When Miss Bates turned the last page of To Love and To Cherish, she sighed with relief. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared. Nothing’d shocked her; nothing’d disturbed her all that much. On the contrary, in the end, her sensibilities were at ease; she thought Christy endearing and a great study of the meaning of Christian faith. Anne was a good, decent heroine, with integrity and had blossomed in the most wonderful way. All was well in Miss Bates’s romance universe. Gaffney’s first Wyckerley novel had inspired associations with many 19th century novels Miss Bates’d loved, still loved. It was all good and what need was there for any fuss? To Love and To Cherish was what its title claimed: loving and cherishing the other, making the other precious in one’s eyes. Christy comes to this state naturally; Anne has to learn it. There is a darkness to her understanding; there is a price, but it is one that she makes of her own free will. Then, Miss Bates read To Have and To Hold and is reeling. She doesn’t have much to say, hopes to reach some equanimity by the time a much-anticipated discussion takes place at Something More. For now, however, there are only half-formed thoughts. Read on at your peril; Miss Bates is too riled to say that much and the little she does say would be of mild interest only to those who’ve read the novel
Category romance is an appetizer. Miss Bates reads it as a bridge over to something more substantial, a breather in the race to a longer historical, or contemporary. There are category writers that she would never treat this way: Karina Bliss, the divine Sarah Mayberry, Molly O’Keefe, Janice Kay Johnson, Karen Templeton, Carla Kelly, and Cheryl St. John. She quite likes Sarah Morgan and India Grey, sometimes Jessica Hart, Liz Fielding, and Donna Alward. So, not all category romances are treated cavalierly by Miss Bates; in Sorenson’s case, however, she carelessly brandishes a sword of disapproval. You can read on, if you’re interested
Miss Bates thought Colleen Coble’s Rosemary Cottage an innocuous read. It’s heavy on the mystery, light on the romance and faith. The writing is weak, but the suspense is tense and interesting in places. Because Miss Bates reads for the “romantic” in “romantic suspense,” she didn’t enjoy it all that much and hankered for more emotional intimacy between the hero and heroine. Miss Bates did work up quite a bit of curiosity about the mystery and read through pretty steadily to the end. She’d guessed the culprits, but not the revelatory and quite surprising twist. Coble’s novel kept her interest, but didn’t capture her heart. Continue reading
Allie Pleiter’s Homefront Hero is a gem. Pleiter wields the strict parameters of the category and inspirational romance like a sonnet in the hands of the Bard. If inspies aren’t your thing, this lovely little book may change your mind. This is one of the best romance novels I’ve read in a sea of uninspired ones!
What does Pleiter accomplish? Because this is an accomplished book. She depicts established and burgeoning faith as something living, breathing, elemental, and essential to a full life. She does so without preaching, only weaving her characters’ faith effortlessly into the narrative in a believable and moving way. In her hero and heroine, she creates two loveable, sympathetic, and flawed individuals. She makes history come alive with detail and atmosphere without over-riding the plot or the romance. She makes wonderful use of a central, unifying metaphor. Her romance is a fully fleshed romance as well as an allegory of death and resurrection of body and soul. Some of the writing is simply superb. There is banter, delightful dialogue between the two leads and secondary characters with “character,” not just functionality.
The story is set in the midst of America’s involvement in the Great War, at Camp Jackson in S. Carolina. A wounded, recovering war hero, John Gallows, and a neophyte nurse, Leanne Sample, meet when General Barnes orders him to assist with her project. He has been the driving attraction of an army recruitment campaign; he’s handsome, cavalier, charming, wealthy … and wants only to return to battle. Leanne is also on a mission to convince men and boys to join women in knitting socks for the troops. What better poster boy than John Gallows? John uses his acquiescence as a bargaining chip with General Barnes to return to the front, even though his leg is not, nor ever will be, healed and he is in constant pain. What follows is a wonderful, humorous undermining of an alpha male as he learns to knit at the hands of this beautiful, intelligent, pious, and sharp-tongued young woman who takes a stand against his charm.
What starts as a gentle inspie romance soon grows into a dark night of the soul. John grapples with feelings of self-hatred and worthlessness, declaring himself “an unfinished hero,” even while his feelings for Leanne and her gentle persuasion towards God have him in knots. Once the hero’s and heroine’s feelings are fully engaged, John’s imminent departure, his need to be worthy of his heroic status, brings the first of the dark moments for this couple: separation, possible death. But death comes in another form and John cannot abandon Leanne to it. The Spanish influenza epidemic strikes; John and Leanne are plunged into a dark night of the soul. But it is always darkest before the dawn and this novel concludes with stirring scenes of redemption and rebirth. It also has the best “baby” epilogue I’ve ever read … with nary a baby in sight.
For me, the most appealing aspect of Homefront Hero is Pleiter’s use of the unifying metaphor of knitting. If you’re thinking how prosaic … you’d be wrong. Witness the following lovely little phrases. We are introduced to Leanne as she asks that “God cast her life’s reach far and wide,” playing on the notion of “casting” stitches and nets, as in the Christian reference to fishermen’s nets. She uses an understanding of tension in a knit’s weave to represent the tension that attraction brings between the hero and heroine. It stands as the central metaphor of a communion with God: “God spoke to her thoughts and breaths, in colours and sensations. All her senses seemed to weave together — sometimes tight and coarse, other times loose and billowy. When the world was tight and coarse, she would feel God beside her, holding, protecting. When the world was loose and billowy, she would feel Him underneath her like the wind under a seagull.”
Homefront Hero is a story, to quote the hero, of “love and God,” of redemption and hope, of humour and everyday life and heroism. It is not insipid, naïve, or simplistic, which are the adjectives we can sometimes lay at the feet of inspirational romance.
Miss Bates is very, very pleased and says “You have bewitched me.” (Pride and Prejudice)