Book Review: An Hour Unspent

Barclay Pearce is the head of a makeshift family of orphans who found each other on the streets and put themselves together as a family. The only way the older kids knew to care for the younger was to become pickpockets. They became quite good at what they did, to the point that V., an enigmatic figure with some kind of ties to the British government during WWI, recruited some of them for some behind-the-scenes, off-record reconnaissance and information-gathering.

Now Barclay and his two oldest “sisters” have become Christians and turned the family from thieving. For now, V provides them with plenty of well-paid work. What they’ll do after the war, they don’t know—but they’ll trust God to lead.

Meanwhile, Barclay, the newest to become a believer, tries to learn how to walk by faith, find God’s guidance, and apply Christian principles to the work V asks of him.

His latest job is to get to know clock-maker Cecil Manning. Dr. Manning is something of a tinkerer, creating toys and other inventions. Rumor has it that he’s working on a synchronized gear that could help pilots in the war. If he is, the admiralty wants information: how close he is to completion, does he need anything to aid his efforts, would he be willing for the government to use the gear.

Evelina Manning Is the clock-maker’s only daughter. She’s close to her father and fondly tolerant of his eccentric habits. She’s less tolerant of her mother’s controlling ways. Evelina works with the suffragette movement, much to her mother’s dismay. Her childhood bout with polio left her with a leg that works most of the time.

But one time when her leg betrayed her, this Barclay fellow stepped in to help, unasked and unneeded. That set them off on the wrong foot. Finding out more about Barclay’s past and his unconventional but loving family doesn’t raise him in her eyes. But there’s something about him that piques her interest.

As the first zeppelins attack London and the Germans also learn of Manning’s gear, Barclay and Evelina will have to work together to escape the danger coming for them.

An Hour Unspent is the third and last in Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. As with the first two (A Name Unknown and A Song Unheard), I loved the story, the characters, and the realistic faith element. Thankfully, some of the characters from this series carry over into the next, The Codebreakers. I also love the covers of all three books. The fact that they were different from what I have seen before first drew me to them.

Book Review: A Song Unheard

A Song Unheard is the second of Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series set during WWI. The series involves a group of young people who were orphaned or abandoned as children, found each other, and formed their own family. They support themselves by stealing, but they have a strict code to steal only from those who won’t miss the loss.

Willa Forsythe had found an abandoned violin as a child and discovered she could make it sing. She had a natural talent to play beautifully by ear.

She’s approached by the mysterious Mr. V., who gave a job to her sister, Rosie, in the previous book, A Name Unknown. Mr. V. has some connection with the British government, but they are not sure what exactly it is or whether it is in an official capacity. But he pays well. He wants Willa to travel to Wales and pretend to be an old school chum of a couple of sisters who are aiding a group of musicians from Belgium. They are trying to gather relief efforts for the folks back home. Her specific job: get to know acclaimed violist Lukas De Wilde and find a cypher that he carries with him. Lukas’ father, now deceased, had been a talented cryptographer. V. wants the cypher to aid Britain in the war.

Lukas is worried sick about his mother and sister. He had been shot in an attempt to find them and get them out of Belgium. He knew their home had been destroyed, but he didn’t know their whereabouts or status. His face and his father’s work were both well-known enough that he can’t risk going back to Belgium. Meanwhile, he tries to hide his injury and work with the orchestra while trying to figure out what to do.

He and Willa are intrigued with each other, but he’s a known flirt, so she doesn’t take him seriously. She knows they are from two different worlds, and he would never respect her if he knew what she was. But the more she gets to know him, the more she regrets that she will have to betray him. And unknown dangers lurk just beyond her awareness.

My thoughts:

I loved this book as much as the first one. The story, the history, and the characters were all wonderfully written. During the last few chapters, I wished I could set aside everything else just to find out what would happen.

