Clean romance: does anyone want to read it?

So as those of you who pay attention to my “reading life” posts know, I review books. I have for years now. I run a website, Rated Reads, that exists to help readers know about the potential offensive content of books they might like to read. I think it goes almost without saying that I tend to prefer and appreciate books that don’t have lots of offensive material, be it vulgar language or sexual situations or even violence. I just clap my hands with joy when I find a book that’s just great in every way AND doesn’t have offensive content. Yay!

There are all kinds of genres and sub-genres out there: sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal fantasy, historical fiction, memoir, biography, young adult, romance, self-help, science, business … the list goes on forever. But certain types of genres sell particularly well overall, and some get extra attention during “fads.” Ever since Twilight, vampire love stories are very of-the-moment. And now it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. No vampires, but the protagonist is still super-hot and super-rich, just like the Twilight hero. In the case of this uber-popular new series, the love story isn’t necessarily about forbidden or supernatural love, but it’s about kinky sex, explicitly detailed in the book.

Um, no thanks.

So while those books are flying off the shelves and, most of all, being furtively downloaded onto e-readers, where no one else can tell what the purchaser is reading, I still say, Publishers and authors, please give me some great clean romance. Men often wonder why in the world so many of us women swoon over the Regency-era books, where the happy couple don’t even necessarily get a single kiss. I’ll tell you why: because the fun of romance is in the chase, in the slow buildup of longing looks and quiet exchanges of meaningful glances and words. It’s amazing to have a man treat us with respect and chivalry. I just don’t want to read about some gallant hero spanking a bound woman. Gah.

One of my review contributors, Teri Harman of Book Matters, talked about good clean romances on today’s KSL-TV Studio 5 segment:


She asked me a month ago what books I recommended that would fit the parameters. I pored over all the reviews I’ve written over the past four or five years and posted on Rated Reads and, sadly enough, came up with an extremely¬†short list. This is what I wrote to her:


  • Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is a delightful romance about an older English gentleman and a widowed Pakistani woman. I rated it mild for some language.
  • I really enjoyed all of Carrie Bebris’s books continuing the story of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. They’re mysteries, but they’re love stories as well in Austen mode. I like that she does a good job with them and feels true to the originals.
  • I loved Erin McMahon’s I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, a sweet YA book that I rated moderate for teens but mild for adults. Nice bonus: main character is saving sex for marriage, and she sticks to it.
  • I did enjoy Edenbrooke, the first in a new set of books that will be published by Deseret Book called “Proper Romances.”
  • Flipped is a very charming middle-grade book about two eighth-graders. Very cute.
  • Of course, I liked Austenland, but I’m sure other people know about that one by Shannon Hale.

What’s striking is that three of them are either Regency/Austen-type books or are patterned after them. Two are written by authors who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though they aren’t the Christian genre, their authors are going to decidedly keep their writing fairly clean because of their religious beliefs. So, sure, it might be easy enough to find a decent enough clean romance because it’s either a classic or patterned after a classic or because it’s in the Christian genre, but finding just any other romantic books out there in general fiction that aren’t some type of genre that demands or expects clean content is a tricky task.

So, yeah, authors and publishers. The dirty stuff apparently does sell. But so does the clean stuff. If you’re going to hop on a bandwagon, can you please hop on the latter one? ‘Cause I’m not riding the dirty wagon or patronizing it in any way. Thanks.

And what’s so bad about being an 80-year-old?

This past year as I’ve become more aware about the issue of self-image and how appearance dominates in our society, and as I’ve researched and discussed with other people, I have realized just how pertinent the topic of aging is to the discussion. I don’t think that this will be news to most people, but our society is very anti-aging. We don’t want to look old; ideally everyone in society should have the skin and shape of a 16-year-old. Twenty-somethings are still acceptable, but after that it’s all about thirty-somethings looking like they’re still 20 and “40 is the new 30.” Wrinkles are ugly and must be Botoxed and Juvederm-ed out of existence. Soft bellies must be sucked dry of fat. Saggy breasts must be perked up through surgery.

