Though Mountains Fall review

9780764208409At last, Christian Fiction author Dale Cramer’s long-awaited conclusion to The Daughters of Caleb Bender series has been released by Bethany House*, in January of 2013.  Beginning in ‘Paradise Valley’ and building in ‘The Captive Heart’, the story of ‘Though Mountains Fall’ will give readers a sense of closure and an understanding of what happened to each beloved character after carving out a new Amish settlement in the mountains of Mexico.  Certainly, this book should not be read without first going through each of it’s two predecessors, as each one builds greatly upon the other.

The primary characters in the novel are brought to life in a unique way. By using several points of view to bring clarity and depth to the story, we catch glimpses of very different viewpoints and emotions to the same event or situation.  Caleb, leader of the new settlement, and two of his daughters, Miriam – who is engaged to a Mexican, and Rachel – who hides a dark secret from the man she plans to marry, share the telling of the story for the most part.  Each character, both primary and secondary, is brought to life vividly through this interesting blend of viewpoints.

Because three main viewpoints are involved, many different hopes and needs are woven into the story, as well.  Caleb struggles with protecting his family and friends from the dangers, both physically and spiritually, of their new land, but at the same time faces unfathomable hurt when Miriam leaves the Amish faith to marry the only man she could ever love. Torn between her family and her closest sister, Rachel harbors her own fears and regrets.  Binding them all together is the fear and uncertainty of the army supposedly present for their protection, but bringing more problems than even the bandits they wiped out.

The most significant underlying theme and message of Though Mountains Fall is simple, but profound and applicable to everyone…  Forgiveness.  Forgiveness from God and from man.  After losing everything, including his close communion with his Heavenly Father, Caleb realizes that in order to carry on with life, you must forgive the people who have hurt you in the past. Various other instances, in the lives of both primary and secondary characters, continually show the value of forgiving others, and of accepting God’s forgiveness in your own heart.

If you have been anticipating the conclusion to The Daughters of Caleb Bender series, after finishing Though Mountains Fall you will be left with a sense of having finished one large, three-part book following the journeys of the Bender family.  Although this story is based on solid values, however, it often seems very dreary, and even depressing.  Almost too many terrible things happen to be completely believable, or fully enjoyable to read.  For those who enjoyed the first two installments in this series, and wish to satisfy their curiosity as to how the characters end up, Though Mountains Fall is a not-to-be-missed conclusion.  On it’s own, however, it is not the most enjoyable, or the most memorable, historical fiction novel.

***Note:  I received this book free of charge for review purposes, courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications.  I would like to say thank you very much for sending it to me.

The Captive Heart review

The Captive Heart imageAt long last, the second book in The Daughters of Caleb Bender series has been released. The Captive Heart, Dale Cramer’s latest book, became available from Bethany House Publishers* at the first of 2012, and is sure to excite fans of it’s predecessor, entitled Paradise Valley.  Apparently at least one more book will follow in the series as well, as The Captive Heart contains many loose ends, waiting to be tied up in a final story.  Based on the events of a true story, The Captive Heart takes place in Mexico, where a new Amish settlement was founded by the Caleb Bender family a year previous to this story’s beginning.

A unique part of this novel is the author’s technique in allowing the reader to watch the story unfold through the eyes of not just one or even two, but several lifelike characters.  Although Miriam Bender, a strong, loyal young woman, is the dominant heroine, her sisters, father, and others also add their views, forming a well thought-out (and surprisingly not confusing) novel.  The tie that binds each central character together is their need to survive the one  blight in their beautiful new home – the bandits led by El Pantera, a brutal, harsh, man, who seemingly has no conscience.

Conflict and hardship abound in Paradise Valley, both within and without.  Miriam finds herself haunted by the love of a man forbidden to her, the only man she could ever be happy sharing her life with.  At the same, the entire settlement lives in constant fear of being robbed, killed, or worse, by the infamous El Pantera and his bandits.  After one of their people is killed, and another kidnapped, members of the fast growing, but strictly nonviolent Amish community, and one loyal, native friend, are forced into unthinkable choices to save their loved ones.

