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JOINT REVIEW: To Love and to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney

Janine: When I heard Patricia Gaffney’s Wyckerley trilogy was being
electronically reissued, I knew I wanted to review these books in a discussion format. Angela (Lazaraspaste), who used to review for DA, volunteered to join me. We plan to review all three novels and begin today with the first book in the trilogy.

To Love and To Cherish Patricia GaffneyAngela: To Love and to Cherish has often been overlooked in favor of its darker and more turbulent sister, To Have and to Hold. This is too bad because it is a gem of a book. I have heard it called sweet and light, but only in comparison to the blistering angst of THATH. It is not.

Janine: I would call it a softer book than To Have and to Hold, but I think of it as being wistful and melancholy; some parts of it are heart-squeezing in their poignancy. To Love and to Cherish was very popular when I joined the online romance community (it placed at #27 in AAR’s Top 100 poll in 2000, ahead of THATH, which was then at #38), so I don’t think of it as having been overlooked, but it’s true that in recent years it seems to have disappeared from online discussions in a way that THATH has not.

Angela: Wistful and melancholy definitely summarizes it for me. I suspect that its disappearance is due to tastes having changed. I’m not sure I can imagine a book like TLATC being released becoming popular nowadays. Not a lot of recent books quite have this tone. It swings between the prickly wit of Anne Verlaine’s voice, to the contemplative and sincere melancholy of Christian Morrell’s. What’s interesting about this is that though the story is familiar—upright gentleman falls in love with his ne’er-do-well friend’s wife—the bulk of the story isn’t about sex or passion (though it has those in there), but about two people developing a friendship and love through the act of conversation.

Janine: Yes, and it’s also, without being preachy, a book that deals with spirituality and community.

Angela: Definitely! It’s rather radical. I can’t remember the last time I read a romance novel where the major part of the book was spent with the characters speaking to each other. It has the grand benefit of letting you get to know the characters, of seeing how they fit together, and come to love each other.

Janine: How novel, right? But I think there were more books along these lines in the 1990s, when To Love and to Cherish was published, than there are today.

Angela: I do, too. It probably explains why a lot of my favorites are from that decade. So for those of you who don’t know, the story is as follows: Christian Morrell is the local vicar. His father had been vicar before him and he finds it difficult to live up the image his father left behind. We first meet Christy as he attends the deathbed of the Viscount D’Aubrey, the father of his oldest friend, Geoffrey. Geoffrey Verlaine ran away from home 12 years ago and the only thing that’s been heard of him since are rumors. The opening of this book is one of my favorites.

Janine: Yes. And it has a great opening line:

Even on his deathbed, Lord D’Aubrey was a hard man to love.

God, give me patience and humility, prayed Reverend Christian Morrell, who was in the business, as it were, of loving the unlovable.

Angela: What I love about that opening is that it immediately puts you into Christy’s head. Christy is genuinely concerned about his aptitude as a Vicar and about his ability to minister to a man like Edward Verlaine. And yet, as we occupy his thoughts we, the readers, can see something about Christy that he can’t himself. We glean that he is honorable and righteous—not in that sanctimonious judgmental way that bespeaks of a religious narcissism—but in a melancholy and valiant way. Christy, despite his doubts and fears, his own suffering and sadness, again and again puts his own ego aside to do what he can to comfort and love those around him. This is evident in the first chapter, not because Gaffney tells us so, but because of the way she sketches Christy’s thoughts and interactions.

Janine: Agreed. Christy is an example of a kind of heroism we don’t see in most of today’s romances. He doesn’t lie atop a mountain of pounds sterling seducing beautiful women, in the way of many of today’s male historical romance protagonists. Instead he grapples with everyday challenges like how to comfort a parishioner after a loved one’s death, how to best convince landowners to allow the poor the use of their farmland, as well as how to instill faith and hope in others – and sometimes, in himself.

