Intro to Romance

affiliate links pic Intro to RomanceI’ve always thought of myself as someone who will read anything, as long as it speaks to me somehow. But that wasn’t really true until recently. There was one genre that I would not touch because I deemed it lesser: Romance.

I had never read a single Romance novel, so I didn’t have any actual evidence. I just knew the covers looked silly, the plots sounded boring, I’d always been told they weren’t worth my time, and I never bothered to see if my impressions were born out in fact. 

As years passed, I started to realize that more and more of my friends read romance novels. People I liked and respected. And as I got more involved with the book world, I found more and more people I admired who admitted proudly that they were Romance readers. 

The honest truth is that most of us have opinions about Romance that have much more to do with the industry a few decades ago than they do now. (I found this article really fascinating now that I’m a little more in the know.) 

Eventually I decided the time had come. I needed to tackle Romance for myself and see what it was all about. 

To start, I did one very important thing: I asked for recommendations from people I trusted. Many romance authors write several novels and you can often start in the middle of a series so what I needed was which authors I should try first to get a feel for things. Many thanks to Amanda for helping me get started.

Here’s what happened on my adventures.

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceRomance Novel #1: First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan. Contemporary Romance

Luckily Morgan was just starting a new series, Puffin Island, so the timing was right for me to try the first book. The book is published by HQN, a Harlequin imprint that publishes all subgenres of Romance. This was actually my least favorite of all the books I tried, it did what I expected, it relied heavily on familiar tropes and plot twists. And yet. I was relaxed when I read it. I wasn’t rushed. I wasn’t worried. I just went with it and let the book take me along. It was pleasant, it was nice, and I found the male lead attractive even if he seemed too perfect. What’s wrong with perfect? What’s wrong with happy endings? Especially since my life these days feels pretty far from the kind of perfect you find in this book.

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceRomance Novel #2: Shoulda Been a Cowboy by Maisey Yates. Contemporary Romance

Another HQN book and another book at the beginning of a series, and actually a novella rather than a novel, I admit my expectations for this book were low. My first try had been pretty predictable, and this book had the word “cowboy” in the title so I was kind of worried. But there weren’t actually any real cowboys in this book. There was a ranch that the characters visited a couple of times, but no horses, no lassos, no rodeos. Not only that, I realized I like Maisey Yates. She’s got a sense of humor that’s zippy and fun, the dialogue between her characters was strong and witty. The backstory she set up between “bad boy” Jake and “nice girl” Cassie gave them real emotional depth and set up legitimate obstacles for the plot to move forward. They felt like real people, not the perfect people I’d found in First Time in Forever, who seemed to have plenty of money, plenty of options, plenty of everything. These lives were complicated, the choices weren’t easy, and the things that made life hard weren’t things that only seemed that way in their heads. I liked it. I requested Yates’ next two books in the Copper Ridge series. 

By this point if you’re not a Romance reader you’re probably wondering: yes, but what about the sex? The funny thing is that there’s not that much more than you see in a lot of mass market fiction. Characters think about it more, they pay attention to what people look like and what they do, but it actually feels pretty natural a lot of the time. It was not what I’d long been told Romance was, and a lot of the scenes were better written and sexier than many other sex scenes I’ve read in non-Romance books. (Honestly? There’s a reason there’s a Bad Sex Award for literature.)

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceRomance #3: Love in the Time of Scandal by Caroline Linden. 

This one was a big change and I worried it might be the point where I abandoned ship. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, and this was a novel with a swooning woman and a rakish man on the cover in period garb. Plus it’s the third in a series so I thought I may feel confused. Turns out, I dug it. It had the biggest plot of the bunch, with intrigue to spare and a subplot that’s left unresolved that I assume will be addressed in the next novel in the series. There was blackmail, marriages of convenience, violence, inheritance, all that stuff. And, being a romance novel, there was a secret erotic serial novel that the characters read on the sly. There was more exposition than usual, revealing the plot of the previous book in large chunks here and there, but it was a minor annoyance. It turned out, I kind of liked the way the historical romance subverted most of the expectations of propriety that you get in most novels written or set at the same time. I liked it for many of the same reasons I like Sarah Waters’ historical novels like Tipping the Velvet.

