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“Redeeming Love” — A Review

“Redeeming Love” — A Review

by Mike Duran · 107 comments

Reviewing Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love was, for me, a lot like treading on holy ground. At least, that’s how iconic the novel seems to have become in many Christian circles. So several weeks ago when I took the Romance Challenge and pledged to read one Christian Romance novel, Redeeming Love was, as I expected, one of the most oft-recommended selections.

It’s hard not to have high expectations going into this book (especially seeing the 760+ 5 star reviews at Amazon) and, try as I might, I couldn’t disentangle this praise from my reading. More than once I had to stop and ask myself, What do people see in this book? I’ll conclude my review with, what I believe, is the enduring strength of the tale and, perhaps, its primary redemptive quality.

(Note: There are spoilers throughout this review.) In a nutshell, the story is about a prostitute named Angel who is relentlessly wooed by a god-fearing man named Michael. Touted as a retelling of the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer, it’s pretty obvious from the outset where this is headed. I felt that knowing this took some punch out of the story. However, employing a prostitute as the vehicle to demonstrate God’s boundless, tenacious love, is very effective. Who has not, upon realization of the Bridegroom’s great grace and mercy, felt like a used up whore? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I struggled through this book for two main reasons: Mediocre prose and redundancy.

Yes, Rivers shows flashes of poetry. But for the most part, I found her prose clunky to the point of distraction. There are few complex sentences, which for me, gave the reading an endless staccato feel. Here’s some samples of what I mean. Notice the employment (I’d say, overuse) of short, clipped sentences.

Angel hated her life. She hated the Duchess. She hated Magowan. She hated her own wretched helplessness. Most of all she hated the men for their relentless quest for pleasure. She gave them her body but not a particle more. Maybe there wasn’t any more. She didn’t know. And that didn’t seem to matter to any of the men. All they saw was her beauty, a flawless veil wrapped around a frozen heart, and they were enthralled. They looked into her angel eyes and were lost. (Kindle, location 810)

And this:

She didn’t want him bothering her anymore. He wanted her. She felt it radiating from his body, but he never did anything about it. He talked. He asked questions. He waited, for what she didn’t know. She was tired of trying to think up lies to make him happy. He just asked the same question again in a different way. He wouldn’t give up. Each time he came, he was more determined. (1238)

There are many more examples of this stylistic tendency.

Short sentences are important to a story and can provide necessary punch. Too many of them, however, has the exact opposite effect. I labored through Redeeming Love, in part, because of this.

Another bent of the author, one you will notice in the above quotes, is starting sentences with a pronoun.

  • She hated
  • She gave
  • She didn’t know
  • They looked
  • She felt
  • He waited
  • She was tired
  • He wouldn’t give up

I can’t recall reading a book where this bad habit is so predominant. It’s one I’d encourage every aspiring author to break themselves of. Which is probably why Redeeming Love is not a book I would use as an example of great Christian writing.

My second problem with the book was its redundancy. The story seemed to be covering the same ground. Angel sins. Michael takes her back. Angel falls. Michael takes her back. Angel leaves. Michael comes looking for her. Angel’s finally coming around. Michael is there when she does. By the middle of the book, I was tiring. It could be argued that this is the moral of Redeeming Love. We fall, again and again, and God’s “redeeming love” finds us. While this works existentially (I can attest to it!), it’s a difficult go for a reader. I felt like I was watching Peter Jackson drag out Kong’s death to the point of absurdity. After Angel’s third defection and restoration, I wanted to stand up and shout, “I get it already!”

I also want to take this opportunity to discuss edginess in Christian fiction. This is a topic I talk a lot about on my website and, frankly, is one of the reasons I decided to read Redeeming Love. You see, many Christians cite Redeeming Love as an example that Christian fiction can be edgy. However, after actually reading the book, I personally see the claim as lacking foundation.

I do not seek out books and films on the basis of their “family friendliness.” So this book really didn’t push any of my envelopes. There is no cursing and all the references are by implication. Yes, much of the story takes place among prostitutes and in brothels. However, if that alone is meant to be edgy, I’m missing something.

In fact, this G-rated axiom leads to some rather awkward moments. Like this one where the protags finally have, um, sexual relations:

When he kissed her, Angel was lost in a wilderness of new sensations. It had never felt like this, warm and wonderful, exciting and right. None of the old rules applied. She forgot everything she had ever learned from other masters. She was dry ground soaking in a spring rain, a flower bud opening to the sun. Michael knew and gently coaxed her with tender words flowing over her like the sweet balm of Gilead healing her wounds. And she flew, Michael with her, into the heavens. (5223)

“She was dry ground soaking in a spring rain”? She was “lost in a wilderness of new sensations”? She “flew” with her husband “into the heavens”? I’m sorry, but this is corny.

I also find it extremely interesting that Redeeming Love was first published in the general market. From the Wikipedia article:

The book was first published in the mainstream market by Bantam books in 1991. Because it was released by general market publisher, the book did not hold completely explicit Christian content, such as the baptismal scene in the book and Angel’s Christian conversion; however, when the book went out of print several years later, Rivers got the rights back to her book and made the additions to the novel. The novel was re-released by Multnomah Publishers in 1997.

Think about this: The book that is considered by many as the “gold standard” for Christian Romance was not first published as Christian Romance.

I find that fascinating. Don’t you?

The question I would pose to fans of CBA fiction, particularly CBA Romance, is what this fact says about the book and about the CBA, if anything? Could a book like Redeeming Love be published today in the CBA by a first-time author? Was the book’s ABA success necessary for its CBA acquisition? These are just a few questions that went through my mind.

But back to the book.

The strength of the story, in my opinion, is its redemptive arc and its parabolic whimsy. At times I felt like this was less a romance novel and more of a contemporary fable. The author has captured, however crudely, the essence of the Gospel of Grace. Angel, the orphaned girl turned prostitute, exemplifies the sinful wreckage of humanity, our wanderlust, our hardness of heart. And Michael, however one-dimensional he appears, reminds us of the Eternal God who will not rest in drawing us to Himself. It is a powerful, powerful theme. After spending time with this book, and mulling its popularity, I can reach no other conclusion but that its enduring quality lies in its alignment with this profound biblical reality: God loves sinners. Amen and amen.

