Posts

Book Review: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

This is a hard one for me to comment on mainly because not a lot happens in this story of a family told over four decades. We have three separate POVs, all first person, told over three distinct years: 1975, 1988 and 2013. Bruce and Linda, Dad and Mom, and first born, Sonny, short for Sondra.

It’s a story of family, of adoption, of the fallout of Vietnam, of growing old and coming of age. It’s about a mom’s love for her girls, a dad’s love for his girls, a husband and wife growing old together and falling more in love with each other, of grappling with parents and an adopted child’s impressions as a kid, a teen and as as an adult.

It’s quite ordinary. Every day stuff as we go to the mall, go on first dates, family vacations, fishing trips, visiting grammy and grumpy and caring for sick parents.

And it’s surprisingly captivating. Most of the time. It’s more literary than I expect from Christian fiction which was a nice change. An author is allowed to write about the ordinary in literary fiction. It’s almost essential. Finkbeiner keeps swapping POVs and years with ease and after a few chapters it’s easy to get in the groove, even though we’re unsure of what the next year and/or POV will feature next.

But it’s Minh’s story, the adopted Vietnamese girl from Operation Babylift, that I find most compelling. So much so I wish I had her POV. She arrives in a new country to new parents as a four year old and there’s always a sense of displacement whenever Minh or Mindy, as she becomes known, enters the story irrespective of whether she’s 4, 17 or 42. It adds a sense of discomfort to a very happy family story. Mindy is greatly loved and accepted and she knows this but it’s that sense of loss of not knowing her birth parents, of birth siblings, of birthplace. Finkbeiner does a great job managing this dichotomy.

I liked how the three POVs were very distinctive and their three characters were extremely likeable. I particularly appreciated how Bruce and Linda had found such contentment in the choices they’ve made and the life they’ve engineered together. And their love for each other is very believable and admirable. They’ve learnt how to love by championing the other and making the other each other’s focus and priority. I especially liked Bruce, a wonderfully gentle, kind man who adored his wife and daughters and grappled with the notion of letting his daughters fly the coup.

There really is a lot to like in this story and I recommend it heartily.

I received an early ebook copy as part of Revell Reads Blogger program via NetGalley with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: All That We Carried by Erin Bartels

This is a beautifully written story about two estranged sisters who meet for the first time in ten years to go on a hike together in the Porcupine Mountains. Olivia and Melanie are both carrying so much stuff (hence the title) besides their backpacks and they slowly release/share much of it over the course of the hike and the journey home.

Olivia and Melanie are fabulous characters because they could be any of us. There were times I struggled with both of them and by the end I’m really not that fond of either of them but I think that’s the mastery of Bartels writing. We don’t need to especially like them to be able to have empathy for their stories and the losses and grief they’ve experienced in the years they’ve been estranged.

Bartels does a brilliant job taking the reader hiking. I always felt I was along for the hike, bruises, blisters and bears and all, just from my comfy chair. Bartels presents the picturesque surrounds of forest, trails, waterfalls and the magnificence of Lake Superior in all their glory. I was excited to return to the story each day.

There’s some intriguing messages about God, destiny, fairness, life being more than just ourselves and life after death. Bartels didn’t wrap it up nicely by giving us any answers rather prompts us to think for ourselves how we’d respond with the questions the sisters contemplated. Further, the story didn’t end with everything resolved. Yes, both women appeared to have made positive steps in the right direction for themselves and their relationship but for one in particular, there’s definitely hope for the future but no clear path to what that might look like.

And that’s life, isn’t it? Lots of questions, lots of mystery and opportunity to explore beyond our own little worlds to discover the natural beauty of the world but also the hope and joy that comes with choosing to believe there is something more than what each of us carries.

I received an early ebook copy of the story via NetGalley as part of the Revell Reads Blogging team without any expectation of a favourable review.