Fiction – print. Zebra, 2018. 352 pgs. Library copy.
Years after he joined the Amish church yet traveled from Oklahoma to Florida, Zeb Brenneman has returned to the Amish community of Wells Landing to meet his twin brother’s new baby and spend Christmas with family. His joy over the season is dampened by the rumors he hears about the woman he once loved, Ivy Weaver.
Ivy has largely retreated from her insular community, and she has done little to rebuke the rumors about her promiscuity or to ask for forgiveness and join the Church. As such, the care of her grandfather has largely fallen on Ivy’s shoulders.
But Yonnie’s memory is failing, and Ivy won’t be able to hold onto her job – their only means of support – if he keeps wandering off and forgetting where he is. Ivy is desperate for help from the community but won’t allow herself to accept. Especially not when that help comes from Zeb, who disappeared when Ivy needed him most.
Despite my mixed feelings about some of the individual books in this series, I was eager to return to the community of Wells Landing and see some familiar faces. Given the title of this novel, I expected to find a collection of short stories featuring the characters of the previous six novels. Lillard tends to include the name of her main character in the title, and this title suggests a broader look at the community.
As the recap above says, though, this book follows the formula of her other novels and focuses on one main character and their romantic interest. I was slightly disappointed by this, and I tried my best to let that disappointment go. But I’ll admit that it lingered after it became clear that only one previous character – a character I’m rather ambivalent about – would make appearance in this story.
My disappointment also continued to linger when the secret history between Ivy and Zeb was revealed. Lillard is one of the few authors in this genre who is willing to put her characters through more morally ambiguous situations, but she already used this exact scenario in a previous book in the series with far greater emotional impact.
I found myself wishing she had used Yonnie’s memory – and the revelation about his past – to be the driver of conflict in this book. That is a story that neither she nor another Amish fiction writer (to my knowledge) has written before. And it was an aspect of the story that I really enjoyed.
Overall, though, I found the book to be formulaic. It was easy to predict exactly where the story was going to go next, which is an issue I haven’t really experienced with Lillard’s writing. This novel was only loosely connected to the rest of the Wells Landing series, and I’m not sure which character she could – or should – focus on next. Perhaps this means I should concentrate on her other series?