I’ve met very few romance readers who’ve never picked up a Harlequin, Silhouette, or Mills & Boon book. For a very long time, these were my guilty pleasures. Some of my favorite contemporary romance authors, like Nora Roberts and Diana Palmer, started out writing books for these publishers. Of the many imprints under these titles, though, the one with the most titles I’ve read has got to be Harlequin Presents. And I’m not talking dozens over the years here; I’m talking hundreds.

And why not? They are readily available in bookstores, libraries, and aunts’ and cousins’ shelves (a major source of reading material in grade school, middle school, and high school for me). Even now, they have a ton of books available on subscription service Scribd, where you get to read as many books as you like for just $9.99 per month. Each novella is slim, and most are written according to a formula. This means it’s one to two hours of easy reading.

Of course, because these novels are so formulaic, they are often a bit forgettable. That’s underscored by the fact that their titles are all very similar. You know what I’m talking about—full of Greek tycoons, Italian billionaires, and desert sheikhs and their pregnant mistresses, innocent brides, defiant virgins, and the like. This makes it very hard to remember the title of a novel you want to revisit. I still have a few novels I’m trying to run down, but a recent HP reading streak on Scribd had me turning up a few oldies but goodies I’d read before and enjoyed. Check them out below!

 


Scorsolini-Marriage-BargainThe Scorsolini Marriage Bargain
 by Lucy Monroe
Series: Royal Brides #5
Release Date: May 1, 2006

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Claudio refuses to fall under the Scorsolini Curse. He hates what it did to his father and his own life as a child. He marries Therese for many good, practical reasons…none of which are love. Therese loved Claudio from the moment they met and married him knowing his stilted view of tender emotion. She believes she will be content to be his wife and bear his children because she knows she can trust him to be faithful and though he does not love her, he respects and desires her. Her outlook begins to change when Claudio’s brothers remarry and show her what a Scorsolini man in love acts like. She doubts her importance in Claudio’s life as duty often takes him away from her and then she discovers she won’t be able to give Claudio the children they planned on. She knows for her sake and his, she has to end the marriage and let him go…but Claudio isn’t ready to lose his convenient wife.

If you like royals, then the Scorsolinis should be right up your alley! But it’s not just that; I really got into the characters of Mr. Duty himself, Crown Prince Claudio of Isole dei Re, and the classic grace of his wife, Princess Therese. I liked that Therese was outwardly the perfect princess, but she had a core of steel and displayed a bit of stubbornness at some points. I also liked the Scorsolinis as a whole and the juxtaposition of this glittering blue-blooded set and a close, loving family unit. This novel also discusses a very real and depressingly common gynecological condition that never seems to get enough press, and it’s done in a way that’s both informative and meaningful to the story line.

 

 

Ultimate-Surrender-coverThe Ultimate Surrender by Penny Jordan
Release Date: October 1, 2009

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Polly yearned for Marcus Fraser, but knowing how much he resented her for marrying his younger cousin, she was forced to keep her attraction a secret. When her husband died, and Marcus offered her a home, a job, and himself as surrogate father to her baby daughter, Polly’s desire only strengthened. Then she heard some shocking news: Marcus was already engaged – and his bride-to-be was expecting…

When I was in middle and high school school, I didn’t fully appreciate romances with older characters; in this case, the main character, Polly, has a daughter in college. But I’ve since learned to appreciate the more mature nuances in these books, especially since they tackle issues (like aging and its resultant insecurities as well as the way time can get away with you and regrets about wasted years) that are absent in novels featuring younger characters. Despite being a widow, Polly is still a bit on the shy and naive side, and it’s fun to see how her daughter has made it her mission to bring her out of her shell. Meanwhile, Marcus, Polly’s cousin by marriage, has still got that alpha vibe, but it’s tempered by a sense of solidarity and security you don’t always get from the younger HP playboys.

 


Bought-The-Greeks-Innocent-Virgin-coverBought: The Greek’s Innocent Virgin
 by Sarah Morgan
Series: The Greek Tycoons
Release Date: August 1, 2008 (Harlequin Presents) / December 1, 2010 (Mills & Boon Modern)

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A ruthless Greek billionaire. . .

At Angelos Zouvelekis’s command, café waitress Chantal will play the part of his bride-to-be. He will shower her with exquisite jewels and silks. . . and she will repay him in kind! He wants his recompense in the bedroom!

Angelos worships Chantal’s body, although he thinks she’s a devious gold digger. But his arrogance is shattered when he discovers Chantal is a virgin. . . . Angelos bought this innocent, and now he intends to keep her–whatever the cost!

I don’t usually expect any laugh-out-loud moments from HP novellas, so I was surprised to have a few with this one. And a recent revisiting of this story still had me grinning over a few scenes. It’s common for HP main characters to denounce their alpha love interests as being caveman-like in their ideas about the order of things, but I think in this case, Morgan is actually poking fun at the stereotype. Chantal certainly goes out of her way to thwart Angelos’ attempts to make her a kept woman! Her willful defiance and plain old stubbornness keep her from becoming the kind of cardboard cut-out character who is gorgeous and talented but is clueless about her assets (which she could very easily be, if her character weren’t tempered by, well, her temper!).

 


In-Bed-with-Her-Italian-Boss-coverIn Bed with Her Italian Boss
by Kate Hardy
Series: In Bed with the Boss
Release Date: April 1, 2008

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Having just been fired, Francesca has three immediate requirements: a coffee, an extremely calorific pastry and a new job. Stopping off at her favorite café, Giovanni’s, she manages to pick up all three!

Working for darkly handsome Giovanni Mazetti is fantastic—except Fran discovers the job comes with a tantalizing caveat: pretending to be his adoring girlfriend! Soon their kisses start happening in private as well as in public, and although Fran knows it’s all a game to Giovanni, she can’t help wishing his feelings were for real….

Alpha bosses who are all things commanding and dominant and who would rather be dragged over hot coals than reveal their sweet and sensitive sides are well and good, but it’s nice to get a bit of a break from this stereotype. Gio is refreshing in that he’s confident and yet also unashamedly a family man, and maybe it’s his dreams of pursuing music, but he also seems a bit more soulful than your average HP love interest. He and his family are fun and warm and loving, and it serves as a good foil to Francesca and her own family drama.

 


Society-Wife-coverThe Society Wife
 by India Grey
Series: Bride on Approval
Release Date: January 1, 2011

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Infamous playboy Tristan Romero meets ordinary Lily at a lavish ball, and arrogantly predicts that she will wake up the following morning between his designer silk sheets! Powerless to resist this wicked billionaire, Lily knows Tristan is only offering one night. But then she discovers she’s pregnant….

Tristan’s aristocratic duty demands he take Lily as his bride. However, Lily’s shame over accepting a loveless proposal is heightened when she realizes that, as the Spaniard’s wife, she’ll be expected to fulfill his every need….

Now, the love interest in this novella is definitely your typical HP playboy! But he’s got a tortured side that’s made even rawer by the way he and main character Lily hurt each other without meaning to. If you’re a fan of traumatized, misunderstood alpha guys (think the Fixed or Crossfire series), this is the HP novella for you! India Grey is really good at drawing out those painful moments that define a couple’s rock-bottom point, wringing out their emotions and thoughts and putting on display so you can’t quite help rooting for them to get together in the end. Fortunately, because this is a Harlequin Presents romance, after all, you know from the get go that an HEA is in the works.

 

Now, if you’ve gotten this far, I’m betting it’s because you have a few of your own picks of novels from old-school romance imprints that have stayed with you, and I’m hoping you’ll leave a comment to share what they are!