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At the Back Fence Issue #190

From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:

November 1, 2004

In this issue of At the Back Fence we report on the results of our third Top 100 Romances Poll and begin another multi-column segment entitled “At Their Best.” The idea for the At Their Best segment came to me late this summer; the celebration of what was best about authors we no longer love. Rather than focusing on when or how they (may have) jumped the shark for us, I wanted the focus to be on just what made us love them. Reader Maggie Boyd kicks off this feature with “Everyone Loves a Lindsey.”

 At the end of the column you’ll find a link to the full results of the poll; we’d like you to read over the analysis first, as a sort of “appetizer” to the main course.

 Poll Results – Top 100 Romances (Laurie Likes Books)

AAR first conducted a Top 100 Romances poll in 1996, and polled a second time in 2000. We thought it was time to poll our readers again to see how things may have changed and so, this summer Shelley Dodge once again polled readers for their top 100 romances. No restrictions were made in terms of which titles could be included (short stories as well as full novels were accepted) in any reader’s ballot; the only requirements were that readers rank their choices and that they submit no more than 100 titles. Because we asked for rankings, this is a weighted poll that considers both the number of votes received by book and its ranking by voters.

Generally we provide links to reviews we’ve done, but as we’ll be taking the new site design/reviews database live quite soon, adding review links that will eventually be obsolete seemed foolish. Instead, you’ll find our “Freefind” internal search engine on the full poll results page – a link will be provided at the end of this column – which will be replaced by our “review search” as soon as possible, so you can check for reviews, and we do have Desert Isle Keeper reviews for 88 of the 100 titles. That, btw, is a substantial increase over our last top 100 romances poll for which “only” two-thirds of the titles had DIK reviews.

Twenty authors make at least two appearances on our list. Six authors have two titles on the list; another four have three titles. Two authors make the list four times and two more appear five times. Three authors are on the list with six titles; another three appear seven times – they are Julie Garwood, Mary Jo Putney, and Suzanne Brockmann. These twenty authors account for more than 80% of the list’s titles.

# of TitlesAuthors with Multiple Titles in Poll
7Suzanne Brockmann
7Julie Garwood
7Mary Jo Putney
6Mary Balogh (a)
6Linda Howard
6Susan Elizabeth Phillips
5Judith McNaught
5Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb (b)
4Georgette Heyer
4Carla Kelly
3Connie Brockway (c)
3Judith Ivory
3Laura Kinsale
3Julia Quinn
2Adele Ashworth
2Loretta Chase
2Jennifer Crusie (d)
2Patricia Gaffney
2Lisa Kleypas
2Jayne Anne Krentz/Amanda Quick

(a) Four of the six Mary Balogh titles in our top 100 were for European Historical Romances; two were for traditional Regencies
(b) While in our annual reader polls J.D. Robb generally bests Nora Roberts, in this poll four of the five Roberts titles were under her “Roberts” name.
(c) Two out of the three of Connie Brockway’s top 100 titles made the top ten.
(d) Both of Jennifer Crusie’s top 100 titles cracked the top ten.

More than a third of the titles you voted for are European Historical Romances and just about one in four are Contemporary Romances. Eight percent are Medieval Romances; the remainder of categories are all under six percent, including traditional Regencies (Georgette Heyer’s four titles are listed as Classic Fiction) and Romantic Suspense. And in our last poll six series titles were included in the top 100; this time there are only two. In 2000 a series title was ranked #3; this time that same book turned up in the #19 position. The highest ranked book in our first poll  moved down to the 16th slot in 2000 and the 37th position this time around.
Break-out by Genre/Sub-Genre *
European Historical Romance38%
Contemporary Romance24%
Medieval Romance8%
Classic Fiction6%
Regency Romance6%
Romantic Suspense4%
American Historical Romance3%
Historical Romance2%
Series Romance2%
Time Travel Romance2%
* These categories add up to 95%; books from other genres/sub-genres together provide the remaining 5%.

