Adriana Brenneman is completely committed to the Amish faith, as well as her large, sprawling family. Life might not always be easy, but she would nevAdriana Brenneman is completely committed to the Amish faith, as well as her large, sprawling family. Life might not always be easy, but she would never think about running away, like her old friend Quill Schlabach did. His unexpected departure from their community hurt Adriana deeply, and accelerated her desire to remain in Summer Grove. Unlike her younger sister, she isn’t interested in dabbling in the ways of the world. Instead, Adriana is determined to open a cafe that will allow her to support her family, and hopefully convince them to stay committed to the Old Ways like her.
When she learns that one of her siblings has been in contact with Quill, Adriana struggles to keep her temper in check. She throws herself into her business plans even more than before, and tries to figure out which member of her family is considering leaving the faith. She’s completely unaware that her own parents have sought Quill’s help as well, trying to unravel a mystery that has hung over them since the night of Adriana’s birth, when she came home from the birthing centre wrapped in the wrong blanket. Does Adriana have ties to the English world that she isn’t aware of? How will she react when her parents reveal the secret surrounding her birth? Will the truth test her commitment to the faith she has always clung to?
Although Cindy Woodsmall is one of the most popular authors of Amish fiction, I hadn’t actually read many of her books prior to this year. I’m not sure what my excuse is—perhaps there are just so many Amish books out there that I overlooked her in favour of newer authors? I’ve actually had a copy of When the Heart Cries on my shelf for a while, and earlier this year I finally read it, and then purchased the second and third books in the trilogy on Audible. I usually prefer to read series where the novels are self-contained, but Cindy really has a knack for creating series that tug at your heart-strings and get you riled up over the injustices the characters are facing, even if their stories do span several books. Since I read the Sisters of the Quilt series right before I started Ties that Bind it was nearly impossible not to compare the two, but in the end I think this was a good thing. Cindy’s debut novel, When the Heart Cries, might have been released way back in 2008, but Ties that Bind was very reminiscent of it. If you like family sagas that stretch over several books, allowing the characters plenty of time to grow and evolve, I think you’re going to like this new series just as much as the Sisters of the Quilt novels. I’m only one book in, but I can already tell that these novels are going to be a hit with long-term fans of Cindy.
But isn’t this book about babies that might have been swapped at birth? Doesn’t that automatically make it cheesy and convoluted? Good questions! Swapped at birth stories are right up there with amnesia romances, both of which I have a slight soft spot for. When done right, they can be incredibly compelling. When done wrong—yeah, sometimes they can be pretty cheesy. I think Ties that Bind falls comfortably into the first category. The explanation behind the events of Ariana’s birth actually makes a lot of sense, and I appreciated the journey that Ariana’s parents went through in order to figure out if there was any chance their daughter was not who they thought she was. I really hurt for them as they struggled to find out information, especially when they didn’t know where to turn or how to uncover the truth without letting anyone else know their secret. If you’ve ever read an Amish novel before, you’ll know that gossip is a big issue in Amish communities, and in this situation, any gossip about their investigation could have really hurt Ariana.
Ariana was sometimes a difficult character to like. She’s young and naively committed to everything about the Amish lifestyle. As you get to know her, it becomes clear that her staunch commitment to the faith is almost a reaction to the fact that an old crush, Quill, ran off with another friend several years ago. Their abandonment of the faith, along with the fact that they kept their leaving a secret from Adriana, has flung her completely in the opposite direction. I kind of wished we’d had the chance to get inside Adriana’s head a bit more. Since her story is going to span several books, I’m sure we’ll learn more in the next instalment, but there were times that I grew a little weary of Adriana’s thoughts mostly focusing on her anger at Quill for abandoning her, her struggle to trust anyone fully, and her staunch disapproval of anyone considering leaving the faith. After several years of brooding, she’s made up her mind about what she thinks of anyone who has doubts about the Amish life, and it’s going to take a lot to change that. I’m sure I was just as idealistic and headstrong as Adriana at that age, but I can see why her attitude might put some people off.
I was really fascinated by the details about Quill helping people leave the Amish faith, seemingly spiriting entire families away in the dead of night. I remember watching a TV show about people (often ex-Amish) who helped teenagers leave their communities, but I’ve not heard much about entire families leaving. It makes sense that they would need assistance with finding a new home, new jobs, and paying for all the expenses of English life, after living in a community that is known for supporting its own. As the story evolves, Adriana learns that one of her own sisters has contacted Quill to ask for help, and she’s determined to stop her from leaving. I guessed pretty early on who the sister in question was, but I still appreciated this little twist. It was interesting to learn about the reasons why people might decide to uproot their entire family. It’s not so much about wanting modern conveniences or different clothing, as it is about needing support when difficult situations arise that the community might not previously have experience with.
One of the things that I love about Cindy’s writing is that she never romanticises the Amish lifestyle. She writes about the parts that aren’t so comfortable to consider—the hurt that can come about from gossip, the staunch belief that anyone not Amish isn’t truly saved, the lack of support for unconventional decisions that might be medically necessary, the push to conform, the refusal to talk about uncomfortable issues. These topics might not be so fun to read about, but they make her Amish communities seem true, and for me, that makes them all the more interesting and appealing. I like books that challenge my preconceptions and make me wonder what I would do in a certain situation. Adriana might be frustrating at times, but I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for her in the next book in the Amish of Summer Grove series.
It took me way too long to get around to reading this series (I know, and I call myself an Amish fan?) but I'm so glad I made the time for it. I thinkIt took me way too long to get around to reading this series (I know, and I call myself an Amish fan?) but I'm so glad I made the time for it. I think I actually liked the last book the most! Although stories that span several books can be a pain as you have to remember what happened in the last volume, they do give space for LOTS of character growth. I think Hannah's journey is the best part about this book. It's so authentic! I really hurt for Hannah and got angry on her behalf and got completely sucked into her problems. I also love the way that Cindy deals with controversial issues like rape and mental illness. No sweeping them under the carpet here, and she isn't afraid to acknowledge that sometimes Amish communities aren't equipped to deal with certain situations. If you like your Amish fiction without rose-tinted glasses, definitely check out Cindy's books....more
Charlotte Dolinsky had a difficult childhood, but her relationship with her brother has provided some security over the years. She was skeptical whenCharlotte Dolinsky had a difficult childhood, but her relationship with her brother has provided some security over the years. She was skeptical when he wrote to tell her that he had fallen in love with an Amish woman, but her life is turned truly upside down when she receives word that her brother has unexpectly passed away. When her letters to her brother's girlfriend provide little in the way of answers, Charlotte sets off for Lancaster County determined to uncover the truth about her brother's death. Having done some research about the Amish and picked up some suitable second-hand clothing, she's convinced that she can fit into the community and do some digging without anyone discovering who she really is. Charlotte hasn't been in Lancaster more than a day before she learns that there's more to being Amish than putting on a bonnet and not using electricty. And, against all efforts to the contrary, she's finding that she actually likes her brother's girlfriend, Hannah. The more time she spends with Hannah's family, the more she understands why Ethan felt comfortable here. In fact, she's starting to think that it might not be so crazy to open her own heart up to God, especially when she begins seeing signs that remind of her Ethan and provide her with an overwhelming sense of peace. But this peace might not last so long if Hannah and her family uncover Charlotte's true identity. Even if the Amish are known for their spirit of forgiveness, will they understand why Charlotte chose to deceive them?
Back in 2011 a friend leant me Beth Wiseman's debut novel, Plain Perfect, and I fell in love. I sped through Beth's novels as quickly as I could, fitting them in around university deadlines and reviewing commitments. Perhaps it's because I read so many of them in quick succession, but it feels like it's been ages since Beth released a new Amish novel. A quick look at GoodReads informed me that it's actually only been two years, but it felt like forever! As much as I enjoy Beth's contemporary novels, I've missed her Amish ones. I love the way that she depicts her characters dealing with real life issues, devoid of romanticism or over-simplification. Her characters might ride in buggies and use propane refrigerators, but sometimes I can relate to them even more than characters in contemporary novels.
