Blog Tour & Book Review: The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Hummingbird

I’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating the release of The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan. Thank you, TLC Book Tours, for including me!


Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse who never gives up—not with her patients, not in her life. But her skills and experience are fully tested by the condition her husband, Michael, is in when he returns from his third deployment to Iraq. Tormented by nightmares, anxiety, and rage, Michael has become cold and withdrawn. Still grateful that he is home at last, Deborah is determined to heal him and restore their loving, passionate marriage.

But Michael is not her only challenge. Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and fierce curmudgeon. An expert on the Pacific Theater of World War II, Barclay is suffering from terminal kidney cancer and haunted by ghosts from his past, including the academic scandal that ended his career.

Barclay’s last wish is for Deborah to read to him from his final and unfinished book—a little-known story from World War II that may hold the key to helping Michael conquer his demons. Together, nurse, patient, and soldier embark on an unforgettable emotional journey that transforms them all, offering astonishing insights into life and death, suffering and finding peace.

Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of marital commitment, service to country, the battles we fight for those we love, learning to let go, and finding absolution through wisdom and acceptance.

My thoughts:

The Hummingbird is a quiet yet powerful look at love, acceptance, peace, and dignity. With a hospice nurse as its central figure, The Hummingbird has a calmness to it even when dealing with sorrow and anger.

Deborah is a remarkable woman, and it’s hard not to marvel at the peaceful focus and commitment she brings to her work. Deborah doesn’t view her patients as tragedies or medical lost causes. Instead, her job is to focus on each patient as an individual. Death is already a certainty; it’s Deborah’s purpose to make sure that her patients meet death with the comfort and space they need in order to have a dignified end.

At the same time that we witness Deborah’s work with the Professor, we see her struggling to reclaim her warrior husband Michael, a damaged soul who returns from his third tour in Iraq full of violence, rage, and guilt. Through her work with Barclay Reed and her reading of his unpublished manuscript, Deborah begins to find clues that will help her reach Michael. The more she reads about the Japanese soldier who became a man of peace and forged relationships with his former enemies, the more she learns about how to take steps toward her husband and help him truly find his way home again.

I found The Hummingbird incredibly moving. While I’d had certain preconceptions about the concept of hospice, I’ve never actually encountered it in my own life or in my reading until now. Reading about Deborah, her attitude and her approach, and what hospice provides for patients and their families was eye-opening for me. I was so impressed and touched by the degree of caring, the focus, and the compassion on display. Deborah’s interactions with Barclay are beautiful — not sugar-coated or avoiding the messier elements of illness, but simply caring and placing the patient’s total self above any other concerns.

Deborah’s relationship with her husband was quite touching as well. Michael is damaged and seems almost unfixable, but Deborah doesn’t accept that he’s beyond reach. It isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty, but we see scenes that show the rawness of returning veterans, their inability to fit back into society, and how little true help is available without a fight. It’s sad to realize how real this all is, and what’s more — as illustrated by an affecting scene involving Michael and a Vietnam vet — how little has changed or improved for soldiers in terms of how they’re treated when their fighting is done.

I would be remiss not to mention how powerful the third element of this story is. In chapters interspersed with the modern-day story, we read Barclay Reed’s manuscript, titled The Sword, telling the story of a Japanese bomber pilot whose World War II mission was to firebomb Oregon and cause panic and destruction on US soil. Although his mission did not succeed, the impact of his mission was felt by him and by the Oregon community targeted by his mission for decades to come. The story of connection and reconciliation is lovely, and surprised me by not going in the direction I’d expected.

These three threads — Deborah and the Professor, Deborah and Michael, and the story of The Sword — are woven together to create a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness. The Hummingbird makes clear that it’s human connection that matters above all else, and that it’s never too late to find peace.

I strongly recommend The Hummingbird. The writing is lovely, the subject matter is quite unusual, and the characters will touch your heart.


Add to Goodreads badge
Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

Stephen P. KiernanStephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award, the Edward Willis Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. Kiernan is the author ofThe Curiosity, his first novel, as well as two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.

Find out more about Stephen at his website and connect with him on Facebook.


The details:

Title: The Hummingbird
Author: Stephen P. Kiernan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: September 8, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, visit the author’s website or stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.


Blog Tour & Book Review: The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan


Book Review: The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The CuriosityI’m delighted to be participating in the blog tour celebrating the paperback release of The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan.

In The Curiosity, scientific exploration bumps up against the culture of celebrity and the perils of popularity. Through the voices of a dedicated scientist, a muckraking journalist, and an egomaniacal millionaire, we chart the rise and fall of Jeremiah Rice, a man who’s either a miracle or an abomination, depending on whose perspective you believe.

