...and there have been quite a few over the years. For this post, I'm going to talk about two of them. One a romance, one, not. Because, although I'm a romance writer, I have never read romance exclusively.
I first picked up 'Adorable Sunday' by Marlene Fanta Shyer during summer vacation at a yard sale. The cover was torn off but the pages were dog-eared -- a sure sign to me that it was a good book. Boy, was it. I locked myself in my room, skipped dinner and read through the night to find out if Sunday - a girl with braces and bad skin - would actually succeed as a model. Turns out she did - it's fiction, after all! - but more than that, she grew up. At 13 when she got her braces off, she was 'discovered' but through the next year it was Sunday making the discoveries - she learned that things that look perfect often aren't, that even 'really beautiful girls' (like her biggest competition) have big problems - like suicide and abuse. Most of all, she figured out that she didn't want to just be beautiful. She wanted more than that. Sounds corny, and I suppose it was...but at 11 it captured what it meant to be a young girl, coming of age and figuring out her life.
A couple of years later, having exhausted all of the YA books in my school and town library (have I mentioned before that I'm a complete bookworm??), I raided my grandmother's stash of Harlequins. And a romance reader was born. I devoured her stash of Betty Neels and Margery Hilton and Emilie Loring (boy, could those women write!!), but it was a book by Sue Peters that grabbed me and still hasn't let go. Unwilling Woman was one of the last Harlequin Romances that Sue wrote, as far as I can tell. It's the story of a woman blackmailed into marriage when the real bride - her only friend - abandons the groom at the altar. Max, the hero, was yummy in his love for horses. Jess was amazing as a woman who knew she was beaten but still didn't give up her dream of being self-sufficient. There were no love scenes and only a few kisses, but when Max rescued Jess from a dream and held her through the night, I cried buckets. That scene still gets me and sometimes I think it is more magical than some of the hot-and-heavy full-on love scenes I've read today.
Those are two, among many, books that touched my heart and made me look at the world differently. They're also two of the first books I read that made me realize this crazy writing business was where I wanted to be. How about you?