Lightning in the Snow, short stories by Virginia Babcock [Review]

I read this book as part of a reading group and I’ll say up front that this is not my usual genre. There are eight stories in the volume. Six involve a female protagonist who seeks and finds love. One is a cautionary tale from the perspective of an 18-year-old girl about the perils of succumbing to the seduction of an older man, and one is a tale of forgiveness and (thank God) happy conclusion to a nearly catastrophic car accident. Each includes well-crafted characters who hit designated heart strings who exist in a world where small obstacles are overcome through perseverance and faith. They are mostly narrated in the third person so that the reader is watching through other eyes or being told what happened in the past, so there is little sense of immediacy to any problems. There are no moments off peril or crisis, no strong emotions other than the pull of unrequited attraction and eventually love, with interludes (some way too long) of description of the inner thoughts and day-to-day actions of the characters as they meander toward their predictable happy endings. Not that this is a bad outcome – it’s what the reader expects. Hence, the initial warning about who the audience is for these stories.

This book of short stories (some longer than others) is written for a specific audience. It is for female readers (young adults and up) looking for comfortable, clean romance without a lot of anxiety, crisis, or emotion, with a hint of faith and an expectation of happy endings. The steam index here is 2 (scale of 1-10). For that specific audience, if you don’t mind ignoring some copy editing problems, you’ll enjoy the stories and the characters Ms. Babcock has created. All others should probably stay away.

                I was distracted by the persistent copy editing issues in the text here, although the author may be able to clean that up. I’m perhaps a stickler, but after a few dozen typos and punctuation errors, I get annoyed. The persistent contractions with apostrophe-d (she’d, he’d, they’d, Amielia’d) I wondered what the author has against verbs. There are also several continuity and logic head-scratchers (like the “bad” husband who married the girl so she could work and support him while he struggled through law school, who somehow had a huge fortune to give away to her in the divorce settlement), but given their fanciful nature, that is more easily overlooked. The more problematic issues for me were the endings, which were all predictable, happy, and sweet no matter what circumstances led up to them.

                I found the stories to be insufficiently exciting, with not enough emotional crisis or punch, and not enough fear that the protagonists would ever not end up in a happy, comfortable situation, where love will prevail. I can live without more sizzle in the romance, but the remainder of the stories were far too bland for my taste. But I’m not a 16-year-old girl from Utah, so I’m not really the target audience. I’ll give the author the benefit of doubt and assume that a 16-year-old girl from Utah will enjoy them.

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