Kate Philo is the lead-off narrator, and the person who generates the most sympathy. Kate is a cell biologist, a 30-something researcher acknowledged as a genius in her field, who leads a team of Arctic explorers pursuing “hard-ice” on a project funded by the Carthage Institute for Cellular Seeking. Headed by the obsessive-compulsive but brilliant Erastus Carthage, the goal of the Institute is to locate organisms flash-frozen in icebergs and reanimate them. Up to now, the work has focused on krill and other tiny creatures. But one fateful day, Kate and her crew discover something large in a massive berg. Is it a whale? A seal? Nope. It’s the frozen body of a man, stuck in the ice for at least one hundred years.

Back in their Boston lab, the ice man is the center of a media frenzy. The whole world is watching as the team prepares the risky and arduous process of reanimation. Lo and behold, it works: The ice man’s heart begins to beat, he draws breath, and — after an excruciating wait — he opens his eyes and speaks.

The man is Jeremiah Rice, a judge from the early 1900s who disappeared during an Arctic voyage, leaving behind a beloved wife and daughter. Judge Rice is the hottest commodity around, immediately the focus of every story-hungry reporter, the source of endless speculation and online gossip, and debateably the property of Carthage’s Lazarus Project. Kept in a secure room and monitored 24/7, is Judge Rice a person or a laboratory subject? Or, as the growing mass of protestors would have it, is he an abomination, a perversion of God’s will, an affront to people of belief?

Kate, meanwhile, introduces Jeremiah to the 21st century, leading him on outings through the streets of Boston, introducing him to the people and the city of this new era, so different from the world he left behind. And as they venture out, Jeremiah begins to share the story of his life… and he and Kate form a bond that moves beyond science into the untested waters of human emotions.

We know from the outset, however, that this is not a story with a happy ending. Kate warns us in her very first chapter that public sentiment changed dramatically, that she and the project were skewered in the court of public opinion, and that she’s left with nothing but her memories. We know too from an early demonstration of the reanimation process that the reanimated krill go through a lifecycle that’s predictable and doomed to an unavoidable demise. When things start to go badly for Jeremiah, it’s not a surprise, but by then, we’ve come to know him. Jeremiah is a good, decent man — and knowing that, the inevitable end becomes tragic.

There’s much to love about The Curiosity. The book raises some interesting questions: What constitutes a human life? When does science become exploitation? How has 24/7 internet coverage changed the meaning of truth? In this age of constant access, who is responsible for damage to an individual’s life or reputation? And with the hounding of paparazzi and “gotcha” news, can even a truly good person escape the muck?

The scientific processes and discoveries in The Curiosity are fascinating. We’ve seen goofy versions of the “man frozen in ice” concept in movies and TV shows before, but here, the dilemmas involved for the scientists and for the subject himself are taken seriously. In the early chapters, the reader can practically feel the freezing Arctic seas as the diving crews prepare to salvage the unknown object in the iceberg. There’s tension, and drama, and excitement.

Later on, the focus begins to feel a bit scattered, and I’d have preferred to spend a little less time on the protesters and on Erastus Carthage’s point of view.

Overall, however, the narrative moves quickly, and the shifting perspective helps the reader get a clearer picture of the events and people closing in on Jeremiah Rice. As despicable as some of the point-of-view characters are, hearing the story through their words lets us see just how steep the odds are, and just how far people are willing to go to come out on top.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the romantic elements of the story, which I felt needed more room to breathe and grow. Still, the friendship, trust, and growing feelings between Kate and Jeremiah are moving to witness, if perhaps a bit overly condensed. Kate and Jeremiah are both decent, honest people caught up in events that they can’t control. Jeremiah, especially, is a lovely, tragic figure, full of pathos and yearning for a world forever lost to him, only just starting to adapt to the 21st century when that too slips away.

I recommend The Curiosity both as a tale of scientific exploration and as a study of compelling characters caught up in events they can’t control. Exciting and moving, The Curiosity will hold your attention from start to finish.

About the Author:

Stephen KiernanStephen Kiernan is the author of the 2013 novel THE CURIOSITY. His nonfiction books are LAST RIGHTS and AUTHENTIC PATRIOTISM.

He was born in Newtonville, NY the sixth of seven children. A graduate of Middlebury College, he received a Master of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Over two-plus decades as a journalist he has won 40 awards, including the Brechner Institute’s Freedom of Information Award, the Gerald Loeb Award for financial journalism (two time commentary finalist) and the George Polk Award.

He has taught at Middlebury College and the New England Young Writers Conference, and has worked on the staff of the Breadloaf School of English and the Breadloaf Writers Conference. He chairs the board of the Young Writers Project, served on the Vermont Legislative Committee on Pain and Palliative Care, and joined the advisory board of the New Hampshire Palliative Care Initiative.

Stephen travels the country speaking to a wide variety of audiences about improving life’s last chapters, restoring America through volunteerism and philanthropy, and using the power of creativity to transform lives.

A performer on the guitar since he was ten years old, Stephen has recorded 3 CDs of solo instrumentals, and composed music for dance, the stage, documentaries and TV specials.

He lives in Vermont with his two amazing sons.


The details:

Title: The Curiosity
Author: Stephen P. Kiernan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: 2013 (hardcover); paperback release July 1, 2014
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, visit the author’s website or stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.