Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between all of those Harlequin lines (Mills & Boon in the UK) lines? Do you know your Intrigue from your Romantic Suspense, your Presents from your Desire, and your Romance from your Heartwarming? What happens to Love when it gets Inspired?
Harlequin as a brand is often synonymous with “romance” to outsiders, but many romance readers don’t read it much or at all. Personally, some of my all-time favorite reads have been Harlequins, especially from their Historicals lines, and I’ve had wonderful afternoons reading some of their contemporaries.
But Harlequin as an entity is huge, and it is bewildering to figure out where to start. I created this guide, with some commentary and recommendations of books scoring a B or above from our database, to help navigate the wide world of Harlequin. Whether you’re trying Harlequin for the first time or you’re a long-time reader always happy to find new books, I hope this will be useful!
Before we start:
- First, these are the Harlequin series romance lines, which is to say, not its subsidiary imprints like Carina or Avon.
- Second, there are lots of lines you may have heard of (Kimani, Blaze, Superromance…) which I didn’t include here because they are not at this time active. Please fish in the comments for hits from those discontinued lines!
- Third, as far as I know, every mainstream Harlequin romance line is cisgender heterosexual m/f only.
- Finally, I’ve generally stuck to books from the last 5-6 years (unless I could only find less recent ones in our DB). Please chime in with oldies but goodies I didn’t list!
Harlequin says: “Welcome to the glamorous lives of royals and billionaires, where passion knows no bounds. Be swept into a world of luxury, wealth and exotic locations.”
Caroline says: This is it – the archetype of what most people think of when they say “Harlequin”. This is where you’ll find powerful (and sometimes overpowering) alpha Italians, Greeks, and sheikhs, where the heroines will be Cinderellas, and where the titles are as dramatic as the stories. Typically, these stories are at a warm heat level, but everything in Presents is intense, and the sexual attraction is no exception. At its worst, it’s histrionic, but at its best, it’s escapist perfection.
AAR Recommends: Caitlin Crews (Imprisoned by the Greek’s Ring, Bride by Royal Decree), Lynn Rae Harris (A Game With One Winner), Kelly Hunter (The Man She Loves To Hate), Ally Blake (The Magnate’s Indecent Proposal)
Harlequin says: “Luxury, scandal, desire—welcome to the lives of the American elite.”
Caroline says: Oil tycoons, financiers, tech billionaires, actors, i-bankers, and the like. The heroines are often rich in their own right, so if the typical Harlequin Presents power imbalance bothers you, these books may be a better fit. In recent years, Desire has made strides increasing the number of interracial couples and couples of color in this line, and quite a few authors of color write for them as well. Sex scenes are generally warm.
AAR Recommends: Jessica Lemon (Best Friends, Secret Lovers, A Christmas Proposition) Yahrah St. John (Red Carpet Redemption), Sophia Singh Sasson (Marriage By Arrangement)
Harlequin says: “Emotion and intimacy simmer in international locales—experience the rush of falling in love!”
Caroline says: In synopsis form, these books often sound like Presents: foreign settings, a hero who is usually a millionaire/billionaire/prince etc. The difference lies in the tone, which is less high-energy/dramatic than a Presents, and the heat level, which is lower. If Presents is Whitney’s version of I Will Always Love You, Romance is Dolly’s original – the same bones, but subtler.
AAR Recommends: Barbara Wallace (One Night in Provence), Marion Lennox (Christmas Where They Belong), Melissa James (The Sheikh’s Destiny),
Harlequin says: Sexy romances featuring powerful alpha males and bold, fearless heroines exploring their deepest fantasies.
Caroline says: This is Harlequin’s hottest line. The heroes are wealthy, lusty, and bossy, and the heroines are in touch with their sexual sides. The sex scenes are generally in the AAR “Hot” range. In total honesty, I had more success with the Blaze line, which Dare replaced.
AAR Recommends: Margot Radcliffe (Friends with Benefits), Jackie Ashenden (King’s Ransom, King’s Price), Caitlin Crews (Unleashed)
Harlequin Special Edition
Harlequin says: “Relate to finding comfort and strength in the support of loved ones. Enjoy the journey no matter what life throws your way.”
Caroline says: Common tropes here are single parents finding a new partner and homecomings, generally to small towns. They advertise that varied heat levels are welcome, but the category is dominated by books in the subtle-to-warm range. This is a cozy, comfort line.
AAR Recommends: Jo McNally (Her Homecoming Wish), Nina Crespo (The Cowboy’s Claim), Cathy Gillen Thacker (A Tale of Two Christmas Letters), Rochelle Alers (Second Chance Sweet Shop)
Harlequin says: “Escape to the world where life and love play out against a high-pressured medical backdrop.”
Caroline says: This line evolved from but goes beyond your classic “Doctor/Nurse” Betty Neels-type books. Nowadays, the hero or the heroine can be the doctor (sometimes both are!) and “medical” can include anything from bush pilots to veterinarians, so this line is wide-ranging. Heat levels vary but are generally not past warm.
AAR Recommends: Amy Andrews (Swept Away by a Seductive Stranger), Fiona Lowe (Newborn Baby for Christmas)
Harlequin says: “Fall in love with stories where faith helps guide you through life’s challenges, and discover the promise of a new beginning.”
Caroline says: While that tag does not officially limit “faith” to Christianity, this is a Christian line (submission guidelines say “Strong contemporary romances with a Christian worldview and wholesome values.”) You won’t find any premarital sex, or even lustful thinking, in this line; the characters are becoming emotionally intimate. These books are generally kisses, or at most, subtle – but only after the wedding! – and heroes and heroines do not drink, gamble, or swear. This is where you’ll find most of your Amish romances, and a bonanza at Christmas.