One of the things I most appreciate about this author is that she is not afraid to be clear about spiritual matters. So many Christian writers are so subtle these days about the faith element in their stories that, unless you already understood what Christianity is, you’d never figure it out in their books. Roseanna proves that you can talk about Christianity normally and clearly without sounding preachy or strained or artificial.

The sister in the previous book had come to know the Lord. In a family of thieves, a conversion will necessitate some changes. Even though the sister is non-judgmental and still a loving part of the family, Willa feels a little betrayed. This is something that’s not often dealt with in Christian fiction, and I am glad Roseanna explored it.

Both of Willa’s parents had abandoned her, and she transfers her feelings about them to God. She felt He was someone who either wasn’t there or didn’t care about her. I loved her journey.

I listened to the audiobook read by Liz Pearce. I thought her narration was a little too blustery in the last book. But either I got used to her style, or her characterizations for this book were much more pleasant. At any rate, I enjoyed it and look forward to Book 3!

Book Review: A Name Unknown

In A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White, Rosemary Gresham’s parents died when she was eight, and she found herself on London’s streets. Eventually she and similar children formed themselves into a makeshift family with the older ones taking care of the younger the best way they knew how: stealing. Rosemary’s many years of practice have honed her skill into an art, taking her from pickpocketing to mixing with and stealing from society’s upper echelons.

A mysterious Mr. V. asks Rosemary to do a job with the biggest payoff she’s ever seen: gain access to a Peter Holstein, a “rich bloke” who “has the king’s ear.” Holstein’s family roots are German. War is brewing with Germany. V suspects Holstein is a traitor and wants Rosemary to find solid evidence.

Fortunately, Holstein has just advertised for a librarian to organize his stacks of books and family papers, and Rosemary applies for the job.

Peter Holstein is aware that trouble is brewing over his name and associations. He is not in public much due to a stutter, but his absence is taken for aloofness. He has secrets of his own, but they don’t include espionage: he’s a best-selling author writing under a pseudonym. He prays God will guide him. Rosemary seems the answer to his prayers: hopefully she can help him find family journals and documents which will prove them loyal British subjects.

My thoughts:

I loved this book on many levels: the intrigue of Rosemary’s search and whether she’ll be found out; her prejudices about “rich blokes” being upended by what she sees in Peter; Peter’s frequent lapses into the work he’s writing and decisions over his plot; his awkwardness and trouble expressing himself orally; his efforts to live out his faith; her constant chatter and his need for quiet.

This is the first book in a Shadows Over England series, and I immediately bought the second book after finishing this one.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, takes place almost entirely within the walls of the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov lived there in 1922, when he was convicted as an unrepentant aristocrat, declared a Former Person, and sentenced to house arrest. He was moved from his suite to an attic storage room and told that if he stepped out of the hotel, he would be shot.

Believing that “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them,” the Count determines to make the best of his.

There are worse places to be confined than a Grand Hotel. But confinement is confinement, and it strains the count at times. In one of the best pieces of “showing, not telling” I’ve seen, the Count has been inside for about a year when he feels a blast of cold air in a hallway. Searching for its origin, the Count finds himself in the coat room, where someone has just come in in from outside. He also notices the smell of wood smoke on the coat someone has just left behind. The coat room girl finds him a few minutes later, holding the sleeve of the coat. It was such a poignant moment, made all the more so by the fact that Towles didn’t explain, “He missed the outdoors and the smell of winter and wood smoke.” He left the scene as is for the reader to infer why the Count lingered, holding the coat sleeve.

The Count hits a low point, and I love the scene that switches his thinking. But mostly the book involves the Count’s activities, friendships with members of the staff, interactions with a nine-year-old girl, a famous actress, an American journalist, Russian officials, and various others who come through the hotel.

