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, 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 Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.
"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
"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
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About the Author
Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for more than 15 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 Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin, and can be found online at www.erinbartels.com. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
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.
"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."
"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.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "We Hope for Better Things"
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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!
"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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This novel was a multi-generational split-time story that focuses on 3 different generations of Balsam women living near Detroit, Michigan. Mary Balsam’s story takes place in the 1860s during the Civil War. Her great-granddaughter Nora Balsam’s story takes place in the 1960s during the Detroit riots. Nora’s great-niece Elizabeth Balsam’s story takes place during present day. The novel explores the racism in our country’s history that is evident in all three generational stories in this novel, from the treatment of escaped slaves in the North during and after the Civil War, how interracial relationships were treated in the 1960s and the civil rights movement, and the law enforcement related shootings with minorities that are happening in present day. I enjoyed this book, and it definitively gave me a lot to think about. Some parts were a little slower with the action, but I think that was necessary for the author to build the storyline. A few sections of the story may make some readers uncomfortable with how racism has been present throughout the centuries, but it is important to be aware of what is happening in our society today and what we can do to try to make our world a better place for future generations. I would recommend this book and look forward to reading further books by Erin Bartels. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and Revell Publishing and was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine.
"The Past is Never as Past as we'd like to Think" is a quote on the back of We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels. This book and this quote made me truly think about the racial challenges in this country--and how my thoughts and actions could work for bettering things as we go into the future. We Hope for Better Things tells the stories of three different generations of people and how race played a part in their stories through the Civil War, the 1960s and in today's world. We read the story of Mary and Nathaniel Balsam and how they fared during the Civil War when Nathaniel left to join the Civil War and sent home a slave named George for Mary to help in the underground railroad--and more slaves in the future. Nathaniel and George faced challenges in their marriage and in the society in which they lived at that time as they tried to help the slaves to freedom. Bartels also shares the story of another generation of Balsam's as Nora Balsam falls in love with a black man in Detroit in the 1960s. There is a show of prejudice through both families when the two get married and try to live a life together. There is also upheaval all around as Martin Luther King comes to town and there are riots that ensue not long after. Then comes today's generation, Nora's neice, Elizabeth Balsam is journalist who is asked to deliver a box of old photographs to her great-aunt Nora, who lives in the house that once belonged to Mary and Nathaniel, and the story comes full circle in today's world. I found We Hope for Better Things to be an easy story to follow. While the author flips back and forth throughout the book between the stories, as the reader I never lost track of characters or stories. I understand this is Bartels' first novel but it was so well-written and easy to follow that I am quite impressed with this first time author. While I liked the characters for the most part, I didn't always like the choices they made--and there were consequences to those choices when they didn't live "right." Because I usually read Christian novels, I should mention that there is mention of God and going to church, but this isn't a typical Christian novel. It is clean but there are some choices that are made that are clearly sinful although you can feel for why the character made those choices. The best part about We Hope for Better Things is that it could lead to discussions and thoughtful reflection on the racism in this country and how things could be better as we go forward. It would make some good book club discussions on that topic, as well as some good discussions on making good choices. I wish it came with questions to ask in the back, but it does not. However, We Hope for Better Things is book that could indeed lead to "better things" if we let it. I know this book will stick with me for a long time as I continue to reflect on it. I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.
Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time--from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide. I enjoy taking a chance on an author’s debut novel, and Erin Bartels didn’t disappoint me. This book is incredible! Not only well written, it has a timely message for us, but never in a preachy way. Bartels isn’t afraid to write about racism, slavery, judgment, interracial relationships, and so many other difficult topics that are very emotional but she does it with grace. Written from three different points in time, Civil War, 1960s Detroit, and current time Detroit, I wondered if it would be confusing but I found the way the author tied it each time frame together to be very interesting. The entire book was compelling and caused me to lose sleep because I didn’t want to stop reading. Being from Michigan, and remembering 1960s Detroit as a young child, I found it especially intriguing. This story is a poignant look at our past and our present day. A reminder to me that if we don’t learn from it, history will repeat itself. I highly recommend We Hope for Better Things. I received a complimentary copy of this book but was not required to leave a review.
