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brief look

A Brief Look at Category (aka Series) Romance

brief look

A Brief History of Series Romance

Category lines, or series romance, are one of the cornerstones of the romance novel industry. We’ll delve deeper into each line as we document the genre’s past at Sweet Savage Flame. We’ll also be adding more pages to the site. As always, you can access pages via the top MENU. Please follow us via e-mail to stay informed of our latest updates.

What Is Category Romance?

Category or Series Romance

Category romance, also known as series romance, differs from long-form, single-edition romances in several ways. Most notable is the length. Category romances run 55,000 to 70,000 words. These range from 150 pages to a short novel of 300 pages. As the name implies, they are sorted into category lines. They are also defined by tropes.

Tropes are common devices in stories that appeal to readers. They can be a type of plot, kind of character, a theme, or setting writers use because of familiarity. Some examples are Highland Scots, second chance at love, playboy billionaires, or arranged marriages.

All genre fiction use tropes in some way. Time travel, artificial intelligence, chosen one Messiahs, and space travel are a few ones would find in Science Fiction.

Tropes are not clichés. Clichés are ideas that are so overused they become trite. They irritate rather than engage. Examples that are found in romance would be the spunky heroine who stomps her foot when angered or purple-prose phrases like “whirling vortex of desire” to describe sex scenes.

man and woman kissing
Photo by Katie Salerno on Pexels.com

Romance Lines or Imprints

What is a line or an imprint? A line is a category, or series, of books written by assorted authors that, while usually unrelated, share commonalities. These can be heat level, length of the book, and tropes employed.

A publishing house creates and distributes books. Publishers use trade names, or imprints, to market their books to the appropriate audiences.

Historical or Contemporary, What’s the Difference?

Harlequin is a publisher of romances. They have numerous category lines, such as Presents, Intrigue, and Historicals.

Kensington Books is also a publisher. Zebra is one of their imprints. The historical Lovegram and Heartfire books were two of Zebra’s lines. Many other publishers, like Harlequin, have released historical romance lines as well.

Why don’t we at Sweet Savage Flame classify these lines as category romances?

There are several reasons:

  1. Generally speaking, publishers didn’t number historical categories like contemporary series romance.
  2. At 300-600 pages, these books run at a greater length than usual category romances.
  3. At Sweet Savage Flame, we try to separate historical from category and contemporary romances, as they have different lineages and genre conventions.

When we review books from historical category lines, such as Harlequin Masquerade, Harlequin Historical, and Signet Regency, please note that we file them under Historical Romance Reviews. If the books have a number, we provide that information.

The Yankee
The Yankee, Kristin James, Harlequin, 1990, Max Ginsburg cover art

Mills & Boon

Mills & Boon is the big grandmama of category romance. They originated in 1908 in the United Kingdom as a general publisher. Fortuitously enough, their first book released happened to be a romance, Sophie Cole’s Arrows from the Dark. Romance would not be Mills & Boon’s primary focus until the 1930s, however.

Mills & Boon sold their romances mainly to lending libraries. They produced brown, hardcover books which were instantly recognizable. A UK-based company, they never directly released their books in North America. They distributed them through Harlequin. In 1971 Harlequin Ltd bought out Mills & Boon.

Mills & Boon’s romances were almost always told from a third-person perspective that focused on the heroine. Usually, they left the hero’s thoughts unknown. Only through his words and deeds did the heroine, and thus the reader, know how he felt about her. The stoic, inscrutable hero would be a staple of the genre for decades.

mills and boon #1
Arrows From the Dark, Sophie Cole, Mills and Boon, 1909

Harlequin

Harlequin Ltd. was founded in 1949 as a Canadian company that printed paperback editions of previously published works. Mysteries, westerns, and historical fiction were among their reprints.

The first romance Harlequin published was Nancy Bruff’s The Manatee in 1949.

Harlequin The Manatee, Nancy Bruff, Harlequin, 1949
The Manatee, Nancy Bruff, Harlequin, 1949

Medical romances were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, so Harlequin capitalized on the market, reprinting them as early as 1953. These were huge sellers for the company.

