Dear Bumpy Akka, Thank You For My First Romance Novel

Ed note: This post is from Aarya, whose writing you might have read over the past few weeks. She’s joining us as a reviewer (yay!) and this post is her introduction to the community, and is about her introduction to romance as a genre. We hope you enjoy!

(And please note: if you  applied to join us, we are still working through all the applications. There were so many, and we are incredibly thankful for your interest. Thank you for your patience!)

In the Romancelandia online community, I’ve noticed that a popular discussion topic is a reader’s first romance: the book/author that introduced or made them fall in love with the genre. A less common discussion topic is the person who gave them their first romance novel. Perhaps you discovered romance novels by yourself, but more likely someone recommended a book to you – your mom, your sister, or a friend.

Books are everything to me, not just because of the words on the page, but because the relationships in my life are defined by books. This essay is about how how my sister gave me my first romance novel. I’m not prone to walks down Nostalgia Lane, but perhaps a stroll is inevitable considering that I’m at a crossroads in my life. On April 22, I turned in my senior honors thesis. I graduated with an undergraduate degree on May 26.

Aarya with her thesis
Me holding up my complete seniors honors thesis on campus, April 2019
Aarya holding her mortar board from graduation which has a picture of the Marauder's Map from Harry Potter on the top. She's wearing a pink dress and standing in front of the tower on her campus.
Aarya on graduation day!

In my thesis acknowledgements page, I included the following paragraph:

I could not have made it this far without my older sister [redacted sister name]. I don’t know what I did in my former life to deserve such a patient, helpful, and loving sister, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Thank you for instilling a lifelong love of reading. I owe you for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling and page 342 of The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey. Finally, I’m sorry for kicking you in the stomach in the stairwell of our Singapore home. It’s been over seventeen years, but I may as well extend a formal apology in writing since I refused to apologize at the time of the crime. I love you, [redacted sister name] Akka.*

* Akka is the Tamil word for older sister. I am going to refer to her as Bumpy in this essay because it is her childhood nickname (her feet have an above-average number of bumps).

I couldn’t elaborate in the thesis due to space constraints and because I couldn’t let professors read the explanation of how my sister made me read my first sex scene!

There are three untold stories here:

  1. how I was a little brat who punctured skin like a bloodthirsty vampire and kicked anyone who annoyed me
  2. how Bumpy is the reason why I love reading
  3. how Bumpy is the reason why I love romance novels.

I’m only going to talk about stories #2 and #3 (I’m sure your vivid imagination can conjure up an accurate representation of #1!).

Aarya with her sister as children. Aarya has short curly dark hair and bangs, and her sister is wearing a red, pink, and white striped head kerchief and a white sweater. They're looking at the camera over their shoulders and are heckin cute.
My sister and I in 2001

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, or why I’m contrary enough to make myself miserable

I hated reading for years. Hated it. English isn’t my mother tongue, and my family moved to the United States when I was six. In my first grade class, I felt horribly conscious of my accent and dreaded reading lessons with my teacher Ms. Carroll. She made us sit in a circle and practice reading aloud. I’d make silly pronunciation errors and Ms. Carroll (God, I still hate her) always corrected me the most. I eventually started stammering, too, just because I was so afraid of being called out in front of my peers. Even though my non-verbal reading comprehension skills were perfectly fine, I associated reading with the terror of Ms. Carroll’s lessons and refused to voluntarily pick up a book for two years.

My sister was horrified. She was the kind of child who went to the library every Saturday, checked out ten books, and finished those books by Monday. We had our differences, but she couldn’t fathom my hatred of reading because

a) I was missing out on the most amazing adventures and…

b) if I didn’t read, who would she talk books with?

For two years I held firm: no Harry Potter, no Animorphs, no Tamora Pierce, no Roald Dahl, no Enid Blyton. No, no, no. My stubbornness can be a curse at times.

My memory gets foggy at this point: I can’t remember why, but Bumpy finally managed to make me promise that I would try one of her recommendations. I went with Harry Potter because I had seen the movies and figured that I could skim and pretend to have read the whole thing.

Remember how I said I was a little stubborn little brat? Well, I couldn’t let her get everything she wanted. I decided to torment her and read out of order with book #3, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You can guess what happens next. My genius plan to skim Prisoner of Azkaban backfired spectacularly. To absolutely no one’s surprise, I loved it.

My life can be split into two eras: Before Prisoner of Azkaban and After Prisoner of Azkaban. Before, I regarded books as a plague to be avoided at all costs. After, I simply couldn’t get enough of them. I must have read six hundred books that first year (special thanks to my poor mother who ferried us to the library three times a week).

