Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Fresh Amish Story -- A Promise for Miriam

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen, Marketing Assistant, Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Vannetta Chapman has published more than 100 articles in Christian family magazines. She discovered her love for the Amish while researching her grandfather’s birthplace in Albion, Pennsylvania. Vannetta is a multi-award-winning member of Romance Writers of America. She was a teacher for 15 years and currently resides in the Texas Hill country. Her first two inspirational novels—A Simple Amish Christmas and Falling to Pieces—were Christian Book Distributors bestsellers.

Visit the author's website.


Amish schoolteacher Miriam King loves her students. At 26, she hasn’t yet met anyone who can convince her to give up the Plain school at Pebble Creek. Then newcomer Gabriel Yoder steps into her life, bringing his daughter, an air of mystery, and challenges Miriam has never faced before.

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736946128
ISBN-13: 978-0736946124


Pebble Creek, southwestern Wisconsin
Three years later
Miriam King glanced over the schoolroom with satisfaction.
Lessons chalked on the board.
Pencils sharpened and in the cup.
Tablets, erasers, and chalk sat on each desk.
Even the woodstove was cooperating this morning. Thank the Lord for Efram Hochstetler, who stopped by early Mondays on his way to work and started the fire. If not for him, the inside of the windows would be covered with ice when she stepped in the room.
Now, where was Esther?
As if Miriam’s thoughts could produce the girl, the back door to the schoolhouse opened and Esther burst through, bringing with her a flurry of snowflakes and a gust of the cold December wind. Her blonde hair was tucked neatly into her kapp, and the winter morning had colored her cheeks a bright red.
Esther wore a light-gray dress with a dark apron covering it. At five and a half feet and weighing no more than a hundred and twenty pounds, Miriam often had the unsettling feeling of looking into a mirror—a mirror into the past—when she looked at the young woman who taught with her at the one-room schoolhouse.
In truth, the teachers had often been mistaken for family. They were similar in temperament as well as appearance. Other than their hair, Esther could have been Miriam’s younger sister. Esther’s was the color of ripe wheat, while Miriam’s was black as coal.
Why did that so often surprise both Plain people and Englischers? If Miriam’s black hair wasn’t completely covered by her kapp, she received the oddest stares.
“Am I late?” Esther’s shoes echoed against the wooden floor as she hurried toward the front of the room. Pulling off her coat, scarf, and gloves, she dropped them on her desk.
“No, but nearly.”
“I told Joseph we had no time to check on his cattle, but he insisted.”
“Worried about the gate again?”
Ya. I told him they wouldn’t work it loose, but he said—”
“Cows are stupid.” They uttered the words at the same time, both mimicking Joseph’s serious voice, and then broke into laughter. The laughter eased the tension from Esther’s near tardiness and set the morning back on an even keel.
“Joseph has all the makings of a fine husband and a gut provider,” Miriam said. “Once you’re married, you’ll be glad he’s so careful about the animals.”
Ya, but when we’re married I won’t be having to leave in time to make it to school.” Esther’s cheeks reddened a bit more as she seemed to realize how the words must sound.
Why did everyone think Miriam was embarrassed that she still remained unmarried? Did it never occur to them that it was her own choice to be single?
“Efram had the room nice and warm before I even arrived,” she said gently. “And I put out your tablets.”
Wunderbaar. I’ll write my lessons on the board, and we’ll be ready.” As Esther reached to pull chalk from her desk drawer, Miriam noticed that she froze and then stood up straighter. When she reached up and touched her kapp as if to make sure she was presentable, Miriam realized someone else was in the room.
She turned to see who had surprised the younger teacher. It was still a few minutes before classes were due to start, and few of their students arrived early.
Standing in the doorway to the schoolroom was an Amish man. Pebble Creek was a small community, technically a part of the village of Cashton. Old-timers and Plain folk alike still referred to the area where the creek went through by its historic name.
Miriam was quite sure she’d never seen the man standing in her classroom before. He was extremely tall, and she had the absurd notion he’d taken his hat off to fit through their entryway. Even standing beneath the door arch, waiting for them to speak, he seemed to barely fit. He was thin and sported a long beard, indicating he was married.
