Friday, November 9, 2012

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Book description:
In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.  The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine.   

This offering by the talented Chris Bohjalian was a sore disappointment of a novel. Though others have lauded the opening chapters, I confess I was struggling to read on after the first few pages. As interested as I was in the story of the Linton family, the entire herbalist/witch element was off-putting from the very start. I wish the book had focused on the family and their personal demons without pulling in any outside evil to jazz things up. Too long and too complicatedly specific about minutia, this book was a disappointing read that I cannot in good conscience recommend.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Truth-Teller's Lie by Sophie Hannah

Book description:

Naomi Jenkins knows all about secrets: three years ago something so terrible happened to her that she's never told anyone about it. Now, Naomi has another secret: her relationship with the unhappily married Robert Haworth. 

When Robert vanishes without explanation, Naomi knows he must have come to harm. But the police are less convinced, particularly when Robert's wife insists he is not missing. In desperation, Naomi decides that if she can't persuade the detectives that Robert is in danger, she'll convince them that he is a danger to others. Naomi knows how to describe the actions of a psychopath; all she needs to do is dig up her own traumatic past.

This novel was a disturbing read, not one to read when you are alone in the house.  Though I initially found Naomi quite irritating, as the story unfolded, some of the more bizarre quirks in her personality were explained.  It is difficult to review this thriller without revealing too much of the plot, so I'll just say that I was truly caught off guard by the big twist in the plot, and was riveted once I sank into the story.  Hannah has a true gift for the unexpected and this books did not disappoint.  A great read if rather disturbing in its depiction of violence again women.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

Book description:

Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Christian maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman's daughter, Atara. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live. Mila's faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore.

This book a very powerful read and pulled me in from the very beginning.  This intimate look at the tragedy of the Holocaust from the perspective of two families was moving and engrossing.  I eagerly followed the story of Josef, Mila and Atara as they grew to adulthood, hoping that all would be well for these people who so desperately deserved some happiness.

It is hard to explain my concerns with the novel without giving away too much of the plot, but essentially halfway through the book, one of the main characters disappeared from the narrative not to re-emerge for decades.  Because Atara dropped away form the story, I was left feeling that the story was incomplete.  Josef and Mila's tale is tragic and compelling but I wanted also to learn about how Atara dealt with the choices she made.  I was also dissatisfied with the end of the book which was just too bleak for me.

Well-written and compelling, this story was nonetheless incomplete for me.