Jan 2 2014 9:30am

First Look: Jennifer Beckstrand’s Huckleberry Hill (January 7, 2014)

Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer BeckstrandJennifer Beckstrand
Huckleberry Hill
Zebra / January 7, 2014 / $7.99 print, $6.99 digital

With their thirteen children grown, Anna and Felty Helmuth are ready for their next adventure. That means trying their hands at matchmaking—because what could be more fun than igniting love when it's right—and undoing mismatches when they're wrong. Now Huckleberry Hill just might turn out to be the most romantic spot in Wisconsin...

Lia Shetler is resigned to being a spinster. She's too tall and sturdy to ever be marriageable—so says her overbearing dat. Instead, she's helping her pretty, spoiled sister Rachel secure the perfect husband—the Helmuths' grandson, Moses Zimmerman. But the more Lia sees of Moses' gently teasing ways and quiet understanding, the more she wishes he could be hers alone...

Moses knew his grandparents couldn't resist trying to find him a wife. But he never expected it would be the graceful, sensible Lia—a woman who is tall enough to look him in the eye, and honest enough to make him question a promise holding him to his past. Now both will need the kind of miracles only faith and courage can bring to finally reach for a lifetime of happiness...

It’s always refreshing to read a novel where the main characters are thoroughly nice people. Generally, it’s easy to identify with one character or another, but to like and admire both characters equally is a rare quality.

In Jennifer Beckstrand's Huckleberry Hill, the hero’s virtuousness originates with his adorable eighty-year-old grandparents—Anna Helmuth, also known as Mammi, and Felty Helmuth, also known as Dawdi. Mammi is a scheming matchmaker with a heart of gold who knows intuitively what her grandchildren need to be happy. She’s worried about her grandson Moses. She says, “Moses is miserable, absolutely miserable. We must find him a wife.”

Anna’s husband Felty is kind to his wife and to all of God’s creatures. He never has a harsh word for anyone. He’s the type of older man—faithful, considerate, and loving—that we imagine our hero maturing into. He worries about Anna’s scheming, however, and tries to warn her not to get involved. He says, “Let the poor boy make his own hay. What young man wants two eighty-year-olds picking his future wife? Besides, I don’t know who is good enough for him. He’s a catch, that one.”

Thankfully, Anna won’t be deterred. She says, “Why else would the good Lord grant us years to sit in our rockers if not to scheme and plan other people’s lives?” Lia Shetler, the tall, pretty, eldest daughter of a nearby Amish family, is Mammi’s designated target. She arranges it with Lia’s father for Lia to spend the summer with their family on Huckleberry Hill in Bonduel, Wisconsin.
Lia is a good match for the hero Moses Zimmerman, but he’s a loyal man—so loyal that he’s waited three years for his long-lost love Barbara to give up the English world, return to the Amish community, and marry him.

His own mother said Moses was too picky, but not even Mamm seemed to understand that Moses didn’t want to find another girl. Barbara would be back, and he intended to wait for her. When he told people this, they thought he was deerich, foolish, holding out for a girl who’d left three years ago. He wanted astonishing, and he’d only found astonishing once. He would wait for Barbara.

Moses’ loyalty prevents him from opening his heart to Lia when he first meets her—despite his instant attraction to her.

She turned her face to him, and he almost fell over. He had expected a girl and he had expected Amish, but he hadn’t expected beautiful.

The heroine Lia Shetler is a good-hearted, faithful girl, but she has some serious self-esteem issues because of her critical father, distant mother, and spoiled younger sister. Her trip to Huckleberry Hill is a chance to be free of her dysfunctional family system—if only for the summer.

Back home she had so many people depending on her for their happiness. Some days the weight of her responsibility felt like it would suffocate her right quick. Huckleberry Hill seemed like a place where she could take a deep breath.

She’s not looking for love, so she’s surprised by her instant attraction to Moses.

She estimated he stood taller than she by a good five inches—didn’t see that every day. But his height wasn’t what made her look twice. His lips curled into a half smile, revealing a charming dimple on his left cheek. His eyes, so intensely blue they almost glowed in the dim light of the cellar, studied her face with a mixture of surprise and annoyance. Annoyed or not, he looked unnervingly handsome.

