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REVIEW & Giveaway:  Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

REVIEW & Giveaway: Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

Hope-at-Dawn

With her brothers away fighting the Great War overseas, Livy Campbell desperately wants to help her family. Her chance comes when she meets a handsome stranger who lands her a job as a teacher in a place far from her parents’ farm. But the war casts a long shadow over the German-American town that Livy now calls home-and the darkness will test everything she thought she knew about family and love . . .

More than anything, Friedrick Wagner wants to be part of his adopted country’s struggle for peace. But when the bitter animosity between Germans and Americans soon turns citizens against newcomers, friend against friend, he will do whatever it takes to protect Livy from the hysteria that grips their town. As tragedy-and dark secrets from the past-threaten their future, Friedrick and Livy have one chance to stand up for what’s right . . . and one chance to fight for their love.

Dear Ms. Henrie,

I’m always looking for unusual settings or plots and the description of this one promised both. Plus it utilizes an Americana backdrop that I haven’t seen used much in years.

Livy is a strong yet still uncertain heroine. She’s young – just turned twenty in the opening scene – and has only been away from her parent’s rural Iowa farm for one year of college before she was needed back after her two older brothers enlisted in the Army. Her beau came back from France wounded in body and soul and has now turned to drink. Livy, however, isn’t some martyr and when Robert doesn’t show for a local dance one evening, she takes up the offer to foxtrot with a handsome stranger then flirts a little. She also jumps at the chance of a teaching job Handsome Stranger tells her about.

It was wonderful to see how supportive Livy’s family is of her hopes and ambitions to strike out on her own, hold down a job and be productive. Livy’s a hard worker, patriotic and determined to do her best by her new pupils. What truly delights me about her is that she doesn’t happily skip down the road of martyrdom. When Robert goes over the line, she cuts bait and tells him so in no uncertain terms.

Friedrick is also patriotic though he’s had to already prove himself even before the local vigilante arrives one night demanding that the Wagners buy another war bond with what little ready cash they have left. Anti-German sentiments have swept through their small town and there is little more that American born Friedrick and the others can do to prove themselves loyal to their country. Friedrick is sick and tired of the comments and suspicion German American families are subjected to and himself in particular since he has a farm deferment from enlisting due to his father’s bad health.

When Livy and Friedrick meet again, their initial attraction yields to sparks of conflict that isn’t manufactured nor inflamed for the story. I could see the point of view of each of them. Livy has brothers in the line of fire in France and hasn’t been around any German Americans before this. She’s a little young and na├»ve but I thought that was to be expected given her background. But she is open to new experiences and willing to change her opinion based on what she sees and the people she meets. Friedrick jumps to a few conclusions about Livy before coming to the realization that she isn’t going to condemn him out of hand and is willing to accept his offer of a truce between them. I was glad to not see them holding grudges just for the sake of doing so.

I thought the story had good historical details in showing the life of rural Iowa farm towns and one room schools. It also taught me a great deal of history I didn’t know such as the banning of the use of all foreign languages in Iowa and how pervasive anti-German sentiments were. I was sorry to see the villains mainly portrayed as fairly stock characters who show up, threaten the good guys and then sink back into the wood work until needed again for more menace.

But what about the religious aspects? I can hear long time DA readers asking. Will I feel preached at or badgered about faith? Honestly, I don’t think so. I know I didn’t. Instead, faith is an integral part of Livy and Friedrick’s lives. Going to church is the accepted thing to do on Sunday and they turn to God in times of need and in thanks for prayers answered. I didn’t feel bashed over the head with religion but it is present throughout the story.

