Tag Archives: Award Winning

Book Review—Small as a Mustard Seed

A Novel by Shelli Johnson


Critical Acclaim

Such beautiful language and rich imagery.” —A. Manette Ansay, author of Vinegar Hill, an Oprah Book Club selection

Stunning. Absolutely stunning.” —Mort Castle, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Moon on the Water

“Johnson weaves words as fluidly as a seamstress weaves threads. The story flows effortlessly, pulling the reader along from one riveting scene to the next. It’s brilliantly and ruthlessly told.” —Janet Britton, author of To Live Each Moment

“With much urgency and authority, Shelli Johnson immediately engages the reader. This is a real page turner, a gripping tale of a family blown apart by tragedy. Yet, ultimately, the novel is redeeming as well, told through the viewpoint of a heroine who will both break and mend your heart. This is a stunning debut novel to what I know will be a stunning career.” —Sue William Silverman, author of Love Sick

Book Description from the author’s website

As a child in 1960′s rural Ohio, Ann Marie Adler finds herself caught between her father, Frank, a veteran who survived the war in Korea but with devastating post-traumatic stress, and her mother, Adele, who is blindsided by the mental illness that accompanied him home. In a series of escalating dangerous episodes, Frank confuses reality with soul-searing memories, believing he’s still a soldier fighting for his life in battle-torn Korea. During the delusions, Ann Marie and her younger sister, Jolene, become the enemy, which leaves them fearing for their lives. Unable to fully protect her daughters, Adele scrambles to keep order while her husband’s threatening and unpredictable outbursts slowly tear the family apart.

I’m a Vietnam War veteran. That is what attracted me to Shelli Johnson’s book initially. Having subscribed to Shelli’s blog, I was already familiar with her writing and enjoyed the information she provided.

Small as a Mustard Seed focuses on the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by a Korean War veteran. This is an unfortunate side effect of war. The book takes you on a journey as seen through the eyes of Ann Marie Adler, a daughter of Frank whose life has been shattered by PTSD. The book occurs during the period from November, 1965 to June 1999. Its genre is literary fiction. It is a heart-wrenching, emotional journey but it conveys a message that resonates at multiple levels. At first I picked up on the PTSD. This disorder has been called combat fatigue, or combat stress syndrome before PTSD became the accepted term; but it’s really about much more than that. Much of the story contains universal nuggets that most all of us can identify with.

As we watch the story unfold, the author gives us near cinematic word pictures of the world around Ann Marie. Character development is at the heart of this story and Shelli Johnson’s characters come alive before us.
I remain convinced this story will resonate at different levels and for different reasons with people from diverse backgrounds. It is very much a book about reflections and universal experiences even though it focuses on the theme of PTSD.

 Parts of the book will sadden you, yet as you read about sad, difficult circumstances you will find seeds of hope. That hope will continue throughout the book and is what makes it so inspirational. In the past much of my reading has been in the suspense-thriller genre. I finished by thinking, this is what classic literature is all about. Small as a Mustard Seed is a book that will hold its own alongside great literature. It is a story I will savor for a long time to come.

Small as a Mustard Seed is one of the most compelling and well crafted books I’ve read in a very long time. I’ve found a new favorite author and Shelli Johnson is that author.


My father leaned forward, his voice dropping a notch lower. “Things were right with me before the hill?”

“Things was right with everybody before that damn hill.” “But me, Leo?” My father drank some more beer then belched softly. “Things were all right with me?”

 Leo’s joint smoldered between his fingers. He shook the beer bottle, flicking beads of water across the floor. “You didn’t act no different than usual. That what you want to know?”

“But after? After I got shot?”

“You didn’t know where you was. Sarge said you was talking funny before the chopper took you. Wasn’t nobody else saw you after that. Hospital and then home. Man, that’s all I know.”


Johnson, Shelli (2011-05-28). Small as a Mustard Seed (Kindle Locations 1368-1379). TEN TWENTY-SEVEN BOOKS. Kindle Edition.

Links to the authors website:


Other Reviews: http://shellijohnson.com/reviews/small-as-a-mustard-seed/


Filed under Book Review, Literary Fiction