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.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

9781101883075_f1cf2Lilac Girls is a beautiful, heartbreaking story of three strong-willed women with very unique backgrounds and circumstances, but each impacted greatly by WWII and the Holocaust.

Kasia, a young Polish teenager was taken by train along with her mother and older sister to an all women’s prison camp, Ravensbruck, where she and her sister Zuzanna were subjected to horrible torture, as “rabbits” for (sulfonamide) experiments.by the Nazis.

Herta, a young German doctor who was given the opportunity to employ her physician’s training at an all women’s work camp, Ravensbruk, reports for duty. Little did she realize that she would be the only female doctor and would be responsible for carrying out lethal injections, and horrible experiments on healthy women prisoners.

American actress and society girl, Caroline Ferriday, spends her days working in the French consulate in New York City. She organizes and sends care packages to French orphans in Paris, but her mission chances dramatically when her love, Paul, a French actor is taken to a prison camp. As Caroline tries to locate Paul, Kasia struggles to survive at Ravensbruk (while many of her friends and mother disappear or worse), Herta continues carrying out horrible experimental surgeries in the medical ward at Ravensbruck.

The novel switches back and forth between Herta, Kasia, and Caroline’s stories, causing readers to always be wondering what will happen next to each character. Though it is a rather  large book, I read through it very quickly because of the fast pace.

When Kelly connects the three women together in Part 3, it is so well written, providing some much needed closure to the characters and to readers. Readers will experience so many emotions while enjoying this novel; and I challenge anyone to read it through with dry eyes.

One of the neatest things about this novel is that it is based upon the actual Caroline Ferriday and her work for the Ravensbruk Rabbits after WWII. Kelly came across an article in Victoria magazine about Caroline and her lilacs, as well as her work with the Ravensbruk Rabbits, and was inspired to write this story. She based Kasia and Herta’s characters off of women she had read about in her extensive research as well.

For a debut novel, I consider this to be a masterpiece. It reminds me of two of my other favorite WWI historical fiction novels, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. Kelly’s website (http://www.marthahallkelly.com) has many additional resources that add a richness to the story, such as maps, photographs of her research journey, and video clips. It is clear that Martha Hall Kelly researched thoroughly in order to give a voice to so many important women affected by the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust. I promise you will enjoy this novel. It is just wonderful.

 

The Distance From Me to You by Marina Gessner

First, let me show you the cover of this book. It’s simple, but it sums up the book in a nutshell. I really love the cover, and the book is pretty great too. Read below to find out why.

I would classify this as part romantic fiction, part survival fiction. The book is intended for young adults, but adults would enjoy it just as much. McKenna has just graduated from high school and has big plans for the near future. While the majority of her classmates and boyfriend are headed off to start at college, she and her best friend have deferred a semester in order to hike the Appalachian Trail. They have studied and read about the AT, purchased all the required gear, and hiked many miles in preparation. The Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia, some 2,000 miles, which McKenna plans to hike in about two months time. A few days before their departure, McKenna’s best friend bails out on her for a guy. McKenna makes the decision to hike the trail alone, asking her friend to cover for her and pretend to be along on the trip so her parents won’t know. McKenna is a strong-willed, determined character, and it’s apparent from the beginning of the book that she is fully capable of completing the challenge she has set for herself.

While on the trail, McKenna crosses paths with Sam, a good looking guy who becomes more intriguing each time they cross paths. While McKenna grew up in a household with loving parents who provided for her every whim, Sam didn’t have such luck. He took off for the trail in order to escape an abusive, alcoholic father. His only other living relative is a brother who he hasn’t seen in years. No one has reported Sam missing, even though he has been out on the trail alone for months. Sam doesn’t have much to look forward to or much of a purpose until he meets McKenna.

The story takes a sharp turn when Sam and McKenna decide to go against all the warnings and go off trail to camp one day. This split decision leads to very dangerous, uncharted territory,  which neither Sam or McKenna has ever been before. Will they survive and find their way back to the Appalachian Trail, and back to each other?

I really appreciated the way the author didn’t focus too much on the romantic relationship between Sam and McKenna, but instead on their individual character traits, in order to show their bravery and resilience. I loved the way the book ended, even though it didn’t end the way I pictured or hoped it would. Not every story has a happy ending with the lovers in an embrace. And that sort of ending just wouldn’t fit this book. Also, I learned quite a bit about the Appalachian Trail, and enjoyed learning about “trail magic,” which is the kindness of strangers throughout portions of the trail. It was also neat the way the author described nature on the AT, especially the birds which Sam and McKenna liked to identify by their calls.

Overall, a very neat book. I would suggest it for teenagers and adults.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

 

 

Ashfall is the first in a 3, and planning to be 4 book series by Mike Mullin. Mike Mullin is an Indianapolis based author, whom I met at an ALA conference last year. He is well spoken, super smart, and the most down to earth guy. After reading his first book, I have even more respect for him and his awesome talent. The book was published in October, 2012. However, I finally got around to reading it after hearing my students rave about how amazing it is. The book is written for the YA crowd, but there are certainly many adult themed scenes. I enjoyed the book very much, for the suspense, and the non-stop action which kept the story propelled forward as if the reader was actually there with Alex and Darla making their way through the ashfall. The story supposes that the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park erupts with no warning and ash covers the earth for thousands of miles around the eruption site, including Alex’s hometown while he is home alone for the weekend. Alex is determined to get to where his parents are and reunite with his family. The readers can assume it will not be easy if only for the ash covered landscape and extreme weather fluctuations, but there are so many other obstacles Alex must face which make for a nail-biting read. This is one of my all time favorite YA books so far. I couldn’t put it down. Well done, Mike. I look forward to reading Ashen Winter, Sunrise, and the upcoming 4th installment.

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

 

zoo chinaI absolutely loved this fast-paced action thriller. I had never read anything by Matthew Reilly prior to this, but now I think I will go check out some of his other novels. It reminded me quite a bit of my favorite author, James Rollins’, books. The story line is incredibly creative and interesting. It certainly does have some far fetched elements, but that is what makes fiction so much fun! From start to finish, this is a roller-coaster of non-stop action. It is a bit gory in parts, so I wouldn’t advise reading it if you are squeamish with talk of blood. I would recommend it with flying colors, otherwise. Awesome!!!

 

Don’t Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz


This book was excellent. The reader will find everything they hope for in a suspense novel. I was biting my nails until the finish. Great job, Gregg Hurwitz!! No wonder my absolutely favorite author James Rollins gave you a shout out and recommended this book. It’s wonderful!