Aarya and her sister at a Harry Potter book launch
My sister and I at the Deathly Hallows midnight premiere in 2007.
Aarya reading on a couch
I won the right to read the book first since my parents wouldn’t buy two copies (I finished at 7 AM).

The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, or why I became a voracious romance reader at age eleven

I know what you’re thinking: perhaps eleven is a bit young to be reading romances like Harlequin Presents, Judith McNaught, Lisa Kleypas, and Nora Roberts. You’re probably right, even though I wouldn’t have had it any other way. In my defense, this whole thing is Bumpy’s fault so we can rest the blame on her feet.

This story is a continuation of the previous one. My sister was ecstatic at my new love of reading. Bumpy dragged me to the library, picked out her favorites, made me read them, and then organized book clubs. The books I read had more mature content, mostly because my sister was four years older and gave me books that weren’t always suitable for my age range. But I didn’t care. I loved every book she gave me, appropriate or not. And that’s where this story begins.

The Fairy Godmother
A | BN | K | AB
Even though Bumpy allowed me to read her books, there were certain books that my sister would not give to me. She went to the library, refused to let me follow her, and checked out mysterious books that she then proceeded to hide in our room.

We shared a bedroom and she never had a chance of hiding those books from me. I knew every inch of that room and could have peeked at those books anytime. However, I also had a healthy fear of her wrath and did not dare invade her privacy.

After we went home from the library book sale one day, I realized Bumpy was attempting to hide The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey in her secret stash. I was furious. I loved Lackey’s Valdemar books (I had only read Talia’s trilogy by this time) and my sister knew this. Why on earth was she hiding this book?

When I confronted her, Bumpy told me that The Fairy Godmother was too mature for a eleven-year-old.

This was the wrong thing to say to a stubborn eleven-year-old me.

After I begged and whined, she finally gave in and told me to read it on the condition that I skip certain pages.

“Okay,” I agreed, “I can do that.”

She told me to inform her when I reached pg. 342 so that she could guide me to the next page where I could start reading again. I sincerely (ha!) promised I would do so.

If you’ve never read it, The Fairy Godmother is a wonderful fantasy romance. It’s the story of a Cinderella who doesn’t get her HEA with the prince (as he’s only a child and she’s an adult) and becomes a fairy godmother instead. Only she falls in love with an arrogant prince that she turned into a donkey.

Reader, I did not stop reading when I reached pg. 342.

I think you might have guessed what the forbidden pages were. Our heroine finally succumbs to her passion with the prince.

I had read books that referenced to sex off-the-page or had very ambiguous sex scenes where I mistakenly thought they were cuddling and wrestling (Arrow’s Flight by Mercedes Lackey. In my defense, the text is VERY AMBIGUOUS).

But The Fairy Godmother was a first. It wasn’t super explicit, but it was revolutionary. After I finished reading, I felt guilty. I loved it, but also didn’t want to lie to my sister. So I confessed my sins and prepared to be banned from reading her books anymore.

Guess what her response was?

My sister’s face began to look slightly guilty. She said, “I knew you would read it. I wanted to share my romance novels with someone, but also didn’t know if you’d like it so I told you the page number to goad you into reading it.”


Oh, silly eleven-year-old me. When have you ever successfully tricked your older sister when it comes to books? It didn’t work with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and it didn’t work with The Fairy Godmother. I don’t know why I thought I could outsmart my sister. She’s like me, but with four more years of smarts. She went through this whole arduous process because she felt guilty reccing a book with a sex scene and thought she could trick me into it.

A well-worn copy of The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey
My well-worn copy of The Fairy Godmother (same copy from the infamous story. I still own it.)

The story doesn’t end here. My interest in romance novels did not stop her guilt. Bumpy let me read more mature fantasy, but not her Genre Romance books. She finally relented after one memorable occasion where I stole a Harlequin Presents (I think it was a Lynne Graham but not 100% positive) and read it in the bathroom at night. After that, she got over her “I’m corrupting my baby sister” complex and started reccing books in earnest.

I love romance novels. I’ve been reading them for a decade and I read over two hundred books (mostly romance novels) per year. It’s my hobby, my passion, and my method of escaping the grimness of reality because romance novels always promise a happily-ever-after.

I wanted to write this essay for two reasons:

a) I couldn’t explicitly refer to reading my first sex scene in the thesis acknowledgements (trust me, I was tempted)

b) a paragraph seemed far too lacking to express my true appreciation for Bumpy.

Books have changed my life, but that’s only one half of the story. In every measurable way, my sister has changed the course of my life and no amount of thanks can ever repay her. I love you, Bumpy.

