Audiobook Review: And The Mountains Echoed

16115612No, you’re not seeing double – this novel has been acclaimed previously by the Hoarders.  Last year, Penny wrote a lovely review of the tale, which you can read here.  I myself was patiently waiting for the audiobook, having heard that the story is even more engrossing thanks to the voice talents of the author Khaled Hosseini, and his fellow narrators Shohreh Aghdashloo and Navid Negahban.  I put a hold on one of the audio copies at my local library (I believe I was 86th in line – is that all?), and kept checking my inbox for the notification.  Once in my possession for those precious few weeks, I learned quickly that it was well worth the wait.

And The Mountains Echoed is heartbreaking and gorgeously written.  This is a novel that boasts some of the most elegant prose that I’ve encountered in a very long time.  Hosseini’s words are silk. Each line is more poetic than the last.  Having those words read aloud to me was like listening to a melancholic lullaby, and I was left drained at the end.  This was my first experience with Khaled Hosseini’s work, and I now fully understand why this author has such an enthusiastic and devout following.  And The Mountains Echoed wrapped itself across continents and generations, and offered a surprising number of rich characters.  The sprawl of the tale was almost dizzying.

The book opens with some lore; a haunting children’s bed time story that would keep most awake until the wee hours.  You would do well to pay close attention to these pages, as the story succinctly sets the tone for the rest of the novel.  This sober bedtime story does more than share a lesson; it prepares the reader for what lies ahead.  I’ll warn that the novel pulls no punches.  You’ll be drawn in by beautifully written characters, and will have your heart broken shortly thereafter.  The novel opens up with a darling brother and little sister, both of whom you’ll love.  The brilliance of the novel is that their tragedy at the beginning sets off a ripple of effects for generations to come.  It was the most profound case of cause and effect, as family members remained touched by the heartbreak for so many years. Aunts, Uncles, caregivers, children, and children’s children were impacted by what happened at the novel’s start.  If anything, this is among the most difficult of life’s lessons; that certain events have the power to affect families across generations.  You can’t run from the past.

I have to confess that I found novel’s first characters the most compelling.  While the stories that followed were brilliant, I always longed to return to ten-year-old Abdullah and his three-year-old sister Pari.  I found myself more invested in these two children, and no matter who was introduced afterward, my need to hear their continued stories only grew. Walking with them through their childhoods, adolescence and adulthood held more emotion for me than the rest of the people in the novel combined.  And while I understood that the stories that followed Abdullah and Pari were forever linked to the children, I selfishly just wanted more from the original two.  That’s not to say that the post-stories were not compelling or beautifully written.  They most certainly were, and the same level of attention was paid to the characters that followed.  For me, however, the lives of Abdullah and Pari were the most precious of the novel.  I wanted happiness for them at any cost.

Without giving away the close of their stories, I will say that I understood the end.  The fact that not everything comes neatly wrapped in a bow may not comfort you, but this version of closure can at least offer some peace.  While this book did not necessarily whisk me away with the ending that I greedily wanted, it did give me pause.  I admire and respect the emotion of the novel’s close, and appreciated its confident look forward.  Not only can the past affect you, but it can also provide a springboard for true contentment.  Sometimes, I let my need for literary vindication take over, rather than allowing the novel to guide me through a natural karma-laden path.  And The Mountains Echoed was just that. Love, spirituality and a smattering of karma.  Beautifully done.  4.5 stars.

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Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind

17572903What a tremendously wonderful read to close out the end of 2013!

Last weekend I was floundering trying to find a book that would draw me in. I  had two ready to go, but after opening both of them I knew they just weren’t the right reads at the right time. One had a writing style that was all over the place, whatever thought popped into her mind kind of style, and the other was filled with crude language in the first eleven pages. Nope, nothing that was what I was hoping or looking for at the time.

I ventured back down to the shelves and pulled down two more titles, one being The Girl You Left Behind. A quick consultation with my fellow Hoarder Jackie cemented this as the one. The Girl You Left Behind was indeed rising to the top, but Jackie only confirmed that reading JoJo Moyes would mean a solidly good read. Oh how right she was!

The Girl You Left Behind is about two women born a century apart but joined together by one painting. We first read of Sophie and her sister Helene in1916 France. The Germans have occupied the small village where Sophie and Helene operate the family bar, Le Coq Rouge. Both of their husbands are off at war and both do not know the fate of them. The war has been long and drawn out, food is scarce and hope is dwindling. The only thing of beauty remaining in the home and bar is Sophie’s portrait, painted by her beloved husband Edouard.

