Wynter Evans wasnt her birth name. It was the name she chose and she used it on the air much as an author might have a pen name. Wynter was a local television news reporter, sent to do a story on unique Missouri towns with photographer Zac, who clearly didnt want to be there. She had decided to include the small, primarily Mennonite community called Sanctuary because of a young Mennonite man that was in a photo that her co-worker Megans mother had taken. It wasnt just any young man; he looked like an older version of her brother Ryan who had disappeared when he was 7, more than ten years prior. Even though the killer had never confessed to Ryans murder, the police had chosen to believe that Ryan was one of the young children who had been kidnapped and murdered about the time he was taken. After all these years, Wynter still hopes to be reunited with Ryan. After Ryans disappearance, her family had fallen apart her parents divorcing, her father remarried and her mother becoming a shadow of her former self.
At the last minute, the boss called and told her to bypass Sanctuary because some of the people there didnt want to be filmed. Choosing to ignore Eds voicemessage, Wynter proceeded to the little town. The librarian who was previously enthusiastic about the visit now said that not only did the Mennonites prefer to not be filmed, but there were others who had moved there for privacy. Reuben, a man acting as honorary mayor (as much as was acceptable to the Old Order Mennonites) asked her to not take photos or films of anyone without their permission, which Wynter agreed to. He then assisted them in finding a place to stay with Esther, an older widow whose children had moved out.
So begins the story one in which two of the primary characters, Wynter and Zac, are not believers in Christ. One of Esthers conditions for those who stayed in her home was that they attend services with her on Sunday. She told Wynter that she would pray for her situation with her brother.
Threats begin to come to Wynter to get out of town. Photos put out by her station that she didnt have take but had been taken by her phone when she was out to dinner. Then a man was found murdered, and she was considered a person of interest.
I very much enjoyed this novel! Nancy Mehl is an accomplished author who can write a great novel of suspense as well as a woman whose Christian maturity shines through her characters. She writes of those who dont yet believe with understanding, and her characters who do believe in Jesus are wise and discerning.
Gathering Shadows is a terrific first novel in her Finding Sanctuary series, and already it is clear that this new series is even better than the previous books of Nancy Mehls that Ive read. I highly recommend this novel to older teens and women of any age who appreciate a good novel of romantic suspense with plot twists and challenges to the reader. Those who like reading about the small Mennonite communities as found throughout the US will definitely enjoy this series.
This book was purchased by me and I reviewed this book without compensation of any kind. All opinions are solely mine.
TV reporter Wynter Evans uses her series profiling rural towns in Missouri to investigate the long-ago disappearance of her younger brother. Old secrets in the Old Order Mennonite town of Sanctuary eventually come to light, but will they hurt the community? Wynters own family had its own secrets, which she eventually uncovers. But this leads to danger and may threaten her very life. A well-written suspense that tugs at the emotions.
Gathering Shadows is built on such an interesting premise. The possibility that an abducted child could have been hidden away in an Old Order Mennonite family for ten years caught my attention and I knew that this was a book I wanted to read.
The story started out at a slow and steady pace as Wynter began making contacts and gathering information. I liked how we learned a little bit here and there from Wynter, and eventually from her father, about the details of Ryans abduction and of other interesting information from their family life. Every piece of knowledge the author allowed the reader to discover helped me to slowly place the pieces of this puzzle together.
There is light romance in the novel between Wynter and the honorary mayor of Sanctuary, Reuben King. However, their romance, although sweet, blossomed rather quickly and was not the driving force in the story for me. As I passed the halfway point in the book, the action and suspense in the story began to pick up and the romance began to feel like a good fit to me. I believe that the times of danger and trial could help two people, such as Wynter and Reuben, realize their feelings for each other very quickly.
I really enjoyed this story from start to finish and have to admit that for the last quarter of the book, I could not set it down! The author did a great job of creating a suspenseful story that kept me guessing over portions of the mystery until the very end. I was able to piece together part of what might have happened to Wynters brother, but only in the last couple of chapters were all of my questions answered, and they were answered in a very fulfilling way. I definitely look forward to reading more books in the Finding Sanctuary series.
At first, it took me a while to get going with this novel because it's in first person, my least favorite. And I was not aware that the setting was in a Mennonite town, my least favorite setting, as well. I don't know why I was surprised. Nancy's other books are in Amish/Mennonite settings. Maybe it was because the cover and the back cover copy didn't reveal it. Nevertheless, Nancy has a nice writing style so it was easy to enjoy this book.
Once I got my footing, I delved in. Wynter, the heroine, is searching for her missing brother, who has been missing for ten years. She's a reporter and is using her current story angle as a way to get into this Mennonite town to find him. It was easy to cheer Wynter on in her quest and to feel her angst.
The people there all seem to have some sort of secret and are possibly running from something they've done illegally, and I found it a bit weird that this religious town, Sanctuary, would be so full of people like this. I didn't know who to trust. But that actually increased the tension for me. Since this was a mystery, that's a good thing.
I liked the spiritual transformation that Wynter and her photographer, Zac, went through. They had already had a knowledge and belief in Jesus but had both strayed away from the faith because of the trials they'd encountered in life. So this was a different type of spiritual transformation than you'd see in a non-believer.
I had hoped that the romantic element would have included Zac instead of Reuben. The friendship that budded between them seemed to make way for romance because they developed a nice and healthy dependency upon each other. I didn't feel like there was enough reason for her to fall for Reuben. Maybe it was because the book spanned only a week's worth of time and I personally feel like it takes longer than that to say I love you.
In the end, I felt Wynter's choices (won't spoil the ending) were made because of her brother and because she wanted a change of pace, not because of her interest in Reuben. This book was more about the spiritual lives of the people and the mystery/suspense than the romance, and that's okay.
I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I had previously read a series of Mennonite fiction by Nancy Mehl and enjoyed the books, but I think she has outdone herself with this new story. Gathering Shadows is a great start to her Finding Sanctuary series and left me anxious to read more.
Wynter, Zac, Reuben, Esther (as well as others) are well-developed characters who all make the story come alive. Although certain elements of the plot are pretty obvious from the beginning, there is plenty of suspense to keep the pace exciting all the way to the end of the book. Watching the growth of the characters in their faith and in their relationships adds an enjoyable depth to the story. The Mennonite influence is definitely a part of this story, but not necessarily the most important part.
An added bonus for me is the setting for the book. Although Sanctuary is a fictional town, most of the other towns mentioned in the book are real locations less than an hour's drive from the small Missouri town where I live. Relating to the places mentioned provides even more interest to a story.
If you think you would enjoy a visit to a small town filled with secrets, give Gathering Shadows a try. A word of warning, though -- you might not want to start this book until you have time to enjoy the whole thing. You will likely have trouble finding a good place to stop.
Thanks to Nancy and to Bethany House for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.