As a reviewer, I read a lot of books of varying quality.  When I get a good one, it’s definitely makes the job better.  When I get a great one, it makes me love my world that much more.  The great ones are nearly impossible to put it down until I find out the whole story.  When I close the back cover on these books, there’s a feeling of intense joy, followed by about a half a day of happiness, followed by sadness in the knowledge that I’m not going to pick up that book for a while to re-read it.  Right now, I’ve hit that sadness.

The last five years or so has seen a marked change in the romance genre.  When I first started reading romance novels in college, there were names like Catherine Hart and Johanna Lindsay, people who put out great, fluffy bodice-rippers by the truckload.  I still have some of the best of these.  Then there came along people like MaryJanice Davidson and Barbara Bretton, authors who brought a reality and sense of humor to the romance genre.  They became more stories of life in certain situations than heaving snowy white bosoms and broad expanses of tanned chests leading to narrow waists and sinewy thighs.  They became life stories.

In her latest book, How to Knit a Heart Back Home, Rachael Herron continues where Davidson and Bretton have started.  The story of Cypress Hollow, begun with Abigail and Cade in her freshman novel How to Knit a Love Song, continues with Lucy Harrison, the owner of the local used bookstore, and the boy from high school she fell in love with years ago, now a man in the form of Owen Bancroft.  

Herron doesn’t hold anything back to get this party started.  The first chapter is an emergency that throws the two together within five pages of this well-crafted, endearing story that’s equally the story of the town as it is the vignette of Lucy and Owen in their part of the town’s history.

There were some difficult parts to read, but that’s because she adds in themes that aren’t easy to handle, the most notable being Owen’s reason for coming back to Cypress Hollow after all those years away:  his mother is in a special-needs care facility due to Alzheimer’s.  Everyone in the story, as in real life, has their own baggage to deal with, and they all have to deal with their own and quite often each other’s as well.  There were moments when I felt myself knowing exactly how Lucy felt, and when something switched itself around, I felt her shame in misreading the situation as well.

The humor is what made this book a huge win for me.  From Lucy trying to understand her morning crew at the bookstore to Toots’ magpie-like flitting from interest to interest to Molly’s liberated views on her sex life, the comedy just didn’t stop.  It also didn’t feel forced.  It felt realistic and I found myself knowing these people and comparing them to similar figures from my own past.

Finally, I would have given this book a great review with all of that.  The added bonus, the Swarovski crystal stitch markers on this, was the knitting.  As a voracious, fiber-addicted knitterati, I’m unashamed to say that the knitting in this story was what kept it most grounded in my reality.  Each chapter opens with words of wisdom, both of knitting and of life at the same time (because any knitter worth his or her needles will tell you that they’re one and the same), from the Grand Historical Figure from Cypress Hollow, fictional knitter Eliza Carpenter.  That was a very nice touch that made me look forward to the next chapter.

This story is amazing.  It’s smart, it’s tender, it’s fun, and it’s real.  I would (and will!) recommend this book to every knitter I know, and to every person I know who enjoys a good love story.  Does it get sticky-sweet at times (and I’m not just talking about Whitney and her bakery)?  Yeah, of course it does; it’s a love story.  But so does life.  That’s just how things happen.  Read the book.  You won’t be disappointed.

~ review by Jeremy Bredeson
Author: Rachael Herron
HarperCollins Publishers (Avon Trade Paperbacks), 2011
pp. 368, $13.99