Johanna Lindsey

JOhanna lindsey
Johanna Lindsey

Everyone Loves a Lindsey

America’s Top Romance Novelist of the Late 20th Century

Johanna Lindsey and her books hold a special place in my heart, more so than any other historical romance author. Oddly enough, the first Lindsey I read was not a historical one. It was her 1990 science-fantasy romance, Warrior’s Woman. After that, I was hooked.

warrior's Woman
Warrior’s Woman, Johanna Lindsey, Avon. 1990, Elaine Duillo cover art

It’s no wonder that publishers labeled her with the motto “Everyone Loves a Lindsey.” She reached the #1 position on the New York Times Best Seller list with Defy Not the HeartAngel, and others. Lindsey sold over 60 million copies of her approximately 56 published books. Her works were translated into at least a dozen other languages.

Why were her books so popular? For me, it’s the way her heroes could be so standoffish or even cruel when they were obviously crazy about the heroine. Even as he’s pursuing her, the hero can’t even admit his true feelings to himself. It’s an old theme. Imagine a boy pulling a girl’s pigtails in an inkwell because he has a crush on her but can’t find a way to express it properly! It works so well for a love story.

Her heroines might be an acquired taste. When I was a teen, I found their spunky, proud attitudes endearing and inspiring. Now I like my heroines a bit more nuanced. Still, to this day, I re-read her books and enjoy them as much as I did the first time around.

Life, Love, Family, & Career

young johanna lindsey

Lindsey was born Johanna Helen Howard on March 10, 1952, in Frankfurt, Germany. Her parents were Edwin Dennis Howard, a soldier in the U.S. Army, and his wife, Wanda Lindsey (nee Castle). Like many military families, they often moved around from place to place. After her father died in 1964, Lindsey and her mother settled in the state of Hawaii. Her father had always dreamed of retiring there.

At the age of 18, nearing the end of high school, Johanna married her one true love, Ralph Bruce Lindsey. Johanna briefly worked as a secretary before having children and becoming a stay-at-home wife and mother. The couple had three sons: Alfred, Joseph, and Garret. Lindsey would lovingly dedicate her books to her family members.

Her first historical romanceCaptive Bride, an homage to E.M. Hull’s The Sheik, was published in 1977 by Avon. “I started writing as a hobby,” she once said. “I never thought of being a writer when I was young. Now I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Every single one of her books made it to the bestseller lists. For many years, she consistently released two books annually. By the late 1990s, her books would be released in a hardcover edition and then a year later in paperback.

johanna lindsey books
Captive Bride alternate cover

Sadly, Lindsey’s husband died tragically young in 1994. After Ralph’s passing, Lindsey moved to Maine to be closer to her sons. More changes were to follow when in 2001, after producing 37 books with Avon over a period of 24 years, Lindsey switched over to big-name publisher Simon & Schuster.

Old School Bodice Ripper Legend

Although shy and sometimes reclusive, Lindsey was an outspoken champion of the romance industry and always respected those who came before her. When asked who her favorite authors were, she said in response: “Kathleen Woodwiss and Rosemary Rogers, who started this wonderful genre.”

As times changed, some would deride the “bodice rippers” that had revolutionized romance. Lindsey, like all authors, had her detractors. Those who felt the images of naked men and women with heaving breasts somehow diminished the genre would dismiss her beautiful painted covers as “gaudy” or embarrassing.

Although Johanna Lindsey’s books can never be mistaken for literary fiction, they were unapologetically light-hearted reads which were fun to enjoy.

Not Acceptable in This Day and Age?

Naysayers can argue the flaws of her writing skills. Still, it pains me when I hear contemporary romance readers disparage Lindsey’s romances as “problematic” or “promoting rape culture” with factual certitude when that sentiment is mere opinion.

Johanna Lindsey romance was escapism in its purest form. She could take readers away to a desert oasis, a Norwegian fjord, to the rugged frontiers of the American West, or to the halls of Regency-era England. They indulged in fantasies about gorgeous heroes. These men obsessed over women who demanded love, commitment, and respect, above all else.

Thankfully, not all modern readers see Lindsey’s books in a negative light. “Johanna’s strong, feminist heroines were revolutionaries in their own right — fighting for partnership, respect, and happily ever after,” author Sarah McLean has said. “These were heroines who captained their own fate… They lived fearlessly, fought passionately, and loved with abandon… And they inspired millions of us to do the same.”

My Love for Lindseys

Secret Fire

My first Lindsey historicals after reading Warrior’s Woman were Secret Fire and then Captive Bride. In both, the handsome hero kidnaps the heroine, only to have the tables turned on him when he falls in love with her. The heroines are not willing to let the heroes use them as mistresses. They demanded what any woman of their times would have wanted: marriage, but more importantly, love and respect.

