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Fun Friday: Romance Novels that Shaped Me

Friday, February 12, 2010

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I’ve mentioned many, many times on this blog, in interviews, and in conversations that I grew up reading romance novels. In elementary school, I read the “girl-and-horse” stories for a while, but by the time I was twelve years old, I was looking for the boy-meets-girl, happily-ever-after kind of stories (possibly from also being raised on movies like Cinderella and Snow White?). Since Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and since I am a romance novelist, I figured that instead of hatin’ on the day that celebrates romance, I would celebrate some of those romance novels that were influential in my life in directing me toward writing romance.

5. The O’Malley Series by Dee Henderson
These were the first contemporary-set Christian romance novels (with a touch of suspense) that I read when I returned to Christian fiction in the mid-1990s. Actually, they were the first contemporary-set romance novels I’d ever read and enjoyed! The O’Malley Series is a set of romantic suspense novels centering around the, you guessed it, O’Malley family. It’s a family by choice—they all lived in an orphanage and decided when they became adults to “adopt” each other by changing their last names to O’Malley. Each of the seven siblings is in a “helping” type of job: a police hostage negotiator, a U.S. Marshal, a trauma therapist, a medical examiner, a firefighter, an EMT, a pediatrician. Though I didn’t necessarily like the “you have to get saved before we can get married” aspect of the plot lines in these books, that wasn’t enough to pull me out of each of the stories. Each one has a sigh-inducing ending, making me eager to pick up the next book, not only for the next romance, but to see the continuation of the relationships from the previous books. I also learned a lot about crafting a contemporary romance, along with style and tone, from reading these books. It’s about time to pull them out and read them again!

4. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Up until just the last couple of years (when I got too busy), I read the Little House series every single year. I would speed through the first six books (I always skip Farmer Boy) just so that I could get to These Happy Golden Years, Laura’s recounting of her three-year courtship with Almanzo Wilder. While she didn’t write it as a romance novel, and while there isn’t really any of the standard style and language one expects in a romance novel, it’s still sigh-inducing. And it’s also a great resource for learning what courtship was like during the late 19th Century in rural America.

3. The Velvet Quadrilogy by Jude Deveraux
The first one of these four novels I read was Velvet Song, about the third of the four Montgomery brothers in medieval England—a Robin Hood–like character who happens to fall in love with a waif of a girl who’s been exiled from her home because of trumped-up charges of witchcraft against her. I read it when I was twelve years old. Yes, my mother knew I was reading it. And she sat me down to talk to me about it afterward, I’m sure assuming that I would want to talk about the steamy scenes. However, she’s since told me that she knew I was going to be a writer when I went on and on about the characters and the setting and the romance parts of the story and told her I’d skipped over those other parts. I went on to read the other three books in the series (the first, The Velvet Promise, is my favorite of the four) so many times that I’ve lost count. And I now get a good giggle over how purple the prose is in those “steamy” scenes! These books cemented in me a love for historical romances, especially medievals and eventually led me to reading Julie Garwood’s books, which I also love. But these were the first and some of the few books I still have from more than twenty-five years ago. (I also still have the original yellow set of Little House books from longer ago than that!)

2. Persuasion by Jane Austen
This should be no surprise to anyone who knows me or has been hanging out on this blog for a while. I first read Persuasion when I was twenty-seven years old—the same age as Anne Elliot in the book. I identified with Anne in so many ways that this, Jane Austen’s last completed novel, quickly became my favorite of all of her work. Of course, it helped that I had watched the 1995 Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root film adaptation of the story just before reading the book, so I had those images to call to mind while reading. One of the reasons why this, and not P&P, is my favorite of Austen’s works is because there’s more of Frederick Wentworth in the story—and both Frederick and Anne have more of a character arc, more growth as people, in the story. Perhaps because the characters are older, or perhaps because Jane herself was older when she wrote the story. The characterization is deeper, more intimate; the story is more tightly plotted; and the ending—well, I just got a chill sitting here thinking about Frederick’s letter to Anne . . .

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.

I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.

