Tormented Mind

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides had such an unexpected twist that I gasped out loud.  I won’t reveal the twist in this entry, instead a brief summary of the premise of the book.

Theo is a devoted psychotherapist, and has been intrigued by Alicia Serenson’s case for years.  He seizes the job offer to work at the treatment facility where she has been a patient since shooting her husband repeatedly in the face.  This murder was more high profile considering Alicia’s well-known work as an artist.  Alicia has not said one word since being accused of murder and declared insane.  Theo hopes to help Alicia heal and to break her silence.

Meanwhile, we discover that Theo was driven into his field because of his own psychosis as a young man.  A devoted therapist helped him overcome his self-loathing and insecurity due to an abusive father.  He now works to help others like himself.  The story splits between his personal life, in which his wife is having an affair, and his work with Alicia.  Theo assumes a detective role as he digs into Alicia’s life (family/friends and her work) to figure out how to help her.  He tries to uncover secrets in her final paintings as well.  One painting in particular, the Alcestis, provides an extremely interesting framework into her psyche.

After a rocky start working together, Alicia shares her journal with him, and begins to open up more.  Before long, an unknown staff member injects her with enough morphine to put her into a medically-induced coma.

A must read to find out how Alicia’s husband was really murdered, and to discover who wants Alicia to stay silent.  The workings of the human mind and the connections between art/story made this book  riveting to me.  I couldn’t put it down!!

Moonstone Curse

Loot by Jude Watson is my second to last read from this year’s Intermediate Nutmeg nominees.  March and Jules McQuin are twins who have been separated ever since the fateful night when their dad, mom and a friend were stealing cursed moonstones from Carlotta Grimstone.  The curse caused their mom’s death, the friend’s incarceration and foretold their death at the age of thirteen.  Their dad Alfie, who is an infamous robber, decided to separate them in an attempt to outsmart the curse.

March stayed with his dad and learned the life of an accomplished robber while his sister stayed with aunt Blue, a performer in a traveling trapeze/circus act.  In a terrible turn of events, March witnesses his dad “falling” from a building during a job.  Alfie is able to muster a few last words to his son before he passes away.

March is reunited with his long-lost twin when they are both sent to a juvenile facility back in the U.S..  It’s here where they meet up with their new “family,” companions Izzy and Darius.  This group of four pull from each other’s unique talents to follow the clues that Alfie has left behind.  Their mission is to steal back the rest of the moonstones in hopes of breaking the curse on their lives.  Of course, they also hope to make seven million dollars upon returning the gems to their original owner.

While this story at times stretches the realm of reality, it is action-packed and fast-paced.  I think it will definitely appeal to middle grade readers; I know it appealed to this middle-aged one!

The Perfect Con

In Her Skin by Kim Savage was a recent teen mother-daughter book selection at my town library.  This book was a wild ride.

Jolene has been raised to be a master con artist by her mother, and was being used in sex trafficking by her mother’s rotten boyfriend.  Jo’s mom comes out of her drug-induced stupor long enough to realize it’s time to escape her boyfriend.  He kills Jo’s mom once he realizes her plan.  Jo escapes to a life of more cons and homelessness in Boston’s Tent City.

Jo discovers the perfect con to get out herself out of this life which is by impersonating Vivienne Weir.  Vivienne was a young girl when she disappeared from her friend’s home while the wealthy parents “watching her” dined at a nearby restaurant.  Jo is embraced into a new life as Vivienne by the very couple who were in charge when the true Vivienne went missing.  Jo is attracted to their daughter Temple, but also knows to be wary of her once horrible secrets are revealed.  Temple is not as perfect as one would assume.  Jo becomes obsessed with Temple and they form a twisted relationship with hints of romance.

Secrets, lies and survival are the major elements of this story.  Everyone is part of the deception in some way, and it comes down to who will come out on top.

Twisted Love

My latest read (following a different book that I had to abandon around 30% through) is The Wife Before Me by Laura Elliot. This book reminded me of the movie Sleeping with the Enemy before I was even halfway through it.  

The book has three main parts. The first is Elena’s life starting with meeting handsome, charismatic Nicholas Madison at her mother’s funeral.  They develop a relationship and ultimately marry. His aggressive side starts to show when she questions him about his previous wife (who died tragically when her car veered off a cliff into the ocean below).  Elena feels that she will never live up to Amelia’s ghost. Nicholas continues to show violence followed by apologies and blames it all on the stress of losing his wife.  They have two children.  One night, she lashes out and almost kills Nicholas.  She is placed on probation and is allowed supervised visits with her kids.  This is when she really starts learning the truth about her husband.

Meanwhile the story switches back to Amelia’s life with Nicholas which was definitely NOT perfect.  He was abusive to her, killed her father and controlled her until she was a shell of her former self.   When Amelia finally confides in a couple friends, they start the plan to save her and the life of her as yet born child (an earlier pregnancy ended due to his abuse). The plan does come together and Amelia was able to rid herself of his horrible entrapment and abuse.  

In a solid twist, Elena and Amelia end up working together to take Nicholas down once and for all, including some help from a ghostly presence (an odd addition in my mind, but it works!).

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I really hated Nicholas and his mother!  It’s frightening what someone may endure out of fear, hope and a twisted sense of love.

