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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:  Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers

REVIEW: Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers

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Dear Ms. Rivers:

A romance genre version of Chekov’s gun: if an upcoming romance hero is kind of an ass in book one, we need to know why he’s an ass by book… well, whichever one is his story. (In this case, book two.) Laugh does a beautiful job of humanizing Sam, the difficult older brother from Live, without changing his character. What we didn’t know about Sam is that he’s living with ADHD — impulsivity and disorganization are inevitable parts of his life, even with medication and exercise. His intense love for his family and his need to see everyone happy and safe clash badly with his inability to control things, often making him volatile and overbearing.

When Sam meets city farmer Nina Paz, he’s attracted by her strong sense of community and the hands-on, systematic nature of the work she does, as well as by her beauty. (Both are on the mature side for romance characters, by the way: Nina is 38, Sam about the same. There’s some crows feet, silvering hair, and stomach pooching for Nina, if not for Sam.) Nina is equally attracted to Sam’s “surfer god” looks but after losing her husband, the boy she grew up with, it’s harder for her to dive right into strong feelings as Sam does. Having spent some time fighting her grief with extremely casual sex, she now keeps her affections centered on her extended family/coworkers; an unexpected crisis for one of them makes it even more difficult for her to let go.

The great strength of the story is a hero who’s unabashedly emotional. Sam is a born patriarch, in the best way: love and family are everything to him. He embraces his feelings for Nina with no reservations. And it’s the genuineness of his devotion, the fact that he truly cares about her more than he’s even in love with her, that wins out in the end. He’s also charmingly self aware, telling Nina this story about choosing to focus on family medicine: ‘nothing was clicking and everyone I met was an asshole. The thing is, I’m kind of an asshole, and I was worried about ending up a bigger one if I placed in some of these groups.’

Nina is less open and easily sympathetic, but as committed to the people in her life as Sam is to those in his. I was a little sorry more time wasn’t spent on her issues with her family of origin (as opposed to her family of choice); the child of legal Mexican immigrants, Nina is second generation American, a life experience that interests me. What we do learn about their conflicts around goals and choices seemed true to life.

I’m self-conscious about commenting on Nina’s portrayal as a Mexican-American woman, not having much of a knowledge base. Response to the book from Latina reviewers has been highly positive. But though this may well be a case of looking too hard for potential issues, some aspects of Nina’s past made me feel a bit squirrely. I’m glad to see a rare Mexican-American woman in a mainstream romance; I’m glad to see an even rarer woman who’s had an abortion (a decision made especially emotionally complex by the fact that it would have been her dead husband’s child) and still believes it was the right choice; I’m glad to see a woman who’s unashamedly had casual sex — but stereotypes being what they still are, I sort of wish they weren’t all the same woman. Or maybe I should wish that all of those things were so acceptable in romance, it wouldn’t even occur to me to question it.

Despite Nina’s cautiousness, she and Sam spark wonderfully together, both in and out of bed:

‘That’s the woo you’re gonna pitch? “Come on”?’
‘I already told you you’re pretty.’
‘When I come.’
‘All the rest of the time, too. I didn’t say that? I must have been too distracted by all the noises you were making while your tongue was in my mouth.’
‘Jesus.’
‘I think you were saying that, too…’

Their sex scenes, which go a little past strictly vanilla, are long and quite explicitly described; I was a bit put off by a sense of the physical stakes being raised scene by scene, as if the emotional content wasn’t enough to keep us interested.

The story is abrupt in places. Nina and Sam first speak at 2% on my ereader; they’re getting intensely physical at 7%, and it’s not a short book. Nina also gets the devastating news about her friend right after we first meet the character, before their relationship has really been established; it could have used more build-up. On the plus side, the writing has a less overwritten, flowery feel than Live sometimes did.

Like Live, Laugh has a cozy neighborhood atmosphere — the small town story set in a city. (It stands alone just fine, but I recommend reading them in order, to get the full impact of Live without spoilers.) The secondary characters are strong — if you’re not jonesing for more about younger brother PJ’s utterly sincere love for his former babysitter, I’ll eat my copy of The Windflower — and the portrayal of Sam’s life with ADHD is moving and spot on. (Once again, a Rivers story hits me right where I live.) Even with some aspects I didn’t care for, the humor, emphasis on community, and passionate feeling make it a lovely read. B

Sincerely.

Willaful

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