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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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.
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?