The Harvest of Grace: Book 3 by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

The Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall

Harvest of Grace pic

 The Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall is the third book of a three book series: Ada’s House. This trilogy reminded me how much I enjoy books by this author. Ms. Woodsmall creates tales with emotional dynamics that pulls me in, keeps me reading intently without wanting to put down the book, and connect with the well-developed characters so that I feel I have a vested interest in the outcomes.

The author begins this book with a new character, Sylvia. She is an Amish woman from a community further away from the communities this series focuses on. In her household, there are all daughters, with Sylvia being the oldest. She alone loves the dairy farming, and with the knowledge she gained from her grandfather, has built up her father’s herds over the many years. She has been engaged to be married for awhile, but suddenly her fiance declares his love for her sister and marries her. Living in the same household has become unbearable both because of her heartbreak and the deception of her closest friend and sister. She insists on moving to another community. She begins working for Michael Blank and his wife in Dry Lake.

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There, she meets Aaron Blank after he has come home from rehab. Aaron’s purpose is to help his aging parents sell their dairy farm and move to his new community and work with him at a hardware store he is buying. He wants to take care of them. Sylvia’s at cross purposes with Aaron, because she wants to make the Blank dairy farm profitable again and build up the herd as she had done at home. This conflict is the core of the book.

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But as the third book in the series, other storylines that had begun in books one and two continue as well. So we find Deborah and Jonathan in a relationship, Cara and Ephraim continue their courtship and Cara makes progress toward joining the Amish faith, while Lena recovers from her emotional and physical injuries from the events of the previous book.

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Again, like all the other books in this series, this is not a stand alone book. It is integral to the entire storyline and you need to read the first two books in order to understand the direction and scope. Saying this, I found this book hard to put down. It very effectively wraps up all the loose ends of all the relationship dynamics covered in the three books. There are even new dynamics for Cara when her birth father shows up and the Amish leaders decide she must develop a relationship with him in spite of her feelings about him. This struggle so touched my heart. How can Cara overcome a lifetime of neglect and abandonment?

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If you enjoy living, breathing characters, especially relationship struggles and their resolutions, then you’ll love this story. This author does not do pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by type story telling. Her characters deal with real issues you and I can relate to. I was left feeling like I was part of the community, knowing the hearts of people I care about. The author writes this development so well, that I am compelled to read other books by her. I want more of this type of dynamic writing. And you can be sure I will be reading this trilogy over and over again, without feeling as if it were growing old. I highly recommend this series, and this author.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House (a division of Baker Publishing). I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

The Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall

Bridge of Peace pic

The Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall is the second book of a three book series: Ada’s House. This trilogy reminded me how much I enjoy books by this author. Ms. Woodsmall creates tales with emotional dynamics that pulls me in, keeps me reading intently without wanting to put down the book, and connect with the well-developed characters so that I feel I have a vested interest in the outcome.

Cara and Ephraim’s story is continued from the first book into this one. We also get to know Deborah, Ephraim’s sister a little better since she, Cara and Ada live together in Hope Crossing now. Cara is helping Deborah recover when her fiance leaves her and his mother without support. It seems he even left the Amish lifestyle behind him. The three women eventually establish a good business as a bakery in their new setting in spite of a rough beginning, while Ada continues to mentor Cara.

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Meanwhile back in Dry Lake, where the story originated, Teacher Lena is having difficulties in school with a rebellious and angry student, a bull in the neighboring pasture threatens the school children, Grey is having marital difficulties, Jonathan is attracted to Deborah, Israel is beginning to see Ada, and Dwane is being downright creepy. While we don’t know these characters now, this authors manages to capture our interest in them quickly as our sense of community grows. Suspense builds, and so does the drama. I recommend you bring along a box of tissues when you read this book. The drama in this tale is just as heart-wrenching and touching as those in the first book.

Midst all the emotional valleys and mountain tops, this author holds it all together with great humor and meaningful life lessons. I found it helpful to read this book right after book 1 of the series. The three books together run seamlessly into each other, building on the storyline right at the beginning. You can read them independently, but you would lose some of the references to the action that went on before. Because of that, I recommend purchasing these books together.

