“The Beloved Hope Chest” by Amy Clipston was published by Zondervan, New York, New York, and copyright 2017.
I can remember my mother occasionally saying that she “was of two minds”. I knew she meant that she wasn’t sure which fact was true, or, even more often, she felt two different ways about something and held both thoughts in her mind until she could decide which was the best way, or which was the truth.
These days, they call this state of mind, “cognitive dissonance”. It is much harder for a person to handle it if there is strong emotion connected with it. When a traumatic event happens, like the unexpected death of a loved one and this is followed by an event that relieves (or could relieve) the sorrow, confusion results. She (in this case) really doesn’t know how to feel. This confusion often leads to a feeling of worthlessness and even guilt and shame. This is what is sometimes referred to as a “tormented soul”.
It would be a good thing if the person so tormented would turn to a wise councilor, but the guilt and shame make such a thing nearly impossible. Calling to God is the best answer … but we are only human and sometimes we become so confused, we don’t even think of reaching for the Father.
In this book, Mattie had two treasures … her love for her new husband, Isaac Petersheim and her long-standing and deep friendship for Leroy Fisher. When Mattie is pregnant with her first child and beginning her third month, Isaac is killed while saving another person. Filled with loneliness and worry about providing a good home for her child, Mattie, at first pours out her grief to Leroy who has always been there for her. Out of a long-standing but never expressed love for her, Leroy asks Mattie to marry him so he can take care of her and help raise her child. She accepts but then finds herself tormented by her decision and paralyzed by a feeling of disloyalty toward Isaac. At times, Mattie seems to be healing, adjusting to her new life, appreciating Leroy for who he is. At other times she is plunged back into darkness and guilt.
This book has many strong characters, quite a few of them men. In spite of this, it is likely more a book for women. Amy Clipston writes clearly about Mattie’s torment and how she and those who love her try to help her escape it. The stages of grief are laid bare and how to get through it is explored.
This book is a masterful work but is really for the more mature reader. A less mature one might become engrossed in the story, but a more mature one will understand it.
“Her Secret” by Shelley Shepard Gray was published by Harper Collins, New York, New York, and copyright 2017.
Shelley Gray tells a story of a young Amish woman pursued by a stalker who is Englisch. Some might find this kind of story disturbing, in part because it deals with irrational behavior exhibited by a person who could be dangerous. But it is important to be aware of the dangers to be found in this world and Ms. Gray enfolds this tale in a community that reflects the kindness and concern for others that members of Amish Communities strive to practice.
During her rumspringa, Hannah Hilty goes out with Trent, a young Englischer. When Hannah decides to be baptized in the Amish faith, Trent seems to understand what this commitment means. But, after a short time, he begins to send her flowers and notes and, most disturbing, to secretly photograph her, sending her copies of these pictures. She does not see him doing these things, but she cannot be rid of him.
Hannah becomes frightened and even unwilling to move about freely away from home, so her parents finally decide to quietly move to an Amish Community in another state. This book recounts how Hannah’s new community helps her regain her trust in the goodness of the Lord, how the stalker finds her again and what happens then.
As in many Amish themed books, this story seems to concentrate on the secrets people – especially family members – keep from each other and the ways lack of openness can make a bad situation worse.
Ms. Gray writes well. Her characters are believable and “real”, not one-dimensional. Her writing flows and draws you along so the book is hard to put down. She does need an editor who does a better job, which means, you will find more than the usual number of errors in the English. Mostly, the reader can ignore this and enjoy the story anyway.
The book is written at the seventh/eighth grade levels.
“The Seekers – Amish Cooking Class” by Wanda Brunstetter was published by Shiloh Run Press, Uhrichsville, Ohio, copyright 2017.
Heidi Troyer and auctioneer husband Lyle live in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Still childless after 8 years, Heidi takes inspiration from her Aunt Emma who holds quilting classes in her home. Here is a way to fruitfully fill time she finds heavy on her hands. Known as an excellent cook in a community of skillful cooks, Heidi, with Lyle’s blessing, decides to hold cooking classes (featuring Amish dishes) in her home.
The people answering the flyers Heidi put up include three women and two men … or, dividing it another way, four English and one Amish. No matter how you look at them, each has a sorrow they keep hidden.
From Sugarcreek, comes Loretta, a widow with 2 young children and, in her past, something she is curious about. From Dover, is Charlene, a gifted teacher and photographer, soon to be married to a man with a VERY picky mother. Unfortunately, Charlene, besides being a bit of a klutz, is an absolute flop in the kitchen.
