Thursday, September 10, 2009

...on Category Romances: Why do I love thee?

Category romances, why do I like to read them? They have always been a bit special to me, but sadly I hardly ever read them any more. When did that happen? KMont from Lurv a La Mode had an interesting post a few weeks ago wanting to know why we enjoy reading Categories. I've been thinking about it.

At one point in my life Category romances became the main staple in my romance reading diet. The reason behind this was not because I didn't enjoy other types of romance books, I've always enjoyed variety in my diet. It just so happened that during that time Categories were all I could either afford to buy or had the time to read. They were affordable, short and most important of all, romances. I had a bookshelf full of them from top to bottom and when I could not afford to buy new ones or used ones, I re-read my favorites over and over again. I think if it wasn't for those books, I would have had to stop reading altogether, and that has never been an option for me.

Categories provided brief moments of escape after a long week of long working hours, driving to and from work, driving my daughter to and from school, her after school activities and getting maybe an hour to myself in the evening to get ready for the next day to start all over again -- driving, working, struggling, driving... tough times! They helped me keep my sanity. I looked forward to my weekends and sneaking in the time to read my "six-pack" of used Category romances. I bought them in sets of six so I would have enough to read for the weekend, or maybe sneak one here and there during the week.

I remember hunting for them through used book stores. I couldn't afford to buy new ones most of the time and ended up buying some pretty old ones. Some of them had wonderful retro faded covers from the 1960's of nurses and doctors. The heroines were almost always nurses who had a strict moral code and lots of backbone and were either willing to sacrifice their love for someone else -- the sacrificial lambs -- or for their own high sense of honor. They were usually set in England where the nurses worked their shifts at the 'theatre', wore 'jumpers' and shared rented 'flats.' These books had wonderful first kisses and sexual tension, but no sex. They were dated and I loved them!

Others were from the 1970's with lots of secretaries, flight attendants and jerky bosses who loved to kiss hard and were mostly control freaks. The heroines were still virgins and some still had backbone... but they had to fight those jerky, hard kissing, bossy men. I still loved them! And I pursued the newer used ones released in the 1980's relentlessly. Yes, the heroines were still virgins most of the time in the 80's, but by then they slept with the hero and had to fight those bossy guys even harder! I started reading a lot of books set in Australia and New Zealand during that period and developed a yearning for a tough, fantasy Aussie bushman just for me, lol!

I remember collecting books by Charlotte Lamb, Anne Mather, Violet Winspear and yes Janet Dailey... hunting, hunting,.... reading and re-reading their books until I could probably recite the text.

These books had a few things in common throughout the decades that didn't seem to change, you might even call it a formula. The format was short, no more than 250 pages, and the romance was always the focus of the story. Of course that didn't mean the rest was left under-developed, or the details were not there. Whether they were set in a hospital in London, in a Spanish Villa, a Texas ranch or in a small unknown town, I remember the distinct flavor of reading about those places as well as the couples.

The tropes became familiar and I always chose my favorites: friends to lovers, enemy to lovers, second chance at love, older man/younger woman, there were more. I knew those tropes so well, it got to the point when I went to those used book stores and picked up a book, all I had to do was read that first paragraph to know that was the story for me. Most of these books felt complete and meaty and they had secondary characters who contributed to the storyline without taking away from the main characters, although some of them were memorable. I loved them!

So, why did I stop reading them? My love for them didn't suddenly stop. My life changed and my reading pattern changed. I moved cross-country and had to give away my collection -- no room for all those books -- no more re-reading of favorites. I started reading all those other books I missed out on, plus! I still read them once in a while in between longer books, when I needed that fix, but not as often. Then I don't remember when... I stopped. By the time I attempted to return to reading my trusty Categories... I just didn't seem to enjoy them the same way any longer.

Is it me? Has my taste changed throughout the years so that now I can no longer appreciate these little treasures? Or is it that I haven't found the authors and stories that suit me? Is it the insta-love, insta-sex, insta-mine that is used in most of the newer releases I've read, instead of character and plot development that turns me off? I know these are short, but having read so many of them I know it's possible to do both. When did it all become about Tycoons and babies? Where did those long winded, strange and unattractive titles come from? I obviously stayed away from Categories for a long time and missed a step somewhere.

