Author: Susie Finkbeiner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: June 2, 2020
Betty Sweet never expected to be a widow at 40. With so much life still in front of her, she tries to figure out what's next. She couldn't have imagined what God had in mind. When her estranged sister is committed to a sanitarium, Betty finds herself taking on the care of a 5-year-old nephew she never knew she had.
In 1960s LaFontaine, Michigan, they make an odd pair. Betty with her pink button nose and bouffant hair. Hugo with his light brown skin and large brown eyes. But more powerful than what makes them different is what they share: the heartache of an empty space in their lives. Slowly, they will learn to trust one another as they discover common ground and healing through the magic of storytelling.
Reviewer: Amy Smelser
I was not sure how I was going to feel about this book after what happens in the first few chapters. Betty is 40 years old, and one day her entire world changes. I felt for Betty, her grief was palpable. I did not want her to walk down the road of grief. The author was very sensitive in dealing with Betty's grief, and there were many nuggets of truth sprinkled throughout.
This actually became a delightful book to read. It was about family and the memories we make together. It was also about the curses that can continue through the generations. I liked Betty. She had some hard times in life, but she also seems to have let her experiences teach her and help her grow and learn.
Author Finkbeiner has a gentle way with words, and I always feel drawn into her stories. This one was a treasure trove of lyrical sayings, and I found myself laughing out loud at parts. I look forward to more.
I was provided a copy of this novel courtesy of Revell Publishing through Interviews & Reviews. I was not required to post a positive review, and all views and opinions are my own.
Reviewer: Abigail Thomas
Author Susie Finkbeiner brings readers a beautiful, heartwarming story of everyday life and struggles set against a backdrop of the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960s.
When Betty Sweet’s husband passes away unexpectedly, Betty is left feeling helpless and without purpose. But when her sister, Clara, arrives at Betty’s doorstep with a nephew she never knew about, Betty begins to find a new purpose. With this new purpose comes forgiveness, understanding, and revelations about a social injustice Betty never really paid attention to before. Not until it becomes personal to her.
Admittedly I struggled a bit at the beginning of this story. I was a little confused and couldn’t figure out why some of the content was written, but as I continued to read, I noticed a pattern, and I appreciated the contrast between the present and Betty’s reflections of the past. They went together so perfectly and made the story even more genuine.
The stories that Betty told her nephew, Hugo, were odd, but I could see the beauty in them, and I loved that she included Hugo in the storytelling process. Each story Betty created seemed to be based on a place the two could visit together. Other stories she told were stories her own mother had told her and Clara as children, stories that remained with her to this day, though Betty always wanted to change the ending to a more happy one while her mother didn’t think a story needed a happy ending.
The issue of race was clearly evident in this story as Hugo was the child of a white mother and a black father, something not as common in the 1960s, and definitely not as accepted. Susie Finkbeiner did a wonderful job showing this issue without shoving it in the reader’s face. Hugo’s complexion was noticed and eventually questioned, but he was loved just as he should have been. And when there was a conflict, Betty held herself perfectly. Oh, what a sweet heart Betty has.
As I was reading, I also paid attention to the issues of mental health. Betty and Clara’s mother had died in a mental health facility when they were children, and Clara struggled with mental health as an adult (and quite possibly before). When Clara entered the hospital, I found myself comparing and contrasting it to the asylum in Jocelyn Green’s Veiled in Smoke, set during the Chicago Fire, and the present day representation of mental health in Sharon Garlough Brown’s Shades of Light. I love when a historic book makes me think and allows me to reflect on where we have been and where we are now.
God was not forgotten while this book was being written, yet He is shown in Betty’s struggle to attend church and to pick up her Bible, something she did on a regular basis before becoming a widow.
There are so many components of this story that seem simple on the outside but have a depth all their own, but I won’t go into everything. What I will say is that I loved this story. There were many times I had to hold back a tear as the words touched me, but other times I found myself smiling and even laughing.
I highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys relaxing with a book and slowly drinking in all it has to offer. Someone who will appreciate immersing themselves into a family that may not be perfect, but know how to love.
This book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group/Revell, through Interviews & Reviews.
Reviewer: Cheryl Wood
What an incredibly amazing story. It is a story of family, mental health, national crisis, and racial injustice during the 1960s, topics that are currently happening now in our nation.
The main character, Betty Sweet, did not expect to be a widow at 40. As she is going through the grieving process, she tries to figure out what is next, never imagining what God has in mind. When Betty’s estranged sister shows up on her doorstep with a child, Betty has never met, her passion and purpose returns as she cares for him.
Susie Finkbeiner is a master storyteller, and her words are powerful. A story of how relationships have the power to heal. I cried, and I laughed, especially when Betty hung up laundry on the line and did not want her neighbors to see her husband’s underwear. I loved all the stories that Betty wrote and read to Hugo and the life lessons they taught. Life hurts. Like Betty, we can all get through the hard times.
This book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group/Revell, through Interviews & Reviews.
