Lessons Learned: My Summer of Harlequin Experiment

Lessons Learned: My Summer of Harlequin Experiment

Subtitle: NetGalley is Not Good for People with OCD

When I got my first Kindle, I glommed onto historical romance authors like Julia Justiss, Elizabeth Rolls and Sophia James because their books were cheap and fun. Then I discovered Carla Kelly and I officially became a citizen of Romancelandia.

It wasn’t until I started cataloging the evidence of my OCD tendencies on Goodreads that I realized all those books were Harlequins. Yes, I used to make fun of Harlequins. My self-inflicted punishment was wasting a LOT of money on Laurell K. Hamilton, who is solely responsible for my avoidance of all things paranormal.

ANYWAY, I like to broaden my knowledge and expand my horizons and step out of my comfort zone and all those other clichés. Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to try out some of the old-school category romance I’d been curious about but reluctant to spend money on.

[Note: I may be a grammar geek, but I think “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” is a stupid rule.]

ANYWAY, I requested a few e-galleys (well, OK, maybe a dozen or so, shut up and keep reading). I also purchased more to make sure I was being fair — even if I couldn’t be objective. I’m a Libra, we like things balanced.

The final grades ranged from A for Author Crush to several DNFs. As I was reading and reviewing, I tried to keep the category requirements in mind – most of the titles were what I expected, and sometimes not in a good way.

So, in no particular order….

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Blaze

“…complex plots and subplots, realistic engaging characters and a consuming love story you won’t be able to forget. Blaze stories are fun, flirty and always steamy.

Harlequin Blaze is…. The sexy situation in Friends with Benefits blended with the sheer romance of The Time Traveler’s Wife.”

Blazing Midsummer Nights by Leslie Kelly

Blazing Midsummer Nights
by Leslie Kelly
Grade: B+

The Guy Most Likely To.... by Leslie Kelly, Janelle Denison and Julie Leto

The Guy Most Likely To….
by Leslie Kelly,
Janelle Denison & Julie Leto
Grade: B

Will I read this category again?

  • You betcha, baby – they definitely lived up to the “fun, flirty and always steamy” criteria.

Read/rated but not reviewed:

New must-reads on the TBR:

Still lingering in the TBR:

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Historical

“Richly textured, emotionally intense novels set across a wide range of historical periods – ancient civilisations up to and including Second World War.

Harlequin Historical is… The strength of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, the sizzling sensuality of The Tudors and Rome [?????] and the scandalous society drama of Downton Abbey!”

My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin

My Fair Concubine
by Jeannie Lin
Grade: A

Will I read this category again?

  • Absolutely. And I must note that of the dozens of Historicals I’ve read, not one jumped out as being a Mistorical.

Read/rated but not reviewed:

New must-reads:

On the wishlist:

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Love Inspired

“Contemporary inspirational romances that feature Christian characters facing the many challenges of life and love in today’s world.

Love Inspired is…. Touched by an Angel or Seventh Heaven or Gilmore Girls or Hallmark movies, for their solid stories and characters, sense of family and community, with tender romance and a level of faith at its core.”

The Promise of Home by Kathryn Springer

The Promise of Home
by Kathryn Springer
Grade: B+

Will I read this category again?

  • Probably not – I think I got really lucky with this one. I even looked at buying others in the series, but they were by other authors and sounded a little to “Rah! Rah! God is Good!” for my taste.

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Love Inspired Historical

“Powerful, engaging stories of romance, adventure and faith set in times past, with rich historical details and complex stories.

Love Inspired Historical is…. Christy or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman or Little House on the Prairie or Hallmark movies based on Janette Oke’s “Loves Comes Softly” series, for their solid stories and characters, sense of family and community, with tender romance and a level of faith at its core.”

The Baron's Governess Bride by Deborah Hale

The Baron’s Governess Bride
by Deborah Hale
Grade: C-

Will I read this category again?

  • I’m willing to give it another try — I think I got really unlucky with this one. I’ve read a few of Hale’s non-inspie historicals and I enjoyed them, but Governess was just bloody boring.

Read/rated but not reviewed:

  • Homespun Bride by Jillian Hart (DNF — bloody boring AND ridiculously repetitive)

New must-reads:

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Love Inspired Suspense

“Edge-of-the-seat, contemporary romantic suspense tales of intrigue and romance featuring Christian characters facing challenges to their faith…and to their lives.

Love Inspired Suspense is…. Castle or Bones [?????] for their solid suspense stories and their romantic tension between the characters.”

Identity Crisis by Laura Scott

Identity Crisis
by Laura Scott
Grade: C

Zero Visibility by Sharon Dunn

Zero Visibility
by Sharon Dunn
Grade: C-

Will I read this category again?

  • Doubt it — the mix of sermonizing and shenanigans wasn’t my thing.

