Categories: The Bastard Children of Romance

Harlequins2 Last week on our message boards a discussion arose about category romances – specifically, whether or not one reads them and why. For those of you who don’t know, categories (a.k.a. “series romances”) are the shorter, usually numbered books released each month by Harlequin, Silhouette or Love Inspired(Steeple Hill) in the U.S., and Mills and Boon in the U.K. Currently, Harlequin publishes more than 2 dozen different category lines, and there are numerous obsolete lines in the publisher’s history. (Harlequin also publishes single-titles under the MIRA and HQN imprints.)

To avoid confusion with single-title romances that are part of a series, but are not “series romances” – like Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series or Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series – I’ll use the term “category” when referring to category/series romances.

Whether the discussion takes place in Romanceland or in real life, invariably the same reasons are trotted out for refusing to read categories and dismissing them all out of hand. Sadly, these reasons mirror many of the reasons non-romance readers give for dismissing Romances. Hey, there’s nothing like being discriminated against within your own minority, is there?

So, what are these reasons for writing-off all categories like they’re the Bastard Children of Romance?

#1 – Silly/Computer-Generated Titles
This argument mirrors the standard disparagement of Romances based on the bodice-ripping clinch covers the genre is famous for. You know, the argument that reasons all Romances should be dismissed as unworthy because the covers clearly illustrate what they really are: trashy women’s porn. Because, don’t we all know that a book’s cover is a reliable indicator of its quality? So, using the same reasoning, we should dismiss all category romances as being silly because, if the title is silly, clearly the book must be too. Right?

Now, I will admit, that I too cringe at many category romance titles. (Just like I’ve cringed at many a Romance cover.) Titles like The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl, The Tuscan Tycoon’s Pregnant Housekeeper, and The Millionaire’s Misbehaving Mistress make me gag, and titles like Covert Cootchie-Cootchie-Coo and Pregnesia – the story of a pregnant amnesiac – make me wonder, “What in the hell were they thinking?”

Of course, there are also many category lines whose titles aren’t any sillier than your average single-title Romance, but those lines don’t seem to have the same visibility with non-category readers as lines like Harlequin Presents. Just like non-Fabio/non-bodice-ripping covers don’t have the same visibility with non-romance readers. Basically, it boils down to this: Judging a book’s quality based solely on its title is about as reliable as judging a Romance based solely on its cover. Which is to say: not reliable at all.

#2 – No Character/Plot Depth
This argument mirrors the claim that Romances lack depth, but non-category readers are using the reasoning that less pages necessarily equals less quality. Evidently, quality is determined by the quantity of words, not how those words are put together.

As any long-time category reader will tell you, quality depends on the author, not the word count. Just because there’s an extra 100 pages tacked onto a book, that alone isn’t going to make the quality of writing any better. Many authors excel at the shorter category format – authors who make you wonder how in the world she made you feel all that in such a short amount of time.

#3 – They’re Formulaic
Where non-romance readers argue that Romances are too formulaic, non-category readers argue the same about categories. There are too many Secret Babies. Because, apparently, there aren’t a million and one single-title Secret Baby stories out there.

To me, the argument that categories are more “formulaic” than single-titles is ridiculous. One of the most popular features at AAR is dedicated to readers’ favorite familiar plot-devices and character types, and the lists consist mostly of single-titles. If that doesn’t indicate that we all like certain “formulas,” I don’t know what does. Frankly, Harlequin is just taking the work out of readers’ hands by grouping the books for us so we can easily find exactly the “type” of Romance we’re looking for – no Special Title Listing needed.

And if you don’t like reading about the virgin mistresses of ruthless billionaires, try one of the other two dozen category lines – because they aren’t all Harlequin Presents.

#4 – I Read One and It Sucked
Like non-romance readers who claim all Romances suck based on one bad reading experience, non-category readers often claim that they read a “Harlequin” (a.k.a. category) that sucked, ergo all “Harlequins” suck. Because choosing one book among thousands is an excellent method of determining the worth of an entire literary genre – or group within a genre, as the case may be.

Yes, there are many lackluster categories on the shelves. But guess what: there are a whole lot of lackluster single-titles out there too. For readers who steadfastly rely on reviews to avoid them this may not be readily apparent, but trust me, they’re out there.

Finally, I also suspect that some of the disparagement for categories stems from readers not realizing that some of their favorite books are actually categories. That’s right: Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie, Jayne Ann Krentz, Suzanne Brockmann, and Linda Howard are just a few of the (now) big name authors who wrote category romances. It was after they became well-known that their category books were reissued as non-categories. Roberts’ MacGregors; Crusie’s Anyone But You and Getting Rid of Bradley; Brockmann’s Tall, Dark & Dangerous; Howard’s Mackenzies – all were written as part of a category line, and all are frequently listed on readers’ favorite books lists.

