Karen Witemeyer is one of those authors that you can trust to always deliver a great story, the one whose books you can buy without hesitation. I have yet to meet a Witemeyer story that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. Under the Texas Mistletoe gives readers three great Christmas novellas, one of which, A Texas Christmas Carol, is brand new, never before published, while the other two, An Archer Family Christmas and Gift of the Heart, have been previously published in other novella collections. While two of these novellas have been published before, I've only read one, which was Gift of the Heart, so two of the three stories are new to me.
A Texas Christmas Carol is a fabulous reimagining of the Dicken's classic. I have to admit, I'm not usually a fan of retellings of classic stories as they usually come off too cheesy or poorly executed, but Witemeyer has outdone herself with A Texas Christmas Carol. The story flows naturally, with great nods to the classic while maintaining a fresh and unique feel to it. This is the novella I enjoyed most from this collection. I loved the way Witemeyer created her own Scrooge character, in the handsome but standoffish Evan Beezer, the name itself a fun nod to Dicken's main character. A Texas Christmas Carol is a beautiful story of redemption, as well as finding joy and hope, with a few twists along the way. This is one I plan to revisit during the Christmas season.
An Archer Family Christmas is a festive installment of the Archer Brothers series in which readers familiar with the series get a deeper look into Jim Archer and wife, Cassie's story, which we've seen bits and pieces featured as secondary stories in the other books. Readers learn of the heart break that the couple have endured and how strong of a couple Jim and Cassie are. In An Archer Family Christmas, readers get to celebrate the holiday with the Archers, as well as "watch" a beautiful blessing play out, with some action packed in there as well. I found the novella a delightful and beautiful installment in the series, you really can't get enough of the Archers.
Gift of the Heart was previously published in The Christmas Heirloom novella collection, and is a take on the Bible story of Ruth and Boaz. The story follows widow Ruth Albright and her daughter Naomi as they move to a new town for a fresh start in life. Due to low funds, Ruth ends up using the family brooch as collateral for a loan from the local banker, Bo Azlin. The more she gets to know the kind and generous man behind the stern business man, she hopes for a second chance at love. Another beautiful, well written story under Witemeyer's belt.
Overall, Under the Texas Mistletoe is an enjoyable, festive read, one I'll definitely revisit for the holidays.
This is actually a re-read for me. I read Sarah Smarsh's Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth when it was first released in 2018, and I was honestly on the fence as to whether I liked it or not. The first time around, I enjoyed reading the book and Smarsh's writing style, I also found her overall story interesting enough, but wasn't sure as to whether I agreed with her opinions and politics expressed in the book. Once finished, I placed it on one of my shelves and there it sat for three years, surviving several book overhauls. I couldn't bring myself to pass it along as I did enjoy reading the book and there was a part of me that didn't feel finished with it yet.
Three years later, and I was on a "re-reading spree" when I decided to give Heartland another try. I went into this second reading with a different intention. I wanted to put aside my own beliefs and not get hung up so much on what I disagreed with Smarsh on, and just read what she had to say. I went in with more respect and a desire to understand, and I ended up relating a great deal to her experiences and the emotions tied to them as I also grew up in a lower middle class, rural family.
This time around, I found Heartland fascinating and informative. Smarsh 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/inner child whom Smarsh has given the name August. I found the approach fascinating, and it made the book more personal. Heartland is written through the lens of a woman who has not only overcome the barriers of poverty and circumstance, but as someone who has broken many dysfunctional family cycles as well. She makes quite a few valid points and provides credible, well-researched information to back them up.
One sentiment in particular that Smarsh shared that I truly related to was that we may have been poor, but we had pride and always tried to look nice and clean, and kept our houses tidy and clean. That's what my family always tried to do, we may not have had a whole lot, but we still had pride in what we did have. People these days have appropriated the country/rural lifestyle, wearing jeans with pre-made holes in them and hats that are merely accessories, and decorating their homes with rustic tools and other "country" items, that real country folk have out of necessity, leaving those who actually live that way of life scratching their heads.
Heartland is often billed as a book about a girl that grew up poor in rural Kansas who rose above it all and "got out", but that's not what this book is really about, and Sarah Smarsh is the first to say this. Her rural home wasn't something to "get out of" or escape. This book isn't about how she rose above it all to be successful, it's about the impact that poverty has had not only on her own life, but also generations of her family. It's about how poverty and the toxic, dysfunctional cycles running through her family lines have impacted her own decisions and actions. Heartland ends up being a fascinating sociological study and an interesting memoir all in one. It was a great read, one I'm glad I gave a second chance to. Sometimes it's not a problem with the book, but rather your own hang ups getting in the way. This book has earned its place on my shelf.
Born and raised in Upstate NY, Liz is a freelance writer. She has written for websites, blogs, and magazines for the last 10 years. She also acts as a proofreader and beta reader for several authors, all the while working on her first book.