Classic Romances - Which One First? Linda Howard Edition

A Stack of books with an e-reader on top that says Classic Romance- Which One First? on the screenWe have a semi-regular feature wherein we develop recommendation lists for authors with extensive backlists, so extensive they might be a bit daunting to anyone who hasn't read that author before. It's called Classic Romance-  Which One First?, and we've done a few, including Elizabeth Lowell, Johanna Lindsey, Julie Garwood and Jude Deveraux. 

Thanks to many, many awesome suggestion on Facebook, we've got a fun edition: Linda Howard!

Here's the thing: I don't actually like Linda Howard's backlist. I dislike romantic suspense, and I really dislike insta-love, presumptuous alpha heroes, and …well, that's a lot of the Howard backlist right there.

My dislike of the Howard backlist has caused very (VERY) heated meal discussions in restaurants wherein I rightfully defend my position that a dude who puts the condom on a half hour before sexxytimes and dances around his balcony with a rubber on beneath his pants is NOT excused from such presumptuous behaviour by the fact that he has ferns and hairy toes. FERNS do NOT MAKE IT OK.  


My most frequent sparring opponent in the Linda Howard debate is Angela James, so I asked her for her Linda Howard recommendations – and of course she had many. Here are Angie's recommendations:

If you don’t like alpha males, most of these Linda Howard recs probably won’t be for you. I happen to like my contemporary romances with a bossy, protective alpha male and a small side of crazy in the story (what I like to call contemporary crack), and I like them to be fast-paced and not overly angsty. Because of how I like a little over-the-top in some of my contemporary romances, I recognize that Linda Howard isn’t for everyone.

But now that you know what I like in my Linda Howard books, here’s where I think readers new to her should start.

FERN. HE HAS FERNS. A LOT IS SAID ABOUT THE HERO'S FERNS.Kill and Tell (Book one of CIA’s Spies): Also known as the book that Sarah and I can’t discuss without arguing about it. This book has it all: A hot, protective New Orleans detective who’s just a little bit of an ass and a whole lot of sexy; a heroine in distress who may be in distress but is still no idiot; and just enough of a suspense plot to keep things snappy and give the reader a fast-moving story.

(Sarah adds unintelligible noises of frustration at this time. Also, true story, Kill and Tell is one of the reasons this site came to exist – I had to find a way to vent because the hero pissed me off so badly, and because I'd paid $8 for the book.)

Dream Man: Detective Dane Hollister may be one of my favorite Howard heroes. He is seriously bossy and just kind of moves in and takes over making sure nothing happens to the heroine. It’s delicious seeing this big, macho guy who really doesn’t want to be into a woman he thinks is an attention whore—she’s psychic, but don’t worry, that doesn’t make this book read as a paranormal, it just works to make the emotional conflict supercharge—but he sees something in her he just absolutely feels driven to protect and cherish. I’m telling you…delicious.

Mackenzie’s Mountain: With this one, I’m going truly old school. This Howard book, which you can find now in a 2-in-1 called Mackenzie’s Legacy is representative of some of the best of the category romance of its time (from the Silhouette Intimate Moments line). One of those loner hero saved by the spunky heroine stories. Wonderful for the sense of believing that these two people were made for each other. And even more excellent: Howard went on to write stories about the adult children of these two characters, stories that are equally as old school and prove that this series is like Pringles—you can’t read just one.

Mr. Perfect: This last rec is for people who know they’ll absolutely hate the first three recommendations. Linda Howard started writing what felt like a different type of book about fifteen years ago or so, and Mr. Perfect is probably the best example of this new type of book. Less of the bossy, alpha male, even more focus on the heroine, and a different type of suspense feel. I admit I prefer the older Linda Howard style, but there are plenty of fans of the new style, and this would be my top recommendation for those who don’t want to try the other three!

Last, just for fun, if you want to base your choice on book cover, my daughter would recommend Drop Dead Gorgeous. I had a mass market copy of this book, with its hot pink cover, when it first released. My daughter (who now calls pink her mortal enemy), was three at the time I owned it and carried that mass market around for nearly six months calling it “my book”. She loved it so much, she’d take it to bed, she’d clutch in her arms while watching TV, she didn’t want anyone else to touch it.


That should be enough to get us started.  And Linda Howard's backlist is rather extensive, for sure. This might be a tough list to build, I think. 

Which Linda Howard novel would you recommend a new reader try first, and why?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    June says:

    I’m siding with Angela here.  I can tick off everything that’s wrong with these books.  Really. I even agree with a lot that Sarah is saying. 

    BUT. Her books are like crack to me and I WILL READ THEM ANYWAY. I haven’t been as enamored by some of her more recent offerings, they’re a bit hit and miss to me, but all the early stuff and up through at least Kill and Tell I will pretty much re-read.  (In fact I just read Heart of Fire again last week!)