Have I built this book up too much? Are you going to be disappointed after all this hype? I hope not! Honestly, I was a little worried that I wouldn't enjoy this book as much as I did the Daughters of the Promise series. Several of those books are among my favourite Amish novels, and sadly it's often the case that an author's later books don't contain the same originality. Thankfully, this wasn't the case with Her Brother's Keeper. Beth didn't try to replicate her first series of books, and I'm grateful for that. I'm glad she chose to write about a different community, with an entirely new premise.
How believable is it that an English girl can trick her way into an Amish community? Well, as this book proves, it's not very realistic at all. I had my doubts about how Beth could pull this plot off, and I was glad to discover that a large part of the story focused on Charlotte discovering that she wasn't going to have an easy time of fooling Hannah's family into believeing that she was really Amish. From the moment she stepped into their home, the lies began trickling off her tongue. It was humorous and fascinating to watch Hannah attempt to assimilate herself into the family, and make excuses for the things she didn't understand. Some of the lies were a little more ridiculous than others, but I'll put their acceptance down to the Amish's naturally trusting nature.
As long-time fans of Beth will know, she doesn't shy away from sensitive subject matter. We learn early on that Charlotte and Ethan both experienced emotional abuse at the hands of their parents and foster carers, abuse that may have contributed to Ethan's mental health problems. There are even some difficult and poignant discussions about whether suicide is viewed as a sin, and if someone will go to Heaven if their mental health problems led to their death. While Beth doesn't offer any specific theological answers to the questions that are posed, I appreciated the sensitive way in which the characters discussed these issues, and the conclusions they eventually came to.
I really enjoyed watching Hannah and Charlotte's friendship develop, and witnessing them navigate the obstacles placed in the way of their relationship.Much like Charlotte, Hannah has trust issues, particularly when it comes to disclosing details of her relationship with Ethan, and her doubts and worries about why their relationship ended the way it did. Both girls were beautifully honest and flawed, and it was encouraging to have two protaginists so realistically portrayed. Bonnet or not, I'm sure most readers will be able to relate to one of the girls, or maybe even both of them.
I'm torn when it comes to the spiritual aspect of the novel. While I loved the idea of God speaking to Charlotte through an image in the clouds, the development of Charlotte's faith seemed rather sudden given that she didn't seem to have much of a spiritual background (aside from her friendship with Ryan). I kind of wished the development of Charlotte's faith had been more gradual, with more doubts. It seemed like it took a massive jump when she saw the picture in the sky, and I'm not sure how realistic this is for someone who previously had so little faith and refused to trust anyone.
While there is some romance in Her Brother's Keeper, it doesn't take centre stage, and I was thankful for this. As much as I love a good romance novel, I appreciated the opportunity to read about the relationship between Charlotte and her brother, and then Charlotte and Hannah. There are so many important relationships that aren't romantic, and the depiction of Charlotte and Hannah's budding friendship was particularly touching, especially as they helped each other overcome their personal burdens.
Honestly, I could probably think of even more things I loved about this book. Contrary to what the synopsis might suggest, this novel is not a contrived comedy of errors about an English woman pretending to be Amish. It's a touching, heart-breaking story of two women who loved a man in very different ways, and are struggling to come to terms with his untimely death. I highly recommend Her Brother's Keeper to readers who prefer their Amish fiction to be challenging yet encouraging, full of flawed characters, and completely unputdownable. ...more
Anna Konig has no desire to leave the small community she grew up in to travel to the New World, but since she's one of the few church members who canAnna Konig has no desire to leave the small community she grew up in to travel to the New World, but since she's one of the few church members who can speak English, she has little choice but to accompany those who are taking the trecherous journey across the sea to America. Initially Anna hopes that the journey will be short, and that she can quickly return to Europe via another ship, but just getting onboard a boat is difficult enough. Anna attempts to navigate the intricacies of purchasing passage for all the members of their party, ensuring that they have enough food and water for the voyage, and determining how best to transport all of their belongings. The only English-speaking member of the group, Anna quickly learns that her people are dubbed “Peculiars”, and while not terribly well-respected, they are welcome onboard most ships providing that they can pay for the journey. Anna's group aren't the only Peculiars making this trip, and the majority of the passengers onboard the Charming Nancy are from similar communities.
Bairn, the Scottish carpenter of the Charming Nancy, has no desire to mingle with the Peculiars from the Lower Deck, but one young boy keeps getting into trouble with the sailors. Bairn is forced to confront the one English-speaker out of the group to address the issues about Felix, and in doing so, quickly learns about the difficulties the passengers are facing—overcrowded and leaky sleeping quarters, an inability to properly launder clothes, and unbearable smells. All Bairn wants to do is make enough money to have a ship of his own one day, but he's drawn towards Anna and the peaceful nature of her people. As their journey to the New World stretches on and the passengers face sickness and are forced to make sacrifices, Bairn is challenged by the actions of the Peculiars. Does his future really lie at sea, or somewhere new? Is he drawn to Anna by mere human attraction, or because she reminds of someone from his hazy, forgotten childhood?
I've long been a fan of Amish fiction, and I'm always interested when an author finds a way to bring something new to the genre. I've enjoyed Suzanne Woods Fisher's more traditional Amish novels, but I haven't been able to keep up with all of her recent releases. Too many books, too little time, right? When I heard that she was writing a novel about some of the first Amish settlers to travel to the New World, and one that featured a Scottish character, I knew I had to make the time to read it. I love learning about the history of the Anabaptists, but I haven't read that many books set in the early eighteenth century, or ones that cover the original settlers. And of course, I have to see how well any author depicts her Scottish characters!
Even if you're not a history geek, you're sure to be entertained by the descriptions of life onboard a ship in 1737. I didn't know a lot about sea travel during this period, but Suzanne quickly made me feel as if I was on the Charming Nancy along with Anna and Bairn. The journey to the New World wasn't pleasant or easy, as Suzanne herself details in her Author's Note. I quickly determined that the decision to leave Europe wasn't one made lightly, given how easy it was to succumb to disease, and how many ships arrived in America with significantly less passengers than they had when they departed. Although ships tried to stock as much food and water as necessary, there were often unexpected delays due to unpredictable weather. These people were brave, and I don't know if I would have been on that boat if I'd had the choice. I could relate to Anna's desire to stay at home with her grandparents, with everything that was familiar to her.
Having read Suzanne's Author's Note, I've learned that it's probably unrealistic that so many members of Anna's party arrived in the New World. Statistically, not so many would have survived the journey, with many succumbing to illnesses due to the unsanitary and cramped living conditions. Although I sympathise with Suzanne's explanation that it's difficult to write a hopeful novel when sticking to the facts of such a difficult situation, the historian in me knows that this book isn't entirely accurate, and that the realities of life onboard such a ship in this time period were neatened up for the sake of making the story easier to read for the more sensitive readers. There are a lot of fantastic historical details in this book, but the fact is, far more people would have died. It's not a nice fact, or a pretty one, but it's true. If you're a die-hard historian, you might not be able to get past this.
Initially I wasn't sure why Suzanne chose to tell parts of the story from Felix's point of view, but it quickly became apparent that he provided insight that Anna and Bairn couldn't. While Bairn struggled with his feelings of uneasiness towards the Peculiars, and Anna tried to overcome seasickness and help her fellow passengers, Felix explored the ship and introduced the reader to the realities of life onboard a ship. He also provided a little humour and light relief, which offset some of the less savoury aspects of the journey. By the end of the book, I was sad to say goodbye to Felix.
