I was talking about my dream wall-shelves and that led to me playing with my older books. I have many, most of them reissues, since I bought mine when I was in my early teens and the original ones are all probably lost in a drawer at my house in Malaysia (my mom is also a stasher).
Anyway, I thought I'd make a list of, IMO, the top Iconic Books that changed/expanded/influenced the Romance genre. The list below is not in any particular order.
1) Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers
It changed everything. Sweetness and light? Sorry. Here's the first taste of the Extreme Alpha Male, a hero that is thief, mercenary, bandido, everything a bad boy is. I remember all my romance books afterwards changed direction in portraying the hero.
Today: No longer popular. Bodice-ripping and rape are considered politically incorrect, but I think it's making a comeback disguised as paranormal romance vampires and weres who could use supernatural strength and magic to bind the heroines.
2) Born In Fire by Nora Roberts
I think Nora's "Born In" trilogy made romance more mainstream. I've met readers who don't read romances who still read Nora today because of this book. Also, this book made trilogies of connected characters popular.
Today: Nora is still the queen of trilogies ;-).
3) Naked In Death by J.D. Robbs
A modern futuristic with romance. Fast paced. Dark. Brutal. It's not your mama's romantic police procedural. I know truck drivers who read this series.
Today: So many tough heroines who carry the story. Some of them are too tough and their snarkitude grate.
4) Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann (actually tied with McKenzie's Pleasure by Linda Howard because they were both published in 1996)
Those of us who have never heard of SEALs and their speshulness would never be the same again. We don't need no mo cops. We want SEALs! A whole team, if possible, with one romance for each, with lots of heroic military action, please. We don't want the aftermath (war heros with PTSD). We want them actively macho, waving weapons and making hot love.
Today: Oh man. Or rather, men in Spec. Ops. outfits. Cindy Gerard. Roxanne St. Claire. Marliss Melton. Cherry Adair. Many, many more.
5) Dark Prince by Christine Feehan
She started the whole trend of vampires that aren't really vampires. She made "mated" a religious incantation. She also made world-building a challenge for future authors of this sub-genre. How complicated can you make your blood-suckers universe? Umm. Sherrilyn Kenyon, anybody?
Today: Feehan's Carpathians are still going strong. Sherrilyn Kenyon. JR Ward. Kresley Cole.
6) The Ultimate Betrayal by Michelle Reid
This is the Harlequin Presents of Harlequin Presents. It starts with the first two pages of the heroine finding out that her husband of seven years has cheated on her...and the whole book deals with the aftermath of this discovery. Although the heroine does come across as unbelievably naive and the very successful husband's ability to hide his family not probable in this day and age, this read packs an emotional wallop that still gets me today. The confrontations were very realistic; the husband's guilt and angst very well done. A classic read. Haters of cheating in their romance will be surprised at the ending. It's not what you think. I think this book gave permission to explore the heroine's position in a different light.
Today: I can't think of one Presents from then till now that equalled this one. A couple of Reids have come close. In spite of the "sameness," the Presents line has done different things through the years including a virgin hero. The authors of this line is also very long lived. I've been reading some of them since mid- to late 70s and they're still writing! I mean, wow. Reid. Graham. Bianchin. Thorpe. Donald. Mather. Forty years and counting, folks!
7) Bad to the Bone by Debra Dixon
A Loveswept that gave the heroine the power to kill. The first assassin and not your namby-pamby virginal spy that you come across in your series romance these days. This heroine has angst in spades and her secret is not a baby. I loved this book. It gave me permission to write my kind of heroine.
Today: Many heroine-centric urban fantasies today. Many romantic spy thrillers.
8) Lord of the Storm by Justine Davies
Another classic that changed all futuristics, imho. The heroine is the warrior commander. The hero is a kept sex slave, with an electronic collar with which one could control his emotions. He couldn't tell his feelings from the manipulated ones. Space romance has never been the same. LotS opened doors for those who wanted more space SF instead of medieval-oriented planets with Conan/Fabio warlords who are into spanking.
9) Sinful by Susan Johnson
Her first book was Love Storm, but I think SJ hit her stride with this one. She started what is today known as romantica, a combination of erotic and romance. Her older books were meticulously researched, rich with historical flavor, and lush heroes and heroines. Her sex scenes are epic and very, very naughty, and yes, being an erotic romance, her heroes are unconventional and...umm...long-lasting. The historical genre has historically (heh) been hot reading, but Susan Johnson definitely upped it a notch. Several, actually.
I'll leave #10 for you to fill in. I know many of you are long-time readers who have seen trends come and go. Please add in the comments which of your reads would you consider an "iconic" book that changed/expanded the genre (creating over-saturation, but that's another topic!).
Also, if the past shaped our present genre, what do you think, looking at all the diversity, does the future hold? I'd love to hear your thoughts on authors you've read that you think are different and made you rethink the romance genre. This is a difficult one because we even have a Buffy the Vampire slayer mashed with Victorian era series!
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