Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian


Published July 8th 2014 by Doubleday

Hardcover, 288 pages

From Goodreads…

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a meltdown, and both of Emily’s parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault—was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer’s house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily can’t outrun her past, can’t escape her grief, can’t hide forever-and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

This book made my heart hurt.  I was gripped right off the bat as Emily begins by telling the reader about building her trashbag igloo.  Emily is not a character that will give you warm fuzzy feelings.  She’s become a street kid doing what she has to do to survive.  She lies and steals, she’s dirty and she makes some very poor choices; but she just tugs at your heart because she should not have ended up in the places she’s been.  By fleeing the Northwest Kingdom she ends up in a destructive spiral of drugs and self-injury to numb herself from the not only the death of her parents, but knowing her parents are being vilified as the cause of the nuclear plant meltdown.

Emily tells her story in a totally random manner, flashing from the present, to the day of the plant explosion, to her igloo days and then back to the past.  This perspective made me feel like I was even more in her head so I really enjoyed it, but I know this kind of storytelling doesn’t work for everyone. I found it built my anticipation because Emily would hint about events to come and I really wanted all the details right away.   I don’t skip to the end of books-EVER-but I was tempted to here because I just wanted to know if Emily would be okay!

I was totally lost in Emily’s story and I’m still amazed at Chris Bohjalian’s ability to tell this story from the perspective of a 16 year-old girl.  You can feel her post-traumatic stress coming through the page.  You’ll want to reach into the book and offer help and a hug to Emily and the other homeless kids that she crosses paths with.  You will also cringe from the raw pain and desperation in this story.  Despite the pain and the sadness I still ended this book feeling hopeful for Emily because you can also feel the love in this story -for Emily’s lost parents, for her dog and for her friends.  This is one that is going to stick with me for a while.

4.5 stars!

Thank you Doubleday and edelweiss for this advance read copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: The Guest Room

The Guest Room, Chris Bohjalian

Published January 5th 2016 by Doubleday

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.

In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat.

I read The Guest Room in a day – not a stay at home reading day – granted a ridiculous train commute added to my reading time – but I worked all day and found time to finish.  That’s how compelling this book was!  Chris Bohjalian tweeted at me when I said I was in shock, “My books walk a tightrope between heartbreak and hope.  Never sure on which side they will end up.”  That’s a pretty accurate summation of my feelings at the end of this one.  Heartbroken and hopeful both.  

Richard is kind of an idiot for offering to host his brother’s bachelor party in his family home – and from that bad decision many others play out.  Another friend arranges for strippers to be at the party, but they didn’t expect the strippers to be sex slaves who kill their bodyguards and run.  I feel like this book could have been turned simply into a simple mystery with a lot of action and gore – it is what makes Bohjalian so great that this was an extremely emotional read while still tense and compelling.  

We follow Richard, his wife Kristin, and their young daughter Melissa as they each try to deal with what happened and recenter their family after such a violation of their home – both by Richard and by the murder.  We also follow Alexandra and learn how she went from an Armenian school girl to a victim of an international slavery ring.  Her story is all the more heartbreaking when you realize how disgustingly common it is.  Alexandra’s story pulls no punches – the language is graphic and her life is violent.  This was a strong juxtaposition to the chapters from the point of view of Richard’s spoiled 9 year-old.  What very different lives for these girls.  I was really surprised at how invested I felt on both sides of the story though – I worried about Richard’s future nearly as much as I worried about Alexandra.  And oh his poor wife!  How do you stay married?!  What do you do? Clearly I’m definitely still reeling from this book and the ending.  This would be a great book club book – I very much need to talk it over with someone!  

This was so incredibly different than Bohjalian’s last book Close Your Eyes Hold Hands – which I also really enjoyed and also left me emotionally all over the place.   Last, if you check out his website you can read about the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking and the work they do – check it out!

5 stars!

Thank you Doubleday and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: The Same Sky

The Same Sky, Amanda Eyre Ward


Hardcover, 288 pages

Published January 20th 2015 by Ballantine Books

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


From the publisher:

From the acclaimed author of How to Be Lost and Close Your Eyes comes a beautiful and heartrending novel about motherhood, resilience, and faith and a ripped-from-the-headlines story of two families on both sides of the American border.

