Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Podcast

200. The Books That Made Us Romance Readers

Sarah, Amanda, Carrie, Elyse, and Redheadedgirl gather to talk about the book that made them romance readers, and the romance that changed their lives in some way. We of course start off with TMI discussions about pet farts, and ask really important questions like what would happen if Stephanie Plum was sent back in time, and what books are required for the zombie apocalypse?

We also have some special guest callers telling us about the books that made them romance readers! I put out a request to the Patreon supporters to ask them to call our Google Voice number and leave a message answering all my nosy questions to make sure the voicemail audio would still work for the podcast. It does! So, thanks to the Patreon volunteers, we have some special guests mixed in with our discussion, plus I got Sassy Outwater on the phone, too, because she was doing the dishes and couldn’t get away from my calling her. MWAHAHAHA.

We want to hear about the book that made you a romance reader! Just dial +1 201.371.3272, and leave a voicemail telling me about the book that made you a romance reader. And if you can’t call, just record an audio file and email it to me!

This is a long episode, but hey, we’re celebrating. Come celebrate with us!

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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

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Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

The music you’re listening to in this episode is performed by Sassy Outwater – and that is indeed Sassy on her harp. This tune is called “Rhumba for SB” and I finally found out – as per the end of this podcast – that this piece is from a collection by Salzedo, and is one of her favorite pieces of harp music ever.

Podcast Sponsor

This podcast episode is brought to you by you! Thank you for listening, thank you for emailing me, thank you for becoming Patreon supporters. I love hearing how much you enjoy the podcast, and how many of you have made it part of your weekend -and especially how many of you are working out or walking around. Keep going. You have TOTALLY got this.


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This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Transcript Sponsor

All In

The podcast transcript this month is sponsored by Kensington, publishers of ALL IN by Simona Ahrnstedt. Recently named by Publishers Weekly as one of its “Best Books of Summer, ” ALL IN is the first foreign-language romance to be translated published in the US. Escape into this summer’s most buzzed about book, ALL IN, an international bestseller where beneath the midnight sun, powerful Swedish elite prowl parties for conquests, trade damaging secrets like currency ,and one explosive game of cat-and-mouse between lovers is poised to change the power balance forever….

In the cutthroat world of Sweden’s financial elite, no one knows that better than corporate raider David Hammar. Ruthless. Notorious. Unstoppable. He’s out to hijack the ultimate prize, Investum. After years of planning, all the players are in place; he needs just one member of the aristocratic owning family on his side—Natalia De la Grip.

Elegant, brilliant, driven to succeed in a man’s world, Natalia is curious about David’s unexpected invitation to lunch. Everyone knows that he is rich, dangerous, unethical; she soon discovers he is also deeply scarred.

The attraction between these two is impossible, but the long Swedish nights unfold an affair that will bring to light shocking secrets, forever alter a family, and force both Natalia and David to confront their innermost fears and desires.

Discover the romance taking the world by storm. ALL IN really does have it all.  On Sale June 28th 2016.

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Add Your Comment →

  1. 1
    tallwithglasses says:

    Sweet Liar by Jude Deveraux! That’s not the first romance book I read, but it’s the one I remember absolutely loving.

  2. 2
    Alex says:

    The real talk doesn’t start until 13:00 for those who want to skip the chit chat at the beginning.

  3. 3
    Demi says:

    Oh Samantha James and “His Wicked Ways”…thank you to whoever donated this to the library used book sale.

  4. 4
    KellyM says:

    @ Elyse
    I am the same way, KEW was my intro into adult romance. The Flame and the Flower is
    her book I pilfered from my mother’s boxes of romance books and I still have that same book thirty plus years later. 🙂

    Also I believe the book you are referring to in the Podcast is Dangerous Waters by Amy J. Fetzer.

  5. 5
    Tammy Cat says:

    Morning Glory by LaVryle Spencer then the Ocean Between us by Susan Wiggs. I mostly read cozy mysteries but after all these years Morning Glory is still my favorite

  6. 6
    LizTeaBee says:

    Oh, I’m excited for this one. I started with Suddenly Last Summer by Lisa Kleypas. A friend lent it to me and I inhaled the Wallflower series.

