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

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Mini reviews of books I loved but have not yet reviewed

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Mini reviews of books I loved but have not yet reviewed

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

This week is a FREEBIE topic! I was inspired by an older TTT topic of “books you loved but haven’t written a review for”. I thought: why not talk about some favorites I haven’t reviewed AND tell you a little of why I loved them? So, this custom topic was born: 10 Mini reviews of books I loved but have not yet reviewed. 

First, a brief explanation concerning just why I haven’t reviewed these.

  • Some were read in connection with the INSPY awards so I couldn’t talk about them at the time
  • Some I’ve just never gotten around to reviewing, though I thoroughly enjoyed them
  • Some are older reads from before I started writing reviews

Whew, glad that’s off my chest. Now, on to the little reviews!

10 Mini Reviews of books I loved but have not yet reviewed

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1. Remembered by Tamera Alexander (Fountain Creek Chronicles #3)

Though it’s been a while since I’ve read this one, I do remember it was my favorite of the series. I particularly remember some interesting freight wagon rides. My favorite part of this story was Véronique because of her determination and unique immigration perspective.

2. Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz

In a style and manner only Laura Frantz can achieve, the untamed wilderness swallows you in its wonder as you experience life through Morrow’s eyes. This still remains my favorite Laura Frantz novel for its beautiful romance. Two words: Red Shirt. Fans of historical romance and the American frontier take note: this novel is not to be missed.

3. The Measure of a Lady by Deeanne Gist

I remember the setting standing out to me in this one: 1849 San Francisco, CA in the middle of the Gold Rush. And, an important bit about the Redwood forest. Besides the immersive setting, the characters left an impression, particularly the spiritual transformation of one and the coming-of-age journey, in a sense, of another.

4. A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund (Michigan Brides #2)

This story is a beautiful work of historical romance. I remember Carl, the hero, making quite the impression with his selfless (and swoony) manner. The themes of this novel include the importance of hope and forgiveness — and that family and love are worth fighting for.

5. The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann (A Rush of Wings #3)

A story of finding hope and healing, this riveting contemporary novel remains a favorite in its genre. And, Morgan Spencer is possibly my favorite hero Kristen has penned. It exquisitely executes one of my favorite plot devices to bring the heroine and hero together, but I won’t say exactly how it happens because that would ruin the surprise! If you’re looking for a fresh take on romantic suspense with a tasteful yet passionate love story (this is still Christian fiction), I HIGHLY recommend this novel and series.

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6. The Rose Legacy by Kristen Heitzmann (Diamond of the Rockies #1)

I recall this glimpse of the west in all its ruggedness and wild beauty left an impression of me. Particularly, Carina and her feisty spirit, determined to succeed and find happiness. As with several of Kristen’s novels, a slight mysterious element is present, adding to the interest and appeal of the story (and its hero).

7. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

This one is a well-crafted historical romance that reminds me of Austen or Brontë in its era, setting, and mystery. I remember the characters being well developed and “real” even amid the proper society and tradition they adhere to. Themes of mercy and forgiveness entwine this story set in the beautiful Cornwall region of England.

8. A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman (Daughters of Boston #1)

This is where it all began. The O’Conner saga that let to 6 full-length books (with the Winds of Change series following) and several novellas. Though I knew how this would end because I read the series out of order, I was still glued to the story as I witnessed the battle of will vs faith. And, Julie’s signature “passion with a purpose” romance style was an added bonus!

9. Ruby by Lauraine Snelling (Dakotah Treasures #1)

This one is special because it was my first venture into “grown-up” Christian Fiction. I can still remember specifically where I got it — shopping with my mom. Having since reread this entire series, I can say it is a great example of western romance with likable characters and connected story arcs in each book.

10. Duchess by Susan May Warren (Daughters of Fortune #3)

With this novel, I learned that Susan pens historicals in the same complex, riveting manner as her contemporary novels. This was a glimpse of “old Hollywood” with all its glamour AND problems, with a few twists involving WWII. Ultimately, a powerful story of healing, forgiveness, and hope.