The Romance Series

In 1957, Harlequin entered into a partnership with Mills & Boon, where they established the North American publishing rights to their romances. The first Mills & Boon released as a Harlequin Romance was The Hospital in Buwambo by Anne Vinton (#407). By 1960, Harlequin would release category romance exclusively.

The books would never extend into the bedroom. They consisted of no more than kisses and passionate embraces. If there were any love-making scenes, they were between married partners and never explicit but written in a “fade to black” sense.

Harlequin purchased Mills & Boon outright in 1971, significantly expanding their library. By 1972 the monumental revolution in the industry and culture would lead to major changes at Harlequin.

series romance contrasts
Contrasts, Rowan Kirby, Harlequin, Frank Kalan cover art

The Presents Series

In response to the radical sexual transformation of the 1970s, Harlequin created the Presents line. In the beginning, these were just reprints of “steamy” Mills & Boons repackaged and rebranded.

Authors Anne Hampson, Anne Mather, and Violet Winspear would be the sole producers of Presents romances for the first couple of years. Cover artist Don Sinclair would create new artwork for the first 100+ editions of Presents.

More sensual in nature than Romances, Presents would move beyond kisses, often using euphemisms to convey sex. However, it would be a while before plots contained explicitly detailed scenes. Intercourse between unmarried partners, particularly the kind that wasn’t considered “forced seduction,” was still years away.

Usual tropes included arranged or forced marriages, Greek or Latin millionaires, and widowed heroines who had never experienced true sexual pleasure.

Harlequin Presents has been and remains the world’s best-selling category line.

series romance Gates of Steel
Gates of Steel, Anne Hampson, Harlequin, 1973, Don Sinclair cover art

The Super Romance Series

With the creation of the Silhouette imprint and other competitors arising in the early 1980s, Harlequin would introduce new lines to keep up with the changes. The SuperRomance line was one of them.

Category romances generally ran under 200 pages in length. In the 1970s, thick doorstopper epics ruled the day. Harlequin released extended-length romances to enable more character development or longer plots. These were similar to the standard Romance line but contained about 100-150 pages more.

series romance The End of Innocence
The End of Innocence, Abra Taylor, Harlequin, 1980, Will Davies cover art

American Romance

Another series that Harlequin introduced in the early 1980s was the American Romance line. They had published authors from outside the United States, primarily the UK, as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Indeed, Janet Dailey was Harlequin’s only American author until she moved to Silhouette. Nora Roberts was famously rejected by Harlequin, who declared they only needed one Yankee.

The American Romance line was created to allow for more familiar settings written by American authors.

change of life
Change of Life, Judith Arnold, Harlequin, 1990, cover artist unknown

Temptation

In 1983, Harlequin would produce their most sensual line yet: Temptation. These took place in America or Canada, although they could be set in other nations. The protagonists were usually both North American. This series featured people from all walks of life: ordinary Joes and Janes to the jet-set.

These books ran in between the length of the Presents and SuperRomance series, fewer than 250 pages.

The first Temptation released was an unnumbered special edition. The line officially began with Lavyrle’s Spencer’s Spring Fancy.

forever mine valentine crouse
Forever Mine, Valentine, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Harlequin, 1990, Daniel Crouse cover art

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planet earth

The Languages of Love

planet earth
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Old-school historical romances were quite diverse in settings, ranging from the Occident to the Orient, from the Middle East to everywhere in Europe to the Americas. In my time reading these books, I’ve come across several ways to say “my love,” “my beloved,” or “my darling” in various languages. As language is very nuanced, there are many words of love you can express among your friends, family, lovers, pets, etc.

I’ve tried to compile some ways to share intimate words with the one you love most in various languages.

Is your language on this list? If not, how do you say these words and phrases in your native language? Please, drop a comment and let’s talk romance!

