Priscilla Allgyer left the community to escape the expectations of Amish life. Now, years later, she is forced to return—along with her six-year-old son—to the place she thought she’d left behind forever. Though once estranged from her family, Priscilla is welcomed by her mother, but her father is cold and strict. He allows Priscilla to stay with them provided she dresses plainly, confesses her sins, and agrees to marry within the community. Once again, she feels suffocated, trapped, and alone. As Priscilla reluctantly completes her shunning, she catches the eye of Mark Riehl, a farmer with a playboy reputation. Wary of Mark, Priscilla barely gives him the time of day—while Mark, unused to being ignored by the women of Bird-in-Hand, won’t give up the pursuit of her friendship. Priscilla desperately needs a friend in Mark, even if she doesn’t realize it—and after Priscilla’s father and the bishop catch her and Mark in a compromising situation, their relationship becomes more complicated than ever. As affection quietly grows between them, Priscilla struggles to open her heart and reveal the painful secrets of her past. As Mark works to earn her good faith, can they both learn the hard lessons of love and trust? And can two friends discover a happiness that only God himself could have designed? The third book in the Amish Homestead series, A Seat by the Hearth invites us back to the Lancaster community where friendships are forged and love overcomes all.
Several years ago, Priscilla Allgyer, a childhood best friend of Laura Riehl (one of the main characters of Book 2 in this series) made the decision to leave her Amish community. Now she's back in town with young son Ethan in tow, a child born out of wedlock. Feeling limited in options, Priscilla puts aside her pride and returns to her parents' home, hoping they will be gracious enough to leave the past in the past and let her stay, at least until she can come up with another solution.
Priscilla's mother is overjoyed to see her and gladly welcomes her in with open arms. Not quite the same story with her father. He agrees to let her and Ethan move in with them, but he's got some conditions: Priscilla is to 1) return to wearing Amish clothes 2) confess her sins and become a full fledged member of the church and 3) get herself an Amish husband ASAP. Hearing her father lay out his terms, Priscilla is quickly reminded of the restrictive aspects of Amish life that led her to flee town in the first place all those years ago, but for the sake of her son, she begrudgingly agrees to his rules. While she might have started out fleeing her Amish life, now she was escaping Ethan's alcoholic, abusive Englischer father, so returning to THAT life wasn't really an option... at least not one she even remotely wanted to consider.
While settling back into her old Amish ways, Priscilla becomes reacquainted with Laura's twin brother, Mark Riehl, the community's local ladies' man. While inwardly she can't deny how physically attractive she finds him, outwardly she keeps her distance. Being well aware of his reputation of fickle affections towards the ladies, that's the last thing she needs in her life right now. But Mark claims he's just here to be a good friend to her. He tries to be patient with her, sensing she's "going through some things right now"... but at times gets frustrated that she allows only minimal interaction between them, even on a platonic level.
While Mark might claim he only wants to be a good friend to Priscilla, everyone else in town immediately sees these two are clearly headed for a future romance. Or so Clipston wants the reader to believe. Much like the problem with the first book in this series, we're being TOLD these two have a growing romantic warmth between them, but the bulk of their actions / interactions barely revv up beyond good, solid friendship. In fact, the whole big drama that does end up forcefully pushing these two together comes about because Mark is honestly and innocently comforting Priscilla as she releases some pent up emotional pain. However, his nearness to her, when seen by outside eyes, is deemed inappropriate. To save face -- and potential expulsion from the church -- Priscilla and Mark are forced to come together to make a difficult choice about their respective -- and possibly combined -- futures.
Without any real heat between them developed, the will-they-won't-they element of the plot was a little dragged out, but the novel still has a worthwhile story in Priscilla's personal journey, navigating a life dictated by men who prove to be letdowns. Growing up with an verbally abusive father, she has little to no self esteem / respect cultivated in her, so out in the Englisch world it's no great surprise that she ends up being targeted by a similar kind of man. Tricked by initial kindness, she gets caught up in an unhealthy relationship she has no clue how to leave. The only idea she has is to come back home to the life she tried so hard to break free from.
A reader can't help but feel for her. It's almost like she has to pay triple-fold for her life path --- fleeing first the abusive father, then a physically abusive boyfriend, THEN having to regain her place within the Amish church... and she's not even accepted right away. She has to go through a process of taking classes, attending services, extra confessions and meetings, gradually working her way out of shunning status. She can't eat with her family or neighbors, can't use her own money at Amish stores until she's cleared of the shunning ... and for what "crime"? Wanting a little breathing room in her life? Wanting to seek out and experience deep-down soul contentment, in whatever form that took? The process breaks her heart time and again, yet she fights to stay strong for her son, who needs this safe space away from his dangerous father.
Clipston gives a hint that a little over five years has passed between the first book in the Amish Homestead series to now, and there's one more to go. Several of the characters in the previous book hinted that they'd like to see flirty Mark maybe try to settle on one girl and here we are trying out that storyline! While the romance was flat for me, I cheered every time Mark stood up to Priscilla's verbally abusive father!
Oh, and the running joke between Laura and Allen featured in Book 2 gets an extra little nod in this story as well. :-)
The final book in the series, due out this May, is set to feature Laura and Mark's baby sister, Cindy Riehl.
NOTE TO READERS: Clipston does do a good job giving readers refresher information within these novels so you can catch up with characters between installments, but given that there ARE crossover characters, inside jokes, and a definable timeline moving along (within the Riehl family especially) throughout the stories, I would recommend reading the series sequentially.