Izzy Mueller has never felt like she properly fitted into her Amish family, and she’s forced to make some tough decisions about her future her confusi...moreIzzy Mueller has never felt like she properly fitted into her Amish family, and she’s forced to make some tough decisions about her future her confusion seems to mount. Although everyone tells her that she’s a gifted caregiver, she also loves sewing, particularly costumes for her Mennonite friend, Zed Bayer’s, films. Her friendship with Zed always seemed simple, but now that she’s nearing adulthood and Zed is planning to study film-making at a Mennonite college, Izzy realises that her feelings for Zed might have spiralled out of control. What would it mean for her family and her community if she fell in love with a Mennonite?
Before Izzy has the chance to talk to Zed about her feelings for him, he leaves their community to attend his college in Indiana. Their period of separation gives Izzy time to think about her future prospects—both her for her career and her love life—and delve into a family mystery that Zed wants to feature in his next film. Zed and Izzy know that both their descendents were alive when the massacre of a local Indian tribe occurred, and think that their families’ involvement might make for a good story. But as Izzy discovers centuries-old documents, she realises that the mystery might be more convoluted than they initially expected. As she uncovers the story of her great-grandmother, Abigail, Izzy feels a kinship towards this long-forgotten woman who also had to make some difficult decisions that impacted her family and her faith. Will Abigail’s story help Izzy to make the choice between her faith and the man she’s come to love?
I first discovered Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould’s Women of Lancaster County series in 2011, and I’ve eagerly anticipated each new volume before the synopsis has even been released. Although the covers and titles of these novels might suggest a conventional romance novel, Mindy and Leslie have created a series that stands out from the plethora of Amish novels flooding out of the Christian publishing industry. Having read individual novels from both of the authors, I can see where they lend their separate talents in developing the voices of the strong women who tell their stories in this series.
Given the young age of The Amish Seamstress’s heroine, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to relate to Izzy. Although I’m only a few years older than her, I’ve been living in my own for years, and having attended university and got married sometimes makes it difficult to sympathise with heroines who are still living at home as if they were a teenager. Izzy might well still be living with her parents, but I realised early on that she wasn’t altogether happy with this set-up. Clearly an introvert like myself, Izzy struggles with the chaos and noise in her family home, craving some peace and quiet to sew or read. I sympathised with Izzy’s trouble deciding what career path to take, as her mother continually put pressure on her to finish her caregiving course and take on more jobs, even though all Izzy longed to do was sew. How many of us have been faced with the issue of knowing that we’re good at something, but not knowing if it’s what we want to do for the rest of our lives?
It’s been a while since I read the previous book in this series, but I could recall Zed and his film-making ambitions. Initially I was cautious about the relationship between him and Izzy, since most of their friendship had developed long before the book had started. If this were to be a conventional romance novel, it would be difficult to win me over when the relationship was already set in stone. To complicate matters further, Zed spends a lot of the book away at his college in Indiana. But never fear—there is plenty of conflict and intrigue in this novel to force you to keep turning the pages. This isn’t your typical romance novel, but Izzy’s story is certainly compelling.
I almost want to call The Amish Seamstress a coming-of-age novel, or maybe even New Adult. A lot of this book focuses on Izzy figuring out who she is, where she’s meant to be, what she’s called to do and whether or not she should pursue a relationship with Zed. The romance is more in the background, which will appeal to those who are more interested in Izzy’s character development and the historical aspect of the novel.
That said, Zed and Izzy’s relationship definitely felt authentic. Do you recall the pangs of unrequited love from your teenage years? Even if you didn’t date back then, or were lucky enough to marry the first guy who asked you out (as I did), I’m pretty sure every woman can recall a friendship that they wished would develop into something more, but the guy just didn’t seem interested. No matter how long ago that was, I’m certain that Izzy’s story will draw you back to that time and make you want to wrap her up in your arms and assure her that everything will work out in the end. I didn’t expect to become quite so invested in Izzy and Zed’s relationship, but it was hard not to care about something that hit so close to home.
If you’re not much of a romantic, the historical side of this story might still appeal to you. What I loved so much about the first two books in this series, The Amish Midwife and The Amish Nanny, was the way that they delved deep into the Anabaptist roots of the community. The history was fascinating, but never felt like a lecture or a textbook. There are also more recent mysteries dealt with in this series, relating to secret babies and long-lost relatives (sometimes it does feel a little bit like a soap opera!) but The Amish Seamstress focuses on the eighteenth century and Zed and Izzy’s links to the massacre of a local Indian tribe. It was fun to follow Izzy and Zed as they hunted down old documents and attempted to piece together their family histories. Even more compelling was the way that Izzy’s discoveries eventually impacted upon her understand of herself and the women around her who were all linked back to this family secret.
