Naomi’s Hope

Naomi's HopeAuthor: Jan Drexler

Series: Journey to Pleasant Prairie #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

The third and final installment in the Journey to Pleasant Prairie series finds a newcomer, Cap Stoltzfus, joining the two groups of Amish who have arrived in LaGrange County, Indiana, in the 1840s.  One group is from Ohio, and one group is from Pennsylvania.  Although one group is considered more progressive than the other, they live and work together across a wide area separated by marsh and forest.  They make miles-long treks on Sundays for church services and during the week to help their neighbors with chores.  Cap finds himself settling in nicely, and is especially happy when he meets Naomi Schrock, a single girl who lives with her family and son near Cap’s new cabin.  She has rescued a young boy whose family perished in a deadly storm, and even though her neighbors accept it, some people gossip that the boy, Davey, is the product of a sinful relationship.  Cap is determined to get to know Naomi while finding out the truth of Davey’s coming to live with Naomi.

Meanwhile, a new preacher has arrived in the settlement, and he brings back horrible memories for Cap.  Shem Fischer used to bully Cap when they were boys, and while Cap does his best to forgive Shem and put that experience in the past, he can’t help but feel that Shem is stirring up trouble throughout the settlement.  Rumors fly, people refuse to help one another, and there is talk of breaking the church into two different sects.  Shem seems to be behind all of it, but Cap has no proof.  It’s up to the other members of the church to see Shem for his bad behavior and keep him in check.

I have enjoyed the first two books in this series, so I was excited to read the final book, as well.  I have to admit that I had no idea there could be such Peyton Place-like drama playing out in an Amish settlement in the middle of Indiana, but after reading this book, it’s a whole new possibility.  People are quarreling over where to hold church, how to plant and harvest crops, and what to serve for Sunday dinner.  Married people have their eyes on someone other than their spouses, and rumors fly like birds.  This is probably not typical of the average Amish settlement, but in this book, it was quite common.  While the Amish are not immune to drama and conflicting personalities, it seems like this is an awful lot for a small new community.

I enjoyed the characters this book has, including the many newcomers.  Several main characters and side characters have personal conflicts that need to be addressed, and they realize that until they give them up to God, the issues won’t go away.  This causes stress in a few relationships, and the people involved learn how to work together instead of apart.  There are many lessons for the characters to earn, the biggest being to trust God above all others.  While some of the drama may be a bit over-the-top, the storylines and true commitment to living a simple life make the book a worthwhile read.

This is a charming book that does not contain violence, sex, or foul language.  For this reason, I recommend this book for young adult readers and up.  Fans of Amish fiction, Amish romance, or a good clean story about the settling of America will enjoy the story.

The Divide

The DivideAuthor: Jolina Petersheim

Series: The Alliance #2

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The stunning sequel to The Alliance is even better than I imagined!

For the last six months, Leora Ebersole and Jabil Snyder have moved the Mennonite community from their village up to the mountains in order to escape disaster. Every night, Leora still wonders about the fate of Moses Hughes, who stayed behind to give the community a chance to get away before a gang overtook their village to plunder anything that was left.  But the winter has been very harsh and people are beginning to starve.  The men who hunt and gather for food are starting to grow weary of providing for those who are not able to help.  Worse yet, a sickness comes into the camp, threatening to kill many of the other members that are already in a weekend state.  Can they survive the winter? Much less the outside world?

Okay, I realize that the synopsis is a bit vague and doesn’t really hint much on the fate of Moses and whether he continues to be a main character in the story. But that is because you really need to read this to find out for yourself.  Let’s just say that there was so much tension in the Jabil-Leora-Moses triangle in the first book, that Petersheim found a way to continue that tension throughout this story.  Now the title definitely draws you into believing that some event or relationship within the story causing a divide between the community.  And that is true, but it is not just the Mennonite community that it divides.  There is another group that is in this story that must make a decision similar to drawing a line in the sand.  And the reason behind it is shocking.

I really hope that they make these two books into movies. I think they would be awesome to watch.  And Petersheim has mastered the art of cliff hangers at the end of chapters to make you keep turning the pages to see what is going to happen.  Spoiler alert: (two of the main characters from the first book get killed off)!  Once again, the events in this book could easily happen at any time, but I hope that they never do.  But if they did, I can assure you there would be natural division just as described.  This is one of the must reads of 2017!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Newcomer

the-newcomerAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: Amish Beginnings #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 31, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beginning novel about finding your true place in life.

Bairn Bauer has had rough life after being separated from his family and sold into slavery until he was bought to be a cabin boy for someone who was actually good. Then on a trip across the sea, he sparked up a romance with Anna Konig, who was coming to the New World from Germany with her Amish Church.  He was even reunited with his mother on the ship and his father once it arrived at Port Philadelphia.  But now they don’t want to talk about the lost years.  They just want to move on like nothing happened and have Bairn become a leader in their church.  But Bairn being a man of the sea can’t resist an opportunity he is given as a first mate on a ship running to England and back over the winter.  Will Anna wait for him upon his return?  Especially with a newcomer on the ship over named Henrik Newman?

Anna Konig has fallen in love with Bairn Bauer, but is pained watching his reunion with his parents. She knows it must be difficult, but hopes that Bairn can find a way to get along with his parents as they travel to the land that their bishop has warranted.  But when Bairn suddenly tells her that he is going back on a ship, she begins to question whether she ever rely or trust him.  As they travel to meet up with their bishop, a newcomer, Henrik Newman seems to have taken an interest to her.  His views are a little different, but he seems to be a natural leader.  When they arrive at the settlement, no one has seen or heard from the bishop.  When people begin getting restless for a new leader, they begin looking to Henrik and possibly to Anna to become his wife.  But what is in Anna’s heart?

