Reviews by Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)

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The Silent Patient
by Alex Michaelides
Great First Novel (8/11/2019)
The Silent Patient is a solid first effort in the crowded arena of the psychological thriller genre. It was difficult to put down, nicely paced, with some interesting twists & turns. I did figure out the ultimate mystery before the big reveal. But, that didn’t change my thought about the book.
Miracle Creek
by Angie Kim
Who To Blame (8/11/2019)
This is a rare court room drama that caused me to feel empathy for all of its flawed characters- immigrants trying to give a daughter a chance for success in America, teen rebellion, the cultural strictures for Korean women, the mothers seeking experimental treatments for their disabled children, the guilt & hope they feel, even the protestors trying to shut the operation down. The story is told from multiple perspectives with each chapter peeling away another layer of onion. There is a lot of heartache. I thought this was an excellent first book.
Necessary People
by Anna Pitoniak
Unlikable Characters But Clever Story (8/11/2019)
Necessary People involves unlikable characters who use one another for personal benefit, exploit family connections and several scenarios that stretch credibility even in the cutthroat world of cable news. However, despite the strains on credulity, it was a clever story.
The Word Is Murder
by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz Cleverly Inserts Himself (7/28/2018)
I've just completed The Word Is Murder and vacillated between 4 stars and 5 stars because the book is better than Good but does not rise to astonishingly excellent to the level of The Magpie Murders. But The Word Is Murder is a Very Good read. I did not deduce the clever twists in advance of the reveal. Horowitz seamlessly inserted himself as a character assisting a disgraced former police officer with the investigation of a curious murder. I truly love Horowitz's writing style and look forward to any new fiction he turns out.
Motherhood
by Sheila Heti
Self Absorbed Author Could Use Therapy (2/8/2018)
Initially the concept of using the I Ching for decision making interested me because I lived in Asia for 5 years and remain fascinated by Chinese divination. After the first few chapters, however, the repetitive questions about ordinary decisions bored me.

Additionally, the author truly appeared to be relying upon faux angst regarding the decision to have children to self indulge in writing this book. I never felt indecision. It seemed as if the author was trying to justify who decision to remain childless to look to the world as if it were agonizing.

Every family has issues, depression, good, bad, ugly, joy....most women who decided not to have children (myself included) did not have to ask dice to give us the answer. We just knew what was right for us.
The Chalk Man
by C. J. Tudor
Engaging Thriller by New Author C. J. Tudor (11/26/2017)
The Chalk Man pulled me into the story from the Prologue on Page 1 which begins "The girl's head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves." The narrative then shifts immediately from 1986 to 2016 when the narrator, Eddie "Munster", reflects on the series of horrific events in the small English village that would haunt him and his childhood friends Hoppo, Metal Mickey, Fat Gav & Nicky for the next 20 years.

I found the story creative with the characters at 12 years age using bits of colored chalk to send one another messages in code. Each member of the gang used a different color to identify who had written the code. Of course, someone discovered the code and began to create mayhem.

There were a couple of Twin Peaks moments that didn't quite ring true for me; and I did not find Eddie to be a sympathetic narrator. Instead he seems a bit of a creepy, dysfunctional alcoholic.

I also found the repeated reference of a Waltzer confusing since I was unfamiliar with the term. I figured out that is must be a carnival ride. But I had to Google the term for confirm that.

C.J.Tudor is an engaging writer. I found it hard to put down for the first 3/4 of the book. Towards the end, however, the story seemed to lose a bit of steam. Ultimately, the ending for me was a bit contrived and unconvincing.

The Chalk Man is one of the better master/thrillers that I have read in quite some time. Despite its flaws, the book is a solid read in the genre and I will happily look forward to reading the next book by Ms. Tudor.
The Stars Are Fire
by Anita Shreve
A Struggle for me to Finish (11/18/2017)
Anita Shreve first entranced me with The Pilot's Wife and I have eagerly awaited the publication of her latest books since that first great read. However, The Stars Are Fire truly disappointed me. I could feel no empathy for any of the characters and the plot felt predictable and formulaic. Not only did I feel not empathy, I just didn't like them. I kept hoping the story would get better for me if I were in a different frame of mind. As such I'd put the book down and come back to it. It truly took me 3 weeks to read. The best of Anita Shreve such as Fortune's Rock's, Sea Glass or Wedding in December transport me to another place and time so that I can't put the book down until I've reached the last word. That is what I expect from one of my favorite authors.
Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge
by Helen Rappaport
The Russian Revolution Through the Eyes of Foreigners (10/28/2016)
This book is a wondrous collection of eye witness reports from foreign diplomats, reporters, nurses and other French, English and American expatriates in Petrograd as the Russian Revolution unfolded in 1917.

