Clocking in at 409 pages total, this is a cozy collection of Amish-themed Christmas romance novellas written by Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid and Kelly Irvin. While the first story, Naomi's Gift, takes place in the well known Amish area of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the other two incorporate areas less commonly referenced in this genre -- St. Joseph County, Michigan in An Unexpected Joy and Bee County, Texas in A Christmas Visitor. So let's break down & discuss each of these!
Naomi's Gift by Amy Clipston
Naomi King, 24, works in her family's quilt shop in Lancaster, PA. After a couple of failed romances and no new romantic prospects on the horizon, she finds herself feeling pretty passive about her situation. She grudgingly accepts her "old maid" status, believing that she's just destined to be the child that stays in the home to help her parents and siblings. That is until she meets Caleb. Caleb is a young widower with a 7 year old daughter, Susie. Caleb is the brother of one of Naomi's neighbors, but he's been living in Ohio for many years. This year he decides to come back home to visit his family for Christmas. Caleb & Naomi get to know each other through Susie's fascination with Naomi's quilt shop. As a friendship between them develops, Caleb wonders if it's time to come back home to Lancaster.
My thoughts: A cute if pretty predictable romance. The friendship between Caleb and Naomi is full of warm fuzzies, making it perfect for a holiday read, but there was one thing that kept bugging me. Caleb has family in Lancaster, but has been living in Ohio for 10 years or so at the request of his late wife whose family lived there. Naomi is 24, which means she would have only been about 14 when Caleb left town, yet in this story they are written as if they've never met....even though Caleb's brother is Naomi's neighbor? How would they have never run into each other before?!
An Unexpected Joy by Ruth Reid
Abigail Kemp, 23, is hired by Micah Zook to be a caretaker to his grandmother while his parents are out of town. Micah, a glassworks artist, is a little overwhelmed with orders for Christmas gifts as well as a Christmas wedding and needs all the time he can get to get caught up. At first Micah finds Abigail's bubbly, uber-chatty personality a little exhausting, nicknaming her "Gabby Abby". Over time though, he finds himself being able to more easily look past that, taken by her kind and generous nature. In fact, Abby convinces Micah to hire a veteran suffering from PTSD that many others in the community have written off. Caleb himself is hesitant, concerned that the man might be a liability, but Abby teaches him that it's more important to concern yourself with living by a code of compassion and honest, good deeds rather than fretting over the opinions of others. Abby and Caleb also come to see that even though life might throw a wrench in your original plans, it can often be the start of something even better!
My thoughts: I think this was my personal favorite of the collection. There are a number of adorable, humorous moments between Caleb and Abby as Abby unabatingly pours her sunshiney personality all over Caleb's constant crabbiness, which amusingly just frustrates him more. The thing that impressed me most that Abby isn't written as one-dimensional as you might think. She does have moments where her more serious side peeks through, making one think -- when you run into others that seem over-the-top bubbly, might make you wonder what lies underneath that that they're scared to let others see.
A Christmas Visitor by Kelly Irvin
Frannie Mast meets and falls in love with English (non-Amish) man Rocky Sanders while on her rumspringa. Frannie's family does not approve of the relationship and does their best to separate the two, insisting that Frannie return to the family homestead. Come Christmas season, Rocky makes a surprise appearance to make it known that he deeply cares for Frannie and is intent on learning the Amish culture. At first no one takes him seriously, waiting for him to leave, but the elders are gradually impressed by his persistence in learning the traditions. Frannie herself is surprised and confused at Rocky's dedication but, since she has developed strong feelings for the guy, can only hope his follow-through game is strong to the end.
My thoughts: While not a bad story, my issue with this one is that the plotline took a hit with keeping the whole thing at novella length. We don't get to know much about the development of the relationship between Rocky and Frannie while she was on her rumspringa trip, so it was hard for me as the reader to understand Rocky's sudden commitment to converting to the Amish life. It felt a little too out of nowhere. What was it about Frannie exactly that had him knowing she was worth leaving the modern lifestyle he'd always known. The story doesn't really get into it all that well. Subsequently, it made the later bits of romance between them feel pretty rushed... because I didn't have a satisfying amount of backstory.
As a whole, you get pretty much what you'd expect with this kind of collection. The romances are cute and tame, full of side glance smiles and hands "accidentally" brushing up to the whirlwind confession of love and oaths of eternal devotion. Nothing that was long-term memorable for me necessarily, but a solid holiday collection to escape into, particularly if you like the drama in your reading to be minimal and you really want that HEA.
FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.