Monday, 14 May 2012

Arms of Love - Kelly Long


PROS: Contains Kelly’s trademark edgy romance; good presentation of PTSD; presence of visions and the Holy Spirit is very encouraging

CONS: Initial introduction to the characters feels rushed; a lot of sad events occur at the start of the novel; spiritual message is a bit overwrought

The American Revolutionary War was a time of a great loss, and not just for those who fought for freedom. Lena Yoder’s father has been imprisoned for refusing to give up his livestock for the war effort, and not soon after this her mother dies in childbirth. Alone with just her younger siblings, the only place Lena can think to turn is to her childhood friend, Adam, whom she had always hoped she would someday marry. But Lena’s mother was fearful of the hold that Adam’s father held over him, and made Adam promise not to marry Lena until he was sure Lena would be safely out from under his father’s influence. Adam cannot tell Lena this, but he does know that he would not make a good husband to Lena at present. Continually wrought by troubling dreams, Adam is permanently unsettled, and wants nothing more than to gain freedom from the memories that haunt him. The only way he can see fit to do this is in bearing arms and fighting for the patriot cause. Lena is appalled at Adam’s desire to fight, and turns for solace and stability in his older brother, Isaac. Adam must reconcile himself with the troubling memories that haunt him and with his own desire for freedom before he can begin to fight to win back the love of Lena.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Kelly’s next book ever since I finished her contemporary romance, Lilly’s Wedding Quilt. But although Lilly’s Wedding Quilt made my list of favourite novels for 2011, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Arms of Love. While a few authors have attempted Amish historical fiction recently and handled the combination well (Murray Pura, Anna Schmidt, Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith), none of them have gone as far back as the eighteenth century, and I wasn’t entirely sure how a novel about the Amish during the American Revolutionary War would turn out. I didn’t enjoy Arms of Love as much as Kelly’s contemporary romances, but I do think that this book is a good start to her Amish Beginnings series and breaks new ground in Amish fiction.

It took me a while to get into this novel, and I’m not sure if that’s just because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time and was up to my ears in exam revision. The beginning of Arms of Love is incredibly sad, and wracked with numerous tragedies – a father is imprisoned, his wife dies in childbirth and a new widow loses her home. Throwing Adam and Lena’s troubled love into the mix made my initial reading of this book quite depressing, and I kept putting it down so that I could read something lighter. I don’t think that all readers will find this book as sad as I did, and perhaps if I read it at a later date, when I didn’t have so much on my plate, I would enjoy it more. I didn’t really feel like I become properly involved with the story until about halfway through the novel, when the plot pacing really began to pick up and I felt like I’d got to know the characters better. When I first met Adam, Lena and their families there was so much going on that I almost felt like I’d been thrown into the middle of a story that already in progress and that I’d missed some essential details. But by the middle of the book I’d settled into the lives of the eighteenth century Lancaster Amish and felt that I could accurately keep up with their troubles.

Arms of Love isn’t all sadness and tragedy; it contains a good helping of romance and a little bit of humour. One of my favourite scenes is probably one around the middle of the novel, in which Adam tells his brother that he won’t have any time to study or work when he has a wife because she’ll want to do is kiss him all day long. The exchange between the brothers was amusing, and really brought the characters’ personalities to life for me. I really enjoyed watching Adam and Isaac’s friendship develop, almost as much as I appreciated the romance between Adam and Lena.

One of my favourite aspects of Kelly’s writing is how her romantic scenes are just a little bit more edgy than most Amish authors’, showing the importance of physical as well as spiritual and emotional attraction in a marriage. The cellar scene was the one that made me really start to care about Adam and Lena, when I found myself rooting for them to get together, even though Lena was then engaged to Isaac. I won’t say any more than that, but any true romance fan can’t help but root for Adam and Lena after reading the all important cellar scene. Kelly hasn’t neglected her trademark of edgy romance, even in the eighteenth century.

I have to admit that I found Adam far more interesting to read about than Lena, and what made me keep reading this book, even during the tough scenes, was the desire to find out what was behind his disturbing dreams. I don’t know a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I found the portrayal of Adam’s struggles to be very realistic. Since PTSD wasn’t properly recognised until around the time of the First World War, it made me wonder how men like Adam were treated by society at this time, which made him all the more endearing.

On the topic of dreams, I also loved the way that Kelly incorporated the Holy Spirit into her novel, through visions and healings. It seems that writing about the Holy Spirit in Christian fiction is just as hard as presenting the physical love between a husband and wife. Kelly manages both in this novel, and I was really impressed by the way that she wrote the scenes containing healings and visions. Nothing felt forced, and I definitely got a sense of the characters’ faith in God. However, I will say that I felt that the message of “God is for us” to be a bit overwrought. I liked how Ruth, the non-Amish wet-nurse, mused over this statement as she came deeper into her faith with God, but as I got further into the novel so many characters were quoting this passage that I wanted to ask them if they actually knew of any other verses in the Bible. It fitted Ruth’s storyline, but at times the statement was made to the extent that it no longer seemed comforting and just became repetitive.

Although I have my qualms about some aspects of this novel, Arms of Love is an encouraging start to Kelly’s historical series and I hope that further Amish Beginnings novels are of a similar fare. Readers might be put off initially by the introduction of so many characters at the start of the novel and the presence of so many sorrowful events, but I would encourage readers to persevere, as this novel is definitely taking the time to read. Kelly doesn’t shy away from edgy topics, from romance to spiritual issues, and her presentation of both in this novel reflects what I’ve come to expect from her writing. I hope that other readers are similarly pleased and challenged by Arms of Love.

Review title provided by Thomas Nelson.

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