Angela: I really liked Christy. He is someone I’d want to be friends with. I can’t say that about 99% of heroes. So Geoffrey, of course, returns to Wyckerley, with a wife in tow. He is, however, not particularly keen on the position of squire. He looks sickly, different and brittle. It is obvious to Christy that there is something amiss in this marriage. His first impressions of Anne Verlaine are of someone distant and acerbic. Christy and Anne are interested in each other from the first. Not as lovers or in any way romantically, but as people. Christy has a natural inclination to want to know and love all those around him. Anne, not so much, but Christy—and the town of Wyckerley itself—begin to grow on her. She begins to feel that she can be truly herself around Christy.

Janine: What’s remarkable about this is that Anne is an atheist as well as something of a cynic. We get to know Anne partly through excerpts from the journal in which she writes her innermost thoughts. Here’s one of her early impressions of Christy:

I must call him Christy, he says. His coloring is so fair, I always know when he’s blushing. He has a big strong-boned head, almost bust like, and fine silver-blue eyes, gentle, not cold, in spite of their icy color. A good-humored mouth, very expressive. I see tolerance in his face, a deep sympathy for other people’s pain and uncertainty. And he’s the opposite of pompous. He strikes me as a man who could forgive anything in others, perhaps not as much in himself. Today he made me think of Rubens’ painting “Daniel in the Lion’s Den.” Only it’s not Daniel he looks like, it’s the lion in the middle, the standing one with the gorgeous mane and the fierce but worried look in his yellow eyes.

In church, giving his interminable sermon, he was so very earnest, so heartbreakingly sincere, I felt almost like weeping. Most unusual, not like me at all; I still can’t quite account for it. And no doubt I would have been crying for myself, not him. I wonder what he would think if I told him the truth: that I have no religious faith at all, that his God is as apocryphal to me as Zeus or Apollo are to him. Would he try to convert me? What an amusing prospect. There was a mesmerist in Papa’s artist circle ones summer in Aix who attempted to hypnotize me, but without success; I remained disappointingly wide awake and rational. As I would, I’m afraid, if Reverend Morrell tried his Anglican catechism on me.

This quote illustrates that Anne is not quite as kind and patient as Christy, yet also that she is more softhearted than she wants to believe herself. And it shows how she girds herself with cynicism. Anne feels alone within her marriage and isolated from the other residents of Wyckerley by her position. Her wry outlook serves as a defense – if she keeps Christy and other villagers at a distance, the lack of a place of belonging among them will not hurt.

But Anne can’t help liking Christy as a person and a human being, even as she tries to maintain her reserve.

Geoffrey is a disastrous husband, yet he is humanized by the writing (something I appreciated). When he abandons his responsibilities in Wyckerley to fight in the Crimean War, he asks Christy to look after Anne. Then Anne and Christy’s leadership positions within the community of Wyckerley bring them together, first as friends, then as something more.

Neither is fully aware of the change, and once Christy realizes it, he immediately wants to establish distance. Anne, in her loneliness, asks him not to do so. So they remain friends, and Anne keeps her feelings a secret from Christy.

Then news comes of Geoffrey’s death. Anne grieves his loss despite everything. It’s not until a few months after his passing that Christy and Anne share their first kiss, and a new conflict crops up. Christy wants Anne to agree to marry him, while Anne doesn’t want to ever remarry. She also believes she, an atheist, would make a terrible vicar’s wife. She proposes that Christy become her lover instead, but of course, that is not acceptable to him.

Angela: What was great about that is that Christy doesn’t want to, but not just for the obvious reasons. He resists because he cares for Anne and her reputation and her personhood. He doesn’t want to see her hurt by their actions. I was also really pleased that Gaffney never strung these obstacles out into a Big Misunderstanding. Anne’s reservations seem both in character and reasonable. Yet, she doesn’t hang on to them past their expiration date.

Janine: So true. This was my fourth time reading To Love and to Cherish. I’ve long considered it one of the best written historical romances, despite the fact that every time I’ve read, I’ve felt at a distance from it. I confess that one of the reasons I’ve read it this many times is to understand why, despite my huge admiration for Gaffney’s craftsmanship here, I don’t connect with it as deeply as I do with To Have and to Hold or Wild at Heart.

