The Golden Era: Top Romance Novelists

The Top 5 Romance Novelists of the 1970s and 1980s




Yesterday I received a box filled with all of Judith McNaught’s Regency Romance novels from the 1980s. I was so excited, I wrote about it.  Then I started going down memory lane, recalling many of my other favorite authors and books from that era – and I thought about the novelists that, to me, best represented the era. Here I present to you my findings. 

Attention all female Baby Boomers and Gen-X romance novel lovers – whether past, present, or both.  Allow me to take you on a poignant tour into the distant past, back to our teenage and college years, back to when we procrastinated doing our homework or other obligations so we could sneak in a chapter or two of our latest treasure of a book, when we would – despite our best efforts – stay up way past our bedtime to just get in “one more chapter,” until one of two things happened:

  1.  It got so late we couldn’t keep our eyes open and we fell asleep with the book on our chest.


  1. We finally, finally got our “Payoff.” The Happy Ending – the one the author skillfully kept us on the edge of our seats waiting for, for chapter after chapter – wondering how on earth our beloved heroine could ever overcome the obstacles, the heartbreak, the chapters of the book where we agonized right along with her, seeing no hope and and way out of her heartbreak.  



It didn’t matter that we knew the unbreakable promise of the romance author to her reader was that she would never leave us heartbroken and despondent after the last page. That was the deal, after all. If we wanted to read something depressing we’d never pick up a classic romance. We knew there would be a payoff, but the best of the best of romance novelists have one thing in common: the brilliant talent for – despite the very premise and promise of the romance novel – the ability to make us suffer emotionally and feel the pain and anxiety of the impossibility of the hero and heroine’s bleak, no-way-out situation. And then they miraculously bring us through that dark period to the immense relief and joy we crave.

So much so that after finishing the last page, we somewhat grieved the “loss” of the characters we had gotten to know so well. We felt an attachment to them by that last page, and it was hard to let go.

This ability to affect us that much, dear reader, is a gift, a talent that belies the unfair reputation that tends to put a dark cloud over romance novelists in general, and the entire genre as a whole.

The romance novels from the 70s and 80s are what I think of as the Golden Era.*



And so without further ado, allow me to present to you my candidates for the cream of the crop of the Golden Era, the romance novelists who captured our hearts and kept us turning the pages night after night. The ones whose names we will never forget, and the very mention of them sparks off a wave of sweet nostalgia.

(Under each name I’m listing a handful of novels I remember the names of by heart. Your favorites may vary, naturally, and I’d love to hear about them!)


Kathleen E. Woodiwiss



Notable Novels:

The Flame and the Flower
The Wolf and the Dove
A Rose in Winter

Judith McNaught


Notable Novels:

Whitney, My Love
A Kingdom of My Dreams
Until You
Once and Always
Something Wonderful
Almost Heaven

Johanna Lindsey


Notable Novels:

Fires of Winter
Hearts Aflame
Glorious Angel
Heart of Thunder
Tender Rebel

Jude Deveraux


Notable Novels:

The Black Lyon
The Velvet Promise
Highland Velvet
Velvet Song
Velvet Angel
The Temptress

Lisa Kleypas


Notable Novels:

Where Passion Leads
Forever My Love



Fern Michaels (most notably her Texas Series)


Julie Garwood



Rosemary Rogers


So that about wraps it up, my choices for the Golden Era Best of the Best. Let me know what you think on my Twitter!

*I have no doubt that there are dozens of authors producing books of the same quality since that time, but I admit I’m in the dark about them, as my obsessive reading of that genre was limited to the majority of the decade of the 80s – along with a couple of years in the early nineties but by then my enthusiasm was waning. My favorite authors were moving on to other projects, and I guess I was as well.

**You might notice these authors – at least in this Golden Era – are best known for their historical novels. This is unquestionably my dearest romance sub-genre so it’s natural these would be my picks. YMMV.

***I’d love to get feedback from you with your choices and rankings for best romance novelists from the 70s-80s Golden Era. Hit me up on Twitter to let me know what you think, and who I undoubtedly left out!