And now, to the present day. Books are important to me because my entire relationship with my sister is based on books. When she went off to college, we formed the “Aarya” book club on Goodreads. “Aarya” is a portmanteau of our respective first names. If we wanted the other to read a certain book, we’d tag it in the “Aarya” shelf. And when I chose a pseudonym for my Twitter handle, it’s no coincidence that I chose the name Aarya. I can’t talk about romance novels without giving homage to my sister.

In discussions about a reader’s first romance novel, people usually only talk about seminal books and authors. “Oh, my first romance novel was a Julie Garwood Scottish historical.” “I love her! Mine was a Beverly Jenkins set during Reconstruction!” These discussions leave out the most important part of the story: why did you pick them up and who gave them to you? The books are only one half of the equation.

Can you remember who gave you your first romance novel and what it was? Was it your mom, your sister, or a friend? If you found romance novels on your own, do you have a memory surrounding a pivotal book in your life? And if you don’t have a specific memory to share, is there someone in your life that you have a special relationship with because of romance novels or books in general?

I took this opportunity to thank my sister for introducing books to me. Is there anyone in your life that you would like to thank? I want to hear stories about your real-life book community and how they changed your life for the better.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    BellaInAus says:

    The first romance books I ever read were Jane Austen. I didn’t understand the romance, but I loved the stories. Then I graduated to Jane Eyre, and I vaguely understood the romance. I would have been in my early teens.

    My first proper romance that I actually understood was a romance was Georgette Heyer’s The Quiet Gentleman. It was on my mother’s bookshelf. When I left home, I took it with me. She never mentioned it, so I’m guessing she never missed it. It became the first book of my Georgette Heyer collection.

    I still read Jane Austen, and the Brontes and now I own every single Georgette Heyer novel.

  2. 2
    Jill Q. says:

    What a sweet story and congrats on graduating!

    Ah, my very first romance was a Betty Neels I picked up on accident at the American military airport in Naples, Italy. I was about 9 and bored and it was in English and had a Christmassy cover. The romance itself didn’t a huge impression and it was Neels after all, but I loved the glamour and “whisked away” feeling. I did remember it fondly and read the occasional “sick day” Neels.

    My mother read a lot of romances, but she read big, gritty historicals (it was the 80s/ early 90s).and they never appealed to me. But my mom’s friend dropped off a box of books when I was about 13 or 14. One of them was “Trust Me” by Jayne Ann Krentz and It Was a Revelation(!) Romance reader for life.

  3. 3
    Francesca says:

    I found my way into romance via historical fiction. I’d been reading Jean Plaidy and Margaret Campbell Barnes since I was eleven and read Jane Eyre and Gone with the Wind around that time. The first book I recall that could be considered an actual romance was Fern Michaels’ Captive Passions.

  4. 4
    Tammy Cat says:

    A friend of mine was a romance reader, I love mysteries. She gave me Lavyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory. I’m not sure if I would have continued with romance books if I hadn’t started with this one. To this day I still think it’s the best one I’ve read.

  5. 5
    DiscoDollyDeb says:

    My mother was an avid reader (mysteries were her favorite) and she taught me to read at an early age. She took me to the library to get my very own library card when I was three—I still remember checking out THE CAT IN THE HAT that day, the first book I read from cover-to-cover on my own. I read voraciously from that point on, my parents rarely if ever putting any restrictions on what I read—meaning I would often read “above my level” (whatever that was). My reading was always on multiple parallel tracks: Classic literature (including, of course, Austen & the Brontes), nonfiction of all varieties, popular fiction (the first “adult” book—in theme and narrative devices—was Evan Hunter’s MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS when I was eleven, I read it again a few years ago and it holds up pretty well), and gothics/historicals (like Francesca, I was a Jean Plaidy/ Victoria Holt and Margaret Campbell Barnes fan). Then suddenly it was the mid-1970s and we had Erica Jong’s FEAR OF FLYING and Rosemary Rogers’s SWEET SAVAGE LOVE—both sexually-explicit books written by women about women’s experiences (sexual and otherwise). While FEAR OF FLYING might have been objectively the “better” book, I think SWEET SAVAGE LOVE was definitely the more influential one. Throughout the 1970s & 1980s, I read widely. My kids were born in the 1990s and I introduced them to my favorites and tried to do as my mother did for me and not place too many restrictions on what they read. (One daughter loves Regencies and she lurks here; she knows I’m DiscoDollyDeb, but I don’t think she’s ever posted a comment.)

    Sadly, my mother now has dementia and no longer reads—however, once in a while she surprises us. I was talking to my sister about a certain political family who shall remain unnamed but whose voracious grift is destroying the fabric of our economic system, and I said, “As Balzac said, behind every great fortune is a great crime,” and my mom suddenly said, “That’s the quote at the beginning of THE GODFATHER.” Thank you, Mum, for teaching me to read. I love you.

