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What’s Wrong with Mama?

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A couple of weeks ago the Brookings Register ran an article titled “Not your mother’s romance novel.” The article spoke to two women who have recently become interested in romances. Two women who had not read older romances, but had formed negative opinions regarding those older romances:

Gill said she believes the romance genre of years ago earned its reputation, though she hasn’t read many of the older books. They seemed to feature weak heroines and dominant heroes.

Entangled Pub* announced on October 24, 2011, that it was launching Lori Wildes’ Present:

What sets Lori Wilde Presents: Indulgence apart, however, are the fresh and hip voices. “These aren’t your mother’s category romances,” says Lori Wilde. “They’re quick paced, exciting contemporary stories, whether funny, sexy, mysterious, edgy, or emotional, that showcase what it’s really like to fall in love in the twenty-first century.”

Allie Boniface writes:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, publishing houses like Avon, Harlequin, and Mills and Boon were the kings of the industry. They released books with titles like A Pirate’s Love, Kept Woman, and Rebel Vixen. These stories, mostly historical romances, were pretty formulaic.

Johanna Lindsey covers

There is an implied insult that the mother’s romances were some how terrible. It’s true that the 70s, 80s, and some of the 90s, book covers show a nearly naked woman with a long haired man looming over her. Who can forget these iconic Johanna Lindsey books with the heroine placed at the foot of the hero, like a supplicant. These days, we just get the nearly naked woman. It is also true that there were rapetastic books publishing in the early period of mass market romances and probably a greater number of them that are generally published today (although it seems like we will never completely escape them).

Laura Vivanco writes in her scholarly analysis of Harlequin Mills & Boon books that “every romance novel thus combines elements of the old, the new, the borrowed, and the blue.”  Vivanco, Laura. For Love and Money. Penrith:  Humanities-Ebooks LLP.  2012, p. 21)   This was true in 1981 and it is true in 2011.  The way in which authors have mixed those elements are due, in part, to the author’s own sensibility as well as the time period in which they lived.

Books published in the 80s and 90s were rich in diversity of characters and tropes. I think of the late 80s to mid 90s as one of the golden periods of romance. Harlequin Temptation was one of my favorite lines and it featured heroines that were business owners, professors, lawyers. They were women with agency.

However, I don’t know many long term readers who don’t have a love for books published in the 80s. From category books to full length historicals there were women who were strong. Take the wretchedly politically incorrect Savage Thunder (p. 1989) featuring the native American hero who falls in love with a wealthy (virgin) widow traveling around the West looking for fun, adventure and a good roll in the hay. Lady’s Choice (p. 1989) featured a nearly six foot redhead who owned her own tea house and had plans to build a tea empire. Teller of Tales (p. 1993) had a cross dressing heroine who had adopted a mannish persona and the man who loved her and was willing to flaunt his supposed sodomy to all of society. A London Season (p. 1981) had a strong, young woman whose strength of will determined not only her course, but that of a young stablehand and all those around her. Blaze (p. 1986) isn’t my favorite Susan Johnson but she wrote about the Absarokee clan in a way I’ve rarely seen others do since. Proud, wealthy, powerful.

While it’s an easy slogan, it suggests that whatever was old was bad and our mother’s had bad taste. In many cases, the readers are the mothers. I doubt I am the only one on this blog that could have a child old enough to be reading these books.

I started reading romance the middle 1980s which is over twenty years ago. I have fond memories of books I read in my early years and many of them included the same themes and tropes and archetypes that I read today. One author I find fascinating is Charlotte Lamb. I’ve read about 60 of her books. I think that her bibliography would make an interesting academic study. Lamb published from 1973 through 2001. She clearly struggles with the male and female dynamic in her books wavering between the all too forgiving wife in The Marriage War (p. 1997) to the dedicated film director heroine (and sister of the heroine in the former book) in the sequel Hot Surrender (p. 1999). There is the unforgettable Vampire Lover (p 1995) wherein the heroine ties up the hero, uses him, and then leaves him unsatisfied.

There’s no question that romance as a genre has evolved and changed. I think the growing interest by readers in other genres has led to greater cross genre hybridization and more fully developed fantasy worlds that are focused on romantic development of its leads.  There are fewer secretaries and more female business owners, although not enough.  In fact, you could argue that the limited way in which the genre has changed in terms of writing females with agency is more of a criticism of the current state of the genre rather than a derision of the old school romance books.

Romances were not one monolithic genre where every book written was in lock step with its sister publication.  Books that predate the current release list aren’t automatically filled with rape and oppression.  By using the saying “not your mother’s romances”, the person insults both the mother and any one that enjoyed a book that the undefined mother may have liked.  The slogan is old and should be retired unlike the books of the 80s and 90s, some of which are classics that will endure.

I’d love to hear your old favorites. I’d like to compile a “Must Read” list of books from the 80s and 90s.  Please include a snippet about the book you recommend so I can put it in the list.  Long live my mama’s romance books.

 

*Weirdly on November 14, 2011, Entangled introduced a new editor who wanted “bodice rippers.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

65 Comments

  1. Jeannie Lin
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 07:50:42

    Oh, Johanna Lindsey. Where else would a heroine threaten the hero with a sword? Or laugh at him after he tries to put her in place with a forced seduction? I just re-purchased Prisoner of My Desire (oh, it’s bad, I know. But so good…) Just to see how she makes the crazy scenario of captor/captive and rape/revenge romantically work for me when it so rarely works for me in today’s romances. I don’t think I’d be writing historical romance if it weren’t for her.

    Loved the commentary. It wasn’t all bad. And some of it was so bad, it was good. In many ways, those older romances seemed bolder to me. They seemed to take more chances in storytelling and variety and throw caution to the wind. The historical detail also felt richer and more mesmerizing because we weren’t visiting the same familiar settings. And yet the detractors can only pick out the same old tropes to make fun of, over and over again. I skip over those snarky articles without fuss because, really, as a writer–Can’t you get some fresh material?

    I know that the term “bodice ripper” is highly charged and many romance authors find it very offensive because of the negative stereotype of forced seduction and dominant heros/submissive females, but I’ve always sort of liked it. I guess for me, it reminds me of that era when stories swept me away and left me feeling breathless and wild and naughty. Maybe the people who are seeking bodice rippers are really trying to recapture that level of imagination and risk-taking. (I even like the covers for the nostalgia they bring)

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  2. Kati
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 07:53:28

    Like you, Jane, I started reading romance in 1983. I have very fond memories of such classics as Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey, too many of Cassie Edwards’ Savage series, and A Rose in Winter by Kathleen Woodiwiss.

    I find that my sensibilities as a romance reader are definitely impacted by the time period in which I started reading. I do not have a discernable reaction to forced seduction, although I totally respect why so many readers do. I love a well written autocratic hero. I don’t mind missish and Mary Sue heroines. But I kind of figure that the reason for this is that I formed alot of romance tastes when I was 12 and started reading romance.

    I’ve often said to readers who complain that Kathleen Woodiwiss is so “cliched” or “formulaic” that Woodiwiss is actually one of the grande dames of romance, and many of the tropes that we see were originated or at least implemented by her.

    That being said, I completely agree with you, Jane, for me, the golden age of romance was the 80s and 90s, and many of my favorite romances were written then. I don’t believe I have any suggestions for books you haven’t read, but I’ll be watching this thread closely for suggestions!

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  3. Maili
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 08:04:16

    I love this.

    I think you’ve summed up why I don’t quite like the general bad/negative attitude to yesterday’s romance novels. I feel it’s a massive insult to readers who had put up with a lot worse than we do today. They just kept on reading and buying, keeping it going to what we know today.

