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.