Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A Book Review: We Are Gathered Here

    For the first time on this blog, I'm reviewing a read from my top favorite author! Erynn Mangum's style of writing is super fun and enticing, and reading one of her novellas is a great way to see whether her more full-length works would be a good pick for you. The book I'm featuring is one of two novella collections she's published (the other one Christmas-themed), and they definitely have a Hallmark vibe to them. 

    This review has no spoilers.

    (The discussion questions will have spoilers, since they are supposed to be used after reading the book.)

Title: We Are Gathered Here (novella titles Easter Carats, Fish and Chips, Return to Chocolate, and Identical Differences)

Author: Erynn Mangum

Series: This is not part of a series.

Targeted Age Range: Adults

Synopsis: In Easter CaratsEmilie and Blake are coerced into an Easter family vacation together by their spunky grandmothers. When everything is different than the vacation rental brochure made it out to be, Blake and Emilie start to see the one thing they have in common is the most important thing of all.

In Fish & ChipsRaina is sarcastic, witty and apparently, a fish-killer. When her goldfish dies after living a couple of days, she returns it to the pet store to meet the equally witty and sarcastic Chip, the son of the store owner. Sparks fly and fish accidentally die in this novella about life, God's love and the pursuit of the perfect mate.

In Return to Chocolate, Jane's mom calls to ask her to move back home and help out with the failing chocolate store her family has owned for over a hundred years - Not a welcome request. In the midst of everything, will Jane's constant prayers of complaints turn into something else? Or has God brought her home to driver her completely insane?

In Identical DifferencesAlexia Patterson has spent her whole life waiting to get out of small town Longsville, Oregon. When her twin sister, Rachel, calls to tell Lexi that she's engaged and asks her to come home for a few weeks before the wedding, Lexi is anything but eager to go. Add in Justin MacPherson, a guy she's hated since Junior High, and it's just a giant mess. can God change even the most stubborn heart?

Language: "Oh my gosh" and "gosh" are often used. "For heavens' sake" is used twice, as well as a few instances of mental name-calling.

Violence: Stories about shark attacks via documentaries are mentioned, and several characters mention fears from watching crime shows. In Return To Chocolate, Jane's father went through a heart attack a few months ago, and in Identical Differences one characters has a mom going through cancer.

Romance/Sexual Stuff: Every novella has a romantic subplot, but the content doesn't get further than hand holding, a few non-detailed kisses, some moments of physical attraction, and references to dating. It's mentioned that Alexia's sister, Rachel, had multiple crushes as a teen.

Spiritual Elements: This is a Christian novella collection, and praying, going to church, and worshiping God are mentioned and touched on, as well as various Biblical terms and verses. Easter Carats mentions "sacred family traditions" and a character who refuses to prepare deviled eggs because of what the name is associated with.

Magic: None

References: There are references to the video game Mario Kart, the cartoon Wile E. Coyote, the actors Harrison Ford, Lucy Ricardo, Ross Geller, and Helen Hunt, the Loch Ness Monster, TV shows and movies like Shark Week, Twister, The Italian Job, I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, Bones, NCIS, Finding Nemo, Friends, Little House on the Prairie, Monsters Inc. and Never Been Kissed (among others), hippies, Willy Wonka, a few brand names (Jolly Ranchers, Doritos, and Frito Lay, Jelly Belly), the 30 Day Shred diet, the "For Dummies" series, and a few well-known stores and restaurants like Target, Walmart, Panera, and Olive Garden.

Other Issues: Two grandmothers set up their grandchildren. As a young girl Alexia is rude to a boy in her class.

Where To Buy: We Are Gathered Here is available on Amazon.

My Age Range: Though technically aimed toward adults, all of Erynn's work is clean. As these stories are shorter than what she usually writes, I'm going an age down and saying they're appropriate for kids aged 13 and up. (Mother-daughter book club pick, anyone?)

Read Aloud: I think these novellas would be better read alone, but if you have the right, female-oriented audience in your home, give it a shot!

My Opinion: Okay, long story time. 😁 A couple of years ago I stumbled on Erynn's first series (the Lauren Holbrook books) and fell in love with the characters and her way of writing. Unfortunately I didn't have the idea to look her up online and check out the other books she'd written. Somehow I found her books again through inter-library loan and made a silent promise in 2020 to read through all of her published books. I'd been going strong through September (the month of my jaw surgery) and decided to purchase this one in hopes of it helping me through recovery. It was a little tricky to get into the more compact stories, but once I did the writing was so worth it.
    All of Erynn's stories are amazing, fun, and most of all, wholesome. I loved how even in stories like Return to Chocolate and Identical Differences the characters helped me relate to and wrestle with different faith issues, while also giving me plenty of laughter. The author's trademark allusions to needing coffee and chocolate were relaxing too, as it's something she writes into (and I look forward to) in every story she publishes!
    Like Mangum's full-length novels (which I still hope to review on here!) I 1000% recommend every novella in this collection. Hopefully like me, you'll find this is the perfect book to curl up and relax with, letting it wash away your worries and remind you of the truth, as well as giving you plots and characters you'll look back on with fondness for years to come.

Discussion Questions:

-Which novella was your favorite to read? Which was your least favorite? Why?

-In Easter Carats, Blake and Emilie resist going on the holiday road trip, only to figure out they may have been wrong about it (and each other) all along. In your opinion what was the most important thing Blake learned? What was the most important thing Emilie learned?

-In Fish and Chips, Raina's narration is very humorously random and unique. What quirks in Raina's actions and thoughts do you find relatable...or even share with her?

-In Return to Chocolate, Jane starts out believing that the life she's made outside her small town is better for her than the one she grew up in. Do you think her time spent away from home helped her appreciate her roots more? Why or why not?

-In Identical Differences, Alexia's sister Rachel is portrayed as flighty, sensitive, and lighthearted to a fault. Do you believe she is truly like this, or can be deeper and less self-absorbed if given the chance? Why or why not?

-Based on the tone and style of these novellas, what can you learn about the author's values and personality, if anything? List several examples from the book to support your opinion.

    Thanks for looking at We Are Gathered Here with me! What about you? Have you read any of the novellas in here, if any? If so, what did you think about them? Please consider leaving a comment to let me know your thoughts!

    Like every week, I am open to review requests. To send one in, just click on my Review Policy page and comment anywhere on the blog. I'd love to find more reads that line up with what I'm posting and have already posted here.

   Next week, join me for an interview featuring a witty, imaginative author...


  1. Ooooooh, this looks like a FUN book!!!!! Sadly, as I'm sure you've probably guessed by now, I have not read it...YET!!!! Girl, you make my TBR pile waaaay too long. XD But it's AWESOME!!!!! *gasp* WHO'S THIS AUTHOR YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!!???? I CAN'T WAIT for the review!!!!

    1. Yay, thanks so much! It's one of my favorites. XD Again, she is my top favorite author, so you should definitely catch up on all her books! I heard from her Instagram that she apparently has a brand new one coming up (squee!) but it hasn't released yet, probably due to 2020 complications. I hope you enjoy the interview too! The author and his work seems like something you'd enjoy.

      Thank you so much for being my first (and probably only) viewer this week, haha!

    2. Aww, girl, OF COURSE!!!!!! I'm sure you'll get some more views, though!!! The week's not out yet!!!! <33

  2. I've never read this author before; I'll have to give her a try. :)

    1. Yes, you definitely should! She is a gem and I love her work so much.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.