In the Mail: Clouds Without Rain

Clouds Without Rain: An Amish-Country Mystery (Amish Country Mystery 3) by P.L. Gaus

From the Publisher

A compulsively readable new series that explores a fascinating culture set purposely apart.

In the wooded Amish hill country, a professor at a small college, a local pastor, and the county sheriff are the only ones among the mainstream, or “English,” who possess the instincts and skills to work the cases that impact all county residents, no matter their code of conduct or religious creed.

A fatal accident involving and Amish buggy and an eighteen-wheeler sets Professor Michael Branden on a quest to uncover the links between the crash and a spate of disturbing events.

In the Mail: Broken English

*This got lost in all the confusion the last few weeks*

Broken English: An Amish-Country Mystery (Ohio Amish Mysteries) by P.L. Gaus

From the Publisher

The peaceful town of Millersburg, Ohio, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, is rocked by the vicious murder of one of its citizens at the hands of an ex-convict. When a local reporter covering the story ends up dead as well, with the convict already behind bars, suspicion falls on David Hawkins, father of the first victim. But Hawkins is nowhere to be found, not even among the protective Amish colony that had taken him in as one of its own regardless of his shadowy past.

Following on the critical and popular success of his first book, mystery writer P. L. Gaus again brings us a moral and legal conundrum as Professor Michael Branden, Sheriff Bruce Robertson, and Pastor Cal Troyer set out to uncover the truth that seems so elusive in their otherwise quiet corner of the world.

Along the way, Gaus paints a unique portrait of the relationship between the Amish and the English cultures as seen from the inside. Against this backdrop, Broken English is a tale of honor, deception, and revenge, where circumstances and the search for justice test the mettle of the closest of friends and reveal the desperate measures of the strongest of foes.

In the Mail: Blood of the Prodigal

Blood of the Prodigal: An Amish-Country Mystery (Ohio Amish Mysteries) by P.L. Gaus

Publishers Weekly

In the Old Order Amish communities of Ohio’s Holmes County, it is rare for one of the self-styled “plain” people to seek aid from an outsider, one of “the English.” But Bishop Eli Miller needs help and goes for it to a local academic, Michael Brandon. Years before, Miller had exiled his son Jonah for his wild ways. Now Jonah has snatched his own son, Jeremiah, who has been living with the bishop. In a note to his father, Jonah sends assurances that the boy will be returned by harvest time. Concern about Jeremiah’s exposure to the outside world prompts the bishop to ask Brandon to locate the boy. And Brandon, too, is worried: Jeff Hostettler–whose sister, Jeremiah’s mother, committed suicide–has vowed to kill Jonah on sight. When Jonah is discovered shot dead, dressed in traditional Amish garb and apparently on his way back in repentance to the bishop’s home, Hostettler becomes the prime suspect. But where is Jeremiah? Gaus brings a refreshing authenticity to his unusual setting and characters. There are no wisecracking gumshoes here, but instead believable characters whose faith is explored with respect. Anyone who enjoyed the film Witness should take to this fine mystery debut.

Columbus Book Examiner = Me

City of Columbus
Image via Wikipedia

I am officially a/the Columbus Book Examiner.  What’s this mean?  It means I will be writing about books and authors at the Columbus Examiner. So:

  • If you are a writer, author, or blogger in Ohio – or know of one – please let me know if I should link your site, go to your event, etc.
  • If you are a publicists/publisher and your author is going to be in or around Ohio please let me know.
  • If you feel like being nice, go to the site and leave a friendly comment or suggestion.

What does it mean for this site?  Nothing really. Just thought you would like to know …

Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish by Joe Mackall

I first heard about Joe Mackall at an event at Ohio State this past summer with Dinty Moore.  I like what I heard and so picked up both Last Street Before Cleveland and [amazon-product region=”us” text=”Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish” type=”text”]0807010650[/amazon-product].  I had some interest in the Amish as I had once worked for a State Senator who represented the area in which the book was set and had has some interaction with Amish issues.
Plain Secrets
It turned out to be a fascinating book and much more than just a story about how the Amish live.  Sure, Mackall offers real insights into the way the Swartzentruber Amish that are his neighbors live; what they are like as people, friends, neighbors, etc.

But it is more than that.

For those unfamiliar with the subject here is some useful background from the book’s website:

Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swartzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized “running-around time” that some Amish sects allow their sixteen-year-olds.

