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First Reads by the Dear Author Crew

I thought it would be fun if reminisced about our first romance read.  To prime the pump, so to speak, I asked the Dear Author crew to write up a small post about their first romance reads.  Share your own reading experiences in the comments.

Janine (link to Janine’s posts)

Janine avatarI was thirteen years old when I discovered the genre with Johanna Lindsey’s Heart of Thunder (1983) ( A | BN | K S ).  This is a vintage book.  The heroine, Samantha, was spoiled and willful, the daughter of a wealthy rancher. She romances the hero, Hank, to make another man jealous, and then she dumps Hank cold.  Hank retaliates by forcing himself on her, which she finds blissful beyond imagining, and she punishes him for that by (A) shooting him, and (B) putting his face on “Wanted” posters.  And that’s just the beginning.

I kept this book for years, partly from nostalgia, but got rid of it long ago. It didn’t hold up for me because I lost the ability to believe in blissful rapes, because of weaknesses in the craftsmanship, and because the cycle of “I hate you / Let’s have sex” got tiring. I don’t miss it, but sometimes I miss aspects of the historicals of that era.  I miss the unapologetically flawed characters.  I miss the strong, take no prisoner heroines.  I miss the fire and the freshness of those books.  Most of all, I miss the excitement of discovering a new genre.

Dabney. (link to Dabney’s posts)

DabneyIn 1975, when I was 14 and living in Marin, California, I read about a million Barbara Cartland books. Not one of them made an impression on me. I got them from the library—I was also reading the classics constantly back then—and ran through about five a week. My family didn’t really watch TV, so Dame Cartland was my no-brain time. Then, one evening, our babysitter (I have three younger siblings) brought me a copy of Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love. It changed my life.

I knew, of course, theoretically about sex. I and all my friends had paged through The Joy of Sex—and been grossed out by all that hair—and I’d even read Coffee, Tea or Me? and The Happy Hooker (My parents had “hidden” copies.) But none of those books made intercourse or oral sex seem like things I’d find wildly exciting. I was even on the fence about French kissing—I’d done it a couple of times and found it slobbery.

Then, I read Sweet Savage Love ( A | BN) and, suddenly, it was very clear to me I had a lot to look forward to. The sex in that book was so scorching; I read the love scenes between Steve and Ginny over and over again. Part of it was, I’m sure, Ginny never initiated anything—until the end of the book, her pleasure is always forced on her by Steve. That worked for me—I couldn’t see myself initiating anything with any male and so I thrilled to the idea that, some day, some gorgeous guy would inflict ecstasy on me. I paid no attention to the plot of the book—I feel sure I skimmed the long, involved sections about the Mexican Revolution. But, I loved reading about Steve and Ginny, their passion, their fights, and, their hard-won love.

I just reread Sweet Savage Love. I still find Steve and Ginny to be hot as hell.  I still was bored by most of the background plot. I was startled to read how many other lovers the two had and found that to be a bit of a turnoff and wondered I hadn’t noticed or cared about that aspect of the book when I was young. I also, in this read, felt too much in the book was over-the-top. Parts of just made me roll my eyes.

I still think Sweet Savage Love changed my life. Not only did it open my eyes to the possibility of torrid passion in my own life, it also significantly influenced what sort of romances I sought out then and still seek out now. I still like many an alpha hero and I still find sexy love scenes where the hero forcibly seduces the heroine.  When I read and enjoy Black Ice or To Have and To Hold, I suspect I do so in part because of my response, so many years ago, to Steve Morgan’s seduction of Ginny Brandon.


Josephine (link to Josephine’s posts)

The Problem with Josephine - Lucy AshfordI was a reading glutton as a kid. When I discovered an author with a long back list, I read my way through it, book after book after book until there was nothing left. Some of my early favorites were Barbara Cartland, Agatha Christie and Anne McCaffery. Later, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Marion Chesney. I had a Jude Devereaux phase in high school. Initially, I chose my favorite authors by how many books they’d written. Appreciation for quality over quantity came with time.

The first romance that stands out in my memory was a regency about about a timid plain jane who kisses her unrequited crush at a masked ball only to return to her wallflower ways before the night is out, leaving the smitten object of her affections to search for her until, years later, he gives up and marries an heiress for her money. The heiress just happens to be…the wallflower. The weird thing about the story is that the heroine begins an affair with her own husband, and he never recognizes her. I forgot the title of the book, and only found it again last year: A Masked Deception by Mary Balogh. While I will always have a soft spot for stories that feature disguise or mistaken identity, A Masked Deception ( A | BN) did not hold up well to rereading. It is yet another entry on the long, long list of Things I Thought Were Great When I Was Twelve But Now, Meh.

Jayne. (link to Jayne’s posts)

Jayne AvatarLooking back, I’m trying to remember what first got me started with romance. I used to read a lot of Molly Costain Haycraft and Norah Lofts books – especially about European royalty. I remember as an adult being bummed when I discovered just how much vaseline they’d smeared on the lens of historical fact to make those HEA sound real.

Next I advanced to Barbara …. Cartland…and all her…heart shaped face heroines….and manly, dark haired….heroes. Honestly the covers of those books make the scowling hero look as if he’s about to snap the child sized heroine in half. When I got bored with the Cartland books I branched out at our local UBS – I still have fond memories of that place – and tried lots of the old Fawcett Crest imprints (Sylvia Thorpe and Mira Stables were favorites of mine) which is where my love of Georgian era books began. Oh yes, and Alexander Dumas and “The Three Musketeers.” Lurve, lurve, lurve me some swashbuckling.

After being scarred from skimming a copy of one of my mother’s books – Beulah Land (shudders) – it took me a while to try a straight old skool historical of the times (this is the late 70s) but I finally took the plunge. The first one I recall is Woodiwiss’s “The Wolf and the Dove.” ( A | BN) Ah, Aislinn (and I wondered for years how the hell her name was supposed to be pronounced) and Wulfgar. This is the book to which I compare all Bastard Norman Knight + Saxon Heroine novels to this day. This is also when I discovered Mary Stewart’s books and read my first Heyer and fell in love with “The Masqueraders” ( A | BN | K S ) (Georgian again!) and “Beauvallet.” ( A | BN | K S )

When I left for college, romance reading fell a bit by the wayside and it was 4 years before I stumbled upon the first 3 books in a reissue of a series I’d never heard of but which sounded interesting. Once I got started with the first one though, I was glued to it and eagerly snapped up the next 3 books when they came out, lost in the world of Lymond. Let me pause for a moment’s reverential silence for the great Dorothy Dunnett.

It still took me almost 10 years after college to really get back into reading romance. I’ve revisited TWTD, which has held up surprisingly well, but … I think … Cartland is well … in my past.

Jennie. (link to Jennie’s posts)

JennieThere wasn’t one great book that started me on romance. I know I read a few here and there in my teenage years (when I was mostly into horror), but the book that got me seeking out good romances in my 20s (and drew me into the romance community) was ostensibly not even a romance novel – Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Whatever genre you call it, the book enthralled me. So much so that I immediately tried to recreate the magical feeling I got from it, with mixed results. I remember reading a couple of books I didn’t hate (a Sandra Brown contemp called, I believe, Where There’s Smoke, and an over-the-top but very hot Indian romance by Brenda Joyce, Fires of Paradise) and a couple I did (Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower and a very rapey – rapier even than TF&TF! – by Catherine Coulter, the name of which escapes me). I think it took me at least several months to find my direction as a true romance reader. It wasn’t until I stumbled on my first Laura Kinsale novel, Seize the Fire, that I really got a taste again of what had gripped me as I read Outlander – that sense of being transported, of feeling some facsimile of the intense emotions the characters themselves felt. I went on to discover Patricia Gaffney, Penelope Williamson, and other – even better – Laura Kinsale novels, but it was Seize the Fire that hooked me for good.