It makes me so mad that Jane Austen wrote that and I didn’t! 😉

1. Victoria by Willo Davis Roberts
While I make no claims that this book is “better” than Persuasion or any other books out there, the reason it’s #1 on my list is because of the influence it had on me—namely, this is the book that made me start writing. I fell so in love with the characters in this book that I wasn’t satisfied with letting it end where it did. So I started writing my own “sequel” to it. But pretty soon, I got tired of writing someone else’s characters and someone else’s setting, so I started trying to write my own Sunfire Romance—I even sent them a query letter with my idea (centered around the trial of Billy the Kid in Mesilla, New Mexico, where I lived—I received a very kind thanks-but-no-thanks letter back from them). But at that point, it didn’t really matter, because I’d already discovered a love for writing that got me where I am today. And I owe so much of that to this book for igniting that fire in me.

36 Comments
  1. Friday, February 12, 2010 12:30 am

    What a truly wonderful list! I confess I haven’t read any of them–my mom read the Little House on the Prairie books to us when I was a kid, but I haven’t experienced it as an adult. And I’ve been dying to read Persuasion for ages … I’m just … slow. 🙂

    I feel the same way about The Witch of Blackbird Pond that you do about These Happy Golden Years. Technically not a romance, I swoon desperately every time I read how Nat comes back for Kit or when they’re putting new thatch on Hannah’s roof. Very sigh-inducing. Just like Captain Wentworth. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your list!

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    • Friday, February 12, 2010 9:52 am

      You MUST read Persuasion. Even more than P&P, I believe Persuasion is a book that should be on the required reading list for every romance author.

      Like

  2. Audry permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 6:25 am

    Even though there’s much, much more to the books, I always loved the romance between Anne and Gilbert in the Anne of Green Gables series. I re-read all 8 books about every other year or so.

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    • Friday, February 12, 2010 9:53 am

      I only read the first couple AGG books, but loved the film adaptations (the first two, anyway—the third . . . meh). And yes, I loved the romance between Anne and Gilbert in them.

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      • Audry permalink
        Friday, February 12, 2010 10:18 am

        I totally agree with you on the third Anne movie! I wish I could erase the whole experience from my mind!

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        • Friday, February 12, 2010 11:22 am

          Yes! I was not happy the third Anne movie borrowed HEAVILY from her daughter Rilla’s story, from Rilla of Ingleside.

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        • Jennifer Elerick permalink
          Sunday, February 14, 2010 7:11 am

          Ok Sadly enough..I just realized who Anne and Gilbert were and movies had me captivated. Loved them. I have a few of the books but have never read them.

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        • Jennifer Elerick permalink
          Sunday, February 14, 2010 7:11 am

          I started reading from the bottom lol

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  3. Friday, February 12, 2010 6:39 am

    The O’Malley series is one that I keep and have on my shelves. Redeeming Love {Rivers} is another one of my favorites that will forever stay. 🙂

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    • Friday, February 12, 2010 9:55 am

      I have tried so many times to read Redeeming Love and just can’t get into it. I’ve been told that if I can stick with it past page 100, I’ll be hooked. But the author/writing-teacher in me says, “If I’m not hooked by page 5, is it really worth my time to read it?” I may force myself to do it eventually. But for now, I’ll stick with books that suck me in from the get-go and wait for the Redeeming Love movie.

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      • Jennifer Elerick permalink
        Sunday, February 14, 2010 7:09 am

        DO you think there will be a movie? I doubt it would be as good as the book and I think I was sucked in before page 100 but as you said each to his own…We’re all different. (=

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  4. Friday, February 12, 2010 8:24 am

    I love the O’Malley Series! Where did Dee go anyway? She disappeared. 😦 Oh, and I am a Jane Austen fanatic! I took a class in college and ever since I have been hooked. Oh, and I agree with Audry about Anne of Green Gables; LOVE the romance of Ann & Gilbert!

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    • Friday, February 12, 2010 9:57 am

      Dee’s put a few books out with Tyndall in the past couple of years, but nowhere near the volume she was producing when she was writing for Multnomah (the O’Malley series and the Uncommon Valor series). The funny thing is that while I love the O’Malley series, I was never able to get into the Uncommon Valor series—or any of her other books. Strange, but true.