Eli, a friend to Lyle and a member of his church district, is also from Walnut Creek. He is a widower whose young wife died in a hit and run accident. He remembers the mouth-watering smells that once came from her kitchen, but has no idea how to recreate them. Lyle has an idea. Eli accepts the suggestion but worries about being the only man and maybe the only Amish student in Heidi’s cooking class.
Kendra, barely out of her teens, is from Mt. Hope and as an unwed mother-to-be was, as she puts it, kicked out of her parents’ house. She is staying with a girl friend who pays for Kendra’s taking Heidi’s cooking class in hopes that this might be a way to cheer Kendra up, plus maybe step to her gaining a marketable skill.
Last is the least likely person to take a cooking class. Ron’s home is his elderly RV. Passing through Walnut Creek, he decides to give his home a rest so he can look around for food or money or something of value. He pulls his RV onto Lyle and Heidi’s property and asks for permission to park there a while until he can “fix” his rig whose engine (he says) might “blow” unless it’s worked on. Heidi isn’t sure about him, but Lyle gives him permission to stay. Ron joins the class accidentally, but is happy for the food.
Heidi wonders at the variety of people in her class, but her Aunt Emma assures her, “… God will send you the people He wants you to teach. Ask for His guidance, and, remember, I’ll be praying for you.”
So … the class is gathered and, off it goes!
The interaction between the class members and Heidi and Lyle are often funny, sometimes, surprising and, occasionally a little bit disturbing. These interactions are also what the story is about. And an interesting, very well written story it is, within which a mystery is solved, life choices are made clear and many excellent recipes are shared.
Wanda Brunstetter has again produced an excellent work, well researched, well written and well edited. It’s a pleasure to read and if we are lucky, may be the first of a series of Amish Cooking Class books.
“The Wish” by Beverly Lewis was published by Bethany House Publishers, South Bloomington, Minn., copyright 2016.
Most books in the Amish genre hold interesting stories featuring people who seem “real” who just happen to be Amish. In quite a few of these stories a few Deutsch words are thrown in for authenticity, but the Amish in the story are, basically, interchangeable with any Christian Englisher of good character. This is not bad, of course. More than a few of the books published lately are at least mildly embarrassing to read, but in an Amish themed novel, you can be pretty sure to find an innocence and a desire for good that is refreshing.
However, being Amish is more than bonnets, beards and buggies , more than doing things the “old fashion way”, more than speaking in a language that sets you apart.
In “The Wish”, Beverly Lewis comes closer to addressing the heart of being Amish than any other novel I have read thus far. And thus, I would call this book one of Mrs. Lewis’ defining works. She addresses the differences among various Amish districts in strictness and how this is handled when an Amish family moves to another district. She makes no bones about the place that prayer and Bible has in the Amish life and is clear in that Amish life is structured with God being the center and family being next and with community also at the heart.
And Beverly Lewis does it through the story of two Amish girls. Leona Speicher and Gloria Gingerich, who find the sister each has always wanted in the other. But, although Leona’s and Gloria’s families seem very much alike, their hidden differences are profound and Gloria’s family leaves. Years pass without the girls being able to communicate and then, Gloria contacts Leona. With the Gingerich family living the Englisch life, Gloria has begun to feel neither one thing nor the other. She is compelled to examine exactly what it means to “be Amish” and to “be Englisch” so she can know what to do with her life.
Through a very well written, engrossing story, the book makes it clear why Amish have adult baptism, what a Bishop or Minister does, how Amish try to help each other with spiritual problems and the important place prayer has in their everyday life. Yet, it is not an overly serious work; the people in the story are too real for that and to full of an intriguing joy.
To say Beverly Lewis is an accomplished storyteller is to put it lightly. Her awards are many and well earned. Her works also are many and none more worthy of reading than this one.
“The Home Game’ by Martha Bolton was published by FaithHappens Publishers. Centennial, Colo., copyright 2016. When you read this book, you will think of the biblical Prodigal Son and, to a lesser extent, Cain and Able. John and Levi Troyer are not only brothers, but also twins. John, the eldest by a few minutes, is the dutiful son, but not always. Levi is the one with a dream that will take him from his home into the “English” world where the dream is fulfilled for a time. And his dream, his special talent, is Baseball.
