leviswill I’m a fairly eclectic reader (just check my Goodreads account for proof of that), so when confronted with a theme calling on me to pick out something completely different, I found myself at a bit of a loss. I decided to go with the “outside my comfort zone” side of things, and I picked up Levi’s Will by W. Dale Cramer. I read plenty of inspirationals, but I have often been candid about Amish books just not being my thing. I only had this 2005 novel in the TBR because a couple bloggers I respect had praised it to the skies. Having read it, I now see why.

The book opens on an Amish farm in the 1940s as 19 year old Will Mullett flees his father’s home together with his younger brother Tobe. The two eventually find their way south from Ohio, where they end up taking on various manual labor jobs to support themselves. Early on, we learn that Will has fled not only the Amish religion and way of life, but also an impending marriage. The young woman he was courting is now pregnant and Will is expected to marry her. Knowing this makes Will a more morally ambiguous and complicated hero than we normally find in inspirational fiction, watching him grow and grapple with larger questions of faith, morality, and identity makes this book a real standout.

So, what goes on in this book? Well, we follow Will from the 1940s to the 1980s as he escapes Amish society and gradually finds his way in the world. Given the time period, he is confronted right away with the realities of World War II. As an Amishman, no one would expect him to fight. However, as he takes on an “Englisher” identity, his existence in civilian life looks more and more unusual, and the pressure to go against the pacifism he was raised with and to join the military forms one of his first major inner conflicts.

And it goes from there. We see Will finding his way into a career, marrying and raising children. And yes, he does eventually confront his past and the family where his story began. I don’t want to spoil this part of the book for anyone, but I will say that Will’s journey takes some unexpected turns. Like most people, Will’s life isn’t always pretty, but like many of us, he does try to do better and to find meaning in it all. That’s what really made the book for me. Learning more about both the good and the bad of Amish culture from someone who knows it (Cramer comes from an Amish family and the novel is loosely based on his father’s life) intrigued me. I appreciated getting something that felt more real than the often romanticized view of that life I see in fiction.

The humanity of the characters in this book appealed to me strongly as well. There are no perfect people in this book. Will struggles in his relationships with other people, and it takes him years to learn how to accept and forgive himself and others. Likewise, Will’s family has moments of great love, but also moments of real nastiness toward Will and his children. There are some beautiful and redemptive moments in this books, but there are also times when the characters’ lives felt painful in their authenticity. Even so, I found myself rooting for Will and his family throughout the book. It’s one of the more unforgettable reads I’ve had this year.

As a reviewer, I’ll come across comments on inspirational fiction to the effect that inspirational books could offer so much more than the platitudes we often settle for as readers. That “something more” that inspy can and perhaps should offer sometimes seems elusive and as a reader, I’ll wonder where to find it. However, Levi’s Will answers that question. When we talk about the depth and thoughtfulness inspirational fiction can offer readers, this is exactly the sort of book many of us have in mind. Grade: A

– Lynn Spencer
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evernight May’s prompt for the TBR Challenge was “Something Different”, with the suggestion of reading a book with an unusual setting, non-fiction or something out of my comfort zone. I gave it a lot of thought… and then thought about it some more, because I had trouble finding something that fit the bill. I have a house – and Kindle – full of books that might have worked, but not many that I actually wanted to read and were thus on my TBR pile. I know this is a challenge and I do like the fact that it does make me read genres I don’t often read, but I didn’t have the time or the inclination to struggle reading something I just didn’t fancy, especially as I’ve got a big pile of review books waiting in the wings.

I probably read one, perhaps two paranormals a year (and that number will drop unless someone else comes up with another good historical PNR series!) so on that basis I suppose Kristen Callihan’s Evernight might qualify as being a bit out of my comfort zone. I admit I’m cheating though, as I’ve read all the other books in the series and loved them. But what the hell, I’m getting something of my TBR pile, which is the ultimate goal!

This is the fifth book in the series, and picks up the story of Holly Evernight and Will Thorne that began in the previous book, Shadowdance, when Holly, who works for the SOS (Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals) as a kind of Q was forced by a crazed demon to perform a horrific experiment. Amaros – a fallen angel – wanted to prolong his life by means of a clockwork heart, but wasn’t willing to undergo the implant without testing it on someone else first. That someone was Will Thorne, a powerful Sanguis demon and member of the Nex, an organisation dedicated to bringing down the reign of humans and allowing supernaturals to live in the open.

When Amaros ripped out Will’s living, beating heart, Holly had no choice but to replace it with a platinum one if he was to continue to live – and a year later, she can still hear his screams and remember the expressions of terror and agony on his face. As a result of this experience, Holly has become a recluse, content to tinker with her inventions at the home she now never leaves.