But it’s not just the look of aging that puts people off. It’s just being old. Our culture, unlike many other cultures, does not revere or respect the older members of our society. We are happy to shunt them off to the side and try to pretend that old age does not exist. No one likes to think about the inevitable breaking down of parts of our bodies. As long as we’re young or just somewhat young, we can eat right and exercise religiously and tell everyone (and ourselves) that since we’re doing all those things, we’ve earned our good health. Even with diseases like Alzheimer’s, which we still don’t know the causes of, there are still all kinds of “tips” out there to help us exercise our brains, too, so we can somehow fend off that kind of debilitation. Perhaps. But the fact is, we cannot fend off aging or death. They are a natural part of life. With all of the technology and resources we have today, we can put them off a little longer, but we still simply cannot make them go away.

I would love to be in a culture in which we respect and revere the elderly, in which we want to put them front and center, in which we seek their wisdom and yearn to be more like them. Rather than trying to emulate 16-year-olds, why don’t we emulate those who truly have something meaningful to impart?

After I broke my foot this week, I became pretty helpless physically. The day afterward, my husband had to help me shower. I used a walker to get into the bathroom, and I needed assistance toileting and getting in the shower, and he helped hold me steady while I shampooed and tried to soap up. Just having one foot broken threw me completely out of whack. I was unable to take care of myself, and I felt my body had completely betrayed me. Leaning over my walker and hobbling slowly down the hallway and being in need of my husband’s help in such personal ways just bothered me. I said, “I feel like an 80-year-old!”

It is very disorienting to all of a sudden not be able to do the things I usually do. It’s upsetting to have to lean on someone (literally) for so much help. It’s hard to lose freedom. And the things that happen to our bodies as they age lead to those outcomes. In our independent, “me” culture, having to be dependent on others goes against our very natures. But really, why should it bother me SO much to feel like I’m 80? It’s not a horrible thing. I know wonderful 80- and 90-year-olds.

Life is not all about youth. Life is about ages and stages. We weren’t meant to stay frozen as teenagers for our entire life spans. We were intended to become adults, to move through middle age into old age. We are built to change, in all ways. Our bodies change, and our minds change, and we learn and gain (hopefully) wisdom and knowledge. We are supposed to experience life in all of its varieties. There’s simply no reason for me at age 42 now to be wistfully thinking back on how I looked at age 16. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to relive those days, I don’t care how cute my legs looked. I love my age now. I love all the neat things I can do. And in 20 years, I expect that I will be loving the new opportunities I will be facing at that stage of my life. I will be even closer to my “golden years” (or IN them) at that point, and I will be that much further away from the fresh years of my youth when my skin was wrinkle-free and my belly flat(ish).

I have read several times about how women in their 70s or older say they just feel free and completely able to just be themselves because they just don’t worry anymore about how they look. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if ALL AGES of people could say the same thing? That we could just be who we are, the real us? Wow. That would be freedom, indeed. We expend so much energy worrying about how we look and trying to look young and thin and … whatever. I don’t mean we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, but we can stop obsessing about all the details and perfection.

I’m thinking I should embrace all the good things about being 80, or at least just appreciate where I am now. Right now, I think I should embrace my SELF, who I AM. Right now, I should enjoy just who I am and where I am in my life. My teen years are past (thank GOODNESS); my 20s are past (those lean years); my 30s are even past. Now is what matters. I am 42, by golly. Today, I have a broken foot. This year, I’ve let myself eat too much, so my body is not in its best shape. I have plans to work on that, and thanks to the foot, it might be a few more months until I can really work hard on that aspect of taking better care of myself. But I have some quality time to read and plan how I will eat better and lose some weight. My house isn’t going to be as spotlessly clean as I like, but my kids are doing the cleaning and laundry. I’m not getting to cook a whole lot of the nice things I like to make, but we’re all getting fed. I’m reading a bit more and getting a chance to watch some movies, and my girls are learning a few more skills and how to take care of their mom. I’m appreciating how nice it is to be independent. I think this time in my life is just fine.