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One other thing really attracts me to this author’s works. She weaves into her stories examples that steadfastly demonstrate God’s involvement in our everyday lives. These stories are like word pictures in action. We’re not preached at, but we see God’s principles enacted throughout the book in such a way that it has to touch our hearts. Whenever I read her books, I find myself delving into deep thoughts of spiritual meaning, how God can live through me more effectively, showing how much He loves His children. All this comes so naturally to the author’s pen, that we barely notice it while reading these tales. This is why Cindy Woodsmall is one of my top favorite authors.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House (a division of Baker Publishing). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing by Wanda E. Brunstetter ~ Review

Amish Cooking Class book 2: The Blessing by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Amish Cooking Class The Blessing

The Blessing is the second book in the Amish Cooking Class series. I read this book without knowing about the first one, and didn’t have any feeling of missing something vital. So I would say this book can stand alone on its own. But I am intrigued now that I have read this one; I want to go back and read the first book. That is how well written this book is.

The story’s premise is about an Amish couple, Heidi and Lyle Troyer, living in Walnut Creek, Ohio. They have been married about 9 years and do not have children. Lyle is an auctioneer while Heidi teaches cooking classes in her kitchen. At the opening of the story, Heidi is anticipating the birth of her friend’s baby, which she and Lyle were going to adopt. Kendra had been living with them for several months now. Kendra really wanted to keep her baby, but she was a single young person and it wouldn’t be the best thing for the little one if she couldn’t support it.

Just as Heidi had decided not to teach another class, in preparation of the babe’s arrival, Kendra’s parents reversed their decision not to help her rear the child, and suddenly Heidi finds herself bereft of the baby she wanted to adopt. She decided to go ahead and teach another cooking class to help her stay mentally occupied while she grieved her loss.

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We eventually become acquainted with the six members of this new cooking class, and they are as diversified as they come! There’s an overburdened high school student, a custodian, a food critic, a mother in a shaky marriage, a widower, and a caterer. It’s the clashing and meshing of these lives that makes this an intriguing read.

What I appreciate most about this book is that regardless of Heidi’s background, she is centered on honoring God with her life. She is genuine and caring, someone that her class of students need in their lives. Without being preachy or overly Amish in her behavior with her students, she quietly relayed to them what each person needed at this point in their life journey, even for the one who cared nothing for God. I loved how all these individual stories wrapped up neatly at the conclusion of the book. If at first you feel the story moves along slowly while we become acquainted with all the characters, be patient. The character development is worth the wait.

God heals broken hearts

The second thing I enjoyed about the book are the cooking tips and recipes included in the back. I am always open to learning something new, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you enjoy cozy character-driven stories that warm your heart, then this is the book for you. I enthusiastically recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Barbour Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Torn Asunder by Alana Terry ~Review~

Torn Asunder by Alana Terry

Torn Asunder

In the book, Torn Asunder by Alana Terry, we are faced with the hard facts of life in North Korea. To be a believer in Jesus Christ is a death sentence, or a sentence of condemnation to life in a labor camp or torture, or at the very least, living a secret life filled with the fear of discovery. In the book, Slave Again, the reader is introduced to an American businessman and his wife, Roger and Juliette Stern. They run a Secret Seminary where they train North Korean refugees who want to return to their country with the gospel of Christ as missionaries. It is the most dangerous mission field in the world. Slave Again tells us a little about the men and women who volunteered to return to their homeland.

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Even with the references to the Sterns and their training program, Torn Asunder still stands on its own very well. Rather than being a sequel to Slave Again, the reverse is more true; Slave Again is better described as a pre-quel to Torn Asunder. In this suspenseful story, we follow Simon and Hannah, two of the Sterns’ pupils, as they enter North Korea, their first missions and subsequent capture. The story is gritty and sometimes difficult to read. But it is also inspiring.

Simon had fallen in love with Hannah the first day he met her at the Stern’s home in Sanji. His love for her grew during their year of training together, learning to become secret missionaries in their homeland. When the Sterns attempts to disuade Hannah from re-entering North Korea failed, he tried to convince her to do something safer. But she remained adamant. It was the Sterns’ policy to send out each missionary out alone. They were not to work together as partners because of the dangers of betraying each other under duress. Simon knew this but he was determined to follow Hannah once she crossed the river. It wasn’t long before he regretted this decision. Only two days into her mission, Hannah was captured and taken to the local jail where she was interrogated. Broken-hearted, Simon completed Hannah’s mission and warned the recipients of the Bibles of her fate. Just as he was about to begin his own assignment, he was taken and placed in the same jail. After their grueling experience, they were separated. Simon was taken to Camp 22, while Hannah was somehow placed in a safe house where her wounds would heal. Hannah had been chosen by the mysterious and legendary “Moses” for work in the underground church.