A total of 5,141 votes were cast; the top 100 titles received 1,343 of them. On average each ballot contained 66 titles. A total number of 2,150 titles received votes. For comparative purposes, in our first poll, in 1998, 1,733 titles were submitted and 3,346 individual votes received. In 2000, 1,300 titles were submitted and more than 5,000 individual votes were cast.

I thought it might be helpful to illustrate the top ten titles for each of our three polls; the first thing I noticed was that the top choice in 1998 fell to the number sixteen slot in 2000, and to #37 this time around. Only four of 1998’s top ten titles made it into the top ten in 2000; only two cracked 2004’s top ten. Only four from 2000’s top ten were included in 2004’s top ten. Of the remaining six titles from 2004’s top ten, three had been published prior to 2000 (two in 1997, one in 1998), which means they grew into their favorite slot several years after being published.

Top Ten from 2004 Top Ten from 2000Top Ten from 1998
Lord of ScoundrelsLord of ScoundrelsA Knight in Shining Armor
Flowers From the StormOutlanderThe Secret
Welcome to TemptationMackenzie’s MountainNobody’s Baby But Mine
As You DesireFlowers from the StormOutlander
Bet MeDevil’s BrideDream Man
Dreaming of YouDreaming of YouHeaven, Texas
OutlanderIt Had to be YouLord of Scoundrels
Over the EdgeHeaven, TexasThe Gift
All Through the NightShattered RainbowsWhitney, My Love
Sea SweptThe Shadow and the StarIt Had to be You

As always, it’s not only the authors who appear on this list that are of interest – it’s also fascinating to see which authors did not make the cut. For some it seems “out of sight, out of mind;” either they’ve not had a recent release or their last one or two books weren’t well-received. And some major authors who have changed their focus don’t appear at all – or for their work following this change.

A myriad of authors who received votes for multiple titles seem to cancel themselves out, something you can see from the table below. Note that Jo Beverley’s 63 votes, for example, were spread among twenty titles. By contrast, Judith Ivory, who received a similar amount of votes, had far fewer titles submitted – eight to Beverley’s twenty. Ivory ended up with three titles in the top 100; Beverley had none.

Looking at this phenomenon from the top points to the same conclusion: authors with the most titles submitted tend to cancel themselves out. Nora Roberts, who earned 80 more votes than Mary Balogh, had those votes spread out across many more books (89 for Roberts and 52 for Balogh). In the end Roberts/Robb had five titles in the top 100. Balogh had six. Brockmann, Garwood, and Putney, who received – at most – half the votes of Roberts, had far, far fewer titles across which to spread those votes. Each of these authors earned seven slots in the top 100.

Here is a listing of those authors who received the most votes (we made the cut-off 30 or more votes):




Top 100 Titles

Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb273895
Mary Balogh194526
Linda Howard166306
Georgette Heyer146394
JAK/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle144402
Suzanne Brockmann143247
Julie Garwood128197
Mary Jo Putney120247
Susan Elizabeth Phillips105166
Judith McNaught97135
Jennifer Crusie84132
Carla Kelly83134
Connie Brockway8093
Laura Kinsale79103
Loretta Chase77112
Lisa Kleypas74112
Julia Quinn72153
Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas6783
Jo Beverley63200
LaVyrle Spencer60141
Patricia Gaffney4682
Anne Stuart43230
Joan Wolf43220
Madeline Hunter41111
Diana Gabaldon4051
Lorraine Heath40131
Elizabeth Lowell39200
Stephanie Laurens39121
Rachel Gibson3881
Jude Deveraux36191
Johanna Lindsey35160
Liz Carlyle3270

When we last conducted this poll, we broke out votes and titles for Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb and JAK/Amanda Quick. Reconciling them for that earlier poll and showing the adjusted order of the top several vote getters shows us some interesting things:

Author Multiple Vote Rank 2004 Multiple Vote Rank 2000 Difference

AuthorMultiple Vote Rank 2004 Multiple Vote Rank 2000 Difference
Georgette Heyer48+4

Each of the top ten authors from 2000 when comparing apples to apples remained in the top ten in 2004, but there was significant movement between some of the ten. Nora Roberts received the most votes, and by a very substantial amount. Roberts also earned the most votes in 2000, and by nearly the same margin, but to a different author. And while Mary Balogh earned the second highest number of votes altogether this time, she was behind JAK/Quick, Howard, Putney, and Garwood in 2000.

