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

Purple Passages: Secrets of Grimke House, Charleston

“Heidi, would you mind stopping by 329 East Bay Street before we leave town?”

We were on our way out of Charleston during our recent road trip, and my niece Heidi graciously agreed to stop her SUV long enough for me to catch a snapshot of the Grimké House basking in the bright morning sun. Its open arms-double staircase once welcomed visitors with a hospitable hug. (Until recently it housed attorneys’ offices, so you can draw your own conclusion about its more recent history!)

Grimke House_Charleston_mod

This house was made famous by Sue Monk Kidd’s book of historical fiction The Invention of Wings. Here is an excerpt from my review:

“ . . . the novelist creates parallel stories representing two strata of early nineteenth-century America, alternating chapters with the voices of two engaging characters: the aristocratic Sarah Grimké and the hand-maid (creative name for slave) assigned to her, Hetty Handful Grimké. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. Over the next thirty-five years, both strive for a life of their own ‘bucking the constraints of cultural attitudes toward women and slavery, which Sarah and her sister openly challenged.'”

All the purple passages quotes today are pulled from the pages of The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd’s historical fiction about the Grimké family:

 

The Weather

“I slipped through the back door into the soft gloom, into the terror and thrill of defiance. The sky had gone cobalt. Wind was coursing in hard from the harbor.” (50)

(We experienced a Charleston, SC storm downtown as we entered this city May 7, 2015)

 

Mosquitoes

Mother Mary had ordered “the mosquito netting out of storage and affixed above the beds in anticipation of the blood-sucking season, but having no such protection, the slaves were already scratching and clawing their skin. They rubbed themselves with lard and molasses to draw out the itch and trailed its eau de cologne through the house.” (56)

(Disparity between the races no longer noticeable in Charleston today, at least to tourists. )

Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street
Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street

 

Despair

“My breath clutched at my ribs like grabbing hands. I closed my eyes, tired of the sorry world.” (280)

 

Missing Someone

Sarah’s unrequited love: “Nina was speaking now, her face turned up to Theodore’s, and I thought suddenly, involuntarily of Israel and a tiny grief came over me. Every time it happened, it was like coming upon an empty room I didn’t know was there, and stepping in, I would be pierced by it, by the ghost of the one who once filled it up. I didn’t stumble into this place much anymore, but when I did, it hollowed out little pieces of my chest.” (281)

 

Yearning for a better world

[Lucretia] “leaned toward me. ‘Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.’” (275)

 

The Pineapple: the universal symbol of hospitality seen everywhere in Charleston's interiors and exteriors
The Pineapple: the international symbol of hospitality seen frequently in Charleston’s interiors and exteriors. Daughter Crista purchased a pair of these.

 We must try, that’s all!

Share your words: your thought, a quote or story adds to the conversation. It’s always nice to meet you here!

Coming next: Jenna’s Rainbow Cake: A Pot of Gold?

Dancing to a Different Tune: Kathy Pooler’s Memoir

Kathy and I are not old friends. In fact, our friendship is rather recent as we have explored each other’s blog posts early this year, discovering that we both were developing our writing skills after long, satisfying careers, hers in medicine and mine in education.

KathyPoolerBrighter

In March, she featured me on a blog post describing my writing process and in May I published a preview of her memoir now published in July 2014. Beyond this, we have discovered that our values are rooted in a strong Christian faith.

Kathy Pooler’s memoir Ever Faithful to His Lead is a smooth read but with a tale that is often tumultuous. Her memoir unfolds like a novel with pleasing dialogue and silky descriptions of her prom dress and her hand-made wedding gown in stark contrast to the rocky road she travels to become a strong, assertive woman.

In the course of her journey, Kathy earns several academic degrees among them the distinguished Certified Family Nurse Practitioner qualification. Yet she stumbles with poor choices in love, choosing one wrong partner after another in her search for a stable marriage like that she imagined her parents’ to be. In fact, she admits early on that she can trace her “inability to discern dangerous situations to a lack of exposure to anything out of the ordinary.”

