Night Songs

Jun 4, 2024 | Book Reviews

Two months ago, my husband and I drove through Bedford County, Tennessee. After meandering through the charm of downtown Bell Buckle (population 410 in 2020), we explored Shelbyville. We took a picture of the sign “Audrey’s on the Square” and sent it to our daughter Audrey. 

Shortly after returning home to Wisconsin, I recalled that Shelbyville in Bedford County is the setting for Night Songs by Jennifer Sienes which I’d read a few months prior. I wish I’d remembered that while I was there!

Another fun fact: Jennifer and I both loved the chapter book A Room for Cathy as kids. I learned about her affinity for that book on her website.

Night Songs is book one in The Bedford County Series. If you gravitate to  contemporary romance, especially with a Southern flair, this one is worth your while. Incidentally, book three of the series, Mayhem and Moonlight, just released in April.

Celebrate Lit Publishing (April 12, 2022)

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My Thoughts

I was hooked on the first page, and the following chapters did not disappoint. Charlotte Van Cleave (aka Charlie) finds herself in tough, sticky situations due to choices made years prior for the wrong reasons. The traditional country music song truly does encapsulate her life.

She’s s a victim of multiple infidelities, now living alone in a ramshackle farmhouse with her confusing memories. Having lost her job, Charlie must get creative about how she will showcase her interior design skills.

But the worst part is, she married the wrong brother. And it’s too late to do anything about it now. 

The backstory scenes are deftly woven through the contemporary tale, deepening the characterizations, relationships, and plot. Charlie met Derek and his brother Nicky Daniels when she was twelve. She and Derek were fond of each other, but he went into the military after high school, only coming home for weddings and funerals.

One of those weddings was hers. To his brother Nicky.

Now, years later, Nicky has proven unfaithful once again, and Derek returns from the military due to an injury. Finding Charlie next door, back in her grandparents’ house, is a mixed blessing. Derek still loves her, but knows she’s off limits. Ironically, he respects his brother’s marriage way more than Nicky does. Derek  holds fast to integrity while seeking a new direction for his life.

Things gets further complicated when Charlie asks Derek to help her sort through the mystery regarding her missionary parents’ deaths in the Congo when she was a child.

Full of anger and guilt, Charlie must discern between God’s judgment on her choices versus His higher purposes for her own good: letting go of the past, healing from broken relationships. A strong faith thread prevails. Even with all the gritty realism, this is a clean read.

The story strengths are the writing style, imagery, realistic and well-developed characters both likable and relatable with their flaws. Plus, there’s rising tension, plenty of Southern charm, and the bonus of an unusual lady named Darlene and a stray dog.

Each chapter kept me guessing. In a romance with two points of view, there’s no doubt about who ends up together. But the big question is, “How?” The obstacles are overwhelming. Especially with all the family dynamics.

There might be too many mentions of sweet tea and too many people asking, “What do you want to drink?” at the beginning of numerous scenes. But that’s hardly a real complaint. Maybe that’s just my Midwestern leanings.

Join me for some Q & A with author Jennifer Sienes. 

Author Jennifer Sienes

Questions about Night Songs

The inspiration for Night Songs came from serving at a local church-on-the-street. My husband and deliver food to shut-ins and people who are struggling financially. One such man hadn’t left his house in ages and wasn’t even able to get out of his chair to come to the door when we arrived. 

He was a hoarder of sorts, and when I saw the condition in which he lived, it broke my heart. He had been a law enforcement agent, yet he’d fallen so far, he was barely functional. I thought about the difference between the haves and the have-nots—Charlie and Darlene. The story was born from there. 

As for the setting, my first book series was set in Northern California where I grew up. When my husband and I decided to move to Tennessee, I truly believed it was God moving us away from the only home we’d ever known. 

It’s been such an amazing journey. I was walking through my new neighborhood and was amazed at all the new smells and sights. The magnolia trees with their gigantic, shiny leaves and blossoms as big as my head. The cicadas chirping in unison, the summer storms with thunder and lightning. It was incredible. And I realized the setting itself could be a character. This move birthed the Bedford County Series, which takes place in Bedford County (of course) in Middle Tennessee.

