Surrounded by remote mountains in Montana, where the Amish and "Englich" mingle, Marianna's heart is pulled in two directions. Aaron offers a secure love within the realms of the Amish faith. Ben, an "Englicher", has shown Marianna's new ways to draw close to God. His kindness to her family and others is deeply valued. He offers his heart and a simple life.
This is a delightful story, filled with the struggles of young love and the consequences of choice and accountability. It is one of closed doors opened to serve one another in a closed knot community. The characters are well rounded, full of emotion, and there is plenty of adventure to keep the pages turning.
Until I got my hands on the two novels currently in the Big Sky Series by Tricia Goyer, I'll confess...I wasn't a huge fan of her work. Now, before you go bashing me on the head because I've lost my marbles, let me be clear. She's a good author, but up until a week ago, her books didn't have that "zing" or "snap-crackle-pop" that I love to experience when reading. And now....we've got a "snap-crackle-pop," a "zippa-de-do-dah," and a "wowza!" all rolled together thanks to her latest offering--Along Wooded Paths--the second book in the Big Sky Series.
I love Amish stories that take me beyond the borders of Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Indiana (where most Amish stories are set). This series just happens to take place in Montana, and thanks to the majestic mountains and the small-town folk, the little town of Kootenai is almost a character by itself. Everyone loves to stop by the little store where Marianna works so they can get a good meal, maybe a slice of cake, and some good conversation. You may even find Ben there once in awhile, participating in an open mic night of sorts. But what sets this one little place apart from all the other Amish communities is the ordinary interaction between the Englisch and the Amish. In most Amish novels, the Englisch are pictured in one of three ways: as a mode of transportation, as a trusted doctor that they visit regularly, or as a temptation to some young boy or girl during their rumshpringa. But when your car is stuck on the side of the road, or when your cabinets are void of food...everyone helps each other. That quality alone makes this series different from any other Amish series I've ever read, and ya know...I'd love to see a whole lot more of 'em.
If all that wasn't enough to really make Tricia's Amish novels unique, she's got one more little trick up her sleeve--their interaction with God. Now, if you're a regular to Amish books, you know that they are pretty much "by the book" when it comes to matters of church, faith, and their Ordnung. Just like every other facet of their lives, there is a system and order to things that has been there for hundreds of years. While I understand most of it (although I couldn't ever physically do it all), I've always wondered about the religious side of things. Why don't they believe in reading the Bible on their own? Why do they almost blindly trust every word from their bishop's mouth? Why do they believe in praying silently versus praying aloud? Do they believe that they're the only chosen group going to heaven? What about outsiders that say they're Christians, too? In Along Wooded Paths, Marianna has many of those same questions, too, and I'm on pins and needles waiting to find out how she comes to terms with her new relationship with God, and how it's so special to her.
And good grief, you'll smack me upside the head for sure if I don't give you the best morsel of all! Yep....there's a love triangle, too! And sweet mercy, it's a good 'un...one of the very best I've read in a long time. :o) Now, Marianna hasn't sided with the right guy yet, in my opinion, but I'm still hoping for things to work out the way they're supposed to...there's still hope. I just don't think she's truly happy with her decision at this point. (Oh, and there's not one triangle, but two...geez, could this book get any better?!)
Not since book 3 of Cindy Woodsmall's first Amish series have I been so impatient to read the last book in a series! How many days 'til April 1, 2012, Tricia...because I promise, I'm countin' them down!
Marianna Sommer knew Aaron Zook her whole life. She knew he was the one she would marry - until her family moved from Indiana to Montana. Everything started changing after the move. For one thing, she became friends with Englishers. Back in Indiana, the Amish didn't mingle with the English. In Montana, it was not uncommon to have English friends if one was Amish. Neighbors helped neighbors, regardless of their upbringing.
Marianna met an Englisher named Ben Stone. He helped her dad and other Amish in the area. Because of Ben, she discovered God in a whole different way. Ben believed in Jesus and knew he was going to heaven. Back in Indiana, Marianna was always taught that a person had to be Amish to go to heaven. She was also taught that dress, good deeds, and traditions were the most important things to God. The bishop never spoke of a personal relationship with God. One didn't ask God for forgiveness on their own, they went to the bishop. One didn't read the Bible on their own. They heard it in church. Marianna didn't live for Jesus because of who He was, she did it because that what Amish people do, it's their tradition. Their parents did it, their grandparents did it. Marianna discovered that traditions were an important part of Amish life but took a back seat to a relationship with Jesus.
The more time she spent with Ben, the more she began to fall in love with him. He was also in love with her. They both struggled inwardly because they knew neither one of them would leave their life as they knew it. They couldn't be together. Things got really confusing for Marianna when Aaron showed up. To make matters worse, he stayed at her parent's house, where she also lived, for six weeks because he was in a car accident and needed to recover. She struggled between loving him and loving Ben.
While Marianna was away from Indiana, Aaron started spending time with Naomi. Marianna found this made her a little jealous, which was ironic because Aaron could see she cared for Ben. Marianna's brother, Levi, also had courted Naomi..
Marianna's parents were having their own struggles. They left Indiana because their son Levi left the faith. They could not bear to see him not be following his Amish upbringing. They were still struggling with the deaths of two of their daughters many years ago. They also were hiding a secret or two. One secret is discovered in this book.
Marianna had to talk herself into loving Aaron and talk herself out of loving Ben. She wanted to do the right thing but her heart was getting in the way. At least she felt her heart is where it should be with God. She was praying and reading her father's English Bible and learning so much about God in ways she never knew.
Marianna finds out that Naomi is pregnant and Levi is going to marry her. Marianna wonders if it is Aaron's child. When Aaron heals, he returns to Indiana. Marianna also returns to Indiana to help care for Naomi and prepare for the her and Levi's wedding
The book ends with Marianna returning to Indiana. Make sure to read sneak peek chapter one from Beyond Hope's Valley, book 3 in The Big Sky Series at the end of this book. You will be surprised to find out who is not Naomi's baby's father,
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for my honest review.
Along Wooded Paths is more like women's fiction than a typical Amish tale. It isn't filled with Pennsylvania Dutch but does present an intimate look at the life and interaction of one young Amish woman and her family and their remote community. Marianna, the main character, struggles with issues of love and faith in this tender coming-of-age story. She is drawn to Ben, a kind-hearted musician, but Aaron (her first love, with whom she grew up and intended to marry) still holds a place in her heart. When Aaron travels from Indiana to see Marianna, his surprise visit ends up much different than he intended. Will he ever convince her to return to the place of her childhood and the house he's built for them?
This is the second in Tricia Goyer's Big Sky series. It is a complete story in itself. I have not read the first one, but she smoothly gives the details to fill in the background as needed. Tricia always provides enjoyable work, and this is a series to savor.