I’ve read category romances since Harlequin had a single imprint and writers such as Essie Summers, Mary Burchell, and Sara Seale topped my list of favorite authors. I can remember how exciting it was when the Presents were introduced, and sexier stories were available. During the years of the romance wars, I eagerly devoured romances from Harlequin, Silhouette, Loveswept, Candlelight Ecstasy, and Second Chance at Love. I first discovered in categories some of the writers whose single-title books fill my keeper shelves—Nora Roberts, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Jennifer Crusie, and Jayne Ann Krentz among others.
Super Librarian Wendy noted in a Heroes and Heartbreakers post (Category Romance: More Than Cute Little Books With Dreadful Titles) that category romances are dissed even by some romance readers. I admit that as a closet romance reader, categories were my guiltiest pleasure, but one I never considered giving up. I love that they are quick reads that I can nearly always find time to read straight through with no breaks, which is my all-time favorite way to read. They are also the source of some of my all-time favorite stories.
At a conservative guess, I’ve read a couple of thousand categories since the days when I got lost in New Zealand with Summers, fell in love with Burchell’s musicians, and shed tears over Seale’s wounded heroes. I add to the number every month, most frequently with Superromances or Harlequin Historicals. Most of my category reads are passed on to other readers, but a few that I know I will reread have a permanent home on my bookshelves. All of Nora Roberts’s MacGregors, MacKades, O’Hurleys, and Stanislaskis are there, along with Linda Howard’s Mackenzies, Elizabeth Bevarly’s Monahans, Leslie Davis Guccione’s Branigans, Kathleen Korbel’s Kendalls, and Emilie Richards’s Men of Midnight. Even among the keepers, there are favorites that make me understand what Nora Roberts meant when she described category romance as “producing Swan Lake in a phone booth.”
My top ten categories are forever favorites because they are character driven stories about heroes and heroines who have real problems, who overcome obstacles to find happiness together, and who engage my head and my heart each time I reread them.
1. A Risk Worth Taking (Harlequin American Romance #17, 1983)—Kathleen Gilles Seidel: a country music star heroine, a reunion story, and a writer who has never written a bad book.
2. For Now, Forever (Silhouette Special Edition #361, 1987)—Nora Roberts: The love story of Daniel and Anna MacGregor, a feminist heroine, and a winning secondary romance.
3. Summer’s Promise (Silhouette Special Edition #505, 1989)—Bay Matthews: A marriage in trouble, a tragedy to overcome, and an emotional wallop.
4. A Rose for Maggie (Silhouette Intimate Moments #396, 1991, RITA winner)—Kathleen Korbel: a single mother with a special needs baby, a reclusive children’s author, and moments that make me laugh mixed with moments that make me cry.
5. A Soldier’s Heart (Silhouette Intimate Moments #602, 1994, Rita winner)—Kathleen Korbel: A character-driven story, a heroine with PTSD, and an unforgettable ending that leaves me teary-eyed every time.
6. The Trouble with Joe (Silhouette Special Editions #873, 1994)—Emilie Richards: A hero with fertility problems, a child so real she jumps off the page, and a heroine who won’t give up.
7. A Man Like Mac (Harlequin Superromance #911, 2003, RITA winner)—Fay Robinson: A hero who gives new meaning to the term, a world class athlete as heroine, a rare blend of romance and realism.
8. Coming Home and Forgiveness (Harlequin Superromance #1251 & 1267, 2005)—Jean Brashear: A reunion story on several levels, dual points of view, emotionally wrenching tale. [It’s cheating a bit to count these two books as one, but they are essentially the same story from two points of view, much more closely connected than just books in a series.]
9. Make Me Yours (Harlequin Blaze #479, 2009)—Betina Krahn: Set in 1880s England, a widow who was sexually satisfied in her marriage, and the Prince of Wales (not Prinny).
10. What the Librarian Did (Harlequin Romance #1622, 2010)—Karina Bliss: A rock star hero, a librarian heroine who wears vintage clothing, and one of my all-time favorite funny scenes.
What’s on your all-time favorite list? Have you read a category romance before? If not, are you going to pick one up?
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724