There were some flaws to this book, but the fact that I stayed up until almost midnight to finish it and cried all the way through the last chapter bu...moreThere were some flaws to this book, but the fact that I stayed up until almost midnight to finish it and cried all the way through the last chapter bump this book's rating up a lot! I got this book for a couple of dollars from christianbook.com during one of their sales as I've been interested in the Amish lifestyle ever since I read Jodi Picoult's "Plain Truth." The community featured in Lewis's novel appeared to be a bit stricter than the one in Picoult's, and to begin with I was a bit disappointed that the protagonist - Katie - wasn't fully embracing her Amish lifestyle, as that was what I really wanted to read. But once I was halfway into the book I began to agree with Katie's un-Plain thoughts, and wonder, Where *does* it say in the Bible that we can't play instruments (actually, it says the total opposite) and that we must dress alike and that women are inferior to men? I will admit that I previously had a bit of a romanticised view of the Amish, and although I still admire them, I had to agree with Katie in this book. So once I'd settled down and began rooting for Katie's team I enjoyed this book a lot more. Oh, and Dan? It was a little bit obvious (as soon as they mentioned an empty grave I figured out what would happen) but I'm a big romantic at heart so I can't wait to read the next book and find out what happens to that plot line! One of my mum's friends from her home group has also just read this book and says that she's going to buy # 2 and 3 from christianbook.com next time she makes an order, so hopefully they'll arrive in the UK sometime soon. So, overall, I wasn't hooked right from the start, and the writing was a bit amateur in places, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and really felt involved in the story towards the end. It is a little predictable, and quite sad in places, but sometimes you want a predictable, romantic and dramatic story! I can't wait to read more about Katie and I've already discovered that some of my local libraries stock Beverely Lewis novels so I have to say that I'm rather converted to Christian Amish fiction! 8/10(less)
I loved this book! I've been interested in the Amish and their culture since I read Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth, and read Beverly Lewis' debut novel Th...moreI loved this book! I've been interested in the Amish and their culture since I read Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth, and read Beverly Lewis' debut novel The Shunning earlier this year. However, I felt a bit let down by Lewis' first novel - although it was compelling it was rather predictable and the character's didn't completely come to life for me. The Covenant, however, was very different and showed a vast improvement in Lewis' writing. The story centres around an Amish family with four daughters. The youngest, twins, don't feature a lot in the story although I'm sure their own stories will become more important later in the series - Mary Ruth wants to be a schoolteacher although this is not allowed in her community, and Hannah wants to be able to express her creativity and individuality and seems quite shy. The older sisters, Sadie and Leah are very different. Leah helps her father on the farm and is quite the tomboy until she reaches her courting years and wants to become more womanly in order to please her husband - who she hopes will be her seconc cousin, Jonas, and not the boy next door whose farmland her father covets. However, her older sister is a constant worry to her. Sadie constantly sneaks out to meet an Englisch boy who will ultimately break her heart. Their parents and aunt also feature in the story. Her mother suddenly becomes pregnant again and their father interferes with Leah's courtship with Jonas. Their maiden aunt, Lizzie, apparently has a secret surrounding her teenage years, which I hope will be revealed in the next book! The characters were very real and sympathetic. Although it takes a while to get into the book and warm to all the characters, I soon found myself hoping that Leah and Jonas would be allowed to continue their courtship and sympathising with Sadie after her beau leaves her. Normally I don't like silly, niave teenage girls but I could really understand how Sadie could allow herself to be used by an Englisch boy. The characters in this book were much easier to like than those in Lewis' first novel and I definitely want to continue reading the series. I also felt that I learnt more about the Amish and could understand some of their customs - even if some of their beliefs did not seem to be in line with scripture. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book and would recommend this for people wanting to learn more about the Amish and looking for a simple but exciting story full of secrets. 9/10(less)
