The River: Book Review & Recommendations for Dad

June 7, 2019

In anticipation of U.S. Father’s Day, here is a book that a Dad in your life might enjoy!

*This post contains affiliate Amazon links.

For wilderness enthusiasts…….

The River by Peter Heller

The River Review

Genre/Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Wilderness Survival, Suspense/Thriller, Friendship

My Summary:

The River is a story of wilderness survival and friendship with a generous side of suspense/thriller. Wynn and Jack are college friends who enjoy the mountains, reading, and fishing, but they get more than they bargained for in this wilderness canoe trip. Instead of days filled with fishing and reading and nights of stargazing, they attempt a rescue as they face starvation, a forest fire, and a dangerous stranger.

My Thoughts:

The River is a unique blend of beautiful descriptive writing, character study, and suspense. It’s a wonderful example of a character-driven and plot-driven story. Often stories are heavily weighted toward one or the other, and I really appreciate the balance here.

Writing: Two types of readers will really appreciate The River: those who love all things wilderness, canoeing, and fishing and those who love character studies. The beginning of the story is slow paced and wilderness enthusiasts will enjoy the descriptive details and gear talk, but once Wynn and Jack smell smoke, the story increases its pace and has enough suspense to move the plot along. However, the suspense didn’t terrify me as an HSP (highly sensitive person). Suspense/thriller enthusiasts might find the read a little tame compared to other titles in the genre. For wimpish me, it was just right! The writing does include a great deal of fishing/canoeing jargon which I couldn’t relate to, so I skimmed those parts, but it will delight readers who have experience in the sport and can understand the specific terms and concepts.

Characters: In addition to vivid setting descriptions, the part I enjoyed most about the reading experience was the character study. While both men are confident and competent, Wynn is a gentle personality, an artist, and a big-hearted idealist who always wants to believe the best of people and situations. Jack is more of a cowboy type who is rugged, realistic, always prepared, and will take charge in an emergency. An enjoyable part of the story is watching how these two friends who are different and alike in many ways are able to work together and respect each other’s strengths. I care for these likable characters and felt every disappointment and fear as things go horribly wrong despite their efforts to do everything right.

Two Personalities:

Wynn thought that if wolves sang, and coyotes, and elk and birds, and wind, and we, too, it was probably in response to a music we didn’t know we could hear.

For Jack, stuff like cold and hunger didn’t have a value, good or bad, they just were, and it was best if they didn’t last that long; but if they did, as long as one survived them, no harm, no foul.

Themes: I’ve already touched on some of the important themes: survival, friendship, helping others despite the danger or risk, grief, nature, and wilderness adventure.

Recommended: The River is highly recommended for readers who are wilderness and adventure enthusiasts, for fans of light suspense, for those who appreciate excellent writing and character study, and for book clubs. I can see that wilderness enthusiasts might appreciate the jargon and gear talk and rate this story 5 stars.

Content Consideration: a woman is attacked and beaten up

My Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

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The River

The River Information

Meet the Author, Peter Heller


Peter Heller is a longtime contributor to NPR, a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and Men’s Journal, and a frequent contributor to Businessweek. He is an award-winning adventure writer and the author of four books of literary nonfiction. He lives in Denver. Heller was born and raised in New York. He attended high school in Vermont and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he became an outdoorsman and whitewater kayaker. He traveled the world as an expedition kayaker, writing about challenging descents in the Pamirs, the Tien Shan mountains, the Caucuses, Central America and Peru. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received an MFA in fiction and poetry, he won a Michener fellowship for his epic poem “The Psalms of Malvine.” He has worked as a dishwasher, construction worker, logger, offshore fisherman, kayak instructor, river guide, and world-class pizza deliverer. Some of these stories can be found in Set Free in China, Sojourns on the Edge. In the winter of 2002, he joined, on the ground team, the most ambitious whitewater expedition in history as it made its way through the treacherous Tsangpo Gorge in Eastern Tibet. He chronicled what has been called The Last Great Adventure Prize for Outside, and in his book Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River.


Do you like suspense-filled wilderness stories?

Does this sound like a book your dad might like?
See additional ideas below!

More Recs for Dads

(a few favorite titles from my husband’s reading list)

If you are fortunate to have your dad in your life this Father’s Day, here are some great bookish ideas for Father’s Day. Titles are Amazon links and a few of these I have reviewed on the blog.


Grant by Ron Chernow
This is one of my husband’s favorite reads.
Here’s a review of Grant by a respected reviewer.


Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas

Martin Luther

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas


Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Amazing Grace

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
(my review here)

leadership in turbulent times

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

team of rivals

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns

Historical Fiction:

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
(My Brief Review Here)

News of the World


Wait Till Next Year by (Red Sox Baseball Fan) Doris Kearns Goodwin (Memoir)
(My Review Here)

Wait Till Next Year

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (fiction)
(My Brief Review of Beartown Here)



Things My Son Need to Know About The World by Fredrik Backman
(my review here)

Things My Son Need to Know About the World

The Road to Character by David Brooks
(David Brooks Interview on Oprah Podcast)

The Road to Character

The Second Mountain by David Brooks
(David Brooks interview on Oprah Podcast)

the Second Mountain


The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

Return of the Prodigal

Jesus: A Biography From a Believer by Paul Johnson


True Crime:

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
(my review here)

Killers of the Flower Moon

Contemporary Fiction:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

man called ove

Science & Religion

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

Language of God

Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Let’s Get Social!

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***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photos are credited to Amazon or an author’s website.



    • Thanks! ……and off topic….I’m putting my collab post together today to publish Friday…..did you still want to contribute?

      • No worries! If you want to participate send me (by 9 pm pacific time) ONE recommendation for a book you would recommend someone read this summer…..newer release…..something in the 4-5 star range and something that a wide range of people might enjoy. Send me ( a one paragraph blurb and the link to your blog review (so I can promote your blog). By the way are you in Ohio? (I’m highlighting our varied geographical locations). Here’s a link to last year’s post so you can get an idea:

      • Ok..I’ll put that in as your choice along with your one sentence rec (if you want to add more just send it to me by tonight!) and then add your blog link on Monday! 🙌

      • Or….if you’re super pressed for time but want to participate, send me a title and I’ll pull the amazon summary! 😂

  1. I like your Throwback Thursdays because they highlight books that I might have missed. I think the book bloggers are sometimes too focused on the new publications. There are plenty of excellent backlist novels to read and they are also available in the library. After reading your review, I decided that this isn’t a book I want to read. But that’s okay. I would rather read your review than to start this book and put it on the DNF list.

    • I’m always surprised by how many people have not heard of or read books in my throwback Thursday posts! So many good books that are not new releases! I’m happy you found my review helpful!

  2. I have The River on my bookshelf, I’d started to read it but wasn’t pulled right in so I put it down. I’ll be picking it back k up thanks to your review. You have t steered me wrong yet😊

    • Thanks Laura! It’s fairly atmospheric and character driven, but the action picks up for a tension filled ending! Enjoy!

    • It’s atmospheric and character driven until the action and suspense picks up…..if you enjoy it, Heller has a newly released follow up but I haven’t read many reviews.

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