Sunday, June 18, 2017

Reviewing: Naomi's Hope by Jan Drexler

Naomi's Hope is book three in Jan Drexler's Journey to Pleasant Prairie series.  I have enjoyed this series from the start of the journey along the Conestoga Creek through to arriving after many trials to their land in La Grange County, Indiana in 1843. Three years have passed and the community that started as a dream is now settling into permanent homes.  Families are thriving, crops are plentiful and there is peace among their new church district and it continues to grow.

Naomi Schrock has raised her adopted seven-year old Davey for three years.  They found him, the lone survivor of a Tornado hiding inside a large fireplace.  The storm killed his parents and baby sister and raised the house and farm to rubble.  Single and likely to remain so, Naomi loves and dotes on Davey.

Cap Stoltzfus moved to the area for a fresh start. He lost both his wife and son in childbirth seven years ago and is determined to break free of his grief.  By chance, Christian Yoder drops by the clearing where Cap is building his home alone.  It doesn't take long for Christian to size things up and organize a house raising.  The work of many hands quickly builds the sides and roof of his home.  Overwhelmed by the generosity of his new neighbors Cap quickly becomes one of their own.

 Davey found Cap first, quite by accident simply by being a curious boy of seven.  Their farms are adjacent and it's not long before Davey wore a path is to Cap's. Both are taken with each other and develop a special bond.  Naomi and Cap, through Davey, spend time together, developing feelings for one another.  Could they possibly become a family?

Naomi's Hope (Journey to Pleasant Prairie Book #3) by [Drexler, Jan]This is a story of strength, courage and forgiveness.  When community warmly welcomed Cap, they also welcomed Shem Fischer, a minister from Canada to the area.  Shem is agreeable, seemingly devout and insinuates himself comfortably among the people.  Cap is wary, having known Shem under different circumstances growing up.  Before long, there is rising mistrust that threatens to splinter the community.  It takes courage and strength to rise above strife.

Davey is central to the story, tying so many facets together. Young and innocent, his strongest desire is to have a family.  His story will win your heart as he weaves into and out of mishaps. My heart was warmed by this special young man and the love he truly brings to his family.  I heartily recommend this book.  I have grown fond of the characters in this series. I admire the strength and courage they had to move from their homes and travel to a new land only to start over.

"Jan Drexler brings a unique understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the basis for her stories. Jan lives in South Dakota with her husband, their four adult children, two active dogs, and a cat. She is the author of The Prodigal Son Returns, A Mother for His Children (winner of the 2013 TARA award), and A Home for His Family (finalist for the 2016 Inspirational Reader's Choice Award), as well as Hannah's Choice and Mattie's Pledge."- Amazon


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Reviewing: The Farmer's Market Mishap


Meet identical twins Thelma and Elma!  I was introduced to them when I read The Lopsided Christmas Cake by Wanda E Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter. When a buggy accident claimed the lives of their grandparents, the twins inherited a home and store in Topeka Illinois. Moving from Sullivan  to Topeka was not easy and they found their new home was not as ship shape as they remembered from childhood visits.  Hard work and faith carries the girls through each challenge.  The Lopsided Christmas Cake  is a lively story of their coming of age.

The Farmer's Market Mishap centers on Elma and Ben Wagler who it would seem couldn't possibly get together.  Imagine being of marrying age and just not finding the right mate yet matchmakers seem determined to pair you up with unsuitable matches. Elma feels destined to be an old spinster running her store alone after the recent marriage of Thelma to Joseph.  Even though their home is across the street she misses the close companionship she felt with her twin.
Ben has been living with his mother on the family farm since his father passed.  A farrier by trade, his life seems to be too busy to court the young woman his mother has "chosen" for him. He's met every other eligible young lady in his community and feels destined to carry out his life without a wife.

A chance meeting at the farmer's market in Shipshewana sends sparks to both Ben and Elma.  The spark kindled by this encounter leaves a lasting impression on both their hearts but she lives in Topeka and he lives in Grabill.  50 miles is a bit far apart to begin a courtship for this Amish couple!  What of Ben's mother, Dorothy, who couldn't live alone, or the store, or Thelma's new baby?  How can these two get together when distance and family obligations threaten to keep them apart?


This story is light-hearted and heartwarming.  I recommend The Farmer's Market Mishap for anyone who enjoys Wanda Brunstetter's legacy of Amish fiction.



