ISO: Happily Ever After

At the end of July, I found that I had read over 60 novels since shelter-in-place was first instituted around March and continued reading even after things became more relaxed.  Interestingly, nearly half (26) have been in the past month alone.  There are two crazy things about this.  First, I haven’t read nearly this many books within a few months in probably never.  Second, the majority have been romance novels.  There’s nothing crazy about romance novels except that I have never consumed them in this quantity.  For the most part, they have always been scattered between fantasy novels, not one after the other or twice in a day.

This led me to wonder why I was reading romance novels in large doses.  I discovered that romance novels offered  me an escape from all the uncertainty in the world.  I was in search of a guaranteed happily ever after.  Who knew? Certainly not me! Most romance novels guarantee HEA/HFN (happily ever after/happy for now) endings—the keyword is most so please double-check reviews to make sure it does.  Any anxiety from the pandemic, and life in general, was muted because the endings were predictable.  I might not know what would happen tomorrow or even a few hours from now, but I did know there would be a rainbow at the end of what I was reading.

I also rediscovered how bad of a reputation romance novels have.  I hate the stigma surrounding romance novels and I’m ashamed to admit that I have—more than once—turned a cover over or shut down my reading app to avoid unsolicited assessments of my reading choices.  They don’t deserve this bad reputation.  Romance novels have proven to be therapeutic for me, reducing anxiety and providing introspection. The novels that have lingered long after the last page are those that allowed me to contemplate my life, my goals, my relationships, and a plethora of other things.  Here are three recommendations and just a glimpse of one of the many lasting impressions I pulled from each.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In Melt for You (2018; ISBN: 9781503902138), Joellen Bixby has been in love with her married boss for a long while. Things start looking up when she finds out he is in the middle of a divorce, and he suddenly starts showering her with attention. Because she is socially awkward and lacks dating experience, her new neighbor Cameron McGregor offers to help.  The beginning of the book is a bit slow but picks up quickly once the arrangement is made.  It sounds cookie-cutter but the appeal of this book comes from Cameron’s character.  Despite his ego, he is the most supportive and body-positive male lead I’ve met thus far.  I enjoyed the evolution of his relationship with Joellen and his influence on her because she goes from being insecure about her body to standing up for herself.

Hate to Want You (2017; ISBN: 978006256677) is full of longing, the kind that hurts in a sadistically good way. It’s a slow burn. The two main characters Livvy and Nicholas still love each other, but the bad blood that led to their break up has not relented even after a decade has passed. Since their break up, they’ve met up every year for her birthday–she sends coordinates and he goes, no matter where it is. The sex is passionate, it’s sensual, but, most of all, it is heartbreaking and the aftermath is worse because each time it’s supposed to be the last time, there just seems to always be that one time more…until there isn’t. Rai has become one of my go-to authors. I have come to appreciate the way she writes. In this particular novel, she doesn’t move onto the next scene until she’s wrenched all the emotion from the current one. If Rai is at the helm, I can also expect there will be diverse representation.

A Thousand Letters (2017; ISBN: 9781542772426) is part of Hart’s series inspired by Jane Austen novels.  A retelling of Persuasion, Elliot—like Anne Elliot–has regrets for not choosing to marry Wade—Captain Wentworth’s counterpart.  Neither have spoken for several years, but are forced to reunite when Wade’s father is suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer.  Because Elliot is very much part of the family, she’s best friends with Wade’s sister and Wade’s father was her mentor, they are unable to avoid one another. It is clear that neither has moved on from the other and neither is also willing to speak to one another about it.  Hart beautifully captures the longing between our leads and the impending loss of a parent.  The book brought me to tears on multiple occasions.  If you’re a fan of Persuasion, you will easily be able to identify plots from the original novel as well as what is all Hart. What I love about this retelling is that Elliot is portrayed as a lot stronger in character as compared to Anne Elliot in Austen’s original novel.  Hart does a good job of bringing Persuasion to the present day and making it her own. There is sex in the book but not nearly as explicit like in Hate to Want You and Melt for You.

Like any other genre, not every book is going to be great.  Romance novels will vary in plot as much as it will also maintain tropes.  Interestingly, I also discovered a trove of novels about athletes, billionaires, and all-around bad boys. This was newer to me on the book front but not so much when it came to Korean dramas (harharhar).  Romance novels vary in how explicit sex is as well.  It might be nothing at all—holding hands or a kiss—to erotica.  Take your pick! The beauty of this is that you get to choose what you’re comfortable with.  If you’ve never read a romance novel before, I’m urging you to give them a chance. My life is all the better because of them. And, if you have recommendations, please send them my way, whether romance novels or books that left deep impressions.

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