Robin. (link to Robin aka Janet’s posts)

Robin JanetIn college, I used to worry about my roommate, who spent a lot of time around finals reading Romance novels instead of studying (I shouldn’t have worried, though – she’s brilliant and now an influential scholar in her own field). It wasn’t until years later that the same roommate, now a dear friend, got her revenge by putting together a Romance conversion package for me. On the initial list were books by Judith Ivory, Laura Kinsale, Jo Goodman, Patricia Gaffney, and others, although the first two books were Ivory’s Black Silk and Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star.

I don’t remember which I read first, although I think it was Black Silk, only that my experience of them was very different. The Shadow and the Star fascinated but repelled me, mostly because of Leda, who seemed to embody all the negative stereotypes I’d associated with the genre – passive, weak, moralistic, a martyr.

Black Silk ( A | BN | K S ), on the other hand, captivated me: it reminded me of the literary fiction I grew up loving and drew me beyond it. I adored Submit’s quirky, incisive standoffishness and was utterly seduced by Graham’s cheeky, dissolute autocracy. That book confounded every awful cliché I’d harbored about Romance and made me curious to read on to Goodman and Gaffney and Spencer, and beyond. I even circled back to The Shadow and the Star, which upon another reading (or three), finally won me over, as well, once I understood the language of the genre well enough to read Leda more proficiently. Still, though, Black Silk remains my favorite Romance novel of all time, possibly because I read it first, but certainly because its lush, eccentric complexity makes me fall back in love with it every time I re-read it.

January. (link to January’s posts)

January avatarI spent a lot of time raiding my mother’s bookshelves in-between library visits or when I ran out of Sunfire books (remember those?) My mother had a lot of Jude Deveraux, Catherine Coulter, and Judith McNaught. I believe my first foray into ‘official’ romance was Whitney, My Love ( A | BN | K S ). I remember the cover of WML was a pencil drawing of a waif with big, wild hair and sparkly blue eyes and I fell in love with that book before I opened the first page. On the inside, I was less than enthralled with Whitney. She was an ass. Of course, Clayton was a bigger ass, so it worked out for them.

I’d never read something so dramatic and so intensely emotional as that book. Whitney and Clay were awful people, but the entire world of that book existed solely in the confines of that ridiculous relationship, and I ate it up like candy. I’m inclined to think that the rape scene in that book warped a piece of my 12 year old brain. To this day, I still love WML despite it’s massive flaws, awful love triangle, whiny heroine, and the forced seduction trope. Even now I’m willing to forgive horrible characters as long as they glue me to the page.

Jia. (link to Jia’s posts)

JiaWhile I am, and have always been, predominantly a speculative fiction reader, I was exposed to romance novels fairly early in life. I was around 12 or so when my grandmother give me a ton of her old category romances from the 70s and early 80s. Some of these books were seriously vintage — it’s how I knew Silhouette wasn’t always part of Harlequin and was once a completely different publisher!

The bulk of these books were from the Harlequin Presents line. I read them all. Some were forgettable. Some were enjoyable. Some faded from memory over time. The one that left a lasting impression, however, was the Violet Winspear. I wish I could remember the title.  The book itself was about a woman who intended to become a nun but had to put that off to take care of her younger sister, who had a form of hysterical paralysis. While staying at the Italian villa where her sister lived, she meets and falls in love with the brother of her sister’s husband. Looking back, it was a very melodramatic, angsty and overwrought book with a very alpha hero — which, I suppose, fits the Presents line very well. I don’t recall the heroine being a doormat though; she very much had a spine of steel but she definitely came from the school of Plain Jane spinster heroines.

All those Harlequin Presents left their mark though. To this day, I will forgive much if the emotional arc of a book, no matter the genre, is strong and intense. In fact, I prefer a messy, flawed book with a strong emotional core over the perfect, technically competent one that’s emotionally sterile. It explains quite a bit about my reading choices through the years.

Lazaraspaste. (link to Lazaraspaste’s posts)

LazaraspasteI’m not really sure how I started reading romance. I think I just went to the other side of the library. I had, of course, read a Barbara Cartland my mother randomly possessed aloud for the amusement of cousins and sisters, but I didn’t properly read the book. The first romance I properly read was Amanda Quick’s The Paid Companion. ( A | BN) I think I was looking for books about governesses because I’d been through all the Mary Stewarts nineteen times and wanted something similar. Strangely, I was also thinking that a really good idea for a story was one where a guy hired some chick to be his fiancé. I don’t know why I was thinking this, but I was. When I stumbled on The Paid Companion, I realized it had the plot from my imagination. This was very serendipitous. So that’s the story: aristocratic dude hires governess to pose as his fiancé because he doesn’t want to get married. Sparks fly and they fall in love. I don’t remember much else about it. I think she lost her virginity near a fountain at a ball. That’s kind of it. It sent me on a glom, though. I rapidly made my way through all of Amanda Quick’s books and then just haphazardly began to pull others that had my favorite tropes—or seemed to, based on the back blurb and online book reviews—from the shelf.

I still dig romance novels with governesses. This is because I love Jane Eyre. If one really wanted to be technical about it, I suppose my actual first romance novel was Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, but I read that as a mystery novel. When I was a pre-teen, I read mainly mystery novels so I don’t count that one. I didn’t think of it as romance and I didn’t know that’s what it was. I know now in retrospect. I haven’t read The Paid Companion since, but I’ve tried re-reading other Amanda Quick novels. They just don’t do it for me anymore. My tastes have changed. But they may change back. There may come a time when I re-read it and I enjoy it once again. I still like stories about governesses, though. There’s something about the plot (which is really just Jane Eyre) that I find fantastically satisfying. I think it is because stories about governesses are often stories about loneliness and limited choices, and I find that speaks to me. They are my bread and butter.

Sarah Frantz. (link to Dr. Sarah’s posts)

Sarah FMy first romance was Anne Weale’s The River Room ( A | BN). My mother left it lying around the living room one day when I was 12 and I picked it up. It was a typical Harlequin Presents: the secretary (or similar) heroine, the overwhelming hero. I enjoyed it, but soon after that, I read Roberta Leigh’s Man in a Million and there was a line in there that hooked something in my soul and hasn’t ever let go:

Incredible though it was, she knew that this big, strong man was trembling; trembling because he was pleading with her to believe what he had said.

That view into the (female-authored) masculine psyche did it for me and I never looked back. Significant romances since then have tended towards the BDSM side of things: some of Johanna Lindsey’s early stand-alones made an impact, with the not-quite-forced sex of Secret Fire ( A | BN), Prisoner of My Desire ( A | BN), and Warrior’s Woman ( A | BN ). My mother and I shared Harlequin Temptations from 1988 for a few years, and Candace Schuler’s Sophisticated Lady (1989) ( A | BN) had the first sex scene I read in which someone gets tied up. In 1996 I discovered Laura Kinsale’s damaged heroes (especially Sherry from Seize the Fire ( A | BN)) when I worked at Barnes & Noble for a summer. And Robin Schone and Susan Johnson in 1997.

My first m/m romance was a link to Matthew Haldeman-Time’s free short stories on his website, sent to me by author Stephanie Vaughan (the only author except Joey Hill who managed to write a successful femdom/malesub book that I enjoyed): Then his wonderful Off the Record. Then…I don’t remember, but I was hooked on m/m romance too.

And the rest is history.

Sunita. (link to Sunita’s posts)

SunitaOh man, I have to go back a LONG way for this. I must have been about 12. My mother let me use her adult library card and I found April Lady ( A | BN), by Georgette Heyer, on the paperback rack (I even remember the cover). It featured a Marriage of Convenience, older man/younger woman, and plenty of lively supporting characters. I’m pretty sure some of it went over my head, but I remember thinking the scene where Cardross, the hero, visits Nell in her bedroom was oh so racy. Clearly he wanted to make love to her! There was enough light humor mixed in with the (very tame) romance to make it appealing to me at that point. I wanted a love story, but nothing explicit. I blame it on my Indian background; this was before even college students dated openly, so I was hideously backward and ignorant when I arrived in the US. And in a weird way, 1810s London was closer to the world I’d left than the one I now inhabited (California in the 1970s).

