Monday, 4 February 2013

Book Review: Accidentally Amish by Olivia Newport

Escape the helter-skelter of the modern culture and join software creator Annie Friesen, hiding at the home of an Amishman. With her high-tech career in jeopardy, Annie runs from fast-paced Colorado Springs—and straight into the hospitality of San Luis Valley’s Amish community. There she meets cabinetmaker Rufus Beiler, and the more time she spends with him, the more attracted she becomes. When Annie finds she shares a common ancestor with Rufus, she feels both cultures colliding within her. But is her love for Rufus strong enough for her to give up the only life she’s ever known? (Barbour, October 2012)

This was Fans of Amish Fiction's January book group choice, over on GoodReads.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars (Very Good)

I think that if it weren't for the historical storyline, I probably would only give this book 3.5*. While the contemporary storyline was a good mixture of Amish, romance and suspense, the writing and characters weren't as strong as in Olivia's first novel, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning. It does seem as if historical fiction is where she's stronger, at least for now. 

That said, there were plenty of elements that I appreciated about this story. This is the second series I've read that's set among the newer Amish settlements in Colorado, and it's definitely interesting to read about how different Amish groups live depending on their regions and farming opportunities. Olivia lives in Colorado, and she was able to evoke the feeling of the small towns and Amish communities in her area. 

The city that Annie worked in never felt quite as real, and neither did her job. Mainly, I believe this is because my husband is a computer programmer and the descriptions of Annie's jobs seemed incredibly vague given my knowledge of the subject. But for those who don't deal with software engineering on a regular basis, the descriptions of her work might not be so vague. 

As for the romance, it was slow moving, but that's because this is the first book in a series. Given that there are so many Amish romances where an English character's conversion to the faith feels rushed, I appreciated that the book didn't end with everything neatly tidied up. As confident as Annie was about making changes to her life, I think she still has a long way to go and I'm interested in reading more about her. As strange as it might seem for a computer programmer to become interested in the Amish lifestyle, I got the impression that Annie got far more involved in the business world than she intended and no longer enjoyed her job, so the changes she made at the end of the novel made sense.

I also liked the sub-plot about Rufus's sister, Ruth, and I hope that the next novel delves more into the family dynamics and Ruth's attempts to reconcile with her family while still becoming a nurse. I felt like her story was a realistic portrayal of someone who left the faith before baptism for educational reasons, and I appreciated this change from the usual stories about people who leave to "explore the world". Ruth kept much of her faith while studying nursing.

The storyline about the construction company wasn't really resolved, which was a bit disappointing, but I'd be interested to see how that panned out, even if I preferred the other storylines. I had mixed feelings about this sub-plot as I wasn't sure what kind of message it was giving about justice, retaliation and turning the other cheek. I'm intrigued to see where it goes.

Ultimately, I liked the contemporary storyline, but at times the historical plot caught my attention more. I haven't read many stories about Amish settlers in the eighteenth century, so the story of Annie and Rufus's ancestors was fascinating. It really captured just how difficult life was for new settlers, if they made it through the long journey. Jakob's struggle between sticking to his faith and wanting to remarry was very heartfelt, and although the novel focused far more on the contemporary storyline, I still became attached to the historical characters. I hope that Olivia continues their storyline, or at least focuses on some other ancestors, in the next book.

I ended up writing a lot more about this book than planned, so obviously it touched me more than I realised. Ultimately, I didn't enjoy this book as much as The Pursuit of Lucy Banning but it was a compelling and original story. For those who like dual-time narratives of a lighter fare, this would definitely suit. I might not have connected with Annie as much as some Amish heroines, but this novel definitely brings something a little different to the genre. I'll be looking out for the second book in the series later this year.

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