Serving Up Love: A Harvey House Brides Collection consists of four stories from four great authors. The perfect book to cozy up with on a cold November day. As a member of Karen Witemeyer's launch team, I obviously dug into her contribution, More Than A Pretty Face, first.
More Than A Pretty Face is the third book in Witemeyer's wonderful A Patchwork Family series, and follows Rosalind Kemp, whom readers were introduced to in the second book in the series, More Than Words Can Say. Rosalind leaves her hometown in Texas, trying to put a past indiscretion behind her. She becomes a Harvey Girl, working hard while keeping her head down, hoping one day to earn enough seniority to transfer west to California, far away enough to start a fresh life. Alas, Rosalind finds herself transferred back to Texas. She finds it increasingly hard to go unnoticed, especially when a good looking, very determined lawyer takes a special interest in her.
Caleb Durrington's mother is determined to marry him off to a nice, upstanding, young woman that she has picked out for him, but Caleb has other plans. He's been fascinated by Rosalind Kemp ever since he first laid eyes on her at the Harvey House. There's just one hitch, his charm doesn't seem to have the slightest effect on her, so he tries a different approach. He appeals to her mind. But just when things seem to be warming nicely between the two, Rosalind's past comes back to haunt her.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rosalind's story and getting to see how she, with the help of Caleb and other friends, confronts her past head on. This is a beautiful story of redemption and unconditional love. A must read for fans of Witemeyer's books, and readers looking for a good, clean, enjoyable story with a beautiful message woven throughout it.
I give it a 7/10.
*Note: I was given an Advanced Reader's Copy by the publisher for an honest review, which I've given. It's always a pleasure to read Karen Witemeyer's books!
I found Sarah Smarsh's Heartland fascinating and informative. She has a writing style that is precise in delivering its message. It flows and is written in such a way that it feels like Smarsh is speaking directly to one person, which may be due to the fact that the book is actually written to an unborn daughter, August, that never existed. I found the approach fascinating, and it made the book more personal. Having grown up in a rural area myself, and in a family that certainly wasn't "well-off" by any stretch of the imagination, I had no trouble relating to the overall story and struggles Smarsh described.
Smarsh makes quite a few valid points and provides credible, well-researched information to back them up. Heartland is a more personal look into the rural middle class culture and economic situation than other books that cover this subject. My only complaint would be that it felt like Smarsh was blaming her family's teen pregnancies/single motherhood/being tied to dangerous men on being poor, when in reality, that comes down to a choice of whether to abstain or not. Just because you're poor, doesn't mean you have to be promiscuous. Smarsh herself proved that, abstaining in order to make sure she was never tied down or held back from her goals.
The teen mother/single mother issue is more an issue of raising and a personal and moral choice. All the issues that were a result of a teen pregnancy could have been avoided simply by choosing not to have premarital sex. So I don't think it's quite fair to blame your teen mom/single mom status on your economic status. There's quite a few of us who grew up poor without getting pregnant and tied down. Now, maybe I'm misreading Smarsh's intent regarding this subject, so I say all of this completely open to discussion. I just don't agree with blaming bad choices on your economic status.
Other than that one issue, I thoroughly enjoyed Heartland and would highly recommend it. It is enlightening and informative, and really an excellent look into economic issues faced by many in this country.
I give it a 8/10.
There has been a great deal of buzz around J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy since its release in 2016, there's even a movie in development based on the book that will be directed by Ron Howard. I've had it on my radar for some time now, trying to get my hands on a copy, which proved hard due to it always being sold out around here. I finally found a copy in an indie Vermont bookstore recently, and read it fairly quickly.
Having grown up in/surrounded by the "hillbilly" culture, I found myself relating this book more than others of the same nature, often nodding my head at certain antidotes, stories, and descriptions. Hillbilly Elegy and Sarah Smarsh's Heartland are two books often compared to each other, as they seem to be two sides of the same coin, covering a similar culture but in different approaches and conclusions. I found Elegy the more relatable of the two myself.
While Heartland seems to lay blame on the government for the family's troubles, including teen pregnancies and such, Elegy distributes the blame fairly among its rightful owners. In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance acknowledges that a great deal of his family's (and the culture as a whole's) hardships were brought on or made worse by their own poor choices. While Vance does point out that there are ways the Government could do more to help, as well as social-economics having a role in the issues, he expertly gets down to the root of the issue through his own personal experience and antidotes.
Ultimately, the buck doesn't stop at the government or public education, instead you should trace it to the choices and failures on the people themselves. Can you really blame the government for your drug problems? Or your unplanned pregnancies? The answer is absolutely not. While the author isn't so bold as to suggest that he has a solid solution to a whole culture's hardships and struggles, he does suggest that it needs to start with better choices made by the people themselves.