I’ve taken a risk in reviewing this book, and I’m sure I’ll incur some wrath for it. I would probably give Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers three out of five stars. While I sincerely hope this isn’t “the best Christian Romance novel” out there, I believe Ms. Rivers captures something that is essential to good Christian fiction — a portrayal of the hellish depths of human depravity and the vast, unrelenting scope of God’s love. And for this, I applaud her.

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{ 95 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay April 17, 2011 at 5:03 PM

“the story is about a prostitute named Angel”

I would’ve put the book down after this.

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Suzan April 17, 2011 at 5:21 PM

I am not a fan of romance novels, but I finally read Redeeming Love a few years ago because of all the great reviews. I agree with much of what you said in this review. I felt it was so redundant that by the time I got toward the end, I didn’t even want to finish it. I have great respect for the author, but I don’t understand why so many adored this book. Maybe you are right, it was the redemption theme that wowed folks, but there are many good books with redemptive themes, both CBA and ABA, no? In my opinion, Ted Dekker’s When Heaven Weeps, was the better Hosea/Gomer allegory.

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R. L. Copple April 17, 2011 at 5:39 PM

It may be that things have changed, but I know from what my wife told me when she read Christian romance back in the 80s, that they were never depicted as having sex, or hardly even alluded to. She stopped reading them in part because she felt it created a lot of sexual tension that never went anywhere, never “released.”

So it could be, depending on when this came out, that it was edgy for the simple fact that they are said to have had sex, even if metaphorical. Maybe that isn’t so uncommon in CBA romance now days? I would have no way of knowing though I recall seeing a list of rules for one imprint that would have prohibited that scene. But by today’s standards it may not seem that edgy. And by secular standards, it barely scratches that surface.

I’m probably not as hard on prose as you are, though I’ve seen metaphors that sound pretty silly. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything about the sex scene, but then again, I’m accused of being on the corny side a lot. :) But is see your point.

But it was an interesting experiment for you, and it was interesting to see your take on the book.

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Mike Duran April 17, 2011 at 5:52 PM

I’m a nit-picker, Rick. Which is probably why it’s best for me to stay away from reviews and stay on the meds. But, sorry, there is no other way for me to view this “sex scene” as silly. I’m okay with not showing them actually doing anything, but please, I BEG YOU, do not tell me she was like “a flower bud opening to the sun.”

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R. L. Copple April 17, 2011 at 8:03 PM

Okay…how about:

She was a Venus Flytrap opening to the fly.

lol

Well, I get your drift. I’ll avoid all such wording in any future sex scenes I write.

Actually the next book to come out beginning of next year, the last book of the Reality Chronicles Trilogy, does have some scenes that come pretty close to sex scenes. One I cut away before we get far, but the other I had to go there for the plot to work. It is hard to figure out what level to go to that will do the job that needs doing without being overly “erotic.”

But no, I didn’t talk about flower buds opening up. Or any other metaphor. No fears there. :)

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Kevin Lucia April 19, 2011 at 6:32 AM

Purple prose…..

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Lenore May 15, 2014 at 5:21 PM

I do so agree, Mike.

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Jay April 17, 2011 at 6:08 PM

For a more serious comment, Mike…my work in progress now doesn’t have a sex scene nor is there one implied, but there is a scene between the protag and her interest that’s more than smooching. THAT was hard to write without making it prurient, and I’m considering keeping it but ditching some of the details.

The problem is, without some non-scatological but descriptive narration about what happens, the point of the scene is lost.

My point is, it seems very difficult to keep some proper detail and avoid improper eroticism…OR substituting the metaphorical language without it reading contrived.

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Patrick Todoroff April 18, 2011 at 8:30 AM

I face this problem in my own writing. It’s like I’m damned if I do – damned if I don’t. There’s a conviction if a scene feels contrived, as if I’ve somehow been dishonest or offered a lame sacrifice, but when I include specific details, however profane or ugly, it rings more genuine… but then I’m aware somebody is going to take offense.

Waltzing through a minefield, walking the razor’s edge, whatever your metaphorical preference, I’m juggling the responsibility to communicate with a sincere effort not to salt the field with stumbling blocks.

I think there’s accountability in the vocation, and however imperfect or awkward my efforts, I have to pursue the story – and that calling – to its fullest.

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Katherine Coble April 19, 2011 at 10:12 AM

Frankly im enjoying your book. It feels TRUE.

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Taz April 17, 2011 at 8:59 PM

Apparently Twilight doesn’t have an actual sex scene either (never read it and don’t intend to).
When I first read this book I wasn’t analysing the author’s writing technique, and so was able to be utterly caught up in the story and recommend it. The atmosphere or ‘spirit’ of the story is pretty strong. When I went back an anaylsed it, I saw its simplicity and marvelled (in spite of what is these days viewed as cliched, flying to the Heavens and such). Now, I have spent the better part of the last year reading “The Priest” from her Sons of Encouagement series. The use of the word “had” I can only put down to needing to keep the book small. He had. He had had. They had. He had had again. She had had enough because they had rebelled and had sinned… you get the picture.
It’s a struggle to see the use of this word when other options are available. As a writer, it puts me off, BUT because I’m also a curious Joe, I keep reading.
What do other people do about “had”? Is Sol Stein’s opinion the Rule?

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Mirtika April 17, 2011 at 9:38 PM

I haven’t read this novel since the, um, early nineties? I soon stopped reading Francine Rivers. I bought three of her CBA books and didn’t finish any of them.

