This book has great potential to all readers who want to get lost in the story. I couldn't put it down and as I am a fast reader, I finished it in one day. I try to pace myself because once I get through reading a good book, then I am at a loss until I find another one. I usually try to buy two at a time so when I finish one, I have another one to look forward to. I feel like I can't get enough of the Amish books because all of them are so well written and I feel as if I'm living right in the same house with the characters , kind of like a fly on the wall.
I hope that the writers will quicken their writing pace to keep up with my voracious apptetite for their books.
I enjoyed The Caregiver, Book 1 in the Families of Honor series, so much that I stayed up late and finished it in one reading. I found Lucy, Calvin, Mattie, and Graham each compelling in their own ways. Lucy is trying to overcome the abuse her late husband heaped on her, damaging her self-confidence as much as the physical wounds he doled out damaged her body. Calvin is recovering from the pain of a broken relationship. Mattie is fighting breast cancer and watching her faith slip away into depression. Graham is the one who best knows how to perk Mattie up, but these two don't seem to realize their feelings for each other.
This book showed me some parallels of abuse survivors and those fighting cancer that I'd never noticed before. In many ways, they have similar emotional battles. One of my favorite quotes from the book is something Lucy tells Mattie: "Living is sometimes easy, Mattie. But surviving... surviving is the difficult thing. And that is what makes you grow and become strong."
The Caregiver, like Barbara Cameron's Quilts of Lancaster County series, tackles big issues but has many light-hearted moments, too. I can't wait to read the next book in the Families of Honor series, The Protector, which just released this week.
There are so many Amish books out there right now that sometimes it can be hard to sort through them and find ones that are a little unique or different. Here's a hint, find ones with Shelley Shepard Gray's name on them, pick them up and read them. "The Caregiver" is a beautiful story that deals with marital abuse, cancer, widowhood, love and trust. I'm thinking that Shelley knows someone that has gone through cancer because her descriptions as she deals with Lucy helping her cousin Mattie go through her chemotherapy I was near tears. It was moving and touching as Mattie deals with depression and Lucy struggles to keep her from losing hope. Lucy is Mattie's caregiver, but she soon finds out that maybe she needs a little more care herself than she realized. There are some wonderful plot points in this book and Shelley has a way of making you really care about the different characters. A beautiful story and I look forward to the next one in this series.
According to her website, Shelley Shepard Gray enjoys writing stories about "people who have a strong faith, a quieter way of life, but aren't perfect." Thus sets the scene for the first novel in her Families of Honor series, which includes a cast of characters that most wouldn't expect to find in Amish novel. Lucy has escaped an abusive marriage following her husband's sudden death, Calvin is picking up the pieces of his life after his long-term girlfriend left him for his best friend, Mattie is struggling with breast cancer and John is returning to his Amish roots after a long period in the English world. Their lives collide when Lucy travels to Jacob's Crossing, Ohio, to care for her cousin Mattie as she undertakes chemotherapy, and ends up sitting beside Calvin and his English Uncle John on the train. Still having nightmares about her husband's temper a year after his death, Lucy finds it difficult to be comfortable around men. And just as she starts to open up to Calvin, she witnesses him having a heated argument that causes all of her fears about men to surface again. When she arrives in Jacob's Crossing she throws all of her energies into caring for Mattie, but can't help but keep running into Calvin. Lucy finds herself challenged to put her past behind her and open up to the new possibilities of the future - and a life with Calvin.
The Caregiver was my second experience with Shelley Shepard Gray, and while I wouldn't say that she's becoming one of my favourite authors in the Amish genre, she's definitely one you can depend upon for a great story. Shelley doesn't shy away from writing about tough topics, and I commend her for showing the Amish in a truthful light and not falling into the trap of romanticising their lifestyle. In places I found it difficult to read about Lucy's abusive marriage and to learn that her family hadn't tried to rescue her, but I'm sure this is a situation that far too many women find themselves in, both Amish and "English". Lucy was an incredibly endearing character, one that you just want to hug and keep from harm. That said, Lucy is not as vulnerable as you might think, and while she finds it difficult to trust men she is a pillar of strength when it comes to looking after her cousin, Mattie. I enjoyed reading about Lucy and Calvin's blossoming friendship, which will be appreciated by many fans of sweet romances. Calvin wasn't a terribly unique character as far as heroes go, but he had his own troubles in facing his ex-girlfriend and best friend's new relationship, and it was interesting to see that not all Amish courtships end in marriage. Calvin was a solid, dependable character and the perfect match for Lucy, and I was rooting for them to overcome their troubles and admit that they cared for each other.
As I started to read this novel I was surprised to discover that the focus wasn't purely on Lucy and Calvin, but also on Mattie and John. A fair amount of the story was fixed on Mattie's recovery from surgery, her struggles with her faith and her fear that she'd never find a husband because her operation had warped her body. Although I didn't expect to read Mattie's perspective on the events that unfolded, I ended up appreciating her struggles and what they added to the story. Shelley painted Mattie's experience with breast cancer very realistically and I could imagine that any woman would feel exactly as she did. On the other hand, I found myself becoming disinterested with John's story, which was almost entirely unrelated to the main plot and focused mainly on his attraction to two very different women. This subplot was unresolved by the end of the novel, and while I imagine that it will be continued in the second book in the series I have to admit that I really don't care what happens to him. His character wasn't fleshed out enough for me to really become interested in him, but maybe he'll become a more focal character in the second book.
Having experienced Shelley Shepard Gray's skill in creating realistic characters with struggles that readers can all relate to, I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her work. If you're wary of the Amish genre for fear that authors have a tendency to romanticise the lifestyle, The Caregiver may be more your style of novel. That said, it still contains a large splash of romance and a happy ending that will provide encouragement to all fans of the Amish genre. 8/10
Avon Inspire and NetGalley provided a copy of this book in return for an honest review.