Covers of the Week

May is upon us! May your days be full of love and joy! Here are some beautiful May-deval romance covers to enjoy for the week of May 3 to May 9. (Groan) That’s an awful pun!

Left to right: Lovefire, Deana James, Zebra, 1985, Pino cover art; Winter Roses, Anita Mills, Onyx, 1992, Greg Gulbronson cover art; Legacy of Shadows, Warner Books, 1987, Sharon Spiak cover art; Rose of Rapture, Warner Books, 1984, Elaine Duillo cover art

A Closer Look at Cover Artist: Victor Gadino

Victor Gadino

Victor Gadino is an award-winning artist who holds an MFA from Pratt Institute. His work has appeared in promoting the top clients of the corporate, publishing, and entertainment worlds.

Victor Gadino’s big break in cover art illustration came through Avon’s Gordon Merrick gay romantic series, beginning with The Lord Won’t Mind. These controversial images showed Gadino’s knack for kitschy yet sensual paintings.

The Lord Won’t Mind, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1971, Victor Gadino cover art

Gadino did not begin his craft as a romance illustrator on Johanna’s Lindsey’s Prisoner of My Desire, but it helped catapult his name in the industry. Elaine Duillo had been Lindsey’s regular cover illustrator at the time, and although this was just a one-off occurrence, Gadino’s artwork was immediately appreciated by fans. (I love the horse grazing in the background.)

Gadino would design incredible-looking covers for authors such as Rosemary Rogers, Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham), Betina Krahn, and Sandra Hill. His works are defined by en exquisite attention to detail, whether it be the hero’s muscled abs or the heroine’s beautiful gown and flowing hair. Many of his covers have been designed as stepbacks, with a “respectable”-looking front, but when they’re opened, there’s a beautiful illustration inside. As a result, some consider Gadino the unofficial “King of the Stepbacks.”

He lives in New York and continues to design artwork for books, film, and advertisements. Besides creating new portraits, he sells giclee reproductions of his work, which can be found and ordered on his website.

To read more about Victor Gadino and his artwork you can access this page:

Victor Gadino Links:

My Victor Gadino Pinterest

Victor Gadino Official Website

Victor Gadino Instagram

Are you a fan of Victor Gadino’s work? If so, what are your favorite covers or pieces of art painted by him? Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Category Romance Review: Shattered Dreams by Sally Wentworth

Shattered Dreams, Sally Wentworth, Harlequin, 1983, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #629

1 1/stars

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Of course, [the heroine] is a virgin, but [the hero] accuses her of being the sluttiest slut who ever did slut.

-From review of Shattered Dreams

Sally Wentworth’s Shattered Dreams is terrible, for all the wrong reasons, although I’ve read books where far worse events occur to the heroine. Take the bodice ripper great, Stormfire, for example. However, in this Harlequin Presents what the hero does to the heroine seems more repulsive, perhaps due to its condensed nature. Where thick historical romances like Stormfire have 400-500+ pages to deal with insane heroes and their co-dependent heroines, a category romance is limited to 60,000-70,000 words. The craziness level can only be ratcheted up so far before the hero becomes irredeemable.

The Crazy Plot

Sally Wentworth always wrote very well, her prose attentive and skillful, but this one was truly bizarre. Kate is happy as a bride can be on her wedding day, as she’s marrying Hugo, the man she loves. Little does she know what her marriage holds in store for her. For Hugo has had a private detective tailing his nubile young wife and he’s found out startling information: over the past year, she’s been living with some strange man while playing the wealthy Hugo for a fool!

Of course, this strange man is not Kate’s lover; it’s her wayward half-brother, whom Hugo knows nothing about because people in these sorts of books don’t act like normal human beings on planet Earth do, speaking to each other through words.

When Hugo first met Kate, he pursued her for s strictly sexual affair, going as far as offering her money. Kate rebuffed his initial attempts, and only when Hugo changed his tune, treating her with respect, did she acquiesce to date him. She did not, however, sleep with him. So Hugo holds his new wife captive, thinking she was stringing him along to sink her hooks into his total fortune, has been cheating on him for months, and worst of all, that she lied about being a virgin.

