Book Review — All Manner of Things

6 Jun

When Annie Jacobson’s brother Mike enlists as a medic in the Army in 1967, he hands her a piece of paper with the address of their long-estranged father. If anything should happen to him in Vietnam, Mike says, Annie must let their father know.

In Mike’s absence, their father returns to face tragedy at home, adding an extra measure of complication to an already tense time. As they work toward healing and pray fervently for Mike’s safety overseas, letter by letter the Jacobsons must find a way to pull together as a family, regardless of past hurts. In the tumult of this time, Annie and her family grapple with the tension of holding both hope and grief in the same hand, even as they learn to turn to the One who binds the wounds of the brokenhearted.

Author Susie Finkbeiner invites you into the Jacobson family’s home and hearts during a time in which the chaos of the outside world touched their small community in ways they never imagined.

Susie Finkbeiner is a story junkie. Always has been and always will be. It seems it’s a congenital condition, one she’s quite fond of.

After decades of reading everything she could get her hands on (except for See the Eel, a book assigned to her while in first grade, a book she declared was unfit for her book-snob eyes), Susie realized that she wanted to write stories of her own. She began with epics about horses and kittens (but never, ever eels).

It takes years to grow a writer and after decades of work, Susie realized (with much gnashing of teeth and tears) that she was a novelist. In order to learn how to write novels, she read eclectically and adventurously (she may never swim with sharks, but the lady will jump into nearly any story). After reading the work of Lisa Samson, Patti Hill, and Bonnie Grove she realized that there was room for a writer like her in Christian fiction.

Her first novels Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother’s Chamomile (2014) have contemporary settings. While she loved those stories and especially the characters, Susie felt the pull toward historical fiction.

When she read Into the Free by Julie Cantrell she knew she wanted to write historical stories with a side of spunk, grit, and vulnerability. Susie is also greatly inspired by the work of Jocelyn Green, Rachel McMillan, and Tracy Groot.

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (2015), Finkbeiner’s bestselling historical set in 1930s Oklahoma, has been compared to the work of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee (which flatters Susie’s socks off). Pearl’s story continues with A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (2017) and A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (2018).

What does she have planned after that? More stories, of course. She’s a junkie. She couldn’t quit if she wanted to.

My Impressions:

There are times when words just cannot do justice to how incredible a book is. That time is now with Susie Finkbeiner’s novel, All Manner of Things. I’ve waited several days after turning the final page, hoping that my review could communicate all I felt and learned. I’m afraid it will be woefully incomplete and and ineffective. This was a book I fell into and did not want to emerge from for the mundane chores of my life. It was if the book world that Finkbeiner created was more real than that which was going on around me. However, this is definitely not escape fiction, but a journey into the heart and soul of the time and place of narrator Annie Jacobson’s life. Vividly descriptive with spot-on details of the Vietnam-era, All Manner of Things receives a Very Highly Recommended rating from me.

From the first few pages, I sensed that Annie Jacobson was special. Told from her point of view, as well as letters the family receives and writes, the novel is an intimate look at Annie and her family. The dynamics of her life fit the time and place of small town Michigan of the mid-1960s, yet are relevant for a modern audience. The story is simple — a family without a father is plunged into the real world when the oldest son, Mike, enlists in the Army. His path seems destined to end up on the other side of the world in war-torn Vietnam. Yet there is nothing simple about this book. Its many layered themes and insights will resonate with a wide variety of readers. Characters are complex, and often perplexing — pretty much how real people are. Many I loved, and some I want to shake. 😉 I was a child in 1967, but All Manner of Things brought back that time with its language, references to music, and the daily news accounts of how the war was going in Vietnam. The book is subtle in many ways and has various threads, but I especially loved Mike’s story and the increasing maturity, both emotional and spiritual, that is portrayed in his letters home. His peace within chaos is especially poignant. I think just about all the characters grow up in the year that the book encompasses, and I believe that their hard fought lessons will speak to the reader as well.

There really is much more I could say about All Manner of Things, but let me leave you with just one thought — READ. THIS. BOOK. But don’t forget the tissues. I blame Finkbeiner for some ugly crying I did towards the end. 😉

Very Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(I received a complimentary copy from Revell. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)