Tag Archives: Dale Cramer

Review: Though Mountains Fall, by Dale Cramer

Though Mountains Fall cover artThough Mountains Fall, by Dale Cramer (Bethany House, 2013)

Caleb Bender has done what he believed God wanted: transplanted his family to Paradise Valley, Mexico, to establish an Amish community free from governmental interference. Other families have followed him, and after three years, the population is over 100, including many children.

They’ve survived illness and bandits, and their farms are thriving, but they live in the shadow of violence. And unless they can convince a Bishop to join them, Caleb knows the community will fold.

Caleb’s own world is folding. He’s already buried a son in Mexico, and now he’s losing a daughter. When she marries outside the Amish community, he’ll have to count her as dead to his family. Grief, and doubt that he heard God right in the first place about pioneering this settlement, threaten his peace.

Against this backdrop, Though Mountains Fall shares the story of two of Caleb’s daughters, Miriam and Rachel, and the men they love. And their sisterly bond that will stand “though mountains fall”.

Dale Cramer is an excellent writer, and this novel is no exception. The fact that I enjoyed it less than the previous two in the series has to do with there being less adventure and more relationship dynamics. Plus, the story itself required a darker tone or Caleb would never have faced his personal crisis. The ending warmed my heart, though.

This is the third and final book in the Daughters of Caleb Bender series, but readers who want to follow the family into the next generation can pick up Dale Cramer’s earlier novel, Levi’s Will. For more about Christy Award winner Dale Cramer and his books, visit DaleCramer.com. You can also read an excerpt of Though Mountains Fall.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: The Captive Heart, by Dale Cramer

The Captive Heart cover artThe Captive Heart, by Dale Cramer (Bethany House, 2011)

Caleb Bender is a man of integrity and courage, and most of all a man of faith. Book one of the Daughters of Caleb Bender series followed the family as they fled religious persecution in Ohio and struggled to establish a new home in a fertile Mexican valley.

The Captive Heart is the second in the series, as more Amish families have followed the Benders to the new settlement. Caleb’s daughters Rachel and Miriam continue to be key characters. Rachel has been united with her beloved Jake and Miriam is conflicted over her feelings for her father’s Mexican farm hand/protector, Domingo. Especially when she prays for guidance and dreams of his death.

In Paradise Valley, Miriam convinced Rachel not to return alone to Ohio to join Jake, saying family mattered more than personal happiness. Now she takes her own advice and resolves to “get over” Domingo and find a nice Amish boy to marry. But her heart has another agenda.

Romance is only one of the plot threads, and the novel has a lot more action than much Amish fiction. There are bandits, kidnapping and illness. It’s frontier life in the 1920’s, and it’s skilfully told in true Dale Cramer style.

Faced with violence and death, Caleb and his family hold true to their commitment to not fight. Jake defies a bandit’s threats with “I fear hell more than I fear you… If you choose to murder this man in cold blood, it is between you and Gott. I will not throw away my own soul.” (p. 203)

As a non-Amish person accustomed to the philosophy of self-defence and protection of others, I found it difficult to relate to this, but these characters are as scared and hurt as anyone else would be. They simply manage to keep God in first place according to their understanding. I suspect we could all benefit from entrusting more of our needs to God and being less quick to act in our own defence.

Dale Cramer is descended from members of the actual Paradise Valley colony of Amish settlers in Mexico, although the Daughters of Caleb Bender series is fictional. For more information, read the publisher’s Q&A with the author as well as discussion questions for readers. You can learn more about Dale Cramer at his website, or check out his recent interview at the WordServe Water Cooler.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group]

Review: Paradise Valley, by Dale Cramer

Paradise Valley, by Dale Cramer (Bethany House, 2011)

In 1921, Caleb Bender uproots his family from their farm and their beloved Amish community. To stay in Ohio would be to see his younger children forced into the public school system and the world’s way of thinking, thanks to a new law made by people who don’t understand his people.

Caleb’s not a hasty man, and after much prayer he realizes moving to another state won’t be enough to avoid this spreading law. When he discovers good farmland for sale in the mountain region of Mexico, he knows where they need to go.

The Benders are scouts for a larger group of families who will join them the following year… if they survive the bandits. Leaving one married daughter behind with her family, Caleb takes the rest of his extended clan (eldest child 27, youngest, 11). Unless I miscounted, there are 15 in the party.

The main female character, Rachel, 16, has to part from the young man she hoped to marry. Miriam, slightly older, fears moving to a place with no prospective husbands. And Aaron, 21, leaves the grave of his twin.