In addition to clutching his black hat, he wore a heavy winter coat, though not the type worn by most Wisconsin residents. The tops of his shoulders, his arms, and even parts of his beard were covered with snow. More important than how he looked standing in her classroom was the fact that he held the hand of a small girl.
Gudemariye,” Miriam said, stepping forward and moving past her desk.
The man still didn’t speak, but as she drew closer, he bent and said something to the girl.
When Miriam had halved the distance between them, he returned her greeting as his somber brown eyes assessed her.
The young girl next to him had dark-brown hair like her father. It had been combed neatly and pulled back into a braid, all tucked inside her kapp. What was striking about her wasn’t her hair or her traditional Plain clothing—it was her eyes. She had the most solemn, beautiful brown eyes Miriam had ever seen on a child.
They seemed to take in everything.
Miriam noticed she clutched her father’s hand tightly with one hand and held a lunch box with the other.
“I’m the teacher of the younger grades here, grades one through four. My name is Miriam King.” The girl’s eyes widened, and the father nodded again. “Esther Schrocks teaches grades five through eight.”
He looked to the girl to see if she understood, but neither replied.
“And your daughter is—”
“Grace is eight years old, just this summer.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “I’m Gabriel Miller.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Miriam offered her best smile, which still did not seem to put the father at ease. She’d seen nervous parents before, and obviously this was one. “You must be new to our community.”
Ya. I purchased the place on Dawson Road.”
“Dawson Road? Do you mean the Kline farm?”
Ya.” Not quite rude, but curt and to the point.
Miriam tried to hide any concern she felt as images of Kline’s dilapidated spread popped into her mind. It was no business of hers where this family chose to live. “I know exactly where you mean. My parents live a few miles past that.”
“It’s a fair piece from here,” he noted.
“That it is. Esther and I live here at the schoolhouse during the week. The district built accommodations on the floor above, as is the custom in most of our schoolhouses here in Wisconsin. We both spend weekends at home with our families.”
“I don’t know I’ll be able to bring Grace in every day.” Gabriel Miller reached up and ran his finger under the collar of his shirt, which peeked through the gap at the top of his coat.
Miriam noticed then that it looked stiff and freshly laundered. Had he put on his Sunday best to bring his daughter to school on her first day? It said something about him if he had.
“A man has to put his farm first,” he added defensively.
“Some children live close enough that their parents can bring them in the winter, and, of course, most everyone walks when the weather permits.” Miriam paused to smile in greeting as a few students began arriving and walking around them. “Others ride together. Eli Stutzman lives past Dawson road, and he would be happy to give your dochder a ride to school.”
“It would be a help.” Mr. Miller still didn’t move, and Miriam waited, wondering what else the man needed to say.
She looked up and saw one of the older girls, Hannah, walking in the door. “Hannah, this is Grace Miller. She’s new at our school. Would you mind sitting with her and helping her this week?”
“Sure thing, Miriam.” Hannah squatted down to Grace’s level and said something to the girl Miriam couldn’t hear.
Whatever it was, Grace released her dat’s hand and took Hannah’s. She’d walked halfway down the aisle when she turned, rushed back to where they stood, and threw her arms around her father’s legs.
One squeeze and she was gone again.
Though it was fleeting, Miriam saw a look of anguish pass over the man’s face. What could be going through his mind? She’d seen many fathers leave their children for the first time over the last eight years, but something more was going on here.
“She’ll be fine, Mr. Miller. We’re a small school, and the children look after one another.”
“It’s that…” he twirled his hat in his hands once, twice, three times. “Before we moved here, Grace was…that is to say, we…well, her grossmammi homeschooled her.”
“I understand. How about if I write a note letting you know how Grace is doing? I’ll put it in her lunch box at the end of the day.”
Something like relief washed over his face.
Danki,” he mumbled. Then he rammed his hat on his head and hurried out the door.
Esther caught her attention from the front of the room and sent a questioning look toward the man’s retreating back, but Miriam shook her head. She’d explain later, at lunch perhaps. For now they had nearly forty children between them to teach. As usual, it would be a busy morning.