Readers can applaud the resilient woman emerging from the frightened person who hid from her first husband in her hallway closet to a woman who is finally able to trust her own instincts. Her candor and vulnerability appear on every page. Kathy often pulls the reader aside to contemplate her motivation, as for example: “I was always second-guessing myself, quickly shoving doubts aside to paint the picture of what I needed the world to be.”

When you as reader want to snatch the blinders off the writer’s eyes and yell “Stop!” into her ears, you know the author has succeeded in pulling you into her world. This memoir is a cautionary tale for anyone on an elusive search for Mr. Right. For anyone already in an abusive relationship, Kathy’s story offers courage and hope. Admitting it is time to make big-girl choices, her last chapter promises, “Raw, hopeful, ready to dance to my own song—my new faith waiting patiently in the background.”

The book concludes with nine discussion questions for book clubs and a “Share the Hope” section with the notation that each purchase contributes toward the National Coalition of Domestic Violence Awareness Association. Author Pooler is already at work on a sequel: Hope Matters.

EverFaithfulCover

You can buy Kathy Pooler’s book at Goodreads and Amazon.

Kathy’s blog

Facebook page

Twitter page

 

Coming next: My Mother’s Recitations

Marriage to a Difficult Man: Part 1

In case you thought I would be writing an exposé about my difficult marriage to artist Cliff, you’d be wrong. I may write about my own marriage at some point, but it would have a different title.

The marriage under the microscope is that of Sarah Edwards to the famous colonial theologian, Jonathan Edwards, best known for his fire-and-brimstone-sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

MarriageDifficultCOVER

You may surmise that the title comes from the mouth of a fed-up wife to her biographer. However, the book is Elisabeth Dodd’s commentary on the unique union of Jonathan & Sarah Edwards often using primary sources like diaries and letters to show the personal, human side of this towering figure of faith. The blurb from Amazon touts this 1971 classic on the domestic life of Sarah and Jonathan Edwards, the most famous theologian of colonial America, as a “tempting blend of family guidance, sociological study, . . . and devotionally-oriented American historical biography.”

According to Dodds, Jonathan was a “moody, socially bumbling, and very shy young man of twenty” already a college graduate and professor at Yale, when he first met the vibrant thirteen-year-old Sarah, who had “burnished manners, and skilled at small talk.” Completely smitten by Sarah, Edwards

. . . took to walking past her her house at night for a glimpse of a candle flickering behind an upstairs shutter. When a boat came into Long Wharf with a cargo from England, he would manage to be around as it was unloaded. Almost every ship from England brought a box for the Pierreponts, and there was a chance that James [Pierrepont] would bring a daughter down with him as he checked his orders […]. Edwards even tried to improve his social dexterity, and admonished himself, “Have lately erred, in not allowing time enough for conversation. (16)

Both avid readers and nature lovers, Jonathan and Sarah married and raised a family of eleven children, in whose education both parents were heavily invested. At the end of the day this firebrand preacher and proponent of the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, took off his jacket and wig and, smoking his pipe, devoted a full hour to his children and took them on trips with him individually.

What about Sarah though? It’s true, when he wasn’t preaching, Edwards was usually holed up with his books, but he often “read aloud to her from his skull-cracking sessions in his study,” recognizing her as his intellectual partner. (164)  And Sarah knew he would reserve time for her alone away from the house, often spent horse-back riding.

Why is this Puritan Preacher called difficult then, as the book’s title would suggest? Actually, I get the impression he was more eccentric than harsh, more odd than obstinate at home as this quote suggests:

Edwards was less than helpful as a host,  for he was still a light eater and would often finish his meal before the others did. He would then slip out to his study, returning to the table only when he was alerted that the others had finished and he was needed to preside over the grace which was always said at the end of meals as well as at the beginning. (56)

Peculiar in his eating habits, Edwards was also either eccentric or just being practical in recording his sermon notes. “He kept old bills and shopping lists, stitching them together into handmade notebooks in which he copied out his sermons on the unused side of the papers. Because his sermons were saved, we have a record of the everyday details of his family’s life together.” (31)

One reviewer comments that “Suffering was a part of Sarah’s life, too. Her husband’s brilliant mind and heart were never adequately recognized until shortly before his death. An insane man once spread false accusations about him.” Their teenage daughter Mary died of tuberculosis. Money was sometimes scarce.