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceSpecial bonus: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.

I actually read this book before my foray into Romance but realized after the fact that it’s totally a Romance even if it’s not marketed as one. It skews more “chick lit” but it’s a distinction without much of a difference here. Bex meets dashing Prince Nicholas, known to his friends as Nick, while off doing a semester study abroad at Oxford. They go from will-they-won’t-they to secret lovers to dealing with the paparazzi over the course of the book. The authors, also known as the Fug Girls, are whip smart and make Bex and Nick both feel real. Mostly, though, they excel at the media frenzy (which is how they make their living, after all). If you’re looking for a little princess wish fulfillment with plenty of real life drama, it’s a great and speedy pick. 

You know that saying, Don’t judge a book by its cover? I get that now more than I ever did before. Because I never picked up these books because of their covers (among other reasons) but I’ve learned my lesson, even if it took me an awfully long time to learn it.

I still haven’t quite solved the problem of how to figure out which ones to pick up. For now I’m relying on recommendations and watching what other people like. The Romance genre can start to look alike from a distance, even if it’s very different close up. But I’m adding Romance to my list, along with all the other genres that I read when I feel in the mood for it. And I admit, it feels pretty good to say I really do read what works for me rather than what I think I should. That’s been my reading philosophy for a few years now and there’s really no better way.

Two of Them

I can’t say when it started. Of course, when Tessa was an infant, Graham was a quiet and anxious 3-year-old. He had little patience for her. When she moved into toddler years, she wasn’t talking while Graham became more and more chatty. 

But some time in the last year things have shifted. And now these two have become a team.

Riding Bikes 3 Two of Them

Edited 8 Two of Them

resized 2 Two of Them

GT Two of Them

For several months I’ve been noticing how well they get along. As Tessa is a little older and more talkative, they’re able to play together and have conversations together. 

But it’s not just that. It’s not just that they get along. They’re a duo.

Maybe it’s because they’re always together even though they go back and forth between two houses. Maybe it’s because their brains are similar with their matching diagnoses. Maybe it’s just that magic that happens sometimes between people. 

 

New rule: no one's allowed to get bigger.

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Birthday lunch shenanigans. Tell me they'll always like each other this much. #happytessaday

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Helping. #bosnow

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We like watching TV up here. Because no bugs can get up here. Except ladybugs.

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The Grocery Store: the happiest place on earth.

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Good times and bad times, they’re in it together.

I realized a few months ago that we’d hit this new phase. It became most obvious in the weeks before Tessa started at Graham’s school. He started asking about it all the time. He talked about what it would be like when she came. He talked about playing at recess together and introducing her to his friends.

And you know what? She’s been at his school for over a month now and he’s still just as excited. He walks her to her classroom in the morning. He sits with her at breakfast. He tells me how she did at lunch. They get to do the same art projects. 

They go to bed at the same time even though Graham tends to fall asleep first. We sit together and read books for a while. Then the two of them lay down in Graham’s bed, their pillows side by side. Tessa may sit at the foot of the bed for a while or roll around on her side. But it’s been months since they’ve changed this routine. Tessa rarely sleeps in her own bed anymore. And Graham doesn’t seem to mind that much when Tessa, a very wiggily sleeper, wakes him up or steals his covers. 

If Tessa sees something, she immediately says, “Grammer!!” (Which in her 3-year-old mouth comes out “Gwammuh.”) And Graham returns the favor, showing her anything he thinks she should see.

They play games together. They play different things, but often stay next to each other. 

They fight sometimes, but it never seems to last long. 

They happily take turns choosing and pass off from one to the other.

Honestly, I’m a little stumped.

My siblings and I clashed more, our relationships were always tumultuous and it never seemed like things were quiet or calm. So I’m not exactly used to this. 

But this is exactly why I wanted to have more than one kid. I always wanted them to enjoy each other’s company, to have a real ally in each other, and to develop a relationship that would last their entire lives.

I know it’s early days. They’re just 5 and 3, after all. We’re still figuring out who Tessa is and what she’s like. There’s so much left ahead. 

And yet. I can’t help but wonder if this is just how they’ll be. I hope it is. I hope they always find this much companionship in each other. 