We learn what kind of man the Count is. He’s in his thirties at the beginning of the novel and his sixties by the end. At first he is quite charming but almost flippant. He’s almost unfailingly polite. As he tells a little girl who asks about the rules for being a princess, “Manners are not like bonbons, Nina. You may not choose the ones that suit you best; and you certainly cannot put the half-bitten ones back in the box.” He’s not without thought for others, as we see in remembrances of getting his grandmother out of the country before his arrest, his care of his sister, his sacrifice for a friend. But we also see how he grows as a person over the course of the novel.

The narrator also lets us in on what’s going on in the country and how it affects the Count even inside a hotel. This was a time of great change in Russia, after the revolution, spanning two world wars, famines, the Stalinist era, and more.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“A king fortifies himself with a castle,” observed the Count, “a gentleman with a desk.”

But imagining what might happen if one’s circumstances were different was the only sure route to madness.

It was, without question, the smallest room that he had occupied in his life; yet somehow, within those four walls the world had come and gone.

I also enjoyed a section where he talked about names in Russian novels—how difficult they are, and how several names can be used for the same person with nicknames, honorifics, etc. I smiled because I had thought that very thing when reading Russian novels.

This is not an action-packed, plot-driven novel (though the action picks up and becomes quite suspenseful in the last few chapters). It’s more of a quiet, thoughtful book. This doesn’t often happen, but I didn’t start another book for more than a day after finishing this one, just to sit with my thoughts about it a little longer.

Towles said he got the idea for the novel when, traveling for business overseas. He noticed some of the same people every time he visited certain hotels. He wondered if some of them lived in the hotel, and that started his thoughts around a character who did live at a hotel, but not by his own choice.

I loved Towles’ writing. One thing I especially liked was the way he took details of a previous scene that I thought was finished and brought them up again later. For instance, in an early scene, the Count has some fennel sent to his friend, the chef at the hotel restaurant. I got the idea that fennel was hard to come by, and the Count was a nice guy to get some, and he still had the connections to do so. But then the purpose for the fennel comes out in a much later chapter, a delightful surprise.

I normally avoid most current secular fiction because there’s almost always some language issues and/or sex scenes. I don’t recall many language problems–a couple of “damns,” one instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain (though the author sometimes told us someone did without subjecting us to the sound of it). There are a couple of sexual encounters, but no steamy, explicit scenes.

I enjoyed going down the rabbit hole of Towles’ web site for the book. He shares some information on the Metropol (a real hotel) and its history, interviews about the book, some questions he receives and their answers, a reader’s guide (though I’d advise not reading the latter two until after you’ve finished the book to avoid spoilers). The structure of the novel hadn’t dawned on me until I read the guide Towels’ mention of it n the guide: the first few chapters cover a day, then a couple of days, gradually increasing. Tthe middle covers years, and the last chapters hone in on days again. I was also surprised that one of the most-often asked questions concerned who the person was in the last scene with the Count. That person was always described throughout the novel with a particular adjective that’s also used at the end, so that was no mystery to me. I enjoyed learning what some of the scenes were based on.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Nicholas Guy Smith. He did a wonderful job giving each character distinctive  and apt voices.

Have you read A Gentleman in Moscow? What did you think?

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Book Review: Waves of Mercy

In Lynn Austin’s novel, Waves of Mercy, 67-year-old Geesje de Jonge is asked to write some of her experiences immigrating from the Netherlands for Holland, Michigan’s 50th anniversary celebration. She’s reluctant to delve back into the hardships and struggles of faith that accompanied her journey, but her son and neighbor finally persuade her to.

Meanwhile, young socialite Anna Nicholson had accidentally stumbled into a Chicago church that was unlike any she had known before, which stirred up questions about faith and God. But her fiance had not approved of this new church and forbid her to go back to it. Their disagreement was so severe that they broke up. Anna gets away to a hotel on Lake Michigan with her mother to think and recover. A storm on the way causes a recurring nightmare to resurface in which she and her mother fall into the sea during a storm.