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Intrigue

“Crime stories tailored to the series romance market packed with a variety of thrilling suspense and whodunit mystery.

Harlequin Intrigue is…. 24 for pacing — fast and dangerous and exciting. Justified for the composition of the understated yet intense hero we like to see in an Intrigue. Unknown for the kind of complex mystery/thriller plot that can lend itself to a solid crime story and romance.”

Black Sheep Sheik by Dana Marton

Black Sheep Sheik
by Dana Marton
Grade: B

Wrangled by B.J. Daniels

Wrangled
by B.J. Daniels
Grade: C

Will I read this category again?

  • Yes — but I’m going to choose very carefully.

New must-reads:

Lingering in the TBR:

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Romantic Suspense

“…romance-focused stories with a suspense element. Powerful romances are at the heart of each story, and the additional elements of excitement, adventure and suspense play out between complex characters.

Harlequin Romantic Suspense is… Criminal Minds or Bones or The Good Wife for their solid levels of story, three-dimensional characters and varying levels of suspense with strong romantic themes, witty dialogue and lives and hearts on the line.”

Mercenary's Perfect Mission by Carla Cassidy

Mercenary’s Perfect Mission
by Carla Cassidy
Grade: B-

Cowboy's Triplet Trouble by Carla Cassidy

Cowboy’s Triplet Trouble
by Carla Cassidy
Grade: D+

Will I read this category again?

  • Not sure — Mercenary was pretty good, but Triplet Trouble was bloody boring and ridiculously repetitive.

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Superromance

“…big romance novels filled with intense relationships, real life drama and the kinds of unexpected events that change women’s lives forever!

Harlequin Superromance is…. Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Love Actually, The Proposal, Serendipity, When Harry Met Sally, The Big Easy, The Vow, No Reservations for their complex characters, layered plots, strong romance and high emotional stakes.”

Unraveling the Past by Beth Andrews

Unraveling the Past
by Beth Andrews
Grade: C-

Will I read this category again?

  • Yes — but only if it’s a stand-alone AND/OR comes highly recommended by my “trust circle” AND/OR is written by Sarah Mayberry.

New must-reads:

On the wishlist:

Lingering in the TBR:

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Special Edition

“…relatable characters who strike a chord with the reader regardless of the book’s setting or plot points.

Harlequin Special Edition is…. Think movies such as Dan in Real Life, Friends with Benefits, and Love and Other Drugs, and TV shows such as Hart Of Dixie, Parenthood, Modern Family, and Up All Night—stories that feature intriguing and complex characters with meaningful, relatable conflicts, engaging dialogue, and (very important) happy endings!”

Fortune's Perfect Match by Allison Leigh

Fortune’s Perfect Match
by Allison Leigh
Grade: B-

Will I read this category again?

  • Eh, maybe, maybe not. It depends. I haven’t decided yet.

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American Romance

“…heartwarming contemporary tales of everyday women finding love, becoming part of a family or community — or maybe starting a family of her own.

American Romance is…. Sweet Home Alabama‘s sweet and sassy city vs. country story, for its prominent sense of place and humorous portrayal of a classic first love reunion. Heartland for its extended family drama and ranch setting.”

Bet on a Cowboy by Julie Benson

Bet on a Cowboy
by Julie Benson
Grade: C-

Will I read this category again?

  • Not likely — I like my cowboys historical or sheik-ish.

Lingering in the TBR:

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Classic Romance

“…real, relatable women and strong, deeply desirable men experiencing the intensity, anticipation and sheer rush of falling in love.

Harlequin Romance is…. Love Actually or Valentine’s Day for their variety of storylines and tones but multiple happy endings and feel-good highs. One Fine Day for its warmth and its tear jerking properties.”

The Tycoon's Secret Daughter by Susan Meier

The Tycoon’s Secret Daughter
by Susan Meier
Grade: C-

Will I read this category again?

  • Yes, but not if it has tycoons or secret babies in it.

Read/rated but not reviewed:

Lingering in the TBR:

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Desire

“Contemporary, sensual, conflict-driven romances that feature strong-but-vulnerable alpha heroes and dynamic heroines who want love — and more! Reads that are always powerful, passionate and provocative.

Harlequin Desire is…. Revenge or Dirty, Sexy Money or Desperate Housewives for their wealthy and glamorous settings, intense story arcs that sometimes span generations and highly dramatic, larger-than-life conflicts that characters address in a believable way.”

The Sheikh's Redemption by Olivia Gates

The Sheikh’s Redemption
by Olivia Gates
Grade: DNF

Will I read this category again?

  • Um, no thanks.

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Presents

“These stories are all about passion and escape — glamorous international settings, captivating women and the seductive, tempting men who want them.

Harlequin Presents is…. The home of the alpha male. A whirlwind of intensely emotional highs and lows. International settings from your every fantasy!”

Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet by Kimberly Lang

Redemption of a Hollywood Starlet
by Kimberly Lang
Grade: D

A Secret Disgrace by Penny Jordan

A Secret Disgrace
by Penny Jordan
Grade: DNF

Will I read this category again?

  • Nope. Starlet was a HUGE disappointment and Disgrace was too too much of everything.

Lingering in the TBR:

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Waiting patiently in the TBR….

Emergency: Wife Lost and Found by Carol Marinelli

Emergency: Wife Lost and Found
by Carol Marinelli
Category: Medical
Outlook: Optimistic

Irresistible Forces by Brenda Jackson

Irresistible Forces
by Brenda Jackson
Line: Kimani
Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic

Speed Dating by Nancy Warren

Speed Dating
by Nancy Warren
Category: NASCAR
Outlook: Meh

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The lessons learned….

♥ Beware of jumping into the middle or end of a series. Category romances have a LOT of series. And mini-series. And meta-series. And spin-offs. And sequels of spin-offs.

♥ Beware of misogyny-disguised-as-romance. One of the tamest ones had the worst female-bashing.

♥ Romance can take a back seat to the crazy-cakes plot shenanigans in Suspenses and Intrigues — in one case (Wrangled), I completely forgot who the happy couple was when I went to write the review.

♥ For the Desire and Presents lines, you must have a VERY high tolerance for alpha-hole heroes and heroines who go stupid in the presence of testosterone. I DNF’d  the three I tried. And I honestly did try.

♥ For Classics, Special Editions or Supers, I’ll have to depend on other reviewers I trust for recommendations. There’s potential, but a lot of room for flailing.

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In conclusion….

Not many surprises, but I did discover some great authors. However, titles and covers are still a BIG barrier getting in my way of clicking through to reading a synopsis.

And yet somehow I keep buying MORE and MORE and MORE.

8 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: My Summer of Harlequin Experiment

  1. willaful says:

    I think you got really unlucky with your Desire and Presents choices. Olivia Gates wrote what was probably the worst category I’ve ever read, and there are much better Presents writers. If you ever feel like giving it another go, I’d recommend Susan Napier.

  2. Desire used to be my favorite line and then they morphed it into Presents II: The American’s Revenge – and I started avoiding them. That being said, new author Sarah M. Anderson I think is worth a look. Her books remind me of how Desire USED to be.

    For Special Edition – try Karen Templeton. For Supers – I really like Janice Kay Johnson and Molly O’Keefe.

    I have a hard time with Presents and rely solely on reviews from readers I “trust.”

    And I find Intrigues spotty as well. The one author who consistently works for me there is HelenKay Dimon.

    And I love Harlequin Historicals for that very reason – you will find mistoricals there, but not with the same regularity (IMHO) as with some other publishers…..

  3. Oh man, I love Presents when they’re good. Try Susan Napier, Sarah Morgan or Caitlin Crews for straight-up Presents and Mira Lyn Kelly or Kelly Hunter for Presents Extra before you write the series off for good.

    I’ve also broken my Goodreads bookshelves out by Harlequin series if you want to creep those for ideas. Also, you should look up Saly and Boogenhagen on GR. Boog’s read pretty much every Presents ever and Saly seems to have dedicated her life to reading everything Harlequin/Silhouette has published.

  4. I love Harlequins. I am not a religious person in any way, shape or form, but I’ve gotten addicted to the Love Inspired line (but not the Historical). For the most part, I find that the religion and sermonizing is not overt and in your face, it’s just a part of the story. But my favorite Harlequins are the very old Presents – I love coming across one of those in a thrift store or at a garage sale.

    While I don’t read many that I just absolutely can’t stand, I will admit that for every really good Harlequin, there is boring dud, and sometimes it really is hit or miss.

  5. I second Sarah Morgan – her books are funny, category bending, and great. I suggest One Night…Nine Month Scandal or Doukakis’s Apprentice for starters, but I haven’t met a book of hers I’ve disliked (yet). Gates is very crack-y, as is Penny Jordan – meaning that, if you don’t like the line, it’s a good chance that you will hate their work.

    As for Superromance – I’ve loved what I’ve read (expected for one I hated called INVITATION TO ITALIAN that was written by someone with an Ivy League degree that wrote everything so wooden and overwrought that it made me barf), or at least found it competent. Beth Andrews had a great one from 2011 about a family winery with a blonde on the cover…I can’t recall the title, but the book’s plot is almost completely with me a year after reading it. It was that good.

    Category romances are awesome, and I think what’s nice is that you don’t feel guilty about disliking a few category lines because there’s always a few that tend to hit your reader buttons anyway. You’ve reminded me that I need to try the Inspirational Historical line, too, as Jayne from DA always says they have fascinating plots/periods of history.

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