Oct 4 2011 10:30am

Favorite Category Romances Spanning Three Decades: Seidel, Roberts, Korbel, and Others!

A Risk Worth Taking by Kathleen Gilles SeidelI’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.

A Rose for Maggie by Kathleen Korbel4. 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.

A Man Like Mac by Fay Robinson7. 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).

What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss10. 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

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Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
I would add Jennifer Crusie's "Anyone but You" to this list. Older heroine, younger hero and no panting for babies. Revolutionary!

"Between the Lines" by JAK. How about marriage of convenience in a believable modern setting. Plus, bad western poetry!

Jackie Weger's "Eye of the Beholder" had a white trash hillbilly heroine and a junk yard owning hero. Talk about different.

Susan Summers had some very unsusual stories; how about "Convictions"? Ex-con hero, arrested development heroine and a granny that gave new meaning to 'eccentric'.

I could go on and on about the wonderful stories contained in categories. I had left them behind until I ran into the wonderful "What the Librarian Did" by Karina Bliss. Now I'm hooked again.
2. Janga
Ah, yes, Crusie! Several of her categories are on my keeper shelves. And cheers for another Bliss fan. I have a list of recent category writers whose books I always look for that includes Bliss, Beth Anderson, Helen Brenna, Janice Kay Johnson, Sarah Mayberry, Molly O'Keefe, and a few others.

I should search for the Jackie Weger. It does sound different.
Barb in Maryland
3. Barb in Maryland
Hi Janga--I do believe we are contemporaries, because you described my experience with category romance!
My first Jayne Ann Krentz: Candlelight Ecstasy #2 Gentle Pirate by Jayne Castle. So imagine my joy when I discovered that the Stephanie James who wrote for Silhouette was the same author!
My early book crack was Elizabeth Lowell's Silhouette Desire titles. Oh the long-suffering heroines! Oh the total alphahole heroes!! I think I threw each one of those books against the wall at least once-but I kept coming back for more! And yet, a number of her Intimate Moments titles are on my keeper shelves (Summer Games, Valley of the Sun, etc).
You left out Justine Davis, who was one of my long time auto-buys. And Karen Keast (aka Sandra Canfield). One Lavender Evening , sigh!
But that's okay--there are so many good ones out there.
Oops-almost forgot Judith Duncan. Streets of Fire rates high on the tissues needed scale!
Carmen Pinzon
4. bungluna
@Jange- I'd love to have suggestions on new category titles to read.
Barb in Maryland
5. Eli Yanti
my all time favorite list are linda howard, diana palmer, sandra brown and penny jordan.

and now i more like reading HR but like to read contemporer romance sometimes =D
6. Janga
Barb, Justine Davis has written some wonderful books. Clay Yaeger's Redemption is one of my favorites. Narrowing my list to ten meant leaving out many books I love. Barbara Bretton, Kathleen Eagle, Jennifer Greene, and Ruth Wind have also written categories I cherish. And I realized after I had turned in the essay that Anne Gracie's first books were Harlequin Historicals, and I love them all. Gallant Waif is high on my list of all-time favorite romances.
7. Janga
Bungluna, I've really enjoyed Helen Brenna's Mirabelle Island series. Janice Kay Johnson's All That Remains is good. It's being released today. I loved Molly O'Keefe's Notorious O'Neills, and Sarah Mayberry 's Her Best Friend, Home For the Holidays, and Burning Up are excellent choices. I've glommed Karina Bliss and liked all her books. I also liked Kathleen Eagle's new one, One Brave Cowboy. I'm sure I'll think of others later.
8. Janga
Eli, I can tell from your list that you like your heroes alpha. I have a stack of Linda Howard categories. I especially love the Mackenzies.
Wendy the Super Librarian
9. SuperWendy
Sigh. Elizabeth Bevarly's Monahan series for Desire. I really loved some of those - back before Desire morphed into what I call "The American HP." Janice Kay Johnson has already been mentioned. I really think she's outstanding at "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." (Seriously love that statement in this post! I want to give a shout-out to Cheryl Reavis as well. One of the few writers whose contemporary stories work as well for me as her historicals. She wrote some dynamite SSEs and HHs. She's online (so hasn't dropped off the face of the Earth) - but she's not terribly prolific these days. I want to chain her to the nearest chair just so she'll churn out stories for me :) Oh, and Karen Templeton. Fab stuff for the SSE, now HSE line. Probably my favorite writer working in that imprint.
Barb in Maryland
10. Eileen Dreyer
Janga--Thank you for including my evil twin Kathleen Korbel on a really impressive list. I really am honored, especially since I agree with you on so many others. And Barb in Maryland for Karen Keast, One Lavender Evening and Emilie Richards' The Trouble with Joe. I've been lucky to share the category world with some of the best writers out there. Thanks for demanding equal time for them.
Carmen Pinzon
11. bungluna
Thank you for all the suggestions. I'm off to get my hands on them.
Barb in Maryland
12. BrooklynShoeBabe
You liked What the Librarian Did? I enjoyed it about 2/3rds if the way through and it kind of fell apart. But that is neither here nor there.

