As always, the Pandora’s Box discussion may contain some slight spoilers of the book.
We’re back with another Pandora’s Box, this time featuring Faithful to Laura by Kathleen Fuller. This is the second book in her Middlefield Family Series, which deals with families in an Amish community in Middlefield, OH, and it’s an August 2012 release. Amish romances are a hot trend right now in the Inspirational market and keep getting press, so we thought it would be fun to try one out and get two reactions. This time around, Lynn Spencer and Maggie Boyd are stepping into the box.
The book begins with Laura Stutzman sleepwalking to the place where she had been the victim of a vicious attack. We learn that some time prior, Laura had followed Mark King, a man whom she believed she would marry, from Kentucky to Ohio, mindful of how she had enabled him to rob her family of their hard earned savings. Mark’s response to her questions of why had been a horrible barn fire that left Laura scarred not just on her face but deep within her heart. Her faith is in shambles and all she can dwell on is revenge. Her need to repay her parents for their loss leads her to accept a position at a local Amish carpentry shop.
Sawyer Thompson has lived among the Amish ever since his parents died. Now grown, he must either commit to the church and the Amish way of life or leave to live in the Yankee world. He finds himself completely uncertain as to what decision he should make. He loves working at his adoptive father’s carpentry shop, loves his adopted family and extended Amish community but feels drawn to the world in which he was born as well. He also finds himself interested in the new girl at the shop, wanting to help her heal from her recent hurts. And he finds that healing her helps him as well.
Then an unexpected visitor from Sawyer’s past comes back into his life. This guest seems strangely determined to destroy all that Sawyer has cherished the last several years, his budding relationship with Laura included. Will he and Laura be able to move beyond what yesterday holds? Or will the shadows of the past chase them into the future?
Maggie: This my first Amish romance but it is not my first book about the Amish. I’ve been an avid fan of Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series, which has had some impact on how I view the community. I also live in an area where there are Amish people and have had some interaction with the community (mainly buying their baked goods and other edibles). Is this your first experience of the Amish or have you read other books that center on this community?
Lynn: I’ve actually also read the Linda Castillo books and I read a book or two by Beverly Lewis when I was in college. I remember them being okay, but not terribly memorable as far as the storytelling went. I grew up near a Mennonite community, which is similar to Amish, so I think that made me have certain expectations going into this story. What did you think of the portrayal of the Amish community in this book?
Maggie: I kept getting distracted by little things like the use of cellophane or the fact that Sawyer ran all over the community in his truck. However, I am not an expert on this way of life and I do understand that restrictions differ from Ordnung to Ordnung, so I thought maybe this group had slightly looser restrictions than those observed by the group that Kate Burkholder works with in Castillo’s books. Aside from the use of the Pennsylvania Dutch in a lot of the scenes I didn’t get a strong sense of “other”. What did you think?
Lynn: I thought it was unusual, too. I could understand Sawyer and his truck because he wasn’t technically Amish even though he lived among them. However, some things did seem a little modern and folks in this community seemed to hold themselves apart from the English world much less than the Mennonites in our area growing up and since I knew the Amish were generally more conservative than the Mennonites, this surprised me.
So, let’s get to the book. How did you like it?
Maggie: I liked the story but didn’t love it. It was about a B- for me.Oddly, I think that was due to how much we flipped between the Yankee world and the Amish one. I think I was looking for this book to be set more firmly in the Amish world. That said, my favorite portions of the book were easily those that dealt with Sawyer. His character had an innate sweetness and compassion that I found admirable. I loved how patient he was with Laura and how he didn’t let her isolate herself – I knew that whether he chose to stay in the church or go to the “Yankee” world, he would turn out to be a genuinely nice guy.
I didn’t find myself enjoying Laura as much. The one thing I did admire was that she had a core of steel. What were your thoughts on the two main characters?
Lynn: I have to admit that I did rather like Sawyer’s character. I thought he was more multi-dimensional than some of the others. He had one foot in the Amish world and another outside, and his journey toward deciding which world he belonged to felt real. I also appreciated that Laura struggled with forgiveness and that it didn’t come easily to her, in spite of her religion’s teachings, but I think that struggle got lost in the rest of the action sometimes.