Bairn and Anna's relationship didn't strike me as particularly unusual in the world of romance, but that doens't mean that it wasn't sweet. Felix kept pushing them together, and Anna's outspokenness and stubborness gave a reasonable explanation for why Anna was determined to keep communicating with Bairn, even if he was an outsider and disapproved of by her community. Anna isn't your typical, shy Amish girl, which I appreciated. Having to be the spokesperson for her community, it wouldn't have made sense for her to be reserved.
I don't want to give too much away about Bairn, but I will say that there is a twist relating to a secret about Bairn's past. I guessed the twist about halfway through the book, based on a simple comment from one of the other characters. I'm not sure if other readers would also have picked up on this clue (I had watched a lot of Castle episodes that week while my little one was ill, so maybe I was just in the right mindset!) Sicne I figured out the twist, it felt a little bit predictable, but not too much. I was happy for Bairn once he revealed his secret and was able to resolve his problems.
While Anna's Crossing isn't quite as dark as some might expect, given the subject matter, it is rich in historical detail and contains a heartwarming and hopeful story of a turbulent time in Anabaptist history. Perhaps it may even convinced some hardcore Historical fans to dip into the Amish genre from time to time. I'll certainly be looking forward to the next volume in the Amish Beginnings series....more
Carolyn Lapp knows that her chances of finding love are dwindling as she enters her thirties, but she can’t help but dream of finding a ma3.5 out of 5
Carolyn Lapp knows that her chances of finding love are dwindling as she enters her thirties, but she can’t help but dream of finding a man who will love her, faults and all. Abandoned by her boyfriend as a teenager, Carolyn found herself a single mother at the age of sixteen, and has devoted her life to raising her son and protecting him from the stigma of being born out of wedlock. Although Carolyn’s mother has always been supportive of her, her brother, Amos, is eager to marry her off to make her seem more respectable.
Although marrying for convenience isn’t what Carolyn imagined for her life, she finds herself tempted to settle for a comfortable situation when she befriends Saul, a widower with a sweet daughter. But just as Carolyn begins contemplating marriage to Saul, she meets Joshua Glick, a bachelor struggling to run his horse farm following his brother’s death. When Joshua hires Carolyn’s son, Ben, to work for him, they find themselves continually thrown together.
Joshua is far too busy with his farm to contemplate dating, but even he can’t deny that he enjoys spending time with Carolyn. But his mother is determined to match him up with someone she deems more suitable, and Carolyn is cautious about getting involved with someone who doesn’t know the truth about her past. How will Joshua react when he learns that Ben is her son, rather than her nephew? Will he also be held back by her past mistakes, or can they both look to the future and forge ahead together?
As I mentioned in my review of the first book in Amy Clipston’s Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel series, I wasn’t sure if this new series would live up to Amy’s Kauffman Amish Bakery books, which were among the novels that got me hooked on Amish fiction in the first place. While A Hopeful Heart won me over in the end, A Mother’s Secret never really grabbed me or compelled me in the way that Amy’s other books have.
I will say that I liked the premise for this story, and the message that followed. While I’ve come across several Amish novels that focus on women who have had children out of wedlock, they’ve mostly focused on young adults or teenagers who quickly find a man who is willing to marry them and return them to a respectable position in the community. Carolyn’s situation is entirely different, and she’s borne the stigma of being a single mother for fifteen years. While some people have accepted her situation and think nothing of it, others can’t put the past behind them. Even in the English world, I’m sure that the way Carolyn is treated is very common. I thought that A Mother’s Secret contained a much-needed reminder that we cannot call ourselves Christians if we refuse to forgive people for their past mistakes, or continually remind them of how they have fallen short. Carolyn sought forgiveness in her baptism into the Amish church, a fact that is often forgotten by her brother.
Given the way she has been treated over the years, Carolyn has learned to let others make assumptions about her situation, which often results in people assuming that Ben is her brother or nephew, rather than her son. As a result of this, she lets Joshua believe that Ben is her nephew, and somehow he spends the majority of the book in denial of Ben’s true parentage. I wasn’t entirely sure how realistic this was—how likely is it that Ben never calls Carolyn “Mamm” in front of Joshua?—but it was necessary in order for a major conflict to occur. Ultimately, it made sense that Carolyn doesn’t automatically tell new people that she’s Ben’s mother, since she’s constantly trying to protect herself and her son from scorn and judgement. But after a while, the conflict with Joshua felt like it was far too drawn out, and I got kind of tired of waiting for Carolyn to tell Joshua the truth.
Joshua’s main conflict stems from his mother, Barbie, meddling in his life and wanting to match him up with the kind of woman she wants for a daughter-in-law. We already know Barbie from the first book in the series, so readers will be familiar with Barbie’s controlling ways and her dissatisfaction with her daughter-in-law, Hannah, who left the community to marry an Englisher. Barbie sometimes felt a little bit over-the-top and caricatured, but ultimately I realise that there are people who behave like her. My main issue with Barbie is the same one I have with Amos—at the end of the book, they both suddenly give up their pushiness as soon as they’re confronted, and admit to the errors of their ways. Given how stubborn both of them are for the entire book, it didn’t feel entirely realistic that they would have such a rapid change of heart.
I appreciated the chance to reconnect with Hannah and her daughters, who were the principal characters in A Hopeful Heart. Even if they didn’t feature prominently in the book, I’m intrigued to see where their stories go, and whether Hannah is able to reconnect with the daughter she left behind in the Amish community. Given that a lot of the characters in this book (Joshua, Barbie, Hannah and her daughters) were the main focus in A Hopeful Heart, I’m hesitant to recommend this as a standalone novel. I think it would be better appreciated by those who are already familiar with the characters.
Even if I didn’t find it as compelling as Amy’s previous books, I won’t deny that A Mother’s Secret is an easy read with an interesting storyline. I tried to put my finger on what it was that made this book not quite as engaging as Amy’s other stories, and ultimately I think my issues stem from the choppiness of the writing. Most of the scenes in this book are very short, some of them barely more than a couple of paragraphs. It was difficult for me to get truly sucked into the story and connect with a particular character because I would quickly be moved on to someone else. In places I also found the dialogue to be a little clunky and not always entirely realistic. While some characters (such as Carolyn’s mother and a friend at the hotel) give great advice to Carolyn, their manners of speaking made it sound more like they were regurgitating a speech than having a normal conversation.
Since I’m familiar with Amy Clipston’s earlier novels, it’s difficult for me not to compare them to A Mother’s Secret. Perhaps if this were my introduction to Amy’s writing, I would be less critical of it. As it is, I didn’t find this book as engaging as her previous books, but I didn’t dislike it either. A Mother’s Secret might not particularly stand out among the other Amish novels I’ve read recently, but it has an interesting premise and a sweet romance, as well as an important message about forgiveness.
I've only read one of Suzanne's novels before, and that was The Choice back in 2011. I kept meaning to read more from her, and when I spotted this booI've only read one of Suzanne's novels before, and that was The Choice back in 2011. I kept meaning to read more from her, and when I spotted this book on Audible I decided to take the plunge, best on the glowing reviews coming from several of my Amish-loving friends.
The narrative style of this novel felt very different from The Choice, and to begin with I was sure I must have missed a prequel or previous series because a lot of characters were introduced in a short space of time, with little explanation of how they related to each other. It took me a while to figure out how Rose had come to live with her mother-in-law, how she'd lost her husband and that Bethany was her step-daughter. Once I got to know everyone better I felt a lot more comfortable, but this book might not suit those who don't like multiple points-of-view. We hear from Rose, Vera, Miriam, Bethany, Jimmy, Galen and Delia--and I may well be missing someone from this list!