I wonder if she was able to tap into something with the romances she wrote for teh secular market that appealed to me (she wrote a long novel that was like a precursor of Redeeming Love, whose title I’ve forgotten, that was one of my fave secular romances. Woman was hooker due to love for a bad man, though she experiences the love of a good man, and then she ends up with a hot Swede who is a good man, though not a “saint” like her previous man, and she finds true love and leaves her weakness for bad boys behind.)

When I see that prose brought OUTside of the novel, it is pretty pedestrian.

But something, when I read it, made me love it. Maybe if I reread it today, I wouldn’t love it. Dunno.

I do know that when my female brain engages into a romance, I can put up with loads of corny and cheesy stuff if the emotion is engaged. Grab my heart, make me feel love, and I forgive a multitude of plotting and prose sins. Yes, it comes down to emotion.

In fact, I remember some years ago, when my interest in the romance genre was waning, that I went back and tried to reread some and found them unreadable. Others I found still potent. The unreadable ones tended to be category. The still-loved ones tended to be longer, more complex novels in term of character growth and scope of events.

But I still long for a book to sweep me into a wonderful sense of romance. Hasn’t happened in a while…

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Sally Apokedak April 17, 2011 at 9:54 PM

You crack me up. I told you to wait for Meg Moseley’s soon to be released, When Sparrows Fall. Meg’s prose is lovely, her characters are likable, and her dialogue is very good.

But…I read Redeeming Love ten or twelve years ago. All I remember about it now is that I was bothered by the child abuse and I, like you, grew tired of the stupid woman leaving a good thing. I think at least one of the times she left (probably both), I felt that the action was poorly motivated.

The edgy part, I thought, was the child abuse. I don’t remember it being graphic and yet, for some reason it made me feel pretty dirty reading it. I didn’t enjoy that part at all.

I disagree with you about the sex scene you posted here. I think it’s fairly decently done. I mean…you have a prostitute who has been with many men. How can you make this sex scene different? It’s got to be clean and pure. And this man has to be about love and service and not lust and usage as all the other men have been. So it makes sense that she’s the dry ground soaking up the rain. She’s given and given and given and now someone is giving to her. I think that line there was pretty good. If she would have cut the flower bud and the flying to the heavens lines it would have been better, probably. But I don’t think it’s a corny. You’re just a guy and you can’t appreciate it. :)

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Taz April 18, 2011 at 1:53 AM

SO TRUE about the gender of the author/reader and their perspective!! You can tell the difference without doubt. Read a woman’s perspective as written by a man and it is generally not accurate. They will never have us sussed out, and I don’t think they’re meant to :)
Read an intimate scene as written by a man and it’s completely different.
She’s got you here, mate.

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 4:38 AM

Sally, I agree that the child abuse inferences were disturbing. But once again, it’s all suggestion. It’s all implication. There is nothing graphic. Lots of “leering,” “hungry gazes,” “cold smiles,” and “locked doors.” No, I’m not suggesting that it needs to be graphic but, c’mon, the book contains nothing more than what a PG-rated movie would show. In this case, this is nothing more than The New Edgy.

See below for my response about the sex scene. And BTW, I have heard some great things about Meg’s upcoming book. Thanks for the link!

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 4:26 AM

About the sex scene… Mir said, “when my female brain engages into a romance, I can put up with loads of corny and cheesy stuff,” and Sally wrote, “I disagree with you about the sex scene you posted here. I think it’s fairly decently done. ” Two things:

One: I will readily concede that my “male brain” interprets stuff like this differently than the “female brain.” Mir’s point that when she is “engaged” in a story she “can put up with loads of corny and cheesy stuff” is interesting. Does this mean that “suspension of disbelief” for the female reader has to do with “emotional engagement”? Either way, I wonder if Mir and Sally’s defense of the “sex scene” isn’t indicative, in part, of what makes the story work for so many people (not the sex but the emotion).

Two: I’m pretty surprised that anyone could read that description of sex and not crack up. Is this language par for romance novels?

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Sally Apokedak April 18, 2011 at 6:58 AM

Well, I’m cracking up over your reaction to it, if that’s any consolation. :)

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Jill April 18, 2011 at 9:37 AM

I’m an emotionally stunted, cerebral female. The sex scene would have made me gag if read it in book. In fact, I’m reading a different Rivers book, and in the middle of reading an over-the-top Christian-esque scene, I shouted out “gag!” much to the surprise of my family.

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Mirtika April 18, 2011 at 3:32 PM

No, it made me kind of gag. I don’t read novels in…excerpts. I read them in context. With romance novels, if I have invested in premise (in this case, the couple is like Hosea and Gomer, so her leaving and returning is expected) that his love WILL redeem and heal her, and if I am emotionally engaged, as I said, I will sort of mentally buffer cheesy language. If I see it OUT of that emotional haze, it looks pretty stupid. Yes. Freely admit that.

I think as I expected my fiction to have higher and higher quality of prose, it was harder to engage in romance fiction , CHristian and secular. Now, I prefer a strong dose of romance within another genre–mystery, SF, thriller, literary–rather than romance the GENRE. BUT..that said, not all romance novels are made of cheese, ya know? :)

But we womene like being swept away in a whirlwind of romantic feeling. And I, as an INTJ, who prefers science fiction and fantasy and thrillers and a lot of “masculine” fiction, still misses those amazing glowy hours when a romance novel COULD sweep me off my feet and remind me what I felt those first months/year in a wild hormonal haze of joy and desire and hope and expectation when I met hubby. THIS is what a good romance delivers. Redemption of people who have issues through love and the sweeping feeling of being understood and adored in all our imperfections.

Yep. I miss that.

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Katherine Coble April 18, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Yay! Another INTJ female!

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Carradee May 13, 2011 at 6:05 AM

*double-checks her own rating*

Yeah, thought I was a INTJ.

…We’re rare?

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Tim George April 18, 2011 at 5:23 AM

I have only ready one book by Francine Rivers and that was The Last Sin Eater. And I must say you get 50 extra credits on your Man Card, Mike, for having the guts to read Redeeming Love.