Martha Bolton is an accomplished storyteller. When you read this book, you will understand why she has received so many awards for her writing. In this book, she introduces a very credible Amish girl, Hannah, whose talent obviously is NOT cooking. When she cooks, the fire engines come! She also loves baseball and plays a part in Levi getting a chance to leave his home in Sugar Creek, Ohio to play in the Big Leagues. But, do not think that you have to love baseball to enjoy this story. It provides a background, a structure, for revealing the character of Levi, John, Hannah and their parents.
The writing is smooth and serious, yet shot through with unexpected flashes of humor. There is a Bishop who loves baseball , sometimes at the wrong time, and Hannah’s sister Ruth who wrestles with snooping or not snooping into Hannah’s affairs and too many people who keep secrets others really should know. And there’s Phil Watson, an agent whose job it is to handle the careers of sports players and who takes on an Amish baseball player who learned to hit with a fence post and who runs barefoot when his shoes are needed as bases.
This book is written at the seventh grade level and above It is a very enjoyable read with realistic characters some of whom keep things to themselves so that even the alert reader gets a surprise now and again.
“A Sister’s Hope” by Wanda E. Brunstetter was published by Barbour Books, Uhrichsville, Ohio, copyright 2008. Although this book is third in a series called Sisters of Holmes County, it is a good stand-alone read.
This story centers on the Roman Hostettler family which has been victimized by someone (or “someones”) who have pulled pranks on them for over a year. Some of these attacks have been minor, even childlike, but, lately more and more of them have been destructive, involving fire and harm to their animals.
Martha, the youngest of the Hostettler sisters, has a small business breeding dogs to sell. Her dogs are kept in kennels in the family’s barn and she worries that the pranks and vandalism will result in harm to them. Her father, Roman, was reluctant to bring the harassment to the attention of the Sheriff, but when his cabinet shop explodes and burns to the ground, he allows his family’s opinion to convince him and he does contact the sheriff. But even thereafter little seems to be done to protect his family or to catch the “pranksters”
Martha decides to try to do some detective work on her own … especially when Luke Friesen, the young man she cares for, is mentioned by her father as a possible perpetrator. As she begins her detecting, she is surprised to find that Luke is doing likewise.
Wanda Brunstetter has been credited with being instrumental in making Amish-themed fiction popular. “A Sister’s Hope” is an example of her story telling skills … and of her habit of, every few chapters, including a quick recap of the story so far. That and the amount of time that passes in the story waiting for the young “detectives” to do more than plan to do something, makes the story seem to progress in fits and starts. Her characters are realistic, but not always what one would expect Amish to be like.
The ending is satisfying and makes good sense. It is a good read and, if you read large parts of it at a time, you can skip lightly over the recaps. It is written at seventh grade level and above.
“A Dog’s Purpose” by W. Bruce Cameron was published by Tom Doherty Associates, New York, New York, copyright 2010. What if God, in His wisdom and mercy, gave each dog a purpose to fulfill in its life? What if this purpose involved its service to man and mankind? What if it happened that one certain dog’s purpose could only be fulfilled with wisdom and knowledge more complex than a dog could accumulate in its life span? What if God permitted the wisdom along with the personality of that dog to be transferred to a new puppy when the elder dog died, so the learning could continue? What if a man, trying to help the woman he loved and would marry cope with the death of her beloved dog, told her the story of such a dog with such a purpose? This is that story.
A puppy, born to a feral mother and named Toby by a small group of animal rescuers, learns the basics of how to relate to a human (and how to escape from a walled enclosure) before, through no fault of his own, he is “put to sleep”. He, then, finds himself a member of litter of Golden Retriever puppies born in a puppy mill. And he can remember his first mother and the lessons he learned in that past life.
Named Bailey by the boy, Ethan, whose parents adopt the pup for him, Bailey lives a long (in dog years), happy life learning much and joyously working on fulfilling his purpose of loving and bringing comfort to “his boy”. But Ethan, as a young man, is injured and that injury changes him, bringing great sadness to him, and Bailey dies before being able to truly fulfill his purpose. Bailey’s personality and store of knowledge passes to a German Shepherd pup, Ellie, who gets trained as a rescue dog where a depth of understanding of the loneliness a human being sometimes endures is added to that store, as well as how to find someone who is lost. Bailey/Ellie dies, full of honor and love, and a Black Lab is born, still feeling like Bailey and, finally, with the accumulated knowledge he needs to fulfill his purpose.