Of course, she is a virgin, but he accuses her of being the sluttiest slut who ever did slut. Honestly, I think Hugo was turned on by the idea… The problem was he was disgusted at himself for being turned on, so he took his aggression out on the victim, er heroine.

Hugo keeps her imprisoned, haranguing her about her slattern ways, and at one point is so enraged by Kate’s supposed infidelity that he holds her head underwater in an attempt to drown her!

Kate is not a willing victim and fights back, trying to escape several times, by climbing out windows or attempting to contact friends for help. At every turn, though, Hugo is able to prevent her from fleeing. Finally, when it seems Hugo is showing some signs of remorse, that he’s willing to accept Kate as she is, a money-hungry, cheating tramp, then she reveals the truth. The other man is her brother and she’s still as untouched as last year’s Christmas Fruit cake.

Final Analysis of Shattered Dreams

While well-written and oddly engrossing, this book is missing a critical piece in a romance novel: any semblance of romance! There is no communication, only accusations, abuse, torture, stubbornness, pride, and outright stupidity. If Wentworth had included some inkling of love and affection between the two characters, some sort of true contrition on Hugos’ part, or shown a process of healing, perhaps the story could have been salvaged.

Readers, do not take this book seriously, but if you do, take it as a cautionary tale.

The Judas Kiss by Sally Wentworth is one of my favorite Harlequin Presents (I will add a review for that one soon). Unfortunately, Shattered Dreams is on the other side of the spectrum. 

Historical Romance Review: Pirate’s Angel by Marsha Bauer

Pirate’s Angel, Marsha Bauer, Zebra, 1991, Pino cover art

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

First of all, I love the original Pirate’s Angel Zebra Heartfire cover, but man-oh-man, have you taken a look at the e-book version? Authors, why are you doing this to your books? Lots of folks love to mock old-school covers and Fabio, but there are e-book covers that make clinches look like Rembrandts. Even a plain black cover with white Comic Sans font would be sexier than whatever the heck that new version is.

Besides loving the original Pino cover, I loved just about everything else in Marsha Bauer’s 1991 Zebra Heartfire pirate romance. Sure, the heroine is a two-faced hussy, as she has a dependable guy back home whom she plans on marrying while she enthusiastically partakes in lovemaking sessions with the hero. But I couldn’t blame Ivy. Drake was wildly attracted to her.

Plus, he was hot. (God, I’m so shallow.)

The Plot

Our story begins with a lovemaking session some 20+ years prior to the start of the main plot, with the pirate Keils Cauldron making love to a beautiful woman he calls Sunny.

Ostensibly, the product of this union is our heroine, Ivy Woodruff. Her pregnant mother settled down with a nice guy who raised Ivy and gave her his last name. From what her mother told her of her conception, Ivy is convinced that Keils is her natural father.

Conveniently enough, Ivy is sailing on a ship when Keils and his crew seize it. Keil’s first mate Drake is instantly taken with the violet-eyed vixen, so he makes her his captive. Ivy resists Drake and tries to convince Keils that she is his daughter, but he’s not keen on believing her as he’s in mourning for his dead son, who was mysteriously murdered. For the time being, Keils is determined to find the killer. So he allows Drake to take Ivy aboard, even though Keils doesn’t trust her.

There was an engaging plot at the heart of this book; however, what really drew me to Pirate’s Angel was the chemistry between Ivy and Drake. I love my blond heroes, and Drake’s intense pursuit of Ivy had me reading and rereading many scenes. I remember pestering a friend over and over to read this one and not resting until she finished it. I had to share the sexy, cheesy awesomeness with someone, and when she gave it back, she gushed about how she finished it one sitting. It was that good.

The sex scenes were very steamy. I should not have been reading his trash. What did my mother think these books were about? The covers explicitly told you what was going on!

