Conversion Kits

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Earlier page of conversion kit suggestions (1997)

August 8, 1999:

This page originated in in Issue #24 of Laurie’s News & Views, back in April 1997. That’s when I indicated that I keep a conversion kit to lend to friends and relatives to introduce them to romance novels. I asked for readers/authors to tell me about their conversion kits and received quite a bit of feedback that I’d like to share with you. The links above correspond with other discussions on conversion kits we’ve had over the years at AAR.

My conversion kit, which contains second copies (my copies never leave the house) has changed somewhat since I first posted it in the spring of 1997. Here are the titles which comprise my kit now:

  • Velvet Bond by Catherine Archer – my favorite medieval romance and a two-hanky read
  • The Bride by Julie Garwood – a favorite funny and a luscious love story
  • Castles by Julie Garwood – my favorite romance of them all
  • An Inconvenient Wife by Patricia Oliver – a fine Regency Romance
  • Too Deep for Tears by Kathryn Lynn Davis – not a romance, but my favorite book of them all
  • Born in Fire by Nora Roberts – a terrific contemporary romance
  • High Energy by Dara Joy – not a Desert Isle Keeper, but so much fun I include it anyway

I’d like to include a series romance, but the only one I’ve ever given Desert Isle Keeper status to is so over the top I don’t think it would be a good choice – Too Hot to Handle by Elizabeth Lowell. Other options might be one of the MacGregor or MacKade series by Nora Roberts, or even one of Donna Kauffman’s Cabin Romances. Maybe you can help me decide. I decided to re-open this topic for discussion again at the start of July, when I asked members of the AAR List for their conversion kits. Their kits and comments are listed first, followed by kits and comments received in the past few days. On the following page you’ll find the original kits and comments from 1997.

And now, your lists and comments from July 1999

Tanya Wade (

Once an Angel by Teresa Medeiros – For the sheer beauty of the prose, and the fact that it is to my mind the best example of a magically realistic romance novel. (Victorian)

Beast by Judith Ivory – If I could list all Ivory’s books, I would, but this one holds a special place b/c it’s the first I read by her, and my fascination with Beauty and the Beast is second only to my Alice in Wonderland fixation. For me, this is the romance novel Henry James would have written if he’d lived in the 1990’s (and been a woman). A sometimes diffucult love story that really holds a mirror up to our hangups on beauty.

Crooked Hearts by Patricia Gaffney – When they say they don’t make movies like they used to, I think of this book, and how it reminds me of a great comedy from the 1930’s. I just picture Carole Lombard and Joel McCrea as the leads in this one, and go from there. Probably my most reread keeper. (Western historical)

Beauty by Robin McKinley – Although classified as a fantasy, this is really a romance (beauty and the beast again) and my favorite book of all time. Tells the love story in the most straightforward way, and perhaps the most romantic. A man I loved gave it to me as a gift; it was the best one I ever received.

Karen Wheless:

I try to tailor my “conversion kit” to the person who is getting it, based on their other reading material. I know a die-hard suspense fan just isn’t going to “get” my favorite Laura Kinsale and Mary Jo Putney books, at least not at first. But I might win her over with Susan Andersen and J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts).

So, here are a few ideas: (You can see which ones are my favorites – the lists get longer when I get into my favorite kinds of books)

For the mainstream mystery/suspense fan:

  • Exposure by Susan Andersen
  • Naked in Death by J.D. Robb
  • Nightfall by Anne Stuart

For the humorous mystery fan:

  • Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie
  • Catspaw by Anne Stuart
  • something by Jayne Ann Krentz or her aka Amanda Quick

For someone who likes humorous books:

  • Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie
  • An Angel for the Earl by Barbara Metzger
  • It Had to be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • Perfect Partners by Jayne Ann Krentz

For the history buff:

  • anything by Jo Beverley
  • For my Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale
  • So Wide the Sky by Elizabeth Grayson
  • Vows Made in Wine by Susan Wiggs
  • Red Red Rose by Marjorie Farrell
  • With this Ring by Carla Kelly
  • Longing by Mary Balogh

