Audiobook review: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn, read by Ann Marie Lee

The Woman
in the Window
by
A. J. Finn

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Here’s a quick audiobook review of The Woman by the Window by A. J. Finn, read by Ann Marie Lee. This is a suspenseful psychological thriller set in New York about a woman who has suffered an unexplained tragedy and now lives apart from her husband and young daughter. An agoraphobic, she hasn’t left her house in nearly a year. Instead, she watches old Hitchcock movies, drinks wine, self-medicates and spies on her neighbors through the zoom lens of a powerful camera. One day, she sees something terrible through the window of a new family’s home. When she tries to report it, no one believes her and she begins to wonder if she imagined it. Her increasingly frantic, and unreliable narrative places the reader (and listener) in the mind of an unraveling trained psychologist who can’t treat herself properly.

Through interactions with her family, psychiatrist, online chess players, fellow agoraphobes, her physical therapist, neighbors and the man who rents her basement apartment, Dr. Anna Fox’s back story comes into focus. But while the details of her story may become clear, what isn’t clear is whether she saw what she thought she saw. Readers may want to believe her because she describes the details so vividly, but there’s a lot else going on with the neighbors and her tenant to cause suspicion. As Fox continues to drink recklessly and down her medications in fistfuls, Finn propels Fox towards a tense showdown between her own demons and others.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Woman in the Window. Ann Marie Lee is a fantastic narrator of this excellent story. She effectively portrays a wide variety of characters, scenes and emotions and I was gripped throughout. One particularly emotional scene towards the end is especially convincing. I also like how Finn ties the old movies she watches into the plot, particularly Rear Window and Vertigo.

The unreleased 2020 film of The Woman in the Window is directed by Joe Wright and stars Amy Adams and Gary Oldman. It’s scheduled to be released on Netflix in 2021. Read more about the film here and here. I’m looking forward to watching it!

I recommend The Woman in the Window to readers and listeners who like psychological thrillers, though I wouldn’t recommend listening while you’re driving – it’s that engrossing!

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Audiobook review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova, narrated by the author

Still Alice
by
Lisa Genova

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I recently listened to Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a fictional account of a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The story begins with Alice Howland at the peak of her career. At fifty years old, she’s a renowned professor of psycholinguistics at Harvard University. She and her husband, John, a professor of biology, have spent their careers researching and teaching at Harvard. Despite some slight tension in their marriage over John’s lab schedule and a daughter who has skipped college to become an actress, everything is pretty good in the Howland family and with their two other adult children.

But then Alice starts forgetting things and gets lost after a jog, just minutes from her home. And worse lapses follow.

Alice and her family are stunned by the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The book looks at the disease from Alice’s point of view and chronicles her inevitable decline. Genova also shows how the family reacts. John’s denial and then his aggressive search for the best medicines and trials are a reflection of his scientific mind. Because her strain of the disease is genetic, their adult children grapple with the news and results of their own testing. The Howlands rally around Alice, but they also take inward paths. John is sometimes supportive and other times he escapes into his career. Their children are just beginning their adult lives, a period that’s meant for them, not a sick parent. Genova presents an interesting dynamic between the siblings and their parents and shows how they step up, and back, in different ways.

Alice copes in surprising ways. Her brilliant mind has enabled her to use creative work-arounds, a strategy that has likely covered up her disease before she was diagnosed. She offers surprising insight as she devises a private plan to measure and face her decline.

Genova outlines this heartbreaking scenario with detailed scientific explanations and provides many resources for patients and families who suffer with Alzheimer’s.

While I found the story compelling and important, I was disappointed in its telling. Genova presents her story awkwardly. It’s a third-person look into Alice’s mind, using a lot of plain dialogue and coupled with long and scientific explanations of the disease, reading more like an informational pamphlet than a novel. I wanted to learn more about the Howlands and felt these characters could have been better developed, a missed chance that could have made the story great. I was also sorry to have chosen the audiobook version. Genova’s narration was plain with little inflection, making the characters all sound the same. A professional narrator would have made a huge difference.

