Going Male: Amish Romance Novels

AmishBlacksmith

Cool Amish guys have replaced the dreamy looking girl with a huge covering and plain dress popular on the cover of some Amish romance novels. The images have done a flip. Now the young Amish-man with suspenders and broadfall pants and straw hat takes center stage.

Last week I finished reading my second Amish romance novel ever. These novels, usually with a female main character on the cover, are still wildly popular and stock shelves at Barnes & Noble and Amazon warehouses to the hilt.

Cover image via Amazon
Cover image via Amazon

Truthfully, I have resisted reading these novels for two reasons:

  • The plots seem formulaic to me: there’s a lover’s triangle, often with an “Englischer” from the tempting world beyond the farm.
  • Also, I have lived an authentic Mennonite life, and some plot-lines and details about the characters seem barely plausible.

Still, I took the time to read The Amish Blacksmith, starring a handsome dude named Jake on the cover with a plain Amish girl, grooming a horse in the misty background. I was curious about two things: the new trend in Amish romance fiction with a male protagonist plus the high profile of the authors within this sub-genre: Mindy Starns Clark, who has published more than 20 books including the Christy Award-winning The Amish Midwife and co-author Susan Meissner, whose novel The Shape of Mercy was named as one of the 100 best novels of 2008 by Publisher’s Weekly.

With five novels in the Women of Lancaster County Series (Mindy Clark and Leslie Gould). Clark and Meissner have begun the Men of Lancaster County Series: The Amish Groom, The Amish Blacksmith and mostly recently, The Amish Clockmaker.

Here’s a thumb-nail of The Amish Blacksmith from Goodreads:

Apprenticed blacksmith Jake Miller is skeptical of Priscilla Kinsinger’s innate ability to soothe troubled horses, especially when he has own ideas on how to calm them. Six years earlier, Priscilla’s mother died in an awful accident at home, and Priscilla’s grief over losing her mother was so intense that she was sent to live with relatives in Ohio. She has just returned to Lancaster County.

Not that her homecoming matters to Jake, who is interested in courting lighthearted Amanda Shetler. But Jake’s boss is Priscilla’s uncle, and when the man asks Jake to help his niece reconnect with community life, he has no choice but to do just that. Surprisingly, he finds himself slowly drawn to the beautiful but emotionally wounded Priscilla.

Jake then determines to prove to her that it’s not her fault her mother died, but what he discovers will challenge everything they both believe about the depth of love and the breadth of forgiveness.

Though the pace of the book slowed toward the end, I found the book a satisfying read. It is certainly more pleasurable to gain equestrian knowledge via a novel than from an equine textbook. In fact, the authors give credit to the Riehl and Fisher families of Lancaster County for helpful on-the-farm visits and to Elam and Elias Stoltzfus, for sharing their knowledge in their own Amish blacksmith shop. I applaud the authors too for their extensive research on horsemanship, particularly horse-whispering. I felt myself being both educated and entertained as I read.

Interestingly, male readers admit to enjoying Amish romance novels too. Valerie Weaver-Zercher reports in her book Thrill of the Chaste that an elderly farmer, Glenn Swartzendruber read almost ninety Amish-themed novels during the last three years of his life. And “a physician with degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania shared that he enjoyed listening to the audio version of Beverly Lewis’s [Amish} novels.” (249)

Do you enjoy Amish romance novels? Tell us why or why not. Do you know any men who read them?

Coming next – 4 Months, 4 Gifts: A Tribute to My Dad

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47 thoughts on “Going Male: Amish Romance Novels

  1. Good morning, Marian! It’s interesting that there’s a new trend featuring men on the covers, and that the books appeal to male readers, too.
    They are not books that would particularly appeal to me. I’m not really a fan of romance novels of any type.

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    1. Different strokes for different folks” would apply her, Merril. Author Valerie Weaver-Zercher cites at least four reasons for the allure of this genre: 1) Feels like a vacation to a slower, simpler life, 2) Perceived as a clean read, no steamy sex scenes or 4-letter words, 3) Perceived as a way to strengthen one’ s faith, 4) Nostalgic – “Take me back home” mentality.

