2016 Book #3: THE GUEST ROOM by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
ISBN: 9780385538893 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780385538909 (ebook)
ASIN: B00VZZ07GG (Kindle version)
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday


From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes the spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room; two women are on the run from police; and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.

When Richard Chapman offers to host his younger brother’s bachelor party, he expects a certain amount of debauchery. He sends his wife, Kristin, and young daughter off to his mother-in-law’s for the weekend, and he opens his Westchester home to his brother’s friends and their hired entertainment. What he does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, a dangerously intimate moment in his guest bedroom, and two naked women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night. In the aftermath, Richard’s life rapidly spirals into a nightmare. The police throw him out of his home, now a crime scene; his investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave; and his wife finds herself unable to forgive him 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. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers.

  

As his younger brother’s best man, Richard Chapman thought he was doing a good thing by hosting a bachelor’s party at his home. Little did he know that one of his brother’s friends would secure “entertainment” for the night, namely stripper/prostitutes. When one of the “entertainers” goes off and kills one of the “bodyguards,” Richard’s life is turned upside down in The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian.

Richard Chapman considers himself a normal, healthy forty-year-old man. He has a job as an investment banker that he enjoys. He has a wife that he loves and a daughter that he adores. He doesn’t consider himself prudish and accepted that there might be strippers at the bachelor’s party, but he didn’t imagine that his brother or any of his brother’s friends would be having sex with the strippers in his home. Turns out the stripper/prostitutes were part of a sex trafficking ring and one of the girls feared for her life and struck first. Sonja was always considered a little off and angry, but when her captors kill another one of the captives and learn that she knew a little of the girl’s story, she assumed she was next. Her preemptive strike was to secure her life and freedom. Alexandra, another captive, accepted the idea that she might never be free. Alexandra had already spent five years “working” for her abductors and now that her last remaining family was dead, she realized she would never be allowed freedom or to return home. Now Sonja and Alexandra are on the run and Richard is being blackmailed by his brother’s friend. Can Sonja and Alexandra truly make lives for themselves after years of torture and sexual brutality? Will Richard ever regain the trust of his wife and daughter? 

I found The Guest Room to be a riveting and relatively fast-paced read. Due to the weighty subject matter, namely child abduction, rape, and other brutalities toward children and teenaged girls, I had to stop reading quite a number of times. Mr. Bohjalian has tackled the subject of sex trafficking and provided a realistic face and story to go with it, albeit a fictionalized story. Mr. Bohjalian slowly reveals the story in alternating voices of Richard and Alexandra. The reader gets the chance to learn Alexandra’s backstory and it is close to impossible not to feel sympathy and pain at this child’s years of torment. Richard is, for all intents and purposes, just as much an innocent in the story as Alexandra. He feels ostracized and stigmatized by hosting a party that ended with attendance by presumed prostitutes, later revealed to be sex slaves, brought into his home as well as for the murders that occurred there. There are truly bad guys in this story, namely the abductors, sex traffickers, and the vast majority of the johns. And there are sleazy guys, namely Richard’s brother’s friend who tries to blackmail Richard and then plea bargains with the district attorney to avoid any jail time. And finally, there are the innocents, the victims of the sex trafficking, girls held in captivity for years at a time after being raped, drugged, isolated, and mentally abused. No, this isn’t a pretty picture, but then neither is sex trafficking. However, Mr. Bohjalian has taken a story that should make us cringe, but instead, it makes us want to do all that we can to rectify this growing problem. The Guest Room may not be a story for the prudish reader, but it is one that this reader can highly recommend as it is a fantastic read that deals with a horrific subject matter in a respectful and responsible manner. 

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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The Guest Room

Book 240: CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS Review

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
ISBN: 9780385534833 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780385534840 (ebook)
ASIN: B00HTMBEN4 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Doubleday

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.


Emily Shepard didn’t have a perfect family life. Her parents drank too much, especially her father. They fought, usually about the drinking. But they provided Emily with everything a girl could ask for: a great education, travel, a wonderful home, and love (in between the drinking and fighting). All that changes when the nuclear power plant that her father is responsible for melts down and explodes. Suddenly her world is turned upside down and her parents are considered the biggest losers in the world. Is it any wonder that Emily decides to run to escape the chaos after this disaster?

