The book had been sitting, unremarkable, on the coffee table in their living room when Gwen finally took the moment necessary to question the cover image.
“Is that a deer in a Santa hat?”
Picking up the book, the clearly photoshopped cover for Chasing A Brighter Blue had a quaint, algorithm-designed draw to it. Gwen could tell at a glance that this book would contain not a trace of deer wearing Santa hats – perhaps it would contain no deer at all.
The text on the back hinted at the genre. A photojournalist coming to Aspen for her brother’s wedding, the conventionally attractive sister of the bride and heiress to the hotel fortune. A woman whose sad and haunted eyes are nearly impossible to ignore, the blurb sang.
“Lesbian romance,” Gwen said. “Holiday lesbian romance, it looks like.”
She put the book back down.
The next day, as Gwen packed for work, she idled by the table and caught sight of the book once again. Almost on a whim, and with no intention to read more than a chapter or two, she tossed it in her bag. The Marquis And I had been a fun read last summer.
“It’ll keep me off my phone,” Gwen justified.
– – – – –
“Wait, was it yours?”
“Yes, Gwen,” Dania replied. “I didn’t think you would take it. Where is it?”
“It’s in my bag for work,” Gwen said, crossing to fish the book out. “I thought I’d get some light reading done and I finished it. I didn’t realize you were reading it.”
“Yeah,” Dania said. “I mean, I finished it, but I wanted to know where it was.”
“Holiday tradition?” Gwen held the book aloft.
“I mean, I liked The Marquis and I enough,” Dania shrugged. “Romance novels are fun.”
“I’m growing to like them,” Gwen said. “There’s usually more there than I expected. Some weird angle that makes them good.”
“This one would apply for that, right?” Dania asked. “With the photojournalism and PTSD angle in there?”
Eleanor snuck around the corner to listen.
“I think they have great chemistry,” Dania said. “Even with Marquis, it felt a little rushed in parts. This feels like it’s almost too long, there’s just so much dialogue.”
“I appreciated that, though,” Gwen said, sitting. “You want the romance to feel natural, and that means building time in for them to have chemistry. With Shelby’s mother being overbearing, they only get a few moments of it.”
“They get a lot of it. How many times do they go to ‘see the park?'”
“At least three, by my count.” Gwen considered the narrative. “Did Reagan and Shelby get those delicious breakfast sandwiches before the first or second date?”
“Well, what counts as a date?”
“It was before their first visit to the park,” Eleanor said, entering the room.
Dania’s head snapped to Eleanor. “You read it, too?”
“It was out,” she said. “Don’t leave your books out if you don’t want us to read them.”
Gwen grinned. “You must have read it before I did, since I had it at work.”
“Early last week,” Eleanor admitted. “One sitting.”
“Straight through. I finished at 1am. It’s a quick read.”
“Is it, if you finished at 1am?” Dania asked.
“It’s quick paced, sure.”
“You read another romance novel?” Gwen asked. She recollected Eleanor’s newly open asexuality. “Why?”
“Well, I think you’d be the first to argue that the book has more than just romance as its draw, Gwen,” Eleanor said. “I also happen to like Christmas settings and big weddings.”
“As you should,” Dania chimed.
“Not to mention,” Eleanor continued, “those breakfast sandwiches were the most erotic thing in the entire book, let’s just be perfectly honest.”
“That’s fair, really,” Gwen said. “The way she writes that scene is excellent, with Shelby just effortlessly eating while driving, and Reagan getting lost in the food. It’s character building.”
Dania held the book out to Chapter Twenty-Nine. “I think you’re forgetting the other erotic parts of the book. There’s, like, four sex scenes here.”
“Yeah, but that’s just people having sex,” Eleanor said. “The sandwiches are a process. There’s more foreplay with the food than in the bedroom.”
“It’s like we were talking about,” said Gwen. “The pace of the book is surprisingly slow, but all of the time is spent building character and relationships. Even though the whole story –– or, the part that matters –– takes place over less than two weeks, you get a full relationship between the two leads.”
“It def feels more earned than Marquis,” Eleanor agreed. “And don’t get me wrong, Marquis is fantastic. But this is more, y’know, current day.”
“Less of a fantasy.”