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  2. To be perfectly honest Marian, I don’t care what anyone reads,the back of a cornflake box if they choose. It’s reading and that’s knowledge …so that has to be good doesn’t it ? Are these books equivalent to Mills and Boon? Do you have Mills and Boon?
    I think there can be snobbery towards book type and I think that’s crazy . I didn’t study Dickens when I was at school, so by the time I was 25-ish , I thought I had been cheated and started reading them one after the other but I always had a Ruth Rendal sweetener in between . Now I choose to watch Dickens on telly or in the cinema and read contemporary literature. I probably wouldn’t choose these books because I’m not keen on romance books …even though I am a romantic …work that one out . Oh dear I think I’ve been on the lemonade today .
    Cherryx

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    1. I hadn’t heard of Mills and Boon, so I looked it up and found that this publisher is at the top of the market for romance and other fiction in the UK, probably equivalent to Harlequin Romance novels here.

      You have a good balance, Cherry – the backs of cereal boxes (he-he!) and Dickens. Here we get Dickens usually on a fine arts (A&E) or public television station (PBS). That lemonade is working wonders, Cherry!

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  3. Thanks for this info about the Amish novels. I read two and it is the “same story” you described.
    They pick you up and let you down and then it all ends well. I prefer “true life” stories. Do you have an suggestions for a book to read ??
    By the way, our son who posted the corn pictures wondered how I know you?? Could you refresh my memory? Another question he asked is “why did you name your blog “Plain & Fancy” and put the pictures of a covering and high heels on your blog?? 🙂 I enjoy your writings 🙂

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    1. I purchased one of these books and read it for much the same reason you did. Just to see if I could understand why they are so popular. Valerie’s book The Thrill of the Chaste, in addition to its perfect title, also saved me from needing to read more than one Amish novel and helped answer my questions.

      Now you seem to be spotting a new trend. My guess is that with scores of writers entering this lucrative field, the source material, even when the plots are predictable, needs refreshment. The authors you describe above seem to be willing to do research and to do a plausible job of relating and learning. They will always be doing so as outsiders, however. But that doesn’t matter to voracious readers.

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      1. Honest to Pete! We must have posted comments at the same time because here you are in the three-some: Bertha-you-me.

        Of course I agree that the romance novel authors I cited will always be outsiders, which make the authenticity of books like yours and Carol’s all the more appealing. Readers of all sorts can obviously detect that difference.

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    2. Some answers to your questions first, Bertha: You commented on my blog post about baptism on March 11, 2015 where you mentioned you knew Lorraine and Charmaine Murphy, who lived close to Bossler Mennonite Church, went to Kraybill’s school and also to LMS where you graduated. So although we never knew each other in the “county” we do know the same terrain quite well.

      Why did I name my blog “Plain & Fancy? Good question: I am a former plain girl who turned fancy in outward appearance. However, I have retained the Christian faith of my fathers and the strong family values connected with that. Though I live in the city now, I prefer a simple life, which I explore in bits and pieces here on my blog.

      Suggestions for true-to-life books to read. Two memoirs about country life come to mind here: Shirley Showalter’s Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World (See http://www.shirleyshowalter.com) and Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm girl by Carol Bodensteiner (http://carolbodensteiner.com)

      I hope other readers will make additional suggestions, but these two are a great place to start. I’m so pleased to hear you enjoy reading my blog post and the fact that you comment too is icing on the cake. Thank you!

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      1. I read the book Blush and really enjoyed it and shared with some of my friends here in the South that are from Lanc. Co and are Mennonite. I will check out the book by Carolbodensteiner. I also read the book “When the Roll is called A Pyonder” by Diana R. Zimmerman. It was interesting but several pages with “few words” on them 🙂 Thanks for answering my questions……Keep writing.

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        1. When the Roll is Called A Pyonder is written by an author of a younger generation, and I think her writing style reflects that. Fortunately, there is no one right way to tell your life’s story. You’d enjoy Carol Bodensteiner’s book too, especially if you grew up on a farm. She has two stories about cows, one about hay, and making mulberry pie. I look forward to more sharing here, Bertha!