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      • Friday, February 12, 2010 10:02 am

        I liked “The Marriage Wish,” one of her first, I think. It was repackaged and put out again a few years ago. I’m slowly getting through the “O’Malley” series. I get so into it that I have to read other stuff between! 🙂

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  5. Friday, February 12, 2010 8:27 am

    What a great list! I guess I, too, can count the “Little House” books as my first romance novels, too. When I was privileged to go to Rocky Ridge Farm a few years ago, I literally cried when the tour guide, in the very house that Laura and Almanzo lived until their deaths, showed us the clock that Almanzo gave Laura for Christmas, and the bread plate that was thrown out the window of their burning house in South Dakota.

    There are so many out there – in fact, I blogged about it a few months ago, myself . . . http://inkspirationalmessages.com/2009/09/an-evolving-reader/ In this, you’ll learn about Elspeth and Dougal and how a Harlequin romance changed my life. 🙂

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  6. Amee permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 9:46 am

    When I was younger I used to read These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years often. Almanzo and Laura’s romance is one of my favorites. Anne and Gilbert, like others have said, is also a favorite. And I could probably keep naming favorites all day. There’s just so many. 🙂

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    • Friday, February 12, 2010 10:03 am

      See, and I’m happy to leave the series with the ending of These Happy Golden Years. Perhaps because The First Four Years was never rewritten in the style of the other books, but more because of the fact that it’s too real—it “shatters” the happy ending she gave us in THGY. However, I do love to read her nonfiction writings that reveal her life with Almanzo once they were settled in Missouri. I love that she called him “the Man of the Place” in her articles and essays.

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  7. Becky Miller permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 10:15 am

    I just re-read the end of Persuasion recently. Love that one. “I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.”

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  8. Friday, February 12, 2010 11:31 am

    What a fun post! I haven’t revisited the O’Malley books in YEARS…maybe that will happen someday. Of course I’d have to quit adding new or new-to-me books to my TBR pile…like THAT’S gonna happen. 😉

    This just got me to thinking of what I’d name as my favorite fictional romances…definitely Anne & Gilbert, LOVE that entire series (I have many fond memories of reading the Anne books, followed closely by the Emily and Pat novels by L.M. Montgomery). A Voice in the Wind & An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers (I’ll take those over Redeeming Love any day), Pride & Prejudice (of course!), Frederica by Georgette Heyer (because that is the book that introduced me to her work), The Scarlet Pimpernell by Baroness Orczy, Jane Eyre & Mr. Rochester, Sergei & Anna from The Russians series by Michael Phillips & Judith Pella…I could go on forever, I guess! 🙂

    And I’ll just throw this out there…I can’t stand the Little House books… 😉

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  9. Jess permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 11:58 am

    I need to look for some Willo Davis Roberts books in used bookstores. I’ve read “The View from the Cherry Tree” waaaay too many times, and I still enjoy it. You should pick up a copy; it’s a great example of writing from the POV of a male, even if he is 11. (Insert obligatory joke about how men don’t change much after that anyway.) “Don’t Hurt Laurie!” was great too–she’s really good with going deep into third person. I’ll have to look for “Victoria.” I understand what you mean–her books aren’t exactly literary, but by golly, you are THERE.
    I started another of Henderson’s series and couldn’t get into it. Since you couldn’t either, maybe I’ll try the O’Malley series.

    Like

    • Friday, February 12, 2010 12:24 pm

      You can find WDR books on e*Bay, Alibris.com, and used on Amazon.com.

      White Jade is another one of her books that I absolutely adore.

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  10. Jess permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 12:01 pm

    Oh and what is it about Redeeming Love that you don’t like, specifically?
    (I think it’s okay to criticize a book after it’s sold its eleven BAJILLIONTH copy, don’t you?)

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    • Friday, February 12, 2010 12:25 pm

      I’ve never connected with the characters or the story in RL. It’s just never drawn me in.