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  4. Avery Flynn
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 08:14:50

    Oh Johanna Lindsey. My life was never better than when I left the library with a bag full of Malory novels. They’re all good but here’s the blurb for Tender Rebel (1988): Flame-haired Scottish heiress Roslynn Chadwick needs the safety of marriage to protect her from an unscrupulous cousin- and every other fortune-hunting scoundrel who covets her wealth and exquisite beauty.

    Anthony Malory is everthing Roslynn had been warned against- a ruthless, irresistibily handsome English Rogue whose sensual blue eyes speak of pleasures beyond imagining.
    How Roslynn wishes she dared to love such a man- tobelieve his whispered passionate promises . . .and to follow and enchanting dream to enexplored heights of rapturuos surrender.

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  5. Mireya
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 08:31:59

    I’ll never understand why people go on slamming things they haven’t tried, and this goes from food to reading material. I am a newcomer to romance despite my “advanced” age of 49. I only started reading romance in 2003, and it was erotic romance at that. That’s how I went digital for reading. I discovered Ellora’s Cave (EC) while being stuck at home sick, and I started looking for erotica, I didn’t even know there was such thing as erotic romance, but I got to a Jaid Black book in Amazon. As I kept digging further I got to EC and that’s how my love of everything ebook and romance started. Later on, I wanted to try other genres of romance, and found New Concepts Publishing (I know, I know… but they did have very nice historical romances back then have to say. Because of those historical romances I started broadening my scope and building my autobuy list).

    As a newcomer to romance, I never thought about considering earlier romances as “bad”, mostly because well, I never read any so what would I know. I did read about the negative connotations, the issues with rape, the I am an Alpha-jerk hero, the doormat heroine, etc., but as the article mentions, we still find all of that stuff in today’s romance. So again, what would I know about older romances being “bad”.

    I’d be happy to see a list of older romance recommendations for me to find and try. :)

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  6. Jayne
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 08:46:47

    Haha. “Savage Thunder” was one of the first romance books I read when I was getting back into reading the genre.

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  7. Amy111
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 08:58:22

    I actually prefer “my mother’s romance novel” to the storytelling in today’s contemporary romances. Romance used to be about fantasy and passion for me. Now it seems like authors are trying too hard not to step on people’s toes. They don’t want to depict women as too weak or men as too strong. Romance today (to me) feels too real and too nice to work as escapism. I kind of miss the bodice ripping days, honestly!!! I also reread Prisoner of my Desire recently and I felt guilty and evil the whole time for enjoying it, but I enjoyed the heck out of it!

    If you’re making a list, you have to include Jennifer Horsman’s Virgin Star, which came out originally in the early 90′s. It’s the amnesia trope, with a really spunky heroine who knows kung fu, and an equally alpha hero for her to bounce off. He starts out as her protector and friend but things progress to love… The plot is interesting and so romantic but not sappy. It’s a historical, set at sea mostly, kind of suspenseful. It’s hard to explain because it’s different than most every other romance I’ve ever read, but it’s still in my top five after twenty years. No rape or wilting women or anything offensive, just romance and humor and adventure.

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  8. Rosario
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 09:05:02

    However, I don’t know many long term readers who don’t have a love for books published in the 80s.

    I’m afraid that’s me. I’ve been reading romance for ages, and those were the first romances I read. And still, I hate them. I have very, very few keepers from the 80s, and the ones I do remember fondly were the ones that were starting to change in the direction of what would happen in the 90s -kinder heroes, fewer “feisty” heroines, not so many slutty evil other women, no rape, no “I suspect you’re not a virgin and will therefore treat you like crap”. We’re talking authors like Nora Roberts, and some of JAK’s.

    I did read loads from authors like Johanna Lindsey and Catherine Coulter, but only because I wanted to read romance and that was what was available. Even as a teen I found the asshole “heroes” hugely problematic, and I’m glad they’re gone.

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  9. Robin L. Rotham
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 09:10:13

    Am I the only one who’s going to post a (rather long) snippet?

    I’ve been reading romance since I was 13, and one of my very favorites to this day is Lavyrle Spencer’s Spring Fancy, the first Harlequin Temptation, published in 1984. Joseph and Winn were just two average people — he was a rough-and-tumble 5’10″ auto mechanic and she was a physical therapist who was engaged to another man. They met when they were both attendants in a wedding and tried to write their attraction off as a spring fancy. During the course of the story, they played some fierce games of racket ball, and that was often when all their deepest emotions boiled over. They were perfectly matched, equals in every way, and I adored them both.

    The sweat flowed freely. She swung at a shot and missed, then when the next serve came, cracked it dead center while gritting for emphasis, “Goddamn you!”

    They played at the torturous pace for thirty minutes, then Joseph had to know. He stood at the serving line with his back to her and stubbornly refused to turn around while asking, “Did you send out the wedding invitations?”

    “Yes!” she barked. “Serve, dammit!”

    Joseph felt as if she’d stabbed him in the back with a broken blade.

    They played fifteen minutes more, but now he was attacking each shot as recklessly, as angrily as she. Tonight it mattered not in the least who won or lost. It only mattered that they slammed the ball against the concrete walls and got even with the world’s injustices and demands.

    “Why?” he growled as his racket punished the innocent ball.

    “Because I couldn’t stop it!” She, too, performed an injustice to the game of racket ball with her next return.

    “Is that why you’re doing this?”

    The whistling return he’d expected to fly past his ear never materialized. Instead, behind him all was silent. He whirled, white lipped now with fury. Dammit, he loved this woman! They stared each other down—she was poised as if to turn her racket on him while he gripped his own racket with a fist so tight it made veins bulge like blue rivers up his arms.

    “Is that why?” he demanded angrily.

    “No!” she bleated. Then, without warning, Winn Gardner collapsed to her knees, hugged her head and broke into a torrent of sobbing.

    Jo-Jo’s racket clattered to the floor. He was bending to her in less than a second, knee to knee, grasping her arms in a painful grip. “Winn, please tell me what this is all about.”

    Her hair was strewn and wild, for it had not been pampered after its last washing. It prodded the air around her face while her mouth yawned in anguish and tears streamed from her tormented eyes. Her fingers plucked at Joseph’s chest as if searching for a shirt to grasp. “Oh, God, Joseph, she died.”

    Spencer, LaVyrle (2011-04-01). Spring Fancy (Kindle Locations 2157-2174). The Axelrod Agency. Kindle Edition.

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  10. Author on Vacation
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 09:17:41

    I read several “classic” romances in my teen and YA years and I agree the 80′s and the 90′s were probably the heyday of romantic fiction.

    I think much of my ambivalence towards present day trends in romance is the decline in popularity of historical romances. To me, nothing beats curling up with a good historical. Super-plus novel word count and world-building up the wazoo, please. Historicals have not fared well and it’s tough finding present day authors who write “real” historicals as opposed to costume drama.

    What I recall being so wonderful about 80′s/90′sromances was how acceptable and normal it was for women to be womanly. To be feminine. Even the gamine type heroines who cross-dressed were still feminine at heart. I sometimes feel more recent authors attempt to depict “girliness” as something negative, undesireable, etc..

    One book that really stands out in my memory is “The Angel and the Prince” by Laurel O’Donnell. The writing quality isn’t the greatest, but I remember feeling so excited about this book because the author was so innovative for her time. Despite her innocence, Ryen is a strong, intelligent character and not the more traditional damsel in distress.

    I also liked that the author included a touch of almost-but-not-quite paranormal elements in some secondary characters.

    I don’t deny there are stronger, more successful authors out there who might better represent 80′s – 90′s romance, but that particular book really “hit the spot” for me.

