This spring, I had the opportunity to beta-read a novel for Calgary author P.D. Workman, who writes stories in the YA genre. Since she has just released it, I get to share it with you at last!
I decided to download Autumn Reflections after coming across Ms. Mettner on Twitter, and following to a blog post she had written about her self-created genre, "Spicy Christian Romance."
What is "Spicy Christian Romance"? I wondered. From the post, I gathered that it was not your grandma's Christian romance novel. I also gathered that Katie is self-published. I like supporting indie artists and authors, because I like "out-of-the-box." And putting "Spicy Romance" and "Christian" in the same sentence definitely seemed out of the box to me. My curiosity was piqued.
Saturday morning, determined to finish at least one mitten in the current pair I was working on that day, I decided it was also the perfect time to dive into Autumn Reflections. (Yes, I read and knit. Don't you?) Sunday, I finished the book. (I also finished the mitten on Saturday and started on the second of the pair, but sadly, had much less time for both reading and knitting the next day, so the second remains incomplete. More on that later in the week, I'm sure.)
Here's the basic synopsis:
Autumn Hanson is a forty-year-old single mother and physician who recently moved to a new town in Minnesota for a fresh start. After her special-needs son's first disastrous year at school, and a schedule that made being a single mom even more of a nightmare, she decided that the slower pace of running her own clinic in a small town was just what she needed.
Cloquet, MN welcomed her with open arms, in part thanks to the article profiling her new business in the local paper, written by none other than the town's most eligible bachelor, Kade Franco.
Sparks fly from the first moment these two meet, but Autumn's damaging past makes her keep the handsome Mr. Franco at arm's length, even after he befriends and falls in love with her son. For his part, Kade knew from the moment they met that he would be Mr. Autumn Hanson one day--he just had to convince her.
Grayson Hanson, the engaging seven-year-old child with leg braces and a smile that never quits, won't just accept the life he's been handed. He's a little fighter, just like the superheros he so adores, and one can't help but fall in love with this little man. There isn't much Autumn wouldn't do for him, or hasn't already done.
First, the good stuff:
This book has a wonderful story and compelling characters. The pacing was great, and kept me flicking digital pages, despite some of the drawbacks I will mention below. There are some truly heartwarming moments involving Grayson, as well as a few terrifying ones (seen through a worried mother's eyes.)
Autumn struggles with normal things--coping with rejection, abandonment, and loss, she has built up a wall of protection that she is determined no one will break--for the sake of her son, and her own heart. Love is dangerous and painful, and everyone who says they love you will eventually leave--that's what life has taught her. Besides this, she struggles with an above-average amount of mommy guilt, but I think this may be an average amount for a single mother. (I'm not one, but if I had to fill every role in my child's life, and just.couldn't.do.it., as I don't think any mother could, I would still feel the guilt of it. Especially if I had little-to-no support network, just as Autumn lacks at the beginning of the book.) Not surprisingly, she is lonely--Grayson loves her to pieces, but he can't fill all her needs, either.
The author also seems knowledgeable enough about medical terms and practise to make the "doctor" parts of the book sound authentic. (I'm no expert--I don't even watch medical drama. But she had me convinced.)
Grayson is a very real only child. He has the sweetest heart, and tries not to be any more of a burden on his Momma than he has to be. His little soul is already occupied with her welfare almost as much as hers is for his. He is also incredibly intelligent, but not in a way that felt unrealistic. He has extreme physical limitations, so given the amount of time he spends reading, it does not seem unreasonable that he would be advanced a grade level in language arts.
Kade is a dreamboat. What's not to love? Wait, why is he single? I wondered that from the moment we met, and Autumn lost a few points in my eyes for not wondering about it until 75% of the way through. And with that, we are
On to the not-so-good-stuff:
When I decide to read a book, I go into it really, really, wanting to give it 5 out of 5 stars. And the book has to have several MAJOR problems for me to not award that when I'm done. Usually, I feel like the few bucks I spent (especially on a Kindle download version) were well invested for the amount of return entertainment and/or education I got out of it.