For the friend who gets involved with every issue and social concern:

  • Reckless by Ruth Wind aka Barbara Samuels
  • The Night Remembers by Kathleen Eagle
  • The Keeper by Margot Early
  • Sweet Rewards by Melinda McRae
  • Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
  • The Rake & the Reformer by Mary Jo Putney
  • Saving Grace by Julie Garwood

For the lover of “women’s fiction”:

  • The Night Remembers by Kathleen Eagle
  • Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
  • Born in Fire and Born in Ice by Nora Roberts
  • Perfect Partners by Jayne Ann Krentz
  • Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
  • Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath

For someone who loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights back in high school:

  • Silk & Shadows (and the other two in the series) by Mary Jo Putney
  • Flowers from the Storm and Shadow & the Star by Laura Kinsale
  • Always to Remember or Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath
  • Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas
  • Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
  • As You Desire by Connie Brockway
  • Dark Champion by Jo Beverley

Anita Slate:

I’m fairly new to romance myself, but the first book I’d recommend is Patricia Gaffney’s To Love & to Cherish, first in the Wyckerley trilogy set in Victorian England. The writing is simply beautiful, from the depiction of village life, to the main characters, Anne and Christy, to the secondary village people. All were so well drawn and you come to care about all of them, not just the hero and heroine. The crises are believable and Anne’s journal entries are heart wrenching.

Other books I would recommend are:

  • The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson
  • A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith
  • Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie


I would recommend books based upon what setting they like currently. Some books I’ve recommended in the past to get readers hooked on romance have included:

  • Perfect and Paradise by Judith McNaught for lovers of contemporary fiction
  • The Secret or Saving Grace for lovers of historical fiction
  • The J.D. Robb series for lovers of mystery/detective stories
  • Jill Barnett or Julia Quinn for lovers of humor

Usually all it takes is one good book and they’re hooked for life.

Stacey Timmins (

I read historical romances more than anything else, but I do have some favorites outside of the genre. I would have the following books in my “conversion” kit:

  • This is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland (my favorite medieval)
  • The Deed by Lynsay Sands (tied for my favorite medival funny)
  • Love at First Sight by Sandra Lee (tied for my favorite medieval funny)
  • The Wind Dancer trilogy by Iris Johansen (my favorite european historical story)
  • Highland Rogue by Arnette Lamb (my favorite European Historical funny)
  • Hearts of Flame and Fires of Winter by Johanna Lindsey (my favorite Viking theme)
  • The Viking series by Sandra Hill (my favorite time travel – Viking theme)
  • The Clanad/Sedikhan series by Iris Johansen (my favorite Paranormal series)
  • Rejar by Dara Joy (my favorite time travel – Regency)
  • Forever & the Night by Linda Lael Miller (my favorite vampire story)
  • Bewitching by Jill Barnett (my favorite witch story)
  • Stardust of Yesterday by Lynn Kurland (my favorite ghost story)
  • Prince of Wolves and Prince of Shadows by Susan Krinard (my favorite werewolf story)
  • Knight of a Trillion Stars by Dara Joy (my favorite futuristic story)
  • The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (my favorite Jacobite theme)
  • Pride of Lions and Blood of Roses by Marsha Canham (my favorite tearjerker2)
  • Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson (my favorite Glencoe story)
  • Through a Dark Mist by Marsha Canham (my favorite Robin Hood theme)
  • The Bad Luck Wedding Dress by Geralyn Dawson (my favorite western story)
  • Tender Rebel and Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey (my favorite family series)

Katherine McCaffrey (

Like you I also keep extra copies on hand and look at the used bookstores for more. I’ve have cases where a “convertee” cannot honestly seem to let go of their grip on certain books.