    I would second the recommendation of Mackenzie’s Mountain to begin—it’s old school, but it’s still my favorite.  And probably has the least hero WTF moments. ;-)

  2. 2
    Brandi H says:

    My first book of hers was “After the Night”. I’m not sure where that fits in her book list. But Gray pulls the dick move after crazy sexy time on the porch. And he reminded me of the d-bags in high school you had the biggest crush on.  I loved the separation of the book.  Also now that someone put in words how to describe it, there is not a lot of internal angst filled inner monologue.

  3. 3

    MIDNIGHT RAINBOW – I think this might be one of her category romances. I “borrowed” it from under my mom’s bed and read it at a very impressionable age. Maybe that’s why it looms so large in my memory. But I loved it and read it over and over!

  4. 4
    Kelly Maher says:

    I think the only thing I’d switch out in this list is Mackenzie’s Pleasure for Mackenzie’s Mountain, because Zane. And 7Up. Mmmmmmmmm…Zane…

  5. 5

    I have to read a chapter or two of something before I go to sleep. This year, at RT Booklovers’ in NOLA, I read “Kill and Tell,” one of my favorite Howard books and she gets New Orleans so well! I don’t think I really appreciated that before. There are two more books in this series (different hero and heroine in each book, so they can be read separately).
    In the book, Karen gets mad at him for the condom trick too. But he didn’t want to spoil the moment and he gets a male hissy fit that that was the thing about their first sex that pissed her off! He thought he was being considerate, dammit! That’s one reason I love Howard’s alpha males. They truly don’t understand when they’re being overwhelming and her heroines are never wusses.
    I’d go on to recommend “After The Night” that has the hottest, funniest public bathroom scene I have ever read. The hero might not be to everybody’s taste, but oh, mama, I’ll take him off your hands!

  6. 6
    Angela James says:

    I knew Sarah wouldn’t be able to resist getting in her digs about the toes and the fern and the condoms. She hates that book with a passion. I, on the other hand, re-read it faithfully. Ha!

  7. 7

    And the old cowboy hero books she wrote for the category lines. When I started reading US category romance, the triumvirate of Brockmann, Howard and Lowell pretty much did it for me. I had lovely long backlists to work through, so apart from my historical romance triumvirate, Beverley, Putney and Kinsale, that was it for me for a year or two.

  8. 8

    I’d have to add Cry No More to the list. It’s wrenching, well written, and the hero stands out as different from so many others. He’s quiet, wears his seat belt, he’s a registered voter, and he can kill you without blinking.

    James Diaz is also Mexican-American. Given the massive numbers of Latino residents in the United States, I’m only surprised we don’t see them more often in romance novels.  I think we’re moving in this direction, but Howard was there years ago.

  9. 9
    Lisa J says:

    Any of the Mackenzie books work for me.  I LOVE Mackenzie’s Mountain.  My sister and I very rarely agree on books and even she (a woman with mostly poor taste in books – because she doesn’t agree with me) loved this series.  It’s one of the few we agree on.

  10. 10
    Erica H says:

    The Mackenzie series is awesome
    Mr. Perfect, Open Season, All the Queens Men, Now You See Her, Son of the Morning. I love Linda Howard and all her craziness! They are like crack, I can’t stop reading them!

  11. 11

    I love Linda Howard, dated old books and all.  I have to say that To Die For and the sequel Drop Dead Gorgeous are among my favorites because I just love Blair and how she tortures poor Wyatt.  I have reread or listened to the books many times and enjoy them as much as the first time.

  12. 12
    cayenne says:

    Oh, Linda Howard….lots of crazysauce dribbling over that backlist. She was right up there with Barbara Delinsky for me. I’m not a big fan of her suspense thrillers, but I loved the Mackenzies, especially Zane: alpha-not-alphahole, SEALs, and Benghazi before it was A Thing. Plus sexytimes in questionable locations.

    I also liked Come Lie With Me – hot, bossy guy laid low by an injury, and the Sassy Therapist With A Traumatic Past who brings him back to life. Good times.

  13. 13
    VandyJ says:

    Linda Howard is not one of my must reads, but I love Son of the Morning and re-read it yearly.

  14. 14
    SB Sarah says:


    Grumble grumble. Ferns. Ferns. FERNS.


    BUT. Her books are like crack to me and I WILL READ THEM ANYWAY. I haven’t been as enamored by some of her more recent offerings, they’re a bit hit and miss to me, but all the early stuff and up through at least Kill and Tell I will pretty much re-read.  (In fact I just read Heart of Fire again last week!)

    I wish the crack worked on me. I love crack reading. I love silliness! But alas, the crack doesn’t affect me at all.

