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Reviewed by Saifunnissa Hassam for Readers' Favorite
Joan Schweighardt's historical novel, Gifts for the Dead: Rivers, Book 2, is set in Hoboken, NJ, between 1911 to 1919, 1927 and 1928. Nora Sweeney is 19, Irish-American, whose parents died when she was four years old. She grows up living with her Aunt Becky. Her school friends include Baxter and Jack Hopper, and Nora grows very close to the Hopper family. She and Baxter plan to marry. Baxter and Jack leave for the Amazon, planning to make a fortune tapping rubber trees. However, only Jack returns, barely alive, rarely speaking of the days in South America. Nora nurses him back to life, they fall in love and marry. In April 1928, they go together to the Amazon on a quest to find out what really happened years ago. The tension and action rise dramatically as they retrace the river journeys to the rubber tapping campsites.
I greatly enjoyed reading Joan Schweighardt's Gifts for the Dead because, at the core, it is a tale of love, of deep personal grief and transformation. I loved the way Jack's Amazon experience runs as an undercurrent throughout the novel, a constant invisible barrier between him and Nora. When Jack plans to return to the jungle, driven by his inner turmoil, Nora is determined to go with him. I loved the gripping suspense as the story of what happened in the jungle unfolds. I liked the twists and turns as Jack and Nora come to terms with the past, and its impact on their lives now. I liked the interweaving of individual characters, of past and present, because it gives intensity and depth to Nora's and Jack's personal journeys. A well-crafted historical mystery indeed!