Gabe did stop to talk to Eli Stutzman. He wanted to make sure he trusted the man.
It helped when three girls and a boy who were the last to climb out of the long buggy stopped to wish their father a good day. The littlest girl, probably the same age as his Gracie, wrapped her arms around her daddy’s neck, whispered something in his ear, and then tumbled down the steps into the chilly morning.
“That one is my youngest—Sadie. Always full of energy, but she’s a worrier. This morning it’s about a pup she left at home in the barn.” Covering the distance between them, the older man removed his glove and offered his right hand. “Name’s Eli Stutzman. I take it you’re new here, which must mean you bought the Kline place.”
“I am, and I did. Gabriel Miller.” Gabe stood still in the cold, wishing he could be done with this and back on his farm.
“Have children in the school?”
“One, a girl—about your youngest one’s age.”
Eli nodded, and then he seemed to choose his words carefully. “I suspect you’ll be busy putting your place in order. It will be no problem giving your dochder a ride back and forth each day.”
“I would appreciate it.”
Stutzman told him the approximate time he passed the Kline place, and Gabe promised he’d have Gracie ready at the end of the lane.
He turned to go and was headed to his own buggy when the man called out to him.
“The Kline place has been empty quite a while.”
Gabe didn’t answer. Instead, he glanced out at the surrounding fields, covered in snow and desolate looking on this Monday morning.
“If you need help, or find something that’s worse than what you expected, you holler. We help each other in Pebble Creek.”
Gabe ran his hand along the back of his neck but didn’t answer. Merely nodding, he moved on to his buggy.
He was accustomed to people offering help. Actually delivering on it? That was often another story, though he wouldn’t be judging the people here before he knew them.
Still, it was in his nature to do things on his own if at all possible.
Was his new home worse than he had expected?
Ya, it was much worse.
The barn was falling in on itself, and the house was not a lot better, but he knew carpentry. He could make them right. At least the woodstove worked. He’d been somewhat surprised to find no gas refrigerator, but he had found out who sold blocks of ice carved from the river. The icebox in the mudroom would do.
Gracie would be warm and fed. She’d have a safe place to sleep and to do the drawing she loved so much.
He didn’t think he’d be calling on Eli for help.
He’d see that Grace Ann made it to school and church—he’d promised her grossmammis as much. But other than that he wasn’t looking to make freinden in Pebble Creek. He wanted to be left alone. It was the reason he’d left their community in Indiana.
He could do without any help.
His parting words to his parents echoed back to him.
“I can do it on my own.”
As he drove the buggy toward home, Gabe looked out over high ridges and low valleys. Dairy farms dotted the snowcapped view. Running through it all was Pebble Creek, no doubt a prime place for trout fishing most of the year. He’d heard the call of wild turkeys and seen deer. It was a rich, blessed area.
Pebble Creek ran through the heart of Cashton, the closest town. It also touched the border of the school grounds and meandered through his own property. It bound them together.
As he approached home, Gabe’s mind was filled with thoughts of the day’s work ahead of him. He wondered where he’d find the energy to do it all, but somehow he would.
For Gracie he would.
His parents had offered to send his youngest brother along for the first year, but Andrew was needed on the family place. And, truthfully, Gabe preferred to be alone—just he and Grace.
“I can do it on my own.”
“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” his mother said. She had reminded him as he was packing their things that pride was his worst shortcoming, though the Lord knew he had many to choose from when it came to faults.
Was it pride that scraped against his heart each day? He couldn’t say.
He only knew he preferred solitude to company, especially since Hope died.
That seemed ironic, even to him. She had been his hope, his life, his all, and now she was gone. Her death had happened so quickly—it reminded him of one of the Englisch freight trains barreling around the corner of some bend.
A big black iron thing he hadn’t seen coming. A monstrosity with the power to destroy his life.
Which wasn’t what the bishop had said, or his parents, or his brothers and sisters.
He slapped the reins and allowed his new horse, Chance, to move a bit faster over the snow-covered road. He’d left Indiana because he needed to be free of the looks of sympathy, the well-intentioned words, the interfering.
So he now had what he’d wished for—a new beginning with Grace.
If it meant days of backbreaking work, so much the better. Perhaps when he was exhausted, he would begin to sleep at night.