So far I've read three of Beverly Lewis's novels and enjoyed all of them. This one was slightly different to the other two - The Shunning and The Cove...moreSo far I've read three of Beverly Lewis's novels and enjoyed all of them. This one was slightly different to the other two - The Shunning and The Covenant - in that it is set during the split in the Amish church in the 1960s. Because of this, the story had more emphasis on the Amish theology and how it differed from conventional Christian beliefs. I found this really fascinating as one of the things that has always bugged me about the Amish way of life is that they seem to focus more on the Amish culture - no electricity, specific clothing guidelines, not associating with non-Amish - than the Word of God, and a lot of their culture has no scriptural foundation. So it was interesting to read about families who discovered the truth about Salvation and how this was treated. To those that were interested in the theological side of this book, there's an excellent BBC documentary about a similar situation that happened a year or so ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lhoz_n... Of course, I enjoyed reading about the typical aspects of Amish life: Nellie and Caleb's courtship, Nellie's bakery, and the rumours about Suzy's running-around years. To be totally honest, I didn't find these parts of the book to be as engaging as the sections about Nellie's father and friends discovering salvation through Christ. I liked Nellie as a character but Caleb seemed a bit two-dimensional, and this stopped me from really warming to their courtship and truly caring about the outcome. Likewise, as fascinating as it was to read about the family recovering from Suzy's death, the truth about what happened to her seemed to be tied up far too quickly and neatly in less than a chapter. I was intrigued by the story about Rosanna adopting her cousin's twins. It didn't totally fit into the main storyline, which made it a bit awkward, but it was interesting enough and I'm sure it's significance will become clear in the second book. One of my main gripes with Lewis is that nearly all of her books are in a series, and I've started 3 so far! When will it ever end? Although, considering how much I'm coming to like the Amish genre, I don't mind the steady stream of books. It'll keep me going until - if this ever happens - I get bored. Overall, I wasn't quite as interested in these characters as I was with some of the other Amish books I've read, but the subject matter - a split in the Amish church because of the issue of Salvation - was fascinating and well written. Looking forward to reading the next in the trilogy. 8/10(less)
I remember snagging this book on BookMooch when I first discovered Amish fiction back in 2009, but somehow it languished on my shelves until now. I've...moreI remember snagging this book on BookMooch when I first discovered Amish fiction back in 2009, but somehow it languished on my shelves until now. I've thoroughly enjoyed some of Beverly Lewis' older books, especially her Abram's Daughters series, but I've not been such a fan of her more recent works. This one fell somewhere in between. The writing wasn't bad and the characters weren't flat (which has been my criticism with her most recent series) but it wasn't overly compelling or interesting either.
The premise of Sarah's sister converting to the Amish faith, then making her guardian of her five children when she dies is definitely intriguing, but the clash of Sarah's English life (real estate job, never married, enjoys shopping for clothes, etc) and that of her Amish nieces and nephews felt forced or too extreme in places. At times it almost felt as if Lewis was trying to suggest that all the trappings of Sarah's English life were wrong. I might not love shopping as much as Sarah, but I also don't believe that my extensive earring and scarf collection separates me from God. You can be a Christian and be interested in fashion, or have a prosperous career.
This was a slow, meandering read, and for the most part it was pretty easy and light. I don't regret reading it, but it probably won't stick with me for long. There wasn't a whole lot of character or plot development, in spite of Sarah's struggle to decide how to care for her Amish nieces and nephews for the entire book. She seemed to make her final decisions very quickly, and a few pages after her decision the book was over. Likewise, her change in faith happened very quickly with pretty much no lead-up, and it didn't feel entirely believable.
Honestly, I didn't dislike this book, but in the scope of the Amish genre I've read far better--from both Lewis and other, more recent authors. It made for an easy read in the bath and in the sun (I know, sun in April in Scotland!) but it's not one I'd particularly recommend, unless you're a massive Beverly Lewis fan and have a burning desire to read everything she's ever written. 3*(less)
Although Beverly Lewis was one of the first Amish authors I read, back in 2009, I haven't been terribly impressed with her latest books (The Fiddler &...moreAlthough Beverly Lewis was one of the first Amish authors I read, back in 2009, I haven't been terribly impressed with her latest books (The Fiddler & The Bridesmaid) and was a little unsure about reading this one. Until I started reading, I wasn't sure if Beverly's standards were slipping, or if I just no longer enjoyed her style of writing.