Alice and her husband, Jake, own a barbecue restaurant in Austin, Texas. Hardworking and popular in their community, they have a loving marriage and thriving business, but Alice still feels that something is missing, lying just beyond reach.

Carla is a strong-willed young girl who ha€™s had to grow up fast, acting as caretaker to her six-year-old brother Junior. Years ago, her mother left the family behind in Honduras to make the arduous, illegal journey to Texas. But when Carla’€™s grandmother dies and violence in the city escalates, Carla takes fate into her own hands ”and with Junior, she joins the thousands of children making their way across Mexico to America, risking great peril for the chance at a better life.

In this elegant novel, the lives of Alice and Carla will intersect in a profound and surprising way. Poignant and arresting, The Same Sky is about finding courage through struggle, hope amid heartache, and summoning the strength ”no matter what dangers await €”to find the place where you belong.

This dual perspective novel introduces us to Carla, a young girl growing up in a slum in Honduras and to Alice, who runs a barbeque restaurant in Austin, Texas.  Their stories run separately for the length of the book and in the end I was kind of kicking myself for not seeing how they would intersect.

Carla is living a relatively decent life for her poverty stricken area.  She and her brothers are being raised by their grandmother.  Her mother is living in Texas and sends home money and fancy American clothing.  By comparison, Carla’s best friend leaves school to help his family eat by salvaging food and anything sellable from the garbage dump.  When Carla’s grandmother dies and her younger brother begins looking for drugs over food, she knows she has to try to find her way to America.  To write this book, Amanda Eyre Ward worked at shelters interviewing children who immigrated.  The journey that Carla and Junior take is harrowing and so many people make this choice every day.  Ward tells a powerful story of how desperate people are to try to make it to the United States – something everyone lucky enough to be a US Citizen should understand.  Carla’s life is not something a little girl should have to experience.  Psst – if you are looking for a great nonfiction book on the subject, Holly recommends Coyotes: A Journey through the Secret World of America’s Illegal Aliens by Ted Conover)

In contrast, Alice’s life is pretty good.  She and her husband have a crazy popular restaurant in Austin.  They are broken hearted though as the baby they believed they were going to adopt was taken back by his birth mother after 24 hours.  I think Alice is a character that women readers can relate to.  She wasn’t trying to be the perfect wife or friend or business person.  She was selfish in her grief – as you can be!  Though Carla and Alice could not have been more different they were both great strong female characters.  As I said, I probably should have seen where their lives would meet but I didn’t until the very end which I was glad for.

This was a really hopeful book for both Carla and Alice when it was over.  Even though I would not change the resolution at all, it felt as though things wrapped up a little too neatly.  However, I really loved how the book was finished from Carla’s perspective.  This was a fast read despite the weighty subjects and it definitely leaves you with a lot to think about.  If you want books like this I also highly recommend Prayers for the Stolen which I reviewed last week.

3 stars

Thank you Ballentine Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

ARC August Wrap-Up


I decided to participate in ARC August hosted by Octavia at Read, Sleep, Repeat  to get through the many, many books on my kindle.  I posted at the end of July with my list of 8 ARC goals including:

These specific books:

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay DONE! Trying to find words for the review-great book!  

Lucky Us, Amy Bloom DONE!

House of the Four Winds, Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory  DONE!

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healy  DONE!

The Arsonist, Sue Miller  Oops, not done.

And 3 others that I’d pick as I went, which were:

The Quick

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Henna House

One of Us (review to come!)

Added into that list also was some angsty teenage vampire reading with Silver Shadows and an attempt to read a Arthurian retelling that I just could not get into.  All in all I’d say August was pretty good to me reading wise!  

So September reading will be The Arsonist!  I admit, I hated the ending of Sue Miller’s previous book The Senator’s Wife. However, I thought it was extremely well written so I really do want to read this new book.  I just apparently need to be in the mood to start it.

How did you do with ARC August if you were part of the challenge?