Take a moment to digest this, and then move on to reader Maggie Boyd’s segment on Johanna Lindsey for “Authors at Their Best.” And when you’ve finished that, it’ll be time to take a look at the full results. We think that’s critical as you won’t truly be able to participate on the ATBF Message Board unless you’ve seen the full results. A link to the full results will appear at the end of this column.

Authors at Their Best: Everybody Loves a Lindsey (Maggie Boyd)

“Everyone Loves a Lindsey” is the slogan that used to appear on the cover of every Johanna Lindsey paperback. To an extent, it was (and still is) true. Over 40 million copies of her work are in print, she has appeared at the top of national bestseller lists including The New York Times, has dozens of fan web sites and her work has been translated into 12 different languages. She is one of the authors that turned romance into the publishing power it is today.

But when I sat down to write out the whys of lovin’ Lindsey, I found myself struggling with every single point. Sure I knew I loved her exotic locations/historical periods but when I looked for a quote to sum up the greatness of her ability to capture a foreign locale, I was stumped. Likewise I loved her strong heroines and alpha heroes but searching for the moment that truly defined why in each novel was like searching for a hidden treasure on the wrong island. I found that, in a Lindsey, the whole really is the sum of its parts. Unlike Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who effortlessly weaves together memorable scene after memorable scene (who can forget the fabulous “cereal killer” moment from Nobody’s Baby but Mine?), Lindsey is a gestalt style writer who creates memorable books but not moments. While I really do love her exotic (for romance) locations, after re-reading four of my faves, I realized I could point to no one scene/moment that really described the setting. The history – or location – was presented in tiny dollops throughout the text in little vignettes such as this one from 1989’s Defy Not the Heart:

“The hooded fireplace was cold, since the tapestries and rugs kept down the drafts in this room. There was a rare chair placed before it, like the two at the lord’s table below, a large fur rug, several stools, and a small table, at the moment set with a jug of wine. The large tub had been pulled out from where it was kept screened in the corner and was filled with water. Steam could still be seen rising from it. Thick drying cloths sat on a stool next to it with a fresh cake of imported, sweet-scented soap, also gotten from her Birkenham merchants.”

Geographical information is also passed along in off-hand comments such as the following in Secret Fire (1987) when the hero explains to his grandmother “Your letter had to wait until the spring melting on the Neva before it could reach me,” he said as he grabbed the nearest chair.” Later, he was to tell the heroine they could not leave for England because “the harbor is now closed. There will be no sea travel from here until spring…of course the southern ports are open but a thousand miles away and a grueling trip this time of year even for a Russian, used to the weather.”

When Lindsey was not giving us information in vignettes or passing statements, she was devoting entire chapters to establishing location and history., such as chapter four in 1980’s Fires of Winter which begins: “Bulgar, on the Eastern bend of the Volga River…a large reshipment port where West met East. Here Viking longships traded with caravans from the steppes of Central Asia and Arab freighters from Eastern provinces. Leading eastward from the Bulgar was the legendary Silk Road to China.”

