After reading Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star, with its unique, true-to-life mix of messed-up faith characters and non, minister-heroine, earthy love scenes, the wonder of its ability to posit a faith-based romance with an atheist hero, a novel where sexuality, love, faith, romance, community, goodness and integrity don’t come within the strait-jacket of inspirational romance tropes … well, I really wanted to read an inspirational romance and consider my response to it. Karen Kirst’s The Engagement Charade fit the bill, especially because I’ve loved her books in the past and I’d be inclined to do so again. And, I did … mildly (it isn’t her best). However, it also solidified why the either-or, evangelical-Christianity-based romance narrative brings me out of reader-pleasure-zone to render me hyper-conscious of its flaws.
First, to set the scene: in late nineteenth-century fictional Gatlinburg Tennessee, our hero, Plum Café owner Alexander Copeland broods in his office, tormented by memories of a fire that killed his wife and son back home in Texas. Meanwhile, widowed, pregnant heroine Ellie Jameson cooks and runs his business. Continue reading
Karen Kirst’s The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins is the ninth romance in her “Smoky Mountain Matches” series and even though after nine volumes Miss Bates would’ve thought the series would feel tired, it’s fresh and lovely. While The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins doesn’t reach Reclaiming His Past‘s greatness, there is much to recommend it. Firstly, a character we’ve followed in many of the previous novels, Sheriff Shane Timmons, protector of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and its environs, finally gets his story and a heroine worthy of his dour, but committed and decent soul. Shane’s heroine is visiting childhood friend, Allison Ashworth, the now-woman whose father once took in the friendless, homeless, orphaned Shane. Allie and Shane are now in their thirties, but thanks to Shane’s continued correspondence with Allie’s brother George, Shane’s bond to his foster family remains strong. When Allie and George’s father, David, brought the 14-year-old angry Shane to their household, 12-year-old Allie immediately latched onto him, regaling him with love, affection, and gentle good-hearted teasing. She wanted to be his friend, to make him a part of every family holiday and tradition, but Shane held back – especially from her. At George’s insistence, he and his family and Allie travel to Gatlinburg, from their home in Norfolk, Virginia, to spend the holidays with Shane. Continue reading
In 1885 Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Jessica O’Malley discovers “a bruised and battered man,” “his celestial blue eyes” anguished and confused. She half-carries him to the cabin she shares with her mother, Alice. Jessica and Alice care for his wounds, but there is no healing for his mind. What- or whom-ever brought him to this state rendered such a blow to his head that man they call Grant Parker (from a dedicated Bible they found in his pack) cannot remember who he is, where he came from, what he did, or why he was left for dead on their homestead. Karen Kirst’s Reclaiming His Past contains elements that are some of Miss Bates’s favourites: a temperamental heroine, mysterious hero, an idyllic setting, and AMNESIA narrative! Kirst made wonderful use of the trope, so dear to soap-lovers everywhere, to say something about coming to terms with oneself and one’s past. She created a clever contrasting counterpoint between hero and heroine: Grant can’t reclaim his past because it’s a blank; Jessica, in turn, is haunted by hers. Grant and Jessica work together to find answers and lay ghosts to rest to forge a new, beautiful, and hopeful future. Grant struggles to figure out his identity and purpose, while Jessica struggles to put away her cynicism and suspicion. What they share, even when their exchanges are antagonistic, or problematic, is a prayerful stance towards God: whatever their trials, they call on Him for help and understanding.
Linda Goodnight is probably best known for writing inspirational category romance fiction. The Memory House, first in the Honey Ridge, Tennessee series, isn’t inspirational, though it contains similar elements and themes, such as how the past bears on the present, memory and its hold on the psyche, prodigality and redemption, grief, loss, joy, and love. It’s also a deviation from Goodnight’s category norm in carrying two narrative threads, one contemporary and the other, historical. Goodnight orchestrates these various components with relative success, making the “memory house,” a restored antebellum mansion now a present-day B&B and its peach orchard the focus of the dual narratives/romances.
Eli Donovan, 36, ex-con, prodigal son and black sheep, hies to Honey Ridge, at the behest of his parole officer, to take custody of a six-year-old son he didn’t known about. With a dead mother and ailing, failing great-aunt as Alex’s guardian, the down-on-his-luck and broken Eli must find a job and learn to be a father overnight. He makes his plea to Peach Orchard Inn owner, Julia Presley, who needs her orchard cared for and carriage-house renovated to ensure the solvency of her business with more paying customers than what she sustains presently. The gentle, sad divorcée Julia carries as great grief and regret as Eli: her son, Mikey, would’ve been fourteen on the day Eli shows up at the inn, were it not that he’d disappeared/been abducted six years ago. Eli and Julia are kindred spirits: broken and saddened by life’s circumstances. But they find, in each other and the magical Peach Orchard Inn, serenity and comfort, friendship and a sense of belonging. Continue reading
Lovely cover art!
Married By Christmas … hmm, thought Miss Bates, inspie historical: low angst, a lot of baking, a little marriage-of-convenience … she liked that “by” in the title, build-up to Christmas! Hurrah! … Click went the Netgalley button back in the day. There’s nothing like Miss B. hoisted on her own petard: Kirst’s novel turned out to be more interesting, more riddled with pain and sexier, yes, sexier!, than most inspies. Miss B. is disappointed she missed out on the previous four books in the late 19th-century, Tennessee-set Smokey Mountain Matches series. Her heart dipped to see that Married By Christmas was fifth in the series: series, after the first three volumes, pretty much fizzle out and die, wane-in-quality has been Miss B.’s usual experience. She was surprised and delighted that she enjoyed Kirst’s effort as much as she did. It didn’t break any molds. You may certainly lob inspie-problematics at it any day; to Miss Bates, however, in the season’s glow and with a generous heart, she thought it was a lovely romance about redemption and second chances. Continue reading