Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater

SPFBO Status: Finalist

Rate: 9.5/10

Medium: ebook

Overview (No Spoilers):

One of the many reasons I love reading is how stories can elicit reactions that span the entire range of emotions. This fits Atwater’s Small Miracles to a T, offering a story that I loved wholeheartedly throughout and picked up whenever I had a spare moment. As I finished the last page, I couldn’t help but feel like this was the story I needed to read. Once I found out about the audiobook, I actually read it a second time, months later to confirm my level of enjoyment. Unsurprisingly, Small Miracles was just as entertaining a second time through.

In Small Miracles, Atwater explores a world where our lives are directly impacted by the forces of Good and Evil, though these lines tend to blur for Gadriel, the Fallen Angel of Petty Temptations. Previously a Guardian Angel (of Small Miracles), Gadriel chose to leave after becoming fed up with the seemingly insane bureaucracy associated with assigning sins and virtues — specifically, those related to chocolate. Yes, chocolate is a sin, worth +0.5 points of sin, to be exact. (Cue me eating a piece of chocolate as I type this review.) Gadriel’s path takes an unexpected turn when a favor from their brother, Barachiel (Angel of Good Fortune), is called in and they find themselves on a mission to tempt Miss Holly Harker into having a little bit of fun, as her virtue meter is off the charts. What started out as a straightforward, simple assignment soon veers off the rails as an unknown factor comes into play, with potentially life-threatening consequences. 

Atwater’s formatting throughout Small Miracles takes some getting used to, as it incorporates the point scale for sins and virtues with running totals and updates to overall scores at the start of each new chapter. Additionally, footnotes are scattered throughout to explain various nuances in the fantastical elements and detail each sin/virtue point as its accrued. These footnotes initially broke up the rhythm of the story, as I found myself continually flipping back and forth for the insider intel, but as the story progressed, I couldn’t help but get excited when I would come across one, eager to discover what this new tidbit of knowledge would add to this fascinating world. I loved how the audiobook incorporated the footnotes as the transitions are more fluid.

Atwater takes what seems to be a relatively simple premise and adds layer upon layer upon layer until every chapter has inside jokes hidden within it. References might start small, but by the end, even the mention of chocolate will draw a smile. Another source of amusement centers around how the fallen and guardian angels present themselves to humans, switching genders multiple times throughout the story while keeping in mind that it is a faux pas for angels to be the same gender at the same time. As you can see, this leads to some amusing dialogue from an exasperated Gadriel who can’t seem to catch a break with this heavenly social norm. 

The witty writing and eloquent weaving of the side characters is masterful throughout Small Miracles. One of my favorite side stories centers on the bubbly, cat-loving math teacher, Ms Schmidt, who loves her daily chocolate. Gadriel repeatedly repurposes her good chocolate with this side tension building throughout the story, resulting in spicy consequences. Moving in parallel are other side stories regarding Holly Harker’s coworkers and her niece’s friends. While seemingly unrelated, all of these pieces come together in rather amusing and over-the-top ways.

Overall, Small Miracles is an utterly delightful look at the grays of intentions, family sacrifice, and the accumulation of minute acts of both virtue and sin. And lots and lots of chocolate.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound)

  • How does an angel (Fallen or Guardian) pick their calling?
  • I think I literally laughed out loud with how Atwater incorporated atheists. 
  • Does Holly Harker know Gadriel is an angel? Can they age along with Holly?
  • I loved this concept of running scores of sin at the end and beginning of every chapter and how Atwater ties in the frustrations of the very delineated sin vs virtue rules that must be in place for this system to exist. 
  • I was so very happy at the end when Barachiel got chocolate overturned as a sin (and now I’m eating more chocolate), but it gave Gadriel a measure of hope regarding the rigid system. 
  • Can Ella heal after everything that happened? Can her friendships heal? 
  • Why did Wormwood target Ella’s family? I recognize Wormwood doubled down after Barachiel’s failure but what drew this evil body to the family in the first place?
  • Will Sara and Ms Schmidt end up together? Gadriel handing over Sara’s number to Ms Schmidt despite being in the throes of the booby-trapped chocolate literally made me laugh out loud. 

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