I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, so personality traits really interest me. I wanted Charlie’s character to be what the Enneagram Inventory labels a type 3. Driven, successful, and most often attractive. This would make it even harder for her to battle the loss of everything she’d held dear in her life. I wanted Derek to be the “hero” type—strong, highly moral, with a penchant to serve.

The only link I have to Charlie is that I was abandoned by my husband after 22 years of marriage. I used the deep sense of betrayal to give Charlie’s character depth and emotional connection to my readers. 

I always try to at least start with a little background on the characters—some personality traits, physical appearance, and an idea of their career or type of work they do. But my favorite part of writing is that they always take over and reveal themselves to me as the story goes along. I’m as surprised by their actions as my readers. 

I used to try plotting out my novels, but the Lord always brings in unexpected characters or situations. Kimberley Saint John was unexpected. Pastor Paul, who plays a minor role through the series was unexpected. 

Oh, goodness. I would hope Charlie could see me as someone who would be her champion, mentor, mama-figure. I have many “Charlie’s” in my life, and they are like daughters to me. Although none could be quite as special as my own sweet girl, Nikki.

I would have to say researching the Congolese Civil War. I feel naïve and foolish, having no idea what horrific things were happening in Africa (are still happening in Africa), and it opened my eyes to the danger missionaries put themselves in when serving the Lord in that capacity.

Questions about Writing

Regarding the craft of writing, I would have to say Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Although I don’t care for formulaic writing, the structure of a story is important in keeping a reader engaged. This was a challenge for me when I started out.

As for fiction, the novel that inspired me to be a writer was To Kill a Mockingbird. It was required reading in my sophomore year of high school, and it’s stayed with me. I’ve also been a fan of Jodi Picoult’s since I first read My Sister’s Keeper. The way she uses multiple first person POV’s, the depth of emotion in her characters, and the diversity of their experiences is a true talent.

An idea for a plot generally is where my story ideas originate, although that isn’t true of my first published book Surrendered. I had actually written the third book in my Apple Hill Series first. Providence was inspired by my brother’s suicide, and writing it was very difficult. It was a cathartic experience, and the story’s tone shifted quite a bit with the two rewrites. 

In the first draft, there was a brief side character named Tess. In my second draft, I had to cut her scene, but I couldn’t get her off my mind. She became so real to me, I knew she needed her own story. That’s how Surrendered was born.

I am just now starting the research for a new Southern fiction series. My husband and I have a good friend whose entire career was with the railroad. He’s very passionate about trains and their history, which has inspired me to incorporate it in my new series. 

Whenever I hear the train whistle at night, there is a nostalgic tug on my heart. I have no idea why, but I’m sure the Lord has something to do with it. I hope to capture that sense of nostalgia with this next project.

(Book 3 of the Bedford County Series, Mayhem and Moonlight, just released in April.)

I grew up in Northern California, and my Apple Hill Series is set where my grandparents lived. Some of my greatest memories come from spending summers and holidays on those fourteen acres in the hills above Placerville. I love the mountains with towering pine trees, rushing rivers, and clean air. But I’m also drawn to the ocean. In Northern California, you can see both in one day.

Middle Tennessee is beautiful in its own right—lush trees and grasses, lakes, rolling hills that stay green for most of the year (unlike in California). And the birds! I know springtime is close when the mockingbirds (which happens to be the state bird) begin to chatter away. And the cardinals are so vibrantly red, they seem unreal. 

But I love the people. Southern hospitality truly does exist. I can’t tell you the number of times someone we didn’t even know went out of his way to be helpful. 

Like I stated earlier, I feel as if this place it its own character with the charming idioms and dialects. Although I have to admit, my husband has turned to me and asked, “What did she say?” on numerous occasions because he can’t quite understand the accent. 

I enjoy the challenge of writing “Southern” without sounding cheesy or unbelievable. Many of the older ladies in my church read my books, and when they tell me I sound more Southern than them, I know I hit the mark.

Had I understood this from the beginning, I would’ve saved myself a lot of disappointments and trusted in the Lord more. After all, I’m merely the typist—He’s the true Author.

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If you like Southern fiction or small town/rural stories about family dynamics and secrets, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.

  • Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
  • Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest

If you like dual timeline fiction, you might enjoy my novel, A Hundred Magical Reasons. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, his friendship with a young girl, and his impact through the decades. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here. The story recently won Scrivenings Press novel contest and is currently under consideration at another publisher.

