Review & Author Interview: With You Always by Jody Hedlund

I ALWAYS love it when a novel shines light on a lesser-known historical fact, era, or event. Often, there is nothing more fascinating that real life. In this case, the time period is 1850s New York to Illinois, during a challenging economic downturn. This was especially hard on immigrant families, and subsequently children AND women were sent west to find a better life, on what is now known as the Orphan Train. With You Always by Jody Hedlund tells a fictional story based on the journeys many women took to provide a better life for their families. Read on for more about the book, my review, and an interview with Jody Hedlund!

About the Book

When a financial crisis in 1850s New York leaves three orphaned sisters nearly destitute, the oldest, Elise Neumann, knows she must take action. She’s had experience as a seamstress, and the New York Children’s Aid Society has established a special service: placing out seamstresses and trade girls. Even though Elise doesn’t want to leave her sisters for a job in Illinois, she realizes this may be their last chance.

The son of one of New York City’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Thornton Quincy faces a dilemma. His father is dying, and in order to decide which of his sons will inherit everything, he is requiring them to do two things in six months: build a sustainable town along the Illinois Central Railroad, and get married. Thornton is tired of standing in his twin brother’s shadow and is determined to win his father’s challenge. He doesn’t plan on meeting a feisty young woman on his way west, though.

Find With You Always on Amazon | Goodreads

Review

With You Always by Jody Hedlund.jpgAuthor Jody Hedlund dependably pens characters with well-established personalities. I loved the nurturing tendencies of Elise and the gentlemanly determination of Thornton. It *did* take me a few chapters to really settle into the plot and the direction the story was taking, but I empathized with the characters immediately, especially concerning the plight of Elise and her family.

I liked that the challenges both Elise and Thornton face are not only tactile and physical but also challenges to their very hearts. Elise, for instance, faces finding a place for her family AND coming to terms with her faith that God is constant, and for her. Thornton deals with the manner of proving himself; whether choosing to set aside his pride is worth a greater, selfless task he can accomplish in the wake of his dreams.

Through the ups and downs of Elise and Thornton’s intersecting journeys, a sweetly natural romance emerges. Jody handles this with her signature style (read: era-appropriate swooniness) and realistic conflicts. The romance combines with the threads of faith, a story of finding a “true home”, and the belonging found with friends in a close community to make With You Always a rich story AND a lovely introduction to a new series.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this book. This review is my honest opinion.

 

Interview with the Author

What is the inspiration behind your new Orphan Train series?

I have long been fascinated by the era of the Orphan Trains and the heart-wrenching stories of the homeless and helpless young orphans that were taken from the streets of New York City and other eastern cities and shipped West by the dozens. I was familiar with stories of those scared orphans who were placed out in what was thought to be a more wholesome, healthy environment of the newly settled Mid-Western states. Some of the orphans found happy endings and were adopted into loving families. Others experienced great abuse and heartache in their new homes.

While stories of the orphans who rode the trains have been told—and rightly so—the stories of the women who were involved in the movement are not as well known. One of the things I particularly like to do when telling my stories, is focus on women who have been overlooked by the pages of history. I consider it a great privilege to be able to bring forgotten women to life for our modern generation. Thus, throughout this series, I’ll be focusing each book on a different aspect of the Orphan Train movement, particularly from the perspective of women who experienced riding the trains in one form or another.

What do you hope readers take away from With You Always?

One of my hopes in telling this story is to leave readers with the reminder that God is walking with us in whatever dark valley we’re going through. Often, like Elise, we tend to pull away from God and let the bitterness of our circumstances drive us into a cave of isolation and self-blame and heartache. But God wants us to realize that even if we pull away from Him, He’s still there walking by our side, waiting for us to reach out our hand and grab ahold of Him. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He’s there waiting.

An e-novella, An Awakened Heart, kicks off the series. What is the novella about, and is it a must-read in order to understand the series?

An Awakened Heart is not a must-read in order to understand the series. But I do highly recommend reading it. (Plus it’s FREE, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try!) The e-novella introduces a couple, Guy and Christine, who are both passionate about helping the poor immigrants crowded into the overflowing and dirty tenements of New York City. The novella shows their efforts to bring about change in the city, but also brings them together in a satisfying love story.

The novella also introduces the three orphan sisters who will each become main characters for the three full-length novels in the series. It gives some of the background information on their situation, particularly how they become orphans, which I think readers will find helpful as well as informative.

What are you working on next?