What Emily doesn’t know at age sixteen is that you can’t run away from life. She quickly learns that her privileged life hasn’t really prepared her for a life on the streets. She also learns that when you’re down-and-out you’re willing to do almost anything in order to survive. Emily learns that prostitution at the local truck stop can provide her with quick cash. She learns to work the system in order to get a bath, where you can hangout during the day, which shops she can shoplift from and which ones she can’t. She makes up a life for herself and tries to drown her sorrows, fear and grief in drugs and self-mutilation. Over the course of nine months Emily learns how to survive on the streets and becomes a big sister/mother figure to another runaway, nine-year-old Cameron. Emily’s carefully constructed life quickly disintegrates when another tragedy strikes. Will she be able to survive this latest tragedy or will she completely self-destruct?

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is presented in the form of journal entries by Emily as she reflects on her life after the power plant accident. Emily hints at the notion that she may have a mental health issue and she learns to self-medicate with drugs while on the street. Her reflections on the power plant accident, her journey to Burlington, her struggles to remake herself, the prostitution, the self-abuse or cutting, the stealing, the drugs and the friends she makes and loses could make for a disheartening story. However Chris Bohjalian is a master at telling a story that truly plucks at your heartstrings and uplifts at the same time. Emily’s story could be the story of almost any teenager left without family or friends after a natural disaster, the only difference is her father is blamed for this disaster and it is by no means natural in origins. This wasn’t an easy read and it shouldn’t be given the themes that are discussed. Seriously, nuclear meltdown, radiation contamination, mass population exodus, teenage prostitution, teenage drug abuse, homelessness, and child and teen runaways aren’t exactly light topics. Nonetheless, Mr. Bohjalian has crafted a story that deals with these dark themes and still provides the reader with a sense of hope that things will work out in the end. This isn’t a story about good versus evil, but simply a story about self-awareness, self-acceptance, and survival. If you want to read a moving story that will make you think for hours, if not days or weeks, after reading it, then run out and buy a copy of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands now. Trust me, this is a great read!



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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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Book 166: THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS Review

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
ISBN:  9780385534819 (hardcover)
ISBN:  9780385534826 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B3GMIBY (Kindle edition)
Publication date: July 9, 2013 
Publisher: Doubleday


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.


Cristina Rosati is an eighteen-year-old young woman in 1943. She’s lived a rather sheltered life on her family’s estate in Italy. Both of her older brothers have been enlisted to fight against the Allied forces. Regrettably neither brother has any training in military arts; one, Marco, is an engineer working in Sicily to fortify the coast, the other, Vittore, is an archeologist and is working to preserve as many artifacts as possible from bomb attacks and the Nazis. The only other Rosatis at the family villa are Cristina’s parents, her sister-in-law Francesca (Marco’s wife), and her seven-year-old nephew and five-year-old niece. Just when it looks like the Rosatis may be able to endure the war relatively unscathed, the Nazis come calling. First, the visits are to inspect the Etruscan tombs on their property. Then the visits are for entertainment and finally occupation. With very few able-bodied Italian men available, Cristina becomes enamored with a young German officer, Friedrich Strekker. Even though Italy supports the Nazis, their love affair is considered taboo. As the Allied forces begin their campaign into Italy, the Nazis are forced to retreat and the fighting becomes chaotic with the Allied forces on one side, the resistance movement, or partisans, on the other and the Nazis and the Rosatis caught in the middle. Italy was liberated from the Nazi occupation but at great cost to the Rosatis, Marco and both of his young children perished in the fighting.

The reader finds the Rosati family being stalked and murdered in 1955. One of the investigators on the case is the only female police investigator in Florence at that time, Serafina Bettini. Serafina tries to uncover motives for the murder of Francesca Rosati and what is revealed and is a slow decline from grace as a result of Francesca’s husband and children’s deaths in the war. Just when it seems there may be no clear motive  another Rosati is murdered, the matriarch and Marchesa, Beatrice. Although no clear motive is evident at first, the police decide to place the family under protective surveillance. The investigation in 1955 reveals a lot of what happened in 1943 and 1944 during the war. Is it possible the war is the common factor? If so, what could the Rosatis have possibly done to warrant this type of hatred and vengeance?

