We Hope for Better Things

We Hope for Better Things

by Erin Bartels


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"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"A forbidden interracial marriage, an escaped slave, an expectant mother waiting for her Union soldier to return—all of these stories are deftly told by Bartels, as she explores the hard realities of racism and its many faces during various eras of American history. . . .Compelling characters make this winning debut also appealing for fans of general historical fiction."—Library Journal

"Bartels' debut tells the story of three Balsam women, each of a different era, told against the backdrop of racism and violence in America. . . .will appeal to fans of faith-based women's fiction authors like Colleen Coble."—Booklist


When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request—that she look up a relative she didn't know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos—seems like it isn't worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt's 150-year-old farmhouse north of Detroit, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time—from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Michigan's Underground Railroad during the Civil War—to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.


"We Hope for Better Things has it all: fabulous storytelling, an emotional impact that lingers long after you turn the last page, and a setting that immerses you. I haven't read such a powerful, moving story since I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. This book will change how you look at the world we live in. Highly recommended!"—Colleen Coble, USAToday bestselling author of the Rock Harbor series and The View from Rainshadow Bay

"A timely exploration of race in America, We Hope for Better Things is an exercise of empathy that will shape many a soul."—Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Perennials

"I applaud [Erin's] courage, her authenticity, her beautiful turn of phrase, the freshness of her imagery, and the depth of her story that speaks to a contemporary world where understanding is often absent. We Hope for Better Things is a remarkable debut novel."—Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of Everything She Didn't Say

"Erin Bartels's We Hope for Better Things shares the joys and sorrows of three women from different generations. A roller coaster of emotions awaits as you share the lives of these women and hope along with them for better things."—Ann H. Gabhart, bestselling author of River to Redemption

"Storytelling at its finest. Erin Bartels delivers a riveting story of forbidden love, family bonds, racial injustice, and the power of forgiveness. We Hope for Better Things is a timely, sobering, moving account of how far we've come . . . and how much distance remains to be covered. A compulsively readable, incredibly powerful novel."—Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List

"There is the Detroit we think we know, and there is the Detroit full of stories that are never brought to the forefront. With We Hope for Better Things, Erin Bartels brings full circle an understanding of contemporary Detroit firmly rooted in the past, with enthralling characters and acute attention to detail. It's a must not just for Detroit lovers but also for those who need to understand that Detroit history is also American history."—Aaron Foley, city of Detroit's chief storyteller and editor of The Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780800734916
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/01/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 89,593
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for more than 17 years. Her short story "This Elegant Ruin" was a finalist in The Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. A freelance writer and editor, she is a member of Capital City Writers and the Women's Fiction Writers Association and is former features editor of WFWA's Write On! magazine. She lives in Michigan and can be found online at www.erinbartels.com. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


Detroit, July

The Lafayette Coney Island was not a comfortable place to be early. It wasn't a comfortable place, period. It was cramped and dingy and packed, and seat saving, such as I was attempting at the lunch rush, was not appreciated.

Thankfully, at precisely noon as promised, an older black gentleman in a baggy Detroit Lions jersey shuffled through the door, ratty leather bag slung over one drooped shoulder.

"Mr. Rich?" I called over the din.

He slid into the chair across from me. I'd fought hard for that chair. Hopefully this meeting would be worth the effort.

"How'd you know it was me?" he said.

"You said you'd be wearing a Lions jersey."

"Oh yes. I did, didn't I? My son gave me this."

"You ready to order? I only have twenty minutes."

Mr. Rich was looking back toward the door. "Well, I was hoping that ... Oh! Here we go."

The door swung open and a tall, well-built man sporting a slick suit and a head of short black dreads walked in. He looked vaguely familiar.

"Denny! We're just about to order." Mr. Rich set the leather bag on his lap and slid over in his seat to accommodate the newcomer.

The man sat on the eight inches of chair Mr. Rich had managed to unearth from his own backside, but most of him spilled out into the already narrow aisle.

"This is my son, Linden."

Something clicked and my eyes flew to one of the many photos on the wall of famous people who'd eaten here over the years. There he was, between Eminem and Drew Barrymore, towering over the smiling staff.

I sat a little straighter. "The Linden Rich who kicks for the Lions?"

"Yeah," he said. "And you are ...?"

"This is Elizabeth Balsam," Mr. Rich supplied, "the lady who writes all those scandal stories in the Free Press about corruption and land grabbing and those ten thousand — eleven thousand? — untested rape kits they found awhile back and such. She covered the Kilpatrick trial."

I offered up a little smile, one I'd practiced in the mirror every morning since college, one I hoped made me look equal parts approachable and intelligent.

"Oh, yeah, okay," Linden said. "I see the resemblance. In the eyes."

"I told you," Mr. Rich said.

"You did."

"I'm sorry," I broke in, "what resemblance?"

A waiter in a filthy white T-shirt balancing ten plates on one arm came up to the table just then and said, "Denny! Whaddayawant?"

We ordered our coney dogs — coney sauce and onions for me, everything they had in the kitchen for Linden, and just coney sauce for Mr. Rich, who explained, "I can't eat onions no more."