Still Alice was adapted to film in 2014 and stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parish. It was directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. The film won many awards and Moore won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

All-in-all, I’d recommend Still Alice to readers who want to know more about how Alzheimer’s affects its patients and their families, but I’d steer you to the print version.

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Books on my radar for 2021

It’s that time of the year – you know, when we look to anticipated books of the new year. I found these in a recent post by The Bibliofile: The Best Books of 2021 (Anticipated). Here’s what I picked from Jennifer Marie Lin’s list. All blurbs are from Amazon:

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson (March 23,2021)

I love psychological thrillers and this one caught my eye.

A bride’s dream honeymoon becomes a nightmare when a man with whom she’s had a regrettable one-night stand shows up in this electrifying psychological thriller from the acclaimed author of Eight Perfect Murders.


Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (May 25, 2021)

I enjoyed Reid’s debut novel, Daisy Jones & The Six so I was excited to see that she’s written a new book.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six . . . Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.


The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (February 2, 2021)

I’ve read and enjoyed two books by Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone and Firefly Lane. I also have The Nightingale on my TBR shelf. I like when I find an author I enjoy because of the promise of new books to read.

From Kristin Hannah, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone, comes an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras―the Great Depression.


I don’t always like to line books up to read because I get discouraged when I can’t get to them right away. The publication dates of these are spread out so I’m hoping to be able to fit them in. I’ve also requested them on NetGalley so we’ll see if I’m lucky enough to be approved.

What books are you looking forward to reading next year?

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Audiobook review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty narrated by Caroline Lee

Nine Perfect Strangers
by
Liane Moriarty

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here’s a very different story about nine people who sign up for a ten-day cleanse at Tranquillum House, a pricey boutique health and wellness resort in Australia. Its guests expect mindful eating, meditation and a break from their bad habits, unhealthy lifestyles and failures. Some of the guests just want to lose weight or cut back on alcohol, one couple wants to work on their marriage, and others have more specific issues. The director promises a complete transformation.

“Right now you’re at the foot of a mountain and the summit seems impossibly far away, but I am here to help you reach that summit. In ten days, you will not be the person you are now,” promises Masha, Tranquillum House’s director.

“You will leave Tranquillum House feeling happier, healthier, lighter, freer,” she continues.

The attendees are indeed strangers, but as expected, they will soon learn a great deal about each other. Frances Welty is a successful romance novelist, but she’s been burned in a relationship and she may be losing her touch as a writer. Ben and Jessica are a young couple whose lives should be great after winning the lottery, but their marriage is in big trouble. Napoleon, Heather and Zoe Marconi are there to brace the third anniversary of Zoe’s brother’s death. Tony Hogburn, a former football star, is divorced and out of shape. Carmel Schneider is a single mother of four young girls, whose husband left her for someone new. And Lars Lee is a handsome divorce lawyer struggling with relationship problems.

The cleanse includes the expected smoothies, fasting, massages and meditation. Masha and her assistants Yao and Delilah also impose an unexpected “noble silence” which forbids talking and eye contact with each other. And there’s more to come.

Frances knows that some of the practices at Tranquillum House are unconventional. Her massage therapist warned her and said, “Just don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.” But other than fasting and silence, which is pretty uncomfortable, Frances feels pretty good. And so do others. They have all put their trust in Masha, mostly.

Here’s where the story gets interesting because Masha isn’t an ordinary health resort director. She’s a Russian immigrant who’s undergone her own major transformation. Once an aggressive corporate star, she didn’t take care of herself and nearly died. Her eventual awakening motivated her to reinvent herself and  teach others how to do the same.

What comes next for the guests is indeed unconventional.

I downloaded Nine Perfect Strangers on a whim, looking for something to listen to while I walked. I’d listened to Truly Madly Guilty a couple years ago and liked it. And I read What Alice Forgot in 2014 and enjoyed that story too.

