Another one bites the dust

A friend of mine who was gently skeptical about romance novels expressed an interest in trying out one that I thought was especially good. Based on what I knew about her (she wanted something fairly lighthearted and escapist, and she can’t abide stupid heroines), I gave her a copy of Lord of Scoundrels.

She just wrote to me—she liked it! Stayed up reading way too late for two nights, even. BOO YAH and happy dancing all around.

I’m now plotting a strategic gift package of other smart romance novels that aren’t too horribly angsty and that feature strong, capable heroines. (Though I’m now afraid I might’ve spoiled her—Jessica Trent and Sebastian Dain are a difficult act to follow.) Here’s a short list:

1. Midsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale.
2. To Love and the Cherish by Patricia Gaffney
3. Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase
4. Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase
5. Anyone but You by Jennifer Crusie (if she likes Crusie’s style, oh man is she going to be inundated with suggestions)
6. Wild at Heart by Patricia Gaffney

I’m also contemplating giving her one of Sharon Shinn’s Samaria novels.

I’m really happy she gave Lord of Scoundrels a chance, because she picked up my copy of Decadent by Shayla Black (which I need to review after finals) and she was stunned at how terrible it was.

All About Romance has had discussions in the past about conversion kits—books you’d give to a skeptic to show them that underneath all that man-titty and heaving bosomage is a genre worth reading and exploring. What’s in YOUR kit?

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  1. 1
    francois says:

    After Chase and Crusie I’d go on to the SEPs. But maybe the link there is more the sense of humour than the smart heroines. Is it possible to top Chase and Crusie? I keep trying but…

  2. 2
    Tumperkin says:

    Depends who I’m trying to convert.  If it’s a lover of literature, Black Silk by Judith Ivory would definitely be in there.

  3. 3
    Yvonne says:

    It really does depend. For those who think they are insipid, I would choose ‘For My Lady’s Heart’ Laura Kinsale. Talk about an intelligent read.

  4. 4
    Liz C. says:

    Any conversion kit would have to include Crusie, but especially Bet Me because I firmly believe every one needs to read that book. Also, The Smoke Thief and The Dream Thief by Shana Abe (I’m anxiously awaiting the third book even if I’m annoyed with the cover art and title).

    Kasey Michaels’ The Secrets of the Heart because that made me want to hunt down every Kasey Michaels book I’ve never read. The same for Julia Quinn’s How to Marry a Marquis (the heroine annoyed me toward the end but she was smart and funny).

  5. 5
    Stephanie says:

    I am a recent romance convert- well historical, I have read a few contemporaries in the past (mainly Nora Roberts, a few Lori Foster and there was a period of Blaze books…) For some reason I picked up Amanda Quick’s “Slightly Shady” at the library, I’m a huge mystery addict and I was attracted to the mystery aspect mixed with some romance. I enjoyed the book so much I’ve pretty much jumped right into the genre. Right now I’m towards the end of Julia Quinn’s “The Duke and I” which I adore, and before that I read Miranda Cheever. Next up is Kleypas’s “Suddenly You” and “Mr. Impossible” by Loretta Chase. I actually have “Lord of Scoundrals” on teh way to me, after hearing so many good things I had to order it :) Oh, I also read the first J.R. Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood and glommed the rest at a used bookstore. Like John Water’s said about the Final Destination series, “It’s good trash” :)

    To convert I would choose a book that details in their interests- I picked up an Alison Kent book involving a makeup artist (my side job) and a music producer (my boyfriend being a musician that dabbles in production) If I heard about a book about a movie nerd or a book that was hilarious AND romantic, I’d read it in a heartbeat.

    Honestly I read oen book by Crusie and did not enjoy it, but she sounds so much like my usual taste I’ll have to give her another try. My TBR pile is mainly made up for MaryJanice Davidson, Quinn, Quick, Kleypas, I got one SEP for a quarter at the library, and I’m also using the recent AAR Top 100 Romance list as a beginner’s guide. I also love horror films/stories so my paranormal pile is pretty impressive as well.

  6. 6
    Bron says:

    Jo Beverley’s The Shattered Rose. The secondary romance is a bit too light, but the main one is brilliantly drawn. It’s not an easy historical romance though, and people seem to love it or hate it. I love it for it’s originality, and for the fact that the characters are medieval characters in a complex situation, not modern people dressed up in costume.

    For contemporary category romance, I recommend Kelly Hunter’s Priceless. I think it’s still available from the UK, and it will be released in the US in April as Bedded for Diamonds, as a Harlequin Presents Special Collection – but it’s definitely not the usual Presents-style Billionaire’s Virgin Mistress with-a-secret-baby plot. (In fact, not a billionaire, baby or virgin in it at all!)

  7. 7
    Cat Marsters says:

    My Crusie is Welcome to Temptation, although to be honest I lent it to a friend once and she was underwhelmed.  But another friend, and my mother, were both hooked.

    I converted a die-hard thriller reader with Jude Deveraux’s A Knight In Shining Armour (and yes, my copy had the Anglicised title).  Ah, JD when she was good.

    I was personally entranced by Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, which is not my usual sort of thing, but if it worked for me, maybe it would for someone else.

  8. 8

    Linnea Sinclair’s SF romance novels all have strong, smart heroines.  I just finished The Down Home Zombie Blues and liked it a lot.  I’d also recommend Accidental Goddess and Games of Command by Sinclair for a new reader.

    And if you go back to the “classics”, it’s hard to beat the relationship in The Grand Sophy by Heyer.

  9. 9
    Lauren says:

    I have special fondness for “A Secret Love” by Stephanie Laurens and “Romancing Mr.Bridgerton” by Julia Quinn. “It’s In His Kiss” and the “The Duke and I” are fabulous too!

  10. 10
    Susi-Bz says:

    Well, I think if you want your friend to stay your friend, you should definitely NOT give her any SEP book, especially not Nobody’s Baby but Mine. Nothing is more insulting to a reader than a TSTL heroine with an alleged genius IQ. Anyway, my conversion kit would include:
    Michele Albert: Off Limits
    Liz Carlyle: The devil to pay
    Jennifer Crusie: Welcome to Temptation and Bet me
    Georgette Heyer: The Grand Sophy and Devil’s Cub
    Sandy Hingston: The Suitor
    Sabrina Jeffries: After the abduction
    Julia London: Miss Fortune
    Karen Robards: Walking after Midnight
    Deborah Simmons: The devil earl

  11. 11
    meezergrrrl says:

    I, too, was once a collegiate lit-er-a-ture snob – but all that BS stopped when I read Gabaldon’s Outlander… 

    I started looking for books along a similar theme and eventually branched out directly into romancelandia via sub-genre and theme.

    Recommendations all depend on the interests of whomever is asking.  Generally speaking, I start with whatever genre a person is interested in, and recommend great romances within the theme or genre that follow their taste.

    A good for instance – If your friend is into Mysteries and Egypt, just tack “Romance” onto the end and you get:

    Elizabeth Peters… which will inevitably lead you to Connie Brockway… who will lead you to Loretta Chase.

    Once hooked, my friends definitely follow-up good recommendations by pursuing other books on their own.  Before they know it, they’ll have 500 mass market paperbacks in their TBR (or on their Palm) and poof: another romance reader for life.

  12. 12
    Ann Bruce says:

    Crusie, SEP, Chase…and Anne Stuart if they make it past the first three.

    I want to add pre-mainstream Iris Johansen, but I don’t want to explain that the current releases should be avoided at all costs because they read like they’re written by someone else entirely.

    And maybe some selections from pre-OPEN SEASON Linda Howard.

  13. 13
    Shannon C. says:

    Funny that this topic has come up now. Today I was gently informed that now that finals are over, I can broaden my reading horizons. The person who informed me of this is on my Christmas shopping list. Mwaahahaha! Of course, I came to romance through sci-fi and fantasy, so I have no idea whether the books I’m now adding to my Amazon shopping cart for my friend will be appropriate for her, since she reads primarily mystery and women’s fiction, but I am determined to not keep having the why-I-read-romance discussion with her. :P So once again, I appreciate the recommendations here as a good place to start.

  14. 14
    Meriam says:

    Wild at Heart (Gaffney – excellent choice, Candy. I think this book is a perfect standalone romance)
    Black Silk (Ivory)
    Lord of Scoundrels (duh)
    My Reckless Heart (Goodman)
    Fast Women (Crusie)
    And… something sexy by Anne Stuart.

    I feel this would cover all the bases.
    Depending on the friend, I might throw in a Kinsale, an Holly or a SEP.

  15. 15
    Kerry says:

    I disagree on SEP—I find her heroines uniformly stupid and annoying, and Nobody’s Baby But Mine was particularly stereotypical, unrealistic and irksome. I know a lot of very smart people in the sciences, including some women and grrr—SEP skated by on what she thought smart women in science were like, and not who they actually are. Total throw against the wall.

    Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart would be in my box, because the plot and caper are just excellent. Jennifer Crusie too. Jane Austen. The Shadow And the Star. But this is really a reader’s advisory “what do you like, and why do you like it” question—unless you know why a person likes what they like, you can’t just throw a book at them and expect them to like it.

  16. 16
    Lorelie says:

    I guess I’m alone in thinking that Joey Hill’s Natural Law is an excellent convert book.  (Depending on the friend, of course.)  Though I have to say I’ve never converted a non-Romance reader w/ it, just romance readers to Romantica/erotica books. 

    Seriously though, I adore that book.

  17. 17
    Candy says:

    Regarding SEP: Holy shit, did Nobody’s Baby But Mine drive me up the wall. It’s one of the few books in which the more I thought about the premise and the way in which it was executed, the madder I got, and the more repulsive I found the whole storyline. It’s not just that the heroine resembled none of the awkward science nerds I know in real life—it’s that she exhibits a complete and stunning lack of knowledge about (among other things) the heritability of intelligence (or, worse, a truly false confidence in how intelligence is inherited, which is a subject very much open to debate and controversy). BAD GEEK!  NO COOKIE FOR YOU.

    I was very deliberate in omitting almost all of Laura Kinsale from my recommendation list for my friend, as well as most of Patricia Gaffney’s backlist, and much of Laura London. Way too intense and angsty.

    The more I think about it, the more I think I should add Bet Me to the little gift pile of books to give to my friend.

    And y’all are right about tailoring the conversion kit to the various tastes. For a serious lit nerd buddy who isn’t afraid of angst and a good dose of masochism (it hurts sooooo goooood), I’d definitely hand her For My Lady’s Heart and Seize The Fire and then engage in a long conversation with her about the manifestation of the picaresque tradition in the latter and the use of language in the former. I had so-so results attempting to convert the Very Tall Husband to romance back in the day by making him read Seize the Fire. He enjoyed the adventure aspects, but was somewhat uncomfortable with how badly Sheridan treated Olympia.

  18. 18
    jessica says:

    SEP for the witty dialouge, Susan Mallery for the straight up contemporary romance with no suspense, and Lisa Kleypas and Julie Garwood for historical romance.

  19. 19
    Katielicious says:

    Bet Me by Crusie was the one that hooked me back into the genre after years of sheepish snobbery.

    I now like to push Crusie’s little Mira reprints like they’re that first free sample of heroin: Manhunting, What the Lady Wants, Strange Bedpersons, etc.

    They don’t require what might seem like a grueling commitment. Short & sweet, and so much like old b&w romantic comedies, how can you not need to read more after those? Such witty little stories about good things that happen to nice people—for a change.

    Crusie is an antidote to all the overwrought Oprahesque drama & literary angst out there.

    I read contemporaries & paranormals more readily at first than I read historicals. I think because they seemed kinda edgier, and I associated historicals across the board with sappiness & crazy-purple-eyeshadowed-man-titty.

    Also, almost all the bitches- committed romance readers or not- at the bookstore where I work have read & had fun with J.R. Ward’s BDB. (A good heavy dose of smut never hurt anybody.)

  20. 20
    Liz C. says:

    Oh I can’t believe I forgot Crusie’s Charlie All Night. Short, sweet, hot, and funny with an intelligent heroine you don’t want to smack upside the head.

  21. 21
    samantha says:

    I had sucess with my husband and my mom on Outlander. They both have continued on with the Jamie/Claire saga.

    For the light/funny side you might try Erin McCarthy’s Heiress for Hire. I have had meh reactions to the rest of her books, but I really enjoyed this one.

    Also, I was throughly impressed by Julie Anne Long’s latest, Secrets to Seduction. It got a very favorable thumbs up over at Dear Author.

  22. 22
    Dayle says:

    Bet Me was the first Crusie I read, when I thought I didn’t like funny books but wanted to read the top in any field. I laughed out loud, and am working my way through the rest of her work. I have to admit, it took me a long time to get into Welcome to Temptation, although at some point it took off for me. I’m glad I knew to slog through the parts that didn’t work for me at the beginning.

    But for a new reader of romance, I’d go for Nora. Which Nora book would depend on the person I was suggesting it to. But a lot of people who shun romance read Nora, so I think her stuff is a good bridge for someone who’s dipping her toes in.

  23. 23
    Wry Hag says:

    I recently read a review at Dear Author that really piqued my interest—one for Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin.  Sounds like it’s not a strict, h/h-centered romance, but it could be a way to ease a novice into the genre.  (I just know I’m intrigued enough to want to read it, and I have pretty eclectic tastes that frequently veer into literary and nonfiction territory.)

  24. 24
    taybug says:

    Nora. NoraNoraNoraNora. It’s an easy segue into the genre since she employs much more than just the love story. My faves are “Montana Sky” and “Honest Illusions” (which I read so many times the pages fell out and I had to buy a new copy).

    Along with Nora and in trying not to kick a friend into the deep end of the romance pool, why not try starting her out with JD Robb or the Janet Evanovich series, especially if she likes mystery or laugh-out-loud craziness.

    I also carry a deep and abiding love for the first three Outlander novels, which would be great for someone who digs a bit of history with their book. And Mary Balogh, she’s fantastic. “The Secret Pearl” was the first one of hers I read and I adore it.

    And, being the military wench I am, throw in the first few of Suz Brockmann’s SEAL Team 16 books for kickass passages. Suz has some great research buddies on the inside and her SEALs are pretty real.

  25. 25
    Mary says:

    None of my friends like Historicals which is a pity because Julie Garwood is a comfort read, but then again, none of them read romance. Still if I wanted to try to sway their taste, I’d suggest the following:

    A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith
    Coastal Road by Barbara Delinsky
    Irish Jewels Trilogy by Nora Roberts, especially Tears of the Moon
    Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie
    Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson

  26. 26
    Verity Kindle says:

    I agree with you there, Taybug- Nora Roberts is essential in any conversion kit. I would recommend the Dream Trilogy: “Chasing the Dream”, “Holding the Dream” and my favorite, “Finding the Dream”. It’s about three women who grow up together by the seaside in (a completely idealized) CA and become strong, confident women, endure adversity, etc. I think one of them is an accountant and one runs a fabulous hotel. Also, there are horses. Of course. Anyways, FTD is the first romance I ever read (I snuck it out of my grandmother’s collection, heh) and it’s still my favorite. There are also horses. Of course. The hero is an anti-hero and unforgettable.

  27. 27
    AnimeJune says:

    “Bet Me” was my fave Crusie too – which I would have preferred to have been the Crusie offering on your list instead of “Anyone But You.” I can’t STAND “Anyone But You” – especially after reading “Bet Me” – I always had the idea that the two were essentially the same story (girl with body issues and crappy family meets physically perfect man with equally crappy family who adores her and helps her overcome body issues), only “Bet Me” had the time to develop it a lot better.

    “Anyone But You” was “Bet Me”-lite, with a funny aftertaste.

  28. 28
    Jane says:

    Give her the new Joanna Bourne book. It will make her believe that historical romance writers are brilliant.

    and you are going to treat yourself with Decadent after Finals?  That’s so wrong headed, I barely can wrap my head around it.

  29. 29
    closetcrafter says:

    Mr. Perfect and Dying to Please by Linda Howard. 

    I got my hiusband to read Dying to Please and Cry No More. Quite the feat. 

    Bet Me. Hot shot by SEP.  Good for 40 year olds. Outlander.

    Verification word called77.  Yeah, 1977 called and it wants it’s terry cloth robes back.

  30. 30
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Candice Hern, Pam Rosenthal and Julia Ross. If someone can read books by those three and not like ‘em, then I’ll admit that they’re just not romance reader material.

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