Treasures of the Heart
by Tina Runge
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12680-2
You know the old saying, “Never judge a book by its cover?” I confess that I might occasionally pre-judge a book by its cover. It’s been my long-standing impression that the cuter the cover, the tamer the book. Treasures of the Heart hasn’t revised my opinion. It has an extremely cute cover, and it is extremely tame. It’s true that the 1880's time period in which the story is placed was during a slower, gentler era, but surely someone somewhere experienced a little passion, a little fervor. Judging from this story, not in rural Indiana.

Amanda Glosser is the daughter of the Prosper, Indiana, town merchant. She agrees to purchase some Amish quilts from Josiah Miller, primarily because she is much more interested in the good-looking Amishman than in Leon Violette, the suitor her father favors. Amanda is aware that she may have overpaid for the quilts, but she is unlikely to sell them. (Now, of course, they’d be worth a small fortune.)

Amanda learns that Josiah sold the quilts in order to buy a prosthesis for his brother who has lost his leg in an accident. She notices that one quilt seems to have a map stitched into the design. Traveling to the Amish settlement to encourage Josiah in his efforts to acquire sufficient funds, Amanda is charmed by the simple customs of the Amish. Josiah begins to notice women as women in a highly inappropriate fashion. In every case, Amanda outshines the others.

Spending time in each other’s company leads to an inevitable mutual attraction. Amanda’s father, however, is opposed to the Amish because his late wife contracted cholera from an Amish woman. Moreover, Josiah risks being shunned by his people if he becomes involved with an “English” woman.

Amanda persuades Josiah that the map indicates the location of a treasure, and they decide to embark on a quest for it together. With so much at stake, will they be able to find their hearts’ treasure?

Treasures of the Heart is a “Quilting Romance” -- one of a romance series that features quilts in the plot in some fashion. Readers who assume this theme implies a story with a comfy, down-home atmosphere will not be mislead. There’s plenty of nineteenth century quaintness: quilting, cooking, dipping candles, gathering eggs, horse and buggy travel. The characters are equally quaint. But, I never got a sense that these were real flesh and blood people with real emotions. Because the characters felt so artificial, I never became absorbed in either the story or the romance.

Not only do they seem artificial, they seem downright unnatural. Even though he’s in his mid-twenties, Josiah’s never really noticed girls before. It’s only when he starts noticing Amanda tiny waist and cute smile does he notice there are other females around. I know that the Amish society and the Victorian era share an atmosphere of sexual repression, but aren’t those pesky hormones are pretty much the same regardless of the cultural setting?

Similarly, Amanda’s character doesn’t ring true. She lives in a small community, but she doesn’t recognize Josiah’s mother who has been a customer in the store several times and is completely ignorant of the traditions of the nearby Amish settlement. How could she be so oblivious? It isn’t as though she had MTV to distract her.

The romance between Josiah and Amanda seems more the result of strictly no competition than any genuine irresistible attraction. Josiah decides Amanda’s cuter than the Amish girls. Amanda thinks Josiah fills his pants out nicely. Of course, Josiah looks good. Up against the utterly repulsive Leon, a lifetime of solitary spinsterhood looks good. He’s got bad teeth, stinks, has poor grammar and worse manners. Why her father is pushing Leon defies comprehension -- who’d want him as a son-in-law?

If you are looking for a romance to pass on to your elderly maiden aunt with a heart condition, this may be a good choice. If, however, you are looking for something that’ll light a little fire on a cold winter’s night, I’d advise you to look elsewhere.

--Lesley Dunlap

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