I’m pretty sure I’d read Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt around the same time, but April Lady was the first novel in which the romance was front and center. I was hooked on Heyer and the genre from then on. The town I lived in was the county seat and it had a big main library and a couple of branches. They had all the Heyers and a lot more. Those libraries kept me going with a couple of books a week (more in the summers) until I went away to college.

Jane. (link to Jane’s posts)

JaneI started out reading romances by surreptitiously reading my sister’s stash. I think she kept them under her bed. Romances were verboten in my household but I remember reading them under the covers with a flashlight.  I made the mistake of telling Ned this and now whenever I catch my daughter reading in her bed, with a flashlight, I get a reproving look from Ned if I attempt to admonish the tot. Clearly reading by flashlight is a family tradition.  I recall reading Harlequin Romances. There were no sex scenes but a plethora of punishing kisses.  Back in the day, I equated romances with category books. I was afraid of the bigger books, the ones known as mass market, because sometimes they were filled with women making bad choices aka breaking up with men and running off to live a life of happiness by themselves.  What insanity!  Please remember I was like twelve at the time.

The first big book I remember reading was Whitney My Love. ( A | BN | K S )  Like January above, that book was transformative in my reading life. First, I had no idea that romances came in hardcover form. Man, there were entire swaths of the library that opened up to me that hadn’t before.  Second, it was the first book I recall that had explicit sex scenes in it. I did not understand at the time that Clayton was raping Whitney. I only knew that he was hurting her and that he hurt her throughout the book when she didn’t deserve it.  But I also recall being frustrated with Whitney (don’t talk to Paul, you silly chit!). Yet the melodrama was something my young teen self wolfed down, dabbing my eyes with kleenexes in between helpings.

My reading life took another turn when I bought Scandal ( A | BN | K | S ) by Amanda Quick. It was one of the first romance books I purchased. I remember buying it from a local convenience/gas store called Tom Thumb and it was in the wire racks above the magazines.  I purchased it with money I earned delivering papers.  I loved that book and still do. It is worlds away from the rapetastic melodrama that was Whitney, My Love, but I remember both with fondness and appreciation. Both McNaught and Quick/Krentz along with Joan Wolf’s Candlelight Ecstasy romances form the foundations of my romance reading world.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Ros
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 05:39:49

    My first romance read nearly didn’t happen. An older cousin of mine gave me a box of books when I was about 12 or 13 which included two Georgette Heyers: Charity Girl and Simon the Coldheart. These are not the Heyers I would normally recommend beginning with! I tried Charity Girl, hated it, and put both books on the pile to take to the charity shop. The night before I planned to take them in, I picked up Simon the Coldheart, began to read and was hooked. I loved the way that Simon and Margot flirted and fought in the same breath, and that in the end, they were both willing to overcome their pride and submit to each other. I especially loved the scene where Simon rescued the women from the Evil Baddie and then rode home with Margot in his arms. *swoon*

    So then I started reading Heyer and from there to the rest of RomanceLandia.

  2. Angela
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 06:40:43

    After nearly 15 years of reading romance (I got a late start) I still haven’t read most of these books mentioned. I did read and love – despite the problems I had with it – Whitney, My Love (though not as much as his brother’s story which I can’t remember the name of right now). I haven’t re-read it in a long while though so I’m not sure how it’ll hold up. And I also read Outlander shortly after it came out, though I don’t think I ever really considered it romance. I did enjoy it a great deal, and couldn’t stop thinking about it for a long while after I read it, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized it had continued into a series and I haven’t been able to continue in the series.

    My very first romance was Nora Roberts Carolina Moon. A co-worker borrowed it to me and it blew me away how much I loved the book. I had had a lot of bad pre-conceptions about the genre, but that book made me go out and read Nora’s entire backlist. Somehow I glommed onto another few authors, but I pretty much stuck with 4 authors for many years (Nora Roberts, Judith McNaught, Andrea Kane, and Linda Howard). I still own these books and occasionally pull them out for re-reads.

    It wasn’t until I finally read Dark Lover by J.R. Ward in 2006 that I jumped into the genre wholeheartedly. That book showed me that a meld of my favorite genre prior to romance (fantasy) and romance could be successfully done. The combination of the world-building, and emotionally investing stories of well-drawn characters was heaven for me.

  3. JenniferH
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 07:03:42

    My first romance was a Georgette Heyer, probably Powder and Patch, or The Black Moth – from my mother’s bookshelf, and I must have been about 12 or 13. When I finished all of Mum’s Heyers, I saved up my pocket money and bought more at shop around the corner from school. Mum recently sold the family home and moved into an apartment, and sold/gave away a lot of her books, but she kept all of the Heyers, including the ones I bought.

  4. Mireya
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 07:21:57

    I am relatively new to romance (specially in comparison to you lot). I started “officially” reading romance in February 2003… and yes, it’s so recent, that I remember when and how. When I was a teenager my taste ran to classic adventure novels like “The Three Musketeers”, I gobbled historical fiction by Leon Uris, classic historical fiction by Sir Walter Scott, and the whole of Agatha Christie’s work. Loved those. I did read “Rebecca” back then (I saw the movie with Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier first, and that was what motivated me to read the book), as well as “Desiree” by AnneMarie Selinko (also saw the movie first and LOVED it). I read a couple of Barbara Cartland’s books, the ones that inspired the miniseries “Scruples”, and of course, “Jane Eyre” (also saw the B&W movie first, the version with Joan Fontaine and Orson Wells). I didn’t read any of Jane Austen’s work until I became an adult. I certainly didn’t realize at the time that all those were actually romance books. Looking in retrospect, whenever any of the non-romantic fiction books I read had some sort of love story as a subplot, I tended to like those books more than those that didn’t show any sort of love story. I was too clueless to realize that and that there was a whole genre out there to explore. Then again, I suspect that if I had read a romance from the ’70s, given how my personality was, I am not so sure I would have gotten hooked at that time.

  5. SCW
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 07:37:33

    My first real romance was Saving Grace by Julie Garwood. I went to this art camp at a local college and needed to pick up some supplies at the campus bookstore. They had a small fiction section and I found the book tucked in with all the general fiction–it was love at first sight. I remember devouring all the Garwood books I could find–going to the library when I got home and checking out armfuls of romances. My family wildly disapproved, and still do even almost 20 yrs later. Ha!

    Interestingly, I went back to that library where I used to sneak romances into the back corner to read, and found that much of the library had changed. New furniture, layout, ect, except in that back corner. They still had the same chairs hidden away–I told the manager (I was there for a job interview) that I like that this little slice of my past was still intact. He thought it was fantastic I remembered.

    They finally re-issued Saving Grace in ebook format and I had to re-read it–not my favorite of the medieval Garwoods, but still fantastic!

  6. Molly O'Keefe
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 07:50:34

    Elizabeth Lowell – all of them, over and over and over again. My friend’s mom had all the Harlequin Temptations in a book shelf in her living room and when I came over she let me go hog wild. Lowell stood out for me. Still does.

