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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What I'm Reading: A Wedding in Apple Grove

Book JacketSo as I referred to yesterday, one of my resolutions for 2012 was to read some more romance authors who were new to me.  When I really looked closely at my deficiencies in the genre, I realized that it was contemporary romance where I had the biggest knowledge gaps.

So first, I read a big name author I had never read before, Lisa Kleypas. For the second book, I wanted to make sure I hit at current trends too.  So, after attending a Booklist Online Romance Webinar in September, I found out that one of the hottest new trends in Romance was "Small Town Romance," and a suggested new title to try was A Wedding in Apple Grove [herein AWIAG] by C.H. Admirand.

AWIAG is the first installment of a planned trilogy set in Apple Grove, OH.  The book begins with a list of characters and a short descriptions about each.  Just from this short 2 page list, you already get a sense of the tone here.  We are in a very small Ohio town where everyone knows each other, and everyone is (nicely) in everybody else's business. This is a town where you propose to your girlfriend by painting her name on the water tower.

Specifically, our plot here follows Meg, who along with her widowed father and 2 younger sisters, runs the local "handyman" business.  As the story opens, we are at Meg's best friend's wedding. Meg wants love, but her on again off again boy friend is a local boy who now plays pro football.  Meg thought they were in love, but she did not want to leave Apple Grove and he does not want to come back to stay when he is done playing.

Our hero is Dan who comes to town the day of the wedding and literally sweeps Meg off her feet.  He is related to one of the more humorous characters in town.  He has been hired to be the new high school soccer coach.

Like all good romances, the narration bounces back and forth between Meg and Dan. We get the standard plot of the two of them having to overcome obstacles and their own issues in order to finally end up getting married.

This is a standard romance.  It has a little steaminess-- nowhere near as much as Lisa Kleypas, but a lot more than other small town gentle reads.  This needs to be noted.  This novel has everything people love about some of the best gentle read authors (some listed in readalikes section below), but it also sticks very true to the romance genre. It is that combination, that cannot be found in any other type of book other than the small town romance. It is a niche that can be filled by a slew of readers.

First and foremost, AWIAG is for readers who enjoy romance.  It is a good entry in the genre: strong, feisty heroine, interesting hero, great frame details (the town and its inhabitants are too cute), and strong family storyline.

In terms of the trend of the small-town romance, this is a great example.  We have a small town, usually in the Midwest, where a different couple from town is followed in each book as they look for and find love.  While each novel will be complete on its own, overall, the series will provide a fun chance for readers to re-encounter the stars of previous books as secondary characters in new books.

For me, I still have trouble getting past the predetermined story arc.  But that is exactly what romance readers love.  They don't have to worry about what is going to happen, they know it will all end up with the two protagonists getting married. Instead they read for the frame, characters, and just to have a nice, happy story.  I get it for them.  For me though, I prefer darkness and uncertainty.

Overall, during my contemporary romance experiment this year, I feel like I got a much better handle on what is out there and why people like it.  I am glad I read this book, and will be handing it out to readers with enthusiasm.

Three Words That Describe This Book: small town setting, fun characters, hopeful tone

Readalikes:  NoveList has a very helpful list entitled "Love in a Small Town" from which I picked out a few suggestions:

The feisty heroine and the football player ex-boyfriend had me thinking of Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

If you like reading about the eccentric characters in small town more than a romance try Adriana Trigiani, Fannie Flagg, or Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I enjoy all 3 of these writers for the eccentric characters, small town setting, and funny, heart-warming stories.

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