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          1. Marian, Thanks for mentioning my memoir about growing up country. While not Mennonite or Amish, the stories definitely share a simpler (though not necessarily easier) time. Another book your readers may enjoy is Mildred Kalish’s memoir “Little Heathens” about growing up in rural Iowa in the Depression years.

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            1. Thanks for checking in here, Carol. When I began thinking about writing my own memoir, I read Mildred Kalish’s memoir. I was astonished at the sharp detail she brought to each memorable scene, and the fact that she began writing in her eighties (I believe).

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    3. Bertha, I unintentionally placed my general comment to Marian under yours. Now I see that Marian has kindly recommended my memoir. You might be interested in knowing that my publisher, Herald Press, has begun a series called Plainspoken, just for people with interests like yours. Here is one of the books in the series. http://www.mennomedia.org/?Page=8139

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  4. I’ve only read one true Amish romance book that I can remember and generally don’t feel I have time for this kind of recreational reading. But I truly enjoyed and learned from Valerie’s book, Thrill of the Chaste as you mentioned. It is SO well written and packed full of everything one might want to know about the genre! Glad for Shirley’s mention above of the Plainspoken series. Herald Press has a couple of books coming out with male protagonists in the Ellie’s People series–fictional but based on real life Amish young people by Mary Christner Borntrager. But in this case it is not because it might be trendy to put guys on the cover–these guys were first around in the 80s; Reuben was first in the re-launch, http://store.mennomedia.org/Reuben-P4422.aspx and Andy is coming soon. http://store.mennomedia.org/Andy-New-Edition-P4543.aspx But it is nice that it is not just pretty maitleys on books, but some good looking bouvas, as well. 🙂

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    1. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the term “maitley” and have never seen it in print. My dad used to call my sisters and me “maitlings,” just guessing on the spelling here. I have never heard or seen the term “bouvas” but can venture a guess as to its meaning.

      Thank you for chiming in here – so appropriate. For readers who don’t know about her, Melodie is an author/editor at MennoMedia. Also to her credit: ten books on family related issues, several cookbooks and at least one syndicated column along with regular blog posts. Like me, she is a plain turned fancy girl.

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      1. I would say they are still written with women readers in mind. I checked Goodreads and of the couple hundred entries only about 5 were men and a couple undetermined names that could be male or female. I would not buy them for our library thinking, wow, finally a series that will pull the men in. No. Our men overwhelmingly read non-fiction, biographies and auto-biographies, courtroom drama and medical mysteries, the classics. The cover art on that book is indistinguishable from the other Amish romance covers…it is still really aimed
        at the female reader.

        We have the Ellie’s People series too. The whole original set. I checked the cards in them and did not see a single male name on them…only girls. I don’t read romance novels myself, Amish, Mennonite or otherwise. I have read a few, but none of the Beverly Lewis. Which was kind of awkward as I went to a book signing of hers once and everyone who bought the book had a chance to win a sit down chat with her afterwards in the cafe. I was glad I did not win as I wouldn’t have known what to say. But I did get her signed copy for the library.

        I had a nice contact with Mindy Starns Clark, by the way. I had bought a newer series of hers and was trying to get the Million Dollar series, which was out of print. She said they still had some and if I contacted her office manager (as she was off on a writing trip) they could get me the series out of her storeroom. They were all autographed and have been well read.

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        1. Ah, you must be a librarian, Athanasia. It is good of you to put your personal preferences aside in your library purchases, knowing there is an audience for romance novels of all sorts among your clientele.

          I have read mostly authors of memoir because that is is genre I am writing in, so your encounters with romance writers caught my attention. This post was published quite some time ago, but I hope readers will check back here to read your comments about authors they may be familiar with.

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  5. I didn’t know there was such a thing as an Amish romance novel, but of course there would be. All God’s children long for romance. And, of course, the focus would be horses and not cars as it was in my teenage longings. Always something new and stimulating with you. Thank you.

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    1. (Apparently you are not experiencing whiplash from all the twists and turns my topics take on this blog. Ha!)