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

An Interview with Author Jody Hedlund

Jody Hedlund's Profile Photo, Image may contain: 1 personI am excited to welcome Inspirational Author Jody Hedlund. I asked her to join me to answer a few questions about her latest book, With You Always releases today. With You Always is the first book in the new Orphan Train series.  


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.

How did you come up with the idea for the first book in the series, With You Always?

For this first book in the series, I decided to base the story around the placing out of women that happened in 1857 as a result of a financial crisis and economic panic in the autumn of that year. Women laborers were already at a disadvantage with poor working conditions and low wages. In September of 1857, estimates of New York unemployment ran as high as forty percent. Female employment was cut by almost half. With prostitution already a main source of income for many women, the recession drove even more to desperate measures and the number of women in prison rose as well.

To meet the growing crisis, the Children’s Aid Society in New York, along with organizations in other cities, who were already sending children West, decided to set up special placement offices to find jobs for seamstresses and trade girls in the West. The associations only wanted women of “good character” and they were required to provide references. If the women met the qualifications, then they were sent on trains to towns in Mid-Western states, particularly central Illinois where the demand for cheap labor was prevalent. They were presented to western employers as “helpless females left without the means of support.” Placement of these women continued until the spring of 1858.

It was my hope through the first book in the series, With You Always, to give readers a glimpse into the disadvantage of women during this particular era by showing the heroine Elise Neumann’s struggle, first in New York City and then also the continued heartache and problems that arose after leaving her family behind so that she could attempt to start a new life in central Illinois.

What special research did you do in writing With You Always?

In the beginning phases of writing this series, I did a great deal of reading about the orphan train movement. In particular, I really loved Stephen O’Conor’s book, Orphan Trains, because he includes so many personal stories and details about real orphans, which are heart wrenching.

I also read, A History of New York City to 1898, by Burrows and Wallace, which gave me great insights into the lives of immigrants, particularly immigrant women. Masses of foreigners were arriving into New York City on a daily basis, and the book gave a detailed look into their pathetic housing situation, the difficult working conditions, as well as gang problems and the underworld.
Finally, another important aspect of the story that required a concentrated amount of research was the development of railroads. The mid-1800’s was an incredible period of growth for the railroad industry in the Mid-West. The new railroads aided the orphan train movement but also brought about the settlement of the Midwestern states, including Illinois, which is one of the settings of the book.

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.

With You Always is the third book you’ve released in 2017.  How do you find time to write so many books?

I keep a very rigorous writing schedule, usually writing six days a week. I give myself a challenging word count goal—a certain number of words to write every day. Then, in the morning, I sit down and write until I meet my goals. It’s as simple . . . and as hard as that!

I like to compare being an author to a marathon runner. The person training to run a marathon doesn’t start off running twenty-six miles the first time she runs. Instead she begins with just a few miles, strengthens her muscles, builds her endurance, and slowly adds more miles.

Writing is the same way. Over the years, I’ve strengthened my writing muscles and built up my endurance so that now I can write faster and for longer stretches.

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.

 Do you have any parting words?

I love hearing from readers! Make sure you stop by one of these places and say hello!
I hang out on Facebook here: Author Jody Hedlund
I also love to chat on Twitter: @JodyHedlund
My home base is at my website: jodyhedlund.com
Find me on Instagram: instagram.com/jodyhedlund/

Come pin with me on Pinterest: pinterest.com/jodyhedlund/pins/

Thank you for stopping by Jody!  Please visit one of the places and say hello to Jody.  I recommend this book and already look forward to the second book.  Check out my review!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Take a Chance On A Love So True

A Love So True (Teaville Moral Society Book #2) by [Jagears, Melissa]A Love so True by Melissa Jagears is a welcome addition to the Teaville Moral Society collection.  In Southeast Kansas, circa 1908, a young man named David Kingsman arrived at A.K. Glass factory by his father.  Always ready to turn a profit, David's father wanted him to get that factory ready to sell. Instead, David fired two "key" employees who Loafed on the job and settled in to make necessary changes to the factory.  Hoping to impress a difficult to please father, David sees potential in the business that may prove it worthwhile for the family business to invest in this factory and the city.

