Sunday, September 4, 2011

Along Wooded Paths:A Big Sky Novel, by Tricia Goyer

B&H Publishing Group, ISBN 9781433668692, October 2011

Marianna Sommer has moved with her Amish family from Indiana to Montana, where they have found a much closer cooperation between their fellow Amish and the Englisch whom, in Indiana, they would have mostly avoided. The man Marianna has long planned to marry, Aaron Zook, has stayed in Indiana, building a house for the two of them and waiting for her return when her family can spare her. But in Montana, Marianna has met the Englisch man Ben Stone. Ben has led her to find a deeper relationship with Christ than ever before--and has stolen a piece of her heart, as well.

When Aaron grows restless with waiting and comes west to try to woo her back to Indiana, the man who picks him up at the train station has an accident on the icy road, and Aaron's leg is broken. He now has to stay with the Sommers for six weeks until his leg is healed enough to travel. While working together with both Amish and Englisch neighbors in the harsh Montana winter, Marianna is forced to examine her heart, her beliefs, and her priorities with both the men she loves in painfully close proximity. Aaron is a kind, gentle, good-humored, loving man, a hard worker, and a talented artist. Ben is a talented musician with a promising career if he chooses to return to it, who found Christ and a simpler lifestyle after nearly destroying himself in the wild, ungrounded life of the Los Angeles show business world. Aaron shares and embodies the ways and the values that have built her life; Ben has led her to see and embrace her relationship with Christ in a new way--and he is also, frankly, a bit more exciting.

As Marianna works in a general store with her Englisch employer and Englisch and Amish coworkers, she learns more about herself, her capacity for kindness and compassion. And from an Englisch coworker who is a struggling, young, single mother, something about the loneliness and struggle to keep a home warm and a child fed that can confront those without the strong, close-knit family and community support she takes for granted. Through all this, she struggles to make the choice that will shape her whole life--does her own heart and Christ's plan point her towards an Amish life with Aaron, or an unknown, Englisch life with Ben?

Sadly, as compelling as the issues here are, the writing is a bit rough, and not all of the characters are as well developed as one would like. Marianna is a strong, well-written character, Ben somewhat less so, and Aaron we get more intriguing glimpses of who he is than any real, solid sense of him. Most of the other characters are, frankly, placeholders. I'd love to get a better-developed depiction of the relationship between Abe and Ruth, Marianna's parents, for instance, and it took a while before I got it straight that Marianna has five younger siblings, and who they are.

Despite that, this is a pleasant read, enjoyable and with hints of, perhaps, more and better to come from this author.

To purchase a copy of this book from Amazon, click on the cover image.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

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