But even though her house is extremely well-protected by means of various alarms and booby-traps, there have been a number of attempts on her life recently – yet she has no idea who is behind them or what could be their motive. A fourth attempt is not long in coming, and Holly is astonished to discover that her attacker on this occasion is none other than Will Thorne, who has turned almost entirely to metal. Being a powerful Elemental with the ability to control metal, Holly is well able to defend herself against him – but she quickly realizes that this is a being driven almost insane by pain, and instinctively acts to help him rather than to dispose of him.

Using her abilities, she is able to halt the progress of the metal throughout Will’s body and to lessen his pain so that gradually, he is able to regain his reason and his senses. He has little memory of where he has been or what he has been doing for the past year; the overwhelming agony of the metal gradually encroaching through his body has caused him to almost lose his mind – but he does recall two things. That for the past year, the desire to revenge himself upon Holly has been the one thing occupying his thoughts – and that someone told him where to find her.

Will quickly realizes that killing Holly is not an option – she is the only person who is likely to be able to cure him, and besides, just being close to her alleviates his suffering – so he offers her a deal. He will protect her if she finds a cure and keeps him pain free.

Ripping out a man’s heart and replacing it with a clockwork one isn’t perhaps the best way to begin a relationship (!), and Will and Holly certainly don’t get off to a great start. She is not completely convinced that he has changed his mind about killing her for one thing; and she’s prickly, waspish and most definitely does NOT appreciate Will’s slightly risqué quips, his handsome, leanly muscled form, his charm and the fact that the way he looks at her makes her stomach flip. Well – she doesn’t want to appreciate them, anyway.

And Will doesn’t want to like Holly either; she’s starchy, overly logical (he thinks) and he hates that he needs her and resents her for it. But when he starts to see beyond her aloofness and to understand the reasons behind it, realising that she is as much of a victim as he is, he finds himself more than liking her and takes to needling her to shake her up a bit. She’s shut herself away for the past year and hasn’t been out of the house, yet she’s a lovely young woman who should be living her life and not locked away from the world. Sanguis demons are by nature hedonistic and Will certainly appreciates the finer things in life, especially when it comes to women; and to him, Holly is very fine indeed. Yet she persists in trying to shut him out, even after an explosive sexual encounter, the fervor of which astonishes them both.

Both central characters are thoroughly engaging and the fact that they’re complete opposites – she’s buttoned up and logical, he’s laid-back and quite delicious – allows for a slow build-up of the attraction between them and makes for a lusciously steamy romance. There’s a deft bit of role-reversal here, too, with Holly being the one to hold back while Will, who has never been loved, longs for it and once he has it, embraces it with his whole heart and soul. It’s incredibly romantic and is one of the things that makes him such a wonderful hero.

The chemistry between the pair is off the charts; the air positively crackles whenever they’re on the page together, and I loved their gradual progression from two people who have been forced into proximity to a couple unable to envisage life without the other. Ms Callihan has penned yet another intense, sensual romance that is bound to set pulses racing, but there is more to the central relationship than sex. There’s tenderness, humor, caring and a deep emotional connection that is so beautifully written that it broke my heart when the machinations of another seemed poised to wrench Will and Holly apart forever. My one quibble with the book as a whole is that the final resolution is perhaps a little too easily come by when set against the desolation into which Holly has been swept because of the sacrifice Will makes in order to keep her safe. But on the other hand, the rest of the story is so compelling and the protagonists so appealing that I’m able to forgive that tiny weak spot in what is otherwise a wonderful read.

Kristen Callihan has created a fantastical world that exists just below the surface of Victorian London, a world populated by demons, angels, werewolves (Lycans) vampires (Sanguis), GIMs (humans who have died but been brought back to life by means of a clockwork heart), Fae… it may sound a little overwhelming to someone unfamiliar with the series or with paranormals in general, but the author is extremely good at giving relevant information without going into lots of dry exposition or info-dumps. Each book in the series is “self-contained” in that it tells a complete story in itself while also laying trails of breadcrumbs for forthcoming books and picking up threads from previous ones; and although it undoubtedly helps to have read the earlier books, if you’re prepared to do a bit of homework, then it’s quite possible to read Evernight as a standalone.

That said, all the books in this series so far have been excellent; I’ve rated them all B+/4.5 stars and above, so I can say without hesitation that it is absolutely worth starting at the beginning with Firelight if you fancy dipping your toe into these historical PNR waters. Grade: A-

– Caz Owens