One Shade of Romance

Oh, alright. I'll admit it.

I'm a book snob. OK?

I open the pages of every book I pick up to borrow or buy - if it makes it past my 'Title/Title Illustration/Author' filter, that is - and check the font size. If the font is too big, I put it back straight away. If it's small, difficult to read with lots of long words - I'm in.

I love complex reading, big words and twisting plots. One of my favourite things to do is curl up in a warm, sunny spot with a book. Narratives absorb me. I find it very difficult to close the book, switch out the light and go to sleep. Just one more chapter.......one more.......

Generally, I'm open to reading pretty much any genre. My favourites are period classics (Jane Austen) or action/detective novels (Robert Ludlum and Clive Cussler). I'm open to biographies, adventure, detective or action genres. I'll give anything a go.

There is, however, one genre I have snobbed.

Romance.

Christian Romance, to be more precise.

When I was young, I read Nancy Drew novels by Carolyn Keene and The Babysitter's Club by Ann M. Martin. Adventure and drama! I was a quiet child, but adored living outside of myself through books. Romance just never struck me as something adventurous, compelling or dramatic. Then I devoured again and again 'Tomorrow When the War Began' by John Marsden as a teenager. I did read one Christian Romance novel years ago and it was OK. It was set during the civil war, so there was at least some action and drama.

So, when my friend said she'd loan me some of her books over the holidays, I was curious. When the bag arrived (delivered by her son across the school car park!), I unpacked them as soon as I got home and considered the cover illustrations.

Women dressed in vintage dresses with serene, beautiful faces that angled down at a wistful angle. They were all Christian Romance novels. I inwardly rolled my eyes.

The previous titles that I had devoured since coming home from hospital included 'The Bourne Identity' by Robert Ludlum and 'Persuasion' by Jane Austen. My bookshelf contains all but one Jane Austen novel. I have read 'Sahara' by Clive Cussler numerous times and adore his other novels (although I do get tired of reading about the heroines, who are so wondrously beautiful AND have multiple degrees in oceanography or something-or-other but are still silly enough to sleep around.......but that's another blog post for another day....)

I read Georgette Heyer, Trisha Ashley and A.W. Tozer. I read Jeffrey Archer, Bryce Courtenay, Stephen King and Raymond E. Feist. And now, I thought, I'm going to be subject to some of the most simplistic, boring and unengaging narratives to fill my mind and my time with over the holidays!

With a forboding sense of dread, I reluctantly opened the first novel I picked up off the stack.

It was "An Unlikely Suitor" by Nancy Moser. It was dreadful. The male characters lacked charisma. I couldn't get a picture of them in my mind as I read. The prose was clunky. The plot was stretching the boundaries of feasibility. The plot twist was predictable. I did like the main characters in the story and I enjoyed the historical perspective. But that was it!

Secondly, I read "The Silent Governess" by Julie Klassen. Overall, this novel was good. It was a deep and thick plot, full of mystery and drama. It gave a wonderful insight into the life of a governess in the 19th century. The dark and brooding Lord Bradley was fascinating and tormented. The only things I didn't like were the rather simplistic writing style and sadly, I found myself not really liking the main character, Olivia. She seemed wooden to me.

Thirdly, I picked up "To Whisper Her Name" by Tamera Alexander. The plot was set on an actual horse ranch in Tennessee, USA just after the civil war concluded. The heroine is another Olivia and I found myself liking her; with her deeply traumatic past and prissy lady-like ways. I liked how she found herself in many uncomfortable circumstances during the narrative and had to swallow her pride more than once. She seemed more human than the other characters in the previous two novels - flawed and transparent. The writing style was good and I enjoyed the history very much. The only disappointment was the conclusion. Tamera Alexander does a wonderful job building the tension throughout the story. Sadly, there's no drama or twist at the end. I was underwhelmed.

Finally, I came to "Love's Pursuit" by Siri Mitchell. I had left this novel until last on purpose. The title put me off straight away. I thought it sounded horrible and cheap. I didn't like the blurb on the back - I thought it sounded boring. Another story about another girl who breaks the rules and 'follows her heart'. Gag me - yeuch! Further adding to my dislike of the novel was the marked down price sticker on the back! Down from $17.95 to $7.00. It was found in the bargain bin - and I never buy books from the bargain bin unless I recognise the title. Yes, I'm that snotty when it comes to books!

I could not have been more wrong about this novel (Don't judge a book by it's cover!). It was excellent! The writing style was delicate, thoughtful and compelling. The characters were likeable (except the villain, Simeon - boo! hiss!) and deep. The history was fantastic - it was so fascinating reading about the life in the Puritan community. While the other novels weren't so heavy with theology, "Love's Pursuit" was quite good - the hero challenging the heroine's view of God as a distant dictator.

And the ending. Oh, my. The ending was moving, tragic and thrilling. (As a little sidenote, if you want to see a cute mock-up movie of the novel, click here. There may be spoilers, though.) I read it twice it was so good. I only read a book twice if it's good!

So, that's the books. Now to the effect of reading Christian Romance.

It made me hot. Seriously.

There was no sex, no S&M, no nudity, nothing to warrant my thermostat going up. I mean, they're Puritans and 19th century governesses/seamstresses/widows! But the whole mystery of attraction, the drama of falling in love, overcoming obstacles and boundaries to be together reminded me of my own story with my own hero.

I'm a convert. Never again will I be ashamed to crack open a novel with a beautiful downcast face on it. If it blesses my marriage, I'm in!

Postscript:
For further reading, try Tamera Alexander's 'Remembered'. Another terrible title, but actually quite a good story. Another prissy-but-hapless heroine with a tragic secret.

I've also read two Beverly Lewis novels and I'm not that keen. Her stories are set in a Dutch Pennsylvanian Amish community which again is interesting historically, but unfortunately the stories run in series so one must start at book one and work their way through. Frustrating when you don't know this first up. The writing style is good and the plot moves well with adequate drama. It's just annoying when the narrative doesn't really conclude.

According to many friends, I have to read Francine Rivers' 'Redeeming Love'. I'm looking forward to reading it. I might even review it here at Beyond the Edge of Adventure!

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