Thankfully, The Secret was more well well-written and compelling than some of Beverly's more recent novels. It bore all the trademarks of her earlier works--secrets hidden for decades, dysfunctional families, unrequited love, interfering ministers. The best way I can think to describe this book is that it's "typical Beverly Lewis", which was encouraging after my last two disappointing reads from her.
That said, I didn't love this book. While it was a quick and easy read that sucked me in and made me wonder what the hidden secret was, it didn't have that extra factor that pushed it into the "loved it" category. It was well-written, with a little bit of suspense and plenty of intriguing characters, and I definitely enjoyed this book and will be moving on to the next instalment in the series soon. But I just didn't love it. I'm not sure if it was missing anything, or if my taste has just changed enough that Beverly Lewis is no longer one of my favourite authors.
If you're looking for a typical Beverly Lewis novel, this one will definitely satisfy. It definitely kept my attention and made for an intriguing, compelling read. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next in the series. 3.5*(less)
This was such a heart-wrenching read! Yet I still want to read the rest of the books in the series. Beverly Lewis's books are incredibly readable and...moreThis was such a heart-wrenching read! Yet I still want to read the rest of the books in the series. Beverly Lewis's books are incredibly readable and I finished this in two days. I was engrossed in the descriptions of the land and the food of Lancaster County and truly would like to visit it some day. As for the characters, I was taken in, yet again, by Abram's daughters. Sadie's grief and Leah's desire to settle down with her betrothed were just as engaging as in the last book and I was pleased to see that Hannah and Mary Ruth's characters were developed further. I'm looking forward to discovering whether she joins the Amish or leaves to become a teacher. As other reviewers have pointed out, many issues in this book could have been prevented if only the characters had communicated. But wouldn't this have been the situation a hundred or two years ago? In a sense, Amish novels are like historical novels. You have to suspend disblelief a little and accept that crisis often develop out of small problems that snowball out of control. As much as I felt sorry for Leah at the end of the book, I can only hope that Lewis has something better planned for her life that will appear in the final three books in this series. I have to say that this book was probably better than the first in the series as I felt that I got to know the characters more, so this is a 10/10.(less)
I'm fairly eating these books up! Can't get enough of this series. I've come to accept that some sort of tragedy is going to befall the Ebersol family...moreI'm fairly eating these books up! Can't get enough of this series. I've come to accept that some sort of tragedy is going to befall the Ebersol family in each book and that Leah is going to suffer many trials, but that doesn't make these books any less engaging or compelling. Lewis's writing gets better with each installment and she makes it possible for us to truly get inside the heads of her characters and understand their feelings and emotions. It was great to finally see more focus on Hannah and Mary Ruth and their decisions as to their futures. As a result of Mary Ruth's quest for higher education, Lewis delves into the intricacies of the Amish way of life and their theology. She discusses Amish culture and beliefs in The Parting but this book dealt with it in a far more accessible way. I also appreciated the development of the father's character and his relationships with his family. All in all, a great new addition to this series and I'm looking forward to getting hold of the fourth book in the series. I do hope that Leah is able to find happiness in the next couple of books! 10/10(less)
I read the first book in this series, The Shunning, over a year ago and as a result of this had forgotten a lot of the details. I've also read several...moreI read the first book in this series, The Shunning, over a year ago and as a result of this had forgotten a lot of the details. I've also read several other Amish-themed books between then and now and have established my views on who the best authors are in this genre and which series is my favourite. Unfortunately, this book isn't among them. As much as I enjoyed the first book and all of its drama and angst, this one just seemed unnecessarily over-dramatic and cliched. Although I wanted to read about Katie meeting her birth-mother and being reunited with her lost love, I didn't feel so connected to her and there were several passages devoted to the points of view of the servants in her birth-mother's house - many of whom were, bizarrely, English. Was it typical to have English servants in an NY home in 1997? Particularly ones who appeared to have stepped out of an Agatha Christie novel? I did enjoy reading about the "imposter" and wondering whether Katie would ever get to meet Lydia face-to-face (although considering the predictability of this novel, it was rather obvious that this would eventually happen) but I felt that this series lost its charm once it was no longer based in Hickory Hollow. I tend to prefer the Amish novels that focus on people who embrace their beliefs, rather than those who escape the lifestyle. I will read the last book in the trilogy as I checked it out of the library last week, but I definitely prefer Lewis's "Abram's Daughters" series to this one. But to give the author credit, this trilogy was her first and it's obvious that her writing has grown immensely since this was published. 6/10(less)