Sarah herself went through a short period of mental breakdown, “nerves stretches like an over-tuned viola.” (72)  Her support and comfort, Edwards persuaded her to take a trip to Boston with him, taking her away from the fish-bowl of the parish and the constant demands as mother and hostess to a steady stream of visiting preachers.

Nevertheless, Sarah herself a woman of heart, intellect and purpose maintained a contented home, a home that produced healthy, well-balanced children all of whom carried on the genius of their parents. As author Dodds implies, a trust in the living God runs as a common thread throughout Sarah’s life story, giving her strength to carry on.

 

Part II will answer the questions:

1. What kind of house-keeper was Sarah?

2. Why was their union called uncommon?

3. What were Edwards’ parting words to his wife?

*  *  *

Do these details about the Edwards’ marriage surprise you?

Is there an “uncommon union” in your family’s past? Your own history?

Where the Magic Happens

Sailboat

I am happy to introduce a new writer to these pages, Mary Gottschalk. Actually you have already visited Mary’s website if you read my recent post on her blog Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land. But though she is new to my blog, Mary is certainly not a new author, having published a memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam in 2008 and just off the press her first novel, A Fitting Place (May 2014).

Mary will tell you that she and I have competely different life experiences and views of the world, but our writing shares a common theme of willingness to leave our comfort zones.

Mary’s Turn: Unlike Marian, I didn’t grow up in a religious environment or have a close-knit family. I first left home at age 13 to go to boarding school, and never lived at home again for more than a month. The love of my life did not show up until I was in my 60s. Much like Marian’s journey from plain to fancy, however, I have been perennially in search of new ideas and new perspectives. I’ve often had to lose sight of the metaphorical shore in order to find them. Ironically, the most dramatic change in my perspective came when I had literally lost sight of the shore, a day when I was roughly a thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, heading west along an unmarked route. That day, my husband and I were two years into a planned circumnavigation of the world in a 37-foot sailboat. Much as Marian chose to leave her natal community, I chose to abandon a successful New York career in high finance to explore the larger world.

Around the world with Mary and Tom
Around the world with Mary and Tom

Throughout our cruise, we’d often had to trim our sails to unpredictable winds and set our rudder to compensate for erratic currents. We sailed as close to our intended course as we could, but all too often, we ended the day someplace other than where we’d set out to go. As good sailors on a well-fitted sailboat, not much could go very wrong, but we knew that if something did, we would probably die. Life and death were pretty much out of our hands. That watershed day, a sunny afternoon with clear skies and calm seas, it struck me that sailing was a metaphor for life. I suddenly understood that I’d had no more control over my life and death when I lived and worked in New York City than I did while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. And it seemed obvious that if I couldn’t control my fate, I might as well spend my days doing something meaningful and satisfying, rather than wasting precious time and energy trying—all too often in vain—to meet the expectations of others. It seemed equally obvious that if I hadn’t decided to sail away from the metaphorical as well as the geographic shore, I’d still be living under the illusion that I could actually control my life.

It is this last concept—that you grow the most when you step outside your comfort zone—that has been the driving force behind my life as an author. My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.

moonbeam

But few people can quit their jobs and head off into the sunset. I wanted to explore the growth that can take place when a woman stays close to home. In my novel, A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

A Fitting Place Cover Design_293 pages_Cream

Mary asks you, “How has stepping out of your comfort zone changed your life?”

 *  *  *

More about Mary: MaryProfilePic

Mary has made a career out of changing careers. She spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, including consulting projects in New York, New Zealand and Australia. Along the way, she dropped out several times. In the mid-80s, at age 40, Mary and her husband Tom embarked on the three-year sailing voyage that is the subject of her memoir, SAILING DOWN THE MOONBEAM. When the voyage ended, she returned to her career in finance, but dropped out again to provide financial and strategic planning services to the nonprofit community. In her latest incarnation, she is a full time writer. Her first novel, A FITTING PLACE, was released May 1, 2014.  She lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

Contact Mary:

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Links to her Books:

Sailing Down the Moonbeam 

A Fitting Place