Ties That Bind: The Amish of Summer Grove Book 1 by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

Ties That Bind pic

Ties That Bind: The Amish of Summer Grove Book 1 by Cindy Woodsmall

On the surface, Ariana’s Amish family was typical for their small community of Summer Grove. Many siblings, in their teens or older milled about the kitchen in the early mornings getting ready for a full day of activities either with small children in tow or assisting those families with small children. Some like Ariana were preparing breakfast and others were getting ready to do chores. A contentedness pervaded the atmosphere most of the time. They enjoyed each others’ company. But under the many layers of familiarity lay some rumblings of discontent. No one spoke openly about these feelings, but they were there nonetheless. It was a vague awareness that something disruptive could dispel their peace at any moment and change the entire family dynamics. What would be the trigger?

This is the first of three parts in the series. It features an unexpected twist of fortune that seems plausible, and possibly even probable. There are many great and positive things in this family saga, such as relationship building that I absolutely love. However, it seems inevitable that tension builds and two worlds collide with Ariana’s good friend caught up in the middle. Don’t expect a major resolution of the primary tension by the end of this first book, because it builds and leads directly into the next book. You definitely need to prepare to read the second book right away because of the high amount of suspense and heart break. This was so well written, that I was feeling with the Brenneman family when circumstances broke wide open.

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It’s getting to the point where I will read any book by this author because they are that good. Ms. Woodsmall puts her entire heart into what she writes. What she creates is impactful, both heart warming and heart wrenching, view shifting, and absolutely real. She’s a writer that knows how to pull heartstrings with what she writes. In this particular series, she plays on misunderstandings that come between close friends when one party must keep secrets for the sake of confidentiality. The secret he must keep makes Quill look bad in the eyes of the Amish. Such is the misunderstanding that it rocks Ariana’s world because she has lost trust in her good friend. And other circumstances are wearing her trust in others very thin.

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My favorite part of the book centers again around Ariana. She is stubborn and that persistence is what helps her family keep their heads above turbulent waters. She is determined to buy a cafe in downtown Summer Grove so that she can lift her family out of the poverty they have been in for years. She works hard and finally succeeds beyond even her expectations. I couldn’t help but root for her efforts to do something so thoughtful for her family.

 

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Gathering the Threads: The Amish of Summer Grove Bk 3 by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

Gathering the Threads

Gathering the Threads: The Amish of Summer Grove Bk 3 by Cindy Woodsmall

The series begins with Ties that Bind followed by Fraying at the Edge before concluding with this book. I have already read quite a few of Cindy Woodsmall’s series and each time I have believed that that one was the best one I have read, that is, until I would read the next series. This time I jumped in on the last book first. I don’t recommend doing that with this author, because when she writes a series, they are usually books that are closely linked to each other. Fortunately, before the first chapter, this book had a running summary of the previous two books that I haven’t read. It was so well summarized that I had no trouble reading this book by itself. But again, I really don’t recommended that. Cindy Woodsmall’s outstanding talent is to connect us deeply with her characters so that the reader forms an emotional bond and experiences the turmoil written about with the character. This is such a rare gift for a writer, so that when I find one I like to search for all their books and read them through.

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That’s how I feel about this series. When I read the summary, I had to chuckle. It read like a soap opera. I say that in the kindest manner possible. This series is intense, if all the books are like this one. There are several well-planned out plots, complex characters, schemes, turmoil, twists and turns, and just plain anguish laid out in the first two books that continue in this one. It was quite an amazing task to see how it all resolved. But it was definitely and happily resolved, in a way only this author can accomplish.

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There are so many characters that are important to the series. Ariana is the one that stands out the most. Skylar is also another but not as much the focus as Ariana. Book three resolves a long standing issue between Ariana and Quill, a neighbor she had known since her childhood who had left the Amish years ago for reasons no one in the small community of Summer Grove really knew about and thus was a forbidden friend. Nevertheless, he plays a prominent role all throughout the series.

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Among the complexity of details there arises a theme that may surprise the reader as it becomes clear. Ariana learned about bullying while she was “out in the world” with her birth father. Interestingly, bullying takes on a whole different shape and color when she encounters it in the Amish community after she returns. Had it always been there and she had never noticed before? The running questions then became how would she deal with it living at home with her parents while preparing for her upcoming marriage? This was not a cut at the Amish community by the author, but rather a commentary of society, that it can happen anywhere, even in places we don’t expect to find it.

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Finally, just like other books by this author, the spiritual elements of the story are authentic, realistic, respectful while helping us to gain some fresh perspectives on the character of human nature in general. Cindy Woodsmall’s series are some of the best faith-based books I have ever read. They are not filled with platitudes or pat answers. Real issues are realistically dealt with that touched my heart deeply. Even though I haven’t read the first two books, I know I will soon. So I can heartily recommend this series for you. If you like intense, complex characters who are not stereotypical Amish or non-Amish or former Amish, you’ll love this series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books 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, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Hope Crossing: The Complete Ada’s House Trilogy by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

Hope Crossing: The Complete Ada’s House Trilogy by Cindy Woodsmall

Hope Crossing pic

This is the trilogy, Ada’s House, that includes three full-length novels: The Hope of Refuge, The Bridge of Peace, and The Harvest of Grace. I have already written reviews of each book separately, so this book review is only about a few things about the bound trilogy.

Review for Book One

Review for Book Two

Review for Book Three

When it comes to binding three full length books into one volume, I feel a little ambivalent. On one hand, it’s convenient to have all three books in one volume. No searching, no hunting for a missing book. I like the convenience. On the other hand, it makes for a large, heavy book to hold up to read. Since I have carpal tunnel in one hand, it was uncomfortable if sitting up in a comfortable chair. It was not a problem sitting at a table. What I was given was a soft bound book, but it was still heavy. However, eventually, the spine broke and the book split in half. My given preference would be to have three separate volumes.

For an overview: The story begins with someone living outside the Amish communities that eventually come into focus for these books. We follow Cara’s story all throughout the three books. In a great twist of events, she discovers she was supposed to grow up in the Amish community of Dry Lake with her relatives. But instead, she ended up in foster care. She falls in love with Ephraim, makes friends in the community, and over the course of the three books struggles with personal issues to join the Old Order Amish community whole-heartedly to marry him.

Hope Crossing quote1

All the books are beautifully written, filled with people I came to care for, and full of great dynamic characterization. I cared for the people in these stories. I disliked the villains, felt fear with the ones in pain, triumphant with overcomers, and rejoiced with the marriages of friends. It was nearly like taking a journey with close companions. I would heartily recommend this trilogy. Just choose buying the three books separately and forgo the huge book of all three bound together.

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 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.

Harvest of Grace quote1

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.

Harvest of Grace quote2

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.

Bridge of Peace quote2

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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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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