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Accidentally Amish (Valley of Choice) by Olivia Newport and published by Shiloh Run Press (2012) will instruct and delight you. The two main characters, Annalise Friesen and Rufus Beiler couldn’t be more opposite. Annie, as she is called, is from Colorado Springs and owns a software company. Rufus is from the San Luis Valley in Colorado, and he is Amish. Yet, even so, these two are drawn to each other.

Through a series of crazy events, Annie ends up in the San Luis Valley with Rufus Beiler’s family. Rick Stebbins, her intellectual property lawyer/ex-boyfriend, and Barrett, her business partner, are attempting to take over her company. Fleeing from Rick, who is trying to get her to sign papers, she becomes a stowaway in a truck driven by Tom, a friend of Rufus. She decides on an extended stay at a hotel in the small town.

Through her relationship with her new Amish friends, and her desire to lead a more simple life, Annie comes to have a deeper faith in God. In the beginning of the story, she is highly attached to her computer and cell phone. She begins to rethink her lifestyle as she spends time with the Beiler family.

Intertwined in the story of Annie and Rufus is the story of another family. Jakob and Verona Beyeler came to America from Europe on the Charming Nancy in 1737. Many facts in this story are true. The book’s author, Olivia Newport, is a descendant of this family.

Annie begins to research her family history and finds she is related to Jakob Beyeler, through the line of his second wife, Elizabeth Kallen. When Jakob’s first wife, Verona, died, she left him with five children, the youngest still a baby.

Annie’s business stays in tact. She sells it and buys a small house in the San Luis Valley. She is not ready to become Amish, but she wants to learn more about God and about His plans for her life. After pursuing her own dreams of success for many years and coming up empty, without many meaningful connections in her life, she wants to find out what it would be like to live a life directed by God.

Nothing is completely resolved in Accidentally Amish; it is only book 1 in the series. But the novel does end happily, even though there are people in Annie’s life who don’t understand or agree with her decisions.

I really enjoyed reading this novel because the plots of both stories are interesting and a bit mysterious. I loved the fact that one way of living was not declared the one and only way. The book pointed out positives and negatives of the Amish and non-Amish ideas. The main point of this story is that God wants each of us to follow Him in the way He leads. If he leads each one differently, that is OK.  I think this would be a helpful book for young adult women and enjoyable for all adults.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

The Love Letters written by Beverly Lewis and published by Bethany House Publishers (2015) is not your average love story. It is heartwarming in a way that will teach you some amazing lessons about how patient true love can be.

The plot centers around two main families, the Wengers and the Bitners. Marlena Wenger is in her early twenties. She has several siblings and recently her family has gone from Old Order Amish to Beachy Amish-Mennonite. Her mother asks her to go to a neighboring town for the summer to help her Mennonite grandmother, Janice Martin, whose beloved husband recently died. Marlena leaves behind her beau, Nat, and worries she will be lost without him.

The Bitners are her grandmother’s good friends and neighbors. They are Old Order Amish. They have three young daughters and a special-needs son, Jake (Small Jay), who will soon be a teen. Jake feels his father, Roman, has never understood him and won’t let him help much with the chores on their farm. Jake’s favorite friend is his cat, Sassafras, with whom he travels everywhere.

One day, Jake and his cat wander down by the mill and meet a man named Boston Calvert and his dog, Allegro. The man is middle-aged, seems intelligent and musical, plays a harmonica, but suffers from memory loss. Through a series of events, Boston comes to live with the Bitner family. He often asks Jake to read to him the letters Boston carries around in a leather satchel. The letters are love letters from an unknown lady named Abigail and addressed to my “Dearest Darling.” The other family members hear these letters and are delighted with their beauty.

Meanwhile, as Marlena settles in with Mammi Janice, she learns her sister Luella, has been in a serious car accident and is hospitalized. Luella had left her Amish family to marry an Englisher, Gordon. Marlena had tried to have a relationship with her sister, but they were never very close and she has not seen her for several years. Luella and her husband have a six-month old baby, Angela Rose. Gordon, who is in the military, is fighting overseas. Gordon’s aunt asks Marlena to care for the baby temporarily. Then Luella dies.

At first Marlena is stunned that she should be chosen for this task of caring for a baby and does not see how she will accomplish all the work on her grandma’s farm as well. Within a few short weeks, however, Marlena and Mammi have fallen in love with Angela Rose and can’t imagine life without her.

Jake is busy most days with his friend Boston who helps on the farm to earn his keep. Roman sees that his son is quite capable and takes more of an interest in him than he has in the past. In time, Boston remembers and the identity of the letter writer is revealed with happy results.

Letters also affect Marlena’s life. She and her beau Nat have been exchanging them. He asks her to stop attending the Mennonite Church and to find another place for her niece. Marlena is hurt and surprised that he would ask these things of her, especially seeing how much she is growing in her faith right where she is. She has also told the Lord she will serve Him in the ways He has led her, and doesn’t feel things should be any different. Will their relationship continue? What will happen to Marlena if it doesn’t?

In a nice plot twist a letter written by Luella to Gordon further  dramatically changes Marlena’s life.

The stories of the two families end happily. The new people who have come into their lives have changed them and blessed them. Marlena is especially thankful that the Lord opened her eyes to a closer walk with Him. He has granted her heart’s desires, along with giving her the knowledge that her sister, Luella, returned to her faith before she died and that they will be reunited one day.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for 32 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim was published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (2013). It is subtitled a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter.

Young Rachel Stoltzfus comes to Tennessee to help Leah, who is very ill, care for her family. Leah’s family is part of the Old Order Mennonites who have moved from Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Soon after her arrival, Rachel becomes pregnant and has a child. People within the community whisper about the identity of the baby’s father, but Rachel refuses to tell who he is. Around the time of the child’s birth the bishop of the community dies and his son, Tobias, assumes the position of bishop.

Rachel’s sister becomes very ill and is hospitalized. While visiting Leah, Tobias informs Rachel that she cannot return to Leah’s home. Rachel is to be shunned and she must leave the community. She is upset that her child should be treated in this way. With no place to go, she turns to Ida Mae Speck, a person who gave her a ride. Ida Mae does business with the Amish and Mennonite community at her store. She opens her small home to Rachel and her son.

Life seems to further unravel for Rachel. Her parents sell their home in Pennsylvania and move to Tennessee, and her son is diagnosed with cancer. He undergoes an unsuccessful round of chemotherapy. The doctor suggests a bone marrow transplant. The suggestion thrusts the question of the boy’s parentage again into the foreground. His siblings should be tested first to discover if one of them could be a match, but does he have any?

The novel is told from the perspective of Rachel and from that of Amos, the dead bishop and the father of Tobias. Amos tells the story from Heaven and also appears to another character. For me these elements were merely devices the author used for telling a story. I did not view them as a reflection of spiritual reality, and I think mature readers will also understand them that way.

How will Rachel’s sin be forgiven? Will the boy’s father come forward and ask for forgiveness for his sins? During the course of the story Rachel and the others learn the power of forgiveness. They learn to let go of the past and move forward.

I am recommending The Outcast for the College Age/Working Adult category. But I think if high school students are reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, they might benefit from reading The Outcast as well. A Christian or Catholic high school student might ask their teacher if they could do a literary comparative analysis of the two books.

Kristina O’Brien is the mother of twin girls and a new baby boy. She is an avid reader. A credentialed teacher, she has taught both middle school and high school history. Kristina is currently a stay-at-home mom and enjoys raising her children.

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