This isn't your typical Amish novel, in that not all of the storylines are tidied up nicely at the end (particularly those relating to the teenage characters) and the romance between Galen and Rose wasn't central. Although the story features multiple plot threads (Vera's health problems, Rose running an inn, Delia's marital issues, etc), it was relatively slow moving, and I enjoyed flitting from one person to the next to find out how they were getting on. Given that Rose is the main character mentioned in the synopsis for this novel, I did wish we'd had more time with her. As much as I enjoyed reading about her starting her inn, helping her mother-in-law and learning to care for Galen, I never truly felt like I got inside her head. I think I may have actually got to know Bethany and Vera more than Rose. Other characters intrigued me--like Mim and Jimmy--and I hope we'll see them more in later books in the series, since their storylines were pretty minor in this volume.
Although it took me a while to keep track of all the characters, and some storylines might have had less attention than others, I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to the Inn at Eagle Hill series. For those who enjoy Amish fiction but aren't in the mood for a standard romance, this book would be perfect. It was a very relaxing, comfortable read that still managed to keep my attention all throughout....more
Rebecca Troyer watched her older sister, Claudia, slip away from her just minutes after giving birth to her only son, helpless to do anything to stopRebecca Troyer watched her older sister, Claudia, slip away from her just minutes after giving birth to her only son, helpless to do anything to stop her from leaving this world. It was then that she knew that God had called her to a life other than the one expected of an Amish woman—she was to become a nurse, and educate her Amish brethren about health concerns, so that deaths like Claudia’s could be prevented. Rebecca knows that her parents won’t understand her desire to nurse, so she hides her studies from them, even keeping her farewell note deliberately vague when she finally heads off to nursing school in Oregon. Recalling how her community treated her old friend, Marianna, when she left the Amish faith, Rebecca decides to stop by and visit Marianna in her new home in Montana.
Marianna isn’t as understanding as Rebecca would have expected, especially when she hears that Rebecca hasn’t told her parents why she left her community back in Indiana, or about her plans to become a nurse. As Rebecca’s stay in Montana lengthens, she realises that Marianna has some troubles of her own to deal with, and she jumps at the chance to join a wagon train of locals who are travelling across Montana for a week. On this journey, Rebecca meets another outsider—Caleb Hooley, who is visiting Montana with the hope of gaining a winter hunting permit. Rebecca knows she shouldn’t get involved with an Amish man when she will have to leave the faith to study nursing, but she can’t help but enjoy spending time with Caleb. She knows that Caleb will be upset when she tells him the truth—but she doesn’t expect that he’s hiding his own secrets. Is there any hope of a future for two such different people?
Tricia Goyer made it on to my list of favourite Amish authors with her first book set in Big Sky, Montana, and I’ve yet to be disappointed with one of her Amish novels. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that The Kissing Bridge featured several character from previous books in both the Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors and the Big Sky series. Long-term fans of Tricia’s books will appreciate the chance to revisit Marianna and Ben, but new fans won’t feel too out of the loop as plenty of details are summarised.
Rebecca hopes that her old friend will understand her struggle with leaving the Amish faith to pursue her nursing degree, but Marianna isn’t as encouraging as she expected. As we see the two women interacting, it becomes clear that leaving the faith isn’t as easy as one might assume. While Marianna’s parents have been supportive of her decision and still spend time with her, but friends back in Indiana have almost completely cut ties with Marianna, believing that she’s endangered her soul. Rebecca is aware that her family may well think the same things about her, and that it might not be easy to re-enter the community and use her new nursing skills. The Kissing Bridge featured some really heart-wrenching scenes where both Marianna and Rebecca wrestled with their decisions. Not only do they have to worry about cutting ties with their friends and families in order to pursue their callings, but they need an assurance of God’s love and forgiveness that isn’t so easily found within the Amish faith. I appreciate Tricia taking the time to show just how difficult it is to leave the Amish faith. I’ve read plenty of books where families and friends—at least close ones—are supportive of those who leave the faith, even if background characters pass judgements. The Kissing Bridge showed that this isn’t always the case.
As fascinating as the details were about Marianna and Rebecca leaving the Amish faith, the romance between Rebecca and Caleb wasn’t so exciting. Their story was relatively simple, with each of them keeping secrets from the other, and somehow I never completely warmed up to Caleb or found his secret all that intriguing. It wasn’t that the romance wasn’t sweet, or that the happy ending wasn’t satisfying—it just moved a little too fast for me. Caleb and Rebecca barely knew each other before they went on the wagon trip, and the trip barely lasted a week. I didn’t entirely buy them getting so close so quickly, or Rebecca choosing to go off on a trip with some people she hardly knew. The conflict between them—Rebecca not telling Caleb she planned to leave the faith—was resolved pretty easily, meaning that I didn’t have many doubts about them making their relationship work.
I’m not sure if it’s because most of the conflicts (besides the one between Rebecca and her parents) are resolved very quickly, but something about the pacing of this novel just didn’t work for me. I think I prefer my romance novels to have a more conventional structure, whereas nearly most of The Kissing Bridge took place over the space of a week, with the remaining concluding chapters being set several months in the future. We get to see the beginning of Rebecca and Caleb’s relationship, and their happily ever after, but not much of the development in between. I’m sure their story is realistic of many couples in their situation, but it didn’t make for the most riveting read.
Although Rebecca and Caleb’s romance wasn’t quite as compelling as I would have liked, I did appreciate the lesson that Caleb was able to teach Rebecca. While Caleb is a daredevil, always keen to try something new and compete with other Amish men, Rebecca likes to have her entire life neatly ordered and under control. Her attitude is an understandable reaction to having had no control over her sister’s sudden death, but I know all too well that it’s not possible to plan your life out in that way. The unexpected always happens, as Caleb is able to show, and Rebecca slowly learns to let go of her grip on her life and let God take the reins. Even if she knows God is calling her to be a nurse, she has to accept that he might have different ideas of how and where she should pursue this dream—plans that are better than she ever expected.
I feel a little torn over how to rate this book. As always, I enjoyed stepping back into Big Sky, Montana and visiting the community that I’ve become so fond of. I appreciated the chance to revisit old characters, and the fact that not all of them were living completely happily ever after—they had experienced troubles and sad times, like real-life friends. I always appreciate the realism in Tricia Goyer’s novels, and The Kissing Bridge was no exception. But as compelling as I found Rebecca’s struggles over pursuing her nursing career, perhaps her romance with Caleb was a little too realistic, meaning that it didn’t make for the most exciting read. This is an easy, gentle read, even if the pacing is a little different from previous books in the series, and I definitely appreciated the overarching message about letting God take control. While this definitely isn’t my favourite of Tricia Goyer’s Amish novels, The Kissing Bridge contains a sweet, touching story that I’m sure will please many fans.
Tyler Anderson found himself thrust upon his Amish grandparents when his ex-Amish mother suddenly died when he was six years old. His grandparents werTyler Anderson found himself thrust upon his Amish grandparents when his ex-Amish mother suddenly died when he was six years old. His grandparents were more than happy to take him in, understanding that Tyler’s father’s work in the military meant that he could not provide a stable home for Tyler right then. It was always assumed that his father would return for him once his tour of duty was complete, but Tyler’s stay in Lancaster County stretched on, beyond what any of them expected. By the time his father did return for him—new wife and son in tow—Tyler was settled in his Amish life.
Tyler has visited his English family in California numerous times over the years, but he’s never thought about going to live with them permanently. Still, something holds him back from officially joining his grandparents’ church. If his mother felt the call of the English world, what’s to say he won’t? Especially given that he grew up with one foot in either lifestyle. His girlfriend, Rachel, has patiently waited for Tyler to join the church so that they can get married, and Tyler knows he put it off any longer. When his father calls him unexpectedly to tell him that he needs Tyler to look after his younger brother, Brady, for a couple of weeks, Tyler wonders if God is giving him one final chance to explore the English world and discover where he truly belongs.
