Disclaimer: With You Always, by Jody Hedlund, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
One of the many immigrants struggling to survive in 1850s New York, Elise Neumann knows she must take action to care for her younger sisters. She finds a glimmer of hope when the New York Children’s Aid Society starts sending skilled workers to burgeoning towns out west. But the promise of the society’s orphan trains is not all that it seems. Born into elite New York society, Thornton Quincy possesses everything except the ability to step out from his brother’s shadow. When their ailing father puts forth a unique challenge to determine who will inherit his railroad-building empire, Thornton finally sees his chance. The conditions to win? Be the first to build a sustainable community along the Illinoi Central Railroad and find a suitable wife. Thrown together against all odds, Elise and Thornton couldn’t be from more different worlds. The spark that ignites between them is undeniable, but how can they let it grow when that means forfeiting everything they’ve been working toward?
I started out enjoying With You Always but the more I read the more disgruntled I became. But, positives first: I really enjoyed the setting, because the Western Expansion has always been one of my favorite time periods. Hedlund did a good job of highlighting how difficult it was for immigrants to find jobs, as well as the economic and social issues of that time. I wish it hadn’t been delivered in quite so preachy of a tone, or in such a moral avatar as Elise Neumann (reinforcing the image that women are icons of virtue and need to bring morality into the virtueless lives of men, who are forgiven what they do since they didn’t have a woman to guide them), but there you have it. I also liked the minor characters, who I found more interesting than Elise and Thornton.
However, With You Always centers on a romance that I didn’t like (too unoriginal) between two characters that I didn’t really connect to (Elise is bland with odd moments of choreographed outbursts, Thornton is the typical love interest and the strange, unrealistic competition between him and his brother does nothing to improve his flatness as a character) and thus, the further in I got, the less I was able to enjoy what I did like. I know I’m particular about my romance “type” and that the sort of stuff in With You Always is gobbled up by many other people and so authors keep using it, but I wish they would branch out a little and incorporate some new elements into tired, overused romantic plots.
The other thing I didn’t like about the book was the unresolved ending. It actually made me mad that so much happened at the end and the book ended with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders and an “Oh well, the two main characters are together now,” with absolutely nothing discovered about the fate of some of the side characters. I get that this is a series and that Hedlund is probably trying to have some fodder for the next books, but it felt cheap and made me less willing to read future books, not more willing to find out what happens.
With You Always has a great setting and several interesting minor characters, but the main characters and the romance are bland and boring, and the unresolved plot threads left me more angry than curious.