So here’s a challenge for non-category readers: Find a fellow reader whose taste is similar to yours, ask what her Top 5 category romances are, then read them. Maybe your opinion won’t change. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll be opening the doors to a whole new world of books. Wouldn’t that be grand?

For you category readers, feel free to share your Top 5 category romances of all time in the comments section. Maybe you’ll inspire a fellow reader to expand her horizons.

–Katie Mack

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66 Responses to Categories: The Bastard Children of Romance

  1. GamaTST says:

    I enjoyed this article, it was thought provoking. Classic categories are what brought me to longer romance novels and they hold a place in my heart. I’ll have to pick a few recent releases and try them again.

    You’ve mentioned many of my favorites above and I have a lot of Howard, Krentz, Roberts and Crusie still on my keeper shelves. A few more on my shelves are:

    Anne Stuart’s Catspaw and Catspaw II

    Stephanie James (JAK) Serpent in Paradise and Raven’s Prey

    Barbara Boswell’s Bedside Manners and Simply Irresistible, etc

    Elizabeth Lowell’s Love Song For A Raven, Lover in the Rough, etc

    Betina Krahns Make Me Yours

  2. JMM says:

    Well… when I go to a bookstore and five out of six of the month’s Harlequin line have a pregnant woman/baby on the front of the cover – it’s hard not to think of them as unoriginal cookie-cutter books.

    I have to say, the *overall* quality of catagories has fallen over the past few years, IMHO.


  3. For me, it’s all about the author, and there are some wonderful authors in category. Want historical? Read anything by Elizabeth Rolls. Want contemporary? Read Susan Napier. Want sexy? Read Leslie Kelly. Want an old classic that really stands the test of time? Read “Seen by Candlelight” by Anne Mather. Want to read stories by one of the best in the business, IMHO? Read Sara Craven. Her latest, “Ruthless Awakening” (no virgin billionaires in that title :-) is on the shelves now, and it’s great.

  4. Maria F says:

    I like Jessica Bird’s categories (she’s now better known as J.R. Ward). She wrote about 5 or 6 for Silhouette. Still the must-keep-reading writing, but without the over-the-top aspects that puts some people off her Black Dagger Brotherhood books. And they are tightly focused on the central romance. I wish she’d write more of them!
    And as for silly premises (highlighted by even sillier titles), well, it’s up to the author’s skill to make the story enjoyable and not eyerolling. I just watched the movie “Sabrina” last night (the Harrison Ford one) and it might as well have been titled “The Tycoon and the Virgin Cinderella,” but I liked the movie a lot anyway…

  5. mingqi says:

    I’ve been only reading a handful of harlequins a year since I started reading romance. I think it’s pretty hard to choose a good category romance for the contemporary line (I feel like the harlequin historical ones are better presented). I don’t think the contemporary ones are reviewed as much on romance review sites and there are so many available with similar titles, covers, and back-blurbs that i think it’s hard to choose without reviews. And my library also carries mostly single-title romances with a good number of category romances that take place on ranches =/ the donor must have been a bit cowboy fan.

  6. Pamela says:

    I began my romance reading with categories so they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. Unfortunately I’m in the process of moving so my collection is currently packed up. But some that jump to mind are favorites I often re-read including the authors mentioned: Nora Roberts (I’ve gone back to her Stanilaski and MacKade family series again and again) and Linda Howard (MacKenzie’s Mountain tops the list of category reads). But another that jumps to mind is the hidden gem, Sharon Sala’s “When You Call My Name” from the Intimate moments line.

    Don’t forget Nalini Singh also got her start in categories and I believe Lucy Monroe still writes for HP.

    Does anybody else miss the branding within a line? I particularly liked the “Spellbound” line within Intimate Moments. They were SF/F and founded my love of paranormals. They did a lot of time travel, a sub-sub-genre that we don’t see much of anymore.

    GamaPST; I will definitely try to find those Barbara Boswell’s. I only read “The Wild Bunch” but loved that one. Couple fall in love over 3 days but in the context of the short book (Silhouette Desire, I believe) it worked.

  7. Katie Mack says:

    JMM: Well… when I go to a bookstore and five out of six of the month’s Harlequin line have a pregnant woman/baby on the front of the cover – it’s hard not to think of them as unoriginal cookie-cutter books.

