For the last four weeks, I practically devoured the six novels that comprise Amy Lillard’s Wells Landing series. The fictional Wells Landing, Oklahoma is home to a Beachy Amish community — Beachy because they utilize tractors due to the rocky soil of Oklahoma — and each of Lillard’s novels focus on a young member of the community.
The first three novels focus on three close-knit friends — Emily, Caroline, and Lorie — while the next three focus on secondary characters from the original three novels (i.e. a sister, a spurned girlfriend, etc). Rather than post individually about each novel, I thought I’d compile my thoughts into one single post. I had mixed reactions to the individual novels — some I loved, some I thought were just okay — but, overall, I hope Lillard continues with the series. It’s one of my favorites when it comes to Amish novels.
‘Courting Emily’ (Wells Landing #2) by Amy Lillard. Fiction — print. Zebra, 2015. 342 pages. Library copy.
Emily Ebersol was devastated when her boyfriend, Luke Lambright, fell in love with racing cars during his rumspringa and decided to leave Wells Landing. Emily refuses to give up hope that he will return, but her friends, her community, and her family begin to push for her to accept Luke’s decision. To push for her to start dating and find someone else inside the Amish community to marry.
The suggestion of “someone else” is thinly veiled, though, because most of the people in her life, including her mother, have Elam Rhiel in mind. Elam has himself in mind because he’s long been in love with Emily.
When Luke leaves, he sees it as a opportunity to prove to Emily that he could make her a good husband. Just when Emily begins to give Elam that opportunity, Luke learns that Emily may be moving on and returns in an attempt to convince her to leave Wells Landing with him one last time.
I felt for Emily and how she was trapped between the two paths before her. Her change of heart towards Elam wasn’t as convincing as I would have liked. It still seemed like she was telling herself that she should love him for his actions rather than really, truly falling for him. A mostly enjoyable read (and not nearly as preachy as some of the other Amish novels out there).
‘Caroline’s Secret’ (Wells Landing #1) by Amy Lillard. Fiction — print. Zebra, 2014. 352 pages. Library copy.
Caroline is not the widowed mother the Beachy Amish community that adopts her believes her to be. Her daughter, Emma, was fathered by an Englischer back in Tennessee; a twenty-something guy who has no idea that Emma exists or where Caroline disappeared to.
Worried her new community will shun her or punish her daughter for her transgressions, Caroline keeps her status as an unwed mother a secret from everyone, including the woman who has taken her in and treated her like a daughter and an Amish man named Andrew that Caroline has become close friends with.
However, when Caroline learns that Emma’s father is asking after her back home, she decides to face the secrets she’s kept and do what’s best for her daughter. What may be best for Emma, though, may not be the answer Caroline or Emma’s Englischer father have been raised to believe.
I really loved how this novel explored the concept of right and wrong depending on the constructs on ones community. Emma’s father is convinced that marry the mother of his child is the right thing to do; Caroline’s community is convinced the right thing for her to do is to remain an unwed mother in their community (despite the shame attached to a child born out of wedlock) because at least then she will be able to live her life as an Amish woman. And then there’s Andrew, who resists falling in love with Caroline and then has to decide what’s the right thing when one is in love with an unwed mother (and liar) in the Amish community.
It’s a far more complicated scenario than I anticipated when I started the novel, and I was quickly pulled into the story. I ended up being unable to put it down or unable to stop the tears when I reached the end. I wasn’t planning to (immediately) continue with Lillard’s series after reading Courting Emily, but now I definitely will.
‘Lorie’s Heart’ (Wells Landing #3) by Amy Lillard. Fiction — print. Zebra, 2014. 352 pages. Library copy.
Devastated by the sudden passing of her father, Lorie Kauffman is dumbfounded when she discovers that her father – a devout Amish man — owned a car and had a tattoo. Her step-mother refuses to discuss these revelations, but Lorie is determined to learn more and her search leads her to a nursing home in Tulsa.
There, Lorie meets her grandmother, an Englisch woman suffering from dementia and unable to answer Lorie’s questions. Her existence, though, tells Lorie all she needs to know: she is not Amish and her doubts about committing to the church are not unfounded.
I have to applaud Lillard for the conclusion of this novel as I find such conclusions are rare in the world of Amish fiction. Sadly, that’s the only part of Lorie’s story that I enjoyed.
I certainly understand being thrown off-kilter by the death of a parent, but the mystery of who Lorie’s dad failed to grab me and I struggled to understand how his death automatically removed the years Lorie had spent in the community.
Perhaps if we had been allowed to spend more time with Lorie’s grandmother(s) or more time had been spent on her internal struggles prior to the death of her dad, her decision wouldn’t have felt so incredibly rushed. As it was, I mainly kept reading so I could have the background information needed to read the book focused on Lorie’s boyfriend, Marrying Jonah.
‘Titus Returns’ (Wells Landing #5) by Amy Lillard. Fiction — print. Zebra, 2016. 310 pages. Library copy.