Evelyn Wisely is a young woman dedicated to the orphans in Teaville.   Children  of the local soiled doves lived in the orphanage started by Lydia and Nicholas Lowe.  Housed in a mansion Nicholas built, the children thrive under Evelyn's care with the help of her parents, .....not content to house only these orphans, she visits other children on Saturdays to give them a much needed warm lunch to eat with a meaningful bible story.  She was determined to feed their souls along with their bodies.  It never seemed enough, however, to serve these children.  She wanted to serve their mothers by helping them improve their lives by leaving the dreaded profession of prostitution.

It takes one person to convince another to make a change in society.  Caring for the unloved and getting others to see them as God's creation is no small feat. The perseverance and dedication to bring these unloved women and children out of such a deplorable lifestyle was an amazing fight that I don't know I possess.  While this is fiction, the implications of the impact on those who did fight to make changes for the desperate women who were plunged low to a life of prostitution and alcohol were phenomenal.  The children who were left in the wake of that lifestyle were left to fend for themselves.  This is a difficult topic and Melissa Jagears engaged this reader's awareness in the midst of a wonderful novel.

Evelyn and David develop a high regard for one another as the book tackles obstacles they must each overcome in order to be free to fall in love. There is so much more inside the pages of this book than a simple love story. I recommend this book with warmth for your summer reading pleasure.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Take A Ride on the Illinois Central When You Read "With You Always " by Jody Hedlund


With You Always (Orphan Train Book #1) by Jody Hedlund is a very compelling book that will keep you going from the streets of New York to Quincy, Illinois.  This is a story about a young woman overcoming great odds and emerging as a leader among some of the poorest of  her time.  
The Neumann sisters, Elise, Marianne and Sophie lost both parents after emigrating to America. Life became just struggle after struggle for them. After the Financial Panic of 1857, Elise made the difficult decision to sign up with the Children's Aid Society, a group that worked under contract with many employers to offer women of good moral character employment opportunities. She left behind her sisters and two young orphan charges at a shelter in New York.  She reasoned they would all be reunited once she could save for their fares to Illinois.

This books is written about a time when so many immigrant women and children bore the brunt of poverty.  Poor working and living conditions made their plight deplorable.  An opportunity such as Elise seized, was a ticket out of poverty if she could earn enough to pay back her train fare, living expenses and other costs of employment incurred.  
With You Always (Orphan Train Book #1) by [Hedlund, Jody]  Along the journey to Quincy Illinois she encounters Thornton, a man she briefly met in New York.   He is handsome, attentive and takes her to dine at places she's only dreamt of. World's apart, and unknown to her at the time, he is the son of a wealthy man from New York. Along with his twin, he is racing to build a community along the Illinois Central Line, competing for the legacy of their dying father.  His job is to build that city and marry a woman he loves within six months!

While building the community in our story, Thornton discovers through Elise that under the facade of paperwork compiled by his assistant, there is real work for him to do.  Ledgers often tell a different story than what is beyond an office door.   Construction workers or Laundresses are much more than entries on a payroll list. What happens to Thornton as he really begins to build the community of Quincy Illinois is an uplifting transformation.  He deserves to be cheered on no matter who wins his father's competition if only for his willingness to learn from those who he worked shoulder to shoulder with.

I heartily recommend this book for so many reasons.  While fiction, it brings to life the colorful people who had the faith and courage to leave the comfort of what was known for the unknown in hopes it was ever so much better for their families.  Historical fiction such as this, written by Jody Hedlund is a catalyst for the reader to enjoy romantic fiction while spurring the desire to learn one more way just how our vast country was settled. A remarkable read, With You Always is a memorable story to read, and read yet again. Available June 6th, 2017 at your favorite booksellers.



Monday, May 15, 2017

Reviewing Trusting Grace by Maggie Brendan


I recently finished reading Trusting Grace, Book three of the Virtues and Vices series by Maggie Brendan.  It is a story of one man's journey to let go of the past and learn to trust again.  It is also a story of a young widow who has all but giving up her dream of becoming a wife once more with the children she longs for. But more than this, it is also the story of second chances at life, love and happiness.
Grace Bidwell's lot in life shifted dramatically when her husband died and her father became disabled.  The farm her husband left behind is her livelihood. She has a potato crop to get in the ground and she can't do it alone.  Posting a help wanted notice in the mercantile seems like her best option to hire a suitable farm  hand.  Taking a chance like this could backfire and net a scoundrel for an employee but Grace had very few options to draw from.