My Thoughts on A Promise for Miriam

As anyone who follows my blog knows, Amish fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I've read lots of great books by several great authors.  There are many similarities in most of these books -- not a bad thing at all -- but it is also nice to find the little differences that distinguish the various series or various authors.

A Promise for Miriam by Vannetta Chapman has all the elements that make for a great Amish story.  Miriam King is a young Amish school teacher in Pebble Creek, Wisconsin.  Since she has reached an age when most Amish women would be married and probably have children of their own, she has pretty much given up on the idea of looking for real love.  Gabe Miller moves from Indiana to make a fresh start with his young daughter Grace, who is
still suffering from the loss of her mother three years earlier.  He hopes to settle in quietly and stay as unnoticed as possible in the more conservative Wisconsin community.  Things happen -- both frightening and exciting -- which force changes in plans for both Miriam and Gabe. 

But there was something more than the expected Amish romance here.  When I finished reading the book, one of my first thoughts was something like, "That was refreshing!  There was a little different twist to this story from many of the other Amish stories I've read."  What was the difference?  I still haven't come up with the answer to that question, but I'm glad it was there.  The characters had a lot of depth.  The conflicts the characters had within themselves and with each other were well developed. The story was told from multiple points of view.  Details about the specific Amish community came through in a way that was informative, yet smoothly flowed into the story.

Any fan of Amish fiction should read A Promise for Miriam.  I don't know how many Pebble Creek Amish books Vannetta has planned, but she has definitely set the bar for a great series!

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Alaskan Adventure -- Submerged

Submerged, Dani Pettrey's debut novel, is full of adventure, suspense, and history -- with just the right amount of romance!

Bailey Craig has no intention of ever returning to Yancey, Alaska, where she is sure her reputation from years ago is still alive.  But when she receives word that her dear Aunt Agnes has died in a plane crash, she has no choice but to go back long enough for the funeral and to take care of Agnes' business.  Avoiding Cole McKenna is impossible, especially as it becomes apparent that there is much more to the plane crash than first appeared.  Only Bailey and Cole together have the knowledge and skill needed to solve the mystery as the number of murders continues to grow.

Seeing recommendations on the book cover by two of my favorite suspense authors -- Dee Henderson and Lynette Easton -- made me hopeful that reading this book by a new author would be worth my time.  And I was not disappointed in the least!  Dani drew me into the story right away with her vibrant characters and exciting storyline.  And she beautifully intertwined important lessons of faith and forgiveness, particularly forgiveness of self.

There's a downside to having read this book . . . now there's the months'-long wait to learn more about the McKenna family in book 2 of the Alaskan Courage series.  But if Shattered is anything like Submerged, it will definitely be worth the wait!

This book was provided free by Bethany House for my honest review.

Dani Pettrey is a wife, homeschooling mom, and author. She feels blessed to write inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things she loves--the thrill of adventure, nail biting suspense, the deepening of her characters' faith, and plenty of romance. She and her husband reside in Maryland with their two teenage daughters. Visit her website at

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Dramatic Terri Blackstock Adventure -- Downfall

Terri Blackstock's Downfall completes her Intervention series with more drama for the Covington family.

Emily Covington has successfully beaten her drug habit and turned her life around -- or at least that is the way things appear.  However, earning trust -- even from her own mother -- continues to be a challenge for her, especially when evidence points toward her falling back into old, destructive ways.  When murder comes into the picture, Emily is the only one who figures out what is going on, but she has trouble getting people to believe her theories and finds herself as the prime suspect in the crimes.