Helen Rapport has researched letters, diaries, news dispatches, diplomatic reports, memoirs and manuscripts to give us glimpses into memories of people from the outside caught up in events that changed the world and deposed a 300 year old dynasty.

In particular I was impressed with the viewpoints of the women - I was truly surprised by the number of independent foreign women living and working in Petrograd as journalists, nurses, and governesses such as suffragette Elsie Bowman, Canadian nurse Dorothy Cotton, Canadian reporter Florence Harper, and Lady Mureil Paget paint a fascinating picture of how outsiders recognized the coming revolution while the Tsar and imperial family buried their heads in the sand. For anyone who loves 20th Century history and the fall of the Romanovs in particular, this is a must read.
The Tea Planter's Wife
by Dinah Jefferies
Ceylon as the Sun Began to Set on the British Empire (7/8/2016)
The Tea Planter's Wife is a lush tale of 19 year old blushing bride Gwen, who leaves the familiarity of England to join her considerably older husband Lawrence in Ceylon, where he runs the family tea plantation. There are mysteries about the death of Lawrence's first wife Caroline; the beginnings of rebellion by workers; references to Gandhi; caste dissension between the Sinhalese and Tamils; jealousies; family secrets; and the last vestiges of the Raj society. This novel, though flawed, gave me insights into the bravery of women embarking on journeys to new worlds at a time before commercial flight. I felt empathy for Gwen.

While I truly enjoyed the book and could not out it down, a part of me felt this was a novel written in the 20th rather than the 21st century. A few instances of overt racism, while appropriate to the time and place, felt so what manipulative to me and caused me to feel the author took the easy way out in to avoid the characters facing a social and moral dilemma. Overall; however, this was a good read.
The Secret Language of Stones: A Daughters of La Lune Novel
by M. J. Rose
Intriguing Story of Life, Love, Sorrow, the Romanovs and Magic during WWI Paris (4/6/2016)
This evening I completed reading The Secret Language of Stones. This is not a book I ordinarily would have purchased if I'd seen it on Amazon.com. While I love historical fiction, strong women characters and intrigue, this novel also includes elements of mysticism, the occult and witchery, which I enjoyed during the 1990s when Ann Rice wrote The Witching Hour novels, but have long since abandoned.

But I found myself intrigued and completely engrossed in The Secret Language of Stones and plan to read more novels by M.J. Rose. This story centers on Opaline, the descendant of La Lune, a 16th Century courtesan and witch who passed her powers and spells to select females in the line. Opaline has the gift or curse, depending upon one's perspective.

The story takes place in Paris during World War I. Opaline is working as a jewelry apprentice to Russian émigré's who have escaped the Bolshevik Revolution. She decides to use her burgeoning gifts to create amulets or talismans using stones, gold and the hair or bits of keepsakes from dead soldiers who give her one last message to give some sense of peace to the loved ones of those who fought for France.

It did take me several chapters to engage with the story, but I ultimately found myself drawn into it and unable to put the book down. The writing is beautifully descriptive and almost lyrical. I could imagine myself living in Paris 1916 hiding in bomb shelters when the Germans attacked and then defiantly going into the streets to live life.

This book, which will be published in July 2016, is charmingly evocative of early 20th Century Paris mixed with Russian expatriate angst about the fate of the Tsar and his family and hereditary magic. Really enjoyed it!
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins
by Antonia Hodgson
Enjoyable Georgian Who Dunnit! (12/27/2015)
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins will appeal to fans of Anne Perry and C.J. Sansom with the murderous activity occurring during the reign of King George II rather than Victorian or Tudor times.

Thomas Hawkins is a "gentleman" ne'er do well who finds himself strapped to his coffin in a cart jostling along the road to his hanging at Tyburn for a murder he did not commit. While Hawkins pleads his innocence and hopes for a pardon from Queen Caroline for whom he has provided some valuable services, he knows that dead men tell no tales and that his death might prove convenient for the Queen.

