“Made to Order Family” Is the ‘Perfect Romance’!
“Made to Order Family”
by Ruth Logan Herne
Steeple Hill Love Inspired
September, 2010, 224 pages.
“Made to Order Family” may be the easiest choice I’ll ever have to make for the “Book of the Year” Award. When I wrote my review of this book, I called it ‘the Perfect Romance”. I am still as enthusiastic about the book today as I was when I first read it in August.
The Philosophy of Romance “Book of the Year” is not awarded simply just because I liked the book better than any of the other books I’ve reviewed during the past year. There’s more to it. The winner of our “Book of the Year” award must be demonstrably excellent! In other words, there must be many praiseworthy elements of the book that I can point to as proof of the book's excellence.
“Made to Order Family” is made to order for a detailed philosophical review. There are many interesting details to be found under the hood. There is also a lot to be learned by making a careful study of this book. Of course, this calls for a long review. But then you don’t have to read the review. You can just get a copy of the book and read “Made to Order Family” straight off. This may be best for fans while reading the review may be best for writers. Both fans and writers will find that reading “Made to Oder Family” offers many rewards!
Rewards! Rewards! Rewards!
I know making a claim that any book is a perfect romance needs to be substantiated. This I fully intend to do with examples and explanations.
Rewarding the Reader --
Every Step of the Way!
I should disclose at the outset that I am a little biased. I am writing a book on the romance genre which advances the theory that the best selling romance authors are the ones who reward the reader the most times on average per page. As of now, my research indicates that Nora Roberts is at the top of my ‘rewards-per-page’ index. I mention this research now because when it comes to ‘rewards-per-page’, “Made to Order Family” is off the charts! Reading the book provides one reward after another after another. This makes for a great reading experience with maximum enjoyment.
Many Ways to Reward a Reader
There are many ways for an author to reward a reader for reading her book. The author can ‘surprise’ the reader, ‘delight’ the reader, ‘5-sense’ her copy so the reader really ‘feels’ the story, and she can provide ‘new experiences’ which the reader can ‘vicariously’ enjoy.
The author may also go to ‘new’ places so the reader can see new things she may never get to see otherwise. The author can let the reader ‘feel’ a wide array of emotions, and she can make anticipated events happen sooner than the reader expected.
The author may also let the reader experience the emotional elation of ‘victories’ along the way without having to wait for the HEA at the end of the book. Victories are very important in creating a rewarding reading experience. (Some romance writers will present only problems and conflict until the very end thinking that this will make the HEA even more appreciated. This is bad thinking. It is like serving five bland courses of a six course meal in a fine restaurant so that the last course, baked Alaska, will seem more spectacular. Every course should be special and delicious!)
The author can please the reader with ‘sparkling’ copy and entertain the reader by writing in a way that makes the reader eager to discover what is happening next. This becomes even more rewarding when the reader is anticipating five or six events to happen! There are many more ways to reward a reader but I think you get the idea.
Maintaining The Reader’s Interest!
A major factor in successfully rewarding a reader is by always maintaining the reader’s interest. Many authors do this by constantly raising the stakes and heightening tension.
For example, the bad guys may be trying to kill the heroine and with each chapter the murder attempts come closer to success and the heroine’s escapes come closer to disaster. This approach can be successful but it is one dimensional and wears thin rather quickly. This ‘straight-line’ approach is much better suited for the cinema because big screen special effects can dazzle and entertain viewers.
The ‘straight-line’ approach is weaker in a novel because the reader quickly understands that this is how the story is going to proceed. (Oh, it’s a chase story.) Having the expected happen as expected is not very rewarding without spectacular special effects.
The Multi-Dimensional Approach to Rewarding a Reader
A better way to maintain reader interest is to take a multi-dimensional approach with many different ‘threads’ of interest. “Made to Order Family” is an excellent example of this multi-dimensional approach.
Two Conflicts That Leverage The Tension
In addition to the standard hero/heroine conflict present in all romances, the hero and heroine in “Made to Order Family” are both recovering alcoholics. Each fears falling off the wagon which could happen at any moment. Neither wants to return to the disastrous lives they once lived. This danger elevates all normal life conflicts to life threatening proportions. I consider this to be ‘built-in’ tension that's inherent to the plot and thus not artificial. (As simply adding another ‘escape’ scene to a book would be.)