On her long walks on the beach, Anna meets a young seminary student who tries to answer her questions. Her mother is no help at all, since she doesn’t think polite people talk about such things as religion. Her fiance wants to get back together, and her parents encourage their reunion. But Anna feels she needs to get some things settled in her heart first.

As the Amazon description says, “Neither Geesje nor Anna, who are different in every possible way, can foresee the life-altering surprises awaiting them before the summer ends.”

I enjoyed this book a lot. The Netherlanders had left their home to escape religious persecution arising from their wanting to pull away from the state church. America was a land of freedom and opportunity. They knew it would be hard to build a community from scratch, but they were willing to work for their and each other’s freedom.

However, they had no idea the difficulties and heartbreak that would be involved. Anna often struggled with despair, even rage. While I agree that we can be honest with God about our feelings, doubts, and questions, I disagree with Geesje telling someone who had suffered a loss, ““You have every right to be angry with God right now.” However, she does go on to tell this person, “No matter what, don’t ever stop trusting Him. I believe that God is as grieved . . . as we are.”

I enjoyed Anna’s story as well. She’s often tempted to give up her questions and go along with the pressure of her parents’ and fiance’s expectations. But something keeps propelling her forward.

The sequel to this book, Legacy of Mercy, continues Anna and Geesje’s stories. I’m putting it on my birthday wish list!

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Links do not imply 100% agreement)

Book Review: Castle on the Rise

Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron Castle on the Rise is the sequel to The Lost Castle novel by Kristy Cambron. I think they could be read as standalones. But I’d recommend reading both.

Laine Forrester travels to France to be the matron of honor at her best friend’s wedding. The castle setting and the events leading up to the wedding make it seem like something out of a fairy tale.

But a couple of events bring the fairy tale crashing into real life problems. For one, the groom’s estranged brother from Ireland, Cormac, shows up just before the wedding to ask him to come back to the Foley home for an urgent need.

Laine’s friend asks her to come along. Laine hasn’t told her of her own crisis and crossroads. Now doesn’t seem like the time. But the invitation is a perfect excuse to get away for a while with her adopted daughter, Cassie.

The Foleys have been bequeathed a castle from a customer’s will. They didn’t know her well and can’t figure out why she willed them a castle. Cormac’s father, Jack, just wants to call an auction house and sell everything. But Cormac feels he needs to find out what’s behind the gift. Laine’s father was an antique dealer, so she helps Cormac evaluate which items are of value.

This novel weaves together stories from three timelines, all revolving around the castle. One takes place in the 1790s during an uprising between the Irish and English. Maeve’s family owns the castle, but her father is immobilized in grief over the loss of his wife and son. So she has to take the reins. One of her first tasks is to deal with a wounded enemy.

Another strand of the story takes place during the 1916 Easter Rising. Issy’s family now lives in the manor house, but her brother goes against her father’s wishes to join the rebels. Issy feels compelled to join him, and her budding interest in photography helps document events.

As Laine and Cormac investigate, they discover more of the castle’s surprising past. They each take steps to overcome their own past wounds to be open to new possibilities.

I knew, of course, that the Irish had fought against English control at intervals. But I didn’t know many of the details. I enjoyed learning some Irish history through this book. But I also enjoyed the stories in each timeline and the obstacles each character had to overcome.

And often, whenever I cam to a stopping place, music from the Irish Tenors sprang to mind for the next little bit. 🙂

A few quotes:

[Sean] was of a sort to look far down a path—he always said, to see the good that could come of something God was crafting behind the scenes, one had to keep an eye out for it. And Issy needed that view at present because she failed to see it (p. 50).

The talk of luxuries went far deeper than a gift of fruit. Maeve knew that. Theirs were the longstanding divides between the rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic, Anglo and Irish, even oppressed and free—for hundreds of years. They’d bled into the very earth beneath their boots, and it was tasked to her to either uphold or endeavor to change attitudes around them (p. 162).