“It’s absolutely a fantasy,” Dania said. “Absolutely. The wedding where everything is paid for, the hotel fortune that Shelby will inherit, the conflict-less conflict of Reagan not wearing a dress that just gets resolved with people changing their minds after so much build up…”
“I feel as though that was in there as a sort of tentpole, something they could return to when things were falling into stasis,” Eleanor suggested. “By the time they resolved it, there was still another conflict to take over as more important, so I didn’t mind.”
“It’s like…why include it, though?” Dania asked. “Why have the mom be super homophobic when everyone else is just cool with it? You were this close to writing a lesbian romance where the fact that they’re women was never a problem, but then you have to throw in Doug…”
“Oh…” Gwen began, before hurling a line of well-worded expletives towards the fictional playboy.
“Learn to listen, jerk.” Eleanor stuck her tongue out, mock vomiting.
Dania groaned. “Again, it’s like the mom. Why include this one guy who can’t listen when everyone else is so clear about what they want?”
“Well, that’s the thing, right?” Eleanor said. “The fantasy in this one isn’t the lesbian angle, or the financial angle. Like, both of those go uncommented on.”
“The financial, economic situation is discussed, lightly,” Gwen pointed out. “Reagan does express some surprise at the wealth of Shelby’s family. Some of Shelby’s reluctance towards romance is rooted in discomfort about her family fortune.”
“I’m talking about plot-related tension,” Eleanor said.
“It’s plot-related!” Gwen said. “It’s one of the bumps they have to get over to fall in love.”
“What I mean is,” Eleanor pressed. “Every romance novel has the thing that’s not there, right? The tension in the real world that gets erased in order to make the story more dreamlike and…romantic. Yeah?”
“Sure,” Dania said. “In Marquis, it was people being really really aware and respectful of consent.”
“Right. I think in this one, the fantasy is communication. Everyone is really up front about what they want, what their fears are, and they listen to each other and help each other move forward.”
“Except the mom,” Dania recalled.
“Well, that’s why she’s the villain,” Eleanor said. “Not because she’s stressed. Everyone’s stressed. It’s the fact that she doesn’t listen to other people’s troubles.”
“That’s also the element that makes the pace so languid,” Gwen added. “Because all the conversations are in depth, with characters not hiding behind lies or nervousness, you get all the beats of a regular relationship in twelve days.”
“Less than that, since there are all the events that keep them apart,” Dania said.
“Well, they still spend more time together in this book than most couples do in a month or so,” Eleanor said. “If you really go through and add up the hours.”
“It’s romantic cheese, but it’s at least got a structure to it,” Dania said. “With the sister and brother getting married –– her sister and her brother, not a sister-and-brother wedding, you get it.”
“I get it.”
Gwen’s attention suddenly snapped to the middle distance. “I never put together that Reagan and Shelby are sisters-in-law who are also in a relationship. That is the weirdest thing…I feel as though more should be mentioned about that.”
“Again,” Dania repeated. “Cheese.”
“You know,” Eleanor said, looking once again at the deer on the cover, “it’s not as Christmas-y as I thought it would be.”
“No, it isn’t, I’ll agree with that,” Dania said. “It’s more of a wedding book than a Christmas one. Aside from the giant tree in the hotel being a sort-of plot point.”
“They do go on an adorable hayride with the family,” Gwen added.
“It’s Aspen, what else are you going to do?” Dania asked.
“There’s also mention of some holiday wines…”
“I love Zach, the bartender,” Eleanor said. “Also the other bartender who isn’t Zach. All of the side characters are great.”
“The mother’s fashion designer who creates the new suit for Reagan,” Dania said. “I imagine Michael Caine in Miss Congeniality.”
“Always,” Eleanor agreed. “The world of the book just has so much personality outside of the main characters and plot. It really lets you get lost in the world. Which is important when the book moves as slow as it does.”
“Does it handle the PTSD plot point well?” Gwen asked. “I feel like people who have been there might take issue with it.”
“Is Gerri Hill a photojournalist?” Dania asked. “Maybe she did research.”
“I don’t know, I feel it’s handled respectfully enough,” Eleanor said. “They make it clear that her getting over the trauma at the end is just the start of a longer process. And besides, it’s not what the book is about.”
“Very true,” Gwen agreed.
“It’s about Bobby, the Christmas Deer,” Dania said, holding up the book.
“Yeah, what’s up with the cover art?”
Image Source: Amazon