Posts Tagged ‘Best Books of the Year’

Sundays With Writers: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Sundays With Writers

Some interviews are extra, extra special. This is one of them. Everything I have ever read by Chris Bohjalian  has moved me and I was thrilled when I got an advance reader of his new book, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, from NetGalley. When I closed the final pages, I sent Chris a message and asked if he might consider doing an interview here. His email back was one of the most sincere, genuine, and kindest responses to an interview request ever.  Not only is he genuinely in love with his characters and getting to share his stories, but it is quite evident that he is just as passionate about the people who read his words.  Getting to share about this book, in his release week,  is an honor and I feel privileged to say that I got to have this conversation with him.  I count myself lucky to get to share this interview with you and I hope that you will race right out and buy this book.

 

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

 

I truly cannot imagine the amount of research and time it would take to take on a book like this.  In Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian proves himself as a seasoned writer, taking on the story of a troubled teenage girl whose town experiences a nuclear meltdown. What makes it doubly heartwrenching is due to her father’s alcoholic past, he is the chief administrator of the plant and her mother, Mira, also works there as a communications specialist.  He is the one that the town blames for the disaster and the death of 19 people. Now orphaned and unwanted, Emily feels like she is not safe in her town and this leads her down a path of destruction that will pull at your heartstrings as a parent and put her in many situations that are brutal in nature.

Not only does Bohjalian capture the voice of this teenage girl so perfectly, but the depth of research on the repercussions of this disaster on a town, and an unlikely blending of Emily Dickinson poems woven throughout (the fictional Emily’s favorite poet) tie this novel up beautifully. Although heartbreakingly tragic, it is one that I could not put down in the final pages.

My only regret was that the epilogue was not expanded more and we could see more of what happened after Emily received treatment.

This book does contain language, violence, & sexual situations.

Grab your morning coffee and let’s chat with Chris about this amazing book!

Chris Bohjalian

With seventeen bodies of work under your belt, I would think that it would be hard to come up with a fresh new plot, yet you did that with Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, and it is phenomenal. How did you come up with the idea to tackle a story based around a nuclear meltdown? Is this something that has always fascinated you?

First of all, thank you so much. I appreciate that immensely.

The truth is, some of my novels demand considerably more research than others. For “Midwives,” for example, I must have interviewed easily sixty or sixty-fives midwives, ob-gyns, lawyers, EMTs, and moms and dads who had their babies at home.

But Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands? Not nearly as much. Emily Shepard’s voice came to me a few days after Christmas 2012, and it came to me fully formed.

Part of the reason why I found the voice so easily, I think, is that I’ve written about teens in trouble often over the years as a newspaper columnist. I’m a big fan of an organization in Burlington, Vermont called Spectrum Youth & Family Services, and the terrific work they do. I’ve met a lot of their kids. I’ve heard the stories and seen their faces. I’ve met the young adults who are going to be just fine, and the ones who – due to mental illness or substance abuse or bad choices or a cataclysmic home life – are heading for disaster.

I also know some of the Spectrum staff. I went to college with Annie Ramniceanu, for instance, who served for years as their associate executive director. She’s also an immensely gifted therapist and counselor. One day when I was having lunch with her, she started telling me how some of the kids – the teens who are falling through the system – would build igloos against the Vermont cold out of trash bags filled with wet leaves, and I knew instantly the novel I wanted to write.

As my 20-year-old daughter, Grace Experience, would tell me when she finished reading the first draft of this novel, “Dad, please take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way: Your sweet spot as a novelist is seriously messed up young women.” I know she’s right.

Emily Dickinson and her poems play a big part in the fictional Emily’s life and Emily really wants her life & words to be like Emily Dickinson. Was Emily a favorite poet of yours or did you develop this entirely around this story?

I’ve always loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry and the mysteries that surround her life. Moreover, as a novelist I’ve often wondered about the choices she made about whether (or not) to publish her extraordinary body of work. And, yes, I went to Amherst College, where her spirit hovers over the community. Sometimes it seems to me as if half the buildings I lived in on campus were named after someone she knew.

Emily is perfectly voiced as a teenager. Some of the lingo, I am embarrassed to say, I almost had to look up. How do you, as a male author, get a perfectly pitched teenage female voice for our narrator?

I think in some ways the voice came together because of all of those teens I interviewed over the years. I still have the columns and I can still recall vividly some of their stories – and so much of their separate ordeals.

