Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guilty Pleasures: Harlequin Presents


When I was about ten or eleven years old, I discovered Harlequin Presents. I don't really remember how. I might have been trolling the front of the Coliseum bookstore or the racks of book at Woolworth's (remember them?). I do know that once I read my first HP, I couldn't stop. I used to devour them the way I still devour Twizzlers (Seriously if I have a bag I can't eat just one, especially chocolate Twizzlers). They were the first romances that I ever read, and I read them primarily because there was a hint of sex in them. This was before I discovered Dell Candlelight Ecstasy's which were more graphic.

Each month, I would take my allowance, go down to the bookstore and buy the entire line of books which were about 6 a month I think even back then. I adored Janet Daily's books because she was the only author at the time who was American. She set each of her HP's in a different state, eventually ending up in the Guiness Book of World Records for her feat. But it was the ones that were set in England that I adored. Dark, brooding heroes, young heroines, I was so sure the minute that I set foot in England I would find my own HP hero (Didn't exactly happen like that although one of my dearest friends, who is English, actually looks like an HP hero come to life but I met him in NY doing a play.)

The plots usually involved a much older hero, who seduces, blackmails etc. the heroine into marrying him. Generally because her father/brother is embezzling from the hero's company to pay for his wife/mother/grlfriend's surgery. Once I read one where the heroine had a brain tumor and was taking a world cruise and she met the hero who of course was a neurosurgeon. He performed surgery, I kid you not, on board the ship. Can you magine Doc from The Love Boat doing that? Over the years, I stopped reading Harlequin Presents as I became enamored of other category series, Silhouette Desire, Harlequin Temptation, Blaze, Loveswept. Finally I stopped reading category altogether apart from my friends who write it. The books seemed so formulaic and I got tired of cowboys, amnesia,  and secret babies. I read mainly mysteries, historical fiction, biographies, chick-lit and historical and contemporary romance. Everything but category and particularly Harlequin Presents.

The titles were cheesy, HER PREGNANCY OF REVENGE, THE SHEIKH'S IMPATIENT VIRGIN, HIS MISTRESS FOR A MILLION. And they were so easy to parody. Google The Unseemly Tall Greek Billionaire's Virgin Secretary's Martyr Complex and you'll see what I mean. They had the same white covers though whereas every other Harlequin series has had a makeover. For some reason though, I've found myself drawn to them again. I blame Julie Cohen and Eloisa James. Eloisa has written about her love for Harlequin Presents and I discovered Julie's books when they reprinted here in the US (They were first published as Modern Heat in the UK and HP Extra here).

I've discovered authors like Marion Lennox, Kate Hardy, Ally Blake, India Grey, Susan Napier and one of my favorites Jane Porter I still cringe at the covers and I don't read the ones where the hero is a sheik or the heroine isn't feisty and gives the hero as hard of a time as he does her. I find them comfortingly retro. The heroes are still tall, dark, Alpha Males who brood and are dangerous. They are almost always foreign, billionaires or royalty. The settings are usually exotic locales, mainly in the Mediterranean. They are glitzy and glamorous, a Judith Krantz or Jilly Cooper novel shrunk to fit 182 pages. They take me back to my days when I was an awkward pre-teen who had crushes on Parker Stevenson of The Hardy Boys and Harrison Ford. Although I don't write category, HP are the only ones (along with Desire) that I would want to write for. Seriously, I have thought of writing THE RUTHLESS BILLIONAIRE'S PISSED OFF PREGNANT MISTRESS. I even have a pseudonym picked out.

Right now, I'm reading Caitlin Crews PURE PRINCESS, BARTERED BRIDE and loving it. The hero is Luc Garnier, who has been burned by the scandalous lives of his parents. He's determined to marry a woman with a spotless reputation. Because he's rich, he's able to buy the heir to the throne of Miravakia, Princess Gabrielle. He's ruthless, and mean but she's determined not to let him crush her. After their wedding, she flees to LA, where he finds her and makes mad, passionate love to her repeatedly. Of course, there is a terrible misunderstanding and it makes total sense within the context of the book and is actually pretty cool. I will definitely buy any book that she writes.

Some web-sites to peruse: http://www.iheartpresents.com/ and http://sensationalromance.blogspot.com/

10 comments:

* said...

I use to collect the Loveswept paperbacks (trolling eBay and used bookstores online and off) because those were my favorites when I was a kid (loooved Iris Johansen) but lost almost all of them in an apartment flood a few years ago. HP I never got into (no sex and I'd been spoiled by the Zebra romances). Maybe I'll check them out.

Kwana said...

They are so much fun!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

You really should. They are a lot sexier than they used to be when I was younger. Not as explicit as say Harlequin Blaze, but very hot.

Caitlin Crews said...

This is such a great post. I had more or less the same reading experiences. I used to read all the Loveswepts and Silhouette Intimate Moments. I've always liked the sheikh books, too--that's my next HP, as a matter of fact: my take on the sheikh books.

Thank you so much for reading Pure Princess, Bartered Bride!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Caitlin, for you I will pick up a sheikh book. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this book, and how sad I will be when it is finished. I wish you much success with these HP books, and hope to see you at Nashville!

Caitlin Crews said...

I knew I liked you! ;)

Yes, I will be in Nashville! I can't wait!

Hope Tarr said...

It's been "donkeys years" since I've read a good sheik book. Now you've got me thinking...;)

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I know! I have to remember that it's more Rudy Valentino sheik and less men who force women to wear burkahs and keep them from having civil rights sheiks. I picked up a sheik book at the library, and I will definitely be reading Caitlin's when it comes out.

Anna said...

Wonderful post, Elizabeth. (Was there anyone who didn't have a crush on Parker Stevenson during his Hardy Boys days? Oh, yeah, I forgot--those boy man fans who loved Shawn Cassidy. ) I started with HP in the 80s--Charlotte Lamb, etc. These days, I read a lot of different things/genres, and I go to HP when I want a reliable glitz-and-glam alpha male read.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Anna! That's exactly why I read them, for the foreign locals, the glamour and the alpha males that I would never date in real life.