Here at All About Romance, our team of reviewers is dedicated to the romance genre. We read, review, and keep up with the goings on of all things romance. We’ve even had quite a few people who turned to writing romance as well. I wouldn’t call us romance addicts, per say, but we definitely have a strong habit. Like any good addiction hobby, there had to be a first time that captured our attention and made us life-long romance lovers.
Recently, I found that the first romance novel I had ever read had been released on the Kindle and knew I needed to give it another chance. Revisiting the book that got me into the romance genre made me wanted what book it was that captured the attention of my fellow reviewers. So I asked them to share what was the first romance they read.
The results, shown below, were pretty interesting. There seem to be two standouts for first loves, as far as books go. Many were turned on to the idea of romantic novels by classics such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. It should be no surprise to anyone that the sexy Mr. Darcy and complicated Mr. Rochester piqued our romantic interest. Among the genre romances, Harlequin was the jumping off point for quite a few. Since Harlequin has become so synonymous with romance, that only seems fitting. Authors like Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and Heather Graham were other popular firsts. It also seemed like, overwhelmingly, we all got started on our romance habits pretty young.
Check out each of our responses below, and make sure to comment and let us know what book it was that made you a romance reader.
The first romance novel I ever read was Hawke’s Pride by Norah Hess. I was probably only about eleven or twelve years old when I stole my mother’s copy of the book to read in secret. I kept it hidden inside the window seat in my room. After I read this book, I was totally hooked on reading romance. I got caught with my filched books at least once and my mother was furious. She had decided I was too young to be reading them; which may have been true, but did nothing to stop me. Although I rarely read Westerns now, I still love a lot of the same tropes that were featured in Hawke’s Pride.
Hawke is forced to marry the poor, skinny Rue, although he has no intentions of honoring the marriage vows. Instead, he plans to have Rue help him raise his orphaned niece and nephew. Once they are in close proximity at Hawke’s ranch, Rue starts to bloom. Hawke gets the idea to turn his relationship with his wife into a real marriage, but Rue isn’t having it. I love forced marriages or forced living situations to this day. This book is all about misunderstandings and a total lack of communication, which I don’t love so much today. I read it again recently and I still enjoy it, but I can tell I do have a slightly higher bar for romances now. For example, Hawke is frequently getting jealous of Rue talking to one of his workers and flies off the handle without waiting for clarification. I can forgive those big misunderstandings to some degree, but Hawke’s Pride is riddled with them. Either way, it still holds a special place in my heart as my first romance novel.
As I recall, I read my first romance novel around the beginning of high school, maybe a little earlier. I used to go on reading binges for days, just running through any book I could get my hands on. This time I happened to find an interesting book lying around my house–I believe it was about a couple whose plane crashes in the wilderness, or something along those lines. Rather than pausing to reflect on the fact that it was likely my mother’s novel, and thus not necessarily something I should have been reading, I dove in.
All was well for the first 150 pages or so. The strong romantic elements did not bother me at all–in fact, I was enjoying them. But then, in the middle of a kiss, the heroine started unbuttoning her hero’s pants. Pop. Pop. Pop.
I still remember reading those words on the page. I was so shocked I think my eyes probably bugged out a little with each “pop.” I hadn’t thought anyone would dare write about such an intimate moment so explicitly. Somehow, though, I managed to recover myself and keep reading. As it turned out, I quite liked the book, and then from there it wasn’t too long before I was picking up other romance novels.
I am so old and have been reading so long that it is very hard to remember what my first romance book was, but I will just go out on a limb and guess that Pride and Prejudice was at least among the first. I love this book and re-read it at least once every two or three years. The book that started me in the modern romance genre was probably Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers. I was about fifteen when it first came out and I have never read a book with so much sex. My teenage curiosity was definitely aroused. I remember feeling uncomfortable with the rape scenes (or forced seduction as they were called back then), but I loved the sweeping history in the book. That is probably what kept me coming back for more of Ginny and Steve. I have always been a sucker for history. I tried reading this book again several years ago and just could not make myself do it. So much has changed in the romance genre over the past 40 years and I have read too many great romance novels to be able to stomach this one at this stage in my life. I am glad that the “bodice rippers” of the past have given way to a much more mature genre.
Technically my first romance novel would be Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe. The story of Lian, an English girl who travels to Argentina in the hopes of becoming a dancer, and Ricardo, a man who stands to inherit a large ranch if he can only find a bride instantly, had me glomming Harlequins during my middle school years. However, a part of me feels I had read romances for years before this. The Sapphire Pendent by Audrey White Bryer is essentially a Regency romance with young protagonists. Rosemary Sutcliffe was shelved in the children’s section of my library and she had several deeply romantic historical novels such as Knight’s Fee. Margaret Leighton wrote Journey for a Princess and Judith of France, which are also romantic historicals for “children”. Gladys Malvern wrote several that I loved, The Foreigner being my favorite. Phyllis Whitney had many young adult novels and all of them were what I would call romances, Step to the Music being my favorite. Promises in the Attic by Elisabeth Hamilton Friermood another YA romance. Teen and children’s books were essentially housed together in our library so I was reading romance by fourth grade or so. The Harlequins didn’t start until seventh but since I had been searching for books with romantic themes since fourth grade I never had some huge conversion moment. It was more like just finding a more grown up source for my addiction.
I’m not sure how we’re counting first. I was raised in Nebraska and went to a two-month summer camp in Minnesota when I was twelve. There was a ratty, torn copy of Jane Eyre in the camp library. At the edge of the camp lake or on the dock I sat at the end of the day reading until twilight turned into night. My love of romances was born there. Sometime later I got a copy of Anne Stuart’s The Spinster and the Rake, which, if you don’t count the Bronte, was my first romance. Now I have the Spinster on my Kindle and all’s right with the world.
I read my first romance book as I was aboard a Greyhound bus going cross-country from San Francisco to Chicago. Yes, a long time ago. Nowadays, I would be in a plane. But I was young and adventurous and didn’t have a lot of money to see the country. Anyway, did I notice the bleak, snow-covered cornfields of the Plains states in March as the bus chugged along the interstate? No, because I was really in the bleak north of England, sympathetic and intrigued by what Jane Eyre was experiencing at Thornfield Hall. Not only did Jane Eyre introduce me to a wonderfully romantic story, it also added to my desire to visit England, which I have done many, many times since.
This is one of those questions that really made me think. And then think some more, because I’m not sure I can remember my first actual romance novel. I only became a really serious reader of romantic fiction in the last four or five years; in my 20s and 30s I mostly read what I suppose one would describe as classic fiction – Dickens, Trollope, Bronte – and my real passion was seeking out lesser known work by those and other authors of that period. But I did read a few romances here and there. If it counts, my first real romance was definitely Pride and Prejudice, which I read for the first time when I was about thirteen. That was quickly followed by Emma – which is my favorite Austen novel – Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (which I found such a slog I never felt the desire to read it again!) In terms of actual romantic novels, I’m pretty sure my first was by Georgette Heyer, although I’m not quite sure which one. I have a feeling it may have been Regency Buck or possibly Bath Tangle, but it was so long ago now, that I’m not quite sure! But whatever it was, I was hooked enough to very quickly devour almost all of her regencies and other romances – although there are still a couple I haven’t read. Back then, not all of them were available in paperback; I still have hardback copies of Sylvester, The Reluctant Widow, The Quiet Gentleman and one or two others. Around the same time, I got hooked on Victoria Holt although again, I couldn’t say which of her books I read first. I’d been an avid reader of Jean Plaidy’s historical fiction since the age of eleven, so I worked my way through most of that before turning to Holt.
Mine was It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It had everything I still love in romances: smart, funny dialogue, a clever heroine, a hero who’s masculine but not an ass, sex scenes that don’t check personality at the door, and a stupid dog. I grew up watching lots of old movies, and the screwball-comedy style of the book was exactly the sort of thing I’d enjoyed on screen, so I was excited to find it in a book. Teenage me empathized with Phoebe’s conflict with her body – I also had boobs that sent messages entirely of their own accord – and loved the scene where she dresses up in her “bondage hooker dress” to manipulate a better concessions deal for the team. When Dan proved able to appreciate her mind in the meeting as much as the boobs in her dress, I knew he was the guy for her.
I honestly don’t remember my first romance novel. I can’t remember the title or the author – it would have been early to mid-90s, the cover had the classic Native American western reclining pose, and the only scene I remember was about halfway through the novel where the heroine suddenly develops telepathy when there is a snake in her blankets. Apparently her Native American heritage granted more than her gorgeous skin tone.
The first I actually remember reading (discounting Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, since in my head those were “classics” not “romance”) was Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught. I adored the hero, Ian, too smart for his own good, and deliciously damaged. The heroine, Elizabeth, was lovely and strong and independent, and I wanted to be her friend. She had her own version of the tragic past, and the two of them together just worked in ways that made my 13-year-old brain happy.
I’ve always been drawn to stories that focused on relationships. I loved the histrionics of the love affairs of the Greek Gods (D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is a book I still page through today.) I adored watching Gilbert and Anne fall in love, worried that Laura would starve to death before Almanzo could save her, and resented Laurie for not falling for Amy. I kept hoping Ned Nickerson would plant a kiss on Nancy Drew. I read Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, and Jane Eyre the summer between fifth and sixth grade, skipping through the history but paying rapt attention to the relationships.
In sixth grade, I read two books I think of as my first romance novels. Both shaped my thinking about how relationships should work… to this day.
The first was Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones by Ann Head. This late 60’s era teen love story is about the love/life story of teen, July Greher, and her teen husband, Bo Jo Jones. The two become pregnant after having sex one time on the beach. When they discover July is pregnant, Bo Jo believes the right thing for them to do is to get married and so they do. Their parents are first determined for them to get the marriage annulled but the kids refuse to do so. Bo Jo and July move into a small apartment and both drop out of school. Their lives are fairly miserable although they do have moments of love between them. Their baby is born prematurely and dies. The parents push the kids to get a divorce but July and Bo Jo say no. They decide they love each other. Bo Jo finishes school and July works to support him. By the book’s end, four years after the beginning, their marriage is a good, strong one. This book convinced me getting pregnant by mistake was an outcome to be avoided at all costs. It made me sure that no matter how awkward talking about birth control might be, it’s better to live through those conversations than end up teenage and pregnant. It also taught me that marriage, or any serious committed relationship, would have heart ache and arguments in it.
The second was Love Story by Erich Segal. I feel sure I have no need to recount that plot. Here’s what I got out of it in 1971. First, the heroine Jenny was smarter than the hero Ollie and he adored that about her. At age 11, all I thought I had going for me was my smarts and I was thrilled to see that, someday, probably not until college, they would help me find a boyfriend. Second, it made me fall in love with a killer opening line, or in this case, lines. (What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.) Third, the banter between Jennie and Oliver was witty, funny, and sexy. Who wouldn’t want a guy you could joke with while kissing?
After Love Story, I dove headfirst into love stories. Over the next year, I read Barbara Cartland, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, and–“fans self”–Rosemary Rogers. I was hooked.
Like so many of you, the first “adult” novels I read were the wonderful gothics of Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. Though not exactly romances, there usually was a heroine who managed to hook up with a mysterious (ok, sometimes creepy) guy. From there, around the time I started high school, I moved on to category romances from Harlequin, Silhouette, and my favorite, Loveswept. I simply cannot remember my first of any of those, though I still have a collection of my favorites from that era. But around that time I picked up And One Wore Grey by Heather Graham. This is the second book in a Civil War saga starring the Cameron family and it sparked my love for historical romances. I haven’t read it in years and I’m not sure if I would love it today, but it will always have a special place in my heart.
I read classics like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Gone with the Wind early on, and I was a huge fan of the Sunfire romances as a young teen (and not so young teen). But the romance I count as my first “real” romance was The Raider by Jude Deveraux. I read it on vacation in Hawaii when I was seventeen and couldn’t put it down. I don’t know that I’ve read it since then, but I definitely recall the dashing hero who dressed as an ineffectual fop by day and a masked raider by night, and I probably re-read the love scenes over and over, if memory serves.
It’s really hard for me to pinpoint my first romance. As I’ve written before, there are lots of firsts for me on my journey into romance. However, the Sunfire series were definitely some of the first romances I remember reading. I enjoyed the romance of them as well as the varied historical backgrounds – and I have a feeling that I’m not the only reader who jumped from these into adult romance. Of the series, Susannah by Candice F. Ransom is probably the one that made the biggest impression on me. Growing up in Virginia, I knew the setting of this book inside out, and the drama of forbidden love between North and South got my imagination going. From there, I went on to happily lap up all kinds of romance – and after reading Susannah, Heather Graham’s One Wore Blue, I couldn’t resist when I discovered it in a UBS years later.