Angela: I totally agree. This way my first time reading it and I had a very similar experience. I enjoyed it, and yet . . . reading it was like watching something without my glasses on, ya know?

Janine: I do know, though I got the book more this time than I ever have before. It may be simply because I’m in a different place in my own life or it may be because I wasn’t mentally comparing it to To Have and to Hold (my first and favorite Gaffney) as much as I have in the past. It is really important, I think, to try to approach it without expecting the same kind of intensity.

We haven’t talked that much about the other villagers, but as I read I found myself as moved by their circumstances as I was by Anne’s loneliness or Christy’s honor.

Angela: Yes! Too often secondary characters are just wallpaper, but here you feel like they have separate stories of their own.

Janine: Exactly. Middle-aged Miss Weedie, once Christy’s teacher, struggles with seeing the mother to whom she is devoted aging. Captain Carnock, a former military man with a back “as straight as a musket” wants to court Miss Weedie. Lily Hesselius is the doctor’s much younger and frivolous wife. And there is also William Holyoake, Lynton Great Hall’s dependable bailiff, who turns to Christy for advice and supports Anne in an hour of need.

Wyckerley is brought to vivid life though these depictions and through loving descriptions of the thatched roof cottages, the nearby canal and river, and the surrounding flora. I loved, for example, this bit:

Primrose Cottage, the Weedies’ little house, had been painted crocus yellow in 1834, the last year of the late Mr. Weedie’s life. In the intervening twenty years it had dimmed and mellowed through stages of saffron, lemon, and flax, and now it glowed a soft, creamy shade of dusty gold, as faded and gentle as the two ladies who lived inside its flaking walls.

This half-paragraph reveals much about Christy, the POV character here– that he has an artistic sensibility (we later learn he almost became a painter), a sense of whimsy, and a deep affection for the house and its inhabitants—as well as describing the Weedies, who, like their house, have “dimmed and mellowed” following Mr. Weedie’s death and are now “faded and gentle.”

The book’s sense of community is quite possibly what I love best about it, which is saying a lot, because Anne and Christy are wonderful characters. What I love least, I think, is the development of the romance in the middle section.

Angela: I don’t want to sound like a chorus here, but I, again, agree. The middle section sagged for me. I had a difficult time getting through it. It felt like I was wading through thick sludge. The relationship loses its momentum.

Janine: As I’ve said in the past, I love Christy and I love Anne, but I don’t love their relationship as much as I feel I ought to, given my love for these characters. Part of the issue for me is that amidst the glorious beauty that is Gaffney’s depiction of Wyckerley, Christy and Anne’s relationship doesn’t always seem situated center stage. And while I love the community Gaffney develops, I want to care about the romance just as much.

Angela: I think there’s a definite imbalance in the middle section of the book. But perhaps that’s true of the book as a whole. It felt uneven to me, like a ship listing off to the left.

Janine: The middle is the least satisfying and I wonder if that’s because once Geoffrey is gone the conflict changes. I haven’t always been 100% convinced Anne would be happy as a vicar’s wife – she argues the case against it pretty strongly. I was somewhat more persuaded this time, but a different issue came up for me. The preoccupation with whether sex between two unmarried, consenting adults is sinful, while natural for Christy, was sometimes difficult for me to relate to. In addition, Anne’s attempts to persuade Christy to sleep with her before they were engaged seemed contrived. I felt Anne should have known Christy well enough to understand he could only refuse.

Angela: On the sex before marriage question: For me, it’s like Mansfield Park where I can never get past all the hullabaloo about them putting on a play. Like really? Who cares? I know intellectually that this is a concern and that its mores of the time, etc. But as a reader, emotionally, I never bought it. That’s how I felt about the sex before marriage question in this book. It felt . . . contrived, as if it was a stand in for the much more difficult religious questions. And like why wasn’t Anne concerned with pregnancy? Did I miss something? Before birth control, sex both in and out of marriage was like playing Russian Roulette with your reproductive organs.

