Mary's Minute: Fluffy Books


Today I want to talk about a beloved sub-genre of books: the fluffy book. Fluffy books are a type of  (usually) contemporary romance (although I think there can be some fluffy fantasies or historical books as well) are fun, sweet, swoony stories that just make me feel GOOD after I've read it. It's one of my absolute favorite genres, and I know many of my friends love it as well. So why am I discussing it today?

Several months ago, author Jenn Bennett (The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, Alex Approximately) had a few words to say about frequently reading reviews that called her books fluffy:



This sparked a great conversation in which many bloggers and readers spoke up about how much fluffy books mean to them and what they define fluff as, and we'll come back to that in a second because it seems that authors and readers are mixing lines of communication when using the term fluff.

I recently moderated a panel called Me + You = Fate during the Texas Teen Book Festival, which was AMAZING. We talked a lot about romance, and I was shocked to find two more authors who said they dislike their books being called fluff. Mackenzi Lee (The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue) said she doesn't like the term, but when people call her book serious, she likewise said, "well, not THAT serious!" And Jenna Evans Welch (Love and Gelato) said she didn't think her book qualified since a primary theme is grief. So I want to talk about this genre again.

 I asked Twitter a few days ago, and here a few replies to me and a few to Jenn:

(for the record, I asked how the define fluff, is it an insult, why do you like it, and who are your faves)









A couple things that stuck out to me is that for a lot of people, fluffy = little angst and also, fluffy books are the ones they most often reread. That's super important!!! Fluff has a rereadable factor!!


What makes a book "fluffy"? For me, there are a few indicators: 
  • light, easy-to-read prose (basically the complete opposite of James Joyce and pretentious literary writing)
  • emphasis on romance in the story
  • use of romance tropes like love to hate, friends to more, fake date, etc.
  • humor
  • slice of life stories
  • mc has an important hobby/interest that usually has a lot to do with the plot

There are a few other elements that are frequently found in fluffy books, but I don't think they're necessarily a requirement (especially since some of these are complete opposites). It's one of those a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square things. Travel (especially European); seasonal-specific (summer or winter holidays); celebrity love interest; royal love interest; athletes; etc.

None of these are super hard and fast other than light prose and romance, but really, what makes a book fluffy for me is if I feel good reading it. If I'm reading a book with a HUGE irrepressible smile on my face, it's probably fluff. I tend to swoon a lot because the boys are dreamy, and I always want to be the girl's best friend. For me, fluff doesn't mean no conflict or heavy topics. A book can cover topics like death, mental illness, physical illness, abuse, etc, and still be fluff to me. It entirely depends on the overall tone of the novel and how the author approaches the topic. If I'm left feeling satisfied by a story and hopeful for the characters and their futures, I'm more inclined to consider a book fluff. If I'm left feeling like life sucks and then you die and this character is fucked or the road is going to be long and hard for them when the book is over, I'm usually more inclined to consider it realistic fiction. And I don't necessarily WANT realistic fiction.

I find great comfort in fluffy books, and it's frustrating when lighter contemporary novels go temporarily out of fashion in YA. A couple years ago, I went to a professional library conference during which most publishers didn't have very many contemporary romances in their catalogs. Lots of fantasy (duh) and lots of realistic fiction, which I always consider heavier reads, but little romance. And that made me sad. I love fantasy and sci-fi, but I need them interspersed with books that are light and fun!

2017 is a garbage fire. I frequently feel like our society is completely doomed and WE are the characters who are fucked after the book ends. I don't need to read books that will leave me feeling depressed after I close the cover. I already feel depressed. I want books where I envision the character still has their best days ahead of them, even if I don't get to read about those adventures. I want to feel happy and warm and content, like a cat lazing in a ray of sunshine streaming in through a window. Like I'm curled up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. Like I'm lying in a hammock listening to the ocean's waves as a breeze gently caresses my face. That's how fluff makes me feel. The world might be terrible, but at least it seems like writers are creating more of these stories and publishers are publishing them. I'm grateful for that. I just want EVEN MORE, and also, I would very much like more diverse stories of all kinds.

One thing about fluff is that like just about all genres of YA, it's populated with a million stories about white cishet Christian-or-not-religious usually-middle-or-upper-class able-bodied characters. I love that we're seeing other kinds of stories like When Dimple Met Rishi and I Believe in a Thing Called Love, To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Queens of Geek and The Secret of a Heart Note but I definitely want more. It's comforting to me to read warm, sweet stories, and I bet a lot of readers would feel the same if they could see more characters like themselves on the page. So come on, writers and publishers, keep pushing!

