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on December 19, 2010
While I am not Amish fiction's #1 fan, I have read a few Amish titles which I've liked, and most particularly, Levi's Will by Dale Cramer. I've waited a long time to get my hands on a new book by Cramer, and I was not disappointed. The saga of the Daughters of Caleb Bender begins with Paradise Valley, a fascinating introduction to the Bender family in the early 1900s. Knowing that Paradise Valley is based on actual events with added details from the author's own family history made this story especially interesting to me. This book is a heart-tugging look at the life of one Amish family, their faith and unwavering devotion to family, hard work and God. I was drawn into this story and left wanting more.

Caleb Bender is a man of faith, steadfast in his beliefs until the law forces him to make a choice that means uprooting his family and beginning again in a strange new land. Though he is undaunted by a world that challenges his beliefs, he finds himself questioning those beliefs when the lives of his loved ones are on the line and he is forced to choose between love and unwavering obedience.

Caleb's daughters each possess strengths, hopes, and fears; all of which are realized as they face many dangers and possibilities that come with starting over in a new place far from familiar friends. Cramer weaves the sisters' stories together in a way that tugs at your heart. In this story, we are introduced to Rachel, Miriam, Emma and others whose disrupted lives will never be the same. Rachel's story is one of coming of age, but more importantly, of coming into her own. These are strong, well-drawn characters who feel like family. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved learning about Amish culture. I can't wait for the second story in the Daughter's of Caleb Bender saga.
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on January 24, 2011
I rarely read Amish tales, but I am thankful I read this one.

Dale Cramer, in the first of his Daughter of Caleb Bender series, relates a powerful 1920s story of Amish families who find themselves at odds with the state of Ohio's education laws. Caleb Bender leaves the farm his father and grandfather cultivated to seek freedom for his family in Mexico. Pioneers in a strange, wonderful land, they meet dangers that challenge their faith and beliefs in ways they never anticipated.

As the series name implies, Caleb is the family patriarch, but much of the action is seen through the viewpoints of his daughters: Rachel, Emma, and Miriam.

Again, I would not have predicted a male author could portray women's thoughts and hearts with such accuracy and vividness, but Paradise Valley accomplishes this--due to Cramer's wife's skillful proofreading of his manuscript, according to his acknowledgements.

Readers seeking adventure, contemplation, pathos, romance, and celebration will find Paradise Valley an excellent experience.
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on January 8, 2011
Dale Cramer is one of my favorite authors, and his book "Bad Ground" was a masterpiece of modern storytelling. Of late, he has turned his knowledge of the Amish into a career-saving move by telling tales set against that well-loved backdrop of Christian fiction. Personally, I'm not a fan of Amish stories, particularly when they provide an escapist mentality, but I knew going into "Paradise Valley" that Cramer would paint life with all its colors, dark and light.

The story is set in 1922, and revolves around the Bender family. Their Amish way of life is threatened by local laws requiring they send their children to a government school instead of letting them work and learn on the farm. Soon the Benders are headed south, hoping for peace and freedom in Paradise Valley, a plot of land deep in the Sierra Madre of Mexico. There they will encounter ruthless banditos, rich hacienda owners, poor mestizos, and a culture that challenges their way of thinking. As always, Cramer creates characters that seem believable and nuanced. Dat, the family patriach, is a stern but multi-faceted man, while his daughters are distinct in their personalities. Rachel is the central character, a young woman pining for the man she loves back home in the States. The issues of racism and pacifism are addressed with great skill, and the female aspects of the story show new texture in Cramer's art.

My one caveat--and it's a large one, considering it's my usual complaint about Amish fiction--is that Cramer keeps everything nice and light, never really allowing his characters to face death, violence, or the issues that one would expect. Robert Morgan's "Gap Creek" has some similarities to this book, but did not flinch from the tragedies of life. Here, in "Paradise Valley," everything does end up being a paradise, with even a stolen item returning in the last pages. For me, this undermined the power that was bubbling beneath the surface of this story: the stirring questions of how a Christian should deal with physical threats, and the faith-shaking realities of childbirth and disease in the early 20th century.