The second book in the orphan train series releases next summer in 2018. The story continues with Marianne Neumann. She gets involved in the orphan train movement as one of the placing agents and accompanies the orphans as they ride the trains west. I hope readers will enjoy Marianne’s story and also appreciate learning more about the orphan train movement from the eyes of the compassionate workers who tried to place the orphans into new homes.

Connect with Jody

Facebook  | Twitter | Author Website | Instagram | Pinterest

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Review: The Prayers of Jane Austen, edited by Terry Glaspey

I dearly hope, whoever you are, you’re familiar with Jane Austen (unless you have been horribly deprived of literature or classic films). But, are you aware of her faith? Her novels weave themes of moral character, kindness, and compassion which stem from Austen’s own upbringing and environment. I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Jane Austen’s faith through a sweet little book, The Prayers of Jane Austen.

The Prayers of Jane Austen 2The past few weeks, I’ve been a part of a fun read-along which included this book and Persuasion. You can see my favorite quotes from Persuasion here.

Book info: You know Jane Austen as the beloved author of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and other witty, insightful novels of the early nineteenth century. Now come to know her as a woman of unexpected spiritual depth. Jane Austen wrote beautiful, heartfelt prayers for use during her family’s evening devotions. Each one reveals her gratitude for God’s blessings and her pursuit of a holy life—expressions of a woman whose heart was profoundly moved by faith.

In this beautifully designed book, author Terry Glaspey introduces you to Jane Austen the Christian by sharing this powerful collection of prayers and also a glimpse into her life story and the impact she had as a writer of virtue, character, and morality.

The Prayers of Jane Austen 1My thoughts: This really is a beautiful compilation of 3 prayers. The informative forward and commentary connects the spiritual depth of the prayers with the more well-known lifestyle of Jane Austen. She was not a lady who was outspoken and public concerning her deep faith, but these prayers are evidence of her heart and a clear basis for the morals expressed in her stories.

The prayers reveal Austen’s thankful demeanor, her genuine care for others, and her humble opinion of herself. The book itself is attractive and simple in design — a quick read. It contains sketch illustrations from the British Library’s collections, which remind the reader of the era when paired with the flowing language familiar to Austen readers.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who loves classic literature or Jane Austen. I think it would also make a perfect little gift!

Additional info on the editor/author of The Prayers of Jane Austen:

Terry Glaspey has degrees in history and pastoral ministry and is the author of several books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know and Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis.

Links:

Purchase on the Harvest House website: http://bit.ly/1INVSLM

Add on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23883181-the-prayers-of-jane-austen

Join the conversation on Twitter: #InspiredByAusten

Join the conversation on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/seasonshumility/inspired-by-austen/

Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for a review copy in exchange for my honest review. And to Amber and Terry Glaspey for the hardback copy!

Review: “Saving Amelie” by Cathy Gohlke

The best books leave you satisfied with the conclusion, but still wanting a little bit more of the characters when the last page is read. The latest novel from Cathy Gohlke, Saving Amelie, is like that. It’s an exciting, heart pounding – and often heart wrenching – story set in Germany during World War II.

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Rachel Kramer, adopted daughter of a prestigious genetics researcher, returns to Berlin with her father in 1939 to find it much changed from her growing-up years. At first naïve and preoccupied, she takes little notice of the presence of SS Officers, Adolf Hitler’s “supermen”, and their impending threat to the citizens of Germany. When a childhood friend reaches out to Rachel for help in saving her daughter Amelie, deaf since birth, Rachel begins to realize the true plans of the Nazis and her father’s entangled involvement with them. Hitler wishes to rid the world of anyone with a disability, such as Amelie, and others he declares unfit by ghastly means. As she uncovers the secrets of her father’s research, Rachel realizes the threat of the Nazis and the power they have over the unsuspecting German people.

Jason Young, an American reporter stationed in Berlin, is waiting for his big break with a first rate news story. After meeting Rachel Kramer and helping her solve some of the puzzling facts about her biological family, he becomes the only person she can turn to to rescue Amelie and help her flee a frightening new realty that is closing in fast. When more secrets come to light, Rachel must find a place to hide while evading the SS officers desperately searching for her.

Rachel and Jason’s characters both grow and mature as a result of their circumstances and the people around them. As Jason questions his motives in helping Rachel, he discovers the meaning of sacrifice and selflessness, and the possibilities of faith in God. When Rachel’s life suddenly changes, she goes through a time of disappointment and unhappiness. However, her character begins to find new hope, even in the midst of her trials, because of the love and care of the people around her.