I have really been enjoying the time slip novels that have been coming out recently, and We Hope for Better Things is one that takes on a family through three generations of women who all know what it is like to struggle as a woman. Debut author Bartels tells her story in a fresh and memorable way and I enjoyed uncovering the secrets of this family as their past focuses on racial and unjust tension. In modern times Journalist Elizabeth Balsam is tasked with giving a box of old photos to a distant aunt. Elizabeth is also going through some troubling circumstances that gives her a chance to come live with her great-aunt Nora, whom she didn’t even know she had. At another family member’s request, they want Elizabeth to look for any troubling signs that Nora is failing in her body and mental capacities. Nora, though having lived a great many years, has some stories and secrets to share with Elizabeth. The other time we go back to is Nora’s own as a young woman living in Detroit during the 1960’s, the racial tension that is going on, and the man she eventually marries making family and friends displeased with their interracial romance. The third timeline takes place with Mary Balsam who is living in the 1860’s and must watch as her husband leaves her to fight on the Union side of the Civil War. Pregnant and alone with a servant, Mary must run the farm by herself until one fateful day when her husband’s trunk arrives back to the farm. Each chapter is set up in a different time period and in some cases there is a passage of years. We are told what time period we are in and where so there is no confusion just three great stories unraveling at once. I also liked that all three of these women have a connection to the house where Elisabeth has come to stay with Nora. This was a riveting debut read and I look forward to more by author Bartels. I was provided a copy of this novel by the publisher. I was not required to post a positive review and all views and opinions are my own.
WE HOPE FOR BETTER THINGS is Erin Bartels' first novel, and it is also my first read of 2019. I am sure that this novel will remain among my favorites of the year. And if every book I read this year is this well written, with such intricately developed characters, I am in for a stellar year of reading! With an expected autumn release date for her sophomore novel, I may be able to end the year with another superb Bartels novel. Three time periods, three generations, and one isolated farm house outside Detroit, MI provide the backdrop for 3 interconnected stories of love and acceptance, war, riots, and racism. The first story begins as a young bride is left to run the family's farm as her husbands leaves to serve in the Union army. When it soon appears that her husband is sending fleeing slaves to their home, her life and perception of blacks are forever changed. In 1960's Detroit a well-to- do young socialite falls for a talented, unknown black photographer, and their hasty marriage sends them to seek refuge at the same isolated farm. The third story, the contemporary one, tells how a young reporter seeks her own refuge at the farm and meets her great aunt, the same white woman who fled Detroit in the 60's. Secrets from all three generations will be revealed in this book which keeps its suspense until the very end. Stories that alternate time periods and characters can be choppy and hard to follow, sometimes feeling contrived and gimmicky, but this is not true of Bartels' writing. The three stories meld together seamlessly into a powerful book. I received a copy of this novel from Revell Publishing. All opinions are mine.
Journalist, Elizabeth Balsam is asked to deliver a box of old photos to a relative she didn’t know she had. Hesitatingly, she agrees to the task, which opens the door to a history lesson of her own family and an amazing story of courage, secrets, love and heartache. This novel spans four generations in Detroit, Michigan and the lives of three unique women, one from the current day, another from the 1960’s and third from the 1860’s. Each chapter highlights one of the women and these chapters alternative throughout the narrative revealing their life story and how it intersects and/or shapes the future of the next generation. When I began reading the story, I was a little confused how it all fit together and where the story was going. After about four chapters, it began making sense and I fell into the rhythm of novel. Each individual tale was moving and emotional, keeping the reader engaged to discover how it would end for each woman. I thought it was well written in language, style and content. And the subject of racism was written with honesty and sensitivity. I applaud the author for tackling the subject. I found it very thought provoking on many levels, which gave the entire novel a sense of depth. I especially liked how strong and resilient the three main women were portrayed. They were women of character and yet each also had weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Overall, I would highly recommend reading this historical fiction book.
We Hope for Better Things is a time-slip tale of three women and the unexpected lives they led. Richly drawn characters populate the story, and I enjoyed delving deeper into their emotional journeys. Shifting from past to present, history comes to life as does the heartache of previous generations. Erin Bartels has penned a moving and memorable debut novel, and I look forward to reading her future works. I received a complimentary copy of this book. No review was required, and all thoughts expressed are my own.
I requested a review copy of the book through Revell Reads and was granted it. I am writing this review on my own. All opinions are mine. The book is very unusual and is divided among three main characters and how their lives are similar and yet different. It also deals with racism then and now. It is partially a historical fiction novel and partly modern times. The story goes from one era to another quite well. The characters were well developed and you felt like they were real people. The story captured my attention from the very beginning and it was one that I didn't want to put down. The editing was also very well done. It is important to me to have it flow well and the grammar and punctuation be correct. But, and this will take away one star leaving it as 4 out of 5, the story is supposed to be a Christian novel. Not one of the main characters was a Christian or at least a practicing Christian. In the whole book, I would guess, only two or three minor characters would truly be Christian. It did not show anyone's faith but more the lack of faith. It did not address these issues but left them. I enjoyed the book, but I would not recommend it to an unsaved person because if I were unsaved and read this, I would not see any benefit in becoming a Christian. If it were sold solely as a novel, not a Christian novel, I would have not problem recommending it to an unsaved person. Read as a Christian, it was a disappointment that so many opportunities were missed. All in all, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to a limited number of my friends. I give this 4 stars out of 5.