I also need to give a big shout-out to my daughter, Grace. Often when I was writing, I would be at a loss to find the right synonym for a word or to capture the precise expression that a really smart teen girl would use, and so I would text her. I would ask, “What’s a hip synonym for ‘tattoo?’” Or “I need another expression for ‘hook-up.’ Any ideas?” And she would text me back something that would work. Trust me, you would not have found the word “bitchcakes” in the novel without her. She was wonderful.

Finally, whenever I write across gender – which I do all the time – I focus first on the things that link us as people. Then, after that, I can begin to examine the particularities of gender.

There were many, many difficult moments that I had reading about Emily’s life when she is homeless, particularly, when she takes Cameron under her wing. Were there any scenes in particular that were difficult for you to write or anything you had to step away from?

Yes. As a dad of a daughter, I found it difficult to write about Emily Shepard’s cutting and the way she is sexually exploited by Poacher.

But I loved writing about her relationship with Cameron, and the way she looks out for him. She might make a lot of bad parenting decisions, but when it comes to that boy – to paraphrase Emily Dickinson – her life really does stand a loaded gun.

Did writing this novel make you think about nuclear disasters differently? Do you have more or less fear about these situations becoming a reality?

I learned a bit about how nuclear plants work – thanks to Arnie and Maggie Gundersen at Fairewinds Energy Education. But I must confess, I still find nuclear power absolutely baffling.

But the Fairewinds website is incredibly interesting.

And, yes, nuclear power does make me nervous. The exclusion zone in my novel in Vermont is small compared to the actual exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Room,” by Emma Donoghue. What makes this novel so remarkable is not merely how authentically Donoghue captures the voice of a five-year-old boy, but the deft way she slowly conveys the horrific reality of a mother and son’s captivity.

If you want a poignant, powerful novel about a mother’s desperate love for her child, it doesn’t get better than this.

You can connect with Chris Bohjalian  on Facebook or on his website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

*This post contains affiliate links!

The Best Books Read in 2012

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

It is time for my annual list of the best books I read in 2012. If you are looking for the best books to read for next year this list of the best books of 2012 are the perfect place to start for creating your reading list.

My reading goal was 60 books this year and I will just be coming in on 40 or so books once I finish out this month. I admit that I am a little short of the planned and lofty goal I had this year, but I am still really proud that I managed to squeeze in that many with such a busy year.

Each year I  document my reading challenge through GoodReads so I can track my progress while I am doing my reading. If you are planning to make a reading goal yourself, be sure to sign up for a reading challenge you can create your own goal too through GoodReads and track your own progress.

If you are looking for a little inspiration this new year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, I read many more  books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of the month here. If you want to read more, please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

Even more exciting (for me) this year is that I now have an Author Profile on GoodReads and my book is listed there too! I would be ecstatic if you became a fan of my writing and would love to see my book listed as something you might be wanting to read in 2013. 

Without further adieu, here are my favorite reads of the year (in no particular order)! 

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Julia Win, a young lawyer from New York, is on a mission to find out what happened to her father.  Tim Win, of Burmese origin, was a prominent Wall Street lawyer disappeared without a trace four years before, leaving Julia wondering if her father had been leading a double life.

One day, she finds a very old letter written in the 1940s by his father to a woman named Mi Mi in Burma. An address in Kalaw is all she needs to follow her instinct and begin a search for her father. Once she arrives in Kalaw, she is approached by a gentle man in a restaurant  named U Ba, who seems to know all about her even though Julia has never met him before. He wants to tell Julia a story… a story about her father. It is a story that confuses Julia and causes her to realize that the man she knew has her father, is not who he really was.

This is a love story that will captivate your heart with vivid imagery of a blind man falling in love with a disabled and beautiful woman. It is a love story that pulled at my heartstrings and was so moving that I still cannot stop thinking about it. This story will pull you in from the first page.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

There is a certain richness that comes with great Southern storytelling and this amazing book by Jenny Wingfield is laced with that type of richness I am speaking of and beautiful storytelling that you can picture just like a movie screen.

Samuel Lake, his wife Willadee (Moses), and their three children find themselves back home in Arkansas after Samuel finds himself out of work as a minister. When tragedy strikes, the family bands together in unlikely ways and find their faith is challenged to the core of even God’s most faithful. The book offers the story of spunky Swan Lake (yes, her family did name her that), an unlikely little boy that the family takes in as their own, a town villain that has made it his life’s mission to make their family’s life miserable, and Toy, Swan’s uncle, who becomes her unlikely hero.

Each character is so vividly told with his/her own story line that Wingfield magically weaves together to create an incredible story that will stick with you long after you close the book. I can’t recommend this one enough!

