Anything But Plain

Author: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 4, 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Amish fiction that fans of Suzanne Woods Fisher will not want to miss!

Lydle Stolzful is the bishop’s daughter, and no matter how hard she tries, she is not like the other Amish girls. She doesn’t want to leave her family or the church, but she doesn’t feel like she can stay either. While between jobs, she works with the local doctor at the front desk. Taking the job gives her time before getting ready to leave and say the hard goodbye to those close to her. Nathan Yoder has told Lydle he loves her, but she and his father tell him she is not good enough for him. That along with other reasons are why she feels the need to leave.

Amish fiction is a unique genre that is not for everyone. It takes a little different frame of mind, especially if you prefer more suspense and high paced action in your novels.  However, every so often, there is an author who can craft a story set within Amish parameters that makes it read more like a straight contemporary novel. Without action based suspense, Fisher makes the story more suspenseful in other ways. While this isn’t my typical go-to type of novel, I have found that Fisher is one of the best at writing these books and finds ways of making the story and the characters interesting in such different ways than I am used to in the other novels I read. I did find myself smiling by the end of the novel as all the pieces came together and the story wrapped up just perfectly.

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

Her Heart’s Desire

Author: Shelley Shepard Gray

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 3, 2023

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What a fun story to kick off the New Year!

Mary Margaret Miller has always had trouble connecting with people, especially in her small Amish community.  So, she decides that she needs to get away and selects a bed in breakfast in Pinecraft, Florida, which will be much more pleasant than her snowy Ohio home.  On the bus ride, she meets two other girls that she begins to connect with.  When bad weather delays the trip in Georgia, they share a motel room, and their friendship deepens as they even stay at the same bed and breakfast in Pinecraft.  While there, they encounter two Amish men and a romance ensues, but appearances do always hold the truth as Mary Margaret will soon discover.

Amish fiction is not my usual go to genre, but this one was a good read.  With chance encounters and romance, it took the edge off some cold weather while I read (especially being set in Florida).  While an enjoyable read, it also featured some valuable lessons concerning forgiveness, especially when it is difficult to do so after you’ve been hurt. 

I recommend this book to people who like Amish fiction, contemporary romance, and an overall good story.

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

The Orchard

Author: Beverly Lewis

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: September 6, 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A great story that will tug at the heartstrings and show readers love, sacrifice, strength and so much more.

The Hostetler orchard has been in the family for years and Ellie knows that one day her twin brother, Evan, will carry on the tradition. Before he can take over the orchard, his draft number is called up for the Vietnam War. The family is Amish and doesn’t believe in the war, but Evan didn’t seek conscientious objector status. When he leaves for boot camp, Ellie turns to her best friend’s brother and finds herself attracted to him and everything she has ever thought is changing and the future is something none of them could of expected.

When reading a well written Amish fiction book, it can transport you into that space and time. Beverly Lewis is a great writer when it comes to this. The feeling of being in this community while reading about these characters is a fun way to spend an afternoon. I loved the twin aspect with Ellie and Evan, that always brings a fun new aspect to a story for me. The setting in this book was beautiful and so descriptive that I fully felt myself in the orchard with these characters. I would recommend this book to readers that enjoy a good Amish fiction story.

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

Among the Innocent

Author: Mary Alford

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 7, 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Not at all what I was expecting when I picked this book up but ended thoroughly enjoyed the story!

It’s been ten years since Leah Miller escaped the clutches of the man that murdered her entire family. Leah grew up Amish but left after the murders finding it too hard to stay. When the man they believed responsible for the murders took his own life, Leah was finally able to breathe again. She joined the police force and spent her time looking out for those in the town and Amish community. When another Amish woman is found murdered in the same way as Leah’s family, she knows the killer is still out there. Leah must work with Dalton Cooper, the new police chief in town who has his own agenda concerning this case. Together they work to find out the truth and stop the killer before any more lives are lost.

Normally a book on Amish fiction would not be one I eagerly pick up to read, but I’m happy to say Among the Innocent was so much better than I expected. Mary Alford crafted a story set within the Amish community that was engaging, suspenseful, delightful, and more. Every now and then the difference in language the Amish use made it slower to read but only slightly. Leah was a great character that even with her past and suffering she was able to still rise above it all and help others.

Dalton and Leah had great chemistry that brought the story to a higher level that I wasn’t expecting. The romance was just right letting the suspense always lead the story. The way the killer was written into the story was very engaging and had me turning the pages. I would recommend readers set aside a good amount of time to read so they can fully enjoy without distractions. This was my first Mary Alford book and can guarantee it won’t be the last. Readers that enjoy romantic fiction and Amish fiction will not want to pass this one up.

