Not Your Average Romance

While straight romance reads may not be my favorite, I do like a a little romance thrown into stories. Even Steven James’ thrillers have small elements of romance. I enjoy stories with unique protagonists, stories in which the romance is secondary to the main plot, yet still vital. Below are a few of my favorites because of their uniqueness.

JANE EYRE (Charlotte Bronte) – I love the atypical heroine in Jane Eyre. Not the modelesque heroines we’ve come to expect in modern day stories, but someone plain, someone relatable.

A VOICE IN THE WIND (Francine Rivers) – Another unique heroine–Hadassah certainly wouldn’t win any beauty contests, but that’s what makes the attraction between Hadassah and Marcus Valerian so captivating.

THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE (Laura Frantz) – I could probably put all of Laura’s books on my favorite romance list, but I’ll stick to one and choose her most recent. Laura’s musical prose and her exquisite settings are enough to draw me in every time, so her multi-faceted characters and page-turning stories are like the cherry on top.

MY STUBBORN HEART (Becky Wade) – This introduction to Becky’s writing made me a forever fan. The story’s a bit edgier than your typical Christian romance, which is, naturally, why I enjoyed it so much. Her Porter series is also very good, but My Stubborn Heart remains my favorite.

DANCE OF GRACE (Stacy Monson) – The heroine is a one-legged dancer, and the hero is an ex-con. Does Christian romance get more unique than that? Seriously, that’s all I need to hear to know that this is a must-read romance.

Have you read any of these romances? What are your five favorite romances?

When in Rome

My husband has been teaching himself Italian for 8 years now. The last few years he had a teacher for private lessons, but most of it he’s learned on his own. My Italian vocabulary consists of “Si.” As he walks around practicing phrases, he’ll ask me questions. Since I have no clue what he’s saying, my standard answer is “Si.” That seems to work for both of us.

DSC03686Finally this year we got to take our long-awaited trip to Italy. It was fabulous. For 10 days, we traveled from Venice to Assisi to Florence to Pompeii to Rome and on down to Sorrento. We stopped for lunch at a winery near Monte Cristo, and had dinner at a farm in Tuscany. Did I mention it was fabulous?

We stayed 3 nights in Rome. The Coliseum was just blocks from our hotel, as was the Roman Forum and remains of the emperor’s palace. We sat on the Spanish Steps, stood in silent awe of the Sistine Chapel (if you weren’t quiet, they yelled “Silencio!” which struck us funny), and threw pennies into Trevi Fountain (or the little bit that had water since it was mainly under scaffolding).

As we toured the Coliseum, my mind constantly went back to one of my favorite serieA voice in the Wind1s by my favorite author. Getting to stand where her characters stood, walk the streets that her characters traveled, and study drawings of what it all looked like centuries ago made me anxious to reread the series as soon as we got home.

The Mark of the Lion, by Francine Rivers, is a historical series set in Rome and Ephesus. Many of the scenes happen in Circus Maximus (which is now just the oval track in the midst of a park area) and in the Coliseum. While much of current-day Rome bears little resemblance to the books, much of it does.

DSC03803Ancient Rome is still there. Modern day Rome just developed around it. The Coliseum sits amidst racing traffic. There are modern toilets within the Forum. The Spanish Steps, upon which people rest while talking on cell phones, are surrounded by billboards and fashionable shops. Illegal vendors are everywhere selling cheap trinkets (much to the annoyance of the crowds).

Once we were home, and I’d recovered from jet lag, I jumped back into the world of Hadassah and Marcus, Julia, Atretes, Phoebe and Decimus. I loved the books the first time I read them, but this time they’ve come alive as I can now picture the streets, the monuments and Roman architecture, the river and palaces.

I just might need a field trip to Ephesus soon as I delve into the rest of the series!

Redeemed

Anyone who knows me knows I love Francine Rivers. Okay, so we’ve never actually met. I’ve heard she’s a lovely woman. What I really love is her writing. Her characters are multi-dimensional, full of passion, “real.” But while I have been deeply touched by many of her stories (especially Mark of the Lion), the one that continues to stay with me is her first inspirational book, “Redeeming Love.

As an ABA author, she was multi-published, award-winning with a solid career. But then God got hold of her and, well…we know what happens when God moves in our lives. “Redeeming Love” tells the story of Michael Hosea, a pioneer farmer in 1850 and Sarah, the woman God calls him to marry. One minor detail – she’s a prostitute going by the name “Angel.”

