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We Hope for Better Times–discrimination across the years

We Hope for Better Things

by Erin Bartels

We Hope for Better ThingsThis work of fiction begins in the present day where the story centers on Elizabeth Balsam, an investigative journalist in Detroit, Michigan, always looking for a good story. She thinks she has found it when a stranger asks her to return a camera and some photos of the ’67 Detroit race riots to a relative of hers that she doesn’t actually know. This is interesting timing as she has just lost her job when outed during undercover work. Is it possible that what seems like a devastating blow to her career will be the best thing that could have happened to her?

Suddenly the author drops us into Detroit in 1963, and we are introduced to  an interracial couple. This is a thread that ties right into Elizabeth’s story as she meets Nora. This elderly relative probably has a story to tell if she can just be coaxed into telling it. This new plot thread segues into the story of yet another family member, Mary Balsam. Mary’s home is in Lapeer County in 1861, but it is now Nora’s home.

All three generations involve interracial couples, and author Erin Bartels tries to present the problems each generation encounters. We witness the horrors and sadness of racial issues that run the gamut from slavery to discriminating glances and everything in between.

Each plot thread is strong and as each chapter ended, I couldn’t wait to get to that part of the story again as the chapters cycled through each woman’s tale. As the book draws to a conclusion, the threads become tightly knitted together forming the family’s story.

Although We Hope for Better Things is fiction, it has the feeling of “it could have happened.” The Christian aspects are not prominently featured, but there is an important theme throughout of God’s plan for a person’s life. A sub-theme is the Christian community’s response to runaway slaves in the 1860’s in Mary’s small community during the Civil War.

This is an important work of historical fiction especially for those interested in the Civil War, the riots of the 60’s, or the current progress or lack of it on racial issues. The author presents events in the context of the culture during the specific time period. This novel focuses on the women in each generation and gives a more complete portrayal of them than of the men in the story, and that is probably how this tale needs to be told.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Revell for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 1, 2019—Revell

Memorable Lines:

I was getting less twitchy about not having internet access. I didn’t exactly miss hearing the constant beeps notifying me of texts and tweets and status updates. Out here it was just the ambling, quiet life of the country. A comfortable obscurity.

“That’s good money.” 

“What do we need it for? We’re making ends meet.” 

“Barely. We’re not getting ahead.” 

“Ahead of what? If you have enough to live, what do you need more for?”

“There’s no one right path that if you make the wrong choice you’re sunk. Whatever you choose to do, God can use that. Life is always a winding  path. It’s only in retrospect that it appears to be a straight and inevitable one.”

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The Orphan Sisters–bonded forever

The Orphan Sisters

by Shirley Dickson

the orphan sistersIn between the Great War and World War II, two sisters are dropped off by their widowed mother at the austere orphanage Blakely. Etty, the younger girl, has no warning or understanding of what had started out to be a fun family adventure on the train. Dorothy, the older of the two, is able to deal with the circumstances somewhat better. The girls remain there until they reach their fifteenth year. At that time each undergoes an adjustment to a world so different from the institution that had become an uncomfortable and regimented “home.” 

In The Orphan Sisters, we trace the girls’ lives as they become adults, never willing to be far apart from each other. They have hopes and dreams and make choices that are life altering. As they move towards maturity, Great Britain is thrust into the war which affects every area of their lives with rationing, young men being called up for duty, relationships with the  awareness that each day may be their last, and women being encouraged to support the war effort by taking on jobs.

The most dramatic parts of the book depict the physical and emotional effects of the bombings. There was great fear as people huddled in shelters and bombs exploded around them.

Shirley Dickson is a great storyteller. She weaves a tale that grips your heart and puts you in Geordie land with the accent and dialect particular to Tyneside. You will want everything to go well for Etty and Dorothy in the midst of the pain and chaos that surrounds them and invades their lives. You will hope for them to finally find peace in their search for their mother’s love.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:  January 22, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

The Mistress’s smile was more of a grimace—it didn’t look at all welcoming. Her eyes held no warmth in them, and dull and glazed, they reminded Esther of dead fish eyes.

Thankful for being saved, she breathed in the acrid air. But the world now seemed a more frightening place, and even the moon, soaring high in a clear sky, appeared to have a malevolent face.

The nation was at war; an aerial attack might happen any minute, but if your nappies weren’t blindingly white as they flapped on the line—then, according to the housewife law, you’d failed as a mother.

Woman of Courage–a glimpse of Quakers in 1837

Woman of Courage

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

woman of courageAuthor Wanda E. Brunstetter is best known for her fiction books about the Amish. In Woman of Courage, she departs from that focus to write a work of historical fiction whose main character is a Quaker. Amanda Pearson, rejected by her fiancé in New York in 1837, decides to move across the continent to join a missionary couple ministering to the Nez Percé Indians in the Oregon Territory. The first part of her journey is by steamboats and then wagon. At Fort Laramie, she and her father meet up with the guide who is hired to take them the rest of the way by horseback.

