"A Shining Light"

The kind people of Amana have been her guiding light, but her greatest trial is yet to come...

"A Shining Light" is the third book of the "Home to Amana" series by award-winning historical author, Judith Miller. Set in late 19th Century Iowa, this book offers a glimpse into "the closed communities of the Amana Colonies" through the eyes of an "Outsider". As the back cover summarizes:

"After Andrea Wilson receives the devastating news that her husband has been lost at sea, she returns home to Iowa with her young son, Lukas. But what she finds there causes more heartache: The family farm has burned and her father has died, leaving Andrea with nothing.

"Andrea must rely on the kindness of the people from the nearby Amana village who invite her to stay with them for a time. She discovers much generosity and contentment among the Amanans--especially from the tinsmith, Dirk Knefler, who takes her son under his wing. But is the simple, cloistered life in Amana what Andrea wants for Lukas's future? Is she willing to give up the comforts and freedom of the outside world? And when yet another round of shocking news comes her way, will Andrea ever be able to find the serenity and hope that have eluded her for so long?"

As with most inspirational/historical fiction, I enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours reading "A Shining Light". Judith Miller is a fine author, and I appreciated her apparent research on and inclusion of historical information and details beyond the typical pioneer story. I was intrigued by what I learned about the Amana Colonies, which I had never heard of before; and, especially personally, it was good to read of the significance of not only contentment and community amongst Amanans, but also generosity and selflessness toward the outside world. At least as portrayed in the book, this group of people was serious about leading a quiet, intentional lifestyle and, more importantly, about serving and honoring God in how they lived and treated one another. The centrality of faith, trust, and a right relationship with God and men is clear throughout the story.

On the other hand, both the characters and plot of "A Shining Light", again as with most inspirational/historical fiction it seems, seemed somewhat unnatural. Miller is an average writer, but while her characters were likeable and generally developed well, I found the dialogue distracting: often it sounded too "written" or alternatively the extreme opposite of choppy sentence fragments, and there were also random substitutions of German words {i.e., gut in place of good} when various Amanans spoke. It was the storyline that seemed most forced and somewhat far-fetched, however. There was one twist I didn't see coming, but otherwise the plot was predictable, and more often than not at the expense of realism; the more I read and considered the story, the more I was struck by how different real life is when situations actually must be faced and {spoiler alert!} the abusive husband doesn't conveniently fall out of a hay loft and leave his wife to happily marry the other man with whom she's fallen in love.

Overall, "A Shining Light" is an enjoyable quick read and also provides some insight into an apparently little-known facet of this country's history. Miller writes an interesting, thoughtful {and potentially thought-provoking}, and entertaining, if idealistic, story that involves sweet characters and solid values.

Disclaimer: This book was received for free from Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.

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