Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Time to Heal - Barbara Cameron

Yet again, Barbara Cameron manages to blend modern day war conflicts with the peaceful Amish life in the second book in her Quilts of Lancaster County series. Having encountered Jenny, the heroine of A Time to Love, while recuperating in a veteran's hospital, Christopher heads to Lancaster County in search of the Amish countryside that Jenny described so vividly to him. Unsure of where life will take him next, Christopher is content to rest on Jenny and her husband Matthew's farm, far from the horrors of war and the harsh treatment he received for reporting a fellow soldier for mistreating a civilian. He finds a kindred spirit in Hannah, Matthew's sister, and the two build an unlikely friendship. But when a series of attacks on the farm make Christopher think he's still being punished for turning in his old comrade, he begins to regret bringing his troubles to Lancaster County, particularly when Hannah might get hurt. Will Christopher run from his past, or place his trust in God and believe that he has brought him to Lancaster County for a reason?

Barbara is a refreshing voice in the Amish genre and her second "bonnet" novel is just as strong as her first. Fans of the series will be pleased that Jenny and her new family feature heavily in this novel, and that Hannah gets a story of her own. As with A Time to Love, a wounded soldier falls for an Amish local on a visit to Lancaster County, and, as can be expected, this creates a lot of culture clashes. While I'm not always a fan of the conversion-to-the-Amish storylines, I do find it quite believable that someone who has witnessed the horrors of the war zone first hand would turn to a rural, old-fashioned, pacifist society for solace and fall head over heels in love with it. When Chris arrives on Jenny’s doorstep, desperate to talk to her about his worries, it’s clear that he sees her as a the key to his problems – but instead, he finds freedom in the beauty of God’s nature while working on the farm. Barbara has clearly done her research into military court cases and PTS, making Chris a very realistic character with whom readers will instantly connect and sympathise.

The relationship between Chris and Hannah was fun to read, and it was sweet to witness their friendship slowly developing into something more. Both of them tried to fight any feelings of attraction, and it was particularly amusing to see Jenny and her grandmother, Phoebe, pushing both of them forwards in their relationship. While some Amish novels portray the Plain people as being hostile to outsiders, Barbara’s characters were entirely welcoming to Chris, even entertaining the idea of an outsider developing a relationship with Hannah. Hannah is not your typical “Amish miss”, as Chris remarks on several occasions, but her desire for a husband and family is one that all readers of romantic fiction will be able to understand.

However, I have to admit that something didn’t sit right with Chris’s decision to stay in the Lancaster County. While I felt it was convincing when Jenny made the same decision in A Time to Love, the fact that she had visited her Amish grandmother every summer as a child made her conversion to the faith so much more understandable. I felt that Chris was drawn in by nothing more than the allure of escaping the modern world and, of course, Hannah. While I can’t condemn him for appreciating how freeing the Amish lifestyle appears to outsiders – I’m sure all readers of this genre are equally guilty – I felt that there was no sign of Chris having made a spiritual connection with the Amish way of life. It seemed almost as if Chris was considering converting only so he could be with Hannah, and I find it hard to imagine that he would be making the same decision if a girl wasn’t in the picture. I have a feeling that this is something that more critical readers of Amish fiction might take issue with. If you can suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the romance of this novel, this issue is very minor, but it is a point that remained in my head days after I’d finished the novel.

If you’re a romance fan who wants a subtle change to your Amish fiction, A Time to Heal is the book for you. Blending modern day issues into the lives of the Amish, Barbara Cameron brings context to her fiction, and a contrast between the Plain folk and the war zones of the Middle East that will make the lives of her Lancaster County residents even more appealing. While I wasn’t entirely convinced by Chris’s final decision, it didn’t spoil my reading experience and I was still thoroughly pleased with the conclusion to Hannah and Chris’s romance. 9/10

Review title provided courtesy of Abingdon Press.

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