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Jennifer Sienes Bio

Award-winning author Jennifer Sienes holds a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in education but discovered life experience is the best teacher. She loves Jesus, romance, and writing—and puts it altogether in inspirational women’s fiction. Two of the three novels in her Apple Hill Series (set in Northern California) were inspired by actual events. Her Southern fiction Bedford County Series is set in Tennessee where she now resides with her real-life hero (and husband). Learn more on her website.

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Join me next time for a visit with author Naomi Musch.

Meanwhile, have you read Night Songs or any others by Jennifer Sienes? Do you gravitate to sweet tea and Southern fiction? Answer in the comments below.

Ever reading,

Laura

Coming soon: A Hundred Magical Reasons, a novel

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17 Comments

  1. Ruth Schmeckpeper

    I love southern fiction, but you can have the sweet tea! Night Songs sounds like my kind of book! Thanks for the awesome review.

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Fortunately, you can enjoy the novel without the sweet tea!

      Reply
  2. Anita Klumpers

    Tennessee is one of my favorite states. Now you and Jennifer have me wanting to go back 🙂
    What a great premise for a story!
    There are so many hurting people—with deep hurts,
    who still know they are living in the love of God.
    It’s wonderful to know that writers want to portray real people
    in real situations, but never failing to acknowledge the role of
    faith and grace in the world.
    (And good gracious, no! No sweet tea for me!)

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Tennessee and North Carolina are my two favorite Southern states. I agree–I appreciate an author who tackles sticky, difficult situations and injects grace into them.

      Reply
      • Jennifer Sienes

        Thank you for your encouragement and support. I love writing about real life–as much as I can in a Christian novel. I’ve been so blessed by the grace of the Lord in my own “sticky, difficult situations,” and I want people to know the hope they have in Jesus.

        Reply
    • Jennifer Sienes

      I truly hope you will come back to Tennessee!
      I pray every story I write is infused with the love and grace of our Savior. Thank you for your kind words.

      Reply
  3. Barbara M. Britton

    Jennifer’s book sounds like a compelling read. I will check it out. I’m a northern California girl too, but I like Southern stories.
    A great interview.

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      It’s a good thing being Southern isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying Southern fiction!

      Reply
    • Jennifer Sienes

      Oh, what part of Northern California? It’s such a beautiful part of the state.

      Reply
      • Barbara M. Britton

        Hey Jennifer. I’ve been in South Dakota all week and I just saw your question. I grew up in Concord and Walnut Creek, but I left California many years ago. When I visit, I can’t believe the traffic. And all the lovely walnut orchards are gone in Walnut Creek.

        Reply
        • Jennifer Sienes

          What a small world! My husband grew up in Concord, and his best friend was in Walnut Creek. It’s astounding how much things have changed, and very sad. I suppose that’s to be expected.

          Reply
  4. Mary

    This looks like a great read! The story idea is different from many other Christian Fiction stories I have read. It sounds like a wonderful story of redemption.

    A Room for Cathy is a book I liked as well!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      The story does have some unique features. I love that you liked A Room for Cathy, too!

      Reply
    • Jennifer Sienes

      We should start a fan club for A Room for Cathy!
      I pray the stories I write (I should say the stories I type–the Lord is the true Author) will give my readers hope.

      Reply
  5. Nancy Radosevich

    Here we go again. After reading your great review and interview, I zipped over to Amazon and “looked inside” the book with the beautiful cover. The prologue drew me in and the start to Chapter 1 sealed the deal. Now Night Songs is waiting on my Kindle! And I have another book to read – yay!
    By the way, A Room for Cathy was one of my favorites, too. Now if I could only find it in my boxes of books, I might want to reread it some day!

    Reply
    • Laura DeNooyer

      Your “testimony” for Night Songs speaks to the importance of writing effective opening lines and first pages!
      Wow, you still have A Room for Cathy in a box somewhere? Amazing! Mine is long gone.

      Reply
    • Jennifer Sienes

      Thank you for your encouragement and support! I am amazed at how many other people remember A Room for Cathy. We really could start a fan club.
      I pray you will enjoy Night Songs as much I did writing it!

      Reply

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