5 star, adult, buddy review

Buddy Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.



Welcome to our first buddy read at Down the Rabbit Hole! Fives and I are excited to start such a series with A.J. Finn’s explosive debut, The Woman in the Window. If you would like to see more of these kinds of reviews, please let us know in the comments below!

Breaking the book into a couple of important points, these are our individual and collective thoughts that came up as we read this book together.

Pacing and suspense build-up

Andge: While a thriller is typically typed as so by the level of intrigue and suspense the author aimed to put their audience through, not all are successful. The Woman in the Window was super slow for its first 30 or so chapters, let’s be honest. But its mundane, day-to-day details in Anna Fox’s life had a purpose that came back ten-fold, leaving me to revel at what came to be at the climax. Once details of the event Anna witnessed through her window unfolded, things just climb from there in a way that felt organic. Headings showing you the passage of time helped create a sense of urgency as we learn one new thing after the other. I would say the pacing couldn’t have been better.

Fives: I definitely agree with Andge’s sentiment here – the beginning was quite slow – although I personally don’t mind too much, I am all about that slow build suspense (the ‘just what is going on?!’ feeling). This all being said, the ramp up in tension and excitement was quick and relentless. I know for a fact that neither of us were able to put it down after the second half the book – it was painstaking for us to stop at our agreed landmarks for discussion! The short chapters were very well executed in providing this kind of steady rhythm that underlies the whole novel and provides a driving force for the suspense. Not every thriller I have read has this type of pacing, but I can say I definitely enjoyed this whole experience!

Plot elements

Andge: Any good mystery or thriller places a good amount of attention to the mundane details. They may just be there to set the scene, or in actuality, help tie together loose pieces at the end. A.J. Finn did this beautifully! I honestly flipped through pages back and forth in later scenes referencing earlier ones with exclamations of “oh wow I totally missed this!”. Red herrings are also a thing I look out for but the level of craftsmanship in this piece of writing made it hard for me to narrow down what mattered or what was there to throw us off. This detail-oriented planning was perfect for such a book.

Fives: Having more thrillers under my belt than perhaps an average reader, I have come to expect many kinds of seemingly mundane plot points or bedazzled red herrings. That being said, A.J. Finn did a fantastic job slipping in all the inconspicuous little details mixed in with the heavy hints – this did a really good job of mixing us up! Andge and I had long discussions over the many details inserted into the plot, and what they could possibly mean in the whole scheme of the novel. I believe one of the best approaches to thrillers is the hiding of important facts in plain sight, and I can say that the author did the most fantastic job of this – only when you really stop to scrutinize the details can you really even begin to pick out some possibilities. That being said, you won’t be able to stop turning the page to think!

Characters

Andge: In my experience with mysteries, sometimes the whodunnit individual was some random character who appeared for five seconds on a singular page in chapter 10, or something. So of course I had no idea they did it! Unlike my frustrations in those stories, I loved that we got to really know a handful of main characters in this book. The Russells made up of Alistair, Jane and Ethan held an air of mystery that slowly unravelled little by little as Anna interacted with them in her limited capacity. Add in Anna’s estranged family, daughter Olivia and husband Ed, plus her handsome live-in tenant David, there were a lot of people to consider when trying to piece the bits of information Finn slowly released to us at interesting times. Were any of these people involved in something, and why?

Fives: The characters are one of the standout points in this thriller. We get so many details into each of the main characters, and there are very few throwaway characters. Everyone was there for a reason, and as you delve deeper into all the characters that show up in the book, each one leaves you wondering about their motive and secrets – the mark of a truly skilled author. The plot follows only Anna, an agoraphobe who is stuck in her house, as she looks beyond into other houses. After reading the book, I am reminded that windows are two-way – does ‘The Woman in the Window’ refer to Anna looking out through the window, or someone else being looked at?

Ending

Andge: I would never want to ruin a book such as a thriller to you. But to sum up my feelings for The Woman in the Window, I have to at least address the ending. We came up with many hypotheses over our discussions for how this story was to end, and I do mean many. What I will say is that I wasn’t disappointed which is a HUGE win in my books, and it felt like the right kind of ending to give Anna and her story.

Fives: So in the end, what happens is – – just kidding. But trust me, despite being able to predict a few things here and there (none of which we were sure still, by the way), the whole ramp up all the way to the climax and resolution was just honestly enthralling, and I don’t think there was any other way I would have wanted it. The transformation of Anna from the beginning to the end was also a marked delight, and you must go see (or rather, read) for yourself! What are you waiting for?


We hope you liked reading this buddy review! We are super excited for any subsequent releases by A.J. Finn. But most importantly, we are stoked for the upcoming Netflix adaptation of this book this year. Stay tuned for a blog post comparing our thoughts on the book with the movie 🙂

3.5 star, adult

Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Amazon.com: The Silent Patient (9781250301697): Michaelides, Alex: Books

The Silent Patient is a shocking psychological thriller of a woman’s act of violence against her husband—and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive.

“Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word…”

This story follows the criminal psychotherapist, Theo Faber, who has long waited for a chance to work with Alicia Berenson, to discover the truth behind her eternal silence, and her motivations for killing her husband. The plotline starts off innocuously as one might expect, we follow the point of view of Theo as he picks up his life to head to The Grove where Alicia is being treated. When he gets there, he discovers layers and layers of secrecy which he must unravel to find the real cause of Alicia’s silence and the truth of that fateful day. Occasionally letting us peer into Alicia’s diary in parallel to Theo’s point of view, Michaelides weaves an exciting tale, one that straps you down into the seat of the rollercoaster and doesn’t let go until the exciting finish.