Can’t help but return to a thought I’ve offered before. The comments posted here so far prove the subjective nature of reading. This is why I say readers are different from writers. One person has bluntly said she knew the writing could have been better but overcame that preoccupation as she became “lost in the story.”

As to the sex scenes and metaphorical language. Anyone read Song of Solomon? Any doubt what is being described? Anyone find it corny?

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 5:52 AM

Tim, my wife sniped that I need the extra Man-card points. Thanks.

On the “subjective nature of reading,” I think that point is over-used and inherently flawed. As long as we wave the “good writing is subjective” banner, we ensure that there is no good writing and should immediately stop all composition, classic literature, and grammar courses. Frankly, I wish believing artists would spend more time raising the bar, than arguing there isn’t one. But this is not the place for that discussion.

On the Song of Solomon and Redeeming Love: These are two different genres. The Song of Solomon is one of the Poetic books of the Bible, along with Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc. That type of language is commonplace for that genre. And it was written thousands of years ago.

Appreciate your comments, Tim!

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Tim George April 18, 2011 at 2:38 PM

You’re welcome for the man points: we all need them and they have a very short shelf life. O|O

Whether it’s good or bad isn’t the point. Reading is simply more subjective than writing. You know how many hundreds if not thousand of hours go into writing a novel. By the time The Resurrection hit the shelves you certainly had analyzed every word, punctuation point to death. Even now I get you pause at times and analyze something about it yet again.

To enjoy fiction one has to put some of that critical/analytical side on hold. If not, I could never have finished Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. It was his first novel and pretty much YA. Short, choppy sentences and pretty thin for a major novel. But man what a story! There’s a reason it is considered one of the best Science Fiction novels of the last 30 years. And, in spite of a style I am quite sure neither of us has been trained to write in, Card makes his style work to perfection.

Does that mean we can’t in these circles have such discussions? Of course not.

Frankly I can’t speak to the language of Redeeming Love. I guess it works for the many who bought it. I look forward to some of the attempts made by authors here in the future.

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Tim George April 18, 2011 at 3:25 PM

I need a comment editor for sure. The typos are the result of being a freelance writer who seldom takes his fingers off the keyboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Mirtika April 18, 2011 at 3:37 PM

I just reread ENDER’S GAME for the third (or fourth) time last month. It holds up. Still love it. Still hard to put down, even when I know how it ends. Anyone who dares say it’s not well-written to my face will hear me scream. If a novel can hold me on fourth (Ender’s Game) or 10th (The Shadow and the Star, a romance) or 14th reading (and yes, I’ve read DUNE at least that many times), then it clearly has something going in there. Something magical and special, despite people taking paragraphs or sentences or pages out and pointing at it’s prose.

A novel is a whole entity, not just a paragraph. A reader will forgive a multitude of prose sins (even picky, critical, critique-er me) if you make the magic happen. So, yes, writer me is perfectionistic at times, but reader me is, well, demanding. I demand you not bore me. I forgive you for not having stunning sentences if you do NOT bore me and make me feel wonder, love, terror, surprise, desire, and satisfaction. :) I guess reading a really good novel is a like my eyes having super good sex. You don’t mind having the same session repeated, even with flawed maneuvers, if it gave good results. :)

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Mirtika April 18, 2011 at 3:38 PM

Clearly, I should proofread these comments. Eh, whatever. Ignore my flubs.

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TIm George April 18, 2011 at 5:38 PM

At least one person gets what I’m saying.

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Tim, I went back and read your comments here a couple of times. And I have to tell you, I’m confused. I’m not sure why you keep reiterating “the subjective nature of reading” argument. It kinda makes me feel like I’m the bad guy for pointing out what I consider poor prose and stylistic weakness in Redeeming Love. Either way, it puzzles me. Are you saying our reviews of books should not take stylistic strength or deficiency into account? Or are you saying that most readers just don’t care?

I agree that writers read differently. I agree that there are always elements of subjectivity. I agree there’s a difference between a story and its telling. But are we prepared to say there is no such thing as good writing? Because that’s what I feel like you’re saying. Tim, forgive me, please. But I’m pretty befuddled over here.

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Tim George April 18, 2011 at 7:42 PM

Sorry to befuddle you. Sometimes I think it’s one of my spiritual gifts.

I wasn’t going to bring the subject up again until other people making comments illustrated exactly what I was talking about. In particular this comment from Martika:

“With romance novels, if I have invested in premise … and if I am emotionally engaged … I will sort of mentally buffer cheesy language. If I see it OUT of that emotional haze, it looks pretty stupid. Yes. Freely admit that.”

Let me try to state things more succinctly:
1. Don’t see you as the bad guy.
2. There is absolutely a place for critique. You should have seen the condition Athol Dickson left me in after he read the first few chapters of my MS. Glad to say we’re still friends and I have an email framed that he sent me after taking his suggestions to heart.
3. We certainly should hone our craft to the best of our abilities and beyond.
4. There is a vast difference between a literary critique and a book review. Critique’s generally don’t consider the subjective factor because they can’t. I can’t get inside of the heads of the pool of potential readers of a novel and determine what their emotional and even spiritual reactions are going to be to a story. A good book review takes a different tact. It can surely point out potential flaws but also has to consider there may indeed be a large group of people who just might enjoy the story any way.

One comment left on this thread disturbs me greatly. Is was implies the likely reason most women liked Redeeming Love is because they can’t think for themselves. Is it not just possible there was a large group of women who just happened to like the story. I don’t get why they did but that doesn’t mean they are stupid and I’m smart.

5. This is what I mean by the difference in reading and writing and the subjective nature of reading. There is a quote from Samuel Johnson embossed on my Nook cover that says:
“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

6. Now I promise no more mention of it from me. Keep up the good work my brother.

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Katherine Coble April 18, 2011 at 6:08 AM

If i had ever taken the time to write my review of this wretched book, it would be very much like yours. The predominant difference would be that i think Michael Hosea* is one of the most horrible “Romantic” leads ever.

