Tag: fiction

Sweet as Honey: An Amish romance by Jennifer Beckstrand

After reading a book by Jennifer Beckstrand, I begged her to let me share with you! Several authors and I have been talking about the joys of good, clean entertainment. Jennifer writes Amish romances! I just finished my first, and I am about to devour another.

Sweet as Honey,” is not only a sweet read, it is a reflection of the author. This summer I lost my younger sister Stacy to cancer. During the very tender moments of mourning, I met Jennifer Beckstrand. She was a friend of my sisters. Jennifer was as kind as the characters in her book and so I couldn’t wait to see what her books, or an Amish romance, was all about.

Jennifer’s book had some unexpected twists for an Amish romance. I started to read with preconceived notions about the Amish community. I felt I was pretty educated, but by the end of the book, I realized Jennifer had written a story about love, the typical challenges of choosing who to spend your life with, a little bit of danger and deception all set in an Amish community. The story was not the religion, but the religion enriched the story. I had a lot to learn about the Amish community.

The main characters in “Sweet as Honey,” are three Amish sisters raised by Aunt Bitsy, who doesn’t conform to all Amish traditions.In the story, Lily, one of the Honeybee ‘Schwesters’ or sisters is pursued by two young men.

It is little things in the story like Aunt Bitsy’s quirks that give it appeal and actually make it more plausible. The characters in Jennifer’s books are believable, easy to connect with and like all human beings, flawed. Their flaws made them charming and made me want to see them succeed.

Without spoiling anything, Jennifer did a great job of gradually giving us more and more reason to cheer on one suitor over another. There is intrigue, and little hints as to the true nature of the young men all through the story. As someone who has worked in social service and listened to countless women, I found her story to be both credible and well crafted. She did a great job of introducing a true villain and a loveable human hero.

One of the delightful parts of the story is the details surrounding honey bees and the fun recipes in the back of the book. I am sure I gained 5 pounds just reading about all the yummy food and healthy meals eaten in this book. It is clearly well researched. Amish terminology is sprinkled throughout, as well as traditions, in a way that kept me enthralled.

I not only recommend Jennifer’s books as good entertainment; I have already started another in the series. Jennifer’s book was clean and rated G, as in good for any great girl over age 14. If it has swearing in it, it is in the language spoken by the Amish community and didn’t translate as a problem for me. There is a little violence where a mouse is concerned, but not to worry, no actual mouse was harmed in the making of this book.

Jennifer allowed me to interview her. Enjoy reading about the very interesting author who chose to write clean romance novels set in the Amish community. While you do that, I am going to mix up a batch of her Honey Cookies!

Jennifer Beckstrand’s Interview

  1. I really enjoyed reading “Sweet as Honey.”  I also enjoyed reading about you on your blog and finding out you have 6 children. Because I have 6 children, I feel qualified to ask with such a full life what inspires you when you write about young love?

 I’ve never really thought about it that way, but you’re right. I love writing about young love. The wonder of finding that person who makes you feel complete, makes you wildly happy, has always been very satisfying to write about. I certainly have lots of inspiration around me as my oldest daughter is thirty-one, and my youngest son is twenty. Three of my children are still unmarried, and for several years, dating and romance have surrounded me. And of course, I still remember the thrill of meeting my husband and falling in love so completely. There’s nothing like that feeling.

  1. I gained a great respect for your ability to use Amish terms and write about a people living a unique lifestyle in our present day and age. If you spent time with the Amish community doing research, what was your favorite experience or memory?

I have done a great deal of research in Amish communities in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. I love meeting the people and hearing their stories. My favorite memory comes from my first visit to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We had dinner with an Amish family, and they were so gracious and kind, willing to answer all my questions and let me into their lives. I was struck by how “normal” they were. They had hopes and dream for their children, they loved being with family, and they worked hard to make a living off the land—real “salt-of-the-earth” kind of people. The experience gave me a springboard for all my books because I discovered that at the heart of things, Amish or Englisch, we are much more alike than we are different. I strive to make my characters believable human beings facing human problems in the context of their Amish beliefs.

