Like all of you, over the years I've discovered a host of wonderful writers at Harlequin Mills and Boon. We are all spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting our very favourites, but I know that for me it is those authors who seem to write with an emotional intensity that has me breathless with a desperate need to know that - however fierce the initial conflict between the hero and heroine - love will win through at the end. So I simply adore those 'high-octane' authors like Jacqueline Baird, Sara Craven, Robyn Donald, Lynne Graham and Michelle Reid who can zoom me up the emotional Richter scale from the first page onwards!
As a contrast, I love to indulge in those timeless classic authors such as Anne Weale and the late, great Charlotte Lamb, whose immense storycraft ensures that every novel they write is a joy to read. Then, for sheer lyricism I'll settle down with a Mary Burchell, who has brought the world of music and opera so vividly to life, and, for the ultimate comfort read, I'll relax into a Betty Neels - the hot buttered toast of romantic fiction!
Some all time Harlequin Mills and Boon favourites
Like many of you, I have a 'keeper shelf' that just gets longer and longer! And although the list below just can't be exclusive, out of the myriad romance novels I never want to pass on to a friend have to be:
* Lynne Graham's 'classic collection'. These are the books she wrote in the nineties when I first discovered her. I can still remember reading Angel of Darkness and it blew me away! I avidly sought out and lapped out that whole batch - Bond of Hatred, The Trophy Husband, Second Time Bride, The Veranchetti Marriage, A Savage Betrayal, The Secret Wife, A Vengeful Passion, The Heat of Passion, The Unfaithful Wife. If I really had to pick just a couple out of those, then I guess it would have to be Angel of Darkness and The Unfaithful Wife - total emotional scorchers!
* Sally Wentworth's Brody trilogy, Chris, Calum and Francesca. I love these because they bring to vivid life an English dynasty living in Portugal, and because of the effortless skill with which she inter-weaves the stories of the three cousins and their journeys into love and happiness. And she achieves that trickiest of tasks - making it impossible for the reader to choose between the cool, calculating Calum and the sexy, selfish Chris! (Don't worry - love improves them immeasurably!)
* Michelle Reid's Gold Ring of Betrayal is one of my very favourites! It has everything - a beautiful, wronged wife, a scheming father-in-law, an adorable little girl, and, of course, a hero who is as irresistible as he is wrong, wrong, wrong about the heroine!
* The Shadow of Moonlight is vintage Lindsay Armstrong. Her trademark fascinating, elliptical style, her superficially-civilised-but-oh-so-emotionally-dangerous heroes, her trapped heroines, her elegant writing, and the slow, sensual journey into love, are all, all here.
* Cathy Williams' Accidental Mistress is one of those books I read and read again for the satisfaction of seeing a confirmed bachelor, running shy of emotional commitment, little by little becoming a caring human being, moving towards fatherhood and marriage. And love. I still can't quite put my finger on what makes this book so special - it just is. A simple, but beautiful story.
*Susan McCarthy's The Perfect Wife is a long-standing favourite. I love the way she takes a typically alpha Greek hero, wanting only a mistress, and teaches him very soundly how that kind of relationship is simply not enough. When the heroine turns down his belated offer of marriage, you'll cheer! (And you'll cry when she relents and goes after him.)
My favourite romantic fiction authors
This list could be very, very long, but I'll try to be sensible and keep it to half a dozen!
* Georgette Heyer just has to be my all time favourite! And although it's impossible to choose which of her novels I love most, I guess in the end I have to come down to four. I love Frederica for its archetypal rich, bored, cynical hero who finally meets the one woman who can beguile him, not with her beauty, but with her humour and her zest for life, and her indomitable spirit. I love The Grand Sophy for Sophy's effortless skill in rearranging the lives of everyone around her so that they are happy and comfortable - including her own! And I just love the way that the hero, her cousin Charles, just can't see it coming. I adore Devil's Cub because the Marquis of Vidal is simply the most romantic 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' rake imaginable, but he meets his match in the down-to-earth Mary. And I have a special place in my heart for Cotillion because Georgette Heyer so cleverly turns the tables on all our assumptions that the hero has to be the rakish Jack, when, all along, it is the good-hearted Freddy.
* Colleen McCullough's The Ladies of Missalonghi is one of those little jewels that shine on every bookshelf fortunate enough to house it. It's a book that really earns the accolade 'charming', a wonderful fairy-tale of humour and romance. I wish she'd written a dozen like it!
* Eva Ibbotson whisks you away to a world of Mittel-Europa where even in the inter-war bleakness there is humour and romance. Again, choosing only one is impossible, but if I had to, it would be Magic Flutes, with an array of characters so memorable they live on and on. It is a book to read over and over again, refreshing the spirit and bringing joy to the heart.
* Brenda Jagger is another author whose every book I love to read and re-read. Her unique style of writing, her huge knowledge of the periods and places she writes about, make her un-put-downable. If I had to choose just one, it would have to A Winter's Child. The poignancy of the post-Great War period, the sense of irreversible social change taking place and, above all, a hero that makes me weak at the knees, but who has to find a difficult compromise between duty and personal freedom, make it unforgettable.
* Susan Howatch is in a class of her own and choosing just one novel is impossible - so I've chosen two! One is from her historical-retelling collection, where half the fun is tracking between the story she is writing and the royal dynasty she is echoing. And I can't help but choose the Cleopatra story, The Rich are Different, switching between the Old World (England/Egypt) and the New World (America/Rome) reset in the Roaring Twenties and ending with the heroism of Dunkirk. But I admire her tremendously for her Christian novels as well, depicting the never-ending struggle between good and evil, and again I can't help but choose the second in the series, Glamorous Powers, which centres on the charismatic Jonathan Darrow.
* Jane Austen would hate to be classed as a romantic novelist, but I'm sorry to say that it's impossible not to read Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion in that light. Who doesn't cheer Lizzie Bennett and Anne Elliot all along the way to love and happiness? And the joy of reading two of the finest novels in the English language has to be an immeasurable bonus to our pleasure.