Trusting Grace (Virtues and Vices of the Old West Book #3): A Novel by [Brendan, Maggie]Robert Frasier is stranger in town looking for work.  He needs to support the three children his late wife left behind.  She never told him about the children, nor her illness.  Saddled with this responsibility after losing his wife and then his farm, he and the children roamed the countryside together, living off the land until stopping in the Gallatin Valley in Montana.  His luck begins to change when hires on to help Grace with the crop. Robert promised to stay only until the crop was in but what he found on the farm was much more than he bargained for.

The setting for this book is richly described and the reader can almost reach up and touch the forever blue skies of Montana.  The characters are well developed with thoughts and concerns befitting of a time when the west was getting settled and communities began growing.  From hoeing the fields to unpacking merchandise at the mercantile it feels like you are right there planting the potatoes with Robert or watching Grace bake rhubarb pies with the girls.  Maggie Brendan is a very descriptive writer who keeps the reader interested in her books with colorful narrative and lively characters.

I enjoyed reading Trusting Grace for many reasons. It is set at a time when there were so many possibilities.  Montana was an exciting place to be after the Civil War. There was an air of being in a modern town with cultural experiences and a dashing hoodlum who causes havoc one can expect from the wild west!  Times could be rough when folks relied on the weather for their livelihood but the rewarding ending to this story are encouraging.

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Awakened Heart by Jody Hedlund

An Awakened Heart (Orphan Train): An Orphan Train Novella by [Hedlund, Jody]From the opening lines I knew I was hooked.  An Awakened Heart (An Orphan Train Novella) by Jody Hedlund is set in 1857.  New York City is a hotbed of immigrant lives melding together to make sense of this new country that housed so many in so little space.  People outnumbered jobs and housing was worse.  Flimsy tenements couldn't be built fast enough.  Families who dreamed of a better life were cast into disillusioned homes they shared with rats by night.

An Awakened Heart is the story of Christine Pendleton and Guy Bedell. He, an ordained minister preached a message of hope to the hopeless prostitutes.  She, a wealthy single woman yearning for meaning in her life began to volunteer once a week at the Centre Street Chapel.  Two people so far removed by ordinary standards yet in classic Jody Hedlund style come together as naturally as though he had stopped for tea in her parlor.  The characters are complex and the writing is so descriptive you can almost picture yourself alongside the women sitting on the trestle benches for a Sunday service.

I found myself looking at the characters and wondering what would become of them.  Young women wearing tattered clothes on bodies covered with the grime of poverty and shame. How can one sheltered young woman hope to encourage prostitutes to repent and rebuild their lives in an unforgiving city.  One would almost think Miss Pendleton would have been trod on herself when coming to grips with the heart of this matter.  With the stroke of a pen the author brought this woman to life in a very unexpected manner.

When the story ended I knew there was much more to come. This era is an important time in the history of our country.  It was a time of hope dashed and dreams buried beneath the harsh reality of a country that wasn't quite ready for the possibilities that lay ahead. I liked this story.  Sure, it is a romance but it is so much more than a romance. It is fiction you can change the names but these compelling characters could have been any one of our ancestors who came to this country and faced such trials. Thank God there were unsung heroes like Miss Pendleton and Reverend Bedell had the courage to work among the poor women of this difficult time in our country.

I can be allowed to be optimistic as I write this sitting on my side of history because I know the outcome of the hard work and resilience of those who came before me. I look forward to book one in the Orphan Train series, With You Always, coming June 6, 2017.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Reviewing: The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis

Product DetailsThe Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis is one of those special books that will live on in your memory if only for the lessons learned. Sallie Riehl is a young Amish woman who has looked around the bend since childhood. She is determined to take just one trip before she settles down and joins the church.  Life circumstances alter her plans and she goes instead to Cape May, New Jersey for a summer job as a nanny.

This delightful story is not at all predictable.  The setting is rich with an historical beach that takes on its own life with its crashing waves, mysterious Cape May diamonds and sand castles. In the background is the Cape May lighthouse.  As Sallie and Autumn fill their days with summer activities they both come to terms with choices that will shape their lives.  Sometimes when life turns out a little differently than we plan, we can still find what we are looking for.

This is a standalone novel and a wonderful way to start reading one of Beverly Lewis' many books.  I highly recommend it for your reading list.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Find Yourself Between the Pages of Sandpiper Cove!

