Monday, September 7, 2009


Everyone has their vices, no? Sure, I have a few others.... Dr. Pepper. M&Ms. Sleeping in. But my most embarrassing vice? I love romance novels. If I read strictly for pleasure, without thought of what a steady diet of romance novels (and absence of other fare) would do to me, I would rarely read anything else. Sigh.

But that isn't the worst of it! Gasp. I want idealistic, satisfying endings with emotional closure. I want a dashing hero. I want a morally decent story line. And if that comes at the expense of good writing, it doesn't always matter to me. Hanging head in shame. I know some of you are gagging, but will you still love me?

It started in middle school. I read Janette Oke and Grace Livingston Hill. I still have a weathered copy of Crimson Roses, which I've read a thousand times. I read countless others not worth mentioning (though, luckily, the middle school library was stocked with relatively age-appropriate material). I continued reading romance novels through high school. Oh, sure, it isn't like I didn't read Uncle Tom's Cabin, Les Miserables, The Deerslayer, or The Count of Monte Cristo, but I craved a good romance above anything else.

Over the years, I've developed a healthy appetite for quality literature and non-fiction. But what I'd really love is quality literature with a love story. And a happy ending. So, I've stooped to enjoying stories such as E. P. Roe's From Jest to Earnest, written in 1875. Yes, the author does hit the reader over the head with his message. No, it isn't subtle. Or complex. But, golly, it is sweet. And clean. You know? Or, there's The Harvester, written by Gene Stratton Porter in 1911. If you're looking for a(n unrealistic) guy to swoon over, look no further. Seriously, that is one romantic book. (I can see my mother shaking her head now.) And we can't forget the romance novels of George MacDonald.

What really makes my day, though, is a story that is subtle, complex, full of rich character development, well-written, fascinating, and compelling. With romance and a happy ending. Is that too much to ask? I'm thinking North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (actually, the BBC movies will more than suffice).

Wives and Daughters, also by Gaskell... meh. The movie didn't entrance me (I think I didn't care for the lead actress), and the book was so disappointing at the end. Why didn't anyone tell me that the author died before finishing it?! A romance is nothing without the ending!!

Dark and depressing doesn't do it for me. Wuthering Heights, no thanks. Maybe not even Jane Eyre. (I'll let you know when I re-read it next month.) Tragic doesn't work for me. Open-ended leaves me unhinged. (Think Rebecca.)

The Little French Girl by Anne Douglas Sedgwick is way up there on my list. The epitome of subtle and complex, with diverse and rich characters and situations, the book does not preach. The author doesn't do the thinking for the reader. She weaves a spell. And a satisfying ending. I suppose a more dashing male character would have detracted from the over-all story, so I won't complain.

Okay, this is the point where I ask for suggestions. To re-cap: relatively clean love story, masterfully written (whether modern or classic), complex, subtle, full of rich language and fascinating characters, compelling plot, happy ending. Not too idealistic. No heavy-handed preaching. Not dark, depressing, or tragic. {Bwa-ha-ha-ha!!!!!!!!!!!} Are you up to the challenge?


Jan J. said...

You brought back memories! I collected and read every book Gene Stratton Porter wrote, her fiction that is, and a couple of the nonfiction bird books. Laddie is my favorite - I would sob over the relationship between the brother and his little sister - SAPPY and wonderful!!! I also was a precocious reader and was very safe and happy reading Grace Livingston Hill. Another great author from a ways back who wrote romantic mysteries is Mary Stewart, secular but clean. Nine Coaches Waiting and Airs Above the Ground are good ones. Of recent I read Beverly Lewis's "The Shunning" and if you read the two sequels you will get your happy ending and I was surprisingly engrossed! I am a Christian who has found Christian fiction lacking in quality in the past but these are good, and I am going to try some more!

Jennifer said...

I couldn't agree more. I don't care if it IS predictable, I want a happy ending!!

I just finished Wives and Daughters two days ago. Great book, but you're right - no ending!! Kind of a let down. Yes, in our minds we can piece together Molly and Roger finally being together, but it's not the same as having a real ending. I need to add North and South to my reading list. I enjoyed the movie. :)

I like the newer Jane Eyre movie, but it's been a long time since I read the book. I don't know that I would enjoy it as much as the movie. I think the book is a bit darker (and Mr. Rochester is much uglier in the book!)

I'm with you on the tragedy thing too. Wuthering Heights is awful. Same with Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Blech.

Sorry I don't really have any recommendations. I'm looking forward to everyone's suggestions though. I'm about to dive into Daniel Deronda this week, but I'm always wanting to add to my "to read" list. :)

Becca~CapturingSimpleJoys said...

I'm right there with you on a romantic, beautiful story with a happy, neat ending.
I'm trying to recall any I've recently read and nothing comes to mind.
I just finished Healing Stones by Nancy Rue and Steve Arterburn, which was really good. Not sure if it's what you're looking for!
You can't go wrong with Francine Rivers and The Mark of the Lion Trilogy. (I'm sure you've already read these!)

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I'll second Francine Rivers. Have you read Redeeming Love? It's the story of Hosea set in nineteenth century western U.S. Beautiful! It's not completely tame (remember, it's HOSEA!), but it's definitely worthwhile!

Yelena R. said...

Oh, that is also my secret vice! I just love romance novels, but only the ones that have happy endings...Please re-consider Jane Eyre, it is my all time favorite and I think the ending is great!