Although I think you could probably read this book as a standalone, since a lot of the backstory is summarised, I think new readers would get more enjoyment out of this series if they started at the beginning. Part of the reason why I enjoyed The Amish Seamstress so much is because it drew me back into a family and a community that had become so familiar to me. It’s strange to become so attached to a cast of characters, but I will be sad when I have to say goodbye to these Lancaster women. Hopefully this won’t be the last book in this series.
Fans of the Women of Lancaster County series definitely won’t be disappointed with this new instalment, and I hope that new readers are equally enchanted by Izzy’s story. At times, Izzy’s youth caused her actions to be a little frustrating, but her character growth made this book well worth the time spent reading.
I don't think anything will quite blow me away like Meg's first novel, but this was still an excellent read. Although the grudges held against Meg's a...moreI don't think anything will quite blow me away like Meg's first novel, but this was still an excellent read. Although the grudges held against Meg's ancestors felt a little over the top at times, I could sympathise with Tish's desire to fit into her new town and do the right thing, even when everything back-fired.
George, Calv and Mel made for fun secondary characters, although I did wish Mel had grown up a little bit by the end of the book. She seemed to have made progress in the epilogue, but in the final chapter it honestly seemed like she'd only made things right with her family because Tish forced her to. Still, everything wasn't tied up neatly at the end of the book (it didn't seem like Mel's mum had stood up to her husband at all, or tried to get in touch with her daughter) but that made the story all the more realistic.
Although this book was a little lighter than Meg's first novel, the writing was still fantastic, and made for a very engrossing read. I could easily visualise the setting of Noble, Alabama, and I enjoyed sitting down to read chunks of this book whenever I found I spare moment.
I did find myself wishing that we'd learned more about Tish's ancestors and whether some of the stories about them were true, especially since Marian mentioned that the Historical Society had proof. Even some excerpts from some more of the letters would have been fun.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable, engrossing read with believable characters, even if it was hard for me to understand the long-held grudges in the town of Noble. It sounds like Meg's third novel will be entirely different again, so I'm looking forward to reading whatever she comes up with next! 4*(less)
This was cute, but not particularly memorable. It took me a while to work through this book just because it didn't really keep my attention and I kept...moreThis was cute, but not particularly memorable. It took me a while to work through this book just because it didn't really keep my attention and I kept getting distracted by other books. I really liked the interactions with Parker's children--they were super cute--but Parker himself was too aloof for my liking, and Brittany didn't seem to have an awful lot to overcome herself. There was a little bit of conflict regarding whether she should move back to her home state and get a good job like her parents wanted, but this was very minor and disappeared in the middle of the story. Parker did have a lot to work through before his happy ending, but in a way I kind of didn't like this as it didn't seem fair that he had to fix everything all on his own without Brittany's help. Me and my husband started dating--even got engaged--when we still had plenty of issues to work through. We helped each other overcome these issues together, and supported each other, even when we weren't at our best. Life isn't as neat as books! Anyway, a sweet, gentle read for when you just need something easy to curl up with, but the hero and heroine didn't draw me in enough and the story wasn't terribly memorable. 3*(less)
Hannah Gregory isn’t good at following rules, so it’s a little ironic that she was once pursuing a law degree. But since the death of both her parents...moreHannah Gregory isn’t good at following rules, so it’s a little ironic that she was once pursuing a law degree. But since the death of both her parents, Hannah has found herself responsible for younger sisters—a task that requires both following rules and enforcing them. Needing a way to support her siblings financially, Hannah drops out of university and applies to become a telephone switchboard operator. The convoluted rules confuse Hannah, and she’s constantly scared of making a mistake, but she appreciates being able to support Charlotte and Tessa. Unfortunately, her job isn’t enough to keep up the mortgage payments on her family farm, as young lawyer Lincoln Cole is forced to inform the sisters. Once alternative accommodation is secured, Hannah hopes she never has to see Lincoln again, so she’s surprised when he offers to help them move. Lincoln enjoys being a lawyer, but he doesn’t appreciate being forced to evict the Gregory sisters. Despite Hannah’s stubborn insistence that she doesn’t need his help, Hannah is forced to turn to Lincoln again when one of her friends is accused of arson. Working together to defend Hannah’s friend, the two began to realise that they have a lot more in common than they originally expected. But with Lincoln’s social position and Hannah’s family responsibilities, is there any chance of a future for them?