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  11. SFT
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 09:25:08

    @Amy111:

    Trying to figure out how something like Stormfire could be considered a fantasy ROMANCE!

    I appreciate the oldies as engrossing if ridiculously melodramatic FICTION, but romance? Not so much. I certainly wouldn’t be disdainful towards romance today because it isn’t as romantic now that the heroes are too “effeminate” to beat their wives.

    The old books were interesting, but I can’t say I want them to return.

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  12. lindsay Townsend
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 09:30:37

    I’m not sure if this qualifies as Mum Romance or Grandmother Romance since I think it was published in the 1920s. I read ‘Precious Bane’ by Mary Webb in the 1980s and have remained enchanted with it ever since.

    It has a strong heroine with a hare lip and opens with the lovely line, ‘It was at a love-spinning that I first saw Kester.’

    And how about Sci-fi romance? I ‘ve always had a soft spotfor Anne McCaffrey’s ‘The Ship Who Sang,’ again with a strong, unusual heroine.

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  13. Jeannie Lin
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 09:49:17

    @Robin – Oh, anything by Lavyrle Spencer does it for me, but Vows will always be one of my all-time favorites (p 1988). The heroine is a veterinarian and the hero runs a stable. Wonderful world-building. Really wonderful everything. One of those romances where you just watch life unfold.

    @Amy111 – Re; Prisoner of My Desire – Oh yes. Wicked and evil the whole time! I was surprised that upon re-reading, the love scenes aren’t that graphic at all compared to today’s romances, yet my heart was still aflutter.

    I wonder, do those tropes that people keep bringing up – asshole heroes who mistreat the heroine, rape, doormat heroines — sure they were more prevalent during the 80′s than now, but were they really the defining characteristics of the genre at the time or just the ones that continue to stand out because they were the most outrageous?

    I confess I started to read romances in the early ’90s, but read off of my best friend’s mum’s shelf, so some ’80s and ’70s titles from there.

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  14. DM
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 09:52:47

    Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold. Beautifully written and well observed. This is a great novel, period. Few books of any genre have prose this good, characters this nuanced.

    Jo Beverley’s Arranged Marriage. Great hook, clever plot, and a refreshing reversal of roles in which the hero is the one objectified for his sexuality.

    Anne Stuart’s Prince of Swords. Possibly her best gothic historical, with a hero who is simultaneously love object and villain.

    Mary Balogh’s Secret Pearl. A stay up all night to finish it read with a heroine in real emotional and physical jeopardy. Almost anything Balogh from this period is terrific–but Secret Pearl knocks it out of the park.

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  15. Amy111
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:05:50

    @SFT

    I know, Stormfire is a little…out there.

    But romance doesn’t have to be fuzzy hearts and roses for me to enjoy it. Couples fighting, hurting each other, acting horribly, raping the crap out of each other…as long as the author finds a way to put a happy ending on it and have the characters find their way to love, it’s okay with me. Maybe I’m weird in that sense.

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  16. Author on Vacation
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:08:00

    @SFT:

    I appreciate the oldies as engrossing if ridiculously melodramatic FICTION, but romance? Not so much. I certainly wouldn’t be disdainful towards romance today because it isn’t as romantic now that the heroes are too “effeminate” to beat their wives.

    Your comment is so interesting because I feel very much the same about some of the more recent and current trends in the romance fiction industry. Gay romance has become pretty trendy and I admit I don’t relate to it as romance fiction. I’m also sort of shocked at how gay romance somtimes contains physical abuse (fighting) between the two heroes and no one bats an eye at this. Apparently it’s acceptable for an angry man to slap his partner or fistfight his partner if his partner is also male. I find this saddening in the extreme. NOTE: I’m not saying all gay romance features physical abuse, but I do think it’s more common and generally accepted than it has been in het romance.

    An author once offered me a m/f romance to consider for review. She promoted the book as a change of pace from erotic romance and sensual romance because it contained no erotic content at all. I gave the novella a chance and loathed it. The female character slaps her male love interest and verbally abuses him while the man is experiencing some kind of emotional breakdown. Both of the characters were also ridiculously missish and inhibited about sex itself. The hero even considered his admiration of the heroine’s good looks “disrespectful.” NONE of this claptrap came across as romantic IMHO.

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  17. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:22:29

    I started reading romance in the late 80s also. My mother read old-school HRs at the time, and now she reads HPs. I’ve liked books in those lines (I wouldn’t have looked for more if I hadn’t started there) but they really aren’t for me.

    As a preteen, I discovered Harlequin Temptation and Silhouette Intimate Moments. The used bookstore in my hometown sold them for 5 cents each. OMG I had a field day. I was so curious about sex and these books had details! More importantly, the characters were everyday people I could relate to. Handyman heroes were more common, IIRC. Also, equal footing or a less skewed power differential between h/h.

    I think I preferred these dynamics (and still do) because they were more familiar to me. I grew up in a small town. None of the men wore suits. I didn’t know any powerful tycoons. My mom had a better job and a better education than my dad. The couples I saw were all working class, and close in age. So those old HRs with silver-haired heroes and teen heroines were totally foreign to me. They are my “mother’s romances.”

    The first single-title romance that made me a true fan was Sandra Brown’s Slow Heat in Heaven. The hero worked as a logger. He said fuck a lot. I loved it.

    I also loved Catherine Coulter, whose historicals might be considered “bodice rippers” by today’s standards. I’m not really offended by that term because I think it applies to 70s romance. Although I have different sensibilites about historical romance now, Rosehaven is still one of my favorites.

    Ah, memory lane. Great topic, Jane.

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  18. Barb in Maryland
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:23:23

    Ha! My mother didn’t read romance–she was always into mysteries. However, I read ‘romance’ by preference from the time I learned to read. I started with fairy tales and never quit. So my reading of adult market romance starts in the early 1960′s(yes, I know–geezer lady here).
    By the time the 80′s and 90′s came around I had already seen the market take a number of twists and turns.
    Jane, I do have to agree with you that the slogan is insulting. Ugh. I just think it indicates a lack of knowledge of the breadth of what was offered (for good and for bad) in past eras.
    I have kept very few books from that era–all of Laurie McBain’s, Gellis’ Rosalynd series, Laura Kinsale and Laura London–that does it for historicals. Joan Wolf’s traditional regencies (and of course Georgette Heyer!). Contemporary authors–mostly Nora and JAK and Elizabeth Lowell–but not everything. But those three authors were autobuys in the heyday of Silhouette publishing.
    Jane–OMG–someone else who reads Charlotte Lamb! (I have a love/hate relationship with her books–truly).
    @Robin–my all time favorite LaVyrle Spenser! Thanks for the snippet.

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  19. Author on Vacation
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:25:49

    @Amy111:

    Couples fighting, hurting each other, acting horribly, raping the crap out of each other…as long as the author finds a way to put a happy ending on it, it’s okay with me. Maybe I’m weird in that sense.

    I’ve always rationalized rape and sexual coercion in historical romances as being a realistic element to the eras in question. It’s not unrealistic IMHO that women found themselves in forced marriages, arranged marriages, abductions by fortune hunters, and other situations where it was quite legal and normal for a male to expect sex from a woman obliged to submit regardless of her own feelings concerning consent.

    Part of the “fun” of historical romance is observing the progression of a relationship from a “convenient” marriage or betrothal or a series of misfortunes (abduction or other “procurement” of the heroine) to adjustment and discovering compatibilities, the couple learning to live with each other and admire each other, overcome conflicts, and reach HEA.

