Home by Dark
I’m not sure I’d call Home by Dark an Amish romance, but it’s definitely Amish-adjacent. The book is set in Pennsylvania Amish Country, where the author is from, and like the her, many of the characters have Pennsylvania Dutch roots. I tend to be wary of Amish books, but I did like the setting in this one. It’s not set in an insular bubble but rather spends a lot of time dealing with the intersections between the Amish and the majority culture around them. Most of the leading characters in this book are not Amish, and we see a lot of scenes devoted to showing how the two groups interact with one another. This was actually one of the more interesting parts of the book for me as a reader.
This novel is a romance, but it’s more heroine-centric than some. The lead, Rachel Mason, grew up Amish but left to marry her teenage sweetheart, with whom she moved to Philadelphia. Rachel’s first husband has died and she has returned to her hometown with her nine-year-old daughter. Her mother-in-law left Rachel her home and Rachel plans to turn the large Victorian home into a bed and breakfast.
The opening chapters of the book show Rachel being quite frank about her limited options in life due to the Amish way of only educating children through eighth grade. The author also shows the difficulties Rachel faces in coming back. She and her daughter live modern, twenty-first century lives and the reception that Rachel receives from friends and family is quite varied. She left before her baptism, so the church didn’t shun her, but some of Rachel’s family, particularly her father, are quite uncomfortable around her. Many Amish romances seem to romanticize Amish life, so this author’s view of things, which appeared more balanced, was interesting to me as a reader.
All of these tensions are well-written and would honestly have made for a compelling book in and of themselves. However, this is romantic suspense, so we do have a mystery and a romance thrown into he mix. Shortly after Rachel’s return, she learns that her younger brother Benjamin, with whom she is quite close, appears to have gotten mixed up in a teenage prank gone wrong. Benjamin is obviously afraid that someone is after him, and there are unsettling incidents occurring in and around Rachel’s property as well.
Colin McDonald, a high school friend of Rachel’s husband, soon shows up in this mix. Colin sees Rachel trying to rehab the old house and get her business going, and he feels moved to help her. Even though they had not been close as teenagers, Colin feels drawn to Rachel and is clearly protective of her. Even though it takes Rachel a while to figure it out, it becomes obvious Colin is attracted to Rachel.
On the positive side, I did like the dynamic between Colin, Rachel and Rachel’s daughter. Children in romance can be tricky, but Rachel’s daughter Mandy seems like a believable nine-year-old, and I did enjoy seeing her interactions with the main characters. However, the strength of the writing in the ‘family’ scenes did somewhat show the weaknesses in the romance.
What I mean by this is that Colin seemed to be at his most vivid when he’s with Mandy and Rachel. Meanwhile, in the more romantic scenes, he just felt less distinct as a character. While the attraction is pretty obvious, the development of the relationship just plodded along and the leads seemed to have little chemistry. The kisses given with questionable consent did not help with that either.
While the first few chapters drew me in and made me curious to see how Rachel would develop as a person, the story started to meander and eventually lost me. Vaguely creepy things happen around Rachel’s property and Colin is certainly protective, but the clues and information get doled out a bit slowly. In addition, it takes quite a while for the action to escalate on both the romance and suspense fronts, so the novel felt like it just plodded along. Home by Dark isn’t bad, but it does feel like a fairly humdrum read by the end.