With her brother fighting in France, Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for the Great War effort, even though her constant efforts to display heWith her brother fighting in France, Grace Mabry is determined to do her part for the Great War effort, even though her constant efforts to display her patriotism are met by disapproval from her father—most recently in particular, sneaking into a masquerade ball to hand out white feathers to upper class conscientous objectors. Since baling hay seems safer and less scandalous than any of Grace's other suggestions on how she could support their country, Grace and her maid are soon sent to a Kent to bale hay for the Women's Forage Corps. There Grace is introduced to a group of hardworking women—who are understandably sceptical of Grace's farm skills—as well as the mysterious masked Lord Roxwood, on whose property they are based.
Lord Roxwood has little interest in the WFC volunteers who are working on his land, until one of them lets a litter of pigs ruin his rose garden and and stumbles upon him on one of the rare occasions that he's unmasked. Recently blinded and significantly scarred as the result of an accident, Jack is struggling to come to terms with his new appearance, especially given his fiancee's less than appreciative reaction to it. Grace Mabry quickly becomes a welcome distraction from the responsibilites of his future and his work for the government, but he can't help but shake the feeling that Grace's presence in his life is more than coincidental. Have they met before? How did she come to work for the WFC on his property? And does she have ties to his accident?
As Grace and Jack's relationship draws them closer together, the harder it will be for them to trust each other when Jack's suspicions are brought to light. Can they ever trust each other again?
I adored Kate Breslin's debut novel and have been tentatively awaiting Not By Sight. Isn't that the way with a second novel—you're excited to read it, but worried that it might be overshadowed by its predecessor? Stumbling across the synopsis for Not By Sight a couple of months ago, I was pleased to learn that Kate wasn't sticking to the WWII setting from her first novel. As much as I loved For Such a Time, I'm glad that the focus of this novel is entirely different, forcing me to concentrate on the story at hand rather than comparing the two books. If you're looking for another For Such a Time, you'll probably be disappointed. If you're interested in a WWI novel with a focus away from the trenches, a fiesty but niave suffragette, and a bit of espionage, you're in for a treat!
If you read my review of The Hourglass Factory, you'll know that I love reading about the suffragette movement. While this book doesn't delve too deep into the movement itself, it fuels a lot of Grace's ideology. Grace is far from your model feminist, and at times her beliefs are heartfelt but incredibly flawed. To begin with, I felt frustrated by Grace's attempts to help her fellow WFC workers. She had an answer to all of their problems, but often this answer was just a pat on the back and an encouragement that, when the suffrage movement had won, women would be free to do anything they wished. But as the story developed, I realised that there was a reason why Grace's behaviour was like that of an incredibly naive fairy godmother. She's supposed to be young and idealistic. At times, her open-mindedness and optimistim are beneficial to others—like Jack, who is scared that no woman can look at him after his accident, and appreciates Grace's unusual outlook on life. At others times, Grace offers help but doesn't have enough understanding to truly follow through with her aid. I appreciated this flawed side of her. She has a lot to learn—especially about those who haven't come from such a fortunate background as hers. If Grace irritates you to begin with, please stick with her—her journey does make her a lot more likable.
Another reviewer likened Grace and Jack's relationship to that of Beauty and the Beast, and I quite liked this comparison. A large part of their relationship revolves around Grace driving Jack all over the English countryside and describing to him the scenes that they witness. This seems gimmicky, but given Jack's blindness and Grace's desire to be a novelist, it makes sense, and there are some really sweet scenes between them. Jack challenges Grace's creativity, and she confronts some of his misconceptions about his appearance and how others perceive him. They rile each other up a lot, but seem to make a good match. I enjoyed the way in which their relationship developed, as well as the beautiful descriptions of the countryside surrounding Kent. Given that Jack is technically engaged to another woman at the start of the novel, I felt a little uneasy about the idea of him falling for Grace, but most of their relationship is very innocent, and the author approaches this issue very well.