  6. 6
    sally says:

    My first romance was The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt. I still love it.

  7. 7
    SusanH says:

    I wish I had a story of a friend or relative who led me into romance, but my mother disparaged romance novels and was quietly disappointed in me for reading them.

    I don’t know when I started reading them, but looking back, the love plots were always what drew me to books after the age of 8 or 9. Even when I was reading The Secret Garden or the Little House books, it was the love stories that I liked the most. I definitely remember reading those dreadful Flower in the Attic books, along with things like Lace and Judith Krantz novels before finally trying some category romances.

  8. 8
    Dena says:

    My mom had two romance books in her night table and I started stealing them, reading them, and putting them back without her knowing at around age 10 or 11. I read them both so many times – I even went out and bought copies for myself now that I’m an adult so I can still have them with me. Raging Passion by Amanda Carpenter (Harlequin Presents) and Starstruck by Anne McAllister (Harlequin Made in America).

    When I expressed a burning passion to read the Sweet Valley High books my forbid it and told me to read romances “because at least they’re well written”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I had been sneakily checking out romances from the library for at least a couple of years at that point.

    I don’t this I’ve ever actually seen my mom read a romance in front of me, but my dad has become a romance reader in the past few decades and we swap recommendations back and forth with the tacit understanding that neither of us read the sex scenes (because that’s my dad! Ew!).

    But those two night table books definitely opened up a whole new world to me…

  9. 9
    Em says:

    I recognize that campus!!! Congrats on graduation from a fellow alumnus! My first romance was really Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern, and I believe my mom had forgotten how explicit they were or she wouldn’t have encouraged my reading her old books. Then a few years later friend Cindy gave me Love Slave by Bertrice Small as a gag gift and I never looked back.

  10. 10
    JPeK says:

    I was a voracious reader as a child (and would continue to be one up until I had a kiddo of my own 4 years ago — I still read a ton, but not as much time is free to dedicate to it, of course) but didn’t ever venture into the adult romance section of the library until after my maternal grandfather died.

    You see, in the early 1990s, he came to live in our “mother-in-law apartment” behind our house during his final months (his lung cancer was in its advanced stage) and a box of his ex-wife’s books had somehow come along with him when he moved in. (Note: I have 2 memories of ever interacting with him and never met his 2nd wife, the aforementioned ex, so the box of books felt more like a gift from fate than anything else.)

    I developed 2 lifelong reading-loves out of that box: 1. Romance and 2. Sci-fi/fantasy. The two books that kickstarted my love affairs with these genres were Jude Deveraux’s Velvet Song (yes, I was very confused by the mechanics of the first sex scene I ever read: “He’s behind her?! What…? How…?” — I was 11 and being raised in a conservative Mormon home) and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight.

  11. 11
    Wendy says:

    I do not know what my first romance was. My best guess is Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, but who knows. I would read anything I could find in anyone’s house. My best friend always had a lot of chores to do and would call me to come over and hang out with her while she did them, and eventually I raided her mom’s romance book shelf. Lots of 70s bodice rippers. None of them stick in my memory except Bertrice Small, which is still synonymous with erotica for me.

  12. 12
    Tania says:

    My first romance novels were taken from my great-grandmother’s bookshelves. They weren’t explicit, which was probably good because I was eight or nine. They were old hardcovers from the 50s/60s/70s with soft corners and faded book covers. I fell in love with happy endings between the romance novels I stole from my great grandma and the fantasy novels I stole from my older brother and I’ve never looked back.

    My first explicit romance was Lisa Kleypas’s “Stranger in my Arms” from a box of books a friend had been given by one of her mom’s friend’s. She grabbed a Woodiwiss book, and I grabbed the Kleypas, and we both stayed up all night reading.

  13. 13
    Geri says:

    I wish I could say I had a Bumpy in my life who handed me my first romance book. Alas, no. I had to secretly “borrow” my Aunt’s Harlequins she hid under her bed. I’d read them and then put them back without her noticing.

  14. 14
    Vasha says:

    The first romance novel I remember liking, when I was a young teen, was The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell. It was marketed as a mystery; however, I don’t remember whodunnit but I sure remember the funny, snarky-and-argumentative-but-mutually-supportive relationship between the leads. At that age I definitely wasn’t interested in romance as a genre, and wouldn’t have read The Thin Woman if it had been marketed that way. No, it took another twenty years, until a male friend gave me Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie. Sparks flew between the main characters and I was like, if this is romance, I want more! I didn’t know how to find more, though. Harlequins pulled at random from the library proved unsatisfactory, and my friend recommended his favorite Outlander, which I couldn’t get into. My quest for recommendations led me to this very site, and that was that…

  15. 15
    Stefanie Magura says:

    I don’t have anyone to thank, but I do have memory of watching a movie of Jane Eyre. I think it was an older version. Later on, I realized that I liked historical fiction and even more so the relationships between characters. My first actual romance novel was Skkye O’Malley and it was memorable.

