Two historical novels that take place outside the United States appealed to me greatly and are highly recommended. Heart’s Journey by Kristen McKendry takes place in Canada at the same time as the Civil War in the States. It focuses on a transcontinental crossing by a naive eighteen- year-old young woman during the western migration and the gold rush years. The second is Defiance by G.G. Vandagriff, which focuses on Austrian refugees in England during the Second World War prior to the United States entry into that war. Both are well written, hold the reader’s attention, and tell of significant events from the viewpoints of those in other parts of the world. Both give rich descriptions of the countries where the stories are based and are intriguing stories.
HEART’S JOURNEY by Kristen McKendry
Rachel Hamilton is young and impetuous. It’s been five years since she last saw her father who left their Toronto home for a grand adventure hunting gold in the great western Canadian wilderness and three years since his last letter. Besides she’s tired of being bossed around by her brother and can’t quite face the boring prospect of marrying Philip, her brother’s choice. Her brother wants to have her father declared legally dead and take over his thriving business, but Rachel is convinced he’ll lose the family fortune and is certain their father is still alive. She runs away to search for their parent. The first part of her journey is tiring, but fairly tame. That changes when she reaches Fort Garry and faces endless miles of prairie. She has been pampered all of her life and is not prepared for the rigors of crossing an untamed continent. When she becomes separated from the company she is traveling with and all but the clothing she is wearing is lost to her, she is rescued by Peter who promises to escort her to civilization. The arduous journey seems endless and is fraught with violence and fear, but also with the kindness of strangers.
Stubbornness and commitment keep Rachel motivated and in the process she gains both physical and emotional strength. Her prejudices and many of her assumptions fall away as she learns to care about others and appreciate their strengths. She doesn’t always use good judgment and makes a lot of mistakes, but she develops a capacity to acknowledge her mistakes and move forward. Her relationship with Peter grows stronger and is nourished slowly by the experiences they share, the bond of trust that develops in spite of wariness on both sides, and the capacity they both gain in learning to put the past behind them and move forward embracing life.
This story has strong character development and it is easy for the reader to both identify with the main characters and at times want to shake some sense into them. Peter doesn’t have as much growing up to do as Rachel, but his struggle with his loss and coming to terms with having a future life are handled well. Rachel has a lot of maturing needed . This process occurs slowly, but realistically without any sudden transformation.
The Canadian prairie with grass as tall as a man’s head followed by the rugged mountains and rough rivers of western Canada are a different approach to the western migration of the of the mid-nineteenth century. The author blends the setting seamlessly into the story, enriching it and adding to its credibility.
The story is plotted well and moves at a comfortable pace.
Kristen McKendry has been published in both the United States and Canada. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. Though a native of Utah, she, her husband, and three children make their home in Canada.
DEFIANCE by G.G. Vandagriff
G.G. Vandagriff has fine-tuned a blend of history and romance in her newest novel, Defiance. As World War II rages across Europe in 1940 and France is overrun by Hitler’s armies, Rudolf (Rudi) von Schoenenburg, a refugee from Austria, enlists in the British Royal Air Force. He is in love with a young Jewish girl, Hannah, who is engaged to a pacifist who shares her Jewish heritage and has her deceased father’s approval, but not her love. Rudi and Hannah with Rudi’s stepfather become involved in the rescue of British troops from Dunkirk at the risk of their own lives.
As Rudi flies a fighter plane in an effort to keep bombers from reaching England, Hannah enlists in the WAAFs where she is assigned to operate the new radar system to alert the RAF pilots to the presence and location of incoming German fighters and bombers. The British are sadly outnumbered by the Germans.
While Rudi and the RAF struggle to slow down or avert the heavy bombing of London and other English cities and military bases, Rudi’s younger brother Christian becomes involved in finding and arranging the capture of undercover Nazi agents. Though only eighteen he has an instinct for the work and he too faces extreme danger. Their mother is involved in the war effort too, as she and Nika, another refugee, work at a large hospital in London that becomes a major target of the German bombers.
Most of the characters are already familiar to readers who have read Vandagriff’s prior World War novels, The Last Waltz which begins in 1913 and Exile which carries the story forward beginning in 1938 . These stories are filled with well-crafted characters with tremendous courage, who face the horror of war, loss of people and places dear to them, yet remain human with all the doubts and fears that even honorable people face in times of tremendous stress and exhaustion. They grow and mature realistically, sometimes in small increments and sometimes in moments of great epiphany. Whether it’s the love between a parent and child or the love between a man and a woman, these feelings are not taken lightly after so much loss. Though the three books are connected and it is desirable to read them in order, each one could be read separately and still be a whole and satisfying read.
Careful attention is given to the details of Hitler’s movements in Europe, the evacuation of British troops from France, and the world political assessments and diverse views of Hitler and his strategies. It is a unique historical time as Britain stands alone, supported by only a few underground groups and escaped refugees from the European continent. Europe has fallen and the United States has not yet entered the fray.
G.G. Vandagriff has twenty-one other books to her credit and has been the recipient of several prestigious awards. She received her bachelor’s degree in International Relations with a concentration in Central Europe from Stanford University. She earned a Master’s Degree from George Washington University. She also studied politics and history in Austria. She and her husband now live in Utah. They are the parents of three children.
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HEART’S JOURNEY by Kristen McKendry, published by Covenant Communications, 302 pages, softcover $16.99. Also available on CD and for e-readers.
DEFIANCE by G.G. Vandagriff, published by Orson Whitney Press, 232 pages, soft cover $9.99. Also available for e-readers.