  7. Linda Hilton
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 07:56:02

    Oh, goodness, I’m the Old Lady here, but not so old I can’t remember my first romance. I had read The Count of Monte Cristo in at about age 11 (1959 or so) and loved it. Checked it out of the school library over and over, sealing my preference for historical romance forever. I was unaware that there was anything else similar until I began perusing the books my dad had collected over many years’ book club membership. I must have been no more than 12 or 13 at the very most when I pulled The Highland Hawk by Leslie Turner White off the shelf and was totally, completely hooked. After that, I don’t remember the order but I remember the titles and authors, and eventually I acquired copies of most of them for myself: Samuel Shellabarger’s Lord Vanity and Prince of Foxes and Captain from Castile; Lawrence Schoonover’s The Burnished Blade; Edison Marshall’s Yankee Pasha and The Infinite Woman and Caravan to Xanadu; Gwen Bristow’s Jubilee Trail; Jan Westcott’s The Hepburn and The Border Lord and The White Rose; Paul I. Wellman’s Walls of Jericho and The Comancheros; and my two all-time favorites: L.T. White’s Lord Johnnie and Frank Yerby’s The Saracen Blade. I’ve reread almost all of them at least once in the past five or six years, and none has lost the original magic. When I picked up The Saracen Blade a few weeks ago to copy a quote from it, I was immediately sucked in and read for almost an hour before forcing myself to put it aside and go back to work. I loved these books as a geeky, socially misfit teen and I still love them.

  8. Lou
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 08:00:08

    My first romance read was The Most Marvelous Summer by Betty Neels. I was 14 or 15 at the time. I loved that book so hard with the dashing and arrogant surgeon that after finding it in my Gran’s house, I practically borrowed her entire stash of mills and boons to read. Even now, Betty Neels remains my comfort read author. But after reading those early mills and boons as a teen, I ended up reading the Valdemar and Pern series. Boy, was there a difference *grins*.

    What I considered my first ‘grown up’ romance, though, was The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Again, my Gran lent me a copy and I remember thinking, wow – there is like S-E-X in here. My teen self loved the book, but I tried to re-read it now as an adult and hated it with a passion.

  9. Maya
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 08:34:10

    I’m an EXTREMELY new reader (summer 2010), and I started with Georgette Heyer’s “The Black Moth.” I was determined to start at the very beginning of her oeuvre and move forwards. To be honest, it was really “Regency Buck” that sucked me in. After that, I abandoned my quest to read them in order and just checked out every one the library had. After that, I moved on to Julia Quinn. It’s been a downhill road every since.

  10. lauren
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 08:41:15

    My first real adult romance was Sidney Sheldon’s Rage of Angels in 1980, when I was ten. (Thanks Mom’s book club!!). For many people this might not be classified as a romance, but to a ten year old, who read ‘erection’ in a book for the first time, and a hero who would do whatever it took to get and keep the woman he wanted?!? True love indeed.

    The next one that I remember reading, and starting to look for back issues by the author, was Johanna Lindsay’s Glorious Angel, in 1982. Of course, Jude Deveraux. Judith Mcnaught, and every Zebra historical published found its way into my greedy little palms. If there was a savage brave, a swarthy pirate or a sauve riverboat gambler involved I have read it.

    Now, I go back, reread, roll my eyes, and throw books into the recycle bins. I didn’t think that Witney my Love would ever leave my bookshelf, but it is all so trite. I haven’t been able to make it through a Johanna Lindsay novel in years, and I’ve given up waiting for the McNaught novel that was supposed to be published for the last five years. I’ve found that I’ve left romance behind, just because I am not interested in reading about vampires and the paranormal that seems to be what just about everything is geared towards. I’ve just finished Suzanne Brockmann’s Born To Darkness and feel like that she is jumping onto a paranormal platform that she just isn’t cut out to do.

  11. Vanessa
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 08:52:20

    My first romance read happened when I was 12, and it was Devil’s Moon by Suzannah Davis. I loved that book more than anything ever! My older (MUCH older, by 14 years) sister was an avid romance reader and she had a ton of books in the basement in boxes. I had already read through just about everything age appropriate, I’d finished all available sweet valley high books and the boxes in the basement called to me. I knew I wasn’t supposed to read them but no one had told me why, so I reached in and Devil’s Moon was the first one I pulled out. 16 years later, I’ve read countless romance novels and I still reread this book every year :)

  12. Sherry Thomas
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 08:52:41

    I started reading romances when I was in China. Various Taiwanese and Hong Kong authors were becoming popular in Mainland. One of my favorite books then was about a trio of eighteen-year-old girls, best friends, each from a different class background, and their road to romantic happiness. One of the girls had the same name as me, but she was the hard-luck one who had to serve as mistress to an unappealing, married rich man–to save her family from starvation, of course–before she could find love.

    I can’t remember the first romance I read in English, but I do know the first one I bought was Sweet Savage Love. I’d walked three miles to the nearest Wal-Mart–or was it K-Mart?–to buy it. And it was incredibly exciting to read. I still have it, but I can’t read it anymore. It really is “rape and adverbs.” The adverbs especially did me in.

    (When I looked inside my copy of Sweet Savage Love several years ago, I discovered that it was from the like 57th printing. It was the 50S0G of its time!)

  13. Nicole
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 08:55:35

    Woodiwiss’ Shanna. I was enthralled by it (at about 12) in a way that I have never recaptured since. Of course, when I looked at it again in my twenties I found the prose so impossibly purple and clunky that I never got far enough to find out if the plot or characters annoyed me. But no doubt they would have.

    I read a lot of really enjoyable romance in the 1990s but not so much since. I’m not sure if I’ve become more particular or if the genre has developed in a different direction to my tastes, but I keep reading and hoping.

  14. Kati
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:00:03

    My very first “adult” romance was Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts, which I read while on a spring break the year I was 12. The couple totally did it (scandalous!) in Chapter 7, and I was hooked. My first YA romance was “Fifteen” by Beverley Clearey. My goodness, both books were read over and over again.

    Irish Thoroughbred was followed quickly by Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey and The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Romance has made up my reading life for almost 30 years, and I still read them as voraciously as I did when I was 12. Granted, I’m usually no longer scandalized by the sex (certain books notwithstanding), but I still adore the optimism I feel each time I open a romance, hoping for that “big sigh” moment and a book that I want to re-read over and over again.

  15. HelenMac
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:04:13

    I can’t remember what my first Romance read was! Well, it was something like 16 years ago…I was definitely no older than 12, because I can remember lying on my bed in the house I grew up in reading it, and we moved house the summer before I turned 12.

    Yes, I can remember physcially reading my first Romance, the cover, the fact that it was a hardback M&B from my local library (the first adult fiction I’d borrowd from them, after tiring of the junior fiction, and playing with the non-fiction adult section), and a lot of the storyline (non-explicit, older woman, younger man, he was her gardener?), but I can’t remember the title or the author, damn it all!

    The book, whatever it was, doesn’t seem to have affected me in the same way as some of the above commenters, in that older woman/younger man hasn’t become my favourite trope, not by a long shot. The influence that book had on me, though, was that it opened up the whole of the adult fiction library to me – there was SO much more to read! I tore through the M&Bs, which were easily identifiable by their size, shape, colour (predominately pink, but with exceptions like mine, and the historicals were green!) and the white rose symbol. For some reason, the medical books never appealed to me. Though I don’t really read their books now, I still remember being elated to find a new to me Miranda Lee, Helen Bianchin, Sharon Kendrick or Emma Darcy. I was in no way restricted to contemporaries, I read an equal amount of historicals, including a LOT of medieval books, that remains a favourite time period.

    From there, the library at my parent’s club didn’t seem so intimidating a place (it was all adult, no kid’s bit), and I think Garwood’s Rebellious Desire was the first I borrowed, but after that, I utterly glommed myself on Krentz/Quick (BLEW my teenaged mind when I found out they were the same person), Garwood, Jilly Cooper (Romance-ish?), Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on. One book that stands out particularly is Iris Johansen’s The Wind Dancer, which seems to have formed in me a massive, MASSIVE, weakness for characters who make huge, devastating, acts of self sacrifice for the ones they love. Also angst. Lordy do I love me some angst.

    (Also, I seem to love being long winded! Whoops!)

  16. Darlene Marshall
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:06:32

    If I include the books of my youth, I’d have to add Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw; Witch of the Glen, by Sally Watson; and Katherine, by Anya Seton. The first modern romance genre books I read were a bunch of Barbara Cartlands and The Wolf and the Dove by Katherine Woodiwiss.