There are two categories of reasons why I docked stars from my normal exuberantly-awarded Five for this book. Mechanics, and dubious categorization. I am going to start with the first.
Imagine that you are looking out a picture window at the world's most amazing garden. Someone has taken great care with this garden, and every way you look there seems to be something more to discover. You are just studying that vignette under the apple tree to root out its hidden mysteries when
a big. fat. housefly buzzes against the window right in your line of site.
You shoo it away but a moment later another one hits the window, then another one, and the first one is back, and pretty soon there are about a dozen flies buzzing against that window, and suddenly you can no longer enjoy the garden in the slightest all you can think about is whereistheflyswattersoIcankillthat Darn. FLY!!
This book had several problems that could benefit from an editor's tender loving care. (The fly swatter. And I mean that in the best, most loving way.)
The book is written from the first-person point of view. While I'm not crazy about this POV, it works when it's done right. When it's done wrong, it is a distraction.
About 90% of the book is written from Autumn's eyes. She has a quirky, sarcastic voice that she frequently turns on herself for our entertainment, and in ways that I find I do myself. I liked her. When Autumn is monologuing or talking, she sounds like Autumn. This is good.
What's not good is that other 10%--the parts where we suddenly lurch into Kade's brain like one of those crazy virtual reality mall rides that make you give up any illusion of control. Maybe that's what the author wanted, I don't know. I found it disconcerting and unsettling, especially as EVERY SINGLE ONE of his little blurbs was completely unnecessary.
No, really? ALL of them?!
Yes, really. Either they could have been scrapped altogether, as all of the important parts of them came across loud and clear in his scenes with Autumn (from her eyes), or they could have been rewritten from her eyes without losing a darn thing. Often, words that were used in monologue from his head were actually repeated later to her verbally. (This isn't the only example of the author's need to explain things that I had already picked up easily from subtext. Maybe her target audience is stupider than I am.)
I also found that every time there was a line break, I spent several lines to a paragraph wondering who the speaker was. Don't do that to me. I'm Autumn, I like Autumn, I want to be Autumn. I want Kade to want me, which he does. I know it. Don't turn me into Kade to tell me again how much I want Autumn. I'm a smart doctor, I've got that part all figured out.
The other flies on the window are equally easy to swat--there were numerous grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes, quite aside from the considerations of character voice. Like words used incorrectly ("accumulate" instead of "aclimate", to name only one), sometimes intentionally by the author, but in ways that word is never used anywhere in the world except, I'm guessing, Minnesota? It sometimes made it hard to understand the actual intent. And then, when a typo came along, it made me wonder if this was another Minnesota thing. ("Smarted" means "stung" or "hurt" in my part of the world, not "said in a smart-alecky fashion.")
Several times, she changes tense in the middle of a paragraph, from past to present--once in the middle of a sentence. That was just weird.
It is actually a testimony to how compelling the characters and story were that I finished this book, because by 25% off the way through, those flies had become a swarm that actually made me think about just going to do/read something else.
Fortunately, I had a mitten to finish. And I wanted to know how Kade ever got Autumn out from her ice castle.
Turns out, he melted it. Apparently, he's a pretty sweet kisser. But a better man. (Thank goodness!)
Is this a "Christian" book?
What makes a Christian book? In my opinion, it is a story that actually draws the reader closer to Christ.
Having Christian characters does not make a Christian book.
Kade Franco is a Christian. He has a living faith instilled in him by his Aunt, who raised him, and a good heart that likes to help others. He also has his ego in check. His lust? Partially. But he's a man. That's to be expected, and is a normal struggle that 99% of men have to deal with. (The other 1%? I'm pretty sure they have to deal with hormone imbalance.)
When I picked up a book labelled "Spicy Christian Romance", what I expected to read was a story that included elements of physical interest that sometimes get neglected in traditional Christian Romance as if they don't exist. But I also expected that the characters would be struggling to achieve a moral high ground where those desires were concerned, even if they may not always succeed.
I also didn't expect for battles lost to be outlined in such detail.
By about 75% of the way through the book, I realized that Ms. Mettner and I have different ideas of what is acceptable in a "Christian" book.
