Before reviewing the uplifting and inspirational love story that is The Rose Ring, I must confess to a torrid and unhealthy former relationship with mainstream romance novels. In intensity, it neared the somewhat creepy fascination I had with the dangerous television romance between Spike the vampire and Buffy the Vampire-Slayer. But perhaps I have said too much.
Much to my contentment, The Rose Ring tugged at my heartstrings and fascinated me in a way that was decidedly uncreepy. In The Rose Ring, author Anne Faye actually tells two love stories, one in the present and one in the past. In the present, Julia struggles with her feelings for an old flame, Zach, at a time when a new man has just entered the picture. By the discovery of a unique gold ring, she is also drawn into the mystery of a past romance between a young teacher, Elizabeth, and her fiancé Joseph who left to fight in World War II and never came back.
Through the juxtaposition of the two stories, the book explores parallel themes of forgiveness and reconciliation when a woman suffers abandonment by a man. A couple of unexpected plot twists keep the excitement going all the way to the end. Some even brought me to tears! A major sub-plot is the main character's relationship with her mother, an instantly recognizable controlling personality type who tries to overshadow both her husband and her children without complete success.
The book flows well. Its chapters are nicely structured, and the transitions between the two love stories proceed smoothly. Even the minor characters have depth; none of them is one-dimensional. The characters' justifications for their past actions make sense, even though their actions clearly resulted in hurting others. I was left wondering, however, why Zach began pursuing Julia again after having left her so many years ago. The book would have benefited from more explanation of his change of heart.
The Rose Ring belongs to an ever-growing genre of modern Catholic romance novels, which differ primarily from bodice-rippers in that there is not in fact any bodice ripping. (No sex scenes, in case you didn't catch the reference.) This genre places great demands upon its authors. Weaving religion into a popular work of art in an effective and engaging way requires a deft hand and discerning judgment, as Catholic screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi is fond of pointing out. The Rose Ring takes a subtle approach. The 1940s setting of one of the Rose Ring's principal romances makes the modesty seem natural rather than pointedly obvious. Catholicism also operates strictly in the background of the book. There is a brief mention of mass and confession without any awkward transition that shouts here is where the story stops and the catechism begins. Because the book downplays its Catholicism, it has potential appeal for a broad audience. Devout Catholic readers, however, might prefer more overt exploration of religious themes.
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Thanks to author Anne Faye for providing me with a free review copy of the book.