    I do have a Harry Potter story though. My parents and I heard about Harry Potter on the radio, and they saw something else about it/ I was about probably eleven at the time, and they bought the books for me. For about four and a half books, my dad and I read them together. I did get bored though because I was a teenager not wanting to do things with dad, and I didn’t want to wait for the others to come out. I eventually reread those books, and read the others at the behest of my best friend, who wanted to do a buddy read.

  16. 16
    Stefanie Magura says:

    I forgot to mention that dad read them to me.

  17. 17
    Fairytalegirl says:

    Hilariously, my first romance was the same as yours, Aarya – Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey. However it had a rather different effect, perhaps because I bought it expecting a straight-up fantasy novel aimed rather younger, and was Shocked! Shocked I tell you! by the sex scenes, which I read very quickly with a red face & feeling of horrified embarrasment, and did not dare touch the book again for years! (I was twelve – perhaps being warned makes all the difference?)

    My first romance that I read knowing it was one going in was “The Talisman Ring” by Georgette Heyer (I had read all of Austen, and YA with romantic subplots, as well as the aformentioned Lackey, but that was what got me into ‘proper’ romance) It was given to me by my mother after I asked her what book kept making her laugh so much. She read me several snippets and I was hooked! I devoured it and quickly proceeded on to the other 33 odd of her books Mum had. Thence to Courtney Milan, Loretta Chase, Sherry Thomas… all bought with my own money. Several false starts, but at the end, a romance reader was born!

  18. 18
    Aarya Marsden says:

    Thank you for the warm welcome! I’m having so much fun reading all your stories while watching the USA women’s soccer’s match.

    @Fairytalegirl: I can’t believe we have the same first romance! I guess it’s not that surprising, considering many romance readers accidentally stumble into the genre via an author who writes in many genres.

    @Em: Thanks! The campus is pretty obvious if you’ve ever visited. 🙂

    @SusanH: I sympathize. My sister is very supportive, but everyone else in my family doesn’t exactly approve of romance novels either. That’s why I find online communities like SBTB or Romance Twitter so important and empowering.

  19. 19
    Zealith says:

    I don’t remember the first book I read with romantic elements, but I’m 98% sure my first explicit sex scene was in Valley of the Horses. I picked it myself, because horses! But after the first read, I tended to skip all the parts with Jondalar.

  20. 20
    JayneChanger says:

    Welcome Aarya, It’s been lovely getting to know you in the Love In Panels Patreon Chats.

    I’m a classic “fifty Shades brought me to romance” although I always loved the romance threads in the Action/Adventure/thrillers (Cussler, Rollins, Patterson etc) that I was reading before.

  21. 21
    Lora says:

    Well, my gateway drug was Dear Sister, the Sweet Valley High where goody two shoes twin gets amnesia and lets a guy touch her boob. For real I remember at age ten reading that paragraph and going, wait, what? He did WHAT? My face when hot with shame and I read the paragraph like three more times.

    Then, there’s the first romance novel. My grandpa, a WWII veteran and blue collar father of three, a true outdoorsman, kept stacks of paperpacks in his closet. My grandmother occasionally made derisive remarks that he read ‘trash’. He lent me Leftover Love by Janet Dailey when I was twelve and whoo boy howdy did i have a thing for cowboy books for a while after that. I got the message from him that you should read who you love no matter who people think you are or what they think you should do. He was unashamed. I am unashamed. (Although when i reread as an adult that particular book was not all that excellent)

  22. 22
    chacha1 says:

    I also have a wonderful older sister so I adore this essay. Thank you and welcome to SBTB.

    Can’t recall our parents ever saying ‘you’re not ready for that.’ They were readers, mostly mysteries and nonfiction, and I suspect if we picked something up voluntarily they thought ‘well if she’s interested she’s ready’ and let us get on with it.

    First romances were Harlequins and Barbara Cartlands found, not handed to me or recommended, in the basement of my grandmother’s house when I was thirteen. WHAT A DISCOVERY.

  23. 23
    MegS says:

    Congrats on being an Official SBTB Reviewer, Aarya! <3

    Like others of you, I was a voracious and not-picky reader from a very young age. My parents also elected not to restrict my reading choices…and yes, I know that caused my mom concern at various points. Haha.