    Maybe it’s the ferns.

  15. 15
    Erin K. says:

    Cry No More is the only Linda Howard book I have read. You and Jane mentioned it on a podcast at one point and I listened to it on audiobook. It nearly killed me. So heart wrenching. That’s been a couple of years ago now so I might finally be ready to dip my toes in the Howard crazysauce again.

  16. 16
    cleo says:

    This is so interesting. The only Linda Howard I’ve read is Mr. Perfect and I hated it. I had no idea that it’s different from her earlier work – which I probably would also hate, since I hate alphahole heroes.

    I’m trying to remember why I hated MP – mostly it’s that I dislike RS, and this hit all of my least favorite RS tropes – there’s a serial killer, a pretty high body count for a romance (including a secondary character that I liked, who I think was a POC, irrc), and sections from the killer’s pov. Plus, not to get too spoilery, there’s a gender bending villain that I glossed over when I read it ages ago but I think would read as transmisogynist to me now.

  17. 17
    Barb in Maryland says:

    Ah, Linda Howard—she used to be an auto-buy for me back in the day.
    My all time faves of hers are the books featuring Kell Sabin and crew. OMG!!
    Midnight Rainbow has already been mentioned and the other three—Diamond Bay, Heartbreaker and White Lies are equally fabulous.

    Heresy alert—never was a MacKenzie fan.

    @VandyJ—yes! Son of the Morning!!
    and Heart of Fire is another goodie.

    However, I can so agree with SBSarah about Kill and Tell. The next book in that ‘series’, All the Queen’s Men,  was the deal-breaker for me.  Haven’t read her since then.

  18. 18
    katherine says:

    Many times, I share your impatience with the immediate “gratification” of some romance authors, but sometimes nothing else will do (there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere with a battery, but oh well).  At times my comfort mechanism go-to is Linda Howard and I start with the Mackenzies (and Wolf).

  19. 19
    Jace says:

    Cry No More should’ve been on this list. The heroine is strong, and kicks ass, while the hero is a hitman but is also kind and supporting. And hot.

    I think that the only one I agree with here is McKenzie’s Mountain. McKenzie’s Mission and McKenzie’s Pleasure are also OK.

    I like the old school Linda Howard books; IMO they’re better written. The books that I like to re-read are:

    Duncan’s Bride
    The Way Home
    Now You See Her
    Son of the Morning
    Shades of Twilight

    I’ve read Mr. Perfect and Drop Dead Gorgeous; they were mostly OK, but not very fond of them. DNF Dream Man and Kill and Tell because the heroines bored me.


  20. 20
    BevQB says:

    SON OF THE MORNING is on my all time favorite books list. The blurb doesn’t do it justice so just pick up this time travel/murder mystery/suspense/thriller/Highland Romance/Da Vinci Code mash-up book and you won’t be able to put it down until it’s done. I stayed up till 4am even knowing that I had to get up with 4 little ones the next morning. It was that good!

    CRY NO MORE made me ugly-cry SOB… loudly. It was so heart wrenching, both sad and happy, that I’ve never been able to read it again. And I’ve never forgotten it.

    As for the hot and heavy books, the two that stick in my mind are AFTER THE NIGHT because they actually joked around in bed. GASP! And there were some weird-ass twists in the story.

    DREAM MAN also had a bit of humor in it, had a paranormal story line, and the hero isn’t totally obnoxious. Smoking hot anticipation too.

  21. 21
    Lissa says:

    I know so many people hate the hero in Sarah’s Child, but I just love that book.  That was my first Linda Howard, and I’ve re-read it many times.  Midnight Rainbow was also a good one and that’s another one I still have from the original Silhouette release.  I love her older stuff, but I find the heroes in her newer books to be a little harder to like (I forget the title, but the book with the stalking assassin annoyed me to no end). I still read each and every one though!

  22. 22
    Cate says:

    I love Mr Perfect… that’s a cracking LH starter, but I also love a lot of her older books, Son of the Morning, Dream Man, her CIA series featuring the luscious Kell Sabin, some of the Mackenzie series, and All the Queens Men.
      The problem with some ( OK, a lot of them ) of her early books,is that I truly wanted to beat quite a few of her alph- hole heroes brains in with a cast iron pan ! More than one of her books landed up being hurled at the wall in frustration. BUT, like the little girl with the curl, When she’s good,she’s very,very good; but when she’s bad,she’s horrid. 
      She may well be the marmite of the romance world, but that’s fine with me, because I love marmite !

  23. 23
    Denise says:

    I love Linda Howard, at least, I used to love all her books and they were an auto-buy.  Not so much anymore.  My very favorite was White Lies.  I have re-read that book many times.  In her newer style of writing I liked Death Angel.  I little unbelieveable at times and the hero was a little bit of a jerk, but I think most of the alpha males in her books are.  Kill and Tell and Dream Man were favorites.  I keep most of her old books on my keeper shelf,  no so much on the newer ones.  I think every writer goes through transitions in her writing life, especially if her personal life changes as Linda Howard’s did but I would like to see her come back to a few shorter romances that aren’t quite as heavy as say Blood Born.

  24. 24
    Llaph says:

    I’m in agreement with Cate for the most part. My first ever was Prey. I glomed for a while on her books, but totally slowed down when I got to the oldest. An Independent Wife drove me insane and made me glad I was a teenager who didn’t read romance back then…. I love the humor in her later books, Mr. Perfect, Open Season, and Burn are some of my favorites. Sun of the Morning, killing Time, and Dying to Please cover just a few different kinds of things she wrote.

  25. 25
    Dibs says:

    I love everything by Linda Howard that I’ve read.  I like that she doesn’t repeat plots.  The characters feel fresh.  I love her strong, feminine heroines.  Her worlds are believable.  (Okay, probably less so in the very early books.  But everyone’s early books were less in the beginning.) 

    As a long-time romance reader, I really enjoy the books where she takes a chance and plays with the genre:  Son of the Morning and Shadow Woman.  In both of these Howard creates fascination between the H/H without the standard “cute meet, getting to know you, and slow tumble into bed.”  From my review of Shadow Woman: 

    No one writes love-on-the-run Romantic Suspense better than Linda Howard.  But what makes me anticipate her books is that she continually reworks the premise of the genre, resisting writing the same book twice.  I think this is a writer who has never met a “What if” she could ignore.  In the case of Shadow Woman, she takes a theme she’s explored before – the delayed meeting between hero and heroine from Son of the Morning – and takes it one tantalizing step farther – What if there is less?

    Here’s my whole review if….

    Oldies I re-read: Mackenzie’s Mountain, Mackenzie’s Mission, Duncan’s Bride, Midnight Rainbow, Diamond Bay

    Romantic Suspense:  Cover of Night, Up Close and Dangerous

    Humor: To Die For and Drop Dead Gorgeous

    Time Travel:  Killing Time






  26. 26

    Linda Howard was one of my first forays into romance reading. Her backlist is hit & miss for me, and I don’t read much of her now, but Heart of Fire (alpha hero, archaeologist heroine, Amazon rainforest = crack) and Dying to Please (the “You want me to fight you for it?” scene in the basement!?!) are guilty pleasures that just won’t die.

  27. 27
    kkw says:

    One of the best things, of the many awesome thing about my MIL is that she has a wall of romance novels. All the Roberts, all the JAK – in all the pseudonyms, not to mention Georgette Heyer, Barbara Cartland, and the seriously old school romances. There’s a corner of crazy, with all the Sandra Brown, Karen Robards and Linda Howard your heart could desire, which, if you’re talking about my heart, is all of it.
    I don’t generally like romantic suspense, but I love crazysauce. Love it. So I’ve been working through the Wall of Romance, but my memory is swiss cheese, and I cannot differentiate. I just know if I pick up one of those books, I’m going to stay up too late reading it.
    I would suspect she’s one of those authors where you’re in or you’re out, and it doesn’t much matter where you start, but I’m going to go consult the expert and report back.

  28. 28
    jane says:

    Everyone has already listed my favorites but I also love Almost Forever and All the Queen’s Men, Cover of Night is my all-time favorite, and more recently I actually liked Death Angel. SKIP Burn, Veil of Night, and Ice.

    As someone mentioned, I never feel like I’m reading the same book twice with Howard (with the exception of Veil of Night, which is horrible and awful). Even Running Wild, which has some similarities to Duncan’s Bride and some of her old works, is very different (and I don’t think that’s just because it’s co-written with Linda Jones).

    With the exception of her earlier works, Howard writes alpha males who I want to sometimes punch in the face, but she writes equally alpha females who just quietly and not so quietly do their own thing. They are never run over by the males and always give as good as they get.

    Although I will say I’m laughing at the description of Kill and Tell. That scene and some others are what sometimes bother me about Howard alpha males except that the females always call them out on it.

  29. 29
    jane says:

    I also have to admit that I love Shades of Twilight but is anyone else grossed out by the family relations? I grew up really close to my first and second cousins and so reading about how closely related (whether genetically or not) they are is just . . . weird to me. Being sexually attracted when you’re raised as siblings and knowing you’re close cousins . . . plus the incest already in the book . . .  I try to block that out as I read it.

  30. 30
    JaneL says:

    Whatever you do, don’t start with All That Glitters unless you’re looking for a reason to throw something… ;)

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