Greetings, fellow readers! I hope the weather where you are feels as gloriously like Fall as it does here in Kentucky today 🙂 Fall and winter just make me happy. I can’t help it.
Tomorrow I am scheduled to review A Wedding at the Orange Blossom Inn by Shelley Shepard Gray – the third book in her Amish Brides of Pinecraft series. Before I talk about that one though, I really should catch you up to speed on the first two books (plus one novella). Aren’t I so helpful? It’s the autumn air, I promise.
Which is a little ironic because I’m actually talking about summery books haha! So hit pause on Fall for a moment (or ten) and let’s head to the beach!
In The Promise of Palm Grove (Avon Inspire, Jan 2015), beloved best-selling author Shelley Shepard Gray introduces us to the Amish vacation community of Pinecraft in Sarasota, Florida. Did you think that the Amish didn’t really go to the beach on vacation? If so, you are not alone. Never occurred to me, I am ashamed to admit. Not only do they most certainly go to the beach, but flip flops are pretty standard footwear around those parts!
The Promise of Palm Grove follows Leona Weaver, a young Amish bride-to-be, and her two friends Mattie and Sara as they get away from Sugarcreek, Ohio (a location familiar to Gray’s longtime readers) and vacation in Pinecraft, Florida. The longer Leona is away from her controlling & overbearing fiancé, the stronger her reservations about this marriage grow. When a mischievous cat leads to a chance encounter with handsome and kind Zack Kaufmann, Leona is faced with “two vastly different futures“. Faced with angering her family and friends (not to mention her fiancé!) on one hand and saying goodbye to everything that makes her who she is, Leona must decide which path to take… and which promises to trust.
I very much enjoyed the peek into this whole new concept (to me at least) of Amish vacations and specifically Pinecraft. As always, Shelley writes with heart & class and creates characters that quickly feel like long-lost friends. Perhaps the most intriguing character to me in The Promise of Palm Grove was Beverly Overhult, the innkeeper at Orange Blossom Inn and the first person we meet upon our arrival. The book begins, not with Leona or with Zachary, but with Beverly…
Beverly Overhult dreamed in color now. Pinks and yellows, blues and reds. Green, purple, indigo, orange. So many vibrant colors, so much promise.
In fact (warning: shameless plug approaching) these opening sentences inspired me to create some Pinterest boards just based on color. You can check them out here if you’re so inclined 🙂
Anyway, back to the book. Beverly’s about my age, still recovering from a rather painful jilting that happened a few years ago, and has found a home and a purpose at the Orange Blossom Inn. Just when she thinks her world is pretty much as perfect as it could be…. everything turns upside down. And isn’t that about how it goes with life? If you’re like me & Beverly finds a special place in your heart too, you will be happy to know that she remains one of the constants in the series. Her story doesn’t end with The Promise of Palm Grove; in fact, it’s really just getting started!
Zack is one of those guys that we all love to love, and thanks to Shelley Gray’s incredible writing I could literally feel the gut punch the moment his eyes first met Leona’s. The sweet and tender friendship that builds between them faces many obstacles, and the course of true love certainly does not run smooth for these two. You will have to pick up a copy and find out for yourself what Leona chooses in the end – it may surprise you! 🙂
Book two in the series – A Proposal at Siesta Key (Avon Inspire, May 2015)- felt like the more romantic of the two books to me (though Promise of Palm Grove was not without its moments!). Shelley Gray takes us back to Pinecraft, to the Orange Blossom Inn, and rewards us with some familiar characters along the way. Beverly returns, as I already mentioned, as well as some of the Kaufmann family and Eric (who we also met in the first book). While I at first expected the story to focus on Leona’s friend Mattie and her vacation romance, Shelley took us in an entirely different direction… and I loved every word of it! (Rest assured though… a little bird told me that Mattie’s tale unfolds in the novella– A Wish on Gardenia Street – which follows this second book. Stay tuned for my review!)
Penny Troyer has had enough. Though she’s twenty-four years old, her parents have sheltered her to the extreme since her sister’s tragic death twelve years ago. In fact, they are so strict that she is barely allowed to leave the house alone. When she does dare to test her wings ever so slightly, her parents respond with chilly glares and other hurtful behavior. But now that Penny’s had a taste of freedom, she doesn’t plan to relinquish it. Especially now that she has a job she loves and a new friendship – with popular Mennonite missionary/evangelist Michael Knoxx. When circumstances force Michael to remain in Pinecraft longer than expected, his desire to slow down and rest from the celebrity life becomes even more acute. He and Penny discover that while their personalities may be very different they do have something in common – regret for the lives they haven’t lived. A challenge to cherish each day as it comes leads them down unanticipated paths, perhaps most compellingly toward each other, and Michael and Penny both begin to realize that God’s dreams for them may be much more than they ever imagined. The question is… do those dreams include each other?
As I mentioned already, The Proposal at Siesta Key is the more romantic of the first two books. A little more flirting, a little more PDA, a few more breathless stares. And not just between Michael and Penny. Beverly has a little romantic arc going as well in this book! (Did I mention that I am so loving her story?!?) Yet, still at its heart, the overarching theme echoes The Promise of Palm Grove – trusting God to direct your path. Both of the main characters have had to overcome major tragedies and losses in their lives – Michael losing a leg, Penny losing her sister – and though they struggle with regret and doubt on occasion their faith in God proves encouraging to anyone who may have suffered similar pain. Without being preachy. Shelley Gray is wonderful at just quietly weaving faith into her words without shoving them in your face. Again, like the first book, I wasn’t exactly sure that I knew how this one was going to turn out. I won’t spoil the ending to Proposal for you either – you’re on your own!
Bottom Line: You can never go wrong with Shelley Shepard Gray; your reading experience is always safe in her writing hands. While my favorite of the two was The Proposal at Siesta Key, both books are extremely well-written, engaging, and enjoyable! If you’re a fan of Amish fiction, this needs to be your next series. Not a fan of Amish fiction? I wasn’t either but one of Shelley’s series (The Secrets of Crittenden County) got me hooked. Give this series a try … and thank me later 🙂
Shelley Shepard Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a finalist for the ACFW’s prestigious Carol Award, and a two-time HOLT Medallion winner. She lives in southern Ohio, where she writes full time, bakes too much, and can often be found walking her dachshunds on her town’s bike trail.
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