Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review: River Whispers by Glynn Marsh Alam

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great writing, characters, and plot packed into a little book
Cons: A couple scenes made me uncomfortable
The Bottom Line:
Trip to Florida
Wonderfully evocative
Get lost in story




Surrender to the Whispers of the River

I love Glynn Marsh Alam's writing. While almost everything she's written has been in her Luanne Fogarty mystery series, this little novella is the exception. And I do mean little. At only 127 pages, River Whispers won't take you long to read at all. But it's such a rich experience.

The story centers on Mae Pope. Mae's grandmother has recently died, and Mae has returned to the St. Lawrence River in northern Florida to scatter her ashes. Mae plans to spend three days doing this, camping out along the way. She figures it will be a good way to deal with her loss.

But Mae gets more then she bargained for when she begins having run ins with the Gruman family. These meetings and far from pleasant, and Mae begins to think they aren't coincidental, either. These meetings also begin to play with Mae's memories. Did her grandmother have a secret? What was it? And did she reveal bits of it to Mae?

While technically not a mystery, this book does have several mysterious sub-plots that unfold. The heart of the story is watching Mae grow as she begins to better understand the past.

The present and the past weave in and out of the book. Both use Mae's first person narration since the glimpse of the past are all her memories. However, these memories are presented in italics, so it is easy to tell if what we are reading happened in the present or the past. And, as the book progresses, it focuses more and more on the present.

Being a short book, there are few characters with any real page time. The few present are well developed. Mae, naturally, comes across the best. After all, this is her story and we are hearing it from her. The members of the Gruman family we interact with are absolutely creepy. Heck, even Mae's grandmother becomes an important character to the events unfolding. And she definitely feels like a real person.

As with all of Ms. Alam's books, the highlight is the writing. She is able to evoke a time and place like no other author I have read. I felt like I traveled every mile of that river with Mae, dealing with every emotion, creature, and human she had to face. The amazing thing is this never once got in the way of the story. The writing is still very tight and the action never lets up.

I do feel the need to mention a couple potentially disturbing scenes in this book. Mae stumbles upon one character doing some nasty stuff. As you would imagine from an author at this level, these scenes are handled very artistically with just enough hints to let the reader know what is happening. And they are absolutely vital to the plot, so in no way do I think they should have been edited out.

On the whole, this is an amazing novella. While you could sit down and read River Whispers in a couple hours, it feels like a full length novel. Don't let size keep you from enjoying this great book.

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