The Snow Child by Eoywn Ivey

The Snow Child takes place in 1920 in Alaska where a city-bred girl Mabel and her husband Jack are trying to make a life for themselves in the isolated woods of an Alaskan farm. More than anything Mabel & Jack have longed for a child, but have remained childless and are beginning to drift apart. Mabel is in the throes of a deep depression and Jack is beginning to wonder if their decision to move to Alaska was a sound one.

One night, amid the first falling snow, Jack & Mabel have a moment of tenderness and begin playing in the snow. They decide to make a snow child and add little additions from Mabel’s wardrobe to wrap her in.

The next morning, their snow child is gone, but they begin catching the glimpse of a child running through the woods wearing Mabel’s items that were once on their snow child.  This child  of the woods contentedly runs around the forest in the freezing cold with a red fox. Mabel and Jack are left wondering…is this a real child or is this a fairy tale child that they are simply hallucinating?

This is a grown-up fairy tale that is just so beautifully written that your heart will be aching for Mabel and Jack that they can make this child that they have longed for to be their own.  I was enraptured with the story from the first page and I have a feeling you will too!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I love when I read a book and feel my real life slipping away from me. Gone Girl was a book that sucked me from the very first page and offered one of those amazing journeys as a reader.

Without giving the plot away the story begins with  Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Amy has carefully wrapped gifts and is making the perfect breakfast for her husband when she suddenly disappears one seemingly ordinary morning. Nick is quickly under suspicion since he appears completely unemotional with the news of his wife’s disappearance and has no real explanation for his whereabouts when Amy has disappeared. Clue after clue points to Nick and the police begin building a case against him. It leaves the entire town and those closest to Amy wondering what Nick has done to Amy.

Of course, with all good stories, things aren’t always as they appear and this story will take the reader on great plot twists that they will never suspect coming. Although, I found the ending of this book to be a bit flat and it didn’t wrap up the way I had hoped, I still believe this is one of the best thrillers I have read this year.

Editor’s Note- This book contains graphic scenes, language, & violence.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

I am  not interested in legal thrillers, but my girlfriend recommended this book to me and I am so thankful she did. This is one of the best thrillers I have read since Before I Go to Sleep, and left me hanging on the edge of my seat for the entire book.

Andy Barber has been a district attorney for over twenty years. He is well respected and knows how to command the courtroom. When a murder happens at his son’s school, he is among the first on the scene and is ready to help bring vindication to the murderer.

What Andy never suspects is that his own son is the one who is charged with the murder. Andy is removed from the case when all clues begin to point towards his son. Andy doesn’t want to believe that his son could commit such a heinous crime, but as mounting evidence points towards Jacob, he is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Does he hide the evidence he finds that he knows that the police might be after or let the justice system decide the fate of his child?

Part family drama, part thriller, I could not put this book down. My heart ached for this family who is now ostracized from their friends and coworkers, while the other part of me ached that Jacob would be proven guilty of the crime. The reader will be taken on a wild ride from start to finish with this book. It is a twisty ending that will leave you breathless.

Whatever you do, add this deeply moving book to your list. I highly recommend this read for book clubs because it gives readers a chance to think what they might do to protect their child.

Editor’s Note: This book contains violence and graphic language.

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

A Mississippi plantation mistress, Amanda Satterfield, loses her daughter to cholera after her husband refuses to treat her for what he refers to as a, “slave disease.” In turn of these events, Amanda begins to lose her mind and decides to take a newborn slave in as her own, taking her from her family that loves her. She renames the little girl Granada, and begins to parade her around in her daughter’s clothing and allowing her to be part of family dinners, despite her husband and their friends discomfort.

Troubled not only by his wife’s mental illness, but by the plague that seems to be sweeping through his slave population, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave who is known to be a healer. When Polly sets eyes upon Granada, she knows that she has the gift and requests that Granada be removed from the home so she can shadow Polly.

Seventy-five years later, Granada is now known as Gran Gran and takes in an abandoned girl in her care. To help the girl to come out of her shell, she shares with her the powerful story of learning to let go of the girl that she thought she was to be to the mistress, to the amazing road of being a healer herself.

I guarantee that you will love this book if you are fans of The Kitchen House, Dry Grass of August, or The Help. The story is achingly beautiful and written in such a way that you will long remember it in your heart. I can’t recommend this one enough, friends!