Hillbilly Elegy is a well written, well informed memoir and a must read. I'd highly recommend it!
I give it an 8/10.
I am a fan of The Andy Griffith Show and all things Mayberry, so I couldn't pass up Daniel de Visé's Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American T.V. Show when I stumbled upon it on Amazon. I was a bit leery at first, worried that this would read more like a tell-all than a balanced look at two professionals' careers and personal lives. I am here to say that there's no fear to be had. This is a well written, properly researched book written with the utmost respect for its subjects.
Andy & Don was written by Daniel de Visé, who was Don Knotts' brother-in-law, having married Don's third wife, Francey's sister. This is a man who knew Don Knotts personally and therefore worked hard to ensure that this book was done with the utmost respect. According to the Acknowledgments section, Visé spent a great deal of time and energy researching his subjects, as well as speaking to well over 50 of Andy & Don's family, friends, and those that they worked closely with. While the book covers Knotts' 81 and Andy's 86 years of life, it is a fast-paced and an enjoyable read.
Visé discussed both Don and Andy's backgrounds, strengths, and friendships, as well as their flaws, mistakes, and darker sides with grace and dignity, showing his audience that both men were as human as the rest of us. He called attention to conflicting stories and theories, such as the origins of "The Pickle Story" and who persuaded Don to take his Nervous Man to Steve Allen, and presented each theory clearly, not taking one side or the other.
The center point, and indeed the highlight, of this book is the deep, enduring friendship between Don Knotts and Andy Griffith. The author mapped this decades long friendship beautifully. Along the way, Visé shares behind-the-scenes stories and information from those involved with The Andy Griffith Show, along with the men's other projects. It was interesting to read how certain gags and bits from the show, such as the "memorizing of the lawman's code" or the "sitting on the porch" bits, were developed. The master comedic minds of Don Knotts and Andy Griffith shines bright.
I wasn't familiar with Don's overall body of work or the fact that he really was the more successful of the two. I always just naturally thought Andy was, due to his lead role on The Andy Griffith Show, as well as his higher profile (to me) overall. I walked away from this book with a new found respect for Don and his comedic talents, and for that, I thank Visé.
Overall, this is an excellently done book. Well written, thoroughly researched, respectful, and enjoyable.
I give it an 8/10.
I came across Phaedra Patrick's The Library of Lost and Found through a recommendation on Amazon. I happen to love that feature on the site and have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with it, finding awesome books to add to my shelves. This was the rare occasion when it failed me.
I bought this book with great hopes of it continuing my streak of great bookish themed reads, unfortunately that wasn't the case. The Library of Lost and Found has a few big issues. Its pacing is far too slow and stilted, it makes for a less than enjoyable reading experience. There were several points in reading this book when I found myself seriously contemplating whether or not to just stop, which is something I rarely experience. I had a hard time getting into the story itself due to the lack of flow of the writing and structure.
I found the main character of Martha to be too much of a "poor pitiful me" martyr when in reality, most of her problems were due to her not having backbone enough to stand up for herself and take charge of her own life. She spends most of the book bemoaning her life and feeling sorry for herself. One good thing that happened towards the end of the story was that Martha does finally take some charge and stand up for herself, but it still feels a bit weak.
Another issue is with the characters. The author spends a great deal of time developing some characters, who end up not having a major role in the overall book, and not enough time on the characters that do! Early on in the story, you get the feeling that a handful of characters are going to play a larger role only to find out fairly quickly that they don't and kind of just drop off. The two characters that could've used more developing and time spent on them were Siegfried and Owen. These two characters played, or rather should have had a larger role in Martha's life and as a result, in this book.... but they didn't.
Overall, the book meandered and floundered too much to be enjoyable. It was long on words and short on story development. I've read quite a few reviews of The Library of Lost and Found, to see if anyone else felt the way I did about the book, and found that a great deal of its readers agreed with me. I also learned that Patrick has published other books that were evidently far better than this one. Most of her readers made it clear that her other books were much better and that they were disappointed with this offering. So maybe this book is just a fluke, not a reflection of the author's capabilities. Either way, I'd pass on this one. I'll be giving my copy away.
I give it a 3/10.