    I know my dad’s mom (mother of FIVE boys in six years, giver of Barbie dolls to all of her granddaughters) gave me the book MEGAN when I was between 9-10 years old. I found it once online—it was part of a middle grade/young adult no-sex but romance imprint, was based in Alaska right after the Seward purchase, and had a love triangle and a kidnapping—I can’t figure out the right google-fu at the moment. That was probably my first official genre book.

    BUT. I always read for the romance, even in all my other books.

    AND. I read THE PLAINS OF PASSAGE in, like, 5th or 6th grade. So…when all the girls were talking about FOREVER in 7th grade, I was all…”oh no, that’s nothing! Just look at THIS!” And I terrified all my friends.

    I started sneak buying and reading romance officially as a junior in college in 2000 or 2001 (Samantha James, Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, and Elizabeth Lowell). I haven’t looked back. First Kindle in 2011, and that changed everything.

  24. 24
    Susan says:

    @Aarya Marsden, I loved your essay. Thanks for sharing this lovely tribute to Bumpy.

    TBH, I don’t really remember my first romance read (it was a very looong time ago).

    Although I was able to start school early because my mother taught me to read, no one in my family was much of reader. That said, there were virtually no restrictions on what I was allowed to read and could pretty much select anything I wanted. I read a number of Jacqueline Susann books in elementary school and was pretty confused about some of the sex scenes. I also really liked historical fiction in the vein of Holt/Plaidy/Carr, but didn’t really consider them romances at the time. But then I discovered Jane Aiken Hodge, whose books were a tad steamier, and Barbara Cartland. And then Kathleen Woodiwiss.

    But the bodice rippers and creepy office romance books that became so popular didn’t appeal much to me so I quit reading romances for many years. I *think* the book that restarted me was Amanda Quick’s The Paid Companion, and I still prefer historicals over contemporaries.

  25. 25
    EC Spurlock says:

    My mom loved her “love stories” and had read them since she was a teen in the 30s. She accidentally taught me to read when I was three; she had issues with reading herself because (a) English was not her first language and (b) she was also dyslexic, so when she read to me she would run her finger under the words as she spoke them, and I quickly assimilated the association. To her disappointment, however, I spurned romance novels, seeing them as the patriarchy’s way of brainwashing us into being content with our lot of marriage and baby-making. (It was the 60s, y’all.) Instead I dove first into books about strong women (Little Women, Nancy Drew) and later into the more “intellectual” venue of hard Sci-fi — Heinlein, Asimov, Sturgeon, and later McCaffery and Kurtz.

    I attended a fiercely feminist college, where, ironically, in my second year I encountered my downfall. I had at that point discovered the historical novels of Norah Lofts, a positive master of irony who also spurned the concept of the happy ending. My friend Yvonne saw her opening and thrust Georgette Heyer upon me, specifically Devil’s Cub, which I could accept as a reasonable facsimile of historical fiction albeit with better dialogue and a sense of humor. Shout out to the Lyrical Ballad used bookstore, which we would comb on weekends for used Heyers and which also introduced me to Edna Ferber. (@BellaInAus I too now have a complete Heyer collection.) At which point my friend Betsy decided I was ready for more hardcore romance and gave me Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram. And things barrelled on from there. (Betsy also tried to graduate me to contemporaries, bless her heart; but the contemps of the 70s were full of helpless women falling for their bosses – never a good idea, IMO — and always needing to be rescued by virile men who did not take no for an answer. To this day I still prefer historicals.)

    I never admitted to my mom that I had gone down that primrose path, but I did take her cue and read to my children as soon as they could sit up. My first son was also a story addict and the worst punishment you could inflict for a wrongdoing was to take away story time. My younger son just couldn’t sit still long enough – until I started reading the Harry Potter series aloud to his brother on the recommendation of my friend Michelle, a children’s librarian. That captivated him, and I realized the problem was that the same baby books his brother had loved bored him to tears. We spent the next five or six years reading together the Potter books (the midnight release parties are still a subject of nostalgia to them), the Narnia books, Diane Duane’s Wizards series, and all of Tolkien. They are still voracious readers and we still swap books back and forth.

  26. 26
    ReneeG says:

    Congrats, Aarya! I loved your essay, have enjoyed your reviews and look forward to many more years of reading your work!

    My intro to Romance was reading my great-grandmother’s Barbara Cartlands in the early 70s when we would spend our summers up visiting – I could never bring enough books to last and raided the basement bookshelves when I ran out. I loved those covers, but didn’t care for the heroines that much. My grandmother, great-grand and several of their neighbors on the street would exchange bags of books, mostly romantic suspense and mysteries, and as I grew older, I would raid those stashes as well for my reading pleasure. When my grandma died, there was one bag left full of Holts and Edens that I grabbed; most of the names in the books are my grandma’s, but I have a couple from Ada and Greta down the street, all sadly gone now.