So what would be fun – or even useful – about four pages describing Bulgar? For me, and others who love geography and history, it helps to ground the characters to the story, making them a part of a specific time and place that is unique to them and their tale. The characters and location blend to tell a story that belongs to them both, enriching each in turn and making them more memorable than if they were just one more of a hundred couples in that same time and place. There is flavor and texture to a novel which details where and when you are. There is the richness of imagined sounds – gentle slaps of waves against the longship, the deafening silence of a frozen land; the hoof beats of the Sheik’s horse bearing the heroine deeper and deeper into the desert. There is the joy of adventuring with a cup of coffee safely beside you and fuzzy slippers firmly on your feet even as you dogsled across Norway. These experiences not only contributed greatly to my enjoyment of the novel, they contributed to making Lindsey heroes and heroines uber memorable. After all, how can you forget someone you’ve shared such adventures with? This leads us to the next lovable Lindsey trait – heroes and heroines to die for.

When Heroes Were Alpha…and Heroines Were Too

Lindsey heroes and heroines were Alpha all the way. When people think Alpha, they often think abuser. Way back in the December 1, 1998 ATBF #63 (then called “Laurie’s New and Views) Beverly Medos asked an important question:

“What I can’t figure out is where the idea that Alpha equals abusive jerk came from.”

She answers herself by saying:

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and I think I’ve finally figured out what it is that’s so wrong about that concept to me – possibly all lead characters (hero and/or heroine) in romances are alphas in some form or another. They have to be in order to begin their own ‘pack’ or family. Personally, I think we need a new set of distinctions if we really want to label our romance characters in some way because the term alpha is getting pretty murky. Lately, I can’t even use it in any context without cringing because I now realize that I don’t know what someone else is going to think when they read it applied to a character.”

Even JAK, the original source of the definition for the romance novel alpha hero agreed that the definition had changed with time (this from that column as well).

After reading through several author and reader definitions it was a combination of Suzanne Brockmann (in a Write Byte for AAR) and Connie Brockway’s take that let me get a handle on who the Alpha is. Here is how Connie put it in the same column:

“An Alpha male is a leader, the dominant personality in a proscribed social order. He appears in romance novels most often in soldiers’ roles: war hero, a mercenary, special ops leader. The important factor in defining their Alpha status is that these men, like all alpha males, are an integral part of their specific society. They are called by nature and genetics to lead (and its attendant characteristic, ‘dominate’) others in order that their society might achieve its goals. “

What Alphas are often confused with is what Brockway defines as the Rogue Male. Here is her definition:

“The rogue male is quite different. He’s challenged authority, often by breaking his society’s rules and/or defying the alpha male (king, commander, father). He’s been ousted from society (family, community, armed forces, police force) as a result. His reasons for challenging the status quo are often excellent (like the captain of police is on the take) but the important factor to note here is that the rogue is not the alpha, he is not allowed back into the society from which he’s been banished until he can usurp the current alpha or become reconciled to the alpha. He isn’t leading anyone. He’s egocentric and ruthless and aggressive – because if he weren’t he’d be content to remain quietly malcontent. The rogue is an outsider, a dark horse and an unknown quantity.”

Lindsey heroes meet the true definition of the term Alpha. They are not lone wounded wolves but a “true” pack leader, taking charge and being a part of the group even amidst personal pain.

Defy Not the Heart’s Ranulf Fitz Hugh is the hero who, for me, personifies a Lindsey hero at his best. As a child, he was forced to grow up in a village where everyone knew he was the unacknowledged bastard of the lord’s son. He was raised in poverty and persecution, with his grandfather fully aware of the troubles that faced the boy. When the family was finally forced to acknowledge him, he was fostered to a friend of his grandfather and while things were better there, he still faced plenty of troubles including a public beating for a crime he did not commit. Ranulf used the years of training he received as a knight to become a mercenary – but unlike many mercenaries, he was not an independent but a proven war leader who worked with a loyal, well trained band of friends.