Yes, I picked it up to see what the "spicy" was all about. But I don't think that, in the end, I really am the target audience for this book, and not just because I don't like being told things twice.
God made our physical desires, and they are a beautiful part of a loving, monogamous, married relationship. That is the Christian worldview I hold, and is what I try to instill in my kids. Am I one of these "no kissing before marriage" folks? Nope. Lofty ideal. I know a couple that did it. But it wasn't me and my husband.
However, from harsh personal experience, I know how slippery the slope of physical intimacy can be. God made us that way, to have physical triggers that open doors for more triggers. In a marriage, it is the most freeing experience imaginable. Outside of marriage, it is full of tension and risk. It is those elements of danger that can make it seem so attractive--both to experience, and to read about.
I share this so that when I tell you I found the heavy petting, which escalated to "everything-but-intercourse" before this couple married to be highly disturbing, I hope you know it is not from the viewpoint of a prude. My husband and I have plenty of (to my parents: close your eyes here) "Spicy Christian Romance" in our bedroom (and out of it) on a regular basis. But I don't give my friends the gritty details about what my husband and I did. That's because I believe "the marriage bed should be honoured by all." I also don't want to give others a reason for impure thoughts. And I believe that you pass over into having S_x (or "making love", as Ms. Mettner insists that her characters do) far before intercourse occurs.
I may have found this bit of written pornography (because, ladies, it's no less pornography to be titillated by the written word than for our husbands to be caught with a girly magazine) less disturbing if the attitudes of the characters toward it had been different.
Autumn is not a Christian, although she attends church. She gives a passing nod toward her Maker, who gave her Grayson, but other than that, her actions and thoughts never seem to consider that God is a real, living person that is there to help her, and that she does not have to be fighting this battle alone. Neither does she blame him for the troubles in her life. It's almost as though he doesn't exist. So to expect her to have a "let's-wait-until-marriage" ideal on a moral basis would be unreasonable. And she doesn't.
However, Kade's faith is a little more active, and during a crises, he says he's praying for her. He also quotes I Corinthians 13:4-8 in full (the Bible's most poetic description of true love), and does accompany those words with some very loving actions.
However, the effect of someone giving counsel from the Bible is somewhat lost when he begins his recitation right after an intense physical encounter during which he restrains himself not because he believes they should wait until marriage, but until Autumn is emotionally ready.
This couple does manage to wait, but from all the actions and words that pass before, I'm not sure why. And I didn't think they were going to. In this context, quoting the Love Chapter may as well be quoting poetry, for all it does to draw the reader closer to Christ.
So, is the book spicy? Yes. Romantic? Yes. Christian?
Despite the cross on the cover, I would say No.
Normally, I would not bother posting a review for which I docked two stars--"if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"--not to mention how precious my time is. However, I thought I would still review this book for two reasons:
1. For those, like me, who wanted a romance novel a little more interesting than the typical fare, and wonder if this will serve, I hope it gives you a good idea of what to expect. Maybe it's in your comfort zone. Maybe not. But now you'll know.
2. I would really love to see Ms. Mettner give her work the attention it deserves from an editor. She tells a great story, and Autumn's journey from heartbreak to healing is authentic and inspiring. But it's hard to enjoy through all the distractions. I also think she should recategorize her work as "Spicy Inspirational Romance". It was inspiring. But the "Christian" label is misleading.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
From the first pixelated page, The Redemption had me hooked. There was danger, suspense, personal growth, and yes, a little mystery.
I have had very little personal experience with Muslims in my life. There is the very nice couple that runs the bottle depot here in town--back in my scrapbooking days, Leila would come to our crafting days and we would talk kids and more, but usually avoided religion. Not on purpose, but hey, I knew she was Muslim, and she knew I was Christian, and what more needed to be said? We are still neighbours and on friendly terms. As Canadians, "religion" is one of those topics we tend to skirt around in the interests of maintaining peace.
Before meeting Leila, the only other Muslim I remembered speaking to was when I was in India. I was in a train station, waiting to depart from Goa to return to Bangalore (near which we were living). The cement floors and stone walls covered in turquoise paint provided a welcome relief of shade and some coolness out of the blistering sun, but the stifling humidity was everywhere.