I stumbled upon Amy Meyerson's The Bookshop of Yesterdays while browsing the new releases on Amazon. Starting in 2018, I wanted to make a point of adding new releases to my reading list, which up to that point was severely lacking new books. I've been extremely lucky in new book picks, I have yet to be disappointed, in fact, I'm usually delightfully surprised to have found a new favorite read. ;)
Released in May of this year, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is part mystery, part family drama, and all around a bookish soul's delight. An excellent debut from Meyerson, the book follows Miranda Brooks (I LOVE that her last name rhymes with "books") as she works through her troubled family history to reveal a long held secret. Growing up, Miranda loved her Uncle Billy and the adventures he'd take her on. Uncle Billy loved a good riddle and would often send Miranda on a scavenger hunt using books along the way. One night, there was a fight between Miranda's mother and Uncle Billy, causing Billy to break contact until his death.
Fast forward several years, Miranda is a history teacher living with her boyfriend when one fine day she receives a package. The arrival of the package and the news that Uncle Billy has passed away sends Miranda on one last scavenger hunt in order to solve the riddle and uncover a family secret that could change everything. Miranda makes new friends and works to save her Uncle's beloved bookshop along the way, with the book coming to a satisfying ending.
I was hooked into this story immediately and could not put it down. The characters were well-developed, unique, and interesting. The plot was absolutely fascinating, one that kept you turning the page. Meyerson does an excellent job hooking the reader and drawing them into solving the riddle. Around chapter 7, I had a hunch as to what one of the secrets the book was building towards revealing was going to be, and was pleasantly surprised to find out I was correct in my deduction. Though I will say, I had no idea how it would all fall into place. This is one of the best books I've read this year so far. I'd highly recommend it. There's a little something for everyone in it.
I give it an 8/10.
I stumbled upon Kendall Vanderslice's We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God through twitter recently, which proves that good things do happen on social media. ;) Released in May of this year, We Will Feast explores the practice of eating together as an act of Christian worship while featuring church communities, often referred to as "Table Churches", that are a part of the dinner-church movement.
I found this book enlightening, fascinating, and enriching. It has opened my eyes to a new way to experience worship. I am a member of a small, country Baptist church that puts on Fellowship meals regularly for the congregation (guests are also very welcome), but we've never combined worship AND sharing a meal. It has always been worship first, then share a meal together after. Don't get me wrong, I love my church, I love our services, and I love engaging in fellowship during the meal. I just found the act of worshiping WHILE eating super intriguing.
In We Will Feast Vanderslice explains, "The narrative arc of the gospel — from creation and its fall, to Christ's death and resurrection, to the building anticipation of a restored earth—is grounded in the act of eating. Meals end in death and meals offer new life." She continues to explore worship through meals, using biblical examples, the greatest one being Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus often used meals and the act of sharing food with people as a way to reach them, to teach them, and to worship with them.
Most of us have read the Bible, so we know that Jesus did this, but reading this in Vanderslice's words and the way she presents the information, it hit me differently this time. It stuck with me. I've never thought about sharing meals in this way before. The author features roughly 10 groups/churches, their backstories, and how their methods of worshiping using food. I love the intentionality of these groups and churches to create an atmosphere of community, fellowship, and belonging over a meal. They bring together people of different races, economic status, orientations, and creeds, who most likely wouldn't have become friends had it not been for the sharing of these special meals.
I found that chapters one, two, five, six, and ten really spoke to me and enriched me in one way or another. If you flip through my copy of the book, you'll find underlines, stars, and notes in those chapters, but make no mistake, the whole book is a treasure. We Will Feast is the first book I've read this year that truly moved me and opened my mind in a profound way. No doubt it'll make my end of the year list!
All to say, I'd highly recommend this book. I'll definitely be buying copies to give out as gifts this year. ;)
I give it a 9/10.
Karen Witemeyer's second novel in her wonderful Patchwork Family series, More Than Words Can Say, releases June 4th, and you will not want to miss it!
I was privileged to work on Karen's promo team for both More Than Meets The Eye (the 1st book in the series) and More Than Words Can Say, and have greatly enjoyed the experience and the books. Though I received this book in advance and am on Karen's team, it was with the understanding that I would give an HONEST review of the book. I am in no way obligated to give a good review if I don't feel it deserves one. Thankfully for me, Karen never disappoints with her stories. She continues to produce superbly woven tales with earthy characters, interesting plots, and a beautiful message weaved throughout the story.
In More Than Words Can Say, the reader gets a front row seat to Zacharias "Zach" Hamilton's deeper story. We first met Zach in More Than Meets The Eye, but he was on the fringes, the dark, mysterious character within the story. More Than Words Can Say brings him front and center and really helps the readers that have been following this series gain a fuller understanding of his past and what drives him.
I found Zach such an interesting character right from the beginning when we met him in the Prologue of More Than Meets The Eye as a 13 year old boy on an orphan train, on through to the end as a full grown man who has done the best he could in raising his adoptive siblings and keeping them safe, albeit making mistakes and a few questionable decisions along the way. Those very mistakes and decisions haunt him like ghosts on through to More Than Words Can Say. The question is: Will he be able to come to terms with them and accept the forgiveness that God has already given him?
