Thursday, January 15, 2009

For Valentine's Day: Safe Romance Novels

There's a reason romance novels are the best-selling category of any kind of fiction . . . by a mile.

The bad news, of course, is that thousands of them don't, well, espouse LDS values. The good news? There are plenty of others to choose from, if you know where to look.

Why are romance novels so popular in the first place? I think it boils down to something one of my university professors taught: "All stories are about one of two things: love or death."

Think about it for a minute, and you'll realize that he was right. Whether the love is romantic, platonic, parental, or even the love of an object or career, everyone has experienced love in some way or form.

You can't say the same about other genres of fiction: not everyone can relate to an alien invasion, a wizarding school, or a detective solving a mystery. But everyone who has ever lived can relate to love, whether it's loving someone else or being loved, whether it's love for family, friends, or a romantic love interest. And we all know how tangled relationships can be.

On the other side, life and death (even personal growth and change, a form of death, in a sense, such as rebirth and repentance) is the state of the human condition. If you're alive, you've experienced love and death in some form.

It makes sense, then, that stories about love, particularly ones that target the entire point we're on the Earth—marriage and family—would strike a chord. It's logical, in a spiritual sense, that we gravitate toward stories that lead two people toward love, marriage, and commitment.

It also follows that Satan would try to warp those stories, turning them from something beautiful and uplifting into something base—essentially, literary pornography. That is exactly what's happening with some novels classified in this genre: they're getting more and more graphic in the bedroom, to the point that even literary agents and publishers debate where the line is between "erotica" (books written with the point to titillate the reader) and simply graphic romances.

It's no surprise, then, that the term "romance novel" has developed a negative reputation. On some level, it's deserved, and those books are something Latter-day Saint women need to steer clear of. Many have found themselves inadvertently sucked into (and even addicted to) the pages of books that are no better for them than visual pornography would be for their husbands.

BUT . . . the great news is that people who love to read and who enjoy a good love story—without the graphic smut—have more options today than ever.

Many publishers have clued in that not all readers are looking for so-called "hot" books, and several have lines devoted specifically to cleaner reads, such as Harlequin's Steeple Hill imprint, which puts out only clean, Christian romances. (As opposed to their Spice line, which you can guess is very different.)

Another good place to look is Tyndale House, which publishes books by writers like Dee Henderson, a Christian author who writes adventurous romances like The Negotiator. Another writer to try is Lawanna Blackwell (who publishes with Christian publisher Bethany House). Her books are popular, clean, historical romances.

And of course, LDS publishers such as Deseret Book and Covenant regularly print many romance titles, and women can pick them up, knowing that they're reading a "safe" book and don't have to be on edge, ready to skip pages.

Below are some LDS romance titles I recommend:
  • Counting Stars, by Michele Paige Holmes. This book won the 2007 Whitney Award for Best Romance, and in my opinion, it deserved the honor. This is a romance that's unpredictable and fresh. You'll both laugh and cry.
  • To Have or to Hold, by Josi S. Kilpack. A classic story of an arranged marriage gone horribly wrong (or maybe right?).
  • Desire of Our Hearts, by Sariah S. Wilson. A love story set during the times of the Book of Mormon.
  • Isabell Webb: Legend of the Jewel, by N. C. Allen. A adventurous (and romantic) trip through late 1800s India. A great yarn with a fun love story mixed in.
  • The First Year, by Crystal Leichty. A hilarious trip through one couple's first year of marriage, with all the ups and downs.
  • What the Doctor Ordered, by Sierra St. James. A classic romantic tale that's laugh-out-loud funny. All of St. James's books are fantastic reads. (Also look for Masquerade and Trial of the Heart.)
  • The Counterfeit, by Robison Wells. Part mysterious suspense, part romance, this is a great story that takes the reader all over the world, even into the catacombs beneath Paris. A funny and exciting read.
  • Spires of Stone, by Annette Lyon. Personal plug here, granted, but my five books, including this 2007 Whitney Award finalist, all have sweet love stories along with fun plots and interesting characters. (If I say so myself!) And my sixth novel, Tower of Strength, will be on shelves in March.

As you can see, just because a lot of romantic book have smut doesn't mean you have to abandon the genre altogether. Remember, some of the most popular stories of all time had romantic themes.

This would be a very different (and lacking!) world without all-time classics like Pride and Prejudice and Romeo and Juliet.


Alyson (New England Living) said...

Thanks for the recommendations! It is hard to find a relatively clean book these days.

By the way, I got your special "attachment" you sent to me. Can't wait to read it! :)

Anna Maria Junus said...

Without love and romance the world would cease to exist.

And isn't it funny that at the same time that romance writing is looked down on, we have such TV shows as "The Bachelor" about looking for love and getting married. (Not that I recommend that show).

Jenna Consolo said...

Hey! I didn't know about this blog! You are so BUSY!

Great post.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

One of the best tricks I've learned is that at the library I can search for books by publisher. If I know what publishers put out good, clean romance, then when I search I find tons of new authors to try. It's a great way to find more variety of the good stuff!

V said...

I was surprised to see the most popular and best-selling LDS romance novelist missing from your list. Anita Stansfield is an incredible author in this genre, though she refers to her books as "relationship fiction" rather than romance. She is my favorite author! And with more than 40 titles to her name, there is something for everyone. If you don't know where to begin, I suggest "The Sound of Rain."

Annette Lyon said...

V, I purposely tried to list LDS authors that readers might not have heard of. If someone is aware of one romance writer in the LDS market, it's almost certainly going to be Stansfield!

So I wanted to spotlight others, especially some that I've personally enjoyed more than her. There really are a lot of great LDS writers.

LexiconLuvr said...

Congratulations on the book coming out in March! When in March should we expect it?