Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Anna's Gift - Emma Miller


In the latest addition to Emma Miller’s Hannah’s Daughters series, Anna Yoder finds herself receiving a surprising marriage proposal. After watching all of her older sisters marry and leave the family home, Anna longs to be swept off her feet by a suitor, but believes this will never happen since she doesn’t have the pretty face or slim figure of her attractive sisters. So when handsome widower Samuel Mast asks her to marry him, Anna can’t help but wonder if he’s only interested in finding a mother for his children. As much as she enjoys spending time with Samuel and his children, teaching the girls to bake and cooking for his family, Anna isn’t quite ready to say yes. With the whole community speculating his proposal, she needs to know whether or not Samuel truly cares for her before she can make a decision. Soon, Samuel finds that he’s having to go through the motions of teenage courtship – and getting to know his potential bride a lot better!

Having read Courting Ruth, the first novel in this series, a couple of months ago I was pleased to have the opportunity to catch up with the Yoder sisters again. Although I skipped on to the third book in the series, I can’t say that I felt like I’d missed anything vitally important to the plot. As with all Love Inspired novels, Anna’s Gift is designed to be read as a standalone novel, although readers who are familiar with Emma Miller’s books will enjoy seeing brief appearances from previous characters. There are also some new additions in this book, as Anna’s younger sisters return from caring to their aging grandmother, and the sisters, grandmother and an elderly aunt return to Delaware to move into the Yoder home.

While I don’t think that I enjoyed Anna’s tale of courtship as much as Ruth’s, it was still a very sweet story. Anna was a very endearing character, and the development of her relationship with Samuel made a very fun read. This book had two of my favourite contrivances – snowstorms and children. When the community is struck by heavy snow while Anna’s mother is out of town, Anna finds herself spending a lot of time with her Samuel and his family, who are their closest neighbours. While normally an unmarried Amish couple wouldn’t be allowed to spend so much time together unsupervised (Samuel’s children and Anna’s learning disabled sister would not count), this set-up allowed for Anna and Samuel to get to know each other better before Samuel broached the subject of married to Anna’s mother. It’s not until later in the book that the have a proper courtship, which is a strange experience for both of them – Anna having never had a suitor before despite being older than the other courting teenagers, and Samuel having been previously married. It was interesting to read about a couple in such a situation, as few Amish romances have this set up of an older, widowed man marrying a much younger woman.

There were two very realistic issues explored in Anna’s Gift, the first of which related directly to Anna’s character. Not being slender like her sisters, Anna has always felt unworthy of a man’s attention, which is further proven by the fact that none of the boys in her community are romantically interested in her. So when Samuel expresses his desire to marry her, Anna can’t help but wonder if he just wants someone to cook, clean and look after his kids. After all, who would want her – practically an old maid, a bit larger than the other women her age and clearly been on the shelf for a while? Her aunt and cousins don’t make matters easier for her but continually suggesting that Samuel could never want her for who she is, making Anna more worried about whether she’s about to enter a marriage of convenience. While the concern over marrying someone for comfort rather than love is one often discussed in Christian novels – particularly historical romances – few realistically portray a young woman’s anxieties over whether her appearance makes her deserving of a husband. As someone who was always a bit too gangly and skinny as a teenager, with the added bonus of glasses and braces, I can sympathise with Anna’s worries over her looks, and I’m sure many other readers will find this makes her a relatable character.

The third book in the Hannah’s Daughters series also sees the return of Anna’s younger sisters, along with her grandmother and great aunt, opening up the floor to explore another very relevant issue – dementia. While it’s never overtly explained what illness Anna’s grandmother suffers from, or whether it is indeed Alzheimer’s, all of the women in Anna’s family have to adjust with their grandmother’s steady decline. From making inappropriate comments to strangers in the supermarket to believing that her son is still alive, she takes her toll on the Yoder family, particularly Hannah, who her mother-in-law is always finding fault with. I found the treatment of Anna’s grandmother very touching, especially seeing how the Amish make caring for their elderly relatives a priority in their lives. This part of the story will particularly resonate with anyone who has witnessed a family member struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and some of the grandmother’s escapades will definitely put a smile on your face!

Not all Christian romance readers are fond of the shorter, category novels from Love Inspired, but I do encourage fans of Amish fiction to give Emma Miller’s series a try – you might find yourself pleasantly surprised! Anna’s Gift would make the perfect stocking filler for the romance fan or an introduction to the genre for a teenage girl. I thoroughly enjoyed the latest instalment in the Hannah’s Daughters series and definitely hope to see more from Emma Miller in the future.

Review title provided courtesy of Steeple Hill at Harlequin. 

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