    In junior high my best friend read science fiction, so I mostly moved over to that and fantasy so we could share and talk about what we read (we were both voracious readers). Then one of the girls in my girl scout troop loaned me her Rosemary Rodgers, and I bought my first Romance (Woodiwiss’ Wolf and the Dove, followed by Flame and the Flower (wow-ee!)), and those late 70s hot romances became my guilty pleasure to be enjoyed alone.

    I stopped reading Romance after college, although looking back thru my stacks I can see many books with romance as a subplot. Jayne Ann Krentz brought me back to the Romance fold, and so many authors and great books, and websites that let me find those authors and books, have kept me firmly nestled within ever since.

  27. 27
    MegS says:

    Two follow-ups:

    1) MEGAN was a Sunfire (#16) by Vivian Schurfranz. (

    2) I no longer rec Linda Howard to anyone because of some of her stances on real life things. But I still have the books of hers that I bought in the early 2000s.

  28. 28
    cleo says:

    Congrats Aarya! What a lovely essay.

    I also got my younger brother to read books he didn’t think he’d like! I got him to read Dick Francis by reading out loud from the first couple pages of The Banker (it’s not really his best book but it has a great beginning, with the narrator’s very proper boss standing in a fountain to avoid the white faced clowns). My brother thought I was making it up, took the book away to verify and then read the whole thing, then read everything he’d written. I don’t remember why he didn’t want to read Dick Francis or mysteries / thrillers in general – probably because I and my mom both loved him and he (my brother not Dick Francis) was stubborn like that.

    I read my first genre romance when I was 14 – I borrowed it from a friend on an overnight bus trip to a church youth event. Honestly, I don’t remember the friend, the author or the title of the book – all I remember is that They Had Sex! I’m sure it was a tame sex scene by today’s standards but it involved spreading thighs and possibly some thrusting hips and I had NO idea.

    I continued to read romance covertly, with great embarrassment, through high school and into college. Judith Krantz and Jude Devereux were especially compelling (and disturbing – Judith Krantz introduced me to the concept of a grudge fuck when everyone else in my life said you should only have sex for love).

    I was a little snob and thought I couldn’t be smart and read romance. But I had friends in college who read romance openly, without apology and that was a bit of a revelation to me. The first romance I remember discussing with a friend was Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux.

  29. 29
    Lisa F says:

    This is such a lovely introduction to you and how you got into romance, welcome to the team Aarya!

    Mine was An Irresistible Impulse by Billie Douglas – pen name for Barbara Delinsky – a Harlequin Superromance.

  30. 30
    Kareni says:

    @Dena, you mentioned a book by Amanda Carpenter. Are you aware that she now writes as Thea Harrison?

    @Aarya, thank you for a lovely post! Congratulations on your graduation.

  31. 31
    Karen Lauterwasser says:

    Congratulations on your graduation. Did you hear Bill Nye speak at convocation?
    Loved your “introduction to romance” story – sort of a romance of its own! Happy reading in the years to come (from an alum – BS ‘76, MS ‘79).

    And my first romance? An audio book of Suzanne Brockmann’s “Do or Die”. I ran across it when looking for something to listen to, then had to delve into her entire backlist, and I was totally hooked.

  32. 32
    Aarya Marsden says:

    @Karen Lauterwasser: I did listen to the Nye convocation speech! It thankfully stayed dry all weekend despite the rainy forecast. He wasn’t the university’s first choice for the speaker, but was excellent as a back-up after our first speaker dropped out.

    To everyone else: I love all your stories! Thanks for sharing them with me.

  33. 33
    Jenny says:

    My first “romance” was Almonzo Wilder courting Laura Ingalls in “These Happy Golden Years”. The thing I remember most was feeling very sad when Laura left her home after they were married (I was 8 or 9 when I read this, and going through a severe homesickness stage where I couldn’t spend even a single night away from my parents without getting royally upset). I glommed Sweet Valley High and the Sunfire books when they came out (I am sure the youth librarian hid herself whenever she saw me come into the library, knowing I was going to bug her to see if they had received the newest Sunfire book, in the days before the catalog was computerized). By the time I was 13 or 14, I discovered my library’s large collection of Barbara Cartlands, which became my gateway to “adult” romance. My mom was a big romance reader and never minded when I borrowed from her stack – they were mostly time travel and Harlequins, neither of which appealed to me at the time. To this day, we’ll exchange romance books (although she and I have VERY different reading tastes, so pile of books we both enjoy tends to be very short).