Yes, I know this is allegorical to Hosea and Gomer, and that relationship is allegorical to God’s relationship with Israel, which after the propitiative sacrifice of Y’shua has become God’s relationship to Mankind.

That makes Michael Hosea DOUBLY offensive to me.

Why? He hears the voice of God telling him to marry this woman. So what does he do?

He essentially kidnaps her and sanctions their relationship with a marriage ceremony performed while she is weakened and nearly catatonic. He uses force and dominance to get his way against her wishes. It’s in a way worse than rape, because there is no sexual component but there is a basic forcing her to submit to him for life. How is this any compelling picture of romance, let alone of God’s love for us?

Then he takes her away from everything and everyone she’s ever known and forces her to work for him. So far he’s more like David Koresh than Jesus Christ. And on and on in that vein. It’s reprehensible. As a woman Im deeply troubled by the number of women who find this, the stripping away of free will, the enforced servitude, both romantic and spiritually uplifting.

And of course im not even going to touch on the anachronistic language, stilted dialogue and lack of research into period clothing, finances, trade methods, etc. It is just a sloppily written thing.


* i am really picky about names. I can usually tell right off if the author is skilled by the kinds of names the characters have. Villians called Baddington or Hayte and romantic leads called Wright and Goode is just entry level stuff usually coupled with beginning level story telling. When i saw his name was MichaelHosea i about lost it. That doesnt sound real. It sounds hypercontrived.

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Katherine Coble April 18, 2011 at 6:10 AM

*are

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Jill April 18, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Maybe she just sees herself as a modern day Dickens, who thought names like Baddington and Hayte were subtle ways of indicating nature.

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Katherine Coble April 18, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Oh, I was using those as examples from other works. I haven’t read RL in years and only remember certain things.

I wasn’t a fan of Dickens doing that,either.

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Jill April 18, 2011 at 10:42 AM

I was being tongue-in-cheek. That’s about the most unsubtle way of revealing character. ;)

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Brenda Jackson April 18, 2011 at 6:52 AM

I’m not a reader of romance novels, but a couple of years ago, after all the hype about this book, I read it. The redundancy thing was what killed it for me. When I finally managed to finish it, I put the book down feeling the author could have cut quite a few thousand words.

But, as one of your other commenters noted, this is why reading is so very subjective. Obviously many, many, many people see something here that I don’t so more power to the author because in the end, the sales tell the story, plus it has been touching to hear how the book has been used to help transform lives.

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 7:15 AM

Brenda, I’m reluctant to concede that “sales tell the story.” Sales tell a lot of things, but many questionable films and books sell millions (see DaVinci Code). However, your point is taken about Redeeming Love helping people. I don’t dispute that at all and see how it could. As I stated in my review, there is a powerful theme of grace that runs throughout the book, and I can’t slight people for liking it because of that. Thanks for your comments, Brenda!

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Nicole April 18, 2011 at 7:26 AM

I happen to like the pronoun usage. Another rule that does nothing to bug me as a reader or writer.

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 10:25 AM

You like it? Really? I’ve always considered it a sign of lazy writing. As I said above, overusing pronouns to start a sentence is something “I’d encourage every aspiring author to break themselves of.”

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Nicole April 18, 2011 at 4:07 PM

To each his own, Mike. When you’ve got the predominance of two people in scenes, what are you going to do? Repeat their names again and again?

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 4:32 PM

OMG. There’s many, many ways around this.

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Rachelle April 21, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Mike, did you just write OMG? That alone was worth reading this entire comment thread. :-)

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Katherine Coble April 19, 2011 at 10:31 AM

In a well-written paragraph which doesnt sound like a laundry list of actions, appelations dont matter, and pronouns can serve very well. But if youve got a section that is just a stacatto recap of who does what, the pronouns seem to weigh it down with too much word repetition.

The key is to probably avoid such paragraphs full stop.

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Kevin Lucia April 19, 2011 at 6:51 AM

I’ve actually heard it taught that once a writer has established the identity of the speaker, there’s no need to keep using the formal name, and that writers SHOULD restrict themselves to pronouns. And this was from a pretty established, reliable source.

I’d say overuse is the key. Balance is best. Going to far either way becomes distracting.

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Mirtika April 18, 2011 at 6:13 PM

I’m with Nicole on this one. Pronouns are “invisible” words to me, so as long as it is clear who is “he” and who is “she” and who are “they”, no problemo. Use em loads.

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Lyndie Blevins April 18, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Dear Mike, I have enjoyed reading your brave journey of reading a Christian Romance. I admire you stepping out of your comfort zone.
I am not comfortable with the concept of romance being at the heart of Christian fiction. I tend to like more edgy things in so many categories.
While it was not Redeeming Love, I did read a Rivers book a while back. I keep picking it up, to discover I have already read it. I don’t remember it. I have been chalking it up to chemo brain which I was experiencing at the time. Now I am wondering if it more due to the items you outlined in your review.

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Mike Duran April 18, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Lyndie, thanks for your kind words. It does feel like a little bit of a “brave journey.” I appreciate your following it!

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Jessica Thomas April 18, 2011 at 9:50 AM

lol. Well now you’re just asking for it. ;) Entertaining review.

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Jill April 18, 2011 at 10:02 AM

I couldn’t find Redeeming Love at the library, so I picked up another Rivers book–Leota’s Garden. I wanted to join in the conversation, all right?

I have similar problems w/ the prose. The story could be good, but she’s repetitive to the point of tiresome. Her prose is definitely lackluster. For example, she uses far too many -ing sentence openers. I don’t have a problem w/ breaking arbitrary rules, including that one, but sometimes the cause and effect are lost in her -ing structures. I find sentences like these in my own unrevised work. It’s difficult to read them in a revised, published novel.

I don’t want to jump on a bandwagon overly-criticizing Rivers and nitpicking her book(s) to death. Despite a lot of preaching, she’s a good storyteller, and I’m guessing that’s why she’s popular. It isn’t for her lyrical writing style, or her subtlety–she’s popular for her stories and her characters. Oh, and she’s definitely anything but edgy. I’ve read edgy, and this isn’t it.

