CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS by Chris Bohjalian
A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls.
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.
MY REVIEW: Author Chris Bohjalian's unique talents as a storyteller propel readers through the harrowing adventure of a teen girl's journey of survival after a devastating nuclear incident decimates the life she has known. Emily Shepard's parents both worked for a nuclear power plant in Vermont. Her father was in charge of the plant, and when a nuclear meltdown occurs, both of her parents were killed, and her father was blamed for the disaster. Knowing that she must flee to escape the hatred directed toward her dead parents, Emily goes on the run, inventing a new identity for herself and living each day as best she can. The everyday realities of her new life are rough, raw, and dangerous. Seeking something to cling to in her hellish existence, she remembers the poems of Emily Dickinson. She finds herself in the role of protector of Cameron, a nine-year old boy also without a home. Real friendships are rare, and trust is an even more precious commodity. Physical health and mental well-being are often frequently threatened. Is there such a thing as a safe haven? Is there anyone left who really cares? This story is told in first-person, and Emily's voice will haunt you long after you read the last page.
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THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS BY Chris Bohjalian
From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.
1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.
1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.
Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.
THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS by Chris Bohjalian
Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys. Midwives brought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong. The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island—and a young social worker’s descent into madness. And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity. As The Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.”
In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There, Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British Army in Egypt, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost. Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed the “Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss—and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations
MY REVIEW: I love history, and that is one of the reasons that I have been a lifelong reader of historical romance. I know that some readers state that they want a romance, not a history lesson, but I think the two go hand-in-hand. The setting of the book, the era, culture, social mores, religious beliefs, fashion, art and literature of the times all affect the way the characters would develop as people. Therefore, they are very important elements of the story line details. I appreciate the amount of research and love of subject an author invests into a well-written historical romance. However, sometimes historical fiction which is touched with romance goes far beyond a personal love story. It brings into focus profound true events which reveal the ugliest, most vile aspects of human nature. Such a book is author Chris Bohjalian's "Sandcastle Girls", a devastating, ultimately rewarding tale told with great skill by a distinctive storytelling voice. Depicting the massive horror of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the story focuses on Elizabeth Endicott, a young Bostonian volunteer who travels to Syria seeking to provide aid to refugees who survived the slaughter. She meets Armen, a young Armenian man who lost his family in the genocide. Not expecting to fall in love, their surprising relationship eventually leads to marriage and a family of their own. Decades later, their granddaughter, Laura Petrosian is a novelist determined to uncover family secrets and to discover her true familial roots. "The Sandcastle Girls" will leave no reader untouched. The author tears us apart and then patches us back together with the power of his prose. He illuminates the reality of his own heritage with unforgettable characters and a soul-searing, shattering story line that will be impossible to remove from your thoughts.
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Chris Bohjalian's novel, The Light in the Ruins, is the tale of two young women in war-ravaged Tuscany in 1943 and 1944, one a partisan and one a noblewoman in love with a German lieutenant.
His novel, The Sandcastle Girls, was published in July 2012 to great acclaim. A love story set in the midst of the Armenian Genocide, it debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and appeared as well on the Publishers' Weekly, USA Today, and national Independent Bookstore bestseller lists.
USA Today called it "stirring. . .a deeply moving story of survival and enduring love." Entertainment Weekly observed, "Bohjalian - the grandson of Armenian survivors - pours passion, pride, and sadness into his tale of ethnic destruction and endurance." And the Washington Post concluded that the novel was "intense. . .staggering. . .and utterly riveting." The Sandcastle Girls was also an Oprah.com Book of the Week. It was also a Washington Post, Library Journal, a Kirkus Reviews, and a BookPage "Best Book" of 2012.
He is the author of other New York Times bestsellers, including The Night Strangers, Secrets of Eden, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, Before Your Know Kindness, and Midwives.
Chris's awards include the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah's Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. His earlier novels have been selected as "Best Books of the Year" by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, Publishers' Weekly, and Salon. His work had been translated into over 25 languages and three times become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers).
He has written for a wide variety of magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and has been a columnist for Gannett's Burlington Free Press since 1992. Chris graduated from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.