3.5 Drink Me Potions


I found myself quite enthralled with the premise of this book. One of the main driving mysteries is the last painting that Alicia paints before she was locked away. It was titled Alcestis and is based on a Greek tragedy – a heroine of self-sacrifice. This is the narrative that is the key to unlocking Alicia Berenson. What on earth drove the painter to the point of murder? And how can it possibly be related to a heroine of self-sacrifice? Was it really possible for a move like murder to be altruistic in some way? This was one of the main questions I had throughout the whole book, driving me to read along, to find out what happened.

We quickly find out that Theo has issues of his own, a rough childhood with a tormenting father, and very keen to escape the shadows of the past. The novel really explores the theme of the past being an important precedent for the future. Many psychological and psychiatric themes are laid out in the many characters that are introduced. This also really tended to blur the boundary lines and create a type of moral ambiguity present in each character – how much can you blame a person for acting according to what their past has defined them to be? I found myself wonder what I’d be like in each of the character’s shoes, or how I would personally react to the same situations.

To be honest, I found some of the characters rather shallow and underdeveloped. A little bit inconsistent even, sometimes. That being said, it wasn’t badly written or anything like that. Some of the characters and actions just seemed a little bit unnecessary, or a bit out of place – this may have been to place red herrings for the readers, but I wasn’t completely convinced. This novel is kind of a hybrid between a thriller and a mystery, it has the setting of a murder mystery narrative but is also of course written in a first person POV that keeps us on our toes at every turn.

All that being said, I actually really enjoyed the ride! I’m also a sucker for Greek mythology, so that really rung true for me. If I think about the minor details and little twists and study them individually, I don’t find that I really appreciated the mall that much. However, if you are talking about the the holistic experience of a thriller “ride”, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even if I was able to see the little twists that were coming up, I still felt like the way that it was written was very exciting for me, and the parallel chronological storylines particularly captured my attention. After all, I did finish this novel in one day!

Overall Recommendations:

The Silent Patient follows the deceivingly perfect life of Alicia Berenson and her descent into madness and murder, and how a psychotherapist comes to save her from her self-imposed silence. More and more secrets are revealed as Theo dives into Alicia’s past, uncovering her own troubled childhood, not unlike his own. And how does Alicia’s famous painting Alcestis tie into all this? This is a very exciting thriller from beginning to end – if you enjoy the uncovering of secrets and watching a puzzle come together, this is definitely one that you will enjoy!

4 star, adult

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Image result for the turn of the keyWhen Rowan Caine stumbles across an ad for a live-in nanny post with a staggeringly generous salary, it seems like too good an opportunity to miss. And when she arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten – by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by the picture-perfect family who lives there.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke her up with booming music in the middle of the night and turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no other adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She’s not innocent, by any means. But she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.


4 Drink Me Potions


The Turn of the Key begins from the perspective of our protagonist, Rowan Caine, from a jail cell struggling to write to her lawyer about the events that transpired at the Heatherbrae House. Immediately we are thrown into a gloomy and suspenseful environment where the ending is all but certain. Even though we already know that our protagonist ends up behind bars, the whole suspense in this thriller novel is still kept up until the very end. Knowing how the story will end somehow makes the dread all the more suspenseful as we follow her through Heatherbrae House, fully aware that all is not as it seems, and behind every corner lurks yet another family secret.

This mystery follows the life of Rowan Caine (in the past), who takes up a new nannying job at Heatherbrae House, way out in Scotland. She sees the ad for a very generous salary, and quickly takes the interview for a chance at a new life. There, she meets the Elincourt family, living in their modern day fairytale dream of paramount technology, mixed in seamlessly with their ancient house and land. Though she receives some warning signs, she quickly brushes them off, confident that she can outlast the previous nannies and enjoy a comfortable life.

However, very quickly many things seem to go wrong. The house is mostly controlled by an app called Happy, which allows wireless and also voice control of many of the house’s appliances and amenities. While this is initially a delightful experience, Rowan quickly discovers that someone else seems to have more control than her over the house, even though she is the only adult there. Seemingly many “malfunctions” and mysterious events start happening, which Rowan is determined to stick through for the money, despite her growing anxiety.

Ware carefully builds each character in a way that makes them each simultaneously friendly yet also suspicious. Even the less likeable characters have their redeeming qualities, making it ever so difficult to guess who is really friend or foe. This builds up Rowan’s (and in turn ours) anxiety as the number of people she can trust dwindles, and the number of shady characters increases. So many inexplicable things happen to her while she is at Heatherbrae House, and it truly becomes her unending nightmare.

The whole novel has a very suspenseful feel to it, and even with some of the ending given away at the beginning, it is still impossible to tell for sure who is responsible during her journey there. Ware has even hidden one last crucial secret to be revealed at the climax of the story, which really brings all the carefully placed icicles of mystery come crashing down around Rowan. Once again, Ware has created an incredibly thrilling story with elements that will truly chill you to the bone.

Overall Recommendation:
If you are into the heavy psychological thriller type of story (like I am), you will definitely enjoy this novel. Ware has quickly become one of my favourite modern authors of such mysteries, as each story is so well written and really keeps me in suspense no matter how much I get used to her plots. Although the ending is not necessarily the ending I wanted to see, the whole journey was definitely a delightful(ly scary) experience, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys all the twists and turns of a psychological thriller!