It’s not often that I find a romance novel written by a male author, especially one who doesn’t feminize his name.  There are several male authors writing mainstream romance novels, but they each tend to hide behind a female alias, so I have to applaud Michael Knudsen for boldly using his own name.  His novel, The Rogue Shop, is also distinctive in the genre because the story is told from the point of view of his main character, a young man, Chris Terry.

The Rogue Shop, is both funny and serious.  It is also a refreshing change from the chic lit romances which have almost taken over and trivialized this genre in recent years.  It begins with a great cover of the Salt Lake City skyline silhouetted against a gentleman’s formal tuxedo, a cover that instantly intrigued me.

Chris comes to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah over the fervent objections of his Aunt Jean, a born again, die hard, Southern Baptist, who raised him after his parents were killed in an accident.  She makes him swear he won’t become a Mormon.  Escaping his aunt and her preacher’s relentless efforts to convert him are part of the reason he chose to leave Texas and travel to Utah, that and the fact, that the University of Utah offered him the best scholarship.

As soon as he arrives in Salt Lake City, he stays a night in a cheap motel, then sets out the following day to find an apartment.  He’s worked hard to save over a thousand dollars to cover his needs for getting started, but once he finds the apartment of his dreams, disaster strikes.  His wallet is gone.  Desperate to secure the apartment and feed himself, he begins a frantic search for a job and to make a deal with the landlord, a seedy character who seems to be good-hearted, but in possession of questionable ethics. The apartment has two strong points going for it; the previous tenant left an orange couch behind when he moved out of the unfurnished apartment and two beautiful girls from Gooding, Idaho, share the apartment across the hall from it.  Fortunately for him, the girls like to cook and are generous about sharing. The three soon become close friends.

Chris’s job search lands him in an unlikely position as an all around flunky for a tuxedo shop where he meets Travis, a physically handicapped young man with a remarkable grasp of language and literary classics and a perverted sense of humor.  He also befriends and elderly woman, once a famous designer, who lost her creative gift when her husband died, and he endures the shop’s manager and his illicit lover.  There’s also an elderly, sloppy salesman, who carries around a load of hatred and the owner who is tired and can’t resist a buyout, even though he detests the man making the offer.

This odd assortment of friends and colleagues open up new and surprising avenues in his life and shed new light on the past.

Knudsen has created characters that inspire strong emotions.  Chris is someone for whom readers can easily feel an attachment, but Travis is the character that impressed me the most.  His dialogue is original, clever, yet bitingly thought provoking.  The two Mormon girls living across the hall from Chris are so typically Mormon, I felt like I’d known them all my life, yet they didn’t smack of being stereotypes, but were real.  Knudsen has done an excellent job of progressing his characters while moving the plot forward with interesting twists that catch the reader off guard.  The setting is fitting and realistic.  It shows the author’s knowledge of Salt Lake’s downtown area without lengthy interruptions of the story.

Not too many men admit to reading romance novels, but those who pick up this one will likely enjoy it.  Women of all ages will want to read this one.

Michael Knudsen was born and raised in Utah and has held a varied assortment of jobs ranging from picking pineapples  to renting tuxedos.  He received a degree in English literature from the University of Utah and currently manages a call center along with writing.  He is married and he, his wife, and children live in the Salt Lake Valley.

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THE ROGUE SHOP by Michael Knudsen, Bonneville Books an imprint of Cedar Fort, softcover, 280 pages, $17.99