“Give ‘em ginger-peachy service, or their appetite’ll spurl. That’s the first requirement of a Haaarvey Girl.”
Say “ginger peachy” in my house, and someone will bust out into song. Harvey Girls was a favorite of the kids—likely because of Ray Bolger’s fabulous dancing and Virginia O’Brien’s “Holy smackers, milk and crackers but it’s mild in the wild, wild, west!”
Still, living near one of the old Harvey Houses (well, as near as anything is to us in the “barren blistered end of creation”), I eventually looked up Fred Harvey and his houses. The story of his franchise can’t help but fascinate history buffs, and what a great setting for a story.
So, when I had the chance to request a review copy of On the Rails: a Harvey Girl Story, I had to jump at it. Of course, it made me think of the movie, and that made me wonder…
Note: links may be affiliate links that provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you. I requested a review copy of the book and chose to review it after reading.
Is On the Rails a Great New Role for Judy Garland?
Let’s see… what does it have going for it?
There are interesting characters and sufficient conflict to make the cut. Katherine isn’t “too perfect,” and while she’s annoying, it’s in kind of an understandable way. I suspect most readers will find her most annoying at the beginning and less so after the last third. I actually found the reverse. Post-salvation Katherine, while incredibly authentic with the “gotta save the world” zeal of many new Christians, made me cringe much more than prideful and embarrassed Katherine who slapped the man she felt had led her on. (And really, who breaks up with someone with a rare dinner at a fine restaurant? Duh!)
That said, she shouldn’t be surprised that the locals gossip when she makes a public display of herself. Just sayin’.
The setting is awesome (although, I don’t think the author is very familiar with the desert or Williams, Arizona), and the premise of the story is good. It may seem silly, but one of the things I liked best is that it didn’t feel like a copy of The Harvey Girls at all. Only an unexpected fire made me blink and go, “Well, that’s… familiar…” Still, it probably happened a lot in those tinder-built towns.
I want to love this book, but I don’t.
However, I enjoyed parts of it. Unfortunately, much of it fell short of its potential. I had trouble with certain writing elements, the convenient conversions, and the “canned” elements of doctrine presented to further the plot rather than as a natural outpouring. It isn’t the first book that I read of Ms. Matchett’s, and like that one, there are excellent elements, but as a whole, it’s just “okay” to me.
Historical fiction lovers will enjoy the history of the Fred Harvey company woven through a story that does hold interest. However, desert dwellers (particularly those familiar with the Williams/Grand Canyon/Flagstaff area) and those who are bothered by “too convenient” conversions should be warned that this may not be the book for them.
As for a movie, I actually think Judy Garland could have done a fine job with the story. In fact, it might have been a nice, sweet screenplay for the time. I also suspect that with excellent acting, this story would have been even better as a movie than the book.
On the Rails is on tour with Celebrate Lit.
About the Book
Title: On the Rails
Author: Linda Shenton Matchett
Genre: Historical Romance
Release date: February 6, 2017
Warren, Ohio, 1910: Katherine Newman loves being a teacher, but she loves Henry Jorgensen more, which is why she’s willing to give up her job to marry him. But instead of proposing, Henry breaks up with her. Devastated, Katherine seeks to escape the probing eyes and wagging tongues of her small town. A former Harvey Girl, Katherine’s mother arranges for Katherine to be hired at the Williams, Arizona Harvey House.
Can she carve out a new life in the stark desert land unlike anything she’s ever known?
Henry Jorgensen loves Katherine with all his heart, but as the eldest son of a poor farmer can he provide for her as she deserves? The family’s lien holder calls in the mortgage, and Henry must set aside his own desires in order to help his parents meet their financial obligation. But when Katherine leaves town after their break up, he realizes he’s made the biggest mistake of his life. Can he find her and convince her to give their love a second chance?
About the Author
Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, speaker, and history geek. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry and has lived in historic places all her life.
Linda is a member of ACFW, RWA, and Sisters in Crime. She is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of WWII and a trustee for her local public library.
Guest Post from Linda
My husband and I were fortunate to be able to take a trip to Arizona several years ago. Having been born and raised on the east coast, I was enamored with the distinctive beauty of the state, from the saguaro cacti of Phoenix and red rocks of Sedona to the volcanic landscape of Flagstaff and multi-colored bands of the Grand Canyon.
But what intrigued me just as much as the area’s beauty were the stories about the women who migrated to the state to work for the Fred Harvey Company. Upon our arrival at the Grand Canyon, we came upon the El Tovar Hotel, one of the few remaining Harvey Houses. We were given a bit of literature explaining the history of Mr. Harvey and his restaurants.
The more I read, the more I wanted to know.
As it turns in the late 1800s, food was not available to travelers riding the railroad lines, so when the trains made extended stops, passengers would get off and eat at the restaurants located near the stations. From all reports, the dining experience was sketchy at best, with frequent stories of indigestion and food poisoning.
Enter English immigrant and restauranteur, Fred Harvey. Securing a contract with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, he began with two facilities. However, finding reliable employees proved to be difficult. A high percentage of the employees (all men) would use their paycheck to purchase liquor and then did not return to work for several days. At his wit’s end, Fred decided to hire women to act as his waitresses, but the concept was a tough sell.
The only women in the hospitality industry worked in saloons and had scandalous reputations.
Fred set up dormitories overseen by House Mothers and implemented a set of rules that included curfews, restrictions on dating, and dress codes. He ran advertisements in the large east coast newspapers. It was not long before candidates came knocking.
The reasons they gave for wanting to be a Harvey Girl were as diverse as the girls. Some were looking for adventure, others needed to help fill the family coffers, while a number of them needed to get out of difficult situations ranging from domestic abuse to failed engagements.
Thanks to Fred and his restaurants, most of the 100,000 Harvey Girls found financial stability, confidence, happiness, and/or love. It is my hope that On The Rails commemorates these gals and their intrepid spirits.
Just the Write Escape, January 31
Blossoms and Blessings, February 1
Mary Hake, February 1
Bibliophile Reviews, February 2
Texas Book-aholic, February 3
Connie’s History Classroom, February 4
Janices book reviews, February 5
The Mimosa Blossom, February 6
Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, February 6
Happily Managing a Household of Boys, February 7
D’S QUILTS & BOOKS, February 7
A Baker’s Perspective, February 8
Moments, February 9
Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, February 9
Vicky Sluiter, February 10
Through the Fire Blogs, February 11
Carpe Diem, February 11
Godly Book Reviews, February 12
margaret kazmierczak, February 12 (Interview)
Maureen’s Musings, February 13
Bigreadersite, February 13
To celebrate her tour, Linda is giving away a grand prize of a $25 Amazon gift card!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter. https://promosimple.com/ps/d8a4/on-the-rails-celebration-tour-giveaway