Book Review: The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

The Pocket Wife
by
Susan Crawford

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dana Catrell isn’t sure what happened at Celia Steinhauser’s house that afternoon. The only thing she knows is that her neighbor is dead. As she tries to piece together the events, Dana vaguely remembers an argument after a lot of drinks at Celia’s house. That and a picture on Celia’s phone of Dana’s husband, Peter and another woman. Alcohol isn’t the only reason Dana can’t remember, however. She’s on a manic bipolar disorder climb and headed for a crash.

Detective Jack Moss gives the Steinhauser case his full attention, as always. Now it’s a nice distraction from his ruined life at home. Under pressure from the prosecutor’s office, Jack has to solve the case quickly and everything else will have to wait. Moss interviews neighbors as well as Dana, Peter, Celia’s husband, Ronald. Is Dana’s account reliable? Is Peter having an affair? Does Ronald’s alibi check out? In addition to these questions, when forensic evidence points in a new direction, Moss may have to consider an alarming alternative.

Set in Paterson, New Jersey, outside of New York, this debut thriller/mystery looks inside the mind of a woman who struggles to separate the truth from a confusion of thoughts and images. Her manic self becomes obsessed with finding Celia’s phone and the picture of Peter and another woman. If Dana can find that picture, she’ll still have a grip on her life.

I enjoyed this suspenseful story, told in third person, but from both Dana and Jack’s points of view. The author uses Dana’s unreliable memories to drive the story and I was fascinated by Dana’s ability to grasp at pieces of truth, despite her mental illness. That made me want her to prove herself innocent, despite incriminating facts. Readers will feel the stress of Dana’s confusion and watch her approach the brink.

If you’re from New Jersey, you may wonder why the book is set in Paterson, a dangerously violent city, not really a nice suburban town. I’m not sure why. The story does include a violent murder, but the author’s description of the town and the neighborhood where the Catrells and the Steinhausers live don’t seem to fit the actual town. The author also uses a lot of rain to add mood to the story. I thought it was a little overdone, as if the sun never comes out in New Jersey! These are small comments, however, because I felt the story and the suspense of Dana’s eventual collapse were very engaging. I think the story’s strongest parts were the looks inside Dana’s mind.

I recommend The Pocket Wife to readers who like suspense and mystery and are looking for a quick read.

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Book Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

The Lying Room
by
Nicci French

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When Neve Connolly’s phone pings during a family breakfast, she drops everything and goes to Saul Stevenson’s pied-à-terre. At forty-five, she’s deeply embedded in what’s become a drudgery of marriage and children. Her affair with Saul makes her feel young again.

When Neve arrives, she finds Saul dead on the living room floor, brutally murdered. Terrified their affair will be found out, she scours the apartment and removes all evidence that she had ever been there. After hours of careful cleaning, Neve returns home, anxious to resume a normal life. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s forgotten something and it begins to torment her.

Saul was her boss. His company, Redfern Publishing, has just taken over Sans Serif, a small printing company that Neve and her friends started after college. Now all of Redfern is shocked at Saul’s death. His assistant seems to know all and Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching is on the scene, asking questions and taking DNA samples.

As the story develops, readers learn that Neve and her husband, Fletcher have been struggling. Neve is the main breadwinner and Fletcher, an illustrator, can’t find work and battles depression. Their two young boys need attention and their moody daughter, Mabel may or may not go off to college.

Neve and her Sans Serif friends move in a unit and know each other’s business. Tamsin’s marriage is over. Renata drinks too much and Gary’s bitterness over the merger has changed him. At the center is Neve, the friend everyone thinks has it all together. During the investigation, she continues to play this role, but she’s cracking underneath. Hitching’s relentless questions and shocking revelations at home force Neve into a manic overdrive. A days-long party at their house with awkward overnight guests provides a look at how the characters interact with each other and the secrets they keep.

I enjoyed reading The Lying Room, a standalone book set in London. It’s much different from the other book I read by Nicci French (Blue Monday, the first in the Freida Klein series.). At first, I thought I was reading a thriller but the more I got into it I felt like it was more of a classic mystery. Scenes at the Connolly house remind me of other mysteries in which clues and motives emerge. And while the story begins with the tension of a thriller, it becomes much lighter as we learn about the characters and their lives. In addition, many references to cooking up sophisticated meals during the chaos of Neve’s nightmare give it a cozy feel. Although I enjoyed getting to know all the characters, I didn’t like all of them, but that’s okay.

Themes of marriage, friendship and motherhood play strongly in the story. The authors (yes that’s plural – it’s a husband-wife team) finish up with an exciting confrontation and a satisfying tie-up. I recommend The Lying Room to readers who enjoy lighter suspenseful mysteries.

