Book Review: Girl in the Rearview Mirror by Kelsey Rae Dimberg

Girl in the Rearview Mirror
by
Kelsey Rae Dimberg

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you watched my most recent episode of Read React Decide, you know that I selected Girl in the Rearview Mirror, after reading random passages from five random books. Despite an earlier retraction about not being able to go paperless when I read, I really did go paperless for this book. Even though I hold the hard cover version in my video, I downloaded the eBook on my Kindle. And because I was on vacation, I took zero notes. I did not want to lug around a notebook and pen. That’s not a vacation!

The author describes Girl in the Rearview Mirror, her debut, as a noir mystery with adjustments, but I felt it was more of a psychological thriller. There are no hard-boiled detectives (the “detective” is a young nanny, Finn, who tries to unravel a mystery) and it’s set in Phoenix, Arizona, not exactly gritty. I only realized she calls it noir fiction after I read it, so that was not on my mind at all.

Because I did not take notes, this will be a more casual review. Be sure to check out my follow-up video at the bottom of this post, which is a supplement to what I say here. I’m doing something new on YouTube, re-reading the passage that made me choose the book and then talking about a really funny coincidence with that.

On to the book. The story opens at a political rally, during Senator Jim Martin’s campaign for re-election. Image is everything to the Martins and the senator’s perfect-looking family surrounds him, including Philip Martin who is expected to one day step into his father’s shoes. For now, Philip focuses on his restaurant and other real estate investments. With his wife, Marina, who runs a museum, and Amabel, their adorable four-year old daughter, they look just right for the part.

Finn’s protective instinct kicks in when Amabel gasps and points to a stranger with bright red hair and exclaims, “That girl—she’s following me!” An upsetting meeting with the stranger a few days later convinces Finn she must learn all she can to protect Amabel.

A couple substories frame the plot. First, there is Philip, the second son who can’t live up to his late older brother, James’s legacy. James died a hero’s death in Iraq. Philip, meantime tries to forget a scandal that ended his college football career.

Finn also struggles with the past and the title refers to events she tried to leave behind when she left home for college. She explains, “By the time I arrived at school, I realized I could start over. I introduced myself as Finn, my middle name, and it stuck. Within months, my first name sounded foreign. Natalie was the girl in the rearview mirror.” Now she has a great gig as a nanny for a wealthy and powerful family. And her boyfriend, Bryant, who runs Jim Martin’s campaign, completes the picture.

When she meets the red-headed women, Finn agrees to deliver a message to Philip. Sounds easy, but Philip avoids Finn who discovers a tangled mess. Soon, she finds herself in danger and wonders if Bryant is her enemy.

I enjoyed this book which explores the always-interesting theme of truth versus public persona. Readers who don’t like politics may initially be put off by the political storyline, however, once Finn begins her investigation, the adversarial element between political parties moves to the background. The story is much more about how politicians smooth out their pasts and present shiny images than it is about Republicans and Democrats.

A series of twists leads to an ending I did not imagine and ties in nicely with how image is everything to politicians. I was glad to have a lighter read while on vacation. The book was easy to pick up between activities and I recommend it to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers.

Check out my video here:

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Book Review: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

The Lamplighters
by
Emma Stonex

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I downloaded this eBook not realizing that I’d already read another book and watched a movie based on the same real events that took place in 1900! What a fun coincidence!

The other fun coincidence is that my blogging friend Charlie over at Books and Bakes also read The Lamplighters as part of her summer reading challenge!

What’s the basis of the story? In 1900, three lightkeepers disappeared from the remote rock lighthouse on Eilean Mòr in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. You can read all about the actual events here. I read Coffin Road by Peter May a few years ago in which a character is writing a book about the disappearance. After that, I watched the Scottish movie, The Vanishing, an intense psychological thriller that offers a possible explanation.

Stonex moves the events to Cornish Maiden Rock, a sea tower built on rocks, off the coast of England’s Land’s End. The story begins in 1972 when the three keepers disappear. This is just a few years before this type of lighthouse was automated, putting an end to a job that required months of isolation. On the rock, investigators find three mysterious clues: the doors are locked from the inside, the clocks have stopped at 8:45 pm and the table in the lighthouse is set for two people, not three. The second storyline takes place in 1992 when author Dan Sharp approaches the keepers’ widows and one former girlfriend to gather information for his next book. The three women have moved on in different ways. Helen, the main keeper’s widow, has moved away from the sea, but returns to contemplate her marriage. She wants to tell her story, but the Assistant Keeper’s widow, Jenny, very dependent on her husband while he was alive, has not done well. And she has a secret. And Michelle, the Supernumerary Assistant Keeper’s girlfriend at the time, although now married with two daughters, can’t let go of the love she had for Vincent. The disappearance, though never satisfyingly resolved, was blamed on Vince because he’d been in prison for violent acts, but Michelle knows in her heart there was more to the story.

As it turns out, there are a lot of secrets!

Readers will learn about the days leading up to the disappearance and about the women’s relationships with the keepers and with each other. This is a slow-burn atmospheric psychological drama that looks at the effects of isolation and separation. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to readers who like mysteries and studies of relationships.