Despite her prim and proper upbringing, Drake brings out the wild siren in her, and they become lovers. Who then shows up, but Ivy’s fiance, Alan? Ivy begs him for forgiveness, which he gives her without any quarrel. As a man-of-the-cloth, he believes in redemption.

Plus, Ivy’s hot.

The trouble is, whenever she and Drake are together, Ivy can’t resist him; their passion is so intense.

Alan who?

Ivy remains convinced that Keils is her father. Despite there being no solid evidence one way or another if they’re related, Keils accept Ivy as his own.

There is a slight surprise at the end when Drake and Ivy get married. They rush off to enjoy the consummation of their nuptials when Keils notices that Ivy transposed the “V” and “Y in her own name as she signed the wedding register. Since Keils does that to his name, too, it’s all the proof needed of parenthood. No DNA test could be more precise.

Although, Keils might have a point. The “I before E, except after C, etc.,” rule should mean his name is pronounced “Kails,” but I read it as “Keels,” which makes sense with him being a ship captain and all. So it’s understandable he has trouble spelling his own name. Certainly, there are given names that would be hard for any adult, let alone a child, to spell: Tiphaniee; Quvenzhane; Chrysanthemum; Donnabháin; ABCDE–actually, that one’s pretty easy to spell, it’s just hard to pronounce.

Final Analysis of Pirate’s Angel

I’m not going to pretend as if there’s any doubt to a HEA in this book. Ivy and Drake are obsessed with each other and will spend the rest of their days together, whether on land or on the sea, always getting some booty.

Anyway, whether you buy Pirate’s Angel as an e-book or have an original copy, it’s a story you’ll want to read over and over again. This is one sexy pirate romance.

Updates #5

Things have been moving quickly here at Sweet Savage Flame.

Jacquleine Diaz, Romance Author

While I’m busy with this blog, I’m also in the process of completing my first book, The Savage Noble, which I hope to have out by August 1, 2021. You can find the first two chapters of my book at wattpad.com or my website jacquelinediazromance.com.

New Additions and More Updates to Come

I have been adding more book reviews to this site, at least two every day. The Coach to Hell is one book that was fun to review, if not read. We are blogging bi-weekly about romance-related issues and uploading new pages. There’s a blog post about our love for Fabio and pages on the history of Harlequin Historicals and Fawcett Books.

Used Book Store

There’s now a STORE attached to this blog. I’m reducing my vast paperback and hardcover library by selling used books. I have many books to sell, from multiple genres, including romance, science fiction, children’s books, and non-fiction. There are few doubles, so it’s first-come, first-serve if you find something you’d like to purchase from my vintage-and-not-so-vintage collection. For example, the rare out-of-print book Bliss by Judy Cuevas is available for $30, a fair price. We also have books like Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton romance, When He was Wicked for only $1.

The conditions of the books range from excellent to acceptable for reading, and they are priced to sell. Shipping and handling is a default flat rate of $4 for Media Mail anywhere in the US for up to 10 books. If you wish for a faster method, or to ship elsewhere, please send inquiries for the cost.

Sweet Savage Flame: The Podcast & Vlog

My podcast can be found at Spotify and other sites:

I’ll be uploading my Spotify podcasts to my Youtube channel. Or is it the other way around? As we’re new to this, thank you for bearing with us while we go through more growing pains. I don’t even know how to set my channel name’s official to Sweet Savage Flame, so for now, it’s under the name Jacqueline Diaz.

Financial Support for the Site, Podcast, Vlog, & Books

Donations are welcome to keep this site up and running. It’s getting so busy that I’d like to take on some part-time help if at least to help with reviews!

If you’re feeling generous, you can support the podcast at Anchor – Jacqueline Diaz Romance Support.

You can support our site at Patreon. We have established tiers, which are being tweaked to best benefit your interests. Or you can make a one-time donation below:


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If you have any recommendations or requests for reviews, please comment or email me at jacquelinediazromance@gmail.com.

Happy reading and may your days be filled with sunshine and joy!