Nine Perfect Strangers is described as a mystery, suspense and thriller and that is basically true. But it’s a bigger story about flawed people who change in some ways, but also embrace who they are. I enjoyed listening to this story and the narrator does a great job with the voices. I think the audio version is all the better because of her portrayal of Masha, who to me is the most interesting character in the story. I recommend Nine Perfect Strangers to readers (and listeners) who like a good, long story about relationships, overcoming grief and personal and family crises.

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Book Club Mom’s October 2020 recap

I had a great October, but it was very busy at work and at home. Despite the busy times, I managed to squeeze in some good books, a movie and some short fiction, as well as keep up with author updates and two new indie author profiles. And I made the leap to Instagram, so far a lot of fun! Click here if you want to connect with me there.

I’ve started using the new block editor, so bear with me as I find my way around.

These are the last of some flowers I grew from seeds over the summer. I forget the name, but aren’t they pretty?

Here’s a rundown of what happened on Book Club Mom this month.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – 5 stars

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand – 3.5 stars

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely – 4.5 stars

Looker by Laura Sims – 4 stars

From left: Carrie Rubin, Jill Weatherholt and Giselle Roeder

Carrie Rubin

Jill Weatherholt

Giselle Roeder

From left: Jonathan Pongratz and Bill Moseley

Jonathan Pongratz

Bill Moseley

Rebecca (1940)

The Best American Short Stories 2004 – “Intervention” by Jill McCorkle

How was your month? I hope you are staying healthy and finding fun things to do.

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Audiobook Review: The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

The Perfect Couple
by
Elin Hilderbrand

Even though summer is over, I decided to try one of Elin Hilderbrand’s popular beach reads. I listened to the audiobook version of The Perfect Couple. This is the third book of the author’s Nantucket Series and, although I hadn’t read the first two, the story is very easy to follow as a standalone.

Set on Nantucket, Massachusetts, the story begins on the eve of Celeste Otis and Benji Winbury’s wedding and it’s a classic story of the stark contrast between the wealthy and regular folks. Benji’s parents are English and dripping in money. His mother, Greer, is a famous mystery writer and his father, Tag made his money in a vaguely-described investment career. Benji sits on some boards and lives in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, with a trust fund coming his way. Celeste, however, comes from much more modest beginnings in Easton, Pennsylvania. Now she is the head herpetologist at the Bronx Zoo’s World of Reptiles. Her parents, Bruce and Karen, work every day jobs: Bruce in the men’s department at Nieman Marcus and Karen at the Crayola factory gift shop.

The Winburys are revered and established vacationers on Nantucket and the lavish wedding will take place at their Summerland retreat by the sea. Karen Otis is dying of breast cancer, Greer has taken over the wedding plans, and money is no object.

Guests arrive for the rehearsal dinner and are greeted with plenty of lobster, oysters, fancy hors d’oeuvres and strong drinks, prelude to a fancy dinner. As the alcohol flows, things begin to happen. But despite drama between various characters, all systems are go for the wedding until a shocking death halts the plans.

As details emerge, Chief of Police Ed Kapenash investigates and several guests are under suspicion. Between Kapenash’s investigations and alternating chapters in which the reader learns how Celeste and Benji meet and the back stories of both families, Hilderbrand challenges the reader to come up with a definition of the perfect couple.

The Perfect Couple is a true beach read as well as a light mystery, told in an expected soap opera format. Stereotyped characters and lots of references to brands, fashion, food and local attractions are a given. This story is in the pure entertainment category, with some touching moments and more serious themes, including love, family, and friendship. I enjoyed listening to this story and recommend it when you’re looking for something light and fun.

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Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel Canto
by
Ann Patchett

Here’s a perfect example of a book that is great to re-read. I remember loving Bel Canto the first time I read it so on a recent trip to the beach and with the need to grab something quick, I chose Bel Canto from my shelf. Published in 2001, it begins with a lavish birthday party held at the home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country. Japanese businessman Katsumi Hosokawa, chairman of the largest electronics firm in Japan, is the guest of honor and the hosts hope to convince him to build a plant in their country.