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Katherine Coble April 18, 2011 at 10:16 AM

There are a lot of components to why Rivers is so popular.

1. She’s a “win” for our team.
She started out writing in the secular world and when she came on board there was a lot of reactionary support for her. I still remember when RL was first re-released by Multnomah. There was much press for it.

2. Peer Pressure
I know a whole lot of women who read Rivers because there are one or two fans of hers in a church-centered book group of 20 or so. (For what it’s worth I think this also goes toward her sales figures.) That’s why I stopped doing book clubs. I can’t read something just because everyone else is reading it and I can’t act like I like it just because everyone else is raving about it. When you read the positive reviews of RL it’s amazing how many of them begin with “I read this in my book club at church”.

3. Her stories ARE unique.
Unlike others writing in the Christian Romance genre, Rivers is necessarily adept at writing Romance a la the secular way. She brings in characters with unique occupations and backstories.

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Nicole April 18, 2011 at 4:15 PM

You know, I get not liking a book, an author, a style or voice. Lord knows I’ve read those authors who make me grind my teeth or roll my eyes. And I think it’s worthwhile to explain why a novel doesn’t do it for you and even give examples of the writing that put you to sleep or irritated you–whatever. But, geez, some of these comments come off mighty arrogant and snipey. Just sayin’ . . .

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TIm George April 18, 2011 at 6:06 PM

What Nicolle said

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Mirtika April 18, 2011 at 6:23 PM

Here is where I, and English Lit major, admits that many of the classics bore the Danskin workout pants off me. My #1 compound rule as a a reader: Be a decent write,r and don’t bore me. Make me turn the page. My #1 compound rule as an editor: Write exceedinly WELL, and don’t bore me.

I can attest that many, many CBA books bore me. Many, many ABA books bore me. And they run the gamut from well-written to “who the heck thought this was publishable?”

As a writer, I would love to blend both: Write stories that are fast-paced, riveting, fresh, lacking cliches, and using cool metaphors. But since I’m not about to win a Nobel Prize any day soon, I’d hope people who read me don’t expect every line to be a gem of imagination and prose perfection. A bit of mercy goes a long way as a reader–and maybe as an editor, since the editor needs to consider the reader is not gonna have a degree, have spent years reading craft books, and mostly wants to be moved or entertained.

Am I softening up in my dotage? Mayhaps. I freely admit that REDEEMING LOVE excerpt read HORRIBLY. I’d be embarrassed to have penned it. BUT…lots of readers, myself included, have come under that novel’s spell at one time. I think the more interesting question is always gonna be: Why does X cheesy story sell so well and win so many admirers and re-readers? ..or… Why does Y crappily written blockbuster make 2,000,000 million bucks and sells movie rights and has a fan club in every state and half the Euro nations?

I’m more fascinated by why solid- craft-oriented folks (and I consider myself a solid-craft-oriented one and know many who read oodles of books and keep up with blogs and attend conferences to get BETTER), why do they fall under the enchantment of a book with so-so to poor prose?

Hmmm…yeah, that’s what I always want to know, even in myself, when I’m won over by cheese. Cause I would want what I write to SELL, and yes, I admit it, SELL BIG. Sell as big as a conventino of Titans on steroids. That is, if I ever get myself out of the not-writing rut and go for it again and win over editorial hearts.

Ah, I should reread your post. I think I’m way out in a field of my own…playing ball alone. Sorry…

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Katherine Coble April 19, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Speaking as one who most likely comes off arrogant and snipey, i do apologise.

Wrto this particular book, though, i have VERY strong feelings. I have had countless conversations with my mother about how this is the best book ever written, etc. Other women i know are always either championing the story or saying they like it so the Alpha females in the Sunday School dont cut them out of the social circle. If i had a dollar for every woman who came to me privately and said she didnt like the book but didnt want to cross Alpha Female, well, i could have a nice dinner out.

So i equate this book with a sort of spiritual bullying and am therefore much more emphatic about my dislike than probably seems necessary.

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Jill April 19, 2011 at 10:53 AM

I’ll take arrogant and snipey, thank you. We’re not discussing salvation or God’s word, here, but analyzing literature–seeking to understand what works and why it works (or doesn’t). A good dose of arrogance is needed every once in a while. It’s a whole lot more compelling than listening to writers grovel w/ false humility.

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Nicole April 20, 2011 at 7:30 AM

But that’s just it, Jill. Yours and others’ opinions are valid to you and perhaps to me but not to someone else. Mike acknowledged what he considered a strength in the novel, but he took it to task on what he didn’t like. Okay. But piling on in some rather insulting and mean-spirited language does nothing to further the value of review.

A scathing review, which Mike’s was not, proves only one person’s opinion and often their tastes in literature. My comment about some of these comments simply points to this: Okay. You thought the book was unworthy of your time. The methodology/style didn’t appeal to you because . . . So state it and leave out the shrill opinionated ranting. It’s moot since the book is perenial bestseller. That’s all.

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Katherine Coble April 20, 2011 at 7:50 AM

If your issue is specifically with sipomething Ive written, address it to ME. Dont make generalised statements.

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Nicole April 20, 2011 at 8:27 AM

Katherine, if I was talking to you specifically, I would’ve addressed you. If you think this applies to you, then what? I mean we all should consider how we criticize, don’t you think? If you see no comments that sound a bit arrogant, then my comments should mean nothing to you.

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Katherine Coble April 20, 2011 at 8:41 AM

I think you havent singled out any specific comment and are therefore playing a bit of sanctimony as opposed to critique. Who or what SPECFICALLY is arrogant and what in your mind makes it arrogant?

The purpose of criticism is to give others your pov on how their output coukd be improved. By failing to single out any one comment you are not offering Bible-based critique.

