Julia Lapp is twenty-one years old and looking forward to her November marriage to Paul Fisher, whom she has loved practically all of her life. Julia is confident of her feelings for Paul and their future together. They were to have married last year, but Paul asked to postpone the wedding. Julie is convinced Paul was persuaded by The Bee Man, Roman “Rome” Troyer, who never settles down, instead roaming from place to place with his hives of brown bees. Seems that whenever Rome shows up, Amish men get cold feet and weddings are either called off entirely or rescheduled.
The eldest of Amos and the late Maggie Lapp’s children, Julia shoulders a great deal of responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of Windmill Farm now that Amos has been diagnosed with a serious cardiac disorder. At only fifty years of age, Amos refuses to place his name on a transplant waiting list, even though a new heart is his only hope for recovery. Son Menno, 17, works hard but requires constant supervision and direction due to his unspecified mental disability, while fourteen-year-old Sadie tries to recreate some of their mother’s favorite recipes. Little Mary Kate, known affectionately as M.K., is a high-spirited and precocious eleven year old.
As the story opens, Julia’s worst nightmare again comes true. Paul asks to postpone their wedding yet again! And sure enough, Rome is back in the region! A stern, nonsense woman named Fern arrives to manage the household, banishing Sadie from the kitchen and putting Amos on a strict cardiac-healthy diet. She seems to be acquainted with Rome who, before long, is ensconced in the family cottage, helping out around the farm while his bees pollinate the orchards, and rapidly becoming, along with Fern, practically a member of the Lapp family.
But Rome is hiding a six-year secret that explains his refusal to settle down, instead preferring a nomadic lifestyle sans commitment to anyone or any place. And there is a mysterious man in a panama hat lurking around Stoney Ridge. Who is he and why is he so interested in the Lapp family?
Author Suzanne Woods Fisher kicks off her new Stoney Ridge Seasons series with The Keeper in which she introduces readers to the Lapp family.
Patriarch Amos has fallen ill, but refuses to place his name on a transplant waiting list because he believes God is revealing to him that his time to die is approaching. He refuses to be the beneficiary of a new heart because another individual would have to die in order for him to live, and he does not believe that can possibly be God’s will for his life. Once a healthy, robust farmer, he is wasting away before his children’s eyes and they are powerless to convince him to allow medical science to intervene.
Julia, the eldest, is a delicate-appearing beauty with inner strength and determination that will serve her well as her family faces its greatest crisis. She has always loved Paul Fisher, but believes that his meddling mother, Edith, along with “Roamin’ Roman” Troyer, has convinced Paul to insist that their wedding be postponed a second time. Edith accused her of being prideful about the price that her beautiful quilt fetched during last year’s auction, causing Julia to stop quilting altogether and instead focus on the family garden from which she sells produce by the roadside each day. She has absolutely no use for Rome, who is ruggedly handsome, a perpetual flirt, and the source of consternation for several local brides-to-be.
What Julia does not realize is that Rome conceals the unrelenting grief born out of a profound loss that compelled him to begin traveling from place to place six years earlier. Rome believes that if he never puts down roots and avoids developing attachments to others, he cannot be hurt so deeply again. He is determined to keep moving, unencumbered and free from emotional entanglements, in order to protect the tender heart that he hides so well.
Meanwhile, little M.K. steals virtually every scene in the book with her realistic and mischievous schemes. She is a little dynamo, determined to get Paul and Julia back together so that the big sister she adores will again be happy. She connives Rome into championing her cause, hiring him to offer Julia rides in his buggy and be seen with her in order to make Paul jealous. Rome plays along, not realizing that by doing so, he is placing his own heart in jeopardy.
And then there is “Stern Fern,” as M.K. dubs her, who takes over the Lapp home like a military general, issuing orders, delegating chores, and dispensing advice that proves, time and again, to be both perfectly timed and insightful. She’s a “Mrs. Doubtfire” who does not need to don a costume each morning. Like Rome, she harbors both a secret and a very big heart beats under her gruff exterior — her oft-cited wisdom has been hard-earned.
Rome is corresponding with the mysterious R.W. who has offered to buy the family farm he abandoned back in Ohio at an exorbitant price, well above market value. But why? What do R.W.’s cryptic messages mean and why would he/she be willing to spend so much money to acquire his family’s land?
Fisher reveals clues to the various mysteries at play in The Keeper at expertly timed intervals, amping up reader interest with each subtle hint. That Rome and Julia will fall for each other comes as no surprise, but that does not spoil the charming way that the two characters come to appreciate their feelings. Fisher includes other plot twists and turns so deftly that The Keeper is elevated from what could have been a formulaic story to a delightful tale about an endearing group of people, each of whom is searching in a unique way for his or her destiny. It is the characters’ humanity that keeps the pages turning rapidly and, ultimately, makes readers care deeply about the Lapps, as well as Rome, Fern and even R.W.
As with Fisher’s other Amish fiction, the characters’ deep and abiding faith is seamlessly woven into the fabric of their lives and the manner in which they conduct themselves, enriching the story for those readers who share similar beliefs while simultaneously making it fully enjoyable for those who have divergent viewpoints. Fisher tenderly explores issues including the ethics of organ transplantation, caring for a special needs child, forgiveness in the face of unspeakable tragedy, and healing after suffering crippling loss in a thoroughly entertaining, never preachy fashion, making The Keeper a lovely surprise. Book Two, The Haven, is set for an August 2012 release and focuses on Sadie. I definitely look forward to reading that next installment in the series.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of The Keeper free of charge from the author. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of The Keeper
Author Suzanne Woods Fisher has generously provided one electronic or print copy of The Keeper to be awarded to a lucky Colloquium reader! Submit your entry utilizing the Rafflecopter widget. (The book can only be mailed to a United States street address. It cannot be mailed to a post office box.)