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

Mending Fences

Mending FencesAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: The Deacon’s Family #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Luke Schrock, fresh out of rehab, is apprehensive about returning to his Amish community.  He has hurt so many people and is not sure how he will be welcomed back into the folds.  He is given a second chance by the deacon, Amos Lapp, and his wife Fern, although he has to sleep in the office in the barn.  Amos and Fern have a penchant for helping wayward young people, and they have a young lady, Izzy Lapp, in addition to Luke, living with them.  Izzy knows Luke by reputation and makes it a point to ignore him or direct scathing comments toward him, all to Luke’s frustration.  He is so used to being able to charm any female, Amish or not, that he doesn’t understand why she holds so much animosity toward him.  Part of Luke’s condition of living with Fern and Amos is that he must begin his making amends part of the AA 12-step program.  He thinks just telling people sorry will be good enough, but Amos has other ideas.  Luke must apologize, hear how his actions affected others, and then try to fix the damage he has caused.  As Luke goes through his four-page list, he learns a lot about himself and about damages that others have incurred.

Luke has been mentioned in others of Woods Fisher’s books, but this is the first time he is the center of the story.  As the author develops her world of Stoney Ridge, readers can catch up on previous characters while meeting new ones.  It’s easy to feel as though these people are real-life friends and neighbors the more we read about them, and it’s no small feat not to be sucked into their lives, for the good.  We learn more and more about how the Amish live and how it is much more than being “simple.”  This book focuses on that message, of one’s love for and commitment to God, more than it has in any other book.  Forgiveness and redemption also play a big part in the story, and more than one character is able to heal as a result of that powerful lesson.

This new Bishop series explores the lives of the people of Stoney Creek who have been chosen to be the church and community leaders, and it is refreshing to see how so much of their lives parallel ours, yet on a much simpler level.  They face many of the same problems we do, yet they rely on their faith and community in order to solve them.  Hopefully readers can be entertained while learning something along the way.  If for nothing else, I strongly encourage readers of Amish Fiction or Christian literature to give this book a try for its sweet message of hope and forgiveness.

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

The Solace of Water

The Solace of WaterAuthor: Elizabeth Byler Younts

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A turbulent picture of life in the 1950s that sparks a relationship between an southern African American woman and a reclusive white Pennsylvania Amish woman.

Life is not easy for African Americans in Alabama in the 1950s. But for Delilah Evans, it just got a whole lot harder after losing her young son, Carver.  Her husband decides to move them from Montgomery to his homeplace of Sinking Creek, Pennsylvania, which borders on an Amish community.  There, Delilah strikes up an unlikely relationship with an Amish woman named Emma Mullet.  But even with friendship, everyone harbors secrets within their heart.  As social issues heat up between the whites, blacks, and Amish, all the secrets begin to come to light.  Is there hope for forgiveness and restoration?

I’m usually not a huge reader of Amish fiction, but this one was not your typical book either. There seems to be more of a trend in Amish fiction showing racial tensions with Amish at the center, but this is the first I’ve read with it focused during the civil rights era as most of it has been directed toward a dystopian setting.  The author did a fantastic job putting this all into place.  The entire story is emotionally gripping and kept me turning each page with the character transitions between Delilah, Emma, and Sparrow.  It was so difficult to decide who’s story I wanted to read more.  In the end, it was all intertwined but I just couldn’t help but love every minute of it.  My heart went out to these three women and I couldn’t imagine what they were going through.  Ultimately the theme of the book is redemption, which couldn’t be a more appropriate message.

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

The Return

The ReturnAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: Amish Beginnings #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: August 1, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Faith, struggle, and history set the tone for this series!

Several years have passed since Bairn and Anna were wed and they now have a fifteen year old daughter, Tessa. Tessa is smitten with Bairn’s adopted brother Hans, but he is taken by lovely Betsy Zook.  Things drastically change when colony that Betsy’s family lives in is massacred by the local Indians.  Betsy’s parents are murdered and she is taken captive to an Indian family who lost a daughter the same age as her.  As she struggles to adjust to her captive lifestyle, she meets a half blood Indian named Caleb who inspires her to look beyond her struggles and make the most of her life.  Meanwhile, Hans burns with revenge to destroy those who took Betsy, but must subside his anger due to his church’s passiveness.  He finds comfort in Tessa, who helps him through this tough time.  But what would happen if Betsy were returned to their colony?

There was plenty of conflict throughout this book sprinkled with historical characters. This is what has made this series so interesting.  Set in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War, notable characters from history continue to make their appearance including Benjamin Franklin and John Elder.  It is like living through a history lesson through an Amish looking glass.  And to throw in the development of the Conestoga wagon made it even more fun to read.  The author did a great job on her research in both this book and the series.  If you are interested in this time period, this is a must read!

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

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.