Silence is never forever, especially in stories about characters who’ve been keeping quiet. These three “Silent” books are good examples of how quickly lives can turn upside down when a character finds her voice. From a patient who refuses to speak, to a sister who has left her family, to a wife who is tired of looking the other way, stories with characters like these are always great reads!
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – Alicia Berenson does something strange after her husband’s murder. 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. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain – When buried family secrets surface, one thing is certain: once revealed, nothing will be the same. Riley McPherson has grown up believing her older sister Lisa, a talented violinist, committed suicide. She’d always thought that her sister’s depression was the reason. But that may not be what happened.
The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison – What’s beneath the surface of a seemingly happy relationship? Jodi and Todd have a smooth way of being together and it’s worked for twenty-some years. They’ve never officially married, but it doesn’t matter. This is a marriage and they have a nice rhythm, live a very nice life and have everything they want. Then we get to know them a little better…
Have you read any books with “silent” characters? Leave the title in the comments!
I don’t ordinarily re-read mysteries and psychological thrillers because once you reach the finish, you know the twist. But enough time had passed since I last read The Silent Patient and I was pleasantly surprised that I had forgotten most of the ending! I can honestly say that I enyoned it as much the second time around and I picked up on nuances I hadn’t noticed the first time. That’s because I thought the plot was so good and couldn’t wait to find out what happened. The Silent Patient has many unexpected twists, a few red herrings and an excellent tie-in to a classic Greek play.
Here’s my review from 2020:
Alicia Berenson does something strange when she’s charged with her husband’s murder. 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. According to a 2019 article in The Hollywood Reporter, Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures and Brad Pitt’s Plan B plan to adapt the book into a film, but there is no new word on a release.
Meantime, if you’re looking for a fast and engrossing read this one fits the bill!
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a great time to think about self-care and taking steps to keep your mental health in good shape. Here are five books to keep us all on track. The first four descriptions are from Amazon and the last is from my own thoughts.
Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts by Guy Winch PhD: We all sustain emotional wounds. Failure, guilt, rejection, and loss are as much a part of life as the occasional scraped elbow. But while we typically bandage a cut or ice a sprained ankle, our first aid kit for emotional injuries is not just understocked—it’s nonexistent. Fortunately, there is such a thing as mental first aid for battered emotions. Drawing on the latest scientific research and using real-life examples, practicing psychologist Guy Winch, Ph.D. offers specific step-by-step treatments that are fast, simple, and effective.
Hope and Help for Your Nerves – End Anxiety Now by Dr. Claire Weekes: On my Kindle! Dr. Claire Weekes offers the results of years of experience treating real patients—including some who thought they’d never recover. With her simple, step-by-step guidance, you will learn how to understand and analyze your own symptoms of anxiety and find the power to conquer your fears for good.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb: I read this highly readable and informative book in 2020, just before the pandemic. Lori Gottlieb, a writer and psychotherapist, felt crushed when the long-term relationship with her boyfriend ended abruptly. She was certain she’d been wronged and wanted to find a way out of her pain. So she found her own therapist (Wendell) and, while he was helping her, she was helping her patients with many of the same issues, all of which come from being human. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is the story of four of Gottlieb’s patients and of her own journey to better self-understanding. She explains the similarity and why she wrote the book: “Our training has taught us theories and tools and techniques, but whirring beneath our hard-earned expertise is the fact that we know just how hard it is to be a person.”
I learned a great deal about the Cuban experience in this novel about Marisól Ferrera, young Cuban-American journalist who travels to Havana to spread her grandmother’s ashes. The novel takes place in Havana during two time periods, 2017 and 1959, and includes a storyline that ties the two women together in a surprising way.
The story begins as Marisól’s grandmother, Elisa Perez and her wealthy family flee Cuba. Fidel Castro has overthrown the government and the Perez family faces danger due to Elisa’s father’s alliances with ousted President Batista. Now they must leave their sugar dynasty and all their riches behind. In 2017, when Marisól arrives in Havana, she travels under the guise of writing an article about sightseeing in Cuba. She hopes to write the article, spread Elisa’s ashes and connect with her Cuban culture, especially with Elisa’s dearest friend, Ana Rodriguez.
