Review: The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery by Amanda Cox
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Stars: 3.5 stars
Synopsis: Sarah Anderson Ashby is back in her small Tennessee hometown after the sudden loss of her husband. Her hope? To help her grandmother at Old Depot Grocery—the store that’s been in their family for years—and to stick around. For good this time. Reality? Her mom is trying to sell Old Depot Grocery, and on top of that, it seems everyone’s hiding something. Something that might just set a lot of things to rights.
Favorite Quote: “I don’t think you’ll ever find that ‘full life’ you’ve been craving until you accept the life you have. Mistakes. Heartache. Grief. All of it. Then you need to decide if you’re ready to let God have these burdens you’ve placed upon your own shoulders or if you’ll keep on carrying that pain and regret, miserable under the weight of it.”
Split-time women’s fiction. My two least favorite things lumped into one novel. And yet, for all my distaste for dual timelines and boring women’s fiction, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery managed to keep my attention from Page 1 to The End.
Starting out, the first few chapters were like one big red flag. A young, unwed pregnant woman. A marriage to a man she doesn’t love and, on top of that, has never met. A big city girl moving back home. A harried mother with plans of her own. The typical stuff—all the cliches you expect from women’s fiction, historical fiction, contemporary novels, and worse yet, Hallmark movies.
However, as cliched as it was, it honestly wasn’t all that bad. For instance, Glory Ann grew on me. Of course, I adored her future self—grandmothers are one of my favorite types of characters—but her younger self was...tolerable. I really appreciated how Cox didn’t dwell too long on all of Glory Ann’s baggage and mixed feelings and pressed on with the story. As much as I love drama, whining is not something I’ll tolerate. Glory Ann grew to love Clarence and made a life with him, which pleased me immensely.
Mostly because I loved Clarence to pieces. Seriously, he was so precious and I would’ve read a full novel of just him loving on Glory Ann because by George he was the sweetest darn thing I’ve ever seen!
But enough of my gushing. On to the rest of the characters…
Rosemary had the potential to be really annoying; however, since the novel moved forward on two different timelines and the focus wasn’t solely on Rosemary, she didn’t get on my nerves too much. (I know I’m being harsh...just bear with me, y’all.) I often leaned more toward Sarah and Glory Ann’s side of the battle—er, situation—but I did become invested in Rosemary’s life and wanted to know more about the reasoning behind her decisions. On that note, I think Cox did a commendably job putting tension (nerve-wracking tension, mind you, which isn’t the best in real life, but can work wonders in fiction) between Rosemary and her family and adding a dash of, well, secrecy (of course) to the situation that kept me on my toes.
Sarah, on the other hand, lacked the personality of her mother, grandmother, and the supporting cast. She could’ve been either really annoying (which I’d been expecting, to be honest) or a true gem. Instead, she felt flat to me and was slightly bland. To be honest, that’s something all too common with split-time fiction. Some, if not all of the characters, just don’t have the time to be developed properly. Sarah was one of them.
That said, everyone else was vivid and interesting...including Clay. Loved him too. And Beau. Seriously. What is it with the guys in this book?
Moving past the first impression (yes, that was my first impression), Cox managed to weave the dual timelines together pretty well. I’ve found that to be true of most authors—they pace the story out well, arrange the scenes perfectly, and execute everything just so from a technical standpoint. The more creative aspects, though, aren’t as up to par as I would hope. (Either that, or I’m just picky...eh, we’ll call it a bit of both.)
Her writing was good. Even, straightforward without being bland, as good as I would expect from a Revell author. That said, there were a few moments that were kind of stilted and the way she cut off her sentences...not how some authors like Roseanna M. White do, like this: She jerked up. Knocked over her chair. Spun to the door. (I personally think this method of writing follows with the emotion of the moment in many cases, which is why I don’t mind it.) Rather, Cox cut off her sentences like this: She sat down. Sipping from her tea.
Maybe she’s not the only one who does this...but she’s the first I’ve encountered, so it did jar me a few times. I know that’s kind of a pet peeve...but y’all know that’s what these reviews are for: me to rant about my pet peeves and character crushes. I’ll never give you black-and-white statements or carefully crafted opinions. Just steam-of-consciousness craziness.
But enough about me! Where was I?
Oh, yes, my most favorite pet peeve of all. Christian content. Now, the spiritual elements in Old Depot Grocery were far too subtle for my tastes...but Cox did weave in a good message, at least on Rosemary’s part. I’ll give her credit for that, especially since so many Christian novels these days not only lack explicit Christian content, they also lack themes and messages.
And while I’m being crotchety, can I just say that the Southern setting seemed way off to me? I’ve lived in South Georgia all my life, and while I know that’s a far cry from Tennessee, I still think there were some elements that made me raise my eyebrows. Seriously. This book had such a nineties vibe...and I don’t mean in the past timeline. I mean the modern-day part. That just screamed eighties and nineties. And believe me, the South has changed drastically since then.
Long story short (because I need to put an end to all my nonsense), Amanda Cox’s The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery was everything I dislike in a novel. That said, I couldn’t put it down! It did have a lot of cliché aspects and of course I had a few things to nit-pick about, but Cox somehow wrote a novel that held me captive in spite of that! Even though it wasn’t my style, I know readers of women’s fiction and split-time fiction will love it!
WAIT. I totally forgot to mention that ending. Like, I was on pins and needles the whole time thinking that between the author and Rosemary, my heart would be ripped to shreds (yes, I can get attached to buildings), but THE ENDING. I absolutely ADORED what Cox (or, well, Sarah) did with Old Depot Grocery in the end! I won’t spoil anything, but as the granddaughter of a Vietnam vet, it made me very, very happy. By far my favorite part of the book!
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
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About the Author
Amanda Cox is a blogger and a curriculum developer for a national nonprofit youth leadership organization, but her first love is communicating through story. She holds a bachelor's degree in Bible and theology and a master's degree in professional counseling. Her studies and her interactions with hurting families over a decade have allowed her to create multidimensional characters that connect emotionally with readers.