Reviewer: Nora St. Laurent
I love this authors' cast of characters, her writing style, and how she has readers think about hard topics. Here is a glimpse at the Sweet family and what she thought about her family's move in the 1960s. This is told through Betty Sweet's voice, "LaFontaine was a Goldilocks-sized town. Not so big that someone could be completely invisible. Not so small that everyone knew the business of everybody else. It was just right."
I also enjoyed how the author showed Betty and Norman's adorable relationship. Here's a peek. Betty brought lunch to Norman's job. Betty recalls his reaction, "Thank you, sweet Betty Sweet," he whispered into my ear and put his hands on my hips, "I'm happy to show my appreciation when I get home tonight."
"Oh, you'll do up the dishes after dinner? What a treat that would be." I pulled away from him and gave him what I hoped was a flirty like wink."
"If that's what you want to call it." Norman smiles. This scene made me smile too!
Betty had a talent she didn't share with many, and her husband encouraged her to develop. When her sister's 5-year-old son Hugo came to live with them, she felt comfortable sharing her stories with him. Here's a snippet of one Betty told Hugo after a bad dream "…Sam (the turtle) decided one day that the world was just too scary,"…He thought that if he could hide from the world, he'd be safe."
"The trouble was, Sam was so worried about getting hurt that he missed all the wonderful things around him. He didn't see a rainbow that crossed the entire sky after the rain….. And when the hummingbirds came to visit the honeysuckle near where he hid in his shell, he missed them completely."
"Don't let the scary things of the world keep you from seeing the good….Even the darkest night can't put out all the light."
Good word. I also enjoyed the author's insight shown through Betty as she shared bible stories with Hugo, and as she listened to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Betty ponders, "Maybe it hadn't been a lack of understanding in me, but an unwillingness to listen and learn."….." .listening to the crowds cheer on Dr. King, keeping my eyes fixed on the little brown boy (Hugo) being held up by his older pink-colored cousins (Nick and Dick), my thinking shifted."
"How would it be for Nick and Dick to be able to go to a good school that Hugo could never attend? For the twins to enter through the front door while Hugo was required to walk in the back…. Nick and Dick could stand up against injustice and be lauded for making their voices heard. Hugo would suffer the spray of fire hoses and the bites of police dogs for the very same stand."
"All because of the tone of their skin."… "Sitting on my living room floor, a mending shirt in my lap and Martin Luther King Jr. still speaking through the television. I realized why it was worth the fight."
"All it had taken was loving someone like Hugo to clear my vision. It should have mattered to me all along."
I adored this family the good, the bad, and the misunderstood. I enjoyed Betty and her nephew Hugo and how she encouraged him to have fun, play in the mud and water with his cousins Nick and Dick, no matter how scared he was. I enjoyed the slow pace of the story that allowed me to bask in special moments along with the characters. I liked how this author talks about heavy topics and naturally wove in a spiritual thread that had the reader think things through for themselves as Betty did.
This book is a fun read and one that would work well for your next book club pick. If you haven't read anything by this author, you don't want to miss this one.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy from Revell Publishers through Interviews & Reviews. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255, "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Reviewer: Abigail Harris
Stories That Bind Us is an emotional rollercoaster! With love, grief, hope, and bittersweet remembrance.
With a lovely writing style Susie Finkbeiner offers a need to read novel set during one of many trying times in our country's past. From now on Finkbeiner is on my need to read list for all of her books.
If you don't read it for the cover, read it for Hugo!
This book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing/Revell, through Interviews & Reviews.
Reviewer: Paula Shreckhise
Near Detroit, Michigan summer 1963
Stories That Bind Us is a journey of healing for the characters Betty Sweet and her five year old nephew, Hugo. But for me it was a trip down memory lane. I was 14 in 1963 and lived a bit south of Detroit in a Northwest suburb of Chicago. I remember visiting my preacher uncle in Grosse Pointe and making a trip to Greenfield Village, as the characters did.
This novel was not just about stories that bind us but about shared memories of growing up that bind us together in unity. These were my memories!
The historical events depicted in this book were disruptions in a time of social unrest. In spite of that, the book came across in a comforting way. Betty’s life seemed normal. She was so fortunate to have a loving in-law family who gathered around her when tragedy struck. The author has written Betty as a strong, loyal and gentle person, whose idyllic life is torn apart. She takes on the task of keeping her nephew. She might not have been able to birth a child but her mother’s heart blooms when Hugo comes to stay with her. A quote as Betty is musing: “Just along the horizon I saw the birth of the morning. This was the gift God had for me right at that moment. I saw hope.” I love that Betty can use stories that tug at your heart and teach lessons at the same time. I would love to see a volume of her stories— hint to Ms. Finkbeiner.
This book reminded me of all the things this country has gone through in my lifetime. It caused me to be thankful for growing up in the era that I did, with parents who taught me so much of my values.
After reading two Susie Finkbeiner books, she has become a favorite author.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided by Revell through Interviews And Reviews. I was not required to give a favorable review. All opinions are my own.
Reviewer: Mary Polyakov
Stories That Bind Us is the kind of peaceful read that's perfect for the beach.
It doesn't rely on suspense or action to get the reader's attention. Instead, readers are treated to a captivating narrative with relatable characters who face challenges that readers can understand and with which they can empathize.