At their first meeting, Ana gives Marisól a box of letters Elisa had asked Ana to safeguard, letters from a mysterious lover, Pablo. After she reads them, she knows she must learn the full truth about her grandmother. But unforeseen problems force Marisól to reconsider the risks. In addition, Ana’s handsome but enigmatic grandson, Luis, makes Marisól wish she could stay in Havana longer. She wonders what her life might have been like had her family not fled.
As a Cuban-American, Marisól has always struggled with her dual identity. She holds the Cuban culture close, but sees a great divide between the Cubans who left and those who stayed. Her grandfather, Emilio was able to rebuild his sugar dynasty in Florida and the Perez family has enjoyed a life of wealth. But the Rodriguez family stayed in Havana and have since endured desperate conditions amid continued control under Castro’s communist regime, now led by Fidel’s brother, Raúl.
I enjoyed learning about the Cuban culture, its food and architecture. I was impressed by the Cubans’ fierce loyalty to their place in Havana, despite extreme poverty. In addition, the author’s descriptions of breathtaking seascapes made me jump on the internet to see. What was most impressive, however, was the author’s ability to describe beauty in the once-grand buildings that have fallen into disrepair. The author also explains the complex relationship between Cuba and the United States, which has caused a good deal of resentment.
Next Year in Havana is the first of Cleeton’s series about Cuba. Many thanks to my blogging friend at Hopewell’s Public Library of Life for recommending Chanel Cleeton to me!
Sometimes you need to work through the early chapters of a book to reap its rewards. That is how I felt about this historical mystery, set in India during the 1920s, when the country was under British Rule. In the first book of Massey’s mystery series, we meet Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female solicitor, who, because of her own disastrous marriage, is devoted to protecting women’s rights. Perveen grew up in a progressive Parsi family, studied at Oxford and now works beside her father, a successful lawyer.
In this story, Perveen represents the three widows of the recently deceased Omar Farid, a Muslim man. Razia, Sakima and Mumtaz live in complete seclusion at their Malabar Hill home where direct contact with males is forbidden and all communication must take place through a jali wall. The women are at the mercy of the estate trustee, Faisal Mukri, who wants to control the portions that are allotted to them. Most importantly, Perveen wants to make sure the women understand their rights.
Her drive to protect them is personal. In 1916 when Perveen was nineteen she met Cyrus Sodawalla, a dashing Parsi businessman from Calcutta. They seemed to make a great connection, but the Sodawallas had insisted Cyrus choose a wife from an approved list that did not include Perveen. After much negotiation, however, they married and moved across the country to live with Cyrus’s parents, who are Orthodox Parsis. Nothing was what Perveen expected: it was much worse. When she tried to get out she discovered that she had almost no rights.
Now, when Mukri turns up dead, Perveen finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Inspectors make an arrest, but is it the right person?
I do not want to spoil the rest because I think books are most enjoyable when you only know the premise. Besides learning a lot about India, the cultures and religions during this time period, I liked reading how Perveen gets to know the widows who seem to get along, but do they? The undercurrent of resentment becomes apparent as you read and learn more about each and why Farid married them. I was also fascinated by how the women coped, despite their isolation. In addition, the Sodawallas’ orthodox practices would make anyone want to escape!
Also at play is the country’s strained relationship with Great Britain and their disdain for the English government officials posted in India. They had years to go. The Crown rule in India would continue until 1947.
The Widows of Malabar Hill is the winner of the Agatha Award, the Macavity Award, the Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Once I got into this story, I really enjoyed it. I would say you have to be willing to take the time to understand the setting and history and then it really takes off. My mystery book club agreed with me!
Weldome to a new feature on Book Club Mom: Short Reviews of Recommended Reads. I hope you’ll take a look!
