Book Review: Bitter and Sweet by Rhonda McKnight

Posted June 22, 2024 by meezcarrie in Book Review, Christian, contemporary, Rhonda McKnight, women's fiction / 2 Comments

Bitter and Sweet book review

Bitter and Sweet by Rhonda McKnightBITTER AND SWEET by Rhonda McKnight
GENRE: Dual Timeline Southern Fiction
PUBLISHER: Thomas Nelson
RELEASE DATE: June 11, 2024
PAGES: 382

From the beloved author of The Thing About Home comes a dual timeline tale of family, grief, secrets, and the sweet redemption that lies within the bonds of sisterhood.

-The Present-

When summoned to Georgetown, South Carolina, sisters Mariah Clark and Sabrina Holland both assume their ailing grandfather’s health has gotten worse. Neither expects their grandmother’s undeniable request–save the family restaurant.

Mariah is at a crossroad in her life. After being dumped by her husband and forced to walk away from their diner that she helped rescue from bankruptcy, bitter feelings consume her. Even though the restaurant has been in the family for eighty-six years, giving her all to another struggling business isn’t something she wants to do.

Living out of her van and striving for a fresh start, Sabrina yearns for stability for herself and her daughter and a chance to turn her baking hustle into a bona-fide business. The family restaurant may be just the blessing she needs–but as old tensions and angry disagreements resurface, Sabrina wonders if her sister will let her have a say.

-The Past-

After falling victim to a love she thought would last a lifetime, Tabitha Cooper finds herself away from home and struggling to survive in Charleston in the early twentieth century. She is determined to turn corn into cornbread and to take care of her children the best way she knows how–by serving food that’s good for the soul–and along the way forges a path that leaves a legacy of success for generations to come.

Through letters that reveal Tabitha’s complicated past, the sisters discover truths that just might be the right recipe to mend their hearts–if they can find a way to savor the blessing of today and leave the bitter aftertaste of old memories behind them.

“Everything we struggle through has a purpose. That’s what God’s Word says. We have to take the good and bad and the bitter and sweet.”

The first book I read by Rhonda McKnight – The Thing About Home – made me a forever fan of her work, so I was eager to return to Georgetown, South Carolina, on the pages of Bitter and Sweet. And what a meaningful journey it was!

Sisters Mariah and Sabrina have a strained adult relationship, at best, thanks to their complicated family dynamics as they were growing up. Both women are also struggling to manage personal crises of their own – and on their own – when their grandmother calls them home to Georgetown to manage the family restaurant in the face of their grandfather’s declining health. And of course one of the reasons we love a forced proximity romance trope so much is that it forces those repressed feelings out into the open… well, the same is true for forced proximity in a family drama as well. At some point, these two strong-but-hurting women are going to need to deal with their stuff if they’re going to survive what’s needed to save not only the restaurant but their family’s legacy as well.

At separate points in Bitter and Sweet, I gravitated more toward one sister than the other. But by the end I felt like both had become dear friends to me. There are such deep layers here, and deep healing – and I loved that healing looked different for each sister, but the end result was the same: Wholeness, after many years of missing pieces. I also appreciated that the author shows (so perfectly) that Divine healing can come about with medical intervention, therapy, AND Jesus. I really identified with this aspect of their journey toward wholeness and I’m grateful to see therapy getting more page time in Christian fiction.

And I can’t forget to mention all the other characters that make Bitter and Sweet so delightful to read. Swoony Dante the chef and swoony Quinton the ‘one that got away’ (one for each sister), adorable Kenni and adorable Jordy, Mariah & Sabrina’s endearing grandparents, and – of course – the star of this story’s past timeline, great-great grandmother Tabitha. Her letters open Mariah & Sabrina’s eyes to the fact that they aren’t the only Cooper women to face shame over past decisions or present failures. That Mariah isn’t the only Cooper woman to be treated dirty by a man who said he loved her. That Sabrina isn’t the only Cooper woman to make tough decisions for the good of her child. And that neither are the only Cooper women to use their own determination and talents to start over with a restaurant. Life comes full circle sometimes, doesn’t it? And Bitter and Sweet shows all the good and bad – and bitter and sweet – of that process.

Bottom Line: From the rich cadence of the Gullah dialect (and its food) to the beautifully meaningful multi-generational elements and everything in between, Rhonda McKnight has once again crafted a layered novel that speaks right to the heart with characters who will linger there for a long while. Bitter and Sweet tackles a variety of complex issues like postpartum depression, divorce, grief, unwed pregnancy, passing (as White), and even the struggle of Black people (especially women) under the Jim Crow era in the early 20th century. (I learned even more by reading the author’s note at the end and want to continue learning about this.) But at the same time, the rhythm of this story settles around you like a warm hug, points you to Jesus (and therapy), leaves you smarter and hopefully more empathetic, and keeps you deeply invested with each new chapter. Add in some swoony romance, a lowcountry vibe, and strong women with whom you can be proud to claim a sisterhood… and Bitter and Sweet will join the ranks of The Thing About Home as a novel I will savor for some time to come.

(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)

My Rating: 4.5 stars / loved it!

KissingBook Level: 3 / may forget to breathe on occasion

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Rhonda McKnight

Even as she pursued degrees in Textile Technology, Organizational Leadership and finally, Adult Education, Rhonda McKnight’s love for books and desire to write stories was always in the back of her mind. She loves reading and writing stories that touch the heart of women through complex plots and interesting characters in crisis. She writes from the comfort of her South Carolina home with black tea, Lays potato chips and chocolate on hand. At her feet sits a snappy but loveable dog.

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