AAR recommends: Jo Ann Brown (An Amish Easter Wish)
Love Inspired Suspense
Harlequin says: “Find strength and determination in stories of faith and love in the face of danger.”
Caroline says: The same rules as Love Inspired apply – Christian characters, low/closed door sensuality, no drinking, gambling, or premarital sex – but with the addition of a suspense plot. This line features protector heroes, so look for a lot of bodyguards, witness protection, and law enforcement heroes.
AAR recommends: Maggie K. Black (Witness Protection Unraveled), Margaret Dailey (A Standoff at Christmas)
Harlequin says: “Connect with uplifting stories where the bonds of friendship, family and community unite.”
Caroline says: Actually, we haven’t reviewed many of these, and nothing passed the B-grade threshold! What do you all know?
Harlequin says: “Be seduced by the grandeur, drama and sumptuous detail of romances set in long-ago eras!”
Caroline says: This is the line we read, review, and have DIK’ed the most. Harlequin Historicals is a great place to get shorter but no less intricate stories set in the past. The dominant setting in this line is 19th century Britain, followed by Viking and Medieval Europe. However, there are always surprises in this line that go further afield. Heat is generally warm.
For 19th Century Britain:
Virginia Heath (A Warriner to Tempt Her, His Mistletoe Wager, and more),
Marguerite Kaye (A Wife Worth Investing In, A Scandalous Winter Wedding, and more),
Julia Justiss (Forbidden Nights with the Viscount, The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife, and more),
Lara Temple (Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress, The Rake’s Enticing Proposal, and more)
Although many of her recent releases have been through other publishers, no Harlequin Historicals list would be complete without Carla Kelly.
For other settings:
Greta Gilbert (The Spaniard’s Innocent Maiden – Conquest-era Mexico)
Harper St. George (Longing for her Forbidden Viking)
Elizabeth Hobbes (Uncovering the Merchant’s Secret – medieval France; A Runaway Bride for the Highlander – Renaissance Scotland)
Michelle Styles (A Noble Captive – Roman-era Crete)
Paula Marshall (An Unconventional Heiress – Regency Australia)
Jeannie Lin (Tang Dynasty series)
Lauri Robinson (The Wrong Cowboy – American West)
Harlequin Says: “Dive into action-packed stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Solve the crime and deliver justice at all costs.”
Caroline says: Think of this as “suspense with strong romantic elements.” The thriller plot comes first. Neither the violence nor the sex will be explicit.
AAR Recommends: Nicole Helm (Wyoming Cowboy Justice)
Harlequin Romantic Suspense
Harlequin says: “These heart-racing page-turners will keep you guessing to the very end. Experience the thrill of unexpected plot twists and irresistible chemistry.”
Caroline says: Intrigue leads with the suspense; Romantic Suspense leads with the love story. The sensuality level can be much warmer than in Intrigue.
AAR Recommends: Susan Cliff (Navy SEAL Rescue, Witness on the Run), Deborah Fletcher Mello (Seduced by the Badge)
And now over to you readers. What Harlequins do you read (or avoid) and why? What titles and authors do you recommend for any newbies?
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
Update: Roan Parrish has just announced that she will be publishing Harlequin’s first
“on-page queer romance” in a series line! Congrats!
That’s great news – thanks for posting :)
For recent HP authors, I love Dani Collins and Tara Pammi that were not mentioned yet.
older one Michelle Reid.
Many beloved names like Kelly Hunter, Sophie Weston, have been already mentioned.
thank you, great post & discussion!
Since some Harlequin writers have joined us (yay!), and we got on the subject of foreign languages, would anybody be willing to share if their work has been translated? If so, which languages? Also, where can translated Harlequin titles be purchased? There’s no official website that I’ve found.
Another question for Harlequin writers: any news about the limited edition Inspirational lines “Cold Case” and “Mountain Rescue?” Harlequin made a big announcement on their blog a few months ago, soliciting stories for these two limited edition lines and then… nothing. Does anybody have any insight on this?
when I scroll on Amazon under the name of a popular HP author, I get other languages further down the pages, German Italian Spanish Dutch are very common. Whether you can get more (to me, when Amazon is concerned) exotic languages such as Polish or Russian or Japanese, simply from Amazon – no idea. But I know the books get translated into many many languages!
Great tip! Thanks! I’ll check it out.
That’s a good (and tricky) question, because translation decisions are made by each local Harlequin office, so it varies very much by author. To my knowledge there isn’t one public place where you can go to get a full list of each author’s translations. Amazon certainly doesn’t show them all. For example, some of mine are translated into 11 languages (even audiobooks) but I have to go to specific country Amazon or Harlequin or other book sites to find most of them. Still, I’ve always been a big fan of the Harlequin translations – years ago I used Harlequin to help learn French and Arabic – it was the most enjoyable language learning method I’ve ever tried!
Thanks for writing back! I’ve been wondering about translation policies for some time, particularly at a big wig romance publisher like Harlequin. A long time ago, I remember reading a former Harlequin author’s reflections on how no other publisher made so many translations, even for their less famous writers. She said it really is a great, lesser-known perk of writing for Harlequin.
It must be really awesome to hold a translated book in your hand for something you’ve written. Then you could have a weird Twilight Zone experience where you learn the language through your own work. I envy you. :)
Thanks, Nan. I think that’s true about the high ratio of translations at Harlequin, though I couldn’t quantify it. I love seeing translations of my books and I’ve done exactly as you said with my Italian translations – sitting with the English and the Italian versions. Being made love to by my own heroes in Italian is quite a kick!