Writers are the caretakers o’ history, Byrne. We document the livin’ and dyin’ of the human cause. But our pen, however noble, however well-intended, will always bleed the color of our convictions (p. 181).

I also enjoyed Kristy’s notes at the end concerning what led to her writing the novel, her research trip to Ireland, and the true historical details she included.

All in all, this is another great book by Kristy with three stories in one.

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Book Review and Giveaway: The Shop Keepers

The Shop Keepers by Nancy Moser is the third book in her Pattern Artist series. The first two books, The Pattern Artist and The Fashion Designer, tell the story of Annie Wood, who came from a difficult family background to become a maid to the Summerfield family of Nancy’s Manor House series. (Annie’s backstory in included in Christmas Stitches.) In the first two books, Annie had a knack for sewing and designing, but the other women in charge of that work took credit for hers. On a trip to America, Annie left her position and found a job first at Macy’s Department Store, then at the Butterick Pattern Company, then in her own dress shop. She met, fell in love, and married Sean Culver.

This third book takes place in New York in 1919, just after the first World War. Annie has two young daughters by now, but her husband has not returned from the war. He’s missing. Her shop, Unruffled, is not doing well. People had to buckle down during the war, and no one felt like buying fashionable yet practical clothes. The country is still in recovery mode. Most of the shop is decked out in black mourning dresses. One of Annie’s partners suggests they go into wedding dresses to help those who had been waiting for sweethearts to return. The prospect raises hope not only for new business but for a brighter shop and outlook.

At just the right time, a salesman from a local fabric shop offers them beautiful fabrics just right for weddings at deep discounts. Full of charm, he tempts the customers in Annie’s shop with his samples. This boon helps set the shop on a new, welcome trajectory. But something about this man bothers Annie, especially when he turns his charm her direction.

Henrietta, Annie’s bookkeeper and long-time friend. feel fortunate that her husband has returned home from the war. But he doesn’t seem totally back. He spends most of the day sitting in a chair looking out the window at the sky. She can’t seem to interest him in herself, their sons, or life in general.

Maude, who had been with Annie since her Butterick days, had married widower Antonio Ricci in the last book. Maude could not have children of her own, but welcomed Antonio’s two children. Now the oldest, Gela, is an independent-minded teenager who finds an unexpected talent. Maude is concerned where Gela’s gifts will take her in her naivete, especially when an unsavory character from Maude’s past comes on the scene.

It took me just a little bit to remember who the characters were and their backgrounds. This book could be read as a stand-alone, but I think it would be a much richer experience for those who have read the first two books.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. I’ve often read books set during the world wars, but the time of adjustment after after WWI is a fascinating era that few focus on. There were threads of intrigue with the salesman, the man from Maude’s past, and a seeming presence in the shop workroom. Henrietta’s husband’s condition, Annie’s missing husband, and Maude’s concerns lent strands of pathos. Those were woven together with needs for forgiveness, patience, hope. I always enjoy Nancy’s afterwords with details that went her story, historical elements that were true, etc. And I love the book cover.

Once again, I found myself with both a paperback and Kindle copy of this book. I read the Kindle version, and I’d like to give the paper copy away to one of you. Just leave a comment on this post if you are interested in being part of the drawing for this book. (I’ll take all comments on this post as entries unless you let me know you’re not interested.) I’ll draw a name a week from today. I’m sorry, due to shipping costs I can only send the book to US addresses.

Have you read much from the post-WWI era?

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The giveaway is closed: the winner is Linda!

Book Review: Promise Me This

In the novel Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke, Owen and Annie Allen have been raised by their manipulative Aunt Eleanor in England ever since their parents died. Now Owen has trained himself as a gardener and is about to set off for a new life in New Jersey with their aunt and uncle on their father’s side. He can’t take Annie with him yet, which makes her furious. But he removes her from Aunt Eleanor’s house to a school until he can send for her.

As Owen gets ready to sail on the Titanic in a week, he meets a young street kid, Michael Dunnagan. Owen has compassion on him, shares his food, and gives him odd jobs until time to leave.