Janine: I believe birth control did exist in the 1850s. More to the point, the absence of any attempt prevent pregnancy from the storyline jarred me since Christy was so concerned with Anne’s reputation. He could have at least practiced withdrawal.

Angela: Well, birth control like crotch-less panties: there but not covering what it should. For me, the religious question was the more interesting one. That seemed to be the more pertinent point. I have waaaay too much to say on the way religion is depicted in this book. Religion is really hard to deal with. People either want it to be all touchy-feely and rainbows. Or they want it exposed as a delusion held by corrupt people. Gaffney departs from either of those extremes.

Janine: That was something I appreciated.

Angela: I had this contradictory sense that while Christy had a deep and complex faith, the narrative voice was constantly eliding it. I think this was most apparent to me in the treatment of Anne’s atheism. She herself states a one point that her atheism isn’t really based on principle or belief but is a default position she inherited from her father. Which, hey, there are plenty of religious and non-religious people who are like that. Yet, so much of Christy as a character is as a person who struggles with faith.

This is exemplified for me in the ending scene where SPOILER ALERT Trantner Fox is trapped in the mine. I thought this was the most moving scene. But I thought that Trantner should have died. It seems to me that faith in God is not faith if you only can believe in God during the good times. It seems to me that a better, and frankly more radical religiosity, would have been presented if Christy’s faith had been restored in witnessing Trantner’s death. A paradox but one far more in line with Christianity, which after all has God die in order to resurrect and redeem the world.

Janine: I read that differently – I thought that Chrsity’s faith was restored down in the pit with Tranter when he thought they would likely die. Immediately after they sang the hymn, Christy was able to pray easily, and to feel “profound sadness and profound peace at the same time.” The profound sadness was over Tranter’s death – and perhaps his own, since by then he’d promised to stay with Tranter, and it was not safe to do so. The profound peace came from his restored faith. END OF SPOILER.

Yes, the book elided an exploration of Christy’s faith, but I didn’t mind. Not being Christian myself, I was able to appreciate his devotion without feeling that I was required to share it.

Angela: I still think it was a bit of cop out in the same way the moral question in Christy and Anne’s relationship pivots mainly on sex before marriage. I prefer a slightly more ambiguous morality and faith. But that’s just me.

Janine: Ah, I see what you mean. On a related topic, a major plot twist that comes late in the novel struck me as predictable. There come points in the story when Christy and Anne both believe they have been punished by God for having (during their secret engagement) expressed their love for each other physically. I found those scenes unsettling, and while, given the recent state of Anne’s widowhood, I could see why they might feel that way, I wish the novel had answered the question regarding the possible sinfulness of premarital sex with a stronger, more resounding no.

Angela: Blah. Don’t even get me started. I could go on a long winded rant about how people always think sins of the flesh are worse than sins of calculation. We can all blame St. Augustine and the Latin Fathers for that one. Thanks, guys.

Janine: Still, I felt a great deal of warmth for these characters, and therefore I really wanted their HEA to arrive. Their happiness together at the end of the book put a big smile on my face.

I’ve written a tome here yet there is more I could say about how charming this book is. I hope the reissue leads more readers to try it. My grade for To Love and to Cherish is a B+/A-.

Angela: Ditto. I think this book is well worth the read. I think the fact that we have so much to say about it proves that. My grade is about the same. B+.

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.


  1. willaful
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 12:40:17

    Great review! I’m happy to see this getting some attention.

  2. Janine
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 12:59:12

    @willaful: Thanks. It was hard to do justice to certain aspects of the writing. Gaffney describes nature so beautifully, in all seasons, that I really felt transported to the rural setting in a way I don’t when I read many countryside-set books.

    One point I wanted to make in the discussion but didn’t was that although Angela described Christy as melancholy, I didn’t really feel he was, for the most part. I do agree with thoughtful and contemplative. For me Anne’s initial isolation made her the more melancholy character.