  17. Shana
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:07:32

    Boy do I feel old. My first romance was a Georgette Heyer – either The Masqueraders or Friday’s Child. And I must have been 12 when I started, because I had read everything available in print and waited eagerly for Charity Girl and Lady of Quality when they came out. I read lots of Barbara Cartland; her early books were not too bad, but when she started churning them out the quality suffered. The only one I kept was Desire of the Heart.

    Elsie Lee was a real favorite of mine. I also loved the Candlelight and Fawcett regencies. I read a lot of Harlequins, but my favorites were Mary Burchell and Essie Summers.

  18. Isobel Carr
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:16:11

    I wasn’t an instant convert, so I have multiple books that I’d call “firsts”. The very first was a Johanna Lindsey (Fires of Winter) that was so appalling to my 16 year-old self that I pretty much swore off the genre and fled back to Science Fiction. But my freshman year of college I was staying at my godmother’s house over Thanksgiving break and she handed me Heyer’s Devil’s Cub. I read nearly all of Heyer’s oeuvre that week, but I still had no interest in seeking out current romance books. The first one that hooked me was Mistress by Amanda Quick (I seem mentioned a lot in the post, LOL!). I was trapped in the airport in Jacksonville, FL. I’d been there so long I’d finished my book, and the tiny book rack in the magazine and candy shop had 3 books. Mistress, something by Stephen King I’d already read, and some kind of Tom Clancy spy novel. With great trepidation I bought the Quick book…and LOVED it!

  19. Sunita
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:23:24

    I think we were separated at birth. I have most of Burchell’s books, some of Summers’, and about half of Elsie Lee’s (mostly the Regencies). And of course all the Heyers she allowed to be published, in multiple versions.

  20. Barb in Maryland
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:29:51

    @Linda Hilton–OMG!! You are my long lost twin reading twin!!! Throw in MM Kaye’s Shadow of the Moon and all of Rafael Sabatini’s books (especially Captain Blood and Sea Hawk) to your list and you’ve got my teen reading . Plus Victoria Holt (read Mistress of Mellyn when it first came out) and Mary Stewart. And Anya Seton’s Katherine. So many happy memories of trips to the library (and raiding the parental bookshelves!)
    Two other books stand out for me–in 1966, off at college and desperate for a love story, I found a newly issued paperback of These Old Shades. Oh Happy Day! I read that book to pieces and discovered a life-long love for Georgette Heyer.
    And in the early 70’s I was right there when Avon launched their adult romance line with The Flame and the Flower. I gobbled that up. And never looked back.
    @Lou–ah, Betty Neels. I sure do love La Betty. Comfort reads for me.

  21. Merrian
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:35:34

    The books that set my on my romance reading journey I think began with The Count of Monte Cristo when I was seven. Rafael Sabatini’s books followed e.g. Scaramouche and Black Swan and spent my teenage years reading Mary Stewart’s books; This Rough Magic and Nine Coaches Waiting, etc, any Barbara Cartland that the library had and Georgette Heyer. Simon the Coldheart was the book that introduced me to her. I would also add Louis Lamour’s westerns which all had a central love story and Sergeanne Golan’s Angelique books. I think the first truly genre books I read were Lucy Walker’s outback romances. My genre reading began in the late 60’s and early 70’s and while Mills & Boon books were certainly available they were frowned on and I don’t think I began reading them until I was about 17 and had my own money. I was reading a lot of SF and Fantasy as well and focussed on that mainly so many of the romance classics of this period passed me by. I came into the romance world again as a reader in the early 2000s through the gateway of UF and PNR books.

  22. Nadia Lee
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:39:32

    My first was Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey, which I REALLY liked. Until then I thought romance was the lamest genre EVAH b/c of clinch covers & Fabio.

  23. readerdiane
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:39:56

    Did any of you read the Romance comic books? I discovered those about 1971. I couldn’t wait for them to come in each month. I’m not sure if Frances Parkinson Keyes was the first romance author I read, but I read all of her backlist. Plus she was writing about New England and New Orleans. In High school of course I read Gone with the Wind. I soon progressed to Gothic mysteries. I read Victoria Holt, Katherine Woodiwiss, Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland. One of my college room mates came with a bag of Harlequins. I managed to find some science fiction in there too. I think that is the reason I read all kinds of books especially if they contain some kind of romance.

  24. Merrian
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:44:17

    @Barb in Maryland: I think you Linda and I are reading triplets! I just saw your comment and laughed. I remember Anya Seton’s The Turquoise and Katherine very well.

  25. Karenmc
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 09:55:23

    @Linda Hilton: Ah, The Count of Monte Cristo. I read it twice the summer between fifth and sixth grade. Of course I didn’t think of it as a romance, because I’d never heard the term “romance novel” at the time. All I knew was that there were so many emotions swirling around in that story, plus treasure, suffering and swords. When I was older I tried on some Johanna Lindsay, which was too formulaic. Eventually I came across Madeleine Hunter’s By Design, which I bought because it didn’t have a cheesy cover. I was surprised at the time period (early in the reign of Edward III) and the quality of the writing. It’s been all downhill since then, hunting for websites that could give me book suggestions, then discovering Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows, which lead to Sherry Thomas, Judith Ivory, Patricia Gaffney….My life is so much better for all of it.

  26. meoskop
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:06:39

    While my aunt & grandma had piles of romances, I picked my first one up at church. I was 10 or 11, hiding in the pastor’s office to avoid Sunday school and found a copy of The Wolf & The Dove around (or possibly in) his desk. I read it cover to cover until people realized I was missing. It took me a few years to raid my family stashes, but the very next weekend I went to the UBS where I ran errands for store credit and got a bagful. Every week was a new grocery bag until I’d read the shelves clean.

  27. Jayne
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:07:08

    @Barb in Maryland: @Merrian: Lord, I can’t believe I forgot to mention Sabatini! Captain Blood, Fortunes of Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Black Swan, Mistress Wilding, Scaramouche…

  28. cleo
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:18:34

    I love these. In my teens, I read tons of mystery, SF/F and YA with romances in them (Dick Francis, Anne McCaffrey, etc) but my first Romance was a borrowed category when I was 14 – I remember the setting vividly (on an overnight bus with my church youth group – btw, most of my illicit firsts were either at church camp or with my youth group) and my shock at reading a more explicit sex scene than I’d ever read before – it involved thrusting hips and omg, I had no idea. That started me on several years of reading romances secretly and for the sex. Highlights include Judith Krantz’ I’ll Take Manhattan – for the grudge fuck / mercy hump scene, which is seared on my brain.

    Jude Devereaux was the first romance author I actively read, and Amanda Quick et al was the second. I outgrew Jude, but still like the occasional JAK. I think Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series was the first trilogy I bought one at a time, as they came out.

  29. Lynn S.
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:24:43

    The first romance I remember reading was Love in a Stranger’s Arms by Violet Winspear; bought it at a garage sale when I was in the sixth grade from a neighbor who made the token protest of asking “does your mother know you’re buying this?” There was a stern and damaged hero who knew more than he was saying, an orphaned and amnesiac heroine who didn’t know anything, exotic locales, a good dose of who/what/when, and an eye patch. Cue the violins for ensuing drama. Heady stuff.

  30. Stefanie
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:28:41

    Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Ashes in the Wind. I was about 15 and babysitting for the next door neighbors while they went to their bowling league. They wouldn’t get home until close to midnight, so I would put the kids to bed and finish my homework. One night, I finished homework early, didn’t want to watch TV, and was looking for something to do. The neighbor had a copy of Ashes in the Wind on the bookshelf. I liked the Sunfire teen romances I had read, so I thought, why not? I started reading. And fell in love with a genre. Ashes in the Wind is still one of my all-time favorite comfort reads over 20 years later.

