-year-old Amma, a girl who wears pigtails at home, but runs wild in town. And Camille soon notices their mother’s obsession with Amma’s health, who often suffers from fevers and undetermined illnesses. She wonders if Amma is like their sickly and now dead sister, Marian, who died when Camille was thirteen. Marian’s death marks a dark turning point in the family’s history, a time when Camille turned to self-harm to cope.

Camille gathers information for a series of articles as local police and a special detective from Kansas City look for a suspect and motive. A romantic spark between Camille and the detective leads to shared information that may solve the crimes and put Camille back on track, or not. Several false leads initially distract Camille and police from finding the killer, but help the reader understand Wind Gap’s small-town culture.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll need to stop short of describing the rest of the story and leave the discoveries to the reader. I enjoyed Sharp Objects, a fast-paced suspenseful thriller. Published in 2006, it is Flynn’s debut novel and, while it is similar to Gone Girl (2012) in its darkness and unlikeable and twisted characters, plot and character are less developed. (Read my review of Gone Girl here.) Readers also need to let go of a need for realistic scenarios and accept the developments at the finish as part of the need to wrap things up.

In addition to a suspenseful story, Flynn draws attention to the devastating effects of mental illnesses, especially those that lead to cutting and other forms of self-harm. I recommend Sharp Objects to readers who enjoy dark suspenseful stories. Sharp Objects is now an HBO series. You can check it out here.

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The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon
by
Dashiell Hammett

Rating:

I wasn’t sure how I felt about reading a hardboiled detective novel from the 1930s, even though I remember liking the Humphrey Bogart movie years ago. But one page in and I understood why Dashiell Hammett is considered a master of this genre. It’s a tightly written story about detective Sam Spade, three murders, a valuable falcon statue and an assortment of shrewd characters on both sides of the law.

The story begins when a beautiful and mysterious Miss Wonderly hires Spade and his partner Miles Archer to keep an eye on man she claims has run off with her teenage sister. Spade and Archer might not believe their new client, but they take the assignment and her retainer. When Archer and the man he’s following turn up dead, the first person the police suspect is Spade. That begins the reader’s view into the long-standing antagonistic relationship between Spade and the police, specifically Detective Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy.

Written in the external third-person narrative, the reader gets no look into the characters’ thoughts and must decide their motives and truthfulness based entirely on their words and actions. There are plenty of shady characters to figure out, too. Spade quickly discovers Miss Wonderly is lying, that her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy and that she’s deeply mixed up in a scheme to get the priceless falcon. But the truth is also muddled up by others who want the bird, a bejeweled and fashionable Joel Cairo, a slick-talking Caspar Gutman and his bodyguard Wilmer.

Spade’s character is a fascinating mix between calculating, cutthroat, self-serving and occasionally soft-hearted, particularly around beautiful women. That makes for plenty of romantic tension between him and O’Shaughnessy, who is just as slick to manage. She says she’s hired him to help her get the statue, which she’s promised to Gutman. Whether it’s a square deal is for the reader to discover in a twisted and fast-moving plot with plenty of red herrings.

The only woman who has Spade figured out is his loyal secretary Effie Perine, who is willing to put up with a lot of guff because she genuinely likes him. The fondness is mutual, but seemingly platonic, with some teasing affection, and maybe that’s why it works.

The big showdown at the end between all the bird’s players is a section worthy of several re-reads, first to get the facts and later to enjoy the smart and manipulative negotiations between Spade and the rest. It’s never clear, until the final page, who has the upper hand.

Every word counts in this terrific story which is just over 200 pages and both easy and fun to read. I recommend The Maltese Falcon to readers of crime fiction and to all readers who are looking for a great story.

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Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry
by
Neal Shusterman
Jarrod Shusterman

Rating:

For sixteen-year-old Alyssa and her family, the drought in southern California was nothing new. It meant conserving water, as in shorter showers and no watering the lawns. Life went on otherwise and no one was thinking disaster. No one except the McCrackens. But they were the strange, reclusive neighbors across the street who had taken their survivalist hobby to the extreme. No one to take seriously.

Now what the news channels had been calling a flow crisis is a sudden Tap-Out. No water. And in a matter of days, throughout the region, civilized communities become desperate rioting mobs, with no way to get out. When Alyssa and her younger brother, Garrett are separated from their parents, it’s up to the kids to survive on their own. But how and for how long? With a hurricane occupying the rest of the nation’s attention, does anyone outside of southern California know how bad it is?

It’s anything goes as friends and neighbors face the grim truth and Alyssa and Garrett must ask themselves how far they will go to survive, whom they will trust and just how much they will help others.

In Neal Shusterman’s brand new book (published 10/2/18), he teams with his son, Jarrod to write a fantastic Young Adult study of climate change and human behavior under extreme stress. They offer a mix of realistic characters with emerging traits of leadership and changing degrees of moral standards, selfishness and violence. Told in the present tense, in varying points of view, Dry is an intense, consuming story that will make readers ask themselves, “What would I do?”

I recommend Dry to readers who enjoy fast-paced action stories that look into how people react to threats and danger.

For another story about the effects of a drought on a town, check out:

The Dry by Jane Harper

And if you like apocalyptic/dystopian survival stories, you may also like:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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