  7. 7
    Lora says:

    My gateway romance was Leftover Love by Janet Daily. The guy was a cowboy named, like, Creed or something. Hmmm

  8. 8
    Julie says:

    I’m really surprised that there aren’t any category romances on the list. Reading Betty Neels, Mary Burchell, Anne Hampson, Violet Winspear and Anne Mather made me into a romance reader all those years ago – and I still love Harlequin books to this day.

    I also then discovered the wonderful books of Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart which I’ve re-read frequently. Out of contemporary writers, Jude Deveraux’s The Heiress made me branch out into modern historical romance.

  9. 9
    ElizA says:

    My first romance was a Harlequin. It was the Virgin and the Unicorn by Kelly Street. I can’t believe my mom actually bought it for me. This was back in the day when you could buy Harlequins at every grocery store in America, not just the big box ones. My mom bought it for me wee youngin’ self, and didn’t even bat an eyebrow! I would have only been in JR High at the time. She also let me read anything by VC Andrews. I was given free reign of my reading. It was and still is a great gift!

  10. 10
    Milly says:

    When I think back to what I liked to read back then they always had HEA’s of some kind – I was totally traumatized by Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller. I loved anything King Arthur minus the adultery and tragic ending. I was fascinated with historicals so cue up Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe, The Heart of Midlothian, Rob Roy) – right up my 14 y.o. history geek alley. I also devoured Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave Series and couldn’t stop rereading The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

    The 2 books though that legitimately brought me to Romance and changed me were Sarah Maclean’s Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake & JR Ward’s Dark Lover. They were also the first 2 ebooks I bought with my newly purchased Kobo. After my divorce I wanted something to transport me away from the clusterf*ck that was my life and to a happy place world and those 2 books were it. What drew me to them when I had so many to choose from I don’t know but once I read them, I couldn’t stop reading. They helped me to bring joy back into my life after a very dark time. I haven’t stopped reading romance and I read all across genres and heat levels. All I want is a good story, great characterizations, women who take control of their lives and I want to be left feeling uplifted and happy. Romance did that for me. It brought me back to myself.

    I will read other genres as well but I always rate romance books the highest. I remember reading Bel Canto – a great book on its own minus the epilogue. That was a suspense book that tried to tack on an HEA/romance at the very end which ended up ruining an otherwise good book because it didn’t ring true to the story.

  11. 11
    Cami says:

    ‘Boundaries’ has actually changed my life. My book group picks one book and spends months on it and really dissects it, and this book is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It’s very Christian, but even if that’s not your thing, I think it’s worth almost anyone’s time. I actually felt compelled to come comment for the first time after I heard it mentioned on the podcast.

  12. 12
    Kate says:

    Omg, what is up with those new Marguerite Henry covers? Not sure my mom would have approved 😀 Great episode, ladies!

  13. 13
    Kelly C says:

    I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it.

  14. 14
    Lostshadows says:

    I came to adult romances by way of SVH, but my first adult romance was Oprah’s fault. I was flipping channels and landed on an episode talking about, amongst other things, Fabio covers. The images made me curious enough to pick up Defy Not the Heart, by Johanna Lindsey the next time I was at the supermarket.

  15. 15
    Ellie Giarnelli says:

    The first romance novel I remember reading was Rosemary Rogers, Wicked Loving Lies. It was the mid 70’s, I was 30 something, had a toddler running around, and 4 or 5 cousins in the same situation. We got together and talked a lot, and when those bodice rippers came up, (I usually read mysteries and best sellers), I was hooked. Obviously, I’m a lot older than most of you.

  16. 16
    Snowmom says:

    Have to chime in here. Ellie, my first romance was “Wicked Loving Lies” too!! Read it on the Amtrak from DC to Philly in 1976. I was hooked before I arrived in Pennsylvania. Later I found Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss -a book that I remember reading at least once a year. Then came Harlequins and Silhouettes. Sometime in the 90s, I stopped reading romances. I don’t know why. Then a few months ago, I heard an interview on Sirrus/XM (EW channel) about the genre and this amazing website. Now I’m hooked all over again. I’m discovering new authors and re-reading old favorites! Thank goodness for the Kindle app and one-click buying on Amazon. And yes, I’m considerably older than many of you.