As you can see from the pictures in this post, it’s ridiculously easy to get pictures of the two of them together, happy. If school drop off wasn’t such a madhouse, I’d have snapped their picture every morning as they walk down the sidewalk, holding hands. 

I know it may not last. But I can hope.

What I Don’t Say

On Saturday we had our first rehearsal for Listen To Your Mother Boston 2015. It’s my 3rd year going through this. I’m at the point where sometimes I underestimate how something will feel because I assume I have a handle on it and I know what to expect. Sure enough, the whole thing can take me by surprise sometimes.

I’ve been sitting with words on pages, names on note cards, getting the cast figured out, trying out different orders, going through edits. So I was a little off guard when I got in a room with all these wonderful people and felt like I was overflowing. 

I got up to walk everybody through what was about to happen and I found that I couldn’t give the whole talk I’d planned on because I knew if I started telling them how amazing they are that I’d lose it. So I cut my notes down a bit and decided to just let them see what was about to happen on their own.

In my current show order (still not finalized) I put myself in the second slot. So it was only minutes after I started the reading that I had to read myself. 

That was when I got another reminder of how this all works. 

Reading your words out loud changes them. And it doesn’t feel the way you think it’ll feel. 

I’m a crier and it’s not a happy piece, but I was already struggling in the second paragraph. I didn’t audition, so this was my first time reading these words to anyone and that wasn’t helping.

But part of it was that I don’t get to talk about these things. Even to my friends, even to people who know, even to people who care about me. There’s this thing we all do when something is difficult where we downplay the struggle and upsell how well we’re doing. We’re afraid to make other people uncomfortable by showing our vulnerability, our fear, our need.

Even me. Even a person who shares her soul on the internet has this problem.

I realized while I was reading these words that I still don’t get to talk about anything besides the practicalities of divorce and single parenthood. I don’t get to have conversations with people about the terror and the loneliness and the struggle of it. I write about it, and that’s not nothing, but it’s also not the same.

I have talked about divorce a lot in the last couple years. I can talk about it without being upset, without batting an eye. But as soon as I start talking about it this way, in a way that isn’t stating a fact but opening a tightly held set of feelings, every bit of that emotion just comes gushing out and I don’t have much practice at dealing with it.

So yeah, I didn’t exactly have a perfect read. And I know I won’t have a perfect read on show day. It is going to be a struggle to get through and I know that. But saying these things showed me how much they need to be said. 

And I am glad I get to say them. Even if I don’t say them calmly or thoughtfully, even if I’m kind of a mess as the words come out of my mouth. Saying them matters, even if it only matters for me and no one else. 

This life is all about fake it till you make it, and putting up that strong front is almost second nature now. I do it with everyone. Because if I take it down, even if it’s just for a little while, then I know that person is going to worry about me. And the minute they ask me if I’m doing okay, I’m just going to put that front up right away. The defense mechanisms kick in and for whatever reason I can’t let myself be vulnerable even if I want to.

That’s part of what’s hardest about being on my own. Being partnered gives you that person, the one where you put your fists down and just say what you feel.

I can see how much I miss that in my life. I can see how much harder it is without it. I can see all the bottling up that’s still happening, all the demons I still haven’t fully confronted, all the fears that are still tucked deeply inside.

Sharing here just doesn’t quite do it. If you asked me about this post tomorrow, I’d respond with a smile and say I’m feeling better. That reflex just doesn’t turn off.

So for now I’ll stand in front of a few hundred people in a few weeks and speak those words. And I’ll still have my defenses up, I’ll still be working hard to say those words without losing it completely. But I’ll be saying something that needs to be said. 

That’s something.

YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I really don’t like to complain about being a book reviewer. It is pretty much the sweetest gig on earth and I still can’t quite fathom how lucky I am to get to do it. 

But if I had to complain about something, it would be the timing. There are so many books that come out, I try to screen as many titles as possible and the easiest way to do that is to get them as soon as they’re available. The problem with it is that I read a book like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which comes out April 7, in August. Yup, AUGUST. 

 YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaThe thing about a good book, though, is that it doesn’t matter how long ago I read it. As soon as I got an email asking if I’d like to join an excerpt tour for this book, I said yes without hesitation. I may have read this book months ago, but I gave it a 5-star review and I’m a bit stingy with my stars. 

