Ties That Bind (2015) by Cindy Woodsmall is the first book in The Amish of Summer Grove series. This novel comes in all forms including eBook, and is 339 pages in length. With a full-time job and a precocious five-year old at home, this book took me three days to read. I received a copy of the novel from WaterBrook Press; all opinions expressed in this review are my own. I give this novel 3.5 STARS. This novel is a Contemporary Amish novel.
Here is the GoodReads blurb:
Ariana’s comfortable Old Order Amish world is about to unravel. Will holding tightly to the cords of family keep them together—or simply tear them apart?
Twenty-year-old Ariana Brenneman loves her family and the Old Ways. She has two aspirations: open a cafe in historic Summer Grove to help support her family’s ever-expanding brood and to keep any other Amish from being lured into the Englisch life by Quill Schlabach.
Five years ago Quill, along with her dear friend Frieda, ran off together, and Ariana still carries the wounds of that betrayal. When she unexpectedly encounters him, she soon realizes he has plans to help someone else she loves leave the Amish.
Despite how things look, Quill’s goal has always been to protect Ariana from anything that may hurt her, including the reasons he left. After returning to Summer Grove on another matter, he unearths secrets about Ariana and her family that she is unaware of. His love and loyalty to her beckons him to try to win her trust and help her find a way to buy the cafe—because when she learns the truth that connects her and a stranger named Skylar Nash, Quill knows it may upend her life forever.
This novel gets rave reviews on GoodReads, Amazon, and Christianbook.com. Many, many people via Facebook and other social medias laud this series as “excellent.” And, a good deal of people in one of the reading groups that I participate in update daily with how amazing these novels are, that the pages are flying for them. So, I began this novel with great expectations. I actually couldn’t wait to read this first book in the series. I thought that if everyone loves it so much, this must be a fantastic story.
I feel like I am missing something that other readers are seeing, but I found myself bored with this novel. Many times, I could put the book down. The entire time I was reading the book I thought to myself, “There has to be more to this, where is the action?” I am kind of at a loss for what to review because I feel like if I say anything, including anything from the exposition, it will inadvertently be a spoiler. I had this novel figured out by chapter one, which made continuing reading really hard. For me, there were no surprises. In fact, I felt most of this novel was a cliche. The Amish girl is a good girl who wants to better her family’s existence. She loves God. She loves her family. And, she has a crush on a boy that could be serious. The Englisch girl is bad. She comes from a divorced home. She does drugs. She is selfish. This seemingly stereotypical portrayal of the non-Amish girl really frustrated me, and is part of why I could put the book down. I come from a divorced home, but I love God. I adore my family and work really hard to make their lives a little better. I never took drugs. I never went crazy. I went to college and studied hard and got multiple degrees so I could work for a living. I take great offense at this cliched caricature. And, it made me unable to relate to Ariana or Skylar because, to me, they don’t feel realistically written.
Another issue I have with this novel is the conflict between Quill and Ariana. When Ariana was 15, Quill and Freida (Ariana’s best friend), escape the Amish community in the middle of the night. Ariana was shocked and deeply hurt as any person would be in this situation, Amish or not. She had grown to love Quill, and believed one day they would marry. Of course, Ariana assumes quite a lot about what happened between her best friend and the boy she loved. When Quill comes back into Ariana’s life five years later, Ariana is sure that he is up to no good and doesn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. The set up for this conflict is very well done. I kept waiting for a big reveal. I kept waiting for the truth to set Ariana and Quill free. This never happens. And, when you finally (near the very end of the book) get a small explanation as to why Freida had to leave, which was super obvious to this reader very early on, it was a “reveal moment” letdown.
On a positive note, I do love Lovina’s character. Lovina is Ariana’s mother, and she is the one who goes through a truly wretched experience. It’s the kind of experience that mother’s should never go through. Her character is exceptionally realistic and very well written. There are moments in the novel, especially towards the end, where I cried for Lovina and wanted desperately to give her a huge hug. My heart broke for her quite a bit. I will continue to read the series because my mommy’s heart needs to see that Lovina has a satisfying conclusion. If I had to rate the novel just on her character and experiences, I would give this book a 5 STAR rating. Lovina is fantastic!
I think my real issue with this novel is that the entire book is exposition to set up book 2 and book 3. The unresolved ending forces the reader to buy book 2 and book 3 to see how Ariana and Skylar’s stories end. This is fine, but in order for me to want to keep reading a series I have to get something out of book 1: a big, surprising reveal, an answer to a question, a sense that the characters will reconcile, a love interest of some kind, etc. But, I didn’t get that in this book. Hopefully, book 2 and 3 will have what I am looking for in a book. Regardless, I have to read them to see how things turn out for Lovina.
If you are interested in reading this novel, and you need a FREE copy, click here!