A Plain Leaving: The Sisters of Lancaster County Book 1 by Leslie Gould ~ Review

A Plain Leaving pic

A Plain Leaving by Leslie Gould

In this book by Leslie Gould, Jessica Bachmann has already left the Amish community she grew up in. But she is called back by her youngest sister to attend her father’s funeral. This is the most difficult thing she has ever done in her life because of the divisive family drama that pushed her out in the first place. She is subjected to shunning practices while at the same time she is trying to grieve over her father’s passing. Then her brother Amos arrives. He had left the family more than a decade ago with similar conflicts in the family, especially with his twin, the brother now in charge of the family homestead.

Her aunt Suz helps Jessica cope while inviting her to the house she lives in. So during the days Jessica stays with her aunt while she tells her a story about one of her ancestors, a Ruby Bachmann who lived Plain during the days of the colonial period and the beginning of the American Revolution against Britain. There are parallels between the two women of this book. Both have tough choices to make that can change their lives drastically.

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The historical fiction story about Ruby Bachmann is filled with suspense and tough choices. As Jessica was listening to her aunt telling this story, she wasn’t quite sure what point her aunt was making. Not until the very last few pages of the book does Jessica realize what the message was. In the meantime, watching her former fiance court another woman was breaking her heart when it shouldn’t have, and seeing her older brother plan things for her father’s farm that could jeopardize the family legacy irreversibly worried her in spite of the fact that she no longer lives on the farm. What was her heart trying to tell her?

God is our refuge

This is a fast-paced contemporary story about family conflicts, past hurts, reconciliation, and challenges that keeps our interest high. I loved this story. I loved the story within the story as well. Many of the characters go through a transition within their character. There are a lot of good dynamics moving throughout this book that takes awhile to process. There are even a few surprises toward the end of both stories. But all the conflict is well worth reading. I know this is one book I will enjoy reading several times.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers on behalf of the author. 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, Part 255: “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.

Amish Cooking Class The Blessing quote 1

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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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.

Becoming Bea quote1

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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Healing Grace (Touch of Grace Book 3) by Beth Shriver ~ A Review

Healing Grace (Touch of Grace Book 3) by Beth Shriver

Mose Fisher was a man of few words. He preferred action to talk. Like the other men in his family, he was a blacksmith and knew and loved horses. Living on the family farm, he traveled back and forth to town to work in a furniture store as a wood worker, between planting and harvesting seasons, to supplement the family business. His skilled hands crafted such fine pieces of furniture that many people asked for his pieces personally. But his dream was to own his own furniture shop in his community.

Healing Grace
Abby Barker lived with her father on what used to be a flourishing farm. But the decline of the property was only the shadow of the trouble Abby and her dad faced. Life had been unkind, and her father had taken to the bottle in response, especially after Abby’s mother had died. Only Abby’s job working in the local Christian school as an ESL teacher was keeping them afloat.

While Mose was driving down the road one day, a truck and horse trailer was forced off the road by a speeding motorist in front of him. Responding quickly, Mose was relieved to see the man and woman exit the truck unharmed. He turned immediately to the horses trapped in the trailer and assisted Abby in getting them out. The filly seemed to be slightly injured, but Mose at once sensed the man’s hostility when he offered to help. Abby appreciated his kindness but was not free toexpress her gratitude until later.

Abby was no stranger to horse care, but no matter what she did, her filly’s injured leg was not getting any better. She didn’t want to let her dad know the extent of the horse’s injury since she knew they couldn’t afford doctors or vets. Her father wouldn’t even get help for his own illness. She had no other friends to turn to; she had been isolated from other people for so long. The Amish man who assisted them at the accident scene seemed to know about horse care. When she discovered that he worked in town, she turned to him for help. Thus was the beginning of an unusual friendship. But what would they do if it becomes more than friendship?

The author does a wonderful job of creating a situation where two separate worlds believably intersect. What seemed almost impossible at first glance seemed doable mid-stride. She also wrote empathetic characters with real spiritual and social conflicts especially when Mose and Abby were repeatedly drawn together through circumstances they had little control over. Both Abby and Mose found themselves at a crossroads in their lives. I felt their struggles often made them approachable and real.

Amish clothesline

Amish clothesline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one factor I didn’t care for in the book were some of the personal conflicts between Abby and Mose. While it was easy to understand the conflict that existed between Abby and her father, between Mose and his father, the tension between the young people was not as clearly defined. Mose was struggling more with a cultural conflict since he was drawn to an English girl–something frowned upon in the close knit Amish community. But when they were together, I felt that their conversations didn’t clearly communicate what they were conflicted about. And some of their discussions didn’t even make sense to me. I felt confused more than once in figuring out what they were talking about. I got the feeling that they didn’t know either sometimes. I felt this weakened the resolution of the tension at the end of the book.