It is Ranulf’s leadership skills and expertise in the field of war that first draw the attention of the heroine Lady Reina. Ranulf has good reason to hate any woman with the title of Lady but is able to set aside his mistrust in a relatively short period of time after meeting and marrying the heroine. Many instances are spread through out the book that show Ranulf’s willingness to accept Reina’s counsel on how their small kingdom should be run. Ranulf is also thoughtful of his wife, willing to undergo two wedding ceremonies in order to spare Reina dishonor and set her vassals at ease. One of the great moments in the book comes when Ranulf, finding out that Reina is not enjoying their love making, visits the town prostitute to determine how to please his wife. He has the following conversation with the town prostitute. to be forcing her to leave the village, he explains:

“Tis advise I want from you.”

“Advice?” she repeated dumbly.

“Aye.” He came forward, removing his gauntlets to tuck into his belt. Lady Ella [his cat] jumped to the table when he reached it. “More particularly, your knowledge of women. . . . .How can I pleasure my wife without hurting her?”

“Why do you think you would hurt her?”

He held up his hands, frowning at them. “How can I not with these? They are used to large, strapping wenches who do not flinch from a too rough caress. How can they not hurt a woman as tiny and delicate as my lady is?”

Red Alma gives him the advice he came for. While this moment provided some great comic relief as well as setting up a future scene with Reina, it also highlighted Ranulf’s concern for the heroine and his humble willingness to receive advice in issues that he was not an expert at. Rather than turning the tables on Reina and assuring her that it was her skills that were lacking in the bedchamber, Ranulf both listened to her concerns and did something about them. Who would not fall in love with a man like that?

A Lindsey heroine would definitely be one of those that did. But to understand what was so great about Lindsey heroines we must return to December of 1998 when Suzanne Brockmann was gave her take to LLB on the Alpha question: “IMO, a true leader (ie true Alpha) can fight the battle, nurse the wounded, cook dinner for the troops and wash up afterwards. He can negotiate peace treaties as well as go to war. .. .(Actually, what it really sounds like is a working mother!!! My God, the true alpha male is really a working mother!!!! . . . .)”

After reading this, I had another light bulb moment. It was this that I had admired so much about Lindsey heroines – they personified the idea that women had been strong, competent, confident, reasonable people through out all of time. Gone was the too often used image of a petulant 18 year old girl demanding respect and in her place was a competent woman in her 20’s who had earned it. Here are just a few examples of Lindsey heroines who didn’t defy societal expectations – they surpassed them.

For strength, there are few heroines who could match Tedra De Arr from Warrior’s Woman (1990) . As one friend put it, when he tried to set her up with men all she ever did was “challenge them, beat them and then never mention their names again.” Tedra is a top ranking security officer on her planet who has gone one step beyond everyone else in training by mastering not only weaponry but hand to hand combat. When her planet is attacked by golden barbarians wielding technology resistant armor, Tedra is the only security officer able to defeat them in hand to hand combats and evade capture. With the help of a few comp savvy friends, Tedra sails into space looking for a few good people to help her fight back and reclaim her home world.

Another warrior style woman is Brenna of Lindsey’s Fires of Winter. After defeating an eminent rapist, here is what Brenna says this about her own skills: “The stranger obviously thinks he is a match for me. I, who speared my first wild boar when I was but nine, and killed five worthless scavengers with my father when they would do harm to your village. I, who has held a sword in my hand since I could first walk, who has been trained diligently for the seriousness of warfare.” Her daughter would later deal with her own potential rapist with equal skill in 1987’s Hearts Aflame. Lindsey heroines might occasionally be down on their luck but they are never portrayed as defenseless – or defeated.

For competence, there are few who could equal Lady Katherine St. John of Secret Fire. Here is a description of her:

“You’re a wonder, my darling Kate,” her father was fond of saying, and Katherine would accept the compliment as her due.

