Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars
Narrator: Will Tulin
Length: 8 hours, 28 minutes
This is a second book in the Men of Lancaster County series, but is fully enjoyable as a standalone.
Eddie Graber is at a crossroads. His love of animals, particularly rescued cast-offs, has brought him to the moderately-sized farm he purchased in Lancaster County. His partner and lover for the past six years, Alex, has decided he didn’t sign up to become a farmer and he left—taking his money with him. Eddie does okay as an editor and ghost writer, but he wasn’t prepared to front the whole of the farm’s sanctuary on his own. Because that’s what he’s envisioned: a place where discarded farm animals can have a life of harmony. He’s got himself some chickens, two female cows, and three sheep. And a mortgage that could crush him if he can’t get the place running as a sanctuary that does tours and takes in donations for the animals’ care. Oh, and Eddie’s a city slicker from New York. He’s never worked on a farm before.
Samuel Miller is a 19-year-old, club-footed Amish man who’s secretly gay. His father caught him at the sinning once a couple years back, and Samuel was duly punished. But this time, his da beats him with a switch until his back is bloody and Samuel fears he won’t survive. Turned out and shunned with only the bloody clothes on his back and a small wad of cash, Samuel’s homeless. None of the other homesteads in their community will offer him work, though Samuel’s been running his family farm for several years now. No, he must seek work in the “English” world. While staying in a homeless shelter, Samuel finds Eddie’s ad for a farm hand who’ll work for room, board, and a little cash. It’s a dream opportunity for Samuel. But Eddie’s not sure that Samuel can manage the work—what with his lame foot—until he learns how very capable Samuel truly is.
Over the days and nights, they develop a friendship, and Eddie’s appalled by the abuse Samuel suffered—even more so when he learns it was for Samuel’s unnatural nature—one Eddie shares without guilt. There’s an age-gap and an experience gap here. Eddie’s a worldly man, while Samuel has led a simple life. Still, Samuel has talents that Eddie lacks, and they become more than employer/employee. Not that this idyll might last; there are serious issues with the finances and Eddie has an offer to purchase the farm outright, earning him a bonus. But the buyer is a chemical company that would surely harm the environment of this quaint and precious locale.
Samuel thinks he’s building a life with Eddie, but the way Eddie doesn’t share his financial issues is troubling to Samuel. Still, they work hard on the sanctuary, and with a little help from an errant pig, they are able to bring in help beyond their wildest dreams.
I really adored this sweet and tender romance. It was unexpected, for both Samuel and Eddie, to find love. Samuel thought he was evil and didn’t deserve a partner, while Eddie was heartbroken when Alex left. Their romance has a bit of a slow burn, as Eddie doesn’t want to take advantage of Samuel. Meanwhile, Samuel is so attracted to Eddie—and he’s young and virile—that he has little patience for Eddie’s reservations. I really enjoyed Samuel’s point of view, how wondrous so many things were to him, and not just the sexytimes. Feeling okay in his own skin, and letting Eddie love him were difficult, given his history. Through the love he develops with Eddie, Samuel is able to love himself, too.
The narration of the audiobook by Will Tulin was excellent, with great pacing and enough gravitas to suit the story. It’s not a light-hearted romp, in general, and Tulin’s vocal range helped me feel the deep and aching loneliness Samuel experienced, being cut off from his family and community. He also got me laughing with Eddie’s fun city friends, who all swooned for big and sexy Samuel when they came to visit. The humor in Benny the pig’s activities was also readily felt, as was the horror of finding the devastation at Eddie’s neighbor’s farm. I really loved this story and the audiobook brought me even closer to the characters.
Expect a number of highs and lows, with a happily ever after, and (possibly) a desire to go rescue an animal from a shelter.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.