The novel actually begins some time before the Benders board the train. Dale Cramer takes time to let us get to know the family and their community, and to let us understand their faith and the seriousness of this state law that makes them flee. By the time they go, we’re definitely rooting for them.

I’ve only read a couple of other Amish novels, and they didn’t engage me. Paradise Valley brought the culture of this Old Order community to life in a way that caught my imagination. These aren’t rigid, legalistic people, although I’m sure some in the community are. Caleb and his family are sincerely devoted to God, and they want to please Him more than anything else.

They stick to their convictions. Even if it means moving to a new country. The young Mexican man they befriend, Domingo, observes Caleb’s behaviour and tells him, “You are either the most honourable man I have ever met or the most foolish. I have not decided which.” (p. 219)

Caleb isn’t sure either.

Paradise Valley is a heart-warming Amish historical with richly-textured characters and setting and a plot that kept me turning pages. I don’t know how fast Mr. Cramer can write, but I wanted to go out and get a copy of the next book in the Daughters of Caleb Bender series right away.

I’ve been a fan of Dale Cramer since reading Bad Ground, and along with his characters and stories I enjoy finding the gems he hides in the narrative. Here are my two favourites from Paradise Valley:

When Caleb has been praying for direction about the situation in Ohio:

“It was an answer, a sign—he recognized that still small voice, the incendiary subtlety. A little shiver ran through him.” (p. 70)

I got a little shiver at that “incendiary subtlety.”

And as Caleb is saying goodbye to his farm:

“He knew in his bones that he did not really own the land, nor did the land own him. They were just old friends.” (p. 95)

I’ve talked a lot about Caleb’s role in the story, but he’s not the only point of view character and this is definitely not a male-first book. Rachel has the main female role, and the women and girls far outnumber the men in the Bender clan. For Rachel and Miriam, the journey leads them to discover their own strengths, and although they despair of love and marriage, all may not be lost.

Male or female, if you like family sagas, adventure, romance, American/Mexican stories from the 1920’s, pioneer tales, strong characters and relationships, you’ll like Paradise Valley. I haven’t read widely in this genre, but I suspect Mr. Cramer has just raised the bar for Amish fiction.

You can read a sample chapter of Paradise Valley, and check out an interview with Dale Cramer about Paradise Valley. There’s also an online readers’ discussion guide for Paradise Valley.

Dale Cramer is a Christy award winner. Visit his website to learn more about him and his books, or to hear more from him, check out his blog.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Bad Ground, a novel by W. Dale Cramer

Bad Ground, by Dale Cramer

Bad Ground, by W. Dale Cramer (Bethany House Publishers, 2004)

Bad Ground follows 17-year-old Jeremy Prine into the hard-rock mining world of his estranged Uncle Aiden. Jeremy feels trapped underground, but it’s the only place his uncle finds freedom. Jeremy’s mother’s dying request was that he find – and stay with – Aiden, now known as Snake. Each has something the other needs, she said, but what can an overprotected teenager and a battle-scarred miner share?

This is one of those rare novels that has not only a captivating story but unique characters, lush descriptions, insights into God and man, and prose to please a lyricist’s soul. Dale Cramer’s writing is fresh and poetic. He’s a keen observer of people, nature, and the rhythms of time and of the heart.

He renders a world in harsh relief, where there’s no room for stereotypes or illusion. If a miner slips up, he’s maimed or dead. This is a natural place to find the “where’s God when it hurts” question, and Cramer’s characters meet it head on and from a number of angles, in a frank and open manner. Jeremy’s favourite tee shirt sums it up in Latin, but he needs to have it translated: “Deus Aderit” – “God is Present”

The book contains some deep thoughts on faith, but given by such real people out of the crucibles of their experience that the other characters, and I as a reader, listened and nodded and thought. It’s a serious coming of age and reconciliation story, veined with surprising flashes of laughter and a hint of romance.

The level of excellence of Dale Cramer’s writing makes this book worthy of study as contemporary literature, without the hopelessness and despair I remember from the selections inflicted by my high school English teachers.

Bad Ground won the 2005 Christy Award for General Fiction. Prior to that, it received starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist, as well as from the Christian CBA Marketplace, and was on Publisher’s Weekly’s list of the best books of 2004.  We don’t see very many good Christian novels finding acclaim the mainstream market as well, and it was great to see this one smash a few barriers.

This is a book for men and women, Christian and non, who love a good story well told.

Bad Ground is W. Dale Cramer’s second novel. His first was Sutter’s Cross, and he has since released Levi’s Will and Summer of Light. More information is available from his web site.