  31. Tabs
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:37:06

    I first read romance when I was thirteen and an adult neighbor handed me a stack of harlequins she had gotten from the bookmobile. The only one I vividly remember to this day is Roz Denny’s Some Like It Hotter which involved the the h/h battling it out on the Texas chili competition circuit. I loved it so and tracked down a copy a few years back for me keeper shelf.

    I then moved on to reading fantasy novels featuring ladies who kick butt and didn’t get back into romance until my early twenties when I bought Jennifer Crusie’s Faking It from a bargain bin at Barnes and Nobles without realizing it was a romance novel. There was no going back after that.

  32. evie
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 10:57:42

    @Nicole: Shanna! This was my first, too. I was 12. It was Mom’s. She didn’t read romance but somehow Shanna ended up in the house, and I read everything that passed through the house–but usually all I got was bestseller sorta stuff. Shanna was like a window into a heretobefore unimagined world. I haven’t read it since I was 12, and am deeply afraid of what I’d find if I did.

    It may not count as romance, but may I also put forth Valley of the Horses? That received a lot of study, as I recall.

    As a grown-up, Ivory’s Black Silk captured my heart and made me a believer in the genre.

  33. Carin
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 11:01:28

    My grandma introduced me to Janette Oke when I was around 12 and I read every book our library had of hers. Grandma was friends with one of the town librarians, so she always knew when the got a new Oke book in. Then there was the historical pirate romance – the bloomers had a slit in them! – that I carefully snuck of the shelf at the house I babysit at when I was 15 or so. Mostly I read sci fi, though. Looking back, my favorites were ones with a strong romance in them.

    When I was a freshman in college I bought my first romance, not really knowing exactly what it was. It was The Sherbrooke Bride by Catherine Coulter. I was absolutely HOOKED. Before that book I thought Jackie Collins and the like were romance. After The Sherbrooke Bride I knew what I liked and I found more. I bought the next two Sherbrooke books. Our college library had only a handful of romance, and most of them were Jude Deveraux and Julie Garwood. I would reward myself after a test or a big project, by going to that single shelf in the library and picking out a romance to read – even if I’d read it before.

    I tried to re-read The Sherbrooke Bride a few years ago (it had been packed away for a while) and found my tastes have really changed. It was an old school rapey book. I still really love the trope of arrange/forced marriage with love coming after, though. And it will always have a fond spot in my heart for being my first real romance.

  34. Leef
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 11:03:07

    As several have said, I started reading LOTS of romance fairly late in life. My favorite book from teenage years was Gone With the Wind (does that count as romance?) and Rich Man, Poor Man was the first paperback I ever bought (in high school). After that, I was a bit of a book snob and steered clear of most romance- although I am pretty sure I read Princess Daisy somewhere along the line. Two years ago, I was out of work and going through some health issues. Since I have always loved going to the library, I started stopping in 2-3 times a week. Not a large selection, saw the Amanda Quick and JAK books as easy/quick reads- and I was hooked. Found this website and others to get recommendations and have probably read 300 books in the past two years. Plus just started with ebooks in December. Yep, reading romance has changed my life!

  35. Jane O
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 11:09:47

    I didn’t start reading romances until I retired six years ago. I was having trouble finding any new mysteries I enjoyed, so I decided to try something new. The first romance I read was Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible. The second was her Lord Perfect.

    Needless to say, I was completely hooked. I hadn’t had such sheer fun since my Nancy Drew days. And those two books are still my favorites.

  36. Linda Hilton
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 12:03:15

    @Jayne: @Merrian: @Barb in Maryland:

    I didn’t discover Sabatini’s books until I was in high school and had access to the adult section of the public library, but I’d been hooked on the film versions for years. Much as I adored Errol Flynn as Captain Blood, I think the best film of that era and genre, however, was Tyrone Power and Orson Welles in Prince of Foxes. Of all the pre-Woodiwiss historical romances I read, the only one I don’t currently have a copy of is the first, L.T. White’s Highland Hawk . I probably should pick up a used copy just to make the collection complete.

  37. Loosheesh
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 12:11:27

    Ah, nostalgia …

    I’ve been reading romances (and other genres!) since my preteens; I started out with the Sweet Dreams line, then graduated to M&Bs/Harlequins, then on to full-length novels. Like Jane, they were forbidden at home but, like Jane again, I read them under the covers with a flashlight. And during English Lit class ;-)

    I can’t remember the first romance I read but two of my favorites were Almost Heaven (my first Judith McNaught and I was hooked on her for years) and Sweet Liar by Jude Devereaux; I reread these two books to shreds :-)

  38. Tina
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 12:20:31

    The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I haunted the Waldenbooks downtown daily in my town and was always enthralled by the lurid, day-glo colors of the Woodiwiss books. Up til then I was reading stuff like Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew etc.. And then I found some Sue Barton, Student Nurse books in my library so it whetted my appetite for romance. I really, really wanted Shanna (the cover was neon orange and the brightest one on the shelf). But somehow I felt I wasn’t ready for it. LOL. So TWatD was my gateway book. I adored it. Thought it was the best thing I’d ever read. To this day I still have a soft spot for that book — even with the problematic themes.

  39. Lada
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 14:10:29

    This is so much fun! Most of my early romance reading was done illicitly since like Jane, romance was a big no-no at my house. What was allowed though included The Far Pavillions and Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye which I enjoyed because of the romance. Mary Stewart was also okay and I gobbled up her gothics.

    Shockingly, my 13 year old self found a copy of Sweet Savage Love somewhere in my house, grabbed it and hid it in the garage where I would sneak read when I was supposed to be pulling weeds or raking. While it didn’t affect me quite as much as Dabney, I still remember the wonder of such a titilating forbidden book!!

    I stopped reading romance for many years until I discovered what a great antidote it is for difficult times. I happened to grab Whitney, My Love at a drug store on a whim and it was aweful but un-put-downable at the same time. Luckily for me, it was the mid-90s and romance was experiencing an evolution from those rapetastic romances and the next one I tried was Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. That one hooked me for good.

  40. cleo
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 14:13:26

    @Carin: omg – I read one of the Sherbrooke books early-ish in my romance reading career. I think maybe it was The Sherbrooke Twins? Whichever one it was, it was enough to put me off Catherine Coulter for life.

  41. library addict
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 14:36:11

    I suppose my first romance was Pride & Prejudice which I read when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. In high school I read a lot of books by authors like Jeffrey Archer, Stephen Coonts, and David Morrell, but it was always the undeveloped romantic relationships between the usually secondary characters that were my favorite parts.

    Then I picked up Debbie Macomber’s Navy Wife that got me started reading category romance. Imagine books where the relationship was the main focus! This led to discovering the Silhouette Intimate Moments line and a lot of my favorite authors.

  42. KKJ
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 15:09:27

    First grown-up romance: The Promise by Danielle Steel. Swiped it from my older sister’s room when I was home sick from school, probably 7th or 8th grade. Reading it made me feel very mature. I still think this is the gold standard for angsty romance.

    First grown-up smut book (Judy Blume’s Forever doesn’t count): Scruples by Judith Krantz, some time in early high school. Also swiped from my older sister. Reading it made me feel very…mature…but in very different ways. A PENIS in the FIRST CHAPTER – I was ENTHRALLED. Looking back, I think I can blame Billy Ikehorn Orsini for inadvisable things I may have done in college.

    We didn’t have cable TV, so I had to read Book-of-the-Month mass-market paperbacks to learn about pulsating manhoods. All the Judith Krantz books at the public library had ratty covers and dog-eared pages, which kind of makes me want to go wash my hands right now.

  43. Sirius
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 15:17:03

    @Merrian: I was trying to remember my first romance and drawing a blank, but I see several people mentioning Count Monte Cristo, so yes, I have read it when I was seven or eight as well, ditto to Rafael Sabatini’s books, I guess I have read plenty of adventure books with love stories in it, but I did not think they would count as romances. I definitely read Barbara Cartland books when I was a young teen, Judith McNot – Witney, my love (all in Russian translation) when I was, I dont know, fourteen? fifteen? Really hated that one. I did discover Amanda Quick though and she is the only one that stuck with me. I used to like Joanna Lindsey, but not anymore.

