If my mother’s weekly trips to the library had resulted in a never-ending stream of Georgette Heyer and Catherine Cookson books instead of the mountains of Agatha Christie and Dick Francis novels she adored (and I started devouring at a young age having read all of our small library’s offerings for children), my reading life might have been very different. Perhaps I might even have developed a more romantic kind of personality (although there’s not a lot of evidence for that because a lifetime spent with my nose buried in crime novels hasn’t resulted in any noticeable criminal tendencies). As it happens though I was well into my 20’s before I read a modern romance novel (I had devoured Jane Austen’s canon as a teenager) but by then I think the die was cast. I didn’t by any means hate it but I did wonder where the dead bodies were.
However, when the founder and driving force behind the Australian Women Writers Challenge announced she had secured a deal to publish a romance I knew I would be revisiting the genre. I haven’t yet managed to meet Elizabeth Lheude in the flesh but I’ve spent enough time hanging out with her virtually and admiring her efforts and intellect from afar that I was genuinely pleased for her success and wanted to show my support in a tangible way.
Which is a long-winded explanation for how this die-hard mystery reader came to be downloading an Australian romance novel on a blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon. Set in rural New South Wales SNOWY RIVER MAN, by Elizabeth’s alter ego Lizzy Chandler, is the story of a young woman who dreams – or senses – the location of a small boy who has gone missing. Katrina wants to help but nearly baulks when she learns that the boy’s father is the man she had a one night stand with some years earlier. She hasn’t seen Jack since she learned he was engaged to be married, a fact he kept from her during their night together.
Although I decided immediately to read Elizabeth’s book I took longer over the matter of whether or not I would write about it here on the blog. When I discuss crime novels I feel pretty confident that I can not only talk about my personal responses to the book but can also take into consideration where it fits within the genre and its relative merits against other works. But I have absolutely no yard stick by which to measure whether a romance novel is ‘good’ or not and I wasn’t sure I wanted to start attempting to do so with a virtual friend’s novel. But then, I thought, can I really claim to be a reader if I can’t even have a single discussion about a book from an unfamiliar genre? Surely there are basic questions I can answer.
Did the book engage me? Absolutely. I liked Katrina immediately and wanted to learn more about the way in which her apparent connection to the boy would be manifest. I was wary of Jack at first (cheats not being high on my list of top blokes) but intrigued to know his back story and find out if there was a reason I would accept for why he’d behaved in the way he did. And even though I’m normally on the lookout for dead bodies between the pages, even I was hoping to discover the boy would be found safe and well.
Was there a believable world created? Again, a resounding yes. The rural location is evoked very well with Jack’s farm and surroundings being depicted beautifully and the community culture that exists in such settings shining through. Perhaps more importantly the story elements that explain why Jack, his son Nick and Katrina are in the personal circumstances that exist when we meet them make contextual sense too. The reason I read a swag of modern romances in my 20’s was that a friend was writing for one of the Harlequin imprints at the time and she used to have me read her stuff and rate it on an eye-rolling scale. If I rolled my eyes more than once at the contrivances which kept the lovers apart I was duty bound to tell her at what point(s). She also used to ask me what passages I skimmed (usually when the sex scenes ran to more than a couple of paragraphs). I didn’t roll my eyes or skim any passages when reading SNOWY RIVER MAN.
So there you have it. I read and enjoyed my first romance novel in 20 odd years. Even the slightly mystical tone was well within my low tolerances for ‘woo woo’ elements and added a little something extra to the reading experience and I was smiling when it came to the happy ending (I think the one thing I can say with some authority about the genre is that romance novels, traditional ones anyway, do all have a basically happy ending so I don’t think I’ve spoiled anything there).
I won’t pretend this is the start of a major shift in my reading habits but I am glad I was able to read something way outside my usual fare and get something from the experience. It’s nice to know my preferences haven’t permanently blocked off any avenues. I know that most of my regular readers come here for the dead bodies so I won’t try to tempt you to read this particular romance novel but will suggest you make a plan to read something just as random. Something you’d never normally pick up. You might be pleasantly surprised. And if you’ve made your way here looking for something other than crime recommendations then definitely give SNOWY RIVER MAN a go. It’s deliciously short, got great characters whose lives you want to see turn out well and will make even the city-dwellers among you want to head bush. At least for a weekend.
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I don’t suppose this qualifies as a review but I’m definitely counting it as the sixth novel I’ve read for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. Check out my challenge progress and/or sign up yourself.
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Publisher Escape Publishing 
Length 163 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series standalone
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