Friday, August 23, 2013

Come To Zion Series by Dean Hughes

Will Lewis is stuck. the class system in England in the 1840s seems destined to keep him in his place as a poor tenant farmer who cannot improve his lot and will never be able to marry the woman he loves. But the "new religion" that is sweeping through congregations of the United Brethren, Will's church, may hold the key to the better life he longs for. As he listens to the preaching of Wilford Woodruff, he almost dares to hope for the Zion the young Apostle describes.

Will's struggles to believe and to face the rigors of immigrating to an unknown land are paralleled by the modern-day story of Jeff and Abby, a young married couple facing challenges of their own. When Jeff begins digging into his family history, he finds himself particularly drawn to "Grandpa Lewis," an ancestor whose life was more like his than he would have imagined.

The skillful interweaving of these two stories brings Church history to life while demonstrating how much we can learn from those who went before us. Anyone who has ever faced the winds and the waves, in some form, will love this novel.

Today I will be reviewing the first two books in the Come To Zion series by Dean Hughes.  These are LDS historical fiction books.  Dean Hughes is a well known and established LDS author.  In fact, the second book in this series, Through Cloud and Sunshine is his 100th book published in 33 years.  That's a pretty great accomplishment!  I've read many books by this author and I'm always impressed with his ability to bring events in history alive.  Historical fiction is one of my favorite genre's.

 The first book, The Winds and the Waves introduces us to Will Lewis in the 1840's and Jeff and Abby in the modern day.  It's like two stories in one book.  Will is actually Jeff's ancestor from about 150 years before and in the book Jeff begins to discover more about Will's history.  

As I said before, Dean Hughes has a gift for creating characters that come alive in his stories.  His ability to give me a history lesson while entertaining me is what I have come to expect and enjoy.  These particular time and events in LDS history has been well covered by many authors and Dean Hughes isn't the first but he is probably the most in depth.  I just felt while I was reading this book that I've read so many of these types of books lately.  It didn't feel new and fresh but it definitely felt meatier.

I have ancestors in England who immigrated to America so for me this story is also personal.  I have a connection to the struggles of the characters in this book because I know my family history tells of similar stories.  I enjoyed Will's story far and above Jeff's story.  In fact, for most of the book I didn't even particularly like Jeff.  Good thing I had book two to delve right into after book one.  It was super nice to not have to wait an entire year in between these books.  :)

Nauvoo was supposed to be the kingdom of God on earth, but Will and Liz Lewis are learning that it takes more than dreaming of Zion to make it a reality. Sickness, poverty, and just plain human nature add to the struggles for the Lord's people, but every now and then a glimpse of heaven shines through. Just when things are starting to get settled, though, the old problems start rearing their heads, leaving Will and others wondering if they will be there to reap the harvest they have so carefully sown.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Abby—in modern-day Nauvoo—are dealing with challenges of their own. As their newborn baby fights for his life, they must come to grips with their personal faith. Can they, like their ancestors, continue to trust in God when there seems to be no trace o Him in their trials?

Beloved novelist Dean Hughes skillfully interweaves the stories of two couples separated by five generations and 150 years, providing a unique perspective on Church history and showing how much we can learn from those who went before us.

This book is full of struggle and heartache.  In both generations.  Honestly, there isn't a lot of sunshine for Will and Liz.  Both couples face circumstances of death, sickness, misunderstanding, prejudice and poverty.  Believing in God and continuing in the faith can seem monumental in the middle of such struggles.  Anyone who has faces heartache will be able to identify with these characters and connect with the stories of both past and present.  Trusting in God can be so hard for us.

I'm glad to say that I enjoyed Jeff a bit more in this book.  :)  Not my favorite character, but he redeemed himself a bit.  I'm still firmly a Will fan.  I love his fierce loyalty to his wife and children.  He is a protector and a defender.  I just love that.

Even though this book was full of mostly difficult things, I did enjoy it.  It is a powerful story of faith and determination.  I guess it's the hope of sunshine at the end that keeps most of us moving forward.  

My thanks to Deseret Book for providing these books for my review.  They are a fantastic company and they put out so many books that make my job as a reviewer a real pleasure.

You can purchase the Come to Zion series at Deseret Book or Amazon in both hard cover and ebook.

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