In Defense of the Category
or My Favorite Category Romances
Romance as a genre is the red-headed stepchild of the publishing world because OMG! it’s about two people falling in love and one of them not dying at the end! And within the romance genre, category romances are looked down upon for being the cause of romance’s bad rep because it has titles like The Millionaire’s Inexperienced Love Slave and Ruthlessly Bedded by the Italian Billionaire.
Know what, though? It’s not easy to create an enjoyable story about two people falling in love within the word count constraints of a category. Yes, there’s a formula involved. But there’s a formula for everything. In a mystery, a crime is committed and solved. In a fantasy, a nobody everyone underestimates overcomes great obstacles to save the world. In a romance, two people meet, overcome internal or external conflicts or both, and get their HEA. Developing that relationship, developing those conflicts, be they internal or external, and making the story readable and satisfying isn’t easy. And doing it with a limited word count is even harder. But it is doable–and the following thirteen titles prove it.
Partners in Crime by Anne Stuart.
Humorous, fast-paced, and memorable. While the mystery didn’t keep me guessing, it kept me turning the pages, along with an absolutely adorable hero and a skinny heroine who doesn’t need to diet! A+
As Jane Dexter scrambled to keep a secret formula from falling into the wrong hands, her hired accomplice proved useless as a jack-of-all-illegal-trades. The way things were going, she was bound to end up in the arms of the law–or in the arms of a lawless, dashing, dangerously deluded criminal.
The Soldier and the Baby by Anne Stuart.
At one point in the late eighties and early nineties, it seemed like every author had to write an escaping-from-the-jungle book because they all watched Rambo and wanted to give it a romance twist. Most were meh for me, but Anne Stuart’s story was fun and exciting and sexy as hell–and she managed to develop the relationship within a period of days. Also, she *gasp* actually made use of the exotic location so it didn’t feel like a story that could’ve taken place in NYC. A
What could possibly bring togethr a hard-living, bare-chested soldier and a devout novice? At first, it was an innocent baby…and then it was a passion hotter than the simmering jungle they had to escape from.
Catspaw by Anne Stuart.
(Okay, I admit it: I’m a hopeless Anne Stuart fan girl.)
The sparks and chemistry between the hero and heroine are wonderful. The dialogue was snappy and witty and reminded me of old-school romance movies. A
Cat burglar–a precarious profession, which has three basic rules: Never trust a woman. Never pull a job by the light of the moon. Never get caught. John Patrick Blackheart, one-time jewel thief turned security consultant, is about to break all three of them.
Cool Shade by Theresa Weir.
It takes real skill to make me love a book with an agoraphobic hero and a heroine with a semi-martyr complex. They’re both insecure and very human and pull you into the story whether you want to be or not. And the sparse prose let’s me enjoy the story and the characters, not wonder if the metaphor makes any sense. A+
Jobless, flat broke and itching for some new scenery, disk jockey Maddie Smith figures a trip to Nebraska to see what’s going on with her flaky, estranged sister is as good a plan as any. It seems that after a brief encounter with sexy reclusive Eddie Berlin, baby sister vanished without a trace. Now it’s going to take every last one of Maddie’s wiles feminine and otherwise to get close enough to Eddie to find out what happened…and to resist his inexplicable allure, which may just be as dangerous as it is enticing.
Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie.
(Was there any doubt Jennifer Crusie would make my list?)
Highly entertaining blend of laugh-out-loud humor and sexual tension between two quirky characters. Everything is far out in the left field, yet as you watch the romance develop during the short time you don’t care about the believability because you don’t want to miss the ride. A
Her cheating husband, Bradley, lobbed the final insult when he stood her up in divorce court. A dye job gone wrong has left her hair green. And someone is trying to kill her. To top it off, sexy cop Zack Warren is certain the very same man Lucy is trying to wash right out of her hair is the same Bradley he wants to arrest for embezzlement.
When someone shoots at her and then her car blows up, Zack decides she needs twenty-four-hour police protection. Next thing Lucy knows, Zack has moved in to her big Victorian house, making them both sleepless…and not just from things that go bump in the night!
The Sister Swap by Susan Napier.
A secret baby trope…with a twist. And that’s all I’m giving away. B+
ANNE: it was a daring deception, but she always put her family first. Her sister desperately needed some time alone and Anne would at least have the chance to study at college. But there was something–someone–she hadn’t bargained for…
HUNTER LEWIS: visiting professor and Anne’s very attractive neighbor. He was soon immensely suspicious of her….
However, Hunter’s arrogant assumptions about Anne made it easier for her not to let him into her apartment–or into her heart. For it would be disastrous if Hunter discovered that Anne had been left–quite literally–holding the baby!
The Revenge Affair by Susan Napier.
(I’m also a hopeless Susan Napier fan girl. She is my crack, baby!)
An unambitious heroine with a martyr complex…and yet I love it. Probably because I love the alpha hero who does not cross the line into assholic and the sexual tension is maintained throughout the book. And the hero’s grovelling at the end is immensely satisfying. B+
Joshua Wade was convinced Regan was plotting to disrupt his wedding. There had been that reckless one-night stand two months ago. But Regan could never reveal her secret plans, not even when Joshua confessed his wedding was a sham.