It’s not often that I get to read an entire book in one sitting, but When Love Calls certainly came close. I picked this book because I thought it would be a fun, light read to settle down with after my final exam for university, but it turned out to be so much more than that. I was immediately sucked into the lives of Lincoln, Hannah and her sisters and didn’t want to abandon them, even to eat lunch or hang up the laundry. It’s been a few days since I finished this book, but I still can’t think of anything I’d want to improve or change. When Love Calls is a perfect example of all that is good about Christian historical romances, and I’m only sorry that I didn’t encounter Lorna Seilstad before now.
I can’t imagine what it would be like if I had to unexpectedly support and care for my teenage brother, even in a day when it’s far easier for women to gain respectable employment. But with the combined spunk of Anne Shirley and independence of Jo March, Hannah was able to tackle a lot of things women in her age weren’t familiar with. Although she was stubborn and often became frustrated with her sisters, I could see Hannah’s love for them. Not having sisters of my own, I loved being able to witness the conversations between them, even if they sometimes ended in disputes. The Gregory sisters’ relationships felt real, and I can’t wait to see what happens to Charlotte and Tessa in the upcoming titles in the series. Although a large part of the plot focused on Hannah, I learned enough about Charlotte and Tessa to wish I could run out and buy the next book immediately. Charlotte had her own sub-plot about her first boyfriend—one that I’m sure will strike a chord with many women—and Tessa definitely seemed like she might cause some trouble in the future with her unconventionality.
I have to admit, the idea of a reading about telephone operator was what intrigued me most when I first heard of this book. I didn’t know a lot about the occupation prior to reading When Love Calls, and it was certainly fascinating to learn about the training and rules surrounding the job. Hannah’s occupation reminded me a little of the summer I spent working in the call centre for Scottish Water. I didn’t have to transfer as many calls as Hannah, but I remember the embarrassment when I accidentally passed a call through to a fax machine. At least I didn’t have to raise my hand to ask permission to sneeze, but I did have rote phrases I had to use, so I could relate to Hannah’s frustration with those aspects of her job.
With so much detail put into Hannah’s job and her sister’s personalities, you’d think the romance might be lacking, but Hannah and Lincoln’s relationship was an incredibly sweet and touching one. It begins with the typical scenario of the heroine misinterpreting the hero’s behaviour and thinking she could never like him, and him attempting to win her around. Hannah and Lincoln’s shared appreciation for law—and Hannah’s need of his legal help—slowly brings them together, but I also enjoyed reading about Lincoln’s attempts to win Hannah over by taking her family on picnics and buying her a bicycle. There are plenty of stumbling blocks keeping them apart—from Lincoln’s social class to Hannah’s fear of trusting someone who evicted them—and their mistakes and misgivings only made them seem more human and relatable. I cheered for their triumphs because I could see myself struggling with the same issues, and I became frustrated when they jumped to conclusions and nearly didn’t end up together. Thankfully, their misunderstandings and stubbornness didn’t keep our hero and heroine apart for too long, and the conclusion to the romance was very satisfying.
As well as the details about Hannah’s job, I also loved the descriptions of the city—including the great library—which made it feel as if I were in the book, experiencing the events alongside Hannah. It was fascinating to read about some of the modern inventions, such as the motor car, the bicycle and even a device intended to relieve depression, which one character claims is merely “quackery”. I’ve got to admit, I struggled to picture the swing that the characters ride on at one point, but otherwise I felt like I was truly in Des Moines, Iowa in 1908.
When Love Calls was just the book I needed to curl up with after a tough week, and it’s a story that I think will stay with me for a long time. I fell in love with the characters, the setting and the time period, and although I was satisfied with the conclusion, part of me wished this book never had to end. Lorna Seilstad is a fantastic addition to the Christian historical market, and I’d have to say that we’re blessed to have her among our ranks.
