tender merciesRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

Eddie Graber bought a farm in Lancaster County with the dream of opening an animal sanctuary. He had hoped to run the farm with his partner, Alex, but just as they signed the deed, Alex left him. Now Eddie faces the daunting task of not only running the farm alone, but covering expenses on only one income. But the sanctuary is something incredibly important to him and so Eddie decides to take the leap, even as he worries if he will be able to keep the farm afloat.

When Samuel Miller is beaten and kicked out of his home for being gay, he has no place to turn. No one in his Amish community will accept him and he is on his own. Luckily, he sees Eddie’s ad for a farm hand and applies. Eddie is a little unsure of the young man with a club foot, but he sees something in Samuel that makes him take a risk. As it turns out, Samuel is a hard worker and even as he doesn’t totally understand why the vegan Eddie doesn’t want the cows milked, or why he sees the animals as pets, he goes along and does his best.

While the men get along, they are so different that it takes a while for them to find common ground. But as they get to know one another, an attraction blooms. Samuel has never really been with a man, and his shyness and uncertainty makes it hard for him to tell Eddie how he feels. And Eddie worries he would be taking advantage of the younger man, especially given he is Samuel’s boss. But eventually the guys act on their attraction and start building a real connection between them.

Things between Eddie and Samuel are going well, but the farm is struggling. Eddie wants to make it work so badly, but he is not bringing in nearly enough in donations to keep the sanctuary afloat. Now Eddie and Samuel have to see if they can keep the dream alive and hold onto the farm that has become home to both of them.

Tender Mercies is the second book in Eli Easton’s Men of Lancaster County series. While Christie and David from A Second Harvest do make a cameo here, this book is a complete standalone. The stories are connected by the fact that they take place on farms in the same region, but the characters are totally distinct.

As with the first book, Easton just infuses this story with such a sense of warmth and tenderness, as well as a clear love for Lancaster County. These men are sweet and caring, good hearted people who want to help others and are genuinely kind. Easton brings the setting to life as she describes the beauty of the area and the way the farm becomes a home for both men. It is just a lovely story, particularly when you add in the endearing animals that Eddie rescues. They all have such personalities, especially Benny the pig, and you can’t help but fall in love with them a little as you read. The connection between the men is great, and it is just a sweet, romantic story.

I had a few small issues here. First, Samuel comes to Eddie from living his whole life in an Amish community. He has had lived an extremely sheltered life, as well as one without many modern conveniences, like electricity. Yet Samuel adapts to life with Eddie with seemingly no complications, save for some confusion about being vegan. It felt unrealistic that there were no growing pains or problems for him as he adjusts to such an enormous change of life. Second, the story tends to jump time quite a bit and sometimes I felt like we were missing some key moments in the transitions. For example, Samuel arrives beaten and bloody and exhausted, entering this totally new life. But after day one, we jump to weeks ahead and he is all settled in. I really wanted to see more of his early time on the farm. The same thing happens after the two get together sexually the first time. Samuel is a virgin and also recently living a very sheltered life and then they have this one night together on page and then we jump to weeks later where they are having sex regularly, but we never see that transition for Samuel. I just wanted some of these moments more developed and they often moved too fast.

And finally, at times I found myself somewhat frustrated and confused about Eddie. We know the main conflict here is money; Eddie isn’t sure he can keep the farm afloat. Yet he seems to do next to nothing to actually succeed in supporting it. The first open house, which is supposed to be the big money maker, is months after he takes over the farm. He doesn’t want to ask for donations so he only puts a tiny button on the farm’s home page. This is his life goal and he is devastated at the idea of giving it up, but it seems like he has no plan of how to actually make it work. Even when he thought Alex was coming with him, he had to have known they would have to promote the farm, get donations, etc. But except for some vague stuff about “social media” he seems to have no real plan. While I know this is the conflict that carries the story so it can’t be easily resolved, I would have at least liked to see Eddie trying more along the way to give the conflict some more depth.

All that said, this is a really heartwarming story that I found kept me engrossed and happy throughout. These guys are so kind and generous, they are basically impossible not to like. Combined with the beautiful setting and the endearing animals, Tender Mercies is a really enjoyable book.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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