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This is an exciting and chilling tale of native North Koreans and how God used them to encourage other members of the underground church. I just couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. The nail-biting suspense kept me glued to the pages. It isn’t a pretty story, although the love between Simon and Hannah is endearing and uplifting. Their love for God and for each other sustains them through many painful encounters and long days of solitary confinement. Hannah often repeated hymns and Scripture to herself to keep her morale up, while Simon had vast reserves of Bible verses hidden away in his heart. But what kept Simon sane most were his dreams of a life with Hannah some time in the future.

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While this book may be tough to read because of the realistic descriptions of their suffering, it is well worth reading. The reader gets to view the ugly underbelly of a nation’s efforts to squelch Christian voices. We see through Hannah and Simon’s eyes what happens to people whose only guilt is to be discovered loving God and their fellow believers. For me, this was an eye-opener. It has given me a closer look at the way many people bear unfair treatment for Jesus. I have a newly formed empathy and love for these believers. This book has played a part in reforming my prayer life.

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The third thing I like about this book is the author’s writing style. The subject matter Ms. Terry has chosen to write about isn’t an easy one to convey without crossing over the invisible line of what is acceptable to put into a book of the Christian genre. But I feel that lines need to be crossed if we readers are to be shaken out of our safe, secure, and unfortunately complacent worlds. In my opinion the author has accomplished this fragile balance. I can only hope many people will read her books, feel the pain of empathy, and be compelled to reach out to help. There are many ways available. In addition, I hope many will become prayer warriors in earnest for those suffering for Christ. May we also display more gratitude for the blessings in life that already surround us every day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Becoming Bea (The Courtships of Lancaster County #4) by Leslie Gould ~Review~

Becoming Bea by Leslie Gould

Becoming Bea

About the book:

This book is a character-driven, Amish romance at its best. If you have read other books in this series, you get to re-visit principal players from some of the other books as well as get to know the small close-knit community surrounding this story’s main characters, Bea and Ben.

Beatrice Zook was the youngest child in the family of sisters and brothers, step- brothers and in-laws. The next oldest sister, Molly, and her husband Leon lived in the same farmhouse with Bea and her Mamm, taking on the responsibility of making it productive again. Bea’s dat (father) had died only a few years earlier. It seemed to Bea that Molly had then stepped into dat’s shoes and become another parent to her. So it was no wonder that she began to feel the necessity of becoming more independent. Now that she had just turned 21, she was looking for employment outside her home, hopefully within their small community. Thanks to a friend of hers, she heard that Bob and Nan Miller had just given birth to triplets and were now bringing the babies home. They needed helpers. When Bea stepped in to help, the task seemed daunting at first, but soon she found her stride and began to enjoy the new experience.

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Bob Miller was a cabinet maker who employed several young men, including his son-in-law Pete, the twins who lived near Bea’s home (Martin and Mervin), the two sons of Bishop Eicher (Phillip and Don), and Ben Rupp. Ben and Bea had gone to school together; more accurately, they were always at the top of their class, the best spellers in the school, competitive with each other yet also being a challenge to the other to excel. They had become nearly best friends and the reason for each other’s love of learning. Their competitiveness cooled a bit after schooling was finished with the eighth grade. However, the year before, Ben began to court Bea formally. She was ecstatic until he suddenly stopped coming around without explaining the reason. Since then, she hasn’t trusted him or any other young man. If they did see each other, their exchanges were contentious, with a hint of bitterness on Bea’s part.

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Now that Bea was living with the Miller’s, she was surprised how crazy the household could get with three newborns, especially when they would get colicky. She worked together with Hope, Nan’s niece from New York, and they established some kind of routine. For the first time in her life, Bea was finding herself and blossoming into an attractive young woman. In fact, not only did she attract Ben’s attention again, but Don’s as well. The rivalry became serious over time while Bea and Ben’s relationship suffered several ups and downs. The reader wonders if it will work out at all. Would Bea choose Don instead?

My review:

The author, Leslie Gould, has created an entire cast of characters who have come alive for me. Hope befriended Bea as they worked together with the triplets. Then Hope fell in love with Martin, who worked for Bob in the cabinet shop. He was one of the twins that lived near Bea’s home. Martin was a good friend of Ben Rupp. Soon Martin and Hope were trying to play matchmaker to get Ben and Bea back together. Unfortunately, because of so many conflicts, their efforts failed. But during this upheaval, Bea’s personality was going through a metamorphosis, thanks to her new job and new friendships. Even her relationship with Molly began to change. At one point, Bea even stood up to Molly, who realized finally that her little sister was maturing. But of all the relationship challenges she faced, the most difficult was with Ben. When, in their on-again off-again courtship, he believed a lie perpetuated by Don and accused her falsely, Bea’s heart was crushed. This conflict was written so well that I couldn’t help but feel sick at heart with her.

