Book Review: Searching for You

9 Jan

Despite years on the run, Sophie Neumann is determined to care for two young children. She won’t abandon them the way she thinks her older sisters abandoned her. But times are growing desperate, and when she falls in with the wrong crowd and witnesses a crime, she realizes fleeing 1850s New York is her only option.

Disappearing with her two young charges into a group of orphans heading west by train, Sophie hopes to find safety and a happy life. When the train stops in Illinois for the first placement of orphans, Sophie faces the most difficult choice of her life.

Reinhold Weiss has finally purchased his own small farm. With mounting debts, a harvest to bring in, and past scars that haunt him, he’s in no position to give his heart away . . . but can he say no when his long-lost friend shows up on a nearby train pleading for his help?

Jody Hedlund is the author of over twenty historicals for both adults and teens and is the winner of numerous awards including the Christy, Carol, and Christian Book Award.

Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).

When she’s not penning another of her page-turning stories, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate.

 

My Impressions:

Finally! Finally I know what happened to Elise and Marianne Neumann’s little sister Sophie and the two children she has vowed to care for. I have loved all the books in the Orphan Train Series, but I have to say that Hedlund saved the best for last. Searching for You exceeded my expectations with its wonderful characters and beautifully expressed truth.  If you have been waiting (impatiently) like me, then you are in for a treat. If you haven’t read any of this series, you are in luck because they are all available for binge-worthy reading.

Sophie Neumann has been doing just about anything to survive. She loves her adopted children Nicholas and Olivia, but it soon becomes apparent that her life in New York is not the best for them or her. She embarks on an orphan train determined to make a new life for them all. What she finds might just break her heart.

Sophie is a wonderfully written character. She has a seed of faith deep down, but life has caused her to make compromises that trigger feelings of guilt and shame. Her determination to clean herself up is realistically portrayed. I’ve often heard those same sentiments (and have even felt the same). Reinhold Weiss is another relatable character. Anger issues keep him from wholly committing to relationships. Both Sophie and Reinhold do a lot of growing in Searching for You — in their relationship with each other and with God. While I loved both of these characters (and their sizzling romance 😉 ), it was secondary character Euphemia Duff that truly spoke to me. Maybe it’s because I am of an age with Euphemia, but her wit and wisdom was an inspiration. Her transparency about her past failings and God’s grace was beautiful. I loved how Euphemia’s life spoke to both Sophie and Reinhold. Searching for You is an historical novel and Hedlund did a wonderful job of making the time period come alive. From the mean streets of New York to the farmland of Illinois, the reader gets a real feel for what life was like in the mid-19th century. As I stated above there is plenty of romance for those who like swoony heroes and kissing scenes. But this is Christian fiction, so while realistically portrayed, there’s nothing graphic or inappropriate. (Your grandma would approve. LOL!)

For those looking for a book to sweep them up, I cannot recommend Searching for You enough. But remember, you really need to read books 1 and 2 first. Well worth it.

Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

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

 

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Top 10 Tuesday — Can’t Wait for What’s Next!

8 Jan

I am a sucker for a series! And when I get into one, I am very impatient to know what happens next. Unfortunately, most authors actually take their time in writing good books, making my waiting time especially long. 😉 Coming Soon is never soon enough. This year there are a number of next books due out, hence my Top 10 List: Anticipated Reads of 2019 (the first half). It’s just a matter of a few days or weeks.  I. Cannot. Wait!

Find out what other bloggers are impatiently awaiting at That Artsy Reader Girl.

Top 10 Anticipated Next Books

January

Secrets at Cedar Cabin by Colleen Coble

February

The Alamo Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo

Breach of Trust by Rachel Dylan

Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe by Carla Laureano

The Sky Above Us by Sarah Sundin

March 

Darkwater Lies by Robin Caroll

Daughters of Northern Shores by Joanne Bischof

April

Driftwood Bay by Irene Hannon

 

What books are you waiting on?