The book is well researched, entertaining and gives the reader an intimate look into life in London during the early 18th Century including the filth, seediness, prodigious interest in porn, fetish brothels, spousal abuse, criminal investigations and the pomp and circumstance of executions.
Far From True: A Promise Falls Novel
by Linwood Barclay
An Enjoyable Page Turner- But..... (12/3/2015)
Far From True by Linwood Barclay is an enjoyable, eminently readable page turner that kept me interested. I like Barclay's writing style and the vignettes in the book are well-written and engrossing. There are some interesting characters and the criminal activity in the small town of Promise Falls is intriguing.

However, I really struggled with my rating. As much as I enjoyed the story, there are some factors that I found extremely frustrating.
1) this is the second book in a series about these characters from Promise Falls. I felt that Far From True does not work well as a stand alone book.
2) there were too many characters that appeared infrequently that caused me to keep flipping back and reviewing chapters I'd already read. This would not work well with an E-Reader.
3) nothing seemed to be resolved by the end of the book. It will be necessary to wait for the next installment and purchase the next book to have any sense of closure. I would rather pay more for a longer book and have some wrap up than be left hanging a la "who shot JR".
4) I really wanted to rate the book 3.5 - this was better than average but falls short of good because of the frustrating issues described above.
All Is Not Forgotten
by Wendy Walker
Intriguing Psychological Thriller (10/6/2015)
This is an intriguing psychological thriller involving a psychiatrist's hubris as he schemes to assist a rape victim and a survivor of an AED explosion in the Middle East attempt to recover their memories that had been wiped by pharmaceuticals.
The therapist, Alan, employs techniques of questionable ethics and envisions himself a savior, more brilliant than all, and tries to justify his manipulations of the investigation of the rape. I started to question whether the story was supposed to focus on the struggles of the rape victim, the torment and vigilantism of her father, or the ethics of the mental health professional.
It is evident the author conducted research into treatment for trauma victims. The concept is solid. But most of the characters are not likeable.
I would compare this book to "Gone Girl", which for me worked better as a movie than a novel. I liked the book. But I didn't love it. That said, I will give Wendy Walker's other stories a try.
Natchez Burning: A Penn Cage Novel, Natchez Burning Trilogy #1
by Greg Iles
Love Greg Iles & Penn Cage (9/7/2015)
I nearly convinced my husband to move to Natchez because I've been so entranced with Ile's books. Unlike many authors who write series, the Penn Cage books get better with each new chapter. And like Game of Thrones nobody, no matter how beloved, is safe.
Trust No One: A Thriller
by Paul Cleave
DancingWith Captain A (6/17/2015)
Trust No One by Paul Cleave is a fascinating journey into the disintegrating mind of mystery writer Jerry Gray aka Henry Cutter who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at 49. He decides to keep a journal of his mental deterioration so he can read about who he was as he loses himself.
At times the narrative was challenging to follow. This felt a bit like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" meets "Psycho" with a dash of the movies "Memento" and "Away From Her".

The story was creative and engaging, keeping me wanting to know what would happen next, what was real and what was imaginary. I felt compassion for Jerry Gray, but skeptical of who he was and who he had been.

There are twists and turns that I did not figure out until the very end. Then the pieces did seem to fit together.

I was not familiar with Paul Cleave until I read Trust No One, but I will look for some of his earlier works.
Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir
by Jamie Brickhouse
Engaging Journey of Recovery (4/3/2015)
I felt conflicted by the narrative. Having friends who have gone through similar journeys during the same time period caused me to remember their highs and lows, their battles to live in mainstream society and their struggles with addiction. The writing is engaging. The story is not new. But it is told with a fresh voice in Jamie Brickhouse.

Jamie would have been great fun during his years of partying, overt rebellion, and slide into degradation.But I admire his ability to seek recovery and make the decision to live. This was considerably more readable than your typical book about recovery.
He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him
by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton
Fascinating & Disturbing (2/8/2015)
This book is a bald, brutal, deeply disturbing look at mental illness from the perspective of the ultimate insider – Harvard educated physician Perry Baird who suffered from bi-polar disorder and wrote about his experiences in mental institutions during the 1930's through the 1950's.