A Good American by Alex George

I love to read books that are sweep me quickly into their story line, whose words read like lyrics, and prose that reads as beautifully as poetry. Alex George offers a book that you will long remember that has been elegantly and eloquently crafted in a way that I have not read in many years. It is a book that I found myself reading paragraphs aloud to my husband, simply because they were written in such a descriptive manner that you felt as though you were watching a movie.

“Always there was music.” The book opens with Frederick, an amateur opera singer, serenading an unlikely girl named Jette who is tall in stature and just as equal in her elegance & family upbringing. Frederick quickly woos Jette in a whirlwind love affair and Jette discovers she is pregnant, forcing the couple to leave as quickly as possible from her family’s disapproving eyes. The year is 1904, Jette and Frederick board a ship to New Orleans instead of their originally intended boat to New York when they discover that the boat is full. “What’s the difference? They’re both new,” they say.

They end up settling in the tiny town of Beatrice, Missouri where we meet a cast of unlikely characters who all find refuge in this German speaking town. The book chronicles the journey of their family through prohibition, the Great Depression and the Kennedy assassination. Despite the depth of the book and the plots it carries, it moves swiftly and is well-executed, leaving the reader hanging until the final page.

I loved this book so much that I emailed the author when I finished it to tell him just how much I enjoyed this book. He immediately replied with heartfelt thanks for the compliments, which makes a reader like me feel even more connected to this amazing story.

Heft by Liz Moore

Heft is truly one of the best books that I have read this year and I know that this is a novel that can be appreciated by all. It is a story that leaves you rooting for some of the most unlikely characters and showcases the beauty of unlikely friendships.

Eighteen years ago, Arthur had a promising career as a professor, and loved his work. He is now  a 58 year-old man who cannot leave his home due to his incredible size of 500 pounds. Since 2001 he has managed to stay within the confines of his home relying on services like grocery and food deliveries that can be ordered from his own computer. He has no friends, no family, and the only bit of human contact he receives are letters occasionally sent to him from his old student, Charlene Turner.

When Charlene contacts Arthur, out of the blue, to see if he will help her with her son Kel Keller and offer guidance to him to help him, Arthur hires a cleaning service to help him get his house back in shape. His house is a place that has been grossly neglected because Arthur has lost the will and lacks the energy to clean it, due to his size. When a young 19 year-old Yolanda shows up on his doorstep, he can never know how this will change his life. An unlikely friendship unfolds and brings new purpose to Arthur’s life that he never expects.

The author not only takes you through Arthur’s difficulties in his life, but the story of Kel and his mother Chelsea alternate in these chapters as you see the difficulties that this young man has had to overcome and will leave you begging for the happy ending that this boy so deserves.

Beautifully written and great stories that are woven together in such a way that you can vividly picture each of these characters and feel their stories resonate in your own heart. You will have a hard time putting this one down and I look forward to reading more from Liz Moore in the future!

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Nothing about, “The Pillars of the Earth,” sounded interesting to me and, to be honest, the sheer size of this book scared me to death. Our book club selected this book though and as others in our book club read it, they shared how amazing it was. I just knew I had to take the plunge despite my misgivings that it was going to be a boring read. I am so, so glad that I did. It is a book filled with amazingly developed characters, fabulous plot twists, and historical fiction at its finest. I could not put it down, I had to know how it would all work out, and I was captivated from the opening paragraph until the very last page.

Tom Builder has lost commission on a home that he was to build and begins to roam England seeking work.  As he is turned away from each job they find, their family begins to starve and his pregnant wife dies during childbirth in the woods.  Without food to give the baby, they abandon the child in the woods and Tom immediately comes into a relationship with a resourceful woman named Ellen and their son Jack who become a part of their family and help them navigate the forest life.

When Tom seeks shelter at a church his life never becomes the same again as he finds work through an unlikely fire that damages the church and then finds that his life is interwoven with the church in more ways than he could ever imagine. The building of a new church brings together unlikely characters and a determined character who threatens to destroy it all.

A story of good and evil that riveted me and one that will truly captivate you from start to finish, this book moved me and will probably reside firmly in my top ten books I have ever read.

Editor’s Note: This contains sexually graphic scenes. 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I am trying to tackle a few of those books that people say to me, “I can’t believe you haven’t read that yet.” Outlander has been recommended to me time and time again so I decided I would start this year out with a few of the books that I have been intending to read.  At over 600 pages, I can see why I have not attempted to tackle this before, but after reading it I can honestly say that it was an amazing story and I can’t wait to read more in this series. A book of this size has never been devoured so quickly and I don’t think my family saw me for three weeks while I worked on this one.

