Series Serendipity

bliss Sometimes series books get a bad rap. After all, if you read certain series such as Harlequin Romance, Special Edition or Presents, you see plenty of old-fashioned mores. These are the places to go if you expect to find extreme alpha male behavior, single moms who wouldn’t dream of asking for child support (as an attorney, I can tell you that I have yet to find that out in the wild), and plenty of high-powered women who can’t wait to drop it all and have babies with a small-town sheriff. Not exactly the stuff feminists spent centuries and decades fighting for, I think it’s fair to say.

On the flip side of the coin, I could never make the blanket statement that series romance is outdated and staid. Too many authors and lines push boundaries for that to be an accurate assessment. Have you read a Superromance lately? You will find all kinds of different plots from private detectives investigating cases and falling in love to a severely depressed father finding love again after losing his wife. The depth of emotion and willingness to play with traditional plot tropes sets many books in this line apart in my opinion.

And that pushing of boundaries continues into other lines. Nocturne has some paranormals that go beyond the typical alpha werewolf/vampire mold such as Lori Devoti’s Unbound series or Anna Leonard’s The Hunted, which featured a selkie. Then there’s the Love Inspired lines: they publish some rather traditional inspirational “faith and family” romances and for a while I worried they would be too preachy or formulaic for me. However, they also have historicals that aren’t all set in Regency England (thank you!) and some of their romantic suspense has worked well for me with imperfect characters who ring true and stories that catch my interest.

I’ll be honest. Some lines work better for me than others. I really love Harlequin Historicals, Love Inspired(LI) Historicals and Superromance. I also have a thing for LI Suspense and Blaze, and for whatever reason, Harlequin Presents has been my romance guilty pleasure of choice for eons now. One thing I love about series romance is that it’s not all 1950s – style housewives. Sure, there are some books that just don’t work, but I love that I can find variety. I sometimes wish for more variety, but with series, I sometimes feel like I have a little more variety in tone and types of plots than I get with various single title houses.

Another thing I really like about series romance is that they’re relatively short reads. When I’m busy, I can just pick one up and sink into it. Because of this, I’ll often take a gamble on something new because I know that the time commitment will be less than if I picked up a 500 page trade-size tome from an author I’ve never heard of and never seen reviewed. It’s a gamble that has paid off as I’ve discovered all kinds of books to love. Cheryl St. John, Carla Capshaw and Jenna Kernan have become historical autobuys for me now, and Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords was a fabulous read. On the contemporary side of things, I have all kinds of series autobuys now from longtime authors such as Liz Fielding and Janice Kay Johnson to newer writers like Sarah Mayberry or Karina Bliss, who caught my eye with her pairing of a rocker and a librarian with secrets in What the Librarian Did. And with the Loveswept relaunch coming up, I can’t wait to see what other authors will be out there to discover.

When I think about series romance, I figure that, promo materials from the publishers aside, there are bound to be some bad apples in every month’s releases. Whenever that many slots on a publishing calendar have to be filled on a monthly basis, it would simply make sense that the quality of the books will vary. That’s been my experience as a reader and since my series romance grades come in all over the spectrum, I think it’s fair to say that it’s been my experience as a reviewer, too. Even so, there is just something wonderful about finishing the perfect series read that keeps me coming back.

– Lynn Spencer

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22 Responses to “Series Serendipity”

  1. Leigh says:

    I waver back and forth reading series books. I have subscribed to them numerous times but tend to find that I only like certain authors.

    Harlequin Present are my guilty pleasure, although now I have burnt out on my two auto buy authors causing me to get out of the habit of even reading series.

    After all the talk about Ms. Bliss and Ms. Mayberry I tried the Superromance line again. And was I ever impressed. Since then I have discovered Molly O’Keefe. And just recently discovered Jeanie London’s books so now I check out the new releases each month in this series.

  2. farmwifetwo says:

    I tend to be a fan of the Intrigue and suspense lines. I’m willing to try others if they interest me. They are short, cheap, and some are dud’s but I have also found some authors I continue to follow.