Mr. Hosokawa is a passionate opera lover and the only reason he’s there is because Roxanne Coss, the beautiful and most talented opera singer in the world, has agreed to perform.

Everything goes wrong just after she performs. Terrorists invade the home in order to kidnap the country’s president. When they discover the president is not there, the three generals and fifteen young soldiers have to decide what to do about the nearly two hundred guests who are now hostages.

After the initial release of all the staff, women and children, except Roxanne Coss, the group of hostages has been reduced to forty. In a fascinating stand-off between the terrorists and the country’s government, days become weeks and then extend to months, during which the generals, their soldiers and the hostages undergo remarkable transformations. Days revolve around the hostages’ infatuation with Miss Coss, her music, and her daily practice sessions. Another central figure is Mr. Hosokawa’s personal translator, Gen Watanabe, who takes on the all-consuming task of interpreting negotiations and helping the international guests communicate with each other. Other important characters include Joachim Messner a negotiator from the International Red Cross, whose patience is tried as talks drag on, Vice President Ruben Iglesias, who assumes a completely different role in his own home, and of course, Mr. Hosakowa, who didn’t want to attend the party, but may have found happiness as a hostage. There are many other great characters, including the generals and their soldiers and Patchett shows their personalities and human sides to give the reader an understanding of their lives and their cause. These and other surprises are best for the reader to discover first-hand.

The group settles into a new and comfortable routine. Life is pretty good at the vice president’s home and many are in no hurry for the conflict to be resolved. In addition, hostages and their captors begin to form tentative friendships, blurring the lines between them. They may be in denial, but Messner and the reader know that this can’t go on forever.

I enjoyed Bel Canto just as much the second time around and recommend it to readers who enjoy stories about how people change under constrained and dangerous circumstances. Heroes emerge and others look deep inside themselves. And many discover (ironically) the freedom to redefine themselves during their captivity.

Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors. You can check out my reviews of some of her other books here:

The Dutch House
Commonwealth
State of Wonder

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Book Review: Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward
by
Ann Napolitano

Rating:

Eddie Adler is twelve years old when his family boards a plane to move across the country. He’s grown up in Manhattan where his father has homeschooled Eddie and his fifteen-year-old brother, Jordan. Now the Adlers are headed to Los Angeles where his mom is set to start a new job as a screen writer. There are 192 passengers on the Airbus and when it crashes in the flatlands of northern Colorado. Eddie is the only survivor.

Badly injured and stunned by his new circumstances, Eddie moves in with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey. It’s going to take a long time for Eddie, now Edward, to adjust. He makes friends with Shay, a girl across the street and together they try to make sense of their place in the world. As they grow, their friendship becomes an anchor they both need. At the house, Edward’s aunt and uncle are trying hard, but they have their own personal struggles and marital issues, something Edward becomes more tuned into.

In addition, the Internet is exploding with stories about Edward and the crash and his aunt and uncle do their best to protect him. But is that the right thing to do? What’s the best way to heal and move on? A chance discovery points to a solution but it means confronting the events and memories of his family and the other passengers.

People say Edward is lucky to have survived. He wonders how that could be true.

The story alternates between the day of the crash and Edward’s new life with his aunt and uncle and leads up to what happened that made the plane crash. In the pre-crash chapters, readers learn about the sometimes-tense dynamics in Adler family as well as the backstories about other passengers on the plane. These include a business magnate with several ex-wives and children who hate him, an injured soldier who is trying to come to terms with a recent encounter, a young woman hoping to make a new life, a free-spirited woman who believes in reincarnation, and a cut-throat young executive with a drug problem.

One of Edward’s biggest challenges is to shake survivor’s guilt, especially the feeling that his brother should have survived instead. To Edward, Jordan was on the brink of thinking for himself and doing something great. Pain washes over Edward when he reaches his own fifteenth birthday, and later passes his brother’s age. He understands it’s because he both misses his brother and what his brother has lost.