"And I need silverware," I added in an undertone.

When the waiter shouted the order to the old man at the grill, Linden was already talking. "You are not giving her that camera."

"You said the photos — the photos should stay for now," Mr. Rich said. "Why shouldn't I give her the camera? It ain't yours, Denny."

"It ain't hers either."

"No, she's going to give it to Nora."

Linden took a deep breath and looked off to the side. Though probably anyone else would have been embarrassed to be so obviously talked about as if she wasn't even there, years of cutthroat journalism had largely squelched that entirely natural impulse in my brain.

I jumped on the dead air to start my own line of questioning. "On the phone you said you'd been given a few things that were found in a police evidence locker — that belonged to a relative of yours?"

"No, they belong to a relative of yours. Maybe I should just start from the beginning."

I resisted the urge to pull out my phone and start recording the conversation.

But before Mr. Rich could begin, our coney dogs were plunked down on the table in no particular order. We slid the plates around to their proper owners. The men across from me bit into their dogs. I began to cut mine with a knife and fork, eliciting a you-gotta-be-kidding-me look from Linden.

"I've been reading the Free Press over the years," Mr. Rich began, "and I kept seeing your byline. I don't know if I would have noticed that all those articles were by the same person if I didn't have a connection to your family name."

I nodded to let him know I was tracking with him.

"And I got to thinking, maybe this Elizabeth Balsam is related to the Balsam I know. It's not a real common name in Detroit. I don't know if I'd ever heard it outside of my own association with a Nora Balsam. Now, is that name familiar to you?"

I speared a bit of bun and sopped up some sauce. "Sorry, no. I don't think I know anyone by that name."

Linden lifted his hand up to his father as if to say, "See?"

"Now, hold on," the older man said in his son's direction. "You said yourself she looks like her."

"I'll admit you do look like her," Linden said. "But — no offense and all — you do kind of all look the same."

I laughed. As a white person in a city that was over eighty percent black, I was used to occasional reminders of what minority races had to contend with in most parts of the country. I didn't mind it. It helped me remember that the readership I served wasn't only made up of people just like me.

"I wouldn't say you're the spitting image," Mr. Rich said, "but there's a definite resemblance in the eyes. If you had blonde hair, maybe a different chin, it'd be spot-on."

I took a sip of water. "I still don't know who you're talking about. Or what this meeting is all about."

Mr. Rich shut his eyes and shook his head. "Yeah, we're getting ahead of ourselves again. Now, you know well as anyone lots of things have gone by the wayside in this city. We got too many problems to deal with them all. Well, I been looking for something that's been lost for a very long time. I knew the police had to have it, but you try getting someone on the phone who knows what they're talking about in an organization that had five police chiefs in five years. And I get it. They got way more important things to do than find some old bag collecting dust on a shelf." He paused and smiled broadly. "But I finally found it. Got the call a couple years ago and got it back — and a bit more I hadn't bargained for." He tapped the bag on his lap, still miraculously free of coney sauce. "This camera belongs to Nora Balsam. And I have a box full of photographs for her as well."

I realized I'd been squinting, trying to put the pieces together in my head as to what any of this really had to do with me. I relaxed my face and tried to look sympathetic. "And you think I'm related and I therefore can get them to her?"

"That's what I hoped."

I wiped my already clean hands on my napkin. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rich, but I think you'll have to look elsewhere. I've never heard of her."

The old man looked disappointed, but I was relieved. I had bigger fish to fry and a deadline that was breathing down my neck. I didn't have time to courier old photos to someone. I glanced at my phone. I didn't even have time to finish lunch.

"I'm so sorry not to have better news for you. But unfortunately, I have to get going." I started to pull some bills from my wallet.

Linden held up his hand. "It's on me."

"Thanks." I drained my water glass, pulled my purse strap onto my shoulder, and pushed back my chair a couple inches, which was as far as it would go in the tight space. "Just out of curiosity, why was this stuff at a police station? What are these pictures of?"

Linden looked at his father, who looked down at his plate as if the answer were written there in the smear of coney sauce.

"They're from the '67 riots."

I felt my heart rate tick up, scooted back up to the table, and leaned in. "Did you bring them?"

"Denny didn't think I should."

"Why not?"

"Because of that," Linden said. "Because you weren't interested until you knew what they were, and I knew it would play out this way." He turned to his father. "Didn't I tell you? Didn't I say she'd only be interested in getting her hands on the photos?"

I sat back, trying to play it cool, trying to put that approachable-yet-intelligent smile back on my face. "Why shouldn't I be? I've built my entire reputation on exposing corruption and neglect in this city. Photos of historic significance left to rot in a police station are just one more symptom of the larger problem. And I'm working on a big piece right now on the riots. Those photos have never been published — I assume. I'm sure the Free Press would pay handsomely to have the privilege of sharing them with the world."

Linden pointed a finger in my direction. "There! There it is! Just like I said."

Mr. Rich placed a hand on his son's forearm. "Okay, okay. Just calm down and let me talk a moment."