Michael picks up another job making deliveries to the Titanic. He muses that in a ship that size, he could hide away and escape from his abusive uncle.

Within just a few days at sea, Owen discovers Michael and takes him into his quarters. He shares his food as well as his plans and dreams to start a new life in New Jersey and send for Annie as soon as possible.

Then comes the fateful night the Titanic hits the iceberg. Owen sends Michael off with the women and children and wraps him in the jacket where he had sewn his precious seedling samples in the lining. Michael fights with everything he has to stay with Owen, but Owen insists and bodily pushes Michael to safety.

After a series of events, Michael finds his way to Owen’s aunt in New Jersey and tells her all that has happened. She takes him in and tells him about the trouble she faces which Owen had not yet heard. In their grief, they decide to try to make a go of Owen’s plans. Michael is determined to bring Annie home.

Annie is devastated, angry, and bitter, not only that Owen died, but that Michael lived instead. Back in Aunt Eleanor’s clutches, Annie finds herself responding in kind and becoming more like her.

When Michael first writes to Annie, she sends the letter back. But soon a tentative friendship begins. Annie trains as a nurse while she waits to go to NJ. And then WWI breaks out.

My thoughts:

When I reviewed Cathy’s Saving Amelie, which became one of my top ten books of last year, I mentioned wanting to read more of Cathy’s books. A couple of people mentioned this story. When I discovered it was partially based on the Titanic, I planned to start it in conjunction with our visit to the Titanic museum.The book did enhance my visit and vice versa.

Cathy mentions in her afterword that there was a Titanic passenger named Owen Allum who was a gardener, but not much else was known about him. I enjoyed reading how she created his and Annie’s stories and what influenced her.

The Titanic section is just the first part of the book, however. I loved the example of laying down one’s life for another as Owen did. And then Michael and Annie each had to learn what it meant to love others and to receive love.

Some of my favorite quotes:

No matter what pain, what hard things come to us in life—and pain and trouble come to all of us—no matter what dark roads we walk or poor choices we make, it is not the end of the story.

It’s no good being fearful. Worry won’t change the future a whit, and it misses the joy of this glad day.

Each morning, when we wake—if we wake—we pick up whatever it is we’ve been given to carry for that day, with the sweet Lord Jesus in the yoke beside us to tote the load. Each night we lay it down, giving it into God’s hands. If it’s still there in the morning, we pick it up and begin again. If the burden is gone or if there is something different, we know where to start.

“Growing is a patient thing, lad,” Daniel explained. “You must give all living things time to adjust to their new surroundings, their new soil, then time to grow, as well.”

Does your hate make you happy, my dear, or does it continually eat through you, a cancer of its own making? Does the constant fueling of that angry fire not exhaust you and take away from living the wonderful life you’ve been given?

I loved the characters (including some not mentioned here) and the story. I loved how Cathy pulled us in to empathize with them in their anger, pain, and hope. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: Christmas Stitches

Christmas Stitches: A Historical Romance Collection: 3 Stories of Women Sewing Hope and Love Through the Holidays, contains three stories, one each by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson. As the subtitle says, they have in common some kind of sewing or needle arts. They’re also all set in the late 1890s-early 1900s.

A Seamless Love by Judith Miller takes place in Pullman, Illinois. Hannah Cushman had once been romantically interested in her longtime friend, Daniel Price, but Daniel wanted to remain only friends. Years later, Hannah’s working at the Pullman Dressmaking and Millinery Shop. Her special talent in embroidering bead work has come to the attention of Mrs. Pullman, who asks her to work on some special projects for her. She’s being courted by Louis Nicholson, who lives in Chicago. But her old friend Daniel wants to work for the Pullman Car Company and move closer to Hannah. Something about Louis doesn’t sit right with Daniel. And he’s finally ready to move beyond friendship with Hannah, but is it too late?

