Once upon a time, back in the dark ages of the late eighties, I read a Barbara Cartland.
I figured, why not give it a go? I’d heard Ms. Cartland was related by marriage to Princess Diana and the stories sounded so royal and romantic. So I went in, read maybe two of them and stopped. At the time, deeply tanned, emotionally stunted heroes and helpless virgins weren’t doing it for me.
Around this same time I also tried reading a few harlequin-type categories marketed towards teenagers. They were sweet, but a bit yawn inducing for my tastes so I gave up on those too and that was that. I didn’t bother graduating to actual Harlequins thinking I’d find more tame story lines so I skipped them entirely and focused on sci fi books and sweeping historicals with shirtless pirates, cowboys and purple prose sex scenes and called it a day.
Fast forward twenty-five years (I know, I’m ancient).
I started reading Maya Banks because, erotic. *rawr* And this was before the whole 50 Shades explosion! I was busy devouring Maya’s backlist and frontlist when I saw that she’d released a few Harlequin Desires. Desires? I was like, what’s that? I didn’t read category. Not because I was snooty, just because I’d never had a reason to. Can you believe I was a category virgin? But, I was in a “Maya Banks writes it, therefore I read it” frame of mind, so I went ahead and read those Desires. And wow. Wow. I loved them so much. The angst! The passion! To this day they are still some of my favorites.
So that’s how it all started, how I got sucked into the Harlequin world. I blame it on Maya Banks.
For the next two years I continued to read the occasional Desire that interested me, sticking to that line because that was all I knew. Oh, and a few Mills & Boon Medical romances, because hot Doctors and babies. Until two things happened:
1) I became plugged into the online romance community. Omigod what a cornucopia of romance analysis! This is when I discovered that amongst romance readers Harlequins were given the same weight as standalones. I know, shocking. I began to read reviews of HQ’s on AAR and Dear Author. I read PhD dissertation-level posts, dissecting the Harlequin Presents line. I couldn’t believe the care and attention taken with comparing vintage Harlequin to present day Harlequin. It filled my soul seeing these smart, smart ladies not turning their noses up at HQ but instead embracing them with fangirl fervor.
And the second thing…
2) Scribd. I joined Scribd a little over a year ago, back when they were still an all you can eat Harlequin romance buffet. Back before they decided to jettison those voracious romance readers who were eating them out of house and home. In the spring, summer, fall of 2015 I entered “The Harlequin Zone”. I read HPs (Harlequin Presents) like they were going out of style, Desires, Superromance and more Medical Romance than was healthy. Scribd had all the things! And then I got on Twitter and chatted incessantly with other diehard Harlequin lovers and life was wonderful, until, you know, Scribd dropped most of their Harlequins. Gasp! And then I dropped Scribd. Never fear, I still love my HQs, but having that scope, that depth of HQs to choose from at my fingertips (Janice Kay Johnson, Molly O’Keefe, Carol Marinelli…) was a real awakening for me and I’m sad for readers that it’s gone.
