Book Review: We Hope for Better Things

7 Jan

When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request–that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos — seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse north of Detroit, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time — from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Michigan’s Underground Railroad during the Civil War — to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.

Erin Bartels is a copywriter and freelance editor by day, a novelist by night, and a painter, seamstress, poet, and photographer in between. Her debut novel, We Hope for Better Things, released in January 2019 from Revell Books. I Hold The Wind, which was a finalist for the 2015 Rising Star Award from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, will be released in November 2019. Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in The Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. Her poems have been published by The Lyric and The East Lansing Poetry Attack. A member of the Capital City Writers Association and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine.

Erin lives in the beautiful, water-defined state of Michigan where she is never more than a ninety minute drive from one of the Great Lakes or six miles from an inland lake, river, or stream. She grew up in the Bay City area waiting for freighters and sailboats at drawbridges and watching the best 4th of July fireworks displays in the nation. She spent her college and young married years in Grand Rapids feeling decidedly not-Dutch. She currently lives with her husband and son in Lansing, nestled somewhere between angry protesters on the Capitol lawn and couch-burning frat boys at Michigan State University. And yet, she claims it is really quite peaceful.

Find Erin on Facebook @ErinBartelsAuthor, on Twitter @ErinLBartels, or on Instagram @erinbartelswrites. She blogs semi-regularly at http://www.erinbartels.com.

 

My Impressions:

Only a week into the new year, and I have discovered a book that will definitely be on the best of the best list. We Hope for Better Things by debut author Erin Bartels is a novel that you want to savor, yet must keep reading to find out what will happen. Beautifully written, it is a complex mix of present day and the past, because what happens in the past often impacts everything we know today. I came to love the characters even as they act in destructive ways. They are deeply flawed, yet feel ever so right. Added to all this is the backdrop of the Civil War and the Civil Rights eras. There was much to learn about the setting, time periods, and my reaction to it all. This book receives the very rare Very Highly Recommended rating — a six-star, if such a thing existed.

We Hope for Better Things begins in present day Detroit with main character Elizabeth, a young journalist hungry for the big story, the juicier the better. But she soon finds herself out of a job and in rural Lapeer, Michigan. A family homestead harbors a reclusive great-aunt and stories that may have a greater impact than Elizabeth could ever dream.

Although We Hope for Better Things has not just one, or two, but three story lines, they are so skillfully interwoven that the reader feels just how integral they are to each other. Three very strong female characters dominate — Mary Balsam, a young woman left to run a farm when her husband enlists to fight for the Union, Nora Balsam Rich, who falls in love with the right man at the wrong time, and Elizabeth, who finds her family legacy more important than her own ambition. The novel moves from one story to the other — the 1860/1870s, the 1960s, and the present day — with never a misstep or loss of continuity. The breaks between stories just kept me turning page after page as fast as I could. There’s a lot of history that is involved, but it is really the individual reactions of the characters that steer their destiny. I really liked that. It is easy to see historical movements or circumstances as the product of a society as a whole, but in We Hope for Better Things individual choices are important to the development of those movements and to future generations. There are a lot of parallels between the women, showing that one time doesn’t have any greater or lesser moral authority than another. Racism is the overarching theme in the novel with the author again showing it in very personal ways. Its insidiousness reaches into all aspects of life, including the life of the church. Bartels subtle hand doesn’t take away from the big truths shining through. In the end, the reader knows more than the characters, but there are still some mysteries left unsolved or hinted at. I liked that too, because it is those questions that will fuel great reader discussions. And this novel is perfect for book clubs — you will definitely want to talk about this book.

I could go on and on about the merits of We Hope for Better Things, but I will leave you with just one final thing — Read. This. Book. You will love it.

Very Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Revell for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

 

 

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5 Responses to “Book Review: We Hope for Better Things”

  1. bellesmoma16 January 7, 2019 at 10:42 pm #

    Excellent review! I’ve heard only good things about this book. 😀

    Like

    • rbclibrary January 8, 2019 at 4:53 pm #

      I really loved this book. I have talked about it to many people, even my husband! He tolerates my book gushing 😉 .

      Like

  2. carhicks January 10, 2019 at 10:42 pm #

    Wonderful review. I am still pending for this book, but I really want to read it and will get it somehow. I love when someone says they have found a book that they feel is the best of the best and highly recommend it.

    Like

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