It wasn’t that she needed praise; far from it. Her accomplishments were for her own sense of pride, for her own self-esteem. She loved being needed and she was needed. George St. John might be head of his household, but it was Katherine who ran the house hold, and it was to her that he deferred in all things. Both Holden House here on Cavendish Square and Brockley Hall, the Earl’s country estate, were her domains. She was her father’s hostess, housekeeper and steward. She kept domestic trivialities and tenant troubles at bay. . . What Katherine lacked in beauty, she made up in character. She was a warm, giving woman with many facets to her personality. Warren liked to tease her by saying that she was so versatile that she should have taken up the theatre. In a quite natural way she could adapt herself to any situation, whether to take charge or to cooperate humbly if others were leading.

For reasonable and confident, look no further than Reina from Defy Not the Heart. Left in charge of her fathers holdings while he goes off to fight the Crusades, she finds herself with no protector when both father and fiancée die. Reina does not determine that she will somehow manage to fight wars, manage small cities and keep peace in the countryside all on her own while sitting on rich property that can be easily stolen from her by a strong soldier. Instead, she determines to find the best possible defender for her land and people through the traditional means of marriage. Looking over the possible candidates, Reina chooses Ranulf, a mercenary with the skills she needs. She negotiates her own marriage contract which earns her the praise of her guardian “I have never seen a more advantageous contract for a bride”. Throughout the book, each problem that Reina and Ranulf encounter is resolved quickly, in large part due to Reina’s direct, no nonsense approach.

It is all the things listed above that truly made me love the Lindsey heroine. They personified for me the spirit of the modern working woman – opinionated but open to just arguments, capable of multi-tasking at the drop of a hat, on the look out for a good man but willing to go it on their own till they found him – but they did it in a wonderfully drawn out historical world. While Katherine St. John would today be an ideal CEO, Lindsey did not just invent a corporation for her to run or have her run off to America to open her own lumberyard. Lindsey kept Katherine within the context of general history by having her run her family and their holdings while still giving her father the illusion he was “in charge.” That, for me, made the book. I loved watching these heroines conquer their society as opposed to circumventing it!

My final “lovable Lindsey” point is also connected to the heroine. These books were very much written not so much as just a love story as a woman’s sensual fantasy love story. The emphasis is very much on both the heroine’s emotional and sexual satisfaction. Reina, like most Lindsey heroines, is startlingly direct about what she wants sexually… After a particularly frustrating encounter sexual encounter in which she has yet again failed to reach orgasm, she has the following conversation with her husband:

“Why you been have so wroth today?”

“Do you think about it and the answer will come to you.”

“I have done that already and no answer comes clearly to mind. I would prefer it did you tell me.”

“Very well.” She glanced around to be sure no one was within hearing before meeting those penetrating violet eyes again. “I did not enjoy it.”

“Enjoy what?”

“You know what.” she hissed.

He started to grin but thought better of it, then made the mistake of saying, “Wives are not supposed to enjoy it.”

Reina stared at him, wondering what he would do if she hit him over the head with something. “Who told you that the piece of witless nonsense? Nay let me guess. A priest and you believe everything priests tell you. Clodpate! A priest is not God. He is a man, subject to the same mistakes as all men. Half of them commit the same sins as we do. Sweet Jesu, use you common sense. Nay, better yet, ask any wife here what she thinks of that antiquated drivel. But do not expect me to like being treated less than a whore.”

He certainly knew what his wife thought of it. He watched her stalk away and had to force back his laughter. Christ’s toes, she was feisty, even when she blasphemed. So she wanted to be pleasured?

Many times on AAR’s message boards boards readers have complained about the heroine that isn’t even curious about sex until she meets the hero but that is not true of a Lindsey heroine. Tedra, the amazingly strong security officer from Warrior’s Woman has some surprisingly dark sexual desires. Secure in the fact that she could physically handle just about any man real life threw at her, “She was waiting for the man she couldn’t walk all over to come along. She’d been waiting a long time.” The first man she meets who would fulfill these criteria believes all females should be slaves (ick!). While immensely turned off by this aspect of his personality, Tedra admits that “(she) could handle it for awhile. (She) might even enjoy it once in awhile for fun and games.” So she not only admits she likes, she might even enjoy being a little bit kinky with it!