Over the years, Mackall has developed a steady relationship with the Shetler family (Samuel and Mary, their nine children, and their extended family). Plain Secrets tells the Shetlers’ story over these years, using their lives to paint a portrait of Swartzentruber Amish life and mores. During this time, Samuel’s nephew Jonas finally rejects the strictures of the Amish way of life for good, after two failed attempts to leave, and his bright young daughter reaches the end of school for Amish children: the eighth grade. But Plain Secrets is also the story of the unusual friendship between Samuel and Joe. Samuel is quietly bemused—and, one suspects, secretly delighted—at Joe’s ignorance of crops and planting, carpentry and cattle. He knows Joe is planning to write a book about the family, and yet he allows him a glimpse of the tensions inside this intensely private community.

If I had to pick a word to descirbe Mackall’s writing it would be “honest.”

In our day and age the concept of “real” has become a cliche; part of a hokey phrase like “keeping it real.” But there is something very real about the way Mackall writes and the stories he tells.  The relationships he explores and the way he communicates them reflects both an honest curiostiy but also a deep respect for the people involved.

Mackall gives the reader a basic overview of the this particular Amish community and helpfully provides context for the larger Amish culture.  He does this with care by intentionally avoiding sensationalism.  But at the same he xplores his own feelings about this unique community and what this says about our culture and theirs – and how the two interact. This deep respect for his subject matter and a continuing sense of introspection makes for a much deeper story.

Those with an interest in the Amish are probably already well aware of Plain Secrets.  But if you have ever wondered about Amish life this would be a great introduction – not because of the technical details but because of the real sense of how they live.  But really, anyone who enjoys well written narrative non-fiction would enjoy this engaging book.

The Last Street Before Cleveland by Joe Mackall

For some reason if a book doesn’t get reviewed relatively quickly I struggle mightily to get around to it at all.  This habit vexes me to no end and this year I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to be better about not allowing books to get lost.

Joe Mackall’s [amazon-product region=”us” text=”The Last Street Before Cleveland” type=”text”]0803232551[/amazon-product] was one book that got lost in the shuffle somehow and sat in the “To Be Reviewed” pile for months.  So this week I resolved to write about it and check that off the list.

So what exactly is the book about?  Despite the books brevity (150 pages) it is not easy to summarize.  It is about trying to go home again; about overcoming depression and finding faith; about memory and nostalgia; about the dying blue collar world; etc.

The publisher describes it this way:

The old neighborhood was the place Joe Mackall left. It was a place where everyone’s parents worked at the factory at the dead end of the street, where the Catholic church and school operated like a religious city hall, and where a boy like Joe grew up vowing to get out as soon as he could and to shed his blue-collar beginnings and failed, flawed religion. When the mysterious death of a childhood friend draws him back to the last street before Cleveland, however, he discovers that there is more to “old haunts” than mere words—and more to severing one’s roots than just getting away.

The titular “last street before” Cleveland is the street Mackall lived on in Parma, Ohio just outside of Cleveland; one street up and you were in Cleveland proper.  Which is not all that far away from where the author lives now in Ashland, Ohio where he teaches English and journalism at Ashland University.  But culturally and metaphorically it is a different world.

So when he returns to the geography of his youth it is a disorientating experience and it takes him in directions he never anticipated.  This memoir takes the reader along for the ride.

For my belated thoughts click below.

Continue reading

The Last Street Before Cleveland by Joe Mackall

For some reason if a book doesn’t get reviewed relatively quickly I struggle mightily to get around to it at all.  This habit vexes me to no end and this year I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to be better about not allowing books to get lost.

Joe Mackall’s [amazon-product region=”us” text=”The Last Street Before Cleveland” type=”text”]0803232551[/amazon-product] was one book that got lost in the shuffle somehow and sat in the “To Be Reviewed” pile for months.  So this week I resolved to write about it and check that off the list.

So what exactly is the book about?  Despite the books brevity (150 pages) it is not easy to summarize.  It is about trying to go home again; about overcoming depression and finding faith; about memory and nostalgia; about the dying blue collar world; etc.

The publisher describes it this way:

The old neighborhood was the place Joe Mackall left. It was a place where everyone’s parents worked at the factory at the dead end of the street, where the Catholic church and school operated like a religious city hall, and where a boy like Joe grew up vowing to get out as soon as he could and to shed his blue-collar beginnings and failed, flawed religion. When the mysterious death of a childhood friend draws him back to the last street before Cleveland, however, he discovers that there is more to “old haunts” than mere words—and more to severing one’s roots than just getting away.

The titular “last street before” Cleveland is the street Mackall lived on in Parma, Ohio just outside of Cleveland; one street up and you were in Cleveland proper.  Which is not all that far away from where the author lives now in Ashland, Ohio where he teaches English and journalism at Ashland University.  But culturally and metaphorically it is a different world.

So when he returns to the geography of his youth it is a disorientating experience and it takes him in directions he never anticipated.  This memoir takes the reader along for the ride.

For my belated thoughts click below.

Continue reading