Thank you to Bethany House, Tyndale, and Summerside Press for the complimentary INSPY review copies. These reviews reflect my honest opinion.


Have you read any of these books or authors? Are there any books you loved but never reviewed or blogged about?

Review: “Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace” by Jody Hedlund

I think it’s safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn “Amazing Grace”. What you may not know, however, is the story of its author, John Newton. He had perilous experiences that led him to a place of redemption and repentance before his time as a pastor and figure of influence in the late 1700s. Exploring this time in his life, Author Jody Hedlund has written Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace, a novel adaptation of the early story of John Newton’s life and romance with Polly Catlett. Interestingly, Polly’s influence is not often connected with her husband John (or at least not to my knowledge), yet it is present and important to his legacy. Though the novel is considered an inspired-by-true-life work of fiction, its historical accuracy and detail is astounding and enlightening.

About the Book

newton-and-pollyAmazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

Review

As I have noted, Jody Hedlund pays magnificent attention to historical detail with this novel. She has skillfully woven the love story between John and Polly over an accurate timeline, no small feat considering the good length of time their relationship spanned before his moment of repentance and their eventual marriage. Along with this realistic relationship, John Newton endures trials and struggles, some of his own doing, while learning the gift of forgiveness and provision of God even in dire circumstances.

Both Polly and John’s personal growth from beginning to end was engaging and interesting. In particular, their spiritual arc was emphasized. It was easy to empathize with them, understanding their doubt and questions amid cultural norms. Both had misconstrued approaches to God; Polly thinking she could earn His favor, John thinking he could prove himself on his own, not in need of a God who has allowed tragedy to become his family in the path. Both of them are similar in this respect, though their distance from God stems from different reasons, yet both find their way to faith and realizations that they are sinners only redeemed by God’s grace.

What I most appreciate about Jody Hedlund is her straightforwardness and elegance in presenting a story — in this case, she doesn’t shy away from tough subjects like the slave trade and lifestyle of seamen during this era. Instead, she presents reality and frames her characters with a hope for redemption. With this book in particular I recognized an emphasis on living with integrity. It takes the little known story of John Newton’s early life and displays it with a bright light on Polly Catlett’s complimentary encouragement. The result is a story of page-turning drama with a sweet romance made all the better for the fact that it’s true.

 

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Waterbrook Mulnomah publishers for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Mini Review: “Captured by Love” by Jody Hedlund

It’s been a while since I read this as a shortlist judge for the INSPYs last year, but I want to share a brief review of it because it is a solid story from Jody Hedlund.

About the BookCaptured by Love by Jody HedlundIt is 1814 and the British have taken hold of Mackinac Island and its fort, forcing American residents to swear an oath of loyalty to the British crown in order to retain their land. Pierre Durant is a voyageur–a fur trader who left his family home to find freedom and adventure. He’s been gone five years and when he returns, his family’s farm is at the mercy of the British invaders.

Torn between the life he’s grown used to and guilt over leaving his brother and mother, he’s drawn back into the loyalist fight against the British–and into a relationship with Angelique Mackenzie, a beautiful local girl who’s been befriended by the daughter of the British commander. As tensions mount and the threat of violence increases, both Angelique and Pierre must decide where their loyalties rest, how far they will go to find freedom, and how much they will risk to find love.

Review Jody has written another great story with themes of honor and sacrifice. With meticulous attention to historical details woven into the lives of these characters, I thought it a fresh take on a historical romance. The setting provides an interesting background for the characters’ stories to unfold — while far removed from the Revolutionary War, tensions and an impending (and new-to-me) conflict brings new problems and complications. And, plenty of emotional conflict with bright characters who exhibit selflessness and the power of love.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the review copy.

