Monday, 14 March 2011

Lilly's Wedding Quilt - Kelly Long

If there’s such a thing as edgy Amish fiction, Kelly Long is undoubtedly the queen of it. The second novel in her Patch of Heaven series features the conventional “marriage of convenience” plot that many romance readers adore, transported into the world of the Amish. After a convoluted series of events, Lilly Lapp finds herself married to the boy she’s adored since childhood, Jacob Wyse. But Jacob is still pining after his childhood love, Sarah, and Lilly isn’t keen on competing with the image of her husband’s lost love. Riddled with heartbreak and misunderstanding, it seems as if their marriage is never going to work. Lilly and Jacob must work together and learn to trust each other, all the while hoping that someday their convenient situation might just turn into true love. But that day may be closer than they think...

I could not stop singing this novel’s praises when I finished it. When I wasn’t pestering my fiancé to read out my favourite quotes, I was avoiding coursework in order to read another chapter. Kelly Long brings something new and exciting to the Amish genre, and I do hope that she gets the recognition she deserves. While I loved her debut novel, Sarah’s Garden, I absolutely adored Lilly’s Wedding Quilt. Maybe it’s because I’m getting married in 2012, but the story of two newlyweds falling in love under unusual circumstances really struck a chord with me. I remember the early days of my relationship, where both of us were unsure about expressing our feelings and getting into anything emotional. Although Lilly and Jacob are clearly in a very different situation, Kelly truly captured the early stages of romance: wanting to make the other person love you but being scared to share your true feelings; the hurt and confusion at unexplained silences or misinterpreted speech; the undeniable attraction but not knowing how to act upon it.

But wait, you ask, isn’t this an Amish novel? Shouldn’t this be strictly hand-holding and longing glances, resulting in a marriage with nine children and not a moment to yourselves once the first Boppli is born? Well, I have to admit that all of the Amish romances I’ve read so far have barely acknowledged anything other than a chaste kiss. And until I discovered Kelly Long, I was happy with this idyllic, sweet style of romance. But there’s something refreshing about Kelly’s writing, in acknowledging that the Amish have the same feelings as everyone else, even that of attraction. I’m not suggesting that Kelly’s writing is in any way explicit or inappropriate, but I appreciated immensely the way that she showed that physical attraction is just as essential as emotional and spiritual when it comes to making a marriage work. Just as Kelly utilises the traditional romance plot of a marriage of convenience, she also features strong character chemistry and plenty of romantic scenes that’ll encourage any readers who wonder whether it’s realistic for Amish characters to never engage in anything more than a fleeting peck on the cheek.

Of course, this novel isn’t all kissing-in-the-rain and pounding hearts. Lilly and Jacob have a lot of emotional ground to cover before they reach this stage. I particularly connected with Lilly’s struggle to get over her husband’s first love. This is something which I understand first-hand as being a horrible emotional cocktail of betrayal and jealousy, especially when you aren’t ready to talk about your feelings with your partner. And Jacob, like most men, is uncomfortable expressing his feelings and admitting his worries to Lilly. They both have physical fears to overcome – Lilly is scared of horses and Jacob is embarrassed that he can’t read – and the journey they take together to overcome these difficulties runs parallel to the growth of their emotional relationship. It was simply wonderful to see these two newlyweds developing a deeper knowledge and understanding of each other, culminating in the sweetness of Jacob’s gift to Lilly. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who have yet to read the book, but when Jacob started planning her present I felt convinced that he had truly come to understand his wife.

Building on the foundation that the Amish have the same problems and difficulties as the rest of the world, Kelly includes some brilliant secondary characters. From gossipy neighbours to rebellious teenagers, no one that Lilly and Jacob encounter is truly perfect. Sometimes novels can present the Amish as flawless, as if they were as sinless as Christ himself, but fortunately Kelly doesn’t fall into this trap. I also applaud her portrayal of Lilly’s mother’s struggle with depression. This was the first time that I’d read about an Amish character suffering from a mental illness, and it was incredibly encouraging and insightful to learn about how the community helped Lilly’s family through this difficult time.

Full to bursting with realistic characters, sizzling chemistry and a pinch of passion, Lilly’s Wedding Quilt brings something new to the world of Amish romance. Readers will find themselves nodding sympathetically at Lilly and Jacob’s problems, sighing over their romance and dying to flip to the final page to discover how it all works out. Whether you’re a committed fan of this genre or a newcomer, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of this book. 10/10

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book for review purposes. Lilly's Wedding Quilt is due for publication on the 29th of March 2011.

This review is also posted at The Christian Manifesto, which will be running a giveaway of Lilly's Wedding Quilt on the 21st of March.

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