Oh what fun!!
Yes, ideally, you know the language you want and start looking with favorite authors of yours – and hope to find something.
Just for fun, I just tried with Urdu, found nothing, but then I realized that I would not even know the alphabet – so Urdu is out for now…
Re: foreign translations – my Special Editions have been translated into French and German so far – I’ve only ever looked for them on the France and Germany Amazon sites, so I’m not sure where else to get them. I’ve been meaning to try to read the French translations to see how my high school French has held up.
Also, thanks to the person who mentioned my bisexual hero from In Service of Love!
Wonderful article – thanks for clarifying the differences between the lines (and for recommending my book in Special Edition!). For Heartwarming, definitely check out Claire McEwen or Anna J. Stewart. Both write emotional love stories that have some grit along with the sweet. Claire’s new release, Rescuing the Rancher, is really intense as a female firefighter tries to help save the hero’s ranch from a wildfire.
How did you talk about Harlequin Presents and leave out Lynne Graham? She is the grande dame of the series, and I still buy all her novels that are released in the US. Wealthy alphas, feisty women, passion galore. She is the epitome of the genre.
i love(d) her.
unfortunately, her recent titles are very hit and miss- some are just too much same old same old, like she rewrites her older ones with slight changes. But some, like Mistress Bride, I love and still reread sometimes.
As I mentioned in my post above, Graham’s 1996 HP, SECOND-TIME BRIDE, is a Kindle Daily Deal for 99-cents today.
We don’t have any Lynne Graham books with a score over B in the database!
The only review that comes up for Graham when I run a search is one for Dark Angel, which got panned. I did not like it either. I used the power search and just entered her name. Is there a better way to find the reviews?
Thank you very much for this guide. I’m one of those who sometimes enjoy something shorter. But it is overwhelming the number of category romances out there. So I will take into account your recommendations.
There are quite oldies but goodies novels. We have to remember that great names started in category romances –Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Linda Howard or Sandra Brown, to name a few– that began their careers writing this kind of book.
My favourite ones, among those oldies, are those written by Jennifer Crusie. Anyone But You (1996) is one of my all-time favourites. It was published in the short-lived line Harlequin Love and Laughter.
I can read nearly any label, but Inspirational. I particularly love Blaze (now Dare) and Historicals, mainly because it’s the only place where I can find unusual settings. I have recently read Palace Brides trilogy, set in Constantinople, 11th century, written by Carol Townend and I’ve really enjoyed the first one (Bound to the Barbarian) and the third one (Betrothed to the Barbarian).
And of course, Carla KELLY has written quite a good novels in this line. The surgeon’s lady (2009) and Her hesitant heart (2013) come to my mind.
I realise that I have read not a book from the Harlequin Heartwarming line. But I have seen good reviews of Montana Welcome (2020).
Sarah Mayberry is one of my favourite authors among more recent writers.
Just want to say…they aren’t all cisgender! I have a bisexual heroine coming out in June 2021 with Romantic Suspense. It was written two years ago and was originally contracted as a Superromance. Romantic Suspense picked up the contract when the line folded.
Great to know! As Caz wrote earlier – HQN doesn’t use Netgalley very actively, so do feel free to reach out to our editors if you would like someone to review it!
I would love that!! I will definitely do so! Thank you!
This is a great comprehensive list!!! I’ve been pleasantly surprised by several love inspired suspense where the woman saves the day. They’re getting a lot better featuring strong women. Their heartwarming line is basically their love inspired Minus religion.
I miss the Blaze line and the Dare line’s days are numbered (I heard they are ending the line from a twitter post by Angela James (https://twitter.com/angelajames/status/1259978196168183809?s=20 ) so I wonder what will replace them. I think the Desire line has definitely gotten hotter though, especially the books by Naima Simone.
Oh, and the Dare line is closing in June 2021
I don’t think the Dare line ever really found its footing—and I remain baffled as to why the Blaze line had to be discontinued to make room for it. Since its debut, Dare has been hit or miss for me. Caitlin Crews wrote some really good books for the line (the Filthy Billionaires series, TEACH ME, TAKE ME, TEMPT ME, is especially good), but I think other writers (including Katee Robert and Clare Connelly) struggled with the Dare template where the limited page count, along with the requirement that sex scenes be hot & frequent, often resulted in conflicts between the MCs that seemed simultaneously overblown and too easily resolved. The other issue with Dare is that, despite its claim that it features heroines exploring their deepest fantasies, it never really “went there,” so to speak. Several books I read included references to anal sex, menages, and sex toys, but there would rarely be on-page activity involving same. It takes ten generations for the characteristics of a new dog breed to stabilize—and perhaps it’s the same with the Dare line: it just wasn’t given enough time for its true character to emerge. I do feel bad for the writers who may have manuscripts in the Dare pipeline though—hopefully they can tweak the material and publish elsewhere.
Also, in today’s Kindle Daily Deals, there’s an old Harlequin Presents on sale for 99-cents. It surprised me when I saw it because HPs rarely go on sale. The book is SECOND-TIME BRIDE by the doyenne of HPs, Lynne Graham. It was first published in 1996, so it probably has “old skool” elements (and it includes the “secret child” trope), but if you’re new to HPs and wanted to get a sample, less than a buck is not a bad price point.
Caroline, this is an EXCELLENT post! I have bookmarked it for future reference.
Thank you for posting this! I have been looking back at category romance this week. I loved the older Silhouette Special Edition, Intimate Moments, and Desire lines. I also became addicted to Old Skool Harlequin Presents.