    I have to say, the *overall* quality of catagories has fallen over the past few years, IMHO.


    Here’s the big problem: Visibility. Each month there are more than *100* category romances published by Harlequin — not just 6. Most of them don’t have pregnant women or babies on the cover. In lines like Harlequin Blaze, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a baby or a pregnant woman. Because those aren’t part of the Blaze line’s shtick.

    For some reason the Presents line seems to be the most visible “representative” of all category lines. The two lines that regularly feature billionaires, mistresses, and/or virgins are Harlequin Presents and Silhouette Desire — lines that combined account for less than 14% of the total number of categories published each month.

    There are more than 2 dozen *different* category lines. Each line has its own focus — its own “type” of stories and characters. So, if you don’t want to read about princes, virgins, or babies just don’t read the lines that feature those plot lines. Really, there’s a whole lot more than Harlequin Presents out there.

    As for whether or not the overall quality of categories has gone down recently, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. :)

  8. Wendy says:

    Katie beat me to it:

    “For some reason the Presents line seems to be the most visible “representative” of all category lines.”

    Just as non-romance readers like to think that ALL romance novels are “Harlequins,” some romance readers think ALL categories are Harlequin Presents. I love category romance beyond all reason, but hey – there are some lines that just don’t “work” for me. Presents being one, Silhouette Desire being another (ever since they morphed it into Harlequin Presents II: The Revenge).

    Some of the best, most heart-felt romances I’ve ever read have been in the SuperRomance and Special Edition lines (if you’re not reading Janice Kay Johnson and Karen Templeton – you need to be!). I’m a massive ho for Harlequin Historical. Blaze is my go-to line for when I want fun and sexy. I’ve also become addicted to a lot of the ebook-only shorts that Harlequin is offering these days – Spice Briefs and Harlequin Historical Undone specifically.

    Certainly there is terrible dreck being published in category, but as Katie points out – there’s terrible dreck published everywhere. Harlequin hardly holds the market share on that!

    For me it comes down to the fact that category romance is “all of the romance, with none of the bullshit.” Short page counts mean less “filler” and more time devoted to what we all care about in this genre – the romance! You tend to get a very strong focus on the romance in categories. That’s why so many of us love them. And trust me, when you hit upon an author who writes the format well? Absolutely nothing better.

  9. Lynn Spencer says:

    Wow! Picking 5 favorites is really, really hard for me because I have enjoyed so many category romances. I used to buy more than I do now. The lousy titles of recent years have turned me off. However, when I look past the titles and pick up the books themselves, I do find some gems.

    I’m not sure I can call these my top 5 of all time because I keep changing my mind, but here are 5 that I have really liked:

    1. Evangeline and the Archangel, Lost Warriors and a lot of the other early Conard County titles by Rachel Lee
    2. Perchance to Dream by Kathleen Korbel
    3. The Brain & the Beauty by Betsy Eliot
    4. Break the NIght by Anne Stuart
    5. Do-Over by Dorien Kelly

    And I still have at least 10 runners-up….

    Note: I limited myself to the contemporary lines. If I started going back into my stash of series historicals, this would be the longest list ever!

  10. Ellen AAR says:

    Top 5? Hard to do, but here are a few in no particular order:

    1. With Child – Janice Kay Johnson
    2. Justine Davis’s Trinty Street West mini-series
    3. Anything at all by Ruth Wind
    4. Her Secret, His Child by Paula Detmer Riggs
    5. Bad For Each Other by Kate Hathaway

    And I’ve got lots more. Like Marilyn Pappano’s books, and Elizabeth Bevarly’s Silhouette Desire titles, and all of Jennifer Greene’s books and, Gayle Wilson’s Harlequin Historicals are REAL buried treasures!!!

    I’ll stop now, but there really are some wonderful reads out there in series land.

  11. Janga says:

    I started reading categories in the days of Essie Summers, Mary Burchell, and Sara Seale. While I read far fewer now, I have always read some categories. I still have the original issues of Nora Roberts’s MacGregors, MacKades, Stanislaskis, and O’Hurleys, Linda Howard’s Mackenzies, and Elizabeth Bevarly’s Monahans. Betina Krahn’s Make Me Yours is on my list of top twenty reads of 2009, and I find one or more Harlequin Historicals to delight my reader’s heart every month.