  17. 17
    Carole says:

    The one romance that set the standard for me was All the Possibilities, Book 3 in MacGregor Series by Nora Roberts for Silhouette Special Edition 1985 – love red-haired Shelby on Lavender Cover. Lovely, charming and romantic moments as Alan woos a reluctant Shelby and very steamy moments for those times, as I recall.

    Love the series, but especially loved the banter and interaction between Alan the Presidential Candidate and Shelby the Free Spirit who is a Potter and business owner. It was a refreshing change from the old skool ‘naive virginal young woman ravished by mature Spanish Conte, resulting in forever love and HEA’. Nora Roberts in this book presented intelligent people, mature conversations, great family relationships, etc. Shelby was a wonderful role model for new themes in romances – she had her own business, was creative, intelligent, articulate, loving and no shame associated with their sexual moments. She had a funky, independent gypsy style, but could hold her own with the staid and established Washington political elite.

    I felt I had found a romance for intelligent, liberated women I guess. Also loved how multi-dimensional the Hero was – intelligent, witty but also whimsical in his courting phase that demonstrated how well he actually knew her. So romantic! I hauled this book around in paperback for 10 moves until I replaced it with the EBook version. I kept reading romances to find others I loved as much as this story.

  18. 18
    SB Sarah says:

    This thread is so expensive for me, and I really want to read that Nora Silhouette, like, right hoppin’ now.

    Thank you for sharing all your favorite books (and please don’t stop because I commented. I worry I sometimes cause comment thread decline!).

  19. 19
    Lisa says:

    I was going to say that the book that made me a romance reader was Kathleen Woodiwiss’ ‘Ashes in the Wind’. That I remember borrowing from an older sister of a friend. But really, thinking back, the one that hooked me was Madeleine Brent’s ‘Merlin’s Keep’ It took partially took place in Tibet with an orphan who got sent to England to an estate called Merlin’s Keep (nope nothing Arthurian in it). The heroine was half Tibetan and eventually fell for a British soldier (to the best of my recollection. I read this close th 30 years ago). I did not know until poking around Goodreads a couple of years ago that Madeleine Brent was actually a guy. I hunted down a used copy a few years ago. It’s still fairly unique in setup.

  20. 20
    kkw says:

    I have always read everything that I could get my hands on, and growing up I enjoyed plenty of inappropriate romances, but It Had to Be You by SEP was instrumental in changing romance from a genre I read to a genre I sought out. I found it in a bathroom at an airport in Paris, and enjoyed it so much I felt obligated to return it so someone else could experience it. And then of course couldn’t remember the name or author, and spent years looking for romances I liked as much!

  21. 21
    SB Sarah says:

    The fact that you found the book in an airport bathroom in Paris and then returned it so you could share the experience is so terrific. I love that.

  22. 22
    ConnieH says:

    I really started with Gothic romances….Mary Stewart, Victoria Hold, and Jane Aiken Hodge to name just a few. But it was Johanna Lindsey’s “Captive Bride” that really got me going on Romances.! I steadily made my way through Avon’s Ladies (Rosemary Rogers, Bertrice Small, Kathleen Woodiwiss, etc.) Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and….well there are really too many others to actually list.

  23. 23
    Teev says:

    My first go round with romances was in the late 70s. I was 13/14 and so embarrassed I would take them from the library without checking them out (I was a bad kid and already an expert shoplifter) and then bring them back and snatch a new round. I would read them while I listened to disco. A couple years later I got into metal and then punk and in my mind that meant I had to stop with the disco and romances, moving on to scifi (so metal) and “serious” literature and non-fic.

    About 6 years ago I got back into romance (I’d already let disco back into my life). I don’t recall what prompted me to read it, but my gateway book was Julie Garwood’s Honor’s Splendor. I immediately devoured her other books, and then discovered and devoured Loretta Chase, Lisa Kleypas, Mary Balogh and so many more. I loved them so much but I was still embarrassed and only “got away” with reading so many because I got them all on kindle and so no one could see what I was reading.

