Audiobook review: The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

The Night Swim
by
Megan Goldin
Narrated by Bailey Carr, January LaVoy

and Samantha Desz

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Podcaster Rachel Krall is ready to immerse herself in the next season of Guilty or Not Guilty when she arrives in the coastal town of Neapolis, North Carolina. Season 3 will cover the rape and sexual assault case against Scott Blair, a champion swimmer and son of a local prominent businessman. Scott’s accuser, Kelly Moore, has been devastated by her assault and the trial’s lead-up, but the burden of proof will be on her and District Attorney Mitch Alkins. Scott’s lawyer is the successful Dale Quinn, a local who moved away but returned to Neapolis to take on the case.

At a rest stop outside the town, Rachel notices a note on her windshield. It’s from Hannah Stills, the sister of a girl who died in Neapolis under suspicious circumstances twenty-five years earlier. Hannah begs Rachel to investigate her sister, Jenny’s death, which she says was murder. Jenny’s death went largely unnoticed while families mourned the death of two well-known teenage boys in a fiery car crash that summer.

In alternating chapters and through Rachel’s podcast, readers learn the details of both cases and will soon wonder if there’s a connection between the crimes. Hannah’s story unfolds in a series of letters to Rachel. When court is not in session, Rachel chases after leads in Jenny’s death, hoping to eventually meet Hannah, who mysteriously avoids a face-to-face.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is the town and its characters’ interconnectedness over several generations. I enjoyed figuring out, through various hints, what the dynamics were between these characters. In addition, the author does a good job covering the different angles of consent, sexual assault and rape, showing the effects of these charges on both families.

I also thought the narrators did an excellent job in telling the story and felt that the podcast element was especially good in audiobook format.

Unfortunately other parts of the book were just not as enjoyable to me. Though it might seem small, I had trouble with the town’s name which doesn’t seem to fit with the names of other American east coast towns. In addition, most of Goldin’s characters, especially Rachel, are one-dimensional. I was also annoyed with how easy it was for Rachel, who is not a police investigator, to get information about Jenny’s death. She went around town and interviewed locals and conveniently connected with people and officials who were around when Jenny died. Although I don’t really care, her portrayal of librarians as unhelpful clock-watchers is not how it is! And, despite producing a podcast, she had time to do all this. I wouldn’t describe The Night Swim as much of a thriller. It moves much slower and a great deal of the book deals with courtroom testimony.

So all-in-all, an interesting, but not very deep read, bringing attention to the important subject of sexual assault and rape.

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Book Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

My Lovely Wife
by
Samantha Downing

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this debut thriller/dark humor novel, a picture-perfect marriage has shocking secrets beneath its shiny facade. To outsiders, Millicent and her husband have the perfect life. They live with their two teenagers in Hidden Oaks, the good part of Woodview, Florida. She sells real estate and her husband teaches tennis at the country club. They have friends. They go to work. Their kids play sports. And they are loyal to their traditions: family dinners, movie night, a standing lunch date after Saturday soccer, and guaranteed ice cream after a trip to the dentist. But Millicent and her husband play a secret deadly game. And when the stakes and pressure rise, they take greater risks to keep their secret hidden, until the dynamics of their marriage betray them.

Narrated by the husband, we learn the couple’s backstory, how they met and fell in love, and their early years as young parents. We also learn about their disturbing second life and how it fuels their marriage. When they change course, their actions begin to affect their children and the people in town. Soon, the husband reveals his own secrets and we see the trust between them erode.

Sandwiched between Millicent and her husband’s schemes are the daily activities of a normal American family and the typical problems that arise for working parents, moody adolescents and the ever-growing presence of social media and the news media. Similar in mood to shows like You, Dexter and Ozark, the characters’ mundane problems in My Lovely Wife offer comic relief to stories in which people lead secret lives which would be too dark by themselves.

Despite the obvious creepiness and some disturbing violence, I liked My Lovely Wife. While its main characters are mostly despicable, the husband reveals a glimmer of conscience, something interesting to think about. Readers who search for at least one likable character will find a couple in the side characters. Several entertaining twists, including a big reveal in the final pages will force the reader to look back and decide who is bad, who is worse, who is a little of both and what the future holds.

