Friday, January 04, 2008

Thursday Talk Time - Favourite Category Romance

This Thursday at The Pink Heart Society we have Natalie Anderson to tell us all about her favourite Category Romance...

My Favourite Category Romance is…

Now isn’t that just the most impossible sentence to complete? It is simply impossible to sift through all those favourites to just one – like trying to pick the best in a box of chocolates. It all depends on mood, season, appetite, the stars… any sort of whimsy! So, of course, I am going to have to cheat.

I’m not even going to bother with recent books – there are so many wonderful ‘keepers’ and I refuse to start a list that would be unending anyway – for fear of missing many out! Instead, as it’s the start of the Mills & Boon centenary year, I thought I’d go back to the first Mills & Boon novels I ever read.

In a box on my mother’s landing, is a collection of about 60 books that my grandmother kept – and that we then kept after her death nearly 20 years ago. A voracious reader, across genres, she was a true romantic and a true M&B fan – often reading one or two a night and scouring libraries and second hand bookstores for ones she hadn’t read. And I read all her favourites, lying on her spare bed – all of them more than once.
So to research my ‘favourite’ category romance book I got Mum to bring that box to my place – bad move because I then reread every single one and ignored my own work for quite a few days! But it was great fun – those books had fostered my desire to travel, my love of reading, of writing and yes, that wonderful ideal of finding a life partner – a life long lover – Mr Tall, Dark & Handsome, enigmatic and strong please!
So these old books are ALL my favourites – let me explain why…

First off: the locations – in particular Africa and small Spanish islands. The wonderful descriptions, the sense of colour, and the adventure had me yearning to travel to these warm, lush locations where anything seemed possible (even meeting my Mr TD&H right?)

The sky reminded her of a sapphire bathed in milk, and the distant trees, which apparently surrounded the settlement, were thinly veiled by a mist which softened their strident green into a hue which vaguely reminded her of leafy roads in England. The houses were white and square and neatly thatched with banana leaves; each had its small veranda overlooking a flower-bed, but there were no fences, no gardens.
- "Plantation Doctor" by Kathryn Blair (1962)

For more than half an hour their conversation was of this amazing country of Mozambique. Gwen gazed, entranced, at groups of palms, at grasses six feet high, at undulating acres of waving green sugar cane, at dense plantations of bananas and pineapples. "The Golden Rose" by Kathryn Blair (1962)

The settings themselves contrast, foreshadow and reflect the relationships – the humid sleepless nights, the tropical storms, the fevers of body and heart as both malaria and love strike! (I’m a sucker for those ones where she gets the fever/has some calamitous accident and he carries her for miles to safety and then guards/cares for her round the clock until she’s in the clear – he does all this with a kind of savage fury – angry that she allowed herself to end up in such a position (if only she’d listened to him and done as he said!).

Take this example from "Whispering Palms" by Rosalind Brett (1963):

He saw her then, a small, slight figure clinging to the great exposed roots of a tree and feebly waving an arm and he splashed towards her.
"Dios!" he said under his breath, and lifted her against him, For endless moments Lesley was rigid, her face hot against his cold wet shirt; then suddenly she crumpled and quivered, murmured a cracked, "Fernando!" and bean to shake like an aspen.
He stood it for about thirty seconds; then he took a grip on her shoulders. "Enough!" he said harshly. "We have to get to the other bank…"
[he gets her safely across the treacherous river and to his house]
ithin a few minutes they were in his bedroom, and he was calmly and swiftly taking off sandals and unfastening the back of her frock.
"Don’t," she whispered. "I want to go home."
Through his teeth he said, "You are going to bed, little one, and the doctor is coming. Neville has gone to fetch him now."
She raised her hands as if to press her face into them and it was then that he saw the palms, red and swollen with purple lacerations where the thorns had torn the flesh. He took one of them into his own hands and at last looked into her colorless, ravaged face. Hs nostrils dilated, his eyes blazed and his mouth became a thin hard line. Without a word he ripped her frock right down the back and thrust it open her shoulders and onto the floor. A bath towel enveloped her, a suit of pyjamas was taken from a drawer and tossed on to the bed.
"I will give you two minutes," he said curtly and went out of the room.
Even in her state of stress Lesley knew that he meant it. Fumblingly she got out of the wet undergarments and into blue silk pyjamas which were so big that her feet could not find the floor…. Fernando was back… He took up the towel and sat beside her on the bed, and he seemed to put all the anger he couldn’t speak into that savage rubbing of her hair and scalp....

