Hello everyone, and welcome back!
Okay so IRL things have been ridiculous for me over the past month and a half, seeing as I travelled out of town four times, had houseguests three times, and yeah, um, I’m not actually on vacation from work? So I’m super behind on my reading goals, even though I already lowered my expectations for the year to 100 books. (I had this lofty idea that I’d have more time to read this year than last year, but that was a horrible, horrible lie.)
BUT I did manage to read something from my last TBR, so I’m going to count that a win and try to get back into gear this month. So let’s talk about summer reads, shall we?
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Simple premise to this one: a politician’s teen daughter is used to life on a strict schedule, but her summer plans go sideways and it Changes Her Life (and obviously, she starts walking dogs). Also there’s a love interest, because this is a contemporary romance.
This is a reasonably good summer beach read, as those things go. The cover is misleading, though. She does walk some dogs, but the book isn’t even close to being full of dogs, which was pretty much a let down for me. More dogs in all books, please. (Unless you intend to kill them off, in which case, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED.)
Anyway, the protagonist meets a dreamy guy, confronts some of her personal hang-ups, and learns to Live Life, so if that’s what you’re looking for (with no diversity, including that everyone always seems to have money and wheels), the book delivers. For a longer book than some I’ve read lately, it still feels like it does a lot of telling rather than showing (e.g., telling us about relationship dynamics and how things are going), and it interrupts dialogue noticeably often (e.g., “Then I told him the story about…” OKAY BUT I WANT TO HEAR IT?). In that sense, I’d say the writing style is…not my favourite. Some of the foreshadowing in it is also pretty ham-handed.
But I found the protagonist’s emotional issues felt relatable, the pacing was solid (stuff was Happening but I also had time to Let Stuff Sink In), the little digressions into another book throughout were fun, and I generally had an easy time reading this. I’m waffling even now on my rating, but…just in terms of enjoying myself, this worked out.
…okay, I’ll just say it: I’m not sure if I’m just not into contemporary romance, or if I just haven’t found one that blows me away? Even when I like one decently well, I find it plays into a lot of repetitive patterns that bother me.
- There’s never any time to characterize the protagonist’s friends/friend group (for some reason?), so everyone just gets a couple of characteristics.
- Every male love interest is simultaneously impossibly dreamy (except during the rom-com misunderstanding/fight moment, when they’re allowed to be jerks, but then they make up for it) and immediately fixated on the protagonist. (Maybe this is just a genre thing I can’t get into?)
- Even the coolest premises seem to get chewed up by the genre format? They just serve as a meetcute and then really evaporate. See: this book, Alex, Approximately, etc.
- The protagonist always needs to reconcile somehow with an estranged family member, but because the romance takes front seat, this happens in a few key Meaningful Scenes with some kind of Discovered Past Memory or Object.
- The protagonist usually has some kind of past trauma/grief that still impacts their life, and they need to face that trauma/grief in some way to Live Life.
- The protagonist has never dated meaningfully ever (exception: if they have an Evil Ex).
…and so on, you know?
I mean, fantasy definitely has its templates as well, and for a while genre fiction was absolutely guilty of doing a predictable love triangle in every. Single. STORY. So I can’t rag on contemporary romance too much? Plus I’m sure these patterns really just don’t bother people, because they like them. And I like patterns, too! I will read every coffeeshop AU, don’t you think I won’t.
But I don’t know. While I can buy into these at times (I’m kind of a sucker for #4, even though most contemporary romances short shrift those relationships and I’m sad about it), I feel like in some ways, these tropes can be just…walls that stories lean on in order to prop up their structure rather than delivering characters with some complexity and real relationships other than romantic ones.
Sigh. Or this genre just isn’t for me. OR I haven’t found the one. (I’m a romantic. I’ll keep looking.)
Which contemporary romance (or dreamy love interest) is the one for you? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!