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The Glass Forest Book Review – A mystery novel by Cynthia Swanson

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In the autumn of 1960, Angie Glass is living an idyllic life in her Wisconsin hometown. At twenty-one, she’s married to charming, handsome Paul, and has just given birth to a baby boy. But one phone call changes her life forever.

When Paul’s niece, Ruby, reports that her father, Henry, has committed suicide, and that her mother, Silja, is missing, Angie and Paul drop everything and fly to the small upstate town of Stonekill, New York to be by Ruby’s side.

Angie thinks they’re coming to the rescue of Paul’s grief-stricken young niece, but Ruby is a composed and enigmatic seventeen-year-old who resists Angie’s attempts to nurture her. As Angie learns more about the complicated Glass family, staying in Henry and Silja’s eerie and ultra-modern house on the edge of the woods, she begins to question the very fabric of her own marriage.

Through Silja’s flashbacks, Angie’s discovery of astonishing truths, and Ruby’s strategic dissection of her parents’ state of affairs, a story of love, secrets, and ultimate betrayal is revealed.

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Book Review

The Glass Forest is truly atmospheric and entirely captivating from the outside cover art, which is one of my favorite cover designs so far this year, to midway through its 338 pages. Its 1960’s setting is foreign yet familiar in a way that excites and uncovers.  I found myself entirely convinced of the time period by the gorgeous descriptions of clothing and mod architecture, but particularly through the mindset of young mother and housewife, Angie. 

I really felt for Angie, this young wife and mother, who believes that happiness is a clean house and a handsome husband. Throughout the novel, we see how the results of that poor logic play out. She is a heartfelt character, and one who strives to be her best. It is painful at times to watch her naivete get in the way of her good intentions.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition really. We have Angie, a mother in her early 20’s who is still very much a child trying to become an adult. And then we have Ruby, who may only be in her late teens but who behaves more like an adult than most people in their mid-30’s. 

Ruby is the darkest and most mysterious of all The Glass Forest’s characters. It is her striking intellect and her startling observance of the lives around her that make you eager to reach the end of the novel. However, the male characters in this book fell a bit flat. I could argue that this lacking aspect made the novel more open to the exploration of the female characters, whom the novel truly surrounds—but I would find that a poor excuse. 

It’s true that this moody little novel grows darker as the pages number grow larger. There is a sense of imminence from page one that you can’t help but want to see resolved. It’s this foreboding aura that makes the first half of the novel so appealing, but also leads to a dissatisfying ending. It makes a promise of unexpected secrets and hints at a startling close. However, by the time you’ve reached the novel’s final page you can’t help but feel it fell a bit short on that promise. 

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What would you change?

It’s a a lot of waiting for something to happen, yet when it finally does I couldn’t help but feel it was less than it suggested. A bit predictable, a bit haphazard, I would have liked to see some aspects tied up a little prettier.

Without giving anything away, I appreciate bread crumbs in a mystery novel. Something small that leads you back to the path you started on. When those breadcrumbs are properly placed on the meandering path of a mystery/thriller fiction it gives the most satisfying feeling of, “I should have seen that coming.” Instead, I felt struck by some of the plot points that I believe should have been hinted at within the first quarter of the work. 

There was one aspect of the writing style that really threw me off. Each chapter was told from a different character perspective: Ruby, Silja (Ruby’s mother), and Angie. While I usually quite enjoy alternating perspectives, Angie’s chapters were written in first person, but Ruby and Silja’s were told in third. I found that style choice very distancing, distracting from the overall narrative, and—in my eyes—unnecessary. 

The Bottom Line

The Glass Forest is an enjoyable, atmospheric mystery novel with a vintage edge. Best suited for those who enjoy character studies over a startling plot.

Verdict: Borrow It
Page Length: 352
Publisher: Touchstone (Feb 6, 2018) 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review of The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson. Keep scrolling for a rating breakdown and pro/con list.

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tag: The Glass Forest Book Review

Good Things

  • Plenty of intrique
  • Really fun vintage vibe
  • Dark & atmospheric

Bad Things

  • A bit haphazard in plot execution
  • Perspective shift in each chapter was confusing
  • The writing could have been more eloquent

The Breakdown


Characters
7
Plot
8
Writing Style
6



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