The ten best romances of the 1990s...who can possibly say?
Should I choose one book per year?
How about titles with tons of buzz for what now seems just a moment in time (The Lover by Robin Schone, Mine to Take by Dara Joy)? Or books like Katherine Sutcliffe’s Dream Fever or Judith Ivory’s The Proposition? Unlike Schone and Joy, Sutcliffe and Ivory (aka Cuevas) have reasonably sized backlists, though neither has been published in a decade.
Should all subgenres be represented? On the Western front, for instance, Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember amazed readers with its subtle intensity, and the Only series from Elizabeth Lowell was hugely popular (my own fave is Winter Fire).
Should I choose a book from both J.D. Robb (Naked in Death) and Nora Roberts (Seaswept)? What about Amanda Quick (Rendezvous) and Jayne Ann Krentz (Trust Me)?
In the end I put on my sorting hat and let it do the choosing, the result being a list of
ten twelve books that leaves off as many “bests” as it includes. My only absolutes were not to choose the same author more than once, or to let a particular subgenre overtake the entire list (which is why Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens or any of three titles by Connie Brockway—As You Desire, All Through the Night, My Dearest Enemy—do not appear). But the list is stacked with titles from authors who were/are big sellers as opposed to those lesser known (Deborah Simmons’s The Vicar’s Daughter, Diane Farr’s Fair Game, Catherine Archer’s Velvet Bond).
As for ranking the list, my poor brain simply cannot contemplate it, particularly since I’ve read just eight of the twelve and consider only three to be personal favorites. Take a look at the chart (in order of publication), read my thoughts on each title, then post your own list.
|Diana Gabaldon||Outlander||1991||Time Travel|
|Julie Garwood||The Secret||1992||Medieval|
|Laura Kinsale||Flowers from the Storm||1992||Regency-[ish] Historical|
|Loretta Chase||Lord of Scoundrels||1993||Regency-[ish] Historical|
|Nora Roberts||Born in Fire||1994||Contemporary|
|Anne Stuart||To Love a Dark Lord||1994||Georgian Historical|
|Lisa Kleypas||Dreaming of You||1994||Regency Historical|
|Linda Howard||Dream Man||1995||Romantic Suspense|
|Jennifer Crusie||Anyone but You||1996||Category|
|Mary Jo Putney||Shattered Rainbows||1996||Regency Historical|
|Susan E. Phillips||Nobody’s Baby but Mine||1997||Contemporary|
Paradise is the favorite for most lovers of Judith McNaught’s contemporaries. The storyline involves a divorced couple who years later find their way back to love. The author is perhaps best known for Whitney, My Love, but my favorite is A Kingdom of Dreams.
When it was first published, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander became a phenomenon. I can’t tell you how many women I know who read and loved it, but refused to categorize it as a romance. Probably as many as those who refused to categorize it as anything but. Jamie and Claire remain one of romance’s best loved couples, equaled only by J.D. Robb’s Roarke and Eve.
The Secret is my own favorite Julie Garwood medieval, beating out its biggest competition, The Bride. The history isn’t what you’d call historically accurate, but who cares when the heroine is adorable, the hero braw, and their chemistry fabulous?
More than twenty years after its release, Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm remains one of the most beloved romances of all time. I’ve never been able to finish it, but I’m told that the unusual love story is told through brilliant writing and features great emotional intensity.
For lovers of Regency-[ish] historical romances, Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels is generally on the top of the list. The book is funny, sexy, and eminently readable. Those who love a perfectly matched couple could do no better.
Nora Roberts’s Born in Fire stars Margaret Mary Concannon, a tortured artist who meets her sexy but stable match in Rogan Sweeney. A true bonus? Roberts’s descriptions of Maggie making her glass art.
I’ve extolled the virtues of Anne Stuart’s books a number of times at H&H, and never considered omitting one of her 1990s titles. My biggest conundrum was deciding between 1993's A Rose at Midnight and 1994's To Love a Dark Lord. Honestly, I flipped a coin; both are list-worthy.
A romance writer with a career spanning twenty years, Lisa Kleypas captured the imaginations of myriads in Dreaming of You. The hero, a man from the gutters who made his fortune with a gambling hell, was not something you came across every day in 1994. He literally endured a test of fire with his heroine before they earned their HEA. Don’t miss its prequel, Then Came You (I actually prefer it).
1994's Dream Man marked Linda Howard’s breakthrough into the mainstream after publishing many highly regarded category reads—e.g. Duncan’s Bride, MacKenzie’s Mountain. In it a skeptical detective and a psychic try to catch a serial killer. Howard’s heroes tend to suck all the air out of the room, and Dane Hollister is no exception.
Jennifer Crusie may have been the first author to jump directly from category romance into hardcover. Perhaps Anyone But You propelled her jump. The book generated online buzz at a time when “online” was just branching out from listservs and online services like AOL, in no small part because the smart, funny, and sexy story featured what seemed like far too modern a sensibility than other Harlequins of the time.
The name Mary Jo Putney was synonymous with quality historical romance throughout the 1990s (and beyond). Shattered Rainbows is one of the books to cement that reputation, with its emotional intensity and historical depictions that definitely are not of the wallpaper variety.
Choosing which Susan Elizabeth Phillips title to include on this list was far tougher than deciding whether or not to include her. I went with SEP's Nobody’s Baby but Mine, one of her most popular, because the storyline—a brainy woman wanting the father of her child to be all brawn—is such fun.
So, this is my list. What’s yours?
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.