  1.  In a world filled with graphic entertainment, why do you choose to write clean romance novels? Have you been pressured to change?

The only time I felt pressure to put steamy content in my books was when I was first getting started and people kept telling me that readers won’t buy romance novels that don’t have sex in them. As I have discovered, that isn’t true at all. Many readers want sweet, inspirational romances that elevate the notion of love. I don’t feel good about putting sex in my novels—I never want to feel ashamed to let anyone read my books. This is not to say anything against any other writer. It’s just how I have chosen to share my stories.

  1. In your book, you mention food a few times. In fact, I am sure I gained ten pounds just reading it! I was overjoyed to find recipes at the end of the book. Can you tell us something about the recipes? Where did they come from? Have you tried them all?

Oh, yes! The recipes I put in Sweet as Honey are some of my personal favorites, some I have made for my own family for years. I make the granola when we have lots of houseguests because it is a delicious, nutritious, and easy breakfast for lots of people. The honey curry chicken was one of our family’s favorites when I had little kids. It was something everyone—surprisingly—would eat. I love food, and I wanted to make it a big part of my Honeybee Sisters books. Nothing brings people together like a good meal.

  1. Aunt Bitsy plays a very wise, protective and caring part of the story. She is devoted to her 3 nieces. You chose to give Aunt Bitsy a great deal of character. Is she based on anyone you know?

When I was a little girl, our family lived just down the street from my dad’s oldest sibling, Beatrice. Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Max were fruit farmers. They had five children including a little caboose who was just a few months older than I was. My cousin Christine and I were inseparable. I spent hours at her house and she spent hours at mine playing dress up, jacks, hopscotch, and our favorite game: beauty pageant. My mother’s mother died very young, and Aunt Beatrice was a second mother to my mom. She was an amazing cook, though as a six-year-old, I never appreciated any food that had green things in it. Aunt Beatrice had a heart of gold. She would have done anything for anybody, but she was also a no-nonsense, strong woman who lived a full and wonderful life. Aendi Bitsy is loosely based on my Aunt Beatrice—although, to my knowledge, Aunt Beatrice never colored her hair urine yellow.

  1. If you could give a young woman advice about finding and keeping love, what would you say?

I’m a big believer in finding someone who behaves the same in public as in private. I always told my girls to watch how any boy treats his mother and the other women in his life. If he’s kind and respectful and loving to them, he will treat his wife with that same respect. I also think that humility is an important trait to look for. If your partner is willing to see where they could improve and if you are also willing, your marriage will be that much stronger. The other quality I believe is essential in a mate is hard work. If the person you marry is willing to work hard, you’ll get through just about anything.

  1. This book is part of a set. Where can readers find the other books in the set? Do you have more planned?

To find out more about my books, go to jenniferbeckstrand.com. You’ll find information about me and my books plus my dad’s blog about farming and my sister’s blog on quilting and raising chickens (she has a very interesting life). You’ll also find lots of recipes, Amish and Englisch.

The Honeybee Sisters series is set in the fictional town of Bienenstock, Wisconsin. Aunt Bitsy’s love story comes out on September 26 as part of a novella collection called “An Amish Christmas Candle.” It’s quite romantic and quite hilarious. An Amish widower thinks he’s going to turn Aunt Bitsy into a well-behaved, proper Amish wife. He’s got another thing coming!

I just signed a contract for three more books in the Honeybee Sisters series about a family of five brothers. The two youngest brothers are tired of sharing a bedroom and hatch a plan to get their oldest three brothers married off and out of the house. The first of those books is scheduled for release early in 2019.

That seems pretty far away, but never fear, there’s lots of Huckleberry Hill romance between now and then.

You can also find out about my Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series on my website. Anna and Felty Helmuth are well into their eighties when they decide that their grandchildren need help finding spouses. Anna knits pot holders and cooks strange dishes like banana jalapeno bread and asparagus raisin casserole. Felty likes to play the license plate game and makes up lyrics to songs when he can’t remember the words. This unlikely pair of matchmakers will leave you laughing and renew your faith in the power of love. My next Huckleberry Hill romance, A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill, comes out in December of 2017.

