A Snapshot in Time from May 2003
Conversion Kits

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Rachel found it tricky to devise a conversion kit because her tastes don't necessarily reflect that of the larger romance audience. But since she is seriously considering doing a readers' advisory seminar on romance, she took a stab at it, even as many of the books she lists are not personal favorites. In fact, she actively disliked some of them. And yet, from the response of other readers, her kit is fabulous. When Rachel posted her list, she asked: Would these books convert you?

  • Medieval Romance


  • European Historical Romance


  • Regency Romance


  • (North) American Historical Romance
  • Historical Fiction

  • Contemporary Romance

  • Series Romance *

  • Alternate Reality Romance
  • * Rachel added to her series list a few days after her original posting She wrote, "I think more series titles are necessary for converting the potential reader since series romance has the unfortunate status of the ugly stepchild in the romance world. There are lots of good and unique series romances, it's just a matter of finding them."

    Senetra: Since I have read, and/or kept half of the books on your list, I would say yes.

    Debbie: Great list, Rachel. Like you, I don't personally love every one of these books, but they represent a wide range of the best of romance. I think it's admirable that you did not let your own likes/dislikes bias your choices. It's important to recognize that a book can be important to the genre while not being a particular individual's cup of tea. For example, I'm not personally crazy about Garwood. I also don't love Lucille Ball. However, both women are very important comedic influences in their field. So, if I were trying to "convert" a friend who likes I Love Lucy, Garwood would be at the top of the list.

    Rachel: That's one thing about being a librarian; it forces you to think "outside the box." Reviewing at AAR has also contributed a lot to my education on what the "average" reader enjoys (not that there actually is an average reader). I've found that I can sometimes successfully push books or authors that I haven't even read based on what the reader in question's taste is and the comments I've heard from others. BTW, Garwood isn't my cuppa either. But she's got gobs of fans. The books at my library have comment sheets glued to the back covers. All of Garwood's books are full of glowing reader reviews. I'll confess I don't see what they see, but it's enough of a head's up that I'd promote Garwood to a newbie romance reader.

    Cindy: First, the attention to detail in this is amazing. I'm still not sure about the different historical periods and I'm not sure a newbie without a good deal of historical knowledge would know the difference.

    Rachel, I would love to see a list of books that you yourself would love(sometimes my favorites are others worst reads). Some of the authors you have listed I have never read but, I think you nailed the ones I have read. Comments below:

    • Medieval - I think Julie Garwood has to be recommended to any new romance reader. Her books don't deal with over wrought issues that could be overwhelming to someone who is a light reader.
    • European Historical
      • Flowers from the Storm - L. Kinsale Yes!
      • Lord of Scoundrels - L. Chase Yes!
    • American Historical - Morning Glory - L. Spencer Yes!
    • Historical Fiction - on this I have to say, no, absolutely not! Why? I have been reading romance for 14 years and I have yet to read either of these. My understanding of the Bronze Horseman is that there is a sequel that isn't available to the US or Canada. Why frustrate a new reader? Outlander. What can I say? The size of the book alone is daunting! Let's not even get into the whole concept of TT - someone might throw the book at a wall for that alone.
    • Contemporary -
      • Brockmann yes
      • Linda Howard's Dream Man or After the Night
      • JAK - Wildest Hearts?
      • Nora Roberts Honest Illusions
    • Series
      • Justine Davis - The Morning Side of Dawn
      • Maybe some of the Loveswept titles
      • Iris Johansen's titles
      • Jennifer Cruisie's Anyone But You
    • Alternate Reality/Futuristic - I might suggest LKH but only if the person liked darker books. You know vampires, werewolves and ghouls. JAK early forays into futuristics weren't bad. I did enjoy Ravyn's Flight even though many didn't.

    I think that some of the mainstay authors have to be represented. JAK/Quick is a strong voice and even though I stopped reading her books years ago, I can still remember the plots to many. Also, Nora Roberts, Julie Garwood, I would include Anne Stuart and Brockmann but that would be my prejudice showing :), Judith McNaught should show up on the lists.