There were narrow, hard, backless benches bolted to the floor in rows throughout the waiting area, and I was seated on one in about the middle of the room. Jason was nearby, but I don't remember what he was doing. He certainly did nothing to "rescue" me when a young Muslim man in a white skullcap and layers of light-coloured clothing engaged me in conversation. I was more than willing to talk, but very much unprepared for the answers.
I remember being taken aback that he knew anything about Jesus at all. However, it did not take many minutes into the conversation to realize that we had very different ideas about who Jesus was. I knew less than nothing about Islam, so was not able to give very intelligent answers to his claims about Mohammed and the Quran, so I asked a lot of questions to find out more, which only encouraged him. However, any corrections I tried to make in his understanding about who Jesus was had about as much impact as a butterfly landing on an elephant. In the end, we agreed to disagree and he went on to proselytize other train station patrons, neither of us having moved one iota from our original position.
I remember being frustrated that I had been unable to communicate with him about the Person who meant the most to me, because we were using the same names and words, but they meant completely different things to both of us.
This week, I read the illuminating and inspiring account of Nabeel Qureshi, a devout Ahmadi Muslim who, because of his love for Islam, and his hunger and search for truth, eventually gave his heart to Jesus. The price he had to pay for this decision was terrible. This story reflects the why of Islam, why its followers are so devout and love it so much, following the tenets of their faith--as a Westerner might say--"blindly." It also humbly presents the journey he went through, the apologetics of both Christianity and Islam that contradict each other, and how he was eventually led to see the truth of Jesus' message.
Muslims reading this book will likely be led to do their own research into the basis of their faith (possibly looking at some aspects of it for the first time from its sources), and Christians will finish with a broader, deeper understanding of Islam, its adherents, and how to lovingly reach out to this people group that so desperately need to hear about the unconditional love and grace of God. They will also gain a deeper understanding of the historicity of Jesus, and difficult doctrinal concepts such as the Trinity.
Far from being a boring book of apologetics, though, Nabeel weaves in the arguments for and against Islam and Christianity through the engaging narrative of his own spiritual journey. I highly recommend this book.
I lay prostrate in a large Muslim prayer hall, broken before God. The edifice of my worldview, all I had ever known, had slowly been dismantled over the past few years. I lay in ruin, petitioning Allah. Tears blurred my sight. The ritual prayers had ended, and now it was time for my heart's prayer.
"Please, God Almighty, tell me who You are! I beseech You and only You. Only You can rescue me. At Your feet, I lay down everything I have learned, and I give my entire life to You. Take away what You will, be it my joy, my friends, my family, or even my life. But let me have You, O God."...
The cost for a Muslim to accept the gospel can be tremendous.
Of course, following Jesus meant that I would immediately be ostracized from my community. For all devout Muslims, it means sacrificing the friendships and social connections that they have built from childhood. It could mean being rejected by one's parents, siblings, spouse, and children.
This becomes exponentially more difficult if the Muslim has no person to turn to after following Jesus, no Christian who has reached out. I know of many Muslim women who recognize their need for Jesus but have nowhere to turn if their husbands abandon them, or worse. They often do not have the financial means to survive the next day, let alone fight for their children in court. They would have to do all this while reeling from an emotionally violent expulsion from their extended families.
What many do not realize--what I did not realize when I was making these decisions--is that these costs are not considered consciously. They form part of the knee-jerk reaction against the gospel. I never said, "I choose to remain Muslim because it would cost my family if I were to follow Jesus." Far from it, I subconsciously found ways and means to go on rejecting the gospel so I would not be faced with what I would have to pay.
But I was not the only one who would have to pay for my decision. If there were traits my family was known for in the Muslim community, they were my parents' joyfulness, our close-knit relationships, and the honour we had garnered by faithfully following Islam. My choice to follow Jesus meant razing all three.
My decision would shame my family with incredible dishonour. Even if I were right about Jesus, could I do such a terrible thing to my family? After everything they had done for me?