The reader of “Made to Order Family” is always faced with the very real possibility that the hero or heroine or even both of them may fall off the wagon. To make this situation even more poignant, the author is well experienced with AA and dealing with both active and recovering alcoholics. The realism of the narrative makes the danger of a relapse into oblivion an even greater possibility. (If the characters fear a fall, no matter how strong they may appear to others, then the reader will also fear a fall. I have not seen this ‘fear of a fall’ so well shown in a romance novel before.)
Reverberations of the Serenity Prayer
It might be said that the spirit of the book is mirrored in the “Serenity Prayer”. Parts of the prayer are quoted in the narrative and are apropos to the story action. Seeing the “Serenity Prayer” so skillfully mirrored in the actions of the characters adds substantially to the reading enjoyment and the sense that this is an inspirational book.
Unexpected Victories -- The Kindest of Rewards!
At least in four places in “Made to Order Family” the reader is treated to an unexpected victory. These victories elicit the kind of vicarious ‘good feelings’ that are usually reserved for the HEA. To demonstrate this point I want to give one example below. This is the first example in the book. There are more and they get even better. I promise you’ll love experiencing the other victories but you'll have to discover them for yourself.
The heroine’s mother is overbearing and highly critical of the heroine. The heroine seems to be reconciled to her mother’s abuse and the reader fully expects the mother’s conduct to occur for the rest of the book. (Perhaps the mother will come around by the HEA.)
Here’s what happens: (Page 61):
“Mom, I totally get that you’re disappointed in me, my life, my children and my existence on the planet, but I think it’s in everyone’s best interests if we move beyond the drama, okay? I haven’t got the time to go there with you anymore. What’s done is done. I’m not moving backward and I wish you’d move beyond it, too.”
Just like that! The abusive mother is dealt with and the heroine grows in stature right in front of the reader’s eyes! The heroine has waited her whole life to face up to her mother and we, the readers, get to be there at this critical moment to share in the event. I wanted to stand and cheer!
While this scene happens early in the story, I felt happier with this experience than I have when reading some HEAs at the end of a book. Better yet, this was just one of four unexpected victories in "Made to Order Family". And yes, when you are experiencing near-HEA moments throughout the book, it’s a great reading experience!
Always Having Something Happening That Holds The Reader Interest!
“Made to Order Family” is a multi-dimensional story with many threads of action woven into the main plot. Each thread carries its own reader anticipation and resolution. I am going to list some of these. I am sure there are more.
THREADS -- Creating Reader Interest
Pal the dog’s story – unique use of Scripture with dog to mirror human behavior. (Resolved.)
Kim’s story. (Resolved.)
Skeeter’s story. (Resolved.)
Paul & Amy story. (Resolved.)
Rita’s Mother’s & Father’s story. (Resolved.)
Brooks’ mother’s & Father’s story. (Resolved.)
Tootsie’s story (Resolved.)
Rita’s story. (Resolved.)
Brooks’s story. (Resolved.)
Baseball game. (Resolved.)
Jeff, the sponsor’s story: (Resolved.)
Wendy, the Farmer’s wife & kids story. (Resolving.)
Homeless story (unresolved.)
“Resolved” means the reader will get a happy feeling of satisfaction. "Unresolved" means the reader will experience a sad feeling.
Writing with Realism & Psychological Insight
“Made to Order Family” is very realistic. Kids aren’t sweet and people’s lives are often painful. In additional the writing shows an understanding of human nature. Here is a quote about what the heroine thinks about the hero.
“Liv respected Brooks. It was obvious in her manner, her attentiveness, her awareness of detail in his presence. Something about him inspired others to reach a little higher, go a little faster, try a little harder, that indiscriminate quality that screamed leadership in calm undertones.”
Prose that Does Several Things At Once
You might wonder how a book that is only 224 pages long can develop so many theme threads along with the main plot. The author is able to do this because of her layering and economy of words. For example, in one short scene the hero goes to the town of Canton to look into buying a building that the heroine could use to start a bakery. The hero meets with the Realtor as quoted below:
“What are you thinking? If you’re free to tell me, that is.”