I enjoyed the conclusion to the Heritage of Lancaster County series more than the second book but not quite as much as the first. While living in her...moreI enjoyed the conclusion to the Heritage of Lancaster County series more than the second book but not quite as much as the first. While living in her birth-mother's mansion in New York, Katie comes to realise that she misses many aspects of her old Amish life - quilting, baking, helping those who are to frail to look after themselves. Can she really throw that all away and become completely "fancy"? I felt that on her quest to discover who she really was, Katie really grew as a character and the immaturities about her that I'd previously disliked diminished. Katie's friends and relatives back in Lancaster also featured more in this book, which is another reason why I enjoyed it. It was great to read about Rebecca coming to terms with her daughter's shunning, Mary finding love and Annie rekindling her friendship with her brother. Throughout the book, several characters discussed finding salvation through belief in Christ. I appreciated that Beverly Lewis had picked up on the fact that a lot of Amish don't believe in this and instead think that you have to earn your way to heaven, as this is an aspect of Amish life that I don't entirely agree with. However, I can see how this would make the novel unappealing to a secular audience. Daniel's discovery of salvation in the second book had been a trivial point but it was discussed much more frequently in The Reckoning, so be aware of this if you are not a Christian and are considering reading this book. All in all, I've enjoyed reading this series but would not say that it is my favourite of the Amish sagas available. Lewis broke into the scene with the Heritage of Lancaster County books and while this was groundbreaking at the time, her writing has changed a lot since the late 90s. There are some cliches and predictabilities about these books and the speech can seem stilted in places. These novels make great comfort reads, but a better series by Lewis is the Abram's Daughters series. There are several other authors of Amish fiction who I'd recommend, my favourites being Amy Clipston, Vannetta Chapman and Barbara Cameron. The Heritage of Lancaster County is a great place to start in the Amish genre, and because it was the series that started it all, you can only move on to bigger and better books! 7/10(less)
I've finally finished this series! Unexpectedly, I spaced my reading of the Abram's Daughters series out over two years, simply because reading for un...moreI've finally finished this series! Unexpectedly, I spaced my reading of the Abram's Daughters series out over two years, simply because reading for university and reviews got in the way of pleasure reading. Maybe the time it took me to finish the series meant that my expectations were altered by the time I reached this book, or perhaps my taste in Amish fiction has just changed a little. Either way, I didn't enjoy "The Revelation" quite as much as previous books in the series, although it was, as always when it comes to Beverly's novels, an enjoyable, relaxing read. Beverly has a great way of evoking the feel of being in an Amish community, from the descriptions of the farms and homes to the dialogue spoken between characters. Even the narration of the novel seemed to have an Amish lilt to it.
I often find that the last book in the series feels like a bit of a let-down because a lot of the focus is on tying up loose ends, rather than new events and relationships. While I was glad that Leah and Sadie finally got their happy endings, not a lot happened in the last quarter of the book as everything wound down to culminate in Leah's wedding ceremony. Because of how much had happened in previous books - and earlier in this novel - I kept expecting something to happen or a new secret to be revealed, but a lot of scenes were just spent confirming new friendships and feelings between the Ebersols and Masts.
Perhaps it's just been a while since I read a book in this series, but the jumping from perspectives didn't always make total sense - Hannah's subplot about being interested in hex doctors started out being really interesting but the conclusion of it didn't really explain why Hannah had been drawn to it or what had changed her mind. Towards the end of the book I got a bit bored with her sections of the novel, since they ceased to add anything to the plot. If I remember correctly, "The Prodigal" included some really interesting scenes about prayer and healing that both surprised and impressed me, and I wondered whether Hannah's story might take this route, but ultimately it didn't really go anywhere.