Sweet Savage Flame Podcast

Valerie Parv

Australian author Valerie Parv recently passed away at the end of April, joining her fellow Harlequin/Mills and Boon colleague, Emma Darcy, who passed away late last December. Combined, these two women accounted for over 100 million books sold worldwide. Despite being gloabal phenomenons, their accomplishments did not receive the acclaim they deserved.

At our Sweet Savage Flame Podcast, we honor the memory of these two romance legends, Valerie Parv and Emma Darcy.

The podcast can be accessed at the site below, or on Spotify, Google, and many other forms:

WordPress Podcast Site

Valerie Parv 1950-2021

Emma Darcy 1940-2020

Category Romance Review: Darkness into Light by Carole Mortimer

Darkness into Light, Carole Mortimer, Harlequin, 1986, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #892

3 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

She decided at the beginning of their relationship that she would only take what he wanted to give, but she wouldn’t be treated as a sex object, only accepted as an equal in his bed.

Darkness into Light by Carole Mortimer is one of those category romances you must read in a comfy chair, because you’ll want to settle down for the next couple of hours to enjoy the book in one sitting.

The Plot

Danny is the head gardener of Sutherland Estates and has yet to meet her wealthy, reclusive boss. Then, late one night, while mowing the lawn to relax (because bubble baths are so physically draining!), his hunky nephew Pierce shows up, dressed in a sexy, revealing bathing suit. Being a bit of a flirt, Danny invites herself over for a swim, and the sparks quickly fly between these polar opposites. Pierce is almost 40 years old and is the severe, stuffed-shirt type, while Danny is barely 21 and wears her heart on her sleeve.

There’s no doubt that Pierce is interested in what Danny appears to be offering, and he pursues her. In a short time, she finds herself head over heels for him, but not before Pierce warns her that love is not on the agenda. Sex is all he’s interested in. He was previously married, and after the tragic death of his wife, Pierce has sworn off love and marriage.

I liked how even though Danny was a virgin, she wasn’t hateful about sex due to tacked-on trauma or innate prudery. Instead, she simply was waiting for the right man who made her tingle in all the proper places to come along. And when he does… Pierce should watch out because Danny will get her man!

Danny might be much younger than Pierce, but she knows her mind and is no pushover. Pierce is adamant about limiting the boundaries of their relationship to mere lust, as he had done with all the females in his life. Danny, on the other hand, would never allow herself to be used for sex. She asserts that “his other women may have become accustomed to it, but she never would.”

Final Analysis of Darkness into Light

Generally in romances, I hate the dead wife or lover trope, with Danny even noting that “[Pierce’s wife]’s memory sounds like too much competition for any woman.” However, as a heroine, Danny was so refreshingly open and forthright that she carried the book.

There’s not a lot of plot or any tense drama in this Harlequin Presents, but I liked it all the same. Carole Mortimer hit the sweet spot with this book, not too angsty, not too light, just the perfect read for a carefree afternoon.

Historical Romance Review: The Coach to Hell by Rachel Cosgrove Payes

Coach to Hell, Rachel Cosgrove Payes Playboy Press, 1979, cover artist unknown

2 1/2 stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert***

The Coach to Hell was a bit of disappointment for me after reading Rachel Cosgrove Payes’ Moment of Desire. While that book had a heroine who was placed in awful situations yet tried to make the best of them while always knowing her mind, this book’s heroine is a wishy-washy sort that just goes with the flow because that’s what toilet paper does.

The Plot

The Coach to Hell is a paranormal/Gothic/bodice ripper romance about beautiful, orphaned Georgina who is forced out of her home to avoid the lusty clutches of a local pervert. Georgina is gifted with the special sight of psychometry. Like some psychic blood-hound, she has the ability to touch an item and immediately glean information about its history or find a hidden object if she touches items associated with it. Her ESP is the Chekhov’s gun of this novel as it will be instrumental in the plot’s resolution, what little there is of it.

She heads to a far-away town to seek out a distant cousin in hopes that he will care for her, a relative in need. On the coach ride to her new environs, Georgina meets a dashing red-haired coachman whom she falls for. However, she’s warned by well-meaning fellow passengers that he’s the love-them-and-leave-them type, with different women in every village. Georgie ignores their advice and engages in a secret love affair.

