I read for two main reasons: either I wish to be challenged and I use reading as a self-discovery process, or I wish to be entertained, in which case the story must be written captivatingly enough to suspend my disbelief. I suppose this could make me a harsh critic, but this is just what I like when I read.
Having said that, "The River Within" falls more into my first reason for reading: to be challenged and to think and possibly learn something about myself that I can take forward. I find books that fall into this realm to be particularly difficult to review, as the books themselves tend to focus more on the internal rather than the external and the lessons conveyed are personal to the reader. What I can say is that this book hit the mark as a challenging and rewarding read. I also think this book could speak to any reader at any age, as the lessons being conveyed are things we can all relate to and the message is a timeless one.
One of the things I really liked about this book was the messy-life aspect. The three main characters were all facing internal challenges that were manifesting themselves in external ways. Each had to come to terms with themselves as their secrets propelled them towards undesirable futures, and they all knew it on some level or another. The focus on the three women remained tight, but the almost poetic descriptions of different people, places and times provided a nice relief from the growing tension. The characters' personalities were revealed organically through stories retold, conversations, and the actions they took. The little nuances made them all that more endearing and memorable.
The one thing I did not care for so much was the epilogue. The whole book has a nice messy-life feel to it, and it could have ended on that same note sans epilogue. I felt the epilogue tidied things up a bit too much and took a little away from everything up until then. So if you're like me and don't mind loose ends, then skip the epilogue. But if you enjoy a finer polish to the end of a good book, then go ahead and read the epilogue. Either way, you won't be disappointed.