I was glad to see all of the secrets that the Ebersol family had been keeping come into the open, including one that I really hadn't been expecting. In some places, reactions seemed unrealistic, but overall everything worked out for the better. I never did figure out what had kept Abram and Peter apart for so many years - was it just Abram's treatment of Jonas? - and some parts of the book seemed a bit soap-operaish. Perhaps that could be expected when so many different storylines were being tied up in one book. Ultimately, I was pleased to see Leah and Jonas finally get together, and I particularly liked Lydiann's storyline. She's definitely a character I'd be pleased to revisit in a later book, if Beverly ever decided to do something similar to her "Home to Hickory Hollow" series. I think the sections about Lydiann were the most touching, perhaps because I'd been reading about Leah and Sadie for so many books, and Lydiann's story hadn't yet got old. Maybe someday I should reread this series back-to-back and see if my opinions change. This was probably my least favourite book in the series, but it was still an enjoyable, relaxing read. Like I said, it might just be that my preferences in Amish fiction have changed since I started this series in 2010, or that having so many storylines come together in one book made it less enjoyable, but taking into consideration the previous books in the series I'd probably rate this one 4*.(less)
It's been several months since I read #3 in the Abram's Daughters series and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite my changing reading...moreIt's been several months since I read #3 in the Abram's Daughters series and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite my changing reading tastes, I still adore these books. While it can be argued that Beverly Lewis's novels always feature a lot of heartache and sadness, there's something in her style of writing that is authentically Amish and truly brings her characters to life. It's not just the way that they speak, but the entire narrative that features typical Plain words and phrases, really making you feel as if you're in the heart of Lancaster County. Beverly Lewis's characters might not have happy, fuzzy lives like the protagonists in other Amish novels, but I do love the way that she writes.
I don't want to spoil this book for anyone who hasn't read this far into the series, but I was pleased that some plot points were starting to be wrapped up. Naturally, since #5 is titled The Revelation, all of the mysteries of the Ebersol family are soon to be explained. I was blown away by one discovery, which I was sure I'd already figured out, but alas I'd followed a red herring! The actual outcome of the situation made everything much more intriguing. There were a few sad points in this book, but not as many as in previous installments in the series, and it finally ended on a positive note. I'm hoping that there will be happy ending for all of the characters, especially Leah and Sadie who have suffered so much heartache.
I was also intrigued by the members of the Ebersol family coming closer in their relationships with God through studying the Bible. While the Amish community featured in this series are God-fearing people, there is little emphasis on personal prayer and studying scripture, and slowly the characters have been discovering that there is more to God than their Bishop preaches about on Sundays. I'm wondering how this plot point will end as I've got the impression that having such a close relationship with God is frowned upon in the community. Of course, I'm sure that other Amish settlements have different beliefs regarding the Bible and prayer, but I've found it interesting reading about what must be representative of others. There were also a few instances where family members prayed for healing which I enjoyed, particularly as I've met Christians who don't believe that healing through the power of God is possible. It was uplifting to read about Amish people having faith in this.