    Rachel: Just to illustrate the difference between what I'd read and what I'd recommend to a new romance reader (to get a taste), here are my top reads in every category:

    Medieval
    Lady Gallant - S. Robinson
    Katherine - Anya Seton

    European Historical
    The Shadow and the Star - L. Kinsale
    To Have and to Hold - P. Gaffney
    Bliss - J. Cuevas

    Regency
    Regency Sting - E. Mansfield
    The American Duchess - J. Wolf
    The Lady's Companion - C. Kelly

    American Historical
    Marrying Stone - P. Morsi
    The Prisoner - C. Reavis
    Rachel LeMoyne - E. Charbonneau

    Historical Fiction
    The Bronze Horseman - P. Simons
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - B. Smith

    Contemporary
    Till the Stars Falll - K. G. Seidel
    Truly, Madly Yours - R. Gibson
    Heaven, Texas - S. E. Phillips

    Series
    Everyday, Average Jones - S. Brockmann
    When Love Isn't Enough - K. G. Seidel
    The Wallflower - J. Freed

    Alternate Reality/Futuristic
    Bitten - K. Armstrong
    Dead until Dark - C. Harris
    Archangel - S. Shinn

    This is just the tip of the iceburg on books I'd recommend. I've got oodles of books I enjoyed. This must be why I review for AAR...so I can blah blah blah about books I like.

    Teresa E: Most of (the books on Rachel's original conversion kit list) I've either not read or didn't like. I was "converted" to romance by necessity. I had read some Victoria Holt, Danielle Steele, Howard Fast, Mary Higgins Clark and Barbara Cartland in my teens. In 1995 I was working in an office that was bought out by a bigger company and we had practically no work to do unless a customer called or walked through the door. So I started picking up the freebie used category romance novels at the library. I read through quite a bunch before I discovered which authors I liked better than others. For quite a while I stuck strictly to category romances mainly because of their short length. In the last few years I've branched out and read single titles also but mostly contemporary, paranormal or romantic suspense. Here's my reaction to your list.
    • Medieval - I didn't like the writing style of M. Hunter or S. Squires but I enjoy J. Garwood.
    • European Historical - I didn't care for Lord of Scoundrels (especially after the build up with all of the buzz & recommendations for it) nor do I like Kleypas. I thought Winter Garden was fairly good but kind of slow in parts. I haven't read the others.
    • Historical Fiction - I haven't read P. Simons. I enjoyed Outlander but it is a very heavy, angst filled read and long so I don't know if a newbie to romance would get frustrated or not.
    • Contemporary - I haven't read D. Smith but enjoy the other authors. I would pick Lady Be Good or Nobody's Baby But Mine (I loved that cereal scene) for Phillips and True Confessions for Rachel Gibson. Simply Irrestible is the only book of hers that I don't have on my keeper shelf. As for Brockmann, of her single titles I liked this one the best, but I think maybe there might be too many varying opinions with her new singles to include. For instance, I really dislike the WWII flashbacks, the way the secondary characters almost always steal the scene and the continuing story arcs.
    • Series - I always enjoy Ruth Wind. I prefer Brockmann's categories but this wasn't one of my favorites. I haven't read the other authors.
    • Alternate Reality/Futuristic - I haven't read any of these other than JD Robb which I liked. What about Sherrilyn Kenyon? Or Donna Kauffman's The Legend MacKinnon?

    It is so much easier to comment on somebody else's conversion list than trying to come up with one myself. I have been buying books for a friend whose taste differs from mine. She prefers categories - once again because of time constraints - about families and babies. Since I prefer more action oriented books it's been a challenge at times coming up with books that I think she'll like without getting a whole bunch of duds.

    Keishon: With Kinsale in there for sure, yeah, it would. Also, Linda Howard, Mary Balogh (only certain titles), Connie Brockway. I would throw in there Olga Bicos romantic suspense novels Risky Games and Perfect Timing.

    Teresa E: A definite yes on these two! Manhunting - J. Crusie MacKenzie's Mountain - L. Howard

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    Aside from the thread involving Rachel's suggested conversion kit, there were many other comments and suggestions made about conversion kits.

    Karen: I've made a few attempts at sending out conversion kits and I must say my greatest successes have been 'Whitney My Love' by Judith McNaught which has such a feel-good atmosphere and Loretta Chase's 'Lord of Scoundrels'. The LC one is particularly good for people who claim romances are all badly written pap - she has such a brilliant sparkling style, she obviously knows the Regency like the back of her hand and she can still tug on your heartstrings.

    Susan: It's interesting that McNaught's Whitney My Love has worked in your conversion kit, because it does seem to be a book that people either love or hate. I guess if you know your audience, you will know the ones who will respond positively to this book.