I’m not a huge reader of Amish fiction, but I decided to give this one a try. I was very impressed with how much this story intrigued me.  I haven’t read the first in the series, but this on easily stands on its own.  The romance between Bairn and Anna played out very well, but was pained to see them part.  Then the events of the ship that Bairn was on that led her to believe he was dead easily played into Henrik’s hand.  I found Henrik very easy to dislike through the entire book, even up till the end.  At one moment, there was a pang of sympathy (only a pang), but it was quickly erased within the next few pages.  Not quite a happy ending, but definitely an open transition to the next book.  I’ll be looking forward to it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Devoted

the-devotedAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: The Bishops Family #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 4, 2016

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

The latest installment of the Bishop’s Family focuses on the message that we need to give freely even we do not have that much to give.  Bishop David Stoltzfus has noticed that even though his community has become prosperous, something is missing.  People are not as available as they used to be; they are bending some fundamental rules; and volunteerism has fallen.  Just recently, a barn-raising had to be rescheduled because the materials order was not placed and there were not enough hands available for assistance.  While he is dealing with his community’s issues, his daughter Ruthie tries to reconcile her feelings for Luke Schrock.  She thinks she loves him, but she knows he is the town troublemaker.  Any time she opens up to him, he does something to hurt her.  To take her mind off of Luke, she decides to tutor newcomer Patrick Kelly in Pennsylvania Dutch because Patrick wants to join the Amish.  David’s sister Ruth, who has left the Amish to become a doctor, moves to Stoney Ridge to open a practice that caters to the Amish.  So many things happening at once are sure to cause plenty of changes at the Amish community, some for the better, and some not.

As is typical of the previous two books in this series, Woods Fisher writes a story about a member of the core family, in this case the bishop’s family, and throws in some other characters and their stories.  She has developed the characters from the very beginning; in fact, many characters come from her other series.  New characters are added to provide more interest, and some move away once their story is told.  I’ve enjoyed her books so far, and this one was no exception.  There is usually someone struggling with a moral dilemma, and in this case, it’s the bishop himself.  David notices that his parishoners are becoming complacent and even selfish, as they are not there to help and minister to one another as they have in the past.  He notices that they are giving a lot less even though they have more; in the past, when they had less, they gave more freely.  He has to come up with a way to address this without creating fractions within the community.

The book is written in a fairly simple style, yet the characters and plotlines are well-developed.  It’s easy to conjure up a mental image of the community and the people, and that’s the fun of it.  While I can’t personally see myself in exactly the same situation because I am not Amish, I can definitely relate the message to my daily life.  Readers can easily come away with an important life lesson, yet it is entertaining and not preachy.  The characters face many of the same struggles as we in the Englisch world do, and it’s interesting to see how they handle them.

This latest work from Suzanne Woods Fisher is heartwarming, uplifting, and entertaining.  I enjoyed reading about her characters and their dilemmas, and believe that other fans of Christian or Amish fiction will as well.  There is a nice mixture of romance, personal struggle, and acceptance that make it an engaging read.  While there is mention of alcohol abuse and some mild violence, I believe this book can be safely enjoyed by mature teens and older readers.

Mattie’s Pledge

matties-pledgeAuthor: Jan Drexler

Series: Journey to Pleasant Prairie #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 20, 2016

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Mattie Schrock and her family are on an expedition west to Indiana with two other Amish families in hopes of joining a new settlement there.  Their current settlement is questioning Amish ruling and being more lenient about the ways of life, which is not sitting well with their beliefs.  Mattie is thrilled that her childhood friends, whom she hasn’t seen in about ten years, are part of the journey.  She is especially excited that Jacob Yoder is part of the group; she had a special connection to him years ago and still has feelings for him.  Of course there are some causes for concern during this trip: Jacob’s mother, who is pregnant, is having complications from the pregnancy; a trio of horse thieves with Cole Bates as the leader follows the group to try to steal the Amish horses while Cole tries to steal Mattie’s heart.

The caravan starts in Brothers Valley, Pennsylvania, and works its way West to Indiana, where the group hopes to join a tiny Amish community already there.  The group leaves in April and finds many adventures along the way; the early spring weather is wet and muddy, so wagons frequently get stuck in ruts.  The sheep they are herding along with them want to veer off the path to find the fresh greenery before dropping the year’s lambs.  Each wagon has to cross the swollen and dangerous rivers on rafts, risking tipping over and losing everything, including lives.  The horse thieves are interested in the beautiful Amish horses, and additionally, Cole tries to win Mattie’s heart.  He keeps tempting Mattie, who wants to head all the way west to Oregon, to run away with him and start a new life far away from her friends and family.  As the group crosses dangerous and mosquito-infested swampland, the situation comes to a head.  Mattie has made a promise to Jacob to consider his marriage proposal, but will she keep it?

Jan Drexler does a great job of describing the land and the people of the story; there is a brief mention on the author’s page about how she has followed the route that the Amish families took back in the 1840s.  Because of this, she knows what encounters they likely had and how they had to overcome obstacles.  Her ability to describe personalities and situations allows for the reader to conjure up everything as it takes place.  I have read several Amish-themed books before, so I am familiar with a lot of their lifestyle and beliefs, but she is able to create a world that anyone who is not familiar with the Amish can understand.  Her thoroughness in researching the travels of these people helps to bring the story to life.

Because this book is written in a time when traveling was a hardship, some events may appear harsh to readers.  The horse thieves are violent and have no issue with killing someone who gets in the way.  Compared to things shown on television today, however, they will appear mild.  There is a slight bit of profanity throughout the book, but nothing overly offensive.  For these reasons, I recommend the book for mature readers.  Those who love stories about the Amish, a good historical novel, or a sweet romance will enjoy Mattie’s Pledge.