This epic story draws you in to not just the battle between them, but the battle they each have with God. Michael strives to serve God faithfully and obediently, even if the calling to love and accept “Angel” kills him. Angel believes God is an angry, vindictive, hateful creature that stole all that mattered to her. Both have much to learn on their journey together.

Based on the Old Testament story of the prophet Hosea and his wayward wife, Gomer, it’s a story of sin, obedience, deliverance and redemption. It’s my story and all of humanity’s, as well. And I believe that’s why this book continues to resonate within me.

The first time I read “Redeeming Love” I was convinced Michael and Sarah were real people. Their stories were that vivid. I’ve read it about 800 million more times and still find something new every time – a new way to create a deeper character, a better method for creating tension, the importance of secondary characters.

I have much to learn about the craft of writing. I have even more to learn about the God who loves me, calls me to obedience, delivers me from my daily (minute by minute?) bad decisions and choices, and redeems me with an everlasting love.

I’m thankful for the amazing writers who have gone before me, sharing their knowledge, experience and expertise to help me to the next level, and who write amazing characters and storylines that never grow old. I’m thankful for a God who puts these people in my path.

Did I mention I love Francine Rivers?

To Name A Few Titles …

For a reader, there is no better subject than books, so when this topic came up, I was ecstatic. But, being I’m limited to 600 words, I’ll just mention a few.

Now, how do I narrow it down?

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On My Bed Stand

Do I just talk about the books currently on my bed stand? Let’s see, I’m reading Ends of the Earth by Tim Downs. Downs writes fascinating suspense with a forensic entomologist as his lead. That means the hero deals with bugs on dead people. Ewww. As I said, fascinating. Oh, and I’ve already read The Familiar Stranger, the debut novel by Christina Berry. It’s a story of love, forgiveness, & new beginnings. The rest of the books you see pictured, I’ve yet to read, and that pile doesn’t include the thirteen books I have on the library waiting list. As you can see, I make very good use of our public library.

Perhaps I should talk about the books I grew up with. First, there was the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I read all the Nancy Drew books, but Nancy was just too perfect. I preferred Trixie Belden, a teen tomboy and amateur detective. My daughter prefers them as well. (Her friends, too.) And, of course, I read Tolkien and Lewis. I don’t usually care for fantasy, but I loved The Lord of the Ring series (and the movies). But, do I really want to talk about that? Let me think …

My Favorites
My Favorites

Oh, I know! I can tell you all about my favorite authors: I love the literary prose of Charles Martin, W. Dale Cramer, Athol Dickson, Ann Tatlock, & Christa Parrish.  Amy Wallace’s romantic suspense is leaps above Dee Henderson (And I loved Henderson’s O’Malley series). As far as favorite titles, I’d recommend Scared, by Tom Davis, for everyone. It’s about AIDS in Swaziland. Once you read it, you’ll realize how blessed we are in America. A Season of Grace by Bette Nordberg is a poignant story about a family dealing with homosexuality and AIDS. A Voice in the Wind, by Francine Rivers, is one I’ve read several times, about a Christian Jew in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  All of those books are permanently on my bed stand.

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Minnesota Writes

Hmmm. What else? Oh, yes. Being from Minnesota, I love to support area writers. Vince Flynn writes riveting geo-political thrillers. They’re not Christian, but when I’m done reading, I feel hope for the world. Sharon Hinck is a writer who refuses to be pigeonholed. This award-winning author has written mom-lit, fantasy, & contemporary fiction, and she does them all well.

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Thrillers

One of my favorite genres is suspense. Steven James’ Patrick Bowers thrillers are probably the best in the Christian market. He combines spellbinding suspense with solid character development, and underscores it all with a subtle faith message. The only thing bad about his books is that I always have to wait a year for the next one to come out. I also love Mel Odom’s NCIS series, and Jason Elam & Steve Yohn’s Riley Covington thrillers. (Think professional football plus international intrigue.) Captain Jeff Struecker (Black Hawk Down fame) and Alton Gansky joined together to write an impressive special ops suspense novel. All of the above thrillers combine complex plots and deep characters to create stories you can’t put down, and they achieve this without the sex and cursing found in the general market. They’re books you can actually give your teen.

Oh, and not to forget, the upcoming debut novels by Lorna Seilstad, Shannon Vannatter, and …

What? 600 words already?  I didn’t even get to mention Jane Eyre. Maybe next time …