I liked this book more than the big YA blockbusters like Eleanor & Park or The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t dislike those books. I like them a lot. But Simon hit me in all the feels but also made me remember exactly how it feels to be a teenager and like somebody. 

Simon is a real teenager. If you grew up in nearly any suburban high school, a lot of his life will seem familiar to you. He doesn’t have any kind of big tragic back story. But he does have a family, friends, the drama club, the usual stuff. Still, there are a few wrinkles. Simon is gay and he’s not quite ready to have to declare his sexuality openly to his entire school. He also has a secret penpal who goes by the name “Blue.” Blue is also at Simon’s school, also gay, and also not out yet. They email each other and share all their secrets in that way that sometimes it’s easier to tell the truth to someone you don’t know. They also start falling totally in love even though they don’t know each other’s identity.

There’s about 5 more plots mixed in there, including blackmail and best friend fights and interesting new people and all that stuff. It’s a tricky book to sell because it’s just a book about being a teenager, but the thing is that I adored it. Adored it completely. I didn’t actually see the author’s name before reading and I was shocked to see it wasn’t written by someone who’d actually lived the life of a gay teenage boy. (How did you do it, Becky Albertalli??)

Today I’m joining in on Simon‘s Excerpt Tour. You can see the first part (Simon’s email to Blue) from yesterday’s post at Caught Read Handed

FROM: [email protected]

TO: [email protected]

DATE: Oct 31 at 8:11 AM

SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners

Jacques,

Sorry to disappoint. I’m not opposed to dressing up, and you make a compelling

case for it. I completely see the appeal of being someone else for the evening (or in

general). Actually, I was a bit of a one-trick pony myself when I was little. I was

always a superhero. I guess I liked to imagine myself having this complicated secret

identity. Maybe I still do. Maybe that’s the whole point of these emails.

Anyway, I’m not dressing up this year, because I’m not going out. My mom has

some kind of work party, so I’m stuck at home on chocolate duty. I’m sure you

understand that there’s nothing sadder than a sixteen-year-old boy home alone on

Halloween answering the door in full costume.

Your family sounds interesting. How did you talk your parents into buying you

dresses? I bet you were an awesome flapper. Did your parents try to ruin all your

costumes by making them weather appropriate? I remember throwing this ridiculous

tantrum one year because THE GREEN LANTERN DOES NOT WEAR A

TURTLENECK. Though, in retrospect, he actually kind of does. Sorry, Mom!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy your day off from being Jacques. And I hope everyone

likes your ninja costume (that has to be it, right? The perfect mix of simple and

badass?).

—Blue

Check out tomorrow’s stop at There Were Books Involved

Simon is out in April so you best get yourself to the library to put it on hold now before everyone finds out about it. Or you can pre-order now at Amazon YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

And here’s more on the author: Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers; some of these experiences inspired her debut novel. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction.  Visit her at www.beckyalbertalli.com and on Twitter: @beckyalbertalli

Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

event Boston Ballet Shades of SoundLast week I had my very first trip to the Boston Ballet. My first trip to see any ballet since far too many trips to The Nutcracker as a teenager. I’ve been immersed in reading about ballet for months and I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see one live. I chose to attend the dress rehearsal so that I could bring my camera and maybe get a few pictures of the Boston Opera House and the dancers on stage.

When you think of attending a ballet, you probably imagine a super swanky crowd and a few dull hours of girls in tutus. But this performance is actually three short dances (with two intermissions) that provide a really fantastic set of modern and traditional music and choreography mixed together. If you’ve never been to a ballet, you’ll find there’s a lot more than you could have expected. This is a great show for a newbie.

First: the Boston Opera House. It’s nearly 100 years old and was completely restored in 2004. It’s got great history and it’s in great shape. (It’s the home not only to the Boston Ballet, but to many of the touring Broadway shows that come through town.) I could’ve stared at their light fixtures all day…

Boston Opera House 1 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

Boston Opera House 2 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

Boston Opera House 3 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound

It’s not so big that the seats in the back feel too far away. The chairs were all in great condition, too.