    My eternal hunt for more romances led me to this site and a whole community of out and proud romance readers and, due to this wonderful community, today when people ask what I’m reading I tell them without shame. That’s thanks to you all. I’ve discovered lots of great books through SBTB, but the best thing I’ve gotten is not having to hide a part of who I am.

  24. 24
    Kilian Metcalf says:

    I’m older than dirt, so my gateway drug was the Angelique series by Sergeanne Golon. I swear she was the model for Stephen King’s Misery Chastain, so I’m betting he read them, too. Since he and I are the same age, those books would have been available to him at the same time I was reading them. I gobbled them up one after another until her adventures became too much even for adolescent me.

    As an aside, there is a movie about the famous editor, Max Perkins, starring Colin Firth. Most of the promotion mentions his male writers Hemingway, Fitzgeral, etc., but he was also responsible for guiding Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings away from the gothic stuff she was writing. She would submit her stories along with long letters describing her life in rural Florida. He encouraged her to write about that, and the result was the novel The Yearling.

  25. 25
    Lisa says:

    Back in middle school, a friend gave me Rembrance by Danielle Steele and that started my love of romance. My aunt bought all the Silhouette books which I read in during high school. I also loved historical romances. My favorite authors now are Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Linnea Sinclair, and Eloisa James.

  26. 26
    sarrible says:

    Sarah, would you share the salsa recipe?

  27. 27
    SB Sarah says:

    @Sarrible: I completely forgot – my bad! This is originally from Mountain Mama Cooks, but I’ve adjusted a few ingredients as noted.

    Easy Blender Salsa


    – 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
    – 1 10 oz can orginal Rotel
    – 1/2 small onion, roughly chopped (I use a full onion)
    – 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed (Two: also good!)
    – 1/2-1 jalapeno, seeded or not (jalapenos can vary in heat, so I use serranos more often)
    – 1 teaspoon honey (I sometimes add more after it’s blended for more sweet/spicy balance)
    – 1/2 teaspoon salt
    – 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (heaping teaspoon more like)
    – small to medium size handful of cilantro, washed (usually medium sized handful – I like cilantro)
    – juice of 1 lime


    Put all the ingredients in the base of a food processor or good blender and pulse to combine for 30 seconds or so until all the ingredients are finely chopped and salsa is desired consistency. (I usually pulse until the cilantro is broken into smaller pieces along with the onion, and both are mixed well – typically 8-10 pulses on high.)

    Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste. Serve with chips or over tacos. (Or eat with a spoon. I won’t judge.)

    This salsa is also terrific over scrambled eggs with cheese on top.

  28. 28
    Tinafromtexas says:

    Mine was Bared To You by Sylvia Day, I got it because it was on sale and I’ve been reading romance almost exclusively ever since. I didn’t realize that there were so many wonderful romance books out there before, I thought they were for silly women that had no life, boy was I wrong!

  29. 29
    Annie says:

    Judith McNaught’s ‘Paradise’ was the first one I loved. Read it in high school in the late 80s, and just kept rereading it. That and ‘Almost Heaven.’ I have read some of her other books, some are terrible! But she got it right with those two.

  30. 30
    Annie says:

    I just remembered another one! Julie Garwood’s The Lions Lady. Because it’s funny, and a little different than most Recency stories (involves Dakota in the heroine’s upbringing). This one will keep you smiling and chuckling.

  31. 31
    Dana says:

    This was a terrific episode, guys, thanks so much! My first romance novel was These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. God, I loved that book, I read it until it fell apart. Got totally turned off the genre for a while by Barbara Cartland, gag (there’s a different topic for you, what romance novel or author almost stopped you reading romance novels forever?) but a bookseller friend handed me a copy of Lord of Scoundrels and the rest is history. I realize now (40 years later) that Georgette Heyer is the reason I don’t like historical romances much because the anachronisms are so jarring. No Heyer heroine ever referred to the hero’s pecs.

    On another topic, is there a podcast that includes the SBTB origin story? Because I’d so listen to that.

