Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)
Bitter River~Inconsistent but enjoyable
Bitter River is a murder mystery involving the death of Lucinda Trimble, a talented 16-year-old girl, who is found dead in the Bitter River. The story is set in the West Virginia mountain town of Ackers Gap, a place peopled with pragmatic folks dealing with economic hardships who have little to no trust of outsiders. Raythune County prosecutor Belfa Elkins, who grew up in various foster homes after the death of her violent father, has returned to her hometown of Ackers Gap after a failed marriage to find healing in the mountains.
Julia Keller writes with melodic prose that pulled me into the story from the first page and kept me wanting more – until the last third of the book when the plot became overly contrived with a subplot involving an international terrorist and the writing felt rushed. I started to turn pages restlessly to get to the end, which was, for me, unsatisfying.
As for character development, I liked and admired Bell Elkins, a pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going woman, who is both tough and vulnerable. She would be fun at Happy Hour. Many of the peripheral characters are drawn clearly enough that one can recognize in them somebody we know and with whom we can empathize.
All in all Bitter River is a good book. The first 2/3 is excellent. If Ms. Keller writes another episode in the life of Bell Elkins, I will read it.
Dawn Z. (Canton, MI)
This book was okay, but it followed the typical mystery/thriller formula. I enjoyed the descriptions of Acker's Gap, though, and the characters were pretty well-developed.
Carol E. (Stone Mountain, GA)
Bitter River by Julia Keller captured my interest at the beginning of the book. The main storyline, while not unique, was presented in an attention-grabbing way. There was a diverse, if a bit large, cast of characters, and some of their reasons for being were not fully developed. A few of them were one dimensional and not enough of their backgrounds and personalities were revealed. Had that been done it would have enabled me to have more of an emotional connection to the characters. Prosecutor Bell Elkins, the main character, struck me as being a bit unreasonably cold and angry with almost everyone; however, she and Sheriff Fogelsong seemed to have a close friendship.
Ms. Keller moved the story along fairly well and was generally entertaining. But her overuse of similes and metaphors created long, run-on sentences and made me, at times, lose sense of the narrative. These factors caused me not to enjoy as much a book that has the potential to be an intriguing and enjoyable read.
Kat F. (Palatine, IL)
It was good but...
I think it could have been better. The plot was good, the characters were well rounded and the setting worked well for the story. However, I felt the subplots, particularly one, was far fetched and given the small amount of info hard to swallow.
Had I known this was part of a series, I would have read the other book(s) first so as to getter a better feeling for the characters and their situations.
All in all, a decent summer read.
Kristen K. (Atlanta, GA)
Good Characters But Body Count High
I enjoyed reading this mystery that takes place in a small town in West Virginia. The main characters are complex and I found myself interested in their past and futures. I did not figure out the mystery until the end. The one feature I did not like about this book was the inclusion of a subplot involving the CIA and a terrorist. I believe the author should have trusted the small town she created and its inhabitants to keep the reader interested instead of throwing in this subplot and killing lots of extra people. I probably wouldn't recommend this to my book club--it seems more like a summer beach read.
Norman G. (Washougal, WA)
well-written but lacking
The best part of the book was the setting in a tired small town. It brought a realism to the story that helped with the believability of the everyday characters that populated the book. The storefront community that developed also helped with the story as it progressed as I am familiar with many to these locales in our area. I enjoyed all the interactions that progressed through the plot until the last forty pages. The action at the end, especially the explosion, just seemed a little over the top for what led up to the it. The book satisfied as a read but could have been more with a little stronger, different ending.
Linda S. (Tucker, GA)
Bitter River: Bitter Reading
The blurb about "Bitter River" by Julia Keller held such premise that I eagerly awaited my advance copy. A voracious reader, I prefer literary novels but read cereal boxes if one is placed in front of me, and unfortunately, this book reads no better than that provided by my morning Cheerios.
The main story centers on solving the murder of a teenage girl in rural Appalachia; two sub-plots bring more depth to the main character. While the characters were very human and the setting a part of the story, too much of the writing feels forced to me, the author trying too hard. Many of her metaphors miss their mark ("Her hair was the color of a dirty Q-tip" – ewe!), deus ex machina carries one of the sub-plots, and the ending is contrived, neatly tying up all three story lines. In the climax of one of the sub-plots, the main character, a woman lawyer, knowingly goes unarmed and alone to a house where someone is firing an assault weapon – really? I get it that Bell is a tough broad, but ultimately her story is not worth my time.