Reading List: Kelly’s Inspirational Romance Roundup
I know inspies aren’t for everyone, but if you’re so inclined, I promise these recent releases have actual smooching with little or no sermonizing.
It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist
I fell in love with Gist’s writing with Maid to Match, and she’s never disappointed me. The titular fair is the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago — the heroine is a teacher for the deaf, the hero is an inventor demonstrating his fire sprinkler system, they have a most memorable meet-cute, and it just gets better from there. Gist is a master of historical world-building, and she effortlessly weaves together complex character and plot threads to create yet another entry on my DIK list. Grade: A
A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund
Let’s take a moment to gaze upon that lovely cover, shall we?
So about the actual book: Set in 1880s Michigan, this is the story of a young German nobleman fleeing execution (he was framed, of course) and a newly-widowed immigrant struggling to save her farm from the clutches of an evil lumber baron. Hedlund has a great voice and storytelling skills, but the setting was so similar to a RITA nominee from last year (The Measure of Katie Calloway) that I found it a bit predictable. Grade: B
A Royal Marraige by Rachelle McCalla
I hope this is the first of a series, because I loved the ninth-century setting. The historical world-building was spot-on, with just enough detail and only a few minor anachronistic word choices. I was also really impressed with the presentation of Charlemagne’s daughter Gisela as a strong, smart leader. But the insta-love romance was blah — no emotional conflicts, just external political intrigues. Neither the hero nor the heroine had any flaws to overcome; they were both perfectly perfect from start to finish. Scale back on the military maneuvers and focus on the relationship-building, and this would have been an A grade. Grade: B
The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
Klassen’s The Silent Governess was my gateway book for inspirational romance, and all her earlier books are on my keeper shelf. But I was disappointed with her last effort (The Maid of Fairbourne Hall), and this one didn’t measure up either. It’s an enjoyable read, but the gothic elements never quite gel enough to create the atmosphere this story needs. Her next book is titled The Dancing Master, so I suppose I’ll be compelled to read it for that reason alone. Grade: C+
No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig
It’s a great set-up – a young Irish woman travels to New York to find her long-lost brother – that fizzles out early on. The heroine is little more than a prop, and she makes a few decisions that come very close to TSTL territory. What bothered me even more were the Very Convenient Coincidences to sustain a suspense plot that was both lackluster and overly complicated. However…I am intrigued by the upcoming second book in the series featuring a compelling secondary character, so apparently I wasn’t completely put off by this new-to-me author. Grade: C-
@Kelly Inspies are definitely not for me… (except for an occasional moment of curiosity)
…but I want say thank you for putting this together as I’m happy to see you give them a little time in the sun for those readers looking for a couple of choices.
(OK, also, it turns out I’m curious now. RE: No safe harbor — how does the book use the heroine as a prop? I tend to think of romances as heroine-centric, and that other “flats” would be setup as props around her. Just what does her propness serve? An inspirational message? A vehicle for setting porn?).
I’m not much of an inspirational reader, but I love stories that take place during the Columbian Expo — so I’m going to give that Deanna Gist book a shot when I get my hands on it. Thanks for the rec!
OK – I have a dumb question. I don’t know what an Inspirational romance is. Does Inspirational mean it’s religious? Or just no sex?
Thanks for the recs! I usually just stick to historical romances, but have been slowly dipping my toe in the inspirational historical arena. I put the Gist and the Hedlund on my WL.
I have to say, I wish regular historical romances had the same types of covers as inspirational. I’m absolutely envious of their covers. So beautiful.
Great list, Kelly! I just wish they were cheaper…
@Ann F.: Anything “inspirational” will have at least some religious elements. I usually stick to the historical inspies because they’re usually more subtle than contemporaries, which tend to have more direct (and very, very earnest) use of Bible verses, mentions of heaven and hell, prayer as a plot device, etc. I’ve seen no-sex romances labeled as “sweet” or “clean” (a description I hate because it implies that sex is dirty, gah).
And, of course, 99% of the inspiratationals readily available are Christian – but if anyone has recommendations for books or authors from other faiths, I am dying to read them!
@DB Cooper: re: No Safe Harbor: the heroine felt like a prop to me because all the action happens around her and to her – she stands around and lets the good guys and bad guys manipulate her to get to each other. The only time she takes action are those impulsive, nearly TSTL decisions that seemed very plot-driven instead of character-driven.
Thanks for putting this list together Kelly. I have been thinking lately that DA rarely lists or reviews Inspy romances and then you post this. I have been really loving Karen Witemeyer’s work, though it can be a little pricey. I wonder why Inspy fiction is often so much more expensive than other fiction.
I too am not an inspirational reader per se but appreciate their inclusion here. I’m tempted by the Gist/world’s fair title as well. Thank you for the recommendations!
I’d love to see more posts like this! I don’t read inspies, but I buy them for my grandmother all the time (she doesn’t own a TV and doesn’t like sex in her books). Deeanne Gist is her favorite author (she always bemoans that I don’t write books like that, LOL!), but I’m always at a bit of a loss when it comes to what other authors to buy her.
So glad Dear Author takes “diversity” to include religion as well! Very happy to see this list and I hope to see more such lists in the future.
Ya know, there’s really no need to half apologize for there being inspirationals here. Inspirationals are not for everyone, quite true. However, I would venture to guess BDSM / m/m isn’t for everyone either. :) Different strokes for different folks. Or in the case of Inspirationals, no stokes at all! :)
And honestly I am so sick of reading bad sex writing and hard cock=true love, panties wet=marriage garbage that reading a book where the author is forbidden to write such scenes almost seems like a plus to me. Though those Bible verse quotes can be quite a crutch/cliche too.
