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There was a time in my life that I felt guilty if I ever read a Christian romance novel. I'm not sure what got this into my head, but for some reason I felt like I was a shallower Christian for wanting to "indulge" in this way. I have since come to terms with this desire to read Christian romance, particularly historical Christian romance (side note: I would say I like plain old "romance novels", but the non-Christian ones these days tend to be too steamy and filled with adultery), and have decided I don't care what other people think. It's enjoyable for me, and can even help me learn some things I didn't know along the way. Not that I want to become one of those women that becomes obsessed with reading about romance constantly while ignoring the hard day to day grunt work of my real relationship with my husband, or act like it's ok for singles to live with their faces and expectations in those books, rather than succumbing to falling for a real guy that acts in real, mostly unromantic, ways. Caution, all of these books are written by women for a reason. Men think very differently than women. I also don't want to be one of those girls that tries to dress and talk like they are from a different time period just because they appreciate that period more than the current one. It's just awkward. But, now and again, reading a historical Christian romance is a fun outlet.
That said, I want to review a few authors, and their books, so that you can navigate this historical Christian romance world with a guiding hand. My knowledge is limited, so I'm also hoping to invoke others to tell me their likes and dislikes, so I will know what to seek out or avoid in my future reading endeavors. I try to keep my expectations low for Christian romances and just enjoy the stories, since reading these novels is more about having fun than plumbing the depths of social or spiritual mysteries.
1. Julie Klassen
Julie Klassen unashamedly claims Jane Austen to be one of her biggest influences, and I think most of her novels hang in that time period, being the early 1800's. I'm a huge Jane Austen fan, so I figured I would enjoy reading Klassen as well. I started with The Tutor's Daughter. Admittedly, I felt like most of Klassen's knowledge about the time period was drawn from Austen's books or the associated movies, although I still enjoyed the book. It had an element of suspense that I think is unique to this book of Klassen's, and that made it very hard to put down. One thing that was glaringly different than Austen's writings, though, was the beloved sarcasm and wit that Austen never failed to weave through even the most serious of scenes. Klassen doesn't seem to have the same genius, although I wouldn't want to her to copy Austen any more than she currently does in her writing.
A couple other books to mention of Klassen's are The Apothecary's Daughter and The Maid of Fairbourne Hall. The former was tedious and not interesting, the latter I loved, as it seemed like a nod to the series Downton Abbey. The next one on my list for her is The Secret of Pembroke Park, and it seems promising.
2. Deeanne Gist
From what I've read, Gist likes the early 1900's as a time setting. I was pleasantly surprised when I read Gist's Courting Trouble and the sequel Deep in the Heart of Trouble. If you need a Christian romance to throw you for a loop and understand how a woman can be swayed from her principles, these are the books to read. I congratulate Gist for an ending that is anything but perfect. I came away from that first book with a more sympathetic heart, and a desire to follow God's ways more.
On another note, Gist's most commonly praised book, A Bride Most Begrudging, was not believable and not very clever. I finished it, but it's not one to make any top ten lists.
3. Tessa Afshar
Afshar tends towards the Old Testament time period. I read Harvest of Rubies and enjoyed it, although it wasn't too clever or witty (my standard for very good writing). I then read the sequel, Harvest of Gold, and felt like she could have done so much more with it. It was interesting to think about the struggles Nehemiah might have faced, but it strayed far from the main characters too often. She didn't leave me wanting to read more of her books, at least for a while.
4. Mesu Andrews
Andrews must be a pretty cool woman. I welcomed the research I know she must've done for The Pharaoh's Daughter, as it taught me a lot about how a Pharaoh lived among the Israelites. She didn't seem as focused on romance as plot building, which is always a good sign for a historical Christian romance author. She knew her stuff, and had me interested. There were even a couple of gruesome scenes, which made me appreciate that she felt like we "little females" could handle it. She gave me the impression she was smart, and thought I, the reader, was smart too. I will definitely be reading her again. She tends towards Old Testament time periods.
5. Melissa Jagears
I just finished A Bride for Keeps, set in an early American settlement time period, where mail order brides to the West were a normal part of life. Admittedly, I started skipping scenes, because it. was. so. boring. The inward struggles went on far too long for such a shallow plot. The heroine's conversion felt forced, and there was no sense of humor throughout the book. Ugh. And why do I get the feeling in a lot of the Christian romance books that the whole book hinges on when they can finally have sex? This one felt that way. And why did the Christian guy marry an unbeliever in the first place? An obvious oversight by the author that was never addressed.
6. Sarah E. Ladd
I am currently reading The Heiress of Winterwood, and Ladd is giving me hope for some real substance in this book. The time period is similar to Jane Austen's, early 1800's. The hero and heroine seem to have sense, and the dilemmas are believable. I appreciate that the fellow isn't the heir to his estate, and that there is also an "inconvenient" child present, which seems to be absent from a lot of Christian romances. Life isn't perfect, and stories are more believable when they include the imperfections that accompany navigating life in this world.
All that said, I try not to critique authors too harshly, as I have never been able to write a book, although the dream still lives. Kudos to those that have accomplished it, and I have every hope the ones I mentioned, even the duds, will continue to hone their art and keep attempting to produce enjoyable literature in the form of historical Christian romance.