Linden withdrew the accusative finger and leaned back on his half of the seat, his million-dollar foot stretching out past my chair, blocking me in even as I knew he must want me out.

His father looked at me with tired eyes. "Miss Balsam, I'm burdened. I been carrying something around for fifty years that I got to let go of. This camera and those photos have to get back to Nora. Not to the paper, not to a museum or a library. To Nora. Now, I can't take them. But you could. Are you willing to just look into it? Do a little poking around to see if you're related like we think you are? And if you are, would you be willing to make contact with her? Kind of ease her into the idea slowly? These photos will stir up a lot of hard memories for an old lady. But I know it in my heart — the Lord laid it on my soul — I need to get these to her."

One of the most important lessons I learned in my first couple years as a professional journalist was not to get emotionally involved with a story. There was simply too much heartbreaking stuff you had to write about. To let yourself empathize with the boy who was being bullied or the man who had lost his business or the woman whose daughter had been abducted, when there was nothing you could do to help the situation beyond making a voice heard — it was just too heavy a burden to bring home with you every night. So I built up a wall around my heart and stayed within it at all times when it came to work.

But there was something about this man's eyes, the crooked lines on either side of his mouth suggesting he had found as much to frown at in life as to smile about, that chipped away at that wall.

I tapped my finger on the table. "Why do you have them if she's the one who took them?"

"She didn't take them. My uncle did. But he's gone. They belong to her now."


"She's his wife."

An interracial couple in the 1960s? This was getting interesting. Maybe I could work this into my larger series of articles about the riots and the time surrounding them. It had a great human angle, a larger cultural-historical angle, a connection to a beloved NFL player. I could even frame it as a personal family story if I truly was related. The question was, would I have the time? I still hadn't been able to crack the protective shield around Judge Sharpe, the white whale of my investigative series, and time was running out.

"Okay, let's say I am related to her. I still don't know her and she doesn't know me, so why would she even listen to me?"

"Miss Balsam, do you believe in God?"

The question caught me off guard. "Yes."

"Do you believe he works all things together for his glory?"

My parents believed that. My sister did. I had once. Before I'd seen just how chaotic and messed up and out of control the world was. If journalism had taught me anything, it was that we were all just out there flailing and stumbling through a minefield of dangers and predators and dumb blind chance. But it was obvious that Mr. Rich believed God had given him a task — return these items — and that he would get no rest until the task was completed.

Instead of answering his question, I asked one of my own. "Why don't you just ship it to her?"

"No, that ain't the way."

I waited for a logical reason why not, but clearly none was forthcoming.

"Would you just look into it?" he said.

Those beseeching brown eyes tugged a few more bricks out of my wall.

"Sure. I'll look into it," I said.

Mr. Rich nodded and slid a business card across the table. I avoided Linden's sharp gaze as I pocketed the card and squeezed out of my chair.

"It was so nice meeting you," I said. "Thanks for lunch."

I walked out into the windy, sun-drenched afternoon, handed a dollar to the homeless guy who paced and mumbled a few yards from the door, and headed down the street to the old Federal Reserve building, which had housed the shrinking Free Press staff since 2014, and where a pile of work awaited me.

I tried to concentrate on the unending march of emails marked urgent in my inbox, including one from my editor — My office, ASAP — but my mind was spinning out all the directions this new story idea could go. This was decidedly inconvenient because I needed to focus.

I'd been stalking Judge Sharpe through his affable and unsuspecting son Vic for months, and I finally felt like a break was imminent. Vic had texted me last night to set up a meeting after he, in his words, "discovered something big I think you'll be interested to know." I had to get these photos off my mind for the moment, and the best way to do that was to get the research ball rolling.

I slipped out to the stairwell and pulled up Ancestry.com on my phone. A few minutes and thirty dollars later, I was clicking on little green leaf icons that waved at me from the screen. I found my parents and then began tracing my father's branch back to the family tree. Grandfather Richard, Great-Uncle Warner, and ping, just like that, a great-aunt born Eleanor Balsam.

I typed a quick text to my sister in L.A.

I waited a moment for a reply. She was probably with a patient. It was also possible she had no idea who was texting her because it had been at least two years since we last talked. I walked back to my desk, pulled up my piece on a black cop who worked the 1967 riots, and gave it one last read before sending it on its way to my editor. It would join my piece on a white firefighter I'd sent him two days ago. The piece on Judge Sharpe, who'd been a National Guardsman during the riots, would complete the triptych. If I could get it written.

It was 1:14 p.m. If I left in five, I'd have time to freshen up before meeting Vic for coffee at the Renaissance Center Starbucks.

My phone buzzed. My sister.

Leave it to Grace to immediately worry.

I stared at the screen, waiting.

She said it like I should know what it was, like The Old Lapeer House was a thing. Even after all this time, it still irked me that my unplanned birth nine years after my sister's meant that I so often felt like an outsider in my own family, never quite in on the stories or inside jokes.


Great. My parents had been medical missionaries in the Amazon River Basin for the past eight years. It wasn't as if I could just call them up any time I wanted. Mom called on my birthday and Christmas and any other time they happened to be in a town for supplies, but that wasn't often.

