Reading outside the Lines

Do you - like me - read primarily within the genre you want to write?  Harlequin Mills and Boon publish several diverse lines, from historical to suspense, medical to nocturnal.  Aiming at the line that most interests me - Presents or Modern - I tend to read mostly within that line too, enjoying books that were published several years ago, sometimes decades ago, and also keeping up with current trends and new authors.

I was interested recently to see that Harlequin are running a new Blitz in February, this time on Romance ( and it got me thinking of the books I've read outside of my chosen line and what made me place them on my book shelves, alongside the numerous Moderns.

Liz Fielding is an author who has published over sixty books in the traditional and contemporary lines but her writing somehow refuses to be typecast.  She brings a freshness and humour to her work and has been doing so ever since her first book was published, as she says "plucked out of the slush pile because my feisty feminist heroine made the editor laugh."  And it is this quirky take that made me enjoy The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella published in 2007. Who wouldn't want to find out what happens after reading the blurb at the back?

"Lady Gabriella March is the perfect domestic goddess - at least, that's what her editor at Milady magazine thinks! In truth she's simply Ellie March, cleaner and aspiring writer, who uses the beautiful mansion she is house-sitting to inspire her."

Another line I've dipped into only very occasionally is Medical, but I came across Amy Andrews' Valentino's Pregnancy Bombshell in the 3 in 1 Italians, published by Mills and Boon in 2015.  In this instance, the blurb wouldn't have gripped me particularly:

"One incredible night with deliciously  dangerous Valentino Lombardi left Paige feeling beautiful for the first time. Then Valentino arrives as the new surgeon at her hospital, playboy reputation in tow - and Paige must tell him she's expecting his baby."

So far so formulaic as regards the first line too:

"Paige Donald could feel Valentino Lombardi's gaze on her from across the alter."

But there is a tangible tension, a feeling that there is a lot lurking below the surface, right from the start, and from then on the book grips, especially when the heroine goes to bed with the hero in chapter one then leaves him asleep the next morning, following an urgent phone call, with the resolve:

"As far as she was concerned, if she never saw him again, it would be too soon."

Of course, the hero reappears far sooner than that and the developing relationship between them is done with such skill and feeling that I actually cried when the heroine tells him about the loss of her baby, the twin of her little girl who survived but is in fragile health. The hero has his own demons, and suffered his own losses too, and the growing together of these two scarred souls makes for a page turning book that is so emotionally satisfying that it transcends the particular line it falls into.

And the point of this blog?  Writing within a set line doesn't necessary have to mean stereotypical tropes or cliched plots.  At the heart of every story are the characters and their own emotional journey towards lasting love. And of course the unique and authentic voice of the author that can, and should, stand out whatever line she is writing for.


  1. Hi Melissa. Great post and I enjoyed your reviews of these books. I think writing starts with reading and we can learn so much from books - the good, the bad and the average. Here's to keeping reading and writing! xx

  2. Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment and you are so right in that we can learn something from every book we read. I hope your writing is going well and looking forward to a catch up soon xx


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