While you’re visiting my website, sign up for my newsletter to get the latest news about new book releases, special offers and giveaways, and of course, some delicious Amish recipes.

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I may be a little unraveled, like a dress caught in the rip tides of the cold Pacific Ocean, weighed down by sand and coming undone, but I survived. And even if the tide comes in again and tries to drag me back to the cold, dark sea, I will survive. I have learned to swim, I have learned to navigate the currents. If I can just reach God’s hand someday, I will learn to dance on top of the water in celebration of finding the joy beyond the horizon of endurance.

There was a time when I spent my nights watching the moon and moving stars, anxiety rolling me over and over. Then I realized, I could travel with fear or faith, the outcome was always better with faith.

When I looked at my life through the lens of fear, the sun never seemed to rise and the day was a chain of storms, and energy spent trying to control an uncontrollable universe.

When I finally let go and swam, I looked up at the Son, and let the mighty waves carry me to shore. I learned that I arrived at the almost the same destination, filled with joy. In the light of hope and faith, I saw the miracles which had been there all along. I was delighted by the blessings laying scattered on the sandy beach. In the watery reflection of each day, I caught a glimpse of Heaven.

New Testament, Matthew 14

28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.

29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.

30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.

31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

More soon.Photos may be copied, shared, printed or used by anyone for the purpose of healing and spreading joy. FaceBook link here. Instagram here. More about Haley Miller and Captures Photography here. More about Shannon Symonds novel “Safe House” here.

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Will they kill?

The risks survivors of domestic violence face are very real and can be deadly.  Abusers can affect more people than the intended victim.  Recently Fox 12 Oregon reported,  “A man walked into his estranged wife’s elementary school classroom in San Bernardino and opened fire without saying a word, killing her and an 8-year-old student before shooting himself in a murder-suicide…A 9-year-old student also was critically wounded. He and the boy who died were behind their special-education teacher, Karen Elaine Smith, 53, the target of the man she had married months earlier, police said.”

The day after the deadly assault in California, according to Fox12 Oregon a woman in Oregon contacted police to say her husband and two daughters were missing. She reported, he was suicidal and had threatened to take her 8 and 11-year old girls. When police located the man, he was shot after setting his SUV on fire. The children were found dead inside the vehicle.

Domestic violence and the surrounding traumatic events touch friends, family, witnesses, co-workers and first responders. Even the strongest first responder is impacted when a child is murdered.

Whether you are a survivor of abuse, or know a survivor, learning to recognize the red flags which indicate an abuser is capable of murder may save a life. Learn how to reach out to professionals and create a safety plan for the survivor, yourself, schools and other locations like work or church.

If you are a survivor of abuse the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you find resources where you live.   A trained advocate can walk you through a risk assessment to help you determine the level of danger you may face.

The Battered Women’s Justice Project describes a risk assessment. They say, “…risk assessment tools in the domestic violence field have been developed to assess both an offender’s risk of re-offending and a victim’s risk of lethal assault.”  Click here to look at the Lethality Assessment Model Maryland First Responders Lethality Assessment and take their test.

As an advocate, I have been trained to provide an evidence-based lethality assessment. When there isn’t time to take a test, and I am working with survivors, there are three questions I always ask:

  • Has your abuser ever threatened to kill you or your children?
  • Has your abuser ever threatened suicide? Did they have a plan?
  • Has your abuser ever strangled you or threatened you with a weapon?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, please reach out and get help. These are signs you may be in serious danger.

A trained advocate can help survivors of domestic violence create a personalized safety plan. Here is a sample safety plan from the National Coalition Against Domestic Sexual Violence

If you are a relative or friend of a survivor, learning this information could save a life. However, be very careful about the way you share it. The abuser may be tracking their victims every move and keystroke. Keep local hotline numbers in your cell phone and link survivors with professional advocates.

An advocate who has lost a victim to murder will remember that last conversation forever. They may remember seeing the signs, and even though they may have done everything they could, they will always wonder what else could have been said or done.  Family members and friends of victims wish for just one more chance to do anything, just something different. We are willing to answer your call 24 hours a day, we are willing to go out in the night to pick you up because we never know when our words will be the last words you ever hear.