    I remember really well my first mm romance though – “Godeaters” by Jesse Haijesek (and I know I am butchering the name lol) and with “Wicked gentlemen” by Ginn Hale to follow shortly. Never looked back, no mf romance ever came close for me. I am not talking about Duma and Rafael Sabatini books, these will always hold special place in my heart.

  44. Lauren
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 16:07:53

    @Cleo, did those books by Catherine Coulter involve a gang rape scene and a misscarried baby? I can’t even remember for certainty if it was a Catherine Coulter book that I was reading when that scene popped up, but I quit reading the book and have never read another CC book.

  45. Renda
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 16:20:12

    Emilie Loring was my first. Never read Barbara Cartland. Someone gave my mother a bunch of booms and there were a few Loring. I was probably 11 or so. She was horrified when she found out I was reading them. Quickly progressed to The Flame and the Flower. Started working at a UBS around 14 and got a never-ending free fix of books. First erotic (not a big fan) book was called The Autobiography of a Flea. It was set sometime around the time of The Canterbury Tales (which we were reading in school) and this flea would be happiest in pubic hair. It was eye opening in many ways.

  46. Fran
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 16:35:01

    I’ve always favored the romance portion above everything else in books, but I ended up with my first romance purely by accident. In fact, I don’t even know if it’s a romantic suspense or just a mystery. I was sitting in the car waiting for my mom to pick up a DVD of a play my sisters had recently performed in. Now, my mom knew the director fairly well, and she talks. A LOT. After about twenty minutes I started digging around the car and found a rather compact paperback: The Island by Heather Graham. It was definitely the first book I’d ever read there adult characters go for it on the pages (in detail). I remember my cheeks turning bright pink. I got about halfway through the book before my mom came back, and I didn’t get a chance to finish it until early morning. I used by ipod to read it under the covers and finished at 5:30. Oh, this was also Christmas. In fact, this was the first Christmas my dad decided to throw caution to the wind and wake us up at 6 for presents. 6. I still think it was worth it though.

    It still took me a bit to find my way snugly into the genre, but I got there through paranormals. I think I jumped from various urban fantasy series to Sookie Stackhouse to Lynsay Sands to Lisa Kleypas. It doesn’t make 100% sense to me either.

  47. Wahoo Suze
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 16:39:36

    The first “Romance” I read was a Harlequin, when I was 11 or so. It had a blond couple, and a swimming pool with blue tiles on the cover. That’s all I really remember about it. But our town’s small library was in walking distance from my home, and I worked my way through everything interesting, including the paperback shelves, romance, science fiction, fantasy, YA, and weird stuff I still can’t really categorize. The thing that *really* hooked me on Romance, though, was Angelique. Our library had all of Sergeanne Golon’s Angelique series, up to Angelique and the Ghosts, and I read through all of them repeatedly, all through Jr High.

    And *sigh* I can remember when Fabio on the cover was a HUGE IMPROVEMENT in romance novel covers.

  48. Kate Pearce
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 18:03:24

    @Tina Sue Barton student nurse!! Me too!! Dr. Bill!!
    As to the rest of it, I was a voracious reader so I read everything I could find, all the M&B’s, Heyers, Cartlands, Dorothy Dunnett, and then one day I heard my older sisters reading out bits of ‘Shanna’ to each other. I was 12, I didn’t get it, so I asked my mother what phallic meant. After giving me a very vague answer, she made sure my sisters checked to see if I was eavesdropping before they started reading,
    The one that made the biggest impact on me was ‘The Wolf and the Dove’. I just loved it. I still have a soft spot for it now. That was followed by ‘Ashes in the Wind’ and then I was totally hooked. As I lived in the UK then, I didn’t realize that those books were just the tip of the iceberg as far as the new romance genre went. Imagine my joy when I moved here and realized not only could I read them, but write them too. :)

  49. Amy Kathryn
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 18:48:00

    My first romance was A Rose in Winter by Woodiwiss and first “romantic” series was the Clan of the Cave Bear Books. Went on to LaVryle Spencer, Julie Garwood, and Judith McNaught…my mom tended to prefer the sweeter, historical books and that was what I could get my hands on. I think that has left me with a low angst tolerance and a penchant for historicals.
    My first erotic romance was the Anne Rice Sleeping Beauty novels in college.

    I love that there is something for everyone in romance novels.

  50. Dabney
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 19:20:53

    @KKJ: I hadn’t thought about Scruples as a romance. I remember reading that in 8th grade and thinking what the hell–was this what grownup life was at all like? I tried to read it recently and couldn’t get past the third chapter.

    And I love that you say Forever doesn’t count. If that doesn’t count, what about Mr. and Mrs. BoBo Jones?

  51. Dabney
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 19:22:30

    @Kate Pearce: I just reread TWatD and I enjoyed it way more than I enjoyed rereading Sweet Savage Love.

  52. KKJ
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 19:51:53


    OMG, I had never heard of Mr. and Mrs. BoBo Jones, but I am going to Half-Price Books RIGHT NOW. It must be good, because some sellers in the Amazon Marketplace are asking $127 for it!

    Judy Blume’s Forever was the highlight of a middle school bus trip somewhere. Someone else stole from their older sister, and we passed it around and refused to tell the boys what we were giggling about. Page 110. I still remember. It was VERY educational.

    I always felt sorry for girls who didn’t have an older sister to steal dirty books from.

    I think of Scruples and every other Judith Krantz as smut, not actual romance. I use that as a term of endearment, of course. I equate that reading experience with the first time I did some late-night baby-sitting for people who had cable TV and I was finally able to find out what “Skinemax” was.

  53. rebyj
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 20:10:28

    I was 12. I had read every book for “my age” from our Bookmobile. So I picked up one of my mom’s books. It was “Trevalon’s Daughter” I know I’m not spelling that right. After that was a Harlequin titled “Folly to be Wise” After that I was off, I read anything and everything mom had and that the bookmobile had. The poor Bookmobile lady finally started bringing me bags of the library’s swap books so she wouldn’t have to spend the time checking the books out by hand like they had to do back in the day.

    Funniest memories are from the old ones by Barbara Cartland and similar authors where a dress description could go on for pages! I had to look up dress terms in dictionaries and my mental pictures of what I read had to be ridiculously way off of what they actually were supposed to look like. lol.

  54. Susan
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 21:23:52

    I’m so enjoying reading about other people’s firsts!

    I started out reading a lot of historical fiction (Taylor Caldwell, Thomas B. Costain, Irving Stone, Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr, Anya Seton and the like–Michener came later). Also read a lot of adventure stories and swashbucklers (Rafeal Sabatini, Samuel Shellabarger, and, yes, Alexandre Dumas). I then edged into the Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Molly Costain Haycroft, Jane Aiken Hodge area.

    But, probably the first true romance books I read (that I can remember, at least) were those Barbara Cartland literary gems. I was slightly mortified at confessing to my Cartland obsession in public, so was very happy to see that I have so much company. I owned tons of those books–not sure why since they were all basically interchangeable–and probably still even have a few in storage boxes somewhere. They’re keeping company with old Harlequins by Violet Winspear, Sara Craven, Anne Hampstead, etc. :-)

    I quit reading romances for many years–the combination of Cartland treacle and what I thought of as creepy contemparies turned me off forever (or so I thought). I only started again about 5-6 years ago or so, but have been making up for lost time with a vengeance.

  55. Carin
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 21:35:53

    @Lauren, I think the Coulter book you are talking about is Devil’s Embrace. I really almost threw up reading that book. The gang rape scene and the actions of the “hero” afterward are just thing I can’t un-know. I wish I could. I don’t have enough words for how terrible this book was.