  • This Is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland – Medieval and two hanky read
  • Devil’s Bride and Captain Jack’s Woman by Stephanie Laurens – Historicals and luscious love stories
  • Rebellious Desire by Julie Garwood – Historical and luscious love story
  • High Energy by Dara Joy – Contemporary keeper
  • The Bride by Julie Garwood – Conversion kit favorite
  • Rejar by Dara Joy – Conversion kit favorite
  • Best Laid Schemes by Emma Jensen – Regency Romance
  • To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn – Favorite funny
  • The Sherbrooke Bride by Catherine Coulter – this book restarted me reading romance
  • The MacGregor Grooms by Nora Roberts – Series romance
  • The Flame & the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss – An oldie but goodie

Robin Bayne (

I actually did give a conversion “kit” to a friend recently. I wanted to include titles by authors she could meet at Maryland RomanceWriters meetings, so that influenced some of my choices.

  • The Flame & the Flower – as a historical example, how I feel the genre got started
  • Whitney, My Love – another historical example, with a Regency feel
  • Bad For Each Other by Kate Hathaway – a series romance that won an RT award
  • Suddenly Mommy by Loree Lough – an inspirational from Steeple Hill
  • Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – a modern, humorous example
  • The Last Viking by Sandra Hill – a humorous time-travel

The last I heard, my friend is working her way through these to see what “grabs” her.

Mary Mason (

I just “converted” my potential new daughter-in-law. She’s 23, very intelligent, an electronics crew-chief for an F-15 fighter in the Air Force. She’s always read science fiction and Stephen King. She’s a lot like me, as a matter of fact, in her reading tastes. But – she has never read any romances. Of course, I didn’t read romances either, until about 10 years ago.

I bought a brand new set of Diana Gabaldon and sent them to her just before she rotated to Bosnia! She’s back now. She loves the Diana Gabaldon books and is listening to recommendations about Jo Beverly and Joan Wolf’s older Regencies. Those all seem to be really intelligent” books to me. That’s why I like them.

I gave the Outlander series because of the time-travel aspect (science-fictiony!) and the really great historical detail in them. She’s thinking of them as romance because she read some of Outlander to my son (who’s 22 and the baby!) and he said, “Hey – my mom shoudn’t be giving you books like that to read! She shouldn’t even be reading books like that!”


The following are some romance novels I have loaned to my mother and sister, who are both avid readers, but are Hard Cases when it comes to romance: (in no particular order)

  • Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
  • Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
  • The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Amethyst Crown by Katherine Deauxville
  • The Crimson Crown by Edith Layton
  • To Love & to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney
  • The In Death series by J.D. Robb

I chose the above list based on sheer quality of writing combined with plotting that included elements ‘above and beyond’ the romance of the heroine and hero. Although the selections have been received favorably, Romance as a worthy genre has not yet been totally accepted by the recipients. (I told you they were Hard Cases!)

AAR Editor/Reviewer (and librarian!) Ellen Micheletti (

  • Reckless by Ruth Wind (and her Barbara Samuel titles too)
  • The Rake by Mary Jo Putney (and any of her Fallen Angels series)
  • With This Ring by Carla Kelly (actually anything by Carla Kelly)
  • My Man Pendelton by Elizabeth Bevarly
  • Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath
  • Taming The Night by Paula Detmer Riggs
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Exposure by Susan Andersen

Marie Bennett (

Let’s see, I would choose:

  • This is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland
  • Dream Man by Linda Howard
  • The Bride by Julie Garwood
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • My Man Pendleton by Elizabeth Bevarly
  • Naked in Death by JD Robb
  • Sea Swept by Nora Roberts
  • Knight of a Trillion Stars by Dara Joy
  • How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn


I’d include these books in my conversion kit – these are aimed at those who are really disdainful about the literary abilities of romance authors and who have preconceptions about romances as ‘bodice rippers’ or ‘trash.’