Mimi Baird was 6 years old when her father disappeared from her life in 1944 during a time when nobody spoke about mental illness. People were locked away and forgotten. Her mother refused to talk about it, divorced Baird while he was institutionalized, and remarried quickly. In 1994 – 35 years after her father's death – Mimi discovered her father had written about his barbaric treatment at the hands of mid 20th Century mental health professional and had conducted his own research into the potential physiological causes of the mental illness.

The book is really two stories: Dr. Baird's spiral into the vortex of mental illness and Mimi Baird's search for the father she lost.

I found this book fascinating and heart rending. But I can't say I liked it. Reading the chapters that described how people in mental institutions were treated felt painful and nauseating as if a bandage stuck to a wound was being yanked off and pulling the scab with the bandage.
Whispering Shadows
by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Thought Provoking & Well Researched (1/4/2015)
"Whispering Shadows" is a novel of modern China, how the legacy of the Cultural Revolution continues to affect those who survived its cruelty, an investigation into the disappearance of an American businessman involved in a joint venture with a Chinese partner, a love story and the long emotional recovery of a father who has lost his young son to leukemia. Does the story succeed on all levels? For me it does not. Nonetheless, this was a good read.

Rather than the burgeoning romance between the protagonist and a local woman, for me the heart of the story is the decades long friendship between expatriate German American Paul Leibovitz, who has lived a life of solitude on Lamma Island since the death of his son, and Zheng, a Chinese police officer in Shenzhen, a Special Economic Zone in Guangdong Province just outside Hong Kong, who may just be the only incorruptible police officer in China.

Sendker's insights into the political intrigue, corruption, and machinations of local party members and industrial magnates in China also illustrate what few westerners completely understand. It is clear the author has spent a great deal of time learning about Chinese culture and his descriptions of Hong Kong, Lamma Island, and Shenzhen are those of someone with an intimate personal knowledge of the locales and the people who live there. Sendker also cautions his readers that it is dangerous for a foreigner to make the assumption that he understands the business or political or judicial environment in China. Forced confessions still exist. And the wrong decision in a business deal can get one killed. It happened to somebody we knew in Kunming in 1992.

I had the privilege of living in Hong Kong for three years and felt drawn back into that vibrant world that I learned to love through this book. The themes are compelling: trust, friendship, gratitude, shame, fear, hubris, empathy, truth, and consequences. I rate this book a strong 4 out of 5 stars.
The Life I Left Behind
by Colette McBeth
A Compelling Story (11/9/2014)
It has been a long time since I've picked up a book by a new author that I couldn't put down. But this story was so intriguing, the characters well developed, and the narrative engaging that I wanted to stay buried in the story and then felt sadness when I reached the last page.

The Life I Left Behind is told from the perspective of three strong, vibrant women. Melody survived a vicious attack, has memory lapses and no longer trusts her judgment. Eve's ghost narrates her investigation into what really happened to Melody. DI Rutter questions the original investigation that may have resulted in a wrongful conviction.

While I did have an inkling as to the real culprit, the book held my interest, maintained a high level of suspense, and kept me intrigued. That is the sign of a good read. I'm not planning to buy Colette McBeth's earlier book, Precious Thing.
The Paris Winter
by Imogen Robertson
Intriguing Historical Mystery (7/9/2014)
I love historical fiction and really looked forward to reading this book and was initially a bit disappointed that the initial chapters of The Paris Winter felt ponderous without much promise. However, I slogged on and ultimately found this delightfully crafted mystery set during La Belle Époque Paris a real page-turner.

While the character at the center of the story, Maud Heighton, a nearly starving artist from Darlington in England in Paris to study art, seems almost cardboard, the supporting cast is wonderful – a privileged Russian beauty, a model raised on the streets of Montmartre, a near-do-well con-man, an ethereal opium addict, a brass American born countess, and the city of Paris itself during the winter of 1909 – 1910 when the banks of the Seine flooded the city.

Ms. Robertson's prose flows beautifully as if from an antique fountain pen on fine paper from Crane's. She captures the feeling of early 20th Century Paris before the Great War & finely illustrates the dichotomy of the poor and struggling versus the flamboyance and extravagance of the rich. It is clear that Ms. Robertson thoroughly researched the time and place and I yearned for more. While part of the plot seemed a bit overly concocted, it was a good read. And really, what more can we desire?

After reading The Paris Winter I am eager to explore some of Ms. Robertson's other writings.
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