These days, good contemporaries are hard to find as bookstore shelves are laden with paranormal and erotic romances. Want a good romance with vampires? Sure, throw a rock and a dozen of those will be hit. Craving a good romance that’s a cover-to-cover sex romp? Good is highly subjective with those, but at least there are lots to choose from. But a good love story set in the present, in this world, between humans who do more talking than groping? Not so much. In this era of sharp teeth and high octant erogenous zones, stories about men and women falling in love that are simply stories of men and women falling in love are few and far between.
Category romance is the literary equivalent of tract housing. The units line up, one after the other, in perfectly matched symmetry, completely known and quantifiable. And, certainly, there is no reason to fault category for succeeding in doing exactly what it sets out to do: offering the reader the comfort of sameness and the certainty that what is expected will be delivered upon. But, all too often the trade off that comes with this familiarity is a lack of originality. It would seem the plots points of category romances have the same limitations as three bedroom two bath ranch homes in that there are only so many ways the principle elements come together and remain true to the original intention. In both cases what’s so easily jettisoned to form is creativity.
According to the buzz at RWA’s annual conference this year, sex continues to sell like hotcakes (I don’t get the reference either) and the hotter the story, the better. Before erotica/erotic romance became the darling of publishers everywhere, Harlequin pushed the boundaries with their Blaze line.
You know, sexy premise, sexy story. And I’m going to admit it – I fell for a marketing pitch. I picked up Cara Summers’ Two Hot! Based on back cover copy alone. Part of Blaze’s “Forbidden Fantasies” flash, the book promised me a journey into fantasy numero dos – two men, one heroine.
Nina Askew is forty, divorced, and, much to her surprise, the proud mother of a depressed beagle/basset hound named Fred. She wanted a perky puppy; Fred’s idea of perky is eating Oreos. Then one night, Fred brings home Alex Moore, the smart, funny, handsome doctor who lives below Nina. Alex is everything a woman could want — and ten years younger than Nina. He’s used to perky, silicone-enhanced bodies. Nina has discovered that gravity can be very cruel, indeed. Despite her long list of reasons why Alex is a Bad Idea, Nina discovers that she doesn’t want anyone but him.
Jennifer Crusie’s beloved Anyone But You was originally released in 1996. HQN has re-released this classic title in hardcover this month. I fell madly in love with the book when I first read it, and was pleased to know that my memory didn’t fail me. It is a rare romance that stands the test of time — it is even rarer for a category romance to rise above the sheer volume of titles released every month. That so many of Jennifer Crusie’s titles are remembered fondly is a testament to her skill as a writer and storyteller.
HelenKay: The real-life and well-known feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys started in the late 1800s over a stolen hog. That battle officially ended a few years back with reunion of the descendants. In The Chase Is On, the idea of family feud lives on in Atlanta between the Westmorelands and the Grahams. Here, stolen recipes stand in for stolen livestock. There’s no bloodshed, but there is plenty of baking. The fight falls to the grandchildren – Chase Westmoreland and Jessica Claiborne – to continue. They just have to figure out they are enemies first.
HelenKay: The basic category romance idea of the virgin and the millionaire is at the heart of When the Lights Go Down. A shy woman looking only for a night of fun finds the man of her dreams. Here, the promised happily ever after is delivered with charm, but not much in the way of conflict or punch.
HelenKay: According to the "Dear Reader" letter inside Saving Allegheny Green, Harlequin/Silhouette’s new Spotlight Series goal is to: "single out outstanding stories, contemporary themes and oft-requested classics by some of your favorite series authors and present them to you in a variety of formats bound by truly striking covers." In this offering, Signature Select delivers on the cover and contemporary theme but the promise of an "outstanding story" falls short as the plot rises to the level of good but not great.
Her research indicated that a deadly new virus had surfaced in the heart of the Amazon. And Jane’s own legendary virus-hunting father might be infected. But no one paid attention to her data. In fact, after surviving a suspicious plane crash, she began to suspect that someone wanted to bury the evidence, and Jane, too…
Armed with the antidote and a suspiciously enigmatic partner—fellow virologist Mac Coleman—Jane raced to the rescue. But with betrayal, time and the Amazon itself working against her, the bookish Dr. Miller would have to tap her inner adventuress to make it back alive….