Giving my old life the boot … temporarily

So a couple of days ago I wrote about my new normal, which is living life with a broken foot. It’s thrown me for a loop emotionally in a number of ways. The first evening after it happened and then most of my day the next day involved a lot of wondering and what-ifs and trying to plan for what was still somewhat unknown. It made for a stressful day, all run from the confines of my couch.

Yesterday was much nicer. I got my two oldest girls off to camp, and my husband took me to a specialist who could really tell me what would need to happen to get my foot back to its unbroken self. In short, the breaks are simple enough that I only need to wear a boot, rather than a cast (hallelujah for that removable piece of hardware!!), and I can put a little weight on it as I hobble about on crutches or the lovely walker my husband dug out of storage (he likes to collect these old things because someday they might come in handy). Partial weight-bearing actually helps my bone heal properly rather than resting it completely and letting it find its own sloppy way. Amazing. At any rate, my dear husband, who is a physical therapist, reminded me several times that this was the best news possible. I agree, with the addendum “in this situation.” The best news possible for me right now would be to travel back in time three days and tell myself to stop hurrying around so much, especially on uneven pavement. (Smack upside the head) But given that the deed is done and the bone truly is broken, knowing that at least I can just wear a boot that I can take off sometimes is great news.

So my new normal for the next week or so is pretty much what I’ve been doing for about the past 24 hours: sitting on the couch with my leg up and reading or using my laptop computer. That’s the nice part. The tricky part involves when I must move around. Yes, I still need to get up and go to the bathroom. I pull myself up onto the very stylin’ walker, grab hold and walk very lopsidedly, putting the smallest amount of pressure on my left foot, preferably the heel or toes. ¬†I try not to crash into the furniture that lurks all around me. I lurch down the hallway and … well, I won’t go into too many details about that. I lurch back down the hall and collapse back onto the couch.

End of the day is entertaining. The first night, my husband suggested I go up the stairs backwards, which worked but was also a workout. Man, it exhausted me. (He suggested before that that I just sleep downstairs, but I just wanted the comfort and semblance of normalcy that was my own bed.) The next night, after a comical but also nerve-racking shower experience during which my husband manhandled me in and out of the big shower downstairs and held onto me while I washed my greasy hair and stale body, I decided to heft myself up the stairs frontways, just kind of crawling. That was much easier. So I repeated that last night. At the top of the stairs, though, I still have to get myself back up from a crawling position into standing using the crutches. Not as easy as it seems, frankly. And last night, I went up without any help, so I had to crawl through my bedroom into the bathroom, which now has tile on the floor rather than carpet (thanks to our work of a couple of months ago, and which I generally prefer to the old carpet, but let me tell you in this case, it’s hard on the knees). By the time I’d made my way, pilgrim-like, into the bathroom area, my husband had come up with the crutches, and I pulled myself up rather like Gollum, via the chair he had also brought into the bathroom the other night, into a half-standing position.

One big problem is that I cannot carry anything. Both of my hands are completely kept busy just keeping myself semi-upright and not too much in pain. So if I need to take one or two or three items from point A to point B, I must order around one of my minions. It’s astonishing how much we take for granted when all is working fine. It’s such a nice thing to be able to stand up, walk across the room, and grab a Kleenex. Or hop over to the kitchen for a glass of water (or some chocolate…). Or just GO TO THE BATHROOM, for pity’s sake.

Yep, it’s a brave new world.

‘Having it all’ as a parent: ha!

Just read an excellent piece about another set of articles that have continued to stir the public conversation about parents in the workplace, specifically mothers, and the idea of “having it all.” I’ve long thought and said that just seemed laughable. What is “it all”? Usually when the subject is brought up, somehow it’s assumed implicitly that phrase means that women can raise children and work in the career they have been educated for, and progress exactly as they’d like in both facets of their lives. But as a mostly stay-at-home parent who has worked part time and full time at different periods of my life, I have long known it is impossible to have that kind of “all.” Let me clarify: “all” essentially combines the concepts of being an “attached parent,” as one might put it today, and doing everything for one’s children, and going the distance in a career, all the way to “the top” of whatever field has been chosen. (And may I also now add in that our society today is including as bonus points that a mother who has it all can also look 25 when she’s 45, wear a size 2, run half-marathons by training at 4 a.m., and always be beautifully pulled together, displaying her family in a house that’s decorated by all the best ideas on Pinterest.)

