Tag Archives: general fiction

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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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.

 

 

 

Congratulations to The 2018 Christy Award Finalists!

19 Sep

Congratulations to all the talented authors who are now 2018 Christy Award Finalists. If you are on the hunt for some great books, here is an excellent place to start.

 

Contemporary Romance

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

True to You by Becky Wade

 

First Novel

Freedom’s Ring by Heidi Chiavaroli

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

Turtles in The Road by Kaley Rhea and Rhonda Rhea

 

General Fiction 

A Time to Stand by Robert Whitlow

Life After by Katie Ganshert

The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

 

Historical

Catching The Wind by Melanie Dobson

Isaiah’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews

Many Sparrows by Lori Benton

 

Historical Romance

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden

The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander

 

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

Coldwater by Goldwater by Samuel Parker

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

Rule of Law by Randy Singer

 

Short Form

Guilt by Association by Heather Day Gilbert

Her Secret Daughter by Ruth Logan Herne

12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

 

Visionary

Awakened by Morgan Busse

The Day The Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker

The Man He Never Was by James Rubart

 

Young Adult 

The Delusion by Laura Gallier

Last Summer at Eden by Christina Hergenrader

Unraveling by Sara Ella

If You Liked The Hideaway . . .

31 Jul

By The Book was unanimous in our approval of The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton. This well-written novel focused on relationships that shape our lives. If you liked it too, here are a few suggestions for more great reading.

 

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.

The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate

When Iola Anne Poole, an old-timer on Hatteras Island, passes away in her bed at ninety-one, the struggling young mother in her rental cottage, Tandi Jo Reese, finds herself charged with the task of cleaning out Iola’s rambling Victorian house.

Running from a messy, dangerous past, Tandi never expects to find more than a temporary hiding place within Iola’s walls, but everything changes with the discovery of eighty-one carefully decorated prayer boxes, one for each year, spanning from Iola’s youth to her last days. Hidden in the boxes is the story of a lifetime, written on random bits of paper – the hopes and wishes, fears and thoughts of an unassuming but complex woman passing through the seasons of an extraordinary, unsung life filled with journeys of faith, observations on love, and one final lesson that could change everything for Tandi.

The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale

In the South you always say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” You know everybody’s business. Football is a lifestyle not a pastime. Food — especially dessert — is almost a religious experience. And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family —  even if the threat is something you cannot see.

In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you’ll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws . . . from devastating pain to absolute joy. And if you’re lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way.

Test of Faith by Christa Allan

Elle Butler has managed to hold on to her politically-driven husband and her secrets until the unexpected happens. When one phone call rips her world apart, Elle will have to decide if the truth is worth the consequences. Especially when it threatens to destroy the world she’s so carefully built around her life and her marriage.

Book Review: Before I Saw You

30 Jul

Folks are dying fast as the ash trees in the southern Indiana town ravaged by the heroin epidemic, where Jaycee Givens lives with nothing more than a thread of hope and a quirky neighbor, Sudie, who rescues injured wildlife. After a tragedy leaves her mother in prison, Jaycee is carrying grief and an unplanned pregnancy she conceals because she trusts no one, including the kind and handsome Gabe, who is new to town and to the local diner where she works.

Dividing her time between the diner and Sudie’s place, Jaycee nurses her broken heart among a collection of unlikely friends who are the closest thing to family that she has. Eventually, she realizes she can’t hide her pregnancy any longer―not even from the baby’s abusive father, who is furious when he finds out. The choices she must make for the safety of her unborn child threaten to derail any chance she ever had for hope and redemption. Ultimately, Jaycee must decide whether the truest form of love means hanging on or letting go.

 

A long-time believer in the power of story to change lives, Amy K. Sorrells’ diverse writing career includes over two decades of freelance writing including medical journal publications and a popular op-ed newspaper column.