Each night the Germans come in to dine at Le Coq Rouge, and the Kommandant stops to stare at the painting and discuss art with Sophie. She is reluctant, uneasy and filled with disdain for this practice at first. As the war drags on and little to no news comes in about Edouard, Sophie becomes desperate. Knowing how much the Kommandant loves the painting she offers it, herself, anything at all to reunite her with her beloved Edouard. Following this, there appears to be a great act of betrayal as Sophie is arrested and thrown into a prisoners cart to take her away to one of the camps. This my dear reader, is the stunning cliffhanger you are left with when the story jumps to current day and we begin the story of Liv. And here, you wonder how on earth is Ms. Moyes going to connect these two people?

Liv is grieving four years following the death of her young husband. She is steeped in debt yet refuses to sell the “Glass House” that David has built and where every memory of him remains. Not only is she steadfast in her refusal to give up the house, she refuses to engage with life and will not set David’s memory aside to move forward. One painting in her bedroom, a gift bought by her husband on their honeymoon, is what gives her joy, hope and happiness. “The Girl You Left Behind” means everything to Liv.

One night, feeling particularly alone and bereft, Liv sits at a bar and drinks herself into oblivion. Here also sits Paul McCafferty, an ex-cop that has now established a business of returning art stolen during WWII to their rightful ancestors. What a sad twist of fate for Liv, for Paul becomes a person she can finally see herself moving on in life with, but his next big case happens to be finding and returning The Girl You Left Behind to Sophie’s family.

Of course I will not be sharing any of the details of what happens to Sophie, Liv or Paul, but will say that once again, JoJo Moyes has crafted incredibly rich and endearing characters. So vivid, so true, so wonderful these people were. While I do have to say I grew closer to Sophie and her story, the character of Paul and the one peculiar friend of Liv’s named Mo were so cleverly and expertly drawn it truly felt as though you were right beside them every step of the way. There is a scene where Paul does something so endearing for Liv that I felt like I could jump the man’s bones. I fell completely in love with him.

A warning label needs to be affixed to the covers of her books however, because you will become so deeply involved that when you close the pages of the book, you will blink in the harsh light of reality and come to realize that an entire day, afternoon and evening has disappeared. Poof! My poor dogs were left to quench their thirst from the toilet and my kids were closely clustered around the pantry stuffing themselves with crackers as a way to quell their hunger.  I had sorely neglected them, lost all touch with reality  — this is how deeply involved I became when reading this tremendously affecting story. And yes, of course, tissues are required when you reach the ending.

Again, a wonderful, wonderful tale to close out my reading for 2013.

Audiobook Review: The House of Silk

11093329The game is afoot Watson!

But could this case mean the demise of Sherlock Holmes? Is this case too involved, too complex and could it mean the end for Mr. Holmes?

Told from the perspective of his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, he sits to tell the one final case about the House of Silk that had many years prior.  Watson fondly remembers his now passed friend Holmes. He sorely misses him and feels that now is the best time to put pen to paper to give the public one last Holmes adventure. But the tale of the House of Silk could not be written until this time, as it is a story that was far too despicable, far too shocking to share at the time it happened.

The case of the House of Silk is very complex, with many wishing that it remains highly classified and top secret. Holmes risks a great deal when he becomes involved in trying to uncover the what, who and why.

This was an exceptionally entertaining audio book to enjoy during the commute. The theatrical narration provided by Sir Derek Jacobi was positively perfect for a Sherlock Holmes tale. The final chapters leading up to the discovery, the chase and the confrontation are exceptionally well-delivered with Jacobi’s theatrical presentation. It builds to exciting and fast-paced solution and results in fantastic entertainment!

“The House of Silk”, with its true purpose is a disturbing discovery and one that will leave an indelible mark upon its readers, just as much as it left for Holmes himself.

The Arthur Conan Doyle Estate hand selected Anthony Horowitz to pen this tale “because of his proven ability to tell a transfixing story and for his passion for all things Holmes. Destined to be an instant classic, The House of Silk brings Sherlock Holmes back with all the nuance, pacing and almost super-human powers of analysis and deduction that made him the world’s greatest detective.

I couldn’t agree more with the choice of author and the description of the tale itself. Watson’s retelling of the case and of his fond love for his trusted colleague is very well done. Excellent read. Wonderfully entertaining. Again, the enjoyment this audio book presents makes it one very worthy of the listen for its enhanced enjoyment over reading the print version. Jacobi takes the fantastic and detailed description from the pages and breathes tremendous life into it. A 4.5 star read!

