They say that diamonds are forever, but we know something else is, too: a love of reading. This is appropriate, because this year marks Avon’s 75th year in the romance novel business, making it their diamond anniversary. Join us in celebrating this big milestone, not with diamonds, but with the other eternal thing: a lifelong love of reading. Here, some of Avon’s most iconic authors weigh in on the romance novels that changed their lives and made them fall in love–with the characters, but also with the genre. We predict these recommendations will make your eyes sparkle just like coveted gems.
“I was sitting in a dentist’s waiting room thumbing through magazines, trying to ignore the sharp, pink smell of fluoride rinse and the distant buzz of drilling. I flipped a page and stopped at the photo of a woman wreathed in ivy, like something from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The article was about Professor Mary Bly outing herself as historical romance novelist Eloisa James. The line that captured me was: ‘Let’s move beyond knee-jerk denigration of a genre that does nothing more heinous than speak to the dreams that many of us hold.’
“The next day I checked out Eloisa’s first romance from the public library. The following day I visited Powell’s Books armed with a list of the Top 100 Romances. Soon, I needed more bookshelves. Eloisa was my gateway drug to a lifelong romance addiction. Now her characters are old, trusted friends. Charlotte, Annabel, Linnet, Mia… these vividly rendered companions have seen me, and countless others, through rainy days and difficult times. Her books are gifts of joy, humor, and, above all, love. So thank you, Eloisa, for being a champion of the romance genre. And thank you for changing my life.” —Lenora Bell, author of How the Duke Was Won
“The first romance that I read cover to cover was Nightwalker, a Silhouette Desire by Stephanie James (aka Jayne Ann Krentz). The mystery, the animosity between the characters, and the passion hooked me fast. I couldn’t get enough!
“My friend and I quickly devoured romances of all kinds, trading paperbacks, carting home musty-sweet armfuls from the library, and saving whatever money we could to buy the latest releases. The fragrance of those new books—the crisp tartness of fresh ink on paper—fuelled my addiction. I became greedy and didn’t slow down.
“At least, not until I held A Knight In Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux in my hands. My world changed again. I read it line for line, word for word, and blubbered all through the ending.
“It’s a strange thing to have a book completely rip out your heart, but also make you want to relive the experience.
“Those two titles, among a few others, are still sitting on my keeper shelf. We reacquaint ourselves from time to time, like old friends meeting for tea. And like a friend, they encourage me to write the book that will live on someone else’s keeper shelf one day.” —Vivienne Lorret, author of The Debutante Is Mine
“Most romance readers start out by sneaking books off their mom or grandma’s shelves when they’re not looking. My path to romance was different.
“I read mostly nonfiction until I met my husband. Love turned out to be the most transforming event of my life. I was still reading, but I wanted something different. I don’t remember how I acquired a copy of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Fancy Pants, but…I devoured it! The characters jumped off the page. The story was absorbing and (at times) funny. The triumph of a spoiled rich girl’s journey from designer rags to self-reliance (and a gorgeous pro golfer named Dallie) sent me into the bookstore for more.
“And so I kept reading. I read all of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books, and then consumed hundreds of romance novels over the next few years. To read a romance novel is to fall in love over and over again. And one day, after finishing the latest book in my hand, I said: ‘I can do this.’
“Thank you to Susan Elizabeth Phillips and every other romance author for keeping me company, making me laugh and cry, and reliving the magic of falling in love. It never gets old. And I hope my readers are reminded of that moment, too. There’s nothing like your first time.” —Julie Brannagh, author of Intercepting Daisy
“I’d been reading romance for many years, and absolutely loving it, but it wasn’t until I picked up Sleeping Beauty by Judith Ivory that I realized how complex, nuanced, and artful romance could be. It made me realize how expansive the genre could be when accommodating different voices, and that there was a place for me at the table. It reinvigorated my own writing, allowing me to explore the ambiguities of my characters and play with language. Though she has not published anything new for many years, Ivory has remained one of my strongest influences. Which reminds me—it may be time for a re-read.” —Eva Leigh, author of Temptations of a Wallflower
“My mother was a romance reader, something that amused my sisters and me. After all, we were modern young women. We read ‘important’ books. Okay, once I devoured The Wolf and the Dove but that was an aberration. I wouldn’t read another romance… until I came across a Jennifer Blake book. At the time, I had a toddler, a newborn, and a bad case of postpartum depression. Blake’s Fierce Eden not only helped me escape the rut I was in, but also reminded me of why I valued my marriage, my children, my life. Funny that a lush, involving story set in 1600s Louisiana could fire my modern day imagination and lift me out of my blues, but that is what her novel did. Furthermore, Blake introduced me to the true scope of the romance genre. I soon devoured everything she had written and went on a no-holds-barred search for other authors and there are some powerhouse ones. Today, when my path crosses Jennifer Blake’s, I can’t talk to her without becoming a bit choked up in appreciation.” —Cathy Maxwell, author of Fairest of Them All
“I will always remember the book that hooked me on romance, Gypsy Lady by Shirlee Busbee. I read it in 1989, and after I finished Gypsy Lady, I binged on Shirlee’s books until I had read them all. The book that stayed with me more than the others was Shirlee’s Lady Vixen. It had it all. Piracy and passion. Intrigue and skullduggery on the high seas. Actual bodice-ripping hero. A heroine so beautiful that every man she met fell instantly in love with her—I hate when that happens to me. The book is a dense, old-school historical, and I loved every word.” —Rachel Gibson, author of Just Kiss Me
“Connie Brockway’s All Through the Night was the first historical romance to get its emotional hooks in me deep. I’d read and enjoyed lots of romance novels, but Brockway’s book left me in tears. Happy tears, mind you. You know those tears. The heart wrenching happy ending tears—part relief that the characters are finally together and part sadness that the story is over.
“I couldn’t get the novel’s hero—a ruthless man named Jack Seward—out of my head. And Brockway’s heroine, Anne Wilder, a beautiful widow who moonlights as a masked thief, was unlike any female protagonist I’d encountered before. I was so smitten that I read Brockway’s book again soon after finishing it, and I’ve kept that same dog-eared copy with me as I’ve moved from state to state and country to country. When I sat down to write about All Through the Night, I could still remember the step back art—a couple in front of a dusk-lit window, her hair flowing in the breeze, his gaze on her, hungry and intense. Now, after pondering how much Brockway’s novel affected me, I’m looking forward to reading it again.” —Christy Carlyle, author of One Dangerous Desire
“A work colleague and I found out the great Kathleen Woodiwiss was having a signing at one of the local Meijer stores near our job and we took off work for an hour or two and stood in line. We were both big romance fans—had first edition The Flame and the Flower and were out-of-our-mind fangirls. She signed our books–she was so gracious. I told her I was working on an African American historical and she stopped, looked up at me, smiled, and said, ‘When you finish it, let me know. I’d like to read it.’ A few years later, I was an Avon Lady too. No idea if she ever read Night Song but her encouragement meant the world to me that day. I will never forget that moment.” —Beverly Jenkins, author of Stepping to a New Day, adapted from Avon
“Linda Howard hooked me page one of Kill and Tell. Now that I’ve devoured all her existing books, I can’t wait to get my hands on her upcoming releases. With her mix of emotion and gripping tension, her books are one of my all-time favorite go-to rewards and guilty pleasures.
“She has long inspired me to write with intensity, deep emotion, and a thrill for the ride in every story just like she does. After reading her books, I’m always left with a sense of wanting more, because she’s such a great storyteller. I aspire to bring that to my readers and have the long career she has had entertaining her fans.” —Jennifer Ryan, author of The Return of Brody McBride, adapted from Avon