    Narrowing my all-time favorites to a top five is impossible, but certainly the following five have a place on my list of all-time favorite category romances:
    A Rose for Maggie, Kathleen Korbel
    Clay Yeager’s Redemption, Justine Davis
    A Risk Worth Taking, Kathleen Gilles Seidel
    Jake’s Christmas, Elizabeth Bevarly
    Blackberry Winter, Cheryl Reavis

  12. Margaret says:

    Off the top of my head…and most of mine will be older books…and I will probably think of 5 more as soon as I hit sent…in no particular order

    1. Reckless by Ruth Wind
    2. Overnight Alibi by Marilyn Pappano
    3. Airborne Emergency by Olivia Gates(all her medicals/Bombshells)
    4. Streets of Fire by Judith Duncan
    5. McQueen’s Heat by Harper Allen

  13. Katie Mack says:

    Wendy: I love category romance beyond all reason, but hey – there are some lines that just don’t “work” for me.

    Exactly. I view the different category lines like the different Special Title Listings – there are some that work for me, and others that don’t. Which is why it’s so great that there’s such a variety to choose from.

    Personally, I think Harlequin’s Writing Guidelines (link below) provide a good overall feel for each category line, and can help readers figure out which ones they might like, and which ones they won’t — because I there are few readers who will consistently like ALL the lines.

  14. Katie Mack says:

    I have to say that I’m not surprised to see more than one person listing books from Justine Davis’s “Trinity West” Silhouette Intimate Moments series. I’ve heard such good things about that series from a variety of people, so the other night I picked up two at the UBS (one being Clay Yeager’s Redemption; don’t recall the title of other). I’m really looking forward to reading them.

  15. Cindy W says:

    Great follow up to the discussion last week!

    My top 5 are:
    1. MacKenzie’s Mountain by Linda Howard
    2. Power Play by Nancy Warren (have you got yours yet Katie???)
    3. Duncan’s Bride by Linda Howard
    4. She’s Got it Bad by Sarah Mayberry (who I am getting her backlist)
    5. Under the Influence by Nancy Warren

    I also want to get Jill Shalvis’ backlist. These books, break my ruts, and are great for quick reads. Harlequin has Free Fridays and lots on BOGO deals.

  16. Cindy W says:

    I forgot to put I want Jessic Bird’s backlist too!

  17. Katie Mack says:

    Cindy W:
    2. Power Play by Nancy Warren (have you got yours yet Katie???)

    5. Under the Influence by Nancy Warren

    LOL, nope not yet. I’m eagerly checking the mail each day though. ;)

    You know, I didn’t put it together until now, but I think I discovered Under the Influence through your blog. You’re Cindy from Cindy Reads Romance, right? I happened across your blog early this year and picked up Under the Influence based on your recommendation. So I owe you a debt of gratitude for introducing me to one of the best books I’ve read this year. :D

  18. MaryK says:

    I agree with you with one exception. I don’t think #1 is comparable to judging a book by its cover. The titles are a real problem for me, and HP is actually my favorite category line. Yet, I still find it hard to choose books with the information provided. Titles aren’t the only problem; the back blurbs are just this side of computer generated, as well, and if they’re not downright wrong they’re sensationalized. With such cloudy information to work with, I think readers can be excused for dismissing them.

    It’s gotten to the point where I buy by author name because the author’s name is the only reliable descriptor on a book’s cover. I’ve been turned off of Susan Napier books by their titles and blurbs and that’s not easy.

    Yes, it can be argued that all romances are prone to silly titles and inaccurate blurbs, but not to the same extent and not usually both at the same time. The HP line is consistently misleading. It’s almost as if they’re designed to discourage notions of things like quality and character depth. Maybe if the publisher treated them like real books with real titles and blurbs, readers would as well.

  19. Cindy W says:

    Yes, that is me Katie! I haven’t been putting my blog on my posts, cuz I haven’t been good about updating my blog lately. When I signed up for the forum, I did it under baseballmom5, not Cindy W. It must have been during a good baseball season or something so you may not have recognized me either!

    That book got me back into reading series books. I hadn’t read them in a long time! I love Blazes, but am open to just a darn good quick story!

  20. Trish says:

    IIRC, Laura Leone also started out in category/series line. I believe early books like THE BLACK SHEEP and ULTERIOR MOTIVES were published originally by Silhouette.

  21. library addict says:

    I listed my favorite category books in the spin-off thread

    As has often been mentioned Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Linda Howard, Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, and others started off writing for category romance. Many of these books have been reissued since they became best selling authors for their single titles, so I won’t list any of theirs in my random top 5 (because there are many great books in the category line and it’s difficult to choose :P )

    Through the Looking Glass by Joyce McGill
    The Dragon’s Lair by Lee Magner
    In Safekeeping by Naomi Horton
    Better Than Before by Judith Duncan
    Fallen Angel by Carole Buck

  22. Thank you, Katie. You have expressed my feelings perfectly. I have often thought that category gets a similar response within Romance to what Romance gets from non-romance readers.