Nope, not possible to do both. Not at the same time. Something is going to give. You won’t be at every single event your child is involved in, or you won’t end up at the top of the food chain in your job. But what IS possible is to take the best of both facets and focus on those parts that mean the most to you and make those count. And that balance, that particular combination of elements, is going to vary person to person, and be utterly unique. Then, knowing that you achieved at least fairly close to the combination of things you chose to do (and were flexible to go with the flow as you rethought things and reworked along the way), you could say at the “end” that it was satisfying.

I think in the article I read one thing that bothered me the most was this observation from one female writer: “But my other thought about Slaughter’s beautifully written piece is what a missed opportunity it was. Yet again, a powerful, influential woman had a platform to talk about the issue of choice when it comes to women, parenthood and power and chose not to discuss one of the most undervalued choices of all: the choice not to become a parent.” For one, that means nothing to this current argument of “having it all” as a parent. If you’re not a parent, all those choices become irrelevant, and there is nothing to “balance.” Simple as that. For another, I guess it struck me because I can’t imagine someone giving up the opportunity to raise children. Sure, it’s a messy, frustrating, difficult and time- and energy-consuming job, but it is absolutely the most joyous and satisfying in the long run. Nothing beats having reared a whole separate, unique HUMAN BEING from infancy to capable, independent adulthood. Nothing. (But I know even as I say this that a few people really just aren’t cut out to be parents. And if they absolutely know that, then I respect that choice. Absolutely. I just don’t want people who are on the line to give up on the possibility and never know the joys they could have known.)

What I found was a great observation was actually from a reader. This person commented, in part, “Even though it is difficult to live in our current economy without both parents working, we are expected to spend more time catering to our children than any other generation. Sacrificing your life for your children, however, does not make them strong, responsible adults.” Hurrah, commenter. Great observation. We as parents today are doing much more for our children than they truly need. I took this evening to remind my four progeny that as much as I love them and enjoy time with them, I do not need to nor should I spend all my time with them nor do too much for them. For one, I do have responsibilities to take care of our home and keep meeting their basic needs, whether that is shopping for food, earning some money, cooking, cleaning (the work they are not quite capable of), and so on. Second, it is not good for them for me to be with them all the time. They need the space and time to decide for themselves how to use their time, how to work and play within their own sphere. Choosing and keeping themselves busy allows them to become independent and allows their brains to develop in the best way. If I provided answers for all their questions and wants, they would not be able to stretch their brain muscles and grow as separate individuals. So no, I do not cater to my children. And they are better off for it. They actually do step in and wash dishes or clean up without me asking them to (not all the time; this isn’t a dream world!). But they show initiative and can make decisions for themselves. They work and contribute to our household in the ways they are capable of. We all work together as a team. Nope, it’s not seamless, but we’re working on that. And that’s my job as a parent: to allow them opportunities to function as a viable member of this family team.

So I’m throwing in, again, my two cents’ worth on this topic that will be dissected over and over throughout all levels of our culture. I hope that the parts that should change for the better do. I hope that all parents will feel more comfortable and accepted as they say at work, “Nope, I can’t stay late for yet another night; I need to be with my children.” I hope that more businesses can find ways to allow all workers to have flexibility in when and how they do their work. I also hope that parents can feel comfortable in allowing their children some room to be themselves, to make their own decisions, to not “helicopter” them. I hope that we all can give ourselves some breathing room as we live the only lives we have, one messy step at a time. Life will never be exactly what we envisioned, either in the realm of career or family. It won’t be perfect. It won’t align with a rigid plan. But in the end, I hope that each of us can feel satisfied that we did the best we could with every decision we made and feel our lives were full and good, despite not “having it all.”