This is, essentially, a joyful story, told in the first person from the perspective of the dog. The story includes information aligned with the knowledge we now have about a dog’s ability to sense emotions and perceive diseases and abnormalities within people. The author does an outstanding job of presenting the confusions that enter the life of a puppy learning to live with people and the good cheer, sheer joy, and affection that pup feels toward his human family. Except for his access to memories, the central character is always simply a dog with a dog’s limits.
“A Dog’s Purpose” is a compelling read and anyone who has been comforted, loved and/or rescued by a dog will find it easy to believe that an all wise and loving God would give us these companions to ease our way in life. It is written at the seventh grade level and is very hard to put down.
“Love Is Forever” by Jerry Eicher was published in a collection entitled “A Plain and Sweet Christmas” by Barbour Books, Uhrichsville, Ohio, copyright 2016. This collection contains nine stories centered on members of Amish, Amana, Mennonite and Quaker settlements. All of the stories shed light on the way of life in one or another of these settlements and how the Englisch world interacts with them. Most of the stories are historical in nature, ranging from the 1800s to World War II. The writing ranges from very good to excellent. One of the stories, “Love Is Forever”, was written by a man, Jerry Eicher who grew up Amish, taught in both Amish and Mennonite schools and still keeps to the Plain Way.
It is unusual to find a light romance written by a man and, I confess, that is why I chose to review this story. Seeing life decisions through the eyes of a man is interesting. In this tale, Mervin Yoder and Mattie Beiler have been courting for a few years and had first planned to marry 2 years before this story begins. However, the effects of the Great Depression were still being felt and Mervin was unable to scrape together the money to buy the small farm he wanted for his future bride and himself.
Then, he delayed the wedding for another year due to the economic problems brought about by the destruction of crops caused by a very bad growing and harvesting season. Mattie has grown impatient, feeling that, with faith in the Father, together they could make a good marriage even if they didn’t have all the amenities Mervin wanted for them. It is now 1941, Mervin has bought the farm and Mattie is pushing for a wedding before Christmas. But, it is 1941 and, even the quiet Amish Community in Lancaster is aware of what is happening in the world. Once again, Mervin is gripped with doubt.
Is the decision to wed wise when war could reach America and could, thus, touch the Amish Community? During the previous World War, Amish men were taken from the Community and were either imprisoned for avoiding service or were impressed into doing various war effort work in places far from their homes and families. They were gone for years. The story follows the ins and outs of Mervin’s thoughts, of his desire to do the will of the Father and to do what is best for Mattie. In the end, a strange meeting helps him in his decision. (Although the reader has only a few clues as to whether his decision is, in the end, the right one!) These are interesting stories written at the seventh/eighth grade level. The settings being in differing Communities and at different periods of history give you an interesting variety of tales, some of which you will wish could be longer.
“Hester on the Run” by Linda Byler was published by Good Books, New York, New York., copyright 2015. Hans and Kate Zug, among the earliest Amish newcomers to eastern Pennsylvania in the 1700s, have been childless for their 9 years of marriage. Then they find a baby by a stream … a Lenape child for some reason apparently abandoned. They take the babe into their home and into their hearts, naming her Hester and raising her in the Amish way. As sometimes happens, after Hester comes, Kate has other babies, until her family is quite large.
But the eldest … bright, graceful, loving and beautiful … and most loved by her father … is Hester. She is accepted by most of the community and, until she goes to school, she does not think of herself as different. As she grows, the feeling of not being like the others increases and by the end of the book Hester has begun to search for a way to combine her 2 heritages. Linda Byler is a gifted writer and a good researcher. She presents an Amish Community of almost 250 years ago … recognizably Amish, yet different from today’s communities in quite a few ways.
She writes a story of deep love, some of it misplaced. She writes of the coming of age of a beautiful, good young woman who, at the end, feels she must flee from her beloved community. Where will she go? Well, “Hester on the Run” is the first book in a series of three. The story is compelling enough to make you reach for Book 2. This is an interesting story written at the seventh/eighth grade level. Its presentation of an Amish Community of 250 years ago is very interesting and Hester’s story carries you quickly through the book.
“Legends and Lies, The Patriots” by Bill O’Reilly and David Fisher was published by Henry Holt and Company, New York, New York, copyright 2016. As Bill O’Reilly states at the beginning of this fascinating book, the American Revolution did not start as a quest for freedom from England and the King. It began with a simple idea, that all men deserve to be treated equally. It was born in town meetings when ordinary people stood up to speak about common interests.
