Christian romance 🙂
On one hand, I love Christian romance and I’m always looking for my next great read, there are times when the stories can all start to feel a little samey, a little to formulaic.
Also, Christian romance is a broad genre—more than half of the Christian fiction published is romance in one from of another, from Biblical romance to Regency romance, from Amish romance to contemporary romantic suspense.
If I had to choose one subgenre, I’d have to say contemporary Christian romance.
Why? Because it’s always changing as the world around us changes. Twenty years ago, characters were just getting mobile phones and learning to text. Ten years ago, they got phones with cameras. Now everyone has a smartphone, complete with email and social media.
Online connection means a lot of the plots that used to work and that I used to enjoy (like the secret baby trope I mentioned last week) have fallen out of favour because they don’t work any more. Instead, we have dozens of billionaire romances (because apparently any guy with a six-pack can earn a cool billion by developing some cool new app. No matter that there are so many free apps that I’ve yet to pay for one).
What I like about a great contemporary Christian romance is that it reinforces the importance of real-life connection—with other people, and with God. Great contemporary Christian romance also features flawed Christian characters doing their best to live a godly life in an ungodly world.
And, of course, there’s the romance.
Christian romance is (or should be) focused on the meeting of minds and the development of a three-strand relationship, not on the physical attraction that categorises so many general market (and real-life) relationships. Finally, contemporary Christian romance models romantic relationships built on a firm foundation, and built to last.
And that’s a few reasons why I can never read enough Christian romance.
What about you? What’s the one genre (or subgenre) you can never read enough of?
Romance is full of tropes, and this is probably because romance readers can be voracious. If we find a story we like, we want to read all the books by that author. Then we want to read all the books with similar plots—which means we want all the books with that romance trope.
First, what’s a trope?
Tropes are plot devices, characters, images, or themes that are incorporated so frequently in a genre that they’re seen as conventional.
For example, the mail order bride is currently a popular trope, especially in Christian fiction.
I’ve seen box sets of fifteen or twenty mail order bride stories for sale on Amazon. I’m a fan of mail order bride stories (e.g. the Escape to the West series by Nerys Leigh), but I don’t think I could manage a set of twenty!
Fortunately, there are dozens of popular romance tropes, including:
- Friends to Lovers
- Enemies to Lovers
- Fake Romance
- Love Triangle
- Forbidden Love
- Marriage of Convenience
- Secret Royal/Billionaire
- Secret Baby
- Secret Romance
- Second Chance Romance
- Reunited Lovers
- Trapped in an Elevator/Snowstorm
- Mail Order Bride
- Belated Love Epiphany
- Opposites Attract
- Soul Mate
I’m not a big fan of the love triangle.
It seems to me that a perfectly nice person ends up getting hurt. Mind you, that’s better than the alternative, where the guy thinks he’s in love with Woman A (who’s a real piece of work) but is also attracted to Woman B (the obvious best choice), but I’m left wishing he’d stick with Woman A because Woman B deserves someone with more depth.
That can also happen in reverse (and I can think of one far-too-long-running Christian romance series where the woman had the choice and chose who I think was the weaker man. One reviewer said that if the character was that shallow, then the second man was better off without her, and I had to agree (#TeamCody).
That’s the other problem with the love triangle: half your audience will be convinced the story ends with the wrong couple getting together.
I went through a phase of reading and enjoying secret baby romances, but then the improvements in technology and social media made it harder to believe that the woman couldn’t tell the father she’d had his baby. This meant she hadn’t, which meant she had to have a good reason for not telling him … and many didn’t. Also, secret baby is a more difficult trope to pull off in Christian fiction.
I’m also a big fan of friends-to-lovers (especially in novellas and short fiction—I’m a little wary of a novella where the couple go from first meeting to marriage in less than a hundred pages), and enjoy the occasional enemies to lovers (Maybe It’s You by Christy Hayes is a fun example).
And I enjoy most other tropes … in small doses.
So what’s your favourite trope, and what’s a great example of that trope in Christian romance?
I get a lot of books from debut authors from NetGalley. I’ve now been reviewing for several years, so some of these once-debut authors are now established writers who’ve been added to my must-read list—authors like Kara Isaac, Melissa Tagg, and Becky Wade.
I have also reviewed books for many debut indie (self-published) authors.
Some of my favourites are:
Grace in Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon
The Escape to the West series by Nerys Leigh
The Criss Cross series by CC Warrens
The Land Uncharted series by Keeley Brooke Keith
Here are some debut novels I’ve read this year that I recommend:
The White City by Grace Hitchcock
The Baggage Handler by David Rawlings
Northern Deception by Laurie Wood
Whose Waves are These by Amanda Dykes
Love and Other Mistakes by Jessica Kate
What about you? Do you buy or read books from debut authors?
