Do you enjoy category romances and want to add some classics to your To-Be-Read pile? Where should you start? I recommend finding a few of the trailblazing authors whose work shaped popular romance fiction.
These internationally bestselling authors wrote short and sexy romance novels in the 1980s and 1990s. The category romance novel has a specific story structure. One key element is the strong focus on the relationship between the hero and heroine. A few of these authors continue to write category romance, but their storytelling has branched out to other genres and romance subgenres.
Fans of sexy contemporary romance should try a vintage romance novel from the following authors. The Romance Writers of America recognized each of these prolific writers for their work with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Most of their booklists are available in digital formats. No need to hunt through used bookstores for an out-of-print copy!
What does she write? First published in 1995, Ms. Jackson has written over 140 books in many subgenres, including contemporary, romantic suspense, family saga and western romance.
What impact has she had on romance fiction? Brenda Jackson writes about African-American protagonists. Her contemporary romance Solid Soul launched the Harlequin Kimani line in 2006 and her book Irresistible Forces was the first Black romance to hit the New York Times list in 2008. She recently launched a film and development company and her goal is to bring Black love stories to the screen.
Start with: any book about the Westmorelands! Delaney’s Desert Sheikh, the first romance in the series, was previously published as a Harlequin Desire in 2002. I share my thoughts here on a few more fan-favorites from this miniseries.
What does she write? Ms. Mortimer’s first category contemporary romance was published in 1979 and she wrote over 170 books for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She continues to write historical romance, paranormal romance and romantic suspense.
What impact has she had on romance fiction? Romantic Times honored her with the Pioneer of Romance Award in 2014 and the Career Achievement Award for Series Romance in 2017. In 2012, Carole Mortimer was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II for outstanding service to literature.
Start with: Her high-quality storytelling is so consistent that it’s hard to choose. However, an original copy of Sensual Encounters, a Harlequin Presents published in 1983, is on my keeper shelf.
What does she write? Ms. Krentz started writing contemporary category romance under several pen names in 1979 and she has almost 200 books published. She also wrote paranormal, historical and romantic suspense. The author currently writes paranormal romantic suspense set in a variety of time periods.
What impact has she had on romance fiction? Ms. Krentz’s category romances often featured workplace romances. In the PhD dissertation, “Corporate Heroines and Utopian Individualism: A Study of the Romance Novel in Global Capitalism”, Erin S. Young suggests that these “corporate romances” of the 1990s reflected “changing ideals about intimacy in a globalized world”. The heroines “constantly navigated the dual and intersecting arenas of work and home in an effort to locate a balance that leads to success and happiness in both realms.”
Start with: The Pirate. Originally published as a Harlequin Temptation in 1990, the uncivilized hero is challenged by a resourceful woman in this vacation romance. I have a few more Jayne Ann Krentz book recommendations here.
What does she write? Linda Howard started writing category contemporary romance in 1982 for Silhouette Special Edition and Silhouette Intimate Moments. She has since published over 50 books. The author currently writes romantic suspense.
What impact has she had on romance fiction? In her book, Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology, Jayashree Kamblé states that Linda Howard created old-fashioned alpha male heroes “to perfection” in the 80s. These warriors often commit unethical and unforgivable acts for the greater good. Kamblé argues that this hero archetype started showing emotional vulnerability in later decades as a reflection of real-world conditions.
Start with: Duncan’s Bride. Originally published in 1990 as a Silhouette Intimate Moments, a rancher advertises for a bride in this passionate contemporary romance. He reluctantly offers marriage to the one applicant who’s unsuitable for ranch life. I have a few more Linda Howard book recommendations here.
What does she write? Beginning with her first category romance in 1981, Ms. Roberts has written over 230 books. With over 400 million copies of books in print worldwide, she is considered the most successful romance author. These days, her stories range from romantic suspense, paranormal romance and fantasy & futuristic romance.
What impact has she had on romance fiction? In her book, A Natural History of the Romance Novel, Pamela Regis says, “Roberts’s heroes and heroines, and the courtships she has them enact reflect the long tradition of the romance, the importance of affective individualism, of financial independence, and of companionate marriage for the heroine, as well as the taming and the healing of the hero.”
Start with: any book from The MacKade Brothers series. This collection is adored by her legions of fans! The first book, The Return of Rafe MacKade, was previously published as a Silhouette Intimate Moments in 1995 and it was nominated for a RITA.
What does she write? After publishing with Dell Candlelight Ecstasy in 1981, Ms. Brown wrote category romances for several publishers under a few pen names. She has over 80 titles in her booklist, including contemporary romance, historical romance and romantic suspense. The author is currently writing thrillers.
What impact has she had on romance fiction? Her stories were instantly popular because they reflected the hopes and struggles of contemporary women. In 1983, Ms. Brown’s books launched the Harlequin American line with Tomorrow’s Promise and the Bantam Loveswept line with Heaven’s Price.
Start with: Sunny Chandler’s Return. Originally a Bantam Loveswept published in 1987, this sultry romance is about a woman who left her hometown under a cloud of scandal. She returns for a visit and meets the roguish hero. I have a few more Sandra Brown recommended reads here.
What does she write? First published in 1986, Ms. Thompson has written over 170 romances and the majority of these were category romances for several Harlequin lines. She also wrote romantic comedy, western romance and paranormal romance.
What impact has she had on romance fiction? This author often combined love and laughter, entertaining readers with fun and steamy love stories. Ms. Thompson’s lighthearted Harlequin Temptations helped define the line, which was created to offer more sensual romances of the time. Her RITA nominated book, Notorious, launched the Harlequin Blaze line in 2001, which delivered sexier romances for readers.
Start with: Claimed by the Cowboy. This sexy love story was originally published as a Harlequin Blaze in 2010 under the title Claimed! The second chance romance won the Romantic Times Award for Best Blaze.
Want more? Click here and discover the three sensual contemporary romance category imprints that changed the publishing industry in the 1980s.