Nancy Moser’s story, Pin’s Promise, takes place in Summerfield, England. Penelope Billings, nicknamed Pin, has loved Jonathan Evers as long as she can remember. They promised each other as teenagers that they’d marry after his six years of education training to be a doctor. Now he’s back, trying to find his place with his new ideas in his father’s old-fashioned practice. Pin is an accomplished seamstress and teaches others to sew. She’s driven while Jonathan is laid back. She runs ahead, sure of herself, while Jonathan likes to take his time and think.

Pin becomes aware that a local girl, Annie, who sells eggs in the village has some serious needs. As she tries to help, she learns the family is in poverty because the father is a drunkard who abuses his children.

A tragedy involving Annie’s family pulls Pin and Jonathan apart. Are their differences too great to keep their teenage promises to each other?

One fun aspect of this story was that some of the characters appear in others of Nancy’s books. I’ve only read book in her Summerfield series, but Annie was the main character in The Pattern Artist and The Fashion Designer.

Stephanie Grace Whitson‘s story, Mending Hearts, takes place in small Lost Creek, Nebraska. Rachel Ellsworth’s pastor father has just died and Rachel has to move out of the parsonage in St. Louis. She’s engaged to Landis Grove, but she has nowhere to go before their wedding except to two older single aunts in small Lost Creek, Nebraska. Rachel is an artist looking forward to the Grand Tour on her honeymoon. But for now, she puts her artistic talents to work at the local quilting bees.

Her aunts help take care of the children of a widower, Adam Friesen. Adam had offered to marry his wife to help her out of a bad situation. Though their relationship had grown, he is wracked with guilt that he didn’t really love her as he should have before she died. He’s in a haze of pain since his loss, but he keeps busy in the community.

Rachel receives a letter from home which changes her whole future. At a loss now herself, she struggles with finding God’s will for her life now.

I enjoyed all three of these stories. I’ve loved needle arts for decades, so that aspect was fun for me. But mostly I sympathized with each woman in her situation and her struggles to trust God and apply His truth to her situation.

In addition, the cover is gorgeous and the inside opens out for even more lovely artwork.

I highly recommend this one.

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Book Review: The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today is not one of Mark Twain’s more well-known books. It’s the only one he wrote with a collaborator, Charles Dudley Warner, who was also a friend and neighbor. The story goes that their wives challenged them “to write a better novel than what they were used to reading.”

But this book is distinctive for an additional reason: its name became applied to the era after Reconstruction until the 1900s. According to this site, “American economy grew at its fastest rate in history” during this period. Such a rise gave way to more industrialization and a class of sudden and ultra-wealthy citizens. “The period also was marked by social movements for reform, the creation of machine politics, and continued mass immigration.” according to the same site.

Twain’s and Warner’s novel satirizes much that was characteristic of the era. But the story itself focuses on a few individuals.

The Hawkins family is poor but decent, located in Obedstown, TN. The family patriarch, Si, has bought 75,000 acres of Tennessee land. It’s not worth much at present, but with the expected changes on the horizon—the expansion of the railroad and discovery of coal for fuel—Si expects some day the land can be sold for a fortune and provide for his children.

In the meantime, their old friend Eschol Sellers has written to urge them to come to Missouri for the wealth of opportunities there. Mrs. Hawkins supports her husband’s decisions, but following Sellers has not boded well for them in the past. He means well, but he always comes up with grand schemes that never quite work out as expected.

On their way, they acquire two more children by adoption who have been newly orphaned. Their fortunes go up and down—mostly down. Si is tempted to sell the Tennessee land several times, but holds out. The older children venture out to work and help the family.

Parallel to the Hawkins and Sellers story is that of two friends, Harry and Phillip, who set put to make their fortune by becoming civil engineers for the railroad. Harry seems like a more refined version of Sellers, but Phillip is earnest and wants to truly learn the job.