Sandpiper Cove: A Hope Harbor Novel by [Hannon, Irene]Sandpiper Cove is a niche tucked away at Hope Harbor, a magical place that is home for some of the nicest people you could hope to meet.  It's a place for second chances and surprising encounters. It would seem an idyllic little spot except for a string of unprovoked vandalism in their midst. It is also the place where two of the most unlikely people meet and unite efforts to put an end to the crimes.

For ex-con Adam Stone, Hope Harbor is a realm so far removed from  his painful youth.  Moved by Reverend Baker's prison ministry, Stone was encouraged to settle there after he served his time.  He was welcomed to his new church community and was blessed with the uncanny trust of his new boss B.J. Stevens as a member of her construction crew.  His life was so much better until his place was vandalized not once but twice and his dog, Clyde was left for dead.

Widowed Police Chief Lexie Graham, a single mother, moved back to Hope Harbor soon after the death of her husband.  She is dedicated to her family and her job.  Determined to keep her town safe she enlists Stone's help to find the vandals.  What Lexie discovers about Stone is from that age old adage about not judging a book by its cover.  He is rough around the edges but there is definitely more to him than meets the eye.  As the story unfolded I was reminded of how little things we do touch others in a big way.  It is so easy to be put off by appearances or base our thoughts on what others may say.  Nothing about Stone is what Lexie believed at first.  Aren't first impressions always right?

Bestselling author Irene Hannon has a gift for developing characters in well designed plots.  Whether she is writing about romance or a suspenseful novel like Buried Secrets you will find complex characters that will keep you guessing the outcome until the story culminates at the end. It is no small wonder that she continues to delight her readers.  Sandpiper Cove is no exception.  I enjoyed this entertaining book and the study in human nature.

For my part, I was easily hooked from the beginning of this book and was sad to see it end.  It is a compelling story with a community that beckons.  I love the Oregon Coast and visiting coastal towns that are a lot like Hope Harbor.  It is easy to recommend this latest installment of the Hope Harbor series, it is just that good.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Secret Courage

A Secret Courage (The London Chronicles Book 1) by [Goyer, Tricia]I just finished reading A Secret Courage (The London Chronicles Book 1) by Tricia Goyer.  Travel with me to the countryside from London circa 1943 to Danesfield House.  Hidden behind the doors of this beautiful manor estate are men and women doing their part to win the war in Europe. What they didn't know could have crippled their work and cost them their lives because a spy was in their midst!  Espionage and intrigue made for those special discoveries that led to usurping air strikes that could have decimated Great Britain following the terrible blitz on London.

The cast of characters were brilliantly written and each part played a role that suited their surroundings. Emma, our heroine was an American who traveled to England to study at Oxford. Her mother hailed from England and emigrated to America after marrying a soldier from the states after W.W.I.  Emma joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force soon after war broke out.  Stationed at Danesfield House, her job was carefully studying aerial photographs taken over Germany for signs of anything out of the ordinary.

Will Fleming, is a handsome Englishman who worked for the British government recording the changes in the landscape of the country through his painting.  He and Emma met by chance at a bookstore while she and her friend Vera were on leave for a day.

Vera, along with Georgette are Emma's friends and coworkers. These women work closely together and also share living quarters.  The ladies lived in Nissen huts, which are what I grew up knowing as "Quonset huts.  
Adding to the intrigue was Berndt, who, as a handyman, seemed to be everywhere.  Edward, the sergeant who was Emma's superior officer, supervised Emma and her coworkers.  The work being done on this estate was paramount to the cause and security was strict. People who worked together didn't necessarily know all the pieces of a project or why locations of study were chosen.  The timing was just as cryptic, making it difficult for the information to be cracked.

Emma was a dedicated member of the W.A.A.F. who was vigilant in the secret nature of her work.  Her only brother, Samuel, a pilot lost his life when his plane was downed.  She mourned his loss greatly and she worked all the harder to contribute her best to the war effort. It was her fervent hope that if she could find an important clue while studying the photographs perhaps she could help save the lives of others.

The plot of A Secret Courage was well constructed and the characters well written.  All mysteries seem to have a red herring or two and while I had some suspicions, I'll admit I was surprised more than once.  It is fun to guess an outcome but much better find that the author truly kept a mystery, creating a better book.  I heartily recommend this book. I am glad that it is only book one in a series because I feel there is more to unfold in this story.