If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have receive my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. Today I’m reviewing Jaded by Varina Denman, a debut contemporary Christian romance novel with a difference, this one set in small-town Texas. This review previously appeared on my personal review blog, Iola’s Christian Reads.
Jaded by Varina Demnan
I passed on this book when I first saw it available for review. The cover looked boring, as though it was about the Amish, or perhaps their Mennonite cousins. The blurb didn’t attract me, although it did make it clear that the book was set in small-town Texas, with no Amish or Mennonites in sight.
It looked boring.
But then reviews started coming through, specifically a review from Andrea Grigg. She raved about Jaded … which convinced me that maybe I’d misjudged Jaded, and persuaded me I had to read it (and I’d missed the opportunity to get a review copy, so I actually had to BUY this one!)
I admit that at first I wondered what Andrea was so excited by. Ruthie Turner hates church and works two jobs to support herself and her depressed mother and desperately wants to escape the tiny Texas town of Trapp (although I didn’t pick up on that obvious pun while I was reading). Dodd Turner is the new high school maths teacher, and the new town preacher. The teaching job puts him in regular contact with Ruthie, who he is attracted to but who will barely give him the time of day.
It all seemed a bit mundane and annoying. Ruthie annoyed me because I couldn’t see why she didn’t just up and leave (if she can get two jobs in a town as small as Trapp, surely she can get a job anywhere). The people of the town of Trapp annoyed me because of their small-minded attitudes. And the people of the Trapp church especially annoyed me, for their judgemental and ignorant attitudes (they probably believe King James wrote the Bible).
Excellent contemporary CHristian Romance
But I persevered because the writing was excellent. It mixed first person (Ruthie) and third person (Dodd), which is something I’ve seen more novels fail at than succeed at. Once I got past the initial glitch that Jaded was written in both first and third person, both points of view flowed well. Ruthie was a particularly strong viewpoint character: I didn’t necessarily like her, but she had an engaging way with words:
“My uncle was pushing seventy and moved slower than a horned lizard on a cold day.”
“I thought how nice it would be to keep inching back, crawling to a place where memories couldn’t meet me.”
That evokes an emotional response, a feeling of recognition. It’s strong writing.
“Loneliness floated over me like a snowdrift. Loneliness so thick I could smell it. Taste it. Hear it. Not even why my daddy left had I felt anything like it. Not even when the church shunned us. Not even when Momma became a ghost.”
Wow. One paragraph manages to pack in Ruthie’s entire backstory as well as several rounds of emotional punches. If only every novel I read had such good lines.
But it’s one thing to say the writing was strong. Great writing is nothing without a good story and engaging characters. And it took a while, but I did eventually connect with Ruthie and the other characters, perhaps a quarter of the way through. After that, I didn’t want to put the book down. It was that good. The writing may have pulled me in, but it was the characters who kept me there. I’ve since read the sequel, Justified, and it was just as good. Now I’m waiting for the third book in the trilogy.
Thanks, Andrea. I really needed more books on my to-read pile.