“I have a friend interested in this site,” Brooks explained. Steve’s interest spiked a grin.
“Yes.” Brooks met his gaze. “you know Rita’s interested in this location?”
Steve nodded, then directed Brooks to the back of the store.
“We went over it inch by inch. I tried to fudge a few things, fluff them off, and she nabbed me on every one. Smart girl you’ve got there.”
Brooks grinned, thought of setting Steve straight, then realized too much protest only added fuel to the rumor mill.
“Rita’s got a great head on her shoulders.”
Steve barked out a laugh.
“If that’s all you’ve noticed, Brooks, you’re more than a little hardened. The woman’s beautiful.”
Brooks straightened, chin raised, his shoulders broad and blunt, remembering Steve’s marriage had dissolved nearly two years before. That made him single and in his mid-forties, just a tad older than Brooks.
“Ah.” Steven nodded, respectful. “I thought as much. It would be hard not to.”
“Right now she’s interested in opening a business.” Brooks wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince Steve or himself.
The above short passage, just 195 words, advances the story in these ways:
1. the Realtor reveals that the heroine is a very smart business person who has already looked into the property. (Hero did not know this.)
2. the Realtor reveals that he thinks of the heroine as the hero’s girl. (Hero had not admitted this to himself up until this point).
3. the Realtor is interested in the heroine himself because she is such a beautiful woman. (Hero doesn’t like this.)
5. the Realtor is not married. (Hero doesn’t like this.)
6. the hero discovers he’s jealous. (Hero must now rethink his relationship with heroine.)
7. the hero does not deny that the heroine is his girl. (Hero likes the idea.)
When so much story information can be presented to the reader in so few words, it becomes possible for an author to weave many more story threads into the general narrative while still staying within a limited number of pages.
'Information' Rewards Readers
When a story carries with it ‘inside’ information that is perceived as authentic by the reader, this generates a more rewarding reading experience. The author does this to perfection with her AA experiences and with her professional knowledge of the bakery business. This knowledge alone won’t make a novel a success with readers but it will add to the overall rewards-per-page for reading. This is important because readers are not really buying a book. They are buying a reading experience. The best selling authors create the most rewarding reading experiences.
Double “Knockout” Ending
James Scott Bell, a popular writing instructor and novelist, advises that novels finish with a ‘knockout’ ending! This elevates the impact of the book in the reader's mind making the reader 'hungry' for more and acts to help sell the author's next book. “Made to Order Family” not only has a 'stand and cheer' ending, it has a surprise Epilogue which doubles the HEA enjoyment. In New Orleans this 'second helping of happiness' would be called lagniappe.
“Made to Order Family” rewards the reader multiple times-per-page. It does this by doing many things right. In addition to the overall romantic conflict between hero and heroine, there is the dual tension caused because both the hero and heroine are recovering alcoholics. This ‘alcoholic’ background tension magnifies all the other conflicts in the book because any of life's normal problems could lead to the hero or heroine falling off the wagon.
The spiritual elements in the story are skillfully reflected in the recurrent use of the Serenity Prayer. This provides for inspiration without preaching.
The reader’s attention is always stimulated because, “Made to Order Family” employs numerous interesting story threads. There are also surprise victories throughout the book which will delight the reader. The writing is realistic, the characters authentic, and the author’s insider knowledge of her subject matter is ever present.
“Made to Order Family” also has a dual ‘knockout ending’ which doubles the HEA’s feelings of enjoyment.
“Made to Order Family” is a Perfect Romance!
Like the “Perfect Storm”, I believe that “Made to Order Family” incorporates the ideal combination of story ingredients that are necessary to produce the perfect romance. In a way, I’m sad. This is only the author’s third book and I don’t see how a book better than “Made to Order Family” can be penned! But then, like the baseball pitcher who just threw a perfect game, it just might happen again.
Be Sure to Read This Book!
Read the Review of "Winter's End"
Read the Review of "Waiting Out the Strom"
Read about the 2009 “Book of the Year”!