I wasn’t crazy about the changes in the Desire line — the way the line became more … “tycoonish.” Or the way Intimate Moments became the romantic suspense line instead of a line that could include those elements. Le Sigh. Or the recent name changes from Silhouette to Harlequin in the old Silhouette lines (although I understood those changes were needed to make the lines show up in searches).
I’m glad to read that while the new Desire books still have tycoons, actors, billionaires, etc., the power balances are better. That makes them a lot more promising. Especially as the authors and characters are more diverse.
If I want them in paperback, I might be out of luck. I think the local Wal-Mart only carries the Spanish-language Desire books. But because the newer Harlequin mass markets usually have smaller print, I’m happier buying them in ebook format from an AAR link. :)
“If I want them in paperback, I might be out of luck. I think the local Wal-Mart only carries the Spanish-language Desire books.”
On the other hand, you could use them to learn a new language. :) I remember the Hungarian polyglot Kato Lomb, who worked professionally in 16 languages- most of which she learned after the age of 40!- was big on learning language through romance, thrillers, and other pulpy genre books.
My fantasy e-reader would offer the option of a dictionary that is English-to-foreign-language and vice versa, so I could read in a foreign language and just touch the screen to bring up a word. Or it would offer the option of using the OED, although my guess is that that would be pricy. There are way too many words my Nook dictionary does not have, or has inadequate definitions for.
You and I have the same dream reader, Still reading!
“On the other hand, you could use them to learn a new language. :)”
I’d want to take some type of lessons first. :) And first, I’d have to find time. :(
You might want to take at Benny Lewis’s blog “Fluent in 3 Months” for quick language learning tips that can be applied in short blocks of time, such as language-learning smartphone apps that can be used in the checkout line at the grocery store or on the bus during a commute. He also wrote a book by the same title. His big thing is speaking from Day 1 and using mnemonics and a spaced repetition flashcard system like “Anki” to remember vocabulary.
Another book that I liked about language acquisition was Fluent Forever, which gave similar tips. Neither author recommends formal language classes- at least at first. An interesting perspective, I thought.
I purchased one of my favorite Joanna Bourne novels in French hoping it would help me brush up on some long forgotten and unused language skills. I still haven’t taken the time to get all the way through it in French (and I’ve owned it for quite a while now) but I pick it up time and again. I can’t say my French has improved but it reminded me of how much grammar I either lost (or maybe never learned). It is fun to see how things are changed or not as they are translated.
“It is fun to see how things are changed or not as they are translated.”
Definitely! I’ve recently attempted some tandem reading with the original English book next to the Spanish translation. Sometimes, I end up liking the Spanish interpretation better! Translation is definitely an art as well as a science.
As for learning language with the book, I use Kato Lomb’s suggestion not to reach for the dictionary every time I run across a word I don’t know- as tempting as that is. Instead, I make sure I can understand the gist of it, and see if I can guess what the word means based on the context. If I can’t figure it out, or want to make sure my guess is accurate, then I look up the word and write it down. But only if I absolutely need it to get what’s going on- or if the word is showing up a lot. Like Lomb said (paraphrase), “If you’re reading a scene where a detective is watching a suspect from behind a bush, does it really matter if he’s hiding behind a hawthorn bush or a blackberry bush? You can look that up later when you revisit the book with greater confidence. Just find out what happens next!”
I kept doing that.
I mean, I had to learn a bit first, but getting fluent. Started with English, went on to Italian and Spanish. Harlequins are great since there is a lot of dialogue, many everyday scenes (greetings, food, clothes, daily stuff like taxis or trains etc,), and the basic story is predictable and short, so you get through, even if you don’t understand everything in the first few you read.
Awesome! I’m so glad you put in a good word for language learning through genre fiction.
Tell me, did you read the foreign language books in isolation or have a copy of your native language translation next to you as a crutch/training wheel? I’ve heard arguments for both forms of reading- with the goal being eventually not using the native language version of the book. Did you use the dictionary heavily or just keep reading to the end?
I try to use the dictionary as little as possible – unless a word comes up again and again – and I feel that it might really be important to the plot – I never do that. I just let go whether he took off her skirt or her bra, and whether he caressed her ankle or her shin, until it becomes clear by itself. Which it mostly does. And I can live well without ever figuring out whether the heroine’s dress had ruffles or was wraparound. I know tree names or such in one language, and look it up if I need it. But that is me.
Usually, I start out with books I know by heart (or nearly) and love. and have them side by side, and do that for a couple of books. Agatha Christie is rather good for that, too.
Then I try to just read some series (HP) and let it just be as it is – ideally getting them cheap or used, so it does not matter much. and after a few books it starts to “click”, I start getting it and more and more forgetting that I read in another language, but for a few (5 or more) it is a hard effort to just go on and accept that a lot is a total mystery, storywise.
Maybe it would get even better doing it with audio, I have not done that yet, I learned my last language (Spanish) for now around 2002 / 2003.
What I also do is language “maintenance” via such easy books – someone mentioned forgetting a language – yes, that is a problem and relatively (!!) easily tackled by just reading a few easy simple short books – or just listening to a bit on YouTube or elsewhere.
The thing is, you need something that truly helps for daily life – and a lot of books and newscasts are totally useless for daily interaction type stuff – “I’ld like a cup of coffee” or “I missed my bus” is rather rare in fantasy or historicals, or in newscasts – I remember hating (sorry!!!) Gone with the Wind – all these descriptions of nature and of dresses – never-ending and I just could not at all get an idea of what things looked like (and how you pronounce a lot of them: still do not know how bougainvilla is pronounced … spelling??)
