I was very excited to receive an advanced "sneak-peek" at The Art of Romance by author Kaye Dacus. I had heard a lot about the author's work before, and was refreshingly surprised by her candid voice on the role (or lack thereof) of single women in the Church and the marginalization of this group therein. Thus, I was excited to hear that one of the major trajectories in her novels was the exposition of older women ( not elderly, mind, yet somewhat more mature than the many novels focused on the early 20s crowd) finding happiness and true love well after their 30th birthdays.
Caylor, the spirited and spicy academic at the forefront of The Art of Romance is no exception. A thinking, artistic and erudite English Literature professor, Caylor is a needed change from the chicklit heroines so predominant in the Christian and secular fields. No cosmo drinking, pink-shoe-shopping, hapless, assistant in a major marketing or publishing firm is she. No metropolitan existence and urbanite roommates pepper her flashy life. Instead, she lives in a house in the midst of renovation with her darling grandmother and, soon, her sister.
Caylor is in her mid-30s: not slim-perfect, not stylish ( she has moments, especially in a well-picked dress that catches our hero's eye), not petite. In fact, Caylor's height was one of the most outstanding aspects of this statuesque and poised woman. She is learning to be comfortable in her own skin and it shows..... especially to the somewhat-younger Dylan Bradley.
Dylan is the newest addition to the faculty at JRU, the institution where Caylor works. A painter who has not even dipped into his full potential, Dylan is trying to recover from a domineering relationship where he was victim to a possessive mate while establishing himself as a successful art professor.
I found Dylan's past and the reconciliation thereafter a welcome addition to the novel and to the genre. Christian writers rarely delve into relationships past that expose a hero's less-than-pure past in the same honest way Dacus does. Dacus is blunt about Dylan's past travails and eager to paint him a winsome hero despite them.
Though both have facets of themselves they keep from each other, the chemistry between them is absolute. Especially when it comes to their appreciation of art: written, verbal and visual.
Dacus showed a pleasing knowledge of the work of artists past and did a wonderfully descriptive job of painting ( forgive the pun) Dylan's artistry and his consistent work on new canvas. From the moment Dylan views Caylor as a prospective model and sees her, not as a flawed heroine, but as a woman who catches a certain depth of light, you know that these two are meant to be in each other's company.
There are several pleasing subplots and characters including Dylan's rambunctious and supportive brothers, the elder generation who thrives on matchmaking their grandchildren, Caylor's close girlfriends and Caylor's spunky sister. Overall, this is a very well-fleshed out novel.
I particularly enjoyed the duality of the title and how it means more than you think it does---when it takes a slant at revealing the hidden identity of a popular romance cover model!
Readers of Contemporary Romance and "Chick Lit" will enjoy the pleasant predictability of the plot and the cozy nature of the hero and heroine's burgeoning courtship.
Because of the age of her characters and the struggles they undergo ( due to age difference, maturity, intellect and errors in their past), I think Dacus is a much-needed voice in a sea of novels that favour the experience of much younger women.
If you, like me , have ever felt yourself restraining conversation in male company at a party because you were worried about coming off as too intellectual, then Caylor is the heroine for you. She is not afraid to be herself and her boldness sparks...and attracts... the attention of a man who, in any other novel, might overlook her for someone thinner, more stylish, younger, in less of a threatening position, etc.,etc.,
Overall, a thoughtful and well-told book that favours showing over telling and that delves into two characters whose redemption ultimately comes from their ability to recognize their downfalls and collectively pick themselves up, dust themselves off and head into a far more promising future.
Its conflict and undertones of past mistakes and present judgments give it a "meatier" feel than many of its ilk.
This was a welcome and different type of Contemporary Christian Romance and I hope you pick it up, have fun and find yourself in the refreshingly normal characters!