Category Archives: Riverhead Books

My Experience: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (May 21, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 159463176X
  • Source: Publisher

In a rural village in Afghanistan in the 1940s, a father tells his two young children, a boy and a girl, a folk story.  The essence of the story revolves around family, sacrifice, and they steps a parent will take to save and protect those they love. The very next day this man, a poor farmer, is forced to sell his three-year-old daughter to a wealthy family with the promise that she will lead a far better life than the one she has now.  The woman who adopts this young girl is struggling to fill a void in her marriage, an absence that no amount of wealth will ever fill.

So begins an epic saga centered around this concept of sacrifice for the sake of love. Spanning decades of time from the 1940s to modern times, each of the characters suffer some sort of loss and spend the rest of their life trying to understand, come to terms with, and regain what is missing in their lives.

I am intentionally vague in my synopsis for the beauty of this novel is the discovery and unveiling of each of these characters and the stories they are destined to share. Additionally, there is no way that I may ever come close to fully describing just how monumental, powerful, and awe-inspiring this novel is.  I’ve read it three times since receiving it last month. Once for a blurb I was writing and the other two times because I just couldn’t shed the attachment I had to  Hosseini’s writing and characters.

Originally, this review was scheduled to post last week. I was devastated to learn that not only did it not post, but all remnants of the review were missing. I was heartbroken, almost more than when I turned the last pages. Yet, when I read this book for a third time, I saw the loss of my additional review as a sign.  In that review, I went into a lot of detail with the synopsis rather than focusing on how much this novel moved me. I saw it as a sign and encouragement to replicate what Hosseini does best: to tell a story about how much this novel impacted me. Countless other reviews of this title are popping up hourly, why add to what has already been done? Rather than focus on what transpired, I needed to instead detail how this novel has changed me.

I don’t need to prove this author’s talent and integrity to you; he himself has done this countless times before. What is truly made apparent in this novel, however,  is his expert talent as a storyteller.  There is beauty in every word he writes, his love for Afganistan and its culture shining through.  I found myself reading passages over and over again, reliving the stories and sagas and characters this author brought to life. One of the characters reflects upon storytelling, describing how it brings him closer to his father, strengthens their connection:

Father never felt more present to Abdullah, more vibrant, revealed, more truthful, than when he told his stories, as though the tales were pinholes into his opaque, inscrutable world.

 

I think this statement rings true for many of us. When our parents tell us stories as children, stories that we pass down onto our own, we are opening up a part of our souls that we often guard and keep hidden. The same goes for authors; with each book they write they allow readers to get a bigger snapshot of their soul, their loves and passions and fears. So, to me, this novel wasn’t simply a story following the lives of characters and their path to their own self-discovery, but a gateway for me to do the same myself. Long ago, my boys stopped asking me to tell them a story, instead opting to pull a book off a shelf. This book has inspired me to return to this, to cultivate a tradition of passing stories down to my children so that they may do so themselves. In return, I am giving them a gift of a part of me that they will never forget, a part of my life they will cherish long after I have passed. A gift that their children in turn can tell to their children, creating and nurturing a tradition that has been absent in our lives.

While this isn’t your typical review in any way, shape, or form, I do still implore you, dare I say beg you, to pick up this novel and embrace it. My only hope is that it will move you like it did me, force you to reflect on your own life and the traditions you keep. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (July 5, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1594487197
  • Source: Publisher

The potential for war with Europe is every present. Without an intelligence agency, President Franklin Roosevelt, planning to run for a third term, has no way of predicting the actions of the Nazis. He needs someone to go in as an insider, to track the movements and actions of the country’s political adversaries. Someone he can trust. His choice is not an obvious one, to say the least. Roosevelt calls upon Jack Kennedy, the twenty-two year old son of Joseph Kennedy, the President’s ambassador to Brittan.

Jack is Joe Kennedy’s second son, more of a playboy than anything. Planning to travel through Europe, allegedly to do research for this thesis paper, he is the perfect person to suit Roosevelt’s needs. Roosevelt’s goal: to stop the flow of money coming into the states from Germany, a flow of money hoping to influence the election. Jack readily accepts the request. Always in the shadow of his older brother, this mission will give him a chance to show his worth.