Series books do that well, there is a lot of daily pedestrian stuff – though villas and yachts not so much….in my daily life ;-)
Thanks for sharing some more of your tips for language acquisition through popular literature. I’m glad to know it takes a few books to get the hang of it, and some clear strategies for improving comprehension skills. I tend to get frustrated easily and have to remind myself everything takes time.
Aw, don’t feel bad about hating Gone with the Wind. No reading shame here, remember? :)
If it makes you feel any better, I just had to look up what a “bougainvillea” is. (It’s a type of vine plant with bright flowers.) According to the internet audio clip I listened to, it’s pronounced something like “boh-gen-VILL-ee-ah.”
:-) Thanks Nan!
I thought it might be easier to read in native language – I loved the film…
One good thing about these books is that they are short and they are easier to read for foreigners than the single titles. Therefore they are the kind of romance novel I recommend to those who are learning English and are not very fluent yet. I think it could work the other way around. If you are learning Spanish, don’t be shy, try category romances in this language.
Some years ago I worked in the Ukraine for 6 months and my Ukrainian female colleagues (in our huge international accounting firm) always asked me to bring back a supply of M&B romaces when I returned from trips back to the UK. They said it was the perfect way to learn colloquial English while reading a good story. My local charity shop appreciated my business too!
I had no idea HQN had a medical romance-centered line. Good work, Caroline, this is comprehensive and handsomely packaged.
So glad category romance is getting some love from AAR! As an author for Medicals we struggle sometimes to get recognition here in the US, since our books aren’t on shelves. The Medicals line definitely has evolved and expanded to include lots of topical issues and topics. And Medicals can be sexy too, not just warm. There really is something for everyone. Thanks again for spotlighting the fabulous, hard-working Harlequin authors! <3
As I’ve said upthread, we obtain a lot of our review books from NetGalley, and the relatively small (compared to overall output) number of Harlequin/M&B titles posted there means that our focus has perhaps been somewhat limited. That doesn’t mean we’re opposed to expanding that focus :)
For me, Sarah Mayberry was the queen of the SuperRomance line, and I enjoyed her Blaze titles as well. Some of my favorites are THE OTHER SIDE OF US, THE BEST LAID PLANS, HER BEST FRIEND, and HOT ISLAND NIGHTS.
I also really enjoy Kelly Hunter, who DiscoDollyDeb talked about in her post, and Sarah Morgan, both HP authors.
Jill Sorenson is a solid author of the Romantic Suspense line. STRANDED WITH HER EX is a good example.
I was introduced to Merline Lovelace though her category romantic suspense, and went on to enjoy her Cleo North trilogy.
I’ve also enjoyed the SuperRomance books by Jennifer Lohmann, especially WINNING RUBY HART which features a paraplegic hero, and RESERVATIONS FOR TWO which will make you hungry.
I’d also recommend Sorenson’s TEMPTED BY HIS TARGET, where an undercover agent begins to fall for the woman he has under surveillance. And I just read INFILTRATION RESCUE by Susan Cliff (the name Sorenson is now publishing under). I had a bit of a problem with the hero (especially the way he coerces the heroine into accompanying him to infiltrate the cult she has escaped from), but I was interested in the topical references to religious cults and white supremacist militias.
Thanks! I saw that book, but right now I an’t bring myself to read about religious cults or white supremacist militias. I had to put down Pretty Pretty Boys by G. Ashe for that reason. Maybe I’ll try something else by her soon.
Thank you so much for this post! I think a lot of people will find it a really valuable resource. I must confess I’m like a horse with blinders when it comes to the different lines. While I’ve mostly picked up the historical line, when I’ve read any others I didn’t pay attention at all to the line it was in. I just selected characters or stories that appealed to me without knowing the parameters. This is very enlightening and now I will probably be cross referencing quite a bit!
I agree. I’m so glad AAR wrote this post because there have been quite a few questions here lately about this topic. Now all the info is in one convenient place! Hooray!
You might also want to check out that Harlequin Submittable link I posted above for additional line details. Harlequins tend to be pretty formulaic (strict word counts, close adhesion to tropes/plot expectations, etc.), which is why I think they have a somewhat negative reputation, but what’s wrong with a comforting formula? I’m certainly glad they are stretching out a bit and that they have Avon and Carina Press in their portfolio, but sometimes the old tried-and-true can feel nice and cozy. :)
I’m curious about the specifics so I will check out the link when I have a little time. I know you are quite knowledgeable about these lines and I thought of you when I saw the post.
I have a special place in my heart for category romances as they were some of my first exposures to “real” romance and my first contemporary romances ever. A lot of authors I went on to read over the years were ones I encountered from category romance like Stephanie James (Jayne Ann Krentz) or one that transitioned like Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell etc.
I feel like it was similar to the old movie contract system with the movie studios that gave the actors work that honed their craft. I don’t think the contemporary full length romance market would have been as good as it was in the late 80’s-90’s and beyond if all those authors didn’t have their years and platform with category romances.
“I feel like it was similar to the old movie contract system with the movie studios that gave the actors work that honed their craft.”
That’s a good point. I remember watching an interview with the recently deceased television writer D.C. Fontana (wrote a lot for the original Star Trek episodes) who lamented the loss of the days when a freelance writer could just go down to a studio with a pitch or script for a TV episode instead of having to be part of a union or some other form of red tape. That’s how shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and the like we able to stay on the air so long with so many episodes: a freelancer could just pop in and say, “Hey! I have an idea for the Cartwrights’ next adventure!” And if the studio liked it, they bought it and filmed it. And if they didn’t, the writer went home and tried to come up with something else. Fontana said this system really worked well because writers had a chance to hone their craft, build a resume, and make some money at it. On the other side of the desk, staff writers got to see a perspective or idea they might have missed by being too insular.
