I am not a huge fan of Amish or Mennonite novels but I really do like the Finding Sanctuary series by Nancy Mehl. Sanctuary, Missouri is a town where conservative and progressive Mennonites, as well as those not Mennonite at all, live together. And another feature, not all of the Mennonites are perfect. That makes for a style of fiction I really enjoy.
Our main character in this novel is Sophie Wittenbauer. She was raised in a strict Mennonite home in Kingdom but left as soon as she was eighteen. She had been terribly mistreated by her father and made some poor choices herself. She's now a new reporter at a newspaper. Wanting to move beyond her entry level reporting jobs, she aspires to that one story that will make her career.
When she overhears office chatter about a possible lead in a decades old robbery and murder, she decides this is her big chance. She knows the convict who sent the letter to the newspaper. He had overheard one of the murderers mention Sanctuary as a place to hide out. Sophie takes some time off, creates a likely reason for her visit, takes on a new name, and heads to the small Missouri town.
Imagine her surprise when one of the first people she meets is Jonathon, the young man she loved as a troubled teenager back in Kingdom. He's now the pastor of an evangelical church in Sanctuary. He doesn't recognizer her at first although he is puzzled by his inner feelings toward her. She still loves him but knows he could never still love her – not after all that had happened.
I love this town of Sanctuary. It's a place where the Mennonite and evangelical churches get together for dinners, where the pastors are good fishing buddies, and where people look out for each other. It is also the place where a murderer can hide out with some anonymity. Before too long, Sophie's probing investigation stirs up trouble. Will she be able to identify the murderer before it's too late? Will Jonathon stay by her side and help her?
We meet some great (and not so great) characters in Sanctuary. There are no hotels in Sanctuary so Sophia stays with Esther, an elderly woman and my favorite. What a dear – and she is much smarter than Sophie anticipates. We get reacquainted with others of the town we've met in previous novels in the series too.
One of the themes running through this novel is getting beyond a troubled religious past. It is hard for Sophie to go to Sanctuary. She has to keep reminding herself it is not Kingdom, with its bad memories. There is much she must overcome, including a dismissal of God as caring for her. I really like it that Mehl has made Sophie's conservative Christian background very realistic. Readers with a less than ideal childhood in a conservative Christian setting will certainly identify with Sophie.
Another issue in the book is Sophie's drive to be a successful crime reporter. Surrounded by wonderful people, and a potential beau, Sophie has to rethink her priorities. I kept hoping she'd make the right choice.
I highly recommend this novel. There is good suspense, a wonderful community through which the story flows, great characters, and some lessons to learn about living. This is the third book in a series but reads very well on its own.
My rating: 5/5 stars.
Nancy Mehl is the author of over twenty-one books. She and her husband live in Festus, Missouri. You can find out more about her and her books at http://nancymehl.com/.
Bethany House, 320 pages.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.