Amanda is unprepared for the adventures to come, but she proves to be resilient, courageous, and of strong faith. On her journey she faces the deaths of those she depends on, wild animals, rough mountain men, and Indians from several tribes. Will she make it all the way to Oregon Territory? Can she be dissuaded from her faith in God by the devastations in her life? Will she ever be able to love again?

Brunstetter has researched the time period. She doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for the Quakers, mountain men, or Indians, but portrays them as individuals. This is a Christian book, but it doesn’t play out as a tale where everything works out with magical perfection for the characters who are Christians. They experience internal turmoil and external dangers like nonbelievers, but they have a strong God to rely on during the good times and the bad.

Several times I found myself reading on past my intended stopping place—always a good sign for a book. There are a number of occurrences that I just didn’t predict which keep the book moving at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and interesting. The various settings are described in detail, appropriate to the action in the book and with language that lets the reader visualize the grandeur of nature. A novel with a Christian theme, it contains history, romance, and action along with thought-provoking concerns about evangelizing other cultures.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: There are discussion questions at the end of the book. My version also contained a novella, Woman of Hope, based on a characters from Woman of Courage. It is a quick, interesting bonus read, and as expected, because of the brevity of the work, does not hold much character development.

Publication:  December 1, 2018— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Gray Eagle didn’t mind them teaching his people from the Bible, but it wasn’t right that they expected the Nez Percé to give up many of their customs in favor of the white man’s way of doing things.

She remembered her father saying once that it was important to forgive someone who had wronged you, but that forgiving didn’t mean you had to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes it was best to keep a safe distance from the person who had done you wrong.

“…God, who I believe is the same as the Great Spirit we have worshiped for so many years. I believe it was God who kept me alive when I was taken from my people. He got me through times when I didn’t think I would survive, and it was Him who brought me home again.”

The Only Woman in the Room–beauty, talent, and brains

The Only Woman in the Room

by Marie Benedict

the only woman in the roomWe meet Hedy Kiesler as a young actress in Vienna, Austria, in 1933 just as munitions manufacturer Friedrich (Fritz) Mandl begins courting her. Europe is on the cusp of war, and Hitler has started his attack on Jews. Under other circumstances, Hedy’s parents might have refused permission for the courtship, but they could see the benefit of a marriage to the rich, powerful, and well connected man.

Unfortunately, Mandl’s character changes after their marriage, and he becomes abusive and controlling. Hedy’s father had encouraged her as a child in studying many subjects, especially the sciences. Hedy teams her interest in science with her position as an ornament at dinner parties to listen in on the conversations of dangerous and powerful guests in the Mandl home. Later, after escaping from Fritz, she tries to use that knowledge to save lives as Hitler continues his military advances.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Hedy, her marriage, and the entrance of the United States into the war. The second focuses on her two careers after her escape from Fritz: one as the famous Hedy Lamarr (her new, non-German sounding, stage name) and the other as an inventor. Her talents as an actress and her incredible beauty outweigh her potential contributions to the war effort in the eyes of the men in power at that time.

In The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict has created a historical novel about a very complex woman living in times that were difficult for everyone, but especially for women. It is important to remember that even though the book is well researched, Benedict is basically filling in the skeleton of a plot with details, some of which are true and others that only  might have occurred. In this book Hedy is overcome with guilt over hearing Hitler’s plans but not doing anything about them. She doesn’t believe in God, but she is dogged by a fear that she has not done enough to make up for her silence and inaction. Of course, as she finds out later, as a woman there was little she could contribute that would be valued. During the last part of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder whose scales she was concerned about—her own sense of morality, public opinion, or judgement by a higher being. That was never clarified and yet it appeared to be a driving force for her.

I liked this book but not as much as Benedict’s two prior books, The Other Einstein and Carnegie’s Maid. All three novels address the hidden contributions of women. All three ladies are women of talent and intellect operating under difficult circumstances. All deserve respect, but I think I can empathize more with Mileva, Einstein’s first wife, and with Clara, a lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household. Hedy was born into privilege and by virtue of her beauty moved in important social circles. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, that background erects a barrier for me.

The Only Woman in the Room is a well-written and well-researched historical novel. Benedict specializes in drawing out the stories of women whose intellectual abilities have been overlooked. It will be interesting to see whose story she will discover and share in her next historical novel.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 8, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

I’d become like one of the Rembrandts on the wall or the antique Meissen porcelain on the sideboard. Simply another priceless, inanimate decoration for Fritz to display, a symbol of his wealth and prowess.

