About the Book
Book: A Brighter Dawn
Author: Leslie Gould
Genre: Amish Romance
Release date: March 28, 2023
Ivy Zimmerman is successfully navigating her life as a young Mennonite woman, one generation removed from her parents’ Old Order Amish upbringing. But when her parents are killed in a tragic accident, Ivy’s way of life is upended. As she deals with her grief, her younger sisters’ needs, the relationship with her boyfriend, and her Dawdi and Mammi’s strict rules, Ivy finds solace in both an upcoming trip to Germany for an international Mennonite youth gathering and in her great-great-aunt’s story about Clare Simons, another young woman who visited Germany in the late 1930s.
As Ivy grows suspicious that her parents’ deaths weren’t, in fact, an accident, she gains courage from what she learns of Clare’s time in pre-World War II Germany. With the encouragement and inspiration of the women who have gone before her, Ivy seeks justice for her parents, her sisters, and herself.
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About the Author
Leslie Gould (www.lesliegould.com) is a Christy Award-winning and #1 bestselling author of over 35 novels, including four Lancaster County Amish series. She holds an MFA in creative writing and enjoys studying church history, research trips, and hiking in the Pacific Northwest. She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon, and are the parents of four adult children.
More from Leslie
The historical thread of my dual-time novel A Brighter Dawn is set in Nazi Germany from 1937 to 1939. During that period of time, Germany incorporated Austria, mandatory registration of all Jewish property began, and concentration camps opened. Then came the Night of Broken Glass—the anti-Jewish pogrom in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. Soon following was the German occupation of Czechoslovakia before the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939.
My main character, Clare Simons, is a Mennonite young woman from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who is staying with her uncle and cousins in Frankfurt, Germany. She doesn’t follow current events much and struggles to balance the Nazi propaganda her uncle and oldest cousin believe with the events unfolding around her. Slowly, she begins to see the truth behind the Nazi lies.
One thing that broke up the narrative of the heavy events I researched and wrote about? The food.
When I traveled in Germany with my husband (who had lived there during his Army service years ago), I marveled over the scenery, became engrossed in the history, and definitely enjoyed the food. My background is Swiss, so it wasn’t that the food was unfamiliar. It was just at a level I hadn’t experienced before!
As I researched what Clare would fix for meals, I pored through cookbooks. For added inspiration, hubby and I ate at German restaurants. Jägerschnitzel (seared pork with gravy). Rinderbraten (paprika and caraway spiced beef roasted in red wine gravy). Wienerschnitzel (breaded and fried pork loin with warm potato salad and a vegetable remoulade.)
I noted food in research books, documentaries, and films. The entrees became focal points in the stories, including rabbit stew, a Christmas goose, and Sauerbraten with Spätzle and red cabbage. So did the desserts, including trifle and Black Forest cake.
When I visited Germany with my hubby, one of the things I really loved was stopping in a café for Apfelkuchen (apple cake) and coffee in the afternoon. In one scene in A Brighter Dawn, when Clare and her cousin Lena stop for coffee, they order apple cake too. Then, in another scene, Clare bakes an apple cake for the family of the nearby Jewish grocer who will soon lose their property.
Below is a recipe for a simple and dense German apple cake (which may have originated in Poland and been influenced by a Jewish apple cake recipe).
The food in A Brighter Dawn doesn’t take away from the narrative, but it is a reminder that a nurturing soul, such as my character Clare, can stand against the lies of an evil regime.
German Apple Cake
- 1 cup salted butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ½ to 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 5 cups apples—peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (to soften apple slices before baking, place in a microwavable dish with a lid and microwave them with a Tablespoon of water for 3–4 minutes)
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan.
- Beat butter and eggs with an electric mixer until creamy. Add sugar and vanilla; beat well.
- Stir together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Slowly add flour mixture to egg mixture; mix until combined. The batter will be very thick. Fold in apples and walnuts by hand using a wooden spoon. Spread batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45–50 minutes. After 30 minutes, put a sheet of foil over the top of the cake to keep it from burning. Cool cake on a wire rack.
Crumble: ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup white sugar, ½ cup flour, 4–6 Tablespoons softened butter. Combine ingredients and evenly spread over the top of cake.
Butterscotch: Sprinkle a package of butterscotch chips over the top of the cake.
Almonds: Sprinkle almond slivers over the top of the cake.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Drizzle with caramel sauce.
Sprinkle with white sparkling sugar.
Top with whipped cream.
Leslie Gould has written a very compelling, yet for me, too political story about a young Mennonite woman, Ivy Zimmerman, and her family who live in Oregon. Following a family tragedy, Ivy and her sisters leave their beloved Gran and travel to stay with their estranged Amish grandparents on the other side, who live in PA. As the sisters travel back to PA with their Amish grandparents, they are accompanied by a great-aunt, who tells Ivy a story about another young woman. This woman, Clare, is a relative who visited Germany years ago, and stayed with a family of three sisters.
I enjoyed the dual timeline, even as it surprised me. I loved the historical timeline (narrated in third person)best, but the present-day story (told in first-person pov) is also interesting. I liked learning more about the Mennonites. I was surprised, as Clare is, at the difference in beliefs and practices of the American Mennonites vs. their European counterparts.
Gould wants to make sure the reader understands history and its importance today. While we aren’t responsible for the actions of others, the past can teach us. “But we have a responsibility to it—to caring for those affected by it, by never forgetting, and by doing all we can to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.”
I totally agree with that.
However, this was a difficult book for me to finish. For one thing, there are too many characters to keep them all straight. I also had some difficulty sorting out the which Mennonite group Gould is referring to in places. I felt as if the author had a ton of information she was excited to share, and didn’t pare it down enough for one book.
Gould heavily emphasizes the Ukrainian/Russian conflict before WWII. According to Gould, it’s very clear that the same events are now being repeated.
What I didn’t enjoy: Strong inferences made that being a Christian means you can only hold one political view. I hear that from both sides of the aisle, and it saddens me. Because we are human, we are imperfect, and our politics are imperfect. We will not all agree, but we should all be able to speak our minds respectfully, yet not insist that our way is the only way. Also, I read for enjoyment, not a rehashing of the conflict in the world around us. Realism is ok, but I expected this type of book to be more educational about WWII and the Mennonites, not the strong political statement I felt it became halfway through.
All in all, this is an interesting story, but very political and with too many threads in the tapestry.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit via NetGalley. No positive review was required, and all opinions are my own.
“How did my grudges correlate with my will to survive? Not physically survive, but emotionally?”
“What was the difference between a grudge and a boundary?”
“I’d read once that if you flew west on a plane at one thousand miles an hour, you’d be continually in the dawn of one day for twenty-four hours. But I liked the idea. It gave me hope. A new day was always beginning, somewhere.”
Good- but not a personal fave
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To celebrate her tour, Leslie is giving away the grand prize package of a paperback copy of A Brighter Dawn and one $15 Amazon gift card!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.
10 thoughts on “A Brighter Dawn by Leslie Gould Review and Giveaway”
Sounds like a good story.
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I love her books and this one sounds extremely good.
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I am very interested in the historical timeline of this book.
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Most people love this book! I certainly found the history fascinating! Enjoy!
I really want to try that apple cake. I love new recipes.
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Doesn’t that just sound delectable?!
Thank you for sharing your impressions of A Brighter Dawn, this sounds like an excellent read and I am looking forward to it
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Great! I hope you enjoy it!