Book Title: Yellow-billed Magpie by Nancy Schoellkopf
Category: Adult Fiction, 214 pages
Genre: Literary / Women's Fiction with magical realism
Publisher: Butterfly Tree Publishing
Release date: October 2015
Tour dates: April 3 to 28, 2017
Content Rating: PG-13 (There are a few non-explicit sex scenes, and a bit of profanity.)
Unlike their black-billed cousins, yellow-billed magpies are rarely found outside California’s central valley. So when they begin showing up in Samantha O’Malley’s dreams, she wonders: are they calling me home?
Disappointed by failed fertility treatments and the break-up of her marriage, Samantha returns to her home town and slips into old habits, resuming her teaching career, even hooking up with an old lover. But she also renews her friendship with Craig, the school custodian she honors as her spiritual guide. The work they do together with Samantha’s special education students will lead her to discoveries she never thought possible.
Yellow-billed Magpie is a love story, a spiritual journey, a quest to look beyond appearances to the mystical rhythms that guide the human heart.
As soon as I read the book description, I knew I wanted to read this book. I worked for five years as a Special Care Counsellor working with children with special needs in the school system and also in the Child Psychiatry dept of a major hospital. Samantha, the main character in this book is a special education teacher and I related to her immediately. I connected with her, and I enjoyed all the classroom scenes with the children. It brought back many memories of my own past work.
Yellow-billed Magpie is the first in the Easter Family series and it can be read as a stand-alone novel. There are several things that I enjoyed about this book. The setting and the main character are two of them. It's also a fairly quick read about a woman who is on a path of self-renewal. After leaving her loveless marriage, Samantha returns to teaching. She cares deeply about the children she works with and displays dignity and wisdom when confronted with some difficult situations. It was easy for me to see that the author deftly weaved her insight from her own work experience as a special education teacher.
This was the highlight of the plot for me, along with Samantha's inner struggles with who she is and what she wants to pursue in life. I thought Charlie and Craig were both unique characters, each fulfilling emotional needs in Samantha's life. I wasn't sure where her relationship with Charlie was going up until the end though and I was curious to see where it would lead. I would have liked for the author to have developed Charlie's character more fully and to go more into depth with Samantha's too. Halfway through the book, the story took on a heavy spiritualistic tone, and I felt myself losing interest. I'm not into mystical books that explore themes of clairvoyance.
Apart from this, I enjoyed the author's writing style and how she brought the different children to life. The animal symbolism was intriguing and the characters unique. The pace was good and the story enjoyable. For me, there was the added element of the special education setting, which I loved. However, if you are a Christian with firm Biblical beliefs, know that this book includes mysticism.
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