For all my gripes about mainstream publishing, I give Harlequin and Carina Press a lot of credit for being open to unagented manuscripts. Few traditional publishers will look at anything without an agent, which makes this freelancer’s blood boil. I know part of it has to do with legal reasons; people are so litigious these days. But a lot of it is a blatant “weed out” measure. Ostensibly this is to create a standard for quality, but when you see some of the rot that comes out of mainstream publishing, I doubt that quality assurance is the real reason. There’s a definite bias against freelancers, both today and in the past. It goes way back to the old mercenary knights whose swords belonged to the highest bidder rather than a particular king or lord. So, I keep an eye on any markets that have open submission policies, not just for myself but for other literary hopefuls. Because I know how rough it is.
Honestly, I think these tanking mainstream publishers would benefit from open submission policies. The fact a number of Big 5 romance imprints, and some SF presses, have maintained this policy shows it’s quite possible for them to expand themselves to other genres. Because for all their talk of wanting more varied stories and whatnot, requiring an agent represents a real barrier toward progress on that front. Thank goodness KDP has shaken up the game, giving power to the writers and the readers where it belongs!
That was one of the big problems with RWA and the awards for so many years. They weren’t accepting self published books I believe for submissions. That in turn led to a much narrower field, leaving out a lot great choices and many authors who were POC. If you want fresh ideas for anything why wouldn’t you look at new “undiscovered” authors. Some of the big names that exploded in the 80’s were pulled out of “slush” piles.
I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t reading Mills & Boon/Harlequin books, so I am enjoying seeing so many people discovering them or giving them another chance. As Caz said, they are often dismissed and denigrated even by romance readers, so it’s great to see posts like this.
For quite a long time, most of my reading was within what I call the UK lines, so Presents, Romance, Medical and Historical. The Historical line is fantastic because not only do they have some wonderful writes writing for them (not to mention the fact that their UK set historicals feel like they are set in the UK and not in modern day America),but also because of the variety within the line. They currently have a Viking series and have other periods aside from Regency/Victorian, such as Roman, Medieval and Tudor. Within Presents, I mentioned Lucy King’s A Scandal Made in London in a previous tread, but I also enjoy Abby Green, Heidi Rice, Sharon Kendrick, Kate Walker, Michelle Smart, Annie West and Kelly Hunter.
The Romance line is often wrongly thought of as being old-fashioned because it was the original line, but the books within the line are very modern and contemporary. I’ve never read a book by the wonderful Liz Fielding I didn’t like. She can do anything from romantic comedy to searingly emotional romance and is just absolutely wonderful. I also love Katrina Cudmore, Kate Hardy, Marion Lennox and Caroline Anderson (who also write for Medical), Nina Milne, Michelle Douglas, Donna Alward, Jennifer Faye, Ellie Darkins, Sophie Pembroke, Ella Hayes and Jessica Gilmore.
I’ve only recently started reading the Harlequin US lines. For romantic suspense, Delores Fossen who writes for Intrigue is brilliant and her books are fantastic I also love BJ Daniels, Elle James and Debra Webb in that line. Robyn Grady, Yvonne Lindsay and Jayci Lee who write for Desire are great and for Special Edition, Lynne Marshall, Teri Wilson, Michelle Major and Kerri Carpenter.
As a long-time fan of Harlequin, I would love it if Jessica Hart and Sophie Weston would come back to the Harlequin Romance line as their books are witty, heart-warming and so good! Catherine George wrote for Presents and had a wonderful series about the Pennington family set in a fictitious English village which was brilliant.
Apologies for the long post!
Sarah Morgan writes very good medical romances and other Harlequins. I think she also has non-series work out.
I really wish there were more Pennington books from Catherine George. I don’t think George or Sophie Weston, another favorite of mine, are actively writing. Weston’s website is moribund. Her last book listed, To Marry a Prince, is an AU historical that came out in 2011 under the Sophie Page name.
I do know that one time Anne McAllister told readers that one of her books was being issued in the U.K. but not the U.S. it would be a real boon to readers if Harlequin would offer sets of the work by older authors and include all the books regardless of which country or countries they were once published in.
Grumpy editorializing: Harlequin/Mills & Boon, please do not change the titles on reissued books! Just STOP it. Add a subtitle or change the blurb, but messing with the title makes finding reviews and tracking down books difficult and confusing.
For Sophie Weston, look up libertabooks.com – she is active there, and replies to contacts there. I discovered her 6 months ago and went on a total hunt & binge – she has a lot of good books!
I usually go by authors… my go-tos are Joss Wood, Ally Blake, Kelly Hunter, Kimberly Lang, Sarah Mayberry, Karina Bliss, Mira Lyn Kelly, Liz Talley, and Virginia Heath. These authors have a knack for sticking with the formula but making it interesting enough that you don’t realize it, or they’re grounded in enough reality that you aren’t rolling your eyes every other page.
My only caution would be to steer clear of the Texas Cattlemen’s club series… they generally devote precious pages to explaining backstories and this “exclusive” club of hundreds of Texan billionaires who all live in the same small town. Some of my favorite authors have taken on instalments in the series and it’s always a disappointing effort.