It seemed that my best chance of undermining the Third Reich—and ensuring that a German submarine or ship never again harmed a ship full of refugee children—might be to somehow use the knowledge I’d gathered to capitalize on the weakness in the German torpedo systems.

“I must admit it would be hard for us to sell our soldiers and sailors on a weapons system created by a woman. And we’re not going to try.”

The Christmas Prayer–Christmas surprises

The Christmas Prayer

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Christmas PrayerWanda Brunstetter has a little gift for readers in her sweet novella The Christmas Prayer. Departing from her usual Amish fare, Brunstetter creates a tale of three families headed west in a tiny wagon train over the Sierra Nevada mountains with a goal of California: a businessman with his fiancé and her mother, a capable blacksmith in search of gold, and a widower traveling with two young children traumatized by the death of their mother.

Given the length of the book, there is not much opportunity for either plot or character development. The ending is predictable, but overall the novella is a nice addition to the genre of Christian historical fiction.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: novella

Publication:  September 1, 2018— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Is it always going to be this way—Walter treating me like a piece of property and acting like he owns me?

Despite their situation, it seemed that God was intervening, giving hope each time they felt defeated.

She didn’t want anything to spoil the day—something she knew Walter was capable of doing in just a matter of seconds.

Treacherous is the Night–once a spy, always a spy?

Treacherous is the Night

by Anna Lee Huber

Treacherous is the NightAlthough the Great War is over, no one is over the Great War in Anna Lee Huber’s Treacherous is the Night. Every family has been affected by the huge number of fatalities and the return of badly wounded soldiers. Civilians carry the memories of deprivation and on the continent all live daily in the midst of destruction and rebuilding.  For Verity Kent, the end of the war means reunion with a husband long thought dead and the end of her dangerous stint as a spy. Verity is dragged back into the aftermath of the war when she is an unwilling participant in a séance that is an obvious hoax. 

Verity and her husband are trying to sort out their difficult relationship, but manage to put their struggle aside to solve the mystery, decipher codes, and discover who is lying. Huber does an excellent job of putting the reader in the timeframe right after the end of the war, and she reveals the horrors of war without being graphic. She portrays Verity as a woman restricted by the times she lives in, but capable and competent to achieve so much more than is expected from a woman in that period.

I enjoyed Treacherous is the Night and would like to read the first book in the series for more background and to experience Verity’s previous adventures.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Verity Kent Series, but acceptable as a standalone.

Publication:   September 25, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

We might be incapable as of late at discussing anything of importance, but as well-educated upperclass Brits, we could always rely upon our proficiency at inane small talk. After all, we’d been drilled in it since the cradle.

But in my estimation, he was naught but an officious pig, no offense to the swine.

“…the truth is war is hell on everyone who falls near its angry maw. The actions you take thinking to spare the innocent or inexperienced can just as easily cause their destruction, simply because the world is turned so bloody upside down.”

My Real Name is Hanna–extremes of human behavior

My Real Name is Hanna

by Tara Lynn Masih

My Real Name is HannaMy Real Name is Hanna is the story of a Jewish girl and her family who live under horrible circumstances in Ukraine to escape death at the hand of the Nazis and others. This book by Tara Lynn Masih has much potential. Many parts of the survival tale are drawn from the story of a real family that had to live underground. The first part of the book bounces around a little and then settles down into a sequential tale. Although it is a sad story, I didn’t really find myself emotionally involved with any of the characters. Parts of the narrative got my attention, such as when family members were in danger. I wanted to see them survive, but mainly I wanted the book to be over.

The author uses words from other languages freely. I like the authenticity of that but I would have appreciated a glossary, and I think young people would find that helpful as well. The area the family lives in has been occupied by many countries so there are competing cultures and languages—Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and German.

I actually found the “Historical Notes” at the end of the book more interesting than the book itself. Unfortunately, the author includes her own political stance on current events in these historical notes. If she wants to put forth these ideas in her book, I would suggest she do it in an editorial type section separate from a discussion of the historical basis of the book. Like the author, I hope the day will come when we don’t need reminders of the Holocaust as cautionary tales against cruelty. I don’t think, however, that it is appropriate to use her historical notes as a platform for indoctrinating young people into her political views. The story should stand on its own merits, and young people are capable of reading the book and making their own moral conclusions.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Mandel Vilar Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Teens

Notes: Interest Level—Ages 12 and up

Grade Level 10-12

Publication:   September 25, 2018—Mandel Vilar Press

Memorable Lines:

I see in my mind again those posters in the window, the big red letters, the lice, the blaming of Jews for the war. Someday, someone will betray us. For money, for food, for their own lives spared.

I can now hear what sounds like heavy boots approaching the house from down the lane, grinding the dirt and gravel with their murderous purpose.

When you’re hidden away, with no freedom, you crave news of the outside world as much as you crave food.

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