    I’m less tolerant of devices like this in contemporary settings because contemporary society and law clarify these types of scenarios are neither legally nor morally acceptable.

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  20. DS
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:28:34

    I have a very short shelf of keepers from the 80′s and 90′s. But they were not books that were very popular with other romance readers then or maybe even now if anyone still reads them. I also have some category romances that I enjoyed and saved.

    However, you could not pay me to reread a Johanna Lindsey or a Julie Garwood or a Jude Devereux novel. They were popcorn.

    Now my mother used to read sacks of Harlequins despite the fact that I tried to get her into Kinsale or Spencer.

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  21. Isobel Carr
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:37:06

    Roberta Gellis. Can’t believe no one has brought her up. I love her novels. Strong heroes who aren’t alphaholes, combined with wonderful story telling and heroines who weren’t wilting flowers (and she didn’t always write about nobles either!).

    And of course, Georgette Heyer, though those would be my grandma’s romance novels (maybe even my great-grandmother’s).

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  22. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:38:42

    @DS:

    I have a very short shelf of keepers from the 80?s and 90?s. But they were not books that were very popular with other romance readers then or maybe even now if anyone still reads them.

    Name names!

    Shanna was my first non-gothic historical romance. I read it when I was 11 or 12 or so, right after it came out. I’ve been hooked ever since. I blame Carole Mortimer for my May-December fetish.

    @Amy111:

    But romance doesn’t have to be fuzzy hearts and roses for me to enjoy it. Couples fighting, hurting each other, acting horribly, raping the crap out of each other…as long as the author finds a way to put a happy ending on it and have the characters find their way to love, it’s okay with me. Maybe I’m weird in that sense.

    I’ll sit on the Weird Bench with you.

    So many good points made about the appeal, but that’s a discussion that’ll never end.

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  23. Isobel Carr
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:41:08

    I’ve always rationalized rape and sexual coercion in historical romances as being a realistic element to the eras in question

    @Author on Vacation: The question is whether or not you find such behavior acceptable on the part of the “hero”. I have no problem with these things happening in a romance, but these are the actions of a villain (or at least a not very nice man who I have no desire for any woman to be shackled with for eternity).

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  24. farmwifetwo
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:47:26

    Old JAK’s, old NR’s, the Spencer’s all mentioned were and are favs. I discovered “The thorn birds” at 13… Mom said I couldn’t read it and since she was on afternoons and I could sneak with the best of them… educational :)

    When I was 15 (mid 1980′s) I started working at the library and discovered historicals. Can’t stand them now… just not my thing… but then I read every single one I could find.

    I find that for the most part women in today’s romances aren’t strong characters. Or if they are they seem to get “put in their place” ie. Carolyn Brown’s tavern owners. Or Pamela Clare’s “need to quit my job and pop babies” or the unending divorcees working dead-end jobs with low incomes. Or Kylie Brant’s constantly on the defensive heroine’s… Marie Ferrarella’s new heroine’s have become irritating like this too. I can come up with a huge list if you are interested… Oh… and why is everyone either widowed or divorced or had one boyfriend/girlfriend and is now terrified of relationships???? “Woe is me… woe is me..”

    Now… as a SAHM, I’m all for the have kids and stay home… but atleast have heroines that are equals – financially, emotionally etc – to the hero’s… I’m getting tired of the victims that need rescuing.

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  25. Las
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:59:51

    @Jill Sorenson: Your romance-reading history sounds a lot like mine. I started in the early 90′s with old HP’s bought at garage sales–Charlotte Lamb and Emma Darcy are the names that stand out to me from that time. HPs were what I stuck with for a while, even though I had huge problems with them, but a)I was a preteen and I could count on HPs to always have sex scenes, and b)even today they still have that “so bad it’s good” quality. I guess growing up watching telenovelas made me a fan of rage-inducing melodrama. My first single-title romance was Sandra Brown’s The Silken Web. I blame that book for my embarrassing love for the secret-baby trope. After that, I just bought whatever random romances that sounded good. I loved to hate Catherine Coulter and Elizabeth Lowell. When I discovered historicals I found my home–I could enjoy the characters and the plots without being distracted by how stupid/misogynistic the h/h were, since they were set so far in the past.

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  26. dick
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 11:01:43

    My mother had a collection of Emilie Loring books, which I think were published much earlier than the 80.s The one I’ve read was almost saccharine.

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  27. Kate Pearce
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 11:06:19

    Fascinating discussion. I started reading romances in the UK when that meant Mills & Boon and I devoured those books like candy. I was also around as a teen when the first of the American romances came over and I was quietly thrilled by the sex in Shanna, the Wolf and the Dove etc etc.
    I don’t see those books in a completely negative way. They are a reflection on a society that even in the 80′s could still ask me, a recent college graduate whether it was worth training me because I’d just go off and have babies.
    The books have to be taken in the context of their time and they paved the way for the romances that we have now. I’m not sure if it is because I’m originally a Brit and I’m used to more grit in my romance, or because my tastes were set back in the day, but although I cringe at some of the more rapetastic books I sometimes miss the edginess of them.

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  28. Author on Vacation
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 11:37:31

    @Isobel Carr:

    The question is whether or not you find such behavior acceptable on the part of the “hero”. I have no problem with these things happening in a romance, but these are the actions of a villain (or at least a not very nice man who I have no desire for any woman to be shackled with for eternity).

    Hi, Isobel. I think my ability to “stomach” these types of tropes is related to the author’s skill in portraying them in a “fiction that makes sense kind of way.”

    I recall reading Lindsey’s “Hearts Aflame” and being quite enamoured with it. I really liked Kristen and I really liked Royce. I definitely would not want to be one of Royce’s hostages, but Kristen’s resourcefulness undermining Royce’s more “villainous” moments still made an entertaining and believeable read.

    After reading and liking “Hearts Aflame,” I read “Fires of Winter.” I was both stunned and disappointed because the book read as a cover to cover rape romance, lots of distrust and dysfunction between Brenna and Garrick … It was impossible for me to believe these two characters could ever meet on common ground and become a stable, productive couple, much less happily raise a daughter like Kristen.

    In “Hearts Aflame,” the author convinced me her characters were good together no matter the bodice ripper factor. In “Fires of Winter,” I didn’t have that same confidence.

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  29. Sherry Thomas
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 11:50:49

    My mother doesn’t read books so I have my mother’s romances to deal with. :-)

    I’d be interested, Jane, someday, in a discussion of what makes a romance age well, rather than becoming “Your mother’s romance.” Nobody calls Flowers from the Storm that. Or Black Silk. And nobody ever says Pride & Prejudice is your great-great-great-grandmother’s romance.

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  30. Tamara Hogan
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 12:50:51

    @DM said:

    Anne Stuart’s Prince of Swords. Possibly her best gothic historical, with a hero who is simultaneously love object and villain.

    This trope pretty much describes the entire Stuart oeuvre – and is one reason why I’ve adored her for decades. I’ve been reading romance since the mid-70′s. The oldest keepers I have on my shelves are Anne Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire” (1976) and “Scruples” (1978) by Judith Krantz.