There's not much more that I can say without giving away too many details, but I was very satisfied with the fourth book in the Abram's Daughters series and can't wait to read the final installment! There are still several issues to be resolved and I've no idea what will happen when they come out into the open. Thankfully I have #5 at my parents' house so will get to read it sometime this month. Unlike some other Amish series, this isn't one that you can read out of order or with huge gaps between the books. There's always so much going on in a Beverly Lewis novel and you'll definitely need to find out what happens next. While many new authors of Amish fiction have emerged over the last few years, Beverly Lewis still stands out as one of the best authors in this genre. 10/10 (less)
GENRE: AMISH/ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: APRIL 10, 2012 RATING: 2.5 OUT OF 5 – AVERAGE
PROS: Will appeal to those who daydream abou...moreGENRE: AMISH/ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: APRIL 10, 2012 RATING: 2.5 OUT OF 5 – AVERAGE
PROS: Will appeal to those who daydream about visiting Amish country to experience peace and contentment; interesting details about Amelia as a violinist
CONS: Predictable plot; too much head-hopping between points of view means that the reader never connects with any of the characters; not as deep or complex as her previous novels
Amelia DeVries is living a double life – she’s a world-famous concert violinist who occasionally sneaks away from her overbearing father to play at more relaxed fiddling events. After being caught by her agent after one of her secret performances and pressured to sign on for a classical European tour, Amelia takes off on a more scenic route home through Pennsylvania. Finding herself stranded with a flat tire and no cell phone reception, she comes across Michael Hostetler, an Amish man who has left his family and is temporarily living in a cabin in the woods. They connect when they realise that they’re both running away from their real lives. While Amelia waits for her car to be fitted with a new tire, she visits Michael’s Amish community, Hickory Hollow, and finds an unexpected sense of peace and contentment. When she finally decides to return to her home in Ohio, she can’t help but take a little bit of the Amish lifestyle with her, and use her newfound faith in God to help her make some difficult decisions about her musical career. Will these choices eventually bring her back to Hickory Hollow and Michael?
Like most fans of Amish fiction, I got started with Beverly Lewis. Over ten years since she entered the market with The Shunning, Beverly still remains a good “starter” author for those just getting into the Amish genre. She has a good grasp of the quirks of the Amish lifestyle and consistently creates engaging characters and storylines that bring readers back to her with each series she writes. As such, I had high hopes for The Fiddler, the first novel in the Home to Hickory Hollow series, especially as it returns to the community that featured in The Shunning. Sadly, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with this most recent novel. I may not have read all of her books, but those that I have read I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and The Fiddler did not live up to Beverly’s usual standards. If I have to be entirely honest, this didn’t even feel like a Beverly Lewis novel. The overall plot was pretty predictable and lacked the drama and engaging characters and complex family struggles of her previous books.
I will concede that while The Fiddler is relatively predictable, it does not completely follow the formulaic Amish plot of the English woman who falls in love with an Amish man and his lifestyle and then converts to the faith. Amelia doesn’t convert to the Amish faith – how could she, being a musician? – but she does experience a stupendous amount of peace and contentment as a result of spending a couple of days among the Amish, and makes a connection with God during her trip. That’s not to say that all Amish romance are uninteresting because they contain many similar elements, but I didn’t feel that The Fiddler really did anything particularly unusual with its characters, setting or storyline to make it stand out from the plethora of Amish novels already on the market. Considering the novels I’ve previously read by Beverly Lewis, many of which delve into the theological implications of the faith while continuing to develop relationships between characters and their families, The Fiddler fell a little short. Rather than continuing on from the successes of the drama-riddled Heritage of Lancaster County series or the Abram’s Daughters series, I felt that The Fiddler was instead buying into every reader’s secret dream of visiting an Amish community and finding the signature sense of peace and simplicity that the Amish are so famous for. I’ll admit it, I’d love to do this someday – but I don’t imagine my experience would be exciting enough to write a book about.
I wouldn’t have minded the simplicity of Amelia and Michael’s romance so much if it weren’t for the way that their story was told. While written in third-person point of view, The Fiddler head-hopped between Amelia, Michael and Michael’s mother. Even if Michael’s mother had been taken out of the equation – a good move, I believe, as her perspective added very little to the novel – the frequency at which Beverly jumped from one character to another made it very hard to make any connections with them. I’d just be starting to get inside Amelia’s head when suddenly the perspective would switch to Michael, or his mother, and I’d lose what little I had grasped of her personality and emotions. Sometimes it seemed like each character was only given ten or so paragraphs before the book switched to the next character, not even enough to truly establish the scene. Despite the predictability of the plot, I honestly think it could have been strengthened if the storytelling had been stronger and hadn’t jumped around so much. A standard romance can make itself into something more exciting simply with the addition of colourful, realistic characters. Amelia and Michael had the potential to be more than cardboard cut-outs, but as I never truly got the chance to experience their emotions and inner turmoil, I can’t say that they were as engaging as the protagonists in other Amish novels I’ve read.