No, i dont think anything i wrote or said was arrogant. Then again, ive read through this whole farkakte discussion repeatedly and cant pinpoint any of the buildings you and Mr. George are painting with your broad brushes. So clearly you and i are working from different operational definitions of the word arrogant. As the one who leveled the charge i am asking you to back that up.

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Nicole April 20, 2011 at 9:18 AM

Arrogance: 1.overly convinced of one’s own importance; overbearingly proud; haughty 2.Characterized by or arising from haughty self-importance; proud

If you see no evidence of this definition in any of these comments, then for you there is no arrogance apparent regardless of how they might seem to me and “Mr. George”.

My point has been (and remains) criticism is okay. Okay? Mike did a good job on his review. Giving input is fine. It’s the demeaning “self-important”, I am the de judge kind of commentary on someone else’s writing that smacks of arrogance, Katherine. If you want to accuse me of side-stepping finger-pointing, that’s okay too. If I’m wrong, so be it. It’s my opinion. That’s all it is.

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Tim George April 20, 2011 at 11:04 AM

Last time I checked, Nicolle and I live on opposite sides of the country and don’t share brushes. You have stated your perceptions and I have stated mine.

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Katie Dalton April 18, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Well, I don’t think this is one I will pick up. Not after that raving review of awesome it was. lol Gee wiz Mike! Maybe this author should have added your Leprechaun buddies. ;)

And to touch on the meds comment you made, I too find that the best days are med days. Just saying.

Never a dull moment with you my flower bud. ;)

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Katie Dalton April 18, 2011 at 7:02 PM

err… of how* awesome it was.

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Leanna April 18, 2011 at 7:14 PM

“Redeeming Love” is one of my favourite books but I’ve only ever read it once (10ish years ago, when I was 14ish) and probably won’t read it again. The prose/style difficulties you pointed out probably would bother me now if I did. :)

I want to analyze why it made such an impact on me but I don’t know if I can. It wasn’t Michael Hosea (I don’t remember his character very well). The two scenes I remember best are:
-The night she dances naked for him before leaving
(please do not post any excerpts of the prose, I don’t want the scene ruined for me)
-When she walks out at the end with the little girl in her arms

…that still doesn’t really explain what it was about the story that caught me. Maybe I’m just a sucker for most any redemption story? I’m going to post this comment anyway ‘cuz I think another comment in favour of the book is needed to balance the dislike. ;)

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Mike Duran April 19, 2011 at 5:12 AM

Hey, thanks for posting your comment, Leanna. I think I can understand how the book has had such a powerful effect on people. As I said in my review, there are powerful redemptive themes and images in this story. Please don’t allow my opinion on the level of craft to diminish what you remember about this story. Blessings!

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Ame April 18, 2011 at 11:52 PM

i’ve not read all of the previous comments, so i may be redundant.

i do think there’s a diff btw the male and female brain when choosing a book to read.

i did read the comment about the child abuse scenes.

i read this book when i was going thru the end of my first marriage and in the midst of working thru my own child abuse and my abusive marriage. so the book, i think, was different for me. i understand the back and forth. that totally made sense to me where it seems to be redundant to others.

there was a sense of not being the only one when reading much of what’s in the book.

i don’t remember being hung up on her phrases or choices of words, but i was caught up in the story. and b/c of where i’ve come from, it was a v powerful book in my life.

***

sometimes it’s nice to read a fun, no-brainer book. my life is full and still contains many ‘heavy’ things w/my ex-husband and my spec needs daughter. a nice escape is good for my soul. the biggest complaint i’ve heard of romance novels, christian or otherwise, is that they depict inaccurate views of men, filling women’s mind with fairytale ideas of what men should be like, and then causing women to be continuously disappointed in men in reality. i can see that. sometimes the books are just toooo over the top – the characters are ALWAYS beautiful and handsome and ALWAYS have the best of everything, including pets, etc.

in this season of my life, i like relatively short books b/c i have so little time to read. however, right now i’m reading Anna Karanina by Tolstoy and am loving it. but it’s an easy book to read slowly.

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Mercey April 19, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Where other authors with more wordy or cleverly constructed sentences are plain boring and fail to hold reader attention, FR has birthed a miracle. RL proves editors wrong, and I think it grates on current editing sensibilities. Often-times readers don’t WANT a grammatically correct English assignment to stimulate their brain, and you have to remember this book was published at a time when Christian fiction was still in a virtual infancy (in my opinion).

Whether anyone agrees with the technically correct acceptablity of this book or not doesn’t matter. The readers have spoken and the vast majority of them agree this book is excellent. The feeling people are left with is overwhelming. Maybe, just maybe, the publishers/editors/agents who complain about it ought to consider what it is that makes this book work so well. Why does it speak so loud?I don’t think it’s vivid/’lurid’ content, as much as it is offering what every heart craves.

Unconditional love.

RL kicks legalism in the pants, and evidently not just in its message :) There are always going to be people who have a problem with that.

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Mike Duran April 20, 2011 at 6:23 AM

As our conversation about Redeeming Love wraps up, I wanted to take a minute to respond to this overall thread. As I said in the post, I took a risk in publicly reviewing this book. Not only is it out of my genre and a genre I am somewhat critical of, my opinion of the book is not glowing. And at the risk of blowing my own horn, I wish more Christian reviewers would venture such risks.

I went back and reread my review several times and ultimately felt like it exhibited a good “Christian” spirit. It’s something I think I can stand by. I was honest about my feelings, critical and analytical, but gracious in recognizing what I perceive as the story’s strength, even concluding: “Ms. Rivers captures something that is essential to good Christian fiction — a portrayal of the hellish depths of human depravity and the vast, unrelenting scope of God’s love. And for this, I applaud her.” Is this not generous?

Nevertheless, much of this conversation was about MY REVIEW and not the actual book, veering into discussions about writers v. readers, opinions about craft, and the subjective nature of reading. Sad to say, I am not surprised that the conversation went this way. It reinforces much of what I feel about our “Christian fiction bubble.” We have erected a defensive hedge against critique. This, in my mind, is what inflames and reinforces charges of shoddy craft. It just baffles me why we repeatedly retreat to the “story trumps craft” bunker. Where are the Christian writers and reviewers who will simply say craft matters?

