doctor kinney's housekeeper book coverReviewed by Leigh Adamkiewicz

Sara Dahmen’s brand can kick your brand’s ass.

It wasn’t enough that the Renaissance woman, metal smith, and mother of three wrote a book. She wrote an award winning one. And then she designed a line of crockery, copper pots, and cast iron skillets based on her award winning book. Her brand is so succinctly synced up that if you read her phenomenal book, and wish to have Jane’s frontier kitchen, you can order it. You might have to take out a loan, but if you liked the book as much as I did, that might be a price you’re willing to pay.

Oh. Right. The book. I should have lead with that, shouldn’t I?

Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper by Sara Dahmen was an absolute pleasure to read. Told from the perspective of the title character, this light, gentle tale is a delightful page turner.

In 1881, Mrs. Jane Weber – formerly of Boston – has been trying to find employment after her husband’s death. She gets a response from one Doctor Kinney in the Dakota territories, who is looking for a housekeeper to replace his recently deceased aunt. Mrs. Weber packs her bags and heads out to the territories, determined to find a place where she can be useful again. She isn’t searching for gold, glory, or legendary status. She is just one sensible woman trying to figure out her place in a changing world. A quiet, joyful life isn’t just the thing she should have realized she had all along. It’s the thing she works so hard to achieve, and may not have in the end.

Jane is determined, sensible, and a deeply human character. Her good sense allows her to find logical solutions to the all-too-real problems of the town. But that same earthly sensibility cannot save her from the pain of having to make some tough choices.

And Jane isn’t alone. All of Dahmen’s characters feel real. No one is perfect, but no one is a mustache-twirling villain, either. The antagonists do horrible things, but we can see why they think their actions are right. Some grudges will carry on into the next generation, but that doesn’t make the characters any less neighborly. Everyone changes by the end of the book, but most of the changes are gradual.

Perhaps it’s Dahmen’s experience as a metal smith that allowed her to shape her characters rather than shattering them. Jane has her disappointments, her setbacks, but she’s not toppled by them. Friends who are not exactly friends aren’t enemies, and they are still precious. It’s no surprise that someone who managed to beautifully tie all of her brand’s marketing together is able to seamlessly do the same for her characters.

Even the few problems I had with the book’s execution can be excused the fact that Jane knows herself to be an unreliable narrator. She’s confused at the attention she gets after casting aside her widow’s weeds, not because she’s Not Like Other Girls, but because she was unpopular back in Boston. When other characters make odd decisions or awkward choices, she can’t readily tell why since she’s new in town and usually meeting them for the first time. The three or four times something felt off about the way western life, native culture, or town structure was portrayed, they were usually tied into the fact that Jane was a Boston-born Yankee.

I absolutely loved this book. It had excellent pacing, good action, and a sweet as pie resolution. Whether Ms. Dahmen will be devoting herself to another amazing book, or another incredible cookware line, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Leigh is a fearless writer who never met a genre, subject, or format she didn’t like. She has written professionally for the past six years and enjoys biking, exploring odd corners of Northeast Ohio, and discovering those good books she hasn’t read yet.

Review copy was provided by Sara Dahmen.