Although Edward’s experiences are tragic, they lead to a touching coming-of-age story in which Edward strikes a balance between past and present. I enjoyed Dear Edward very much. It’s very readable and I felt like I understood how Edward was feeling throughout it all. I recommend it to readers who enjoy stories about love and overcoming grief.

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Book Review: Members Only by Sameer Pandya

Members Only
by
Sameer Pandya

Rating:

Professor Raj Bhatt is having a terrible week. He’s made an offensive comment to a prospective member of his tennis club, students from his Anthropology class are protesting remarks he made in class, and his son is in trouble at school. Raj has all the credentials to be accepted in elite circles: an Ivy League doctorate, a professorship, and a white wife. He’s also a member of an exclusive tennis club, a place where his wife grew up and a place he and his kids already love. But Raj didn’t grow up with the elite. His grandparents did well in Bombay, but when Raj’s mother and father moved the family to the United States, they had to start over. As an immigrant, he’s aware of the subtle and not-so-subtle slights towards him and other minorities in professional and social circles.

So to be accused of reverse racism on several fronts shakes Raj to the point of collapse. How can he make people see he’s been misunderstood?

It starts with the offensive comment. Raj was merely excited that people of color were being considered for membership and blurts out the worst possible thing. The membership committee is outraged and embarrassed and the prospective black couple, a prominent cardiologist and trauma surgeon, rush out before Raj can apologize.

What’s at the core of this scene and others in Pandya’s debut novel is the bundle of complex issues of racial and religious discrimination, class distinction, feeling inadequate and being an outsider. It’s ironic for Raj because, as an anthropologist, he chose his profession to understand human societies and cultures.

I had done it because I loved the idea of talking to people and trying to understand them, to see how different they were. And perhaps, if I dug far enough into their lives and histories, I could discover how similar they were too,” he says.

I enjoyed this fast-moving and very readable story. Raj’s character is well developed and wonderfully human, a reflection of how complicated prejudices and misconceptions can be. Pandya places these problems in the middle of a contemporary marriage, where pressures to have it all and maintain an image can distort what it means to be happy.

Members Only tackles difficult and modern problems, ones that its characters seem unlikely to entirely resolve. But the story is also full of compassion, forgiveness, hope and several touching scenes. I recommend this book to readers who like stories with realistic characters who make mistakes, but who are good people underneath.


Members Only will be released on July 7, 2020. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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Book Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare
by
Beth O’Leary

Rating:

Tiffy Moore owes money and is short on cash. And she needs to get out of her ex-boyfriend’s place as soon as possible. Leon Twomey has an apartment and also needs money. To earn extra cash, he’s been working the night shift as a palliative nurse, but how to get more? Why not rent out his apartment while he’s at work? That should work, right?

Tiffy has looked everywhere and when she sees the ad for Leon’s place, she thinks this unusual arrangement just might work. Since she works days at a publishing company, they could share the apartment and never even meet. One tricky part is that the flat is so small that they will also be sharing a bed, at different times, of course.

That’s the premise of this cute romantic story, about two people who aren’t looking to get together and must learn what to do when the sparks fly.

The story takes place in London and is told from both characters’ points of view. They get to know each other through running conversations on Post-It notes, stuck in various places in the flat. For me, this is the best part of the story. The notes are clever and fun and reveal their personalities as they become more comfortable telling each other about themselves.

But they both have problems and emotional baggage and these back stories slowly come out, making The Flatshare more than just a fluffy story. And while readers know they are in for a romance, it’s not clear how Tiffy and Leon will get over the many hurdles they encounter.

I enjoyed this story because of its pure entertainment value. The characters are likable, modern and fun. While the plot is improbable and sometimes silly, there’s no harm in giving in to a story like this. I can picture The Flatshare as a romantic comedy film.

I recommend The Flatshare to readers who are looking for a quick romantic story, with a little spice.

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If you want to read more, check out these blogger reviews.

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Stephanie’s Book Reviews
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