The hero (Note: my apologies, I’ve forgotten his name) has lots of sex appeal but no fortune as the bastard son of a nobleman, although he believes he is legitimate. He’s working as a coachman to save money to hire a barrister. He tells Georgina that the relative she’s going to live with is his younger half-brother, his father’s legal heir. The hero is convinced there must be some shenanigans afoot and that he is the true inheritor of the manor and title.

He and Georgie get down with each other and he sweet talks her into promising to search for any information that will prove his claim. Georgie vows to do her best.

Her best is… Well, you’ll see.

Meanwhile, the Lord of a half-brother is also a charismatic hunk and lives openly with his mistress, who’s naturally contemptuous of Georgina. He wouldn’t mind tossing the mistress over if Georgie were interested in taking her place. But Georgie has her dashing coachman and wouldn’t dream of being unfaithful to her beloved.

No, I’m just joking. Remember, this is 1970s Playboy Press bodice ripper!

One Hell of a Crazy Scene

Back in her hometown, when some creepy old dude wanted for her for his mistress, Georgie’s upstanding morals wouldn’t allow for such a dishonor. Now, things are different. Yes, she’s in love with a young, handsome dude but she’s living with his equally hot and much richer brother…

Morals? Pffft. That’s for poor people who don’t live in fancy manors.

The best part of Coach to Hell is the scene where Georgina has the hero in her room for a late-night tryst. Then his brother enters her chambers with the same intention, forcing the hero to hide in her wardrobe. Georgina can’t shoo the brother away by being smart enough to say she’s on her period, so while the hero conceals himself in the closet like some teenaged boy hiding from an angry father, Georgie bangs the half-brother in her bed. And the half-brother is so good at it, that Georgina forgets everything and moans away in ecstasy, giving the hero something extra-special to listen to.

This being a bodice-ripper with the hero as a supposed Alpha-male, does he burst out into the room and kill them both in a blind rage? Nope. He stays there, sitting and sulking, while his hated enemy joyously screws the woman he loves, bringing her to orgasmic heights.

This scene was so WTF and made me wish that The Coach to Hell had fully embraced its campy nature and included more juicy bits like this!

After that, I admit I lost all respect for the hero. I certainly didn’t expect him to go all wifebeater on Georgina, but he could have at least punched the lights out of his half-brother. Unfortunately, I can’t root for a cucked hero, so I just read to get to the end of the story.

  photo cuckold horns.png 

Moving on, then.

Final Analysis of The Coach to Hell

Remember Georgina’s special kind of ESP? Well, it served the plot’s purpose.

You didn’t actually think the hero wasn’t the real Lord, did you? Oh no, I gave away the ending! Look, if you’re reading these cheesy romances, you know they end “Happily Ever After,” no matter how discombobulated the path to “Ever After” is.

I do wish I had enjoyed this book more, but Georgina was just too stupid for words. I lost any admiration I’d had for the hero after he was ignominiously crowned with a set of horns. Instead, I rooted for his brother from another mother to get the girl.

In the end, this Rachel Cosgrove-Payes Gothic ‘ripper was a so-so read for me, memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Historical Romance Neo-Bodice Ripper Review: Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell

Claiming the Courtesan, Anna Campbell, Avon, 2007, cover artist unknown

“Verity, you have a choice,” he said gently. “We eat, we talk, we pass the evening with an attempt at civility. Or we fuck. It’s up to you.”


2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

*** Spoiler alert ***

Although I’m not a fan of the execution of Claiming the Courtesan, I thought it was refreshing what Anna Campbell tried to accomplish in her first book. I categorize this style of romance as a neo-bodice ripper, in that it attempts to capture the sexual power struggles contained in those older books, but it’s very modern in its presentation.

