Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Garlic and Roses by Gail Gaymer Martin

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2008
Price: $4.95
ISBN-10: 1597899313
ISBN-13: 978-1597899314

When Michigan author, Gail Gaymer Martin, approached me about writing reviews for a couple of her books, I looked her up online to see what kind of literature I might expect. That it was Christian based was just dandy -- I've been exploring this genre recently to see how it fares in comparison to secular fiction -- but the romance leaning to it, well, I have to admit, made me wince. I don't read romances. That is, I like a good love story as much as anyone else, but the romance genre has a tendency to make my eyes roll back in their sockets. Last time I opened a romance was when I came across a tattered stack of these little paperbacks with garish covers in a bed and breakfast, and I grabbed one up at random, read it to my travel partner, and was soon laughing so hard at the cliche and inept writing that tears quite literally streamed down my face.

Ah yes, the heaving bosoms and the muscled heroes in long, blonde tresses. Spare me. Reality is far more fascinating to me. But I pride myself on working hard to keep an open mind when I venture into literary areas I don't usually frequent. I received the package of two Christian romances from the author for review, and settled in to read.

She did spare me. No heaving bosoms, although the passion was present. The muscled heroes? Weeellll. I did find myself wondering why a Christian writer, coming from a faith that values substance over external beauty, would still make a point of writing (in both books that I read) about such "pretty people." Everyone was good looking. To be fair, when we fall in love, even the less good looking naturally become more pleasing to the beholder's eye, but the author did seem to make all of her main characters very attractive. Too bad.

And yes, many of the elements of the romance genre seemed to hold true for this story, too. The storyline was very predictable. Endings are satisfying and sweetly happy ones. Things fall neatly into place, and we can see that coming far more than a mile away. Yet I had to admit something else to myself ... even if I might not pick up another such romance again, I can't say I didn't get some enjoyment out of this little book. I did. I realized that it soothed some frayed nerves and battle wounds. We've all had our hearts broken at one time or another. Usually, for the worst kind of reasons. Many of us have gotten to question a sex-drenched society in which "love" is equated to physical copulation only, and in which a value system, ethics, morals, are all abandoned as so much unnecessary baggage if not obstacle.

There is something distinctly nice about reading a love story between two people who aren't rushing to the bedroom, but instead taking the time to have an actual courtship. Yes, I said nice. Another word that seems to have lost all respect in modern society. The bad boy has been popularized, while many women actually, quietly, almost with some odd sense of secret shame, still and ever long for ... a truly nice guy. Sure, nice looking. But also someone who is nice to you. Kind, thoughtful, sensitive and honest.

Martin's story is about two young people who have long kept to themselves and apart from the world: a young woman who is heiress to a garlic empire but has dreams of leaving the family business, and a young man who hides his accomplishment of becoming a physician so he will not be judged by certain stereotypes. The two meet at a soup kitchen where they volunteer to feed the homeless. Their value (faith) systems are tested as they deal with their own secrets as well as the much faster paced "romances" of friends and colleagues alongside theirs.

I won't argue if the author's characters are realistic to modern society or not. If they are not, perhaps we should question why not. These are not stories of high literary caliber, but they are a respite from a daily onslaught of obscenity in the form of flesh, violence, and a general absence of, okay, niceness. You know what? I miss nice. Thanks for the pause, Gail. I needed that.

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