Much to Rachel’s disappointment, Tyler sets off to California to find himself. But will his time with Brady lead him away from Rachel and his community, or leave him more confused than ever? How can he know which world he belongs in?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Women of Lancaster County series that Mindy Starns Clark penned with Leslie Gould, and while I was sad to see it end, I was intrigued when I learned that Mindy was writing a new series with Susan Meissner. Not only did the fantastic authorship of this new series appeal to me, but I was pleased to discover that these books were told from men’s perspectives. I’ve lost count of the number of Amish books that explore the issues facing Amish women. It’s about time that we get to read about the men!
Given that this wasn’t a traditional romance-based Amish novel, I didn’t feel that the book was lacking anything in just being told from Tyler’s perspective. The plot centres around Tyler trying to figure out which world he belongs to, and how his mother’s decision to leave the Amish church impacts his life. In a sense, it’s a coming of age story, and one that a lot of readers should be able to relate to on some level. Even if my family heritage doesn’t include such a massive clash of cultures, the decisions our parents make can leave a lasting impact on our lives and the decisions we make.
I enjoyed reading about Tyler’s time in California and his discoveries about the English world. Although he’s spent time visiting his family previously, there are still plenty of quirks about the English lifestyle that he hasn’t picked up on. I was particularly amused by the list he began making of his perplexing “discoveries”, such as the presence of artificial plants in his dad’s home (which he tries to water), fireplaces that turn on with the flick of a switch, and the fact that his teenage brother would rather text him than talk to him in person. Sometimes it takes someone from another culture to point out how weird certain aspects of our lives are.
The dynamics in Tyler’s Californian family were certainly interesting and touching, and I appreciated seeing him attempt to mend fences with his brother, father and step-mother. It took Tyler a while to acknowledge that he might have hurt his Californian family by choosing to stay in Lancaster County. While the relationships between them might not be perfect by the close of the book, they’ve definitely come a long way.
His stay in California also gives Tyler the chance to delve into his mother’s past, and discover why she left her Amish upbringing all those years ago. In an attempt to connect with his mother, Tyler takes photography lessons from a family friend, trying to understand why something so forbidden appealed to his mother. His friendship with the photographer, Lark, introduces Tyler to plenty of new things aside from photography, and it was fun to read about his first taste of sushi and his visit to a modern, English church. I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d like the blossoming relationship between Tyler and Lark—I was worried that it might become clichéd, with the modern, English girl “seducing” Tyler away from the Amish—but it was actually approached rather realistically.
I didn’t have any major issues with this book, but something about the mystery aspect didn’t sit entirely right with me. Early on, Tyler mentions that he has a mysterious key that belonged to his mother, but he’s never figured out what it opens. It’s hinted that the key might be linked to the reason why his mother left the Amish church, but this mystery isn’t cleared up until right at the end of the book. Given that most of the story has been focused on Tyler’s journey of self-discovery—rather than his mother’s past—it felt like the conclusion to the mystery kind of came out of nowhere, like an after-thought. Given how both Mindy and Susan are usually fantastic at tying family secrets and mysteries into their stories, this one felt a bit flat in comparison.
Although The Amish Groom didn’t have that special factor that pushed it into the “loved it!” category, it was still an incredibly engaging story. If you’re getting burned out on typical Amish novels, I’d definitely recommend reading this one.
A great conclusion to the series, and it was sad to say goodbye to these characters! I really appreciated reading about a female Amish character who lA great conclusion to the series, and it was sad to say goodbye to these characters! I really appreciated reading about a female Amish character who longs for independence and respect, since so many women in Amish novels are happy to stick with their prescribed chores and let their husband do all the talking, and it was encouraging to see how Aaron's struggles with alcohol were dealt with. Cindy Woodsmall is quickly becoming one of my favourite Amish authors, not only because her stories are so compelling, but also because the characters feel so real, and their difficulties are authentic. Even if her characters have spent their entire lives in an Amish community, they're still highly flawed and in need of God's grace. I'm definitely going to have to start another of Cindy's series soon. My complaints with this book are really quite minor--there were a couple of details in Cara's old life that seemed confusing (I'd got the impression her father was abusive, but in this book it seemed he was only a drunk?), but that's about it. 4.5*
I'd recommend this series to fans of Rosalind Lauer, Beth Wiseman and Amy Clipston, especially if you enjoy series that focus on different families or characters within the same community....more
Rose Yoder has always felt a little different from her siblings in her love for pretty things and desire to decorate her family home, but she’d neverRose Yoder has always felt a little different from her siblings in her love for pretty things and desire to decorate her family home, but she’d never considered leaving her Amish community. Her dream to settle down and start a family of her own is put on hold when her beau, Jonathan Fisher, signs up to work as a medic during the Second World War. Rose is conflicted, as she loves Jonathan but doesn’t believe he’ll be comfortable settling for an Amish life after all he’s seen of the world. But her own loyalty to her community is tested when she learns that she was originally born to an English family, and adopted by the Yoders as a young child. Knowing how her community treated Jonathan for serving during the war, she fears how they will treat her if they know she isn’t truly Amish. As Christmas draws near, Rose yearns to find out what happened to the family who gave her up for adoption. Perhaps learning the truth about her past will help her come to peace with her future. Will her discoveries aid her in finding her place in the world, or only confuse her further?
Tricia Goyer is a prolific writer, penning Amish and Historical novels as well as blogging about her personal life on a regular basis. Most recently, I’ve been intrigued by Tricia’s articles on the children she and her husband have adopted into their family. When I saw that her Christmas novella was going to be an Amish Historical novel about a woman who was adopted, I couldn’t help but be intrigued—especially as the book was set at the end of the Second World War, one of Tricia’s favourite historical settings. Could she pull off this myriad of subjects without the novella feeling messy or rushed? I wondered. With a mixture of scepticism and excitement, I signed up to review this novel, and I’m definitely glad that I did.
I will admit that it took me a while to warm up to Rose. Initially, she spent a lot of time worrying about her relationship with Jonathan (and the news of her adoption) and it took her a while to actually sit down and tell him how she felt. I will admit that I have been guilty of this type of behaviour in the past, so I have no doubt that it’s realistic, but the initial conflict between Rose and Jonathan felt drawn out given how rapidly things changed once they had a serious talk. As is incredibly common in romance novels, communication is the key! Once Rose and Jonathan got all their feelings out in the open, the story definitely moved faster.
Rose’s adoption storyline is deftly woven into the historical setting of the novel, and it’s impossible to talk about one without the other. It might be difficult for some to read about a family forced to give up a child during the depression because they couldn’t support her, but I have no doubt that stories like Rose’s were incredibly common during this time period. Tricia is always excellent at bringing realism into her historical novels, and A Christmas Gift for Rose is no exception. While I don’t have any personal experience of adoption (although my youngest uncle is adopted), Rose’s reaction to the truth of her past felt believable. I particularly appreciated the way that her parents and siblings supported her and understood her need to learn what happened to her family. Some Amish families come across as harsh and unsympathetic—particularly the men—so it was a nice change to hear about Rose’s dad and brother helping her during this time.
This novella also touches on the subject of how the Amish were treated during the Second World War. Although Murray Pura has written more detailed books on the subject of the Amish during various wars, Tricia’s brief treatment of the subject didn’t feel lacking in any way. My favourite part of this aspect of A Christmas Gift for Rose is that none of the storylines about the after effects of the war were tied up neatly. We’re still not certain if all the community members will welcome Jonathan back at the end of the novella, and the English neighbour struggling with PTSD has hope, but doesn’t know if he’ll ever completely heal. I know that most people like their Christmas stories to be tied up neatly, but that’s not possible when it comes to a subject like this, and I appreciated Tricia’s realism in this respect.
