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As I mentioned in my latest Sunday Salon post, I am a sucker for those free eBooks from Amazon. Most of them are romance novels or classics (those I prefer to download through iBooks) but every once in a while I’m intrigued by an eBook available for download for free. The most recent three free eBooks I’ve downloaded were either books I want to read or ones that sounded interesting. (I reviewed the first of the three books – Dreaming Anastasia – Saturday.)

Beverly Lewis’ Amish novels are a guilty pleasure of mine. I try not to read them expecting great literature; I now they are going to be full of clichés. Yet, I cannot help but pick up another one of her novels when the opportunity arises. In this instance, I downloaded a free version of The Secret from Amazon.

This particular book – the first in the Seasons of Grace series – follows Grace Byler after the disappearance of her mother, Lettie. No one knows why her mother left; not her father, not her grandmother. Her trust shaken, Grace breaks off her engagement with her long-time beau. At the same time, grad student Heather Nelson travels to Lancaster County without telling anyone she is terminally ill hoping to reconnect with her mother in the last place the two ever visited together.

Grace was an odd choice of a narrator. All of Lewis’ books are focused upon a young Amish woman deciding whom to marry within her community but the real story in The Secret was not about Grace but rather her mother. And Grace comes across as bland and boring. Not exactly the main character you want to continue reading about.

Trying to keep the reason of Lettie’s disappearance for so long does this book a disservice. I kept reading because I wanted to know the explanation but things were never fully explained. I guess you have to continue reading the series to find out.

I have actually never heard of the Amana Colonies in Iowa before. Community members fled religious persecution in Germany in 1843-44 and the story of the Amanas echoes the story of the Amish in many ways and both consider themselves “Plain People”. Clearly, this is why Amazon recommended I download a copy of Somewhere to Belong by Judith Miller after downloading Lewis’ novel.

In Miller’s novel, readers are introduced to two very different teenage girls: Johanna Ilg has lived her entire life in Main Amana whereas Berta Schumacher lived a privileged life in Chicago until her parents decided to move her to a simpler life in Amana. Johanna is charged with helping Berta assimilate to life in the Main Amana, one of the seven villages settled by the Amanas and based on the idea of cooperative living. However, Berta’s stories of life in Chicago tempt the side of Johanna that has always longed to visit the city and see the brother that left for life in the city.

Try as I might, I just could not slip into this story. That maybe because the story was told from the alternating, first person perspectives of Johanna and Berta. Normally, I can handle even enjoy this style of writing. However, as the story progressed more emphasis was placed on Johanna’s side of the story rather than Berta’s. I also do not like it when characters rehash the same situation in alternating perspectives as I find rehashing stalls the progression of the story.

The best thing I can say about this book is it piqued my interested in the Amana colonies. I really would like to read more books – particularly nonfiction accounts – of these other “Plain People”. There wasn’t much beauty in this book as the Amana people were presented as liars and gossips so I’d like to read something else that explains better why people would join these communities.

Books Mentioned:

  • Lewis, Beverly. The Secret. Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2009. Originally published 2008. eBook. 368 pgs. ASIN: B001YQFWEI. Source: Free download.
  • Miller, Judith. Somewhere to Belong. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010. eBook. 386 pgs.  ASIN: B003ALA6GE. Source: Free download.
Book Covers © Baker Publishing Group. Retrieved: March 16, 2011.
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