This story follows Claire Randall, a young combat nurse in WWII who recently moved to Scotland with her husband. While they are out hiking one day, Claire accidentally passes through the stones of an ancient stone circle and awakens to find herself in 16th century Scotland. Confused as to what has happened to her Claire’s path crosses with a Highland warrior named James Fraser that forever alters Claire’s path and begins a love story that rivals any other that you may have read.

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart it is violent and sexually charged throughout. At times I felt like I was reading a Harlequin romance novel as some of the love scenes were a little fluffy for my usual taste, but the good in this book definitely outweighs the bad.

This is historical fiction at some of its finest and I felt like I was transported while I read this. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series and be transported once again.

Honorable Mentions

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

On a stormy night an unlikely couple knocks on an unlikely stranger’s door, when they come to seek shelter from the storm. Lynnie, a woman with an intellectual disability and Homan, a deaf man, have run away from a brutal institution where they have been placed because of their disabilities.

A friendly schoolteacher answers her door and finds that she has opened the door to a journey she never could have anticipated. Because the couple have ran away from the institution, the police begin to bang on the door looking for them and Lynnie hands to her a brand new baby and utters just two words to the teacher, “Hide her.”

Lynnie is returned to the school, Homan runs away and is thought to have been dead, and Martha is left in charge of a child when she has never had a child of her own. The story chronicles forty years following each of these characters as their lives take an unlikely path.

The premise of the story is captivating and the love story between Lynnie & Homan is beautifully told. The challenges faced by each of these characters with disabilities is told with sensitivity and offers unique insight into what it would be like to be deaf or intellectually handicapped. I found myself tearing up in parts and rooting for each of these characters.

Although the book is slow in parts, the story is worth pushing through and would also lend itself well to book club discussions since it is the kind of book you just want to talk about when you are finished with it.  Definitely add this one to your to-be-read piles!

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Honolulu was one of my favorite books, but I had heard from other readers that Alan Brennert’s Molokai, was even better than the first book that I read of his. I was not disappointed. I loved this book from start to finish and appreciate everyone recommending this one to me!

Rachel Kalama is a spirited little girl who captures your heart immediately. Rachel is living a typical life of a little Hawaiian girl- she has spats with her sister, she dreams of getting out of Hawaii, and she is beloved by her family. When a rose colored mark appears on her leg, her mother pricks her leg and finds that Rachel does not react. Rachel’s mother knows immediately that Rachel has leprosy. In fear of protecting her daughter, she covers the mark and hides other marks that appear on Rachel’s body. It is the family’s dark secret since all people afflicted by leprosy are quarantined and taken from their families.

When Rachel’s sister gets in a fight with Rachel, she calls her a, “leper,” and the authorities are immediately notified that Rachel is suspected of leprosy. When she is taken to the clinic for testing and the results come back positive, Rachel is taken from her family and moved to the island of Kalaupapa, a quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i.

Rachel’s life should be over, but it is just beginning. Rachel’s spiritedness pulls her through the devastation of losing her family as Rachel begins to find a new family among an unlikely cast of characters. She will capture your heart until the final page.

This book was so unbelievably good and fascinating that I could not put it down. What should have been a book of heartbreak has you walking away with such positivity about the human spirit and its ability to overcome tragedy. I hope you will add this one to your reading list!

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

I have to say that this book was one of my favorite reads this summer, simply because it is deliciously fast-paced chick-lit at its finest.

Anne Blythe seems to have everything. She has sold her first book, has a fabulous life, and fabulous friends. When it comes to being lucky in love though, she can’t seem to ever find the right guy. novel. After her best friend announces her engagement and her latest relationship ends, she decides to take a risk and contact a dating service in hopes of finding the perfect match. Upon her first appointment with the dating service though, she realizes that it is not a dating service at all, but a matchmaking service for an arranged marriage.

Once she starts the process, there is no turning back and Anne finds herself traveling to a Mexican resort where she will meet and marry (all in the same weekend) her “perfect,” guy.

This book has great twists and turns that you will really enjoy and after devouring this book in a mere day, I can’t recommend it enough for a fun reading escape!

Books I have read in 2012 (so far):

Disclosure: All of the links above are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate the books quickly and easily. Feel free to order a book, but we encourage utilizing the library system and buying me a latte instead.  Then we both would be really happy and we could have our own little book club together! Wouldn’t that just be so much more lovely? Happy Reading!

Take a peek at the best of the 2011 picks for even more Great Reads. What is your favorite book you read this year? What should I read for next year? Tell me, tell me please!

Pin It