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!

 

 

Guest Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I let my father, Monty, also an avid reader, borrow an ARC and asked him to write up a guest review for the blog. Here’s what he thought about Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.

9780393609097_a8601Definitely worth reading, informative and enjoyable – this is my summary of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology due for publication on Feb 7, 2017 from W. W. Norton & Company.

From the initial chapter, ‘The Players’, through the closing about ‘Ragnarok’, Gaiman’s collection of stories of the Norse Gods held my interest – each one begging to read the next. I felt transported to another world filled with wonder and magic, much as I felt as a teen at my first reading of Hamilton’s Mythology, or when I was writing a high school term paper on Greek and Roman gods. I especially liked the descriptions of boisterous feasts in great halls, which spoke to my long term fascination with medieval castles.

The reader will enjoy accounts of Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya and others, as they encounter giants and dwarves, trick each other, travel to fantastic places, battle monsters, win magical weapons and treasures, and even compete in drinking contests. This easy read will take you back to the ancient world of northern tales and myths…..watch out for poison in your beer and ice in your beard!

-Review from Monty, Librarian Laura’s father. (Thanks, Dad!)

One last note – doesn’t this have the most beautiful book cover!?!

Historical Fiction Favorites

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I’ve always loved historical fiction, especially WWII-era fiction. I can’t get enough of it!

Below, in no particular order (because I love them all so dearly), is a list of some of my favorite historical fiction books.

WWII era Historical Fiction Favorites

  • The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  • The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg
  • Letters to the Lost by Iona Gray
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff
  • The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen
  • The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
  • The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons
  • The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan
  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
  • Mischling by Affinity Konar

Other Historical Fiction Favorites (not WWII era)

  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
  • The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

Please let me know in the comments if you have any favorites that I have not mentioned.  I would love to add them to my TBR pile!

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Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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Behind Her Eyes, published by Macmillan, will be released on January 31, 2017.

This story is full of unreliable narrators (who drink…a lot) and the story switches back and forth between them with each chapter. David Martin is young, handsome, and a highly successful psychiatrist. His wife, Adele, is strikingly beautiful with a tragedy-laden past, having lost her parents in a fire at the family estate prior to her marriage to David. Enter Louise, a divorced, single mother who spends her time working as a secretary and drinking wine. Louise becomes entangled with both David and Adele, but in secret (at least Louise believes it to be a secret) from each other. She first meets David in a bar one night, spends some time kissing and flirting with him, but didn’t realize he was married. The next time she sees him, it’s when he becomes her new boss. Awkward much? One day while dropping her young son, Adam, off at school, Louise literally runs into Adele. The “chance” meeting turns into a chat over coffee and the beginning of a gratifying friendship for Louise, who mostly kept to herself prior to meeting Adele.

As Louise spends more time with Adele, she starts to question some of the oddities of her marriage to David. Why does David call to check on Adele at certain times of the day, but not allow her to have a cell phone or any money. Why does Adele keep things hidden from David? And who is this man named Rob, which Adele mentions from her past. Though part of the story flashes back to the time after the fire when Adele is in a mental institution, readers are never given specifics about why she is there. Readers will get a sense that her relationship with Rob, whom she meets at the institution, will be a huge turning point in the plot and what happened to cause such a dark, secretive marriage situation.

This story is dark and even from the outset, there is a powerful mood that something is very, very wrong about Adele and David’s relationship. The ending does a total flip and nothing that happened in the story is as it seems, once the truth is revealed. Everything is explained in the final two chapters and readers will be gobsmacked. Personally, the ending of the book changed my entire attitude toward the story. Though I very much enjoyed reading it, it took a turn toward the twilight zone at the end that I wouldn’t normally enjoy. Sorry to be so vague, but this is not the kind of story I want to inadvertently spoil for any future readers.

Behind Her Eyes is certainly unique and like nothing I have ever read in the past. Perhaps for this reason alone, and despite the ending that wasn’t to my liking, I really loved the book!  Fans of Gone Girl-type psychological suspense and authors like Mary Kubica and/or Stephen King will enjoy this book immensely. It’s sure to be a bestseller with a movie to follow.

Giveaway – Freebie Friday

Who wants a chance to win a free book?!

Up for grabs this week is a new, hardcover copy of Between Worlds by Skip Brittenham. You can read a summary of the book here.

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To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post.

On Friday, January 20th, I will randomly select a winner from those who have left comments on this post. Winner will be notified by email.

Happy Freebie Friday and Good luck!