Paradise Valley by Dale Cramer

Genre: Amish Fiction Pages: 359
Published: January 1, 2011
Publisher: Bethany House
Source: Review copy from publisher

From Goodreads: An Amish settlement in Ohio has run afoul of a law requiring their children to attend public school. Caleb Bender and his neighbors are arrested for neglect, with the state ordering the children be placed in an institution. Among them are Caleb’s teenage daughter, Rachel, and the boy she has her eye on, Jake Weaver. Romance blooms between the two when Rachel helps Jake escape the children’s home. Searching for a place to relocate his family where no such laws apply, Caleb learns there’s inexpensive land for sale in Mexico, a place called Paradise Valley. Despite rumors of instability in the wake of the Mexican revolution, the Amish community decides this is their answer. And since it was Caleb’s idea, he and his family will be the pioneers. They will send for the others once he’s established a foothold and assessed the situation.

Caleb’s daughters are thrown into turmoil. Rachel doesn’t want to leave Jake. Her sister, Emma, who has been courting Levi Mullet, fears her dreams of marriage will be dashed. Miriam has never had a beau and is acutely aware there will be no prospects in Mexico. Once there, they meet Domingo, a young man and guide who takes a liking to Miriam, something her father would never approve. While Paradise Valley is everything they’d hoped it would be, it isn’t long before the bandits start giving them trouble, threatening to upset the fledgling Amish settlement, even putting their lives in danger. Thankfully no one has been harmed so far, anyway.

My Thoughts: It is no secret that I love Amish fiction but when you read a lot of one specific genre, the stories can sometimes get overdone, tired and predictable. This is why I was thrilled to discover that Paradise Valley was a completely unique look at Amish fiction. The characters and the story line were all written in the lovely tradition of Amish fiction but they shone with new life and really were a breath of fresh air.

In Paradise Valley we travel with the Bender family as they leave Ohio for Mexico in the hopes that they will be allowed to live their lives as their religion requires. The family faces unbelievable struggles as they attempt to start their lives over in a country which is itself trying to recover from war and revolution. The enormous emotional strength of each character is evident but I was pleased to see how it was the Bender women who were portrayed as some of the most brave, independent and capable members of the family.

Cramer takes some of the more traditional elements of Amish fiction (ie. the idea of forbidden love and longing) and puts a completely new spin on them. Amish fiction (In my opinion anyway) typically has a lot of expectations placed on it in terms of how characters will act and types of problems they will face. I think that it is really special when an author can take a genre like this and turn it on its head without alienating, frustrating or disappointing readers. I really loved Paradise Valley, as I am sure is evident by my gushing, and hope that you love it too!

This is the first time that I read Dale Cramer and I highly recommend him to any fan of Amish fiction, or really to any fan of contemporary fiction for that matter. I look forward to reading the rest of the books in The Daughter’s of Caleb Bender series when they come out and while I’m waiting I will definitely be picking up his earlier novel, Levi’s Will.

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