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REVIEW: Simple Faith by Anna Schmidt

Simple-Faith

After losing her beloved husband and daughter and surviving Hitler’s Sobibor death camp, Quaker widow Anja Steinberg dedicates her life to helping others and keeping her son safe. As a member of the resistance, she helps displaced Allied airmen get back to their units in England. The journey is rigorous and filled with danger and there is no time for romance. Then American Peter Trent parachutes into her life. She must face facts—her heart did not die with her late husband and true love could be hers again. But will a romance hurt Peter’s chance of escape from the Nazis—and endanger her life as well?

Dear Ms. Schmidt,

I keep an eye out for your books ever since I discovered you through your Harlequin Historical Love Inspired novels. Quite by chance I happened to have watched a documentary a few months ago that detailed the story of a former American fighter pilot who was shot down during WWII and who by chance and luck was kept from capture for several months while he was sent along the Comet line in Belgium – one of the escape routes used to send Allied airmen through Belgium, France and Spain to return to Britain. When I saw the blurb, I knew I had to read this book.

The action gets going immediately as Peter Trent bails out of his crippled plane then watches as it slams into the ground and explodes. He’s concerned about which other crewmen might have got out in time but also with the fact that he’s been shot in the leg and the fireball of the crash will lead the Germans straight to the site. Desperately trying to remember his escape and evasion tactics while waiting to pull the ripcord of his chute, he calculates his odds and they don’t look good.

Luck is with him and the farm family first hides then takes him in. Anja arrives while the Germans are still searching the grounds of her grandparents farm and joins in the deception that must be flawless for them all to avoid imprisonment, interrogation and death as the network tries to help Peter heal, keeps him concealed and then transports him south.

Anja’s instructions to Peter as she teaches him the ways the Germans will try and trip up people they suspect, the pass offs, couriers, safe houses and, at times, brazen methods the people of the Comet line use all tally with what I’ve seen and read about resistance groups. The constant fear under which they all live is palpable. The danger is everywhere and anyone but as they tell Peter when he asks, it is what they can do to try and win the war.

I was surprised but enthusiastic that the book went far beyond what I was expecting. The group starts in Brussels, escapes detection with an elaborate ruse in Paris, splits up to Bordeaux, winds up near Limoges where fate stretches the escape to the breaking point. And then, the mountains! And details of how the route worked beyond the Pyrenees that I didn’t know the specifics about wind up the third section of the book. It was informative, it was immediate and again capture and death lurked at every turn.

The plot unfolded in a way that makes sense that Anja and her son needed to travel along with and at some times parallel with Peter towards Spain. There is time for these two to get to know each other before the “I love you’s” and the marriage proposal was timely and actually necessary to the final escape. I also like the ending which hints at the work needed after the war and fits in with Anja’s Quaker determination to help with that.

The religious aspects of the book are shown to be central to Anja’s life and part and parcel of the work she does. She shows her beliefs to Peter by her actions and the way she lives rather than any preaching at him and by extension, at me. Another nice thing is that even some of the Germans are shown as people too with their own dreams, fears and hopes. No group of people is ever just black or white. American Peter also comes to realize how arrogant he initially appears and learns some lessons about following instead of always trying to lead.

Anja is a strong heroine as well as an intelligent one. Peter gets to see and appreciate the bravery of those who would risk their lives to save total strangers. He and Anja help others escape and find love as they form a new family and a spotlight is shown on the role of the Belgians during the war. It’s a win for me. B

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

21 Comments

  1. Rose
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 11:27:28

    My first thought when I saw the review was that I’d love for regular historicals to explore more eras and settings like inspirationals do.

    My second was to wonder why the author chose to have her Quaker heroine be a survivor of Sobibor, which is extremely unlikely given her religion and the likelihood of surviving that camp.

  2. Melissa
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 12:54:46

    Thank you for the review. This books sounds like it would fit right into my current reading (more historical romances without the rogues/rakes/earls/dukes, etc). I am always leery about the faith-based historical romances due to the unknown preachy scale, so it was a plus you mentioned that aspect; I feel more interested in the book since I know I won’t be preached at.

  3. Jayne
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 15:19:20

    @Rose: I had heard that some people did escape from that camp so – for the sake of the interesting setting – I was willing to set aside my doubts.

