Monday, June 29, 2015

Made with Love by Tricia Goyer and Sherri Gore


Title: Made with Love
Author: Tricia Goyer and Sherri Gore (no website found)
Publisher: Harvest House
Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
"she came buy" should be "she came by"p197
"flood ight" should be flood light" p205
"Lovina's lips sealed close" should be something like "Lovina's lips sealed closed" or "sealed shut' or better yet, just "sealed" period! p223
"her mixed emotions were clean on her face" should be "clear on her face" P223
"to tell they world" should be "to tell the world" p232
"so much to learn about each" should be "So much to learn about each other"
"swallowed down her emotion dared to look" arguably, emotion ought to be pluralized, but there definitely needs to be a comma between 'emotion' and 'dared' P243
"It help that your coworker is nice to look at too" should be "It helps..."
"A bolder grew in the pit of her stomach" should be "A boulder grew in the pit of her stomach"
"and would som day weigh them' should be "and would some day weigh them" p252
One recipe is missing a header
One recipe which has a header was missing the actual recipe

This is going to be a long review even by my standards, so brace ourself! This novel came to me as a review copy which isn't going to be released until August, yet the typescript I read was far from ready for prime time. There was a host (definitely not a heavenly host!) of issues with the copy I read. It has multiple spelling and grammatical errors, for one thing. I can see how some of these would slip by an inattentive reader, but any spell-checker would have caught, for example, the use of "flood ight" where it should have been 'flood light".

I don't see any excuse for putting out a review copy that hasn't at least had a 'one-more-time' spell-check run on it. I know that writers and publishers like to put out standard excuses for this - that the text is in flux and shouldn't be quoted, but how hard is it to run a spell check? Of course, that won't catch grammatical errors or real words used in the wrong place, such as "she came buy" where it should have read "she came by".

So the main problem with the technical reading of this particular novel was that it was sometimes hard to tell if something which read like an error to me was actually an error or if it was intentional. There was a lot of 'Amish speak' in the text. By this I don't mean German words tossed in such as 'ja' for 'yes' and 'wunderbar' for 'wonderful', and so on - although the odd thing there is that while 'ja' is used in place of 'Yes', 'nein' isn't used in place of 'No'! I found this strange. No, as far speaking goes for me, "It help to know" should be "It helps to know". The problem was that I couldn't be sure if this was an error or if it was intentional, meant to depict a mode of speech used by the Amish. I included it in my list of errata because I saw so many errors and I was therefore unwilling to give these the benefit of the doubt.

There was the occasional oddball sentence, too, such as this one on page 291: "Lovina cared for him. He knew she did. Now he just needed her to realize that for himself." It's that last sentence which doesn't make sense. Shouldn't he need her to realize that for herself?! But this book is all about male dominance. I can't get with any societal plan which puts half the population in the back seat, as this one does. The women are supposed to be modest and modestly dressed. The women are supposed to have their head covered with this "kapp" of theirs. The women are supposed to have their eyes down-cast and their hearts on marriage. The man is supposed to be the provider and master of the house. I don't subscribe to that, and this book was hard to read because of this kind of thing showing up every few pages.

Those issues aside, this wasn't too bad of a story as it started out, except that it had too much cliché, which surprised me given that this was set in an Amish community. I'm not a believer. I'm a born-again atheist, if you like. Like everyone else, I was an atheist when I was born right up until I got brain-washed by the Christian community, but the washing didn't take, and I became atheistic once again. Yes, I'm a dirty atheist! Everyone goes through that same process, but most of them do not regain their original skepticism and healthy rationality. Most of them adopt the religion into which they were born, without even giving it a thought.

Notwithstanding that background, this story actually sounded interesting to me, which I guess means the blurb did its job. The problem was that it turned out to be just like every other romance story out there! Take out the references to 'God' and the Amish portions of it and it was indistinguishable from scores of other romances. Leave in 'God' and even the Amish portions of it, and it was still indistinguishable from any other Christian romance. This saddened me because had it been your usual Christian romance, I never would have been interested in reading it. It was disappointing to find nothing new, original or different here.

The Amish community is an offshoot of the Mennonites. I've visited the Amana colonies in Iowa which a lot of people think are actually Amish, but in fact they're pietist. There are very many such splinter groups. I read once that there are some twenty thousand Christian sects, which just goes to show what a spectacular failure the Bible was in creating a community of like-minded worshipers!

Some of these splinter groups have a lot in common whilst others do not. I once went on a date with a Mennonite girl because of the very fact that her lifestyle interested me and she was an interesting person, but none of this makes me remotely an expert on this topic, which was why I thought it would be fun to read this. Not that you should take your education from fictional romances by any means, but it's still nice to learn what authors of various persuasions think and feel.