      It’s true, “All God’s children long for romance.” Like me, Elaine celebrates family and the deep connections we make, always at the risk of loss. Click here and you can discover her fine writing for yourself.

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  6. Marian — I’ve never read an Amish romance, but I can agree with (wholeheartedly!) with your assessment: “It is certainly more pleasurable to gain equestrian knowledge via a novel than from an equine textbook.” I think that any book that “educates and entertains” (love your assessment) would be well worth the read.

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    1. Summer would be a good time to sample a Amish romance novel. You can bet that references to food abound – in the field and on the table. My commenters have left many links to other writing by and for plain people here.

      Thanks for showing up again today in your calm yoga pose. Love it, Laurie!

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  7. Wow — the Amish Blacksmith looks so much like the young man driving a buggy, who turned the corner in front of me on Monday morning, when I was at a stoplight in Ogdensburg, NY. No kidding!

    My first impulse was to take a picture (he passed right next to my window), but I didn’t, because I did not want to be disrespectful. But he was that photogenic.

    I’ve only read 3 or 4 of Beverly Lewis’ Amish novels. I’m not generally a fan of genre fiction, but I mostly enjoyed those. The plot kept me going, even when the writing wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. But once I finished the series (the one that starts with The Shunning, I was done.

    I might however, check out Shape of Mercy. Have you read it?

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    1. Your observation about that buggy driver intrigues me here. I took this book on my sisters’ road trip to Charleston in May, and my niece took one look at the cover and exclaimed, “That guy looks like a Hollywood model – he’s NOT Amish.” Well, you apparently are proving her wrong.

      I’ve not read Shape of Mercy, but it seems worth my time. T i m e – so many books, so little time, the story of my life.

      On another note: I see you have connected with my friend Kathy Pooler. You look thrilled to see one another. Of course, that’s how it is with writers.

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      1. Indeed, that’s how it is with writers. Yes — I connected with Kathy a while back, and stopped to see her at her place just before your retreat in February. We’re about 3-1/2 hours apart.

        I have to say — the Amish man I saw had a nicely-trimmed Amish beard (no mustache), and although he did look very handsome, he had a distinctly different expression when he met my eye and nodded hello. Demutig, I believe it’s called. The hollywood model on the cover definitely has no idea what Demut is, and it’s an expression/outlook that can’t be faked.

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        1. I love when comments here turn into actual conversations. Thanks for the clarification here. I’ve heard of “demutig,” I believe but I don’t know the PA Dutch spelling. Now that I think of it, probably my mother used this expression too. Thanks, Tracy.

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  8. I haven´t read any of these books but my mom loves them. I agree with Chel, I don´t care what people read as long as they read! The fellow on the cover is quite charming in a wholesome sort of way!

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    1. I love your down-to-earth take on the topic, Darlene. If charming and wholesome is the aim of the reader, then this book cover will be an easy sell. You know first hand the power of the right cover in your “Amanda” series.

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  9. Marian, I do love the conversations you generate from your posts! Tracy and I had a lovely visit and we talked about our February retreat. I treasure these connections. To answer your question, I have read and enjoyed many Amish Romance novels, mostly because I enjoy a good love story and have an affinity toward the simpler life. You raise an interesting point about the trend toward male protagonists that I didn’t realize was happening. It’s still the same theme of finding love and a simple life style, a welcome reprieve from our distracted , chaotic world. Thanks for keeping me enlightened. 🙂

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    1. It’s so nice to have many friends gathered here – some I met personally (like you) and others that are virtually my friends too. I often think of your catchy phrase “the kitchen table” when I see commenters here.

      Thanks for commenting – and for “following” today, Kathy.

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  10. I’ve never heard of Amish romance.They look very interesting. I hope I can find time now that the quinceanera is over and all my family left back to Texas and California. It was extremely beautiful. Have to send you pictures when I get them from photographer.

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    1. I’m glad your planning and preparation turned out to be a wonderful family affair. But you’re right – it’s nice to have the house to yourself again and friends and family back home safely.

