Kayla Dienner has suffered her fair share of heartache, which is why she vows to protect her heart at all costs . . . until she meets Jamie Riehl. Along with his volunteer work at the local fire department, running his Amish farm keeps Jamie Riehl busy. He barely has time to eat at the family table, never mind find someone to date. But when he meets Kayla Dienner, he is smitten. Kayla tries hard to deny her attraction to Jamie. After all, she’s spent the last year discouraging her younger brother, Nathan, from becoming a firefighter. The death of their older brother in a fire a year ago is fresh in her mind—she can’t bear the idea of putting her heart on the line every time the sirens blare. Then tragedy strikes, and Jamie wants to extinguish any flame between him and Kayla. Can Kayla set aside her own fears to save the love she was determined to deny? The first book in the Amish Homestead series, A Place at Our Table invites us to a quiet community in Lancaster County where love burns brightly no matter the cost.
Jamie Riehl has his hands full trying to find balance between his work as a part-time volunteer firefighter and his duties at the family's dairy farm. Now, at twenty-five, his parents are heavily hinting that he should be looking to settle down with a nice girl, but where is he supposed to fit that in?
Meanwhile, Kayla Dienner is still mourning the loss of her eldest brother, also a firefighter, who lost his life during a call last year. This year, Jamie's crew is called out to the Dienner home (Kayla shares with her parents and fourteen year old brother, Nathan) after a lightning strike sets the barn on fire. Nathan had rushed out to the barn to try to get the animals out but got trapped inside when a beam fell.
Jamie's crew are able to rescue Nathan. Full of gratitude, Nathan confesses to Jamie and Kayla his own desire to become a firefighter. Kayla is vehemently against the idea but Nathan is not one to give up easily, spending the rest of the novel getting the rest of the Dienner family to come around to his way of thinking.
Jamie and Kayla begin to spend more and more time together, a moment here and there, mainly through the barn raising put together to replace the previous ruined structure. They butt heads from time to time but can't deny that they are drawn towards each other in some way, even if neither will admit these feelings go beyond friendship. Kayla gets a push towards love from an unexpected source: Eva, the widow of Kayla's deceased brother, Simeon. Eva, in so many words, urges Kayla to see that while it might be scary to risk one's heart, the experience, for better or worse, will be better than keeping the heart in a state of numbness.
The story opens and (nearly) closes with a fire, there's a part about 9 1/2 chapters in where something mildly exciting happens, and then... well, that's about the most action you'll get out of the plot on this one. Everything else reads like a lot of filler, chapters and chapters full of little more than Do I / Don't I debates or "You like him /her!" "No, I don't!" back and forths. The plot just doesn't hold momentum well.
Nathan was a well-written character EXCEPT the fact that his dialogue rarely sounded like the speech of a fourteen year old. More like he alternated between sounding about 9 or, suddenly, a 40 year old man LOL. I don't know, maybe that's not an uncommon trait for real Amish kids, but it read weird.
There was definitely a cute and heartwarming friendship between Jamie and Kayla, but IMO the romance there was FLAT. Flat, flat, flat. But of course you can expect to find an almost Insta-Love element here. While Kayla's character may read a little obnoxious to some, the way she wants Jamie to make her first priority over the fire department, there is an element of reality there. Being a fire wife myself, I can attest it is a very real concern in this type of relationship, one that takes years to come to terms with... the fact that no matter how much you love the man, you can never be top priority. You just can't. The nature of the fire department doesn't allow it. Until the day your spouse retires, you basically have them on loan from the department. Firefighters do the best they can, but if they made you top priority the way you want, every time you want, they'd likely be unemployed pretty quick. The structure of the job asks you to be available 24/7.
*Note: in her author's note, Amy Clipston mentioned that she did consult with the guys at Monroe, NC FD during the writing process, but no word if she also got some WIFE perspective on the job... because that definitely is a whole other animal with its own set of challenges that the firefighter would really only have an outsider perspective on.
And yes, on the wife's end, it IS aggravating. I still get mad about it some days, so I can understand Kayla's frustration. The demands she makes on Jamie are a little on the unreasonable side, but it's early on in their relationship when we meet them here. There are more books in the series where we may see Kayla mature into the position of dating / be married to a firefighter, where maybe she better understands the sacrifices that will be required of her to make the relationship work. Eva gives her some pointers on this as well, in this book. Jamie needs some time to mature some as well, at least mentally... it sounds odd at his age to have to ask "I'm sorry we fought, are you still my girlfriend?" Something I would expect a preschooler to ask!
This first novel in the series does touch upon important themes of death, grief, and regret stemming from feeling like you didn't appreciate a loved one enough before their time came. I'm just hoping the storylines in the later books of the series prove a little more captivating.
FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.