It began not so much as a matter of economics but as an idea that people should have their rights respected. From the first, England misjudged the gravity of the displeasure of the colonists in the way they were treated, The King and all but a few members of the English Parliament thought of trouble with the colonists as nothing more than a nuisance. England had an unparalleled army. Its navy ruled the seas. It was considered the greatest military power of its time. How much trouble could the poorly equipped colonists with their rag-tag militias be to such a super power? Actually, as it turned out, quite a lot. But this book is not so much a book about battles as it is a book shining a light on the unknown early American heroes (and heroines) and on the events that have been nearly forgotten, misremembered, or just plain made up. For example, did you know that the Boston Massacre (only the colonists called it that) had its roots in the murder of a child? It was the Sons of Liberty who disguised themselves as Indians and carried out what we call the Boston Tea Party. They were very careful not to damage anything but the tea itself. In fact the single lock that was broken in the raid was replaced and the raiders even swept the decks clean before leaving the ships. Great care was taken that no one be hurt.
The financial loss to the tea company and to the Crown in lost tax was equal to more than a million dollars in today’s money, and the several British ships in Boston harbor at that time made no move to stop the raid? Paul Revere was one of a group of people who were organized to ride to nearby (to Boston) villages, etc to inform the residents of what the British were up to, and on the night they rode to warn the people that the British were on the move to Concord and to Lexington, several of the riders were women, one a girl of 16. The American Revolution saw the first ever submersible.
A wooden ship about six feet long called the Turtle. It contained its own breathing system and used a luminescent fungus to provide light to enable the pilot to read the dials. There was at least one attempt to assassinate General George Washington by Americans loyal to the King. One attempt involved poison peas! At the beginning of the problems with England, Benjamin Franklin was mistrusted by many as being too friendly with England. The Liberty Bell was cast twice. The first one cracked on its first stroke in 1753. After the recast it was known as the Pass and Stow Bell for the name of the company that recast it. It wasn’t known as the Liberty Bell until 1837, when it became a symbol to the antislavery movement. No one knows for sure when the crack in the Liberty Bell first appeared.
The original thin crack was deliberately widened during an effort to repair the bell. The Liberty Bell was silenced in 1846. But on D-day, June 6, 1944, the bell was struck and the sound broadcast to announce the Normandy invasion. And every year, to commemorate its connection with the antislavery movement, it is tapped gently on Martin Luther King’s birthday. So many interesting things to know, and all so well written! This is a book to savor and to talk about.
“The Atonement” by Beverly Lewis was published by Bethany House, Bloomington, Minn., copyright 2016. Beverly Lewis, well known author of over 20 books in the Amish genre’, has written an Amish themed novel centered on Lucy Flaud, a young Amish woman who is spending her life doing good works, hoping to atone for actions that happened over 3 years in the past.
None of her family really knows why, but Lucy spends most of her time volunteering in the Plain and also the Englisch communities in Lancaster, Pa. She does good work as a volunteer and really cares about those she serves, but she is still, at heart, unhappy and dissatisfied with herself. Her parents had sent her to live with a distant relation for a time about 3 years ago, and when she returned she confessed wrong doing to the Bishop but unknown to him, she did not confess everything, and, instead, is trying to deal with guilt by doing good works.
As the story proceeds, Lucy’s father joins a non-Amish Christian group dealing with grieving where he meets a young Englisch man, Dale Wyeth, who, although not seeking to become Amish, is looking for a more simple life. Lucy and her mother are not pleased when her father brings this young man into their home. However, Lucy’s ever ready mind sees a way that Dale can help her with her project of finding a young homeless mother a place to live and a job. Mrs. Lewis does not sprinkle Deutch words throughout her book, as do most writers of Amish themed novels who often use a few Deutch words to indicate that the characters are not having their conversation in English.
Mrs. Lewis does have her characters sometimes use standard English when they converse and sometimes use less correct more casual English, perhaps an indication of when they are speaking Deutch or not? One may find this switching English styles a bit distractive. The author, however, is a talented writer and, although the story’s ending is predictable, it flows along well and is an enjoyable read. This book is written at about the seventh or eighth grade level.
“War Room” by Chris Fabray based on the motion picture by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick, published by Tyndale House, Carol Stream, Illinois, was copyrighted in 2015. Widow Clara Williams is a mighty warrior. She conducts her battles anywhere and any time, but her preferred place is the closet in her master bedroom. It is her “inner room”, the place we are to go when we want to speak with the Father (Matthew 6:6).
