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Jun 14, 2018

Jody Hedlund's Orphan Train Series: With You Always & Together Forever

With You Always (Orphan Train #1) by Jody Hedlund
June 2017, Bethany House
(borrowed from library)

Could following the opportunity of a lifetime cost them the love of their lives?
One of the many immigrants struggling to survive in 1850s New York, Elise Neumann knows she must take action to care for her younger sisters. She finds a glimmer of hope when the New York Children's Aid Society starts sending skilled workers to burgeoning towns out west. But the promise of the society's orphan trains is not all that it seems.
Born into elite New York society, Thornton Quincy possesses everything except the ability to step out from his brother's shadow. When their ailing father puts forth a unique challenge to determine who will inherit his railroad-building empire, Thornton finally sees his chance. The conditions to win? Be the first to build a sustainable community along the Illinois Central Railroad and find a suitable wife.
Thrown together against all odds, Elise and Thornton couldn't be from more different worlds. The spark that ignites between them is undeniable, but how can they let it grow when that means forfeiting everything they've been working toward?
The novel sets up the Orphan Train series with a trio of teen sisters who end up on the streets after their parents have died. They have also taken charge of two little ones who were left behind. Elise and Marianne are the elder of the group and tasked with the burdens of taking care of each other when the economy is not fit for any working family. In 1857 New York there is a financial crisis with bankrupt businesses which spread nationally and eventually globally. Elise is from a poor German immigrant family and already regarded with prejudice during the tough times of increasing European immigrants flooding the population where no work was available. Elise leaves the younger children at an orphanage and heads west in hopes to earn money to send back to her sisters. She is among many other men and women forced to leave their families behind but she is lucky to have found a kinship with the very man with the means to found a new town.

Thornton is a young man always seeking approval from his father and still overshadowed by his twin brother. Throughout the story we see Thornton's maturity expand as he realizes what truly matters in God's eyes and inevitably in Elise's. There are several characters that help create an intriguing story arc so that even with a predictable outline I enjoyed the novel very much. I especially appreciated the historical aspect of how many children were farmed out across the country and the struggles of America during that era. The series is geared towards the inspirational market but I feel would be suitable for any historical romance fiction reader as there is not an over abundance of the Lord's word to distract from those just wanting a feel-good story.

Together Forever (Orphan Train Series #2) by Jody Hedlund
May 1, 2018 Bethany House
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!

Will the mistakes of their past cost them a chance at love?
Determined to find her lost younger sister, Marianne Neumann takes a job as a placing agent with the Children's Aid Society in 1858 New York. She not only hopes to offer children a better life, but prays she'll be able to discover whether Sophie ended up leaving the city on an orphan train so they can finally be reunited.
Andrew Brady, her fellow agent on her first placing-out trip, is a former schoolteacher who has an easy way with children, firm but tender and friendly. Underneath his charm and handsome looks, though, seems to linger a grief that won't go away--and a secret from his past that he keeps hidden.

As the two team up, placing orphans in the small railroad towns of Illinois, they find themselves growing ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy threatens to upend all their work and change one of their lives forever. 
I am so glad I was offered this book for review, and especially glad I found the first book at the library so I could be fully invested in the Neumann family. While book one featured Elise's story, book two focuses on Marianne as she heads out as a chaperone of sorts as she is responsible for placing the orphan children in positions outside of New York. This novel does directly show possible situations for the riders of the orphan train which tears at your heart when you think of the 30,000 displaced and abandoned children which prompted the orphan train movement.

Marianne's partner is Drew Brady and as fate would have it, they really have some great chemistry. But the stars keep dimming on them as one thing after the other keeps happening to them which makes it seem like maybe they aren't meant to be together after all. Their relationship was really fun to watch bloom but even I admit once Drew started closing himself off I was getting a little ticked off at him and I had to take a break from him and the story for a bit. He is very touch and feely and quite frankly I just don't think that was the norm back in the day - but this is a historical romance series.

The nagging thought throughout the story was that the third sister Sophie is nowhere to be found, and no one seems to be freaking out, but maybe that was the norm back in the day? Overall though I am definitely still a Jody Hedlund fan and I do want to know what the heck is going on with Sophie so I would love to read the next installment (aptly named Searching For You) scheduled for December 2018. 

From the book's dedication, 2 Corinthians 12:9:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

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