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Besides all the relationship drama, I enjoyed Ms. Gould’s use of the competitive spelling bees as a metaphor that represented the young peoples’ struggles with immaturity and growth of character in the present stages of their lives. During their school years, it was for the most part a friendly form of competition–a setting up of standards. But there also existed a rivalry between them that could turn on a dime and become destructive if allowed. Both of them were wordsmiths with a love of learning; something beautiful could come of it, or it could become a stumbling block. Much of the consequences depended on how they handled their pride. Would selfishness grow out of it, or selflessness?

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The third thing I enjoyed about this book are the details the author uses to describe the introduction of triplets into the Miller household. The situation with preemies in a Plain household was intriguing, amazing and heart-warming. I was right there walking the halls in the middle of the night with Hope, Bea, Cate, Nan and Bob. I could feel the frustrations and the rewards of caring for such precious little ones. It brought back memories of my daughter when she had colic for nearly three months. It was unsettling, but still generates warm feelings when I think back.

The author created some heart-rending conflict, but the final resolution is satisfying to read. In fact, I read it over at least three times. It was one of the loveliest scenes I’ve ever read. If you enjoy Amish romances, you don’t want to miss this one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publisher’s Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Revealing (The Inn at Eagle Hill series Bk. 3) by Suzanne Woods Fisher ~Review~

The Revealing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

The RevealingThe Revealing is the third book in the Inn of Eagle Hill series. The first two books in the group are The Letters and The Calling. Another novella, an ebook, that can fit into the series is called The Rescue. All throughout The Revealing, references are made of some past events that may have taken place in one of the earlier books. I haven’t read any of the previous stories but the background information offered in this book seemed adequate to me to read this book alone.

The title provides a hint that this story will have some type of unexpected end to it. By the conclusion of the first paragraph, it’s confirmed that one of the main characters, Naomi King is shouldering a massive secret almost too large for her to handle. Somehow shy, unassuming Naomi had gotten into a secret relationship with an Amish man whose early years were spent living with a Mennonite family; one who had become restless enough the previous year to disappear awhile before returning to his Amish roots. Naomi’s brother Galen didn’t approve of Tobe Schrock. In spite of Galen’s dim view of Tobe, Naomi was drawn to Tobe, and it seemed Tobe felt the same way. But then, as if to prove Galen right, Tobe was sent to prison to take responsibility for his part in a financial scam involving his father’s business.

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Rose Schrock is Tobe’s stepmother. When Tobe and Bethany Schrock were young, their mother divorced their dad and left the family behind. A few years later, Rose took them under her wing and tried to heal their shattered hearts. Their new family was happy until tragedy struck and Rose’s husband died in a drowning accident. Rose has been trying to pick up the pieces since then. Her next door neighbor, Galen King, has done what he could to help Rose care for her farm in the absence of adult men. Now there would be another romance brewing if Rose were to allow it to continue to grow from their budding friendship. But Rose senses they are at different stages in their lives and she’s not certain they could make a relationship work.

Another potential romance could be developing between Rose’s stepdaughter, Bethany, and Jimmy Fisher. Bethany has been making her desires known to Jimmy lately, but when the topic comes up between them, Jimmy gets a look on his face akin to panic and uneasiness. Bethany has been trying to figure out what is making Jimmy hesitate for awhile now, but at the same time she’s being distracted by a secret she is harboring about her sister, Mim.

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Mim Schrock is not interested in romance. She has an unusual gift for writing, and it has caught the attention of school teacher Danny. He’s been trying to encourage her to improve her writing, but his efforts have not been overly appreciated. Mim gets distracted when a new family moves to Stoney Ridge. The Stoltzfus family, including the mischievous Jesse, are the new owners of the local grocery store. They had lost their mother to cancer recently, and their father, a preacher, wanted to start afresh in a new community. Jesse and Mim quickly become antagonists and competitive. Their sharp-tongued quips add spice and comic relief to the mix.

The Revealing is one of the most light-hearted Amish tales I have ever read. There are some deep topics in the storyline, but they are well balanced with lighter moments. The humor is one of the things I like best about the book.