What titles do you recommend?
Less. Or should that be fewer?
Whatever. I’ve been recording my books read on Goodreads since 2010, and have set (and achieved) my target number of books read each year since 2011. My target this year is 150 books, which is a lot less than the 201 books I read in 2014.
So, yes, I’m reading less Christian fiction than I did five years ago.
But that’s because I’m reading fewer books overall than five years ago, not because I’ve consciously moved away from reading Christian fiction. If anything, a larger proportion of my fiction reading is Christian fiction.
However, I am also making more of an effort to read books on writing craft or marketing this year. If I stick with that, it might further reduce the number of Christian novels I finish in 2019.
What about you? Do you read more or less Christian fiction than you did five years ago?
When I read a good standalone novel, then I finish it and want to know more about those characters. I want there to be a sequel, and there isn’t. When I read a good standalone novel, I’ll generally read the next book from that author but might be a little disappointed it’s not a sequel, or it’s not as good as the previous novel.
When I read a good novel that’s part of a series, then I finish it and (wait for it!) want to know more about the characters. So I’m always pleased to know there is already a sequel available, or that a sequel is planned (even if I have to wait for it). It’s something I’ll watch out for and sign up to review, or buy on preorder. Because I really want to read that book.
When I read a less-good novel that’s a standalone, that doesn’t usually affect whether I want to read their next book. But when I read a less-good novel that’s the first book in a series, l’ll usually sit out the rest of the series. And then the author might fall off my radar, and I might not read the next series either …
So while I enjoy standalone novels, I much prefer reading a series I enjoy. But I’ll rather have a standalone than a series I don’t enjoy.
What about you? Do you prefer standalone novels, or a series?
I’ve actually written several longish blog posts on this. Rather than rehashing my entire train of thought, I’ll give you the highlights and link to my previous posts.
Fiction written by a Christian author may or may not be Christian fiction.
Christian authors may write for the general market, or for the Christian market. I don’t think you can classify fiction written for the general market as “Christian fiction” even if it’s written by a Christian and has underlying Christian values. That’s not what the market wants. Also, lots of books have underlying Christian values—even Star Wars. That doesn’t make Star Wars Christian fiction.
I’m sceptical of any “Christian fiction” that isn’t written by a Christian.
That, to me, is someone trying to cash in on a market segment, and I don’t think it’s honest. Yes, Christians can write general market fiction with underlying Christian values—that’s us being in the world but not of the world. But I don’t think non-Christians should be writing Christian fiction any more than I think Christians should be writing general market LGBTQIA erotica, or Islamic romance. It’s disrespectful and dishonest.
So I think Christian fiction is written by a Christian, and aimed at Christian readers.
It will reflect and reinforce mainstream Christian values and beliefs (e.g. the Apostle’s Creed). It won’t divide readers over doctrinal differences. And the content will be consistent with the Bible—it won’t gloss over sin, but it won’t be a how-to manual either. Great Christian fiction leaves the reader feeling they’ve learned an eternal truth about God or how we can know Him better.
Here are some blog posts which go into more detail:
What about you? How do you define Christian fiction?
I’m a freelance fiction editor, which means I spent hours each day hunting through my client’s manuscripts and correcting errors. That can make it hard to switch off and not notice errors when I read for pleasure.
But there are different kinds of errors.
I’m not bothered if an author uses US spelling or grammar vs. British English. I do get annoyed if they don’t seem to be consistent.
I can forgive the odd who/whom error—it’s something even editors look up.
It annoys me if an author doesn’t use the Oxford comma, but that’s not necessarily an error. It’s merely a difference of opinion.
I’m usually not bothered by errors in the books I review.
Usually. This is because I’m often reviewing ARCs. ARCs are advance review copies, which are sent out before the final proofreading is completed. If I find errors in these books, I assume it will be found and corrected before it goes to print. (I’m less forgiving if the author or publisher makes a point of saying they’ve sent me the final version.)
I’m also used to seeing a lot of formatting errors in the review copies.
That’s because my review copies are electronic. The publisher uploads a pdf file to NetGalley, and that’s automatically converted to a mobi file which NetGalley email to my Kindle. The automatic conversion process often introduces errors, like missing line or page breaks.
What I find more difficult are the errors which take me out of the story.