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  11. Sylvia permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 12:16 pm

    I’ve read the O’Malley series once, but my sisters each have their own sets of the series and really like them. I thought they were kind of creepy, but I’m not a big suspense book fan. I really like cozy mysteries, though, where the detective is the hero and we get to go along side him/her and figure out the clues. One reason I like your books better than the O’Malley books is that they still are family oriented along with the romance, but they aren’t suspenseful. I don’t think mystery and romance mix well unless you have a whole series of mysteries with the same characters slowly getting to know one another over the whole series. That way you have the time to concentrate on the mystery and the romance. Most of the time one or the other suffers if the author tries to cram it all into one book. The Million Dollar Mystery Series by Mindy Starns Clark is a wonderful example of the main characters developing a relationship over the whole series. It makes more since that way. They are suspenseful at times, but the main character is a private detective too.

    I’m curious. What did you mean by the line “Though I didn’t necessarily like the ‘you have to get saved before we can get married’ aspect of the plot lines in these books, that wasn’t enough to pull me out of each of the stories.” Did you mean that you don’t think the mystery and romance mixed well and you thought that aspect was kind of tacked on, so it didn’t flow well with the rest of the book? Did you mean that you think it’s fine for Christians to marry non-Christians?

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    • Friday, February 12, 2010 12:22 pm

      I’m not a big fan of romance novels in which the “conflict” of the relationship hinges on the fact that one of them isn’t a Christian. It’s like “dating evangelism,” which doesn’t usually turn out well. The storyline goes—they meet, they fall in love, the one who’s a Christian decides to break it off because he/she can’t be “unequally yoked” (which verse is actually speaking about business relationships, but I digress), so it looks like they’re going to lose each other forever, but then the unchristian character experiences a crisis (a near-death experience, a tough decision, etc.) and realizes they must “come to Jesus.” And because they “pray the sinner’s prayer” (always written out as dialogue or internal monologue in the text), now it’s okay for the Christian character to marry them.

      That’s why the characters in my books always start out as Christians, because the “you have to get saved before we can get married” kind of conflict to me is contrived and is setting the couple up for problems in the long-run.

      I’m not a huge fan of romantic suspense, but I thought Dee Henderson’s books did a great job of blending the two.

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  12. Lizard permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 2:59 pm

    I love Dee’s work and it will always be on my bookshelves. I love Anne and Gilbert though I have never read the books (they are sitting on my shelves). The first Christian fiction that I read was The Hawk and the Dove by Lori Wick. I love the majority of her work; they will always hold a special place in my heart and bookshelves. I cannot pick a favorite Austin book, but I will pick up Persuasion and start from the scene that the letter is in for a quick pick me up. I also love the Cheney Duvall, MD series by Gilbert Morris and Lynn Morris. Cheney and Shiloh were such wonderful characters that went through so much in the 8 books. I loved reading about the trials of her being a doctor when women simply did not do that type of work. Each book brought us to another location to explore and another illness to fight.

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  13. Lizard permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 3:07 pm

    Oh one more, I was extremely surprised to recently fall in LOVE with The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw. I was not expecting to like it, but she had me from the first chapter. I probably read it in one or two sittings. The trainer of gladiators, Caros, and Pelonia, who was sold into slavery by her uncle after her father was killed, are the main characters. Since finishing it, I have picked it up to re-read certain sections of it. I didn’t expect to fall in love, but I did deeply.

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  14. Audrey permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 5:58 pm

    Growing up, I guess you could say the first romance book I owned was a copy of Beauty and the Beast (the movie book) that my mom gave me for my 8th birthday. It is still in great shape despite being read over and over and over again.

    In high school, i loved the Sunfire romance books after my friend loaned me one one day when I had forgotten my book at home (around 1999-2000). I remember scouring used book stores for them. I guess that’s why today, historical romances are some of my favorites.

    I never much cared for the Little House series and honestly, didn’t read Anne of Green Gables until college when I had just seen the first two movies on tv.
    Favorites are Tracie Peterson. Any historical romance by her I have come to love. But my favorite by her is A Lady Of Hidden Intent.