One of the main themes in The Captive Heart is the debate between the Amish way of non-violence, and the desire to protect your loved ones. This unsettled question compels readers to look at their own values. Often in the characters’ situations, they are forced to make choices that truly seem impossible.  Similarly, another theme in the novel is that of God’s forgiveness…  When a person makes a choice they know is wrong, however unforgivable it may seem, it is imperative to remember that God is love, and that He is ready to forgive us at any time.

The Captive Heart is an adventurous and generally wholesome Amish story.  It is packed with drama and excitement, love and value, and characters we can learn with.  The conflict is intense, (at times nail-bitingly so!) and both joy and sadness bring life to the novel.  A few faults are present, however, largely in certain elements that, while probably necessary to the story plot, could have been explained with fewer details, which would have made a number of scenes significantly less uncomfortable.  All in all, however, The Captive Heart was an interesting, adventurous sequel in which readers will learn more about the Bender family they came to know and love from the previous book in the series, Paradise Valley.

***Note:  I received this book free of charge for review purposes, courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications.  I would like to say thank you very much for sending it to me.

Paradise Valley review

ParadiseValley_4color+Treatments-CS3.inddWhat an interesting, unique start to a brand-new series!  Paradise Valley, an Amish Historical Fiction novel written by Dale Cramer and published in 2011 by Bethany House*, is based on actual events from Amish history.  In fact, Mr. Cramer’s great-grandparents were leading members of the real Mexican colony called Paradise Valley, which was established in the 1920s.  The writing style of this book is warm and fairly light, and allows you to watch the story unfold from the different perspectives of several characters.  Opening with conflict between an Amish community and the state law, this story pulls you into the life-changing decision made by one man attempting to protect his family.

A significant reason in explaining what makes Paradise Valley such a memorable read is the large host of remarkable and lovable characters contained within pages of the book.  Although the story is spotlighting an entire family, a strong and caring young girl named Rachel Bender is our main heroine.  Other characters almost as prominent include her loving, persuasive sister Emma, the “too-smart-for-her-own-good” sister Miriam, and their honorable, faithful ‘Dat’, Caleb.  The entire Bender family, from Dat and Mamm down to the youngest daughter, grow stronger, closer to each other, and closer to God as the story unfolds.  For you, the reader, the vivid portrayal of the characters brings each one to life as a friend who will not soon be forgotten.

In the simple Amish community of Salt Creek Township, Ohio, life is changed in an instant when the government forces the Plain people to abide by a law completely opposing their way of life, religion, and beliefs.  This inevitably forces Caleb Bender to make a decision that will affect his family and community forever.  Suddenly huge, challenging questions are formed for everyone involved…  How can Rachel leave the newly-found love of her life?  What will Emma do about her secret sin?  Will Miriam, soon to be considered an old-maid, ever have a family of her own?  To preserve their Amish faith, each member of the family is forced to endure danger and hardship as they build a new life for themselves far from everything familiar.

Paradise Valley interprets several fundamental themes into the storyline, the most obvious being the importance of family, faith, and love.  The Bender family is truly amazing in their strength as a family, proving that with God’s help, a united family can accomplish the near impossible. Interestingly left as an undecided topic, you are made to wonder which is the more honorable decision to make when the lives of those you love are threatened – is the Amish way of non-violence best in each and every scenario?  Also portrayed in this story is the importance of patience and honesty, and the necessity of discovering for yourself who you were meant to be, and what you were meant to accomplish with your life.  Together, these messages make for wholesome reading.

Although labeled as an Amish novel, this book in it’s uniqueness is not a typical Plain story.  It is a highly enjoyable story, and even readers who aren’t usually fans of Amish stories will likely be captivated by Paradise Valley.  One strong negative aspect present in this book, however, is that while honesty is looked on as so important in the family and community, it is not carried out by Emma when she keeps her immoral actions a secret from everyone but two sisters.  Also, while it seems to be a typical Amish way, Rachel seems to be extremely young when she first falls in love.  In general, however, Paradise Valley allows you to travel back in history and meet a family with amazing strength, enjoy a sweet love story, and look forward with anticipation to the next book in the series.

***Note:  I received this book free of charge for review purposes, courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications.  I would like to say thank you very much for sending it to me.