Sep 23 2013 1:30pm

Warmth and Love in North Dakota: LaVyrle Spencer’s Years

Years by LaVyrle SpencerWe’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 by LaVyrle SpencerYears 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.

Years by LaVyrle SpencerSo 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.

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Sheri Moore
1. Sheri Moore
I have read all of LS books and they are all wonderful. It was a sad day for readers when she retired. But her books will hopefully be available for future romance reader for a long, long time.
2. Kareni
This is one of my favorite LaVyrle Spencer books and one I've read a number of times. My cover art is different again from all of those pictured above. It's a more muted version of this.

Now I may need to re-read it once more! Thanks for the post.
Anna Bowling
3. AnnaBowling
When I saw the title of this piece, I actually squeed. It's been years (pun unintended) since I've read Teddy and Linnea's story, but it all came flooding back to me merely by the briefest of mentions, which is always the mark of a classic story. I loved the depth and complexity of Spencer's books, and if she ever did want to return to publishing, we'll leave the light on for her.
Sheri Moore
4. Donna Alward
I love LaVyrle's books. VOWS was the first romance I ever read; I cut my teeth on her books and have read each one so many times they are falling apart. YEARS is one of my favorites. Who can forget "Will You Merry Me?"??? Thanks for the great post - makes me want to go and read the entire backlist again. Morning Glory is also a fave of mine. Maybe I'll grab it next.
Sheri Moore
5. hww
Thanks for writing about one of my all time favorite writers. Yes, I was heartbroken when she retired because all of her books are classics and should be reread yearly. I guess BITTERSWEET is my all time classic romance favorite, but I really loved them all.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
6. emmel
Spencer is a classic, and I hope new-to-the-genre readers discover her. I love the way her heroes are absolutely wonderful without having to go all alpha. And how her heroines always have a core dignity and strength.
My fave of hers: Morning Glory.
Sheri Moore
7. Jean Bridgman
I sure wish the book Years had a sequel. It is wonderful though I was crying a time or two.
God Bless a magnificent author.
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