Here’s what I learned:
The angst factor, the pure romance of a Harlequin is cracktastic. If I’m in a hurry and want a palate cleanser in between two sweeping epics, Harlequin fits the bill. I can devour an HP in a night and the next day, a superromance over a weekend. There’s so much choice. There’s a line for every mood you’re in, every type of romance you prefer. Sometimes I want an inspy, sometimes a Michelle Willingham Viking historical—whatever I want, it’s all there! By now I’ve tried: Harlequin Presents, Medical Romance, Superromance, Intrigue, Nocturne, Kimani, HQ Historical and Inspirational. Strangely, I’d never tried a Blaze. I always meant to, and now they’re closing that line. So of course I feel guilt for being part of the problem. Sigh. Although I’m truly excited to see what HQ rolls out in place of Blaze…
With so much choice, it can be tricky making that final decision on what to read. Analysis paralysis. We all know the quality can be uneven in HQ. But hey, that can happen with any publisher and with any subgenre. The trick with HQ is finding the authors and the lines you like. Mix and match until you find that HQ sweet spot. Awesome cover/title impulse buys notwithstanding, I get my main recs from my fellow Harlequin lovers via Twitter: @willaful, @MissBates, @sonomalass and @lexxicallahan. This last winter (or fall?) @MissBates rec’d Snowbound by Janice Kay Johnson (we were going through a Superromance phase). An oldie but a goodie. I couldn’t find it on Scribd and was too lazy to pursue it from the library, but luckily I found it on Amazon, so *click*. It was terrific. Great depth. We all went crazy for it. So much fun. :)
What keeps me coming back for more Harlequin despite all the shiny out there, are authors like Sarah M. Anderson and her RITA nominated book, The Nanny Plan. The heroine is half Native American, a young woman trying to make her way in the world, while at the same time reaching back to help her family and community on the reservation where she grew up. I was so happy to read such a modern tale about a tech Billionaire who falls for a woman who is NOT WHITE. I’m so hungry for more PoC in my Harlequin romance. I’d love to see Harlequin thinking of the future and opening their lines to all ethnicities. I think a smart step in the right direction would be the disbanding of the Kimani line and the inclusion of those books in preexisting lines. I want all of the terrific PoC authors AND characters already in Kimani to stay, but reshuffled to fit into every line, everywhere, not segregated like they are now to a line that isn’t even marketed to “me”. This way those fabulous Kimani books are sold to everyone, not just targeted towards an African-American demographic. That type of racially targeted marketing is now becoming old fashioned, not what twenty-first century readers are wanting. Harlequins are like an old blanket I like to curl up in, the sameness is comforting, but I also enjoy keeping up to date with the latest fabrics and colors. So it would make me happy to see something fresh, modern and forward-thinking going on in HQ, something in alignment with RWA’s new standards on Diversity.
My personal conclusion about Harlequin:
Sometimes you want your romance to be about the romance and that’s it. No pesky sub plots, villages of secondary characters, prologues and epilogues. Sometimes you want a quick story you can potentially finish in a day.
And when you pick up a Harlequin you know exactly what you’re getting into. No surprises. Whatever mood you’re in, Harlequin has that story. They provide every trope under the sun. Secret baby trope? They’ve got it. You want a friends to lovers trope combined with marriage of convenience, he knocks her up and she suffers from amnesia? Harlequin has you covered. I love how you can typically tell what you’re getting from a Harlequin by glancing at which line it is, the title and the cover- you don’t really need to read the blurb, the title is basically a condensed blurb (ex – The Italian Surgeon’s Secret Baby). How cool is that?
I need to send Maya Banks a thank you card…
So tell me, what is your Harlequin discovery story? Which lines do you read? What authors are your favorites? Are you disappointed with Scribd too, or is it just me?
Let the recs fly!
And…How do you get your Harlequin? The library? Target? By mail? Mainly ebook now? I’m curious…
Michele Mills teaches High School English to unruly teenagers and enjoys cooking for her husband and two sons. Die for You, the first book in her new post-apocalyptic series from Samhain, is available now. You can find her
pretending to be professional on both Twitter and Facebook.
Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.
Apologies to everyone out there – I just bought the last copy in America of The Vicar’s Daughter ….
Well, probably not, but Amazon did say it was the last copy left!
Thanks Caz – you’re my go to reference – if you say it’s good, I pretty much buy it.
Wait, we need a discussion on how we find and follow our favorite reviewers! :)
I used to read Intimate Moments and Desire back in the day but now I read almost all historicals, Harlequin does have a great bunch of high quality authors that have stuck with them for years, like Julia Justiss, Diane Gaston(The Mysterious Miss M broke my heart), Christine Merrill, and among the newer authors Marguerite Kaye, Louise Allen Sarah Mallory and Annie Burrows. Some of the books are rather darker in tone than the single title historical romances, and I love that, because some of my favorite authors in that genre have recently gone too fluffy and pastel and fairy-tale themed. The Waterloo Trilogy that HH did last spring to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle was simply outstanding.
I do occasionally go back to Presents, but very selectively, to read Lynne Graham and Lucy Monroe mainly, as a palate cleanser from the Regency.
The historicals line boasts some really good authors – quite a few of them are British so there are none of the glaring Americanisms which can blight so many historicals, regardless of publisher. (Obviously, I’m talking about the British/European set historicals, not the American ones!) Marguerite Kaye in particular is not only the best of HH/M&B’s crop, she’s one of the best authors of historicals out there, full-stop. Louise Allen and Sarah Mallory are others whose names I always look for on the new release lists.
Back when I used to read contemporaries, the bulk of them were good ol’ HPs, alpha males, virginal heroines… I haven’t read any recently so I can’t compare to see if what Erika says about their having been diluted is the case, but if it is, then I’m sad. They’re completely escapist fantasies and we all need some of those from time to time.
Finally, this: Sometimes you want your romance to be about the romance and that’s it. – echoes my thoughts exactly. I’m just reading a new historical (for review) and there’s no hanging about, there’s a quick bit of set up and we’re straight in to the bulk of the story. The set up might be a little eye-rolling, but it doesn’t matter because it’s a means to an end, and the story itself is very good.
I wish they would publish older stuff digitally. I buy all of Harlequin books digitally now and purchased my e-reader specifically so I could buy from their website digitally. I like their BOGO sales and i will hold out for one. I read Kate Hardy, Jennifer Faye, Kandy Shepherd, Cheryl St. John, Louise Allen. I read based on themes a lot (Marriage of convenience, friends to lovers, unrequited love are my favorite themes.. I also like Susan Fox, Betty Neels and Judith Duncan from the past. Oh, Olivia Rupprecht from the Loveswept line. Curtiss Ann Matlock was wonderful in the silhouette line
some recs are:
Blackmailed into Marriage by Lucy Monroe
Her Baby, His Proposal by Teresa Carpenter
A Cowboy to Come Home to by Donna Alward
From Viscount’s Daughter to Viscount’s Lady by Louise Allen
The Admiral’s Penniless bride by Carla Kelly
The Cowboy’s Baby by Patrica Thayer
Her Sister’s Baby by Janice Kay Johnson
Forver, Christmas by Ruth Wind
I love this topic. Some of my favorites in no particular order: What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss, The Shy Bride by Lucy Monroe, His Chosen Bride by Marcia Evanick, Jacqueline Baird’s Master of Passion, Lynne Graham (who is coming out with her 100th book this summer!), Betty Neels, Miranda Lee, Emma Darcy’s The Wedding, Susan Napier’s Secret Admirer. Sarah Mayberry’s Best Worst Mistake and Hot Island Nights, Nancy Warren’s Toot Hot to Handle and Power Play. One I would like to see them release in digital format is The Vicar’s Daughter by Deborah Simmons. Thanks.
Another vote here for a digital release of The Vicar’s Daughter.
The Vicar’s Daughter is the first of 4 connected books by Simmons, and I recommend all of them. iirc, the other 3 are The Devil Earl, Tempting Kate and The Last Rogue. Incredibly, they are all still available on Scribd. The Devil Earl is like a spoof of a Gothic romance and absolutely hysterical, AND a great romance.
O Harlequin where art thou? In my opinion they are MIA in terms of looking after author interests or providing service to readers. Most of my purchases of Harlequin books are digital because very few are carried by Target or other big box stores and they disappear so quickly that rarely can I find an author I am seeking.
I am disappointed in Harlequin because for authors I buy, like Janice Kay Johnson, they only make their books available digitally in Australia and when I went on the US website (which lists both ebook and print) I was flicked back to the Australian site which only offers ebooks. Try writing an email requesting help and you get a reply that tells you nothing and helps not at all. As I said, poor service to readers.
Does this matter I can hear people saying since you can buy the ebook? Yes it does because I’m one of those readers who will buy both the print and ebook of favourite authors. Plus how many readers have found a new favourite author by reading the blurb in a bookstore, bought the book, loved the author and then sought out all their backlist and eagerly awaited their new releases. I will always be grateful to the woman in the UBS who first pointed me to the rack of Nora Roberts.
Over the years authors I have discovered this way include Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz ( under all her pseudonyms) , Betty Neels, Essie Summers, Helen Bianchin, Karen Van Der Zee, Claire Harrison, Charlotte Lamb, Daphne Clair/ Laurey Bright, Robyn Donald, Janet Dailey, Joan Hohl, Roberta Leigh, Anne Mather, Christine Rimmer, Janice Kay Johnson. Many of these authors I no longer read because some stopped writing, some have died, some I no longer enjoy. My tastes have changed. If I reread some of these authors I think what was I thinking when I first read this? The heroine is a wimp and the hero an Alphahole bully or I find myself angry at a plot hinging on a “” great big misunderstanding”” which could be cleared up with 5 minutes conversation. However when I first read them in the 80’s none of this presented itself to me as an issue. I blame the fog induced by “”stuck in the suburbs with small children””.
I cannot comment on the categories with confidence as I have never subscribed. I have always relied on finding “” new “” authors by buying a book on spec in a UBS and then seeking out the backlist and new releases. I don’t like books about billionaires ( except Roarke) or sheiks and I am definitely allergic to the category line that sums up the book plot in the title e.g The Greek billionaire’s secret baby quest. No wonder Harlequin is going digital. What woman would want to be seen reading a book with that title on the train on her way to work?
I feel for Harlequin authors starting out as I wonder how they will be discovered by readerland outside the brief window of opportunity when initially released . The disappearance of print copies of some Harlequin lines must make it harder. An author I bought initially on spec in a UBS and now always buy is Janice Kay Johnson who writes Superromances. I am constantly looking for other authors to read but am wary of buying an ebook from an new (to me) author on spec because there is no trade in so my book buying budget has less buying power. Exceptions are those books that I read about on sites like AAR. However unless you are lucky enough to score a review on AAR or one of the other review sites there is a good chance I will never hear of you.
Thankyou for this interesting discussion. Great to hear of other readers lists of favourite authors , even those we no longer read.
“”I feel for Harlequin authors starting out as I wonder how they will be discovered by readerland outside the brief window of opportunity when initially released.””
Totally! They’ve always had that tiny window of discovery before their print book was pulled to make room for the new and shiny. I’m hoping the eternal digital world will help these authors going forward, their books are always there to be discovered by new readers looking for a glom.
ps- love your rant!:))))
Like Erika, I love the Harlequin Presents line and have been a subscriber for around 25 years. Lately I’ve been getting them and not reading them – I must have at least a year’s worth unread sitting in Mt TBR. I’m thinking about stopping the subscription but I still like them. I tell myself that I’m saving them for a rainy year. Favorite authors in the HP line: Helen Bianchin (when will that next book be published?), Lynne Graham, Michelle Reid, Amanda Carpenter (I know she’s also Thea Harrison; I love her early Amanda Carpenter books like “”Cry Wolf””), Penny Jordan, Carole Mortimer, Sharon Kendrick.
I also loved the Silhouette Intimate Moments line, just like Library Addict. The early ones were the best, and favorite authors are almost a repeat of hers. I especially like Linda Howard (Mackenzies in particular), Justine Davis (Trinity West, Stevie’s Chase and Morning Side of Dawn), Kathleen Korbel (Kendall family), Judith Duncan (anything by her but especially Wide Open Spaces), Nora Roberts (MacGregors and Cordina series), Paula Detmer Riggs, Suzanne Brockmann (Tall Dark & Dangerous), Elizabeth Lowell.
I read the Super Romance line mostly following favorite authors, Judith Duncan in particular. I devoured the Harlequin Romance line when I first started reading romance and fell in love with Betty Neels. Now I’ll search out the HR line only to follow a particular author (such as old Helen Bianchin books, old Amanda Carpenter books). I read a few Harlequin Intrigue books, following favorite authors, such as Gayle Wilson.
Other category lines I loved – gone but not forgotten – would be Loveswept (Kay Hooper, Fayrene Preston, Iris Johansen, Anne N Reisser to name just a few of the great authors in that line) and Candlelight Esctasy (Alice Morgan, Anne Reisser). I read Kismets only for one author – Lacey Dancer.
I am still a subscriber to the HP line, and pick up any new non HP Harlequins in print via Walmart. For author’s backlist books, I purchase from Amazon since my local used bookstore closed a few years ago. I’ve also started requesting older books from the library – we have a large statewide interlibrary loan system which is wonderful. I purchase digital versions of ‘keeper’ books when they are available at a reasonable price, since the older print versions are falling apart and need to be replaced. My library has a huge used book sale twice a year and I go there hoping to find gems and I’ve been lucky a few times (even finding a few early OOP Mary Balogh titles in good condition)
Andrea2, I’m seriously thinking about canceling the HP subscription. But due to nostalgia for the line i can’t make that step.
I’ve never been a subscriber to any of the lines. I guess I’ve been worried I’ll end up with a lot of books I don’t really want to read. I’ve sort of preferred picking and choosing on my own…
I have to comment because a) Barbara Cartland! I devoured those stories as a young teenager. I have very fond memories of staying during the summer at my grandmother’s house in a small town in Ontario. She lived across the street from the library and I would go every morning and get a stack of Barbara Cartland’s to read (they must have had over 50 titles) and that’s how I’d spend my vacation. I loved the formula in them – always an experienced man in his early 30s and a virginal 18-20 year old woman. I was 13 or 14 at the time, so the idea of being swept off my feet by a richer older man was very attractive.
and b) Harlequin! In my goodreads bio, I comment that I started reading romances (slightly prior to my Barbara Cartland obsession) when my locker partner in grade 7 would ‘borrow’ them from her mom and share them with me. My earliest recollection of a plot is actually a step-brother story (which amuses me, because I tend to steer clear of them now) – one where the woman in attracted to the son of a man her mother marries (all adults already). It was so lusty! I was hooked! I read all those lines that Library addict mentioned – Silhouette Desire, Candlelight Intimate Moments, Loveswept, etc. along with the HQN lines. I discovered Stephanie James through Silhouette Desire, went on to read Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz, and lo and behold , discovered they were all the same author! No wonder I’d liked the formulaic plot of them all! I read all of the Harlequin lines on offer at that time too (late 80s, early 90s) but mostly the Presents line is what sticks out in my memory.
Now, I read mostly Harlequin Blaze (sad to see the line going away) and an occasional Presents and Desire. I mostly buy them still in the store, though I’ll occasionally pick up a digital copy on the HQN website, in particular when they have a good sale. I had never joined Scribd so that’s not been an issue for me. I definitely like knowing that the plot will contain minimal surprises – I get exactly what I expect from it. I don’t read nearly as many as used to, but I think that’s just because I’ve discovered so many indie authors that I like, and there’s only so much reading time in a day!
I really wish I’d realized how terrific Harlequin is, earlier. I missed so many years of good reading! Thank you for this, I really enjoyed reading about your journey. I love hearing about other readers who, as teens, preteens, were OBSESSED with reading like I was at that age. Kindred spirit!
My all-time favorite category line was Silhouette Intimate Moments (especially from the mid 80s to the early 00s) because it had a wide range of stories and you never knew exactly what you were going to get. There were books of international intrigue and books of small town romance in the same month. Mystery, drama, comedy, the line had a bit of everything. Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Merline Lovelace, Justine Davis, Naomi Horton, Lee Magner, Carole Buck, Marcia Evanick, Kathleen Korbel, Linda Turner, Karen Templeton, Rachel Lee, and Jill Shalvis were some of my favorite authors (and most of the ones who continue to write I still read).
I also liked Silhouette Desire (before they became all about millionaires and billionaires), Harlequin Temptation, and Loveswept (all in the late 80s through mid-1990s). Oh and Candlelight Ecstasy Romance, Jove Second Chance at Love, and Kismet. I used to write used bookstores around the country tracking down backlists for new-to-me authors in the pre-internet days.
Category romance titles had a much wider range of settings and plots during the late 80s and 90s. That changed when Harlequin bought Silhouette and then most of the others publishers’ lines closed (Loveswept, Candlelight, Jove, Zebra, etc). Wordcounts seemed to get shorter and the variery of settings have dwindled.
Not that there aren’t still some wonderful authors wrting category. I’m partial nowadays to Julie Miller’s Harlequin Intrigues as well as some autobuy authors who write for the Harelquin Special Edition, Desire, and Romantic Suspense lines.
After almost 30 years I gave up my print subscription to Harlequin Romantic Suspense (which had started as Silhouette Intimate Moments) this year as I’ve gone 99.9% digital. My Target stopped carrying the Harlequin series all together and Wal-mart only has some of the lines. I mostly buy directly from Harlequin’s website now since they went agency priced. Plus they have a great rewards program.
I’ve gone 99% digital too. I really think Harlequin needs to invest in their readers turning mainly digital in the future, don’t you think?
I think that’s why the Harlequin Historical and Harlequin Romance will be digital only starting in 2017 (though apparently still available in print for series subscribers and via their website).
Harlequin was the first publisher who made their entire front-list available in digital. And they also offer the various series subscription in digital. So I actually think they’ve been very pro-active in adapting to the digital market.
I just wish they would figure out who owns the digital rights to many of the early 90s book (them or the authors) so we could get them in digital. Though many of my favorites apparently are either no longer involved in published or have passed on and the heirs are unaware of the fact many of us would pay money to get these older books in digital format.
I know, turning those vintage harlequins into digital is a potential goldmine.
My next post on harlequin will include an interview with an author who no longer pubs with harlequin and has instead moved to Tule and just received her rights back to her 26 book backlist. Wow. That will be interesting to hear about…)
My favorite line is Harlequin Presents. I’ve been a subscriber for decades. I love the angst, the alpha badass heroes and the virgin heroines who tame the heroes.
Favorite authors- Lynne Graham, Helen bianchin, Robyn Donald and Maisey Yates
Sadly the most recent HPs have been a disappointment. The heroes are no longer badass alphas, the heroines are less likely to be virgins, the heroines have become unlikeable versions of Sex in the City characters and the stories are more likely to be the hero and heroine naval gazing spennding pages self analyzing themselves.
In spite of my criticisms I still read HPs but first I wait for others to spoil them to avoid triggers.
So would you say you’re a vintage HP lover? This I totally understand. Yeah, I have to say I love those HPs with the growly alphas. I eat them up like candy.:) Isn’t Maisy great? Two of the authors you rec’d I haven’t read, I’ll have to try. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!
Yep, I love the vintage HPs. Robyn Donald for instance wrote some really memorable ones like Smoke in the Wind. I hated that hero but loved the angst and the heroine. I doubt HP would even publish it today unfortunately due to the hero being so over the top
I don’t care so much about the loss of badass and virgins, but the navel-gazing… oy gevalt, so tedious! They’ve pared them down *too* much in my opinion — there’s nothing else to write about but what the main character are feeling. All. The. Time.
Glad I’m not alone in being annoyed with the naval gazing. I’m like get therapy for goodness sake!