Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert
The subtitle of the book is “An LGBTQIA Rivals-to-Lovers Road Trip Romance,” which serves as a reassurance, a summary, and a pitch. The breadth of the spoilers would be a problem if Annabeth Albert were not a good writer, but she is. I had no idea romance publishing had taken this turn of offering labels to guide readers to exactly what it is they want to read and confess to have been put off by it, but I wanted to read a romance novel and made my way through this one with a good deal of delight. Conrad and Alden are charmingly troubled, cute as pie, delightfully antagonistic to each other in that way that is sure to melt by the end of the book since each, predictably but deliciously, is exactly what the other needs. I never felt entirely immersed in the book, which is written in a workmanlike way, straightforward and clean; but nevertheless I was caught up in the relationship and by the end of the story was affected by the depth of what the two boys were feeling. I call them boys as they did themselves but they are presented in their early twenties and ought to be choosing to call themselves men rather soon, if not already. The fact that they don’t makes them feel younger than they are and helps the book to ride a line between young adult writing and adult romance, which, as it turns out, is a very comfortable territory. They have sufficient complications to give them a touch of layering, though nothing that impedes the forward motion of the story. The sex was a bit detailed but without losing the book its charm, and I expect this is a strategy of the genre, after all. It has been a while since I read romance and I found myself pleasantly surprised, in finding the book, to note how much of this kind of writing there is these days. I would have been happy to encounter stories like Albert’s when I was at this age. The most interesting aspect of the work outside the relationship of the couple was the culture of the book, the world of the fantasy card game in which Alden and Conrad are internet celebrities (though not of an overwhelming fame), and the convention that they attend at which fans of the game gather. This was handled very well, and the road trip itself was managed about as comfortably as I have ever encountered in a book. Writing scene after scene in the interior of a car can be very tedious, but Albert is up to the task.