We’re reading our way across America…one romance at a time.
Years by LaVyrle Spencer
And now we come to North Dakota, and the work of LaVyrle Spencer.
What? You didn’t think we were going to read our way across America without paying our respects to the grandest dame of them all, did you? Impossible. Spencer is an icon, and her books have been wildly influential. Seriously, go google her biography—this woman is amazing. She didn’t begin writing for publication until she was in her thirties. Inspired by Kathleen E. Woodwiss’s iconic The Flame and the Flower, she decided to try her hand at a novel of her own, and when she was finished writing it, she sent it not to a publisher but to her literary idol. Woodwiss was so impressed that she promptly submitted it to her own publisher, and a new career was born.
…Sort of. More or less. Spencer, believe it or not, had trouble getting subsequent volumes published. Her heroes were nice, regular guys, not forcibly seductive alphas! She used (say it isn’t so) humor liberally and to great effect! And her challenges didn’t end when she did start publishing her books (twelve of which went on to become New York Times best sellers, four of which were filmed, starring the likes of Christopher Reeve). For example, or so the story goes, her publisher slapped some mildly racy cover art on one of her early novels—a naked man and women with mid-eighties supermodel hair, their limbs entwined, an artistically draped sheet concealing their naughty bits. Spencer kicked up a fuss, and as a result her subsequent novels were published with flowers on the cover, so they looked like tissue boxes and not like bodice-rippers.
That book was Years, which happens to represent the next stop on our literary tour.
Years introduces us to eighteen-year-old Linnea Brandonborg, who arrives in tiny, remote Alamo, North Dakota in the autumn of 1917 to teach school. She has arranged to board with the Westergaard family—thirty-something widower Theodore, his no-nonsense mother Nissa, and his teenaged son Kristian—because their farm is closest to the school. However, because she only used her initials in her correspondence, Theodore (or Teddy, as he’s known around town) is expecting a male teacher—not a petite, fiery, lovely, frustrating young woman.
Teddy has a rather unfortunate romantic history—his late first wife was mentally ill—and mistrusts most women, so he’s frightfully rude to Linnea at first. And Linnea is still very young, and dreams of being swept away by a young, handsome, wealthy, charming gallant, never that she’ll fall in love with a gruff, plainspoken, largely unfriendly, functionally illiterate farmer.
But that’s exactly what happens. Teddy reluctantly asks Linnea to help him learn to read, and with their heads bent together over a slate each night, his reserve begins to melt. They’re married by spring, and all of a sudden Spencer switches gears (for a time, anyway) and a nice pleasant G-rated story gets all overheated and spicy like WHOA:
The kiss twisted between them with wondrous urgency, his tongue slewing the interior of her mouth, hers probing in a wild, loving quest. She spread her fingers wide over the warm satin back of his vest, inquisitive to know each taut inch of him. His chest heaved against her breasts, making them yearn for more…
And, yes, there’s more where that came from.
So many romance novels end with the hero and heroine gazing into the future together on their wedding night, leaving the reader to imagine what happens next; not this one. In Years, we follow Teddy and Linnea through the first year of their marriage, which has its share of ups and downs. Teddy is still one stubborn cuss, and Linnea is…still very much Linnea. World War I is going on, and Kristian wants to enlist. Linnea thinks that’s a grand idea. Teddy thinks the boy has plumb lost his mind. The North Dakota climate is harsh and unforgiving, and there are psychopaths out there and epidemics and all sorts of obstacles. (Without giving too much away, I would advise horse lovers to give this particular novel a very wide berth.)
But despite their struggles, the love Linnea and Teddy have for one another is never in doubt. And the book ends with an image of peace and contentment that will remain with you for a long time after you close the cover (or power down your e-reader).
After twenty-three novels, LaVyrle Spencer retired from writing in 1997 and is currently living—very happily, by all accounts—in Minnesota, where she composes music for fun. While it’s a shame that there will be no new novels issuing forth, we can be thankful for the ones we do have, most especially the lovely, deeply romantic tale that is Years.
Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak Magazine.