The Plot: Something Old is New Again

I appreciated what Campbell wanted to create in Kylemore: a loathsome, detestable anti-hero who cared only for his spoiled, noble self. Initially, he drew my attention; however, what was produced on paper was mostly a bratty, uncharismatic, psycho-stalker.

I seem to be alone in this thought, but I yearn for the days of stoic, inscrutable heroes, whose love was shown through their actions, and when they did speak, the words meant so much. I prefer to be in the hero’s head as little as possible. Here, we’re given every angsty thought, every hateful sentiment or lustful urge, every single feeling.

Soraya/Verity, with her dual personality, was an interesting yet flawed depiction of a woman who had to sell her body to help her family survive. It seemed to me like Campbell intended this to be a romantic feminist oeuvre, just like any good bodice ripper (because I do believe, despite the rapey-reputation, bodice rippers are ultimately very pro-female). Sadly, this book couldn’t achieve what the great rippers of the ’70s & ’80s did, which was to enlighten and titillate at the same time. This was too emo. There was so much introspection and bad sex; it became tedious.

The problem with books like Claiming the Courtesan is that authors forget what made the older ones so great: the reader got to see the plot progress. What Claiming the Courtesan lacked was tension. The drama doesn’t unfold before our eyes, as the story begins in medias res with Kylemore searching for his missing mistress.

Imagine if, instead of already being lovers, the story began with Kylemore meeting Verity, a courtesan desired by many. Then over time, he seduces her away from her protector. All the while, Verity would be conflicted but determined to end her career as a prostitute and retire. We’d see into more Verity & Kylemore’s relationship, perhaps a snarky side character or two, and more about Kylemore’s evil mother. Then (just like the book began) Verity would flee from him, Kylemore would track her down and kidnap her, and at that point, we’d get to see how their unusual bond progresses. Finally, in the epilogue, we’d view how they would deal with their scandalous relationship in polite society rather than hear them avow promises of love for the future. Perhaps they’d decide to say to hell with the stifling ton and go to the colonies. A sex scene or two would have to be omitted, along with dozens of pages of inner monologue. But there’s your action; that’s a story.

Instead, there’s a thin, watered-down plot. There were two-and-a-half long chapters after Verity is kidnapped (and that part, too, takes up a considerable portion of the book) that she escapes from her carriage, gets lost in the dark wilderness, is chased by Kylemore, then is finally caught once more, and brought to his castle. Was that really necessary?

Verity’s concerned brother and Kylemore’s wicked mother are introduced to add some drama, yet that all seems clumsily tacked on. The final resolution is unsatisfactory. We get a hint of a happy ending, but an epilogue was necessary to cement it.

My Opinion: The Decline of Historical Romance

My frustration with so many romances of the last two decades is that they’ve lost the art of storytelling in favor of emotional overload. Nothing happens, but every minor issue is so dramatically addressed; it’s so overwrought.

Why has historical romance been degraded to wallpaper irrelevance? Is this what audiences really want? Characters dressed in old-time garments, sipping tea in books that superficially touch upon manners, that are loaded with sex scenes that have heroes asking for consent at every turn, and page after page of internal, emotional hand-wringing? I guess it is, and I’m just not part of the cool kid’s club. Give me food and clothes porn, un-politically correct mindsets, heroes who dare to do wrong, heroines who’ll slap them right back, and salacious purple prose any day.

Final Analysis of Claiming the Courtesan

This book could have sparked a retro genre of 21st-century bodice rippers, rather than just being a gimmick of a plot that led to a bit of controversy. If I want to read a romance with power struggles and dominance issues between the hero and heroine, they rarely exist in historical romances anymore, as they’ve been diluted to blandness and are all so cookie-cutter. Contemporary-set BDSM romances, New Adult erotica, or paranormal fantasy are where I’d have to look for my spice, and I’m just not interested in those genres.

It was such a shame as Claiming the Courtesan could have been something special, but it was bogged down in psychological analysis and not enough substance. A wise rapper, Redman, once said, “If you gotta be a monkey, be a gorilla.”

