I read a fair amount of category romance, and what any category romance reader will openly admit is that many themes have a way of routinely cropping up. (The rest of the genre isn’t immune to this; just take a look at all the Regency heroines who need to sell their souls to the hero in order to get their degenerate gambler father, brother, cousin, family dog out of debt. However, I digress.) What I like about category is that it isn’t ashamed of these themes. Their existence is admitted, accepted and embraced.
The entire ball of fun in the category romance world is finding an author who can take the familiar and put their own unique spin on it. Not only is it a comforting feeling, it’s the equivalent of turning that light bulb on that hangs over our heads. It’s an epiphany, it’s magic, it’s what I call the “A-Ha!” moment that makes any book a keeper.
That being said, I am willing to admit that there are plenty of themes that I, intellectually, know I have no business enjoying, but I do anyway. The big one for me is the office romance, specifically the boss/secretary pairing. I always feel like I’m setting feminism and the women’s movement back about 60 years when I read stories like this, but I just cannot seem to help myself. Over the years, I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly why I enjoy these stories, and the closest I’ve come to explaining it is the idea of close proximity. It’s why I also really love cabin romances in historical westerns: Hero and heroine trapped in some cabin in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard with nothing to amuse themselves with, besides each other of course.
Although, presumably, the boss and secretary of the office romance don’t need to worry about starving to death, grizzly bear attacks, or freezing to death.
Then there is my secret love for the Alpha hero, which for years I declared I didn’t really like all that much. OK, I’m admitting it now, I might have been lying just a little bit. I’ve always been fine with your garden-variety Alpha, but the ones that really get to me? The Neanderthals. You know, the guys who are barely housebroken and you wonder why the heroine doesn’t walk around with some rolled up newspaper to swat him on the nose every three seconds. Now that I’ve admitted that, I will clarify that this is a theme that does not universally work for me across the board. It needs to have one important ingredient, and that’s a heroine who won’t back down. I cannot have the Neanderthal paired with the palely drawn heroine, the woman who is scared to utter a sound, the woman who sticks to the shadows hoping not to be noticed. No, I need the heroine who isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with this sort of jerk-face. I need the heroine who will call him out on his various teeth-grinding shenanigans.
Two themes I always marvel over in the category universe are the secret baby and amnesia. I have yet to meet one reader who will tell me to my face, either in reality or virtually, that they enjoy either of these. Nobody will admit to liking them, mostly because I think they’re convenient punching bags for readers inside, and outside, of the genre. But somebody must like them, or these recurring themes would have died on the vine. Hey, if they didn’t sell, Harlequin would have sent out a flurry of memos by now.
Now that I’ve admitted to enjoying romances about sexual harassment, and books that feature heroes that evolution has forgotten about—what are some of your guilty pleasure themes?
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.