    @Cleo I think I was done reading her by the time she got to Sherbrooke Twins.

  56. Sirius
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 21:42:32

    @Susan: I probably have the best memories of Barbara Cartland’s books more so than any pure romance writer in my teenage years, not in the least because I hooked my grandmother on them and then I was buying those books for her, of course I had to read them first.

  57. Susan
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 22:24:28

    @Sirius: What a good granddaughter you were! BC seems to have been a gateway author for a lot of us. I think the only thing my grandmother read was Guideposts magazine, and maybe Reader’s Digest. I didn’t come from a family of readers (at all) but everyone was very supportive of my strange habit.

    (Oh, and it should have been Anne Hampson above, not Hampstead. It’s been awhile. . .)

  58. Sirius
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 22:32:48

    @Susan: I had been given a free reign of my parents’ bookshelves and my grandparents bookshelves since I was very very young (probably seven), but while they never forbid me what to read, western romance books were not freely available in the Soviet Union (I am sure they were available in limited circulation), same as many Russian writers were censored before “Perestroyka times”, if I remember correctly till I become a teenager, so both myself and my grandmother were discovering new and addictive reading lol.

  59. Brie
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 23:05:41

    The first romance I read was The Velvet Promise by Jude Deveraux, that book changed my life. Until that point I was really into Horror, Suspense and anything with action, but Romance was a whole different world. I was so hooked that I went and read Deveraux’s whole backlist, when I ran out of books I went looking for something similar and which is how I discovered Johanna Lindsey, Judith McNaught, Amanda Quick, Julia Quinn and Laura Kinsale. At that point I thought that romances only came in historical form, and then I got Shades of Twilight by Linda Howard, to me nothing compares to Contemporary Romance. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’m excited just thinking of all the wonderful books I’ve yet to discover.

  60. Char
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 23:49:19

    I was babysitting and bored to death. The kids were asleep and there was nothing on TV. (No cable back then.) I was a voracious reader and finished the book I was reading, so I found one of the lady’s books to read. I read half of the book that night and was hooked! The lady let me have it, and I stayed up all night when I got home and finished it. It was ‘An Enchanted Land’ by Jude Deveraux. I still have the original, first edition softcover that I read that night. Ahhhhh… good memories. :D

  61. Char
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 23:53:06

    On a side note, reading historical romances at such a young age (I was 12 when I read my 1st one) helped me to pass many history tests in school. Hee hee!!

  62. Merrian
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 02:02:34

    @Susan: Looking back I think two thirds of the Cartland thing was that they were readily available and the dress pron and maybe seeing what strange and wonderful first names the heroines had; the plot seems to have mattered little when I think back.

    Also looking back athte M&B I can’t recall a particular one but in my memory there was lots of power differential and Greek tycoons kidnapping the heroines who suffered the slings and arrows of him disbelieving something about her, punishing her with kisses and not particularly explicit sex and then they lived happily ever after on an island somewhere.

  63. Dabney
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 09:25:46

    @KKJ: I remember reading, at that same time, some book that involved sex and and Snickers bar in the vajayjay. I was sure that never happened in real life! I read everything on my parents’ bookshelves–The Happy Hooker, The Sensuous Woman, Coffee Tea or Me and lots of James Bond type thrillers that had lots of casual encounters. None of those ever struck me as romances!

    The Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins books were all what I thought of as trash. I didn’t read a best-seller with sex in it I thought was good until The Thornbirds. I do remember some awful book about a couple whose story is told while she’s in a coma and then at the end of the book, when her feckless husband has realized he truly loves her, she dies. Somehow, that book also struck me as “nontrash.” I never read Danielle Steele that I can remember.

  64. cleo
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 10:31:34

    @Dabney: omg – that would have stayed with me too. I still remember the Jackie Collins where a man had a heart attack while having sex with 2 women (neither of them his wife, of course) and then couldn’t, ah, remove himself from his lover until the paramedics arrived and gave her muscle relaxers or something. That really worried me as a young teen. What if my vagina seized up like that and trapped my (completely hypothetical at that point) lover?

    I scornfully and secretly devoured a lot of trashy books of that ilk – Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins, Sydney Sheldon. I somehow missed Harold Robbins. And then I discovered erotica in my 20s (thank you, thank you Black Lace) and that freed me up to read non trashy romances for things like the characters and the plot. And I’ve never looked back.

  65. Kat
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 10:57:05

    Permanent Fixture by Janet Joyce. It was a Silhouette romance I found at my grandmother’s house – she lived with my aunt, who often traded grocery sacks filled with paperbacks with other aunts and cousins. Every month, they would cross the street to K-Mart to buy more. I was about 12-13 when I read it.

    I believe all of Joyce’s books are out of print now, which is a shame. I wouldn’t mind having a copy again.

  66. Lada
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 11:07:40

    @KKJ: OMG…we did the same thing! A small group of us had an extra long bus ride in 3rd & 4th grade so we’d sit in the back and the girl who stole Forever from her sister would read it out loud to us…including the boys! Very impressed you remembered that page number. We did make her reread that part quite a few times.

  67. KKJ
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 15:32:18


    The one about the wife in the coma is Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs. I LOVED that book – I read it about five times one summer in college when I was nannying for the rich snobs in Greenwich. That book has *everything* – wallflower married to a movie star, with multi-generational flashbacks, a showgirl mother who drops dead from a bee sting, a pedophile father, a gay brother, agoraphobia AND being hit by a taxi.

    And I know my mind works strange ways sometimes, but my first thought about the Snickers bar in the va-jay-jay was along the lines of “Wouldn’t those peanuts be uncomfortable after all the chocolate melted?” I would have suggested a Three Musketeers or maybe a Milky Way instead. Although the caramel in the Milky Way might be a problem as well.

    This, my friends, is why I don’t write fiction.

  68. cleo
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 21:10:37

    @KKJ: omg, you made me lol. That reminds me of a disgusting urban legend that made the rounds when I was in college –

  69. KKJ
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 00:04:44


    I clicked on that. Why did you make me click on that? You didn’t tell me it involved TUNA, the WORST food on the face of the earth.

    I really need to go wash my hands (and other things) now.

  70. etv13
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 15:10:32

    @Jayne: Sylvia Thorpe! I read a whole bunch of them when I was in college, and I still have them. My favorite is The Changing Tide.

    @Ros: Charity Girl was my first Heyer, too, and boy was it tough going. I picked it up because I’d read a lot of Barbara Cartlands by that time (my first was The Innocent Heiress, when I was eleven), and they had “In the tradition of Georgette Heyer” on the cover. Fortunately, a reprint of Friday’s Child came out soon afterward, followed by The Corinthian, and I was hooked.

    I have no idea what my first romance was, and in part it depends on how you define romance. Does The Sherwood Ring count? If it does, it might have been first. I read The Scarlet Pimpernel very young, and Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart before I found the Cartland some time around eleven. I read The Flame and the Flower when it first came out (and before my mother did, so she couldn’t stop me from reading it) and some of the other Woodiwiss books, and Laurie McBain, and Sweet Savage Love. I also read a bunch of regencies by the likes of Clare Darcy and Catherine Fellowes and Joan Wolf. Then for a long stretch I stopped reading new romances, though I continued to re-read my Heyers and Thorpes. Then three or four years ago I stumbled across Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and ordered a gladiator romance they reviewed, and though I thought it was so-so at best, it seems to have set me off on romance-reading again, and I discovered Loretta Chase and Liz Carlyle and a whole bunch of other writers recommended here. This site has been very bad for my budget.

  71. Dani Alexander
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 20:24:07

    @cleo: @KKJ: Luckily I’d already heard of that mayo story. Afaik it’s been debunked though? I’m definitely not a doctor nor do I know about entomology, but I read somewhere that…those things (not to gross anyone out so I won’t say) only eat dead flesh? I think they even use them sometimes in the treatment of gangrene? I could be wrong, I often am =D LOL

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