Review: Home on Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer Beckstrand

This book is part of the Matchmakers series (à la Plain grandparents who try to fix up their loved ones with the perfect matches) – yet it’s about a married couple. And I loved that. Even married couples need a little nudge together once in a while. Mary Anne and Jethro certainly did. After ignoring some big issues for long enough, Jethro spent most of his time fishing, and Mary Anne spent most of her time trying not to be a disappointment. When Mary Anne finally feels so low she relegates herself to camping out in the back field, Anna and Felty Helmuth do their thing.

I think this world needs more stories about struggling marriages — where the witnesses to the wedding step up and support strengthening the marriage. Though it was heartbreaking to see Mary Anne suffer, and disgusting how some of Jethro’s relatives treated her, I could see the hand of God every step of the way. When Jethro finally took a quiet moment to think things through, his love for Mary Anne shone brighter than anything else. Mary Anne had a few lessons to learn too – as did both extended families. Sometimes a little fresh air will do that!

-calliope

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Review: A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer Beckstrand

Through loving grandmother Anna Helmuth, author Jennifer Beckstrand successfully uses her matchmaking skills yet again – but this time it’s a little more difficult than usual.

Elsie comes to stay with her grandparents after taking a local teaching job. I loved seeing Elsie in action -she’s a firm, authoritative, fun, and loving teacher who wants the best for her students. I have to say, Elsie’s unconventional ways of dealing with troublemakers had me chuckling. When Wally — the boy with a missing leg — misdirects his anger and bullies his classmates, Elsie knows just what to do. And there starts a love/hate relationship between Elsie and Wally’s older brother Sam.

Sam and Elsie are one of my favorite Beckstrand duos. They’re spitfire. They’re full of love. They’re loyal. They’re stubborn. And I appreciate Beckstrand’s ability to make them so likeable despite their flaws.

I had fun watching Elsie’s class’ escapades, and Sam’s family dinners. And even though I’ll read the next Huckleberry Hill book no matter what, I’d totally love to see a cameo appearance by these two characters!

-calliope

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Review: The Proving by Beverly Lewis

I really adore Amish fiction. Beverly Lewis is a pro at delivering believable plot lines, excellent writing, and characters so real that I start mimicking their facial expressions when reading dialogue. 

Mandy is a capable girl who left her Amish community because she was emotionally hurt. I was so glad Mandy ended up with a reason to return to her home – even if it wasn’t her first choice to do so. Though she had some family struggles and some uncertainty with the community and faith she grew up with, Mandy’s sister helped her see the truth about herself and her true home. 

I love all things B&B-related, so I was in my element with Amish baking on the inn’s farm table, sheets drying on the line, and guests who came for respite and left refreshed.  Getting to know the guests is always fun, and the carriage rides aren’t bad either. 

I read The Proving after a slew of September mediocrity, and I was very relieved to be able to effortlessly enjoy the inn, the sisterhood, and the faith of Mandy and her family.  
-calliope

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Review: The Promise of a Letter by Kathleen Fuller

Leanna is one of my favorite protagonists! She doesn’t apologize for being different (and that’s something, when you’re not a naturally domestic kind of gal, but you *are* Amish), and she doesn’t resent being different, either. Leanna uses her talents to work in a mechanical shop, and she loves it! But author Fuller doesn’t stop there; she fleshes out the full character of Leanna – a loving sibling, a fun caregiver, and a fiercely loyal friend. 

And then we meet Roman. He’s Amish too, sort of. And he is also a mechanic, sort of. He’s on a journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and reconciliation with his brother. 

Fuller does a great job illustrating modern Amish life, touching on family dynamics, spirituality, unconventional career choices, education, and romance. I appreciate that Fuller wrote a strong, feminine character that performed a “man’s” job,  without making Leanna into a stereotype or a mascot for feminist politics. And I am pleased that there was a happily ever after for more than one couple. 

-calliope 

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Review (quick and dirty #2): The Blessing by Wanda E. Brunstetter 

Love Amish books, and love the main character Heidi (and her husband Lyle). Brunstetter does a good job writing dialogue and action for this married couple without children. I enjoyed Heidi’s cooking classes and her visits with friends. But the secondary characters…. oh my. The unrealistic, over the top, and inconsistent personalities drove me crazy. I struggled to get through their stilted dialogue. The only reason I finished is because I always need to know how a book ends! Plot and main characters get 4 stars from me, but the execution of secondary character development completely failed. 

-calliope

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Review: Return to Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer Beckstrand

This installment of The Matchmakers series is just as good as the rest were – and fine to read as a standalone. What sets this one apart is the angst! Most of Beckstrand’s other books are fun and flip, adventuresome and whimsical. In Return to Huckleberry Hill, Reuben deals with the demon of pride, and though I didn’t feel bad for him in the least, I did sympathize with those around him. 

Fern King, too, deals with demons. Oh how I wanted to cry for her — trying to be strong, always showing a cheerful face, never complaining, yet truly dying inside. Fern endures so much, and I really almost couldn’t take it! (I’ll never forgive you, Ms. Beckstrand, if Barbara Schmucker doesn’t get her due.)  But Fern also gets to see Reuben and her brother John in a new environment – and witness their growth (or lack of it). 

Anna and Felty remain the cute elderly couple that gets in everyone’s business trying to make love connections. I haven’t tired of them yet, and I’m almost endeared to Anna’s creative cooking.  

This is a non-traditional Amish novel in that it doesn’t center around faith and obedience as much as some might; yet Beckstrand gives the main characters the gift of self-reflection… something that made me want to be best friends with Fern, and let me forgive Reuben for almost all of his trespasses. 

-Calliope

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Review: The Seekers (Book 1 of The Amish Cooking Class series) by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Amish couple Heidi and Lyle live a simple life on their farm, but with Lyle out most of the day and no children to care for, Heidi finds her days empty. When Heidi advertises a cooking class – that she will teach in her home kitchen – an unexpected variety of participants arrives. They’re nervous to start cooking, but also nervous about being judged by a new group of people. 

The Seekers is very predictable, and an easy, straightforward read. I kind of needed something like that when I read this, so I appreciated the no-effort, feel-good experience! The Seekers wasn’t overly simplistic, though. The author wrote in a few characters that I myself judged … and by the end she had taught me a little lesson about that. *hangs head in shame* 

Once in a while it’s necessary to get back to basics, on an Amish farm, with a cooking class worthy of The Breakfast Club, and a lesson much more important than the pie crust turning out. I found that in The Seekers. 

-calliope

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