I will surely be ready for the next book in Cramer's series, and I am in awe, as always, of the grace and wisdom in his writing. I only wish this Amish story--or perhaps the editors of it--had resisted the one thing I like least about the genre.
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on January 11, 2012
I am not a big Amish fan, but Dale Cramer's book, Paradise Valley, was very interesting and very different than other Amish books I've read. Which was a nice change. I mean, these Amish people came face to face with bandits and several times the girls were nearly abducted! Yep, not a typical docile Amish story, to be sure! And the fact that this is based on real events--that there really was an Amish family who went to Mexico to start a new colony--was awesome!

I think maybe my biggest problem with this book was the writing style. It was very different than what I usually like--told more as a narration of Rachel's story then from deep POV "IN" Rachel's head. And the book was rather slow paced for a good majority of it. There are two characters who sleep together, and while there are no details given, I had a slight problem with it. There are never any consequences or recuperations after their sin is found out by the parents. I just wished I could have seen some repenting for their sin.

That aside, Paradise Valley makes for a good story, and I did enjoy reading it--even if I did start skimming a lot. The characters are warm and endearing, and while sometimes the emotions seemed a bit stilted, by the end of the book this Amish family had grown on me. It's amazing how, because they couldn't teach their children their own way, they embarked on an adventure that forever changed the lives of each character. Paradise Valley is a book Amish fans will enjoy.

I reviewed this book for Bethany House Publishers. Thanks to Jim for sending me a review copy. It was not required that I give a positive review, but solely to express my own thoughts and opinions of this book, which I have done.
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on December 30, 2010
Dale Cramer is a fantastic author! I read a book by him in the past called Levi's Will, and fell in love with not only his book but also his writing style. He has the skilled ability to create a novel that instantly captures the reader's mind and soul. He takes them on a twister of emotions and sets them down in the midst of friends and love.

Paradise Valley is phenomenally written. It's a novel for all Amish lovers, yes, but it's also a novel for those who are looking to strengthen their relationship with God. Because, in this novel, that's exactly what this sweet, simple characters do: trust in God completely and strengthen their bond with Him. It's a strong spiritual message among a book that is meant to entertain the reader with wonderful characters and a fantastic plot.

Caleb Bender, Rachel Bender, Jake Weaver....all of these amazing characters are a perfect fit for this awesome based on actual events plot line. It's set in the 1920's and reading about how the Amish were treated in that time period, was both heart wrenching and enlightening. The simplicity of the Amish mixed with the complexity of the world really made this unique and beautiful story stand out.

This is going to the top of my recommendations list. It's worthy of 5 stars, two thumbs up and highest of praises. This book holds true to it's title and is a valley of paradise for book lovers everywhere. This is book 1 in Cramer's Daughters of Caleb Bender series and the ending has left me hungry for the next awesome installment!

