Ten Years

It is the tenth anniversary of the publication of one of the romance genre’s most infamous books:

The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable Girl

If you’d like to have a good laugh, you can read the wonderful review/summary over at Smart Bitches.

The Playboy Sheikh_s Virgin Stable Girl by Sharon Kendrick

Polo-playing sheikh Prince Kaliq Al’Farisi loves his women as much as his horses. They’re wild, willing, and he’s their master!Stable girl Eleni is a local Calistan. Raised by her brutal father on the horse-racing circuit, she feels unlovable. When her precious horses are given to Sheikh Kaliq, she refuses to be parted from them.The playboy sheikh is determined to bed Eleni–and when Kaliq realises she’s a virgin, the challenge only becomes more interesting….

All those misconceptions about Harlequin/Mills and Boon

 Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry

The world’s massive category romance publishing house does itself no favours. Don’t worry, I know it. With titles like The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl and Pregnesia you can’t really blame people for some of the things they assume.

The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl by Sharon Kendrick Pregnesia by Carla Cassidy

However, I recently read a one star review for a Harlequin book (Mills and Boon is the original company, and the name it still goes by in places like Britain and Australia). The reviewer’s problem? She’d picked it up because there were no intimate scenes and she’d been led to believe these books were riddled with explicit sex.

And they’re just not.

Similarly, people who have come to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander since the television show started – and who don’t like the rape and abuse in the book – insult it by calling it “a glorified Harlequin romance”. Same is said to insult Fifty Shades of Grey.

Even a lot of ardent romance readers dismiss the books without giving them a try.

Ugh. Just… ugh!

 Married by Christmas by Karen Kirst

I didn’t start reading category romance until recently, very recently. So recently that my first book was Her Best Friend by Sarah Mayberry, published only a few years ago. I wanted to try something to come to my own conclusions.  Sarah Mayberry is an Australian author, and the book is set somewhere I’ve been, so I thought if nothing else, I might enjoy that aspect of it.

 Her Best Friend by Sarah Mayberry

Sarah Mayberry converted me.

Beyond the cheesy cover and generic title was a great story, and – shock, horror – they didn’t have sex in every chapter! It was tame, it was about friends and family, it was about a woman who at thirty was getting on with her dreams – career dreams, not romance dreams.

The thing about category romance is that the books are literally divided into categories. Multiple branches of these are Christian fiction, so you’re going to be lucky to even get a chaste kiss. Other lines are about police officers and crime, about Jane Austen’s England, about all sorts of things.

This is not pornography. And many of the books have heaps of storylines going on beyond the romance.

Yes, there’re still category lines for all the sheikhs, secretaries and billionaires you could want, and yet even then if you’re looking for something racy, you might be disappointed.

 Season of Change by Melinda Curtis

As I said, they don’t do themselves any favours with the titles and covers, but these publishers aren’t cranking out garbage. There’s good and bad in every genre, from every publisher, but I will defend category romance to anyone. You can’t dismiss thousands and thousands of books with many themes and settings just like that.

I’ve read some truly terrible category romances, but some others also consistently make it onto my “Best Of” lists each year.