Monday, August 15, 2011

The Muse Reviews: Summer Dream by Martha Rogers

For readers who enjoy a light Christian historical romance, Martha Rogers' Summer Dream might be right up your alley.

Christian historical romance novels are a burgeoning business these days. They line the shelves at bookstores and have a good-sized audience. In many ways, if you've read one, you've read them all. For many romance readers, that tends to be the point. They enjoy the experience of a sweet love story (and for a Christian audience, that means intertwining romance with faith). And they expect certain conventions to be met.

Summer Dream by Martha Rogers fits that bill. Heroine Rachel Winston is ready to marry, but she lives in a small town in Connecticut and there aren't a lot of suitors her age. Until Nathan Reed shows up. Nathan and Rachel are strongly attracted to one another. Unfortunately, Nathan wants nothing to do with God, while Rachel is the daughter of the town's minister. The driving story question is: Will Nathan settle his problems with God and his family, and become a good match for Rachel?

This is the typical plot of most Christian romances. The female lead is usually a kind of everywoman, allowing readers to put themselves in her place and imagine themselves having her romance. While this would not sell me personally on a novel, it is a winning formula for many women. And Rogers follows the formula well enough. She gives a clear, though bland, characterization of Rachel, who as a minister's daughter in 1888 is quite the good and pious young woman.

Nathan also seems fairly bland. I'm not sure why. The idea behind his character motivation is potent enough: He was once religious, but became mad at God after his father revealed a terrible secret about Nathan on his deathbed. That ought to be captivating, but instead it is a passable story line at best. Perhaps Rogers wasn't willing to explore the darkness that such a person would be living in. (I'd have been interested in learning more about how hard it was for him, so I could sympathize with him more. But alas, this is not to be.)

However, it's hard to fault Rogers for her handling of the plot in a delicate manner, because the Christian historical romance market isn't looking for a look at the dark side of life. The convention is to barely touch on it, and very briefly at that. That approach doesn't work for me, I fully admit it, but many other women prefer it to other types of stories. So, if Rogers is giving them what they want, I can't fault her for success in meeting her audience's expectations.

It is fair, though, to discuss the historical aspects of the novel. In some ways, Summer Dream does well. But in other ways, it is disappointing. For one thing, the setting is Connecticut, which is the main reason I read the book (I used to live there). But except for a weather event that is a main plot point, this story could essentially have been set anywhere. The historical details of living in 1888 are present but glazed over, small brushes of color here and there. More details might have been nice, especially in contrast against a light plot. 

Also, a few phrases crept in here and there that felt anachronistic, which became a distraction. The result is that the story could be set in a different time frame as well as a different location without losing anything. That's an unfortunate weakness of the book.

What does the author do well? She ties in the faith element without being overly preachy, which is nice. And since most if not all the readers of Summer Dream will be Christians who want the aspect of faith in romance to be a major part of the story, Rogers is doing exactly what she needs to do. The people who buy her book will, for the most part, be satisfied with the story. And for that, I give Rogers the credit she is due.

Would I recommend this book? Only if you love all the books on the Christian historical fiction bookshelves. If you do, Summer Dream will probably work for you. But if you read romance only rarely, as I do, or if you prefer other genres, as I do, this book will likely be too tame in plot and characterization to satisfy you.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

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