  3. Well obviously as a Harlequin M&B historical writer I’m biased, but I think a huge positive for HMB is that they actively encourage experimentation and rule-breaking within series if you’re up for it as a writer. The Harlequin Undone shorts, which are a sort of sample line, and they’re full of stories which are well outside the usual historical box – 1920s, Ancient Rome, Vikings, paranormal to mention just a few. And if anyone’s interested in breaking a few rules themselves, check out M&Bs New Voices competition, which kicks off in September, and is offering an editor for a year to the winner.

  4. Susan says:

    I have been impressed with Harlequin Historicals, I’ve read several HQN books, and lots and lots of Blaze. I’m still poking my way around the other lines they have. I have kept away from Presents because of the really dumb titles.

    I have also really liked the various titles from Carina Press, Harlequin’s Online First imprint. They really think outside the box over at Carina.

  5. Sonya says:

    Some of the most boundary-pushing stories I’ve read recently have been Superromances. In fact I’ve recently been infuriated by some reviews that have claimed the line isn’t ‘happy’ enough for romance – I’m guessing some of Ye Olde Skool romance folks aren’t happy apron-clad heroines with small town quadruplets have gone way out of fashion.

    Somebody needs to give the packaging a makeover though. I hate reading tough stories like one recently where the hero was tried and convicted of raping the heroine (Tara Taylor Quinn), and then getting some wholesome family category romance cover to go with it. It’s completely misrepresenting the books.

    How about the Blaze books? Nothing tame of small town broodmareish about those.

    Many authors who have found huge success outside of category books still write for Harlequin. I certainly think people need to try out all the lines before writing Mills and Boon/Harlequin off. Things have changed.

  6. Sonya says:

    “Tame OR” is what I meant, of course…

  7. Susan says:

    What’s the title of the severely depressed dad in the Superromance line? It sounds interesting.

  8. Lynn AAR says:

    >>How about the Blaze books? Nothing tame of small town broodmareish about those.

    @Sonya – No kidding! That’s one reason why I’ve liked some of what I read over there. I also enjoyed it when they ran some historicals in that line. I wish they would do that again.

    @Susan – I’m blanking on the title of that one, but I have it at home, so I’ll check and let you know. IIRC, I really found the hero to be an interesting guy but other parts of the book didn’t work so well for me.

  9. JoAnn Ross says:

    Thank you for standing up for “category” series books, Lynn! The years I spent writing 50+ Temptations were, until I ended back at my first publisher, NAL, the happiest of my 29 years in publishing.

    We were fortunate there — Birgit Davis-Todd always said that if you had a book that wouldn’t fit in any of the other HQ lines, to send it to her. She never put limits on her writers, other than wanting a great romance. I was allowed to have two time traveling outer space books with alien heroes and heroines, many sports heroes, one who was suicidal in the beginning, a lot of RS, and even a historical, which I framed between first and last contemporary chapters to make it a time travel. :)

    My only regret is that several of those stories would’ve also worked as single titles. But when I was writing them, single title contemporary romances either didn’t exist, or didn’t sell well when someone would put one out.

    And Susan — Please don’t judge the books by the titles. Authors have no say over those. When it comes to covers and titles, marketing and sales departments are important players at all houses, but they’re huge at HQ, which, when I was there, was always doing focus groups to see what readers wanted and responded to.

  10. dick says:

    I’ve tried them all. Like another poster, I prefer the Intrigue and Suspense lines, but the Supers and SE’s have some good reads, as well. The shorter length is a plus, for when I’ve finished a single title too early in the evening to stop reading, the Harlequin’s fill the bill. In addition, the shorter length often proves a boon for the author as well, forcing greater succinctness. Many an author whose Harlequin’s I’ve found worth reading, move on to single title; it seems to me they often end up “padding” what would have been a pretty good Harlequin.

  11. AARPatH says:

    Susan and Lynn, I thought the book you meant was A Mother’s Wish by Karen Templeton, but that turns out to be a Silhouette Special Edition. So I’m not sure what Harlequin it is.