    My own conversion kit contains several Connie Brockway selections. I find her style somewhat more literary than many others, so they are a good transition for those who sneer at romance. Jennifer Crusie is also good, because while I think of them as romances, the publishing world classifies them as general fiction (or at most as women's fiction), so people don't need to go to the romance section of the bookstore. Her humor also serves as a sweetener that makes the romance go down more easily. And I've given Jeanne Ray's books as gifts to many non-romance readers, and they've all raved about her. I then can use that as a segue to a discussion of other, more traditional style romances that they might like. All of these authors write wonderful books and are excellent weapons to use against the "romance novels are tripe" comments.

    Liz: I really like the idea of conversion kits. I am a PhD candidate in German Literature, so most of my friends think it is weird that I enjoy genre fiction so much.... however that gives me a good angle too, as people tend to trust my "literary judgement". What I usually point out is that romance doesn't say a thing about the qualtity of writing per se. There are really well written romance novels and really poorly written ones, just as there are good and bad mysteries or thrillers. People never seem to think about that for some reason so then you can move in "for the kill", so to speak. You just have to know your quarry! I have had really good results with Penelope Williamsson's Heart of the West (one of my all-time favourites) and Marsha Canham. Canham definitely appeals to people who like adventurous stories! For people with a keen sense of humour, I have used Georgette Heyer to good advantage. The trick is to find something that will resonate with the "nonbeliever's" personality. I am sure my mother (who loves Heart of the West) would not enjoy a wallpaper historical - she'd get annoyed with the lack of real historical knowledge. But give her a well-researched and well-written historical romance, and she will enjoy it. In a word: There can be no one 'fix it all' book; rather several favourites that might help dispell prejudices.

    Vivien: HEART OF THE WEST happens to be my favourite book ever and it is the one I consistently use to show people how great romantic fiction can be. I wouldn't necessarily classify it as a straight romance, it is too big, too epic-like for that, but it is one of the most romantic books I can think of.

    My mother doesn't read romance either, but she adored HEART OF THE WEST. I have also been able to convert her to LaVyrle Spencer, who in my opinion is subtle and literary enough to please mainstream fiction readers. If somebody likes action and suspense, I have often been able to convince them to try earlier Sandra Brown books, which were still romances, but can be disguised as suspense. Another wonderful author between genres is Eva Ibbotson.

    If I could stand to part with my copies of Kinsale and Gaffney books, I would also use them to convince readers of the potential quality of romances.

    Mark: I'm surprised I haven't seen Heyer mentioned more. Her books were my introduction to romance and I think both the wittiness and the kisses only level of sensuality make them a good segue for a lot of people.

    Lian: By recommending 'Three Fates' by Nora Roberts I now have people on NR gloms. By recommending Janet Evanovich people are now buying up her whole series. And I have one great friend who will read anything that I recommend to her, cause she knows that I know what she likes.

    Unfortunately though the people to whom I have attempted to 'convert' still believe that romances are a lower form of fiction. They will not go out and try a new book on their own back and will not be seen dead in the romance section of a bookstore.

    This really frustrates me, especially as I know a couple of them enjoy chick-lit books (which are only a couple of sideways steps away from genre romances), and I personally think the heroines are more heroic in general romance than in chick-lit. Chick-lits are a bit too whiney for my tastes.

    But I will continue to raise the 'romance' flag and strive to capture new ground. Out will come my Jennifer Crusie 'Welcome to Temptation', my 'Now You See Her' Lynda Howard and 'Darkling, I listen' by Katherine Sutcliffe.

    jg: I read LLB's list and I have to admit that I was totally surprised about LH's Duncan's Bride being on the list. Even if it was a book I liked (it isn't) I don't think the hero in that book is very heroic or would be appealing to many new romance readers! I love the book Whitney, My Love by McNaught, but I also realize that Clayton, the hero, is not appealing to everyone and I would never rec that book out to a newbie romance reader either.

    These books seem to have great mainstream appeal to me and I've loaned them out to non-romance reading friends. I try to pick books that I think the reader will like, not necessarily my favorite books:
  • Danegeld
  • Welcome To Temptation
  • Heartbreaker
  • The Passions of Emma
  • Whispers of Heaven
  • As You Desire
  • Son of the Morning, Kill & Tell, and All the Queen's Men
  • Kaija: I approach conversion kits on the "if you like" basis. (If you wonder at my choices I have to confess that I've read very few of historical romances, regardless of time period, written in the past five years.) So if I know someone likes Jane Austen, Heyer is a good starting point. My recommendation would depend on whether the person in question prefers fast or more thoughtful reads (say Masqueraders or Talisman Ring vs Civil Contract or Lady of Quality.)