I recommend My Lovely Wife to readers who like thrillers and dark humor and I look forward to more books by Samantha Downing.

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Book Review: The Perfect Wife by Blake Pierce

The Perfect Wife
by
Blake Pierce

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a quick psychological suspense novel, you might be interested in The Perfect Wife by Blake Pierce, the first in the Jessie Hunt series. In this debut, Jessie Hunt and her husband Kyle Voss have moved from Los Angeles to a wealthy neighborhood in the coastal town of Westport Beach. Kyle is a rising star at the wealth management firm where he works. Jessie is about to finish her degree in forensic psychology and has lined up a practicum at the Non-Rehabilitative Division, a high-risk unit at the local state hospital. Jessie will conduct a series of interviews with Bolton Crutchfield, a convicted serial killer.

Kyle is all about climbing the ladder and they soon join the local yacht club where he hopes to make lucrative business contacts. But Jessie senses something strange about the yacht club and thinks her new friends and neighbors have too many secrets.

As Kyle submerges himself in work, Jessie conducts interviews with Crutchfield, who seems to know too much about her and her weaknesses. Is there some connection the reader doesn’t know about? At home, tension grows between Jessie and Kyle and a fateful decision after a wild yacht club party brings it all to a head, revealing all.

This is a short and fast-paced thriller in which Pierce’s characters are just coming to life. Although characters are not fully developed and the plot line is wild and unbelievable, the story moves well and is a solid 3-star read.

I recommend The Perfect Wife to readers who enjoy series debuts and like to see how characters may develop in future stories.

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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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Book Review: The Searcher by Tana French

The Searcher
by
Tana French

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I enjoyed reading Tana French’s new standalone novel, The Searcher, a suspenseful crime story set in western Ireland. Here’s what it’s about:

When forty-eight-year-old Cal Hooper quits the Chicago police force, he thinks a move to the small village of Ardnakelty will be far enough away to forget his problems. He likes the small-town atmosphere and plans to spend his early retirement fixing up the neglected cottage he purchased. His neighbor, Mart and the locals have welcomed him and the village shopkeeper, Noreen is ready to fix him up with her widowed sister. Life is looking good. Then thirteen-year-old Trey Reddy shows up. Trey’s nineteen-year-old brother, Brendan, has disappeared and Trey, a neglected member of the shunned Reddy family, is desperate to find him. No longer a detective, Cal makes no promises, but agrees to look into Brendan’s disappearance.

Cal questions Brendan’s buddies and others in the village, but their evasive answers raise more questions. What’s clear is that Ardnakelty and the larger town of Kilcarrow have bred a restless youth. Maybe Brendan left for London for a better life. Or is the answer up in the intimidating mountainside where the Reddy family lives and where overgrown paths and dangerous bogs warn outsiders to stay out?

Cal senses a hidden and darker part of the town and its people and soon, confusing warnings and a series of violent events threaten Cal’s investigation. Will Cal be able to keep his promise to Trey? French reveals that Cal’s quest to solve the mystery is partly personal. He’s left a failed marriage in Chicago and a career that’s gone bad. In short, he has lost his moral code and wants it back. But first he must understand Ardnakelty’s own complex code.

Parallel to Cal’s investigation is French’s atmospheric portrayal of a remote village with its long histories and complex relationships between families as modern twists to old problems, such as how to earn a living, have seeped into their lives.

Mart’s neighbor tells Cal, “When I was a young lad, we knew what we could want and how to get it, and we knew we’d have something to show for it at the end of the day. A crop, or a flock, or a house, or a family. There’s great strength in that. Now there’s too many things you’re told you want, there’s no way to get them all, and once your done trying, what have you got to show for it at the end?”

The Searcher is a layered story about relationships, personal histories and the pressures of a changing world, set in a place of ominously changing weather. I chose The Searcher because I read In the Woods, French’s debut and the first of the Dublin Murder Squad series, a few years ago and thought it was excellent. I plan to return to the series this year. Have you read any of Tana French’s books? Leave a comment below!