More Than Words Can Say also introduces a set of new characters and a new town, though Evangeline, Seth (Zach's siblings), and Logan (Evie's husband and a reminder of Zach's greatest ghost) all make a brief appearance as well. The heroine of this story is Abigail Kemp, owner of the town's bakery. Faced with losing the bakery, which is Abigail's means to provide a home and future for her sister and herself, she turns to drastic measures to hold onto her beloved business. But will she succeed? And more importantly, will she find something more important to her than her business?
I love the way Karen weaves her stories, creating characters that are earthy, real, and flawed. In More Than Words Can Say, we have a man who is far out of his depth with communication, particularly when it comes to how he feels, and a woman who see's herself as fat and undesirable, rather than a "fearfully and wonderfully" made young woman who deserves love and admiration. Witemeyer gives the reader the enjoyable experience of watching these two learn and grow, while banding together to help one another. And Spoil Alert! There is a happy ending. ;)
I'd highly recommend this book. It's well written, keeps you interested until the very end, and is a joy to read. Karen never disappoints.
I give it an 8/10.
Once again, Linda Ellen has crafted a wonderful piece of writing. Creating delightfully realistic, loveable characters and a plot that will keep you turning the page, Linda expertly weaves a tale worth savoring in A Bride for Sam. In a genre that often produces quick reads that tend to follow the same old formula over and over again, Linda Ellen breezes in with her refreshingly creative plots. Come for the superb story, stay to drool over Sam the lumberjack.
A Bride for Sam is a standout in the Proxy Brides series. It is a tale filled with gallantry and romance, featuring a hunky lumberjack, a daring escape, devoted friends, and a happily ever after all wrapped into one delightful package. This is a sweet read you won't want to miss, out just in time for Valentine's Day! ;)
Grab the book here.
I have been slowly making my way through Anne LaBastille's excellent Woodswoman series, having read the first book in January 2018 and the second book in January 2019. The first two books in the series, Woodswoman and Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake are available on Amazon, and I'd highly recommend them. Unfortunately, the third and fourth books in the series, Woodswoman III and Woodswoman IIII, are currently out of print and therefore hard to come by. Thankfully I was able to acquire both, though for a rather hefty price, but when it comes to books, I'm definitely willing to make the spurge (usually).
This series gets better with each book, in my opinion, because you learn more and go deeper and deeper into Anne's life and career. With each book, it seems that Anne gets more confident in being more open and vulnerable. Woodswoman III covers Anne's third decade living in the Adirondacks. Among the subjects discussed in this book are her beloved dogs, peddling her books, her farm, changing life at her cabin n the lake, and growing environmental concerns.
As with the first two books, my favorite chapters are the ones where Anne talks about her dogs, though sadly, because each book covers roughly a decade, they all contain a sad chapter covering the death of a dog. This one features the decline and death of Condor. The way Anne writes about the decline and death of her beloved dogs is absolutely heart-wrenchingly beautiful. She brings me to tears every single time. Though I cried my eyes out through these chapters, my heart is always quickly soothed by the following chapters that detail the arrival of a new puppy, in this book's case it is Xandor who joins LaBastille's pack. I admire LaBastille all the more for these chapters, her love and devotion for her dogs is palpable, admirable, and moving.
I also enjoyed the chapters in which LaBastille writes about finding, buying, and settling into her farm, Kestrel Crest Farm. At the current stage of life Anne was in while the writing of this book, she found the hard Adirondack winters increasingly difficult to live out in her cabin on the lake, especially while trying to conduct business. A million things could go wrong or keep her from meeting deadlines and fulfilling her business engagements. Therefore, she made a compromise: She'd live part time at the farm, and part time at the cabin. This allowed her a bit more freedom, and made life a bit easier, all the while providing more storage space, an important commodity for the business woman. The farm was still in the Adirondacks, but easier to get to, and provided different opportunities to observe the workings of nature and wildlife.
I thoroughly enjoy LaBastille's writing. Her willingness to share her vulnerability, particularly her fears concerning the arson of her barns on her Kestrel Crest Farm property and the break-in at her cabin. She built a life on an image of a strong, independent, brave woodswoman, yet she shows no qualms in sharing her fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. She shares how her fear from the arson incident left her cold and scared, and ultimately led her to resign as a commissioner in the Adirondack Park Agency. Her continued willingness to be real and honest is admirable.
Overall, this series is a superb bit of writing. It's among the best collection of memoirs that I have had the pleasure of reading. I'd highly recommend it.
I give it a 9/10.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....