The young men eventually cross paths with Laura Hawkins, the adopted daughter who has grown into a fascinating beauty. Henry is smitten. Laura is not unkind, but neither is she interested in Henry. Phillip is also in love with a girl who wants to become a doctor and isn’t interested in committing herself to a relationship.

Laura has an unfortunate relationship with a man who swept her off her feet and encouraged her to elope. When he gets tired of her, he confesses that he was already married and therefore his marriage to her was a sham. He leaves her. Laura changes as a result, becoming more calculating and ruthless.

Sellers, Laura, and Washington Hawkins end up in Washington DC in a grand scheme to get Congress to buy the Tennessee land to establish a college for Negroes. The book’s authors seems to believe that there is not a sincere, uncorrupt senator or representative, and we see a lot of the machinations of the political process: “The chances are that a man cannot get into congress now without resorting to arts and means that should render him unfit to go there.”

Some of the characters end in tragedy. Some are singed by circumstances but wiser in the end. A couple receive a hard-won happy ending.

Some sections are autobiographical. Twain’s biography says that his father had his own version of Tennessee land that always seemed to hold out hope for a good future, and his brother was killed in a steamboat accident similar to the one that orphaned Laura. One section of the book describing Phillip has a footnote that his life to that point mirrored Warner’s.

I understood how the book’s title could be applied to the era. Of course, the era wasn’t named the Gilded Age at the time Twain and Warner wrote. So, though they were satirizing the times, I think they also might have been pointing out the futility of so many individuals in the story who were seeking after the next great elusive thing instead of settling down and working hard for their goals and livelihoods.

Though this book is satire, it also has some wonderfully sweet and poignant moments.

The book kind of dragged in the middle for me, with the young men’s relationships and everyone’s schemes not going anywhere. But it picked up again in the end, with some parts being riveting.

There are a few “damns” in it. The portrayal of black people was probably accurate to the times but is condescending and insensitive in places.

Eschol Sellers’ first name is different in some versions because a real Eschol Sellers showed up and protested after the book was first published. Sellers was based on a cousin of Twain’s who was influential in his father’s land deal.

A few of my favorite quotes:

He . . . was not wanting in courage, but be would have been a better soldier if he had been less engaged in contrivances for circumventing the enemy by strategy unknown to the books. It happened to him to be captured in one of his self-appointed expeditions, but the federal colonel released him, after a short examination, satisfied that he could most injure the confederate forces opposed to the Unionists by returning him to his regiment.

There are many young men like him in American society, of his age, opportunities, education and abilities, who have really been educated for nothing and have let themselves drift, in the hope that they will find somehow, and by some sudden turn of good luck, the golden road to fortune. He was not idle or lazy, he had energy and a disposition to carve his own way. But he was born into a time when all young men of his age caught the fever of speculation, and expected to get on in the world by the omission of some of the regular processes which have been appointed from of old. And examples were not wanting to encourage him.

Whatever her thoughts may have been they were unknown to Philip, as they are to these historians; if she was seeming to be what she was not, and carrying a burden heavier than any one else carried, because she had to bear it alone, she was only doing what thousands of women do, with a self-renunciation and heroism, of which men, impatient and complaining, have no conception. Have not these big babies with beards filled all literature with their outcries, their griefs and their lamentations? It is always the gentle sex which is hard and cruel and fickle and implacable.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Bronson Pinchot. He did an amazing job with the nuances, inflections, and numerous accents. One nouveau riche character is Irish but has traveled in France and changed her last name to a French pronunciation. Bronson nails an Irish accent trying to sound French as well as a variety of Southern accents.

This book first came to my attention when I was searching for a book set in TN for the “Classics from a place you have lived” category of the Back to the Classics challenge. As it turned out, only parts of the book take place in TN. But many of the main characters are from TN, and the “Tennessee land” is almost a character itself, so I am hoping this book will still qualify.

Have you ever read this book? What did you think?