Initially I was a little torn about the ending to this novel. A lot happens in the last few chapters, and although it miraculously didn’t feel rushed, I did wonder if some readers might find some of the final events of the novella to be a little implausible. Once I thought about it for a while, I decided that I was quite satisfied with the ending to A Christmas Gift for Rose. As I said, not everything is tied up neatly, and there are some things Rose will never get to find out about her family. But she, her family and Jonathan are all satisfied with the outcome to Rose’s explorations, and I believe I am as well. Although Jonathan was present in this novel less than I’d expected, I was happy with the way he featured in the final chapter of the novel. Rose and Jonathan’s storyline isn’t your typical romance, but the conclusion is sure to please any romantic at heart.
If you’re sceptical about the possibility of an author being able to pull off a Historical Amish Christmas Romance set right after the end of the Second World War that deals with adoption and PTSD, take my word for it—Tricia knows what she’s doing with this novella. Tricia has long been a favourite author of mine, and this novella is a perfect example of her ability to create a touching story full of realistic characters that deal with difficult subject matters.
I don't know why I haven't read more from Cindy Woodsmall, she is a fantastic author! She's a great addition to the Amish genre and I can't help but wI don't know why I haven't read more from Cindy Woodsmall, she is a fantastic author! She's a great addition to the Amish genre and I can't help but wonder if she'll ever expand out into other types of fiction. The character development in this book was excellent, and Cindy flipped between several different main characters without making me feel confused or making one storyline feel more interesting than others.
Although this book follows on from the first one in the series, it also introduces new characters. Everything wasn't tied up completely neatly (i.e. with an epilogue about a wedding/baby) so I think we'll probably hear more about Lena and Grey in the next book as well, as we have with the characters from the first book in the series. This community is a lot of fun to read about, and I love the way that Cindy presents the Amish as regular human beings who are just as flawed as we are, rather than the perfect angels they sometimes appear to be in other novels.
I kind of want to complain about the fact that the eventual conflict revolved around Lena refusing to believe that Grey loved her, and a lack of communication. But for once, this conflict actually felt realistic, considering Lena's situation and past hurts. The way it evolved made sense, and never felt forced, like some Big Misunderstanding plots can be. So, in all honesty, this book was pretty near perfect! And thankfully I have a lot of Audible credits left, so I should be able to listen to the next one fairly soon. 5*
Also, a note on the narration: Cassandra Campbell is a fantastic narrator! She also narrates all of Rosalind Lauer's books. If you're wary of audiobooks but want to try one, I'd recommend checking out any of the books Cassandra has narrated. I believe she's also done some of Barbara Delinsky's novels. ...more
For the most part, I really enjoyed this little book. I read a section each day alongside my daily devotional. There were a few stories that I didn'tFor the most part, I really enjoyed this little book. I read a section each day alongside my daily devotional. There were a few stories that I didn't find particularly inspiring or interesting, but most of the time Suzanne managed to put forward a useful, practical application from each tale she told. I'm not sure if it's because I put this book down for a period and came back to it a few months later, but I found the insight at the start of the book much deeper than the application sections towards the end. I definitely took less notes as I got close to finishing the book.
If you read a lot of Amish fiction or have studied them at all, some of the basic facts about the Amish might not be new to you, but the insight into their family traditions and methods of parenting were certainly interesting to me. Not all of them will be applicable given our circumstances, but but for the most part, this book made me think. 4*...more
Anna Byler doesn’t have any doubts about settling down in the Amish community in which she was raised, but she’s having trouble finding someone to speAnna Byler doesn’t have any doubts about settling down in the Amish community in which she was raised, but she’s having trouble finding someone to spend the rest of her life with. It isn’t as if there aren’t any eligible Amish men around, but rather that they’re all too scared of her grandfather, the Bishop, to take a chance at courting her. Anna’s grandparents took her into their home when her parents died in a car accident many years earlier, and Anna loves them dearly. She knows that her grandfather is strict, but she’s certain that he only has the community’s best interests at heart. When newcomer Jacob Hostetler expresses an interest in Anna, she’s hopeful that he’ll meet her grandfather’s approval. But if he doesn’t, will Anna risk her grandfather’s wrath and continue to see Jacob in secret? Will his views on her choice in a beau force Anna to realise just how rigid and legalistic her grandfather has become?
Marianne, Anna’s grandmother, might appear to adhere to her husband’s strict rules, but she has some secrets of her own. She doesn’t agree with all of Isaac’s guidelines for how his community members should behave, particularly his belief that she should seek herbal remedies for her diabetes, rather than visiting the shunned formerly Amish doctor. She also has several forbidden items in her home, hidden away in the basement where only she can enjoy them. She doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with these simple pleasures—after all, they’re not hurting anyone—but it will take the help of two unlikely friends to make her realise when her secrets have gone too far. Despite her husband’s disapproval, Marianne befriends Jacob’s mother, Cora, who is still reeling from the loss of her eldest daughter, and Lucy, an English woman who had a child with a married Amish man. This unlikely group of women will come to help each other through the hard times ahead.
I’ve become a big fan of Beth Wiseman over the past couple of years—both her Amish and contemporary novels—so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that she was releasing a sixth novel in her Daughters of the Promise series. I adored the first three books in this series, and while the last two hadn’t made my favourite’s list, they were still very enjoyable. Plain Peace fits into the latter category, alongside Plain Paradise and Plain Proposal. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why these last three books in the series haven’t completely wowed me, and I think it’s the age of the protagonists. All three heroines have been young adults still living at home with their parents, and given that I moved away from home right after my eighteenth birthday, I struggled to relate to their conflicts and the way that they deferred to their parents despite being of an age to make their own decisions. The protagonists from the first three books in the series were more mature and had more compelling struggles, in my opinion. That said, the secondary characters in Plain Peace definitely made up for Anna and Jacob’s immaturity.
Although it had been two years since I read one of the Daughters of the Promise novels, it didn’t take me long to remember some of the familiar faces who popped up in Plain Peace. And if you are struggling to remember who some of the characters are, there’s a handy family tree at the start of the novel to refresh your memory. I was particularly pleased with the reappearance of Lucy, who I recalled from the Land of Canaan series in addition to this one. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead if you haven’t read previous books in this series! Lucy had an affair with an Amish man and got pregnant with his child shortly before he died. Unbeknownst to her and her lover, his estranged wife was also expecting a baby. Lucy has been left to raise her child on her own, and as we discover in Plain Peace, she’s also caring for her elderly mother, who is recovering from a stroke. I was pleased with the way in which Beth brought Lucy into her own in this novel, making her into a relatable, human character, rather than a mysterious, adulterous figure. Honestly, I think Lucy ended up being one of my favourite characters in this novel. I also appreciated the way in which Beth dealt with Lucy’s mother’s personality change following her stroke. Given that my father-in-law had a stroke a few years ago, I felt that Beth dealt with the situation realistically and sensitively.
Marianne and Cora’s issues are dealt with in a similarly gentle and understandable manner. I’m still not entirely sure if I believe that the extend of Marianne’s secret hoarding is entirely believable, but it definitely brought up some interesting questions about how healthy a marriage is when you start hiding simple things from each other, and can’t share the things that truly bring you happiness. Even if Marianne isn’t entirely happy at home, she ends up mentoring Cora and Lucy, and helps them to reconcile some issues in their lives. Cora’s story was rather heart-breaking—having relocated her family after her eldest daughter’s sudden death, but finding that her husband was still withdrawing from his wife and children. Her story isn’t entirely wrapped up by the end of the novel, which I appreciated as the extend of the depression her husband was clearly suffering from isn’t something that can be fixed overnight. As always, Beth does an excellent job is presenting the Amish in a relatable, human way—full of flaws and similar struggles to ourselves.