I haven't completely given up on reading Categories. How could I? They saved my sanity once and who knows what the future holds. I know there are good ones out there and I'm still searching for those new authors who might make me love these wonderful little books again.

I've recently found two authors whose work I'm reading voraciously, Raeanne Thayne and Sarah Mayberry. I find myself enjoying both the format and the stories. So you see there's still hope for a second chance at love between Categories and me.

I'll leave you with a recommendation from my oldies but goodies bag -- a Silhouette Intimates Moment book from the 1990's I just love. If you want a romance, here is one for you...

Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard


Reece Duncan lost half his ranch and all his dreams to his ex-wife, so when it came time for a family he did the logical thing: he advertised for a bride. She had to be willing to work, to bear his children and to settle for lovemaking in place of love. It sounded perfect -- until Madelyn Patterson arrived.

One look and he had to have her. Never mind that she was New York and nightlife to his own plain-spoken Montana ways. She was willing to herd cattle, wax floors and bake biscuits by the dozen. She was even willing to bear his children -- but at a price he couldn't pay. She wanted love -- and he was a man who had no love to give.


  1. Ahhhhh, this was a great post. Thanks for exploring my question further. Ever since I put up that one post on categories I've been reading almost nothing but categories. Mostly Sarah Mayberry lol. I decided to stay the safe route for now, but I'm still planning to read some other kinds of categories as well. I'm hooked in the Blaze line!

    I'm finding the time and money thing to be a good draw for them at the moment. Plus, as you're well aware, Mayberry's titles are so meaty despite the short format. Very satisfying all around, despite some flaws.

  2. Thanks, KMont. The time and money factor are definitely a plus for categories. But I also found them to be addictive, lol! Once you read a few good ones (meaty ones) that leave you with the ahhhh that was great at the end, you want to find more.

    I've also been reading quite a few categories in the past month. Silhouettes Special Editions by Thayne mainly and I have the additional Mayberry titles waiting for me as well. I'm hoping to find a least 2 more authors. Let's see how it goes. :)

  3. I loved this post! Getting a different perspective on categories for me just makes me want to keep trying them.

    I was one of those that shunned category romances. The short format just didn't appeal to me and the covers didn't help. :) Thanks to KMont's challenge I've given them a try. Some have been good, some ok but it's certainly increased my TBR pile. And sometimes the short format is just what I need when I'm not quite sure what I'm in the mood for.

    A few authors I heard good things about, in addition to Mayberry are Carla Kelly, Cheryl St. John and Karen Templeton. I plan to try all three of these authors.

  4. About every seven years I go through a bit category blow out and then barely touch them for another seven years but there a few authors I faithfully buy; some because I love them, and some (shamefully) because they're so bad they're good.

  5. And sometimes the short format is just what I need when I'm not quite sure what I'm in the mood for.
    Leslie, I find shorter stories are great to cleanse the palate or will take me out of a reading slump. Categories fall in that group once you find the right authors for you.

    I'm going to look at those authors. I have Carla Kelly on my list of writers -- although I've never read their historical romance line.

    Tumperkin, what authors do you love? I'm looking for referrals.. :) And, lol and those secret "they're so bad, but we love to read them" authors -- there's a few I can't resist. :)

  6. An awesome post! I started out reading categories exclusively (they were the only ones on my mom's bookshelves that she'd let me read at the tender age of 13). But I think my reading tastes have changed over the year and I found that I like a longer book in general. When I read categories now sometimes the stories don't feel complete - like they were trying to finish too quickly. IDK.

    Thank heavens for KMont's Category challenge - I'd probably ignore them all together if not for that. :)

  7. Tracy my tastes have changed as well and I also prefer a longer book.

    For me, good categories are short but complete and "feel" as if you've read a much longer book. Those are the ones I hunt down. The ones you mention, the ones that feel rushed at the end, don't do it for me either. :(

    And yes! I'm finding some good recommendations through KMont's YoTC too. :)


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