Lia feels like she’s not good enough to find a husband, however.

Years ago she’d quit sizing up any man as a potential suitor. Dat reminded her often that no man wanted a tall, homely wife with a scarred hand—and she knew he spoke the truth.

So Lia resigns herself to being Moses’s friend. And he fills the role admirably. He introduces Lia to his cousin Sarah, who agrees to train Lia as a midwife. He even drives Lia to all the Amish births so he can spend time with her and be close to her.

In the midst of all these good-hearted characters, there’s interwoven the theme of food, which is common in Amish romance novels. Can the heroine cook, and will she reach the hero’s heart through his stomach? Our heroine is no exception—she’s a “wonderful-gute” cook who’s an especially talented pie maker. The author puts a unique twist on the theme by having the hero keep missing out on the heroine’s pies. The pies get sold at an auction, eaten by a neighbor, smashed on the floor—a variety of awful fates befall Lia’s pies and keep Moses from eating them. Readers wonder, will Moses ever taste Lia’s pie? And no, that’s not a double entendre.

In addition to Lia’s pie, there’s the hero’s cheese. He’s a cheesemaker. Lia loves eating his cheese.

She peeled back the wax, cut herself a thick slice, and took a bite. Moses glued his eyes to her face. Milder than regular swiss, the cheese blanketed her taste buds with a distinctive tang and a buttery flavor Lia found irresistible. “Oh, Moses! This is delicious. I’ve never eaten cheese that seems to melt in my mouth.”

And no, Lia’s fondness for Moses’s cheese is not a double entendre either. By the end of the book, readers will be desperate to go out and find some Amish cheese and Amish pie to eat.

To add some humor to the story, Mammi is an awful cook. Pretty much everything she makes is disgusting, but her loved ones pretend to enjoy her food. For example, Moses reflects on how awful her ginger snaps are:

He had never had the heart to tell Mammi that her ginger snaps could break a tooth if they weren’t soaked in milk first. And “ginger snaps” was an apt name for Mammi’s personal recipe. The heavy ginger made people snap their heads back and look frantically for a drink of water. But it warmed his heart to please Mammi with how much he loved her cooking, so he always gobbled up four or five cookies for her sake.

Lia also tries to make Mammi feel good by feigning appreciation for her food, which Moses appreciates.

While Huckleberry Hill is generally inspiring and full of heart, every tale needs an antagonist to move the plot forward, and Lia’s awful family fills that role admirably. It was difficult to find anything even remotely good about them. Lia’s father is cruel, her mother is negligent, and her sister Rachel is selfish. Rachel spends most of the book trying to steal Moses away from Lia—with their father’s encouragement.

Lia felt as if a buggy full of church benches had parked itself on her chest. She didn’t want Rachel to come to Bonduel. Huckleberry Hill and the Helmuths belonged to Lia. Even if it was a silly notion, they felt like her own private family. She didn’t want to share them with Rachel. And she knew what would happen. Once they met Rachel, Lia would cease to be important to them.

“He doesn’t want to get married,” Lia said.

Dat frowned. “He told you this?”

“Jah. He said he is not looking for a wife.”

Dat laced his fingers together. “Of course he would tell you that, Lia. He does not want to marry you. But he has not met our Rachel. He’ll change his mind when he lays eyes on her.”

Mamm nodded her agreement. Dat and Rachel smiled triumphantly at each other.

While Lia’s selflessness seems to border on martyrdom at times, readers have faith that she’ll finally stand up for herself. In the end, Huckleberry Hill is brimming over with funny, heartwarming scenes, and it features a loyal hero and a sweet heroine deserving of love.

Learn more or order a copy of Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer Beckstrand, available January 7, 2014:

Buy at AmazonBuy at Barnes & NobleBuy at Indiebound



Brittany is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist and small business owner who hopes that heaven will be like a bookstore with an endless supply of free books, free coffee and super comfy chairs.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Post a comment