Harvest House, February 2013.
RATING: 5 out of 5 (Near Perfect)
Nora King has made a lot of mistakes in life, but she’s determined to start over again. Her move to Paradise, Missouri is partly influenced by this decision, but also motivated by the hope to meet the handsome and charismatic Elam Detweiler again. Nora fell for Elam back in her sister’s Amish community in Maine, but Nora has changed since then, and Elam’s wild antics don’t seem to have the same appeal that they did back in Maine. Now that she’s immersed in helping her friend, Emily, run her bakery, Nora feels like she’s been given a second chance at life—especially when Lewis Miller arrives in Paradise with the intent of courting Nora. Lewis held a candle for Nora back in Maine, but Nora hadn’t been interested in life in his tiny, conservative community. But Lewis in Missouri sounds like a recipe that could work out for both of them, if only Elam would stop interfering. But can Nora be honest with Lewis about the events that caused her to leave her home community in Pennsylvania? Or will a series of drastic occurrences in Paradise cause her to worry that God is finally sending his wrath to punish Nora for her transgressions? As the Paradise community attempts to make sense of their current difficulties, Nora also has to figure out whether she can truly forge a future with Lewis, or if her past has spoiled her chance of happiness.
Mary Ellis is fast becoming one of my favourite Amish authors, not just because of her skill at creating believable characters and rendering realistic Amish communities, but also because of how challenged and uplifted I feel when I read one of her novels. Although the cover of Love Comes to Paradise might sell itself as a predictable romance novel, I was encouraged to find that Mary had decided to tackle several unconventional topics within her latest volume.
Although Love Comes to Paradise is the second novel in the New Beginnings series, it is set in an entirely different community from its predecessor, and enough is summarised about Nora’s past to allow new readers to delve straight into this novel. That said, I would recommend the first book, Living in Harmony, if only for the fact that I found the novel equally compelling and challenging. One of the aspects of this series that I think will be of particular appeal to avid Amish fans is that each novel is set in a new location, starting in Maine, then heading to Missouri, and moving on to Kentucky in the third book. Considering how many Amish novels are already on the market, it’s difficult to come up with unique concepts, but the idea of sisters settling in different states following the death of their parents is definitely one that will appeal to fans of the genre.
Nora’s story is one that I’m sure will strike a chord with many women, and I applaud Mary for being willing to discuss a slightly taboo topic and admit that even Amish women struggle to remain pure before marriage. Nora fell in love with a boy in her home community and let their relationship go too far, and now feels tainted by her past. Some Christians—even Amish ones—can be quite unforgiving of past mistakes of a sexual nature, and I truly felt for Nora as she was torn between her desire to fall in love and marry an honest man, and her feelings of not being good enough for a man like Lewis. Mary handles this topic sensitively and realistically, concluding Nora’s character arc in an altogether satisfying manner. It’s often a cliché in the Christian market for a girl who allows her relationship to go too far to either end up pregnant, or to reform her pushy boyfriend into a good Christian and marry him. But this isn’t the way it always works out in real life, and I appreciated that Nora’s story showed that there is always redemption and grace available for those who make mistakes.
One of the “Pros” I listed for this novel over at The Christian Manifesto was that it acknowledged that even the Amish are flawed human beings. This aspect of the book isn’t limited to Nora’s chequered past, but extends to a minister in the Paradise community. To begin with, I thought that the portrayal of this character was rather typical of Amish fiction, given that bishops, deacons and ministers are often shown to be strict and unyielding when it comes to change or errors made by members of their congregation. Instead, I was treated to a challenging lesson about God’s wrath and mercy, and how we can often read situations the way we want to, rather than seeking God’s advice and interpretation. Both Solomon, an Amish minister, and Emily, the friend whom Nora is staying with in Paradise, interpret a series of natural disasters in their community to be a sign of God’s disapproval of their sins. In particular, Solomon fears that the damage to their crops and their community suggests that God does not want them to interact with Englishers on a regular basis. Emily comes to agree with this belief, having researched the history of their Amish ancestors in Missouri and found it worrying. But Emily takes this belief in God’s wrath further, fearing that her struggle to conceive is God’s punishment for mistakes she made in her past. We often have a tendency to see the worst in every situation, and sometimes this can extend to believing God causes bad situations to occur as a reaction to our mistakes. Considering that some authors can paint the Amish as being perfect in their faith, it was a nice change to see Amish characters—including a minister!—struggling and stumbling in their attempts to understand God and the world around them.
I can’t wrap this review up without commenting on how endearing the secondary characters in this novel were, particularly Nora’s friends Emily and Violet. Even though Emily is technically Nora’s hostess, she doesn’t shy away from speaking the truth, and her twisted and snarky sense of humour made for a great rapport between the two women. Violet immediately grabbed my attention in the first chapter of the book, not only because she reminded me of another hilarious character who is determined to succeed despite her ailments (Sarah in the Casson Family series, a must-read for all preteens!). Violet had such a vibrant personality, and although she never pushed Nora out of the limelight, I do wish she’d get a whole novel of her own, or at least a novella or short story so we know how she’s getting on in life. It was encouraging to read about how a disabled woman managed in an Amish community, and I loved the friendship between Nora and Violet.
If you like your Amish fiction to be a bit more edgy and to address situations that can affect anyone, Amish and English alike, then you won’t be disappointed by Love Comes to Paradise. Traditional readers of Amish fiction will also be pleased by the plentiful descriptions of baking and Amish scenery, along with Nora’s love story. Love Comes to Paradise marks the third of Mary Ellis’s novels that I’ve had the pleasure to read, and I’m only sorry that I didn’t discover her earlier. Providing a unique voice and a deft skill in crafting realistic characters and engaging stories, I hope that it won’t be long before Mary Ellis receives the recognition she deserves.
This novel has been nominated for The Christian Manifesto's 2013 Lime Award for Excellence in Fiction!
Review title provided by Harvest House.