I always said I hated romance novels. Even as a teen, the genre did nothing for me. The idea of a woman being swept off her feet by some bad boy who forces himself on her didn’t make me want to read a book; on the contrary: it repelled me. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that a story that involves actual love and romance (as opposed to sex-driven plots) is something I could get into so easily!
Enter Stay with Me by Carolyn Astfalk, a romance with quirky, believable characters who are real enough that you expect to run into them at the next street fair in your home town. Stay with Me opens with Rebecca doing some grocery shopping with her niece and nephew – or, at least, trying to do some grocery shopping, as her niece is having a meltdown in the middle of the aisle. Not long after calming that storm, she’s faced with another impending meltdown when a young man who is restocking the yogurt section comes to her rescue. The crisis is averted, but Rebecca finds herself daydreaming that the yogurt man will take her away from the world and personally meet all of her future dairy needs.
From there, Rebecca and Chris (our intrepid yogurt man) develop a friendship and romance. Chris, a new convert to Catholicism, struggles to maintain his faith while pursuing Rebecca romantically while Rebecca, raised in a small non-denominational church, struggles with her own baggage from years of living with a domineering father and of hearing harsh messages about abstinence and purity. Can these two seek out a healthy romantic relationship in spite of their pasts and the differences in their own faiths? Will Rebecca’s emotional baggage prevent her from finding love and happiness?
There’s a great supporting cast to help Chris and Rebecca along the way, from Father John (Chris’ spiritual director and friend) to their siblings Alan and Abby, along with their respective families. With a good dose of humor and a healthy appreciation for a good craft beer, Carolyn Astfalk pulls you into the story easily, and from there, you don’t want to get out again!
I soon found myself having to put forth real effort to put the book down so I could take care of my usual homeschooling, housekeeping, and chauffeuring duties. Cliche phrases like “page-turner” and “couldn’t put it down” keep leaping to mind, but they’re absolutely true. And though it’s a Christian love story, I didn’t feel as if I was being hit over the head with Catholicism as I read it. Chris’ Catholicism was a part of him, but it wasn’t an overbearing part that made him into a two-dimensional character. Likewise, Rebecca’s past and her progression as a character was also believable. Christianity is throughout the novel, but it’s a part of who the characters are and feels like a natural part of the story rather than something forced in to make a point. Carolyn Astfalk can be proud of her debut novel.
I definitely recommend Stay with Me, and am planning on giving it to my teenaged daughters to read, as well. It’s available in Kindle format and in paperback from both Amazon and createspace. (Like createspace’s page and use the code B3E4E622 for a $2 discount on your purchase there.)
Note: I was given an advance copy of Stay with Me for the purposes of reviewing it.