*This review first appeared in The Budget’s April 18, 2018, Local Edition.
By Pat Edgar
Author Molly Jebber is known for her historical Amish fiction. Perhaps her best-known series to date is “The Keepsake Pocket Quilt” collection. Her most recent book, “Liza’s Second Chance” (Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2018), is the first installment of the very promising “The Amish Charm Bakery” series.
As the series title suggests, the books take place in Charm, Ohio, a setting used frequently by writers of Amish fiction. “Liza’s Second Chance” is set in 1912 and centers around Liza Schrock, a young widow and owner of the Amish Charm Bakery where she employs her sister, Esther Lapp, and her niece, Hannah.
While it is unusual that an Amish woman owns a business, Liza’s late husband, Paul, established the bakery for her before his unexpected death. The business is a blessing to Liza now just as it was while Paul was alive. The bakery provides needed income for Liza now and was a refuge for her during her marriage. Although her husband was an apparent pillar of the community, helping those in need and respected by everyone, at home he was a very different man.
The marriage itself was an arranged agreement. Paul approached Liza’s father with the proposition. Despite the fact that he was 10 years older than Liza, he had just inherited a great deal of property and wealth from his father, making him an apparent good match. Liza had very little experience courting because she stayed home and took care of her sick parents. She didn’t oppose the marriage, but it turned out far different than she had expected.
At home, the smiling and generous Paul the community saw disappeared, and a hard taskmaster and difficult husband appeared in his place. From the beginning of their marriage, Paul was critical of her housekeeping and cooking and often sent her to her room when he was displeased, treating her like he would a child.
In addition, the couple was childless, and Paul blamed his wife for that. The Amish Charm Bakery became a sanctuary for Liza. There, her breads, apple tarts and special molasses cookies received many compliments from her customers. Liza was known for creating new recipes and meeting everyone with a smile and a good cup of coffee.
No one, not even her family, knew what she faced at the end of the day when she returned home. There, the “real” Paul, a greedy, arrogant and bad-tempered man made her life miserable.
Working with her sister Esther is a real blessing for Liza, but there is one problem she would like to avoid. Esther thinks that Liza has remained single long enough and wants her to consider remarrying. She wonders why Liza avoids the single men in their church district and wants her to have the kind of life she has with her beloved husband, Abe.
Liza doesn’t want to speak badly of her husband but is finally worn down by the advice and questions from her sister and niece. When she finally tells the truth about her marriage to Paul, Esther suspects that her sister married to secure her family’s financial future. After all, Abe was hired as Paul’s property manager soon after the wedding.
Clearly, Liza is hesitant to trust another man and has avoided all relationships during her widowhood. She is also struggling to forgive her deceased husband because she knows that she can’t move forward without doing so. She has been content in her singleness since the death of her husband, appreciating the love of family and friends in addition to having meaningful work in the bakery.
But all of that is challenged when widower Jacob Graber and his 17-year-old daughter Ellie move to Charm from Nappanee, Indiana.
It’s clear from their first meeting that there is a connection between Liza and Jacob, but will her distrust of men and Jacob’s resentful and sullen daughter get in the way? The attempts that Liza makes to keep Jacob at arm’s distance while befriending his daughter add depth to the story. Ellie’s interaction with Liza’s niece Hannah and her friends is also many-layered as the reader learns what Ellie has experienced since her mother’s death.
Author Molly Jebber has crafted a more complex plot than is typical of an Amish romance. Readers are sure to be enchanted by this well- written novel. Jebber is one of the authors expected to attend the Girlfriend Getaway 2018 to be held in Sugarcreek, Ohio, from June 15-17. There is still time to make reservations for the luncheon at Dutch Valley on June 16 during which 10 writers of Amish fiction will appear. For more information, call 1-800-965-9324 or check out amyclipston.com/girlfriend.