Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

9780385534833_p0_v5_s260x420The news explodes with catastrophes periodically – an earthquake, a tsunami, a flood – and our attention is drawn to the horrors for a few days, maybe even weeks if the news cycle has little to do but monitor the clean-up.  After a while, the next explosion grabs the headlines, and those who were closely affected are forgotten.  In Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian focuses on the life of a sixteen year-old girl, whose father was the engineer who may have been responsible for the meltdown of a nuclear plant in Vermont.  Her life changes in a New York minute from typical teen-age angst and hijinks to misery, paranoia, and homelessness. Despite Bohjalian’s facility with words, this is a difficult book to read.

The protagonist, Emily, loves poetry and aspires to be a writer.  Her favorite author is her namesake – Emily Dickinson, and the story is sprinkled with the reclusive author’s poetry.  The title, however, as lyrical and visionary as it seems, is not poetic. The phrase originated from another horror – the teachers’ directions to the young children who had survived a massacre at their school.  To keep them from seeing their dead classmates, they were instructed to hold hands and close their eyes as they were escorted outside.  Bohjalian insists that the reader know this – his quirky balance between shock and relief that he does so well, as he guides the reader through Emily’s maze from orphaned self-mutilating survivor to sympathetic protector of a nine year-old runaway, and finally, to a semblance of salvation.

At one point, the author notes:

“…We watch it, we read about it, and then we move on.  As a species, we’re either very resilient or super callous. I don’t know which…”

Emily’s trials are unforgettable, and in her case…hope is not the thing with feathers…


Looking Forward to Reading in 2014

Finding a favorite author can lead to fervent stalking of their next publication.  Writers do not always churn out stories quickly enough to appease the appetites of their anxious readers, but expectations run high when a new book is coming.  Here are a few I am looking forward to reading in 2014:

From Favorite Authors:

Sarah Addison Allen: Lost Lake  {January}

JoJo Moyes: The One Plus One {February|}

Jeffrey Archer: Be Careful What You Wish For (Clifton Chronicles cont.) – {March}

Emma Donoghue: Frog Music {April}

Harriet Lane (author of Alys Always) – Her   {June}

Deborah Harkness: The Book of Life (continues story of witch Diana Bishop) – {July}

And from a new author:    Vivien Shotwell:  Vienna Nocturne  {February}

Do you have any books on your 2014 reading list?  happy_new_year_background_vector_illustration_267362

Have a Happy New Year of  reading!

He’s Gone by Deb Caletti

9780345534354_p0_v1_s260x420Dani Keller wakes up one morning to find her husband, Ian, has disappeared.  If this sounds like a familiar theme (aka “Gone Girl”), Deb Caletti’s psychological thriller – He’s Gone – will surprise you with its gripping narrative that is different – and with a surprise ending that is satisfying.

As the tale unfolds, the lives of Dani Keller and her choices of men become the catalyst for the mystery of her second husband’s fate.  Having escaped her physically abusive first husband, Dani finds that her second husband is obsessed with control and not the soul mate and rescuer she had imagined.  When he mysteriously disappears, she may be grateful – but did she kill him?  With clever revelations of past and present lives, Caletti keeps you guessing until the end.

As a National Book Award finalist for her teen story,”Honey, Baby, Sweetheart,” a coming of age story of a teenage girl with a rebel boyfriend and a mother who is a librarian (that I now have on my to-read list), Caletti is well known for her young adult novels.  He’s Gone is her first adult novel.  A fellow reader alerted me to this book, and I read it in one sitting – just had to know whodunit – fun and engaging.

Kate Atkinson

9780316176484_p0_v9_s260x420Although I had Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog on my to-read list, my good intentions went astray and I never did read that book. Now she has a new novel, Life After Life, and the theme seems vaguely familiar: the main character relives a segment of her life over and over, never realizing she has been there before.

An interesting conceit that has been used before, so I preordered the book, and it now sits on my Kindle. But – not until I read Sarah Lyall’s interview of the author in her New York Times article Kate Atkinson’s Groundhog Day Fiction – “Three Beginnings, Reverse Chronology and a Novel That Starts Over in Every Chapter,” did I want to read the book. Lyall connects the author to her writing, uncovering some of those moments the reader always wonders about – where is the connection of fiction to the author’s life? As an intensely private person, Atkinson carefully reveals only a sampling of her thoughts behind the writing, but it is enough.

The best sales pitch for reading came in the last paragraph of the interview, when Atkinson notes:

“The legacy of the fairy story in my brain is that everything will work out…In fiction it would be very hard for me, as a writer, to give a bad ending to a good character, or give a good ending to a bad character. That’s probably not a very postmodern thing to say.”

Maybe not, but my kind of book…

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

“You are hosting a dinner party for three writers?  Who’s on the invite list?”

When Kristin Cashore, author of young adult novels, was asked this question in the New York Times book review interview By the Book,  she answered:

“Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, and Hildegard von Bingen…hopefully one of them can cook and wouldn’t mind coming early to take care of that.”

When reluctantly participating in a get-to-know-you exercise and asked for one author, my response – Steve Martin – was met with disdain (they were all academics.)  Having dinner with the prolific wild and crazy guy who’s written novels (Shop Girl), plays (Picasso at the Lapin Agile), can talk about art (has a private collection), and can play a mean banjo – not to mention his sense of humor – has the potential for good dinner conversation.  Calvin Trillin could add a little spice, and if I were to add one more, of course, Julia Child (to cook).

Do you have authors you would like to meet?  maybe share a meal?

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