While there are many things I like about Britain, I would never call myself patriotic. As such, I was a little wary about this aspect of Grace's character. There are some wartime romances that have rubbed me the wrong way because of their in-your-face patriotism and blind support of the war, which often skims over the darker, grimier aspects of warfare. Not By Sight, thankfully, was not one of these novels. While Grace initially exerts blind patroitism and commitment to Britain's part in the war, her time in the WFC slowly causes her to reconsider her attitude. Witnessing men who, like her brother, have fought in France and returned with broken bodies and spirits, Grace realises that war is about more than inspiring words and a hearty spirit—and that she may have misjudged the men whom she handed her white feathers to. The message of this novel is neither pro- or anti-war, simply truthful about the damage and loss of life that occurs in any war.
The espionage mentioned on the back cover of this book intrigued me, but it was often overshadowed by the romance between Grace and Jack. The details about Jack's job as a spy definitely became more prominent towards the end of the novel, but by then I already had my suspicions about a secondary character, and they turned out to be right (although I hadn't been sure about their motivations). If you're thinking of reading this book because of the espionage storyline, I wouldn't particularly recommend it. The details about this part of the war are interesting, but they don't take up a lot of the book, and several of the events at the end of the novel felt very contrived and rushed. I'm not sure if this is because I was reading an ARC, but I felt that too many things came together in too short a period of time. Given the wartime setting, the Happily Ever After was a little bit too perfect.
Ultimately, I did really enjoy Not By Sight. The romance was endearing, the subject of the WFC was intriguing, and I appreciated the friendships that Grace formed and the character growth she experienced. My biggest issue is probably the speed at which events occurred towards the end of the novel, which caused several of them to feel contrived or a little too perfect. I'm not too disappointed, but it keeps this novel from finding a place among my favourites. I do appreciate that Kate Breslin chose to explore some lesser known aspects of Britain's war efforts, and that she chose such a wonderfully flawed heroine to explore them with. Not By Sight is certainly a unique novel, and I hope other readers enjoy its beauty as much as I did.
Charlotte Dolinsky had a difficult childhood, but her relationship with her brother has provided some security over the years. She was skeptical whenCharlotte Dolinsky had a difficult childhood, but her relationship with her brother has provided some security over the years. She was skeptical when he wrote to tell her that he had fallen in love with an Amish woman, but her life is turned truly upside down when she receives word that her brother has unexpectly passed away. When her letters to her brother's girlfriend provide little in the way of answers, Charlotte sets off for Lancaster County determined to uncover the truth about her brother's death. Having done some research about the Amish and picked up some suitable second-hand clothing, she's convinced that she can fit into the community and do some digging without anyone discovering who she really is. Charlotte hasn't been in Lancaster more than a day before she learns that there's more to being Amish than putting on a bonnet and not using electricty. And, against all efforts to the contrary, she's finding that she actually likes her brother's girlfriend, Hannah. The more time she spends with Hannah's family, the more she understands why Ethan felt comfortable here. In fact, she's starting to think that it might not be so crazy to open her own heart up to God, especially when she begins seeing signs that remind of her Ethan and provide her with an overwhelming sense of peace. But this peace might not last so long if Hannah and her family uncover Charlotte's true identity. Even if the Amish are known for their spirit of forgiveness, will they understand why Charlotte chose to deceive them?
Back in 2011 a friend leant me Beth Wiseman's debut novel, Plain Perfect, and I fell in love. I sped through Beth's novels as quickly as I could, fitting them in around university deadlines and reviewing commitments. Perhaps it's because I read so many of them in quick succession, but it feels like it's been ages since Beth released a new Amish novel. A quick look at GoodReads informed me that it's actually only been two years, but it felt like forever! As much as I enjoy Beth's contemporary novels, I've missed her Amish ones. I love the way that she depicts her characters dealing with real life issues, devoid of romanticism or over-simplification. Her characters might ride in buggies and use propane refrigerators, but sometimes I can relate to them even more than characters in contemporary novels.