Although my favourite part of this novel was the friendship the three older women shared, I won’t deny that Anna and Jacob’s romance is sweet. Anna’s conflict with her grandfather is probably pretty accurate for a young girl growing up in a strict, patriarchal home. But it is the only real conflict keeping her and Jacob apart, and I never really had any doubt that they’d end up together. I did enjoy the start of their story where Anna initially decides to ignore her grandfather’s rules and see Jacob in secret, and the internal turmoil she has over being a rule-breaker when really, she just wants to settle down and join the Amish faith. Aside from that, their romance was pretty standard, and maybe just a little bit too mundane for my taste. I wanted more conflict, and more insight into Anna and Jacob’s personality. As much as I felt that I got to know Marianne, Cora and Lucy over the course of the novel, Anna and Jacob still felt a little underdeveloped.
Although I struggled to relate to Anna and Jacob, the other characters in Plain Peace provided compelling conflicts and insights into the humanity and flawed nature of Amish and English alike. As with her previous novels, Beth Wiseman’s writing provides a much needed reminder that the Amish have personal struggles and familiar conflicts, just like ourselves.
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 confusiIzzy 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.
Following the tragic death of her parents, Rachel King remained with her grandparents and younger sister in Pennsylvania while her two older sisters fFollowing the tragic death of her parents, Rachel King remained with her grandparents and younger sister in Pennsylvania while her two older sisters forged new lives for themselves in Maine and Missouri. Although she longs to settle down and marry, she doesn’t feel comfortable attending singings and courting local Amish men when she can’t shake the memories of the fire that took her parents’ lives. In desperate need of a change of location, Rachel sets out to visit a Mennonite relative in Kentucky. Although she tells her family she doesn’t plan to stay long, secretly she hopes she can start over in Kentucky and begin her life anew. Her cousin, Sarah, is grateful for the help around her chicken farm, but Rachel has never been a big fan of chickens. She soon secures a part-time job giving tours at a local English horse farm. Since she was a young girl, she’s adored horses, but she may have bitten off more than she can chew when it comes to the owner’s son.
Jake Brady has high ambitions for his family’s horse farm, but he knows his plans will cost them a lot of money. Although his family trusts his good judgement and business skills, he still doesn’t feel entirely satisfied with the risks he’s making in order to create the most profitable race horse. With his sister returning to university and his mother being forced to put in more hours at her pharmacy, Jake doesn’t see how they can keep the regular tours on the farm going. He doesn’t expect his sister to hire a visiting Amish girl, nor does he anticipate falling head over heels for her. But as much as they come to care for each other, Jake doesn’t know if their relationship will work out. Although he’s attended church his whole life, Rachel’s understanding of God and her faith is a mystery to him. And it may well be the stumbling block that keeps them apart...
I started this book with high hopes, as I’ve yet to read anything written by Mary Ellis that I haven’t adored. While A Little Bit of Charm didn’t steal my heart quite as much as the previous two books in the New Beginnings series, it was just as sweet and nearly as unconventional as its predecessors.
My main worry when approaching this book was simply that the sections about horse farming would bore me. Unlike most women, I never had that “horse phase” that preteen girls go through, even though there was a riding stable on the edge of my village. I was pleased that the details about Rachel’s job were woven realistically into the story and easy to understand, even for those of us who aren’t horse fans. It was actually pretty interesting to learn about the work that goes into running a farm that not only stables horses, but trains them for races and runs tours and events. It’s definitely an all-family affair, and I enjoyed getting to know Jake’s family, especially his sisters. They may not be Amish, but this family was pretty close-knit.
One of the main appeals of the New Beginnings series is that each book takes place in a different state, and not one typically associated with the Amish. After reading so many books set in Pennsylvania and Ohio, it’s been a pleasant change to visit Maine, Missouri and now Kentucky. Another unique aspect of this novel was the community in which Rachel resided, which is Old Order Mennonite. Although we aren’t given a lecture on how different the Amish and Mennonites are, it was interesting to see the details between their lifestyles. For example, Rachel’s cousin, Sarah, has electricity in her home, but she still prefers to dry her clothing outside, and they don’t drive a car. I will admit that I struggled to warm up to Sarah. I know that she only wanted to protect Rachel from harm, but she was very overbearing and judgemental at times, especially considering that Rachel was an adult who she could have trusted to be make responsible decisions. The fact that the Amish and Mennonites don’t seem to respect a grown woman as being an adult until she marries is something I don’t think will ever sit well with me.
A Little Bit of Charm isn’t just a romance novel. I think I’d also describe it as a “coming of age” story, as a large part of Rachel’s struggle is in discovering where she belongs in the world, now that her parents are gone and her family is scattered across the country. I think this is a storyline that will speak to a lot of young people, especially Rachel’s struggle to decide if she needs to follow the ways of her family (Amish or Mennonite) or if she can retain her faith and values without staying Plain.
Although Rachel’s struggles were touching, they weren’t quite as compelling or heart-wrenching as those in the previous novels in the series. I praised Living in Harmony for telling the story of what happens after the Happily Ever After, and Love Comes to Paradise for dealing with the topic of God’s wrath and mercy, as well as it’s realistic depiction of an Amish woman’s struggle to remain pure. Rachel’s journey of self-discovery is probably one a lot of readers can relate to, but it’s definitely one that’s been done before.
There’s no doubt that the romance between Jake and Rachel is sweet, but I do wish it had developed a little slower. Although Rachel is in her rumspringe at the start of the book, I still didn’t completely buy that she’d spend time alone with Jake and consider dating him so soon after they met. As the novel progressed, I did warm up to their romance. It might not be the most remarkable one I’ve encountered, but it was encouraging to see the way that Rachel and Jake helped each other with their struggles. There’s also a sub-plot about Jake’s spiritual struggles. It was a nice change to read about someone who had grown up in a Christian family but never developed their own personal faith. So many Christian novels deal with people who tragically lose their faith, or never believed in God but suddenly see the light. Jake’s story is probably typical of a lot of young men and women who just haven’t made that step in forming their own personal relationship with Jesus, even if they believe in Him.
This book has a lot in it, and I realise that I’ve yet to touch on the sub-plot about the Plain community not believing in vaccinating their children against Polio, or Jake’s desire to create a champion race horse, or even the other Plain boys who attempt to court Rachel. All of these sub-plots were interesting, but perhaps this book tried to cover a little too much ground. As fascinating as it was to learn about Sarah’s community’s objections to vaccinations, sometimes the switch from a romantic scene to one about vaccinations and then on to one about horse-racing was a little confusing.
Although A Little Bit of Charm wasn’t quite as unconventional as the previous books in the series, the ending certainly was. There were genuinely moments where I wasn’t sure if Rachel and Jake could make their relationship work—even though, yes, it’s a romance novel and it must have a happy ending—and it was this uncertainty that kept me turning the pages. Even if I didn’t absolutely love this book, it was certainly compelling and contained many unique aspects. I’m hoping this won’t be the last book in the New Beginnings series. Perhaps the youngest sister, Beth, is due for a story of her own?
Have you ever felt as if your life was out of your own control? That’s how Julia Beechy and Sharon Zook both feel in Vannetta Chapman’s latest novel.Have you ever felt as if your life was out of your own control? That’s how Julia Beechy and Sharon Zook both feel in Vannetta Chapman’s latest novel.
An only child, the burden of caring for her elderly parents was left to Julia, a task that she believes accounts for the fact that she’s nearly forty and has never married. Following the death of her father, Julia longs to open a cafe to support herself and her ailing mother, Ada. But when she broaches the subject with Ada, she’s informed that there is a clause written into her mother’s will that states that unless Julia marries, the family home will be sold to a neighbouring English family when Ada dies. If Julia remains unmarried, she will be sent to live with relatives in Pennsylvania whom she has never laid eyes on. It’s not until a family friend, Caleb Zook, confronts her about her situation that Julia considers the possibility of marrying to save her family home. But will their situation remain merely a marriage of convenience?