  3. Bronte
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 12:59:53

    I haven’t read this book but I am looking forward to. One comment I do have is that you mention Janine that ” I wish the novel had answered the question regarding the possible sinfulness of premarital sex with a stronger, more resounding no”. I’m not going to talk about the right or wrong of premarital sex however as someone who was raised christian and still struggles with her christian faith this is a huge hot button topic and even today many christians do believe in chastity until marriage. Given the time the book was set, and the fact that Christy is a vicar it would seem crazy to me if the Author had not had the characters believe this way. To me that would have been a contemporary attitude instilled in a historic setting. I explained my background because I think it probably influences the way you look at this topic – as Christy and Anne’s background probably influenced how their characters looked at it.

  4. Janine
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 13:11:53

    @Bronte: I hope you enjoy the book! I would love to hear your thoughts if you read it and want to share them.

    Re. the premarital sex thing — this is hard to fully discuss without spoilers, but I don’t mean that the author shouldn’t have had the characters think this way. I just mean that I wish that by the end of the novel it had been stated in one of their POVs that they had, after giving it thought, reached the conclusion that they had not meant harm to anyone and that a loving God would not judge them for loving each other physically. Keep in mind they were already engaged when they slept together, but couldn’t announce it yet since the heroine’s husband had passed away only months before.

  5. lazaraspaste
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 14:34:54

    @Bronte: I’m glad you brought this up because I have lots more to say about it.

    My expectation as a romance reader is that regardless of period or setting, the hero and heroine will probably have premarital sex. My problem in TLATC wasn’t so much with how the sinfulness or lack thereof of premarital sex, but with Anne’s blase attitude towards it. Just because something isn’t a sin, doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good idea. I mean, the entire plot of Tom Jones rests on Squire Allworthy’s sister having premarital sex with her fiance, a vicar, who then up and dies. A lot of the time in romance, the historical importance of chastity and the consequences of sex are only given lip-service. By consequences I don’t mean just moral and social, but biological and economic. Children are a HUGE financial strain, especially on unwed mothers in the 19th century who had little to no earning power. Heroines will often decide on having premarital sex because they will, “have something to remember in their old age and that would have to be a enough” (this line is repeated all over the place). But you could end up with a baby and a case of syphilis as well. Or worse, both. Often heroines and heroes act as if the only risk of premarital sex is heartbreak. Hell, even marital sex isn’t all cake and eating it too. Pregnancy after pregnancy is physically and emotionally exhausting. Also, too many children can be a huge economic burden on a family. My point is that I wish the choice in depicting sex in romance novels didn’t constantly have to between a sex negative or a sex positive view, but on a sex complicated view, which has the advantage of being truer and probably making better stories. But I’m pro uncomfortable ambiguity.

    I will refrain from going on about the multiple interpretations of what sin is.

  6. Isobel Carr
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 15:00:15

    @Bronte: I can see that argument for Christy, as he is religious, but not for Anne. There’s no reason for Anne to worry about whether premarital sex is “sinful” or “wrong” (and frankly, I’m not sure that Anglicans took as hard a line as some other sects on this topic, given the number of pregnant brides in the lower class).

  7. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 15:37:54

    Thanks Janine and Angela, what a great conversation! This is my favorite of the Wyckerley trilogy and I’m so glad to see it reissued. I read it years ago and it’s my favorite because of the portrayal of Christy. It’s difficult to make a truly virtuous, honest person interesting, but Gaffney really pulled it off here. And as you discuss so well, the depiction of the village and the society was something we don’t see nearly often enough in romance, in my opinion. To me, the book straddles the general-fiction/historical-romance boundary in a very good way.

    I read all three novels with some trepidation because the trilogy was so lauded at AAR, and when I finally got my hands on some copies I was skeptical they could live up to their billing, but for the most part they did. The one weakness I perceived when I was reading them was that despite the wonderful writing and the emotional punch, I felt as if I could see the authorial hand (and intention) more often than I wanted to. This first installment is about a virtuous man and a less virtuous (at least in her self-perception) woman, and the other books seem to have have similar authorial “projects” underlying them. I wish I didn’t see them that way, because it definitely lessens their impact.

