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Nonfiction Review – The Rural Diaries

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm
The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton-Morgan
Review by: Mirah W (mwelday)

I am not quite sure how The Rural Diaries came up in my suggestions, but I am so glad it did! Hilarie Burton-Morgan is an actress best known for her roles in One Tree Hill, White Collar, and is the darling of holiday movies on networks like The Hallmark Channel. While I am a fan of her work, I have not followed her career closely and wasn’t even aware she had written a book until I saw a post about The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm on Instagram. I thought the synopsis sounded fun so I got a copy and I honestly thought Hilarie’s book was a pure delight to read.

In The Rural Diaries, Hilarie is open and charming as she takes the reader through the ups and downs of her marriage, having children, creating their dream farm, losing loved ones, and finding purpose in her community. She delves into the parts of life that can be complicated and challenging. She honestly addresses her Hollywood experiences that resurfaced during the Me, Too movement. Dispersed throughout her story are asides with recipes, renovation and gardening tips, and beautiful personal photos.

One thing  I was not expecting was the kinship I would feel to Hilarie as she told her story. Who knew there was someone else out there who could love Lonesome Dove as much as me? So much so that she would name her son after one of the main characters, Augustus. I mean, she had my heart with that. And the naming of Mischief Farm, while the perfect name for her family, has a connection to a beloved pet that actually made me a little teary. (I’ll leave that story as a mystery in the hopes that you’ll pick up a copy of The Rural Diaries for yourself.)

The Rural Diaries really does come across as a love letter, which is how Hilarie describes it. It’s not a love letter in the sappy, unrealistic way; it is a love letter that is honest, messy, funny, and tender. I give this love letter 5 stars.  I enjoyed Hilarie’s story, I found her to be forthright and tough, and I was disappointed when I reached the end.




Nonfiction Review – Grateful American

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)



I’m going to be honest with you from the start, PBSers. I am a huge Gary Sinise fan and I have been for years. I am unapologetic in my promotion of the Gary Sinise Foundation and for Gary’s professional endeavors. As an active duty Navy spouse, I have immense respect and admiration for Gary and his charitable works to support military service members and first responders. So when I learned of his book last September, I immediately pre-ordered it. In December, I had the opportunity to join Gary’s launch team for his book and I was so very excited to do my part to support this new endeavor. I did receive an advance reader copy; however, all of my opinions about Grateful American and this review are my own opinion and my own words.  Now, of course, with that being said, my opinion may not be totally unbiased since I am such a fan.

In my reading of the book, I think there were two defining moments that catapulted Gary into what has become a true life of service. First, was his portrayal of Lt Dan Taylor in the movie Forrest Gump. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1994, you’ve heard of Forrest Gump (“Run, Forrest, Run!”). Veterans responded positively to Gary’s portrayal and embraced him with respect as one of their own. Second, was the attack on our nation on Sept 11, 2001. That event propelled Gary to reach out to the USO and volunteer.  He went on his first USO tour in 2003 and his life was then on a course that would eventually lead to hundreds of concerts with the Lt Dan Band and numerous other endeavors to raise millions of dollars for initiatives to support veterans, first responders and their families.  And the incredible thing is that raising millions of dollars is just tip of a magnificent iceberg of service.

I know I mentioned earlier in this post that I was an unapologetic fan of Gary’s and this book has only increased my deep respect for him. I know it may sound incredibly cheesy, but I feel a sort of kinship with Gary. He went on his first USO tour in 2003 and that is the year our family became a Navy family. Our families were both impacted by Sept 11, 2001 in a way that would change the trajectory of our lives. We each chose lives of service after that tragedy, just in different ways and both being equally important.

Even though I am a fan, I won’t blow smoke about the level of quality of this book. Please, listen to me…this is a great book. If you think you know about Gary, I promise there will be new revelations in this book (one of my favorite insider bits was about his character on the TV show CSI:NY). Gary knows how to tell a story. He grabs your attention with the first few chapters about his early life, how he finds acting and the founding of The Steppenwolf Theater. He brings you further into his life by telling the reader honestly about the trials he experiences professionally and personally. His heart is on the pages of this book and you can just tell it is sincere. Gary injects humor and humility into his story and there is something for everyone in the book. There is something for the wayward teenager, the hopeless romantic, the spiritual, the volunteer, the service member, the first responder, the family of a veteran or first responders, the movie/television buff, the military historian…I could go on and on.  The only slightly less-than-positive thing I could say about this book is that the last few chapters read as a list various projects and events; but this really can’t be helped given the magnitude of Gary’s endeavors and desire to cover everything.  And even with these ‘lists’ there are personal stories of those involved that continues to give the book heart.

The thing I probably like most about Grateful American is it is of singular purpose. Gary Sinise conveys his message clearly on every page. And what message is that? It is quite simple, Gary Sinise is a grateful American and he has gratitude and respect for those that defend his country and make his life of freedom possible. I can’t recommend this book heartily enough…5 stars!




Nonfiction Review – Beyond Belief

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Beyond Belief
by Jenna Miscavige Hill (with Lisa Pulitzer)

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Several months ago I read Leah Remini’s autobiography Troublemaker (check out my review on the blog) and she exposed many of the questionable practices of Scientology.  I was intrigued by Remini’s book and wanted to learn more about Scientology and the experiences of others who had also managed to escape the Church.  I found Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of the Chairman of the Board of Scientology David Miscavige.