Titus returns to Wells Landing, a Beachy Amish community in Oklahoma, after serving five years in jail for vehicular manslaughter. While the majority of the community says they have forgiven Titus for drunk driving, some — including the sister of the dead and Titus, himself — have not.
This novel has the slow build, enemies to lover trope that gets me every time. I found the characters more enduring and well-developed, especially Titus. The men in Lillard’s series seem to posses the same characteristics — patience, charm, strength, stuck in a love triangle — but Titus stood out to me.
Yes, he has those same characteristics, but he didn’t feel as interchangeable as the other men. It’s the first novel in Lillard’s series where I really found myself hoping she’d write more from the male perspective.
The book faltered a bit at the end when Titus’ PTSD suddenly becomes a roadblock for his and Abbie’s relationship. The issue was always under the surface (namely with him sleeping in the barn), but it erupted without much build up.
Plus, the interjection of Titus’ ex-girlfriend, Mandy, into the narrative pushed the novel into the “over the top” category. He could have grieved over what might have been and she could have wondered on the “what ifs” without such a heavy dose of melodrama. And, frankly, I was unsettled by the author’s suggestion that camel’s milk cures autism. Uh, no.
‘Marrying Jonah’ (Wells Landing #6) by Amy Lillard. Fiction — print. Zebra, 2017. 352 pages. Library copy.
Sarah Yoder has featured prominently in two of Lillard’s previous novels — Caroline’s Secret and Lorie’s Heart — but her story is finally told in the (currently) last novel of the series. It is well known throughout of the Wells Landing (and in the previous novels) that Sarah has a crush on Jonah Miller, but Sarah is determined to put that aside and concentrate on her teaching duties.
When Jonah gives Sarah a ride home and is informed of her change of heart towards him, he taken aback and then determined to learn why. That determination leads to a kiss and then to the alter when Sarah unexpectedly finds herself pregnant with Jonah’s baby. Neither one of them wants to marry, but it is the only way for them and their baby to remain in the community.
Since Sarah is so central to the stories of other characters in this series, I was anxious to finally reach her story and then further anxious that it would disappointment me when Sarah ends up pregnant within the first chapter of the novel. Things happen, but this particular thing seemed out of character for both Sarah and Jonah.
That anxiety subsided quickly as the novel progressed, as I went through a myriad of emotions with this novel — sadness and tears, frustration with two people who just won’t talk. I was just enamored with the story; I finished it in a few hours even as I recovered from hosting a bridal shower and bachelorette party the night before.
Very likely my favorite of the series, and the first one where I was sad to see the novel end. I hope Sarah and Jonah appear in future novels, if Lillard decides to continue with the series.
‘Just Plain Sadie’ (Wells Landing #4) by Amy Lillard. Fiction — audiobook. Read by Rebecca Mitchell. Tantor Audio, 2016. 9 hours, 14 minutes. Library copy.
Sadie Kauffman, the younger sister of Lorie Kauffman from Lorie’s Heart, considers Chris Flaud her best friend. She doesn’t have romantic feelings for him — at least, not of the kind written about in the romance novels she sneaks from the library.
Yet the Amish covet other attributes when it comes to marrying and, besides, there aren’t other young men in Sadie’s friend group. At least, not ones interested in a twenty-two year old woman who is considered to be plain even among the Amish.
So Sadie is devastated when she learns that Chris plans to leave the community of Wells Landing and travel to Europe. Chris promises that he will return, but Sadie is unsure given the decisions others in her community made in the previous novels of the series. She wants to get married and have children; she doesn’t want to wait any longer.
When Sadie meets Ezra Hein, she starts experiencing those feelings that she’s read about. However, Ezra is a Mennonite, and dating him — let alone marrying him — puts Sadie at risk for being put under the bann (or, shunning) since she’s already joined the church. Sadie has to decide which path is best for her; a decision that is complicated when a farming accident makes it impossible for Chris to leave on his trip.
Just Plain Sadie is the fourth novel in Lillard’s series, but I read it last as my local library did not own the book in print format. I knew the outcome of Sadie’s decision as well as how her community responds to that choice, and much of the anxiety about that choice felt rather overwrought given the benefit of hindsight I possessed.
I also felt like the ending was rather rushed. Lots of build-up, lots of anguish only for things to be nicely tied up with a bow. So nicely, in fact, that there is no explanation as to why the entire community responds to her choice the way they do. They just accept her and move on.
My favorite aspect of the novel was actually the animosity between the Mennonite and the Amish community. Like other religious communities, these two Anabaptist groups are still bickering over a decision their forefathers made hundreds of years ago. (I’ll admit; I had a nice chuckle over Chris explaining, “He wears patterns! Who knows what kind of man he is!”.)
While not my favorite novel in the series, I enjoyed getting to know Sadie as an individual rather than as Lorie’s sister and a background character in that story. Given how this novel ended, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lillard chooses to focus on Chris or his brother later in the series.