Review: Birds of Wonder

Last month, I won a ridiculous amount of giveaways — ten, I believe — on Instagram, BookRiot, and Goodreads. Sadly, I did not win the lottery. Although, it could be argued that books > money . . . right?

Anyway, to the point: one such win was in a giveaway on author Cynthia Robinson’s IG page (@cynthiarobinson2605), in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads/IG/the blogosphere. I received the book from the publisher a mere three days later and got to reading immediately — it’s slated for release February 20.

Birds of Wonder is Robinson’s debut full-length novel. At about 300-some pages, the work of fiction is what I’d consider average in length, but let me tell you — it is chock full of dark characters and twisty plot points. As with many thrillers/mysteries/crime novels of the day, the story is told from multiple perspectives. I enjoy this for a few reasons: it adds a layer of deception and intrigue, it lends credence to unreliable narrators, and it makes the chapters fly by that much more quickly. I’m a self-proclaimed oddball that has developed a weird obsession with breaking reading into chunks. Books with longer chapters sometimes make these chunk-goals hard to achieve what with my increasingly-adventurous baby demanding attention and whatnot, so the shorter, individual narratives featured in books like Birds of Wonder somehow make the reading feel more manageable.

I digress. The novel is told from the perspective of six starkly different individuals: Beatrice, high school teacher and stiflingly ambitious and cheery widow; Jes, lead investigator on the case and daughter to aforementioned theater teacher; Liam, local vintner and child welfare lawyer; Edward, creep-of-all-creeps and obsessive artist; Conner, aspiring photographer and local student; and Waldo, known schizophrenic and laborer at Liam’s vineyard.

The six compelling narratives are strung together to cover the course of a few days, when a mutilated body is found on Liam’s property early Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the body belongs to Amber, one of Beatrice’s students and the star of her upcoming school theater production. Beatrice, busybody that she is, naturally spends the next couple of days in a state of anguish over the loss of her star, though whether her grief is more heavily concentrated on the tragic loss of a young life or the tragic loss of her leading actress is a bit fuzzy at times. Meanwhile, Jes scrambles to find the murderer before her misogynistic and repressive colleagues are able to, hell-bent on proving herself valuable despite her “drawback” of a college education. As the case winds to a close, everybody is in for a stunning revelation. EVERYBODY.

The Good: One of my favorite things about this novel is how marvelously crafted Beatrice’s character is. She. Drove. Me. Bonkers. And, if I’m being honest, all of the characters were very well-constructed; it’s just that Beatrice and Edward kind of hogged the limelight. Their beings were far more vivid than the others and I was in turns repulsed and transfixed by the two. I was also appreciative of the topics present in this mystery: sex trafficking, drug abuse, infidelity, loyalty, foster care, self-fulfilling prophesies . . . at times, it felt like there was too much that Robinson was trying to cram into this book; but overall, the themes worked well together. Oh! And another thing — Robinson did a great job of characterizing the strained relationship between a mother and daughter who have a very one-sided acquaintance. Beatrice’s insufferable interjection of herself into Jes’ life was so very reminiscent of small-town family life. I shuddered for Jes on a number of occasions.

The Okay: In the beginning, some of the descriptions were laboriously repetitive in their allusion to plants and birds and so on. I found myself wishing a few things were cut so we could get past the flowery descriptions and into the meat of the story. In short, it got off to a bit of a slow start. Additionally, as mentioned previously, it sometimes felt like the author was trying to accomplish too much in the short span of 300 pages/two days.

The Bad: Waldo’s narrative was just hard to get my head around. Sometimes it was distracting. Maybe I am dense (very good possibility) but I usually had to read his section more than once and was left thinking, Wait — what? I realize this is due largely to his unhinged nature; it just didn’t quite work for me. Fortunately, his narrative formed a very small part of the novel.

The Verdict: 3.5/5 stars. Read this one for the creep factor (here’s looking at you, Edward) and the family drama.

February TBR

Well, folks, the month is already a quarter of the way through and I’m just now getting around to sharing my TBR stack — I’m sure everyone who knows me is surprised! 😉 Before I share the to-read pile with you, though, I wanted to reflect a bit on my January reads.

At the start of the month, I hoped to read 5.5 books (Tell the Wolves I’m Home was about half finished at the start of the new year). I actually read 7.5 (okay, let’s call it 8) and though it wasn’t as stellar a reading month as December was, I was pretty pleased with most of my picks. Here’s a quick overview in no particular order, with links to more detailed reviews for some:

  1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Okay, I lied — this one is first because it was definitely best.)
  2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (guys, why is this my first Christie? What have I been doing with my life? Ugh. Seriously, though — which of hers should I read next?)
  3. Siracusa by Delia Ephron: 🌟🌟🌟.5
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green: 🌟🌟🌟
  5. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin: 🌟🌟🌟.5
  6. Paris for One by Jojo Moyes: 🌟🌟
  7. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (A very, very close second to Pachinko and probably the best coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read.)
  8. The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro: 🌟🌟🌟

Like I said — not a stellar month, but it was pretty darn good! To be clear, I generally really like about 90% of what I read, so 3-star reviews are books I’d consider “good” but not “great”.

Anyway . . . February reading goals. This month is short, and I’m traveling to my parents’ place for a long weekend (translation: I won’t get a damn thing read for 4 days), so I’m not being overly ambitious. That being said, I have already read two of the books in this stack, so maybe I’ll surprise myself?

  1. Birds of Wonder by Cynthia Robinson. I won this title in an Instagram giveaway in exchange for a review. I finished the book in two days and will post my thoughts on it soon. Stay tuned!
  2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. This one has been sitting on my shelf for YEARS and I finally picked it up this week. I’m all but done with it, and sad to see it come to an end. Guys, this is one of the best gossipy dramas I’ve ever read. Why did I wait so long to read this book? WHY?!
  3. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I haven’t read too far into the synopsis, but this one has been all over Litsy for a while and I figured I’d better give it a go.
  4. The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristen Harmel. Another giveaway win, this book is slated to release in March.
  5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I bought this in 2015, when I first joined Book of the Month Club. Good gravy, my shelves have gotten out of control.
  6. Still Life by Louise Penny. This one I’m blaming on the Bookstagram community — it’s the first in a mystery series set in a fictional town called “Three Pines” and that’s about all I know, other than the fact that everyone and their mother seems to love it.

What are you reading this month? Tell me about it — or if you’ve read any of these titles, let me know what you thought!