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  31. Angelia Sparrow
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 12:51:12

    My mother’s romance was 1960s. The Sergeanne Golon Angelique novels (which are the reason for the extra i in my name)

    I read romances in the 80s, when they were full of “rape and adverbs.” My favorite of the era is The Windflower, in which Merry gets kidnapped by pirates after spying for the Americans on the eve of the War of 1812 (“kidnapped by pirates is good!”) and holds her own on the ship. She has brief moments of silliness, but on the whole, she’s strong and smart and quite capable. I also liked Salome, the story of Herodias’ daughter and Roxane, about Alexander the Great’s wife. (I suspect I would dislike it now, for bad Bagoas treatment)

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  32. Kati
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 13:20:00

    @Angelia Sparrow:

    The Windflower remains my very favorite romance ever written. It’s mostly because I love the Curtis’s completely overwrought, and yet somehow beautiful prose. And because I adore the secondaries, particularly Cat and Rand Morgan. It’s also unexpectedly funny at times. But I’ve seen other romance readers who literally DNF it because they think that Devon is an asshat and Merry a doormat. Me? It’s a once a year re-read for me, and I *YEARN* for it to come out in e-Format so I can have it available at any given moment and do not have to fear for something happening to my copy (which is very well loved).

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  33. Joanna Terrero
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 13:28:01

    I love this article, and I agree with you all. Well, if those bodice rippers have never been published, the romance genre, as we enjoy it today, wouldn’t exist.

    Yes, I loved to read my mom’s romance novels, even my grandmother’s books. Indeed, my favorite romance ever is a story published in 1957 called Corazon Salvaje (Savage Heart) by Caridad Bravo Adams. I’ve read the book as a child, and later watched the TV version, (so far there are six screen versions of it, the most successful worldwide is from 1993).

    The interesting thing about Corazon Salvaje is that in spite of the hero being a true pirate, and the bastard bi-racial son of a nobleman, he has more honor than the gentlemen in the story, and treats the heroine with tenderness and respect. I love his nickname, Juan Del Diablo (which means, John from the Devil, and the one he gives the heroine, Saint Monica. An unforgettable pair. BTW, Monica, the heroine, is not beautiful. When her fiancé, Juan’s half-brother, leaves her to marry her sister, Juan’s lover, Monica enters a convent, but being rejected for her lack of vocation, becomes depressed. Juan saves Monica when he thinks she tries to kill herself. When he realizes her sister fooled him, he wants to make an scandal, Monica marries him to calm him down, Juan does because he wants revenge. Of course, they fall in love, but must deal with intrigue and prejudice.
    This is a clip from the arranged wedding night, it fades to black and is in Spanish, but pay attention to the body language. No forced seduction here.

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  34. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 13:28:02

    @Angelia Sparrow:

    “rape and adverbs.”

    My first laugh of the day. That’s awesome.

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  35. JoanneF
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 13:29:11

    When I think back on those old-skool romances that I adored, 2 with similar themes stand out. “Man of My Dreams” by Johanna Lindsey and “A Rose in Winter” by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I’m totally hung up on the “Clark Kent” hero; two sides of the same, irresistible coin.

    In MOMD, the heroine has her heart set on marrying a duke, but falls in love with a horse trainer (I think that was his job, it’s been a long time), not knowing he’s really the duke in disguise. She’s kinda bratty and he ends up kinda stuffy (when he reveals his true identity), but it’s a lot of fun.

    ARIW is one of my all-time faves. She’s forced into a marriage with a mysterious and scary lord, but can’t help but be attracted to the carefree, impossibly sexy Yankee. She ends up falling in love with both, which tortures her conscience, until the big reveal. Sigh! Must read it again!

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  36. Janine
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 13:35:36

    Agree with Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold and would also add her Wild at Heart which has a virgin hero and a widowed heroine.

    Laura Kinsale — The Shadow and the Star, For My Lady’s Heart, The Dream Hunter and Flowers from the Storm are my favorites. For emotional intensity, her books are hard to beat.

    Judith Ivory — my personal favorite is Beast, but who could forget her out of print Cuevas books, Bliss and Dance?

    Eva Ibbotson’s books from the 1980s, most of which are now reprinted as YA are just charming.

    Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows and the Fallen Angel series.

    Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s complex contemporaries. Some of my favorites include Again, Mirrors and Mistakes, Don’t Forget to Smile, and Till the Stars Fall.

    Mary Balogh’s trad regencies — probably too many to name but I’ll throw out Snow Angel, Thief of Dreams, Indiscreet, and the recently reissued A Christmas Promise and Dark Angel/Lord Carew’s Bride.

    Susan Wiggs’ Lord of the Night which made great use of its Renaissance Venice setting.

    Linda Howard had a lot of good categories in those days, of which my favorite are probably Midnight Rainbow and Diamond Bay.

    Connie Brockway, My Dearest Enemy and All Through the Night.

    I could go on but I’ll stop here!

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  37. Las
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 13:49:30

    @Joanna Terrero: Corazon Salvaje is a book?! I have to hunt down a copy. I loved the 1993 screen version. Every novela I’ve seen since gets compared to that one.

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  38. Nita Gill
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 13:50:56

    I knew that part of the article might end up coming back and biting me in the ass. I cringed the first time I read it after it was published a couple weeks ago. One of the reasons I did the interview was because I hate it when people generalize romances. And I did the exact same thing with the old school ones.

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  39. Janine
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 14:02:26

    @Jeannie Lin:

    In many ways, those older romances seemed bolder to me. They seemed to take more chances in storytelling and variety and throw caution to the wind. The historical detail also felt richer and more mesmerizing because we weren’t visiting the same familiar settings.

    Couldn’t agree more. Those books had their flaws, but there’s a lot to miss about them.

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  40. heidenkind
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 14:02:56

    What I find interesting about this discussion is how previous generations seem to be consistently cast as less ‘liberated’ or ‘edgy’ than the current generation, when in fact the opposite is usually true. Take movies, for example–before I took a class on westerns, I just assumed that women in old western films were little more than sexual objects or convenient plot devices, if they were around at all. But a lot of movies from both the pre-Code and Hays Code Hollywood eras have very strong, independent female characters. As Ken Burns said in reference to his documentary on Prohibition, “Our grandmothers were doing things we think only we invented.”

    As for my “mom’s romance,” my mom didn’t read romance novels, and my grandmother’s not much of a reader. I think the closest my mom got to romances were Emilie Loring and Mary Stewart novels. As far as I can remember, all of those books contained strong, independent women who made their own choices–and some of Loring’s novels were published in the 1920s, so they’re way older than my mother. Or grandmother, for that matter.

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  41. library addict
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 14:29:12

    I think of the late 80s to mid 90s as one of the golden periods of romance.

    I agree. There seems to me there was a much wider variety of settings/plotlines not only in category-land, but historicals as well. And this period was the heyday of the Silhouette Intimate Moments line (which encompassed so much more than romantic suspense). Here’s a short list of some of my favorites through 1996:

    Fabulous Beast by Stephanie James (1984)
    Fallen Angel by Carole Buck (1985)
    Green Fire by Stephanie James (1986)
    No More Mr. Nice Guy by Jeanne Grant (1986)
    Diamond Bay by Linda Howard (1987)
    Slow Heat in Heaven by Sandra Brown (1988)
    The Ice Cream Man by Kathleen Korbel (1989)
    Master of the Hunt by Lee Magner (1989)
    Man of Her Dreams by Tami Hoag (1989)
    Through the Looking Glass by Joyce McGill (1990)
    The Dragon’s Lair by Lee Magner (1990)
    Duncan’s Bride by Linda Howard (1990)
    In Safekeeping by Naomi Horton (1990)
    Strangers No More by Naomi Horton (1990)
    Mirror Image by Sandra Brown (1990)
    Scandal by Amanda Quick (1991)
    A Marriage of Convenience by Georgia Bockoven (1991)
    Heart and Soul by Lynn Bartlett (1991)
    Courting Catherine by Nora Roberts (1991)
    Ravished by Amanda Quick (1992)
    Without Price by Dee Holmes (1992)
    Just Like Old Times by Jennifer Greene (1992)
    Better Than Before by Judith Duncan (1992)
    Cool Under Fire by Justine Davis (1992)
    Jake’s Way by Kathleen Korbel (1992)
    The Love of Dugan Magee by Linda Turner (1992)
    Run to the Moon by Sandy Steen (1992)
    Deception by Amanda Quick (1993)
    To Hold an Eagle by Justine Davis (1993)
    The Fundamental Things Apply by Marilyn Tracy (1993)
    Miss Emmaline and the Archangel by Rachel Lee (1993)
    Lord of the Storm by Justine Davis (1994)
    Point of No Return by Rachel Lee (1994)
    At the Midnight Hour by Alicia Scott (1995)
    Glory in Death by J.D. Robb (1995)
    Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (1995)
    Trust Me by Jayne Ann Krentz (1995)
    Dancing at Midnight by Julia Quinn (1995)
    The Morning Side of Dawn by Justine Davis (1995)
    Born in Ice by Nora Roberts (1995)
    A Bride for Saint Nick by Carole Buck (1996)
    Absolutely, Positively by Jayne Ann Krentz (1996)
    Amaryllis by Jayne Castle (1996)
    Passion by Marilyn Pappano (1996)
    Line of Duty by Merline Lovelace (1996)
    The Heart of Devin MacKade by Nora Roberts (1996)
    There are others by Gail Douglas, Naomi Horton, Kathleen Korbel, Lee Magner, Amanda Quick, Barabara Boswell, Justine Davis, Marcia Evanick, Sally Tyler Hayes, Mary Ann Wilson, etc I could list as well.

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  42. Lisa J
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 14:45:32

    Does anyone remember the Candlelight Ecstacy Romances and Super Romances? I had a subscription to the service and got them all for years and then they went away. The women were always strong business owners. My favorite authors were Eleanor Woods, Hayton Monteith, Jayne Castle, Diana Blayne, Anne Reisser. I wish I could find them in e-format since my paper copies have been read to death.

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  43. Joanna Terrero
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 14:47:40

    @Las: Yes, there was a book. Sadly, I’m afraid all her books are out of print, but you can get the DVD versions of the novelas though. Caridad Bravo Adams was an amazing author. The thing with Corazon Salvaje and the 1993 version, is that what we love is Maria Zarattini’s screenplay and Eduardo Palomo and Edith Gonzalez unique pairing. Maria Zarattini used the same formula to create her own novela, an unforgettable one too. Alborada, you should take a look at that one. We could spend hours discussing the characters, and if the plot is feasible or not. The hero is forced to impregnate the wife of a gay nobleman, only to meet the woman later and realize that his firstborn is another’s heir. Crazy plot, but it works.

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  44. Lisa J
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 14:50:54

    @library addict: Your post reminded me I would definitely reread any Kathleen Korbel or Linda Howard book. Just thinking about the kids in the car repair shop whining in Ice Cream Man makes me smile. It’s weird because I was remembering that scene over the weekend and trying to decide if I want to dig my copy out of the box in the basement. It may be time to head downstairs.

    I would also add Carole Mortimer, Catherine George, and even some Lass Small books to the list of favorite authors from that time.

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  45. Junne
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 15:31:30

    @Moriah Jovan: I have the same May-December fetish than you, and I got it also via Carole Mortimer ( and other early HP authors, like Anne Mather and Anne Hampson )

    I love, too, Charlotte Lamb. My absolute faves from her are, in this order:

    1- Temptation: 17 year-old ubercruel heroine and desperate 38 year-old hero, love triangle with his son. Sounds tacky but it’s actually heartwrenching

    2- Dark dominion: a love triangle between an actress, her male best friend and her husband. Insane jealousy vibes.

    I used to read about 10 HPs and historicals a week that I bought from a used books library, and they were almost all 80s to early 90s books. I did this for about 4 years, so I must have read during that time well over 1000 books.
    My hidden jewel author is Alison Fraser, her best book is Running Wild( maybe it is a Harlequin treasury or they plan to rerelease it).

    As for historicals, I was and still am a fan of Catherine Coulter. I know her books are rapetastic, but I loved the Sherbrooke brides series, the viking one not so much.

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  46. Joanna Terrero
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 15:31:56

    @library addict: Awesome book list, thanks for sharing it.

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  47. sarah mayberry
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 15:42:43

    I feel as though the “not your mother’s romance novels” tag is just a way to be negative within the genre. Isn’t it enough that the rest of the world looks down on what we read? And I love that “Gill” is happy to make this sweeping generalisation even though she hasn’t read many of the older books. I mostly cut my romance reading teeth on my grandmother’s romances. My maternal Nan had lots of English hardcover romances, which I read and re-read. My paternal Nan had lots of Mills and Boons. I loved them all. My first “big” romance novel that sticks out in my memory is Dorothy Daniel’s The Cormac Legend. Short summary: Ireland during the famine. Kate is prettiest girl in starving village, and is sent to the castle to beseech the lord for food for the others. He rapes her, but they get their food. This happens one more time, then things get better and the villagers, once they have food in their bellies, condemn Kate for being a slattern. She is ostracised, so she goes to the castle to demand some sort of protection from the man who despoiled her and becomes his housekeeper. Naturally, she falls in love with him. And he has some incredibly silly legend shenanigans hanging over him that I won’t go into. Is it a great book? When I was 15, I thought it was AWESOME. I don’t want to read it again now because I don’t want to ruin that memory. At the time, the rapey stuff didn’t bother me at all. Suspect I would be pretty twitchy about it now, however.

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  48. Melissa
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 17:26:26

    I enjoy historicals from the 90′s, you still had alpha males and exciting stories but the heroes weren’t rapey anymore. Plus I started reading during that time period so I think that makes me enjoy the style more.

    Historicals I enjoyed from the late 80′s and 90′s:
    Comanche Moon by Catherine Anderson – epic western
    Honor’s Splendour, The Secret by Julie Garwood – sweet romances that make me feel good when I read them
    The Lion’s Bride by Iris Johansen – interesting Crusades setting, I knew about the Knights Templar years before the DaVinci Code because of this book :)
    Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsay – for some reason this is my favorite JL book, it’s not super angsty but it’s a decent medieval. Plus it has a farting cat in it – how many of those do you see?
    The Scotsman by Juliana Garnett – really nice Scottish medieval
    Hunter’s Bride, Joseph’s Bride and Grey Eagle’s Bride by Jessica Wulf – really good western trilogy featuring three brothers on the western frontier in the early 1850′s. I am nit sure what happened to this author, I think she was pretty talented.

    Contemporaries from the late 80′s and 90′s I enjoy:

    Lucky’s Lady by Tami Hoag – I still love this sexy Louisiana bayou based romance with a bad boy hero

    Mackenzie series, Midnight Rainbow, Diamond Bay, White Lies, After the Night, Heart of Fire, Dream Man by Linda Howard – I consider this time period LH’s golden period, I love these books and reread them often

    Born in Fire, Born in Ice by Nora Roberts – some of my first romances ever, I enjoyed the Ireland setting and the heroines.

    One Summer by Karen Robards – older woman, younger man romance with an ex-con hero

    Fever Dreams by Laura Leone – jungle adventure romance, we used to see this theme often in this time period (maybe because of Romancing the Stone?)