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Other relationships in the story were heartwarming. For example, I absolutely loved the closeness Abby established with Becca, an Amish girl near her age. Mose’s mother took Abby under her wing and they became close both as a mother and daughter would be and as a mentor and student. Overall, this was a pleasant read with a satisfying conclusion that included an unexpected twist.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Booketeria and Charisma Media/Realms. 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.”

For Every Season: Amish Vines and Orchards Book 3 by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

Amish family riding in a traditional Amish bug...

Amish family riding in a traditional Amish buggy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Every Season: Amish Vines and Orchards Book 3 by Cindy Woodsmall

I have already reviewed books 1 and 2 of the Amish Vines and Orchards series. Their reviews can be read here and here.

For Every Season

This is book three of the Amish Vines and Orchards series. Book four is scheduled to be released in April, 2014. While this book could possibly be enjoyed when read alone, it best read as a continuation of the first two books in the series.

In the second book, a love triangle develops between Samuel King, his brother Jacob King, and Rhoda Byler. It isn’t obvious at first until the end of the second book which leaves the readers with a cliff hanger instead of a resolution. Book three focuses on Jacob’s character, answering some of the mysteries implied in the previous book. His past is so complicated, however, that it continues to intrude on his relationship with Rhoda until dynamics in the three is forced to evolve. The characters experience confusion, indecision, painful angst, loyalty issues, frustrations and more as the story rolls out. The author skillfully keeps her readers on tender-hooks trying to discover what the future holds for the three until the very last chapters.

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In the meantime another relationship, between Leah King and Landon Olsen, develops by leaps and bounds. In book one, Leah is a rebellious teenager determined to break every Amish rule possible. However we see some change of heart in book two when she moves to Maine with her brothers, Rhoda, Rhoda’s brother Steven and his family, and Rhoda’s loyal assistant of many years, Landon to help establish the new Maine branch of the King Orchard business. I enjoyed watching Leah grow in maturity in this book as she continues to struggle with her identity and whether to remain Amish or leave the order some time in the future. It is hard to foresee how she will decide, so I am looking forward to the next book in the series. The reader can’t help but hope she makes a wise decision.

There’s an intriguing mix of character development and surprising twists and turns that kept me reading this story in suspenseful anticipation. The author clearly knows how to portray real flesh-and-blood people and relationships that makes it easy to become attached to them. The events in the final chapters of this book had me in tears, hoping for a positive turn of events at the last moment. The final scenes are not your usual happily ever after ending, and left me strongly yearning to read the next book soon. But there is still enough resolution to be able to feel optimistic for the future.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books, a service of Waterbrook Press. 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.”

Review for: The Winnowing Season [Amish Vines and Orchards series Book2] by Cindy Woodsmall

Amish couple in a horse-drawn buggy in rural H...

Amish couple in a horse-drawn buggy in rural Holmes County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Winnowing Season [Amish Vines and Orchards series Book 2] by Cindy Woodsmall

A written review of the first book can be found here.

After a tornado ripped through King’s Orchards, owners and business partners Samuel, Jacob and Eli King and Rhoda Byler decide to purchase an abandoned orchard in Maine to restore, and give the damaged orchard time to recover. To do that, a new Amish community needed be established around the orchard. There were no other Amish in Maine. Several families purchased the orchard together and prepare to move to Maine. Samuel and Jacob King have gone with their sister Leah, along with Rhoda and her brother Steven’s family, and Rhoda’s business assistant Landon. They began restoring the farmhouse and the orchards while waiting for two other families to join them later.

English: An old apple orchard in Ottawa, Canada.

English: An old apple orchard in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, before they even arrived in Maine, complications overtook them. Jacob, who was courting Rhoda, was called away suddenly, and was unable to explain why because he was still keeping secrets from her. Samuel was being unbearably rude to Rhoda to keep his distance, although Rhoda didn’t know why he was treating her so coldly. Landon was attracted to Leah, but felt conflicted because even though he knew Leah wanted to leave the Amish, she hadn’t told her brothers yet and Landon did not want to get into trouble with Rhoda, his boss. Once they arrived in Maine, they had no heat in the house or cooking fuel. Delivery of the cattle that were in Steven’s care was delayed. So on the first night in the farmhouse, the children and women were alone and the men were absent.

Only a few weeks later Rhoda found some teenage girls camping in one of the greenhouses. She gave them a firm but kind warning to leave and she would not report them to the police. But a short time later police arrived at the farmhouse and informed Rhoda she was being investigated for possession of drugs, thanks to accusations from one of the girls’ parents, the wife of a US senator. With police trudging in and out of her greenhouses, confiscating her seedlings and new plants, their containers and things in her room, orchard and garden development was delayed. And Jacob, who had finally arrived after the first personal crisis had to leave again, to stay away from the press and the police again, due to secrets he was harboring. Tensions were high at the new settlement.

In addition to the disturbing circumstances, Rhoda realized that the problems she had in the community where she grew up weren’t left behind as she had hoped. When she befriended an older couple who lived nearby, a non-Amish couple, she began receiving flashes of insight, voices and intuition that something was wrong or unresolved. But unlike her previous experiences, she did not tell anyone about her insights, even when she realized in a flash of intuition that Jacob had been with another woman when he was away.