I love Jennifer Cruise--Anyone But You (or what I like to call "How Something's Gotta Give Should Have Ended"), Bet Me, and the one where the art teacher was being stalked by her ex-boyfriend. (I laughed, I screamed, and I got the heebie-jeebies).

I read Sandra Brown romances like they're going out of style. I started reading her in 1999 or 2000.

I'm also a huge fan of Liz Talley's Vegas Two Step, which made me a fan of Harlequin's Super Romance novels.
13. Janga
Wendy, Reavis's Blackberry Winter is another favorite. I was thrilled when I thought The Music Box was a new book. Reissues are great, but I would love a new one from her. Yes to Karen Templeton too! I cheered loudly when her Rita win was tweeted.

There's a chance Bevarly's Monahan series may be completed. I asked when Liz started epubbing her backlist, and she said she has long wanted to finish them. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
14. Janga
Eileen, I could never make a list of favorite categories and omit Kathleen Korbel. Had the list been my top 25, I would have included Some Men's Dreams, Simple Gifts, and The Ice Cream Man as well.
15. Janga
I hope you enjoy the books as much as I did, Bungluna.
16. Janga
BrooklynShoeBabe, I adored What the Librarian Did. It was on my top ten list for 2010, and I raved about it so much that a friend who does not read categories read it and then joined me in raving. But I understand that not everyone shares my enthusiasm. (grin)

Superromance is my favorite category line too. I don't read them all, but it's a rare month that I don't read some of them.

Barb in Maryland
17. Rose In RoseBear
Elizabeth Lowell, way back in the day. She's rewritten several of her Silhouette Desires and Intimate Moments and put them out as hardbacks, but I still like going back and reading the original Forget Me Not and, oh my word, A Woman Without Lies.

Great books!
Tara B
18. box5angel
I've been reading category romances since I was a pre-teen. Many years ago. lol They will always be a favorite of mine. I have given mine away throughout the years but a couple I have held onto. I'll have to go through my book bins to post the ones I have.

Anyway, Kristine Rolofson was a big fave. She wrote a lot of books for the Harlequin Temptation imprint. Books dealing with single mothers which is my fave category romance heroine.

I remember though that the Superromances dealt a lot with real issues. A couple of books I remember (I can't remember the titles/authors) dealt with hard hitting issues (alcoholism, teenage runaway and prostitution, homelessness, single mothers).

One heroine was a recovering alcoholic who has been drinking since she was 16.

Another Superromance heroine dealt with a former hooker who was molested when she was 11 by her father (he was a big politician) and later ran away and became a street prostitute when she was a teenager and her last job was an for an escort service when she was an adult. In between that she met and fell in love with a cop, but she was still a hooking. He later comes back into her life when all of that is in the past and she's an legitimate business owner, if I remember correctly.

A third one I remember but I think the heroine's name (Stormy) is in the title. Stormy was raised by her grandmother after her mother left, and she never knew her father. Her grandmother died when she was still young and she was in foster care. Stormy met an older guy when she was 15, and ran away with him. She refused to have sex with him unless they were married. He married her and she got pregnant when she was 16 and 18 (he left after the 2nd pregnancy). She was homeless for a while but eventually was able to get a job and home for her little family. Come to find out that her marriage wasn't legal (he was already married with children) and she took back her maiden name, Todd. When the children are 7 and 9, things start to go bad with her losing her home and her little family is once again homeless. The hero is the owner of the company that basically kicked her out of her home (he didn't know anything about it though). Well, I won't go into anymore details in case someone finds the book and wants to read it.

So, yeah, I've been reading them for years. I can't wait to post my favorites (the ones I remember, lol), sometime this weekend. :)
Barb in Maryland
19. Jean Brashear
I'm coming in waaaay late to the party, but oh, Janga, how phenomenally honored I am to be in this group! All of the others are stories I have adored and admired greatly, and to be included...I'm speechless. And thrilled to my toes! The idea to write mirroring stories rather than story/sequel seemed a brilliant one at the time but just about cost me every hair on my head.;) Cleo and Malcolm's love story spoke to me so deeply and I loved them so that I really wasn't sure I could write Ria's viewpoint...but in the end, she really grabbed my heart, and the day I was sitting there writing and bawling so hard I could barely see the screen was when I breathed a huge sigh of relief that she and I would be okay. So thank you, thank you, thank you for this enormous honor!
20. Janga
Thank you, Jean, for writing stories that I loved reading and rereading and rereading. These characters are so real that I feel as if they could be neighbors. And I shed my share of tears when I read them.
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