*This review is based on a complimentary copy which was provided for an honest review*
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on December 28, 2010
When I first started reading, I wondered how Dale Cramer would write from the voice of a teenage Amish girl since his previous main characters have been male. As the story progressed, I can say that he was completely successful in developing the character of Rachel Bender. Once again, Dale Cramer has created a wonderful story inspired by his own family history. In Paradise Valley, Dale has illustrated the challenges the Amish faced in responding to the Bing Act of 1921. Under the assumption that the Amish would be like fish out of water in Mexico, I was amazed to see this family adapt to the new climate and culture without compromising their values. Dale Cramer is one of my favorite authors, and I enjoyed this book as much as, if not more than, his others. I can't wait to read more!
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on February 25, 2015
Paradise Valley is book one of the Daughters of Caleb Bender series by Dale Cramer. It is a historical novel based on a group of Amish men who took their families to Mexico to find freedom to educate their children like they wished. Five Amish men had been arrested for not making their children attend the schools with outsiders (non-Amish). Rather than have their children exposed to things outside the Amish world, they found land in Mexico being sold for $10 an acre. They took their belongings and headed for this land to make their homes in Paradise Valley. They were harassed by the remnants of the revolutionary army and by Federal army. The story told about the individual people is made up but based on the knowledge Dale obtained from the Amish in his own family.
Caleb Bender was determined that his younger children not attend the outsider school. They were schooled at home with what they needed and they helped on the farm when not in school. They were learning what they needed to have when they grew up. Only three of his children were affected, his daughter Rachel, and daughters, Leah and Barbara. The law came to get them and other children in the area. They were taken to a school where they were cleaned up and given non-Amish clothes and hairdos. The boys had their hair cut. They were losing not only their freedom but their identities too. Among the young boys taken was Jake Weaver who earlier that year had drawn Rachel’s attention as more than just a friend. Luckily for them, they were released back home within a short amount of time. Caleb and the other fathers found somewhere to go to avoid the school law. Caleb saw an advertisement for Paradise Valley, Mexico and land there for $10 an acre. He and others decided to go but Caleb and his family left first.
They traveled by train and then by wagon. Once in the valley, they set about drilling a well, clearing the fields and planting crops, and finally building a house where three families lived. Eventually two more houses were built for Mary and Emma, the older daughters, and their families. Paradise Valley was wonderful as it was said to be but it did have evil things in it- snakes, scorpions, and outlaws. Could the family survive here until the other families came? Would the other families come?
It is a delightful historical novel and explains a lot about the beliefs of the Amish as well as the hard life pioneers had in Mexico as well as in the US.
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on February 2, 2012
This book is set in the early 1920's in Ohio. The government is mandating all children go to school 5 days week even the Amish and they go as far as to put Amish in jail and take the kids. This book follows the Bender family. In this book we follow Rachel who is 15 at the time and must go to school. We also follow the father of the family Caleb as he must decide what is best for his family. He ends up seeing a advertisement for cheap land in Mexico which means freedom from the government. Hearing that there are bandits the community want to send one family down there to start and see how it goes and Caleb agrees to be that family.

Rachel is heart broken because this means she must leave her secret boyfriend Jake behind. She has to deal with her grief over the move as well as help her sisters Emma who is married her boyfriend right before they leave and her other sister Miriam adjust to the move as well. Once in Mexico things get interesting. Its not as friendly or as safe as they had hoped but they soon make friends with a young Mexican named Domingo who help them settle in and also protects them. As the book draws to a close its revealed that Miriam and Domingo seem to have feeling for each other and this sets the stage for the next book.

Wow this was quite the book! This author was quite the story teller and I really enjoyed reading this book.

What I liked: The historical factor of this book is great! Learning about how the Amish where treated during this time was very interesting. I also enjoyed learning about Mexico. The characters where very enjoyable. Even though Rachel was young I really liked her and her family. Again the author is an amazing story teller and I felt like I was right there with the family as they went along on their journey. I also enjoyed the suspense in this book I was on the edge of my seat a few times and felt myself holding my breath as well.

What I did not like: Rachel was 15 at the beginning of the book. I kept forgetting she was that young she came across as more of a 18 year old and it made it hard to relate to her at times. I know it's the culture for the Amish to want to marry etc, but it just seemed a little forced for her to be worried all throughout the book about Jake. I really wish we could have had a few small chapters where both Jake and Domingo told some of the story. I get the feeling they are going to be a big part of the next book and I would have liked to get to know them a little better especially Domingo.

Over all I really enjoyed this book. Like I stated above I really felt like I was there with the family the author is an amazing storyteller. I am looking forward to the next book and the new adventure this family will face as they settle into Mexico. I highly recommend this book!
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on March 29, 2016
A beautiful Amish story based off a true story. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Bender family and watching the beginnings of their new lives take place. This is not the "normal" Amish story you find so commonly these days, but about a family that sets off to start over in a new country, full of hope, and hard work, and uncertainty. A husband and father that leads his family with such compassion. New love, Dreams, Beginning of families, and new birth, added with struggles, and demands, and a strange land. Learning to trust in Gott, and conquer their troubles. I am very much looking forward to reading the next book in this series and all that follow about this family. This author has a beautiful way of writing and understanding many different view points as they merge together into this story.
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on January 9, 2016
This was an excellent book. Even if you're not normally an Amish fiction reader, I would recommend giving it a try. The author has built on a real historical situation (involving his own ancestors) and populated it with believable characters that you want to read more about. He does an excellent job of showing the Amish being true to their faith, even in circumstances that would make most people pack it up and take it home. However, he makes the characters real people that you can sympathize with - something I have found to be a problem with other Amish books. The historical background is also well done... I was definitely happy to find that there were more books in the story!
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