Not surprising to Jack, his father has his own political future in mind and it doesn’t exactly mesh with Roosevelt’s As his mission progresses, however, he learns his father is more involved than he could have ever imagined. Meanwhile, Jack’s life is threatened when he becomes involved in a series of murders indicating Hitler has more of a presence in the states than previously believed.  All the while, Jack is self-medicating,  inserting  a tablet into the muscle of his leg to treat a whole host of undiagnosable medical issues.

Admittedly, when I learned of the premise of this novel I was a little wary. JFK, spy? Any feelings of nervousness were diminished when I read more about the author’s history and experience as a former analyst for the CIA.  Mathews intricately weaves a pretty thrilling story with an inside look at one of our nation’s most valuable and well-known families.  She blends historical fact with fiction so perfectly that the reader is left questioning the truth and accuracy of every detail.

JFK’s character is an arrogant one. Having survived a multitude of medical issues starting with his childhood, he seems to have a god-complex, unable killed or injured. That said, as more is revealed in his “explorations” throughout Europe, his own mortality, and the mortality of those around him, is recognized.

As with many Americans, I have sort of an idolized memory of JFK, but more as an adult. I was never really familiar with his youth and his young adult years. That said, due to my strong feelings of respect for him as an adult, I found myself distancing myself from his character in this novel at first, almost ignoring the fact he was JFK and instead treating him as a typical, average character.  Ultimately, however, the “what if” won out and I was truly taken with the JFK, secret spy character.

If you are looking for a great spy novel to take along with you to the beach, or a means to aid in your Mad Men withdrawals, this is the novel for you. Recommended.

Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

 

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (June 5, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1594487014
  • Source: Publisher

Cora Carlisle lives in Wichita with her husband and twin sons. On the surface, she leads a fairly traditional life as a homemaker, volunteering her time with local civic groups. She wears a corset and the traditional high lace collars of the time. Deep down, though, her life is more than traditional. Her marriage, while a loving one, is far from traditional, she had her husband have long since ceased marital relations, not necessarily by choice. Her boys are off to college in the fall and Cora is seeking something to fill that void in her life.

When she learns that the daughter of one of her acquaintances is heading to New York to attend a dance school, Cora surprises herself when she volunteers to offer to chaperone the young girl. Louise Brooks is fifteen, far too young to make this trip without an adult at her side. It’s the early 1920s and young Louise’s virtue must be kept in check in order to secure a marriage to a nice young man.

Cora has her own motivations for going; as a young child she was left at an children’s home in New York. Like many children like her, she was put on an orphan train that made its way around the country. Cora was finally taken in by a married couple who loved her and treated her as their own. That doesn’t stop Cora from wanting to know more about her birth mother.

The two journey to New York together. It’s not long before Cora realizes how “independent” Louise is, losing her several time within hours of their departure. Upon arrival, once Louise is settled in her dance classes, Louise is given the freedom to roam New York on her own. She quickly tracks down the children’s home where she lived as a child, befriending a German immigrant handyman who aids in her search for the truth about her birth mother.

While what she uncovers isn’t what she expected, this truth provides Cora with a newly-gained sense of self-identity and respect. While she attempts to reign in Louise’s wild behavior, she in turn starts to loosen up quite a bit. The corset she wears quickly becomes a symbol for all that she’s been forced to hold in, all the restrictions she, and society, have imposed upon her.

Eventually the two women return to Wichita, both completely different women than they were when they started out on their journey. While Cora has found her true self and embraces her identity, finally doing what she wants for a change, Louise still struggles to find herself.

Fast forward several years, and the unlikely duo are reunited. Louise has reached a low point in her life, while at one time she was a successful actress, she’s now penniless. Despite the faults and difficulties in their relationship in the past, Cora is able to provide Louise the urging and guidance she needs to, like Cora did years ago, find her true identity.