  32. 32
    Leslie says:

    Hi, I remember getting a sack of Harlequins when I was sick one summer, I must have been 12? Around 1978…there was no turning back after that! My love of romance novels led me to start a discussion list called RRA-L back in the 90’s with a friend. After some false starts (men thought it was a sex site)… We were discovered and thrived for many years, providing a platform for readers and authors to talk. Our first big discussion was Outlander.

  33. 33
    Nancy C says:

    @Leslie: I remember you from RRA-L! I was mostly a lurker, a librarian doing readers’ advisory and a longtime romance reader (also since I was around 12). Somewhere, I still have my RRA-L t-shirt (Never Apologize For Your Reading Tastes). Many, many thanks for the virtual introduction to the wonderful authors who frequented that list.

    I started at age 12 or so (1977?) when my grandmother, who shared in round-robin style with friends, brought a handful of Harlequin and Harlequin Presents books when she visited. She was the last in the rotation for these titles (as indicated by the initials on the inside back cover), so she left them behind. My mom, though she never tried to restrict access to any books ever, wasn’t impressed but I dove right in. From there, I moved on to the Bertrice Small, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey titles that my mom preferred. I know I read Nora Roberts’ first novel–it made me fall in love with Irishmen, and I had no idea she would become such a force in the genre. Then I started buying Regencies for myself, and I’ve just kept on reading romances of all sorts ever since. Now I’m trying my hand at writing them myself.

  34. 34
    Judy says:

    Hi, Sarah, love the blog and the podcasts, and like a few of the comment-writers, I’m a lot older than most of y’all. I wanted to share a golden moment of romance prose, because I feel it needs wider distribution, and where better than here?

    This comes from a romance novel my mother-in-law was reading, maybe 45 years ago, about a heroine from the Deep South. “Her breasts bubbled to the top of her corset like fritters in hot fat.” It has stayed with me all this time, and now I’ve finally found a great forum to share it! Sadly, no idea about the author or title…

  35. 35
    Lee says:

    My first was Love’s Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde in the late seventies.

  36. 36
    Ruth says:

    I’m a bit older than most of you, I think. But I remember plenty of YA romances. I read a lot of Betty Cavanna, Rosamond du Jardin, Gladys Malvern and Sally Watson (although Watson is mostly girls’ adventure books with a romance element). And I read a lot of historical novels that overlap with romance novels (book club friend: “Let’s read a romance, like Gone with the Wind”; me: “Gone with the Wind is not a romance, it’s a coming of age story”; me later to a friend who’s a huge GWTW fan: is Gone with the Wind a romance novel; my friend: no, it’s a coming of age story).

    The first explicitly genre romances I read were probably Rosemary Rogers. Then one day I went, “eeew, this is really rapey” and I stopped reading romances and read almost exclusively SF for several years. (You could have a discussion about books that make you not want to read romances, and Sweet Savage Love could be at the top of the list.)

    Then at my first office job there was a shelf of Harlequins. As an English major I was too snobby to read them, but one day I must have been desperate and picked one up. I don’t remember exactly which one, but it might have been Vicki Lewis Thompson, which introduced me to the idea that romances could be funny. I got seriously hooked on contemporary romances. I still read almost exclusively contemporary romances.

  37. 37
    Kimberly Taylor says:

    There is already an award for bad sex in fiction (, but this podcast needs to do a romance literature versiona Also, congratulations on 200 episodes!

  38. 38
    Lena says:

    Bet Me is such an amazing book… each one of the friends had a different HEA idea and they all respected and supported each other’s dreams!

  39. 39
    Kelly says:

    For my 12th birthday, in 1973, my friends gave me a copy of Dark Star by Nerina Hilliard (Harlequin Romance #1268). It was a promotional copy that Harlequin released for free. On the cover it says “Especially for you! An introduction to the wonderful world of Harlequin Romances”. It worked! I devoured Harlequins for years. I haven’t read the label in a long time, but am still reading romance. Even though it was 45 plus years ago (aarrggh!), I can still recite the plot of that book to you. I googled it just now, and found a photo of the cover; wow, that takes me back.

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