Bookworm: Down on the farm after diverted from Paris

Terri Schlichenmeyer

"The Rural Diaries"

  • by Hilarie Burton Morgan
  • c.2020, HarperOne                               
  • $26.99 / $33.50 Canada; 272 pages

Aaaaah, smell that dairy air! Right, just a little farm humor there. How 'bout this one: as farmers go, he's outstanding in his field, har-de-har-har. Or: seeing a cow is a mooooooving experience, yuk, yuk. If you know anything about farms, you're probably rolling your eyes right now because, as in "The Rural Diaries" by Hilarie Burton Morgan, you know farming is no joke.

"Rural Diaries" author Hilarie Burton Morgan

She'd already booked her tickets to Paris.

Travel, writing, French cafes, life overseas intrigued Hilarie Burton Morgan. Her life-long dream of becoming an actor had been accomplished. She was ready for some change but just before she left, she met Jeffrey Morgan, also an actor, and she fell in love.

So, Paris never happened. What did, though, was a lightning-fast courtship filled with dreams they mutually held, a baby in quick time, fighting, making-up, and learning to be a couple with child. They had to learn to live with one another, even when their jobs meant that they had to live apart, until a tiny A-frame cabin in the woods in upstate New York became Home Base for both.

Dark, outdated, and a little dank, the cabin was rough but it quickly became home as Morgan threw herself into fixing it up for her "boys." Savvy with tools and with the help of her brother, she remodeled and re-did while she also dived into the community of Rhinebeck, New York. Morgan made friends, worked a little, raised their son, and when Jeffrey came home from location, they relaxed into a non-Hollywood existence.

"The Rural Diaries"

But their A-frame cabin wasn't large enough for more children. The woods were no place for a kid to run without running into something. Jeffrey wanted animals, livestock. Morgan truly wanted a garden. They found a farm nearby, moved into one of the houses on the property, brought home some critters, and settled into rural bliss.

As everyone knows, though, achieved dreams never guarantee happiness. They never end all misery. And they they never stop new dreams from being imagined...

Sometimes, all you want to read is something like "The Rural Diaries": something light and airy as the frosting on a gourmet cupcake. But at other times, that could annoy you.

Like any good diary, this book offers a whole swing set's-worth of ups and downs. Author Hilarie Burton Morgan writes of love, but not just the romantic kind; she tells tales of deep friendship, and love of life. She writes with humor but also with honesty, telling readers about life in and out of Hollywood and revealing the bad parts of her life, and loss, as well as the good parts.

It's there where the annoyances may lie: in today's atmosphere, readers might not want to read about three mortgages, trips to Mexico, or spur-of-the-moment big-ticket purchases.

Or maybe you will.

Maybe this books' lighthearted, deep-felt truths will win you over but beware. Remember, it's at least partially a Hollywood bio, after all... but "The Rural Diaries" is also a book that will keep you on your derriere.

"Big Summer"

  • by Jennifer Weiner
  • c.2020, Atria
  • $28.00 / $37.00 Canada; 368 pages

Your reservations were made way last January.

No sense in waiting; you knew where you were going and when, and you didn't want to take the chance of missing out on your preferred hotel. You were just about to book your tickets when, well, you know. And now you don't know. Once, you had great plans but as in the new novel "Big Summer" by Jennifer Weiner, they're all washed up.

"Big Summer" author Jennifer Weiner

For most of her life, Daphne Berg was what you might charitably call a "big girl."

She was okay with it when she was little, self-conscious about it as a preteen, and tried not to think too hard about it when her parents switched her schools in sixth grade. She learned to deal with friendlessness and lots of teasing until a saving grace, a minor miracle happened: she was befriended by the school's most popular girl.

Drue Lathrop Cavanaugh was rich, beautiful, rich, blonde, thin, and rich. She was also nasty, a Mean Girl to the bone, and sometimes her target was Daphne. Still, Daphne made excuses for Drue's behavior until one night after graduation when Drue's cruelty went over-the-top, Daphne'd finally had enough, and she told Drue to get lost.

Since then, Daphne put her old BFF out of her mind. She had a great job as an internet influencer, a nice apartment, a good dog, and a good roommate. She had discovered her self-confidence and she learned to handle haters. So when Drue frantically did everything to get back into her good graces, Daphne thought she knew what to say.

But she didn't. Why did she always have a soft spot for Drue Cavanaugh?

"Big Summer"

And why agree to be Drue's Maid of Honor, after all this time?  It was true that she and Drue were close once. As an adult, she knew that Drue didn't have the childhood she pretended to have had. It was only one weekend. What could go wrong?

If someone got hurt, well, Daphne would just have to figure it out...

So you're in the mood for a nice little rom-com for the beginning of your summer? Put this one back on the shelf, then. "Big Summer" is bigger than that.

At first, yes, this story seems like an ice cream cone, all luscious and sweet, just as you've come to expect from author Jennifer Weiner. But here's the surprise: about halfway through, you'll find sharp icicles in that cone when Weiner drops a bombshell in your lap, and an unexpectedly abrupt about-face in genre. As it turns out, "Big Summer" is a big... well, no more clues. Just suffice it to say that Daphne is every woman who's ever found fault in a mirror, Drue is the girl she'd do anything to be like, and watching them twist around one another like a porch-spinner on a breezy day is worth the kicker you're in for.

Intrigued?  You should be, and you should start looking for this book. Open your season with "Big Summer," and you'll love it without reservation.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.