The main characters are well fleshed out and believable, the conflict is germane to the time and place and it’s nice to learn some new things along the way. If not for the by-the-rote villains, I think I would have enjoyed the story more but I’m still glad I read it. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

REVIEW: Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

empire-girls

Ivy and Rose Adams may be sisters, but they’re nothing alike. Rose, the eldest, is the responsible one, while Ivy is spirited and brazen. After the unexpected death of their father, the women are left to reconcile the estate, when they make a shocking discovery: not only has their father left them in financial ruin, but he has also bequeathed their beloved family house to a brother they never knew existed. With only a photograph to guide the way, Ivy and Rose embark to New York City, determined to find this mysterious man and reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

Once in New York, temptations abound at every turn, and soon the sisters are drawn into the glitzy underbelly of Manhattan, where they must overcome their differences and learn to trust each other if they’re going to survive in the big city and find their brother. Filled with unforgettable characters and charm, Empire Girls is a love letter to 1920s New York, and a captivating story of the unspoken bond between sisters.

Dear Ladies,

Last year I enjoyed your WWII epistolary novel so much that when I saw this offered for review I immediately requested it. I wasn’t sure but it didn’t seem as if it would be letters again – and it’s not. Instead the story unfolds as alternate POV chapters with both sisters telling their side of things.

It’s immediately obvious that these two sisters are – or think they are – worlds apart in temperament and life goals. Rose is content to stay in their small town and sees herself taking care of their aging father while Ivy is wild to break out and Be Someone. Their plans get altered and their lives changed overnight when their father dies and they discover the truth. Only a trip to NYC might fix things but the sisters view their enforced journey with 180 degree differences. Rose wants only to discover their brother, get the estate settled and head home while Ivy wants to discover everything, try it all and never look back.

It should be obvious that the city will treat the sisters differently and that living there, in Greenwich Village, will change them in dramatically varying ways. Rose is horrified with the noise, the pushing people, the dirt and watching her sister become a “fast woman” from drinking illegal hootch and starting to smoke. Meanwhile Ivy is bursting to see and do everything. She has a list of ways to kick up her heels and won’t be satisfied until she’s checked off every one of the things on it.

With little to go on, the sisters start to search for their brother but honestly the effort they put into it seems, for weeks, haphazard at best. It was quickly clear to me that the search and its outcome were merely a catalyst for the changes Ivy and Rose would experience. Slowly, timid Rose and exuberant Ivy start to realize how much they’re evolving and their time in NYC is altering them. Rose begins to relax and slips so easily into a life that Ivy just knew was for her. Meanwhile the goals Ivy has prove elusive as she starts to wonder if she really fits what she dreamt of.

Rose and Ivy have always felt they know each other. Sometimes they haven’t liked each other much and have made cutting remarks designed to hurt. As the weeks go by, their opinions and long held views begin to also change. More secrets from their father’s past emerge and a stormy argument threatens to destroy the already fragile bond between the women. I did enjoy watching Rose and Ivy transform and learn as much about themselves as they finally learn about each other. One character calls it correctly in saying that for the first time, these two actually feel and act as if they’re sisters who care about each other.

Each sister gets a romance. Rose hadn’t thought she’d ever marry but soon she finds in a handsome Italian-American poet/chef the perfect person who sees her as she is and desires her just as she is. Ivy’s romance is actually the one which ended up making me smile as she exchanges letters and confidences with a man she never noticed before. I had my fingers crossed about them and my hopes were fulfilled – though I’d loved to have seen their fancy dinner in the swanky restaurant.

As the truth behind the secrets is finally uncovered, there are a lot of plot threads to be tied up. Everything fits together but I felt things got finished off almost too neatly. Rose and Ivy mention that they discover just what they need to know just when they need to know it but after one too many of these reveals, I couldn’t help but feel slightly manipulated. Also, Rose’s beau and a friend of their brother mentions how awful the conditions were that the men endured in the trenches in France but we’re barely shown any of this and are left with the hope that they will help each other through their nightmares.

I’m currently enamored with the 1920s and am delighted to have discovered another book set then. The feeling of the period is well evoked with dropped waist dresses, stocking seam checks, using fans blowing over ice for the heat, bathtub gin and speakeasies. The wrap up of the story felt a little too neat but I enjoyed watching Ivy and Rose take on NYC and come out on top. B-

~Jayne

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