How Romance Saved My 2020 Reading Life (And Then Some)

2020 is going down as the year of constant distraction.

Well, among other things.

For many of us, the difficulty of being stuck home through lockdown and the subsequent months of unending, ongoing “quarantine” has been made so much worse by an inability to pay attention to one thing. Namely, to books! I think in March, a lot of us looked at our TBR pile and thought: “Well, at least I’ll get a lot of reading done.”

(This is also what I think anytime I consider what would happen if I were ever jailed for some reason. And it went down just as successfully as I guess it would if I were ever jailed.)

Not a lot of reading got done.

It was impossible to concentrate long enough to finish a book, or even get halfway through it. I abandoned book after book after just a few chapters, tweeting mournfully that another appealing novel had gone back to the library unread, or that I just couldn’t seem to get into the plot.

It was starting to look like I was going to fail at even reading a lot during a mandatory stay-at-home order.

Sound familiar? I’ve talked to so many people, all year, who have said the same thing. Lots of doomscrolling on social media, but not enough brain power to lurch through a novel.

Then I found a solution…romance!

I had started to write a romance novel as a sort of feel-good escape from reality. I did some reading about the art of romance-writing and was getting familiar with the “beats” and general requirements of the genre. Romance readers are known for being very persnickety about their books following a certain arc, and, having basically spent the past ten years writing character-driven literary fiction, I had never worked within a prebuilt structure before. It was really interesting.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca, plus coffee and a bagel.
Romance saved 2020. Also everything bagels and cold brew coffee.

I had looked back at a few historical romances I had really loved over the years (especially My Sweet Folly and Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale) but now I did something (in the name of research) I hadn’t ever really done: I picked up a new contemporary romance and started turning the pages.

The book was No Offense by Meg Cabot and I was intrigued because it was set in the Florida Keys, and I knew it would be light-hearted and fun, and wow was it ever! I read that little book in two days and was hungry for more. My year took an abrupt shift — suddenly, I couldn’t read enough. I was devouring contemporary romance like it was a plate of cinnamon buns with extra icing which were guaranteed to give me energy and shiny hair.

I started hitting my Kindle hard for Prime Reads titles in the genre. I subscribed to Contemporary Romance in BookBub and Freebooksy. My library’s holds section is under constant assault. Place hold, place hold, place hold, I click. Yes, I will go on the waiting list!

And as I’ve started replacing doomscrolling, little by little, with romance reads, my life has gotten better. I don’t have extra energy or shinier hair, but I do have more ideas. And I think less about the things I’m not doing, and more about the things I’m going to do, On The Other Side, When This War Is Over, etc.

Three reasons I think contemporary romance is absolutely saving my life in 2020:

  1. The lightheartedness. With some exceptions, I’m reading books that are joyful, humorous, or at least not too bogged down in deep thinking on the human condition. Listen, I love reading deep thinking on the human condition. Just not right now, okay? I need some happiness. And the most essential, happiest part of the human condition is being in love.
  2. The Happy Ever After. I require a guaranteed happy ending right now. I’ve always been pretty naughty about ambiguous endings in my books, because I have always been suspicious about happy endings. But this isn’t strident realism in lit fic. This is a romance. We’re gonna have a wedding, people! Or at least a big ol’ kiss. HEAs are the Official Ending of 2020, in my book.
  3. The predictability. Yes, I’m having fun with this. Not because I know how an author is going to hit each beat, but because I like guessing how the author is going to hit the beat. I like realizing which section belongs to which part of the story arc. It’s a little nerdy, but what part of being a novelist isn’t nerdy?

So, listen. If you’re still having trouble finishing books because of everything (I’m waving my hands in the air for emphasis) consider the romance. Here are a few I absolutely loved so far this year:

No Offense by Meg Cabot. A librarian in the Florida Keys finds a baby in the bathroom, and ends up falling for the town sheriff. The Keys setting is so relaxing! I felt like I was there! Super cute, fun, and light reading. I need to get the entire series set in Lighthouse Key.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca. Holy cow! This adorable romance set in a small Maryland town with an annual renaissance fair was absolutely amazing. No spoilers but the pirate character is definitely Hook from Once Upon a Time and wow, hot. This book is so sweet that the one or two extremely hot sex scenes are kind of surprising. I didn’t mention it above but I don’t really care for sex in novels. I think it’s usually a distraction from the story. I don’t think this needed the sex but honestly? Hot. Can’t wait to read the next book.

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson. Totally off the beaten path, this book includes an elderly matchmaking witch who lives in a Brooklyn brownstone, a Floridian girl who doesn’t know how to fix her life after a break-up, and a lot of ambiguity about what constitutes a relationship versus SexyTimes. Oh, and falling in love via text, one of my favorite tropes because Words! I mean, this book just goes off the genre rails and does whatever it wants, but the structure is there so you still know you’re getting that HEA.

I adored it and I was so impressed that Dawson followed it up with a Mature Relationship Romance between the main characters, which is tougher both to read and to write, but worth your time as well.

All in all I feel like reading and writing romance this year has been the absolute saving of my mental health, and I really encourage you to give it a try! If you’re afraid it’s going to be cheesy, it’s not, I can assure you. Romance is awesome. Take it from me, an extremely snooty lit fic reader! There is so much to love and learn from in this genre.

My latest novel is a romance, by the way: Sunset at Catoctin Creek is about a sweet, small-town girl who has devoted her life to rescuing horses, and the city boy who is her opposite in every way…and her perfect match. I loved writing it so much, I’m halfway through the follow-up.

Quote from Sunset at Catoctin Creek: https://amzn.to/31FKr7k

So, have you been reading any romance this year? What can you recommend?

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