Once again, Terri Blackstock shares her gift for telling a story of intrigue and suspense, while including themes of God's work in the lives of her characters.  This series carries special meaning to me because of Terri's writing from her own experience with her daughter's addictions.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Good Memoir -- Grace Leads Me Home

It seems there have been lots of stories about people who have left the Amish way of life for various reasons.  Marlene Miller's Grace Leads Me Home gives a very different story.

Marlene grew up in an "Englisch" home in a small Ohio town where she experienced a lot of struggles in her life.  She also did a lot of the same kinds of things many typical teenagers do, including being chosen as head majorette at her high school.  One winter day she met an Amish boy ice skating at a local pond, but little did she realize where God would take the two of them, including a future together as members of an Old Order Amish group.

I enjoyed the conversational tone of the book, feeling as though I was sitting in the room with Marlene as she shared her story.  At times she seemed to ramble away from the
main point, but the ramblings just added more personality to the details of the ups and downs that she and Johnny shared in raising their large family.  In all the stages of life she has been through, Marlene has remained certain of God's grace seeing her through.

A Fun Amish Story -- The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club

If you want to read a fun Amish story that's a little off from the norm, give Wanda Brunstetter's The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club a try.

To provide for herself financially so she is not a burden to her family Amish widow Emma Yoder decides to give quilting classes in her home.  She is not sure this is a good idea, not sure she will do a good job, but she advertises the class and waits for some kind of response.  When the day comes for the first class, Emma finds herself with a group of students unlike anything she ever imagined, each with a unique reason for joining the class!
  • Paul Ramirez -- a young father hoping to find someone who can finish a quilt his late wife started for their young daughter
  • Pam and Stuart Johnson -- a couple looking for some kind of common interest to help hold together their failing marriage
  • Ruby Lee Williams -- a preacher's wife who needs a diversion from struggles in her church
  • Jan Sweet -- a rough biker who needs a creative outlet while he finishes out a probation from legal problems
  • Star Stephens -- a young woman looking for love and understanding
As the weekly classes progress, everyone in the group, including Emma, learns lessons they never expected -- most of which have nothing at all to do with quilting.

As I said, this is not your typical Amish story.  In fact, most of the main characters are not Amish at all.  But Wanda intertwines the lives of these characters into the Plain setting very beautifully.  Watching their stories unfold is both touching and entertaining, as you anxiously look forward to seeing how the "Club" members find themselves stitched together at the end.  It was a very enjoyable and fairly quick read.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Back to the Baxters -- Coming Home

Ten years ago, Karen Kingsbury first introduced us to John and Elizabeth Baxter and their family in the Redemption series.  Throughout five series and twenty-two books, we've shared in the great highs and the deep sorrows of this family and their friends who have come alive off the pages of fiction.  Many true KK fans would admit to thinking about inviting some of the Baxters to a special event in their lives . . . that's how real Karen's characters have become!

In Coming Home, we have the opportunity to revisit old friends and be reminded of their stories. The plot revolves around Ashley Baxter Blake's plan to have the whole family come together to celebrate her father's 70th birthday with a surprise party.  She encourages each of her brothers and sisters to write a letter to their dad, letting him know how much he means to them. At such a special time in the life of their family, tragedy strikes . . . a tragedy so big it threatens to shake the faith that has been at the very foundation of the Baxter family through all the years.  But as always, the Baxters find a way to hold fast to each other and to the God who has carried them through so many times before.

There is no way to say much more about the story without any spoilers, so I'll just suggest you grab a box of tissues and dive in.  Hopefully, you will have an afternoon or evening to spend because I'm not sure there's any way to put the book down until you've finished it.  Karen says this is the last book about the Baxters, but we can only hope to hear more from them somewhere along the way.

If you have not read any of the previous series, Karen provides sufficient background to make the story make sense as a stand-alone novel -- but I would definitely recommend that you go back and read all the previous books to really get to know the Baxters.