If you’re going to pen a bodice ripper, go balls-to-wall crazy with it and have no shame about it. Be proud to be outrageous. Otherwise, stick to what everyone else writes because apparently, it does sell.

Category Romance Review: Change of Life by Judith Arnold

Change of Life, Judith Arnold, Harlequin, 1990, cover artist TBD

American Romance #362

2 1/2 stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Change of Life, a category romance by Judith Arnold, seems less a romance and more a story of a woman’s mid-life crisis and journey to self-discovery.

The Plot

Lila Chapin is a long-time married woman with several rambunctious young boys. While Daddy is the fun parent, she’s a stay-at-home mom who cooks, cleans, disciplines, and is attentive to everyone’s wants and needs. On her 40th birthday, when her husband, Ken, and their kids forget all about it, she decides it’s time for a change in her life. She packs up her things, takes her keys, withdraws some money from their bank account, and leaves.

She settles into a hotel and figures it’s time to take care of her wants and needs. She informs her bewildered husband that she’s taking one month off from being a wife and mother. Lila feels she’s been taken for granted, and without her around, her family will realize how much they rely on her for everything.

Ken, of course, isn’t amused. He insists Lila come home, but she’s not budging.

A night or two of relaxation at a hotel is fun. However, Lila wants more than just to lay around and be pampered. She’s not fulfilled. Lila volunteers at a homeless shelter, feeding the poor. She gets to know them on a more individual level and wants to help out as much as she can. Then she starts classes for the indigent to try to enhance their educational skills to gain greater opportunities.

In the meantime, Ken is doing his best to convince her to come home. Husband and wife meet up for conversations which form into dates. But that’s not the only guy she’s dating! Lila meets a younger man with whom she flirts, even going as far as letting him take her out once. It doesn’t lead to adultery, but I wouldn’t like it in a romance if a married hero did this to his wife, and it’s not right for Lila to do this to Ken.

Ken’s not a bad guy; he loves his wife, works hard to provide for his family financially, and is a loving father. That’s not enough for Lila, who wants a man who will support her hopes and dreams and not be so forgetful about special events like a 40th birthday party (which was rather thoughtless on Ken’s part, so he’s definitely not without flaws).

Final Analysis of Change of Life

In the end, Lila and Ken come to a compromise, where he will spend time doing more housework and appreciation her, and Lila gets some “me time”…working to help the poor.

Being a full-time mother is a meaningful existence; I certainly felt that way when I was doing it. Although I can understand that not all women share the same opinion and need “more.” It’s wonderful and all that Lila is now being fulfilled, but couldn’t she have just talked with Ken? I know, I’m a woman, too, and sometimes we feel that it takes a big dramatic show to make us heard. Leaving your kids with your husband for a weekend to relax is one thing, even a week’s vacation. Abandoning them with no word is just as thoughtless as forgetting a birthday. And going on a date with another man while married? Bad form.

Change of Life proves one thing: women as well as men can be self-centered when they experience mid-life crises. It’s always a good thing to reevaluate your beliefs and situation in life, but it’s important to communicate with your life partner if you’re unsatisfied with how things are. In real life, walking out on your family could lead to divorce. Lila was lucky that her plan worked. As this is a romance, of course, it couldn’t end any other way.

Historical Romance Mini-Review: Midnight Rose by Patricia Hagan

Midnight Rose, Patricia Hagan, Harper Collins, 1991, Sanjulian cover art

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Patricia Hagan’s Midnight Rose is a rather entertaining romance novel featuring a strong-willed heroine named Erin. She has an evil slave owner for a step-father and a mother who hides a secret that could destroy them all. Her mother is biracial: half-black, half-white. That fact must be concealed from society, as it could lead to ruination for Erin and her family.

Hero Ryan pursues Erin with a passionate intensity. He does not want her to be his wife but his mistress, as he already has a respectable woman lined up for marriage. Through Erin’s mother’s machinations, it results that Ryan and Erin must get married, and from there on the drama really ramps up.

There are wicked relatives on both sides, making life difficult. When Ryan finds out about Erin’s secret, he does his best to protect her from the bad guys. Good plotting, although it was a tad abrupt at the end, which left me wanting more.

