Happy Wolfenoot to all who celebrate. While dogs may indeed be man’s (and woman’s) best friend, for the romance reader, it’s a great romance novel, that fills the need, time after time. Ever wonder what the whole “same but different” thing actually means? Read on, below.
What brought all this to mind? In a word, Thanksgiving. Yesterday was Thanksgiving for us in the US, and, usually, the expectation is for a huge, perfect, personally cooked meal, friends and family from far-flung locales, putting life aside, to gather in one place, to give thanks for all that’s great in life. Of course, theory and practice are often two different things. That’s why we see books, TV, and movies, who take the expected Thanksgiving tropes, and turn them upside down.
Maybe the whole family does gather, but they aren’t getting along. Maybe Uncle Bub blows up the garage by a mishap with the deep fryer that was meant for the turkey. In a romance, some niece or nephew is going to find something unexpected to be thankful for, when they meet a first responder, or ER staff member, who’d given up on being thankful for anything, until an unexpected patient (and their family) gives them a whole new perspective on holidays, life, love, the whole shebang.
On a personal front, I usually do want the whole picture perfect thing, and perfect is exactly what we got this year, but not in the way I had expected. For one thing, I hadn’t expected to be down with a virus, or everybody being so tired that minimal preparation was going to be the name of the game. Turns out I was exactly the right amount of sick to appreciate a smaller holiday, and, though we ended up being turkey-free (thanks to a malfunctioning oven) our dinner of all sides was, in a word, perfect. We didn’t care when Real Life Romance Hero had to abandon the Turkey That Would Not Cook, devoured the rolls to the last crumb, and found that each others’ company was the real main course. Would I watch or read a dinner like that in a holiday romance? I absolutely would.
Which brings to mind the books that got me through this virus and the holiday that came with it. I will always pounce on a new David Levithan YA novel, especially if it is part of his Everyday series, centered around A, a teenager who wakes up in a different body every morning, and forms an unshakeable bond with Rhiannon, a teenage girl who has the same body every day, like (presumably most of) the rest of us. A and Rhiannon’s story isn’t over at the end of the first book, and every installment brings new light to their relationship, which, admittedly, has a few more challenges than most. Is it romance, though? Not going to say, because it’s best to go into these books blind. Paranormal, yes, and there is romance in it. David Levithan does sometimes write romances, and sometimes fiction with romantic elements, but man oh man, does he get me in the feels, every time.
Which definitely happened this time, with the most recent installment, Someday. I thought, at first, that this was going to be the final installment for Rhiannon and A, but now…I am not so sure. Am I surprised a few turns this book took? Yes. Am I disappointed? No. Angry? No. Eager to get the next installment if there is one, but also okay, if this is where the story really does end? Also yes.
Granted, most genre romance series aren’t quite this open-ended, and romance is still my #1 genre to read, but this experience got me thinking. Sure, we love coming back to favorite authors, time and again, as well as favorite series, settings, genres, etc, but, if they all did everything perfectly, the same way, every time, what would be the point? We’d never be surprised, never find something new. Where the sweet spot is, is when we get the familiar framework, where it hits all the notes, and still manages to give us something we didn’t expect.
Table full of delicious sides, but the turkey is a total wreck? Eh, it happens. Family with five friends or siblings, but not everybody gets their own book? Maybe the series kicks off with the death of one of their own, or disappearance, or somebody is already happily married and stays that way throughout the series, but still plays a prominent role in all of their siblings’/friends’ stories? Sure, sounds good to me.
With all of the avenues writers can now take to publication, all of the formats in which readers can read, the genre-savviness of readers who have been at this for a while, and the demand for a book to pack a lot into the increasingly tighter time frames many of us have for reading, authors do sometimes have to do some fancy footwork. Keep us coming back for more, and yet make it different every time.
Some of the genre powerhouses, like Mary Balogh, or Nora Roberts, not only walk this delicate balance beam, but cartwheel across it, and dance with ribbons. We know they’re going to get to the other side of the beam without falling, because they know their stuff, and that’s the promise romance makes, but are few skips and somersaults more interesting than a slow, steady stroll? They certainly are for me, and maybe for others, as well. Look at romance as a whole. We have historical, contemporary, time travel, paranormal, fantasy, SF, YA, inspirational, erotic, sweet, spicy, and so many categories, that there really is something for every palate. Still, all of them, every single one, are still romance. I find that fascinating, and encouraging. How about you?
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What’s the biggest surprise you ever encountered in a romance novel, or novel with romantic elements? Biggest turn a series took, that you ended up being surprisingly okay with, when you hadn’t expected to be? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.