Gohlke conveys the emotions of the characters effectively through her writing style. The reader experiences the terrors and heartache of the wartorn time, and is caught, as the characters are, right in the middle of the action. With small glimpses into the supporting characters’ journeys along the way, the reader is privy to more than just the viewpoints of the main characters. Additionally, small bits of the characters’ personalities, habits, and mannerisms are well-placed, aiding in making the characters realistic.

Numerous historical facts are woven into this story, with some characters or their actions modeled after real people. There are great examples of people helping each other, in small ways, doing whatever they can to help bear the burden and plight of their people. German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a renowned theologian who spoke out against Nazi persecution, even makes a few appearances in the story. These characters reinforce the strength of setting Gohlke establishes, engrossing the reader in WWII Germany, in a time of food rations, blackouts, confiscation of personal property, and genocide.

Saving Amelie communicates an important message through the journeys of Rachel, Jason, Amelie, and others. Through these struggling characters’ stories, the reader sees that God loves everyone, even through uncertainty and trails. His strength is there, even when His children are weak and powerless. Sacrifice is a decision. As the characters experience firsthand, it is often easier to turn one’s back on the suffering and wrongs of this world – but that is not what Jesus did. He sacrificed the ultimate price because of his love, providing this “costly grace” freely to any who would believe.

Note: Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., for the complimentary ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Learn more about author Cathy Gohlke and her books at her website.

 

Book Review: “Take A Chance On Me” by Susan May Warren (Empty Shelf #5)

My latest read, Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren, is an alluring story of second chances intertwining the bonds of family, friendship, and love. It’s the first novel in the recent Christiansen Family series, set in the quaint small town of Deep Haven in northern Minnesota.

Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren
Summary from Goodreads:

Darek Christiansen is almost a dream bachelor—oldest son in the large Christiansen clan, heir to their historic Evergreen Lake Resort, and doting father. But he’s also wounded and angry since the tragic death of his wife, Felicity. No woman in Deep Haven dares come near. 

New assistant county attorney Ivy Madison simply doesn’t know any better when she bids on Darek at the charity auction. Nor does she know that when she crafted a plea bargain three years ago to keep Jensen Atwood out of jail and in Deep Haven fulfilling community service, she was releasing the man responsible for Felicity’s death. All Ivy knows is that the Christiansens feel like the family she’s always longed for. And once she gets past Darek’s tough exterior, she finds a man she could spend the rest of her life with. Which scares her almost as much as Darek learning of her involvement in his wife’s case. 

Caught between new love and old grudges, Darek must decide if he can set aside the past for a future with Ivy—a future more and more at risk as an approaching wildfire threatens to wipe out the Christiansen resort and Deep Haven itself.

My review:

Take A Chance On Me follows the story of widower father Darek Christiansen as he searches for forgiveness and resolution after a tragic accident that killed his wife. Newcomer Ivy Morgan, having always wished for the closeness of family and small-town living, has no idea the emotional baggage Darek Christiansen is carrying when she “buys” him at a charity auction and is drawn in by his caring family. As her friendship with Darek begins to develop into romance, Ivy must consider the provision of God and possibility of grace. When the lines blur between her personal life and professional life as county attorney, she faces difficult choices which could potentially hurt those she has become close to.

Susan’s characters are realistic and have great depth.  In addition to Darek and Ivy, secondary lead characters Claire and Jensen, once close friends with Darek and Felicity, also play prominent roles in the story. Each character experiences, in some form, the importance of taking chances – whether it be risking your heart in love, learning the value of forgiveness and second chances, or experiencing the grace of God and the chance He takes on each person by offering the gift of salvation.

Overall, I really enjoyed Take A Chance On Me by Susan May Warren. She successfully wove elements of faith, grace, and love with drama and romance. I look forward to reading the next one in this series and seeing more of the Christiansen family with their hearts for God and love for each other.

Fun Find Friday: INSPY Awards

Fun Find Friday: INSPY Awards

For those of you who haven’t heard, the 2014 INSPY award nominations are open! What are the INSPYs, you ask? Well, they are annual awards organized by book bloggers to recognize excellent literature and fiction in Christian and inspirational genres in several categories.

I’ve heard about the INSPY’s before, but this is my first year to participate in nominating books. And, as a fairly new book blogger, I am excited to see the process and results. So, I thought I’d share it as a “Fun Find” for today.

Nominations are now open for books published in 2013 in several categories: debut novel, general fiction, contemporary romance/romantic suspense, historical romance, mystery and thriller, speculative fiction, and YA literature. Anyone can nominate one book for each category.

To nominate your favorite, or for more information, visit the INSPY website.

INSPYs