    About the blurbs. I can assure you that they are not computer generated. Generally they are written by the editor, who ought to know what the book is about. If you consider that one is wrong or misleading, try writing to the senior editor of the line, or let the author know. Most of us have email and will probably be glad to pass on that type of concern.

    Titles and covers. Most of that is down to marketing. We are assured time and time again that these titles and covers sell books. Considering how well Harlequin is doing at the moment, it’s hard to argue that one. The thing is that they try to give a feel in the title for the story line. If you don’t like Secret Baby books then this is a good thing. You’re warned going in.
    I can assure that as their best selling line, Harlequin Presents is treated with great respect by Harlequin. I don’t read them all, but off-hand I can’t actually think of any where I have considered the blurb misleading. Anyone got any examples? I’m curious here, not challenging. Apologies for any typos etc. In a rush here.


  23. Virginia DeMarce says:

    I can’t recall a misleading blurg particularly, but the HP title Naughty Nights in the Millionaire’s Mansion had very little to do with the heroine, who ran a pet store in a strip mall and was facing a rent increase for the premises :)

  24. Katie Mack says:

    I don’t know about blurbs, but I remembered this line from LinnieGayl’s review of the Presents book Mistress Under Contract: “Except for a single mention of the word “mistress” – and that occurred only briefly in the heroine’s mind – there is nothing about this story that even remotely resembles a tale of a mistress under contract.”

  25. What a fantastic essay! I want to print it out and show it to all the category-haters out there! When you get past those blurbs and titles and find the great books beneath it – it’s like finding a secret gem. Series romance done right – hits all the highlights of why people love romance. CHemistry and conflict.

    India Grey is a new find of mine – I love her presents.
    Kathleen O’Reilly – amazing
    Sarah Mayberry’s Supers
    Supers (and I’m not just saying this because I write for the line) has so many new voices right now that are young and fresh and exciting – Jeannie Watt, Helen Brenna – both worth checking out.

  26. MMcA says:

    Like Margaret, my five are all older books, probably because I read fewer categories nowadays.

    I’m going for:

    1. Murphy’s Child by Judith Duncan

    The hero and heroine have broken up at the start of the story – he’s broken-hearted and doesn’t really understand why they broke up. She comes to him and tells him she’s pregnant, and he decides to be part of his child’s life. The baby is difficult, and she needs a lot of help, and because she’s tired and vunerable, he gets to know her better. I love it because I love constant, dependable heroes, and because it reminds me of how daunting the first baby was, and because the baby is an actual part of the story, rather than a plot device.

    2. Simple Gifts by Kathleen Korbel

    Idealistic young writer meets a heart-breakingly world weary cop.

    3. Convincing Alex by Nora Roberts.

    Another cop. Another writer. He’s less world weary, she’s less idealistic, but also great. Part of the Stanislaski series.

    4. Harvard’s Education by Suzanne Brockmann.

    My copy has literally disintegrated through rereading. He’s a Seal and she’s tough without being feisty, kick-ass or TSL.

    4.5 Outlaw by Elizabeth Lowell

    Part of the Fire and Rain series. This might have dated – I know I’ve found it hard to reread Lowell sometimes, but I loved it at the time. She’s an archaeologist looking at Anasazi remains on the ranch where he works.

    5 (Cunning, yes?) Left at the Altar by Justine Davis.

    Not one of the Trinity Street West books – my favourite of those might be Leader of the Pack – but this is an earlier book. Couple who have split up meet again. They’re both more mature, and this time it works. She does have a slightly plot-devicey father, who arranged the spilt for reasons of his own, but I love any ‘I’ve-always-loved-you-and-now-we-meet-again’ story, so I don’t care.

    The main thing about this list is that I could swap any title for another, or sometimes half a dozen others, by the same author. They are all great category writers.

    (And at the risk of sounding overly ingratiating, I think Elizabeth is great category writer too: I do auto-buy her titles.)

  27. AAR Rachel says:

    Top 5 Category Romances:

    Everyday, Average Jones by Suzanne Brockmann
    The Wallflower by Jan Freed
    Mirrors and Mistakes by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
    Losing It by Beverly Sommers
    Whose Baby by Janice Kay Johnson

    There are some real gems out there.

  28. KristieJ says:

    I think any romance reader who writes off categories is really being shourt sighted. There are some very good books in this group!! Here’s just a few I really enjoyed and gave as good a grade to as any MM or hardcover book!