Praised by reviewers for the way they both poetically and accurately portray real life hardship and hope, Amy’s novels are inspired by social issues which break her heart and the Bible stories which reflect God’s response to those issues. Her first novel, How Sweet the Sound, was written as a response to the personal questions she had for God about how He redeems the pain of sexual abuse. The driving mission behind all her writing is to bring words of hope to a hurting world.

Amy’s novels have been short-listed for various fiction awards, and How Sweet the Sound won the 2011 Women of Faith Writing Contest before it was acquired by publishers. Since then, she has published two more novels, Then Sings My Soul, and Lead Me Home.

When she’s not writing, Amy loves doting on her husband, three young adult sons, and their golden retrievers at their home in central Indiana. If there’s leftover time after that, she enjoys up-cycling, gardening, binge reading, exercising, and Bible journaling.

 

My Impressions: 

If reading two of Amy K. Sorrels’ novels (How Sweet The Sound and Lead Me Home) hadn’t already cemented her as a must-read author, her latest novel, Before I Saw You, certainly does. I don’t know how she does it. This author takes difficult subjects and portrays them realistically, but with a large measure of mercy and grace that leaves the reader feeling blessed at the last page. Before I Saw You was an emotional read for me. No, I have never experienced the troubles that the main characters faced, but its universal message met me where I live. All I can say is read this book! It deserves a very highly recommended rating.

Before I Saw You is set in the small southern Indiana town of Riverton. The town has seen its share of hardships  — cholera epidemic, factory closings — but the ravages of heroin use has left it almost bereft of hope. The story is told in the first person voice of Jaycee Givens, a girl hanging on by the barest of threads. Tragedy seems to have followed her even before her birth, but she is doggedly determined to make better choices than others in her community. Jaycee is a wonderfully-drawn character, real and relatable. She struggles, doubts, and second-guesses herself and God. Her family consists of Sudie, an elderly wildlife rehabber/cemetery custodian, Carla, her boss at the local diner, Gabe, a newcomer to town and co-worker, and a host of others who stand with her in the darkest times. I loved the picture of church family that Sorrells portrays — grace-filled and mercy-led. Jaycee sees real religion in action. Two of the themes are learning to give things to God and trusting Him with the many what-ifs in life. I really, really needed to read those truths. It is incredible how a story many years in the making can arrive at just the right time for a reader. My reading experience was indeed God-orchestrated.

Before I Saw You is beautifully written, and takes its place as my favorite of all Sorrells’ novels (at least until I read the next one 😉 ). I laughed, I cried (ugly cry too), I rejoiced, and I found hope while in its pages. My only regret is that I did not read this book for book club. It is one I would love to talk about.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: older teens and adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

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

 

 

2018 Inspy Shortlists!

2 May

The Inspy Awards, the blogger-based awards program for inspirational books, has announced their 2018 shortlists. Whew! What a great bunch of books! Now it’s in the judges hands, and what a tough job they have. Congrats to all the authors! For more info, check out inspy.com.

 

Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense

A New Shade of Summer (Waterfall Press) by Nicole Deese

Then There Was You (Bellbird Press) by Kara Isaac

Jane of Austin (Waterbrook) by Hillary Manton Lodge

True to You (Bethany House) by Becky Wade

Just Look Up (Tyndale) by Courtney Walsh

 

Debut Fiction

 Still Waters (Firefly Southern Fiction) by Lindsey P. Brackett

Freedom’s Ring (Tyndale) by Heidi Chiavaroli

Count Me In (I21 Publishing House) by Mikal Dawn

Lady Jayne Disappears (Revell) by Joanna Davidson Politano

Stars in the Grass (Shiloh Run Press) by Ann Marie Stewart

 

General Fiction

Perennials (Thomas Nelson) by Julie Cantrell

A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (Kregel) by Susie Finkbeiner

Life After (Waterbrook) by Katie Ganshert

The Space Between Words (Thomas Nelson) by Michele Phoenix

The Austen Escape (Thomas Nelson) by Katherine Reay

 