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  49. Keishon
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 17:51:07

    I started reading romance in the 90′s and those were the best books. I still remember a list another romance reader gave me on an AOL member board where she listed books that I must read and I am sharing those now:

    1) Heartless by Mary Balogh
    2) The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale
    3) Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale
    4) Through a Dark Mist by Marsha Canham
    5) Rendezvous by Amanda Quick
    6) Ravished by Amanda Quick

    I can’t remember the rest but that’s how I got started reading those authors. I’d also add as must reads:

    Heart of the West by Penelope Williamson
    The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson
    Fever Dreams by Laura Leone
    Reason To Believe by Kathleen Eagle (all of her stuff)
    One Summer and Maggie’s Child by Karen Robards
    Born in Ice by Nora Roberts
    Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught
    Paradise by Judith McNaught
    Beast by Judith Ivory (but her earlier titles are the best like Bliss and Dance but they are OOP)
    Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
    Small Town Girl by LaVyrle Spencer
    The Color of Love by Sandra Kitt
    Pure Sin by Susan Johnson
    My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway
    Keepsake by Antoinette Stockenberg (digitized)
    Beyond Midnight by Antoinette Stockenberg (digitized)
    Against the Wind by Anne Stuart (digitized)
    Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    Heart Throb by Suzanne Brockmann

    There are just so many good romances out there. I wish I could name every last one that I enjoyed so much but these titles have come to mind first. Now to go read everybody else’s lists.

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  50. Ann
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 18:02:17

    My favorites are-

    Kathleen Woodiwiss-Shanna, Ashes in the Wind

    LaVyrle Spencer-Hummingbird, The Gamble

    I loved Barbara Delinski’s Candlelight and Temptation books. I still have them. Some of her earlier books-Within Reach, Commitments

    I loved Johanna Lindsey books from the 80′s and 90′s

    Jennifer Blake’s- Midnight Waltz

    I know that there are more books out there. I can’t think right now.

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  51. Tabs
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 18:08:51

    Oh, I love the title of this post so much. It’s been making me smile all day. I have always found “not your mother’s romance novels” to be a condescending jerkwad of a phrase.

    I haven’t read a great deal of 80′s/90′s romance novels but since almost all of my favorite romantic comedy films are from the 80′s and 90′s, I wouldn’t be shocked to find a plethora of gold there.

    Also, this post is going to give me far to many books to track down now, damn it. I’ve been reading a bunch of Harlequin Treasuries, Julie Garwood, and Johanna Lindsey books this year pretty much solely on articles here on DA and over on SmartBitches so I’m sure I’ll find lots of things to love in this comment section. Thanks all!

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  52. Grace
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 18:48:09

    The only thing I miss about the 80s romances was that sense of epic grandeur, especially the historicals. Everything was a sweeping montage of high drama and adventure. My favorites from that decade and the 90s:

    Hummingbird by Lavyrle Spencer
    Private Treaty by Kathleen Eagle
    Ravished by Amanda Quick
    Prince of Swords by Ann Stuart (I’ve read a truckload of Stuart’s novels. Her heroines have worn thin with me because every single one cries after sex, but she writes fabulous anti-heroes)
    The Secret Pearl by Mary Balogh
    Son of the Morning by Linda Howard (not fond of the hero, but the heroine Grace St. John is wonderful)
    Heather and Velvet by Teresa Medeiros
    Siren Song by Roberta Gellis
    Mackenzie’s Mountain by Linda Howard

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  53. Amy Kathryn
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 19:03:05

    A lot of my favorites are also from the 90s and many have already been mentioned like Julie Garwood’s medievals, Susan Johnson, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and Linda Howard.

    I also have on my keeper shelf Kathleen Harrington’s Dream Seeker trilogy (mom captured by Indians and then the stories of her twin daughters who end up in England and Scotland–a trifecta of locations). Veil of Secrets and Veil of Passion by Maura Seger along with some Virginia Henley books.

    I have been on a major binge of the Signet trad regencies from the 90s lately and loving them, also.

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  54. library addict
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 19:22:32

    @Lisa J: I do.

    I’ve got a bunch by Rachel Ryan (aka Sandra Brown), Jayne Castle (aka Jayne Ann Krentz), Jessica Massey (aka Jennifer Greene), and Lee Magner on my keeper shelf.

    Candlelight had some great categiory romances. I also quite enjoyed Jove’s Second Chance at Love and To Have & To Hold lines.

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  55. Evangeline Holland
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 19:38:25

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned Betina Krahn! Her books were HUGE–in conflict, in character, in history and in humor. Her underrated-ness has always baffled me.

    I’ll also throw in Teresa Medeiros–no one could make me cry and laugh like Medeiros’ releases from the 1990s.

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  56. lijakaca
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 22:26:50

    I started reading romances from my mother’s and sister’s collection when I was about 13, but I missed out on the huge blockbusters because most of what they had were trad Regencies – we still have bookcases full of old Coventrys and Candelights and Harlequins and Signets. I was always confused when I’d tell my friends I read romance and they’d say all Harlequins have sex in them – very few of the ones I read did – I remember being titillated by a breast being fondled! Ah, the good old days.

    My favourite authors (and books) from that time period are Marian Devon (Georgiana), Judith Nelson (The Merry Chase), both who owe a lot to Heyer, and Joan Smith (Memoirs of a Hoyden). I remember some very old Anne Stuart Candlelights (The Demon Count) as well, I found them fascinating in their dark atmosphere – but still no sex. And I also loved early Jo Beverley (Emily and the Dark Angel) and Loretta Chase (The Devil’s Delilah).

    I tried to read a couple contemporary Harlequins then, but I was disappointed – they seemed quite sexist. I could understand that in historicals but didn’t want to read about heroes in my time that thought that way. Even now, I hardly ever read contemporary romance.

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  57. Junne
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 03:54:51

    OK, here’s my list:

    - Dark dominion – Charlotte Lamb

    - Temptation – Charlotte Lamb

    - Alison Fraser – Running Wild ( love story between teacher and student)

    - Alison Fraser – Princess

    - Anne Mather – Rachel Trevellyan ( one of the very few HP that has a heroine’s name as title of book, and the book is very unlike its predecessors, it really focuses on Rachel rather than the hero)

    - Rage to possess – Jayne Bauling ( very powerful, jealous hero)

    - Winner Take All by Brooke Hastings ( won the 1982 RITA award )

    - The long surrender – Charlotte Lamb

    - Miranda Lee – Marriage and Miracles ( beware, hero raped heroine in a previous book but still very entrancing)

    - Carole Mortimer – The Wade dynasty ( two sisters loving two brothers)

    - Sally Tyler Hayes- Our child? ( deals with the loss of a child, very heartwrenching)

    - Jane Arbor – Invisible wife ( typical heroine loves weaker little brother, but he dies and she is forced to marry older and more stern brother. Setting is Italy)

    - Miranda Lee – Marriage in jeopardy ( one of the very few category books where the H and h have a real marriage of convenience – though consummated- and fall in love with each other years after the wedding. It’s actually refreshing to see they learnt to know each other and that’s what led them to love)

    - Nalini Singh – Secrets in the marriage bed ( yes, she did write category books! this one is very good, deals with a troubled marriage)

    - Nalini Singh – Awaken to pleasure ( very pleasing boss/secretary book)

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  58. Kaetrin
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 04:24:34

    Some of my favourite books are from the 80s and 90s. Heartless by Mary Balogh. Almost any of her traditional regencies. Jo Beverley’s early Rogues books (I love them all pretty much). Roberta Gellis’ Roselynde Chronicles still all hold up for me. The earlier Mary Jo Putneys are still wonderful IMO. I actually have Christine Monson’s Stormfire and Rangoon on my keeper shelves – despite my current sensibilities, they are still favourites (I, like Sarah Mayberry mentioned above, read a lot of the rape-y books in my early teens and the significance of some of what I read was lost on me. I have different taste now and don’t generally enjoy that kind of story now, but the old favourites like Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower end up in a special (and possibly hypocritical) category for me.)