I'm terrible at reading devotionals every day, so I dipped in and out of this book at various points over the last few months. This devotional is repe...moreI'm terrible at reading devotionals every day, so I dipped in and out of this book at various points over the last few months. This devotional is repetitive in places, and not always terribly well-written, but I think that's the result of it being extracted from various blog posts the author wrote on her website. This devotional is definitely aimed at a certain demographic of Christian women--namely, those who are stay-at-home wives and/or mums, or those who do a large chunk of the housework and childcare in their marriage. Since I've been transitioning into my role as housewife and work-from-home writer this year, this devotional was a great encouragement in making me feel proud of what I do and not seeing it as lesser than those around me who have conventional, 9-til-5 office jobs.
Courtney doesn't delve particularly deep into the scripture, but she at least acknowledges that the Proverbs 31 woman wasn't a real woman, but a guideline given by King Solomon's mother as advice for finding the right woman. Courtney manages not to make the "Proverbs 31 Woman" seem overwhelmingly perfect, by pointing out her own struggles and relating the P31W's descriptions to more contemporary ideas (we don't all need to sew our own clothes, but we can find joy in washing clothes for our family, etc).
Considering I downloaded this freebie on a whim from WomenLivingWell.org, I've been pleasantly surprised at how encouraging this little book has been. I've highlighted several quotes that particularly spoke to me, and I'll be looking out for the author's upcoming release from Thomas Nelson. This book definitely won't speak to every woman, and it's not an academic theological text by any stretch, but if you're a wife or mum who spends a lot of time focusing on your children or housework, there will probably be something in here to brighten your day. (less)
Although this was better written than The Proverbs 31 Woman: One Virtue at a Time, the devotions were a mixed bag. Some of them felt relevant to my ma...moreAlthough this was better written than The Proverbs 31 Woman: One Virtue at a Time, the devotions were a mixed bag. Some of them felt relevant to my marriage, some of them went off on random tangents and a few bought into too many gender-stereotypes about marriage. There was a whole section on the husband's headship and how we should submit to his decision-making, which is not the way our marriage works. And the final chapter bought into the whole "husband needs respect, wife needs love" issue. Honestly, I think this goes both ways, and in our marriage, I feel like I need to be shown more respect and Simon feels like he needs to be shown more love. I think this is my issue with marriage books--they often put across the impression that there's one way to make every marriage work, or there's a certain way all men or women should act. Yes, our marriage is made up of a man and woman, but we're also individuals--and we don't always do things the way books suggest!
Truly, this book did have some nice, encouraging stories and tips, but most of them were pretty straight-forward. I didn't find anything terribly new in this book (which I suppose is suggestion that our marriage is going well?) As a freebie, it's worth a try, if you don't mind the devotions that buy into traditional gender roles. It's a great encouragement and reminder of things you can do to make an effort for your marriage and your spouse, even if the ideas aren't new to you. (less)
Sarah Cummings never intended to enter service, but her life changed drastically when her parents were killed in an accident when she was ten years ol...moreSarah Cummings never intended to enter service, but her life changed drastically when her parents were killed in an accident when she was ten years old. With no family to claim her, Sarah found herself at the mercy of St Andrew’s Orphanage. She should be grateful to have found a place in service to the Banning family, but after three years working as a maid, Sarah longs for something more. She knows she doesn’t belong to the world of service. Over the past few years, she’s been working on cast-off dresses from her employer and turning them into stunning designs. Her only chance to wear these outfits is on her day off, where she frequently visits boutiques and shops, gazing longingly at one-of-a-kind outfits and accessories. On one such visit, she runs into Lillie Wagner, a newcomer to Prairie Avenue who is desperately in need of a friend. Knowing that Lillie would never look at her twice if she knew Sarah were a maid, Sarah invents a new persona—Serena Cuthbert. Soon Serena Cuthbert is attending society balls and functions on the arm of Lillie’s friend Bradley Townsend. She’s sure this is the route to finding her true place in life, and ultimate happiness. But as her relationship with Brad progresses, it becomes harder to keep up her facade—especially when she runs into the director of her old orphanage at a charity event. Simon Tewell may be a kind man who recognises Sarah’s skill with a needle, but he can’t provide the sort of life Sarah longs for. But is the life she longs for truly the one that will bring her the most happiness?
Although it’s been nearly a year since I’d read the second instalment in the Avenue of Dreams series, it didn’t take me long to feel comfortable again in the Banning household on Prairie Avenue. The time frame may have moved forward three years, but the Chicago setting was the same, and I enjoyed revisiting characters from previous books and seeing where their lives had taken them. In particular, I was intrigued to see how Olivia Newport intended to transform Sarah Cummings from grumpy kitchen maid to a romantic heroine. She certainly had her work cut out for her, given how unlikable Sarah had been in previous books, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Sarah’s backstory and how she came to the Banning household.