I can't think of any suggestions at the moments, but I will definitely be following these comments to see what the readers come up with :)

Skeller said...

I'll still love you, Heidi (smirk!!)...

And yes, I'll throw in another vote for Francine Rivers. Her Harlequin roots shine thru in each & every book she rights (never with subtle-ty, grin) and sometimes she throws in a sentence here or there that stops. me. in. my. tracks. A line that makes me gasp with wonder over some aspect of God's love for us.

And I'm sure you've already read these, but if you haven't ... run and get thee Jan Karon's Mitford series. One of my favorite happy romance series ever. These are the books I run to if I'm in a dark, depressing place... (kinda like Anne of Green Gables is my go-to movie...)

Timi said...

I love romance novels, too!!
Have you ever read Shirley from Charlotte Bronte? I think you will like it...:O))

Heidi said...

Thanks for the suggestions, ladies! I'm writing out a list right now.

I have the book Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers and could. not. handle. the first couple chapters. I put it down and haven't read anything else by her. Maybe I'll give Mark of the Lion a try.

Skeller~ Thanks for still loving me. :) I thought you'd get a kick out of this post. Ha! I read the first Mitford book and it was okay. (Still in my slightly cheesy category.) I need to try the next book in the series. It's going on my list. (And Anne of Green Gables is on my go-to movie list,too, along with Pride and Prejudice and North and South.)

Melissa Stover said...

i'm browsing your suggestions. i love to read. i could not handle francine rivers. very predictable. and i just found the mitford series boring. is there something wrong with me?

Jilly said...

Sorry, I'm no help. I have a similar weakness, but its for idealistic, good vs evil fantasty books. I do understand the problem, though. It can be such a great genre, but so much of it is so pulpy and too violent and bad for the brain . . . sigh.

Anonymous said...

Don't feel too guilty about your "junk food" books. A little indulgence is a good thing and it looks like you're eating your literary veggies so no worries! Still love you!

Adrienne said...

I just recently finished watching the BBC mini-series "Little Dorrit," based on the classic by Charles Dickens. I had never heard of this work of his, but I would highly recommend this movie! An extremely interesting plot-line--it had everything, love, redemption, suspense, an evil villain, etc. Lots of interesting, dramatic characters. Very well done.

Beth said...

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. So romantic and sweet! I'm sure you've read it, but it's a do-again even if you have.

Barb said...

My favorite all-time series is actually historical fiction, but when the first book was written (there are five or six in the series -- so far) it was classified as Romantic Fiction. It is rich. There is a dashing hero. A wonderful, tear-jerking love story. There is some tragedy, too. I won't lie to you. And the overall theme is moral, but there is a dark side to it...because these are human beings, after all, and some human beings are decidedly not moral.

But I have read this series three times so far, and my husband -- yes, my husband -- is on his third re-read.

The first book is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. And to think I almost didn't read it at all, because it involved time travel and the thought of that was a huge turn-off to me. The person who loaned it to me kept pestering me, and finally, just so I could say, "Yes, I read it," I finished the first book. And then I devoured the rest of them.

I heartily recommend this series.

Anonymous said...

I don't generally read romances but I adore Georgette Heyer. She writes fabulous Regency romances that have a keen historical flavor, lots of detail and great characters.

Many of her books are out of print but they can be found used and at least my library had lots of her books. She also wrote mysteries.

Christina said...

I don't know if this fits your request exactly- but I loved the Zion Covenant series by Brock and Bodie Thoene. The fist book is called Vienna Prelude. It is historical fiction about Nazi Germany- so yes, there are dark aspects, but overall it is captivating, romantic, engaging, suspenseful, etc.
You also might like the Angelique series by Sergeanne Golon- although these are out of pring and hard to find. Another captivating historical romance series- even my husband loved it!

Anonymous said...

I love I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Bleak House by Charles Dickens ( Also the BBc series of this with Gillian Anderson is fantastic, so good that my husband willingly watched it with me.)

Heather said...

I'll add my guilty favorites as well and second some that were already mentioned. I also go more for historical fiction but can enjoy a romance just as easily.
Lori Wick's two stand alone novels, The Princess and Pretense. I have reread both titles several times. Linda Chaikin's East of the Sun series as well as her Day to Remember books (5 stand alone novels). I also like Michael Phillips and his Secrets of Heathersleigh Hall series serves up much to think over as you read.
I second the Thoene books as well as the Mitford books.
I also love Miss Read's stories from the UK.

Noodle said...

Jane Austen's Persuasion is my absolute favorite.

Also, something not quite so in depth is Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.

I love old books. :)

Julia said...

My all-time favorite romances have to be The Blue Castle and the Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery. Like the Anne books, they're all more charming than intriguing, but I love them. And I grew up hoping for my own Teddy Kent. :)

Darcy said...

Oh, I totally agree with you. Especially since having kids, I just want romance, happy endings and a little fluff. Nothing scary or intense for me.
My favorites right now are Rosamunde Pilcher (September, Winter Solstice, Coming Home and Shell Seekers) and LM Montgomery.
Thanks for the suggestions.

Lisa said...

I have read tons of authors, Christian and otherwise and my all time favorite so far is Georgette Heyer! Her books are so fun to read with their quick wit and good romances. Sometimes they are a little slow to start but once you get into them you can't put them down. I have reread many of them again and again. I also like Linda Chaikin for historical christian fiction and Lawana Blackwell's "the Gresham Chronicles" for a fun, light read. I'm enjoying all the other suggestions on here as well!