Book Review: The Pieces We Keep

Pieces we Keep Thank you very much to Kristina McMorris for sending The Pieces We Keep to us. This is the second time we’ve been treated to her work and again all I have to say is she is a wonderful, wonderful writer. She deserves a great and wide readership. I absolutely loved The Pieces We Keep. More than Bridge of Scarlet Leaves? I don’t know, I can’t really say that at all. For, while they are both related to WWII, they are two very different stories. I would just have to recommend highly to read both (and Letters from Home for certain. I know I will be picking that one up soon)!

Kristina sent a message asking if we would be interested in reading her latest novel and attached the cover picture that you see on your left. With this arresting cover but also the knowledge of how entranced I was with Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, the answer was a resounding absolutely! There was never any disappointment in that decision either. Once again the reader is treated to rich and wonderful characters and a storyline that keeps you mesmerized. I’ve seen McMorris’ work categorized in the romance genre. I do not feel that is accurate, but rather feel it should be considered as fine, fine pieces of historical fiction with perfect hints of mystery and suspense.

The Pieces We Keep is an expertly woven tale of two women seemingly unrelated yet tied together 70 years apart. Audra is a young and grieving widow living in the current day and Vivian is the daughter of an American diplomat living in London just before WWII breaks. Just how these two women are connected is slowly and skillfully revealed through alternating chapters.

Audra is still grieving over the sudden loss of her husband and is about to travel with her young son, Jack to embark on a new life. However, Jack grows increasingly anxious about flying and causes a great disturbance that forces the plane to return to the gate and remove Audra and Jack. This is only the start of problems that arise with Jack. He begins to experience horrific night terrors that cause him and Audra physical harm. Audra first blames it on the war memorabilia her husband’s father has given him. Jack has an almost unnatural knowledge about WWII planes, that Audra thinks this is the reason he is so terrified to fly.  At school, Jack is increasingly becoming a problem student. He is creating disturbing artwork, he is repeating disturbing stories and his night terrors intensify and contain names and phrases that are a complete mystery to Audra.

Each chapter alternates between this story of Audra and Jack and to the story with Vivian. Vivian longs to return to America, but that was before she becomes deeply involved with a man named Isaak. Isaak is a bit of a mystery at times for Vivian, but soon learns of his family’s origins and their fate as they attempt to escape Germany. He enlists the help of Vivian, telling her he loves her deeply and wishes to be with her forever, but first he must go to Berlin to help his family. Shortly after this, Isaak disappears, and Vivian and her mother return to the US. Here, Vivian pines for the lost love of Isaak. Eventually she frees her heart and mind of him and falls in love with her best friend and roommates brother. She is all but able to now put Isaak in the past and move forward, when, inexplicably Isaak appears in the US, but wearing the Nazi uniform. A myriad of events unfold putting Vivian at great risk for both her heart and physical well-being. What will she do? What will come of her current relationship? Will she break his heart and return to Isaak? Is Isaak being completely truthful?

At the end of each chapter we are treated to these cliffhangers that segue into the next chapter, but that are occurring in the opposite time period. The alternating chapters makes for fantastic reading, with many smatterings of suspense and for an overall story that you cannot put down. You desperately want to keep reading so you can return to either 1942, or 2012 and find out how these pieces connect. Kristina McMorris pulls off this complex layering of these increasingly intertwined stories with considerable ease. Each chapter slowly reveals the connection, the secrets, and the reasons why Audra and Vivian’s lives become intertwined or connected.

I loved, loved, loved Vivian and the chapters taking place during WWII. My love for Audra’s story grew considerably as I contined reading. Her friendship with her co-worker Tess and how she slowly builds understanding for what is happening with her son makes for great reading. McMorris is a master at creating vivid and very well drawn and liked characters. They live all around you and it is as though you are sitting across from them watching their lives unfold. This is her true strength, but she is also very adept at developing great, great stories, ones where you want nothing more than to invest your full attention to them. I absolutely loved reading it, and now that I’ve closed the pages I can honestly say I miss my time with Vivian and Audra. The Pieces We Keep will be a book I re-read again.

If you act now, you may be able to have the fantastic opportunity to win a copy of The Pieces We Keep! Email marketing@kensingtonbooks.com to win one of 5 copies of the
book! To learn more visit: www.tinyurl.com/TPWK1 and watch a special trailer on the highly anticipated novel. And visit Kristina’s website: http://www.kristinamcmorris.com/