Wednesday, February 15, 2012

To Love and to Cherish (The Bliss Creek Amish) by Kelly Irvin

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Karri James, Marketing Assistant, Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Kelly Irvin is a Kansas native and has been writing professionally for 25 years. She and her husband, Tim, make their home in Texas. They have two children, three cats, and a tankful of fish. A public relations professional, Kelly is also the author of two romantic suspense novels and writes short stories in her spare time.

Visit the author's website.


In author Kelly Irvin’s first installment in the Bliss Creek Amish series, readers will find a charming, romantic story of how God works even in the darkest moments.

It’s been four years since Carl left. Four years since he left the safety of the small Amish community for the Englisch world. And in four years, Emma’s heart has only begun to heal.

Now, with the unexpected death of her parents, Emma is plunged back into a world of despair and confusion. It’s a confusion only compounded by Carl’s return. She’s supposed to be in love with why can’t she keep her mind off Thomas, the strong, quiet widower who always seems to be underfoot? Could the man she only knew as a friend be the one to help her to heal?

In a world that seems to be changing no matter how tightly she clings to the past, this one woman must see beyond her pain and open her heart to trust once again.

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736943714
ISBN-13: 978-0736943710


  The ripe aroma of wet earth filling the air around her, Emma Shirack shifted the basket of tomatoes on her hip and picked up her pace on the dirt road. Her bare feet sank down as the mud oozed between her toes.
      The sky was dark overhead as rain clouds gathered in the distance. She should’ve taken the buggy, but hitching the horse seemed a waste of time when it was such a short walk to the produce stand on the highway. “Come on, girls. We have to get these tomatoes to Catherine at the stand quickly or we’re going to get wet walking home.”
  Giggles met her urging. She glanced back to see the twins squatting in the middle of the road. Lillie had a small rock in her hand, and the two of them peered at it as if they’d found a great treasure. “Girls! Now!”
  She used her schoolteacher voice. At five her sisters hadn’t been to her school yet, but they recognized the authority in her tone. Lillie hopped to her feet, Mary right behind her. “See, it’s a pretty rock, schweschder.”
  Jah, very pretty, but right now we have work to do.” A fat drop of rain plopped right between Emma’s eyes. “As soon as we give the tomatoes to Catherine we’ll go back to the house to start the chicken and dumplings for tonight.”
  Mary dropped the rock and clapped her tiny hands. “Dumplings!”
  Her braids bouncing in glee, Lillie did the same. “Dumplings!”
  Two peas in a pod. Emma smiled and focused on the road ahead. The smile faded. It would be so easy to pretend the twins were hers. But that would be wrong. They were her little sisters. At twenty-three, she alone among her friends had no babies of her own. As Mudder liked to say, “In God’s time, not yours.” Emma clung to that thought.
  One more curve and they would be at the highway.
  “Schweschder, where do the clouds—”
  The shrieking of rubber on asphalt drowned out Lillie’s question. Emma stopped dead in her tracks. The sound of ripping metal tore the air. A horse’s fearful whinnies screamed and echoed against the glowering sky.
  Emma’s basket hit the ground. She’d spent enough time at the produce stand to know that sound. She lifted her long skirt, leaped across the spilled tomatoes, and ran. “Girls, go to the side of the road and sit down. Don’t move! I’ll send someone for you!” she shouted, not looking back. “Do as I say!”
  The sound of their childish voices whipped in the wind around her. If she was right about that sound she couldn’t let them see what lay ahead. For a few minutes, they were better off on the side of the less-traveled farm road with each other for company.
  Oh, God, let me be wrong. Let it be a near miss. Let it be an empty wagon. Let it be…anything but the worst. She stumbled on the rutted road and her heavy dress tangled around her legs. Sweat mingled with splashing raindrops. She fought to breathe in the heavy, humid air.
  The road straightened. Emma blinked against a sudden gust of moist, hot wind. Where dirt road met asphalt, where their way met the Englisch way, a buggy sprawled on its side, its metal wheels twisted and broken, the orange triangle-shaped symbol for slow still dangling from the back. A mammoth wheat truck, the black tarp that covered its load flapping in the wind, dwarfed the spindly remains.
  Emma jerked to a stop. No air filled her lungs, and black and purple dots danced on the periphery of her vision. She bent, hands on her knees, and gasped for oxygen. Nothing. Her lungs ached. Her heart pounded.
  The horse reared and screamed, its nostrils flaring, eyes frozen wide open, frantic with fear. Her sister Catherine had two hands on the reins, trying to calm the flailing horse. “Easy, girl, easy!” Catherine’s words didn’t match the heart-wrenching anguish of her tone as she fumbled with the harness. “Down, girl. It’s over. Easy!”
  Catherine. What was she doing here? Their horse. Their gray mare. Emma forced herself to think. Their horse. Her sister. Her gaze dropped to the figure on the dark, wet pavement. No. No. No.
  Her neighbor Thomas Brennaman knelt next to a twisted figure that lay motionless. Her brother Luke crouched down next to him, bending over the still, white face. Mudder’s face. Thomas raised his head and his fingers touched Mudder’s throat. Emma swallowed the bile in her throat. She tore her gaze from the picture, her heart pounding.
  A man in overalls and a John Deere hat held a cell phone to his ear. “Hurry. Tell them to hurry. They’re hurt bad,” he bellowed. “It’s them Amish people with their buggies. I think I…I think I killed them!”