My phone buzzed again.

I didn't bother asking who Barb was, especially since it was apparent I should already know. I'd cold-call her no matter what. The prospect of getting my hands on those never-before-seen photos of the riots was too tempting to wait for proper introductions.

I looked at the clock again. If I was going to make it to the RenCen Starbucks on time, I had to leave. Now. I grabbed my purse and my bag from my desk and headed back to the stairwell.


My editor was the one person in the world who called me Liz.

"I'm out the door, Jack. I'll stop in when I get back. Three o'clock. Four, tops."

I pushed through the metal door, put the box of photos out of mind, and got on with my real work: getting the notoriously circumspect Judge Ryan Sharpe to open up about his involvement in the 1967 riots. Because no matter what image he liked to project to the public, my gut told me that beneath the black robe lurked a man who had something to hide.


Excerpted from "We Hope for Better Things"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Erin Bartels.
Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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We Hope for Better Things 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
heidifk 6 months ago
I didn't know if I was going to like this one when I first started, but I quickly realized I was going to really like this heartfelt story. I can't wait to read more by the debut author, Erin Bartels. This would be a great book for a book club to discuss because it could jumpstart conversation about people's surprising family histories. I would classify this as historical fiction, and even though the book jumps back and forth in time, you can still follow the characters and understand and follow their stories. I think this would be a great readalike for someone who likes Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train. I think readers of Lynn Austin and Lisa Wingate would also like this book. I hope it is available in Large Print in the future.
Virginiaw More than 1 year ago
This book is fantastic. I had a hard time putting this book down. This story starts in the present and then goes from the 1950’s and way back to the Civil War. Elizabeth learns a lot about her family that she never knew while staying with Aunt Nora. Nora gets to tell a story that needed to be told and Elizabeth learns who she is. I received a copy of this book from Bookish First for a fair and honest opinion that I gave of my own free will.
lsmoore_43 More than 1 year ago
I throughly enjoyed this book. It hit on subjects that during each time period were touchy subjects. Somewhat taboo back in the time. It was very well written and told with such emotion. I loved each character. How strong they were in most cases and how they held on to their beliefs and love completely. With how things are in this country right now this book resonates well. Great plot. Wonderful characters. Strong beliefs, Lots of not so great prejudice. It is a good book that I highly recommend to anyone who loves a good book with a story of love, happiness, hardships, emotion and much much more. Thank you to NetGalley for my ARC of this book. This is my opinion of this story and was in no way compensated for it. A huge 4.5 stars. Loved it.
lghiggins More than 1 year ago
This work of fiction begins in the present day where the story centers on Elizabeth Balsam, an investigative journalist in Detroit, Michigan, always looking for a good story. She thinks she has found it when a stranger asks her to return a camera and some photos of the ’67 Detroit race riots to a relative of hers that she doesn’t actually know. This is interesting timing as she has just lost her job when outed during undercover work. Is it possible that what seems like a devastating blow to her career will be the best thing that could have happened to her? Suddenly the author drops us into Detroit in 1963, and we are introduced to an interracial couple. This is a thread that ties right into Elizabeth’s story as she meets Nora. This elderly relative probably has a story to tell if she can just be coaxed into telling it. This new plot thread segues into the story of yet another family member, Mary Balsam. Mary’s home is in Lapeer County in 1861, but it is now Nora’s home. All three generations involve interracial couples, and author Erin Bartels tries to present the problems each generation encounters. We witness the horrors and sadness of racial issues that run the gamut from slavery to discriminating glances and everything in between. Each plot thread is strong and as each chapter ended, I couldn’t wait to get to that part of the story again as the chapters cycled through each woman’s tale. As the book draws to a conclusion, the threads become tightly knitted together forming the family’s story. Although We Hope for Better Things is fiction, it has the feeling of “it could have happened.” The Christian aspects are not prominently featured, but there is an important theme throughout of God’s plan for a person’s life. A sub-theme is the Christian community’s response to runaway slaves in the 1860’s in Mary’s small community during the Civil War. This is an important work of historical fiction especially for those interested in the Civil War, the riots of the 60’s, or the current progress or lack of it on racial issues. The author presents events in the context of the culture during the specific time period. This novel focuses on the women in each generation and gives a more complete portrayal of them than of the men in the story, and that is probably how this tale needs to be told. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Revell for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed this book. I wouldn't call this historical fiction but it kind of is since it takes place during the Civil War, the Detroit Riots and then of course the present day. Three different women, telling three different stories that are very much connected. Its a heartwarming and heart breaking story all rolled into one. Erin Bartels is a author to watch for as she has a unique gift in weaving these stories together. The characters come to life off the pages, and you can literally feel every emotion from these women as if they were your own. The center of this story is mainly Elizabeth who is discovering her past. As with any journey through history, what she learns is heartbreaking and at the end of it all, uplifting. A wonderful story and I can't wait to see what Bartels does next.
BettyTaylor More than 1 year ago
A beautiful story of three generations of remarkable women and the men they love. Using the settings of the Michigan Underground Railroad during the Civil War and the violent Detroit riots of the 1960s, two interracial couples embrace love in spite of society’s racism. Detroit journalist Elizabeth Balsam is approached by James Rich and asked to find a relative unknown to her to deliver an old camera and photographs that have been in the possession of Mr. Rich. Elizabeth is reluctant to get involved until suddenly she is fired from the newspaper she worked for. Now she has plenty of time on her hands. Elizabeth tracks down Nora and makes her acquaintance. Soon she is moving into her elderly relative’s 150-year-old farmhouse. She is soon captivated by the house – as was I - and her inquisitive nature leads her to exploring this house that is sheltering two generations of secrets. A locked trunk, beds lined up in the attic, a locked room, gravestone markers buried in the garden. Elizabeth is the link between generations to draw out the stories of Mary and Nora. And she also finds love with Tyrese. Mary Balsam is strong and admirable. It is 1861 and her husband Nathaniel leaves her to fight in the Civil War. Escaped African American slave George soon enters her life. In Nathaniel’s absence Mary and George struggle together to manage the farm and soon fall in love. Yet they know their love is doomed. Then, in 1963, Nora met William and they fell in love, another love that is doomed. Shortly after moving into the house William disappears. But what happened to him? Like Mary, Nora also has secrets locked away in her house. It is hard to believe that this is Erin Bartels’ debut novel. It is so beautifully written with great characters. She masterfully weaves together the stories of Mary and Nathaniel, Nora and William, and Elizabeth and Tyrese. The shift from generation to generation is seamlessly done. The settings are so well described I could close my eyes and see myself right in the story. As I turned the final page and sighed with a gentle smile upon my face, I knew this was a book I would be highly recommending to others. Great for fans of historical fiction and multi-generational family sagas. I received this book from the publisher via BookishFirst. All opinions expressed are my own.