    I think every era has its great and awful books actually and back then was no different.

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  59. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 11:58:38

    As much I dislike the “not your mother’s romance novel” mantra, I’m not sure it’s intended to refer to or put down the romances of previous generations. I thisnk it’s meant to refer to the sweet, “closed door” romances being written today by folks like Debbie Macomber and other authors who used to write romances back in the 80s/90s but now eschew that label (e.g., Danielle Steele). My suspicion is that the phrase is meant to convey the idea that these are steamy, sexy romances that won’t leave anything to the imagination. Maybe your MOM wants the door closed on that stuff, but YOU are more liberated than HER and thus, want to read the naughty bits.

    But that’s just my interpretation.

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  60. Joanna Terrero
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 12:29:15

    @Jackie Barbosa: Said like that, it makes sense and I agree with you.
    However, a few months ago, I went to an author’s website, she was promoting her books as ‘not your mother’s romance novel’ and I read one of the blurs. The story was about a woman abused by her evil husband, she, of course, finds healing and happiness with the hero. Until there, I was interested, I started to read the excerpt and couldn’t finish it. The author chose to share a scene where the abusive ex cuts the heroine with a blade, while calling her names. Definitely, not my mother’s romance novel, either mine.

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  61. John
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 15:27:33

    Oh, I love these discussions. Mostly because I feel like such a weirdo for my opinions in said discussion.

    I’m very much a modern romance reader. I came into the genre this decade. I should theoretically respond well to the mentality of the genre as it is written now. I just don’t. I enjoy many authors of this decade, but some of the most cracktastic, keeper-shelf types of books are the ones that I’ve read from before the 2000′s.

    My personal must-reads include:

    The Secret by Julie Garwood

    The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (not for everyone, but slow pacing aside it is really quite good)

    Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught

    Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey

    Scandal by Amanda Quick

    Breath of Magic by Teresa Medeiros

    I find it interesting, really. I’m a modern reader and completely understand the aversion to forced seduction and rape, yet I can read books with it easily. I think part of it’s because I’m a guy, honestly. Not because guys are stronger or because it’s normal for them to think of women as sex objects (nothing could be further from the truth in my mind), but because for guys the worry of day-to-day sexual advantage isn’t there. I don’t have to worry about some guy thinking I’m weak and trying to rape me. The differences in those kinds of mindsets can make it much easier to accept that kind of event in a relationship and get over it in a romance novel, which I see as something sad.

    Sad, because I really wish I could understand it more immediately when dealing with media. However, it does make reading these novels easier. I find that some like Whitney and TF&TF do address the rape and the feelings post-rape in the couple. Things are still glossed over, but they do surprisingly address that and show that the couple can fall in love/regain love after a moment like that depending on the situation if they are within that kind of mindset. Most of the ones I’ve read so far haven’t been TOO rapey, though I do have several oldies in my pile that will doubtlessly be filled with the stuff. Sigh.

    @Evangeline Holland: I have a Krahn in my TBR pile – The Princess and the Barbarian. I have to admit…it looks mighty good. I may have to pick it up sooner based on your recommendation. Avon’s old authors sure were good ones.

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  62. azteclady
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 19:49:02

    Well, my mother’s romances all ended with dead heroines, so anything where the female protagonist is still breathing on the last page would not be ‘my mother’s romances’

    With that out of the way, bad writing and good writing, tired tropes and amazingly good used of same, have been around far longer than the ’80s–and many of those books can stand to be re-read often through the years. So far I haven’t become as enamored of many of the more current releases.

    (I’m loving the lists, by the way–some I am nodding along with, others I’m writing down, and a few more leave me scratching my head :grin: )

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  63. Melisse Aires
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 20:14:35

    Hmmm, my mother and I read many of the same romances. We both liked the Silhouette line a lot. And a writer named Glenna Finley–she wrote romantic suspense. Other than Woodiweis I read mostly Barbara Cartlands and Regencies.

    I think there was more variety in category romance in the eighties and nineties. Ann Stuart’s Cinderman was a HAR. Now HQN has no place for a book like that, not dark enough for Nocturne, too sci fi/paranormal for the other lines.

    Hopefully Entangled will have some variety. I get tired of cowboys, billionaires and CEOs.

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  64. Lada
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 17:57:14

    I’m so late to this discussion but appreciate Jane’s argument. I began reading romance in the 90s and did feel like I was lucky in the books being published at the time. Lisa Kleypas and Loretta Chase were among my favorites. I didn’t think I cared much for contemporary…then I discovered Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Some of my favorites have aged well, some haven’t and I admit my reading tastes have changed, too.

    But I’m shocked that no one seems to have brought up Judith McNaught yet. Love her or hate her (and Whitney, My Love is a stinker), I think she perfectly personifies those sweeping, epic romances that differ from the popular romances of today.

    Kingdom of Dreams (1989): Who can forget when big, bad Royce Westmoreland stops his horse so Jennifer has a moment to smooth her skirts and hair before meeting all of his people. And that’s after she’d spent a few days being bratty and driving him nuts.

    Something Wonderful (1988): I think the amnesia trope plays a part in keeping the newly married hero and heroine appart for so long everyone is convinced the hero is dead. Until he shows up in church just as she’s about to marry his brother…heh.

    Almost Heaven(1990): Ian Thorton ruins Elizabeth Haverstone’s reputation beyond repair and then conveniently disappear while she suffers the aftermath. Years later their paths cross when she’s being forced to finally choose a husband and he discovers what his behavior has wrought. Oh, the amends he makes!

    I know Paradise (1991) and Perfect (1994)are also favorites of many readers. Anyone compiling a list of “must read” romances from the past should include some McNaught!!

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  65. Angela James
    Dec 10, 2011 @ 17:06:20

    I’ve had this post open since it posted so I could post some books. Considering nearly every Julie Garwood historical was released in the 80s & 90s, and they still get a huge amount of love from many, many readers, I’m surprised they’re not mentioned more often. Also, they’re books I still use to hook readers into the romance genre. They’re just cracktastic.

    Judith Michael’s Inheritance falls in the “glam” romance category of the 80s. Very dramatic and sweeping contemporaries (not quite as deliciously trashy as Jackie Collins) and definite happy ending. I’m just biding my time until they put her backlist in digital.

    I echo the Jayne Ann Krentz novels of the 80s & 90s. I still like to re-read ones like Dreams, Family Man, Hidden Talents and so many others. I’d also include the categories she wrote as Stephanie James.

    One of my still favorite re-reads ever is Elizabeth Lowell’s Tell Me No Lies from ’86. Sometimes I think I’ll explode if I don’t get a digital copy of this book: When some of the world’s most priceless artifacts are smuggled into the United States, art market expert Lindsay Danner and her bodyguard, ex-CIA agent Jacob MacArthur Catlin, find themselves in a web of passionate deception.

    Johanna Lindsey’s Love Only Once is the beginning of the Mallory’s and still so much freakin’ fun: Her life changed forever the night she was abducted from a dark Londonstreet and carried to a stranger’s townhouse. At first Regina Ashton wasamused, then outraged at the arrogance of this bronzed, golden-curledseducer who so deftly taught her a woman’s passion… and a woman’s shame.Though he dragged her good name through the mud, Reggie knew she would neverbe able to forget Nicholas Eden.

    Honestly, I adore her older books. Especially her futuristic Warrior’s Woman. Spanking! Forced seduction! A black haired, violet eyed heroine!

    And a book that’s the epitome of the 80s rapetastic historicals and which I love to hate to love: Catherine Coulter’s Rosehaven.

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