    If starting point is more Brontes than Austen, I'd think something more dramatic, possibly Untamed by Elizabeth Lowell or early Deveraux (Velvet saga).

    I'd probably mention Outlander to someone who reads (general) historical fiction, even if I haven't read the book myself (in fact I took immense dislike to it before I had finished the first page, and I know from experience that if I have that strong a reaction I won't finish the book, so why try).

    For hard, gritty thrillers/mysteries: some Linda Howard titles, possibly Kay Hooper (Bishop et al), Gingerbread Man by Maggie Shayne and later JD Robb.

    For funny reads: It Had to Be You by SEP, maybe Rachel Gibson and Susan Andersen titles.

    For Bridget Jones fans: Fiona Walker, Jennifer Crusie (from Welcome to Temptation to Man Hunting), some Linda Howard titles (at least Mr Perfect).

    For those who say that romance novels don't cover serious issues and are trivial: Jake's Way, Soldier's Heart and A Rose for Maggie by Kathleen Korbel.

    Lisa: I haven't recommended romance books to friends so they would read romance books necessarily. Whenever I recommend books to friends, I always consider what I think they would like. And if a romance book has those elements, then that's what I'll recommend.

    I remember recommending Judith McNaught's Paradise to a university friend, and she loved it. It was a great break from academics, and she was really rooting for Meredith and Matthew. It helped that Matthew was such a great hero! ;)

    I've also recommended Naked In Death to a friend who needed books for her plane ride to Barcelona. This was quite a while ago, and she was hooked. When she returned to the States the first thing she did was buy the rest of the series. LOL

    I recommended SEP's Fancy Pants to one of my flatmates a while back, and she didn't really care for it. I thought she'd find the humor in Francesca's adventures, but I was wrong. *shrug* I recommended Last Chance Saloon to so many people. The majority liked it, but there were a few who were thrown off by the author's voice.

    Keishon: If someone came up to me and asked me to recommend a book to them and it had to be romance, I'd pick Laura Kinsale's Flowers From the Storm or hand them a copy of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I'd start at the top. When I first started online, the books that were recommended to me were on a list by a reader who took the time out to list all of her books to me. She explained that they weren't necessarily the best she had read but that for some reason, these books stayed with her. Laura Kinsale's The Prince of Midnight was on the list, Diana Gabaldon, Amanda Quick, Elizabeth Chadwick came later, Mary Balogh's Heartless, One Summer by Karen Robards.

    Contemporary recommendations, I'd recommend Olga Bicos or Laura Leone or JAK.

    Historical: Mary Balogh's regencies Snow Angel, Temporary Wife for starters or Heartless and Indiscreet, or the classic Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught. The point being that I wouldn't give them the conventional stuff. I'd recommend those books that are the exception. I'm a mystery buff now and would highly recommend Dana Stabenow as a introductory.

    Sandy C: Keishon et al below got me thinking about a conversion kit that I do not see on the AAR LIST. A conversion kit for epic romances, ie including the bodice rippers! My kit would include the following older and newer:
  • The Flame and the Flower
  • The Wolf and the Dove
  • Shanna
  • Ashes in the Wind
  • A Rose In Winter
  • Sweet Savage Love
  • The Wildest Heart
  • Moonstruck Madness
  • Devil's Desire
  • Bride of the MacHugh
  • My Lord Monleigh
  • My Love My Enemy
  • The Green Darkness
  • Dragonwyck
  • Avalon...sigh!
  • The Kadin
  • Love So Wild and Fair
  • Skye O'Malley
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Ivanhoe
  • The Seventh Scroll
  • The River God
  • Outlander
  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • The Bronze Horseman
  • Laurie: Among those I have read, I would have put the same ones:
    - the 5 first Woodiwiss (they hooked me to the romance genre when I was a teenager)
    - the Outlander series, all of them you're right (damn, I AM IN LOVE with Jamie I swear if I ever dreamt about a book coming true, that's the one)

    Others in your list I haven't read. I would also add Catherine Coulter's "Sherbrooke Bride" (not the sequels) and "Devil's Embrace."