    The comments here about the premarital sex issue are really interesting. One point I’d make is that even though Anne considers herself an atheist, that doesn’t mean she isn’t affected by the cultural norms and practices that the established church creates and sustains in this period. She may know intellectually that there’s nothing sinful about premarital sex, but it’s hard to eradicate years of being surrounded by the opposite message. I liken it to my reaction as a child in India, when I first saw a cow that had been hit by a car and appeared to have been killed. I didn’t believe cows were sacred, but my immediate, visceral reaction was that this was much worse than if, for example, a bullock had been hit.

  8. Bronte
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 15:57:20

    @lazaraspaste: I agree with you. Its a particular frustration that I have in historical romance (and even contemporary romance) when the hero has slept his way through multiple women and the heroine doesn’t even consider the possibility of disease. Again, maybe I’m putting my modern viewpoint on that that women of that class and time would be educated about sexually transmitted infections.

    @Isobel Carr: My understanding is that Anglicans of that time did take that line. I have an Anglican friend who remained a virgin until she was married. The difference is enforced/lip service anglicanism which was the norm in England at the time versus a true christian faith that would make you contemplate the morality of what you are doing. Christy appears to be in the latter category. I agree that for an atheist that wouldn’t hold true, however it seems (and I haven’t read the book) that maybe Anne moves from that position.

    I read romance. I expect premarital sex in those books. Its just if there’s ever a book where a consideration of the morality associated with it from a christian point of view deserves an airing this is probably it.

  9. Ducky
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 16:45:43

    I like Christy. The book itself is deeply problematic to me because of the way it presents Christianity and because the heroine has to give up who she is in her beliefs to be with the hero. I would have preferred it if Christy had to give up his position.

  10. Isobel Carr
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 16:48:47

    @Sunita: @Bronte: I guess my take on this is that premarital sex isn’t necessarily a modern thing and that making it into a major issue in a book could be every bit as much a bit of modern view point being inserted into historical setting and characters as the sex itself is so often proclaimed to be. Obviously YMMV.

  11. Carolyne
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 16:52:51

    These Gaffneys magically appeared in my Kindle app this week and I have absolutely no memory of pre-ordering. I must have been in a DA-induced fugue state. It’s nice to know I have some good reading to look forward to as I fill in the gaps in my Romance knowledge.

  12. Sunita
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 17:41:28

    @Isobel Carr: My point wasn’t about whether premarital sex *as a practice* was traditional or not. Of course there has been premarital sex for as long as there has been marriage. But one can partake in something and still be conflicted about it, however irrational one feels that conflict is on an intellectual basis.

    My personal experience, having been raised in a “traditional” culture in which premarital sex was not publicly approved, is that people definitely engaged in it but could feel quite conflicted. But as you say, everyone’s experiential mileage varies.

  13. Keishon
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 18:49:59

    This is great! Seeing these great romance titles available again for a new generation of romance readers and their Kindles. I read this book when it first came out in the late 1990’s. This is one of the greats from the golden era of romance (I realize no one likes hearing that!). I promise to come back and add my two cents after I do a reread. My memory is kind of fuzzy on the details but I do have fond memories of the story. I hope that my feelings don’t change much and from doing a cursory look at the review, I see from the grades that it holds up well. Good to know.

  14. Janine
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 18:54:29


    The one weakness I perceived when I was reading them was that despite the wonderful writing and the emotional punch, I felt as if I could see the authorial hand (and intention) more often than I wanted to. This first installment is about a virtuous man and a less virtuous (at least in her self-perception) woman, and the other books seem to have have similar authorial “projects” underlying them. I wish I didn’t see them that way, because it definitely lessens their impact.