Jenna was raised in the Church when her parents joined when she was just a small child.  Some of her stories of her childhood in California and her jobs for the Church sounded like nothing more than child labor. During much of her childhood, while Jenna and her father were in California, her mother was in Florida.  The separation of children from their parents (and the rule that members of the Sea Organization can’t have children) seems to be part of an elaborate isolation and brainwashing scheme on the part of the Church.

As Jenna describes her various duties in the Church, her auditing sessions, her limited friendships, and monitored interactions with her family, she voices what seems to be doubt but she stays in the Church, even when given an initial chance to leave.  What she experiences seems to be nothing more than systematic brainwashing and separating of individuals from any support system outside the Church.  There were obvious mixed messages from the Church through their words and actions and even directly from her uncle and aunt, David and Shelly Miscavige. When Jenna questions the Church over some practices or requirements, she is met with hostility, degrading accusations and punishments. Her final frustration that pushes her to leave the Church was a long time coming based on her life story.

In Beyond Belief, Jenna goes into great detail regarding her experiences and she comes across as genuine and honest. While the delivery is a bit simplistic and the writing style is not very sophisticated, I think a reader who is wanting to learn more about the practices of the Church will find this book engrossing and, honestly, quite disturbing.  Beyond Belief gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Nonfiction Review – Troublemaker

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Several months ago Leah Remini made the rounds on the talk show circuit to promote her book Troublemaker.  I was intrigued by her story of leaving her church after so many years and decided to read the book.

Remini is open and forthright in this telling of her life and, sometimes sordid, history with Scientology.  Knowing nothing other than some vocal celebrities practice Scientology and that it is based on L. Ron Hubbard’s writings, I was interested in learning more.

Remini doesn’t point the finger at Scientology and blame it for all of her troubles.  She openly admits she sometimes made the wrong choices and she could have done things differently.  Remini also acknowledges that Scientology and many of its practices helped shape her into being a better person; trying her best to help others and be a good member of her church.  However, eventually Remini realized there was something missing from her faith and she was disturbed by some of her interactions with others in the church.

Delivered with humor, wit, and honesty, I really enjoyed Remini’s book.  It was eye-opening and I found it so intriguing to be able to learn more about the inner workings and practices of Scientology and how she came to be a part of the organization.  For the reader who wants the scoop on celebrity inside information, there is some of that to whet their appetite but, fortunately for the rest of us, that is not the primary focus in the book.




Nonfiction Review – Buffalo for the Broken Heart

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien


Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Ever since I saw the mini-series Lonesome Dove and read the books in the Lonesome Dove series by Larry McMurtry, I wanted to see buffalo on the plains. A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit South Dakota with my job and the first thing I thought was ‘I can see buffalo!’  I was able to tack a few extra days to the work trip to do some sightseeing.   I had a few items on my list of places to visit (Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood and Crazy Horse Memorial) but at the top of the list: find buffalo!

I discovered Custer State Park, especially Wildlife Loop, was the place to go to find buffalo.  One day during my trip I packed a bag lunch and hit the road for Custer State Park.  I was on a mission…and I succeeded! I’ll just say the name ‘Wildlife Loop’ is very accurate.  I saw wild burros, deer, prairie dogs, antelope, and hundreds of buffalo.  I pulled my car into a pull off along the Loop and ate lunch while watching the buffalo.  It was a dream come true and it’s a day I’ll never forget.  Here’s a picture of my lunch dates that day.


Later in my trip I visited the Museum of the American Bison in downtown Rapid City.  The museum is dedicated to telling the story of the American bison and its brush with extinction as a result of America’s westward expansion.  The highlight of visiting the museum was talking with Susan Ricci, museum director and co-founder.  Her passion for these amazing creatures was palpable and her dedication to the protection of the buffalo was contagious.  She told me about her buffalo George, buffalo ranches, and the role of these ranches in preserving the buffalo. I told her about my dream come true at Custer and we parted with a hug, bonded over our love of the buffalo.

Once I got home from South Dakota I wanted to learn more.  I had fallen in love with South Dakota; the buffalo and Black Hills, the parks and national monuments were all incredible.  After some research I found Buffalo for the Broken Heart.  The book is a journal of sorts of author Dan O’Brien’s undertaking to introduce buffalo to his Broken Heart Ranch in South Dakota and restoring more buffalo to the grasslands that have long suffered under the hooves of cattle. He told of the difficulties of ranching and farming in the Black Hills and what it took to convince him to give buffalo a try on his ranch. O’Brien describes helping with buffalo roundups on other ranches and the roundup and buffalo sale at Custer State Park, where I had my lunch with the buffalo.  His stories of the buffalo, their introduction to the ranch, the growth of his ranch, and the importance of the buffalo in the bigger picture of repairing the West was touching, educational, and emotional.  O’Brien weaves his personal story with the story of the young buffalo on his ranch to create a dynamic story of redemption and hope.  I think readers who enjoy nonfiction, environmental studies, American history and culture, and ecology would all identify with and enjoy various elements of this book.

I am so thankful I had the opportunity to sit and eat lunch while watching the buffalo at Custer State Park.   I send my best wishes to Susan at Museum of the American Bison and thank her for taking the time to talk with me that afternoon I visited her and for all of her efforts on the behalf of the American bison.  I have Lonesome Dove and Larry McMurtry to thank for inspiring me to visit the land of buffalo and I have Dan O’Brien’s Buffalo for the Broken Heart to thank for giving me a greater understanding of the grasslands and importance of the buffalo in the West.