Author Interview with Juliana Maio and Giveaway

City of the Sun, Juliana Maio

Read and interviewed by Amanda

Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press on March 11, 2014

380 Pages

From Goodreads…


Espionage, love, and power play upon the shifting sands of wartime Cairo

CAIRO, EGYPT 1941. As the Second World War rages, the city known as ”Paris on the Nile” plays host to an international set who seem more interested in polo matches and swanky nightclubs than the Germans’ unrelenting advance across North Africa. Meanwhile, as refugees, soldiers, and spies stream into the city, the Nazis conspire with the emerging Muslim Brotherhood to fuel the Egyptian people’s seething resentment against their British overlords.

Ambitious American journalist Mickey Connolly has come to Cairo to report on the true state of the war. Facing expulsion by the British for not playing by their rules, he accepts a deal from the U.S. embassy that allows him to remain in the country. His covert mission: to infiltrate the city’s thriving Jewish community and locate a refugee nuclear scientist who could be key to America’s new weapons program. But Mickey is not the only one looking for the elusive scientist. A Nazi spy is also desperate to find him–and the race is on. Into this mix an enigmatic young woman appears, a refugee herself. Her fate becomes intertwined with Mickey’s, giving rise to a story of passion, entangled commitments, and half-truths.

Deftly blending the romantic noir of the classic film Casablanca with a riveting, suspenseful narrative and vivid historical detail, City of the Sun offers a stunning portrayal of a time and place that was not only pivotal for the war, but also sowed much of the turbulence in today’s Middle East.

From Juliana’s website:

Juliana Maio was born in Egypt but expelled from the country with her family during the Suez Crisis. She was raised in France and completed her higher education in the United States, receiving her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Juris Doctor degree from UC Hastings.

Juliana practices entertainment law in Los Angeles and has represented internationally renowned filmmakers as well as a host of independent production companies. Prior to that she served as vice president of worldwide corporate and business affairs for Triumph Films, a joint venture between Columbia Pictures and Gaumont Films.

Juliana co-founded Lighthouse Productions, an independent film and television company. She has spoken both domestically and abroad about the Arab Spring. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, film producer Michael Phillips. They have a daughter.

Amanda:  Your book was completely eye opening for me to read from a historical perspective. I’ve definitely read about the numbers of Jews that fled to Palestine during WWII, but I admit that I had not given thought to Egypt.  I did not know about the local population or really about their role during the war.  What drew you to write about this time period, rather than the events in your own life?  Have you been back to Egypt?

 Juliana:  “There was so much at stake during WWII that I thought it important to bring the story to that period. Not only was it a pivotal time for the war but also a determinative time with regard to relations between Westerners and Arabs. Also, with refugees, spies and thousands of soldiers converging into Cairo, I thought this would bring a rich canvas to the novel.

Yes, I have been back to Egypt a few times. Cairo is decaying unfortunately.”

It was amazing to me how many of your characters were real or based in real people; like the spy JOHANNES EPPLER or the belly dancer HEKMET FAHMY.  Who was your favorite person to put on the page-other than your own creations?  (I am really sad that Kirk’s secretary, Dorothy Calley, was not real!)

“Once you put yourself into a character and get under his/her skin, it’s impossible not to like the character. But I guess my favorite historical character is Anwar Sadat because he was truly genuine in his love for his country. By the same token, I really liked Bill Donovan for the same reason. I do admire patriotism.”

If you could describe City of the Sun in 3 words what would they be?  

 “Journey into another world – oops 4 words! But that’s what the novel did for me.”

What else would you like readers to know about you?   What do you like to read?

” This book is very close to my heart and I just hope that my readers enjoy it and learn from it.  I generally read non-fiction, but I hope to have more time to start reading more fiction.”

Are you working on another book?

“Not yet, but I’m starting to do research on a sequel to CITY OF THE SUN, which will take place in 1956!”

I found City of the Sun to be rich in historical detail and it opened my eyes to a subject I had never thought about.  What we learn about WWII and the Jews is so European focused, so I really liked reading a totally different perspective on the war.  I also have not read anything that addressed the different factions of the Jews during the war and how they felt about each other.   The appearances by Anwar Sadat and the Muslim Brotherhood also made me really think about how the stage was set so long ago for the Middle East and Egypt that we see today.

We are lucky enough to have TWO copies of City of the Sun to giveaway!

Comment to win!  So because Egypt is my favorite country that I have never had a chance to go to, I want to know-Where is your dream country to travel to?

Open to US residents only please and we’ll pick 2 random numbers to win on April 7.