    This brings to mind a story I read on Gaffney’s now-defunct website long ago. She said she got the idea for To Love and to Cherish when another author asked her why she always portrayed clergy members in a negative light. She thought about it and realized it was a pattern with her. She had religious characters as villains or bad parental figures in her earlier books and some even had irreverent names (Reverend Toombs in her novella in A Victorian Christmas was one; I don’t recall the others). When she realized this, she decided to create Reverend Christian Morrell, a heroic man of the cloth.

    But I think anytime we can see the authorial hand, it does diminish a book. I found your comment interesting though because it wouldn’t occur to me to look at less virtuous woman + virtuous man match that way. It is so interesting the way different issues stand out to different readers. Would a rake vs. virgin match also strike you as an authorial project, or is it because Gaffney flips the jaded hero/trusting heroine trope here that the authorial hand became more visible?

    I notice the authorial hand most when I feel my heartstrings are being plucked in a manipulative way, i.e. Judith McNaught’s use of adverbs like “achingly,” or when the plot feels paint by numbers (I recall feeling that way about a Kleypas historical where it felt like she was positioning the conflicts in the path of the relationship like an obstacle course and getting them through it obstacle by obstacle). But all tropes and conflicts are conscious authorial choices, so for me it usually requires lack of complete engagement with the story on my part, or heavy-handedness/clumsiness on the part of the writer with some aspect of the writing to start noticing them in that way.

  15. Ridley
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 19:00:19

    @Ducky: I was pissed off by Anne’s “conversion” at the end. That really marred the book for me.

  16. Janine
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 19:08:44

    @Ducky & @Ridley:

    [spoiler]I didn’t go into this in the review because I was trying to avoid spoilers, but I shared your feelings the first few times I read the book. Especially when atheist characters are so rare as to be unheard of in the romance genre (outside of inspies), I really wanted to see Anne remain one. This time around though I ended up feeling that Anne wasn’t truly committed to her atheism as a matter of personal conviction, so it didn’t bother me. [/spoiler]

    And another, unrelated comment involving BIG SPOILERS:

    I had a problem with was Geoffrey’s return — I saw it coming from miles away when I first read the book, and I also hated the moment where Anne thinks she deserved to get Geoffrey’s syphilis. I really wished that there had been a character in the story to state more emphatically that Anne didn’t deserve any of Geoffrey’s abuse.

    Furthermore, that moment when she thinks she’s caught the disease only to have it cleared up a page or so later seemed gratuitous, like being frightened for no reason by someone yelling “Boo!” behind a door.[/spoiler]

  17. Lynn S.
    Jun 19, 2013 @ 20:28:46

    I don’t at all regret reading the book, but ultimately I came away from it frustrated. The story was working beautifully, you could sense the clock of doom ticking as Christy and Anne were having their clandestine meetings; then, at the pivotal point, I found I had somehow wandered into a different book, the melodrama was coming at me so fast the story went off the rails. Given Gaffney’s skill to that point, I was puzzled and the story ended as a missed opportunity for something much better. Even in the last chapter, which was rather lovely, I kept expecting Anne to jot off a letter to Cousin Charlotte at any moment.

    On a lighter note, does anyone else think that the casting director of GCB might have had Christy in mind when casting Pastor John Tudor? I’m not big on visuals, but that man IS Christian Morrell.

  18. Sunita
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 07:17:26

    @Janine: I saw it an an inversion of the usual ingenue/cynic pairing, so that’s why I noticed it. But that wasn’t as notable to me as making a virtuous man complex. You see sexy vicars, but that’s not an unusual trope. A virtuous man struggling with his sexual desires is definitely more unusual, especially because she avoided the again more obvious virgin hero.

    I agree that the authorial hand is more obvious when one is not engaged with the book, and I was definitely swept up in it. The “project” aspect struck me most strongly when I finished the entire trilogy (I read them back to back), which may be part of the reason I like the first the best; I was less aware of the author in this one. But I also just really like the setting and Christy.

  19. Janine
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 14:11:47

    @Sunita: Christie was a wonderful character. I meant to say earlier that I completely agree about how hard it is to write a character who is truly good in an interesting (and I would add, believable) way.