She has cleaned it out, brought in a chair and small table and her Bible. On the walls are pinned causes and people to pray for and Bible verses to help her along. Mrs. Clara, you see, is a Prayer Warrior and the closet is her War Room. Her Commander and Great Ally is the Father Himself and her foe is Satan and the evil loose in the world. She prays as Jesus did, which in her words is, “ Whatever You want to do, Lord, I’m willing to go with You. Just lead the way.” She does not see prayer as a way to change God’s mind about something, He is God, after all, and He knows. He sees the whole picture all at once.
But she knows that through prayer the Father can change hearts and minds, especially those of the one who is praying. The subtitle of this book is “Prayer is a powerful weapon. Tony and Elizabeth Jordan are a hard working young couple, he as a salesman and she in real estate. They have one child, Danielle. Both parents are involved with jobs and getting ahead more than they are with relationship with God and with family. As a result, they are beginning to have trouble in their marriage and family life. Mrs. Clara meets Elizabeth when she feels God prompting her to sell her house. Her influence, her absolute confidence in God and His understanding begins to help Elizabeth know how to move forward in her relationship with the Father, how to truly communicate with Him. It also opens her to examining the areas in which she could improve to become a better, happier person. I hesitated in choosing this book for reviewing. It is strongly recommended, but prayer is a personal thing and often shaped by one’s religion and family traditions. However, “War Room”, although powerful, is mostly a joyful guide post, showing how Free Will, God’s Will and prayer can come together to bring one nearer to the Father so the walk with Him is more confident and joyous , although, of course, not always easy. This is not a self-help book.
The story of the Jordans is interesting and their trials are often funny enough that you will find yourself laughing out loud. The writing is excellent and the story carries you along easily. It is written at an 8th grade level, and is an engrossing, thoughtful read.
“The Stubborn Father” by Wanda Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter, published by Shiloh Run Press, Uhrichsville, Ohio, was copyrighted in 2016. This book is Part 2 of a 6 book series, “The Amish Millionaire” and knowing that, is knowing one of the intriguing aspects of the story. Other aspects deal with the sorrow of an Amish husband whose much-loved wife has passed on and the problems of his only son who has left the Community and who seems to have made money more important than honesty. Eustace Byler of Charm allowed oil wells to be dug on part of his large farm, resulting in a great deal of money. He and his wife Effie kept to the Amish way, not allowing the new wealth to affect their lives and values in any important way. Their son, Joel, has left the Amish Community, choosing to live in Akron and behaving rather like a spoiled child. W By the start of this book, Effie has died. Eustace is left dealing with that loss as well as with what, if anything, he should do about the breach between himself and his son. (One of his solutions to his problems is to build a tree house (!) This book is short and the story moves along at a good pace. The characters are “real” and interesting, but a few main characters tend to sound a bit “preachy”. It is a quick read and holds your interest. Perhaps because it is so short, it almost seems that you are reading a few chapters of a longer book. It will be hard to resist moving along to the next book in the series, “The Betrayed Fiancée”. (Doubtlessly, more about Joel.) Short but, in its own way deep, “The Stubborn Father” is written at seventh grade and above level. The reader will quickly become involved with the characters and will develop strong ideas about how Eustace should handle things. The ending is particularly surprising … not particularly satisfying, but there IS a Book 3, after all. This is a very enjoyable read!