    I’ve also come to enjoy Lori Wick books as well recently. Found some on the bookshelf downstairs a few months ago when I had finished the book I was reading and nothing was in yet at the library.

    Few modern romance novels do much of anything for me, with the exception of the Twilight Series. When I first picked it up, couldn’t put it down. Hadn’t been that into a book in many years. Its few and far between that you pick up a book and you can really see it unfold before your eyes. It just draws me in and I forget where I am and time just flies. Probably one of the few books and series that my mom and I both really like.
    I am a big fan of the series and the two films, but not an obsessed die-hard like some people my age (like some of my friends are).

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  15. Clari permalink
    Friday, February 12, 2010 6:13 pm

    I love the O’Malley series AND I love the Uncommon Heroes series. True Devotion is one of my absolute favorites, but then again I love stories centered around our military!
    Grew up reading the Little House books and have been to their home several times, (when you live in MO, it’s a good place for school fieldtrips.) but I always felt that the grownup Laura needed a spanking for the way she could be disrespectful to Almonzo.
    My dad and I started working through Gilbert Morris’ Winslow series when the first book came out. I still like the early books, but kinda burnt out a few years ago. Still have those first books on the shelf though.
    And I can’t forget good ol’ Grace Livingston Hill. Still reread her from time to time. We have all her books as my great-grands and great-aunt worked on collecting them.
    Haven’t read the Deveraux or Garwood books. I don’t want to deal with sex scenes. I have too vivid of an imagination as it is and since I’m still single, I’m trying to save those thoughts for my husband!
    But I digress. One of the “will-always-keep-her-books-on-my-shelf” authors is Sara Mitchell. She has written for multiple publishers over the years and currently she’s writting for Steeple Hill’s Historical line. My favorite story, one she did for Steeple Hill very early on is “Night Music”. You can still pick up used copies of her titles on Amazon. I have liked everything I’ve ever read by her and they’re ones I have to reread every year or so.
    I LIKE Georgette Heyer’s romances. Simon the Coldheart is one that still surprises me that I like it. Faro’s Daughter, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, The Masqueraders, Beauvallet….Umm, I think I’ll have to go reread those now!
    I could go on because I have a huge library of my own, and I work in a library but I’ll quit prattling on.

    Thank you for reminding me of the good times spent between the covers of a good book!

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  16. Saturday, February 13, 2010 10:08 pm

    I have to say I first started reading Christian fiction in the 8th grade. I stayed at my Gram’s house the summer before and she had the Cheney Duvall MD series by Lynn Morris and Gilbert Morris and she didn’t have a tv…so bored to tears I picked up Book 1 and started to read it and I was hooked! I had always been a reader(Baby Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High series) but the books in that series were my first “adult” books! Around the 8th grade I also remember reading the Love Comes Softly series that my mom read when she was younger…I always thought the first 2 stories were the best 😛

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  17. Jennifer Elerick permalink
    Sunday, February 14, 2010 7:01 am

    My three all time favorite books are Divine by Karen Kingsbury, Redeeming Love by Rivers, and Sophie by Lori Wick I think. There are books that I love and books thats I don’t so much love but these three have affected me the most I think. I have only ever put 2 books down that I couldn’t read anymore because it was 2 predictable (which was a love happens in ….) book and one that I just couldn’t get into and I am not sure why. I have to add that I have truely loved all of your (Dacus) books or I wouldn’t have signed up to read your blog. Thanks for your enjoyable writing. There are only a few authors that I will always buy their books…They are Laura Jensen Walker(I think I actually missed one but didn’t know it), Kaye Dacus, and Erynn Mangum. Loved her series too.

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    • Jennifer Elerick permalink
      Sunday, February 14, 2010 7:02 am

      I also should add that I was not a reader until my mid 20’s so I have had a lot of catching up to do.

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    • Jennifer Elerick permalink
      Sunday, February 14, 2010 5:16 pm

      Sophie’s Heart not Sophie by Lori Wick is one of my top 3

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