Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quilts of Love, a Series of Christian Romance Novels from Abington Press

I read Grand Design by Amber Stockton and Masterpiece Marriage by Gina Wellborn, my first foray into Christian romances or fiction.

Grand Design is set on Mackinaw Island at the Grand Hotel, which the author makes sure the reader knows was the setting for the cult classic film Somewhere in Time staring the late great Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour. Alyssa wins a honeymoon prize for two weeks at the Grand Hotel. She is single and pretty much afraid of men so she takes her best friend. Turns out she spent her childhood summers on the island with her grandmother who still lives there. But it has been 15 years since the 29 year old Alyssa has been back. Of course she meets the perfect guy (Scott) before she sets foot on the island. Both are shy, reluctant to try their hand at love again, and share mutual values. They have a definite physical attraction.

Quilting has little to do with the main story line and could have been left out without changing the book. Alyssa collects quilt blocks from Grandma's old quilt group and the blocks turn into a quilt. All this in two weeks.

I found the book lacking in suspense and formulaic. The main character's crisis could have been suspenseful with better handling. I had real problems with the love interest using violence to save Alyssa from a masher. There is no repercussion for his actions. And when Alyssa and Scott are accused of theft, their word alone is all it takes for the police to go after the man they accuse of the set up.

Religion has little active role other than the aunt takes the young folk to church. A young man realizes that church was not so bad. Mostly, the conservative attitude towards courtship is shown, not told, as Alyssa's love interest shows great restraint and respect towards her. For me, this book is for a young reader or an older person who dislikes to be ruffled.

Disappointed, but curious, I turned to the second novel.

Masterpiece Marriage is set in Philadelphia in 1871. Zenus is a textile mill owner who needs to save his business. He travels to his Virginia aunt to beg one of her quilt designs so he can manufacture quilt kits. The aunt has just arranged to help Mary, who is an aspiring botanist under a deadline to prepare her research on tomato plants for publication. Zenus and Mary both need auntie's help and want to get the other out of the way. Sparks fly. The sparks become attraction.

The aunt is a famous quilter and during the story women work on an embroidered crazy quilt. Again, quilting does not figure predominately in the story, but is a plot devise to get Zenus and Mary together.

They struggle with serendipitous events, wondering if coincidence or providence is behind life's happenings. Does God arrange specific events for specific people? But then life's pain would be God's handiwork, too, and a loving God would not do that. The balance falls in favor of divine providence.

I enjoyed the Philly references. Textile mills thrived across the city, including in Kensington, once home to thriving factories like Stetson Hat and Quaker Lace. We lived for a time not far from the empty Stetson Hat factory.Kensington was where America's first textile printing factory was built by John Hewitt. Read about him here and on Barbara Brackman's blog post here. Early American quilts used his textiles for Broderie perse quilts. Read about Kensington and Fishtown's mills here.
One of the empty factories in our neighborhood in 1979/80. Nothing much has changed since we lived in Kensington.
Zenus does show a rare concern for keeping his women mill workers employed so the children did not starve. Very commendable and Christian. he and Mary even think about some kind of support to help them, one indication that their marriage will be based on more than sex appeal.

Textile mills were horrible places. (
The noise of the machines, the heat and humidity, the lint in the air, the long hours (up to 14 hours a day), the monotonous work and limited breaks lead to accidents, disease and poor health. Children workers equaled the number of adult workers, and women predominated the workforce. Children under 12 were limited to 10 hours days in 1849; those over age 12 could work 12 hours a day or more. Pennsylvania tried to limit or end child labor, but it was not successfully banned until 1913. The state's first factory safety act was passed in 1889.
Mt Pisgha Church was off the main roads, amid rowhouses
In 1980 we knew an 99 year old Kensington lady who told of her mill working days. Her husband died when they were young and she went to work at a lace mill, which my husband recalls was near Erie Avenue. She arose before dawn to walk to the mill, put in a long day, walked home in the dark, had a dinner of cold potatoes, and went to bed.

She lived in a Father, Son and Holy Ghost house  consisting of three rooms on three levels. About 14 feet wide, with hardly 100 square feet a story they were built to cram as much living space in the city as possible for the vast number of workers needed for industry.

The Quilts of Love Series has many titles with diverse plots, from the Underground Railway to crime mysteries. These books were definitely romances in the secular sense, with physical attraction the basis of "love". I would like to see Christian romance give more attention to a deeper base for marriage, where values, empathy, and faith figure more predominately in the attraction.

Grand Design
Abingdon Press
Amber Stockton
Publication August 19, 2014

Masterpiece Marriage
Abingdon Press
Gina Wellborn
Publication December 16, 2014

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