I really didn't know what to expect going into We Hope for Better Things, aside from knowing it was a multi-timeline book that dealt with the Civil War in the 1860s and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. However, despite some of the hard-hitting, statement-making books I've read in the past surrounding these events in the past, I found myself both unprepared and excited for a book that poignantly explored the dark side of race relations historically, with added contemporary context, and how, despite the progress that has been made, there is still a lot of work to be done to strive for equal rights. All three storylines were wonderful, but I found myself most gripped by the 1860s storyline, following Mary Balsam, whose husband becomes a soldier in the Union Army, with the years bringing about tests to their marriage, with the exposure of his indiscretions with another woman and the deepening forbidden bond she develops with George, a former slave, and the hypocrisy with which each of the spouses' infidelity is looked at by both each other and those around them. The 1960s storyline was just as beautiful, especially with its more immediate connection to the modern one, as Elizabeth unravels what happened to her aunt Nora's husband, William. All in all, I love that this story highlights the beauty and tragedy of interracial love in dark times, and how each of the heroines truly "hope for better things." This is a wonderful book, and one I would recommend to people who love fiction that makes them think about prominent issues in the modern world, especially those with long, dark histories like this one.
This was a great read. It took a little bit to get used to the varying time frames/characters, but it was so worth it. I read this book very fast because I didn't want to put it down. I think the author did a great job with the characters from 3 different eras. The historical details were fascinating, and it was easy to sink into another time. The author juggled difficult issues of racism and family ties, and all of the varied voices came through as authentic. The stories kept me engaged until the very end. I look forward to seeing more work from this author. I highly recommend this book! I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Revell, for the purpose of writing a review, but all opinions are my own.
A Powerful Read! A gripping story that spans 3 generations about an issue that still affects our nation, racism. The story starts out when Elizabeth Balsam meets with a man who has photographs that might belong to a distant relative of hers. Elizabeth ends up losing her job and decides to pursue her relative and the mystery behind the photos. She ends up going to live with her great Aunt Nora and we begin to learn about Nora. Nora fell in love with a black man in the 1960s. Even though they live in the north people still frown on their relationship and her life becomes very difficult. Nora tells Elizabeth about an even more distant relative named Mary. Mary lived during the time of the Civil War. She was left alone when her husband joined the Civil War. Mary ends up helping escaped slaves and comes to rely on a runaway slave named George. All three stories are about love, forgiveness and following your heart. It also helps us remember just how history can keep repeating itself if nothing is done about it. I found this book having a very powerful message and an important story to tell.
This is a very emotional and powerful story that touches your soul and stays there for days after reading it. The author has a poetic way of bringing her characters to life and I felt attached to them. The story is moving and takes us back in time as we hear from several characters. I loved how the author brought them all together and intersected their lives in a way that is memorable and poignant. The beauty of the writing is exceptional and the author has a bright future in the publishing world. The topic of racism is very prevalent in this story as it touches each character in a different way. Elizabeth was a very interesting character and I liked how she was brought in the story to discover her past. The story unfolds as we travel from the Civil War to to the Underground Railroad to the unforgiving streets of Detroit in the 1960s. Mary is left alone while her husband goes off to fight in the Civil War. She is scared but when a man comes to her door for help, she opens her home to him. George is a decent man who comes to be very important in Mary’s life. Having George there could get her into trouble but her faith tells her to not turn anyone away who needs help. Mary has a giving heart and welcomes freed slaves into her home with kindness and compassion. Nora was probably my favorite character with her loving heart. When she falls in love with William, there are unforeseen consequences. I loved how the author lets readers experience what it is like to be discriminated against and the violence that people are exposed to in a world where the color of your skin dictated how you were treated . People did not accept mixed raced couples and I can only imagine what Nora and William were exposed to. The story definitely shows how judgmental people can be and how hatred spreads through generations. Nora’s discoveries will set the stage for generations with historical facts, secrets and a family that didn’t look at the color of skin, but helped each other out. I loved how the author gave us a historical journey through times and I most appreciated Martin Luther King in the story. His famous speech is one I will never forget. Elizabeth was a great character and I loved how her instincts lead her to her family history. It is amazing how great this book easily glides from one time period to the next. It made me thing of doing a genealogy search and reading about your ancestors . Another great part of the story is when Nora and Elizabeth meet. To me this is where the gaps in the story started to become clearer and how families were torn apart because of racism. It really opens your eyes to how little we have come in this world when it comes to accepting each other. I loved this that was said in the story, “ We read the same scriptures , worship the same Lord. We may sing different songs, but I can assure you that we have been faithful to God.” I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing. The review is my own opinion.