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Book review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of Hearts
by
Jennifer Hillier

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Geo Shaw, Angela Wong and Kaiser Brody are inseparable high school friends until Calvin James approaches them at the 7-Eleven near school. Calvin is older and a little bit dangerous and what’s better is that he’s chosen Geo over Angela. Tired of playing second to her friend, she’s not about to let him go. Meanwhile, all Kaiser can do is watch as the girl he loves falls for the wrong guy.

But Calvin is more than a little bit dangerous. He’s controlling and abusive and Geo falls blindly into the dynamic. And when Angela confronts her friend, Geo denies the abuse. After a drunken high school party, Geo tries to keep everyone friendly, but Calvin’s darker side emerges. And the next morning, Angela goes missing. Calvin and Geo keep quiet because they know the terrible truth about what happened. Calvin quickly disappears. Geo goes to college, gets and MBA and redefines herself as a corporate executive. Fourteen years later, she’s a vice president at Shipp Pharmaceuticals and engaged to the CEO.

Then Angela’s remains are uncovered. Detective Kaiser Brody links Calvin and Geo to Angela’s death and breaks the Sweetbay Strangler case wide open, identifying Calvin as the serial killer who has terrorized Seattle. Calvin is sentenced to life in prison and Geo gets five years for her role in Angela’s death. Kaiser’s feelings for Geo are just as strong and he’s determined to keep an eye on her while she’s in prison, especially after Calvin slips Geo a mysterious note in the courtroom.

The rest of the story covers Geo’s prison term, the time after her release and character backstories. In addition, readers learn important details about the night Angela died. A wild and surprising conclusion explains why Geo and Calvin acted the way they did.

Jar of Hearts really grew on me after I finished reading it and especially after my mystery book club Zoom yesterday. Afterwards, I started to think more about the characters and their motivations. Geo, Calvin and Kaiser all crave love and this story is about their quests to obtain it. I like how they all have that in common to different degrees, but you may be shocked when you learn more about them. In addition, Geo and Calvin are survivors and will do whatever it takes. Kaiser is willing to overlook Geo’s past if it gives him a chance with her. And a surprise character makes the relationships even more complicated, giving readers a lot to think about.

Jar of Hearts was published in 2018 and won the 2019 International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel. The title refers to Christina Peri’s debut single of the same name in 2010. In it, Peri sings angrily about a love interest who wants to get back together. You can watch the video here.

I recommend Jar of Hearts to readers who like psychological thrillers and suspense novels.

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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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Book Review: Looker by Laura Sims

Looker by Laura Sims

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here’s a fast, psychological thriller about a woman’s obsession with her neighbor, a beautiful and famous actress. The story is set in an unnamed urban neighborhood (Brooklyn?) and is narrated by the woman. It begins just as her marriage has ended, marking the onset of her psychological decline. Years of unsuccessful fertility treatments have left her feeling like a failure and she obsesses with her actress neighbor’s perfect life: a successful career, three beautiful children, and a gorgeous husband.

At first, she takes comfort in watching the actress walk by, with her baby or off for a jog. She notes everything about her beauty, clothes and healthy glow. At night, she peers in the actress family’s window, noting the seemingly effortless life inside. When that’s not enough, she fills her spare room with discarded items the actress has left at the curb.

She tells herself it’s all okay, that her life is under control. And she even starts to like the cat her husband left, his cat, she notes. Her job as a poetry professor seems to be okay too, but she soon falls into a relationship that will put her career in jeopardy. At this point, the narrator begins to step in and out of reality and makes rash and reckless decisions, many times after a lot of beer or wine.

Readers are certain of a train wreck, but the suspense is in not knowing how it will happen. A neighborhood party marks one of the last stops before the crash.

I tore through Looker, not just to see what happens. Readers also get a good look into an unraveling mind, which is not just a series of irrational and bad decisions. The author shows the narrator’s fragile and desperate efforts to be acknowledged as a human, and not judged because she can’t get pregnant. As the narrator looks inside the actress’s window she thinks, “Let me in. I too, am cherished and kept.”

I enjoyed reading this quick story about envy and jealousy and recommend it to readers who like psychological novels. I’ll be looking out for more books by Laura Sims.

Laura Sims is an American novelist and poet. She is a professor of creative writing, literature and composition at New York University.

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Note: created with block editor – finding my way!