I used to read category romance extensively. Over the years I found myself reading less and less category, then less and less contemporary until finally I was almost exclusively in the historical niche. I've given myself the pointless challenge of rediscovering category books and contemporary romance. Harlequin had a major sale recently and I took the opportunity to buy a number of books from Twitter hashtag suggestions. I found that I read a category romance in about an hour, perhaps 90 minutes. That's got to kill the authors. I know they spend a lot more time on these books than I do, but there it is. Since they're quick reads for me, let's look at them in pairs. First up - If I'd Never Known Your Love by Georgia Bockoven versus Lessons In Seduction by Sandra Hyatt. (Spoiler's Ahoy)
I gather that the premise of the Everlasting Love line is that you've got one shot at couplehood. I used to read the (formerly Silhouette) Desire line voraciously, so I was more familiar with that framework. The Bockoven book left me curiously flat. I understand this is a three hankie classic read, but it didn't hit me emotionally. I admired how it was done without connecting to the characters. The lead is a woman who married her childhood love only to lose him. The book focuses almost exclusively on her. She is either fighting to get her husband back, remembering her youth with her husband (a bad boy gone good) or trying to move on with her life. This is an oddly idyllic setting for a pretty dark tale. The husband, a former foster child, falls into the lap of her farm family. After soaking up their good values and warm hearts, he builds a life with the heroine. He is oddly (and almost unrealistically) capable at relationships. The warm family is the type that can drop everything to support her when things go south, and her financial situation is extremely solid. This is a woman who can expect to be caught if she falls down. Even as she moves on with her life the safety net is extensive and intact. It undermined the well paced story of her struggle to find her missing man. All of her desperation is focused on the fact of his loss, little is spent on the day to day effects. In a sense, she saves him at the expense of all else. As a young woman, she wants to save him from his past. As an adult, she wants to save him from his fate. Children, careers, all else is secondary to her need to support him. When a new man enters her life there isn't anything left of her to give. He's certainly her type - he needs to be saved as well. I found this more of a character piece than what I consider a romance, although it was absolutely a genre book. I was frequently frustrated by the heroine even as I empathized with her. The topic is certainly fresh and authentic - hostage taking as a business is too common in many failed nations.
Hyatt's book was the complete opposite. While still a complete fairy tale, this story of a working class girl and an overburdened prince felt more real than the truer-to-life Bockoven book. Hyatt's limo driver is moonlighting from her higher profile day job as a way to keep her father's employment secure. Her hot and cold boss is a workaholic young heir to the throne trying to fit finding a wife into his already overbooked schedule. While this is also a tale with a shared childhood, it is not a reunited lovers story. The couple's attraction is as adults, their development is more moderate. She isn't seeking so much to save the prince as to remind him how to have fun. He has given away so many pieces of himself to responsibility that he has forgotten who he is. Her swinging between irritation with the man and awe of his status reads smoothly. Despite the less realistic premise I connected more with the leads of the Hyatt book than the Bockoven. In both cases, I was reminded what a quick read a category romance is. these books can be fit between other demands, read in a lunch break or two. Neither demanded my full attention, there was a small cast of characters and a very focused plot to resolve. The lack of complexity was part of the appeal to me in the past - I actually did read these on retail lunch breaks. I'm not sure if I will rediscover my love of the short form contemporary romance, but I have absolutely renewed my appreciation for their complexity. Simple is hard.