    I just finished Mayberry’s newest, One Good Reason, which is a sequel to The Last Goodbye. It was interesting to see her revisit characters since I don’t think that’s done in series, even though the word “series” seems to imply a connection.

  12. Susan says:

    OK JoAnn, I should know that authors don’t have much say in their titles or covers. I do know that. I’ll read some synopsis and judge from that. No billionaires or Sheiks, though…

  13. Susan says:

    What I reallly love about Harlequin in these e-book times is how up to date they are. They are working on getting their backlists online and available in ebook and Kindle format (and I’m sure others). They seem to be at the forefront in doing this, where other publishers are scrabbling to keep the status quo in place.

    But then Harlequin did that from the very beginning, and put it’s books where it’s readers were. In the grocery stores, subscriptions, etc.

  14. Diane says:

    I usually stick to a specific author even when they cross series; but I do read Harlequin Present and Nocturne on a regular basis.

  15. Cora says:

    I like the Nocturne, Intrigue and Romantic Suspense series, but I also read Superromance, Special Edition and Mills and Boon Medical on occasion. Another series I like a lot is Mills & Boon’s new Riva line, though I don’t know what line it corresponds to in North America.

    I liked what I read of the Love Inspired Suspense and Kimani Romance lines, though both are difficult to come by in Europe.

    I like series romances when I need a palate cleanser between two longer works. They’re also ideal for doctor’s waiting rooms, travel and commutes, because they’re short and easy to carry.

  16. Yuri says:

    I read quite a bit of series romance (although I prefer the term category which I read somewhere – much less confusing). To me there is very little difference between series and single title as I read by author, other than I have a good idea of what sub-genre I’m about to read. The exception is the Presents line which I pick up when I am in the mood for a Sheikh or a Billionaire and lots of overwrought emotion. I understand why people don’t like the titles, but it signals very clearly the type of book you are going to pick up and I appreciate that.

    On a side note, I like series romance because they are light and easy to carry so they’re good for commutes, but often they aren’t actually shorter – just on thinner paper. It was really interesting when the RITAs were divided by long vs short romance rather than single title vs series how many series titles were “long” romances and how many single titles were “short” romances. In terms of $ per word, series romances are very good value!

  17. Sandy C. says:

    Category romances are still my book of choice when I’m tired, stressed out, and just want to escape for a short while without taxing my brain too much. I started reading Harlequin Presents when I was 14, and I haven’t stopped since. I may keep only one book out of fifty these days, but I still enjoy them.

    Besides, I have an unfortunate habit of not wanting to stop reading a book once I start, and I’m a little too old now to burn the midnight oil and then get up and go to work the next day.

    Sonya, what’s the title of the Tara Taylor Quinn book in which the hero is convicted of raping the heroine, please?! That sounds intriguing!

  18. xina says:

    I can’t remember the last series book I read, but years ago I loved the Harlequin Temptation line. I ate them up like a chocolate frosted brownie! I remember reading piles of them and spending many hours with so many wonderful author’s books….Lori Foster, Leslie Kelly, Jill Shalvis Janelle Denison and yes..JoAnn Ross. I read most of their books. When I look back on my early romance reading years, I think of those authors. Such a good reading memory.

  19. merrymay says:

    Harlequin Presents novels are my guilty pleasure. Those are the only Harlequins I read. I have subscribed to the HP line since its inception – back in early 70′s. Two of my fav authors are Michelle Reid and Jacqueline Baird with honorable mention to Helen Bianchin, Sara Craven, Lynne Graham and Lucy Monroe. There have been definite wall-bangers in the monthly shipments, LOL. And of course they are sent off to the local retirement home or UBS stores.
    Also enjoy HP’s as audiobooks and listening to them on the iPod.

  20. I love series romances. I began reading Silhouette when I was a teenager. Today, I enjoy Love Inspired, Kimani Romance and SuperRomances. In fact, I just ordered some books from eHarlequin.com on Friday and am waiting for them to arrive! I need my fix of HQ!! :)

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