Claire's Not-So-Gothic Romance
by Bonnie Blythe
genre: Contemporary Christian Romance
source: self-purchased ebook
First words: "I, the mysterious mistress Claire, clutch the collar of my aubergine cloak more tightly against my ivory throat while my silken, vermillion tresses undulate on the fog-laden breeze that slips across the bracken moors as my tortured heart and vaunted emotions wrestle with the complexities of the choice that lies before me."
My thoughts: Quite the opening sentence! The novel continues like this for some time, as we discover that mistress Claire is the fantasy identity of Claire Parnell, florist and closet Jane Eyre fanatic. As the novel progresses and the story line picks up, Claire slips less and less into this internal Gothic monologue as real life creeps in. Although I picked this up without knowing it was Christian fiction, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. In fact, it was out of my comfort zone for two reasons: it was not only heavily Christian, it was contemporary romance.
It's also charmingly written in a distinct, accessible voice. Anyone who loves Jane Eyre will find something in this book. Claire, the protagonist, loves Jane Eyre, has seen every movie version multiple times, and recites more lines from the Gothic novel than she does actual scripture. Sam, the handsome yet grounded stranger who (to Claire) inexplicably finds her attractive, is a great romantic hero. He's one of my recent favorites in adult contemporary, anyway.
The setting is maybe my favorite thing. Claire's little town is full of memorable characters, from her nosy Cockney neighbor to her newly-Goth co-worker Chip, who insists on being called "Darkwan." Claire's church, which of course figures heavily in the narrative, is pretty funny too, from the cadaverous dietitian to the catty meat market that passes for her Sunday School class.
I did find the way Claire's entire town seem fixated on seeing her married, and to a doctor, no less, annoying. It just went on way too long. Also, it would have been nice if Claire's mother, who raised her as a single mother, hadn't given single parenthood such a horrible reputation. Claire also seems to have no greater ambition than to marry a nice Christian man and have babies, even though she paradoxically resents her mother and neighbors for the very same thing.
The bottom line? The religion is pretty thick, and it gets heavier as the novel progresses. But if you're looking for a sweet romantic read with memorable characters and a great setting, this is a pretty good choice.
My rating: Four Stars! ****