  4. Jayne
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 15:21:33

    @Melissa: I always try to mention the “preachy” level as I know it can be a deciding factor for readers.

  5. Rose
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 15:53:44

    @Jayne:
    It is true that a small number of people survived Sobibor, but it seems unlikely that someone like the heroine would have been sent there to begin with. Making her a concentration camp survivor would have been more realistic and from your description, the story would have worked just as well.

    But then, I’m not really the target audience for this book anyway – I’ve tried a couple of inspirationals, but they’re just not my thing.

  6. Kaetrin
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 00:09:26

    This sounds so interesting. I gather because it is an inspie that it has a “sweet” heat level?

    Was Sobibor not a concentration camp?

  7. Rose
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 00:55:21

    @Kaetrin:
    No, it was an extermination camp – people were sent there to be murdered immediately, except for a small number who were needed to run the camp. In concentration camps, people were used for forced labor, so while conditions were horrible, survival was far more likely.

    I agree that the story sounds interesting, and as I wrote in my first post, I wish regular historicals would be as diverse in terms of settings as inspies seem to be.

  8. Kaetrin
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 03:03:14

    @Rose: I thought that people were murdered (gassed) in concentration camps. I thought “death camp” was just another word for “concentration camp”. I hadn’t realised there was a difference.

    I’ve wishlisted this one for now. It’s quite expensive (for me at least) – it’s coming up as more than $9 at Kobo so I will wait for a really good coupon I think before I buy it.

  9. Anna Schmidt
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 06:58:50

    Hi all.
    I have read your comments with interest and thank you for them–anything that appeals (or raises ??) is always of interest and value to authors. Perhaps I can add to the mix a couple of bits that may help: Kaetrin (LOVE that name!) is right–Sobibor was a true death camp where a small handful of prisoners were used to do the work of the camp while trainloads of others were brought there and sent straight to the gas chambers. Several women were among those working in the camp and those who escaped in a mass escape described in Book One of this series (ALL GOD’S CHILDREN). Also Anja’s husband was Jewish which made the entire family targets for the Nazis. Shortly after the escape Hitler had the camp destroyed and altho many got out that fateful day and most were recaptured and sent to other camps, some did make it to freedom. Thank you, dear readers for your comments and insights!!! Anna

  10. Rose
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 08:21:24

    @Anna Schmidt:
    I did look up your previous book before commenting. Even with a Jewish husband, it is extremely unlikely that a Christian woman from Belgium would have ended up in Sobibor, and of course the odds of surviving that camp, as you are aware, were very slim – only a few hundred prisoners escaped, and the majority of them did not survive the war. I am uncomfortable with the decision to give this character that kind of backstory, and as I noted earlier, I think making her a concentration camp survivor would have been more historically accurate. But perhaps it would work for other readers.

  11. Kaetrin
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 20:14:41

    Is Anja a Belgian? It’s not clear to me from the review whether she’s in Belgium because that’s home for her or whether there is another reason she is there (maybe that’s where she landed when she escaped?) Perhaps Jayne could weigh in?

    I don’t know how common it was for Quaker women to marry Jewish men back then but I suppose if he was from one of the countries the Nazis got Jewish prisoners from it might have been possible that they whole family got sent there?

    Then again, I know that it’s a big deal now for Jewish men to marry outside their religion (as I understand it, the Jewish religion goes down the matriarchal line and there is a concern that with so many Jewish men (now at least) marrying outside their religion that the religion is in danger of dying out – I read an article about it a little while back http://forward.com/articles/191698/yair-netanyahus-norwegian-girlfriend-spurs-woe-is/). But the Jewish population was significantly reduced after the Holocaust so maybe it wasn’t such a big deal then?

    I don’t know enough about the history to be any judge I’m afraid. I’m curious about it though and if the price comes down enough, I expect I will buy it.

  12. Janine
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 20:58:15

    @Kaetrin: On the subject of interfaith marriage, I would say it depends on which movement of Judaism the husband belonged to. I cannot imagine that an Orthodox or Traditional rabbi would have performed the ceremony at an interfaith wedding in the first half of the twentieth century but they could have been married within those faiths if Anja converted to Judaism prior to the marriage. If anything, assimilation was even more of a “big deal” back then than it is now. But to the best of my understanding, Reform Judaism could have allowed such a marriage then, just as it could today.