    Nick all Night – Cheryl St. John
    Tall Dark and Texan – Jane Sullivan
    The whole Trinity Street West series by Justine Davis
    Under the Influence – Nancy Warren
    Get Lucky – Suzanne Brockman
    Night of the Phantom – Anne Stuart
    Blindsided – Leslie LaFoy

  29. Kate21 says:

    It’s so funny, I would totally agree not to read category romances based on the above complaints… except I tried a few and now I love them. The first I found was an old Crusie “Anyone But You” that I got the Goodwill, simply bc I recognized her name. There is so much potential in category romances – there are so many types, low prices, short and sweet reading experience… it’s perfect for reading addicts. I think that you really just have to give them a chance; browse, find one or two that interest you a lot, and go from there. Don’t be intimidated by the sheer quantity of books. I personally stick to only Harlequin Historicals and Blaze, but I am so glad I went out of my comfort zone and tried them.

    My faves are by Sarah Mayberry (she does heartfelt and sexy really well), Diane Gaston and Julia Justiss.

  30. LeeB. says:

    My five are:

    Beyond All Reason – Judith Duncan
    Some Men’s Dreams – Kathleen Korbel
    MacKenzie’s Pleasure – Linda Howard
    A Man’s Man – Terry Lawrence (Loveswept)
    Stay – Allison Leigh

  31. RSmith says:

    One reason I like category romances is because I can read them in one sitting. Loved the secret baby stories when I was in high school. In college it was anything in the Loveswept line. Now I tend to stick to certain authors in the Blaze and Love Inspired lines. I know — totally opposite ends of the spectrum, but they both are comfort reads when I can’t find anything else to hold my attention. My favorite category titles are all older ones by Jennifer Crusie, Kay Hooper, Lori Foster and Annette Broadrick . No way I could narrow it down to five titles. Five per author–maybe.

  32. Edie says:

    But the majority of categories being listed here are older titles. I loved some of the older Silhouette and Harlequins, (HP or mills and boon here in Oz have always been problematic for me) and has been pointed out a lot of big authors broke out from categories but that was in the eighties and early nineties, doesn’t seem to happen as often now.

    Though personally I think my problem is generally categories are full of the romance tropes that push all my buttons, it is the other stuff included in the other genres that lets me ignore them when they pop up there, but there is no ignoring them in the categories.

  33. Edie says:

    Sorry the first post was about mainly contemporary category lines, and meant to mention that I struggle with straight contemporary non categories as well.. so my opinion can probably be easily dismissed.. lol

  34. Diana says:

    I’ve got hundreds of categories saved in bins but like a lot of other posters, they’re all oldies. Every one of Donna Kauffman’s Loveswepts, Lowell, Wind, Roberts, Howard, Barton and I love them all. I stopped reading new categories about the time Intimate Moments folded. I was happy to see Harlequin offer their 60th anniversary package of free downloads and took advantage of it. Sorry to say, not one of them worked for me. Not the historical nor the paranormal nor the sweet one nor the hot one. Sorry. I’m clearly not the reader they’re written for.

    I’ve tried to be a fan of the current crop of categories, but I’m just not. I’m not close-minded, short-sighted or a hater. Just not a fan even after sampling Harlequin’s best. Glad that so many readers enjoy them.

  35. Diana says:

    Jane Sullivan’s Talk Dark And Texan is one of my keepers, too. IIRC, that’s the one with a truly great heroine line. When a scrawny, one-eared cat wanders into hero’s home, she thinks Oh my God…he’s eating the cat.

  36. AAR Sandy says:

    I grew up reading Harlequins and HPs and I loved them. Violet Winspear and Penny Jordan were two of my all time favorites. I also was a big fan of the Loveswept Line — Iris Johannsen wrote some incredible keepers for me. Silhouette Special Editions was also a favorite line and my affection for the categories of Tracy Sinclair (and I’d love to know what happened to her) is something I’ve written about more than once. I also used to enjoy the Harlequin Temptation Line and Silhouette Blaze.

    So, I’ve done my time in categories. I’ve tried again and again and again over the years to find a line and writers I like, but keep striking out. But I’m not short-sighted and I’m not prejudiced. Though I will keep trying occasionally when something gets good buzz, I’m basically putting my time and reading resources into books that I’ve better reason to believe will work for me. And I don’t feel I need to apologize for that.

    So, with that said, here are my favorite categories. (These are all from the late 80s and 90s.)