Thanks for this analysis! Very useful as things have changed at Harlequin/M&B over the years. I was a big fan of Superromance and Harlequin Historicals 20++ years ago. Some authors I found there included Judith Duncan, Carla Kelly and Paula Marshall. And, most fondly remembered, Betty Neels and her medical romances with all of those Delightful Dishy Dutch Doctors!! And Rachel Lee’s original Conard County books; agree with Still Reading about Miss Emmaline and the Archangel – an old favourite, still remembered, trigger warnings and all.
I think the first M&B I ever read – aged 13/14 – was a Betty Neels. I know all her books have recently been repackaged and republished; I really must read her again.
Great topic and post!
If anybody needs additional detailed information about each category romance line currently offered (or soon to be offered!) by Harlequin, I highly recommend visiting their Submittable page: https://harlequin.submittable.com/submit. (This isn’t a sales link per se, so nothing is being diverted from AAR funds. Just be sure to order through AAR’s Amazon link! :)) This link is designed specifically for authors who are thinking of writing for Harlequin, but I find the detailed line descriptions also helpful for readers as key tropes, heat levels, word counts, and recommended books/TV series are bullet pointed for ease of use. Plus, it can give readers a good sneak peek at which lines are going to be added or discontinued.
Of the Harlequin category romances I have read, Harlequin Historical is probably my favorite line. I also enjoy some Harlequin Intrigue titles for pulpy fun. Heat levels for Harlequin Historical tend to vary a bit more than Intrigue but never hit “hot” levels from what I’ve read. The one I read that came closest to “hot” was Harper St. George’s A Marriage Deal with the Outlaw, which I really enjoyed.
The Intrigue heat levels range from subtle to warm based on the author, but tend to be pretty euphemistic as the emphasis is on solving the mystery. Also, the swearing really has to be toned down, so I always snicker when a cop, gangster, or other tough guy never says anything worse than, “Oh, hell!” Believe me, I’ve dropped worse language after stubbing my toe. But apparently F-bombs aren’t allowed when your car is being shot at. This is what we call “suspension of disbelief.” :)
At this time, I have only read two Inspirational Historical Romances (a discontinued line that looks like it’s going to be revived soon). The stories were interesting mostly for settings and circumstances but a bit too tame for my taste. But I definitely understand the appeal for a reader who wants to be swept into a historical setting and conflicts without an emphasis on the characters’ arousal. Harlequin basically likens this line to the TV series Little House on the Prairie and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, which I think is a fair assessment.
I remember a lot of readers complaining when the historical inspirationals got discontinued, and I really couldn’t understand why they were. They got a lot of praise for being “clean” historical fiction, devoid of swearing, sex, and other elements certain readers didn’t want in their romances. Especially considering that there are other inspirational lines that remain popular enough to publish, I wonder if Harlequin thought it was redundant. Harlequin Historical, after all, allows authors a wide range of heat levels. Who knows? At least they are accepting manuscripts in this category for a “limited time,” so that will hopefully make a lot of readers happy.
Something I find odd is that Harlequin Historical no longer publishes Westerns. It says so right in their submission guidelines. Yet, they are encouraging Western submissions in their Inspirational Historical Romance line. Does anybody have any insight as to why this might be the case? Just speculation here, but maybe sexy Westerns are passé or somehow controversial for political reasons?
I’m not telling anyone here anything new when I say that Harlequin Presents is my angsty catnip and that my favorite HP writers are Kelly Hunter (I’m not sure if she’s still writing for them, but she has a big HP backlist), Caitlin Crews (my Queen!), Jackie Ashenden (her OTT angsty style is absolutely perfect for HP), and Clare Connelly (who, even before she started writing for HP, wrote books with essentially the same style—full of Italian and Greek billionaire tycoons and Sheikhs who rule remarkably progressive Middle-Eastern kingdoms). In addition to the wonderful THE MAN SHE LOVES TO HATE, I strongly recommend Kelly Hunter’s Claimed By A King series: SHOCK HEIR FOR THE CROWN PRINCE, CONVENIENT BRIDE FOR THE KING, and UNTOUCHED QUEEN BY ROYAL COMMAND (there was supposed to be a fourth book, but I can’t find any reference to it—does anyone know if it was ever published). Interestingly for HPs, there is a bisexual supporting character who appears in the books. He’s the king’s cousin in SHOCK HEIR and during the course of the series he eventually settles down with another man. As far as Caitlin Crews is concerned, I think almost all of her HPs are excellent—I especially liked SECRETS OF HIS PREGNANT CINDERELLA from earlier this year which I thought was quite subversive in the way it addressed how men will ostracize and marginalize women they can’t control. Crews has a big backlist (I think she has published at least 50 HPs, which is putting her into the territory of HP’s big guns like Lynne Graham and Melanie Milburne)—I just read a good one from 2012: HEIRESS BEHIND THE HEADLINES. Jackie Ashenden’s style is tailor-made for HP—if you like her angsty plots full of characters with ongoing interior monologues, amazing eye colors, unique pine/citrus/vanilla fragrances, and dysfunctional upbringings filled with absent/abusive/dead/distant parents, you’ll enjoy any of her HPs. I liked her recent royal duet: PROMOTED TO HIS PRINCESS (female bodyguard alert!) and THE MOST POWERFUL OF KINGS. Connelly can be somewhat uneven—her heroines can be a little too fragile, even given the expected power imbalances of the HP universe—but any of her recent HPs, THE SECRET KEPT FROM THE KING or HIRED BY THE IMPOSSIBLE GREEK, will give you an idea of her style. I can’t stress enough that you have to be able to suspend your disbelief and go with the flow when it comes to HPs. If you find yourself resisting the idea of 28-year-old virgins who meet Greek tycoons and getting pregnant the first time they have sex (hey—it could happen!), HPs may not be for you. But if well-written (one thing I love about the Harlequin lines is that they are competently edited and proofread) escapist fare featuring exotic locales and hard-earned HEAs seem like something you’d enjoy, give HPs a try.
