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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8 Horse Book Must-Reads to Weather the Pandemic

Has this pandemic turned your world upside-down? Sometimes it really feels that way for me. While I try to keep myself busy all day and into the night with writing, there’s times where I can’t escape the reality of how much things have changed… and how much uncertainty there is about the future.

Well, thank goodness for books. I’m craving horse books more than ever right now, because I’m cut off from riding and barn-time. A little virtual gallop is exactly what my soul is crying out for, and so horse books are the best escape of all.

I’ve recommended horse books on this blog before, of course, but this is a nice little list of eight horse books for under $5 — some of which are also free via Kindle Unlimited — which are all written by grown-up horse girls with a passion for ponies and the desire to share some horsey goodness with the rest of this shut-in world. You’ll see some familiar friends on this list, but you might spot something new… and there’s something for every age!

So click through if you see something you like, take advantage of some special offers, and read some horse books. You’ll feel better. Really!

First off, my most recent novel The Hidden Horses of New York is on sale for $2.99 now through April 28, 2020. So don’t miss that if you haven’t read it yet!

Next, let’s look at some more great horse books…

Where the Bluegrass Grows by Laurie Berglie

You know Laurie Berglie from this site — she did a five questions interview here a few months ago. Have you read her Equestrian Romance series? Where the Bluegrass Grows is the first book in the series.

Horses Adored and Men Endured: A Memoir of Falling and Getting Back Up by Susan Friedland

When Susan was 10, she thought it would be perfect if she could marry a horse; two decades later she feared she might have to marry a horse as there seemed to be no suitable human alternative!

Girl Forward: A Tale of One Woman’s Unlikely Adventure in Mongolia by Heather Wallace

Travel to Mongolia for an endurance horse race and live with the nomads through the eyes of a timid rider and mother of three determined to be bold and live life to the fullest.

Lucy’s Chance (Red Rock Ranch, book 1) by Brittney Joy

Sixteen year old Lucy Rose is spending her first summer away from home and she has two things on her mind: an abandoned, violent horse and a blue-eyed cowboy. Only neither is hers.

Cowgirl Lessons by Rae Rankin

Come along the adventure as a young girl heads to the barn for her weekly riding lesson on her favorite horse Duchess. But first, she must find her lost boot! Good thing mom has eyes “like a hawk!”

Racing and Breaking (A Racing Into Romance Novella) by Cora Marie Colt

Silas Knights finds himself making an interesting parallel between the young horses he has been hired to train and the young woman who is making her way into his heart.

In the Reins by Carly Kade

Full of equine epiphanies, In the Reins is a love story sure to touch your inner cowgirl, capturing the struggle between letting life move forward and shying away from taking the reins with horses and in love.

I hope this list of horse books helps you find some reads to take you away and give you a much-needed escape. If you’re looking for more, check out these pages around my site:

Must-Read Horse Books

On My List: Horse Books to Read in 2020

Equestrian Fiction

 

Horse books to read in 2020

On My List: Horse Books to Read in 2020

I am already a few books deep into 2020 and have started reading my first horse book of the year! It feels so good to dip into an equestrian story… and I super love that it’s set in Maryland Horse Country, since I spent some time as a teenager eventing in Maryland. I love Ocala, Lex is divine, Saratoga is heaven itself, but maybe Hunt Valley deserves a little more literary love, huh?

I love setting up my TBR list for the year with some must-reads (I leave plenty of room for sudden finds at the library and the bookstore, believe me) so I’m sticking some horse books I absolutely don’t want to miss in 2020.

Most of these books have already come out and I’m just catching up with them. So I have no doubt this post will get longer as equestrian authors start releasing 2020 titles. The more the merrier!

*This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, but buy your books wherever it makes you happy! I’ve included publisher direct links when available.*

TBR: Horse Books I’m Reading in 2020

Taking Off, by Laurie Berglie

This is the third book in Laurie Berglie’s Equestrian Romance series and I’m so excited for it. Berglie writes with such a light hand and a clear eye, effortlessly sucking us into the lives, loves, and worries of her characters. Ever since her first lovely novel, Where the Bluegrass Grows, came out (way back in 2016!) I’ve been rooting for Berglie to continue writing her stories about contemporary horsewomen who find themselves before they settle for the wrong life.

Diane Crump: A Horse-Racing Pioneer’s Life in the Saddle, by Mark Shrager

Every year a lot of great horse racing biographies come out, about both horses and riders. Every year I mean to read some and don’t. What can I say, I’m a fiction girl! But I’m definitely intrigued by Diane Crump, who somehow manages not to be a famous figure in today’s female-first equestrian world despite her big, bold decision in the late 1960s to become a jockey. And not just any jockey, but a successful winning rider who went on to compete in the Kentucky Derby just a year after her debut at Gulfstream Park. This book releases in May 2020, so add it to your alerts or pre-order your copy!

Down the Centre Line, by Hazel Beecroft

I’ve been meaning to read Hazel Beecroft’s eventing books forever. Her covers are lovely, her titles are clever, and I just know when I finally dig in, I’m going to treat myself to a story by someone who really knows her topic. Plus, she’s British and I love English prose — not to mention how fun their eventing scene looks! So I’m promising myself Down the Centre Line, which has a very straight-into-the-action beginning with the inner thoughts of Andrew, who wins every event and sleeps with every girl on the circuit and still isn’t satisfied. Andrew, you naughty thing. Tell me more.

Many Brave Fools, by Susan E. Conley

I confess, this book has been everywhere for the past year and I just haven’t had any interest in it. Then I listened to Conley’s interview with Carly Kade on The Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast and wow, interest piqued! I just really enjoyed Conley’s speaking and the way she framed her thoughts. I’m not much on the “horses healing humans” genre for myself, but Conley seems to approach the therapeutic side of horses from a purely scientific and experiential background, which fascinates me. Plus, she started riding for the first time in her life in her 40s. In Ireland. I have to know all about that experience. It’s on the list!

Distant Skies: An American Journey on Horseback, by Melissa A. Priblo Chapman

One read of the blurb for this upcoming release from equestrian publisher Trafalgar Square Books, and I was hooked.

“Melissa Chapman was 23 years old and part of a happy, healthy, loving family. She had a decent job, a boyfriend she cared about, and friends she enjoyed. Yet on the first of May in 1982, she said good-bye to all of it. Carrying a puppy named Gypsy, she climbed aboard a horse and rode away from everything, heading west.”

MELISSA, tell me everything! I absolutely adore middle/rural America travelogues. Truly, one of the best books I read last year was The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, which features a modern-day trip across what’s left and accessible of The Oregon Trail. And I go back to Bad Land and Old Glory: A Journey Down the Mississippi by Jonathan Raban quite frequently. I love it when writers go wandering the countryside. So this is absolutely in my wheelhouse. Can’t wait for this April 2020 release!

Just a Groom, by Laurie Twizel

Everyone’s been telling me to read Laurie Twizel’s eventing novels for the past two years, and for some reason I just haven’t yet. I’m fixing that this year. And maybe it was a good thing I waited, because now there are three books in the Hearts & Horse Trials Series! When I look over the Amazon reviews, I see five stars from some of my regular readers, so I know there’s something good happening inside these pages. Romance and eventing: the perfect combination.

That’s just the start of my equestrian TBR list for 2020! I’ll keep updating this post throughout the year. Got recommendations? Put them in the comments!

Horse books to read in 2020