The Fiddler certainly has some potential, particularly coming from an established novelist like Beverly Lewis. The premise of a young woman finding peace in Amish country and re-evaluating her life as a result of her experiences will certainly grab the attention of many Amish readers, and the depth of research that Beverly has undertaken in order to make Amelia’s musical talents appear authentic certainly brought that aspect of the novel to life. Unfortunately, this is where the novel’s strengths end, and The Fiddler doesn’t measure up to Beverly’s previous books. I genuinely missed the depth of character development that I’d experienced in earlier novels, and I struggled in my attempts to connect with Amelia and Michael due to the incessant head-hopping. The Fiddler is a gentle, sweet romance but ultimately rather predictable, and while newcomers to Beverly’s work may enjoy this novel, I’m afraid that many fans may be disappointed by the lack of depth and complexity.
GENRE: AMISH ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: SEPTEMBER 11, 2012 RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 – ABOVE AVERAGE
PROS: More compelling than the firs...moreGENRE: AMISH ROMANCE PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE PUBLICATION DATE: SEPTEMBER 11, 2012 RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 – ABOVE AVERAGE
PROS: More compelling than the first book in the series; not a conventional romance; sub-plot about the quilt was pretty interesting
CONS: Cora-Jane lack of motivation made her seem two-dimensional, unsympathetic and malicious; plot could have been resolved a lot sooner if the hero and heroine actually communicated; treatment of Joanna’s writing is inconsistent
Joanna Kurtz is twenty-four and still unmarried, although many of her Amish school friends have long since started families of her own. But unlike her younger sister, Cora-Jane, she isn’t superstitious about standing up as a bridesmaid at yet another friend’s wedding. Unbeknownst to her family and friends, she’s been communicating with a young man from an Amish community in Shipshewana, Indiana, and secretly hopes that someday soon they will be able to marry. But when Eben Troyer finally visits Hickory Hollow to meet Joanna’s family, it’s revealed that Eben is unable to leave his father’s farm until his brother returns from his adventures in the English world. Joanna starts to consider moving to Indiana to be with Eben, but her plans are complicated when news of her secret fiction-writing reaches the Bishop and damages her standing in the community. Only the gift of an heirloom quilt that once belonged to the woman she was named after is able to help Joanna remain hopeful and strong in this difficult time. Is Joanna fated to be a spinster forever, or will God provide a way for Joanna and Eben to be together, despite the odds?
Like many fans of Amish fiction, I was introduced to this genre with the works of Beverly Lewis. I’ve long been a fan of the engaging and complex novels that Beverly consistently produces. I’m not sure whether my reading tastes have changed over the years I’ve been reading Amish fiction, or if Beverly’s standards are slipping, but either way, I’m just not enjoying the Home to Hickory Hollow series as much as I expected. While I liked The Bridesmaid slightly more than its precursor, The Fiddler, it just wasn’t as compelling or complex as Beverly’s earlier novels. I didn’t have to force myself to finish this book, but it never gripped me such that I found it difficult to put down, unlike many of Beverly’s earlier works. I was also a little disappointed by how flat and two-dimensional some of the secondary characters seemed, particularly Cora-Jane, who played a major role in some of the plot points in The Bridesmaid. Far from reminding me of any of Beverly’s previous books, The Bridesmaid actually made me think of some of Wanda E. Brunstetter’s novels. This might not bother some readers, but since I’m not a big fan of Wanda’s style of writing, this was a major turn off for me.
But before I discuss my qualms with this novel in further detail, I must touch on the positive aspects of The Bridesmaid. As I mentioned earlier, The Bridesmaid was definitely an improvement on the first novel in the Home to Hickory Hollow series. This was the first time that I’d read about a romance conducted by letters, at least in the context of the Amish, and I enjoyed the unconventionality of the romance between Joanna and Eben. The fact that Eben’s future was dictated by his absent brother’s actions also added an interesting aspect to the novel, and it was intriguing to witness Joanna and Eben’s indecision over whether they should attempt to take their future into their own hands or wait to see how matters panned out in case it wasn’t God’s will for them to be together. Their romance was very drawn out, and although I found it frustrating at times and wished that the couple had just sat down and talked out all of their issues, I appreciated that it gave both Joanna and Eben time to grow and mature. I particularly liked the element that the quilt added to the story, and the hope and strength that Joanna was able to gain from its legacy. I honestly think this was the most interesting part of The Bridesmaid, and wished that the quilt had played a larger part in the novel.
