I am exhilarated with books that make my heart race. That keep you up at night turning pages because you just can't stop until you find out what happens next. Throw in some tension, evil souls and a dose of trepidation and I am hooked! For these reasons, I was captivated by "Serena" by Ron Rash from the very first paragraph.
The year is 1929, a time in American history when depending the place you called home could still mean a rough and wild existence. When lumber baron George Pemberton steps off the train bringing his bride home to his empire in the North Carolina Mountains, there is a surprise waiting for him. It seems that before he left his camp for Boston where he met and wed his Serena, he had fathered a child with one of the local girls. Her father is looking for revenge in the form of a very sharp bowie knife that he intends to use to carve up Pemberton as he departs the train. You get your first glimpse of what the beautiful Serena is really made of when she encourages George to take on the man and kill him if he must. She is deadly calm and you won't be sure if she really cares what the outcome of this fight will be. Her cold demeanor lets you know that Serena will certainly be up to the task of living in the brutal and dangerous would of the logging camp.
By the end of her first day at camp, Serena has proven that she is well suited to the life of a lumber baroness and again proves her cruelty when she has one of the most depended-upon foremen fired after he loses a bet to her. This is a woman who won't be showing any mercy! She takes to life in the backwoods as an equal to any man as she joins in overseeing crews and managing the business. The men in camp become suspicious and superstitious when strange and evil things start to happen to anyone who crosses the Pembertons. To enhance the perception of her power, Serena procures an eagle and trains the raptor to hunt at her side. The vision of the hauntingly beautiful woman with an eagle on her arm, scaling the mountains astride her ghostly white horse starts to instill a sense of fear and foreboding in the men of the lumber crew. This is a job where danger and death are a daily part of life, but the Pemberton's drive to fulfill their greed seems to bring more devastation than ever before.
When the Pembertons are threatened by a group who want to buy their precious mountain land to add to the Smokey Mountains National Park parcel, Serena and George work together to keep their lumber empire intact. Anyone who gets in their way somehow ends up dying in a horrible and inhumane fashion. Despite the death and brutality that surrounds them, the Pembertons are in love and devoted to each other in their own twisted way. That is, until the day that Serena discovers that she won't be able to bear children. Her rage and jealousy drives her over the edge and she begins a ruthless hunt for the child that George had fathered before she came to the camp. If you understand the dead heart that lies in Serena, you know she will not fail. The mother and her child run for their lives and in their wake are the bodies of anyone who tries to help them. The ultimate test to their marriage comes when Serena suspects George of protecting the pair. She will show no mercy to anyone, not even her beloved husband.
Ron Rash has created a coldblooded, eerie American Gothic novel, set in a time and place where just trying to stay alive each day is a merciless task. You won't be able to stop reading once you start. There is always another suspenseful moment awaiting on the next page! It's unfathomable to believe that a woman could be so callous and brutal, but as Serena rides through camp with her eagle at her side, you will be in fear for everyone in her path.
"Serena" is showing up on several lists of "Books you Must Read Before the Movie Comes Out." The film is in production and will star Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. I haven't been so tense reading a book in quite a long time and I will be on the lookout for the movie that's coming!
Recommended by Donna Nichols