The basic gist of this character-driven story is about secrets…about twists and suddenly unexpected turn of events so common in life, and the hidden secrets we often hold close to our chests for a variety of reasons. Some secrets in this story are shared with the reader up front, some are only hinted at, which increases anticipation, while the most surprising ones are saved for the conclusion. In fact, there are more than a few revealings presented at the end. All these layers eventually come together to weave a beautiful tapestry about this small community. It’s the anticipation which drives this story forward, keeping us on the edge of suspense until the resolution. Such artful writing makes this book a joy to read.

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Now that I have read the final book in the series, I really want to read the first ones to fill in the gaps. The author has piqued my interest. If you enjoy Amish fiction with a touch of romance, and plenty of laughs, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Child of Mine by David and Beverly Lewis ~Review~

Child of Mine by David and Beverly Lewis

Child of Mine

It’s not very often that I tell other readers that a book is awesome, because when I do, I don’t take the term lightly. For me to rank a book this way, I need to have my interest held all throughout the story; there needs to be several subplots expertly woven together with a few surprise twists that I don’t anticipate. The characters need to be portrayed in such a way that I’m invested in their lives, while I come to care for them. When the book is finished, I still feel their presence and circumstances linger, so that I continue to think about them. Their lives and thoughts should influence my own. They should have something to say or experience that touches me right down to my soul. For me, Child of Mine delivers all the above criteria. I even went through a hefty pile of tissues in testimony of how stirred I was.

When I begin reading a story, there is usually a predominant question in my mind regarding the theme of the story. The cover of this book and its title suggested a few questions for me to ponder: Whose child? Which child? Who was claiming the child? When I opened the pages of the opening chapter, I was introduced to Kelly Maines. By the end of the chapter, I learned that Kelly has been seeking a specific child for the past eight years, but she was using methods that were not completely ethical. In the next chapter, the readers are introduced to Jack Livingston and his niece Natalie who likes to be called Nattie. Nattie was a precocious eight-year-old, lovingly cared for by her uncle and an Amish nanny, Laura Mast. At this point, I felt I knew where this story was heading.

From that point on, more than half the book is dedicated to revealing more about the main characters Jack, Laura, Nattie and Kelly. We grow to care for all of them while we are introduced to supporting characters like Sandra, Jack’s younger sister with enough of their back history to learn about issues they are living with; Melody who used to be Kelly’s best friend growing up until Kelly pushed her away once Melody married and had children of her own; Ernie, the Private Investigator who has been helping Kelly search for her missing daughter for the past eight years; and Chet and Eloise, a well-to-do Texas couple in their sixties who have nearly adopted Kelly and attempt to assist in her search by financing Ernie’s efforts. All these supporting friends and family play important roles in Kelly and Jack’s spiritual development; for Kelly, her metamorphosis from devastated victim to mature, growing Christian learning to find closure and move on without bitterness or her daughter.

With God All Things Are Possible

In the final quarter of the book, circumstances take an abrupt turn, and for me instituted a series of new questions after the initial shock. Several times the expected became the unexpected, and I’m sure I said to myself, “Say…what?!” more than twice. The pace picked up dramatically, with frequent re- assessments of my original question of who’s claiming whose child. The authors, after lulling readers into expecting one thing to happen and one history to have occurred turn our expectations on their ears and switch directions entirely. I even flipped back pages a few times to see where I might have missed a clue or to verify what a person said. I love when an author does that, especially when it is written as smoothly as it was in this book.

Rest assured that while this book is not primarily a romance, there are portions of the story where romance is an important element. It just isn’t the main feature. There is also some mystery that contributes to the twists and turns that reveal facts and change the flow of the story line. Happily, most loose ends are satisfactorily resolved. In addition, unlike many of Beverly Lewis’s other books, having an Amish woman play one of the main characters does not mean this is a book about the Amish. It is just an incidental factor among many that makes this book so interesting to read.

Believe God more than feelings

Finally, the spiritual aspect of a book’s plot is important to me. I look to see if life’s tough situations are realistically portrayed, the reactions to them true to life, and the lessons learned over time contribute to a character’s development. This can happen with or without a person acknowledging God’s role in their lives. I admire when an author doesn’t make transitions sound too trivial or too easy. I also realize how realistic it is that some people will not heed God’s nudges toward a closer relationship with Him. I feel the authors in this story hit upon a balance between the many types of responses possible to God’s prompts without sounding overly preachy, idealistic or syrupy. I loved their ability to write soul-stirring fiction that challenges their readers to be introspective. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves complex Christian fiction.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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