And that being said, I have to say that I felt like a lot of the rest of this book was a hot mess. The jumping around from plot to plot in the beginning just about made me crazy, and I felt like the author tried to juggle too many storylines without fully developing them. We had Laura’s need to come to grips with what he ex-boyfriend had done to her and to her family, her feelings for Sawyer, the secondary romance of her friend Emma, the rekindling of an older couple’s marriage, goings on at the local shop – and that’s not even all of it! I can see the appeal of a slower pace and simpler living, so I wanted to like this book, but it was actually a tough slog for me. The wooden dialogue didn’t help on that front either. I’d probably give it a C-.
So, now that I’ve gone on a tear about it, what did you make of all the subplots?
Maggie: I am of opposing thoughts on the multiple sub-plots. The simple fact is, they are part of the series curse. My own thoughts and feelings are that I simply don’t like them. I’ve come to cherish books that concentrate on the main characters and include one secondary romance or plot at most.
That said, many people obviously love them. Virgin River is on it’s 20th book and I can’t count the number of books following that pattern of a bunch of people falling in love in a small town. Because the people all know each other, each book seems to contain information about former heroes and heroines or future heroes and heroines. I get almost claustrophobic when I read them! This book was that style of book so I didn’t count the multiple plots against it. It was obviously written to be read as part of a trilogy – Emma and Adam from book one were continuing their courtship here and it is clear that Sawyer and Laura will have a big issue to deal with in the next book. I’ve become resigned to the fact that I will encounter this trend on a regular basis.
So there is a rather long winded answer to the question of sub-plots! In this book, like I said, I felt they were continuations of points that had come up in book one and starting other points that would need resolving in book three. Regarding this book specifically, I felt the author did several things right. She gave sufficient information of events that occured in book one so that I didn’t find myself lost. She had an easy to read writing style. The characters never drove me to rolling my eyes or worse, banging the book on the wall. My big disappointments were in the depiction of the community and the fact that while I liked Sawyer and Laura and was happy for them, I wouldn’t want to hear the rest of their story.
Since this is an Inspirational, how did you feel faith was depicted in the book? Too much? Just right? I lean towards a tiny bit preachy and the only reason I can think of for that is in the depiction of the Sawyer’s grandmother.
Lynn: The author wasn’t terribly subtle in making her out to be a royal beast, was she? I did think that things got to be a little too preachy. The portrayal of the very worldly grandmother was not subtle or nuanced at all. And that annoyed me.
I went into the book figuring that faith would be an important part of life for the characters since it’s set in an Amish community. However, for every scene where we saw people naturally living out their beliefs, it felt like we got another one full of stilted dialogue that made some faith issues feel forced.
On the subplots, I agree with you that I could tell the author was setting up story arcs to cover the entire trilogy and she did do a good job of making sure readers who hadn’t read book one didn’t feel lost. Unfortunately, there were so many subplots and so little time devoted to each one that I really couldn’t make myself care about how they came out.
And what did you think of the resolution of Laura’s dilemma over the ex-boyfriend who injured her and stole from her family? That one seemed to come out of nowhere. For most of the book, she’s stewed over what happened and then suddenly it all gets resolved and she’s happy again. That pacing seemed really off to me.
Maggie: How the grandmother was written was my main irritant in the book. I felt there was a real sense of us (Christians) and them (evil unbelievers) that was very one dimensional. Moreover, when the big reveal came at the end, the way the character had been drawn kept my sympathy disengaged. All I could wonder about was how this would affect Sawyer and Laura, not how it would affect the character herself. And I was disappointed in how little we really got to know the Amish community as people of faith. Much too much preaching, much too little living of their beliefs.
I would also agree regarding Laura and her ex-boyfriend. That resolution felt forced and incomplete, as though the author really lost interest in that story line and just decided to wrap it up as quickly as possible.
I have other Amish romances on my TBR. I am very interested to see what I will think of this one after reading those. At this point it is a pleasant enough read compared to some of the other romances I have read recently. Far from brilliant but not the chore that others have been. Do you think you will be reading other Amish books or did this one burn you forever on that sub-genre?
Lynn: Well, I tend to give authors second chances and by the same token, I’m certainly not going to let one dud of a book burn me out forever on a subgenre. If that were true, I would have written off Native American romances the first time I stumbled across an awful Cassie Edwards novel!
I can see where the idea of a slower pace of life or simply curiosity about a culture very different than most of ours might have appeal. I just can’t see it in this particular book.
Thanks for joining me in Pandora’s Box!
– Lynn Spencer and Maggie Boyd