Review: “Luther and Katharina” by Jody Hedlund

When writing book reviews, I always start with the best of intentions to keep my reviews precise and informative. But then feelings and stories and lovable characters get in the way. And before I know it, I’ve practically written a short story myself. But, I’ve decided this is not an editorial journal, it’s my blog, so I’m going to tell you what I think — even if it takes a few hundred extra words 🙂

This review of Jody Hedlund’s recent release – Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion – does get a little long. But I love Jody! This is the first historical from her, as opposed to her usual historical romance/YA books. That means the plot is driven more by historical events and less by relationships or romance. Don’t worry, there is still a sweet and earnest love story that unfolds. History tells us that Luther and Katharina did marry, but Jody’s style just makes their story all the more relatable.
Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

Book Summary: Katharina von Bora has seen nothing but the inside of cloister walls since she was five. In a daring escape, Katharina finds refuge with Martin Luther and seeks his help to pair her with the noble, wealthy husband she desires.

As class tensions and religious conflicts escalate toward the brink of war, Martin Luther believes that each day could be his last and determines he will never take a wife.

As the horrors of the bloody Peasant War break out around them, the proud Katharina and headstrong Martin Luther fight their own battle for true love, in one of the greatest love stories of history.

My thoughts: Jody Hedlund has successfully done something very challenging — she has written the fictional account of actual historical figures in a manner both realistic and entertaining. I applaud her for the work she put into this story to include as much historical accuracy, detail, and actual quotes from Martin Luther as possible (her website and her author’s note are very informative!). On top of all that, the story itself is riveting, spiritually deep, and romantic.

This is a very fascinating and interesting era. I can see why it is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages: spiritual matters, including any reading of the Bible, were left up to the very high figures of the church. The concept of a personal relationship with God was revolutionary for Luther to preach. In this story, the characters are caught up in the turmoil of the era. Luther is caught between pledging loyalty to the noblemen and peasants in the Peasant War. And, Katharina is struggling to find balance between the stricture of her old life and trusting in her newfound relationship with God.

At times, this was tough to read because the lives they lived were hard, with a constant threat of persecution. These people had to deal with turmoil and real doubts in a time where spiritual leadership was severely lacking. Oh to meet them someday in heaven! I admire their faith and bravery. Little did they know this would be the start of the Protestant Reformation and how would impact Christianity.

This is the type of story with many layers and themes. The main takeaway from it, I think, is the example of how Luther and Katharina each chose to commit their whole lives to God. They left it in His hands for Him to receive glory, whether it came about through their persecution, trials, or fulfilled dreams. Trusting in God and learning from their circumstances brought about growth of character (as in the personality trait) and ultimately led to contentment with their lives.

For more info on Jody’s books, fun extras that go with Luther and Katharina, or to connect with her visit her website. If you’ve read Luther and Katharina already :), you’re invited to join in a discussion as part of Cassie and Jamie’s #HedlundChallenge2015 later in October!

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Waterbrook Press for the review copy in exchange for my honest review.

What are your thoughts? Are you a fan of Jody’s? Do you prefer historical fiction or historical romances?

2015 Reading Challenge Checklist (and free printable!)

Happy (almost) New Year! What better way to kick off a year of reading with a new 2015 reading challenge? I’ve put together a checklist of 32 criteria for books, along with a printable, for the year.

As I’ve said before, I participated in the Empty Shelf Challenge in 2014. I read a total of 50 books. Here’s a pic of my full shelf now:
My Not-So-Empty Shelf at the end of 2014

For 2015, I’ve set a goal of 50 books and created my own reading challenge! I’ve created a printable one, so please feel free to join me in 2015! I was inspired by this challenge, as well as a few other ones I found on Pinterest and some fun Twitter convos.

To start off the year, I’m also participating in Kami, Jenni, and Suey’s read-along of Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South” this January. If you’d like to join our Twitter and/or blog chats about it, please do!

Also, fellow bloggers Cassie and Jamie are hosting their very own 2015 Jody Hedlund Challenge! They are working their way through Jody’s books each month with a discussion post. I hope to join in on it sometime 🙂

Here’s my free printable checklist! Feel free to join in and use the hashtag #TGM2015ReadingChecklist on social media. If you do, please leave me a comment so I can keep up with your progress, too!

Courtney's 2015 Reading Checklist.docx

Click the image to open the .pdf printable. Enjoy!