“The Innocent” by Ann H. Gabhart, published by Revell, Grand Rapids, Mich. was copyrighted in 2015. The story is one less often addressed these days. It is about the options open to a young woman who is not exactly a war widow. It is September 1865; the Civil War has been over for 2 years and Carlyn Kearney’s husband, Ambrose, is still missing. The money the Kearney’s had when Ambrose went off to fight for the North is gone. Carlyn cannot earn enough to keep up with the payments due on their small homestead nor can she apply for widow’s benefits since her husband has not been declared dead. With her only other family off in Texas, little food left in the house, and threatened with eviction, Carlyn decides to take her beloved dog and protector, Asher, and go to the Shaker community nearby. She has heard they are a charitable people who never refuse a meal and, maybe, temporary shelter to those in need. Most of the book concerns Carlyn’s time at the Shaker Community at Harmony Hill. Mrs. Gabhart’s research is careful and the details of Shaker life are interesting and accurate. So little is known about the Shakers by many of us today … even less than Carlyn knew when she came to the community for help … that details of Shaker life would be enough to keep the reader engrossed even without Carlyn’s personal story. Shakers … early on called Shaking Quakers … were an offshoot of the Quaker religion started by Ann Lee in England and brought to America in the early 1800s. Called “Mother Ann,” she was considered to be the second incarnation of Christ and was invoked in prayer. Among other things, Carlyn found that the Shakers had retained the peculiarities in speech that were a hallmark of the Quakers, that marriage was considered as sinful as living together without marriage, that men and women were kept apart so strictly that the buildings had doors and stairways for each, that there were watchers whose duty it was to keep watch that no one violated the rules they lived under … and that they were not allowed pet animals. Carlyn was welcomed to that Shaker settlement, but Asher was not. So she entrusted her dog to the sheriff who had befriended her during the eviction time. The Shakers welcomed converts and provided a place for those whose lives were upset by the Civil War. Being a convert meant giving all your possessions to the community and being separated from all family. Children of anyone entering the community were separated from their parent(s), housed together, and raised by members of the community. Naturally, not everyone who enters such a community can hold up to the standards and Carlyn inadvertently witnesses something that could tear that particular Shaker settlement apart. Ann Gabhart is a gifted writer who weaves a story that holds your interest on many levels. Although written primarily from a woman’s point of view the information on Shaker life and the characters themselves are not exclusively of interest to women and girls. This is a very enjoyable read.
“My Brother’s Keeper” was written by Beth Wiseman and published by Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tenn., copyright 2015. There have been several novels written that have concerned a non-Amish (English/Yankee) person trying to live in an Amish community under the pretence of being Amish. This is one such story, but in this case, written by an author with a good reputation as someone who depicts Amish people as they really are. Mrs. Wiseman book is about Charlotte Dolinshy whose brother, Ethan, committed suicide, leaving no explanation for this horrible act. Ethan, working in the Lancaster area close to an Amish community, had been attracted to the Plain Way and had decided to seek baptism and, indeed, to marry Hannah King, a young Amish woman. Charlotte, who lives in Texas, wants to know exactly what happened to her brother and why. Having heard that Amish are very private people, Charlotte feels it is unlikely that they will speak freely with her, so she decides to disguise herself as an Amish woman and visit the King family, saying she is a distant cousin. To that end, she befriends members of an Amish community near her Texas home, learning (woefully little) Deutch; buying Amish style clothing and studying (a few) of their customs. She sends a letter to the King family, signing it with the name Mary King and asking to come visit her cousins. Of course, she is invited to come to visit and she appears, not knowing how to cook or clean or sew, wearing her cap improperly, knowing only a few words and phrases in Deutch and unacquainted with basic customs such as offering to help clean up, evening devotions, etc. She is fast on her (mental) feet and makes up lie after lie about her blaring deficiencies. Near the end, she in found out and must leave, at that point, without finding the answers she seeks. But she has found two things of value. One, what it is like to be part of a family. The other, and even more important, that God has a place in her life. And, at the end, well, I’ll let you find out for yourselves, for the ending goes far in making up for the deficiencies of the story line. And deficiencies there are. Although Beth Wiseman’s master storyteller skills are in evidence, the members of the Amish community are certainly not true to life. Forgiving, kind, forbearing, yes, but the members of the Amish community it is my pleasure to know are deep thinkers. They know when something isn’t right. As for Charlotte being so easily able to lie her way into the community, Amish are wonderful at keeping up with distant family and friends, it seems very odd that none think to contact the Texas family members Mary says she is part of if only to let them know she arrived safely. And none ask Mary anything about their supposed Amish relatives in the area she says she came from. Still, like all Beth Wiseman’s books, it is an interesting read.
“An Amish Year” was written by Beth Wiseman and published by Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tenn., copyright 2015. This is a well-written, great book for a reader whose time is limited. It is comprised of four short novels called novellas, each about 90 (sizable print) pages long. Each story highlights the importance of marriage and family in the Amish tradition and two of the four present the approval the Community has for the remarriage of widows and of widowers. Beth Wiseman, an accomplished storyteller, creates realistic characters and true to life problems for them to face and solve. She does a better than average job of presenting life in an Amish community. In each story at least one character’s main problem is based in keeping a secret.
The first novella, “Rooted in Love” highlights the trouble one can make by eavesdropping, even when the listener does not disclose what she heard.
The second story, “A Love for Irma Rose” has special charm in that it begins with the hero, now an elderly man, visiting the grave of his wife, Irma Rose and repeating to her at that site, an observation he made when he first saw her. In this story, Ms Wiseman lets her gift for using words to paint wonderful, delightful pictures have free rein.