Lattebooks More than 1 year ago
Wow, I don’t know how to find the words to form a review. Emotionally gripping, gritty reality, forgiveness, bitterness and love all rolled into a smooth flowing and beautiful story. A tale we all need to read and sink into our hearts the reality of what goes on around us that we may or may not turn a blind eye to. Three different eras of love and life with the ups and downs that intertwine throughout all these generations. Civil war, Detroit riots and current city issues were so well done and detailed here. I loved how this author made it all come to life and sprinkled the romance into it. I know I will re-read this over again! A much loved bookshelf keeper for its depth and gripping emotions. I received the book from Interviews and Reviews and this is my honest opinion.
Deana3452 More than 1 year ago
Detroit, Michigan. Elizabeth Balsam is a reporter aiming for her big scoop. However, life has other plans. A man who has pictures from the historic Detroit riots approaches Elizabeth saying he wants to get them back to the original owner, Nora. Nora is actually Elizabeth's great aunt that she doesn't know. After Elizabeth's big story falls apart, she ventures out to the countryside to Nora's home and begins to learn about the past as well as her own history. But, in addition to THAT, the story goes back even further to Nora's ancestor, Mary Balsam who is struggling keeping her homestead going while her husband off fighting a war that eventually frees the slaves. So, really this is kind of three stories in one: Elizabeth's, Nora and William's and Mary and Nathaniel's. I can honestly say I was riveted by all three of these women's stories and thought the author really did an excellent job of tying them all together. Some of the descriptions of the riots and the times about the slavery were disturbing and some of the struggles with Mary and Nora were heartbreaking, but in a way that made me think. This was a very different type of story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am looking forward to the author's next book.
Elena_L More than 1 year ago
"We hope for better things" is a powerful and beautiful story about Elizabeth Balsam. As she encounters a box of old photos from a relative and ended up exploring her great-aunt's farmhouse, she is progressively discovering her family's past and secrets. Told in three different timelines and multiple POVs (alternating between Elizabeth in modern-day Detroit, Nora in the 1960s and Mary in the 1860s), this historical fiction is compelling and absorbing! The characters were so deep and well-crafted that I could connect with all of them and the settings were beautifully described and remarkable - I was drawn into this complex storyline delivered by Erin. The Detroit background in addition to the slavery/racism theme (also in a Civil war context) were utterly relevant and kept me engaged. I am glad that the author brought out these subjects in a captivating narrative. Furthermore, family drama, forgiveness and women strength were recurrent highlights. "We hope for better things" is a fantastic and thought-provoking debut and I am looking forward to read more of Erin Bartels.
JulieMT More than 1 year ago
This book expertly weaves together 3 points of view from 3 different time periods, the civil war, the Civil Rights Movement (focused on the Detroit race riots), and the present. At the center of each of these threads is love and the oppressive impact societal expectations and norms can have on that love. Throughout the novel, the author expertly captures a sense of sadness and loneliness but there is also always whisper of hope. And, while dealing with such hard subjects as racism, hate and prejudice the book does not sub come to being depressing or gloomy. The book was fast paced with enough suspense to keep me reading well into the night. In conclusion, “We Hope For Better Things” is a thoughtful and inspiring book, that I thoroughly recommend! I was honored to receive a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the Publisher Revell in exchange for an honest review.
ONorman0 More than 1 year ago
For a first novel, set in three different centuries, "We hope for better things" is a winner. It's even better than To Kill A Mockingbird and I will be surprised if it doesn't become a best seller. It kept me turning the pages all the way to the end and I didn't want it to end. I will be looking for more by Erin Bartels.
desdemona1 More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book that weaves it's story of a family in three different settings from the past to real time. This read brings the lives of the characters to a reality of how America was during the Civil War & the bravery of those who stood fast against slavery & then moves those characters in the timeframe of Detroit's difficult days. The seamless transfer from the 1800's to present day takes the reader on a journey of one family's struggles, hardships, questions, & love for each other that will leave an imprint on one's heart & a quest to follow the ancestry & history of one's own family. This book will not leave the reader stranded but will give a pathway to more understanding of history & challenge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Erin Bartels’ debut, We Hope for Better Things, is a powerful novel that follows three white women, living in three different time periods, as they grapple with the confinements of racism during the eras in which they live. Mary is a newlywed when the Civil War upends her life. Nora is a young woman who becomes inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elizabeth is a modern day journalist who finds herself unemployed with a mystery that’s been presented to her involving a relative she’s never met. When Elizabeth goes to live with her elderly Great Aunt Nora, she begins to discover her family’s past and the secrets that were never passed down from one generation to the next. Filled with intrigue, romance and beautiful prose, Bartels is now on my list of favorite writers. I have never before read a novel that some might consider to have a Christian slant, that addressed interracial relationships. As a spiritual person, I am happy to see a work that shows how love has no boundaries when it comes to race but that the outside world, especially in the past, tries to dictate who we commit our hearts to based on skin color and social status. I can’t stop thinking about the characters from this book and I will be recommending We Hope for Better Things to everyone I know.
SilversReviews More than 1 year ago
A box of photos, an elderly aunt the main character didn’t know about, and an old house.