When I went on my ‘OE’ (overseas experience – a mandatory voyage for Kiwis in their early twenties) – I did go to Africa and to Spain and loved my time in both – even though as a soft-hearted vegetarian there were experiences that were hard for me to swallow sometimes! (I’ve never eaten so many baked beans cold, straight from the can, as my time in Africa!!!). And no, I didn’t find my strong, silent Mr T, D & H nor anyone to speak commandingly to me in faintly ‘alien’ tones. I found Mr T, D & H in London and he spoke with humour in the broad accent of my own country folk.

But enough digressing, back to the books!

The heroine was generally young and sweet and unsophisticated – ‘unawakened’ in terms of love and loving. Well the hero thought she was unawakened – of course the poor girl was suffering terribly over him and determined never to let him know it:

She was as capable as any other woman of disguising her sensitiveness with cool indifference. At least, she would be in a few minutes, when she had recovered from the shock. "Full Tide" by Celine Conway (1964)

The hero has an immediate and devastating impact – often negative,

She turned around with sudden awareness, stared unbelievingly at the tall, dark, debonair man who stood watching her as though she were some unusual but interesting type of domestic pet….
"Good afternoon," she said, firmly quelling the flurry in her veins. "I expect you want my uncle."
"The Golden Rose" by Kathryn Blair (1962)

And so the clash begins between the autocratic man used to being in control and the young woman newly freed into adulthood and overflowing with ideals and good intentions.

He was deep, this Dr Sinclair… But no, you couldn’t imagine him bothering at all with women, let alone allowing one of them to shape his future. Lyn had never before encountered a man so entirely self-sufficient and coolly charming. His attitude set him above the other men; he was arrogant, yet without conceit, imperturbable to a tantalizing degree, yet capable of swift decisive action – as witness his abduction of her from Cape Bandu. And more aggravating than any of these qualities was the conviction that he would never permit himself to get angry. Disapproving maybe, or coldly aloof, but never fiery and furious as Lyn had been with him yesterday… "Plantation Doctor" by Kathryn Blair (1962)

Often there’s also some charming, terribly sophisticated, incredibly beautiful other woman whom the heroine thinks the hero is all for and then there might be a dissipated young man who leans on the steadfast friendship of our solid heroine – much to our hero’s displeasure and jealousy!

When trying to set up a path to guide her towards him, she thwarts his every angle – because she’s battling to protect herself. He’s the ultimate alpha male – so used to being in control of everything – not least himself! Suddenly confronted by the ‘slip of a girl’ who turns his neatly ordered, managed life – and emotions – into chaos.

Tall, enigmatic, masterful he’s the strong, silent and often sarcastic type.

She looked up at him, and what she took for a faint sneer at the corners of his mouth made her ache to say something which would stab… To Lisa just then Mark’s face looked cruel; tanned, tight-jawed and tyrannical. "Full Tide" by Celine Conway

She rebels against his commands, demands and domineering personality, and against the extent to which he can affect her. She fights her love, fearing it will never be returned – he is in another league from her, he’ll never settle, she thinks he’s in love with another… and so she drives him away just as he’s trying (in his forceful way) to get close.

Possibly it was the first time in his life that Renaldo had been dismissed by a woman. He stiffened, bowed, and was gone from the range of her vision. She heard his car start up and reverse on to the road at speed; then he was gone, and Gwen found herself slumped against the house wall in a soundless surrender to grief.
"The Golden Rose" by Kathryn Blair (1962)

Ultimately there’s some sort of showdown – an event or meeting in which declarations are made. She realises the extent to which she has power over him – the power they have over each other – to make them desperately unhappy, or divinely happy. Fortunately, they go for the latter.

"You’re still angry."
"The remedy for that is in your hands," he said.
For a further minute or two she leaned against him, still trembling with excitement and incredulity. But soon she was able to raise her head, to look into his narrowed, leaping eyes, to hold his face tenderly in his hands and kiss his lips tenderly and warmly.
A flush replaced the pallor and her eyes shone up at him, blue and very deep.
"Say it Lyn," he begged. "Even if it isn’t true yet, say it."
"I love you," she said. "I love you – and it’s absolutely true."

"Plantation Doctor" by Kathryn Blair (1962)

While today’s heroine might be less innocent (mine generally are!) they still have that spirit and ‘pluck’ in common with their sisters of the romance novels of forty years ago. They share that sense of adventure and that contrariness that makes them stand up to the man who might be trying to dictate to them – even if he’s working from the best of intentions, even if he happens to be right! Independence and dependability are often her biggest character traits – both as strengths, both weaknesses.