Have I built this book up too much? Are you going to be disappointed after all this hype? I hope not! Honestly, I was a little worried that I wouldn't enjoy this book as much as I did the Daughters of the Promise series. Several of those books are among my favourite Amish novels, and sadly it's often the case that an author's later books don't contain the same originality. Thankfully, this wasn't the case with Her Brother's Keeper. Beth didn't try to replicate her first series of books, and I'm grateful for that. I'm glad she chose to write about a different community, with an entirely new premise.
How believable is it that an English girl can trick her way into an Amish community? Well, as this book proves, it's not very realistic at all. I had my doubts about how Beth could pull this plot off, and I was glad to discover that a large part of the story focused on Charlotte discovering that she wasn't going to have an easy time of fooling Hannah's family into believeing that she was really Amish. From the moment she stepped into their home, the lies began trickling off her tongue. It was humorous and fascinating to watch Hannah attempt to assimilate herself into the family, and make excuses for the things she didn't understand. Some of the lies were a little more ridiculous than others, but I'll put their acceptance down to the Amish's naturally trusting nature.
As long-time fans of Beth will know, she doesn't shy away from sensitive subject matter. We learn early on that Charlotte and Ethan both experienced emotional abuse at the hands of their parents and foster carers, abuse that may have contributed to Ethan's mental health problems. There are even some difficult and poignant discussions about whether suicide is viewed as a sin, and if someone will go to Heaven if their mental health problems led to their death. While Beth doesn't offer any specific theological answers to the questions that are posed, I appreciated the sensitive way in which the characters discussed these issues, and the conclusions they eventually came to.
I really enjoyed watching Hannah and Charlotte's friendship develop, and witnessing them navigate the obstacles placed in the way of their relationship.Much like Charlotte, Hannah has trust issues, particularly when it comes to disclosing details of her relationship with Ethan, and her doubts and worries about why their relationship ended the way it did. Both girls were beautifully honest and flawed, and it was encouraging to have two protaginists so realistically portrayed. Bonnet or not, I'm sure most readers will be able to relate to one of the girls, or maybe even both of them.
I'm torn when it comes to the spiritual aspect of the novel. While I loved the idea of God speaking to Charlotte through an image in the clouds, the development of Charlotte's faith seemed rather sudden given that she didn't seem to have much of a spiritual background (aside from her friendship with Ryan). I kind of wished the development of Charlotte's faith had been more gradual, with more doubts. It seemed like it took a massive jump when she saw the picture in the sky, and I'm not sure how realistic this is for someone who previously had so little faith and refused to trust anyone.
While there is some romance in Her Brother's Keeper, it doesn't take centre stage, and I was thankful for this. As much as I love a good romance novel, I appreciated the opportunity to read about the relationship between Charlotte and her brother, and then Charlotte and Hannah. There are so many important relationships that aren't romantic, and the depiction of Charlotte and Hannah's budding friendship was particularly touching, especially as they helped each other overcome their personal burdens.
Honestly, I could probably think of even more things I loved about this book. Contrary to what the synopsis might suggest, this novel is not a contrived comedy of errors about an English woman pretending to be Amish. It's a touching, heart-breaking story of two women who loved a man in very different ways, and are struggling to come to terms with his untimely death. I highly recommend Her Brother's Keeper to readers who prefer their Amish fiction to be challenging yet encouraging, full of flawed characters, and completely unputdownable. ...more
Long before her father’s unexpected death, Caroline Tyler had taken on most of the responsibilities required for operating the Windmill Point LighthouLong before her father’s unexpected death, Caroline Tyler had taken on most of the responsibilities required for operating the Windmill Point Lighthouse. While other young women—including her own sister Tessa—might prefer looking after a home and tending to children, Caroline has grown to love the lighthouse where she grew up. She can’t imagine living anywhere else, or doing any other kind of job—until the lighthouse inspector arrives to inform her that she is no longer allowed to remain at the lighthouse and that a man—a veteran returning from the Civil War—is going to replace her. Allowing her and her siblings to stay in the lighthouse after her father’s death was apparently a polite courtesy, and now Caroline is faced with only a week to find somewhere new for them to live, and a new job. But if she isn’t allowed to work in a lighthouse—an occupation she is trained to do—who else will offer her employment? Will she be forced to marry simply to put a roof over the heads of her siblings?