Sharon is the oldest in a large Amish family, and like Julia, she takes responsibility for most of the family chores. Unlike other Amish girls her age, she’s never had the option of taking a job outside the home. But Sharon does engage in other rumspringe activities—namely dressing in English clothes, owning a cell phone and sneaking out to visit her boyfriend, James. Her behaviour aggravates and distresses her parents, but before Sharon can make any changes, one of her late-night adventures takes a dangerous turn. Unsure how to help Sharon get over the experience, her parents send her to live in Wisconsin with Julia. Sharon doesn’t want to leave the only home she’s ever known, but perhaps this new location will give her the chance to finally take control over her life. Or at least part of it...
Although this novel didn’t feel quite as deep as the other books in the Pebble Creek series, I found it to be a very enjoyable comfort read. It’s always fun to revisit Pebble Creek and spend time with old characters, and meet new ones like Julia, Caleb, Ada and Sharon. If you haven’t read any of the books in the Pebble Creek series, it shouldn’t be difficult to start with A Wedding for Julia, but you might find yourself wanting to go back and read Miriam and Lydia’s stories as you get to know them. Those who are familiar with Vannetta’s writing will appreciate the chance to find out how old characters are getting on, and even little Grace makes an appearance for her fans.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this story—and I certainly wasn’t expecting to read about an Amish marriage of convenience—but Vannetta made the storyline work in such a way that it didn’t feel contrived or forced. I actually really enjoy stories about couples who fall in love later in the relationship, without the formalities and restrictions of dating or courting. The development of Julia and Caleb’s relationship felt realistic, and it was reminiscent of a lot of the early stages of romances—the chemistry and attraction at the forefront, but not feeling comfortable enough to share your fears and dreams with the other person just yet. Julia and Caleb don’t have a lot to overcome, but it was still sweet to witness their growing affection for each other. One of their largest hurdles was Julia’s struggle to express some of her fears and feelings to Caleb. While this might not be the most exciting conflict, it is pretty believable for someone in the early stages of a relationship. Even if your marriage started out differently from Caleb and Julia’s, I’m sure most readers can relate to Julia’s difficulties.
As much as I enjoyed revisiting old characters from the previous Pebble Creek books, I was just as pleased at the addition of a new secondary character, Sharon Zook. Initially I wasn’t entirely sure what her purpose was in the story, or where she was going to intersect with Julia and Caleb’s storyline, but Sharon’s plot ended up being my favourite part about this book. Sharon seems like your typical Amish teenager—hiding a cell phone from her parents, sneaking out to engage in “English” activities. But when she finds herself stranded at the side of the road in the middle of the night after a fight with her boyfriend, Sharon’s story takes a much darker turn. It took me a while to figure out what had happened to Sharon, and how it had changed her. I don’t want to spoil this part of the story for anyone, but I will say that this is the first time I’ve read an Amish novel that has dealt with an eating disorder, and it managed to do so without being preachy or overly predictable. I liked the friendship that Sharon struck up with their English neighbour, and I’m hoping we’ll get the chance to read about Sharon again in a forthcoming book.
The message that wound its way through Julia and Sharon’s stories grasped on to something that I’m sure all of us struggle with: are we really in control of our lives? Julia struggles with the clause written into her parents’ will, which seems to determine where she’ll live and whether or not she can pursue a career. Sharon similarly finds herself moved from state to state by her parents, with little say in what’s happening to her. It takes both of them a while to realise that they’re actually more in control than they realise, and have been so all along. Although Julia claims that she’s never married because the burden of caring for her parents is unattractive to potential suitors, this is proven false by Caleb’s attentions. Sharon comes to realise that she wouldn’t be in Wisconsin if she hadn’t made some bad decisions regarding her rumspringe activities; although she was left on the side of the road when James abandoned her, she could have chosen not to go out with James that night. Ultimately, Julia and Sharon must learn to put their trust in God, rather than their own methods of control (lists for Julia, eating for Sharon). The message isn’t an overbearing or preachy one, but it was one that stayed with me after I finished this book. It’s probably one we all need to hear.
The pace of the novel definitely changed in the last few chapters, as Caleb and Julia move towards fixing their relationship conflict. I don’t want to spoil this storyline for any potential readers, but the suspense at the end of this novel definitely made it difficult to put down. Even though I knew this story would have a happy ending (that’s why I read romance novels, after all), I still found myself frantically hitting the “next page” button on my Kindle to find out if Julia and Caleb managed to beat the odds and find each other. As much as I loved the epilogue, I will say that the final chapter felt like it ended a little abruptly. Since the storyline with Sharon and the English neighbour wasn’t entirely concluded, I’m hoping that Vannetta will revisit Sharon in a future book. And if not, I guess we’ll just have to decide on her future for ourselves!
While the storyline may have been a little more predictable than the previous two books in the Pebble Creek series, A Wedding for Julia is a sweet romance that makes for a great comfort read. I loved the opportunity to revisit old friends in the wonderful setting of Pebble Creek, Wisconsin, and I hope that this isn’t the last book featuring these familiar characters.
"A Taste of Faith" by Kelly Long ~ I've never disliked one of Kelly's stories, and this one is no exception. I enjoyed the details about Fern's herbal"A Taste of Faith" by Kelly Long ~ I've never disliked one of Kelly's stories, and this one is no exception. I enjoyed the details about Fern's herbal remedies, her relationship with her mother, and Abram's struggle to keep up with all of his younger siblings. These elements all made the story feel unique, despite its shortness. That said, this is the shortest story in the collection and it did feel like a lot happened in a very short space of time. I felt like another 20 or so pages could have made the story feel less rushed. I definitely enjoyed this story, but I didn't love it as much as some of Kelly's other works. 4*
"A Spoonful of Love" by Amy Clipston ~ I think this is the first time I've come across a story by Amy in one of these Amish collections. While I've read all of her full-length novels and Christmas novellas, I wasn't sure how she'd fare in such a short story. The dynamics between Hannah and her parents were definitely interesting, and the details about her father's stroke seemed spot on, given my experience with my father-in-law after his stroke a few years ago. Stephen's struggles with forgiving himself seemed realistic, but there didn't seem to be a lot of conflict keeping him and Hannah apart. I kept waiting for something big to happen, and then suddenly the story was over! This was a sweet story, but the conflict wasn't terribly strong. 4*
"A Recipe for Hope" by Beth Wiseman ~ This was definitely my favourite story in the collection, and it demonstrated why Beth is one of the most popular authors in the Amish genre. Beth's story focuses on the relationship between a grown woman and her aging mother, who is struggling with Parkinson's disease, as well as conflicts that her teenage sons are experiencing. Introducing a sub-plot in a novella is pretty daring, but all of the characters felt fully fleshed out and realistic. This story was incredibly touching, and humorous in places (especially the details about Amos's pet lizard and its adventures!) It felt a tad rushed at the end (but so did all of these stories, if I'm entirely honest) but otherwise I loved it. 4.5*
Kelly Long, Amy Clipston and Beth Wiseman are three of my favourite Amish authors, and while I wished that each of these stories could have been just a little bit longer, this was a really sweet, touching collection of stories. Each of them contained elements that made them unique (Fern's herbal remedies, Hannah's family dynamics and the sub-plot about the teenage boys in the final story). Novella collections often get a bit tiring due to the repetitiveness of the theme, but this one didn't suffer from that problem. This book was easy to pick up and put down on bus journeys, and I will admit that I read a large part of it in the bath! 4*...more