LANGUAGEMy Love/ My Beloved or My Dear/My DarlingI love you.
Arabic(f) habibti; (m) habibi Ana uHibbuki. (to a female)
Ana uHibbuka. (to a male)
Ana Ahabak. (to a male)
French(f) ma chère; (m) mon cher (darling)
mon amour (my love)
Je t’aime.
German mein(e) Liebling (my darling)
mein(e) Schatz (my sweetheart)
Ich liebe dich.
Greek agápi Se agapó. S’agapó.
Irish mo stór (my love)
mo chuisle (my heartbeat)
Tá grá agam duit.
Tá mo chroí istigh ionat. (Besotted love)
Italian (f) cara (m) caro Ti amo.
Norweigian elsket  Jeg elsker deg.
Portuguese (f) querida (m) querido (my darling)
(f) amada (m) amado (my love)
Eu te amo.
Spanish (f) querida (m) querido; (my darling)
(f) amada (m) amado (my love)
Te quiero. (I want you/I love you, casual)
Te amo. (More intense; said to spouses)
Welsh cariad (my love)Rwy’n dy garu di. (formal, poetic)
Fi’n caru ti. (North Wales)
Dwi’n caru chdi. (South Wales)

10 Languages I Love You

Arabic – I Love You

Be My Travel Muse

German I Love You

German Liebling

Irish I Love You

Welsh I Love You

Welsh I Love You 2

Historical Romance Review: Highland Barbarian by Ruth Langan

Highland Barbarian, Ruth Langan, Harlequin, 1990, George H. Jones, cover art

Harlequin Historical #41

VERY MILD SPOILERS 😉

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Background to Reading Highland Barbarian

Ruth Langan wrote a series of Highland novels over the years, a few of which I’m already familiar with. I’ve read Ruth Langan’s Highland Heather and Highland Fire, the sequels to Highland Barbarian. I enjoyed those two very much and have fond memories of them.

Highland Heather was the tale of middle sister Brenna being used as Queen Elizabeth’s pawn and captured by the enigmatic Morgan Grey, “The Queen’s Savage,” to mend the rifts between the British and Scots. I’d rate it 4 to 4 1/2-stars. Highland Fire was about the youngest sister, Megan, and a story filled with lots of action, amnesia, and a great, strong-willed heroine paired with a yummy Irish hero. That was a 3 1/2 to 4-star read.

In Highland Barbarian, we see the eldest sister Meredith’s story. Perhaps if I had read this before the other books, I would have liked it more.

The Plot

After her father’s death, Meredith is now the leader of the Mac Alpin clan and must join in an arranged marriage to an ally. However, her marriage is cut short when her bridegroom is killed, and Brice Campbell, the Highland Barbarian, captures Meredith. Brice has apparently attacked the Mac Alpins many times in the past (Or has he? Is the hero of this story just a patsy for a more obvious, easily-telegraphed villain? Why, yes, he is.)

Meredith tries to escape, is thwarted, and is captured again. In time, she makes friends with Brice’s clan members. Slowly she and Brice grow close and fall in love.

But despite her love, Meredith takes flight once more. This time she is conveniently captured by an enemy of Brice who tried to rape Meredith earlier on. Brice saves the day, but Meredith flees back to her people anyway without so much as a thank you.

There’s a mildly amusing part towards the end when Queen Mary switches places with Meredith because they look so similar, being slim redheads and all (as if that’s all you have to do to look exactly like someone: share the same hair color!). Mary wants some alone time with Bothwell, so Meredith will stand in her stead and judge over arguments. And then the villain shows up, and the predictable ending comes to its predictable end.

Final Analysis to Highland Barbarian

I found the story told here to be a by-the-numbers tale filled with same-old-same-old—a good read, but barely. The love between Brice and Meredith was bland, and the action didn’t thrill me. Highland Barbarian‘s sequels are better, with more original stories than this one.

This wasn’t a terrible book by any means; it just didn’t excite me. I’d give this barely three stars and consider it just worth enough to pass the time.

a pirate's love hero rapes heroine mcginnis

Historical Romance Review: A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey

historical romance review
A Pirate's Love by Johanna Lindsey
Rating: one-star
Published: 1978
Illustrator: Robert McGinnis
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Pirate Romance
Pages: 373
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey

WARNING: RANT & SPOILERS AHEAD (POSSIBLY OFFENSIVE)

The Book

Johanna Lindsey’s A Pirate’s Love is her second romance, published in 1978. It features your basic pirate plot: a heroine is sailing across the ocean, all set to marry a cruel, faceless fiance. Her ship is boarded by pirates, and the captain takes her as his love slave.

And to no one’s surprise, the hero rapes the heroine. Over and over.

