I have a guilty secret, I spend a lot of time reading gentle romances. I’ve always been an avid reader but before ME/CFS my reading choices were very different. I would have looked down on the romance genre as not worthy of my time. Since ME/CFS it’s been a life saver. I read to relax, and with a nervous system prone to overstimulation, it’s really important that my entertainment doesn’t include tension and suspense.
Romance reading for me, is a very low energy activity. In fact, when I read in bed in the morning, my smart watch thinks I’m still asleep. Because of the amount of time I need to spend in low energy activities, I get through several books a week.
One of my favourite authors, Penny Reid, has opened up the world of her characters to other authors to write spin off stories, providing her readership with many new stories and a platform for talented authors. I often await the smartypants romance launches with a great deal of pleasurable anticipation because it means lots for me to read without the hassle of searching for something I might like.
This week I had a nice surprise with the book Tough Cookie by Talia Hunter. Her main female protagonist is living with ME/CFS. In the story, Carla, a software engineer, moved away from her life in New York and a family and ex-fiancé who didn’t seem to understand her illness. She hermits herself away in a cottage in the wilds of Tennessee, growing her own vegetables and rearing hens for eggs, only going into town once a month for supermarket shopping. She works from home, paces carefully and has a strict diet. All of this was very relatable.
The male protagonist is her landlady’s son and comes to fix her roof. The lovely thing about this romance is how he sees her power as somone overcoming many difficult challenges. He see’s the strength in her and doesn’t identify her with her illness.
The story describes quite well, much of what it’s like to live with the illness and how it impacts on both day to day and big life decisions. The protagonist also lives with a fair amount of anxiety related to the illness, which personally I didn’t relate to, but I do know that we all experience this illness in unique ways. At first, I felt sure that the book was written by somebody living with ME/CFS although there were a couple of things that didn’t quite fit right for me. The authors note, explains that it is her husband who has ME/CFS which explains how well the topic is treated exceptionally well on the whole, but with a just couple of little misfires; things that you can’t completely get unless you actually experience the illness yourself.
I would definitely recommend this book, it’s not the same quality of writing as the romance greats like Penny Reid, but for a light easy read that tackles the issues of living with this illness compassionately and with hope, you can’t go wrong. Perhaps you could share it with friends and family who enjoy the romance genre to help widen their awareness and understanding a little. Or maybe just enjoy the light read yourself, immersing yourself in a fictional world that feels more familiar than most!