While I was rearranging some books on my bookshelves recently, I noticed that I still have a couple of Grace Livingston Hill novels. I've had them for years. I don't know why my mom gave me a couple of her books back when I was a pre-teen (I'd guess around eleven), but the end result was that Hill's novels were my go-to romance novels for a while when I was a teenager. I later branched out into more modern Christian romance novels and have since migrated into secular romance novels when I feel like reading something along those lines (thanks to my grandmother handing me a Nora Roberts trilogy right before I turned 20).
Grace Livingston Hill was one of those very prolific novelists (check her out on Goodreads; she has a serious number of titles credited to her), so the only thing that limited me from reading book after book after book was the number of books by her in the local library's collection. Her books are almost all overtly Christian, with a strong focus on conversion and redemption. Sure, some of her characters don't repent of their wicked ways, but many do. The books are "preachy," and certainly not the sort of thing I'm into now.
She had a very strong emphasis on having a "real" faith, rather than simply attending church. There was a lot about sin, and how we've all sinned and need to repent for it. Bright Arrows features a relatively sheltered wealthy young woman whose only living parent has recently died, as she comes across a book of her father's about sin and Jesus. She has a conversion to a more "active" faith, mentored by a young lawyer working the law firm her father employed. He gets to fall in love with her, and have a dream that Jesus has picked her out for him and he shouldn't be afraid to go and propose. She's been having fond feelings for him, too, particularly since he's by far the kindest and most ethical young man in her life, so she eagerly accepts. Happy ending. Well, except for her criminal relatives who rob her house early in the book and go on the lam. They both end up dead, no repentance scenes for them. One of her would-be boyfriends dies, too, but he has a dramatic come-to-Jesus moment a few moments before he succumbs to his injuries. Her other would-be boyfriend gets slapped a couple times for trying to take liberties and then banished from her house.
The other book on my shelf is Where Two Ways Met. A young man returns home from WWII, a little earlier than most soldiers (something about being wounded, I think), and takes a job at a financial firm. The boss' spoiled 17-year-old daughter takes a shine to him, because he's handsome, and also because a local pastor's daughter is spending time with him, and apparently spoiled young women are all about hot young former soldiers who teach Sunday school and are sort of dating pastor's daughters. She conceives a dramatic scheme to get her man; her father turns out to be a bit of a crook (Wall Street style) so the young man quits his job and goes to work for a more honest firm; the pastor's daughter gets to be in an exciting train wreck; and the young man and the pastor's daughter get engaged at the end of the story. Spoiled rich girl doesn't succeed in her scheme and is deeply pitied by the young man and the pastor's daughter. This was also the book where I first heard of chicken and waffles and thought the dish sounded weird since I never actually encountered it in real life until a couple years ago. I still find it a little weird.
I read a lot of these books, and the formula was usually the same, with main character becoming more fervent in his or her faith, falling in love with someone who was deeply worthy and having someone who was worldly and therefore unworldly tinker a bit with the romance, and then it all comes out in the end. Sometimes the antagonists reformed, sometimes they didn't. She didn't shy away from the seamier sides of life (seriously, one of her novels is called Blue Ruin), but she was never graphic about it, either. Her female characters do mostly epitomize the Madonna/whore dichotomy, but sometimes her male characters do as well.
Like a lot of romance novels, there are strong elements of wish-fulfillment present in many of the novels: characters finding a family when they had none, coming into money, falling in love with someone wealthy who happens to be wonderful. The spiritual side of life is considered important but the material side isn't neglected either, which is admittedly nice to see in a Christian setting, which can easily skew into favoring the spiritual over the physical.
I don't regret having read the books, and I don't really regret having them still on my shelf. I may gravitate to Lisa Kleypas and Nora Roberts when I want romance novels now, but once in a while, I pick one of these up and revisit them and the joy I had in them when I was an eleven-year-old who wanted life to be as neat and tidy as a story.