I liked Lindsey’s first book, Captive Bride, which had a similar plot, except with a desert sheik instead of a pirate. Even though it was a flawed book, it had its charm.

This book, on the other hand…

I Didn’t Love This Lindsey

I hated A Pirate’s Love for many reasons, some based on logic, most others based on pettiness. If you’re looking for a great review that does a better job explaining why this book blows, search elsewhere. I’m just going to go on a diatribe based on my ever-waning recollections of this “romance”:

The multiple rapes that the hero commits upon the heroine didn’t really faze me, although they did get redundant. After all, it’s a bodice ripper, and that’s what comes with the territory. If a hero raping the heroine offends you, best not read this genre. It was everything else in Lindsey’s second-published book that I despised.

Embrace the Hate

Hate #1

I hated Bettina and her knee-length hair that’s easily hidden under a hat! (Apologies to the beautiful Johanna, who actually had knee-length hair. She could have easily passed for one of her heroines.)

Hate #2

I hated how Bettina cried over her dresses and how ill-tempered she was and hearing about her flashing eyes that were blue one minute, then green another. Not blue-green eyes, mind you, that look different depending on the light or what colors they reflect. Her eyes just change color randomly with her emotions. She’s like a human mood ring.

Hate #3

I hated Tristan. He was such beta-fish, shaving his beard off when Bets demanded it of him. Some tough pirate, eh? Plus, I don’t like the name Tristan. I joke about the overused names in Romancelandia that are so overbearingly macho and repetitive, but Tristan Matisse just doesn’t inspire fear. He’s French, so why not Capitaine Sauvage? It may sound cliché, but it’s better than that prissy name.

Hate #4

I hated Casey O’Casey. There’s another stupid name for a stupid character.

Hate #5

I hated Bettina’s mother. Or was it the maid? Or was it both women who gave Bettina horrible life advice? Don’t remember, don’t care.

Hate #6

I hated the lack of romance. I hated the lack of variety in action. All the hero does is rape the heroine. It all seemed to blur together: rape, fight, escape, repeat; rape, fight, escape, repeat, etc.

Hate #7

I hated how antagonists were portrayed. In a pirate book set in the 1600s, it is natural to have Spaniards playing the villains to the English/French buccaneer heroes, but in A Pirate’s Love Lindsey laid it on a bit thick, reaching Leyenda Negra levels of ridiculousness. As their wicked deeds fell just short of infant necrophilia and cannibalism.

Hate #8

I hated the stupid coincidences at the end of this book. I mean, really? All of them happening at once?

a pirates love2
A Pirate’s Love, Arrow, British alt cover

Final Rant on A Pirate’s Love

Why would I despise A Pirate’s Love when it’s not so different from Johanna Lindsey’s early, more “serious-toned” works, like Fires of Winter, which was one of my teenage favorites? Or So Speaks the Heart, to which I gave a favorable review? The dimwitted, hunky hero rapes ( and forcibly seduces) the heroine in both those books.

Maybe I was feeling sick the week I read this, or maybe I was stressed by heavy loads of classwork, or I was on my period.

Or maybe–just maybe–this book does indeed reach epic levels of suck. It’s just so blah.

A Pirate’s Love is not the worst Lindsey book because at least I could finish it. As repetitive as it was, it did draw out emotions from me, which is more than I can say for her later soporific works I dislike.

Ah well. Lindsey wrote so many books that it’s natural I’m bound to dislike one or two of them. A Pirate’s Love just happens to be one of them.

1 Star (Cover points do not count)

Rating Report Card
Plot
1
Characters
1
Writing
2.5
Chemistry
1.5
Fun Factor
1
Cover
4
Overall: 1.8

Synopsis:

Sun-Blazed Beaches
With languid tropical breezes caressing her breathtakingly beautiful face, Bettina Verlaine stood before the mast, sailing westward to fulfill a promise her heart never made – marriage to a Count her eyes had never beheld.

Then in a moment of swashbuckling courage, the pirate Tristan swept her away and the spell of his passion was cast over her heart forever.

But many days – and fiery nights – must pass before their love could flower into that fragile blossom a woman gives to only one man.

A PIRATE’S LOVE by JOHANNA LINDSEY