The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

One of the reasons I am quick to be the parent to drive to volleyball relates to the two or more hours I then get to sit in an overstuffed leather chair sipping coffee, munching Big Sky granola and reading.  This past Sunday, that was me, and The Woman in the Window was my book.  There is something to be said for reading psychological thrillers in public places.

The narrator of this novel is the “woman,” Anna Fox.  Anna is a psychologist who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone.  She is agoraphobic and has managed to have everything she needs delivered to her house.  Even her therapist and physical therapist visit her at home.  Anna, a psychologist herself, spends her days dispensing online advice, playing online chess, watching black and white movies (which her life seems to mirror), and drinking Merlot by the case.  She frequently keeps tabs on her neighbors with the help of a telephoto camera lens.  One day, she thinks she sees her new neighbor stab his wife.  In an attempt to help her, Anna calls the police and then goes outside.  She gets to the park and then passes out from a panic attack.  When she wakes up, no one believes there was a murder-not the doctors at the hospital, not the police, not her neighbors.  They introduce Anna to the person she thinks was stabbed but who is in fact, very much alive.  The catch:  it is a different person from the wife Anna met.

If you enjoy a good psychological thriller, give The Woman in the Window a look.  There are great twists and unexpected turns.  I flew through it over the weekend, finishing it in the volleyball waiting room with three children (someone else’s) jumping and running around me.  I didn’t even know they were there until I closed the book, my jaw on my lap.

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Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

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What are the most powerful things we say to each other?  What phrases make love and connection possible?  Kelly Corrigan identified her top 12, and her new book, Tell Me More:  Stories About the Twelve Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, gives readers insight into how she came up with the list and why these phrases and conversations matter.

It is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Kelly Corrigan, from The Middle Place, to Lift, to Glitter and Glue, to Tell Me More.   I was so excited about Tell Me More that I entered contests to win a copy, but as an insurance policy (which I needed) I pre-ordered through Amazon so I’d have this book in my hot little hands on publication day.  I planned to savor it, parsing out no more than a chapter a day.  That lasted one day and then I sat down and read it cover to cover.

Reading  Tell Me More is like a deep conversation with a great friend-you know that person who is so perceptive, thoughtful, sensitive, encouraging and knows your true self? Corrigan is honest and direct, funny at times, pensive at times, but always spot on.  When I have a medical problem, I see a doctor.  When I need help with research, I find a librarian.  My furnace and plumbing require professionals too.  So, when I need to find words for how I feel and the life that I too am experiencing, I look for a writer.  I read, and in Tell Me More, I am reading an expert.  Corrigan smoothly and accurately puts “life” into words.  She is an eloquent memoirist.  There are some great parts about marriage, kids, families, and some profoundly eloquent sections about grief and loss.  I took what I needed now, and stored up what I know I will need in the future.  It is that kind of book.  A must read.

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Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

Anna Carey A Dangerous Crossing By Rachel Rhys Doubleday, £12.99

Anyone for a cruise?  The morning of my last book group meeting, when we discussed a mystery/thriller offering entitled Woman in Cabin 10,  I received a text from a friend asking me and my family if we wanted to plan a 2019 cruise with them.  Love the family but this was not the book to read before that invitation!   That thought was still in my head when I read the newly released novel Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys. Rachel Rhys is a pseudonym for Tammy Cohen, author of several thrillers.  This is her first historical fiction offering, and it does have a twinge of thriller.

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It is 1939 and the world is on the brink of the Second World War.  Passengers assemble to take a 5 week cruise from England to Australia, each leaving behind a secret and yearning for a fresh start.  Lily has lost her best friend and her suitor, and plans to enter service in Australia.  Edward has been in a sanitorium, and heads down under to recover, accompanied by his sister Helenna.  Max and Eliza are first class passengers who befriend them, hiding from scandal.  Maria is Jewish and looking for safety away from Austria. The premise on board is one of anonymity: not telling your secret and engaging in friendships and relationships that are free of the structure and confines of social class.  The question is, can you really escape your past, and can you live above the confines of class and race?  How will war affect their outcomes?

I found the characters and story lines engaging; they lived in my head even when I wasn’t reading.  Each character had a magnetism-something someone else desired-and each had a flaw.  I was interested in the dissemination of news.  The ship posted headlines regularly, but the headlines were curated.  The captain did not want a diverse ship aware of how close war was, or when it started, for fear of danger and chaos among the passengers.

I recommend Dangerous Crossing-read and be entertained, at least until the unease seeps into your psyche.  I look forward to more by Rachel Rhys!

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The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Daphne Parrish seems to have it all, like a woman in a fancy magazine spread that one could envy and admire at the same time.  Her adoring husband, beautiful home, wealth, status, the charity in honor of her deceased sister, and her darling young daughters help project her accomplished and successful lifestyle.  Amber, on the other hand, works as an assistant at a real estate company, lives paycheck to paycheck, and has no friends or excitement in her life.  She meets Daphne at the gym, “accidentally on purpose,” and infiltrates her life, her family, and her marriage.  Soon enough, Amber is having an affair with Daphne’s husband Jackson, gloating over the attention and gifts he showers upon her.