 Was it fate that Elizabeth had lost her job as a journalist because of a story she was covering?

 Was it fate that James Rich found her and wanted her to return some photos to a Nora Balsam?

 Was it fate that Elizabeth fell in love with Aunt Nora and with her home the minute she met her and stepped inside the family home? 

As the chapters alternate between the three Balsam women, we meet Elizabeth present day as she is finishing up a story and gets fired because of the story and as Elizabeth meets James Rich who has a task for her she doesn’t want to do until she finds out that Nora is her great aunt. We meet Nora in her younger days and in present time. Going through her house and seeing the beauty that was once there pulled me in. 

We also meet Mary Balsam dating back to 1861 and the first inhabitant of the house Nora now lived in.


I love old photos, old houses, and stories that our older relatives have to tell us about their lives and the time period which they lived in and how they lived. Elizabeth found all of those things, with the best things being the old house with stories of its own and the stories of the three women's interesting lives. One problem, though, was that Nora wouldn’t talk about the house or tell any stories at all about her past life. When Elizabeth finds locked rooms, gravestone markers, and many beds lined up in the attic my interest peaked. Those readers who enjoy historical fiction, secrets, surprises, and an unraveling of the past will thoroughly enjoy WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS. 

And, of course, the characters were simply wonderful. I didn’t want the book to end because of them.

 WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS has a warmth that will linger with you and a wonderful history lesson. Ms Bartels' debut novel has flawless writing and a marvelous story line. 5/5