    Emelyn: For me, the level of sensuality in a novel plays a huge role in choosing what goes into whose conversion kit. I have to judge who among my friends would be shocked at explicit sex. Also, I need to make sure that there is nothing so graphic that their parents might take exception (as I am lending to teenage girls, this is a very real concern). Is this an issue for you?

    As for second copies, I always try not to lend my books first and tell them to try a library, but for series titles this is hopeless. I do lend out my original books, mainly because I can't afford mutiple copies, but I am religious about keeping a lending book. I have my friends sign to prove that they have borrowed something, and I always lend books by threes. I have only lost a book once so far.

    Gail: I would stay away from lending out those historicals featuring gratuitous sex galore--by authors such as Thea Devine, Virginia Henley, Cheryl Holt, Susan Johnson, & Bertrice Small to name a few--not because I think teens should be protected from sexuality but because these books may reinforce certain negative stereotypes of romances...You're in the position to set a lot of budding romance readers on the right track ;)

    How 'bout Julia Quinn, Cherry Adair, Rachel Gibson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Dorothy Garlock, Pamela Morsi, Connie Brockway, & Gaelen Foley (esp. her swashbuckling Ascension trilogy!) for full-length novels? With the exception of the Harlequin Blazes, I think the level of sensuality in the categories is fairly understated (although I'm on a vintage Harlequin kick & haven't read recent ones so I could be wrong!)

    Out of curiosity, have any of your friends everbalked at using a sign-out sheet ;) I wish I had the guts to enforce one with my book-borrowers!

    LLB: You make a very good point, one that I didn't consider in my choices, but that may be because you're a teen and I've got a daughter almost old enough to be a teen. ;)

    I just looked at the books on my list in the column; in most of the categories there's at least one book w/quite a lot less explicit sensualtiy than the others, and, of course, some of the categories are less explicit simply because of the sub-genre.

    I have a rule w/my 11-year-old, who reads at just about an adult level at this point in terms of ability: she can check out ANYTHING she wants at the library, but I reserve the right to look at it first and to talk about it w/her if I think it's inappropriate, and perhaps even to try and talk her out of it.

    So far that has never been a problem, given her taste in reading material, although there have been a couple of magazine articles I've put off base.

    I think there's a fairly reasonable progression to follow as she gets older, but I do need to remind myself that by the time I was her age, I read EVERYTHING my mother was reading, including Susann and Robbins, and by the time I was 14, read Sheldon. I saw my first R-rated movie at about 13 1/2, but R movies now-a-days are more graphic all round than they were back then, so I don't know when she'll see her first R. Until my stricter-than-me sister-in-law said she'll let her kids watch any PG-13 movie they wanted to (and one is younger than mine) - we even said no to many PG-13's. I've loosened up considerably, though, in the last year.

    Frankly, my daughter is more innocent at her age than I was at 11 - which shocks the heck out of me considering how grown up she wants to be, and how grown up many kids are today - but I'd like to extend that as long as possible (what mother wouldn't?). We bought some of those Avon True Romances last year, and she tried one, but wasn't interested. She asked me to save them for her - which I did - and she'll probably try them again over the summer.

    Obviously when you've got a voracious reader, and one who reads at a much higher level than her age, it's tough, but since I started reading YA books along w/her, it's really helped. I can see that certain things go over her head that are inappropriate, which lessened my "concern" level. Unless a book is one that glorifies things like drugs or violence, I'm going to be okay w/sex, if only because I read that stuff and wasn't pregnant in high school w/an STD.

    Janis: My sister and I just moved into a house together. She's always read epics and mainstream fiction titles. I've recently become a big romance fan. Since she has had a hard time finding books she likes, I've tried to interest her in some of my favorite authors.

    Unfortunately, she has a REAL hard time with graphic sex scenes, and some of my favorite authors (the ones who write the most memorable plots outside the bedroom) contain a lot of that. I've given her the latest Linda Howards and Suzanne Brockmans, since that's the kind of plot she likes, but I end up getting lectures on the "porn" I read.

    Anyone got some suggestions for authors who write exciting and funny books like Linda and Suzanne, but with a little less description in the love scenes?

    Mark: Look for Georgette Heyer's (mostly regency) romances. Many, but not all, other traditional regencies are also free of explicit sex scenes.
    Check out the sensuality ratings of reviews here.

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