Book Review: Once Upon A Tour by D. Ogden Huff

Book:  Once Upon A Tour
Author:  D. Ogden Huff
Pages:  300-ish
Format: Kindle/ebook
Publisher:  Amazon Digital Services
Book Source:  Provided by Author
Category:  Contemporary Romance (LDS)
Style:  Character-driven, fanciful

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Creepy castles, exotic sights, and flirty foreign men—it’s no wonder ALINA, a starry-eyed American Mormon girl, is in love for the third time in three weeks. When a guided tour of Eastern Europe repeatedly tests her moral strength, she must decide whether her love is real or only imagined.
Alina knows that she sees the world through fairy tale-colored glasses—after all, she writes sappy romances and collects old fairy tales. But why stifle her overactive imagination when there’s romance all around her? With every new castle, Alina envisions herself in historical romances where she’s chased by delicious vampires, roguish robbers, and conspiring counts—right into the arms of loyal captains, fearless farmers, and regal princes. But in her short stories, as well as her real life, her romances don’t end well. . . . read more

My Take:

To be totally honest, I am always a touch leery of "Mormon" literature.  Don't get me wrong: I like to read books about characters who try to hold to the same standards as my own.  I enjoy reading about their struggles to live in but not of the world.  I especially appreciate getting through an entire book without being blindsided by gratuitous sexual content or foul language or graphic violence or any combination of the three.  I believe it's possible to tell interesting stories without having to resort to the salacious, and I appreciate it when the authors I read prove it.

However, I don't care to be preached at.  When I want to read about Gospel doctrine, I head to the nonfiction aisle and, more often than not, authors whose names begin with "Elder".  More importantly, I don't believe that LDS writers should be held to a lower standard simply because they are LDS.  Sacrificing quality for safety is a lose:lose situation.  We are an educated people.  Shouldn't the literature we produce reflect that?

All of the above illustrates why I truly enjoy reading Ms. Huff.  Her only overtly LDS work, Once Upon A Tour is, hands down, my favorite of the three I have read.  The premise is a simple one—Mormon girl strikes out on her own in search of romance and finds herself in way above her head in a secular, instant-gratification world—but Ms. Huff manages to employ her fresh approach and insightful characters to flesh out the tale and make it her own.

She peppers her story with what feels like firsthand experience in touring Eastern Europe—Romania, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland—and manages to make her locales integral to the plot.  She also intersperses Alina's fanciful prose in the story, which serves well when the character's little stories and overactive imagination get her into plenty of trouble.  When life begins to reflect art, Alina struggles to differentiate the two.

I must admit here that I fretted in the beginning because Alina was acting—well—not like a good Mormon girl should, letting herself be hit on by a handsome stranger, getting way too physical way too fast, allowing him all sorts of presumptions, and I had difficulty accepting the speed with which their relationship moved.  But, Ms. Huff puts Alina's indiscretions to good purpose and crafts a tale about temptation, redemption, true love vs. physical attraction, and how easy it is to get swept away by our emotions when we let down our guard.

Ms. Huff manages all this convincingly without preaching or teaching a Sunday school class.  In my opinion, some spiritual experiences are lost in any translation—"words cannot express"—and shouldn't be attempted, but too many LDS fiction authors do just that.  The result is unfortunate.  In thinking about it, maybe I just believe such profound truths shouldn't be fictionalized.

Ms. Huff nicely "fades to black", more or less, in the scenes alluding to Alina's spiritual experiences.  She doesn't try to quote prayers or scriptures or describe moments of personal revelation in intimate detail.  Rather, she focuses on the results, which I find very refreshing.

On the flip side, Alina's indiscretions sometimes get on the far side of PG-13—the far, far side—which made me squirmy.  But then, I believe that in itself presents a problem with which writers of LDS romance struggle.  At least it is for me.  Good writing is about evoking visceral responses in the reader.  How does one convey the emotions, both good and bad, without pushing into the squirmy place?  Even so, it's a skill worth honing for, in the words of my sister, "I don't want to read a Mormon Harlequin romance."

I'm a fade-to-black person myself.  I have written the other and have decided that I would rather not steam up the proverbial car windows of my readers with lots of heavy breathing.  I want to inspiring more elevated sensibilities—sentiments more worthy of my efforts.  Writing historical fiction makes that easier because the social norms were far more strict in my time period of choice, but I believe Ms. Huff does a fairly good job of finding the balance for contemporary fiction.  She teeters, but manages to step back from the edge, which I believe is the whole point of the story.

Bottom line:  I recommend this book and look forward to Ms. Huff's future efforts.  How do you feel about LDS romantic fiction?  Who is your favorite LDS writer?    

FTC disclaimer:  An electronic copy of this book was provided to me by the author or their agent with the understanding I would provide a fair and honest review.  I receive no other compensation for this content.

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