It does seem bizarre that if I want to read a book where religion is taken seriously, I have to content myself with no-sex inspirationals. If I want to read sex scenes, then the characters in most mainstream romances almost never have a faith life. Do authors not get that religous people experience physical intimacy too?? And that many of them read books and would love to see ALL aspects of lovd fully integrated into romance?
Barbara Samuel did this very well in The Sleeping Night, but I have yet to see othet authors follow suit.
@mari: I would guess it’s about publisher requirements and lines more than anything else. CBA won’t accept books with sex in them, and most other Trad publishers shy away from religious (or political) themes for fear of limited readership. I know Grand Central put out a light inspie historical recently (An Heiress at Heart by Jennifer Delamere) and I think they have a whole new line for them. I think it was also “sweet” though. It was reviewed here on DA.
I read Deeane Gist’s Maid to Match and loved it. Think I read about this new one, but forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder – it sounds right up my alley.
@mari: I can think of a few contemporary romances that take religion seriously without being inspirationals, but not many. Think there are more historicals where religion is important. SEP is the most mainstream author I’ve read who has overtly religious main characters – in Breathing Room (heroine) and Nobody’s Baby but Mine (secondary romance hero is a minister going through a spiritual crisis).
Between Sinners and Saints by Marie Sexton is another romance that I think takes religion very seriously – and it’s an m/m contemporary. One of the heroes grew up Mormon – he left the church after he came out but part of his character arc is figuring out God’s plan for his life – and he talks about that using God language, which is very unusual in non-inspie romance, and it doesn’t come off as preachy (at least to me). And there’s sex, but relatively mild for m/m.
I feel like I’ve read a few African American contemporaries that weren’t inspies where the characters belonged to a church and took their spirituality seriously, but of course I can’t think of any authors or titles now.
ETA – in fact, I’ve read several m/m that take religion seriously. I think all of them deal with characters trying to reconcile their sexuality with the religion they grew up with. I’m thinking of the Deputy Joe books by James Buchanan (with a Mormon hero) and Covet Thy Neighbor by L A Witt – it pairs an atheist with a Christian minister. Both heroes grew up in conservative Christian families but had completely opposite reactions to religion after coming out. I really liked that neither hero had to give up his beliefs for the hea.
Oh, and Kelly – I love your blurb. I’m also still recovering from reading Judith Krantz as a teen.
@mari: I’ve read several medievals that take religion seriously. One was by Claudia Dain, The Marriage Bed, I think. And Lord of Midnight by Jo Beverley.
I mix up religion and sex regularly in my books, but they may be a little too hot for some and a little too religiony for others.
But, like you, Mari, I wanted characters to have some sort of faith life (great term, BTW), so I wrote it.
@cleo: The hole in the God’s pocket by K.Z. Snow is another one which takes religion seriously IMO. I loved “Between Sinners and Saints” when I read it and it is certainly a memorable book for me, but as time passes the strongest emotion I feel about this book is anger towards Levi’s parents. Oh I understand what a huge step they took considering their faith, but their half assed acceptance… GAH. I was happy for Levi’s sake and for the other guy too considering how much he wanted family, any family, but I could not stand them, all of them :(
@Knstrick: If you click on the “inspirational” tag of this post, it should take you to all the inspies we’ve reviewed here. I just counted and I’ve done 16.
I’m Jewish and not particularly religious, and find more overt inspirationals hard to relate to. I wish that wasn’t the case, because there seems to be a much greater variety of settings and characters in inspirational romances (and so many gorgeous covers!). Gist’s Maid to Match was really good but got a bit too religious for me nearer the end.
I’m happy that this list has been posted, though, and join Kelly’s request for recommendations of non-Christian inspies (as well as ones in which the religious content is relatively subtle).
@Sirius: I can see that – Levi’s family was pretty horrible. BSaS was my very first m/m, so it holds a special place in my heart for several reasons, but the main reason I love it is for the relationship b/w Levi and Jaime – makes me cry every time I re-read it. I’ll check out the KZ Snow.
I would like to add Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden. It was reviewed here just last week (A-) , and I absolutely love this book.
Astraea Press specializes in clean romance, both historical and contemporary. Some are overtly Christian, others are mild and some have barely any mention of religion or God. Several of our authors, including Rachel van Dyken, have hit USA Today and NYT best seller lists.
Disclosure: I work for Astraea Press. :)
Having grown up in a very conservative xtian fundie environment, I can’t stand inspies and go out of my way to avoid them. I suppose like any abuse victim who doesn’t care to see the behavior that damaged them romanticized. Shudder.
@cleo: Oh absolutely, I love the relationship between Levi and Jaime, it is just we can never predict what would be the most memorable part of the book after some time passes, right? I do not mean to say that the guys are forgettable, you know? I have not reread the book yet, but I remember them well. But also every time I remember this one, I want to shake Levi’s family and tell them something like “how very magnanimous of you to decide not to insist Levi should go and cure the gay out of him any longer. And how very kind of you to actually finally let your God decide what the sin actually is and stop judging your son and poor Jaime who both need you so badly. God only knows why”. Sorry – the ranting tone is directed strictly at the characters.
Oh and I understand the special place of first mm book, have one too :)
I like Karen Wittemeyer (somewhat similar feel to D. Gist, imo).Small town, heartwarming. To Win Her Heart is my favorite so far. I also recommend Lynn Austin. Eve’s Daughters is my favorite, I think. She has won the Christy several times.