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Book Review: The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine

The Stranger in the Mirror
by
Liv Constantine

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Suspenseful psychological thriller about a woman with amnesia, who builds a new life for herself, only to be confronted by her past. Many twists, plus the absolutely required suspension of disbelief, take you on a wild ride of new developments, just when you’re getting comfortable with how things are.

The story begins when a strikingly beautiful and vulnerable young woman finds herself on a highway in New Jersey, injured and with no memory of how she got there. A trucker named Ed picks her up and fortunately, he’s the good kind. Wanting to do the right thing, Ed and his wife, Gigi take the young woman into their home in Philadelphia.

Ed and Gigi provide loving support while the young woman recovers and struggles with questions about her injuries and disturbing flashbacks. After the woman recovers from her physical injuries, the new “Addison Hope” begins a job at a photography store. While working, she meets Gabriel Oliver, a gallery owner from a wealthy family. It’s instant attraction. Gabriel and Addison fall in love and Gabriel proposes. Gabriel may be smitten, but his mother, Blythe is suspicious. She wants to love Addison, but Blythe’s protective instincts tell her that they must know more about this woman before she joins the family.

Meanwhile, Julian Hunter, a prominent doctor from Boston, has not given up hope that he will find his missing wife, Cassandra, mother to their seven-year-old daughter, Valentina. A chance discovery reveals, as the reader has already figured out, that Addison has another life in Boston. Readers see how the two families react to this news, especially Addison/Cassandra. The interesting part is how Gabriel, Blythe, Julian and Valentina adjust, as a lurking evil overshadows them all.

Constantine’s characters represent the good, the evil and the manipulated, and a few who do the right thing but for selfish reasons. And the story’s villain, while somewhat obvious, acts unpredictably with a twisted set of ideas. The author includes themes of marriage, family and parenthood, especially what it means to be a good mother. Problems of mental health and domestic violence show the repetitive nature of these family struggles.

The Stranger in the Mirror is a fast read, with an interesting premise. In the first half, the author lulls the reader into a false sense of security, only to pull out the rug and disrupt the characters’ lives. The second half of the book is filled with twists and reveals, many too outrageous to believe. But the story moves along to a satisfying conclusion.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. They are also the author of The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Last Time I Saw You, and The Wife Stalker.

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Book Review: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Sometimes I Lie
by
Alice Feeney

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Amber Reynolds lies in a hospital bed in London, in a coma. She doesn’t remember what put her there and she might not be able to open her eyes, but she can hear everything her visitors say. As she tries to piece together what happened that Christmas night, she listens for clues from her husband, Paul and her sister, Claire. Thinking Amber can’t hear them, Paul and Claire speak freely, but many questions remain. As Amber slowly remembers the events that led up to her accident, readers learn a complicated back story about Amber, her job as a radio presenter, her family and childhood and a best friend named Taylor.

Feeney presents this thriller in a then, now and before format, including a girlhood diary, depicting a lonely and forgotten child whose parents drink and argue. The story inevitably leads to Amber’s return to consciousness, to a world where lies abound. A series of multi-leveled twists present the reader with a surprising, shake-your-head finish.

I enjoyed reading Sometimes I Lie because it fits right into the entertaining thriller genre in which readers don’t want to figure everything out ahead of time. There’s also the typical requirement of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. If you’re a medical person, don’t question the diagnosis or hospital rules and procedures. If you’re a logical person, don’t question why someone would do things or how they could get away with them. Just go along for the ride.

While I enjoyed the story, I felt that the last few chapters were not just surprising and over-the-top, but too confusing and manipulative. I’m all for leaving out crucial details because they’d spoil the ending, but the author dumps a lot of these at the end and that’s what led to me shaking my head.

All in all, however, Sometimes I Lie is an entertaining read, good for summer because it’s fast and doesn’t require deep reading.

Here’s what some other bloggers are saying about Sometimes I Lie:

Snazzy Books
Romina’s Life
Book Reviews

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Books set in Australia

Wow, I hadn’t realized until recently just how many books I’ve read that are set in Australia! Here’s what I’ve read. Can you add to this list?

Alone – Lost Overboard in the Indian Ocean – Brett Archibald

The Dry by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


Check out these lists for additional books set in Australia:

Goodreads – Best Books Set in Australia

Tale_Away – Books Set In Australia: Australian Novels

Crime Reads – 10 Essential Australian Novels


For even more, visit my post More books set in Australia here.

