Posts

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.

Book Review: The Key to Love by Betsy St.Amant

There is a lot to like about this story but it wasn’t what one might expect to find in a sweet romance. Bri Duval is in her late twenties, resides in a small Kansas town named Story, is a superb pastry chef and lives in a romantic fantasy bubble. The latter has been derived by the seemingly romantic marriage her parents lived who were tragically killed in a traffic accident a decade ago. Perhaps it was the trauma of losing her parents so suddenly but Bri is convinced that her parents lived the ultimate romantic story.

Gerard Fortier, is a travel writer, hoping to crack the big time. He’s naturally ruggedly handsome, rides a motorbike and on the surface appears everything alpha-male. He’s running from love, a broken heart from a hastily ended engagement and some unusual advice from a mentor who encouraged him to believe that true love is unattainable.

I grappled for the first half of the book because not a lot happened and Bri and Gerard seemed to keep going over the same ground, misunderstandings, Bri over-thinking everything, inadvertently running into each other all the time and on it goes. Until they began to question everything they had relied upon for so long. That had in fact kept them trapped in their own worlds: Bri’s a very small one in Story, his a globe trotting one where he never stayed long enough to establish any kind of roots. And this was when the story began to get interesting and the layers of the onion, so to speak, began to be pulled back.

Love is messy and hard work. It requires commitment and communication and forgiveness and vulnerability. It sometimes requires letting go of perceptions we’ve held onto for too long that have actually led us astray and limited our ability to say yes to the love that is staring us in the face.

I noticed a number of elements of romance movies: “You’ve Got Mail” – the mother/daughter running a business with elderly family members acting as guardians of sorts, mom even ‘twirled’ in the kitchen plus the incorrigible male lead who antagonises the female lead; Sweet Home Alabama’s ‘so I can kiss you whenever I want’ (great line BTW).

Both Bri and Gerard grew through this story which made the second half a delight to read. I kinda think this would be a story that would work better a hundred pages shorter so we can cut all the going over old ground but be encouraged that the reward is worth it in the end as the lessons on the key to love are good ones.

I received a complimentary ebook copy as a member of the Revell Reads Reading program via NetGalley without any expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: ‘Nine’ by Rachelle Dekker

Dekker knows how to write a page-turner that keeps the reader on their seats. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy her stories. In this story, we have 3 combatants who are all in various stages of dealing with their pasts. 

Zoe Johnson, comes from a traumatic family situation and has spent many a day in front of psychologists and other people who apparently seek to help her and her brother. She meets Lucy, a lost runaway, who happens to wander into Zoe’s cafe where she works as a waitress. Zoe soon discovers Lucy is on the run and trying to get somewhere 700-odd miles away in Corpus Christi. And there are some serious people who want to find her and won’t stop until they do.

Enter Agent Seeley, the lead pursuer. He too has a past that has led him to surrender to the darkness in himself which makes him a perfect agent: uncaring, unflinching in his duty.

It’s exciting and Dekker keeps up the pace so those pages keep on turning. We discover Lucy is part of a human experiment (she’s Number Nine), commissioned and approved by the President. She reminded me a bit of an American equivalent of Angelina Jolie’s Russian ‘Salt’ – Lucy is a trained mercenary with very special skills.

It’s hard saying much more without giving spoilers. It’s thoroughly entertaining but I will warn you there is a lot of close hand killing which some readers may not appreciate.

But it’s the struggle the 3 of them have with their own identities that takes the story to another level. Are we resigned to be who someone else wants us to be or defined by what happened in our past? Can we chose to be someone else? Fascinating themes. But this is where I struggled a little with the story. If it was a secular novel then all is good – some of the conclusions and discussions wouldn’t have fazed me. However, who we are and who we were made to be are pivotal aspects of our stories and a relationship with God helps us to unravel it. I feel the novel missed an opportunity to present a powerful picture of how a relationship with God does this.

I’m hoping there’s more to come in these three characters stories as Dekker has really only touched the surface and be fun to explore both their backstories and their futures.

I received an early ebook copy of the novel being a member of the Revell Reads program via NetGalley but with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker

I loved Smucker’s previous novel and was looking forward to this one. However, this was a real struggle for me as I didn’t really understand what it was about for much of it. Smucker explains in his note at the end that it’s a mirror to Dante’s Inferno and not having read that I didn’t get the connection.

Smucker’s writing is excellent in his ability to draw the reader into his scenes. I felt part of the story throughout it and I expect it was this quality that kept me turning the pages. We see the story through Dan’s eyes as he and his forsaken community of nine attempt to start again having escaped some nightmare which no one can apparently remember. Until a strange young lady arrives and then everyone starts to dream. About Dan and his brother, Adam, who is lost in the place they left.

Ever so slowly the group is challenged to deal with their dreams while Dan sets off in search of Adam. Meanwhile, this strange young lady continues to play a pivotal role far beyond this group. But who is she?

I struggled because so little is said and I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters which made it a battle to continue.

Clearly, from some of the other reviews there are plenty of readers who ‘got it’ and enjoyed the story. I think it’s likely to one of those ‘you either love it or don’t’, they’ll be little in between. The themes of forgiveness and hope are present plus dealing with one’s past and being able to move on. Forgiveness and unforgiveness are such strong ‘soul ties’ that they play an incredibly important role in one’s ability to lead lives of wholeness. I appreciate that Smucker wrote a story of redemption but wish I enjoyed the story more.

As another reviewer stated I wonder if this would work better as a short story, say 150 pages, so liking the characters is less important in making a statement about redemption and forgiveness.

However, I’m not discouraged from reading Smucker’s next story simply because of the quality of his writing and the issues he grapples with.

I received an early release ebook version from Revell Reads via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Stories that Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

This is my first Susie Finkbeiner story and gosh, what a delightful surprise it was. It starts slowly and never really increases in pace which is unusual for the stories I mostly read. But it wasn;’t long before I was captivated by this story of family.

We meet Betty Sweet, recently turned 40, in the early 60s. Her husband, Norman, dies suddenly and there is a void in her life. Small town LaFontaine, not too far from Detroit, is the setting featuring a Main Street with the family-owned and run bakery: The Sweet Bakery, Betty’s in-laws where Norman also worked.

Norman’s family comes around Betty in her grieving and we get to meet Albert, his brother and Marvel, his sister plus Pop, the patriarch of the family. We could meet these characters on the street, there’s no frills, simply true to life people. Marvel has twin ten year old boys: Nick and Dick, who are full of energy and mischief as one expects of twins at that age.

Finkbeiner writes short chapters which typically are split between Betty telling us a story of the past: her mom, her childhood with sister Clara, meeting Norman and their courtship and then the current time. They’re usually linked in some manner and so what gradually builds is a family portrait, one full of the love, loss, struggles with mental health and the everyday meanderings of life. Nothing much happens but it’s engrossing.

And then there’s Hugo. He shines a light into Betty’s world. He’s a special little boy, and Finkbeiner ever so gracefully deals with issues of race and prejudice with this innocent child. It’s beautiful to read.

I was sad the book ended even though not much happened but Finkbeiner’s soft touches with the character’s faith, familial love and gentle portrayal of mental health are captivating. I feel privileged to have read this beautiful story.

Now to locate Susie’s earlier ones.

I received an early release ebook copy from the Revell Reads programs enabled by NetGalley with no expectation of a positive review.