Orchard in winter

Orchard in winter (Photo credit: Arlette)

With all the trials besetting the residents of the new Maine Amish community, came spiritual growth. Many of the residents searched within themselves, turning to God and each other for the comfort, renewal and strength they needed to meet so many challenges. There’s room for a multitude of small victories in the private lives of our characters, but the final scenes leave the reader in suspense. The police investigation ended well, but resulted in the loss of the two investing families when they decided not to join the small group in Maine. Jacob returned home but broke his courtship with Rhoda, who has decided to stay with her friends nearby to recover from the loss. The future of the orchard hangs in the balance. We must wait for book three in the series to find what will become of the new Amish community.

The draw for me in this series is the personal journeys each character has embarked. The setbacks they experienced were merely surface problems compared to the inner struggles suffered by ones I, as a reader, had come to care about. The author skillfully crafted a world where I’ve felt comfortable, and people I empathize with. When reading this story, I feel as if I were coming along side of a friend, to listen to their fears and indecision, or to be the sounding board when they question decisions they had already made. Some were disheartened and discouraged. Relationships were strained, especially between Samuel and Rhoda. Landon felt conflicted about keeping his relationships with Leah and Rhoda balanced. Rhoda even wondered if she attracted trouble wherever she went. Without Rhoda’s expertise in horticultural arts, the new orchard was doomed to fail if she didn’t help the Kings. But was all the strain worth it?

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by the Edelweiss website which services WaterBrook Press . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Review: A Season for Tending [Amish Vines and Orchards Book 1] by Cindy Woodsmall

Give_rest

Review for A Season for Tending by Cindy Woodsmall

Sometimes we look at other people groups, and because their lives are somewhat different from ours, we think they are idyllic. But as we see in this story, it certainly isn’t true. There is much more we have in common than is dissimilar. As a group, the Amish suffered when the economy downturn hit everyone else. They experience relationship difficulties as we do. They feel the same uncertainties about their future lives. They suffer insecurities, anger, jealousy, envy, ignorance, doubts, and crisis of faith as anyone else would. Many of these struggles are played out in this book.

Rhoda, our main character, is faced with several challenges. Two years ago, her sister died in a freak incident and Rhoda feels guilty for that; she blames herself. She had felt a warning premonition and thinks she failed her sister and family. Now, as the story unfolds, she is being targeted by an Amish man who feeds peoples’ superstitions with rumors about her. Her next door neighbor won’t speak to her, and even her family are wary around her. In addition, her mind is sharp and she often gets into trouble when she speaks before she thinks or acts before considering the consequences.

Rhoda has honed her knowledge of plants and herbs over the years. She knows how to use them to help people when they feel ill. She grows fruits and vegetables that she sells under the name of Rhode Side Stands. It has become a small business prosperous enough to take on a partner, Landon, an Englisch man. His job is mostly in marketing, keeping up a website for Rhoda, getting her products into stores, and being overall assistant. They’ve been business partners for four years and no one knows Rhoda like he does. Above all, he is a good friend.

In a nearby Amish community lives Samuel, Eli, and Jacob King, owners of the famous King Orchards, known for their organic pest control methods. Just a few years ago, Samuel’s grandfather turned the management and ownership over to him, something Sam was groomed for as he grew up. But the past couple years have been hard for the company and they need a good year to keep their business afloat. Suddenly they discover a pest problem and it’s too late in the year to treat it. How will they survive this season? Samuel comes up with a unique solution, and he appeals to Rhoda for help.

At first, Rhoda is reluctant, but it seems that God has other ideas. Through a series of unhappy events Rhoda finds herself without a garden and crops. She joins the brothers and works on her canning business using their crops. Living in a different community gives her a reprieve from the censure of biased neighbors and she finds some peace. Samuel, the elder brother, has a girlfriend, but they experience some difficulties in their relationship during the course of this story. He discovers he is attracted to Rhoda, but he knows his brother Jacob is falling in love with her. Things become more complicated when disaster strikes and the orchard is damaged nearly beyond recovery.

My favorite part of the story is the business savvy conversations Rhoda has with Samuel and the playful bantering between her and Jacob. She has to overcome the traditional roles of female and male Amish folk to become his business partner, but manages to do this effectively.

The author has created in her characters genuine believable conflict, personalities, quirks and warmth. The different customs of the Amish community are a backdrop and context to the people we grow to care for. I felt pained when the young ones made mistakes, and reassured when life lessons were learned. There’s anguish when relationships turned sour; anxiety when things went wrong; a warm glow when circumstances worked out better than expected.

Because this book is part of a series, there is little resolution in most of the conflicts highlighted in the subplots except the main plot: Rhoda finds resolution for her own personal issues. The reader can easily tell that more will follow in subsequent books. I’m really looking forward to reading them.

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Blogging for Books (A WaterbrookMultnomah.com division). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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