I don't think book bloggers really write for authors, just for other readers, but if there are any authors reading this, please don't be offended when you hear readers categorize your books as fluff. We don't mean that they lack substance; instead, it's an indicator of how your book makes us feel: like rainbows and sparkles and whipped cream and sprinkles and stardust and chunky cable knit and crunchy leaves. Think of it this way: do you really want a hard, flat pillow or a fluffy one? Those weird hairless cats or a fluffy kitteh? Runny (or super dry) scrambled eggs or fluffy? Thin, wimpy pancakes or fluffy? A regular, run-of-the-mill unicorn or a SUPER FLUFFY ONE?


Fluff is not an insult, and if someone is using it as one, it's probably a dude, and he is a sexist douchecanoe who sucks and doesn't understand the power of fluff. For your reference, here's a Buzzfeed listicle of amazing fluffy things. I would only change it to add books to the list.

EDITED TO ADD:
Discussions about fluff have EXPLODED over the past few weeks. There's been a lot of discussion about how misogynistic a lot of the criticism of fluff is, but a few days ago (I'm writing this edit on Christmas), I discovered this amazing thread written by Leah of Small Queer, Big Opinions about ableism and criticism of fluff. With her permission, I'm posting the thread here for you guys. Thanks, Leah!


Books that explore the day-to-day realities of our world—including the horrifying, depressing, and hurtful ones—are important. But Leah is absolutely correct: sometimes we need to lose ourselves, to escape into a gentle, angst-free world. As I said above, the world of 2017 has been a garbage fire. Having books to comfort us, to make us smile, giggle, swoon, and sigh dreamily is an immense blessing. More than that, as Leah also points out in the full thread, it's a blessing to go into a book knowing that we're not going to be blindsided with something triggering. With a fluffy book, I know my mental health and my emotional state are in safe, gentle hands. Fluffy books are entertaining, but they're also healing. The real chicken soup for the soul.




Recommendations!
I couldn't let you guys go without recommending some of my fluffy favorites!

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli
Alex, Approximately - Jenn Bennett
Teen Idol, Nicola and the Viscount – Meg Cabot
99 Days – Katie Cotugno
Endless Summer – Jennifer Echols
My Life Next Door – Huntley Fitzpatrick
I Believe in a Thing Called Love – Maurene Goo
To All the Boys I've Loved Before – Jenny Han
The Secret of a Heart Note – Stacey Lee
Open Road Summer, The Start of Me & You – Emery Lord
The Unexpected Everything, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson
When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon
First & Then, This Adventure Ends – Emma Mills
Being Sloane Jacobs (although my boss loves Meant to Be more) – Lauren Morrill
Dumplin' – Julie Murphy
Bittersweet, The Book of Broken Hearts – Sarah Ockler
Anna & the French Kiss, My True Love Gave to Me anthology – Stephanie Perkins
Geekerella – Ashley Poston
This is What Happy Looks Like – Jennifer E. Smith
The Art of Lainey – Paula Stokes
Love & Gelato – Jenna Evans Welch
On the Fence, The Distance Between Us – Kasie West
Queens of Geek – Jen Wilde


How do you feel about fluff? Do you have any recommendations of your own? Please share in the comments!

Waiting on Wednesday: Meet Cute


After a three year hiatus, I'm bringing back my WoW posts! Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature hosted Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases.



Meet Cute
by a butt-ton of authors
Coming January 2, 2018
HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:
Whether or not you believe in fate, or luck, or love at first sight, every romance has to start somewhere. Meet Cute is an anthology of original short stories featuring tales of "how they first met" from some of today’s most popular YA authors. 

Readers will experience Nina LaCour's beautifully written piece about two Bay Area girls meeting via a cranky customer service Tweet, Sara Shepard's glossy tale about a magazine intern and a young rock star, Nicola Yoon's imaginative take on break-ups and make-ups, Katie Cotugno's story of two teens hiding out from the police at a house party, and Huntley Fitzpatrick's charming love story that begins over iced teas at a diner. There’s futuristic flirting from Kass Morgan and Katharine McGee, a riveting transgender heroine from Meredith Russo, a subway missed connection moment from Jocelyn Davies, and a girl determined to get out of her small town from Ibi Zoboi. Jennifer Armentrout writes a sweet story about finding love from a missing library book, Emery Lord has a heartwarming and funny tale of two girls stuck in an airport, Dhonielle Clayton takes a thoughtful, speculate approach to pre-destined love, and Julie Murphy dreams up a fun twist on reality dating show contestants. 

