If romance readers admit to having a guilty pleasure, it’s not so much about the genre we choose to read, but the tropes within the genre: Secretly loving alpha men with their monosyllabic commands and caveman-ish ways or enjoying forbidden boss/secretary love in an elevator scenarios. Romance readers tolerate behavior in books that in real life would have us kicking them to the curb or crying sexual harassment for sure.
My guilty pleasure isn’t any one cliché or familiar trope; thanks to my e-reader and its lovely cloaking capabilities I’ve recently found myself enjoying nearly all of them. No, my secret is that I have been a category romance lover for years, without ever really picking one up on my own.
In fact, this scenario might even describe some of you.
First, let me say my knee jerk reaction to “category” style romances and subsequent reading around the genre without reading from a romance line or collection comes from watching my older female role models. I mean no disrespect. The message I got growing up was clear: keep the beefcake covers covered. And, for the love of all that is good, don’t ever get caught browsing books under the ROMANCE signage in public. That is, if I ever wanted to be taken seriously in journalism school, graduate school, business…or my own home.
As much as I love my seriously sexy erotic romance reads, I still can’t bring myself to browse the typical category romances. Hypocritical, I know. Just to be clear; when I say category romances I mean series romances, a special type of romance line that’s released monthly by different authors and set apart from standalone novels. I tend to think of them as somewhat shorter in length, light and cliché-filled, and often categorized by a certain “heat” level.
Imagine my surprise during a recent conversation with a fellow reviewer when she gleefully pointed to the fact that I was already reading outside my comfort zone. In fact, several of my favorite light, quick contemporary reads of 2012 had all the qualities of a typical category Harlequin Blaze or Silhouette line:
1. The Proposition by Katie Ashley: a “she’s having a baby” story with a twist featuring a likeable heroine who’s dealt with a great deal of loss and hears her biological clock ticking. When her gay best friend backs out of being her donor she finds herself accepting a baby making “proposition” from the least likely of sources: her sexy co-worker with a reputation who promises to help her make a baby the old fashioned way—no strings attached.
2. No Flowers Required (#2 Love Required series) by Cari Quinn: a love-hate-love, mistaken/hidden identity, and reluctant heir romance that’s both sweet and sexy. Has a You’ve Got Mail/The Shop Around the Corner vibe but features an updated hero in the form of a hot, tattooed handy man and a heroine with a failing flower business thanks to…the guy she’s falling for who she mistakenly thinks is trying to help her save it.
3. The Marriage Trap by Jennifer Probst. (#2 Married to the Billionaire series): the Italian countryside acts almost as a main character in this fun, angsty hate-to-love, marriage of convenience story where misinformation abounds. Both hero and heroine have played the field only to remain alone, that is, until marriage becomes a necessity for the hero and his family and a way for the heroine to blackmail him out of her own family’s lives once and for all.
Now more than ever in a post-Fifty Shades market, publishers know there are readers like me who secretly love clichés, but don't want to browse through all the category romances to get them. Online retailers and ninja book marketers have done a brilliant job of telling me if I liked Tempting the Best Man by J. Lynn a.k.a. Jennifer Armentrout, why not try Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry? I did ,and enjoyed them both. Like the others, they were either category style romance “in disguise” or in the case of J. Lynn’s book, part of the new Entangled Blaze line (a category book!) and delivered a fun, quick, oh-so-slightly sexy contemporary read. Best of all, I didn’t have to do my version of the walk of shame to read them. A win-win.
Who knows, with the new year coming perhaps I’ll take the plunge and try a category romance. Logically I know all romances have elements that are similar. I have to admit that it’s been kinda fun getting to the mid point of these books realizing that their talented authors have worked their magic and skillfully hooked me by weaving a painfully familiar plot in such a way that it almost didn’t feel so familiar at all.
I don’t think I’m alone in my roundabout journey to these kinds of books. Judging by book sales I’d even venture to say that thousands of women out there are just like me— returning to (or just starting to) read contemporary and erotic romance whole-heartedly thanks to the e-reader/tablet boom and reading romances by the dozens even if it means deciphering impossibly small type on our Smartphone (And loving every minute of it).
Now that I've admitted to secretly loving “category” style romances featuring marriages of convenience, hate-to-love and, of course, lusting after the forbidden man (best man, best friend, boss) stories—what “category romances in disguise” are you reading? It appears I’ll be looking for some new ones real soon.
Tina Allen has spent over a decade successfully avoiding publishing her romance novels by teaching reading and writing, pimping books as a librarian and writing/editing for others. Tina is now gleefully reading, writing and reviewing romance atBookCrack.com. She can also be found tweeting about her adventures in authorhood @book_crack.