This story can be thought of as a cookbook with a free romance, or as a romance with free recipes. I haven't tried the recipes as of this writing, but some of them are seriously tempting. Bakery, specifically of pies, is at the heart of this story because it's the dream of the main character to open a pie shop. She believes it's her god's will that she open this shop! I'd have to seriously doubt that a creator of a universe, who evidently hasn't put in an appearance for at least two thousand years, really cares one way or the other about whether person A opens a pie shop or joins the circus, or whether team A wins or team B wins, but that's part of the premise here.

In this story, Lovina Miller lives with her Mem and Dat, and her four sisters, all of whom are single, and pretty if not beautiful. More on that score anon. Her dream is to open a pie shop in the little Florida Amish village to which her family has moved. It's amusingly named Pinecraft; amusingly because it sounds so much like Minecraft. Does Minecraft have an Amish mod? I doubt it, but you never know: there's a mod for pretty much everything!

This book is augmented with odds and ends like Lovina's list of things she needed to keep in mind, and Noah's Mem's skillet pear ginger pie, which is funny because someone is stealing pies, and it's probably not Lovina. The pie thefts never are resolved. It's also funny because in another novel I've been reading lately, pies are being stolen from the palace kitchen - by the princesses! Maybe they're stealing from here, too?!

Noah is obviously the guy who will become Lovina's love interest. This novel really isn't the remotest bit subtle. Noah is trying to find work for three boys who remind him of his own troublesome self when he was their age, but their reputation precedes them, and no one wants these boys around their property - except maybe Lovina who, it appears, might have finally managed to get her hands on a property she can turn into a pie shop.

For a book about faith, there was surprisingly little in evidence. For a people who base their lives on a book which dictates, 'judge not, lest ye be judged', there was a disturbing amount of judgment - of Noah and his troublesome teens in particular. Also for a community which follows a book which states, 'take no thought for tomorrow' there was a disturbing amount of capitalism going on! But no one ever made a case for religious belief being rational.

There was what amounts to an undercurrent of what might be very loosely thought of as "racism" or at best, part of that disturbing amount of judgment I mentioned. The Amish community considered all outsiders to be "Englischers", and this term was used often. It felt insulting. Believe it or not, there is actually a romance novel titled "The Amish and the Englischer". Englischer is meant not to describe English people, but anyone who isn't Amish/Mennonite. I know it's probably not intended in the way it felt to me, but it's still a case of "us" and "them" which is cultist, and which seems out of keeping with the purported Christian ideal of loving thy neighbor. It just struck me as odd and unnecessarily divisive.

This "us and them" mentality wasn't only exemplified just in the use of that word, either. At one point, a reporter comes to interview Lovina about her new pie shop. Now this reporter wasn't from the Amish newspaper The Budget but from a newspaper called the Sarasota Sun, but her attitude was weird, and unnecessarily combative.

She said something which I found extraordinarily blinkered and insulting: "It's stories like these our world need to hear. Stories to let people know that not every place is corrupt". Let's for a moment ignore the issue of poor grammar in that last sentence. This sentient strongly suggests that only the Amish (it's a great life in the Amish!) aren't corrupt, and everywhere else is a violent, criminal, low-life society, which is bigoted and insulting. Of course, there are people in the real world who are bigoted, so this in itself wasn't the problem, but was it necessary to put that insult into her speech? At the very least, it could have been worded more gently or less holier-than-thou.

This oddly blinkered view of life popped up throughout this story. For example there was one place where I read that food was a special part of Amish life, but this suggested that it isn't a special part of everyone's life, especially for gatherings, including church functions of other faiths. I found that very short-sighted to intimate that food has a special meaning to the Amish that no one else shares. It was this kind of thing that made me think that he author really needs to get out more - out of her confined community and see some of the world if she really thinks we're as bad as some of this writing suggests.

One of my pet peeves with writing is the obsessive compulsive use of the word 'beautiful' to describe a woman - and only the use of that word, like she has no other worthy qualities than deeper than skin, and this defines her and is her and is all she is or can ever hope to be. I object strongly to this and think it shameful that this is used and accepted in novels. It's especially shameful when used by a female author, and in this case even more so when used by a writer describing a community which is supposedly rooted in modesty and acceptance. I did a search for use of this term as applied to a woman's looks, and here's what I found:

  • Her beautiful face p52
  • A gentle confidence that made her beautiful p55
  • Unlike my beautiful sisters p93
  • Didn't she realize how beautiful she was? P179
  • You look beautiful p228
  • She'd never been told she was beautiful before p228
  • You are beautiful p229
  • Joy had a beautiful face p235
  • A beautiful young Amish woman p252
  • Knowing Noah found her beautiful p328

I think it's a disgrace to classify women like this. Yes, some women are beautiful - but the problem with that is that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, so what defines it - well everything and nothing, everyone and no one. I have no problem with someone who is in love thinking their partner is beautiful! That's a given, regardless of how others may view that person, but to routinely describe every young female as beautiful is not only unrealistic, it's insulting to the majority of women who look perfectly fine, but who are not routinely classed as beautiful. And its completely out of place in a novel of this nature.