Historical Romance

A Note Yet Unsung (Bethany House) by Tamera Alexander

The Road to Paradise (Waterbrook) by Karen Barnett

Many Sparrows (Waterbrook) by Lori Benton

A Lady in Disguise (Howard) by Sandra Byrd

A Moonbow Night (Revell) by Laura Frantz

 

Literature for Young Adults

The Returning (Tyndale) by Rachelle Dekker

Unraveling (Thomas Nelson) by Sara Ella

For Love and Honor (Zondervan) by Jody Hedlund

The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink) by Stephanie Morrill

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow (Thomas Nelson) by Mary Weber

 

Mystery/Thriller

The Enoch Effect (Waterfall Press) by Rick Acker

Death at Thorburn Hall (Bethany House) by Julianna Deering

Crown of Souls (Bethany House) by Ronie Kendig

A Portrait of Vengeance (Thomas Nelson) by Carrie Stuart Parks

Imperfect Justice (Thomas Nelson) by Cara Putman

 

Speculative Fiction

Raging Storm (Harvest House) by Vannetta Chapman

The Divide (Tyndale) by Jolina Petersheim

The Beast of Talesend (Indie) by Kyle Robert Schultz

The Girl Who Could See (Indie) by Kara Swanson

King’s Blood (Bethany House) by Jill Williamson

 

Book Review: Steal Away Home

21 Feb

Owen Cross grew up with two loves: one a game, the other a girl. One of his loves ruined him. Now he’s counting on the other to save him.

Owen Cross’s father is a hard man, proud in his brokenness, who wants nothing more than for Owen to succeed where he failed. With his innate talents and his father’s firm hand guiding him, Owen goes to college with dreams of the major leagues—and an emptiness full of a girl named Micky Dullahan.

Owen loved Micky from the first time they met on the hill between their two worlds: his middle-class home and her troubled Shantytown. Years later he leaves her for the dugouts and the autographs, but their days together follow him. When he finally returns home, he discovers that even peace comes at a cost. And that the hardest things to say are to the ones we love the most.

From bestselling author Billy Coffey comes a haunting story of small-town love, blinding ambition, and the risk of giving it all for one last chance.

Billy Coffey and his wife, Joanne, live with their two children in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. A product of his small-town locale, Billy counts as assets his rural authenticity, unwavering sense of purpose, and insatiable curiosity — all of which tend to make his front porch a comfortably crowded place.

 

My Impressions:

Billy Coffey sucked me into Steal Away Home with his description of baseball and small town romance. I found myself immersed in the life of Camden, Virginia and what I thought was a coming-of-age tale. But like all of Coffey’s books, this one has a twist, a bit of magic, and a message that made me stop and ponder. Steal Away Home is a book to be savored and is definitely a recommended read.

Steal Away Home is told from the first person perspective of former high school baseball star Owen Cross. The book’s framework is wonderfully creative, as it shifts from the action of a major league baseball game to recollections of his life. Each chapter is an inning of the game and a look back at what formed Owen’s life. Owen’s life was ordained by his father, and no one had doubts that he would one day be a major league player. But one night of mystery and wonder changes that forever.

Characterization is strong in Steal Away Home. Owen’s narrative allows the reader to know first hand his hopes, dreams, and motivations, but also gives a clear picture of the other characters. Owen’s pure Virginia mountain cadence is a joy to read and adds greatly to the reading experience. As I said, the story itself takes over the reader’s imagination — first with its small-town charm and promise of young love between Owen and Micky Dullahan, and then with an abrupt spiritual journey for the characters. There is a definite supernatural element in this book, but with different effects. It sets Micky free and paralyzes Owen with fear. A number of parallels can be drawn between Camden and the message Micky brings to both the shanties and the townspeople and the ministry of Christ. But as one character puts it, Micky is not Christ come back to life. But she does ask the same question — what do you love? This is the question the reader ponders for himself as well.

Steal Away Home is a complex novel in characterization, structure, and message and would make a good choice for a book club. It is not a book to be hurried through, so make sure you have ample time to pause and think. Another winner from Coffey, it gets a highly recommended rating from me.

Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Thomas Nelson and TLC Book Tours for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)