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Book Review: ‘The Girl who Could Breathe Under Water’ by Erin Bartels

Following her bestselling debut novel, Kendra Brennan, is in a writing slump. She puts it down to the receipt of an inflammatory note from “A Very Disappointed Reader”. Believing she had a hunch to the identity of the note writer, Kendra decides to return to her old holiday cabin on the lake. She now owns it having inherited it from her loving grandfather who had recently passed away.

The story starts with Kendra ‘thinking’ in the second person to her old best friend, Cami, who she spent many wonderful summers as teenagers. However, they haven’t seen each other since the last time Kendra visited the lake, eight years ago. It was an unusual method of sharing the story but I found it tremendous and worked relatively seamlessly when Kendra jumped into 1st person POV.

I was quickly engrossed by Kendra’s recollections of her past summers and her relationships with the Rainier family: father Robert, mother Beth, and adopted children: Cami and Tyler. ‘That Summer’, her breakout smash debut story included many fictionalised elements of these summers on the lake. All the Rainiers, bar Cami, have returned for the summer. Kendra realises she must confront each of them to ascertain which one of them may be the “Disappointed Reader.”

Kendra’s on a tight deadline for her second novel and as she endeavours to start it along comes a stranger, Andreas, who has arrived announced to translate her debut into German. They soon develop a friendship as well as a professional connection.

This is an emotionally gripping story as Kendra confronts people and issues in her past that are terribly challenging. She discovers much about each one of her relationships with the Rainier family. Some of them indeed are quite a shock. But it’s what Kendra discovers about herself which I found most stirring. Self-absorption is one of our great struggles as humans and it’s in both returning to her past and drafting her second story that Kendra is able to self-discover much about herself. Further, the notion of stepping into another’s shoes before casting judgement or criticism is another valuable insight for Kendra.

Kendra’s fortunate to have a supportive ally in Andreas who demonstrates so many positive attributes in his gentleness and kindness while a certain naivety in the romance department.

It’s a powerful story that was so pleasurable to read as Bartels deals with some tremendously important personal matters which many of us can all relate to.

Bartels characters are very beautifully crafted humans, no cardboard cutouts here. Robert and Beth’s marriage, Tyler’s struggles as a child, Kendra and Cami’s friendship, Andreas’ passion for stories and willingness to listen to someone tell theirs, are all wonderfully brought to the stage.

I loved this story for its intricacy, powerful themes, wonderful writing which kept us guessing and the cast of characters.

I fell very blessed to have received an early ebook copy of the story from Revell as party of their Readers Program via NetGalley. This has no influence over my 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.