 This book was given to me by the publisher via Bookishfirst in exchange for an honest review.
bookendco More than 1 year ago
Wow! I just finished this book. I couldn't put it down. I love the characters and the different timeframes. It is well written and the characters are interesting, deep and well developed. The author created a beautiful, and sometimes disturbing picture in my mind. It wasn't just words on a page but a moving and developing scene that read like a movie. Kudos to an author that can make a novel come to life. It would make an excellent movie and I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a little mystery, suspense and a touch of romance. I loved that it wasn't too much on the romance. It has a perfect balance of all genres and would appeal to different readers. A book club would have some interesting discussions. Enjoy this masterpiece!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JShipp More than 1 year ago
"We Hope For Better Things" is an amazing story covering multiple generations living in Detroit. Mary is alive during the Civil War time period and helps escaped slaves find freedom. Nora is living in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement and the Detriot Riots, and Elizabeth is modern day reporter covering controversial issues. All three women are related, great aunt and niece, and each woman lives in the same farmhouse as it has been passed down through the family. This novel brilliantly captures the issue racism and how it affects each woman during her life. I found Mary's story to be the most captivating of the three. The book is thought provoking and moving. I was truly enlightened on the issues of racism and how although it has changed, we indeed, still, "Hope For Better Things." A must read if you enjoy historical fiction!
Katie__B More than 1 year ago
This was a really solid fiction read although I guess it could also be classified as historical fiction because some real-life events were incorporated into the story. I thought the author came up with a unique way to tell a story that deals with the subject of racism. Reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets with James Rich and she leaves their meeting contemplating his strange request. He wants Elizabeth to find an older relative she has never met and give her an old camera and a box of photos. Given recent life events, Elizabeth decides to go through with it and leaves her home in Detroit and heads to her great-aunt's centuries old farmhouse. This story follows three strong female characters in different time periods including the 1800s during the Civil War, the 1960s, and the present day. I found myself drawn to the story lines of the past much more than the current day storyline. Part of that might be because the characters of Mary and Nora felt more fully fleshed out whereas with Elizabeth I felt like I didn't know her quite as well. The fact the book alternated between the three different women and time periods really helped with the pacing in my opinion. Even though the book is close to 400 pages it actually felt like a quick read. I didn't find this book to be quite as touching and moving as other readers have thought, but there are a few good moments that got to me. In particular, I loved the message of not forgetting family history and how important it is to share with the next generation. Overall, I think the author did a good job tackling a tough subject and I appreciated her honesty in the Author's Note at the end of the book in which she discussed her writing process. I am glad I got a chance to read this one as the 1960s Detroit riots are not something I remember ever having an opportunity to read about before in a fiction book and it's always nice to read something different for a change. Definitely recommend as a pretty solid read. I won a free copy of this book from BookishFirst and the publisher. I was under no obligation to post a review here and all views expressed are my honest opinion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about three generations of women from Detroit who's lives intersect and about discovering who they are while learning about their past. It takes place over three time periods the civil war, 1960's Detroit and present day. This all starts with a reporter for the Detroit Free Press Elizabeth Balsam waiting at a crowded hot dog dinner waiting for a meeting with a man ( James Rich) that had contacted her about about some belongs he had been given from a police evidence locker. Mr. Rich tells her that he believes the items from the evidence locker might belong to one of her relatives and when she hears this she tells him she doesn't think she can help him because she doesn't know the women being referenced. When she is getting ready to leave she fines out the items are from the 1967 riots which she happens to be writing about so now she is interested and says she will look into it. Some things happen and she gets fired from her job. Now with a lot of free time on her hands she decides to look into things and discovers that the woman ( Nora Balsam) is her great aunt so she arranges to go stay with her in hopes of getting access to the photos for an article she would like to write in hopes of getting her job back. As it goes into the three different time periods we learn more about each women and their personal journeys of how they followed their hearts and did what they thought was best even against their families wishes. This was such an inspirational story and I truly enjoyed reading about all of the journeys of self discovery and seeing how their past are all connected and joined in the present day. I hadn't ever read anything like this before but am truly glad I read this book I feel it will not only be one of my favorites of 2019 but one that is a favorite of all time. Thanks to NetGalley and Revell for providing me a copy of "We Hope for Better Things" in exchange for an honest review.
LauraMHartman More than 1 year ago
We Hope for Better Things is a remarkably memorable story that winds through the lives of a family from the civil war to today. Focusing on three women that are more alike than different, the story alternates between them giving the reader characters and a story that spans 150 years. Each of these women are vastly different, but still curiously alike. Mary is a young woman who has to take care of the family farm while her husband is fighting in the civil war. Without thinking of the consequences, he sends a freed slave to Mary and asks her to help keep him from harm. Her husband doesn’t stop there; she soon has a house full of men, women and children who are recently emancipated or on the run from their former owners. The backlash in the community is only one of the problems she has to contend with. Mary soon cares deeply for one of the men sent to her home. Nora falls in love in the turbulent 1960’s. Her life was forever changed when she meets a young, talented photographer. Will she be willing to give up her family, her wealth and her comfortable life to be with a man who loves her, but society does not approve of? Lastly there is Nora. She works as a successful journalist but is abruptly fired after standing her ground about a story she is passionate about. Randomly, a man contacts her about her Great-Aunt Nora. Since she is adrift in her professional life, she travels to see her aunt. There she unwittingly begins to dig into her family’s past. She has no intention of staying in the house that has been inhabited by Mary and Nora, but the deeper she digs the closer she feels to them and the ghosts of our nation’s past. Her investigative nature will not let her stop digging until she solves the mystery of the past she encounters The characters are interesting and full. They come to life on the pages, pulling the reader into each of their lives and stories. As the author masterfully alternates the lives of the three women, I read long into the night to find out what was happening in the different decades. The farm house each of them lived in further links the women together as it whispers of the past and adds hope for the future. Erin Bartels gives her readers a gift wrapped in history, shrouded in the past and present race relations in the United States. Her beautiful prose pulls readers into the story and lives of the characters. This is her first novel, and I am anxiously awaiting her second novel that will be published in fall of 2019. DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Bookish and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman
academy252 More than 1 year ago
It is a very intriguing story that pulls you in and with each chapter you want to know more about Elizabeth’s family. The story jumps from modern day back to the 1960 Detroit Racial Riots. When Elizabeth starts digging deeper she realizes that her story goes all the way back to 1861 and a couple named Nathaniel and Mary Balsam. Their connection is one that intersects one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history, the Civil War. We get to peek into each woman’s life and as Elizabeth learns more she begins to connect the dots to, quite possibly, to the biggest story of her life. What journalist would not want that? Maybe?! You have to read it to find out! I loved this story… part modern day and part historical fiction. The author’s writing style was compelling and emotional and flows so well as she jumps from one century to the next to tie the stories together. I have read other books with this same format of jumping from time period to time period and I enjoy this form of storytelling very much if it is done well. Bartels does it very well and tells a great story! I highly recommend this book… it is a real page-turner!
PinkGranny More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading We Hope for Better Things, a compelling time slip novel that easily slips between three very different times in our country, specifically in Detroit. From the Civil War to racially charged Detroit in the sixties to present day unrest. Each time centers on a strong female character who is faced with finding her voice in circumstances beyond her control. Erin Bartels has woven the subject of race discrimination among beautiful descriptions of the big family farm that is almost its own unique character in the story. We meet Mary Balsam, a young, barely married wife sending her husband off to war, not knowing how she will manage the crops or the big house. Mary's granddaughter, Nora, married a black man in the sixties after a Martin Luther King Jr. rally in 1963. They found refuge at the abandoned farm after she was disowned by her father. Forbidden love is all the sweeter when it is requited in the smallest way. Nora, after seeing the big picture said, "William was the right man, all right. But it was the wrong time, that's all." Elizabeth Balsam, Nora's great-niece found a reclusive Nora after losing her job as a journalist at the Detroit Free Press. A generation is skipped between each woman's story and each is so tightly woven the reader will keep reading to see what is going on next in each era. The stories of the Civil War and its aftershocks were still a bit freshly written when I was a child. While most of the players were long gone, the stories were rich but not always pleasant. That was a terrible time for our country. When we think we cannot emerge stronger or better today, we can look back on how bad things were after President Lincoln was killed and the war ended. I remember the turmoil of the sixties although I lived far from those hot spots of the time. We did not have cable news and in a way, I am glad of that. Today, with news at the ready, it seems we get so many theories and guesses that it still takes a few days to sort things out. The turmoil in our country today is not new. We may have thought we were past some of the injustice handed to others based on their race, politics or faith. We have not, though, I pray some day we will. This book is a gentle reminder that we need to tell our stories so that our family history continues to the next generation. I am grateful for the stories that my mother wrote down and eagerly share stories with my grandchildren. We Hope for Better Things is an engaging family story that was worth telling. While it is fiction, it could be pieces of many stories. I recommend this book with 4 stars.
AE2 More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Balsam is a reporter in Detroit who is approached by James Rich, a man who says he wants her to return a camera and photos from the riots of 1967 to a relative of hers--a relative she didn't even know existed. When she's fired from her job, Elizabeth goes to visit her great-aunt Nora for an extended stay, hoping to build enough of a relationship to tell her about James Rich's request. While staying with Nora, Elizabeth starts to find out a lot more about two women in her family--Nora, who married a black man in the 1960s, and Mary, who took in escaped slaves during the Civil War. So, when I saw this title available on #NetGalley, I was really drawn in by the plot synopsis, and despite the fact that I didn't really have time to squeeze in a book by a new author (since I have enough books by authors already love that I need to read), I couldn't pass it by and requested a review copy--and I'm glad I did. It was really interesting to read a book with three different time periods and three different strong female characters. It as also really interesting to look at racism in all of those time periods, and I think it would be a good choice for a book club discussion. Very well-written, thought-provoking book. I read an ARC via #NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
jebsweetpea More than 1 year ago
What it's about: Three women. Three eras of history. Three lives that intertwine and connect over decades. Three underlying themes in each of their lives that so adequately define where America was and is on the subject of racism. Journalist Elizabeth Balsam finds herself on a journey that she thought was going to take her in one direction, but takes her on a completely different path. A path of finding family that she didn't know existed and a history of the Balsam name that she knew nothing about. Because of one meeting, a camera and some photographs, Elizabeth begins a search that leads her to realizations about racism reaching back to the Civil War that impacts her family. What I thought: This book was one of the very few books that I would define as one of my favorite. Carefully written, but written in such a way that the reader can't help but mourn, cheer, cry and be angry at how America has been shaped regarding racism and the injustices that have been woven into the decades of society. This story covers three women, all in the same family, spreading from the Civil war, to the marches of Martin Luther King and the riots in Detroit to present day. The subjects of slavery to interracial marriage. To how past thought one color of skin was incomprehensible and an embarrassment on the family history to the present seeing how beautiful all people are. A powerful story to help open eyes and begin conversations about America's history and opening eyes to racism. Would I recommend this: A resounding yes. This was one of the most powerful fiction books I have read in a very long time. Beautifully and heart wrenchingly amazing, this book will be one that has impacted me to the core. Bartels did an exceptional job and I look forward to reading the books she writes in the future. Well done! Revell sent me this complimentary copy to review. Opinions expressed are my own.
NicoleBross More than 1 year ago
We Hope for Better Things is a multi-generational tale that captivated me from the first page. Told from the perspectives of three women during three different eras of Black history--emancipation in the 1860s, the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s, and the present day. We Hope for Better Things is a strong debut with an important message about race, equality and tolerance told via the lives of three women who find themselves in the midst of change, each making their own difference. Erin Bartels has created a cast of memorable characters whose perspectives on the current events of their respective eras are nuanced, sometimes flawed, but always feel authentic.