This is what I love most about category romance – old, new and across the lines – that wonderful rollercoaster of a ride as a relationship begins – bumpy as anything –
while the hero and heroine strive to endure, overcome and sweep aside the challenges that stand in their way. They have to grow, to reassess their suddenly changing worlds and selves. It’s that lurch from the horrible angst of vulnerability and uncertainty to the joy when at the end, all is resolved – happy ever after!

If ever you get the chance to read one of the ‘classic’ Mills & Boon novels of the past – take it, they’re GREAT!

But if you don’t have access to any of the old ones, how about a newbie? If you’d like to win a copy of my Australia/NZ release, BEDDED BY ARRANGEMENT, leave a comment telling me the most exotic destination you’ve read about in a Mills & Boon that you’d love to travel to!

Happy reading!

Natalie has two releases in January – ALL NIGHT WITH THE BOSS is out in North America as a Harlequin Presents Special Release while BEDDED BY ARRANGEMENT is out in OZ/NZ as a Sexy Sensation. If you’re in the UK don’t fret! You can get her third book MISTRESS UNDER CONTRACT online from M&B ( now or pick it up from the shelves in February!

Swing by her web ( or blog ( anytime and say hi. She’d love to hear from you.


  1. I love your take on your favorite romance type books. I agree completely with your view on location in a book. I like far away places and exotic locations. Thanks,Cindi

  2. Wonderful post, Natalie. You took me on a journey back to my (long ago!) youth and the exotic M&B's I fell in love with. I too loved the African and island settings, the enigmatic men and heroines I wanted to be!

  3. Hi Cindi! Exotic locations are fab aren't they? Nothing like armchair travelling... esp if there are gorgeous men to be found there :)

    Glad to have stirred some memories Bronwyn! They're wonderful old books aren't they? And I have to admit I LOVE the covers - do you think I could beg a 1960s retro cover sometime? Would anyone out there buy one??? I think they're gorgeous!!!!

  4. I loved the 'classic' M&B romances and have segued nicely into reading the modern ones from my local library :D
    I was born an army brat and travelled around a lot but somehow all the locations still seemed very exotic and romantic to me and I desperately wanted to visit the greek islands especially. Never have but maybe one day I will :D

  5. Hi Natalie!
    It was great reading the bits from the older books. It reminds me of reading my Mom's Harlequins while I was in high school. The far away places that I've read about in Harlequins or Mills & Boon and would love to visit are Australia, New Zealand, Greece to start with.

  6. Hi Ilona - yes - the Greek islands would be good wouldn't they? I've only ever been to Athens (which I loved) and still harbour the fantasy of sailing round the smaller islands for a couple of months...

  7. Hi Maureen! - Even tho I live 'next door' I still think there's something magical and mysterious about Australia isn't there? I've always wanted to go right into the Outback (except I'd melt)& yes, with you on Greece! As I live in NZ it's not so 'exotic' for me, but it is beautiful!

  8. I just LOVED this post...I'm a great fan of the older MBs, and thought you really had a hold on what themes they ran on, nine times out of ten. I also however, enjoyed the ones which tried to take a different tack, and introduced fresh angles and dealt with something other than the usual suspects. Like instead of the dissipated young other man, who latched on to the heroine - some I read had another love interest with valid claims for competition, and to whom she might actually be attracted. Always fun, I absolutely adore this period in the history of the MB and will never pass up on reading one! A particularly lovely one is Along the Ribbonwood Track, by Mary Moore, in case you haven't already read it.

  9. I have always been fascinated with Australia and more so since my friend's daughter moved there for a year. She loved it.

  10. Ohhh thanks for the reading recommendation Tapsi - yes some of them were quite different and indeed challenging! My Grandma's collection centres around about 5 authors and have quite similar themes etc - I don't know where you'd get hold of some of these older ones now other than in collections. But I think they're really valuable and still make fabulous reading - I hope someone says the same about my books in 40 years time! ;)
    I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!

  11. robynl - you'll have to go there on a visit!!!! Or at least read some more Harlequin/M&B!! There's the fabulous Diamonds Down Under series coming from Desire (Starting with Bron Jameson this month!) and a couple of my future books are set in Oz too! It is a fascinating country - incredibly rich and diverse. Definitely a country of extremes at times! Perfect for romance :)

  12. Minna - you're right, Italy ALWAYS comes to mind ;)
    For me its the food as much as anything.
    And the art.
    And the music.
    And the men!

  13. Ok guys! I've done the draw and the winner is RobynL - please email me at natalie[at]natalie-anderson[dot]com and I can put a copy in the post to you lickety split!
    Thanks for your comments everyone and Happy New Year!