The Saddle Maker's Son - Kelly Irvin

Rebekah Lantz feels imprisoned by circumstances she didn’t create. Tobias Byler is haunted by regret. Can two young runaways from half a world away teach them the healing power of true family? Rebekah isn’t like her sister who left the Amish faith, but the watchful gaze of her family and small, close-knit Amish community makes her feel as if she’s been judged and found lacking. The men avoid her and the women whisper behind her back. She simply longs for the same chance to be a wife and mother that her friends have. Tobias Byler only wants to escape feelings for a woman he knows he should never have allowed to get close to him. Moving with his family to isolated Bee County, Texas, seemed the best way to leave his mistakes behind. But even a move across the country can’t erase the past that accompanies his every thought. A surprise encounter with two half-starved runaway children forces Rebekah and Tobias to turn to each other to help a sister and brother who have traveled thousands of miles in search of lives of unfettered peace and joy. In doing so, Rebekah and Tobias discover the key to forgetting the past is the one that will open the door to love and the future they both seek.

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Teaching Assistant  Rebekah Lantz feels her Amish community is harshly (and wrongly) judging her for the actions of her sister, who chose to leave the Amish faith. The women gossip, the men hesitate to court her. 

 

Meanwhile, Tobias Byler is trying to work off the shame of a failed relationship with an Englisch (non-Amish) woman. He was tempted to drift away from all he knew to be with her but soon realized he didn't want to (could not, even) abandon his Amish roots. Heavy with the guilt of leading his lady love on only to have to break things off, Tobias comes to Bee County to begin anew. 

 

The paths of Tobias and Rebekah connect when both are brought together to help two lost children who stumble into the community of the Bee County Amish. At first glance, these two children seem to have the look of runaways, but the truth quickly comes out. Tobias and Rebekah don't have the smoothest introduction right off. In fact, in pretty much no time flat Rebekah is already fighting feelings of guilt for bringing Tobias into a situation where she has to ask him to lie for her, before they hardly know each other at all. 

 

Spanish turns out to be the native tongue of the lost children. Neither child seems to know more than a word or two of English, but luckily Rebekah knows enough conversational Spanish to gather that the older child, a girl of 12, is named Lupe while her brother is Diego. They say they were sent by their grandmother, on their own, from El Salvador (Central America) to Texas to try to locate their missing father. Lupe and her brother show signs of being a bit malnourished and seem to be wary around grown men -- any adult men, always fearing they might be "the bad men" -- and jumpy at the sound of guns. 

 

The Amish of Bee County -- the children especially -- seem to take to Lupe & Diego quite quickly. Likewise, Lupe & Diego are fascinated with the culture and find they pick up English quickly here. The whole situation also gives Rebekah a break in that the town gossips let up off her a bit, instead showing their support and encouragement for her interest in the children. Many community members agree that any relatives of the children should try to be located, though some fear what it might mean for Bee County legally should word get out that they might be harboring undocumented immigrants. Rebekah herself of course wants to locate any of Lupe and Diego's relatives, but also worries that if none can be found, that these children might fall victim to being shuffled around and lost in the States' foster care system after they've already been through so much. There are also those who air their suspicions that the children might have ties to terrorist plots.

 

Rebekah, to ensure that the children have the best chance possible at a good life, enlists the help of none other than her sister Leila....the same sister who left the faith and put so much strain on Rebekah's own life. But Leila's husband just happens to work with non-profits that provide assistance to newly immigrated families, work that has him interacting with immigrants and the immigration office pretty much on a daily basis! Rebekah figures if there is anyone who knows their stuff, it'd be him! 

 

Okay, so first off I have to vent and say that I was not impressed with the spoilers author Kelly Irvin left in her Note To Readers at the beginning of the book, regarding the other books in this series. I've seen quite a few reviews where readers have mentioned picking this book up without having read the previous (as I did) but way to kill some of the surprise if and when they might choose to go back to the earlier stories! Not cool! 

 

Alright, that out of my system... on to this book and my thoughts.  I do like the themes Irvin works with here. Not only does she illustrate the pain of being shunned (either literally or figuratively) by the people you most love for things you cannot control, but also uses her characters to show that one can work through the forgetting or forgiving of mistakes through the process of helping others worse off. Perfect reminder any time of year but especially nice to read during this holiday season. :-)

 

Rebekah herself is an admirable character, strong in her sense of self, comfortable with sharing her thoughts and opinions... a trait that gets her the label of "firecracker". Been there, girl. I can relate! {You say firecracker like it's a bad thing, ammirite ;-)} I also enjoyed experiencing the warm and caring sisterhood between Rebekah and Leila. I only have a brother myself, but this is what I imagine having a sister must feel like -- when you're on good terms with them that is! 

 

As far as the slow burning romance between Rebekah and Tobias, it was molasses slow for me! I can appreciate a decent slow burn but with these two I just kept wanting to hit the FF button already. Nope, just too lukewarm and dragged out IMO. I even laughed when at around 200 pages, after pages of started-cute-now-tedious bickering, Rebekah says "maybe we should start over..." What? aww no girl, there's only like 155 pages til final curtain so let's just wrap this forced mess up already, 'kay? Susan and Levi had a better story on that front (at least for me).... and the closing of David and Bobbie's story was pretty touching.

 

My interest was primarily held simply on the story of the bundle package of cuteness known as Lupe and Diego. I found their journey to the States very much relevant to the times now, given the uncertainty many US citizens have over our newly elected president's statements / stand on immigration issues. This is just one story that illustrates that yes, borders have to be protected, but at the same time there are lives of children, CHILDREN, at stake... a reality that should not be taken lightly or approached with an all or nothing point of view. It's not and won't be a clear cut, black and white issue... there will be plenty of layers of gray for some time to come and at the very least we have to acknowledge that with an empathetic heart.  

 

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Note To Readers: This is the third book in Irvin's Amish of Bee County series. As I mentioned previously, I have not read the first two. While there were some minor points in the story where I felt something was being referenced that I did not quite catch the importance of, feeling like it must have been a nod to the earlier books, I still had no trouble reading this as a standalone piece. You can also find some of Irvin's short stories (set in this community, I believe) in the Amish themed anthologies An Amish Market and An Amish Christmas Gift.

 

 

BONUS: Irvin throws in a little something extra for her readers at the back of this book. In a nod to the Salvadoran heritage of her characters Lupe & Diego, Irvin offers a few Salvadoran recipes for you to try out!

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FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.