Although Ryan Chambers applied for a job as a lighthouse keeper, he didn’t expect to be given the position. Not only is his hand crippled from the Battle of Gettysburg, but his knowledge of lighthouses is limited to what he has learned from his sister, whose husband is also a keeper. In fact, he isn’t sure if he’s the right man for this job at all. The only way he can numb the pain of the lingering shrapnel damage and rid the nightmares of war from his mind is to take opium pills and drink whisky—both of which put him into such a stupor that he might not awaken in time to attend to the lamp in the lighthouse. He longs for a second chance, and an opportunity to earn money to make amends for some of his mistakes during the war, but he isn't sure if this is the right place for him.
Ryan doesn’t expect the previous keeper to still be residing at Windmill Point when he arrives, and he’s confused as to why he’s been offered the job when Caroline seems entirely capable—especially considering that she has four siblings to support, one of whom is ill and bedridden. He and Caroline strike a deal, where her family can remain at the Point while she teaches him all there is to know about tending the light. Although Caroline talks of moving her family and finding a new job, Ryan can see how much she loves the lighthouse. Surely this is the job she was born to do? But when strange accidents begin occurring around the Point, Ryan wonders if some of the locals don’t agree with Caroline continuing to operate the lighthouse. Who is trying to scare Caroline away, and why? Can Ryan convince Caroline to stay, or will the threats—and Ryan’s nightmares—scare her away?
I read the first Beacons of Hope novel at the start of this year and absolutely fell in love with it. While Hearts Made Whole made its way on to my wishlist, I did worry that it might not live up to its predecessor. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded. While the two novels did have a similar premise—a man and woman thrown together under unexpected circumstances—Ryan and Caroline didn’t rush into their relationship or marry in haste. As much as I love a good marriage of convenience story, I enjoyed how Ryan and Caroline’s relationship developed, how they got to know each other while operating the lighthouse and spending time with Caroline’s family.
That said, this is not your sweet, fluffy romance where the characters always have a chaperone and never touch each other. There is chemistry between these two right from the start, and it’s clear that they’re almost instantly attracted to each other. I love the way that Jody Hedlund writes about passion and romance. I can’t think a lot of authors who write for the Christian market who portray relationships the way Jody does. Ryan and Caroline are attracted to each other, and embrace this attraction early on in their relationship, but they aren’t overcome with passion. There’s discussion of consent and respecting each other, and when they find themselves locked in a cellar together they continue this attitude of respect and self-control. I’m tired of reading books where characters (particularly male ones) can’t control themselves when they’re alone with someone of the opposite sex. Ryan is falling in love with Caroline and very attracted to her, but he’s a true gentleman, not an animal, and he knows how to control his desires and respect a woman. What more could you ask for in a romantic hero?
I was a little cautious about Ryan’s character initially. Tortured heroes often go one of two ways in romance novels—they need the heroine to “fix” them, or they’re not allowed to fall in love with the heroine until they’ve overcome all of their problems. Either way, they have to be perfect before they can live happily ever after. This wasn’t the case for Ryan. To put it short, when he meets Caroline he’s a crippled opium addict who has a drinking problem and is haunted by his past mistakes during the war. Surprisingly (even to me) Caroline doesn’t judge him, push him away or try to make him leave the lighthouse when she discovers the ways he manages his pain. She tries to help him, but she does so incredibly gently, and not once does she push Ryan to give up his crutches. She waits until he’s ready, and supports him fully. I was incredibly touched by the way Ryan’s addictions were dealt with. Obviously this would be an entirely different situation if Ryan’s addictions were harming anyone but himself (especially if he were a danger to Caroline’s younger siblings), but given the circumstances, this situation was dealt with carefully and without judgement. The depiction of Ryan’s struggle to give up his pain medication and learn what he could achieve without it was incredibly sympathetic. Although Ryan has to fight his demons and make amends for his past mistakes, he still isn’t entirely perfect at the end of the novel. He can’t get back the fingers that he lost in the war, and he will always have to be careful around alcohol because of his addiction—and Caroline understands this and embraces this as part of their relationship.