Justice

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is an intensely emotional book with courtroom drama.

The story takes place in New Haven, Connecticut.  Ruth is an exceptional nurse in the labor and delivery unit of Yale New Haven Hospital, and has worked there for twenty years.  A white supremacist couple, Brit and Turk, demand that Ruth not be able to care for their newborn son because she is African American.

Ruth is offended by this request and treatment (from not only the couple but because her manager went along with it).  It reaches a head when the baby stops breathing while Ruth is watching him.  Ruth tries to resuscitate despite orders to not touch the baby.  The baby doesn’t make it, and all heck breaks loose.  Turk vows to get even and initiates a lawsuit against Ruth for murdering their child.

The story switches among multiple points of view: Ruth, Turk and Ruth’s district attorney Kennedy.  Ruth must navigate losing her job, her mother and possibly going to jail, all while taking care of her teenage son.  Her most upsetting obstacle is facing that no matter how hard she has worked to fit in, it hasn’t worked.  Ruth builds a working relationship with her attorney.  Kennedy states that she is not a racist, but through the story events discovers that racism entails more than she thinks.  She realizes that just by being white, and taking for granted how life is predominantly geared to favor white people, she is part of racism.

Turk’s story was most disturbing to me.  As a teenager, he connected with someone who taught and encouraged him to hate and hurt anyone non-white or gay.  His wife is daughter to one of the leaders of this group and they bond over their mutual hatred of others.  After losing the baby, Brit never returns to any semblance of normal.  Turk, however, goes through major changes by the end of the story.

I spent most of the book angry at Turk’s group and Ruth’s situation, and anxious that Ruth or her son would be physically hurt.  Luckily the latter did not happen.

Kennedy reminds me a bit of the author’s voice in the story.  I think the awareness that Picoult sought is clear in Kennedy’s growing understanding through the story.   The afterword explains how strongly Picoult felt about writing a book dealing with racism.  She engaged in numerous pre-writing interviews to capture the thoughts and feelings of every race/belief represented in the story.  Picoult understood that writing this book would open her to major criticism, but she was willing to take that chance in order to create conversation around this topic.   I’m glad she did, because this book is so charged with feeling that you just have to keep going in hopes that justice will be served.

No Peeking

I had to jump on the bandwagon with my next read, Bird Box by Josh Malerman.   This book was so uniquely appealing to me. I found myself looking forward to each chance to read more.

The book’s apocalyptic setting moves back and forth between then and now. In the “now,” Malorie is on her own with two young children (all blindfolded) planning an escape route that brings them down the river in hopes of finding a refuge. 

“Then” takes the reader back to discover the events leading up to this escape. Mayhem rapidly spreads through the world.  People are seeing something which prompts them to extreme violence. Ultimately they take their own lives in desperately gruesome ways.  It never becomes clear as to what the “creatures” are, but there is definitely an understood presence causing these deaths.

Malorie’s sister is a victim.  She moves on, and manages to find a house of other random people, including Tom, Don, Felix, Cheryl, Jules and his dog Victor.  Malorie is pregnant and there happens to be another pregnant woman, Olympia, who arrives at the house too. They survive by keeping all windows covered and wearing blindfolds whenever they go outside.  Bird box refers to their alarm system – birds kept in a box outside their door to alert them if outsiders approach. There is a great parallel here, since the people/survivors are boxed in as well. Eventually they let in an outsider, Gary, and this begins the house’s unraveling.

The night that Malorie and Olympia both go into labor changes everything once and for all for their household.  Malorie raises the children, named Boy and Girl, to be keen listeners.  Hearing is their most important sense in this dangerous world.

While there are many end-of-world stories, this one really stands out. We only know as much as the characters. We don’t see or ever find out what the others have seen, and for me, this makes the book captivating.  I had to watch the movie after reading the book. Despite some notable differences, I felt the movie portrayed the book well.  I’m glad that I jumped on this bandwagon.

Unbreakable

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a story in which you know someone is going to lose his or her life, it’s just a matter of figuring out who it will be and how it will happen.  The story follows a family through most of daughter Leni’s childhood into adulthood.  Leni and her parents (Ernt and Cora) have moved numerous times.  Her dad is a Vietnam veteran and POW; the war has changed him.  He is moody, physically abusive to Leni’s mom Cora (and eventually to Leni too).  A friend of his killed during war left him a piece of land in the remotes of Alaska, and he decides that this is the change that their family needs.

They leave quickly and with few resources.  The cabin is rundown and the land is overgrown.  They work hard and learn from friendly locals about how to properly prepare for Alaska’s harsh winters.  In time, they begin to feel more at home.  Ernt begins to rage again, especially during the long winters.  He turns against his wealthy, businessman neighbor Tom Walker which stirs the plot even more.  Along with this is Leni’s growing friendship with Tom’s son, and her growing concern for the safety of her and her mom.

There are unexpected twists and turns through the story.  Ultimately Leni and her mom are free from abuse, but not without many sacrifices.  The story comes full circle when Leni is able to return to Alaska and create her own life and family there as an adult.

There are two standouts for me from this book.  First is the love of Alaska evident in the detailed setting.  The characters are in love with this place, both its beauty and its harshness.  It takes a special person to make this setting a permanent home!  Second is the relationship between Leni and her mom.  Their love for each other is unbreakable.