Tedra was not going to be won over by a hero who wooed with flowers, chocolates and moonlit nights. When she finally does meet her hero he is a giant, gorgeous barbarian who defeats her at a physical challenge with the stakes being sex. She responds in this manner:“A wave of vulnerability washed through her, and a thrill that flushed her cheeks and weakened her limbs. Here was a man she couldn’t walk all over, who wouldn’t fear her abilities or worry about riling her temper. It seemed as if she’d waited forever for him, and she looked at him now wide-eyed with a little awe and a lot of anticipation.”

Tedra is a woman of the future, perhaps expected to be open about her sexuality. But historical Brenna has every bit as much sexual curiosity. When the hero unrobes in front of her she admits “One part of her wanted to see the rest of the beautiful physique.” Brenna had been led to believe that making love would be an excruciatingly painful act for a woman. When it proves not to be and yet she finds no satisfaction in the act this is how she responds:

“Why did you stop?” Brenna asked him in a haughty tone.

He looked at her confused eyes and laughed, “Because you have my seed and ‘twill be awhile before I can give you more.”

“But you are still hard within me,” she replied unabashedly. “I can feel you. Can you not continue?”

Garrick stared at her in utter amazement. “Do you want me to?”

She considered this for a moment, then answered flatly, “Nay, the mood has passed.”

He grunted in irritation at her answer and wondered if he’d won the battle after all. “I take it you found it was not so terrifying, eh?” He asked as he moved to her side and reached for his trousers.

“Nay, not in the least,” she answered, stretching lazily before him….I have learned much this day, Viking, my thanks.”

The prim and proper Lady Katherine is perhaps the most surprising of the Lindsey heroines in her fantasies. After being given an aphrodisiac, she proves to be a surprisingly open lover. Here were her thoughts on the issue:

“And so it went throughout the night. What he said proved true. She didn’t suffer again. As long as she obeyed his every command, he was there to soothe and relieve and give her hour after hour of the most incredible ecstasy, which his hands, his mouth, his body. All he asked in return was that she allow him to play with her, to caress as he would. She was sure that he now knew every inch of her body intimately. But she didn’t care. This night wasn’t real. It had no basis in reality. It would dissolve…to be forgotten come morning.”

Lindsey heroines seemed to acknowledge through out the book that this story was about their pleasure. It was their sexual, romantic fantasy, to enjoy and share. That all of this was taking place with the man they would ultimately love for their rest of their lives was just the sweet, sweet icing on the cake.

I think the reason this was such a positive (for me) factor in her books is that Lindsey got the preeminent sexual fantasy of her day just right – she combined a perfect amount of physical innocence with mental interest. She made it okay for her heroines to have dark desires, and in doing so, made it okay for her reader to as well. And last but not least, she acknowledged that really great sex did go with really great love and it was every woman’s right to expect both (and when you didn’t get it, don’t blame yourself, tell your lover to shape up!)

So with all that greatness going for her, what went wrong? I think several things went wrong for me as a reader. One was that many of the fantasies grew more and more dark, entering a zone which I no longer felt comfortable following the heroine into. In some novels, degradation seemed to take the place of seduction. But the final straw was the truly awful Say You Love Me, published in 1996. LLB’s “D” review explains much of what went wrong so I won’t go into details here. It is sufficient to say that this book was one huge disappointment – from the ridiculous premise straight to the TSTL heroine. I would after that occasionally pick up a Lindsey to see if things had gone back to what they once were but that never seemed to happen. The heroines remained young girls, intent on proving to the world just how stupid they could be. There was little of sensual fantasy and a whole lot of sex which seemed to revolve around the hero getting satisfaction and the heroine nagging him into loving her. Thus ended my love affair with the Lindsey romances. I had not picked up one of her books in years when I agreed to write this segment. I am glad I did – now I can have the pleasure of re-reading even more of my old favorites from her back list and remember why once, I was one of those that “loved a Lindsey!”