Indiscreet by Alison Kent.
When I first read this book, it stood out from all the other Harlequin Blazes because the heroine is half-Asian, successful, and confident; the hero is a tattooed younger man who can cook; the action felt like action and not cozy-mystery-action; and the entire book made me want to fan myself. B
gIRL-gEAR vice president Annabel “Poe” Lee needs a change. That means telling her recent fling, Patrick Coffey, that it’s over. In theory, it’s an easy task. In reality, Patrick’s the best lover she’s ever had, so saying goodbye is tougher than she’d thought. But it’s time to move on, and falling for Patrick isn’t in the cards…or is it?
When Annabel tells Patrick she can’t see him anymore, he’s not thrilled. He may not be ready for anything more than great sex either, but she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Since Annabel’s letting him stick around for a few more weeks, though, he’s determined to show her why it’s so good between them–day and night!
The Cowboy by Jayne Ann Krentz.
What I love about JAK is that she wrote about smart, confident, successful women even when it was acceptable for heroines to be spineless and in need of a man to rescue them. I can read her books without wanting to smack sense into people, which does great things for my blood pressure. Also, her heroes are sexy but never drop-dead gorgeous or–worse–pretty. Thus, if you can overlook the fashion in her books, her stories don’t feel dated.
I found this particular title vastly entertaining despite bringing up the dreaded M word because I love the fun battle of the sexes, I love how it’s the hero doing the chasing, I love that both protagonists use their common sense, and I love how the Big Misunderstanding was deftly handled. B+
Margaret Lark knew all about cowboys in pin-striped suits: they were the heroes in her books. She’d never admit to fantasizing about the type of man–much less acknowledge that she’d walked out on one. And Rafe Cassidy–with all the powerful grit of a true cowboy–is fantasy anymore! But Rafe is shooting for a different ending to their story. One year after their explosive breakup–a breakup fueled by corporate intrigue, betrayal and bitter accusation–Rafe once again stakes his claim on her heart. As ruthless and determined as a gunslinger, he’s not above blackmail to get her out to his Arizona ranch. For the final showdown.
The Devil to Pay by Jayne Ann Krentz (writing as Stephanie James).
Another classic from JAK. Light mystery, great relationship, humorous touches, and no wasted scenes or unnecessary padding. And it was very cute how the heroine ran around town defending the hero. B+
Just as Emelina Stratton was about to break into an empty beach cottage, a man materialized out of the fog with a Doberman at his heel. Julian Cotter was as quietly lethal-looking as his dog. A man who exuded an aura of command that force Emmy under its sway. It was easy to believe the local gossip that he was a Mafia kingpin hiding out until things cooled off back East. But Emmy was desperate, and Julian could help her–for a price. Emmy was confident she could pay no matter what he charged…until Julian called in her I.O.U.
Lucy and the Loner by Elizabeth Bevarly.
Funny, touching, and cheap emotional manipulation…what more could I ask for? Also, the entire book is about how the relationship develops. As someone who can’t write a story based solely on internal conflict if her life depended on it, I am in awe of this book. And if I was a cat person, I’d want Mack. B+
Boone Cagney. When irresistible Lucy Dolan cried pitifully about her trapped three-year-old, how was the hunk fire fighter to know she was talking about her…cat? Now he’s spending his days–and his nights–with both of them…
Lucy Dolan. When Boone rescued Mack from the jaws of death, Lucy decided it was payback time.
Lucy has to service Boone for thirty days only–if he can bear to let her go at the end of them. After all, good help is so hard to find…
He’d sworn to go it alone. So what was it about this woman–and her ornery black feline-that had Boone thinking about the family plan?
Jinxed by Day Leclaire.
A heroine with an unconventional job, a grumpy hero who’s absolutely adorable, and laugh-out-loud scenes that weren’t slapstick. I almost want to call it a romp, but it’s more restrained and, thus, better. B
Eek! What is it about Steven Sinclair that makes the normally together Kit Mallory turn into a complete idiot any time he’s around? It couldn’t be because Steven’s so great looking, could it? Being a toy tester is usually fun, but now it’s Kit who’s being tested.
The Trustworthy Redhead by Iris Johansen.
(A sheik romance made it onto my list! And hell hasn’t frozen over!)
Honestly, I feel guilty for loving something so old-school and so over-the-top. Feisty, virgin heroine with martyr complex, check. Alpha hero who crosses into assholic territory, check. Hero thinks heroine sleeps around, check. Hero actually does sleep around, check. Hero has anger management issues, check. Hero has stalker tendencies, check.
(What is wrong with me?!?)
Back in the day, Iris Johansen delivered fast-paced, passionate, emotionally manipulative stories that were so incredibly politically incorrect yet so very addictive. However, there’s an indefinable something that makes her old-school categories like crack because I won’t even look at other authors’ works with these types of tropes and themes. B
When Princess Rubinoff hired Sabrina Courtney to deliver very special birthday wishes to her husband’s best friend, she never warned that Alex ben Rashid had a powerful weakness for redheaded ladies…an omission that made their first meeting a volatile one.