Monday, July 11, 2011

In Defense of Category Romance: Here Comes the Groom

My twelfth grade AP Lit teacher once dedicated several classes to talking about the difference between popular fiction and literary fiction. When she got to romance, she told us a story of how her elderly grandmother had a subscription to Harlequin, reading them by the piles. She would place her initials in the corner of each book upon completing it to remind herself that she'd read that one. The punch line of the joke, according to my teacher, was that all romance novels are the same anyway! Ha!

My teacher (ignorantly) thought she was referring to romance novels in general, but her comments applied much more specifically to category romance--those little 200 page things you pick up at air ports and grocery stores that have names like "The Virgin Secretary and the Playboy Boss Have a Secret Baby". I don't think I need to point out that there is a huge world of romance outside of Harlequin. But what I do want to address is this accusation of sameness among the category romance. Yes, category romance is the most guilty of repeatedly using the same tropes and silly premises over and over again. And of course, because it's romance, they all end with a supper sappy happily ever after. I absolutely acknowledge that some of them are just plain awful, without a single original thought in the whole book. But there are also books in this genre that have amazing characters, original plots, and heart breaking dilemmas.

I think the best defense I can offer is to show a few examples of good category books. The first is one of my favorite books that I've read this year, Here Comes the Groom by Karina Bliss. This is an example of how a good author can take a really silly premise and turn it into an awesome and satisfying story. Here is my review:

Dan and Jo are best friends who long ago made a marriage pact as a joke, which Dan then decides to take seriously. He starts planning the wedding against Jo's wishes and does everything possible to talk her into it. It sounds silly, I realize. But there is a lot more going on in this book then is apparent. In the interest of not spoiling the story, I'll just say that Jo and Dan have both been through and are still going through a lot of tough stuff. They are problems which I believe a lot of people can relate to.

Dan is an ex-soldier, now returned home for good and wants to take over the family farm. After the trama he experienced at war, he just wants a normal and happy life. This is partly why he fixates on the idea of a fast marriage of convenience with his best friend. Over time, however, Dan discovers that his feelings run deeper then that, and struggle to come to terms with those feelings as well as a number of other issues in his life.

Jo is a great female lead, all the way around. She's tough, smart, flawed but easy to relate to. She's struggled with a demanding career, ailing grandmother, and burdensome secrets that have lead her to stop hoping for a husband and family. The way in which each issue is resolved is emotional, imperfect and realistic, and just generally very well written. I love that this book delivers a happily ever after ending without becomming sugary sweet.

I'm giving this book 4.5 stars, because there was just one plot aspect that I did not like. I won't spoil it, but near the end there is a rather contrived and silly plan on Jo's part that had me cringing. This aside, the plot of the book had excellent flow and good taste. Overall, I highly recommend this book as a quick and satisfying feel good read.

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