I have to correct myself: the bisexual character in the Claimed By A King series is actually the cousin of the king in CONVENIENT BRIDE FOR THE KING. He also shows up in the other two books though.
Adding to the list of bisexual characters – Special Edition released a bisexual hero in a recent book, IN SERVICE OF LOVE. The romance in the book is m/f; he’s a widower whose husband died.
Wow! Thanks for the rec! I just read the product description for In Service of Love, and added it to my never-ending TBR list.
The official product description didn’t mention anything about the hero being a bisexual widower whose husband died. I’m not sure what to make of that omission. On the one hand, someone who might have felt alienated by the storyline if it were made more clear might “accidentally” pick up the book and realize *gasp* it’s definitely okay to have this kind of story in a Harlequin category romance. On the other hand, not mentioning the hero’s bisexuality might make it difficult for readers interested in queer romance/mixed-orientation relationships to find this book. Either way, I’m glad you gave them a shoutout so I can check it out. :)
That’s cool! I’m glad to see changes like this. When I started reading Harlequins, the heroines were generally naive virgins, and the men on the covers often and porn stashes. The occasional gay guy was usually the first husband, who couldn’t have sex with the heroine and later died, leaving her a virgin.
I also love the Kelly Hunter series you mentioned, I read the ebooks and then bought the print copies!
I’ve long thought that M&B/Harlequin gets a bit of a bad time of it, even among romance readers who know how the genre as a whole is looked down on. (So I started reaching out specifically to the historical romance authors to ask them to send us their books to review, seeing as only a small number of them ever appear at NG – and now we hear from several of them regularly, so thank you for keeping in touch!) I used to read quite a lot of HP and still read a lot of the HR – right now, they have some of the best writers of historicals around on their roster – many of them named in this post.
I love the Romantic Suspense and Intrigue lines. Special Edition would have to take second spot. Although I wrote for the Kimani line, I am glad to see it go. Harlequin has gone where it should have years ago, and I am pleased to see more books with authors of color is the traditional lines. Harlequin, in the last year, has truly embraced diversity and I see even more AOC coming to the other lines in 2021.
“Although I wrote for the Kimani line, I am glad to see it go.”
I agree with you. I get that Harlequin was trying to diversify their product line, but it felt a bit segregated the way it was presented. A similar thing happened with Carina Press. Their Submittable page used to have a separate LGBTQ+ submission tab that basically said they accepted for any subcategory of romance (historical, paranormal, etc.); but authors could also submit LGBTQ+ work in any of the other lines. At the time, I thought, “So, why don’t they just remove that separate tab and tell authors to stick their manuscript into the correct romance subgenre instead?” That’s what Carina Press eventually ended up doing, which made much better sense. Yes, they have the Carina Adores line, but that’s trope-specific CR. But someone who wants to write an FF Western, for example, just submits under historical romance no differently from an MF historical fiction. A good idea, I think.
Oops! For a minute there, I thought Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had abandoned Twitter for novel writing. Then I realized — authors of color. :)
No, but Romancelandia can claim Stacey Abrams!
This is the post of my dreams! Thank you!!!
Rachel Lee has a Harlequin Intrigue in her Conard County series issued this month. I have not read Conard County: Hard Proof yet. Generally, I found the earliest books in Conard County the strongest; for me, they were keepers. The series began in the 1990s; one of the early titles I like is Miss Emmaline and the Archangel (trigger warnings for stalking and violence against women). The Next Generation books were stories I liked, but they tended to be B+ books rather than A ratings. The later books can be read without having read the entire series, and I think part of the disappointment for me is that the books do stand alone — I thought the community came across as more tightly knit in the first books because the story lines were more entwined.
Among older Harlequin Presents books are those by Anne McAllister. She managed to meet the Harlequin Presents plot requirements with believable characters. I have not reread them recently to see how they have aged. I do know my favorites, the Quicksilver series (for the now defunct Harlequin American Romance line), were written before cell phones and the internet became ubiquitous. She wrote a bunch of Presents with Greek-American heroes who appealed to me a lot more than a lot of the current crop of billionaire heroes. There is a booklist here, but it looks like she may have retired—the last new title is from 2017 and it was not a Harlequin:
Lucy Gordon wrote a lot of Harlequins, mostly for the Harlequin Romance line, although a couple of my favorites were for the old Silhouette Desire line. Her page at Harlequin shows her most recent book to be from 2017, so I am guessing she also has quietly retired. The books from the more recent years were not as strong as her earlier writing.
Robyn Donald wrote a lot of Harlequin Presents and was one of the earlier authors to get on the minor-royalty-of-the-Mediterranean kick. Even so, she managed to set a lot of those stories in her native New Zealand. She includes details about plant and bird life in New Zealand that appeal to me, so I hang onto the books. Her latest Harlequin title is from 2018, and I am not expecting to see any more. Both she and Daphne Claire, another former Harlequin author from New Zealand, used to run writing seminars. I am sorry Harlequin does not seem to have many strong writers in New Zealand now.
I love Rachel Lee’s Conard County, especially, with the books across several lines. I have been reading the series since the original book in the Intimate Moments line. Awesome reading.
But I agree some are more ‘B+’ than ‘A’ but I still love the series.
Wayne!!! How great to see you here. So happy you’re back.
I love the Quicksilver series!
A very interesting post, Caroline. Loved the Whitney/Dolly description. I don’t read Harlequin books usually, so I learned a lot.