With a black book cover and the description of psychological thriller, readers must know all is not as it seems.  The twists of this novel are good–a little predictable but satisfyingly so–and then a surprise.  Liv Constantine is the pseudonym for two sisters, Valerie and Lynne,  who wrote this book together with a significant amount of Face Time and email, assigning each other scenes from the master plan they developed to start.   They might write separately but they publish with one voice.  I couldn’t pick up on two authors at all.

I will offer that I enjoy the occasional psychological thriller, but this is not really my go to read.  It is, however, a Reece Witherspoon Book Club pick, and a People Magazine pick:  two recommendations that are usually spot on for this genre.  The violence against Daphne was a little much for me, but I did enjoy this fast-paced read.  I give it two thumbs up if this is your ilk.

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Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornek

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

It is Christmas at Weyfield Hall, the worn country estate of the Birch Family.  Andrew and Emma and their grown children, Olivia and Phoebe, are gathering for some time together over the holiday .  The twist to this time away is that they will be under quarantine.  Olivia is a physician and has just completed a medical goodwill mission in Liberia, tending to patients with a highly contagious virus called Haag.  Though she left healthy, the precaution each doctor takes is to remain secluded for seven days once they are home.  The Birch family is spending those days together.  Emma looks upon the week as a challenge–almost a game–planning meals and books and family game nights.  Anything to distract her from the cancer diagnosis she just received.   Andrew is about to be surprised by the appearance of a son he did not know he had.  Phoebe is absorbed by her fiance and wedding plans, and even Olivia’s mind is elsewhere, longing for the company of one of the physicians she worked with in Liberia.

Seven Days of Us is a well written read, perfect for a weekend, a vacation, or just some down time from all that takes our time and attention this winter.  Chapters alternate between different characters, the plot is interesting and well-paced, and I found I cared about the characters and their outcomes.  The twists and caveats to the week make this an easy novel to dive into and stay with for the duration.  If you like modern novels about family dynamics, give Seven Days of Us a shot.

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Good historical fiction, is there anything quite as satisfying?

Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky tells the story of Pino Lello, a young man coming of age in Italy during World War II.  Pino’s parents live in Milan and own a purse store.  In 1943, the store is destroyed by bombs, and Pino is sent to live in the Alps with Father Re at a school for boys.  This school is meant to keep Pino safe from the destruction of the war. When Pino first arrives, he is sent on arduous hikes through the Alps, and told to try to accomplish these hikes with minimal contact with others.  In other words, stay hidden.  Pino builds his strength and agility and is soon leading refugees from Italy into the safety of Switzerland.  As Pino nears 18 and his conscription is about to come up, his parents enlist him as a German soldier.  An injury puts Pino behind the wheel of General Hans Leyer’s car as his driver.  As Leyer’s driver, Pino begins to spy on the Nazis.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky has not been a quick read, but it has been a satisfying read.  I rank it up with the reading experiences provided by All The Light You Cannot See and The Nightingale.  It is a beautifully told and meaningful story worth taking the time to read.  Pino Lello is a real man, interviewed by Sullivan for this book.  For me, this is the personal side of war, but more significantly, the personal side of integrity and courage.  I hope the Pino Lellas of today are depicted with the same heart.

 

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Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

I preface this recommendation by saying I am a fool for David Sedaris’s writing.  To me, his grocery list could be a best seller.  Imagine my delight, then, when Sedaris decided to publish his diaries…and it was thick!  I almost had to take a week off from the library to indulge my curiosity.  (I do love my summer vacations, so I just stayed up late.)

THEFT BY FINDING

Theft by Finding, David Sedaris’ newest book, features entries from the diaries he has kept for the last 40 years.  A second volume covering 2002-now is forthcoming.   Sedaris said he intended to publish a book of his funnier entries, but what his editor suggested was a more chronological arc.  There are definitely funny entries, but really much, much more.  I have talked with people who read cover to cover (my college roommate, also a librarian), and people who pick it up, flip through, read what catches their eye, and then set Theft down again for a while (my husband.)

David Sedaris was in Portland recently for a reading and book signing at Merrill Auditorium, and I was able to attend.  I am more used to readings that you just go to, buy the book and wait in a manageable line for signing, but this was a ticketed event at Merrill Auditorium, and so, under the guise of a birthday gift for my husband, I bought two tickets.  It…was…awesome.  We laughed, we laughed some more, we were slightly offended. Sedaris delights in some shock value, but enjoys it as if he isn’t responsible for it which I guess is part of the sardonic charm of his writing.  After reading a long passage I wouldn’t let my older kids listen to in a million years, he paused, looked at the crowd, and said, “That was filthy!”  His language is colorful, and not for the sensitive or delicate, but we knew that walking in, and certainly after the first story.  Anyone who has read any of his earlier work knows it too.  Despite the sprinkling of coarseness, his observations are clever and spot on, even for someone as different from the author as I am.  That in itself is a measure of success to me-that ability to be totally and completely oneself, and share that truth other “selves” can understand.  I was a little star struck for the experience of seeing someone I have read so much of in person.  He looks like his picture and sounds like his books.  Theft By Finding is worth perusing.

 

 

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