When did category romance get this good?

I first started reading romance novels when I was 12 and I somehow got on Harlequin’s mailing list. One day I got a package of Harlequin Presents novels (and a crappy necklace), and I was hooked. For years, I spent my babysitting money on their book club.

As I matured, my romance reading tastes changed. And when I was 23 and met my husband, I completely lost the taste for romance novels.

A seven-year hiatus followed, filled with non-fiction, capital-L Literature, and reports on human rights abuses. Then, a couple Christmases ago, my friend in California picked up a Harlequin Presents as a joke and sent it to me. It featured an Italian billionaire (the hero, of course), and it arrived just days before Hubby and I went to Rome.

The novel was silly, full of holes and the kinds of characters I would hate to know in real life. But it was so diverting that, at one point while we were in Rome, my husband told me that if I’d just put down the bloody book, I might find myself ruthlessly bedded by the British graduate instructor.

That HP novel had me visiting my local library to find out what single-title romances they had. Not many, as it turns out, and most of them I’d read as a teenager, but I checked them all out and was hooked all over again.

So I thought I was pretty firmly a single-title reader. I associated category romances with my pre-teen years, and with heroes who start off with Antisocial Personality Disorder and then suddenly turn into the most tender of husbands. With heroines who have no purpose in life (except, sometimes, to own an art gallery). With conflicts that I can’t even begin to fathom.

So color me surprised to find a category line I like: Harlequin Superromance. A couple months ago, I won a copy of Karina Bliss’ What the Librarian Did from Dear Author. It’d gotten fantastic reviews, so I approached it with an open mind. And holy hell, did it blow away my expectations. Here were the kind of characters I love to read about – people who are real, but not real in a boring way. People who treat each other with respect even when they’re angry. And no big misunderstandings that could be sorted out with a simple conversation.

So I ordered several more Harlequin Superromances. Last night I sat down to start Zana Bell’s Tempting the Negotiator, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it at 2am. Again, it’s got the ingredients I love – tension that springs from conflicts I can empathize with; characters who listen to each other; love that grows slowly and believably between the hero and heroine. A happily-ever-after that isn’t perfect, and that doesn’t sweep all their character flaws and problems under the carpet.

So, apparently I’m a category and single-title reader. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to order Harlequin Superromances because they don’t ship outside North America. I had to have them ship my order to my parents and then ask the folks to mail them to me (I can just imagine how Dad grumbled as he paid $22 to send a load of romance novels across the sea).

If anyone knows how I can get hold of more Superromances – bearing in mind I don’t have an e-reader and can’t get away with treating my parents like my personal assistants for too much longer – please let me know! I’ve checked Amazon.co.uk, with very little luck (mostly really old titles on the marketplace).

Have you ever been surprised by a genre or sub-genre?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “When did category romance get this good?

  1. Katrina,

    Great post! I, too, am a single-title and series reader. (And, dislcaimer: I work for Harlequin in NYC.)

    I did a little digging and you can buy Superromance through the Harlequin UK/Mills and Boon website. The UK office puts some Superromance titles and some Silhouette Special Edition titles together in a line called Special Moments, which is here:

    http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/books/special-moments.htm

    Can’t wait to hear if this works for you.

    • Katrina

      Stacy, that’s great! Thanks so much for digging and giving me the link. Oddly enough, I didn’t even think about whether Mills & Boon would repackage them. Really appreciate it (and so will my parents!).

  2. Hi, Katrina! Just returning your visit to the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood! Great post on surprisingly-good categories!

    I haven’t read a category in years and years (my babysitter occasionally brought them around when I was a kid), and the Billionaire Italian Cowboy’s Pregnant Virgin Mistress titles definitely made me steer clear.

    But several Ruby Sisters have been publishing categories and I KNOW they’re terrific writers, and the stories sound great. Liz Talley just came out with Vegas Two-Step yesterday, and the excerpts she’s shared are incredibly fun. I went searching for it in Barnes & Noble yesterday–no luck yet–but I’m determined to track it down!

    • Katrina

      Hi Elisa! Thanks for visiting. Some of the titles are awful, aren’t they? My friend in San Francisco sometimes sends me some based solely on the ridiculousness of the title (she’s not a romance reader at all).

      I’d love to read Liz’s book. I read her post on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog earlier today, and she had a fun outlook on publishing. I’ll have to hope it comes out in the UK eventually, though. *Sigh* Considering how many romance novels are set in London, it often seems like a backwater when it comes to accessing different kinds of romance novels.

      Anyway, good luck to you both!

  3. Hi Katrina!
    Welcome to RWA PRO. I have to admit, sometimes the titles of category romance novels turn me off. But over the years I’ve read some really great superromance and special edition books. Lately I’ve gotten into reading (and writing) Harlequin Mills and Boon medical romances.

    I hope you find a way to get the books shipped directly to you!

    • Katrina

      Hi Wendy! Nice to meet you. I don’t remember if Harlequin Presents titles were so blatant when I started reading them in the early 90s. I can’t imagine my mom letting me read books that used a possessive ‘s’ to refer to the heroine’s relationship to the hero.

      Have you submitted your medical romances to HM&B? Best of luck, if so!

  4. I never read category romance growing up. My mom was a mystery and romantic suspense reader, so I usually just picked up here stuff. But about a year ago, I picked up a Harlequin Blaze just to see what they were about. I loved it. So much fun–sexy, humorous, and a great, quick love story. So I proceeded to read many more after that. And last year, wrote a story targeted for that line. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m so glad I decided to get past the stereotype and give them a chance.

    • Katrina

      Hi Roni! It’s amazing what you can discover when you don’t judge a book by its cover – or title. My mom didn’t read romance at all, which worked in my favor; she had no idea what was in them. If she only knew…

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