I enjoyed reading all of the 2013 Whitney Romance Finalists. Romance is not always my favorite genre, but these were fun, with solid writing and good character arcs. Any criticisms are a bit petty but in a way, it’s a mark of respect: these books are good enough to withstand my pickiness, and if you’re looking for just one Whitney category to read, this is a strong choice (although, to be fair, I could say that about most of the cagtegories. It’s been a good year.)
Melanie Jacobson’s Second Chances is a spin off of her excellent book The List, a Whitney finalist in 2011. Louisa decides to produce a Mormon Bachelor web series, but when her chosen bachelor bails at the last minute she must ask her ex boyfriend to step in. It’s no secret that Louisa will end up with him, but getting there is a lot of fun.
I always love Melanie Jacobson’s distinctive voice–strong, unique voice can often be a challenge for writers of LDS fiction, and she’s great at giving her protagonists personality. Also, I must confess that if I were to judge this category solely on the basis of how much housework I neglected to read the book, Second Chances would win hands down. It’s light, funny, and had plenty of romantic zing. I find myself recommending Melanie Jacobson over and over, and her latest book is no exception.
As far as my concerns go, there’s a pretty significant willing suspension of disbelief in the original scenario–could a web-based Mormon bachelor series really become that popular? But if you get past that, it works well.
Blackmoore, by Julianne Donaldson, is another book in the Proper Romance series. It’s Regency romance, in which Kate Worthington decides never to marry, in spite of her longstanding love for Henry, a childhood friend destined to inherit a grand estate called Blackmoore. She longs to travel to India instead, and makes a bargain with her mother that will enable her to do so as long as she can receive three proposals of marriage. I found myself enjoying Kate’s character, and got caught up in her frustrations with feeling like an outcast by Henry’s mother and other houseguests. I liked her voice as well, and I believed the romance.
That being said, I had some quibbles with the Regency-ness of Blackmoore. It felt to me like modern people with modern sensibilities were stuck back in that setting; I didn’t get a sense for the distinctiveness of the era very well. This could be that I am used to the impeccable research of Georgette Heyer, but Blackmoore felt a bit lazy as far as period details and attitudes compatible with its setting.
The Orchard, by Krista Lynne Jensen, is a modern take on Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Alison Embry, estranged from her spendthrift father, finds love and happiness with an LDS RM while caring for her decesased mother’s orchards. However, her family objects, and her aunt persuades her not to marry him. If you’ve read Persuasion you can guess how it ends. The writing was solid, and I liked Alison’s character, a good parallel with Anne Elliott. I also liked Derick Whitney, the Captain Wentworth character, and I found their courtship fun and believable. Jensen gives a great deal more background for the Alison/Derick romance than Austen gives for Anne Elliot/Captain Wentworth, and that was fun.
I think if I’d never read Persuasion I would have enjoyed the book more, though. I love Persuasion. I wrote a giant paper on it in college. I have read it many times. I have seen the excellent Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds movie many times. My familiarity with Persuasion made it so that instead of being able to enjoy what Jensen achieved, I was constantly comparing her artistic choices with Jane Austen’s, and while that’s just not fair, it’s also inevitable when you take on an adaptation in this way.
Longing for Home, by Sarah Eden, has my favorite setting of all the romance finalists: Hope Springs, Wyoming. Katie Macauley, still haunted by the horrors of the Irish potato famine, arrives in Wyoming to become a housekeeper for the wealthiest man in town, and encounters both prejudice and (of course) romance. I love Wyoming, and I loved the tension between Katie Macauley’s Irish countrymen and the other Wyoming residents. I thought the background of bias against Irish immigrants made a compelling setting for the romance. I loved the arc of Katie’s healing from her past as well. The love triangle was a little less believable, though, and while I applaud the attempts at creating a unique voice for each character, aspects of Katie’s Irish voice felt overwritten to me, pulling me out of the narrative at times.
Hearth Fires, by Dorothy Keddington, read like a mystery/suspense novel for the first 80 pages. Mackenzie Graham, on assignment to write a magazine story about storybook homes in California, accidentally photographs a transaction that could incriminate those involved, so she gets hunted down by bad guys. And rescued by the story’s love interest, but if I tell you more than that it will be too many spoilers. I ended up enjoying the mystery/thriller aspect more than the romance–it did feel like a bit of a cliche for Mackenzie to fall for the one who rescues her. Keddington tries to compensate for the cliche of falling in love with your rescuer with some family history stories, which works pretty well and makes the romance more authentic.
Have you read any of these? Anyone else read them all–which ones did you like best? What do you think of “book that caused me to neglect my housework the most” as a criteria for judging a contest?