The third story’s central character is Eli Byler, a widower looking for a wife to fill the gap in his family. His eldest daughter, Grace, almost 16, believes he could use some advice and Miriam, a 26-year old, who is determined that marriage isn’t for her, is certain Grace needs help and protection.
The last novella is “When Christmas Comes Again” and involves a new widow who is bothered and intrigued by an elderly Englischer who seems to be following her with photos of her late husband and strange, often contradictory stories of what he wants. When the truth finally comes out, it is as strange and wonderful as you can imagine.
An added bonus in this book is the section at the back featuring recipes for some of the foods mentioned in the stories. Mainly written for women, young and oldish, this well written book is written at the eighth grade level and each story is a delight, each different, but each a page-turner.
“Rush Revere and the Star-spangled Banner” was written by Rush Limbaugh with Kathryn Adams Limbaugh and published by Threshold Editions, New York, New York, copyright 2015.
Rush Limbaugh, noted conservative writer and talk show host, working with children’s writing consultants, and relying on extensive historical research, took aim at a middle grade audience in order to make an accurate America’s history come alive. Each of the preceding 3 books (“Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims” “Rush Revere and the First Patriots” and “Rush Revere and the American Revolution”) was a best seller and the fourth (“Rush Revere and the Star-spangled Banner”) is following along the same way.
Each book follows the same pattern: a history teacher who, with his time-traveling horse, makes events in America’s history come alive. In each book the modern children who go along with Rush Revere and Liberty are as quirky, inquisitive and inadvertently funny as 21st century children really are. The historical facts are presented with enough accurate (and interesting) detail to make the events come alive without boring preachiness.
In this book, the children travel between 2016 and the late 1700s vearly 1800s when America drew up the plans for its government (called the Constitution) and faced Great Britain for the second time (in the War of 1812), which is called by some America’s second revolutionary war. Between trips into the past, the children, Rush Revere and Liberty explore modern Washington D.C. to tour and learn about the buildings that house each of the 3 branches of America’s government and to see the actual founding documents of our country. They learn of our unique system of government and that the Constitution was framed to protect Americans from overarching governmental authority. Our founding documents are based on belief in individual liberty and this has given America a commitment to freedom not found in any other country.
Through his writings, the author speaks of the patience, wisdom, courage, faith and inner strength the founders and the other early Americans needed to build this country and relates it to the perseverance needed even now to keep to the principals that continue to make our country unique and great.
The presentation in this book is as exceptional as the first three books in the series with pages that mimic the paper of the past and fine reproductions of the portraits and sketches from that time in history as well as clever modern drawings that help explain events.
The book is at seventh grade reading level, but can be understood by much younger children when it is read to them and can keep an adult interested. It is another excellent read in the Rush Revere Series.
“A Perfect Amish Christmas” was written by Jennifer Beckstrand and published by Kensington Books, New York, New York, and copyright 2014.
Dottie Schrock’s mother has won her battle with a cancer that had kept her from celebrating last Christmas with her family. Dottie has decided to celebrate her mother’s recovery by making the most perfect Christmas dinner possible this year for her mom … from the special recipes loved by her mother to the games her mom best enjoyed at Christmas celebrations to a special Christmas quilt, everything must be “just so”. Unfortunately, Dottie, an otherwise kind and considerate person, seems to have put on blinders and so, does not notice how she is trampling over others in her anxiety for perfection.
Enter Gideon Stutzman, a young man who was tricked into visiting his grandparents for Christmas. (His grandmother is a bit of a matchmaker and has plans for him.) Gid is many things but Dottie remembers him only as a boisterous trickster. Three years have passed since Gid’s family relocated to another state and she does not know that, although apparently still a braggart, and still possessing a lively sense of humor, he is now a quietly considerate person, one who helps without being asked or expecting notice, one who tells the truth (although sometimes in a way that makes it seem he is just kidding), one whose consummate outdoorsman skills could save her life … and, oh, yes, one who can sing but cannot hum.
This is a story about knowing what is truly important and yet having to learn it all over again … this is a human sort of thing, Gid would say. It is about not recognizing pride when it exists and is making life more difficult and it is about being forgiven by those you offend because they believe in who you really are and in the fact that you will listen to God’s voice in time.
Although, perhaps too much of a romance, this book, with its outdoor lore and excellent writing could be interesting to men. However, it is most likely to appeal to women. It is written at the seventh grade level.