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.)

 

 

First Line Friday — We Hope for Better Things

4 Jan

Happy New Year! How has 2019 been treating you? Even just a few days in, I am having a wonderful reading year! I am currently reading We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels. It made BookBub’s list of books that will break your heart. Hopefully, that won’t really happen, but it does promise to be a heart-touching read as it explores both Detroit in the 1960s and the Underground Railroad.

What are you reading? Leave your first line or two in the comments and then head over to Hoarding Books for more fabulous first lines.

 

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.

 

 

 

Reading Roadtrip — Alabama

3 Jan

For a while now I have been contemplating adding a new feature to the old blog — a sort of reading road trip featuring books set in each state. This is the inaugural post, and I hope you find it interesting and find a new book or author to read. Every month I will travel to a new state, including several genres — a little something for everyone! For the kick-off, I am heading to Alabama. Hope you enjoy the ride!

 

Alabama, known as The Heart of Dixie, has over 4 million residents. Its capital is Montgomery, the state flower is the camellia, and the state bird is the northern flicker. It is also the setting of a number of great Christian novels. You can begin with colonial Alabama (part of Louisiana) with The Pelican Bride by Beth White. Visit the state during the Civil Rights movement with Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse. A couple of novels — How Sweet The Sound by Amy K. Sorrells and Hurricane Season by Lauren K. Denton —  involve family drama. Then finish off with thriller Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa.

The Pelican Bride by Beth White

It is 1704 when Genevieve Gaillain and her sister board a French ship headed for the Louisiana colony as mail-order brides. Both have promised to marry one of the rough-and-tumble Canadian men in this New World in order to escape religious persecution in the Old World. Genevieve knows life won’t be easy, but at least here she can establish a home and family without fear of beheading. But when she falls in love with Tristan Lanier, an expatriate cartographer whose courageous stand for fair treatment of native peoples has made him decidedly unpopular in the young colony, Genevieve realizes that even in this land of liberty one is not guaranteed peace. And a secret she harbors could mean the undoing of the colony itself. (This is the first of a 3-book series, all set in Mobile, Alabama.)

Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete — and the people he loves most — will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.

How Sweet The Sound by Amy K. Sorrells

Wealth and etiquette can hide a lot of things in the South, as the esteemed Harlan family of sleepy Bay Spring, Alabama, knows. But behind the gentle facade of white pillared porches and acres of cultivated pecan orchards, family secrets smolder.

Young Anniston Harlan cares little for high society and the rigid rules and expectations of her grandmother, Princella. She finds solace working the orchards alongside her father and grandfather, and relief in the cool waters of Mobile Bay.

Anniston’s aunt, Comfort Harlan, has never quite lived up to the family name, or so her mother Princella’s ever-apparent scowl implies. When she gleefully accepts the proposal of her longtime boyfriend, Solly, a flood tide of tragedy ensues that strips Comfort of her innocence and unleashes generations of family secrets, changing the Harlan family forever.

While Comfort struggles to recover, Anniston discovers an unlikely new friend from the seedy part of town who helps her try to make sense of the chaos. Together, they and the whole town of Bay Spring discover how true love is a risk, but one worth taking.

Hurricane Season by Lauren K. Denton

Betsy and Ty Franklin, owners of Franklin Dairy Farm in southern Alabama, have long since buried their desire for children of their own. While Ty manages their herd of dairy cows, Betsy busies herself with the farm’s day-to-day operations and tries to forget her dream of motherhood. But when her free-spirited sister, Jenna, drops off her two young daughters for “just two weeks,” Betsy’s carefully constructed wall of self-protection begins to crumble.

As the two weeks stretch deeper into the Alabama summer, Betsy and Ty learn to navigate the new additions in their world— and revel in the laughter that now fills their home. Meanwhile, record temperatures promise to usher in the most active hurricane season in decades.