Moriarty uses factual details about Louise Brooks, a well-known queen of the silent movie, to create an incredibly well written fictional account of her relationship with her chaperone. In her research, she learned about this chaperone, left unnamed. She skillfully weaves a story around this character, creating a novel destined for greatness.

The Chaperone is a novel so rich in historical detail that the reader will instantly be swept back in time to the roaring 20s. As we follow the lives of Cora and Louise, we’re also given a commentary on the social norms of the age, including Prohibition, birth control, race relations, homosexuality and more. The remarkable thing is the depth of the growth of each of the characters. Starting out. Cora represented the old, with her corsets and high-laced collars and long skirts. Louise represented the new, with short bobbed hair, shorter skirts, revealing necklines. In time, however, Cora evolves, slowly shedding the society norms as she sheds the corset that kept her bound all these years. Moriarty uses her to represent the shift in societal beliefs, a traditional woman in all sense of the word who slowly evolves into a sexual, free woman.

I didn’t intend to read this book in one sitting. At just short of 400 pages, I planned to pace out my reading. That didn’t happen, for I was instantly taken in by the lives of Cora and Louise. This is a novel I will be shouting about from the rooftops! While Moriarty has written several other excellent books, this is the book she will be known for, a book that will be discussed in book clubs around the country. Highly recommended.

Review: The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (September 15, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1594488053
  • Source:  Publisher

Fifty-seven hours after he was born, John & Ricky’s infant son died, a victim of anencephaly, a neural tube defect.  He was born with just a portion of his brain, missing the top part of his skull.

The entire Ryrie family is devastated by the loss.  What was more devastating,  however, was the secret Ricky kept from her husband. Not the first time she’s evaded his trust, she believes she is sound in her decision.  When the truth is revealed, John & Ricky discover their marriage has long been rocky, the death of their newborn son bringing these long-buried truths to the surface.

The true victims of this struggle are John & Ricky’s children, Paul & Elizabeth, aka Biscuit.  They are each acting out in their own way, their parents oblivious to the fact that they see how their relationship has changed in the year since their infant brother passed away.

One afternoon, the unannounced arrival of their half-sister, in turmoil due to her own life circumstances, adds a completely different element to the family’s saga. It is her presence that reminds them how happy they were in the past, things that transpire in her life, that force the Ryrie family to attempt to come together as one once again, to heal and recover, as a complete family, rather than separate individuals.

While I truly felt sympathy for the loss the Ryrie family experienced, I found it hard to feel a great deal of sympathy for them, as individuals. I was unable to connect with them as individuals, although the author spent a good deal of time detailing and developing their characters.  As a mother, I felt a great deal of anger toward Ricky.  I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of pain she experienced in carrying a child to term, only to lose him hours later.  However, she completely ignored and neglected her family, throwing herself into her career.  Her family was literally falling apart right before her eyes and she appeared to be completely oblivious to this. Admittedly, this is a true & valid response to loss, but I simply couldn’t get over my anger with Ricky to perhaps see past the faults and see through to the other members of the family.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book; the fact the author could elicit such strong feelings from a reader is a testament to their writing. Overall, the author’s writing was stunning, the detail she used in describing aspects of the story was tremendous. Recommended.

Check out the  Leah’s website, her blog, Love as a Found Object, and Facebook.

Be sure to check out the other stops in this tour:

Wednesday, September 14th: Book Addiction
Thursday, September 15th: BookNAround
Friday, September 16th: Colloquium
Monday, September 19th: Crazy for Books
Tuesday, September 20th: Life In Review
Wednesday, September 21st: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Thursday, September 22nd: A Cozy Reader’s Corner
Monday, September 26th: The House of the Seven Tails
Tuesday, September 27th: Library of Clean Reads
Wednesday, September 28th: That’s What She Read
Thursday, September 29th: StephTheBookworm
Monday, October 3rd: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, October 4th: In the Next Room
Wednesday, October 5th: Laura’s Reviews
Thursday, October 6th: Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, October 7th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog