This is a book to savor. The story has such a leisurely feel to it, you feel like taking your time. It is so well crafted, with a dark undercurrent; while not overly intimidating, it urges you to reach the conclusion. Take your time, you will get there.
A riveting read.
I began reading this book with great expectations because I knew Bernard Jan was a talented writer capable of delivering an intricate plot filled with intrigue and mystery.
The story takes the reader to Greenfield, Nebraska, a small town surrounded by lush pastures, dense forests, and where the majestic January River flows nearby.
A coming of age novel as the story focuses on Ethan McCoy, the younger brother to William Patrick. The bonds of brotherhood go deep and their affection for each other is characterised in their actions and thoughts as the story unfolds.
A past tragedy haunts Ethan as he enters adulthood. Racked with guilt he leaves his hometown to venture into the bustle and bright lights of New York City in a bid to shake off his demons and start a new life. He builds a new career and finds true love.
Beautifully written, filled with vivid descriptions and imagery. Heartwarming and emotional to the core.
Keep your box of tissues handy.
It was a pleasant read. I had no idea, by the time I picked it up, that this book was a coming-of-age story, which I tend to like. We follow a young boy, from boyhood to adulthood, and all the ups and downs. There is some mysterious secret that molds the life of the protagonist, which adds a new layer to the story.
By no means I'd say this is a bad or poorly portraited life of a boy, soon to become man. I thought it was pretty decent and cohesive. My only issue, and that is only mine, lies with the protagonist. I didn't really like him. I couldn't relate to him whether it was because of his personality (quite the opposite to my own) or it was due to our different backgrounds.
It is a lovely read, especially in first half of the book, when we're still following the boy's life.
By Igor Marino, June 5, 2021, published on Goodreads, 3/5
This was such an emotional book! I thought the book did well to make the reader emotional and the world building was masterful. The book also had well developed characters and plot.
The only issue I had with the book is that the book was a bit too slow for my liking, but it was great overall. I also wanted more loose ends to be tied up.
Verdict: It will make you cry.
One of those stories that sticks with you
I loved this great little tear jerker, and so I took my time to maul it up. It's that kind of story that draws you in and sticks with you long after you're finished reading it, and you wish it didn't have to end. There's a sort of Lassie come home quality to it that starts with an untroubled youth then leads the reader to something bigger.
How can we heal unless we are honest about the way we incurred the pain we carry? Too many years and perhaps we’ll be stuck in an ebb and flow of pain and healing, but not quite coming to any fruition as we work through the guilt. Every moment I found myself rooting for this child to overcome his grief, and I fell in love with the dog. This tale had me thinking and feeling. Loved the characters. Well done.
Well Worth the Read
I read this book on a recommendation, and I'm really glad I did. I really love the cover of this book as I love animals, especially dogs. The contents are another story which threw me for a loop as I felt myself pulled into this very immersive story within a few pages, drawing out some emotions I didn’t expect alongside the MC on his journey of healing. Our book group all enjoyed this read and the discussion that followed.
Life, death, and the pursuit of happiness
Award-winning author Bernard Jan uses a style as smooth as the January River and captures life at its fullest and also at its lowest. Realistic characters, great settings, and heart-wrenching moments captivate the reader throughout this fantastic tale.
Set in the 1970s, this story brings to light the darker parts of life and the strength it takes to carry on. Forced to deal with a harsh reality, Ethan grows up at the tender age of 14. His innocence and childhood whisked away with his friend, Derrick, and he loses everything outside of family and home. Where there used to be dreams and youth, now there is only pain, guilt, and nightmares. Will he overcome his suffering? His brother, Will, and his dog, River, are what keep him moving forward. What happens if one, or both are gone? You must read this outstanding story for yourself to find out!
The writer of this story is very adept at drawing the reader into the scene and holding them there. I, for one, will seek more works by this author. Bravo!
A wonderful read. A touching tale, that few will find unfulfilling. I certainly feel richer having read it.
And this book makes me want to visit Greenfield and be a writer in NYC right now!
Seriously, tho... There are some stories that just make you tear up at the very end. It was a calm, yet exciting adventure... Like a river floating towards the waterfall.... Your ride is smooth in the beggining, but towards the end it gets more and more wild. A tale that tells the simple, yet complex, story about growing up, about leaving, about wanting to spread your wings and fly away, so far you forget everything that shaped you. A tale that tells the simple life story: everything always comes back full circle. You leave just to come back at the end, to the place everything started, to that one place where all your colours shine the brightest. I could not stop reading it even if I could. Behind the simple premise, this book tells a story about deep, deep roots each and every one of us try to cut off: we escape, we run, just to figure out we've been mostly running away from ourselves. The world is huge, but never too huge to escape from our shadows. At the end, we always settle for the calmness that is in ourselves, no matter how hard we try to run away from it.
By ShadowBearer, February 10, 2021, published on Goodreads, 5/5
Love, life, forgiveness
Ethan was a normal boy that had life hit him hard.
He seemed to recover when later in life it hit him again.
One part of the book almost got me to close it and not finish it. Not because of the writing of story. But because it effected me to much. But I pushed on and I am glad I did.
To me it was a story of life,love,and forgiveness.
Jan Bernard did a great job bring us this story.
I am more of a sci-fi, mystery, adventure reader.
This book is worth the time to read.
An awesome book cover, great font & writing style. Wow, a very professionally written coming-of-age literary fictional book. It was quite easy for me to read/follow from start/finish & never a dull moment. There were no grammar/typo errors, nor any repetitive or out of line sequence sentences. Lots of exciting scenarios, with several twists/turns & a great set of unique characters & facts to keep track of. This could also make another great family drama movie, or better yet a mini-TV series. There is no doubt in my mind this is an amazingly easy rating of 5 stars.
Even better the second time around. Lovely book.
Short Summary of the book:
(I had to read the book a second time as by the time I had time to write the review, I had forgotten the details already. It was only better the second time around.)
For who has read books by Bernard Jan before, you will familiar with his love of animals.
In this book, the central figure is January River, ‘Riv’ for short. A golden retriever named after the river the hero of the book found him at.
We first meet Ethan McCoy as a dreamy teenage boy, enjoying life with his friends and his older brother William Patrick in Greenfield. A teenage boy forced to grow up too soon.
It follows Ethan through his childhood into adulthood, carrying secrets with him the entire time. What really happened to Derrick, his friend?
After he loses the love of his life, Ethan returns to Greenfield to finally tell his secrets. By now he has become a successful author.
What I liked about the book:
The writing is such, it made me wonder if Ethan McCoy, the author really existed. Bernard Jan’s writing is easy to read and entices you to continue to read.
What I didn’t like about the book:
I enjoyed the entire book.
My favourite bits in the book:
Too many to count. My favourite bit was probably the moment Ethan learned he could keep January River.
My least favourite bits in the book:
When the cruel Warren took revenge in a horrible way.
Any further books in the series? Any more planned by this author?
As far as I’m aware, this is a stand-alone book. However, the author has written two other books also worthy of a mention.
In A World Without Color, the author’s main character is a beloved cat.
In Look for me Under the Rainbow, the main character is a seal.
The author’s love of the animal world is clear.
What books could this be compared to and why?
The books to compare this one to are the author’s other two books. Whereas his first was based on the real-life Marcel, his second was more a work of fiction describing the plight of seals.
In this book, the humans play as much a role as ‘Riv’ does.
If you like romance, animals and real-life dilemmas, this book may be the book for you.
January River is a work of fiction penned in the literary style by author Bernard Jan. Focusing on central themes of family, friendships, and secrets that we hold deep, this work is aimed at mature readers and packs a real emotional punch. The central protagonist is Ethan, who as a child had a friend go missing under dire circumstances, and later loses his loving dog. Traumatized by these events, we watch Ethan grow up and try to lead the life he’d planned for himself, but slowly his doubts about the past begin to creep in. To reconcile it and have a quiet mind at last, he’ll have to dig up some shocking secrets and finally confront reality.
Author Bernard Jan has crafted a unique work of fiction quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The blend of genres woven into this highly literary piece delivers emotional realism, dark secretive thriller moments, and a deep and meaningful discussion of our connection to the natural world, all at once. The character development is also stellar, especially for Ethan's speech and thought presentation as we delve into his past, present, and his mental state. Ultimately the tale does deliver some really warm moments and excellent resolutions, blending the light and dark aspects of life to create a layered and beautiful work. Overall, I would highly recommend January River to fans of immersive realistic fiction, heartfelt tales of love and friendship, and psychologically, emotionally open narrative voices.
By K.C. Finn, August 3, 2020, published on Readers’ Favorite, 5/5
This was my first book by Bernard Jan and it will not be my last. There is nothing like reading a book with an animal involved in it for me. A coming of age story that focuses on Ethan and Will, the joys and tribulations they endure growing up in a small town in Nebraska. I was impressed with the way Bernard portrayed the relationship between Ethan and his dog, River. This was an emotional roller coaster for me, one that I am happy I rode. A heartwarming story I thoroughly enjoyed. Jan is a masterful storyteller for sure.
Coming of Age in Nebraska
January River is a coming of age story that focuses on Ethan and Will McCoy. They are from a small town in Nebraska that is picturesque but not without its own share of tragedies. Ethan and Will are thick as thieves and have a few friends that do what young men do, have adventures and try to avoid too much trouble. As we watch them grow up, they leave the town and end up in New York City. The story at this point really focuses on Ethan and his life, meeting his wife, his career, and watching him mature in life despite some issues that hold him back.
Ethan has many facets to his character and he holds guilt close to his heart when he should be moving past events that are dragging him down. It takes the whole story for him to do that, but it is a journey he has to take to reach that conclusion. Thankfully, he has the love of his wife and his dog, River. He has his family too, especially his brother, but there are others that care about him and his well being.
This book spans several decades and it is interesting to see the world change around Ethan. It was a simpler time then and I think that binds the story together and will take the reader back in time and remember what life was like before technology.
There are a few passages I would like to share with you from the book. These are poignant and show the depth of the thought process of the author and his direction for the story.
“Life sometimes goes astray, into unusual streams, and then you must swim upstream if you don't want to be dragged down the stream and fall over the waterfall.”
“He also knew he wasn't ready for that yet, that he didn't have courage. So he agreed to pay the price for it. The price of fear.”
“It is hard when we lose someone we loved. Very hard. We'll all leave one day. Someone sooner, the other one later. but the end comes to all of us whether or not we like it.”
I enjoyed reading this book and watching the characters become more complex as they aged and coming to terms with events in their past. It doesn't hurt that there are a couple of dogs in the book that help facilitate the story as they become a focal point for more than just the name of the river in their town, but for a location that has fond and tragic memories. The story has a variety of characters, both good and bad, that make this book complete. The story will also hit on a variety of emotions at various points and I found myself empathizing with different characters at different points.
This is a book worth reading and we give it 4 1/2 paws.
JANUARY RIVER: An emotional roller coaster
A beautiful, dazzling, poetic journey of words and people and animals. A powerful message of hope, love and sacrifice. The scenes of New York City are beautiful and meditative, and the descriptions of rain and weather is recuperative. Readers will hear, smell, taste and see all the descriptions in this spellbinding narrative.
Bernard’s characters are multi-layered, and each chapter reveals each of their flaws and quirky nuances. The landscape and relationships are what is really important in “January River” and the poetic imagery will stick with you long after you close the book. A truly gifted storyteller.
January River is a book about a journey of a kid from boyhood through adult. He experiences several traumatic events that impact his life and cause him many struggles. The title has a double meaning: the name of a river near his boyhood home where he witnesses the death of one of his best friends, and the name given to a dog Ethan and his brother Will rescues found near the river that helps Ethan through some of his darkest days. As a reader, one is with Ethan one many of his childhood escapes until his life takes a tragic turn with the death of Derrick; we journey with him to New York City to join his older brother as Ethan tries to escape his painful memories, and celebrate with him when he finds the love of his life and discovers his talent for writing. We grieve with him in the untimely death of his wife, and life comes full circle as he returns home and tackles what he has always dreaded-- telling Derrick's sister what he witnessed the day Derrick died.
I enjoyed reading this book and found it well written an edited, allowing me to engage with Ethan and develop an emotional connection with him, creating the range of emotions found in a good book. I received this book in exchange for an honest review-- thank you!
By Stacy, July 8, 2020, published on Goodreads, 4/5
Not many books leave me so overcome with teary emotion, that I must step back. I say to myself this lovely story is more than I can handle at this time. I believe I'm still grieving for my beloved feline friend. She died less than six months ago.
I got to 42%of the book and will resume reading in the near future.
Your book Bernard is laden with life altering issues young people often experience. Both good and bad. Happy and sad. Hope and despair. And an issue so difficult to decimate, bullying. Now I'm setting the book aside for now, but expect the remainder of the book will be just as powerful. Well done Bernard on your first novel in English.
By Linda Lpp, June 26, 2020, published on Goodreads, 5/5
I wish to wake up in Greenfield
Bernard Jan has an awesome skill, to express sad things like a beautiful way of life. He showed this in January River too. Chapter by chapter, he is leading the reader in the various specter of feelings. Ethan lost his friend and this is a burden that follows him his whole life, but he also experienced all the benefits and became famous. Everything has a price, and Ethan paid a too big price for his success, by losing people he loved the most. He suffers from a kind of anxiety but he deals with it becoming a writer.
This book learns that you can't buy happiness with money if you lose your peace on this path. Competition is present from childhood, children are strong rivals and their games are sometimes cruel because there is no awareness that something bad could happen if you try to improve yourself to your peers.
If you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself in Greenfield, where nature is the main boss, and people will just obey if they wish to survive.
Life is Full of Experiences--It's What We Do With Them That Counts
This coming of age novel is staged around a western Nebraska town. The author captures the essence of being a young boy in a farm community. Being the “little brother” Ethan is following an older brother in a bucolic setting of rivers and grain fields and quiet summer days. He gets to explore life and nature. He finds a dog near-death that he rescues and nurtures back to health. Their bond becomes inseparable.
Losing one member of his childhood gang haunts him throughout the book. His older brother is a beacon to him throughout life without being a guide. The relationship of the boys and parents is well developed and appreciated. The family has a well-developed business and an opportunity for either or both boys to inherit a profitable business.
Life has many twists and turns and Bernard Jan has captured the emotional essence. Many parents have witnessed the castle of their expectations for their offspring evaporate when the child develops his own interests. Peppered within life are many divergent trails and opportunities. The author captured the feel of those forks in the road.
Ethan follows his older brother Willy to New York. The serendipitous change of environment is indeed a path that draws Ethan from his youth. He works as a waiter in a restaurant and gets to be a key part of the business. He tends to be a recluse but is drawn out by a love interest. His dynamic of life changes.
I was amazed at the awesome translation of this book from Croatian into English. I highly recommend this book to those who appreciate a good “coming of age” novel. True to life the road is curving and bumpy and an excellent escape.
We received this digital download through an author request in exchange for an honest review and these are my unbiased observations. 4 stars - CE Williams
This book is amazing.
Bernard Jan is a croatian author.This is the first book that i read by a croatian author.
I was surprised by his writing style.
This story is about Ethan McCoy and his brother Will from childhood till adulthood.
It follows him through his best and worst moment in his life.
He was raised in Greenfield, in a religious family with a strict father.
When he plays outside with his brother ,he finds a dog.Poor dog was wounded and eventually dies.
Until he dies he names him January River.
After years,he goes to New York to make his life better.He marries,his wife Susan dies of leukemia.
He doesn't remake his life in the end.
But,the story has a happy ending because Ethan is a writer and he becomes successfull.
This story is a full roller coaster of emotions.
I recommend it.
By Traistaru Iustina, May 31, 2020, published on Goodreads, 4/5
Can I move too Greenfield?
January River by Bernard Jan is a coming of age novel with a bittersweet tang, a tragedy and wholesome, old-fashioned sensibility about a fictitious town named Greenfield, somewhere in the American West.
I’ve driven across the U.S.A. The author has done his homework about what it feels like to be in a place like this. Montana? Wyoming? The Dakotas? Cut off or safely remote? It takes a certain kind to live in wide-open spaces like this.
The tiny hamlet seems to be a last chance exit for people who have been mistreated, lost it all or are misunderstood. Rather than Greenfield being a place of turmoil, it is peaceful, tranquil, rich in natural resources, green and beautiful.
During the chaos that is 2020…I would move there in a second, if I could just find it on a map.
Ethan the main character is a warm-hearted soul, an adventurous but polite and respectful teen. He reminded me an awful lot of one of my brothers.
As in real-life, tragedy strikes and it forces Ethan and the entire town to look at life differently. To me this was the reveal. Who are we after we have lost? What are we once we know that the dream of perfection is a white rabbit we chase and perhaps never catch?
Friendship, family tradition, old-school values, love for humans, animals and nature all come together in a tale of home and growing up that would certainly appeal to readers young or old looking for hope in a bleak time.
I’ve read a few of this author’s works, but so far this is my favorite one.
i have read other works by Bernard Jan (the baby seals still make me teary) so i was very excited to get to read January River. this book had me captivated from the very beginning to the very end. it is a story about growing up, love, loss, relationships and bonds of siblings and friends, both human and four-legged and it is extremely emotional at times. jumping back and forth in time between childhood and adulthood we learn Ethan's story as it develops throughout the book, how certain events transpired and why, and why he felt the need to run away from everything he ever knew. as the story develops we learn what happened, why he felt guilty, and how so much was a big misunderstanding and there was a lot of sadness for no reason. i am glad most of it was resolved eventually and although there were plenty of sad moments that made me want to cry, there was also plenty of happiness throughout the book. it was a quick and easy read that i enjoyed very much and highly recommend!!!
By Robin, May 29, 2020, published on Goodreads, 5/5
This was a beautiful tale of five friends growing up in an idyllic town where a river runs through. Life takes a harsh turn when one of their friends passes away. It was a pleasure to follow the lives of these young people in the coming of age story.
By Sara Kjeldsen, May 23, 2020, published on Goodreads, 5/5
A wonderfully introverted novel
January River is Bernard Jan's beautiful response to the Great American Novel, a story of boys growing to adulthood in the seemingly idyllic rural setting of a small town named Greenfield. I was reminded strongly of Kent Haruf's Plainsong trilogy and feel readers who enjoyed those novels, as I did, could also appreciate January River. Jan takes his time to tell this story well and I appreciated the gentle pace. It allows the narrative to drift and meander in much the same way as I imagined the physical river of the title. The natural world surrounding the boys is as deftly portrayed a character as that of any of the humans we meet, particularly in its role of shaping the men that Ethan, and his brother William, become. Perhaps some the dialogue did feel a little stilted or overly formal, but this is a minor point to criticise.
I liked how Jan incorporates name-dropping songs playing on the radio or then-current movies at the cinema to illustrate the flow of time as January River progresses. Greenfield is very much a community turned in to itself so I felt a timeless sense to the town with world-changing events rippling at its edges, but not creating the same social impact as they did elsewhere in America. This provides a big contrast for Ethan on his arrival in New York City!
January River is a wonderfully introverted novel that would be ideal for reading, I think, particularly on long hot summer days. I enjoyed spending time with the McCoy family and their friends and found myself left with a wistfully nostalgic view of their lives (despite their misfortunes) at the end. This novel isn't one for action fans, but readers who like character-driven recent history novels should give January River a try.
January River is a lovely story whose content belies its compactness . Well-written, it takes you through the miles and years of life. It reminds me as it will others about our journeys. The joy feels wonderful. The melancholy hurts.
Redemption is a feeling that accompanies the great events of our lives. Good or bad, an arrival or departure, we learn about change early. It returns time and again to build us up or knock us down. Bernard Jan has captured it well.
Take precaution because this book will do things to you that you may not want others to see. Don’t bet on me being the last person to say the story is entirely relatable.
I would like to say so much more but I might spoil the pleasure of other readers. Take it from me. You will find it performs magic. The dog on the cover is calling you!
Bernard: No writer can maintain an opaque curtain and I sensed the personal stake in your writing. I feel you’ve learned contentedness as much as your beautifully drawn main character has done.
By David R. Dowdy, May 9, 2020, published on Goodreads, 4/5
“January River is a heartwarming story you should not pass. A simple tale of a boy growing up in the picturesque little town of Greenfield till many years later he is invited to come to New York.
If you think this story may be boring…....think again. The beautiful landscape of words and emotions will grab you and won’t let you put the book down till you reach the conclusion. The words flow smoothly through the page and highlight how passionate the author’s is about his subject. The narrative is descriptive and endearing and focusses on the life‘s up and down, a life study of sorts. We travel with Ethan on his journey from child to adult through a series of joys and sadness. The loss of a close friend and of his beloved dog will leave you heartbroken. This is an emotional roller-coaster ride of emotions. No doubt, “January River” is an exceptionally well-written book in tone and content, much care is taken to sentences as much as it is for the plot. The characters populating the story are darlings, especially Ethan.
“All rivers carry their secrets, but not every river keeps its secret forever.”
What a compelling story told by a true master. Thank you Mr. Jan for this wonderful story I thoroughly enjoyed .
January River was blind journey for me and I really enjoyed the twist and turns and flow of the story. Bernard Jan is a writer with heart.
By David Sharp, May 6, 2020, published on Goodreads, 5/5
Coming-of-age tale with classic themes
An engaging coming-of-age story. The town of Greenfield is a classic American backwater town, surrounded by wilds and with a close-knit community. Young Ethan discovers a Labrador dog while out exploring the wilderness with his brother. Worried for the distressed creature, they hurry to the town vet. Soon Ethan has a new wet-nosed companion. Events then come quickly and a series of tragedies strike that leave deep and long-standing wounds. As Ethan tries to come to terms with this set of circumstances his horizons begin to broaden when he takes a chance and travels to New York. The city opens up new opportunities for the young man, and these only add complication to issues he has carried with him all the way from Greenfield and the January River.
A reflective tale, that traverses several years, following the main character from boyhood and on to the trials of adulthood. Ever consistent is Jan’s economic prose style, which compliments the pleasing simplicity of the novel. I liked Jan’s treatment of major plot points very much, where, with a touch that seems almost ruthless at times, the narrative is pushed forwards, minimising the potential pitfalls of sentimentality which could plague a novel of this type. Thankfully there is a straightforwardness to Jan’s writing here, and has been common to all the titles I’ve read by him so far. I must add that this is not the type of book I’d usually pick up, but having followed Jan’s output thus far I remain interested to see what he does with anything he attempts.
I particularly like the dynamic between the group of childhood friends and the subtleties of change between them over time. With long timeframes Jan manages to create a believable sense of time passing while the necessary growth of the characters as they mature is handled in a subtle and authentic way. The contrast between small town life and the frenetic pace of a big city is also nicely done. An enjoyable and charming mainstream read, that crosses multiple genres with a light touch.
Coming of Age, Emotional Story
January River is the third book I've read from author Bernard Jan. Although he's written a few others, they are in his native Croatian language, and I must wait until they are translated into English. When this one became available in early April, I jumped on the opportunity to get a copy and schedule it in my queue. I finished the novel over two days this week and now it's time to share my thoughts on it.
January River seems like an unusual title, right? What does it refer to? A body of water in a certain month? A name of a place or person? An expression that is truly a metaphor? Possibly all three... and as each major component of the book unfolds, readers learn the title has multiple meanings. As the cover suggests, the golden retriever plays heavily into this story. The tale is full of webs or tentacles; we hop around a little bit in time to follow the life of a few characters. I will tell you upfront, this is no easy book to devour due to the tenacity of the story to impact you. Some will live. Some will not. But the author does all the right things to make you feel the emotions of the characters throughout the novel.
Essentially, five friends grew up in a small mid-western town. An eerie event happens, and it leads to several impacts down the line. Parents misunderstanding a child's intent. Love not being able to blossom. A bond forging deeper than expected. Brothers learning to care about one another. At times, I felt suspense and paranormal creeping into the book. At others, I felt the romance and life experience of a narrator whom I wanted to know even better. Across the entire tale, Jan weaves immense detail into his story such that you can almost experience all five senses. At times, there was more detail that I wanted, but ultimately, it created the perfect setting for 1970s America... it was necessary to situate us as readers in a world that is nearly fifty years old.
Jan is a great storyteller. Though this is not a single tale that unfolds as a mystery or a coming-of-age story... it's more a chronicle of a life that suffered a lot and learned more than one normally does in such a short period. From NYC as a newbie to falling in love at a later age in life... to recalling someone you lost... and taking comfort in sheltering an animal that needed a new home, Jan sets a tone and a mood that you quickly become accustomed to. I enjoy his writing style and look forward to more from him.
An American Coming of Age Story!
This is the story of Ethan. The story begins in his early years and follows him through the majority of his life. Ethan grew up in a small town, had a great home life, was extremely close to his older brother Will, had very good friends, and an amazing dog. For the most part, it was idyllic and his relationships were solid until his life was forever changed by the death of one of his best friends.
Jan is definitely a storyteller, weaving a tale about coming of age in small-town America that puts the reader in the center of the story, feeling everything the main character feels and experiencing the ups and downs of regular or normal life. One can not help but feel warmth and sadness as the story unfolds.
January River is a lovely book, a great read and leaves one feeling a little nostalgic. I would not call it a story of hope, and yet it might be. In my mind, it is on the level of Legends of the Fall. Some people just do not have much luck and yet their life is full of power and meaning.
January River is truly a coming of age story about two brothers (Ethan and Will) along with their friends growing up in their rural town of Greenfield, Nebraska. The remainder of the story mainly encompasses Ethan’s life after he moves to New York and begins his life into adulthood.
Honestly, I’ve been yearning to read this book since I first discovered it on Goodreads. I fell in love with Bernard Jan’s two newer books and have been waiting for this one to be released in English.
I cannot spoil the events of this story in my review; it’s one that you simply have to read. January River is emotional, brought me to tears at times, and definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. Bernard Jan’s writing always captivates me and he’s done it once again with a story that had me invested in the characters (mainly Ethan) until the final pages.
That winter of 1971, when January drew to an end and Greenfield already sank into a deep sleep under the cover of fresh snow, an incident happened that left a deep mark on the rest of Ethan’s childhood.
The relationships are beautiful, but don’t get me wrong, there is sadness and heartbreak, but the overall themes in this story are those that always pull me in. I personally loved the history and music references included in the story as well which fit with the time period and make the story feel realistic.
With that said, there were a few tiny niggles that I had: I wanted some events tied up in the end, particularly with one of the vengeful characters in the book, but it certainly didn’t take away from the story.
Those that appreciate animal companionship will enjoy this book, but there’s so much more to the story. Leave it to Bernard Jan to craft a story that’s going to stay with me for some time.
This was a buddy read with my mom (Starjustin). Please check out her review.
Bernard Jan never ceases to amaze with his emotionally packed, so ‘true to life’, and well written books. The characters in this latest novel, ‘January River’ are life-like and jump out of the pages at the reader. This is truly a story you won’t want to miss. Engaging, heartbreaking at times, and filled with passion throughout. Highly recommended!
This was a buddy read with my daughter Mischenko. Please check out her review also! 🙂
By Starjustin, April 26, 2020, published on Goodreads, 5/5
A masterclass in storytelling.
January River by Bernard Jan is a wonderfully written and richly descriptive novel with brilliantly drawn characters and settings. It’s a unique work that will captivate the reader from the opening chapter. Skillfully constructed, this well-written life affirming tale will have you turning the pages from beginning to end. There’s also plenty of imagery in the writing style that makes you feel you are right there in the story, and that’s something I look for in a good book.
This was a captivating read that had me immersed from the beginning. The story flowed from scene to scene with ease, and the author shows exceptional ability when it comes to storytelling. I enjoyed the story, character development, and dialogue. There were plenty of interesting moments that I didn’t see coming and that added to the book’s mystique. When I stopped reading to work, I found myself wondering what happened in the book, and replaying parts of the novel in my head to see if I could figure more out. It has been a while since I enjoyed a book this much.
There’s no doubt that January River is an exceptionally well written book. The contrast between tone and content is a characteristic talent of only a few authors. The author pays as much attention to his sentences as he does to his plots, shifting or consolidating meaning with the use of a single word. His writing is impeccably honed, full of juxtapositions and qualifications that help to create an allegory about fears and anxiety, about the place of the sensitive person, the thinker, the human, within society’s social order, in a world in which human beings are the only animals who despair of their lives.
It’s one of those books that come along occasionally that makes you want to read it non-stop until you get to the end. I’m giving nothing further away here. And this, I hope, will only add to the mystery and enjoyment for the reader. I’ll be looking forward to reading more from Bernard Jan in the future. I would highly recommend this book and would add that it has a distinctly cinematic feel to it. A well-deserved five stars from me.
A heartwrenching story of coming of age
Life throws a lot of curves sometimes and things never work out quite like we expect. January River is a story of innocence lost, loss of dear loved ones, love, forgiveness, and redemption. Written so well, it brought tears to my eyes. Highly recommended
A heartfelt story of growth.
While the term coming-of-age is technically used to indicate the transition from childhood to adulthood, I do believe that this story really tells Ethan's own internal journey from "child" to "adult".
I wanted to finish the book very quickly, cause wanted to see what was happening next, but had to stop one time too often to catch my breath, as Ethan's thoughts and memories were hitting the right buttons on my own thoughts and memories. I did cry with other of Bernard's books and won't hide that some tears were shed with this one as well - be it for the loss of a childhood friend, or the loss of innocence that truly marks the coming-of-age, despite one's own external time-stamp. The mystery outside is a mirror of the mystery inside - and only by shedding light on our own's gloomy thoughts, we can finally be set free.
This is the third book I have read by Bernard Jan (after A World Without Color and Look For Me Under the Rainbow) and it is definitely the one I like the most. As it is a proper novel (the other two were more novellas) we have a welcome variety in scenes, locations, characters and character development. Rather than a storyteller, Bernard is a writer who can evoke deep emotions with his excellent writing. He uses the perfect wordings and well-chosen metaphors to paint a scene and give us a look into his characters' deepest feelings. Especially the tiny village of Greenfield is marvelously described in this book.
Of course, I also have some issues with this book, in particular:
- In choosing which scenes to describe in detail and which not, he makes some curious choices. Some scenes, such as when Ethan first meets Susan in the restaurant, feel a bit superfluous and simple (on an emotional level), while the description of how Ethan falls in love (and his love life) feel a bit rushed - as if there is much more untapped potential there to write interesting scenes.
- Bernard juggles around with flashbacks and flashforwards, even in the middle of scenes, which can make the timeline very confusing. Example: ch.7 starts as follows: In mid-October, the first snowflakes arrived in Greenfield. Early this year, dragging along the New Year as well. (Followed by a few pages describing how major world events at the end of the sixties didn't really impact Greenfield that much.) That winter of 1971, when January drew to an end [...] an incident happened that left a deep mark on the rest of Ethan's childhood. Wait, what, are we October or January now? 1969, 70, 71? For me (maybe because I'm a non-native English speaker), these unnecessary jumps in time make it difficult to know where exactly we are in the story.
- Finally, my pet peeve: I hate it when characters are 100% good people (or 100% bad), and while there is some minor character development for Ethan, all other people in this book are 100% good, nice and decent people. Please, in the next book, I wanna see some internal struggles, some flaws, hatred, envy, rudeness, lust, pride!
All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book, as Bernard has the wonderful quality to take you on an emotional trip through some beautiful locations and great memories. Looking forward to his next work already!
By Koen Van den Eeckhout, April 21, 2020, published on Goodreads, 4/5
After what seemed a lifetime, Ethan McCoy returns to Greenfield, a sleepy little town in Nebraska, and stops by January River to reminisce about his childhood, friends, and his beloved dog River. With his older brother Will and two other friends, Jason and Derrick, they often went rafting down that river. Derrick was shy and withdrawn, and his sister Sarah never hesitated to fight with boys who bullied him. One winter, Ethan found a dog beside the river, nursed him back to health, and they became inseparable. Then Derrick drowns in a tragic accident, and life was no longer carefree.
Grown up, Ethan went to New York to visit his brother Will, who was a merchant marine sailor, and he decided to live in the Big Apple, renting Will’s apartment. After six years, a chance meeting with Susan, owner of a popular magazine, led to both of them returning to Greenfield, where Susan wanted to write a tourist article about this fascinating little town. They married, and Ethan, starting to become a popular author, thought life could not be better. When Susan died from leukemia, his world crumbled around him. Determined to push on with his life, on his way to Montana to finish his latest book, Ethan stopped at Greenfield to recapture something of his past.
With ‘January River’, Bernard Jan drags readers into Ethan’s life with narrative that is often haunting and stirring, bringing the book’s characters into sharp relief. The writing is fluid and very easy to read, and Bernard Jan takes time to explore Ethan’s emotions with sensitive writing as vents unfold around him, revealing him as a character of considerable depth. Some of the dialogue is very engaging, and readers will readily relate to Ethan and his friends. Older readers who are still young at heart will enjoy seeing Ethan grow into eventual adulthood when he embraces the hectic life of New York. Regrettably, Bernard Jan rushes through several important episodes in Ethan’s life, and his writing loses some of its earlier fluidity, which the book regains later. ‘January River’ is an enchanting read, which could have been developed more fully. Nevertheless, what readers are given will leave them eminently satisfied and thoughtful, reminiscing about their own past.
I would recommend the book to serious fiction readers and nature lovers
The book “January River” by Bernard Jan is, in my opinion, his best work and really liked his style of writing and the story of a boy growing up in a small village. The writer takes us to the picturesque little town of Greenfield where Ethan lives with his brother, and they hang out with a few friends. They love playing on the January River. Ethan adores nature and forest landscapes, and the whole world fascinates him. In the course of one winter, they find an injured dog that Ethan falls in love with until he heals a vigil at the vet station. Soon the dog and he become inseparable. But when their good friend dies, his whole world turns upside down and he withdraws from the world. After many years, his brother invites him to come to New York and he accepts his offer, hoping that leaving his hometown will help him move away from gloomy thoughts. The writer guides us through Ethan's life and the book is easy to read, many emotions flow through the book, and trust me you will like it. I would recommend the book to serious fiction readers and nature lovers.
A wonderful life affirming story featuring every emotion possible....
Bernard Jan is a novelist and poet from Croatia and has had three novels and a book of poems released in English. ‘January River’ is about five friends, one dog and one river carrying a secret. All rivers carry their secrets but not every river keeps its secret forever.....
You can tell the author is passionate about reading and writing and that his kindness, love and empathy toward all living creatures truly shines through from his fantastically descriptive and endearing narrative. I really enjoyed reading this gentle Christian story focusing on life’s ups and downs. With family relationships, grief, emotions and an all round life study written into this powerful and well written novel, I was astounded by how the author managed to stir so many emotions in me. I devoured every word and sentence and along with a descriptive atmospheric location both in the small town of Greenfield and then New York, I actually felt like I was there with Ethan every step of his life journey.
I’d highly recommend ‘January River’ if you’re looking for a gentle summer read. I read this in just over a day and really felt relaxed and calm whilst doing so (minus the tears it evoked) and is definitely an author I hope to see more of in the future.
4 stars for an well executed and excellently written story.
Bernard Jan has a great ability to pull you into his stories. In "January River" his simple descriptions are successfully dipped into melancholy and sentimentality, making it easy for readers to relate -- it feels as if our own story, our own experience of childhood, our own memories are being reflected upon. Those feelings of deep guilt, fear and regret over the most trivial of circumstances all of us have experienced as children, are accurately portrayed. It is also refreshing to stumble upon a writer who dedicates purposeful attention to animal rights and issues. This is a heartwarming story and an easy read. It is straightforward and understated, in a way "The Stranger" by Albert Camus is straightforward and understated. Bernard is clearly a talented young author and I truly believe his best work is still ahead of him. So please support his endeavour, at $0.99 on kindle this book is a steal!
By Jasna, April 14, 2020, published on Goodreads
An amazing journey told by a true master.
Absolutely intriguing. I couldn’t put it down. Very compelling story told by a true master.
By errmumpmumpwoowoo, April 9, 2020, published on Amazon, 5/5
Theirs was an idyllic town, until the loss of one boy crushes the delicate bonds of childhood for five friends who grow up to go their separate ways, secrets and shame intact. When Ethan comes home again, he has become an adult, has faced the best and worst life has to offer, yet still relies on his animal companion as a compass for his future as he comes to terms with an event that terrified him in his youth. Will the truth set him free or destroy the life he has grown up to life?
Bernard Jan writes from the heart with a gentle pen, never going for shock value. JANUARY RIVER is a beautiful landscape of words, of emotions and a final coming of age for a man with secrets to unburden. Within this tale is a tale of love for a pet, its companionship, its acceptance of their “person,” no matter what. Can humanity accept each other as well?
An emotional rollercoaster of life, loss and coming to terms with mistakes made in youth. Lyrical writing flows across each page with a freshness that cannot be put down. If you haven't read anything by this talented author, you are missing out on a treasure trove of reading.
Realistic, Intriguing and Touching!
Realistic, Intriguing, Mysterious! This is author Bernard Jan's new English version of January River. The characters and plot are rich and well thought out. We follow Ethan, his friends and loyal dog on a mysterious journey from a small town to New York City. January River is beautifully written and a fantastic deal for 99c. I enjoyed the story and recommend it to all. It is truly a unique tale 🌟 🏞 🐕
Written by a masterful storyteller
There’s something very heartwarming about a novel that includes an animal. While reading Jan’s last book I took each step with him as he let the love for his cat help him reach the right decision. In January River, Jan has included a dog that will also touch your heart. This is a complex story that wraps around you and doesn’t let go. When Ethan’s friend disappears, his dog is his only consolation. Then when he loses his dog, well, you’ll just have to read January River to find out. Jan is a masterful storyteller and I was captivated by Ethan’s journey. When his closely held secrets begin to reemerge, what happens to the life he’s built? I can’t wait to see what this author has in store for us next. Whatever it is, I’m just sure it will be every bit as good as this one.
This is a book to savor, every word of it.
This is a book to savor. The story has such a leisurely feel to it, you feel like taking your time. It is so well crafted, with a dark undercurrent; while not overly intimidating, it urges you to reach the conclusion. Take your time, you will get there.
These characters seem to be so lifelike, their dialogue is effortless and natural. I laughed many times.
The author has a knack for descriptions and scene setting also, not too much, just enough to keep the story moving at a nice pace.
This is an easy 5 star rating!
An emotional rollercoaster wonderfully written and beautifully crafted.
Greenfield, a small American town, where diversity in terms of religion, nationality and personal interests were accepted and tolerated, seems to be the paradise on earth. Surrounded by great forests, a beautiful river, populated with wonderful people, isolated from all the happenings in the rest of the USA, this place is nothing far from the ideal place to live in.
Ethan, the main character, had a wonderful and peaceful life in Greenfield, playing with his friends and his brother Will. Unfortunately, when only twelve years old, his life takes an unpredictable turn due to the death of Ethan’s good friend. Greenfield suddenly doesn’t look the same anymore. “In a voice as calm as the descending night, he spoke words as icy as the water of the January River in which Derrick, his belly up, floated at that moment. “Why did you let that happen? Why didn’t you help me?” His voice, distant and cold, echoed in Ethan’s head as he shook it from side to side, his eyes closed.” Ethan, his brother, and the other friends were all affected by the sad event and this will have a huge impact on their life. Ethan’s following his brother’s steps and leaves for New York. He got a job, got married, became a successful writer. After everything he’d been through, Ethan would have deserved to have the happily after.
Even though at times things seemed to take a positive turn, life gave one strike after another. “Big decisions are often made suddenly. The biggest deals are made in a fraction of a second. It’s up to our wisdom, wits and shrewdness whether they will be worth the trouble or boomerang and hit us in the head.”
I liked the fact how the whole story was centered around the January river, the river that passed through Greenfield. All the great and bad things happened there. There’s not a big coincidence why also the dogs that Ethan had were named after the river. Once by choice and the other time, by coincidence.
This is a heartbreaking story, full of true love between brothers, parents and sons, friendship, and self-searching. The author managed again to create a real emotional rollercoaster wonderfully written and beautifully crafted.