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Tell the story…

“1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.” NCADV

As a movement, domestic violence and sexual assault agencies and prevention programs are beginning to see the power and value of survivor stories. The National Domestic Violence Hotline web page reads, “Survivors can find strength and healing in telling their stories to others. Their insight and inspiration can save lives.” But that is not true for an Advocate.

I can never tell the true story; the actual story of advocacy and my work with survivors of intimate partner or sexual violence. As an advocate, if I am doing my job right, I will stay up with you all night, side by side in the hospital or with police, holding you while you cry, see you bruised and bloodied, house you, feed you, comfort you, empower you, go to court with you and then pass you as if you are a stranger when we meet in the grocery store to protect your confidentiality. I will carry your secrets with me to the grave, unless you ask me, in writing, to share the story to benefit you or meet your needs.

As an advocate, I live inside a bubble of confidentiality and am committed to never sharing a single true story with anyone, including my spouse and closest friends. That makes for one short end of the work day conversation.

Friend, “How was work?”

Me, “Good.”

Friend, “What did you do?”

Me, “Can’t say.”

Daily, I am a witness. I sit with survivors at some of the worst moments of their lives and take seriously my sacred duty of witnessing, giving assistance and walking beside a survivor in their journey.

As a survivor, I choose to not tell my story. Telling my personal story would impact my children and extended family. Out of love and appreciation for their innocence, I choose to keep my story safe within my own heart, as do many survivors.

And yet, as a writer and an avid reader, I am converted to the power of a story to change hearts and change the world, to open eyes and to create a movement so powerful it cannot be stopped. I also believe that by never talking about violence, we allow the secrets to continue to give perpetrators safe space to live and abuse. I believe education is important for prevention.

As a child I was molded and influenced by the story of Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery only to return and help others escape at great peril to her. I was in elementary school when I stayed up late, under the covers, reading it by flashlight.

Harriet Tubman was a true advocate for freedom. The domestic violence moment to free victims of intimate partner violence, empower them to survive and find freedom reminds me of Harriet Tubman’s work.  Advocates go out in the night, meet victims at prearranged places and drive them away to freedom.

As an advocate, over the years I noticed several issues I wanted to share with the world. I noticed victims often blame themselves and say things like, “It’s my fault. I am not perfect.  I hit back.” I have watched law enforcement struggle to decide who to arrest.  I also noticed parentified children who took on too much responsibility in an effort to keep the peace in the home, or because the adults were caught up in chaos.

I chose to write Safe House to tell the story of advocacy and survival. By writing a complete fiction, focused on characters and issues, I could share with you what it feels like to advocate for survivors, and what it feels like to live in a toxic environment, where someone else has the power and control, without ever violating confidentiality. I wrote a fiction to bring hope to those who suffer and attention to issues inherent in the work.

It is my hope that you will be so swallowed up by the story in Safe House you will forget the issues and care for the survivors. I hope you cheer for the advocate, worry for the children, laugh with the locals, taste the salt air of the coast and fall into a whole new world, the world of the Advocate.

Are you ready to tell your story? If you are a survivor of domestic or sexual assault, remember, you are not alone. There are advocates worldwide who want to help. Here are some additional resources and survivor stories:

The Story Center: “We create spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories. Since 1993, we have partnered with organizations around the world on projects in StoryWork, digital storytelling, and other forms of digital media production. Our public workshops support individuals in creating and sharing stories.”

North Carolina’s Survivor to Survivor: “Video stories by survivors for survivors:  Their mission, “To provide survivors of domestic violence and their loved ones with a web-based, documentary-style resource guide that serves as a visual toolkit of help and resources available in North Carolina.”

Let go… let peace come in foundation:  Their mission, “We need nothing short of a sweeping shift in “social consciousness” making it okay to talk about sexual abuse…it’s essential! This is how we will help the children to speak up and this is the way we’ll have adult survivors enter the recovery process to learn how to live again!”


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