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Book Review: The Bone Hunger by Carrie Rubin

The Bone Hunger
by
Carrie Rubin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a great medical thriller, check out The Bone Hunger by Carrie Rubin, the second in the Ben Oris series. Set in Philadelphia at the fictional Montgomery Hospital, it picks up after the first book, The Bone Curse. (Read my review here.) The Bone Hunger can be easily read as a standalone novel and follows the personal and professional life of Ben Oris. Ben was a medical student in the first book and now he’s a resident at Montgomery. Here’s a rundown of the story’s opening:

Dr. Ben Oris is not looking for trouble. After what he’s been through, he likes the ordinary. Three years earlier, he was cut by an ancient bone and became involved in a strange incident involving a mysterious disease and a Haitian Vodou priestess. Now Ben’s life is busy, but normal. A second-year orthopedic surgery resident, he’s under the tutelage of Dr. Kent Lock, one of the best reconstructive surgeons in the country. He’s also a single dad to three-year-old Maxwell. Nothing but work, family, and a hopeful romance on the horizon, just the way he wants it.

On a wintry walk through the Wissahickon Valley Park, Ben and Maxwell’s mother, Sophie, discover the severed limb of a recent knee surgery patient. Police and hospital seniors think it may be a sick prank, but later, when more orthopedic surgery patients go missing and their hacked-off limbs turn up, bearing alarming bite marks, Ben finds himself at the center of a murder investigation. In a rush against time, he must balance his demanding job and parenting responsibilities, follow hunches and most important, protect the people he loves.

At Montgomery, Lock and his surgical team continue their surgery schedule, replacing knees and hips, on the heels of a near-death plane crash in Alaska while on a humanitarian mission. Psychological stress and fears about who the next victim will be may be too much for the team. In addition, new developments make Ben question his professional loyalties. Are the surgical implants somehow connected to these grisly crimes? Should Ben investigate or leave it to the police?

Rubin provides readers with a great look at what it’s like to work in the medical world, with a big dose of grueling schedules, hospital hierarchies, politics, feuds and power plays. She also offers a realistic commentary about life situations, specifically related to diversity, treatment of the elderly, religion and respecting differing beliefs. She does all this with compassion and humor and expertly builds these details into the story.

Rubin also includes chapters about the mysterious “monster” responsible, but not its identity. Written in first-person, these chapters offer insight and suspenseful details as the story develops.

The plot moves at a steady pace and then, bam! Readers get what they’ve been waiting for: a thrilling confrontation between good and evil, with all sorts of unexpected twists. Even the final pages reveal additional developments, setting Ben and the rest of the characters up for the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Bone Hunger and recommend it to readers who like medical thrillers, suspenseful stories and mysteries. I look forward to the next in the series.

I received a copy of The Bone Hunger from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Check out my reviews of Rubin’s other books below:

The Seneca Scourge
Eating Bull
The Bone Curse

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Book Review: The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight
by
Julie Clark

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Claire Cook wants out of her marriage to Rory Cook, a wealthy and influential Senate hopeful. After ten years, she’s tired of her endless obligations to the Cook Family Foundation, but mostly she’s had it with Rory’s hot temper and increasingly violent abuse. She plans an elaborate escape, with help from her friend, Petra, whose family is in the Russian mob. But a last-minute change in her work itinerary (orchestrated by her controlling husband) has her headed to Puerto Rico instead of Detroit. That’s bad, because Claire’s new identity, plus a lot of cash, are waiting for her at the Detroit hotel’s reception desk, where Rory is now headed instead.

At the airport, she meets Eva, who coincidentally, although headed back to her home in California, is desperate to escape her past. The two women trade plane tickets and identities and head to new gates. In a tragic development, the plane to Puerto Rico crashes, with no survivors. It’s possible, however, that Eva did not board the flight. Meanwhile, Claire lands in in San Francisco and, with nowhere else to go and only a few hundred dollars, heads to Eva’s house to start a new life.

This clever premise of this debut thriller caught my interest right away and I was eager to learn more about Eva and why she wanted to flee her life. In alternating chapters, Clark fills in the details of Eva’s past, with a lead-up to meeting Claire at the airport. In the other chapters, readers see how Claire manages at Eva’s house in Berkeley, a close walk from campus.

Readers get to know both women and learn of their intense need for friendship and belonging. Claire’s mother and sister died in a car crash and Eva, whose mother was a drug addict, grew up in an orphanage and various foster homes. Eva has led a secretive and solitary life and Claire, with no one to turn to, has suffered abuse in silence.

The tension in the story is driven by the dangerous life Eva longed to escape from as well as an emerging whistle-blower from Rory’s past, a threat to his campaign. In addition, as investigators piece together the events of the crash, Rory suspects Claire was not on the plane. Several unforeseen twists help explain the coincidence of Claire’s and Eva’s meeting as well as important relationships in Eva’s life.

It all comes together at the end, with a surprise explanation in the story’s epilogue.

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced thriller, although I recommend it with the standard suspension of disbelief as well as a willingness to accept that all males are evil. It would have been nice if a couple of the men in these women’s lives were decent people. A few plot holes and unresolved issues also left me a little unsatisfied. But, The Last Flight was a fun read and an nice escape and I would be interested in reading more by Julie Clark.

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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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