Most of my readers are probably aware that, despite not being a huge fan of romance as a genre, it’s a genre I’m trying to read more of to understand a bit better. Of course, there are a lot of free and discounted romance titles out there, and, being a book whore, that certainly helps increase the number I’ve been reading. Recently, though, I was reading two books simultaneously that helped me realize what it was about certain romance books that drive me absolutely nuts. These books couldn’t be more different once they deviated past their genre into their separate stories, only highlighting this factor even more. The problem with most romances, for me, is that the plot and tension relies far too heavily on the main characters being absolute idiots in denial of the most obvious things that make relationships work: honesty.
Take Let It Snow by Melanie Shawn, for example. This is a very sweet romance, in a series of what I can only assume are other sweet romances, about various coupling that occurs between the residents of a quaint town called Hope Falls. It’s the eighth book in the series, but it’s a strong stand-alone, with details dropped on the previous volumes that made me intrigued to go back and read them. But the main characters drove me absolutely insane. The plot centers around Tessa and Jake, who were once high school sweethearts, but an unexpected, tragic event sent their whole relationship off kilter. Right away, we have a rift created by the characters assuming how the other character will respond and reacting without much consideration or consultation. Back then, it can be forgiven; they were only seventeen. But when events bring Tessa, who ran away without even saying goodbye, back to Hope Falls and back into contact with Jake, it’s almost as if nothing ever happened. They connect again instantly, and they find it easy to revert back to their seventeen year old lovebird selves…including in how they handle their problems. Instead of talking to each other, they second guess each other, and they act while their mind imagines the other reacting in the exact opposite way they would. Even after they each make it abundantly clear how into each other they are, they still insist that it could never work out, so why even try? The whole time, I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me?” Everything points to things working out for them: they’re clearly still into each other, they have some unresolved business, sure, but they talk about it and are honest with each other, Tessa has nothing going on outside of Hope Falls, either….so why are they both so convinced that she has to leave again? Why does Tessa doubt that she can make Jake happy when she constantly notes how damn happy he is? How can they deny that they work together when they constantly realize it and everyone around them is telling them about it, too?
Ugh. I just couldn’t take it. It was as though the characters were willfully obtuse, saying that they were completely dry as it poured all over their heads. I can understand teenagers feeling these levels of doubt and uncertainty, but the characters are adults now. They should freaking act like it. I might be a little bit biased because I firmly believe that life is too short to dilly-dally on uncertainties, but I seriously wanted to shake these two. How goddamn hard is it to be all, “Hey, I like you, but I have this reservation about us that, if I don’t bring it up, we’re just going to go crazy wondering what the other is thinking”? Apparently, really damn hard for these two who can’t grow the hell up and admit to what’s right in front of them.
By contrast, The Chatsfield: Rival’s Challenge by Abby Green is not a sweet romance (at first), involving two characters who pretty much hate each other from the onset of the book but can’t deny their attraction to each other. Usually, I prefer the sweet stuff over passion inflamed by dislike, but the main characters were just so upfront and honest about it that it was incredibly refreshing and made me cheer for both of them. It started as a one-night stand, only for Orla Kennedy to discover the next day that she had actually just slept with Antonio Chatsfield, the man tasked to take over her family’s hotel enterprise. They are both stubborn, headstrong people with their eyes on the prize, rivals in every sense of the word, but they know that their lovemaking session was one of the most incredible things either of them had ever experienced, and they dont’ deny it. They don’t deny their rivalry, either, discussing it openly, although, okay, there is some denial about how much the sex means to them, but they acknowledge that it’s a bit of a power struggle between them, and they understand that this adds to the appeal. And they have these great moments of vulnerability between each other where they admit when they do feel something more, but the feelings are confusing and nuanced, and…man, just thinking about it gets me excited. There are only a few moments where the characters look at something and doubt what they see, mostly toward the end, but it’s been balanced out well, and it’s reasonably built up, and the other character is actually frustrated, like, “Really? You really can’t see what I’m trying to say or do here?” It was really refreshing to see in a romance, and that’s why I actually kind of liked it, even if it was by no means great soaring literature.
Reading these two at the same time really showcased how much I hate the trope of a character being willfully in denial of a situation right in front of their faces, which is a trope that drives far too much romance for my taste. I’m a straightforward girl, especially in matters of the heart, so I just get irritated when I see something in front of someone and they just refuse to take it. Or, even worse, they blatantly deny that it was ever there to begin with. If you want to win my heart in romance, just come right out and say it. It’s a much more compelling story when outside factors are what threatens the love rather than your own damn self getting in the way