Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian was good, but not as good as I was expecting. The summary on the inside flap of the book immediate piqued my interest. The book on the other hand, took a while to get into and never quite took captured my imagination.

The story centers on Emily, a seventeen year old who has lost both of her parents to the meltdown of a nuclear power plant that has made northern Vermont uninhabitable for the next few centuries. Not only is Emily now an orphan, but she is also the daughter of the man who is blamed for the whole disaster.

Through a series of poor personal choices and unfortunate circumstances, Emily’s life post-disaster unfold. We hear the story through her voice, writing in a journal. Because of this, we are brought to different moments out of chronological order as she remembers events and gets sidetracked.

This structure of moving back and forth through time was surprisingly easy to follow and appealing. What wasn’t appealing was that because the book was entirely in the past, the drama and action never quite came across. I like it when I feel like the story in unfolding in front of me. This didn’t.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands was mediocre. It was a decent read, but it is the type of book you’d forget you’ve read a few weeks later. It wasn’t memorable.

Why I picked it up: The summary on the inside flap sounded interesting, and I was excited to find an adult fiction book with a young adult protagonist.

Why I finished it: It was an average book; I paid for it; and I’m WWOOFing in Ireland, so I have a lot of extra time on my hands.

Who I’d recommend it to: While I didn’t mind it, I can’t honestly say I’d recommend it. There are a lot of better books out there, and I hear Chris Bohjalian’s other books are far better than this one. So if this intrigued you, I’d recommend picking up one of his others.

Wonder

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“You are never the same person when you finish a book—even one that is read purely for escape or entertainment. A conviction may take root or deepen, the imagination may be sparked, a new perspective may dawn.” –Philip Yancey

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a must read. It is the touching story of a young boy, who feels ordinary, but whose face causes him to stand out. Born with dramatic facial differences, 10-year old August faces more than the typical ups and downs of middle school. 

Although this book is written for the 8-12 year old age group, it’s readers do and should span all ages. Broken up into sections, we hear not only from August, but also from his sister, friends, and others, over the course of one year. 

First time author Palacio masterfully depicts the inner-workings of each character in Wonder, providing many sides to the story, while skillfully avoiding the traps of repetitiveness. 

Wonder simply and elegantly portrays complex emotions in a book that is heartwarming overall, but occasionally brings you close to tears. I would highly recommend giving this book the few hours of your time that it would take to read. 

Why I picked it up: It was recommended to me by my aunt, who had read it with her young daughter. 

Why I finished it: It oxymoronically is a light read with a deep and thought-provoking plot. 

Who I’d recommend it to: Everyone. I think there are very few books that fall in the everyone category, but this is definitely one of them. 

Orphan Train

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“From 1854 to 1929 an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were placed throughout the United States and Canada during the Orphan Train Movement” -National Orphan Train Complex 

If you’re looking for an interesting book that is not a huge time commitment, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a good choice. It’s considered historical fiction, although the history parts, while fascinating, are limited. I began the novel knowing nothing about the orphan trains that ran from cities to the countryside carrying loads of children in the decades before the depression and finished it wanting to know more. 

Orphan Train is the type of book that stimulates your curiosity without pulling you into a dense read that takes weeks to finish. 

The story alternates between the point of view of Molly (present day), an orphan cleaning out 91 year-old Vivian’s attic in order to stay out of “juvie,” and Vivian (1920s and 1930s), an Irish immigrant put on an orphan train bound for Minneapolis in search of a new home. Molly and Vivian form a strong bond over the course of the novel, as Molly and us readers find out more about Vivian’s history. I still don’t love Molly, but she definitely started to grow on me as the relationship between the two women becomes one in which both provide help to each other, rather than just a one-way give-take. 

Overall, Orphan Train really is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a couple minor issues. I would have enjoyed more information about the orphan train riders to have been weaved into the story line. Additionally, the story started off a little slow. It picks up a few chapters in, but I have to say that I enjoyed the parts set in the past a lot more than the ones that were present day. 

I’d say, give it a chance. It’s not life changing, but it is thought provoking and light for a book that tackles some important topics. 

Why I picked it up: I had never heard of orphan trains and was curious to read a book that addressed a relatively unknown but seemingly important part of our history.

Why I finished it: Vivian’s story is captivating and I wanted to know how thing’s turned out for her. 

Who I’d recommend it to: It seems like the kind of book anyone interested in history or learning something new would find engaging and enjoyable. It’s probably more appealing to female readers than males, but not necessarily. 

If you’re interested in more information on the history of the orphan train riders click here for the site I looked at after reading the book. There are more links on that page as well. 

The Cuckoo’s Calling

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I’m an avid Harry Potter fan, so when J.K. Rowling came out with her first post-Harry Potter book The Casual Vacancy, I was tempted to read it.  I never got around to it though, luckily, because I later heard that it was a complete flop. 

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Rowling’s next try at post-Harry Potter writing), however, was a wonderful and well-written mystery book that reinvigorated my love for Rowling’s writing.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It probably could have been condensed into a shorter book- the detail sometimes dragged on. But, I didn’t realize until after I’d set the book down for the night that the plot had not progressed as far as it maybe should have 100 pages later. Somehow, Rowling manages to keep the story engaging as she carefully set up the many details and nuances of the story.

The Cuckoo’s Calling features Cormoran Strike, an ex-military officer turned private detective, who is struggling to pay rent and living out of his office after a blowup breakup. Together, with his new assistant Robin, they investigate the suicide of a famous young woman. On the payroll of the woman’s brother, they try to determine if the suicide could have been a murder.

Why I picked it up: I love J.K. Rowling and saw it on the bestseller’s table in the bookstore. After eyeing it for a week or two, I decided to just go ahead and get it. 

Why I finished it: Despite the leisurely pace that the plot moved along at, the book really was relatively absorbing and I finished it in just a couple of days. Also, the ending is such a surprise that you’ll be happy you did. 

Who I’d recommend it to: I would definitely recommend this book to those who like mysteries that aren’t to grim, fiction, and those who like J. K. Rowling (who is, by the way, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith for this book).