There's another fantastic relationship in this novel: that of Caroline and her lighthouse. Obviously, lighthouse keeping isn’t for everyone (in fact, her sister Tessa abhors it), but Caroline has clearly fallen in love with the occupation. That she should be forbidden from doing what she loves because she is female is infuriating, and I appreciated the way that Jody worked this angle into the story. Caroline’s fight to do the work she loves and support her family is one that many women in this period faced, and I understood how tempted she was to marry for convenience in order to protect her younger siblings. How many other women entered loveless—and possibly abusive—marriages because they had no male family members to support them? I also appreciated Caroline’s friend Esther, who used her husband’s political position to lobby for women’s rights, and other causes that were close to her heart.
Hearts Made Whole contained several elements that made it the perfect romance for me—a relationship full of passion (and plenty of consent and respect!), a perfectly imperfect hero, and a small victory for women’s rights. I haven’t even had time to talk about the suspense, or the tumultuous relationship between Caroline and her sister—so you’ll probably just have to read this book for yourself! In short, Jody Hedlund is quickly becoming one of my favourite historical romance authors, and I hope that Tessa’s story is the next one in the Beacons of Hope series. ...more
Anna Konig has no desire to leave the small community she grew up in to travel to the New World, but since she's one of the few church members who canAnna Konig has no desire to leave the small community she grew up in to travel to the New World, but since she's one of the few church members who can speak English, she has little choice but to accompany those who are taking the trecherous journey across the sea to America. Initially Anna hopes that the journey will be short, and that she can quickly return to Europe via another ship, but just getting onboard a boat is difficult enough. Anna attempts to navigate the intricacies of purchasing passage for all the members of their party, ensuring that they have enough food and water for the voyage, and determining how best to transport all of their belongings. The only English-speaking member of the group, Anna quickly learns that her people are dubbed “Peculiars”, and while not terribly well-respected, they are welcome onboard most ships providing that they can pay for the journey. Anna's group aren't the only Peculiars making this trip, and the majority of the passengers onboard the Charming Nancy are from similar communities.
Bairn, the Scottish carpenter of the Charming Nancy, has no desire to mingle with the Peculiars from the Lower Deck, but one young boy keeps getting into trouble with the sailors. Bairn is forced to confront the one English-speaker out of the group to address the issues about Felix, and in doing so, quickly learns about the difficulties the passengers are facing—overcrowded and leaky sleeping quarters, an inability to properly launder clothes, and unbearable smells. All Bairn wants to do is make enough money to have a ship of his own one day, but he's drawn towards Anna and the peaceful nature of her people. As their journey to the New World stretches on and the passengers face sickness and are forced to make sacrifices, Bairn is challenged by the actions of the Peculiars. Does his future really lie at sea, or somewhere new? Is he drawn to Anna by mere human attraction, or because she reminds of someone from his hazy, forgotten childhood?
I've long been a fan of Amish fiction, and I'm always interested when an author finds a way to bring something new to the genre. I've enjoyed Suzanne Woods Fisher's more traditional Amish novels, but I haven't been able to keep up with all of her recent releases. Too many books, too little time, right? When I heard that she was writing a novel about some of the first Amish settlers to travel to the New World, and one that featured a Scottish character, I knew I had to make the time to read it. I love learning about the history of the Anabaptists, but I haven't read that many books set in the early eighteenth century, or ones that cover the original settlers. And of course, I have to see how well any author depicts her Scottish characters!