Born in a Treacherous Time by Jacqui Murray: I dove into this prehistoric story, Book 1 of Murray’s Dawn of Humanity trilogy, and wow, what a great portrayal of a world we can only imagine. Set 1.8 million years ago on the savannas of East Africa, we meet Lucy, an early human female from the Man-who-makes-tools group. Tragic events break up Lucy’s group and she joins another group, toolmakers, but different from her people. Pregnant, Lucy mourns the loss of her forever pairmate, Garv, but like all others, she must carry on in a world that is dominated by hunting and survival from starvation, attacks, extreme weather, volcanos and earthquakes. Lucy’s keen instincts, excellent hunting skills and knowledge of healing herbs and techniques prove an asset, yet other members resent her. They must all work together to survive, however, as they face many perils, including the ominous presence of Man-who-preys. Murray makes it easy to picture what life may have been like during this period, full of violence, but with equal amounts of emotional and social aspects.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Here’s a book you just have to like for its feel-good story and message. Fifth-grader Auggie Pullman has been born with a severe facial deformity, one that has required many surgeries. Previously home-schooled, his family enrolls him in a private middle-school in New York City. Not many people can say how Auggie feels to be so disfigured, to be stared at, made fun of, and worse. He has felt it all, yet he remains remarkably upbeat. Palacio does a nice job presenting Auggie’s character, through his own words. She continues the story through other characters’ narrations, giving us a wider perspective. Most interesting of these points of view is that of his older sister, Olivia, who has always loved and protected her brother, but begins to push away from that role. Olivia has lived in the background at home, with necessary attention being given to her brother. The overall message of kindness is perfect for readers ages 8-12.
Well Behaved Wives by Amy Sue Nathan: I enjoyed this historical fiction story set in the prestigious Jewish neighborhood of 1960s Wynnefield, Philadelphia. It begins as Ruth and Asher Applebaum, newly married, move in with Asher’s parents, Shirley and Leon. Shirley, stung that the couple eloped, sets her mind on making Ruth, a confident and career-minded New Yorker raised by her father, into a well-mannered woman of society. That means looking your best, saying the right things and supporting your husband’s career. Ruth has other ideas. A recent graduate of Columbia Law School, she plans to study for the bar exam and begin a career helping battered women. The problem? Asher has not told his parents about Ruth’s plans. Shirley arranges for Lucy to attend grooming classes, led by Shirley’s close friend and socialite, Lillian Diamond. Together, with three other young women, they become the “Diamond Girls.” Ruth discovers that she may be able to help one of her new friends escape dangerous circumstances and she soon learns that these older women have a lot more to them than she thought. Light reading, a little heavy on the message, but an interesting story.
I always wonder what to do when I refer to something that belongs to a person whose name ends in an s. In grammar talk, that’s the possessive case of nouns. Guess what? There are two correct ways to do it, so no stress! Just be consistent.
Have you noticed that the most recent Spelling & Grammar feature on Microsoft Word now grades your work? I recently received an 86% on a book review. How dare they! I did not want a B so I removed all the contractions and got a 100%.
If you dive deeper, you can see some interesting stats including the percent of passive sentences, the Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. My book review scored a 66.5 in Reading Ease and a 7.6 Grade Level.
The U.S. Navy developed the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (read how here), first to use in technical manuals and training. The goal is 8, which means an eighth-grade reading level.
I learned more about both scores and media readability from fullmedia.com:
To give you an idea of where some major publications fall in this range Reader’s Digest has a Flesch Reading Ease around 65, Time magazine has a score of 52 and the Harvard Law Review falls somewhere in the low 30s.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level applies a reading grade level to your writing. New York Times articles have a tenth-grade reading level and romance novels have about a fifth-grade reading level. A sixth-grade student could understand content with a Flesch Reading Ease of 60 to 70.
Do these measurements matter for blog posts and SEO?
Maybe, when it comes to readability, but, according to ahrefs.com, it depends what kind of content you publish. If it’s technical, the FRE is bound to be more difficult, so it’s best to know your readers and write for them.
FYI I got a 90% on this post, with at FRE of 62.3% and a Grade Level of 8.6.
Do you use MS Word’s Spelling & Grammar tool? Have you ever looked at these other scores? Leave a comment!
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