Attending an art retreat four hundred miles away, Jenna is fighting her own battles. She finally has time and energy to focus on her photography, a lifelong ambition. But she wonders how her rediscovered passion can fit in with the life she’s made back home as a single mom.

When Hurricane Ingrid aims a steady eye at the Alabama coast, Jenna must make a decision that will change her family’s future, even as Betsy and Ty try to protect their beloved farm and their hearts. Hurricane Season is the story of one family’s unconventional journey to healing — and the relationships that must be mended along the way.

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa

Fourteen miles east of Peachtree, Alabama, a secret is hidden. That secret’s name is Annabel Lee Truckson, and even she doesn’t know why her mysterious uncle has stowed her deep underground in a military-style bunker. He’s left her with a few German words, a barely-controlled guard dog, and a single command: “Don’t open that door for anybody, you got it? Not even me.”

Above ground, a former Army sniper called The Mute and an enigmatic “Dr. Smith” know about the girl. As the race begins to find her, the tension builds. Who wants to set her free? Why does the other want to keep her captive forever? Who will reach her first?

Private investigators Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill need to piece together the clues and stay alive long enough to retrieve the girl – before it’s too late.

 

 

 

Book Review: Emergency Case

2 Jan

Dr. Kelly Irving knew her husband, attorney Jack Harbaugh, was acting strangely, but figured they’d get through it. When she backed out of her garage that morning, she thought her car hit a bump. Instead, its progress was stopped by the body of a man her husband recently represented. Not only that, the dead man had been shot by her husband’s gun. The police who investigated made it clear that Jack was a primary suspect.

Kelly couldn’t decide if Jack was a murderer or marked as the next victim. As things continued to escalate, they were forced to put their marital differences aside and concentrate on keeping Jack alive while discovering who was behind the whole thing.

Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now writing “medical suspense with heart”. He is the author of ten published novels, three novellas, and a non-fiction book. His novels have garnered critical acclaim and been finalists for ACFW’s Carol Award, both the Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year and Reviewer’s Choice Awards, the Inspirational Readers Choice, and the Selah Award. He is a proud member of the ACFW, the International Thriller Writers, the Christian Authors Network, the FHL chapter of the RWA, and Novelists Inc.

You can connect with Richard on the Internet at his blog page and Facebook fan page, as well as Twitter and Goodreads.

 

My Impressions:

Emergency Case is the newest novella by Dr. Richard Mabry. Mabry is known for his faith-filled, suspenseful books, and this one is no exception. But this time we get a husband and wife team with legal and medical perspectives trying to outwit the bad guys. I really liked the married couple, Kelly and Jack Harbaugh. Theirs is not a perfect marriage — their respective careers demand a lot from them. But they were committed to each other and making their relationship work, though things get a bit sidetracked as Jack is a suspect in the murder of his client and unknown assailants continue to attack. Emergency Case is a short and fast-paced read; you could finish this one in one sitting, but it doesn’t scrimp on the essentials — determined characters, a puzzling mystery, and thoughtful questions of faith and ethics. It’s a winner! And a recommended read from me.

Recommended.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

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

By The Book’s 2019 Selections

1 Jan

Happy New Year! On the first of the month I usually share my book club’s selection. But since today is the first day of a brand new year, I thought it fitting to share all the books we are reading in 2019. There is a mix of genres — romance, suspense, Biblical, historical — something for everyone. We would love for you to join us. Check out our FB page.

 

January — Chosen People by Robert Whitlow
February — Five Brides by Eva Marie Everson 
March — Delayed Justice by Cara Putman
April — The Sky Above Us by Sarah Sundin
May — Mind Games by Nancy Mehl
June — Almost Home by Valerie Fraser Luesse
July — The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright
August — The Memory House by Rachel Hauck
September — The Cost of Betrayal by Dee Henderson/Lynette Eason/Dani Pettrey
October — Judah’s Wife by Angela Hunt 
November — Crisis Shot by Janice Cantore
December — Christmas book