The three ballets in Shades of Sound are all relatively modern. It began with Chroma choreographed by Wayne McGregor with music that includes orchestrations of The White Stripes. It premiered in 2006 and feels distinctly modern. Some may even call it more modern dance than ballet. 

All three of the pieces, including Chroma, have specific costumes and sets to go with them. Chroma is perhaps the most distinctive, with its strange shapeless costumes and bright white background. It also has the most distinctive choreography. The dancers aren’t wearing toe shoes or tights. Their muscles are visible, if anything they’re often emphasized by their movements. It’s a very visceral and physical ballet, the steps vary from animalistic (several are very birdlike) to sensual to awkward. It ignores much of the typical masculine and feminine roles, and when the dancers break into groups there are often men dancing with men and lifting each other instead of just the typical male/female partnerships. 

The bright white lights and sets meant I got my best pictures here, though I was sitting a little bit too close. (Note to attendees, sit at least 5 rows back if you want to see people’s feet.)

DSC 0890 e1427066479401 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Dancers: Bradley Schlagheck and Kathleen Breen Combes

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DSC 0964 e1427066596224 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Dancers: Lasha Khozashvili, Kathleen Breen Combes, John Lam, Jeffrey Cirio, and Misa Kuranaga.

This was the piece I loved the most. The music was sometimes melodic, sometimes atonal, and the movement had the same mix of traditional and unusual. It was always unexpected and always interesting and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. If you’d like to get a little taste of Chroma, you can see this excerpt from the Royal Ballet.

After Chroma comes Episodes, the most well-known piece of the 3, dated 1959 and choreographed by George Balanchine to the music of Anton von Webern. The music is spare and distinctly modern, the dancing looks much more like a traditional ballet. There are toe-shoes and tights, but the typical ballet movements are punctuated with bursts of angular and blunt steps. The women often do a play on a doll, pointing their feet and knees in instead of out. There are several rounds, where one dancer starts a series of steps, then another starts it a few beats behind, then another, then another. The usual synchronicity of the corps de ballet is not what you’ll get here.

Like ChromaEpisodes has a few distinct segments with different pieces of music and different combinations of dancers. All the costumes are black and white and the sections range from more traditional to more modern. Each piece stands alone but they work together as well.

I couldn’t get much from my camera, it was a bit too dark for my lens, so here I’m borrowing lovely photos from my friend Nikki Myers

Episodes 1 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Photo by Nikki Myers. Dancers: Whitney Jensen, Diana Albrecht, Dawn Atkins, Lauren Herfindahl, Bradley Schlagheck, Junxiong Zhao, Matthew Slattery, and Patrick Yocum.
Episodes 2 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Photo by Nikki Myers Photography. Dancers are Paulo Arrais, Lia Cirio, Maria Alvarez, Ji Young Chae, Corina Gill, and Brittany Stone.

Closing out the evening is Black Cake, originally performed in 1989. It’s choreographed by Hans van Manen and has a variety of music, including Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. Yet again, the performers are in different costumes and different shoes. This time the men are in head to toe black and the women wear black dresses in all different fabrics with high heeled shoes. 

Much of Black Cake looks like a ballroom dance, there are bits of foxtrot and quickstep and waltz peppered all through it.  The piece itself takes the conceit of a ballet that tells the story of a party or event, but plays with the idea by letting the party get a little bit out of control the way these things sometimes do. There’s a fighting couple, there’s a surly waiter, and everyone has a little bit too much to drink. A great way to end the evening with a little bit of lightheartedness. 

I only took one picture because I thought they weren’t turning out. Big mistake. It’s not half bad given the light! Wish I’d had more, it was such a lively and delightful dance.

DSC 0029 e1427070211602 Boston Ballet Shades of Sound
Dancers: Misa Kuranaga, Erica Cornejo, Ashley Ellis, Caralin Curcio, Brittany Summer, Lauren Herfindahl, Eris Nezha, Jeffrey Cirio, Lasha Khozashvili, Patrick Yocum, Junxiong Zhao, and Matthew Slattery.

You can see a little teaser from Universal Ballet Korea that saves the best jokes but still gives you a feel for the dances. 

You’ll have to hurry, Shades of Sound is only running until March 29th. Tickets start at $29. 

Thanks to Boston Ballet for inviting me to their dress rehearsal!