My sewing skills are strictly limited to darning socks and patching up my husband’s jeans, but my mother is a successful seamstress and I’ve always admired handmade clothes. Sarah’s skill with a needle appealed to me, and I loved reading the descriptions of the dresses and suits she created out of Flora Banning’s cast-offs. Sarah may see her clothing as a gateway into the world of the upper classes, but most readers will be able to tell that she truly has a practical gift. Although Sarah teaches sewing classes at the orphanage and helps Lillie make dresses for the younger orphan girls, it takes her a while to realise how useful her skills are, especially since it’s not a craft the upper classes usually partake in. I’m sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t always recognise my own skills just because they aren’t conventionally praised.
Sarah’s attempts to integrate herself into Lillie’s circle and snag a rich husband are certainly fun to read, so even if you aren’t particularly interested in Sarah’s sewing, this section of the novel is bound to be intriguing. There are even some moments of suspense as Sarah attempts to avoid bumping into someone she’s served in the Banning household, and tries to pass messages to Brad through a local hotel. I often found myself holding my breath as I wondered if someone would figure out what Sarah was doing, or if the butler or housekeeper would forbid her to go out on an evening when she’s meant to be meeting Brad or Lillie. I’ve read plenty of historical romance novels in which the heroine pretends to be someone else, but Sarah’s double life as a maid and a socialite is probably one of the more unique situations I’ve come across, and the most compelling.
Sarah’s story isn’t just a fun, compelling read—it also contains a great message about finding happiness and being true to yourself. Sarah has worked in service long enough to believe that the life her employers have is the only one that can guarantee happiness. She can’t understand why Lucy doesn’t want a live-in maid and uses public transport when she can afford far better luxuries, and she sneers at Charlotte for being happy being a day-maid and the wife of a clerk. She struggles to see that what makes these women happy isn’t money or lack thereof, but the love of those who surround them. Sarah buys into a very common lie, and one that hasn’t disappeared in the present day—that happiness comes from having enough money to buy anything you want. Much like we might watch a television advertisement telling us that X or Y product or lifestyle will make us happy, Sarah watches people coming and going in the Banning household, dripping in jewellery and expensive fabrics, dining on the finest food and wine, and believes that she will be happy if she can only achieve what they have. It’s not until she sees Bradley Townsend for who he really is that Sarah realises that she can’t settle for a life of luxury if it’s devoid of love.
There’s also a really touching sub-plot in which Sarah meets a girl at the orphanage who details her daydreams in her journal, making an interesting parallel to Sarah’s fictional life as Serena. Sarah spends much of the novel moulding herself into someone Lillie would want as a friend and Brad would want as a wife, creating backstories she thinks will appeal to her new friends, never truly revealing her own thoughts and feelings to them. Again, I think this situation has great modern parallels—how many times do we profess an interest in something to make a connection with someone, or dress in a way we think will garner a certain type of attention?
The romantic element of this novel is very light. Personally, I didn’t mind this as Sarah’s character development and the journey she undertakes to realise who she really wants to be is compelling in itself. But if you’ve come to this novel looking for a romantic love story, you’ll probably be disappointed. Sarah spends much of the novel courting Brad and attempting to arrange meetings to gain his affections. Although Simon features in the novel fairly early on, he and Sarah don’t cross paths a lot in the first half of the novel, and it’s not until near the end of the book that Sarah seems to consider seeing Simon as a potential love interest. The romance moves quite fast, considering how long it took for Sarah and Simon to actually begin courting.
While the novel is full of fantastic historical details and contains a much needed message about being true to yourself, the spiritual element felt very tacked on. There are a few scenes where Sarah attends church, but she doesn’t appear to have much of an understanding of God or any personal faith. Then, suddenly, at the end of the novel she has a revelation about how she’s been looking for worldly riches instead of God’s love. Although this is a great message and it does make sense considering Sarah’s prior actions, it didn’t seem entirely believable for Sarah to make this connection when she didn’t seem to have any sort of faith until that point in the novel. I wished this aspect of the novel had been better integrated.
Although this novel wasn’t quite as romantic as I expected, I didn’t find myself longing for more romance once I became engrossed in the novel. The Invention of Sarah Cummings is a great novel about embracing your God-given talents and becoming the person he intended you to be. It contains a message that’s just as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century.