This incredibly talented group of authors brings us a collection of stories that are at turns romantic and witty, epic and everyday, heartbreaking and real.

Why I Want It:
In a word: the lineup. This is a SPECTACULARLY assembled group of enormously talented writers. I have a post coming out tomorrow about fluffy books and how I want more of them and I want more diverse fluff. Including authors of color, particular black women, and queer authors, especially trans, lesbian, and bisexual authors, is a huge deal in anthologies, and I'm REALLY excited about this step forward. I've always loved anthologies because it means I get more stories from authors I love, but I am really excited about all the upcoming anthologies that are branching out from the typical. A few other anthologies I can't wait to read include Three Sides of a HeartHope Nation, The Radical Element, (Don't) Call Me Crazy, and Toil and Trouble.

Why I think you should want it:
Okay, but do you SEE that lineup?? Also, those teasers! Rock stars! Diners! Missed connections! Library books! Airports! Reality tv! If you need a pick-me-up kind of read, Meet Cute seems like it will hit that mark for sure. 

Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds



Rating: 5 stars
Release Date: 10/24/17
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Genre: young adult realistic fiction, poetry
Format/Source: ARC, Baker & Taylor arc program
Status: standalone

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Summary:
An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.


And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Blog Tour: Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz



Release Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Philomel
Genre: young adult thriller
Status: Book 1 of the Alex Rider series

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Summary:
Alex Rider is back in action! His new mission? Rescue an entire bus filled with children belonging to wealthy families. At stake are not only the lives of each child, but the very future of the terrorist organization known as SCORPIA. Thrilling action and pulse-pounding heroics make the pages fly.

The world's greatest teen spy is back in action in a thrilling new mission: destroy once and for all the terrorist organization SCORPIA. Following the events of Scorpia Rising, Alex relocates to San Francisco as he slowly recovers from the tragic death of his best friend and caregiver, Jack Starbright, at the hands of terrorists working for SCORPIA. With Jack gone, Alex feels lost and alone, but then, out of the blue, he receives a cryptic email--just three words long, but enough to make Alex believe that Jack may be alive. Armed with this shred of hope, Alex boards a flight bound for Egypt and embarks on a dubious quest to track Jack down. Yet SCORPIA knows Alex's weakness. And the question of whether Jack is alive soon takes a backseat to a chilling new terrorist plot--one that will determine the lives of many. From Egypt to France to Wales, from luxury yachts to abandoned coal mines, Alex traverses a minefield of dangers and cryptic clues as he fights to discover the truth. The #1 New York Times bestselling series, perfect for fans of James Bond and Jason Bourne, is back with a vengeance! 

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde




Rating: 4.5 stars
Release Date: March 14, 2017
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: ARC, from the publisher
Status: standalone
(but characters from QoG will show up in The Brightsiders!

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Summary:
When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.


Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch



Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: paperback, gift
Status: standalone, but Love & Luck is a companion

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Summary:
“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.


People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Blog Tour: Breakaway by Sophia Henry



Release Date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Random House: Flirt
Genre: new adult sports romance
Format/Source: drc, from the publisher
Status: book 5 of the Pilots Hockey companion series


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Summary:
In a standalone hockey romance that tugs at readers’ heartstrings, a broken ex-pro learns to live and love again—all thanks to the complicated, wonderful nurse who gives him a second chance.

Brianna Collins needs to break away from her overbearing family. Her parents expect her to “fix” her brother after a series of concussions derailed his hockey career. Unfortunately, no doctor will give him clearance to play, and she’s finished with being the person they rely on to perform a miracle that will never happen. For Bree, a six-month nursing assignment at a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the perfect escape.

Luke Daniels, former forward for the NHL’s Charlotte Aviators, has spent close to a year rehabbing a career-threatening injury—and distracting himself however he can. Worlds collide when Luke realizes that the girl from his latest one-night-stand happens to be the new nurse at the hospital where he volunteers in the pediatric unit. What’s more, Bree’s the only person who makes him excited about life again.

Despite her initial reservations, Luke can’t help pursuing sweet, beautiful Bree. Then he realizes it was her brother whose career he ended with an accidental hit, and he falls back on the thing that’s always helped suppress his demons: alcohol. But if Luke doesn’t kick his old habits, he just may lose the one thing he loves more than hockey.

Don’t miss any of Sophia Henry’s exhilarating Pilots Hockey novels:

Praise for Sophia Henry

“Sophia Henry’s hockey novels are fun and flirty, warm and sweet, with relatable heroines and swoon-worthy hockey heroes. They’ll bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.”—USA Today bestselling author Kelly Jamieson