  • To Have & to Hold by Patricia Gaffney – Proof positive that romances can tackle tough questions about spirituality, sexuality and adultery in an intelligent, realistic and beautiful manner. Also one of my all-time favorite tear jerkers :) .
  • These next three titles are among the most unusual, painful romances I’ve ever read, and they completely notions of romances as brainless bodice rippers with forced HEA endings and cookie-cutter characters.
    • Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale
    • Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
    • Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney
  • These two by Barbara Samuels – because of the beautiful prose and exquisite sexual tension (all done without being tacky or descending into the purple depths).
    • Lucien’s Fall
    • Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel
  • Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie – For the humor, the adventure, the realistic if exasperating men, and again, as proof that romances aren’t bountiful-bosom bodice rippers.
  • The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – To show that romances can be sexy and engaging without sex. Plus, Heyer is the Grande Dame of Regencies
  • Knave’s Wager by Loretta Chase – To show that romances can be sexy and engaging without sex; Chase, IMHO, with her Regencies, can be compared to her in more modern times.
  • The Windflower by Laura London (Sharon and Tom Curtis) – for the beautiful prose and wonderful characters, and because it’s the best swashbucklin’ pirate romance ever written – maybe the best romance ever written, period.
  • The Lion’s Daughter by Loretta Chase – For the fabulous yet completely atypical heroes and heroines (Varian in Lion is one of the few “slacker” heroes I’ve encountered in my years of romance reading).
  • Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase – For the fabulous yet completely atypical heroes and heroines.
  • Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught – Because that’s what converted me from an infidel to a believer – my first romance was a Cassie Edwards, so you can imagine what my opinion of romance novels was.

Chris (

This is a tried and true method. Just ask me, I’m a convert!

  • The Heartbreaker by Nicole Jordan (Cast the reel)
  • The Last Viking by Sandra Hill (Funny! Not all moonlight and roses)
  • A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux (Get them sniffing and sniffling)
  • A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught (Got a bite?)
  • Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught (“Sigh”) I like Whitney, My Love, but I think Clayton should be reserved for a woman that has a couple books under her belt
  • The Golden Surrender series by Heather Graham (“Did you say Viking? What I meant to say is “Do you have any more like this one?”) Got em! Hook, Line, and Sinker!
  • The Bride by Julie Garwood (Reel em in!)
  • The Secret by Julie Garwood
  • The Pirate & the Pagan by Virginia Henley (There’s nowhere to run. Move in for the kill with. . .)
  • The Raven & the Rose by Virginia Henley
  • The Falcon & the Flower by Virginia Henley
  • Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small (It’s not all about heroes)

That’s about it, I was converted and am now firm believer in this list of conversion tactics. Enjoy!

Maryam (

This all depends on the types of books the prospective convert normally likes to read. For instance if they like sci-fi perhaps you can offer a time-travel or futurisic romance, or maybe even something with vampires (ie Linda Lael Miller). If they like murder mysteries, there are always contemporary Romance Suspense/Thrillers (Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, Catherine Coulter – just read The Edge, very good – Elizabeth Lowel, Tami Hoag). Or if they are a history buff, maybe a particularly accurate historical novel. I know that I became hooked with a Zebra Historical Western when I was fourteen years old, and I’ve loved all types of Romance novels ever since.

Karen Ann Filippi (

I suggest you interview prospective converts. First, I’d find out what type of fiction they like/read, do they like historical fiction, what period? Do they like a story with a mystery plot line or do they like science fiction and/or fantasy? Try to find out as much about their reading likes and dislikes as you can. If nothing else that’s a great conversation and can make for some spirited debate. When you feel you have a “handle” on what each likes try and and tailor your recommendation accordingly.

For example –

  • Mystery/Suspense suggest J.D. Robb or Susan Andersen or Tami Hoag
  • Historical (depending on the particular period) – for example Regency – Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy – for example Justine Davis’s Skypirate, etc.
  • For the truly romance-phobic I’d try a more mainstream author/title, a Howard or Lowell perhaps.

Of course, there’s my own personal “conversion” tactic. I use a bookcover and hide the cover and cover page. The agreement is. . . don’t remove the bookcover and read x number of pages or chapters (depending on the book). I’ve found some people who are put off by the cover art or the back cover blurb are drawn in by the quality of the writing, the characters and the plot. Now they may not become addicted to the genre but the initial resistance is reduce or, in some cases, eliminated.