      You would like reading Amish romance novels when you want an escape to a simpler life. To you, it would feel like some of your experiences at Mom and Dad Longenecker’s house but with more plain attire. And – they always mention FOOD. (You know Mom!) Libraries have lots of these titles + you can buy paperbacks at Barnes & Noble or online.

      Stay cool!

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  11. Marian,
    I’m not a romance reader, Mennonite or otherwise. I read mostly nonfiction with a smattering of novels.

    I find it interesting that romance novels are so popular even with men. Are they not getting enough love in own lives and need a dose of happily ever after?

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    1. I sense you prefer the real to the fantastic as I do. Maybe that’s the key – perhaps these romance novels interject a does of fantasy into otherwise hum-drum lives. We can only speculate here.

      So it’s agreed: we won’t be taking Harlequin Romances to the beach this summer, Joan! 😉

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  12. I enjoyed your review of The Amish Blacksmith very much Marian, thank you. I think I would have enjoyed it. The theme sounds intriguing; a damaged soul and a young man who has no real interest in her. Through connections with horses something shines through and he finds himself as well … I know I would have enjoyed it.

    A friend of mine writes for Mills and Boon – I’m not sure we have them here in South Africa. My friend makes a mint from these romantic novels – apparently it’s very formulaic but satisfying to the reader if one judges by their sales.

    I love all kinds of books. Sometimes just too much non-fiction; but what a joy when a novel grips me. Currently reading Chaim Potok: the Gift of Asher Lev. No speed reading with this one ..

    And yes, I find it interesting that this time round, it’s a man on the cover …

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  13. Cherry from the UK who commented above introduced me to the names of Mills and Boon, which would correspond to the Harlequin romance publishers here in the States. I guess readers never outgrow their desire for a happily-ever-after ending; thus Cinderella stories abound. Judging from your blog themes, you like more substantial fare sometimes even contemplative. I’m with you there, Susan. I was introduced to Chaim Potok through The Chosen, his critically acclaimed memoir, which recounts his Orthodox Jewish origins. I see parallels between Jewish and Mennonite traditions in their love for family and valuing ritual and hard work.

    Thanks for extending the conversation here, Susan. You always have something valuable to say.

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  14. Marian, my Amish friends like the Linda Byler books because she is one of them.
    “Linda Byler grew up Amish and is an active member of the Amish Church today. She is the author of the bestselling Amish romance novel series, Lizzie Searches for Love. Linda is also well known within the Amish community as a columnist for a weekly Amish newspaper.” Amazon review.

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    1. Valerie Weaver-Zercher in her scholarly book on the topic of Amish romance novels speaks kindly about Linda Byler precisely because she is an authentic Amish writer, not an outsider. If I ever read another Amish romance novel it will be hers. Nice to see you here in the comment column today, Kathy.

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  15. I’m not a fan of romance novels. The last one I read was Robert James Waller’s “Bridges of Madison County” and I was disappointed. But I was intrigued by your post. The cover of “The Amish Blacksmith” is excellent and the story’s plot summary is well done, too. But I’m betting I’d be more interested in the equestrian info. 😉

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    1. I knew I wanted to do a review/commentary on Amish romance novels with male protagonists (an emerging trend), but I chafed at the idea of reading this sub-genre. When I discovered the authors were going to delve into the craft of the farrier and the art of horse-whispering/gentling, I figured I could get past the lovers’ triangle and its predictable ending.

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  16. Interesting to read about, but I’m not sure it’s my genre of reading, but certainly could captivate a certain audience. Have you thought of writing one of these based on your own background?

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    1. Maybe I could, but I won’t – at least not know. I’m starting with my own life story as memoir. Thanks though for your vote of confidence, Debby.

      I hope you’ll feel less frazzled this week. I do know the feeling! When I feel stressed, I try to stop, take deep breaths, and do the next thing, and the next . . . Of course, easier said than done.

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  17. I have to admit that I’ve never read an Amish romance novel (although I SHELVED a lot of them when I worked at the local library), but you’ve convinced me that maybe I need to give one a try. Thanks for expanding my literary horizons!

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