The Light in the Ruins reveals the story of Cristina, the Rosati family, and Serafina Bettini. The story is told in three voices, the voice of a young Cristina in 1943/1944, the voice of Serafina in 1955, and the voice of the murderer. As the story is slowly revealed, I became invested in the life and love of Cristina as well as that of Serafina. Both of these women are remarkably strong and independent women, although first appearances may be deceiving. Cristina and Serafina have endured unimaginable horrors as a result of the war, and those horrors continue into their present. There are obvious good guys and bad guys in this story, but many of the characters are people that have been pulled into the war in support of their country but not necessarily the politics of their leaders. It was close to impossible to see Friedrich Strekker as a bad guy even though he was a Nazi. The Light in the Ruins provides star-crossed lovers with a taboo love affair, a heinous set of murders, and a war-ravaged country filled with people just trying to survive. I found The Light in the Ruins to be a fast-paced read and one that I simply could not put down. If you enjoy historical fiction or just a well-written story, then this is one book you need to put on your list.


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Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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Book 216: THE NIGHT STRANGERS Review

Chip Linton is a professional airline pilot. He has been fortunate in that he’s never really had to face danger until the day birds fly into his engine. His water landing doesn’t have a happy story and thirty-nine lives are lost. In an effort to start anew in a small town, he and his wife buy a home in New Hampshire. The new house has a basement with a door . . . a door sealed with thirty-nine bolts. Is this a new beginning for Chris, Emily and their daughters or will this be their end? Chris Bohjalian provides a great modern gothic tale in The Night Strangers.

It has been less than a year since the unfortunate plane crash resulting in the thirty-nine deaths, but at times it seems like yesterday. Chip was not found at fault and in fact he did everything right, but no one could have foreseen the wave caused by the wake of a boat that would result in so many lives lost. Chip knows that he did the right thing but he is haunted by that day. He’s retired from the airlines and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Chip is also haunted by much more. Is he simply allowing his subconscious mind to create these hauntingly real delusions of dead passengers or is he being visited by ghosts? Chip keeps these visitations secret from his family but they know that he hasn’t been the same since that fatal day and things seem to be getting worse.

As Emily and her twin daughters try to rebuild their lives in this small New England town, they are also struck by bizarre coincidences. Many of the homes feature greenhouses, including their own. This isn’t necessarily strange but many of the women, including Emily’s law partner’s wife and their real estate agent, bear the names of plants: Reseda, Anise, Celandine, Clary, Ginger, Holly, Sage, Valerian, Tansy and Yarrow. They want to include Emily, Hallie and Garnet into their little group and even give them botanical nicknames: Verbena, Calandrinia or Cali, and Rosemary. This little town seems to be split between those that belong to the herbal practitioners’ group and everyone else. Because of their involvement with these “herbal witches,” Hallie and Garnet are more or less ostracized by the other kids and their families. With nowhere else to go, the girls wind up spending more and more time with the herb ladies. 

As Chip becomes more obsessed with the door in the basement and the history of the house, and Emily becomes more involved with work, the girls become more involved with the herb ladies. Emily and Garnet are both aware that there is something a bit off but they aren’t quite sure what. Emily and Chip know that their house has a sad and morbid history but that was years in the past. But is it possible the past is coming back to haunt them all? 

Mr. Bohjalian has provided a fantastic paranormal tale of mystery, psychological horror and woe in The Night Strangers. The horror is, at time physical, but often more psychological and slowly builds to create a feeling of dread. I’m not generally a fan of horror but this story pulled me in from the beginning. The feeling of dread and horror while reading was so profound that at one point I actually felt the need to verify that my house didn’t have a coal chute (it doesn’t but hey this is West Virginia so it was possible). As you read you’re never quite sure what is going to happen and when you realize what is going to happen you actually begin to hope that it doesn’t play out as you expect and it doesn’t. The Night Strangers is part gothic mystery, part paranormal ghost tale, part horror and 100 percent worth reading.  

Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes from NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”