    The Playboy Prince — Nora Roberts
    The Trustworthy Redhead — Iris Johannsen
    Never Give Your Heart — Tracy Sinclair
    Lucky’s Lady — Tami Hoag

  37. Wendy says:

    For Edie, who observed that many were recommending older categories – here are some recent ones I’ve read (2008 & 2009) that I really enjoyed:

    The Man Behind The Cop by Janice Kay Johnson (HSR 1489)
    His Secret Past by Ellen Hartman (HSR 1491)
    The Man Most Likely by Cindi Myers (HA 1259)
    Let It Ride by Jillian Burns (HB 466)
    Not So Perfect Past (HSR 1556) and His Secret Agenda (HSR 1591) both by Beth Andrews
    A Holiday Romance by Carrie Alexander (HSR 1567)

    I read quite a bit in the SuperRomance line, so that’s why there are so many here. For sexy and emotional I can’t recommend that Jillian Burns Blaze enough. I really liked that one…..

  38. Sunita says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I can’t stand the titles in HP either, but they sell and sell for the company so obviously a lot of people respond to them. I also wanted to point out that within the American HP releases are a set of British and Aussie writers who contribute to the M&B Modern line (they used to be advertised as “extras” or something like that). These books come with Billiionaire/Sheikh/Mistress in the title, but many of them have pretty normal plots and characters with terrific writing. My somewhat random Top 4 from recent books (available as ebooks too) plus some cheating to make the 5:

    Ellen Hartman, His Secret Past (HSR)
    Liz Fielding, Reunited: Marriage in a Million (HR)
    Kate Hardy, Her Honorable Playboy (HP)
    Kelly Hunter, Bedded for Diamonds (HP)

    Plus anything by Janice Kay Johnson or Karen Templeton

    Liz Fielding, Kate Hardy, Kelly Hunter, JK Johnson, and Karen Templeton are mostly autobuys for me. Same with Cheryl St. John in HH. I’m still working my way through Elizabeth Rolls’ backlist and having a great time.

    It’s true that Harlequins come and go in a flash from bookstores, but because there are so many copies, you can get older ones from UBSs, Amazon marketplace,, and Paperback Swap.

  39. AAR Sandy says:

    I also remember eating up all those MacGregor NR books when they were published as Special Editions. (Also have a memory of a Julia doll advertised in the back of one of the books — in full wedding dress glory.)

  40. Edie says:

    Thanks Wendy and Sunita, I will have to see if I can dig up some of those and try again.

  41. JMM says:

    Actually, except for Blaze, many if not most of the Harlequin books seem to have either a pregnant woman or a baby or a cute kiddie on the cover these days. It’s not just HP.

    And yes, there are many good “catagory books” listed here – but most of them are from the 80′s and 90′s. In fact, many of them (Anyone But You is an example) have been reissued as stand alones. That says something.

    IMO, the H/S publishers have turned into cookie cutter churn-out-anything-with-cowboy-Greek Billionaire-virgin-pregnant-mistress formula. (Except for Blaze)

  42. Wendy says:

    JMM: I’m not going to argue that there isn’t a lot of that “cookie cutter” stuff in some Harlequins – but you can find the non-”cookie cutter” stuff. You just have to be willing to look for it. In the list I provided above, there are some excellent examples of child-free, cowboy-free, tycoon-free, pregnancy-free reads.


    Pick up either The Man Most Likely, A Holiday Romance or His Secret Agenda. All three of those were 2009 releases and none of them were Blazes. All had covers that featured fully clothed adults. No kids in story = no kids on covers. No pregnant heroines = no ripe with child women on covers. There are trope-free reads out there, you just have to find them.

  43. Sunita says:

    JMM: Actually, except for Blaze, many if not most of the Harlequin books seem to have either a pregnant woman or a baby or a cute kiddie on the cover these days. It’s not just HP.
    And yes, there are many good “catagory books” listed here – but most of them are from the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, many of them (Anyone But You is an example) have been reissued as stand alones. That says something.
    IMO, the H/S publishers have turned into cookie cutter churn-out-anything-with-cowboy-Greek Billionaire-virgin-pregnant-mistress formula. (Except for Blaze)

    I really recommend Wendy SL’s reviews of Harlequins, as well as a lot of reviews here at AAR in the past few years. There are plenty of good books to choose from. Of the four books I listed, all have been published in the last few years, all have strong, intelligent, non-mistress, working-for-a-living heroines, and in two of them there’s not a baby in sight. And no billionaires, either!

    Also, some of the writers (e.g. Fielding and Hardy, and of course Templeton) can take the dreaded baby and sheikh tropes and do very interesting things with them.