  Killed them. No. Suddenly adrenaline overcame the paralyzing dread. She dashed forward. “Mudder! Daed!”
  With all the strength he could muster, Luke staggered to his feet. “Emma, help Catherine with the horse! Let it loose before it hurts someone.”
  What was Luke doing here? Why wasn’t he at his shop? She shook off her questions and his command and dropped to her knees next to her mother’s still body.
  But Thomas grabbed her arms and pulled her to her feet again. His broad frame served as a formidable barrier between Emma and her mother. “No, Emma. Do as Luke says.”
  “I can help her!”
  Thomas’s grip kept her from sinking to the ground again. Eyes the color of maple syrup held her tight in their gaze. Thomas, of all people, knew this kind of pain. “Your mudder is gone, Emma.”
  Still, she struggled. “Daed!”
  Luke’s strangled sob spoke for him. “No, Daed.” She ripped away from Thomas and dashed around the broken buggy. “Please!”
  Luke held up two bloody hands, palms flat in the air. Emma slammed to a halt. Her brother’s raw agony radiated from his sweet, plain features. His lips trembled over his long beard. “No. Don’t look. Don’t! I tried, but nothing.” His voice cracked. “He was already gone. Help Catherine. Help her!”
  Sirens, their shrill cry an alien sound in this Kansas farmland, cut the air. Emma backed away from Luke. The rough asphalt scraped her feet, but she welcomed pain—the only thing that could penetrate this kind of numbness. She shook her head. “No. No!”
  Catherine’s cries forced her back into the moment. Here was something Emma could do, something to ease the horrible, enormous sense that she should be doing something. She ran to Catherine’s side and together they loosened the horse’s restraints and led her to the grassy shoulder of the road. The mare, sides lathered with sweat, snorted and pranced but didn’t bolt. “Easy, girl, easy.” Emma patted her long, graceful neck. “It’s all right.”
  Words of comfort murmured where there was none.
  Catherine threw herself into Emma’s arms. “It was horrible. I saw the whole thing from the produce stand. Mudder waved to me and smiled as they slowed down to make the turn. Then the truck came…”
  Catherine’s voice faded. Her knees buckled.
  Emma struggled to hold her up. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
  Her poor sister would have the images burned on her brain forever. Catherine didn’t need to see any more of this horrific scene. Emma grasped her sister’s trembling shoulders. “I need you to do something for me.”
  Catherine’s face was white and wet with rain and tears. “I couldn’t help them. I can’t help anyone.”
  “Yes, you can.” Emma hugged her and then gave a gentle shove. “Lillie and Mary are down the road. Go get them. Take them home.”
  Catherine shook her head and sobbed. “I don’t want to tell them—”
  “Don’t. Don’t tell them anything.”
  Catherine wiped at her face with a sodden sleeve. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay with you?”
  “Go. Make sure they’re safe. Take them home. Luke and I will come when we can.”
  “What about Annie and Mark? They’ll wonder why Mudder hasn’t come home from town yet.”
  “Tell them there’s been an accident. Then wait for Luke and me.”
  Catherine took off, her stride unsteady at first, then she picked up speed. Faster and faster, as if those horrifying images pursued her.
  Emma wanted to run after her, surpass her, and keep on running forever.
  “Miss? Miss!”
  She forced herself to turn and face the wreckage.
  “It was an accident.” The farmer, his craggy, sun-ravaged face wet—whether from rain or tears Emma couldn’t tell—moved closer. He crumpled the green John Deere cap in his huge hand, smoothed it, crumpled it again. “I’m sorry, so sorry. I was in a hurry to get to the mill in Bliss Creek before the rain came. I drove up over the bluff and they were right there. I guess they slowed down to make the turn. I tried to stop. I did, but the truck skidded into them.” He wiped his face with the backs of his stubby fingers. “It was an accident.”
  Luke strode toward them, his long legs eating up the road. Her bear-sized brother usually walked the road the way he walked life—in a calm, deliberate manner. Now the world had tilted, taking everything familiar with it. “I know, Mr. Cramer. Don’t worry. We forgive you.”
  The man’s mouth gaped wide, exposing crooked teeth. After a second, it closed. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you.”
  Emma raised her head to the spattering of raindrops. Maybe they would wash away the anger in her heart. When Carl had left, she’d thought the worst thing that could ever happen to her was done. Over. Now this. Not an intentional abandoning, but an accidental one. In the end, the effect was the same.
  Luke was right to forgive. But sometimes right was too hard.

My Thoughts:

This emotionally charged novel starts out with the unexpected and tragic death of Emma Shirack's parents. This tragedy tests the family over and over and topped with a few other incidents, creates a compelling and heart-tugging story.

The Amish way is to forgive, but Emma and other members of her family struggle throughout the story with forgiveness. It is in this one act that they will heal and give them a freedom that they need, but forgiveness is not easily done.

I found this whole story mesmerizing and somewhat different from other Amish fiction I have read in the past. The struggles Emma and her family face are not easily handled and that made for a true-to-life scenario for me. One tragedy can affect so many people in many different ways, add in guilt, shame, wrong choices and broken hearts, the effect can be astounding.

This story is one about love, loss, guilt, trauma, faith, forgiveness and healing. It is so well written that I found it impossible to put down. Kelly Irvin captures the essence of family and faith in this book. It is the first book of her Bliss Creek Amish series, and after reading this one, I can't wait to get my hands on the next book to see what happens in Emma's family!!

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