The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

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The River at Night is one of the best suspenseful, action-packed thrillers that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s a debut novel from author Erica Ferencik, and what a brilliant first novel it is! The story pacing rolls and twists erratically, much like the dangerous river Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra are rafting through the remote Maine wilderness. Ferencik’s characters are vividly portrayed, each uniquely drawn but vitally important to the story. The four women have been friends for many years, but don’t spend as much time together as they would like. Pia, the most adventuresome, fearless and usual leader of the group, plans a trip to the Allagash wilderness in a remote mountainous area of Maine, 30 miles from the closet town. The plan is to meet up with a river guide, Rory, a complete stranger they will have to trust with their lives to get them down the river safely. Despite the trepidation and worry involved with trying something new, Wini and the others are excited for a fun annual girls trip together. Wini is especially excited to have something to focus on, after losing her younger brother and the recent end to her 15 year marriage. The women have no idea what kind of adventure, danger, and thrills await them on the river and in the surrounding wilderness.

Rory is a twenty year old, ruggedly handsome playboy making money by offering guided trips down the raging river. Pia and Rory hit it off a little too well, causing some heated tension between the women. However, they must put their feelings aside, realizing that they depend on Rory for safety and survival. About a third of the way into their trip and partially down the river, an unforeseen tragedy strikes, plunging the women into  a living nightmare. Suddenly they are hopelessly lost and have nothing – no river guide, no supplies, no raft, and no map. Fortunately, they have  each other, but not for long.

As night descends around them in the cold, damp wilderness, they see a beacon of hope – a campfire on the side of the mountain within walking distance. Reinvigorated a bit, they set off toward the fire to find a very primitive camp inhabited by two people. Wini quickly realizes that this backwoods, filthy pair is not actually going to help the women back to civilization at all. Instead, they aim to make the group disappear by all means necessary. Thus begins a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse as the women flee for their lives, but also race against the clock to survive before hunger, thirst, shock, and injuries consume them.

Readers will be dumbstruck by some of the lightning-speed plot twists near the end of the story. I loved the story, even though it didn’t end on a happy note, because (small spoiler alert!) not all the women make it out of the wilderness alive. The writing is vividly real, with brutally raw, emotional scenes between the friends as they cling to each other for support and survival. I also appreciated the way the river was portrayed as a character in itself, a beautiful, but relentless force of nature.

I highly recommend this book. I read it in one evening. You won’t be able to put it down, and I know you’ll love it as much as I did.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

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I’m not one to re-read books. One of the reasons for this is that I always have so many books in my TBR pile, that I must keep moving forward. However, there is one particular book, which is more of a short story really, that I re-read every year around Christmas. What is even more special, perhaps, is that every year I have the pleasure of reading it aloud to my grandmother, Mary. Each year we enjoy it more so, even though we could recite many of the passages by heart. For over 15 years, we have been reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is our own Christmas tradition, a Christmas memory I hope to pass down to my children and to their children as well someday.

When people think of Capote’s work, most likely they think of In Cold Blood, a famous story with a very graphic murder scene. However, A Christmas Memory, is a personal memoir based upon Truman Capote’s young life. A Christmas Memory is about as different as can be genre-wise from In Cold Blood. The story tells of a young boy named Buddy and the time he spent with a beloved, much older relative before he was sent away to boy’s school as a teenager. (The far left book cover photo above shows a young Truman Capote and his older relative and friend.)

The story is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. Buddy, age 7, and the older Miss Sook, who was in her 60’s but had a child-like mind, lived in a house with other distant relatives who didn’t approve of them or pay much attention to them. Though they had the essentials (food, water, shelter, and clothing), Buddy and Miss Sook lived a no-frills, but enjoyable lifestyle, delighting in simple pleasures such as collecting ingredients and then making fruitcakes in the winter, playing with their old dog, Queenie, and even killing flies in return for pennies from the other relatives in the house. Perhaps their favorite time of the year and fondest memories are during “fruitcake weather” when they focus all their time, energy, and scant funds to making fruitcakes to send to friends, acquaintances, and even some people they have never met. My personal favorite is Mr. Ha-Ha Jones, who donates some liquor in exchange for “one of them fruitcakes.” Another poignant memory is making gifts for one another every Christmas, where they always realize that their friendship with one another is better than any gift money could buy. The story is pretty short, but it is filled with descriptive details which allow readers to close their eyes and easily imagine the scenes throughout. This is one of the reasons it is such a great read-aloud book. The writing is beautiful, raw, and it flows seamlessly from one scene to the next. If you haven’t ever read this story, I would highly recommend it. There is actually a movie out now, but the book is so much better! Read it before you watch the film.

The first time I had ever heard of A Christmas Memory was back in high school. Our English teacher read it aloud to our class, and I am so thankful that she did. Something about the story really resonated with me. I was at a used bookstore a few months later and happened to find a copy of it. My grandma and I have always talked about books and both love literature, so I shared it with her one year and we have read it every Christmas season since then! Reading this with my grandma every year is something we look forward to and enjoy so, so much. In recent years, other family members have listened in a few times, including my oldest son who is now 7 years old, Buddy’s age during the time of the story.

My grandma has always encouraged me to write, even from when I was little writing her poems and notes (which she has no doubt kept safely preserved in a box all these years). I’ve always had a special, close friendship with my grandma and she is so dear to me. And literature and the written word have always been a big part of our bond. For both of these, I am truly thankful. Below is a picture of my grandma with each of my sons when they were very young.

Is there a book or story that holds a special place in your heart? One that you have read multiple times? Please let me know in the comments!

Favorite Psychological Thrillers

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I’m sure you have heard the hype about Gone Girl by now. My personal opinion is that the book was way, WAY better than the movie. Also, I’ve read quite a lot of other psychological thrillers that I’ve loved even more than Gone Girl. It seems that whenever people describe this genre that Gone Girl is usually the example given. I think it’s time we show all these other amazing books some love! Below is a list of some of my favorite psychological thrillers (in no particular order). Many of these kept me awake at night!

Favorite Psychological Thrillers 

What are some of your favorite thrillers and/or suspenseful books? Please let me know in the comments!