Review: ‘Ribbons & Belle’

Oh, I’ve been around. Doing this and that, more related to life than to writing. But I am back in the saddle and recalibrating my release dates, so stay tuned!

One of the things that gets me back into that creative space is communing with other creatives and with their creations. This one, ‘Ribbons & Belle’ by Ey Wade is work I read a long while back. As I get back into my groove, I’ll be posting some shorts just for fun, and as the year draws to a close, releasing new work. But in the meantime, I hope you’ll check out some of the work from the writers I reviewed and enjoyed, like this one!

randbA review of ‘Ribbons & Belle’ by Ey Wade

I read this book now several months ago, and recently happened across it again, recalling that I hadn’t reviewed it. And then I recalled why. ‘Ribbons & Belle’ is one of those books you want to sit with for a while after you’ve read it, because it raises interesting questions under the guise of a ‘simple romance’. But having read this author’s work before, I was forewarned that it probably wouldn’t be quite as simple as it might initially appear. For starters, the female lead is named Annabelle Lee, whose namesake is a tragic figure from an Edgar Allan Poe poem about a man who mourns his lost love, a love so great that even the angels are envious. So I was fully prepared for this Annabelle to be a tragic figure.

And she was. Somewhat.

At the beginning of the novel we see Annabelle mourning a loss, and yearning for what was lost. And that writing—the opening scene—was some of the most beautiful I have read this year. It had some the same hallmarks of Ey Wade’s writing in another of her books I read, ‘When Clouds Touch’—there is a fairytale like aspect, an otherworldliness to it that makes it sound lyrical and feel almost magical. And, as in that book, even the physical characteristics of the main characters were uncommon. Both Tyson and Belle are showstoppers in their own way, but not in a romance novel way. They are unique. Again; like in a fairytale.

But Ey Wade’s fairytales are somewhat like ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ with a very … well, grim, underbelly. That element was definitely present in this story. The details of what and how Annabelle lost are enough to make you want to weep. She has had miscarriages and her marriage ended as a result. But one particular pregnancy loss was incredibly difficult, and forced her into making a choice that no woman would want to make.

But then there was the love story, the coming together of Annabelle and her interesting, somewhat quirky suitor Tyson Ribbons (see what I mean, ‘ribbons’ and ‘belle’ –very reminiscent of the names in children’s stories, right?) who is determined to be her Prince Charming despite the incredibly difficult dilemma she presents him with. Annabelle is trying to get pregnant, and she’s doing it through artificial insemination; a plan she has no intention of delaying or changing simply because a persistent and seductive new man enters her life. And to further complicate matters, despite the obvious conflict of interest, Tyson is to be her counselor through this process. The counseling sessions become subterfuge for him to learn more about the mysterious Annabelle and for the two to grow closer.

Their closeness, and developing relationship is tested when those close to Tyson and to Annabelle learn troubling new details about her last pregnancy, and question whether she deserves what she wants most—motherhood.

So here’s my take. I loved Tyson, and particularly loved that his affection for Annabelle grew from afar at first and then turned into something more. The choice he made—to pursue Annabelle despite her circumstances—was one I would have counseled a friend against, but somehow it seemed to make sense for the man he was. I believed him completely, and felt like I understood him. Annabelle, less so, probably because I think a culture that tells women that they are incomplete unless they are mothers is oppressive. And Annabelle seemed to have bought into that in ways that made me want to throttle her a times. She was so single-minded in her drive to be a mother, that I couldn’t relate. But of course, I have a kid, so what do I know about wanting and not being able to have one? So … when I stopped judging her, I liked her more, and just wanted her to get what she wanted.

But I have to admit, when The Big Issue with Annabelle’s pregnancy was revealed, I wanted to see the characters struggle with it some more. I wanted to see a little more push and pull over this incredibly difficult subject—most of the conflict about it was external, and where Annabelle had to school a couple people, I got it but was more curious about her own internal struggle, and perhaps even an internal struggle between the couple. All in all though, the writing was solid, and the ending satisfying. But most of all, I think the story, the characters and the conflict were uncommon and unexpected; all of which, for me, made ‘Ribbons & Belle’ well worth the read.

Happy Reading!

N.

 

Going Long

I’ve been trying, but I can’t do it.

After many, many weeks of “studying” the contemporary romance genre from a writer’s perspective, reading as much as I can get my hands on, downloading material to my Kindle like a woman possessed, reading reviews of other authors’ work and detecting patterns of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, I finally understand something. The average romance reader seems to want their resolution around page 250 or thereabouts. On rare occasions they will accept your going on for another 25 or so. Beyond that, there is impatience. And I think I understand. Honestly, two hundred and fifty to three hundred pages is sufficient to complete the basic romantic arc in most circumstances, unless there is a fair amount of suspense and action also involved. Or, let’s face it, if you’re a very skilled writer who can communicate vast amounts of information with relatively few words (which not many writers are).

Turns out, I just can’t do it. Certainly, I could work harder to say more with less or get a real cutthroat of an editor, and I think depending on the voice, in some circumstances I probably should. But sometimes it’s just not possible for me and now I think I understand why.

When I was writing Commitment, The Seduction of Dylan Acosta and Unsuitable Men, I never envisioned them as romance novels in the purest sense. I saw the main characters’ relationships with themselves, and their process of self-evolution as being equally important as whether or not they ended up with the person they were in love with. I wanted to say more about their lives and their worlds than that they had fallen in love, faced some trouble getting together with their love interest and then finally gotten it together.

In ‘Commitment’, I wanted to explore image, fame, the changing face of hip-hop (an art form I’m still very much in love with – as an aside, if you’re in love with it too, you MUST check out  The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley and edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) and a man’s process of learning who he is. In ‘Unsuitable Men’, it was about Tracy and Brendan falling in love, but also about Tracy learning to overcome demons from her past that made her loathe herself and love only her outward appearance. And in ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ it was about how not knowing who you are renders you susceptible to all kinds of influences that would seek to define you. The romance was the carrot to lure you in, but I hoped the core of the stories was more than that.

In ‘Unsuitable Men’, for instance, I debated with myself for days whether the main protagonists should end up with each other at all. And I was aware that if they did, what would be most satisfying to the reader would be a ring and a wedding. But that outcome didn’t make sense to me, given the very difficult journey of acceptance and self-acceptance that the Tracy character was embarking on. She wasn’t ready for any of that. Her love of herself was too new for her to have perfected love with another person to such a degree that she could marry them. So I just could not deliver that ending. Likewise, I find it difficult to deliver the standard 250 – 275 page romance and say all that I want to say.  And that has had me very conflicted.

No resolutions reached yet, but something tells me that when I come out on the other side of this debate, I’ll probably still go long. At least a little.

-Nia-