Myrosia Dzikovska (

A very interesting question. Have been thinking about it myself recently and have decided on these:

  • Born in Fire by Nora Roberts (her descriptions of Ireland and Maggie’s work are as good and better than things you find in “mainstream”)
  • Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer (the characters are deep and believable, and the whole story is a classic)
  • One Perfect Rose by Mary Jo Putney (or almost any of hers – everything I have read so far was totally enchanting)

As a recent convert to romance myself (I lean towards classics, literary fiction, biographies, and books like James Clavell Noble House series), I had to respond.

In the mid-eighties, fresh out of college, someone loaned me the Rosemary Rogers books, and I hated them. The hero was so vile to the heroine, I could never understand why she didn’t kill him.

I’m telling you all that just to let you know that I was one of those people who really considered romances “bodice-rippers” and nothing more. And that after one really bad experience reading. It’s taken over 10 years for another friend to even get me to try reading romance again.

She started me off on Mary Jo Putney’s Silk & Shadows, and I was hooked. Well-written, well-plotted, great characters, and a moral to the story. And historically accurate. I can’t recommend Ms. Putney’s books enough, especially if your “target” is someone who likes literary fiction or classics.

Another book she had me try was Christina’s Dodd’s A Well-Pleasured Lady and I enjoyed it, too. Again, well-written, good plot, and a great deal of humor. She also had me try a few of Nora Roberts contemporaries, which I didn’t care for. I realize I’m in the minority there, but I found them to be somewhat repetitive and slapped together. My friend had me try Roberts’ In Death series, though, and I loved them. (I’m an Agatha Christie fan, too! LOL!)

If you don’t tailor your recommendations to the audience, it could backfire.

There are always going to be negatively opinionated people regarding romances. Some will never give them a try, on general principles alone. My best suggestion is to choose a romance that isn’t very “romancy.” Something along the lines of Rachel Lee’s Before I Sleep for a person who reads mysteries or suspense, even Nora Robert’s JD Robb books. If they like general fiction give them someone like Karen Robard’s The Senator’s Wife, Diane Chamberlin’s books, or Mariah Stewart’s Priceless. You have to choose a book that doesn’t “look” like a romance, “smell” like a romance, or “taste” like a romance sometimes in order to get them to give it a try.

Beverly (

I always thought I would hand someone Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ It Had To Be You. The characters, themes and story line are not cliches, and it is definately anti-bodice ripping. It isn’t that I think it is the all time best book (but definately one of the, couldn’t choose) but anyone who has a preconceived notion of what a romance is will think again after reading this.

This is a tall bill to fill. I could never imagine what anyone’s prefences would be from meeting them, and my own confuse me (i.e. I prefer heros of a certain coloring, no idea why). Would they like time-travel, sweet, contemporary, hot. . . – who knows, reading tastes are so personal and idiosyncratic. That’s why I think humor can cut a wide swath here. IHTBY combines the best of everything, a well crafted story, moving and hilarious at the same time.

Betina Khrahn comes to mind as well. Although she writes historicals, the themes speak to contemporary issues and she too is funny. For a convert, I’d look for something they wouldn’t have imagined as a romance. That’s the best I can think of. I keep thinking of other books, but I’ll stop here

Paula (

Subject: How do you convert a non-romance reader? I have thought of Dream Man by Linda Howard and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

In response to Paula’s comments, author Jo Beverley, who commented on my own conversion kit back in 1997, wrote:

“Nothing against these books, but they’re the sort people either love or hate, so very risky as an intro. You need to think about what they enjoy reading outside of romance, but I’d suggest Susan Elizabeth Philips as good writing with wider appeal. If you want to try them on a shorter book, one of Ruth Wind’s, perhaps. Of course, if they’re history buffs, you could try them on one of mine. I think the book of mine which most appealed to the fringe or non rom reader was Lord of Midnight. Lots of medieval texture in it.

Post to the Potpourri Message Board Earlier page of conversion kit suggestions (1997)