For example, I was recently reading a story where the spelling of one character’s name changed several times (e.g. Smith to Smyth and back to Smith). That confused me to the point I actually found myself flicking back through the book to find whether Smyth was a new character or not (he was not). That’s annoying, but it’s just a proofreading error. They happen.
Other times I’ll get distracted by the errors because the characters and story haven’t engaged me.
Those are the most annoying—when I start picking up on minor errors because that’s more interesting than reading what is happening to the characters. That’s often the sign of a story that’s been written and published too quickly, a story that hasn’t gone through enough critiquing and beta reading and editing.
These are the stories that end up on my did-not-finish pile. I’d persevere if the story was good (although I’d probably still mention the errors if I reviewed the book).
But I’ve come to realise life is too short to read bad books, so if the story and characters don’t engage me, then it’s a DNF.
What about you? What’s your view on grammatical errors in novels? Do you notice them? Do they bother you?
I’m a book reviewer, so you can find reviews of the books I read and recommend on my website.
Monday is a review of a new or recent release I’ve enjoyed. Thursday is a review of an older book. This is usually a Throwback Thursday post, where I repost my review of an older book I’ve enjoyed, but sometimes it’s a new review of a book I’ve been slow to read and review.
So you can look at my Book Review page to see the most recent books I’ve read and recommended.
But one of the benefits of being a reviewer is that I get to read advance copies of books. That means my most recent reviews aren’t always the book I’ve most recently read. I’ve been known to read books as much as six months in advance of the release date (and that’s not counting the books I edit).
So what is the last book I read that I’d recommend?
Sweet on You by Becky Wade. I’ve already featured it in a First Line Friday post, and my review is scheduled for 29 April, the day before it officially releases. I may even read it again before that …
Why? Because Sweet on You is everything I love about Christian romance. It’s got a romance (obviously). The thing with a romance novel is that we know before we start who is going to end up with whom. In this case, it was signposted in the first book in the series, True to You, which was published two years ago. So we’re reading for the journey.
And the journey was great. Sweet on You had an underlying suspense thread, and I especially love romantic suspense. But what made it special was the way Becky Wade wove Christian truths into the novel, with lines like this:
Sweet on You is a multi-layered romance, and I definitely recommend it!
What about you? What was the last book you’ve read that you’d recommend, and why?
Completely out of control.
But less out of control than it was three months ago 🙂
I discussed my to-read pile in the first post of this year, when we were discussing book challenges. One of my personal challenges was to read 48 books off my to-read pile, and another was to cut a similar number from my Goodreads Currently Reading shelf.
How am I going?
I’ve cut 16 books off my to-read pile, which means I’m on target to cut 48 this year.
No, I haven’t read all 16. Some I read. Others I started reading and realised I didn’t care for and would never finish—which is enough to take them off the pile. One I’ve decided not to read after reading an online rant by the author (it appears she’s one of that small group of authors who say they want honest reviews, but also believes reviewers shouldn’t post critical reviews because they “hurt” authors. Fine. I’ll do her the favour of not reviewing her books. Or reading them. Or buying them).
I started the year with 54 books on my Goodreads Currently Reading shelf.
That’s now down to five. How? Most of the books had been automatically added to my Currently Reading shelf when I bought them on Kindle and opened them. I went through the list on Goodreads and moved every book I wasn’t actually reading to my To Read shelf, or deleted the ones I know I’m not interested in reading.
What about you? How out of control is your to-read pile?
One of my reading resolutions this year was to try to read more books from new-to-me authors.
Why? Well, I want to support new authors by recommending them to my readers.
And I want to understand trends in Christian fiction, especially when it comes to debut authors from the major publishers. What are they buying? Is there a new direction in terms of genre or location or time setting? Are there trends in writing or editing standards? This helps me give my freelance editing clients better advice.
But how do I find these new-to-me authors?
I often find new authors from traditional publishers through NetGalley. I follow all the major Christian publishers, and am always on the lookout for new names.
Many authors approach me for reviews. If the book is Christian fiction and appears well-written and well-edited, then I’m usually keen to read it.
I also find new-to-me authors through other book blogs, especially through the weekly First Line Friday meme. That usually gives me plenty of ideas for my weekend reading …
The one thing that holds me back from reading more new-to-me authors is that an author can only be a new-to-me author once 🙂
And I love many of the stories I read by new-to-me authors, and want to either read their entire backlist, or (if they’re a debut author) read all their new releases. And I can’t—not unless my existing must-read authors stop writing books (and that would be a tragedy).
What about you? Do you read books from new-to-you authors? What makes you buy or read a title from a new-to-you author?