Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Release Day Review: Where the Sweet Bird Sings by Ella Joy Olsen

Publisher: Kensington Books
Pub. Date: August 29th, 2017
Pages: 320

Genre: Contemporary Fiction


In this provocative new novel, the author of Root, Petal, Thorn offers a powerful story of resilience, hope, and the secrets that, no matter how deeply hidden, can shape and ultimately unite a family. What connects us to one another? Is it shared history? Is it ancestry? Is it blood? Or is it love?

People respond to tragedy in different ways. Some try to move on. Some don't move at all. A year after her young son's death due to a rare genetic disease, Emma Hazelton is still frozen by grief, unable and unwilling to consider her husband Noah's suggestion that they try to have another child.

As the future Emma once imagined crumbles, her family's past comes into sharp relief. Searching for the roots of her son's disease, Emma tries to fit together the pieces in her genealogical puzzle. Hidden within an old wedding photograph of her great-grandparents is an unusual truth Emma never guessed at--a window into all the ways that love can be surprising, generous, and fiercely brave . . . and a discovery that may help her find her own way forward at last.

What Did I Think About the Story?

I really enjoyed Ella Joy Olsen's debut novel, Root, Petal, Thorn, when I reviewed it last year and, reading back over that review, I'm amazed at how similar I feel about this newest novel.  Olsen has this amazing way of pulling you in by your emotions and sensitivities and slightly battering your heart before giving it a little balm of hope and forgiveness. Where the Sweet Bird Sings once again deals with a woman facing the unthinkable and trying to find her way - with some stumbling - down the path she was meant to travel.

From page one Olsen fairly gutted me with the particular heartbreak our main character, Emma, was going through. The loss of a child is one tragedy that no one wants to even think about for fear that it will happen to them, and Olsen makes you face it and ride along as her characters try to work their way out of the devastation and destruction the tragedy naturally seems to bring about. Topping this off with the death of her beloved grandfather and, when cleaning out his home, the discovery that he might not have been who she thought he was and, therefore, that SHE might not be who she thought she was, is almost too much to think of one person facing at one time. However, face it Emma and her family must and it was quite interesting watching the mysteries and revelations unfold on Emma's quest of discovery.

My favorite aspect of the story would have to be the time given to the DNA and genetic discussion not only surrounding her son's disease - one that her and her husband carried within them and gave to their son - but that of her family history and the hidden secrets within their shared cells. When I was in college I found these topics fascinating and that appeal resurfaced when reading Where the Sweet Bird Sings. This also became the jumping off point for Emma's journey to discovery and what drove the mysteries at the heart of the story.

Something else that I very much enjoyed and which I wasn't expecting was the reappearance of some of the characters I so enjoyed in Root, Petal, Thorn. I don't want to say too much here as it's so much fun to discover surprise connections between books and I don't want to ruin that for anyone, but I will say that I didn't expect the connections between these two novels and was delighted to see one character in particular pop back up again and let us see how she was doing.

Speaking of characters, while I did enjoy the people introduced in Where the Sweet Bird Sings, I have to say that I didn't love them as much as those I found in Olsen's debut novel. I found Emma, at times, to be quite selfish, irrational, and wishy-washy, especially when it came to her trying to decide how to proceed - or not - with her husband. He, on the other hand, was so patient and caring that it made it even harder to not want to shake Emma up and demand she stop looking inside herself and look outward at what she was going to lose if she didn't work through her indecisiveness more quickly. Being someone who tends to be happy and content with what I have I just couldn't relate to Emma's tendencies to change her mind on the slightest whim.

Slightly frustrating characters aside, Where the Sweet Bird Sings in a beautiful and heartfelt novel about loss, grief, and discovery of self when it seems like that is the last thing that can ever be discovered. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a story that makes you dig into your own feelings and fears and work through those emotions as the story progresses. Ella Joy Olsen is definitely an author to enjoy!

What Did I Think About the Cover?

It is very pretty! To be honest I'm not positive how the title or the matching cover art fit into the story unless I missed something, but I still think it's a very pretty picture. I'm always a sucker for flowers and greenery!

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Thank you to Ella Joy Olsen and Kensington Books for providing me with a free copy of Where the Sweet Bird Sings in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own. You can find more information about the book, such as early praise, reviews, and links to where you can purchase your own copy, on Goodreads HERE.


  1. Thank you Colleen, for reading and reviewing! To answer your question about the cover...it's a nod to a "family tree". That's where the sweet bird eventually sings when Emma comes to terms with the secrets hidden in hers. I know, it's obscure...titles are the decision of many.

    1. Reading and reviewing the book was completely my pleasure, Ella! One of my blogger friends shared a post you did about strange questions you get asked by readers and I was able to read where the title came from. It makes perfect sense, and is quite beautiful, now that I know :)!