Even if you're not a history geek, you're sure to be entertained by the descriptions of life onboard a ship in 1737. I didn't know a lot about sea travel during this period, but Suzanne quickly made me feel as if I was on the Charming Nancy along with Anna and Bairn. The journey to the New World wasn't pleasant or easy, as Suzanne herself details in her Author's Note. I quickly determined that the decision to leave Europe wasn't one made lightly, given how easy it was to succumb to disease, and how many ships arrived in America with significantly less passengers than they had when they departed. Although ships tried to stock as much food and water as necessary, there were often unexpected delays due to unpredictable weather. These people were brave, and I don't know if I would have been on that boat if I'd had the choice. I could relate to Anna's desire to stay at home with her grandparents, with everything that was familiar to her.
Having read Suzanne's Author's Note, I've learned that it's probably unrealistic that so many members of Anna's party arrived in the New World. Statistically, not so many would have survived the journey, with many succumbing to illnesses due to the unsanitary and cramped living conditions. Although I sympathise with Suzanne's explanation that it's difficult to write a hopeful novel when sticking to the facts of such a difficult situation, the historian in me knows that this book isn't entirely accurate, and that the realities of life onboard such a ship in this time period were neatened up for the sake of making the story easier to read for the more sensitive readers. There are a lot of fantastic historical details in this book, but the fact is, far more people would have died. It's not a nice fact, or a pretty one, but it's true. If you're a die-hard historian, you might not be able to get past this.
Initially I wasn't sure why Suzanne chose to tell parts of the story from Felix's point of view, but it quickly became apparent that he provided insight that Anna and Bairn couldn't. While Bairn struggled with his feelings of uneasiness towards the Peculiars, and Anna tried to overcome seasickness and help her fellow passengers, Felix explored the ship and introduced the reader to the realities of life onboard a ship. He also provided a little humour and light relief, which offset some of the less savoury aspects of the journey. By the end of the book, I was sad to say goodbye to Felix.
Bairn and Anna's relationship didn't strike me as particularly unusual in the world of romance, but that doens't mean that it wasn't sweet. Felix kept pushing them together, and Anna's outspokenness and stubborness gave a reasonable explanation for why Anna was determined to keep communicating with Bairn, even if he was an outsider and disapproved of by her community. Anna isn't your typical, shy Amish girl, which I appreciated. Having to be the spokesperson for her community, it wouldn't have made sense for her to be reserved.
I don't want to give too much away about Bairn, but I will say that there is a twist relating to a secret about Bairn's past. I guessed the twist about halfway through the book, based on a simple comment from one of the other characters. I'm not sure if other readers would also have picked up on this clue (I had watched a lot of Castle episodes that week while my little one was ill, so maybe I was just in the right mindset!) Sicne I figured out the twist, it felt a little bit predictable, but not too much. I was happy for Bairn once he revealed his secret and was able to resolve his problems.
While Anna's Crossing isn't quite as dark as some might expect, given the subject matter, it is rich in historical detail and contains a heartwarming and hopeful story of a turbulent time in Anabaptist history. Perhaps it may even convinced some hardcore Historical fans to dip into the Amish genre from time to time. I'll certainly be looking forward to the next volume in the Amish Beginnings series....more
I think the third story in this collection was my favourite, but the others were pretty sweet too. It's been a while since I read one of Barbour's novI think the third story in this collection was my favourite, but the others were pretty sweet too. It's been a while since I read one of Barbour's novella collections and I'd forgotten how in-your-face they are with the spiritual threads and the very defined gender roles, so this book felt a bit cheesy to begin with, but ultimately it was a sweet, easy read for the Christmas period. I don't think I could read several of these collections in a row, but they work well when I don't have a lot of time to focus on reading....more