    I think I didn’t think of the inversion of ingenue/cynic until I joined the online romance community a few years after I read these books. I picked up a copy of THATH at a yard sale for a quarter knowing nothing about the author. I almost didn’t purchase it! So the lyricism of Gaffney’s writing and the depth of her characterization came as a complete surprise to me. Sometimes I wish I could approach every book that way, knowing very little about it.

  20. lawless
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 23:56:23

    I really want to read this one. Book that takes religion seriously, has a lovable male MC with a conscience, and treads the line between general fiction and genre romance? Check, check, and check. On the other hand, after reading AJH’s extensive review, I can tell THATH is not for me between of the excessive anguish Rachel (I think that’s he name) goes through before and after she meets Sebastian and what he does to her before his transformation.

  21. Kaetrin
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 04:18:51

    I had been waiting and hoping to read this one when it was released digitally. Alas, it is not available here (*shakes fist a damned geo restrictions*) and my library does not have a copy so who knows when/if I will get to read it.

    So, not having read the book, I’d say that it seems very logical to me that Christy would have moral qualms about pre-marital sex. I listened to a book a while back where the hero was a pastor and he engages in pre-marital (pre-engagement even) sex with nary a thought – not even that he didn’t agree with the traditional teaching of the church. In the absence of something specific to that effect, I defaulted to the traditional view and it jarred me completely out of the book. It didn’t feel true to the character and there was no narrative explanation.

    Whatever anyone else believes, Christy would have believed in the Christian concept of the sanctity of marriage (something that is still taught today) and the concept of keeping only to one’s spouse and being chaste prior to marriage would, I believe, have been ingrained in him. An Anglican pastor today would most probably have the same views, frankly.

    I don’t go to church much these days but the indoctrination against pre-marital sex is still strong and church isn’t traditionaly terribly sex-positive. So, given what I understand to be the case in the book, it rings true for me.

  22. Janine
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 18:54:29

    Just to clarify, since a number of people have brought it up. I agree that it’s in character for Christy to have qualms about premarital sex. Here’s what I said in the review:

    The preoccupation with whether sex between two unmarried, consenting adults is sinful, while natural for Christy, was sometimes difficult for me to relate to.

    I also said that I wished at least one of the characters had come to a different view of this by the end of the book. There is more that is hard to describe without spoilers, but I’ll try.

    Just as Angela felt that the premarital sex conflict felt “as if it was a stand in for the much more difficult religious questions” I also felt it was a stand in, but in my case, it seemed like a stand in for the issue of emotional infidelity. Christy and Anne fall in love before they learn of Geoffrey’s death, and although they don’t act on those feelings physically, those feelings were still there.

    That seems like something more guilt-inducing to me than their decision to sleep together after Geoffrey is gone and they are engaged to be married. I’m sure I’m bringing my values into this review, but falling for a married woman seems like it would be a greater torment to a devout minister than sleeping with her AFTER she is widowed and has agreed to marry him. In fact I think the death of Geoffrey might amplify the guilt over feelings for his wife.

    Because there are multiple conflicts keeping Christy and Anne apart — Geoffrey, the possible sinfulness of sex, their reputations in the Wyckerley community, and their wildly different views of religion — I think the problem really lies with the rotation of these conflicts. The premarital sex conflict takes over the middle of the book, while some of the others remain unresolved, and for me, personally, this was the least compelling conflict of them all, because even if they believed it might be a sin, I don’t.

    I’m not saying the conflict shouldn’t have been there, certainly it was in Christy’s character, but I am saying I would have preferred for the issues of emotional infidelity and religious differences to be a the forefront in that middle section, and for the premarital sex concern to still be there, but not be cast as the main worry. Yes, it needed to be there — but was it really deserving of more prominence than the other concerns?

  23. Kaetrin
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 20:35:36

    Ah, I see what you mean Janine. Thx for the clarification. I think I would probably feel the same way. IF I COULD GET MY HANDS ON THE BOOK!! LOL

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