I like how Jill commented: “We’re not discussing salvation or God’s word, here, but analyzing literature–seeking to understand what works and why it works (or doesn’t). A good dose of arrogance is needed every once in a while. It’s a whole lot more compelling than listening to writers grovel w/ false humility.” Am I guilty of arrogance for stating what I believe “works”? Then I’ll stand by that charge. Jill’s comment was refreshing, and lifted my spirit in what was a gloomy give-and-take.

Anyway, publishing this review and following the discussion has left me a little bruised. But I’ll survive. Thanks for all who participated!

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Tim George April 20, 2011 at 8:59 AM

It was all I could discuss since I haven’t read Redeeming Love and don’t intend to. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy or perhaps you are just a better man than me. Again I commend you for the experiment.

What I think you are missing here is that I, for one, didn’t retreat to anything. I merely pointed out a reality that was exhibited in the very comments of people on this thread. This conversation has sounded suspiciously like the divide between literary and commercial fiction. Several women here said you made a good point but they still liked the book when they read it. In their case, story did trump craft in that one book.

Even craft is a subjective thing whether any of us want to admit it or not. On a whim I decided to go back and read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Pulitzer Prize and Noble Prize winning William Faulkner from my home state of Mississippi. Deemed a master of his craft and taught in college literature classes around the world. I started to type one of his paragraphs here but my eyes started to bleed. I just couldn’t stomach it after two pages and not a paragraph break in sight.

I said I wasn’t going to say anymore and you went and posted this on Facebook again. Great branding! Keep up the good work and keep on being who you are; even if you annoy me at times. :D

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Chila Woychik April 20, 2011 at 7:30 AM

join the club, mike. some of the verbally harshest and least intelligent critics and reviewers are christians, and usually women. makes me sad to be a christian woman at times.

(now watch the crap fly for that — and watch some twist those words to say “i’m sad to be a christian.” oh god. when will we ever learn to think?)

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Patrick Todoroff April 21, 2011 at 5:56 AM

LOL. I’m sad to be a christian sometimes, way before we get near book reviews.

Mike,
I think your comments were insightful, accurate, and fair.

Fact is, you’re never going to win with some folks.

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Amy L Harden April 20, 2011 at 7:48 AM

Mike:

I too believe you get man-points for reading “Redeeming Love”!! Your review hit all the same areas that bothered me and also the things that I liked about Ms Rivers book. I truly believe that women get caught up in the story…the “emotion” of it, which propels them through it…BUT…indeed Ms Rivers did get redundant with the telling AND when related to men and women in today’s world…not one man would be like the male protag…today’s man would have kicked her to the curb the second time around….so, I guess there is a lesson of tolerance and patience within this story.

When I read this book LAST YEAR…I found myself putting it down several times out of frustration over the main character, Angel. Others that I knew who read it did the same thing, in fact , they warned me to let it rest, but keep going. She annoyed me completely, as I deal with women like her personality every day at my work with Women who are in denial at Mid-Life….Michael is like many of the men at my forum…doormats and enablers that are sitting and waiting for their wives to realize that their adulterous affair is just that and no good for the better good of themselves or their family. At many times during this book I wanted to SCREAM at Michael: “Stop being a doormat!!” or to Angel: “Oh for Christ’s- sake (literally) have your Jesus moment and let’s get on with it!”

You didn’t like the sex scene…it was corny…smulttzy…gagged with a spoon…This is how I felt about the closing scene with Angel running through the field stripping her clothes off till she was in her birthday suit. I get it…I get it…she is FINALLY giving herself over totally, free and clear…a clean slate….I get it!! THIS is where I believe that Francine Rivers romance novel experience came in to play AND one of the reasons why I don’t read romance novels. DUMB…slow motion type running in the field …I love you! junk that in real life rarely happens! The ONLY reason why I read this end chapter and didn’t slam the book shut with disappointment and frustration was…I felt I had kept at the reading through all the other annoying things Angel did…I owed it to Michael to to read how his patience was rewarded (even though I thought him a doormat and enabler, co-dependent in Angel’s problems).

I have to admit overall…it was a fair to good read…I believe you should have read her recent collection “A Lineage of Grace” which is not necessarily romance. I like her series (Lion’s Mark) much better, as they are not wrapped around a love story necessarily. The characters are stronger and the men and women believable. I don’t get caught up in the technical writing style, but I can see how this may bother someone who is more attune to these things.

As for your comments on the critiquing of Modern Christian Literature/Novels…I absolutely agree with you about these writers being open to REAL criticism of their work. I have written several reviews on Christian novels primarily written by women and the publishers and authors will only site those reviews that are glowing throughout the commentary. There are two books that I reviewed recently that the authors were furious with me for saying that I liked their books overall, but I felt their characters two-dimensional, not enough details and that they got caught up in the prose in some places AND that they threw away opportunities to create solid three-dimensional stories that people will read and share with others. I believe the Christian Romance or Novels for Women publishers are demanding quantity of stories and books, instead of quality…this is why it is hard to find meaty Christian Romance.

In the end, does the Romance genre really lend itself to meaty stories and characters? Just asking….

I appreciated your honest review!! This is what I do when I review a book also. Thank you!

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Ame April 20, 2011 at 7:48 AM

there is often a discord between quality and what people want. i find this in many areas of life. and i also find it in myself. there are some areas of my life in which quality is not as important as others. but when quality is important to me, it befuddles me why it is not also always important to others, especially when i think it should be.

your observations and disappointment are valid. you see a weakness in an industry you are passionate about, and you seek to raise the bar. good for you! perhaps, over time, people will see the difference and expect better quality craft to accompany a great story. if so, it will certainly be due to efforts of those like you who create a knowledge of better craft and therefore an expectation of such.

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