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On YouTube today – Read React Decide and REVIEW!

Hi Everyone,

A couple months ago I posted a video where I pulled five random books from the library and read a couple sentences, reacted and decided whether I would read them. I picked two out of the five and today I’m reviewing them. (Also – I got a new shirt!)

You can watch my original video here.

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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: 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: Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey

Woman on the Edge
by
Samantha M. Bailey

Rating:

The last thing Morgan Kincaid expects while waiting for a Chicago subway train is for someone to come up to her, thrust a baby in her arms and jump in front of a train. Nicole Markham’s last words to Morgan are, “I know what you want. Don’t let anyone hurt her.” And then she calls Morgan by her name.

Morgan, a social worker, could see desperation in the woman’s eyes. But who was she, how did she know Morgan’s name? What made her give up her baby and take her own life?

Those are the simple questions, believe it or not, but both women’s back stories complicate the investigation even more and soon Morgan is a person of interest. Morgan is determined to clear her name, at great risk.

What a great premise for a psychological thriller! This is a fast-paced read, with plenty of momentum. I don’t want to give too much away because these books are better to experience first-hand. There’s a good supply of suspicious secondary characters with questionable agendas that kept me wondering how the story would sort itself out.

The psychological aspect plays into Nicole’s story. She’s just had a baby and is having trouble remembering things. She’s also the CEO of a publicly-traded company called Breathe which sells yoga wear and mindfulness products. Her assistant is keeping things running while she’s out, but there’s a power struggle going on behind the scenes

I enjoyed reading this debut novel. I thought the plot was well-developed, and the author did a good job typing up loose ends at what was a wild finish, requiring the standard suspension of disbelief. I thought the details of Nicole’s work situation were a little silly, however, but that’s something readers need to go along with, rather than get bogged down by an unrealistic scenario.

I like the double play of the title, too. And, while not a heavy book, the author touches on important themes of marriage, betrayal and most importantly, postpartum depression. I recommend Woman on the Edge to readers who like quick thrillers and look forward to reading future books by Bailey.

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Book Review: No Place Like Home by Rebecca Muddiman

No Place Like Home
by
Rebecca Muddiman

Rating:

Polly Cooke can’t wait to make her new house a home. She’s thirty-five and is starting a new chapter. As she walks home from the bus stop, she dreams of settling in for the night, but Polly is startled to see a shadow in the window of her house. Is someone inside?

And so begins Polly’s nightmare of moving into her dream house. With jumps between the recent past and the present, Polly narrates the details of her life. Her job is nothing special, but it’s a job. Her mother is in a home care center, with signs of dementia. And Polly is raw from a past relationship. This house is the perfect chance at a fresh start, if she can keep the past out of it, especially the man she sees watching her and suspects has been inside.

As this psychological thriller unfolds, the reader puts together a few pieces, but there are many questions. One of the things I enjoy about thrillers is watching the main character make foolish and reckless decisions. I kept saying to myself, “Polly, just call the police!” and “Close your drapes all the way—don’t peek out like that!”

Polly is so rattled by these events that she misses a lot of work and puts her job in jeopardy. And Polly’s mother seems to be declining from her daughter’s neglect. These two simmering situations add to the impending doom and the reader can only hope that Polly can take control. Secondary suspicious characters, like the nosy neighbor, the controlling nurse at the care center and former roommates raise more questions as to who’s behind Polly’s problems.

This is a fast-paced thriller with the usual twists and turns and a big scene at the finish. But what I enjoyed the most was a clever and unexpected double twist in the story. The author does a good job creating a situation with built-in suspense and turning it into an original story. Don’t expect a lot of character development. There’s just enough to support the plot and keep the story moving.

I enjoyed No Place Like Home. The title suggests what it’s about and the reader is treated to something a little more than that. I recommend this thriller to readers who are looking for a quick diversion.

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Book Talk – No Place Like Home by Rebecca Muddiman

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of books that catch my eye.

I’m feeling a little guilty about not reading some of the NetGalley books I’ve received. This psychological thriller is one of them. I had a perfectly good plan to read it right away, but somehow No Place Like Home got lost on my Kindle, along with the other mess of books I have on there.

Here’s the book description:

“What would you do if you came home to find someone in your house?

This is the predicament Polly Cooke faces when she returns to her new home. The first weeks in the house had been idyllic, but soon Jacob, a local man, is watching her.

What does he want and why is he so obsessed with Polly?

In a situation where nothing is what it seems, you might end up regretting letting some people in.”

This is the kind of book that seizes on the reader’s need to be terrified. We all get a thrill from reading about someone else’s scary situations, right?

I have a few other books I’m going to read first, but I think I’m going to jump on this soon. At 234 pages, it looks like a quick read.

No Place Like Home was published in 2018. Check out these reviews. I’m going to wait in case they have spoilers!

Laurel-Rain Snow from Rainy Days and Mondays
Goodreads Reviews
Amazon Reviews

Have you already read No Place Like Home?

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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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