Classic Romance - Which One First? Judith McNaught Reading List

Judith McNaught is one of the romance authors whose books have been read by so many, for so many years, she's a mainstay in terms of reader best-of lists. Some readers couldn't say enough amazing things about McNaught's novels, while others struggle with the old-skool heroes, particularly those who rely on the “all women are evil” trope to justify some really shitful behavior.

So compiling a list of reader favorites and recommendations for someone who hasn't tried McNaught proved a bit tricky. Based on reader comments, there are some that are loved without reservation – while those same titles are equally hated by other readers. Here's the list of recommended books, and one caution.

Almost Heaven Goodreads | Amazon | BN

Almost Heaven - print edition Recommended by Daisy, Lauren Willig, and many others. Noelle says, “I cannot live without Almost Heaven, A Kingdom of Dreams and Remember When. I adore most of her historicals and many of her contemporaries, but these three are tops for me!” Kiersten wrote, “McNaught was one of my first keeper authors. I knew every book would break my heart in the middle (seriously, actual pain in my chest during AH courtroom scene) but that the resolution would be amazing and the characters would stay with me forever…and they have.”


Perfect Goodreads | Amazon | BN

Paradise  Goodreads | Amazon | BN

Perfect book cover - print edition These two books go together, and so many readers love both. Darlene Marshall recommends them equally, and Taylor says that Paradise is “the one” for her.

Emily says, “Perfect is just well… the title speaks for itself. The emphasis of adult illiteracy was really educational without being too preachy. It's an important theme and reminded me as a youngster that not everybody gets to have what you have (a love and a passion for reading.)” Elyssa agrees: “I'd definitely go with PERFECT for the contemporary romance reader.”

Amitatuq also loved Perfect, as did Wmc216: “I'm not one to cry when I read books or watch movies but 'Paradise' and 'Perfect' both bring a tear to my eye. And the HEAs leave you with such a warm and fuzzy feeling that you don't feel the need to pick up another romance for a few days after reading these two.”

Maura says, “The first Judith McNaught book I ever read was Perfect. I loved it so much that as soon as I read the last sentence, I flipped to book back to the first page and read the whole thing again.”

Something Wonderful  Goodreads | Amazon | BN

Some readers didn't like it at all, while others, like Kaetrin, adore it. Kaetrin says, “I still remember the scene where Jordan was embarrassedly trying to explain to Alexandra how babies were made and she exclaims “Oh, you don't know either!”

Kara says, “I read Whitney My Love and Something Wonderful almost obsessively. I was 13 the first time I read them, and a LOT of what was going on was over my head. Now, going back over them, I realize how rapey these books actually are. But, my gosh, I can't through Something Wonderful without weeping buckets.”

And finally, a caution about Whitney, My Love Goodreads | Amazon | BN

Many readers also warned that while “Whitney, My Love” is a classic and often the first romance that some readers experienced, it's also difficult to enjoy – especially if you read the original version. Lynn M put it best when she said, “I have a harder time reading WML now due to the level of Big Mis and Alpha-jerkness of the hero. I actually have copies of both the original edition where Clayton spanks Whitney as well as rapes her along with the newer, PC version of the book. It's funny to me that a writer actually did cave to fan pressure and re-issued the book with more acceptable scenes.”

Some readers were turned off entirely by the original edition of Whitney, and nearly turned away from the genre based on that introduction. Pamelia wrote: “Whitney My Love lives in my “WTF was that??!” pile— I thought it was terrible :rapey, melodramatic with an unforgiveably jumps-to-wrong-conclusions-hero who has to be the worst I've ever encountered (and I'm a BIG fan of Kathleen Woodiwiss books so that should give you some idea of the high level of ass-hattery I can tolerate.)”

In the comments of the last “Classic Romance: Which One First?,” a suggestion was floated that if I do another edition for another author, I include a poll that allows folks to vote which one they like best. I'm totally open to doing that except (a) I worry that I'd forget a book, and (b) it wouldn't allow you to select more than one (I think). But for the next one I do, I'll try to do a poll and see how it works out. Any suggestions of which author with a hefty, healthy backlist I should request recommendations for next?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    cleo says:

    Someone in a recent thread asked for Nora Roberts recommendations.  I think she would be a fun one to do – since her range is almost as wide as her backlist is long (and doesn’t that sound kind of perverted?).

  2. 2
    Kate4queen says:

    I adored Perfect and Paradise and regularly reread them. I struggled with Almost Heaven and Something Wonderful because the heroes were just idiots. But I reserve my total scorn for Whitney My Love. I read the original and I just wanted to get hold of Clayton and kill him for being such a douchebag, not once, but twice to the heroine-who takes him back…
    But I also have to say that any author who makes me react so fiercely to a book is exceptionally talented. :)

  3. 3
    Hydecat says:

    I hate Clayton from Whitney My Love with a passion. It’s not just the rape, either. I have problems with the whole set-up. I mean, he basically buys her, then doesn’t tell her that, then gets angry when she doesn’t magically know she belongs to him. Dude, you can’t expect someone to react “appropriately” in a situation if they don’t know there *is* a situation.

  4. 4
    Copa says:

    About the poll, you could always just list each title separately in the comments then people could “like” the books they chose without the problem of only being able to vote for one title.

    I just woke up two minutes ago, so if I’m not seeing huge glaring flaws in my plan feel free to blast me, preferably with a caffeine gun.

  5. 5
    Yulie29 says:

    I think Mary Balogh, Lisa Kleypas or Julia Quinn would be good choices for this sort of thing – especially Kleypas, whose backlist dates back to the 1980s with a pretty varied range of settings and characters.

  6. 6
    Martin 83 says:

    I love Judith McNaught and have missed her writing.  Where is she now and what is she doing?

  7. 7
    Alicia says:

    I absolutely adored Perfect. I keep flirting with reading it again. Unfortunately, the next McNaught book I read was Every Breath You Take and I absolutely loathed it on every level. Now I’m a little reticent about reading another one of her books.

  8. 8
    Cerulean says:

    I can’t remember if we’ve done a Johanna Lindsey backlist or not. I found an old crate of books from my teen years of her books, all a little – or a lot – yellowed with age. I re-read “When Love Awaits” last night and will be moving onto “A Gentle Feuding” soon. Total blasts from the past.

  9. 9
    Cerulean says:

    I can’t remember if we’ve done a Johanna Lindsey backlist or not. I found an old crate of books from my teen years of her books, all a little – or a lot – yellowed with age. I re-read “When Love Awaits” last night and will be moving onto “A Gentle Feuding” soon. Total blasts from the past.

  10. 10
    Sycorax says:

    Have you done Laura Kinsale yet? I couldn’t find her under the tag. She’d be good, especially as some of her most brilliant books aren’t necessarily the best ones to start with, and might even put some readers off. I’m thinking ‘Flowers From the Storm’, here.

    I’d also quite like to see Lisa Kleypas done, though I know she’s more recent than the others covered. Some of her books are among my favourites in the genre and get reread regularly, others (such as ‘Because You’re Mine’ and ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’) have an old skool feel to them, and really annoy me.

  11. 11
    Taylor Reynolds says:

    I was going to suggest Nora also. Or what about Linda Howard? She’s done Western, time travel, murder, funny, categories and I’m probably missing others. But then you’d ask me to pick a favorite LH and I simply couldn’t do that. There are a few that all hold the #1 place in the readerly cockles of my heart.

  12. 12
    Yulie29 says:

    Lisa Kleypas has been a published author for 25 years – that’s nearly as long as Judith McNaught and Julie Garwood (who was previously featured in a classic romance post). So I figured I could suggest her :) 

    @ Cerulean – here’s the Johanna Lindsey backlist post: http://smartbitchestrashybooks…

  13. 13
    ijinx says:

    Maybe Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick next? I kind of feel she gets ignored a lot on this site – is there a particular reason?

  14. 14
    Marymac47 says:

    How about Patricia Veryan? I’d have to vote for the whole The Golden Chronicles set though.  I haven’t read them in YEARS.

  15. 15
    Beth says:

    I vote for Nora.

  16. 16
    Maria says:

    I could only find ONE Judith McNaught for Kindle. Sniff.

  17. 17
    Ross says:

    I loved Whitney My Love. I read the original version and I understand why people have a problem with it, but I for loved it.

  18. 18
    Ann J says:

    I loved WML.  It may be old school but that was one of the first romance novels I read.  I still re-read it once in a while and I also have the PC book. I love every one of Judith McNaughts book’s. Hopefully she is writing and a new book will be released.

  19. 19

    I am new to this website, but I love this classic feed.  Have you guys done a Jude Deveraux yet? Her older historicals are books that I have to revisit every few years.  As far as the Judith discussion, I think the asshole/rapist hero was a big theme in the 80’s.  S&M must have been trendy then.

  20. 20
    cleo says:

    We did a Jude Deveraux.  If you click on the “Classic Romances: Which one First?” link in the tags below the post, you’ll see all of them.  There was a lot of discussion of asshole heroes in the Jude Deveraux list too.

  21. 21
    cleo says:

    Slightly off topic here, but does anyone know that story behind the 2nd (slightly more PC) edition of WML?  Whose idea was it?  Hers or her publisher / editor or someone else entirely?  I’ve always wondered about that.

  22. 22
    cicatricella says:

    *def* do Jayne Ann Krentz/Castle/Amanda Quick. One of my absolute faves. And some of her older and more obscure ones I recently discovered are gems.

  23. 23
    Leah S says:

    The first McNaught I read was a condensed version of “Once and Always” in my mother’s Good Housekeeping magazine, and I devoured it! The end scene where Jason thinks Victoria is dead and she has to convince him she’s alive just had me swooning. (I was 16!)  My original paperback version is in tatters. I enjoyed all McNaught’s historicals (yes, even Whitney at the time; it’s sooo dated now), but, my heart still belongs to Jason and Victoria in OaA.

  24. 24
    Brycanthe says:

    Based on this thread, I hied myself over to Amazon and ordered a (used) copy of Perfect. Thus far, I’m not getting the love and I’ve stuck it out for almost 250 pages. Julie is Mary Sue personified and Zack is a temperamental, law-breaking ass. I’m not sure what people are seeing as romantic yet. Additionally, my reality suspension was not in place in time for Zack’s trial, where the prosecuting attorney’s closing statement appeared to be “He’s a bad bad boy who did a bad thing and needs a time out” rather than comprising of any facts or evidence.

    I am a masochist, however, so I will stick this out, but I don’t think I’ll be putting Ms McNaught on my must-read rotation.

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