But just because this book is comforting doesn't mean that tough issues aren't addressed. Grief, abandonment, loss, mental illness, the inability to have children, and parent issues--- the author deals with these challenging topics in a way that acknowledges the pain and emotional impact, but also gives hope.
Betty, the main character who finds herself a widow at forty, is sweet, caring, and patient, but not unnaturally so. The reader is shown that she is not perfect or attempting to appear flawless, but that she deals with the feelings of jealousy, discouragement, fear, and the rest with self-control, and she extends love in very challenging situations.
I found Betty's in-laws endearing, and the twins Dick and Nick were so adorable, whether they were sneaking Betty a cat, helping her nephew Hugo learn to swim, or making a mud pit in the backyard, and they did it all without losing their charm. Albert, Stan, Marvel, Norman, Clara, and Pop are so memorable, and they are so authentic that they could exist off the page.
And I love how they all care for and support each other. This book is such a gem.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker Publishing Group/Revell, through Interviews & Reviews. A positive review was not required.
Reviewer: Lori Parrish
Wow! I was certainly sad to see this book end! But then again, good books usually are over before you know it. I love Susie Finkbeiner. I like how she makes me stop and think about each quote whenever I came across one. I really liked this one because it was fitting for the '60s when things were scary in an ever-changing world.
"Don't let the scary things of the world keep you from seeing the good. Even the darkest night can't put out all the light." I really think that this advice from Betty to Hugo applies even in today's world. Not just the '60s. I like how Betty reminds herself while she's telling Hugo this. Even adults need gentle reminders too.
I remember sitting in church listening to Preacher Joe preaching this very thing. As long as there's light, there will be hope. I think that's why this particular quote stood out to me. God is always a beacon of light. He's there for us all the time. Fear can often make people do things they normally wouldn't do. This is how Satan can get under our skin if we let him.
Another quote was a lady talking to Betty when she was visiting. Clara told her that all we can do is love them if we can't do anything else. We love them because they are still family. How true this is!
I couldn't put this book down because every time I did, it would holler at me to pick right back up until I finished it. I love it when books yell at me like that. It means they're fabulous!
Hugo stole my heart from the beginning and, at times, made me cry. I just wanted to snatch him right out of the book and keep him for myself. He would be a wonderful friend to my son if he were real.
Betty was a fabulous character, too, who had a big heart of gold. For what she did for Hugo. I wish she was my aunt. My the stories that she told! I had to laugh at a few of them.
I have been to the places the author described. But I didn't mind visiting again. I rather enjoyed it! Michigan is my favorite place to visit. I really liked the actual historical events that took place in real life. I feel that the author has done her research to the T. She's done an excellent job in bringing them to life so that we can imagine being there ourselves. Finkbeiner writes the best stories ever! This book definitely comes from the heart. I hope this isn't her last.
I wish I could give this book more than 5 stars. It certainly deserves it. I would reread this book over and over because it's just that good. Friends, you just have to read this heartwarming tale of an era gone by. So so good! I highly recommend it.
My thanks to Baker/Revell publishers through Interviews and Reviews for a beautiful read! I highly enjoyed it! I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.
Reviewer: Rebecca Maney
"There once was a turtle named Sam. . . He lived near a river filled with crayfish and frogs and minnows. . . . .but even as wonderful and special as that riverside was, Sam was too afraid to enjoy it."
Isn't it true that a well told story possesses a certain impression of artistry? Stories paint pictures, while their canvases store memories in an easy-to-open vault; available at just the right times, . . .perhaps, when a heart is heavy or a pair of sorrowful eyes need a touch of brightening. Or a loved one just needs to have something to remember. And just like flour blends the ingredients of a beloved family recipe into a well formed loaf of bread, a story has the uncanny ability to "bind us" together, forever.
There are those in this book who need these special kinds of stories; a grieving wife, an unstable mother, a terrified little boy, a kind, shy man and family members who are grieving the loss of one of their own. So often remembering is loving, and being loved resides at the heart of every good story.
What a remarkable book, written by an author who writes simply enough to form everyday people into outstanding characters.
I received this book from Baker Publishing through Interviews and Reviews.
Reviewer: Anna Bottoms
Stories That Bind Us is a heartwarming historical novel that takes place in the early 60s. The story touches on mental illness, grief, prejudice, faith and the powerful bonds of family love.
Betty is a young widow, still grieving the loss of her husband when her long lost sister, Clara, shows up at her door with Hugo, her mixed-race son. Struggling with mental illness, Clara must depend on Betty for the stability her son needs. Through their trials, each sister must come to terms with her own issues and find her way to wholeness.
The lives of Betty, Clara, and Hugo are intricately twined with the lives of their family. Each secondary character has a specific part to play in the healing process, and are well written with their own distinct personality and purpose.
If you’re tired of fluff and want a book of substance, this book is for you. One of the best I’ve read this year.
I was given a copy of this book courtesy of Baker Publishing Group through Interviews and Reviews. This is my honest opinion of the book.
Your donation helps keep Interviews & Reviews running. Thank you!
We are listed in The Book Reviewers Directory!