"She’s So Unusual" – Exploring Category Romance

Category romances, contrary to many peoples’ beliefs, are not at all the same. Sometimes, they push boundaries.

I have not yet read Mallory Rush’s Kiss of the Beast, a Harlequin Temptation that features an alien hero (the only alien hero I’ve heard of in a category), but it looks very interesting, and was recommended to me twice.

In Judith Arnold’s Barefoot in the Grass (1996), the heroine is a survivor of breast cancer who has had a mastectomy. It’s surprising to me how rare that is in contemporary romance. Arnold is also the author of Sweet Light (1992), whose heroine is Jewish, surprisingly uncommon in category romance, even today.

The ultimate example of stretching boundaries, to me, is Cinderman by Anne Stuart. It was published as a Harlequin American Romance, a line currently described as “lively stories about homes, families and communities like the one you know.” Cinderman is like that. Assuming, that is, that your community includes people who get doused in weird slime and subsequently develop amazing super-powers.

It is so awesome. Anne Stuart’s books often take risks and bend genre, so this book is only surprising because it was published as a category, in a line that didn’t include paranormal elements at all; also, it was published in 1994, long before the current boom in paranormal and urban fantasy novels. So far as I’ve been able to determine, it was the first “superhero” romance. And I mustn’t omit mentioning that as well as being ground-breaking, it’s a really funny book. There’s a lot of witty dialogue between hero and heroine, and the heroine’s t-shirts become a running gag that just gets funnier and funnier.

Here’s a detailed review at All About Romance.

What’s the most unusual category romance you’ve ever read?

2009 Year of the Category Reading Challenge at Lurv A La Mode.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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4 Responses to "She’s So Unusual" – Exploring Category Romance

  1. Tumperkin says:

    I hope this comment works – I've tried to post comments here before with no success for sone reason.

    I love Dark Dominion by Charlotte Lamb (1979?) because it's a love triangle and the heroine is genuinely torn between the two men for a while. Vampire Lover by Lamb (1994?) is also unusual – the heroine ties up the hero in one scene and behaves in a dominant manner. I'm also partial to Susan Napier's virgin heroes.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    Thanks for commenting!

    Yay virgin heroes! I collect them…one of them is a Napier, THE MISTRESS DECEPTION. Did she write more?

    I remember reading at least one Lamb when I was a young teenager, but I can't remember which one it was. DARK DOMINION does sound like a rare plot – usually it's telegraphed which man she will choose (I think the recent Jennifer Haymore book is an exception to that, though I haven't yet read it).

  3. Tumperkin says:

    I think I might have read three Napier virgin heroes but the only other one I can name is A Lesson In Seduction.

    I too am a sucker for virgin heroes.

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    My virgin hero faves are:

    Laura Kinsale, THE SHADOW AND THE STAR
    Anna Campbell, UNTOUCHED
    Jo Beverley, FORBIDDEN
    Mary Balogh, THE SECRET PEARL (just edging out NO MAN'S MISTRESS, but it depends on my mood)

    Pamela Morsi's SIMPLE JESS is the most extraordinary one, I think.

    Gaffney's WILD AT HEART is in my TBR.

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