Perhaps if I had been an older, more “sophisticated” reader when I first read Lindsey, I’d feel differently. As it is, for a long time, she was my favorite author. I cherish those memories of joy her books brought to me! Even when I thought I was done reading the romance genre, whenever a new Lindsey was released, I’d be there to purchase it. That is until I got too overloaded with studies in high school. At that time, I had no time to appreciate hobby reading.

I’d return to romances a few years later. By then, Johanna Lindsey had reached elite author status, with her books published as hardcovers. Unfortunately, while hardcovers are great books to put on shelves to impress other people, they’re no fun for reading historical romance. It’s a niche category that, like pulp fiction, was meant for brightly covered paperbacks.

The Lindsey Cover: Part One

A Lindsey cover was a thing of wonder. Robert McGinnis painted the covers of her first two books, Captive Bride and A Pirate’s Love, in a similar style to how he’d illustrated Kathleen Woodiwiss‘s first couple of books. But they were tame in comparison to the “naked man” phase that Fires of Winter started.

Initially, the cover presented both the hero and heroine in the nude. McGinnis was forced to place clothing on the image of Brenna, whose body lay between Garrick’s bare thighs.

johanna lindsey books fires of winter
Fires of Winter, Robert McGinnis cover art

The covers grew even more controversial with Tender is the Storm. Some booksellers refused to sell Tender is the Storm as it was. Avon provided them with stickers to cover the hero’s rear. My own copy was second edition printing that had a golden starburst covering Lucas’ behind and whatever he’s doing to Sharisse’s breasts!

A Gentle Feuding wasn’t even released in the US in its original form. I found a Spanish-language copy where our hero Jamie is fully naked. Look at his butt:

un DULCE enemistad johanna lindsey books
I would have purchased this copy of A Gentle Feuding in a heartbeat!

The Lindsey Cover: Part Two

Then with Hearts Aflame, the sequel to Fires of Winter, Johanna Lindsey’s book covers changed. Artist Elaine Duillo began to paint them, often using Fabio Lanzoni as the male cover model. Yes, it was Johanna Lindsey and Elaine Duillo who made Fabio famous, not the other way around.

Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover Art, Fabio cover model

Love Only Oncethe first in Lindsey’s enormously popular Malory series originally had a McGinnis cover, and was re-released with a Duillo cover. I used to own the copy with Duillo’s artwork. Alas, that novel and probably 500-600 other books were lost in the “great purge” when I moved out of my parents’ house.

Fortuitously, I found the artwork for Duillo’s version on the internet. Compare it to McGinnis’. Which one do you prefer? In my opinion, Duillo’s looks too Victorian. McGinnis captured the Regency era aesthetics better.

Love Only Once
Love Only Once, Robert McGinnis
love only once
On the top is the original McGinnis cover of Love Only Once, Avon, 1985. On the bottom is the Duillo artwork.

Later with Once a Princess, Johanna Lindsey’s books would have step-back covers. Duillo could get a little more graphic with her work, as she did for the interior of Man of My Dreams.

johanna lindsey books
Stepback interior, Man of My Dreams, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1992, Elaine Duillo cover art, cover model Fabio

Favorite Johanna Lindsey Novels

So many of Lindsey’s works are 5-star reads for me. Gentle RogueThe Magic of YouSecret FireA Heart So Wild, Defy Not the HeartSavage ThunderSo Speaks the HeartPrisoner of My DesireHeart of Thunder, and more are keepers.

Who am I kidding? I own every Lindsey paperback she wrote in the 20th century.

“With my life comes my heart, yours now to crush or cherish as you will. It is my hope you will have a care in keeping both.”


Changing Times and Farewell

However, sad to say, I was not as enamored with her later works as I had been with the books she released in her first twenty years. From time to time, I would purchase one as an e-book, but something special was missing. After the year 2000’s tepid offering, The Heir, I found Lindsey had fallen off my automatic must-buy list.

Lindsey’s husband Ralph passed away 24 years into their marriage, with Johanna outliving him by another quarter of a century. She never remarried. I don’t know if the change in her writing could be attributed wholly to it, but her books were never quite the same after his death. Especially after she left Avon for Simon & Schuster, it seemed as if some of the magic in her writing had waned.

Lindsey was now a different writer for a different age, but she still had millions of fans who loved her. I would always be one of them. Her final book released was July 2019’s Temptation’s Darling.


Lindsey moved from her long-time home of Hawaii to Maine before going on to reside in Nashua, New Hampshire. It was there that she passed away at the age of 67 on October 27, 2019, due to lung cancer. 

Johanna Lindsey left behind three sons, several grandchildren, and legions of readers who cherish her memory. Her death was a great loss to the romance genre.

Sweet Savage Flame Reviews Johanna

The Covers

New York Times Johanna Lindsey Obituary

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