Personally I think this needs to stop. There's no reason whatsoever to habitually describe women in novels as beautiful unless it has some marked bearing on the story or on what happens in the story, or on what happens to the woman specifically. Otherwise why mention it if not to make every-day, regular woman feel like they're ugly and really ought to try harder to look acceptable - i.e. beautiful?

This is a pogrom perpetrated by the fashion industry, and the make-up conglomerations, and the dietary product industries, all of which are intent upon forcefully declaring that women are useless tubs of ugly lard if they are not willowy, and magnificently beautiful, utterly hairless, and dressed to the tens (the nines is so five minutes ago dahlink). This destructive behavior needs to be starkly highlighted for what it is: an abuse of women, not bought into and supported. This abuse is far more pernicious and destructive than ever pornography could be.

'Pretty' was another issue tied directly to this one: when it wasn't how beautiful they were, it was how pretty they were:

  • Smiled at the pretty dark-haired Amish woman P20
  • How could someone forget such a pretty face P20
  • Lovina was a pretty girl P29
  • The pretty woman who'd been checking out the warehouse P49
  • The pretty woman smiled P54
  • Pretty lashes P54
  • She's pretty P83
  • God had sent someone pretty P84
  • It was as pretty a name as any he'd heard P84
  • More time with that pretty Amish lady P84
  • Not her pretty smile P84
  • The pretty Amish woman P136
  • You are so pretty like your sister P235
  • Lovina's pretty sisters P271

Moving on. One thing I have honestly never understood about these communities is the fact that many of them have hit the pause button on technology, right at the point where they left their original homeland, in Germany, for the most part, and never hit 'play' again, so they don't have electricity, and they drive around in buggies. They eschew car ownership but have no problem traveling in taxis and buses? To me this makes no sense. Why freeze it at that specific point? Not all of them do; some have moved on to electricity, but still perceive technology as evil. If they wish to freeze their technological lives, why not go back to two thousand years ago and adopt Hebrew dress and customs and technology - such as it was then? Why wait almost two thousand years before hitting pause?

No god decided this. It was decided by people like Menno Simons, and Jakob Ammann, and their successors, but they lived four hundred years ago, so why not freeze it at dress and customs of their age? As this story relates, some communities have moved on, but not completely on - so electricity is fine, and cell phones are fine, but digital cameras are not? Phones are cameras these days, so I don't get this distinction either. There is no logic or rationale to these choices! It's entirely arbitrary, yet no one questions it. If they do, they're not forgiven; they're shunned and ostracized! None of this makes sense to me and I was no wiser on this topic after reading this novel, either.

But I digress! The romance isn't all plain sailing, of course. Indeed, I was as surprised as I was disturbed to discover that this romance was exactly the same as all other romances. The couple meet, they don't believe they like each other, but are amazed that they do. At least one of them has a secret. Friends or parents object to the relationship. Somehow, no matter how many weeks they have, there is never time to discuss the secret. The secret is revealed at the end, and everything is happily ever after.

So what did this story have to offer that a gazillion other romances don't have? Quite literally nothing! The Amish setting was interesting, but it really didn't make an ounce of difference to the romance in the same way that God didn't make an ounce of difference to what happened. There were no miracles here, no revelations, no magical presences. It was just a love story and if the Amish part and the references to god were all removed, it would still have been the same love story.

Noah Yoder has a troubled past, yet in the three months in which Lovina and Noah work together on a daily basis to get the pie shop up and running, they seem utterly unable, even once, to find an hour to discuss what his sordid little secret is! I found that utterly unbelievable. When the secret comes out it's not Earth-shattering. What he did was awful, but it wasn't something that hasn't happened to scores upon scores of irresponsible teenagers. No one died. No one was hurt, and Noah worked hard to fix what he did. Case closed. it was really a non event - a non-mystery especially given the spoilers that had gone before.

There's also a huge spoiler when they talk about purchasing the property to turn into a pie shop and then they take out no insurance on it. I'm sorry but faith doesn't cut it. You need insurance, period. It made them look really stupid to make such a big investment without insuring it and it telegraphed loudly what was going to happen later. Worse than this, there are building codes - even the Amish and Mennonites have to adhere to building codes. Where were the fire alarms? Where were the sprinklers? I guess Noah didn't learn anything after all.

It's tempting to say that the worst part about this whole story is the precipitous rush to judgment and their colossal loss of faith, but that isn't it. The worst part is the Disney princess ending which spoiled the whole story for me.

I know that some stories in real life do have fairy-tale endings, but this one was so over the top that it was completely unrealistic. It was arrogant, too, that only people of faith can help each other. I cannot - in good faith! - recommend this novel. The basic premise was good, but this story doesn't get it done. If you want a good story about baking, watch the Will Ferrell - Maggie Gyllenhall movie Stranger than Fiction. That gets it done and is a fun movie.


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