BOOK REVIEW: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers by Chris BohjalianThe Night Strangers
By Chris Bohjalian
Completed October 13, 2011

One of the reasons I enjoy novels by Chris Bohjalian is because you never get the same thing twice. Many authors have a little formula to their writing, but Bohjalian shakes it up everytime. And that’s definitely the case with his latest book, The Night Strangers.

The story opens with a shocking plane crash scene. Chip Linton is the pilot who attempts a “Chelsey Sullenberger” landing on Lake Champlain. However, Chip’s plane met with deadly turbulence, and all but nine people, including Chip, survived the crash. Depressed and grief-stricken, Chip and his wife, Emily, and their twins, Hallie and Garnet, decide to start fresh. They move to an old house in northern New Hampshire, hoping for a new life.

As they settle into their home, Chip begins to see visions – or maybe ghosts – of three of the passengers who died during the crash. His behavior becomes erratic, and Emily seeks solace for a group of local women who are avid herbalists. The herbalist women, though, have an agenda of their own – to get the blood from one of the twins for a “tincture.” The two storylines come to head at the end of the book, leaving the reader with an ending that will shock many.

The Night Strangers is one of those books that would make a great movie. As I read it, I had fun casting actors into roles, especially the herbal-loving women. Meryl Streep, Ellen Burstyn, Diane Keaton and Diane Lane all seeped into my mind’s eye as perfect actors for Anise, Sage, Ginger and Reseda. Even the house is its own character with creaking stairs, mysterious doors and bones in the basement. Indeed, The Night Strangers would make a fantastic film.

If you love ghost stories or creepy tales, make sure to put The Night Strangers on your to-read list. Between the diabolical herbalists and mutilated ghosts, you have a story that’s perfect for October. (  )

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review on my blog.

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BOOK REVIEW: Labor Day by Joyce Menard

Labor Day by Joyce MenardLabor Day
By Joyce Menard
Completed August 31, 2011

The last weekend before school started was an unusually hot one for 12-year-old Henry, who lived with his mother, Adele, in a small New Hampshire town. Henry convinced his mother to take him to the store to buy clothes for the next school year – when a stranger approached them, asking for help, blood dripping down his leg and head. When Adele agreed, it marked the beginning of a Labor Day weekend that would forever leave an impression on Henry.

The stranger was Frank Chambers, and he had escaped from jail as he was healing from an appendectomy. Despite his “conman” status, Adele agreed to harbor Frank in her home. Frank proved to be a gentle man – attentive to Adele and Henry, providing a male figure for them both. In the time they were together, Henry became more confident. Frank taught him how to throw a baseball, bake a pie and to pay attention to the little things.

Without spoiling the ending, Frank’s plight ended as one thinks it might, but the conclusion of the book was less predictable. The reader saw Henry as a young man, discovering how he grew from the experiences from that fateful weekend. It’s nice to read a story with a tidy conclusion sometimes, and Menard did a superb job wrapping the story up.

I have not read anything by Joyce Menard before, but I was impressed with her writing style and how she developed Henry’s character. He was all boy – worried about sex, girls, his body and his popularity. Adele, at first, seemed flighty, but as I learned about her experiences, I appreciated her perspective more and more. In sum, Labor Day was the perfect last book of the summer – a good story with memorable characters and hopeful endings. (  )

BOOK REVIEW: Down from Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams

Down from Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin WilliamsDown from Cascom Mountain
By Ann Joslin Williams
Completed August 18, 2011

The New Hampshire mountains come alive in Ann Joslin Williams’s debut book, Down from Cascom Mountain. While the setting was beautiful, the lives of the characters were less tranquil. Down from Cascom Mountain explores many themes, including marriage and grief, through a character-driven story.

Mary Walker and her husband Michael return to her childhood home on Cascom Mountain. Mary is thrilled to return home – to be enveloped in the memories of her youth. Sadly, the reunion with her past is marred when her husband loses his balance during a hike, killing him instantly. Grief-stricken, Mary’s home transforms into her respite – a place where she can grieve for the loss of Michael.

Meanwhile, at the nearby lodge, Callie is a young search-and-rescue worker who has her first sexual foray with her group leader. It’s a disastrous relationship – only evident by midnight trollops – and one that has an unwanted outcome for Callie. We also meet Tobin, another teenager who lives near Mary, whose life has been plagued by his mentally ill mother. Tobin has many nervous ticks and OCD – surely a projection of his repressed maternal issues – and he begins a protective vigil over Mary as she mourns.

I loved Williams’s depiction of the New Hampshire mountains and way of life. She did a fantastic job making Cascom Mountain into its own character – beautiful and dangerous. I was less enraptured by some of the characters, namely Mary, who I didn’t find too sympathetic, despite the tragic loss of her husband. Down from Cascom Mountain is a good book, and I think as Williams becomes more experienced, we will see her career grow and prosper. ( )

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