Shelley Shepard Gray
May 29, 2024

Shelley Shepard Gray is a NYT and USA Today bestselling author. She’s published over a hundred novels and has over a million books in print. She currently lives in northern Ohio and writes full time.

Shelley lives just an hour from Holmes County, where many of her Amish-themed novels are set. She currently writes contemporary romance and Amish fiction for a variety of publishers. When not spending time with her family or writing, she can usually be found walking her two dachshunds on one of the many trails in the Cleveland area.

Interview by Elise Cooper

Q: How did you get the idea for this book?
Shelley: I have been writing for twenty years. I write Amish books, contemporary romances, for a number of different publishers. This is the beginning of a new series set in Crittenden Town Kentucky, across the river from St. Louis. This book is a little darker because the hero and heroine are former Amish with dark pasts. They are at a crossroads with some suspense elements as their past catches up to them.

Q: How would you describe Seth?
Shelley: He is honest, up front, confident, but not trusting. He also must deal with the gossip surrounding his incarceration and is ostracized. He is multi-faceted. He went to prison because he saved a woman, Bethanne, from being raped and that person got killed.

Q: How would you describe Tabitha?
Shelley: Lonely, struggling emotionally and physically, fearful, and sweet. She is also skittish, broken, quiet, timid, reclusive, and determined because of what she went through with her abusive husband. She is trying to make the best of her situation.

Q: Does abuse play a role in the story?
Shelley: It is complicated. Tabitha learned from her ex-husband, her extended family, and the community that she should not put herself out there because she will get hurt. The Amish community was very self-righteous to both Seth and Tabitha. They created barriers with these two. There is a book quote about this, how the Amish “had long held traditions instead of what their eyes and ears told them was true.” They viewed divorce negatively. Although the Amish by the end of the book realized they needed to change their attitude and forgive them. Seth was not the type of person to ask the Amish community for forgiveness because he did not regret what he did. The characters had to overcome a lot.

Q: What can you tell us about the relationship between Tabitha and Seth?
Shelley: They both left the Amish faith. In the beginning they were both outcasts even with some members of their family. She is rattled easily, but he still teases her. He wanted her to feel in control, urged her to believe in herself, helped her to heal, and made her feel safe/secure. She was the “older woman,” three years older and his former teacher. Tabitha put a wall around herself and was guarded to Seth. They both eventually found common ground.

Q: How would you describe Leon, the ex-husband?
Shelley: Cruel, intimidating, abusive, and looks upon women as his possession. He preyed on women susceptible to his charm. This is where I had the suspense piece of the book.

Q: How would you describe the male supporting role, Lott?
Shelley: Immature, self-centered, angry, easily frustrated, and protective.

Q: How would you describe the female supporting role, Melonie?
Shelley: Spunky, direct, caring, secure, and bossy.

Q: What did you want to convey with Lott and Melonie?
Shelley: Lott was Bethanne’s brother. Melonie was Seth’s sister. These family members were also affected by what happened to their siblings. Hopefully, the reader will get a better idea of the perception of the community. Through Melonie and Lott, I showed how they were part of the Amish community and were very understanding and protective. They want their siblings to heal and be accepted. I think it was a natural way to respond and would happen within any type of community. This is such a serious book with Tabitha, Bethanne, and Seth having had to go through very hard issues. I wanted a few scenes with Lott and Melonie to lighten the story up.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Melonie and Lott?
Shelley: They are trying to understand their feelings toward each other. They are not old enough, not mature enough, and have not experienced a lot.

Q: What can you tell us about your next book?
Shelley: The victim who Seth rescued, Bethanne, will be featured. The reader will find out what happens with Melonie and Lott. The book is out in November titled Unforgotten. There is also suspense in this book with an English cousin of Bethanne, an Englisher beauty queen. She was not shunned for not being Amish because she was never baptized. There is another new series with another publisher, the book is titled A is For Amish in July. It is an Amish romance. It has four grown siblings close to their Amish grandparents. They try to find themselves at their grandparents’ farm. Some become Amish and some do not.

Review by Elise Cooper

Unforgiven by Shelley Shepard Gray is an Amish romantic suspense novel. This book explores how both the Amish and “English” view issues of divorce, abuse, attempted rape, accidental manslaughter, incarceration, love, faith, forgiveness, healing, and second chances.

Seth Zimmerman was sent to prison for the accidental death of an Amish man who was close to raping an Amish woman, Bethanne.  There is also Tabitha Yoder who divorced her husband after enduring years of abuse.  Both are wounded deciding not to pursue the Amish community who now considers them outcasts. Tabitha did the unthinkable and divorced her abusive husband, Leon. Seth defended a young Amish woman against an attack of another Amish man who fell, hit his head on a rock and died. Seth went to prison for saving her. The suspense part of the book comes into play as both Seth and Tabitha’s past catches up with them.

But the story has very tender moments as an uneasy friendship develops. Seth has had a crush on Tabitha since she taught school as a seventeen-year-old, three years Seth’s elder. Tabitha won’t leave her home and Seth does small things for her, like cutting firewood and bringing her food, as she watches from her window.  He gets her to trust him, and the relationship develops over the course of the story.

Other characters include Seth’s younger sister Melonie, Lott’s sister Bethanne, the young woman Seth saved from rape, and her younger brother Lott, boyfriend to Melonie.

With the main and supporting characters the author shows their internal struggles and how events changed their lives. They realized that despite the community’s judgment their actions were necessary. Readers realize that those abused need the support of the community, family, and friends. The themes of trust, forgiveness, with emphasis of self-forgiveness, and faith all play a role. Readers will not want to put this book down and the story will have them turning the pages with this heartwarming and emotional story.

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