    I agree there were a lot of very good Harlequins in the 80s and 90s, but I think that every decade has excellent writers, it’s just that when we’re looking at today’s output we’re more aware of the less good, whereas when we look back we forget about how many books were published that are nowhere near good. But I’ll put any one of my list up against a Korbel or a Seidel or a Wind any day. Not because they’re better but because they deserve to be in that company.

  44. Sunita says:

    Wendy, we’ve got to stop meeting/crossing like this!

  45. Sandy C. says:

    Like many others, most of my category collection consists of older books from the 80s and 90s. However, here are some that I’ve read recently and liked:

    “The Desert Lord’s Bride” by Olivia Gates. This book had me in tears – so much so that I had to actually put the book down and blow my nose! That hasn’t happened in a long time.

    “Blind Date with the Boss” by Barbara Hannay. Then again, I read another book of hers that didn’t rate as highly.

    Jessica Hart is a good author (Harlequin Romance or whatever they’re calling that line these days). “Cinderella’s Wedding Wish” and “Promoted: To Wife and Mother” are good books.

    That’s only four. Hmm. As much as I hate to admit it, these days I can read three category books in a row, and a week later not remember one iota of any of them! I’m not sure if that’s me getting older or the books getting worse. Perhaps a combination?

    I reread my first Harlequin Presents, “Wild Melody” by Sara Craven the other day, and this book withstood the test of time amazingly well! “Comparative Strangers” is another good book by Sara Craven. And one of my all-time favorite IMs is “A Very Special Favor” by Kristin James (aka Candace Camp).

    I’ll still keep reading categories, because I love that I can finish one in under two hours, but it is more difficult to find keepers these days – at least for me.

  46. Katie Mack says:

    AAR Sandy: I’ve tried again and again and again over the years to find a line and writers I like, but keep striking out. But I’m not short-sighted and I’m not prejudiced.Though I will keep trying occasionally when something gets good buzz,I’m basically putting my time and reading resources into books that I’ve better reason to believe will work for me.And I don’t feel I need to apologize for that.

    I agree; you don’t need to apologize for that. Categories just don’t work for you, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. But there’s a big difference between saying a subgenre (for lack of a better term) just doesn’t work for you (which I believe is what you’re saying), versus claiming that entire subgenre is crap. Just like there’s a big difference between saying romances just don’t work for you, versus claiming all romances are crap. It’s the latter claim that I take issue with.

  47. AAR Sandy says:

    Katie, as a long-time romance reader, I’ve had more experience than I’d like with prejudice against romance – so, no, I wasn’t labeling categories as crap.

  48. Wendy says:

    Interesting article, I too started with Loveswept catagories. I rarely read catagories anymore b/c if one gets a good review, I have a hard time finding it in the store. I won’t just peruse them in the store because there are so many and I won’t buy a book “blind”, meaning I haven’t read a review previously. But, maybe I will give them a try again, I do remember with much fondness the Loveswept days. :)

  49. Manda says:

    Great topic. I have to admit *hangs head in shame* that I was one of those romance readers who looked down on categories. And it was totally the same dumb reasons. One bad experience, the secret babies, the sheiks.

    But earlier this year I decided I wanted to read a book by one of my RWA chapter mates, Catherine Mann. So I picked up RICH MAN’S FAKE FIANCEE and I was hooked on Silhouette Desires. One of the things I like about Cathy’s books is that while she does stick to the whole millionaire/billionaire thing she also does some pretty impressive acrobatics within the generic constraints of the Desire line. She even *gasp* has some heroes who are not millionaire/billionaires at all!

    I’ve been reading the odd Blaze now and then for a couple of years, too, so I wasn’t totally anti-category. Just some.

    And I highly recommend Jessica Bird’s SSEs. I soooo wish she would finish the O’Banyon Brothers books. I’d rather have them then a million BDB stories. But I guess she’s got contracts to keep and legions of fans to keep happy.

    If I had to pick five to rec I’d go with:

    1. RICH MAN’S FAKE FIANCEE, Catherine Mann (Sil. Desire)
    2. MS. MATCH, Jo Leigh (Blaze)
    4. FRONT PAGE ENGAGEMENT, Laura Wright (Sil Desire)
    5. THE MONEY MAN’S SEDUCTION, Leslie LaFoy (Sil Desire)

  50. Jean Wan says:

    Oh, so many authors to glom – thanks for recommendations! Can’t really add much, but will affirm the Susan Napier, Jessica Bird, Carla Kelly, and am keeping an eye out for Rhonda Nelson and Elizabeth Rolls.

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