Unfortunately, the negative aspects of the writing often overshadowed those parts of the plot of The Bridesmaid that I genuinely enjoyed. My biggest issue probably has to be with the character of Cora-Jane, Joanna’s younger sister. Cora-Jane was overly negative towards Joanna’s singledom, and the possibility that she was “jinxing” her chances at marriage by acting as a bridesmaid at several weddings. Yet when Joanna revealed that she had a beau in Indiana that she’d been writing to, Cora-Jane was incredibly disparaging of their relationship. I never quite understood her reaction. In part, it seemed that Cora-Jane was worried about Joanna leaving Hickory Hollow to be with her beau, but on the other hand, it may be that Cora-Jane was jealous as she knew her own relationship wasn’t as positive as she let on. I could sort of understand Cora-Jane’s motivations for her bitterness regarding Joanna’s beau when she reveals her own relationship troubles towards the end of the novel, but her decision to reveal Joanna’s novel-writing to the Bishop seemed purely malicious due to the lack of reasonable motivation.
I was a little disappointed with the way that Joanna’s writing was treated, both by the fictional Amish community and as a topic in the novel. As an aspiring writer myself, the idea of an Amish woman secretly writing stories in her spare time intrigued me, and was ultimately the reason why I wanted to read The Bridesmaid despite my disappointment with the first Home to Hickory Hollow novel. I enjoyed reading about Joanna’s thought-processes and secret novel-writing habits, and understood her hurt when her writing was revealed to the community and she was forced to abandon her natural-given talents because of the Elders’ disapproval. Although I was glad that she was able to find a way to explore her creativity through encouraging poetry, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone with such natural talent for fiction writing could give up her God-given talents and agree to live in a community that disapproves of something that comes so naturally to her. There was no scriptural basis for the community’s disapproval of fiction writing (or reading), so the outcome of the situation didn’t sit well with me. I still feel unresolved about my opinion on this aspect of The Bridesmaid, even weeks after I finished the novel. It almost seems ironic that the author wants readers to enjoy reading a romance novel about an Amish woman who is discouraged by her community from writing romance novels. It feels kind of wrong to enjoy reading such a book when I know that it would be forbidden in certain Amish communities.
My biggest issue with Joanna’s writing is how violently her community reacts to it, particularly her deacon, only to have him to turn around and retract his opinion at a vital part of the plot. By the close of the story, I honestly felt that the deacon’s decision was just a plot device to keep Joanna and Eben apart in order for them to grow and mature before they made their decision to marry. While I appreciated the growth they both went through during their time apart, I wish something more physical had been keeping them apart. All it took for Joanna to travel to Indiana to tell Eben how she felt was the deacon retracting his opinion of Joanna and her writing. Sadly, the deacon’s behaviour also revealed how much power the Elders in the Amish church have and how they can often make decisions that don’t reflect God’s will or the community’s true opinion. In other novels, I wouldn’t have minded such a presentation of the Amish community, but in a series which is meant to be highlighting how wonderful it is to live in Hickory Hollow, this section of the book didn’t sit well with me.
Although I have a lot of complaints about this book, The Bridesmaid was an improvement on The Fiddler, and I’m tempted to read the final book in the Home to Hickory Hollow series to see if Beverly will eventually return to her usual high standard of writing. I enjoyed the unconventional romantic plot and the details about Joanna’s quilt, but the characterisation and plot progression of this novel were fairly poor, compared to other books in the genre, and in Beverly’s repertoire. While I’m sure that some Amish fans will enjoy The Bridesmaid, I don’t think I’m the only reader who will wonder why The Bridesmaid lacks many of the qualities that Beverly Lewis is known and loved for.