Growing up in Lancaster County, Pa., and related to the Amish, I always find it strange when people rave about Amish romances. After all, when it’s familiar is there really a fantasy to be built? But over my reading career, I’ve found many people find interest romances and mysteries set in Amish country, as it’s a world apart but still close, and in many ways unfamiliar and exotic. So this week, I’ll check out four novels with Amish settings or characters: a thriller, a romantic suspense, a sweet romance and an ensemble romance.

I love the way authors can use a romance trope and fit it into an Amish setting.

Starting with a city girl and an ex-Amish FBI agent, Plain Pursuit by Alison Stone (Harlequin Love Inspired, June 2013) is about two outsiders who band together to solve a mystery 10 years in the making. Anna Quinn’s brother is killed in a plane crash, and when she goes to Apple Creek in New York to find out what happened as any normal sibling would, she’s greeted by an FBI agent and a cold wall of silence. Ex-Amish, Eli Miller has connections to the community, but he’s also looking for clues in a 10-year-old case gone cold that may be connected to Quinn’s brother. Amid the twists of uncovering the truth about both deaths, Anna and Eli come to find each other attractive. As our Fresh Fiction reviewer writes, we won’t “notice the romance element creeping up on us until suddenly we're thinking of Anna and Eli as making a good couple.” That’s a telling sign of a good romantic suspense, when the mystery and romance is wound so tightly together that the budding relationship sneaks up on the reader.

Now on to a different Amish community in Wisconsin, where even an Amish woman who follows all the rules can be blindsided. In A Wedding for Julia (Harvest House, July 2013) Vannetta Chapman turns a marriage of convenience into a sweet romance. Julia Beechy, at 37, has spent most of her life caring for her parents; first her father and now her mother who is close to dying. Expecting to make her dream of opening a small restaurant come true after the death of her mother, she’s shocked to find she’s to be shipped back to Pennsylvania after her home is sold. Turning to her bishop for help, she receives no counsel except to accept God’s will—which includes marriage. But at her age, who would want her? Caleb Zook is a newcomer to Cashton and is looking for a friend. Instead, he finds himself married to Julia. This all takes place early in the book, so no spoilers. Read on and you’ll find a repertoire of relationships with ups and downs that are very enjoyable to explore. Although this is a sequel, you can definitely read A Wedding For Julia as a standalone.

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Now we’re hopping back to my old neck of the woods with the second in the Courtships of Lancaster County series. Making a choice between two men, especially when one is not accepted by her family, is the conflict in Leslie Gould’s Adoring Addie (Bethany House, May 2013). It’s a Romeo and Juliet story with two warring families, and even the Amish are not immune to familial conflict. Addie Cramer and Jonathan Mosier fall in love and all would be well if there wasn’t 25 years of hostility between the Cramers and the Mosiers. Pushed to marry the bishop’s son, Addie has to choose whether to follow her heart or listen to her parents. Throw in the brash actions of her brother to muddy the waters, and Adoring Addie becomes a great romance for those who look for a star-struck lovers theme. The title strikes me as very un-Amish, as we were taught to adore nothing but God, but perhaps it’s a better marketing device. But as a sucker for Hatfields versus McCoy stories, Addie was a natural to try.Her Last Breath

In her fifth novel in the Painters Mill suspense series, Linda Castillo’s Her Last Breath (Minotaur, June 2013) uncovers that even “the Amish of Painters Mill, Ohio, are not immune to evil, tragedy or murder.” A horrific hit-and-run turns into a case of cold-blood murder in this popular series set in Ohio Amish country. Police Chief Kate Burkholder is called to an accident and discovers it’s her best childhood friend’s husband and children who were killed on their way home in the family’s horse and buggy. And it doesn’t look like a simple accident. As the case unfolds, Kate also finds out more than expected under the surface of the normally calm Amish community with links back to her own tragic past. But her lover, John Tomasetti, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, is available to help out, and their relationship continues to grow. Although this is the fifth book in the series, and I recommend you get the first four because they are THAT good, you won’t have a problem reading Her Last Breath as a standalone thriller. 

Did you know that Amish themes could be so varied? Or that the Amish live in so many regions of the United States? Have you ever tried a book with Amish characters? If so, what is your favorite?

Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.