It’s almost time to post to the Message Board…but first:

I want to thank Maggie Boyd for her intelligent analysis of Johanna Lindsey and would encourage those among you who loved other authors “at their best” to  if interested in writing about them. My own experience with Lindsey was initially quite good; I discovered her early on in my romance reading, and one of her books, the infamous Prisoner of My Desire, was the first romance ever to “earn” it’s DIK status from me upon a second reading (on first reading I gave it a B+). My other Lindsey recommendations are Once a Princess and Man of My Dreams, both of which earned B+’s.

As for the Top 100 Romances poll as conducted this summer, I truly hope you all will check out the full results; this is a “jump link” that will open a new window in your browser, allowing you to toggle back and forth between our analysis at the start of this column and the poll results in their entirety. Those of you who participated in the poll would probably agree that it isn’t easy to rank among favorites, and for those who do not have 100 “all-time favorites,” the task was even more difficult if you went beyond your A’s and into your B’s and B+’s. I myself dipped into the B+’s, first adding those that were the closest to A- as possible, then added, for good measure some of the more varied B+’s from my library.

Nineteen of the 77 titles I submitted (if submitted today my list would have 78 titles on it) made it onto the final list. None of my top ten titles made it into the top ten – either for 2004 or 2000, and only one made it for the 1998 list. How about you?

Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we’d like you to consider this time:

How many titles are on your own personal list of favorite romances? If you participated in the poll, what were your criterion for including titles? For instance, I started with A+’s, A’s, and A-‘s, then dipped down into the B+’s to flesh it out, resulting in a list of 77 titles. What about you? And, feel free to share your own list.

After checking the results page, how many titles that you submitted made it onto the top 100 romances list? How many titles that you submitted are listed on our DIK page? Did you “match” better in 2004 than you did in 2000 if you participated in the earlier poll? What about in comparison with the 1998 poll? If you matched better this time or in an earlier poll, what accounts for it, do you think?

How many authors showed up more than once on your list? Are they some of the same authors with multiple titles who showed up on the final list? Are you surprised by any of the authors who appear on that multiple-title list?

The highest percentage of titles on the final list were European Historicals Romances, followed by Contemporary Romances. What is the break-out of your own list?

Are there authors who didn’t make the final cut that you were should would be included? If so, who are they? Are there specific titles that didn’t make the final cut that surprised you? Conversely, which titles, if any, surprised you either by being on the list or by their placement on it (higher than you thought, lower than you thought)?

If you submitted fewer than 100 titles (or didn’t take the poll but mentally composed a list), after having seen the final results, would you have added any other titles? Have you read any books since the poll was conducted that you’d have added to your list?

Comparing the top ten titles for all three polls, does anything strike you as significant, other than that Lord of Scoundrels maintained its number one slot for the last four years? Why do you think A Knight in Shining Armor fell from first in 1998 to 16 in 2000, and all the way down to 37 in 2004?

And now, moving on to Johanna Lindsey. Is she or was she ever one of your favorite romance authors? If so, why did/do you love her writing? Which, do you think, are her best books? Given that she’s written a variety of sub-genres, do you have a favorite – do/did you love her Medievals or Westerns best? Are/were you a Malory family fan?

What do you make of the concept of the Rogue Hero, particularly in comparison with the Alpha Hero? Do we sometimes mistake the Rogue Hero for an Alpha Hero? Who are some prime Rogue Heroes you can list?

Maggie posits that Lindsey’s heroines were Alpha, and that’s why she loved them. Do you agree with her? Regardless of your answer on that, which heroines – if any – have you read that you would categorize as Alpha? As Rogue?

What other authors out there would you like to talk about “At Their Best?”

TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books, Shelley Dodge, and Maggie Boyd

Full Results for the Top 100 Romances Poll (please review before posting)

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(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)

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