  34. 34
    Crystal F. says:

    I enjoyed ‘The Fire Rose’ in Lackey’s Elemental Masters series more, but I do love pages 27-30 and 77-81 of ‘The Fairy Godmother’. 🙂

    The first romance I remember I couldn’t get enough of was ‘Royal Slave’ by Julia Fitzgerald. (Which I definitely would NOT recommend now, but my 16-year-old self and her friends loved it at the time, and would pass it back and forth during study hall like one would a comic book.)

    My dad and I didn’t have the greatest relationship, but I do owe my love of both reading and drawing to him. He ran his own antique business from home, which meant he was the stay-at-home parent.

    My parents didn’t have a lot of time to read to me at night, but he would watch all of those old PBS and TVOntario shows with me. He made sure I checked out the books that were featured on Reading Rainbow, and I remember that he bought me my first set of Little Golden Books.

    Once I discovered historical romance novels, he would drive me and my friends to the library’s book sales and sit in the car patiently, knowing full well what we were buying and never teased us or made one complaint. I guess in his own mind, as long as I wasn’t WATCHING sex scenes in movies and TV shows, he didn’t mind that I was reading them in books.

  35. 35
    K.N.O’Rear says:

    I didn’t actually read a romance until I was about 15( I was a late bloomer).See, my grandmother has been subscribed to harlequin since about the 70s I’m pretty sure and always had harlequin suspense line books everywhere from her car to her house. I asked about them and she called them “ mysteries” as no one she knew openly admitted to liking romance novels. Anyways , she let me borrow about three. I would love to say that was the moment I was converted to a Romance fan, but I only read one of the ones she gave me and didn’t truly embrace Romance novels until about five years ago. Currently, I’m making up for lost time both with my grandmother and romance fans in general.

  36. 36
    Lara says:

    Congratulations on all your hard work, and I am so looking forward to reading more reviews from you!

    My first romance (at age 11) was a Harlequin Presents, which I dug out of my grandmother’s shelves because I had already read every Reader’s Digest and Guideposts she had in the house and I was bored. I remember that it was Force of Feeling, by Penny Jordan, and that I picked it because the heroine’s name was Campion and I thought that was a beautiful name. I don’t remember much of the actual plot, just several instances of “WHAT are they doing?!”.

    My grandmother, it turns out, had belonged to the Harlequin book club almost since its inception, and had a basement full of Harlequin Presents, Harlequin American Romances, Harlequin Blazes, you name it, mixed in with some regular romance novels as well. I read my way through adolescence in her basement.

  37. 37
    HeatherS says:

    I think I started reading romance around 12-13. I had a school friend whose mom would buy her romances; she let me read them when I was at her house – I clearly remember “Fever” by Nicole Jordan and “Pieces of Sky” by Marianne Willman.

    I also snuck them from the library; one Medieval romance ended with the heroine dressed in men’s clothing, dropping onto the hero’s horse from a tree. I think it had started as a “let me abduct and impregnate the daughter/sister of my family’s enemy”-type plot. Likely had one of those holograms in the top right corner of the cover.

    My mom wouldn’t have let me read them, though I guess she figured I was – she bought me some Heartsong Presents (Christian romances) titles (I remember one called “Tapestry of Tamar” and another where the hero was a gruff German guy who said “uff da” a lot). I didn’t know anyone else who read them; certainly my relatives didn’t.

    I quit reading romances for some years after that, switching to fanfic and yaoi manga until I discovered m/m romances published by Loose Id circa 2008. “Faith & Fidelity” by Tere Michaels really had an impact. I read some hetero romance – Loretta Chase, Jennifer Crusie, etc – but predominantly LGBTQ+ romances. In hetero books, I stick to historicals, but in queer romance I will read just about anything.

  38. 38
    Dena says:

    @Kareni I did not know about Amanda Carpenter being Thea Harrison. Thank you so much for letting me know!

  39. 39
    LauraL says:

    I think I’ve always been a romantic at heart. In kindergarten, my one true love, Richard, put a way-too-elaborate Valentine for a 5-year-old in my Valentine mailbox. He broke my heart when he moved away after first grade. We became re-acquainted in college (the magic of our crayon days was no longer there) and laughed pretty hard at our younger selves.

    I think my first book boyfriend was Almonzo Wilder from the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I’ve always enjoyed books with romantic elements since I started to read. The first “real” romances I read were Harlequin romances my cousin’s grandmother would bring to our mutual grandmother’s farm. Our Grandma stored the bags of books on the sunporch. My girl cousins and I would sneak the books from the bag and read them in our room at night. I’m pretty sure Grandma knew what was going on and 50 years later, I am still reading romance.

    I loved reading your essay and the responses! Welcome aboard, Aarya. I look forward to reading your future reviews.

  40. 40
    Kareni says:

    @Dena, you’re welcome. It was too good a factoid not to share!

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