26 Jan 2023

2022 Catchup: The Premonition at Withers Farm by Jaime Jo Wright

 Catching up on posting reviews I read last year, but did not post. 

Genre: Crossover/Duel Timeline
Pyschological Thriller/Mystery

In 1910 Michigan, Perliett VanHilton is a self-proclaimed rural healer, leaving the local doctor, George Wasziak, convinced she practices quackery. It doesn't help that her mother, Maribeth VanHilton, is a Spiritualist who regularly offers her services to help others speak to their dearly departed. But when Perliett is targeted by a superstitious killer, she relies on both George and an intriguing newcomer for help.

In the present day, life has not developed the way Molly Wasziak dreamed. Facing depression after multiple miscarriages, Molly is adapting to her husband's purchase of a new farm. A search for a family tree pulls Molly deep into a vintage web of deceptions, made more mysterious by the disturbing shadows and sounds in the old farmhouse.

Perliett fights for her life, and Molly seeks renewed purpose for hers as she uncovers the records of the dead. Will their voices be heard, or will time silence their truths forever?

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Premonition at Withers Farm is probably the first title by this author which has not been made into an audiobook. I can, in part understand why. It covers some very controversial content most notably Spiritualism, which was rising in popularity in the early 20th century.
The protagonist’s mother holds seances in her house for money and publicity. I will say that this content, although explored, isn’t glorified, or encouraged: it’s treated from a biblical standpoint as something people shouldn’t dabble with. The novel also goes into the reasons why many people were drawn to spiritualism, and how the inability to deal with grief and loss in a healthy way could be exploited.

The modern protagonist, Molly, was struggling with postpartum depression after several miscarriages. Except, she didn’t really understand what was happening to her or how the condition could impact her when she had lost her children before birth.
I was compelled by the central mystery of this story (Jaime Jo Wright’s books are always thrillers) which wasn’t predictable at all and the exploration of life, death, guilt, shame, and the secrets within families.

I did think some of the romantic elements felt a bit contrived or inappropriate at times, though. I’ve felt that about some of the other books by this author and I sometimes wonder if the romance is even necessary since her books are good enough as dual timeline thrillers.
That said, the modern protagonist is already married, so it’s not a traditional “romance” in that regard.

This novel also covers matters relating to mental health, in this case the complex and controversial subject of psychopathy. Some have complained that mental illness is used as an “excuse” for behaviour of characters, but I think this represents a misunderstanding of mental illness as whole. In the case of this book the idea that psychopaths are born not made comes into play: this is something which has been explored by psychologists, as psychopathy seems to be the only psychological condition which has no identifiable cause and may be genetic.

I’d recommend this title for all fans of the author and thrillers. I had some major issues with her last book which thankfully are not present here. It managed to be spooky and gripping without resort to graphic violence or descriptions of violence and returns to being more of a psychological thriller.

Thanks to Bethany House for approving my request for this title. I wasn’t required to write a review, and all opinions are my own and given freely.

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2022 Catchup: The Lost Melody by Joanna Davidson Politano

Posting some of my reviews for books I read last year, because I have got so behind in updating my blog. 

When concert pianist Vivienne Mourdant's father dies, he leaves to her the care of an adult ward she knew nothing about. The woman is supposedly a patient at Hurstwell Asylum. The woman's portrait is shockingly familiar to Vivienne, so when the asylum claims she was never a patient there, Vivienne is compelled to discover what happened to the figure she remembers from childhood dreams.

The longer she lingers in the deep shadows and forgotten towers at Hurstwell, the fuzzier the line between sanity and madness becomes. She hears music no one else does, receives strange missives with rose petals between the pages, and untangles far more than is safe for her to know. But can she uncover the truth about the mysterious woman she seeks? And is there anyone at Hurstwell she can trust with her suspicions?

Fan-favorite Joanna Davidson Politano casts a delightful spell with this lyrical look into the nature of women's independence and artistic expression during the Victorian era--and now.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Lost Melody was a book which could have been very dark, like a Thomas Hardy novel. His books always leave me depressed. There were certainly Gothic notes, but this book had enough undertones of hope and courage to leave the reader satisfied. It is about a young woman who is convinced she is mad and committed to an Asylum under a false name. Vivienne doesn’t even realize she has been sent there at first, and in the first chapters she is merely searching for someone who was sent to the asylum until it turns out she is, in fact, a patient.

Vivienne knows she’s not mad, but someone wants to make out she is. The longer she stays, the more she finds out there is something strange going on in the asylum. There are “secret” patients they deny the existence of someone is lying about the background of mysterious female patient, and one of the doctors seems to have a connection with her. A connection which he denies, and which he and others will apparently do anything to keep a secret.

Apart from being about the healing and encouraging impact of music, I think I would suggest the other theme of this book is judging by appearances. Vivienne (and others) dismisses many of those in the Hurstwell Asylum as mad or dangerous when they’re not. Many are just struggling with trauma or disability and don’t know how to express themselves. The author’s note also suggests that Victorian Ayslums were not what we think either: the majority of patients were male, not female. It seems like then, as now, mental illness was more common among men.

As Vivienne uncovers the secrets in Hurstwell, she learns that her light can shine even in the darkest of places, and her gift for music can make a difference to any lives even when she does not see its purpose. It also provides a valuable exploration of attitudes to disability, mental health, neurodiversity, and artistic expression. Some beliefs, especially about the former, still have not changed. There are still people who believe people with certain conditions such as PTSD are just bad and dangerous or are simply lazy and need to put effort in to “cure” themselves. Disabled people are still being judged and subject to discrimination now.
Why the slightly lower rating? A few of the usual issues with some language and details which weren’t quite right for the setting, but nothing that was too serious.

I would recommend this for everyone interested in Historical Fiction and clean Fiction with Inspirational overtones.

Thanks to Revell for approving my request for this title on Netgalley. This did not influence my review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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