harlequins Most readers who come here often probably know that this blog has more than one author, and we tend to have more than viewpoint on things. On some issues, it seems like we need to do a bit of point and counterpoint because there are plenty of areas in romance that are great fodder for debate.

As I read the blog last Friday, I could feel myself nodding along at times. Yes, I’m not always on the “majority opinion team”, I like historical detail but I don’t need all my historicals to be dark and super-gritty, and even if Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t my cuppa, I’m not into bashing the people that read it. Heck, that book has made romance converts of more than a few of my offline friends. But then I reached the sentence,“I have moved past the Harlequin love and I am mystified by serious readers who haven’t,” and stopped dead. It just didn’t make sense to me to defend those who might like Fifty Shades and then turn around and bash all of us who enjoy Harlequin.

Sometimes I wonder what makes a “serious reader.” The literary snob crowd would probably write off all of us romance fans, but it seems to me that anyone who enjoys reading is a serious reader. Given that I read for work, read for pleasure, and read for review here at AAR, I think my habits certainly qualify as serious reading. And you know what? I’m one of those serious readers who never left Harlequin behind. In fact, I buy at least 2-3 series books from them every month, not including what I read from Harlequin imprints such as HQN, Carina Press, or Mira.

Series romances work for me and I don’t consider them a stage one grows out of, so I have to respectfully disagree with my colleague about category novels. I’ve read mind-blowing single title books and I’ve read some that are pretty ordinary. If you don’t believe me, just go to the power search and start digging around. You’ll find all of us at AAR discussing books that do and don’t work for us. However, the same goes for series books. I’ve read some series romance novels with plots and characterizations so thin that one can’t help but have that, “I think I’ve read this many times before” feeling. However, I’ve also read some books that play with convention or which use the limited space of a category novel to focus almost solely on the emotions of two people without the need to tend to subplot or armies of secondary characters. The use of a short page limit to tell a spare, stripped-down story with intensity is not something to underestimate.

I get that plenty of people aren’t into category books, but the fact that category romance doesn’t work for a person does not somehow make series romance inherently crappy nor does it make readers of it stunted by their failure to grow up and read big-girl single titles. People just have different tastes. For example, in my experience, small towns aren’t always Mayberry; sometimes they’re meth-addled hellholes. So, while one reader might equate a small-town tale with comfort, and perhaps even fantasize about the traditional sheriff hero, it’s not always my first choice. And it doesn’t have to be, but it’s there for the people who want it.

There also seems to be an assumption that it’s primarily the single title market that offers variety. Contrary to the opinions of some, series romances also span a variety of settings, tones, and character types. Just in recent memory, I’ve read everything from a China-set historical by Jeannie Lin to a couple of Sarah Mayberry Blazes peopled with complex characters and great sexual tension to a very funny and light Jessica Hart novel to a much more serious Janice Kay Johnson book with exquisite characterizations and unpredictable conflicts. None of these had that unoriginal, “Now the hero and heroine need to meet cute, they will kiss by the end of Chapter 2, have sex by page 100, have a Big Mis, etc…” feel to them. And because of the rather short page counts, these authors, who are all top notch, wrote their stories choosing words carefully for maximum effect. Writing a complicated 400-500 page novel with multiple plots and subplots woven together in an intricate dance of language takes talent, but writing a 200 page novel which tells its story vividly in a way that engages the readers’ emotions and makes characters jump off the page in that brief reading is a talent as well.

There are certain books that generate lots of buzz and there are certain books that find themselves reviled by almost all who read them. However, there’s a world of difference between deciding that a particular book just doesn’t work and proclaiming that an entire subgenre is simply not worth a reader’s time. I have my likes and dislikes, just as any reader does, and I’m one serious reader who has not moved past the Harlequin love.

– Lynn Spencer