    If they were married in a Society of Friends (aka Quaker church) meeting, I don’t know enough about it to say with as much certainty that they would have required Anja’s first husband to convert to Christianity. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law used to belong to the Society of Friends so I know a little bit about it, but not enough to say.

    Perhaps the husband did convert (some Jews did, in attempts to escape persecution that didn’t always pan out for them). That is also a possibility.

  13. Kaetrin
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 21:01:11

    @Janine: Thx for chiming in Janine :)

  14. Janine
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 21:45:48

    @Kaetrin: While you are correct that in English at least, the term “concentration camp” has become synonymous with “death camp,” Rose is also correct, some camps were extermination camps where death was a near certainty, others were internment camps — horrible but offering a chance of survival.

    Auschwitz, the best known and biggest concentration camp, had both Auschwitz-Birkenau, the notorious death camp, and labor camps, the biggest of which was Monowitz. To be clear, even at labor camps, the rate of survival wasn’t necessarily great. According to Wikipedia, of the 35,000 inmates who worked in Monowitz, 25,000 died of malnutrition, disease, and the workload. That means odds of surviving it were at best 2 out of 5, or 40%. Auschwitz-Birkenau, on the other hand — well over a million people died there.

    @Rose: I’m uncomfortable with it too.

  15. Kaetrin
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 22:16:36

    @Janine: I read up a little about it on Wikipedia today actually. I remember watching the TV miniseries, Holocaust, many years ago and I’ve seen Schindler’s List as well but I have no Jewish relatives or in person friends/acquaintances so I’m sure my knowledge is woefully inadequate. I think I’d just lumped them (the camps that is) all in together as places where hundreds of thousands of Jews died and all equally horrible and heinous. I guess the concentration camps had a different kind of evil/torture to the death camps.

  16. Janine
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 23:57:51

    @Kaetrin: Yeah, “a different kind of evil/torture” sums it up pretty well. It was all heinous, but odds of survival were better at some than in others.

  17. Jayne
    Mar 17, 2014 @ 09:01:43

    @Kaetrin: Forgive me, it’s been about a month since I read the book so I’m having to think back. The heroine is Danish but IIRC went to university in Germany and met her (Jewish) first husband there. There is a reason given for why she and her parents ended up in Belgium.

    I didn’t read the first book but remember a TV film from years ago called “Escape from Sobibor” so the idea that people did escape wasn’t completely unlikely to me even if I too wondered at the reason for the fictional heroine having been placed there. In the end, I decided to read this book as a stand alone and just accept her written past.

  18. Rose
    Mar 17, 2014 @ 10:37:01

    I could have accepted Anja as a survivor of a different camp, but there are several reasons why I find it difficult to accept her as a survivor of Sobibor specifically: first, her religion, as I already mentioned. Second, even if she had been Jewish – Belgian Jews were sent to other camps. Finally, while there was an escape from Sobibor, fewer than a hundred escapees survived to the end of the war while at least 200,000 people were murdered there – and I believe the survivors were all Jewish.

    It’s a very unlikely background and I am uncomfortable with using this particular part of history, in that way, in an inspirational romance.

  19. Janine
    Mar 17, 2014 @ 15:33:58

    @Jayne: According to the history book of the same title, over 250,000 people were killed in Sobibor, while only 50 of the 600 escapees evaded capture and survived until the end of the war. There is also an excellent website on the topic run by Holocaust survivor Thomas Blatt. Links are courtesy of Susanna Kearsley who tweeted them last night.

    @Rose: Yes, exactly. I would argue that no romance novel can do justice to the death camps experience anyhow, but to co-opt a harrowing chapter of Jewish history and use it in a Christian inspirational?

  20. Jayne
    Mar 17, 2014 @ 18:03:51

    @Rose: Thanks for your insight into these issues.

  21. Jayne
    Mar 17, 2014 @ 18:05:51

    @Janine: Thanks for the links about Sobibor. Clearly I need to read up on the facts and history of the camp.

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