“Why would you want to read another one of Jody Hedlund’s books? You didn’t like the last one you read.”
Okay, I admit it. I kind of blinked. Several times. At the insistent expression on my friend’s face (one I only imagined since we were chatting over messenger), I bit. “I didn’t?”
“No… you only gave it four stars, remember? You called the characters fatalistic.”
Okay, something in that accusation actually sounded a bit… familiar. It did seem like I’d said that. I also recalled a few turns of phrases that sounded a bit modern. But I recalled liking most of the story—particularly the repartee.
And what’s so bad about a 4-star review?
Note: Links may be affiliate links that provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you. I also requested to review this book from Celebrate Lit.
In all honesty, when I requested a review copy of this book from Celebrate Lit, I did hesitate—just a little. You see, along with mail-order brides and Amish courtships, orphan trains can tend to lend themselves to formulaic and rehashed plots.
But I just suspected that Jody Hedlund wouldn’t do that to me. So, I took a chance.
Glad I did.
I Gave This Author a Second Chance, & This Is What I Thought
The repartee I loved in For Love and Honor? It’s in Together Forever, too. Not as sharp, but just as witty. And frankly, that’s what made it so good. Sharp? In this book? It would have made the story dull. How’s that for irony?
No, Ms. Hedlund proved that she knows what she’s doing when it comes to how to place certain elements and where. A master storyteller, she also manages to bring you up to speed on the book you didn’t read—you know, that first one in the series… ahem—without you feeling like you got too much of an info dump.
Instead, what she weaves is an intriguing story with interesting characters and unexpectedly expected plot lines. Look, it’s a romance. We know what’s going to happen, right? But she made me doubt. Several times. She made it impossible to put the book down until I knew, without a doubt, that the right guy would get the girl. And that they’d all be happy for it.
Okay, critics could make a few valid points.
They could. For example, Marianne is just a tiny bit too perfect. With a checklist of the “Mary Sue” elements, she’d come out strongly in favor—especially with her faults being mostly in her head instead of in reality.
But here’s the thing. In my opinion, somehow it works. She’s just that nice person who has made mistakes in her past, and we’re seeing a slice of her life where she, by comparison, doesn’t make any. Knowing about the past humanizes her. So I disagree with that critique, but I can see why some might make it.
And, yes. There were a few times that modern phrasing slipped in.
I know one had to do with “boundaries” and how someone didn’t respect or set them… see? I don’t even recall. It isn’t even that they wouldn’t have said it that way back then. I don’t know. But it did jar me for a moment because of how prevalent the term is today. It’s kind of like the word “cool.” Even used properly, there are just certain instances where it sounds modern anyway.
But my only real critique is the…
Well, for lack of better word… sizzle. If you read this in summer, be sure to turn down your thermostats so that you stay comfortably cool, because um… yeah. Seriously, if it was fair and right to do it, I’d knock off a star just to satisfy my own personal prejudices.
It’s not fair, though. The affection and desire displayed and contemplated are not inappropriate in the way they are portrayed (although one could argue that for the TIME in which it took place, it was a bit much). Where the character crosses a line, we know it… we’re not dragged through it. Where not, we’re kept as close to the fire as we can without being burned, perhaps. But still. That’s my personal preference. And since I know a few of my readers share it, I’m just putting that out there.
The biggest miss for me is that because of the light in which Ms. Hedlund portrayed the romance, we know that the main male character is a godly man who has a rougish, playful personality. However, if you take elements of what he did and how he did it and picked them apart without the rest of his personality in play, you could read them through very different and unsavory lenses. I suspect that some readers will.
But with a story that great, I can skim a few kisses and swoons. I’m more than okay with that.
Because, you see, I just really loved it–and I can’t explain why except that I believed it was playing out on the page, I rooted for good guys, cheered when bad guys got their come uppance, and my heart broke for the people it should break for. That made it wonderful.
And when I gave Together Forever five stars…
I also recalled that I said I was tempted to bump the last one to five. So there! HA!
Author: Jody Hedlund
Genre: Inspirational historical romance
Release Date: May 2018
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 the 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.