Historical Romance Review: Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Stranger in My Arms was the first Lisa Kleypas romance I read and found it to be quite enchanting. Although I was already familiar with this kind of plot, the book came off very fresh, if a bit improable.

The Plot

If you’ve seen the Richard Gere and Jodie Foster movie, Sommersby, you know the basic story. Here, this romantic tale takes place in Regency England, not the American South. Lady Lara, Countess of Hawksworth, is happy to be a widow. Lara had a horrible marriage to a man who was a monster to her. Hunter was cold, dispassionate, and adulterous.

Her husband Hunter was pronounced dead, having been presumed drowned at sea, the body never recovered. Now Lara is a widow, free to live as she desires.

Then the worst imaginable occurs when Hunter mysteriously reappears. Although he looks exactly like her dead husband, this man doesn’t always act like it. He doesn’t seem to know or remember certain things, which could be due to injury from his accident at sea. More likely, as Lara suspects, he’s an imposter. How else to explain the desire she feels for this man? He’s sweet and caring to her and makes her feel things he never had in the past. Lara doesn’t believe he’s her dead husband. He can’t be.

Even Hunter’s former mistress doesn’t believe it’s him.

But how to explain how this man seems to know so much about Hunter and Lara? Who is he, really? This new Hunter is so wonderful. He makes erotic, passionate love to Lara. Slowly she falls in love with the man she once hated.

However, as I said, we’ve seen this story before, and it turns out the same all the time. Yes, this Hunter is an imposter. He knows all about Hunter because they met each other and Hunter shared much information about his personal life with him. No, the truth is not revealed to society. Lara loves this man, whoever he is.

Final Analysis of Stranger In My Arms

I adored reading this book. I recall being so delighted by the fine quality of Klepyas’ writing that I was convinced I had finally found a new favorite author. It had been a long time since I had been so excited to read a romance novel. (This was in the late 1990s when I was beginning the second romance-reading phase in my life, which lasted from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.)

Stranger in My Arms was a fantastical story, in the truest sense of the word, as it demands a huge suspension of disbelief because most people do not have secret identical copies of themselves walking around. The writing was empathetic and moving. This wasn’t Kleypas’ best work, which says a lot about how good she is. I enjoyed it immensely. It’s a romance that stays with you, with lingering feelings of sweet joy.

Category Romance Review: A Frozen Fire by Charlotte Lamb

A Frozen Fire, Charlotte Lamb, Harlequin, 1980, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #380

Paul was beautiful, Helen thought, gazing down at him. He would always be beautiful now.

A Frozen Fire

3 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert ***

Frozen Fire was one of the strangest Harlequin Presents I’ve ever read. It’s not Charlotte Lamb’s worst, by any means; actually it’s quite well-written and if it was a two-part story I would have loved it. But as it stands, the book focuses way too much on Helen’s relationship with her emotionally abusive husband and not with the hero.

The Plot

Helen has been married to Paul for many years and he’s cheated on her repeatedly. They’ve had to move various times whenever his affairs have caused too much trouble wherever they’re living. So here they are, yet again, in a new town with a new job for Paul, and Helen is sticking around, but she’s not sleeping with her husband. Still, she’s faithful to Paul even if he isn’t because she’s the kind of person who keeps her vows even though her husband doesn’t. Plus, he’s super, super hot.

That’s it.

The man treats her like crap, but he’s SO good-looking she won’t divorce him.

Enter Paul’s boss, Mark. There is a strong attraction present, and when Mark realizes what’s going on in Helen’s marriage, he pursues her with a vengeance. Mark’s a great character: a wonderful man who’s dominant but sensitive. The problem is he’s always on the fringes. Paul, not Mark, is the main guy in this story.

It was unsettling how Helen so was committed to her terrible marriage. She was the ultimate martyr and refused to divorce her adulterous, emotionally abusive husband.

The Unsatisfying Ending

But it’s the end that’s REALLY bizarre.

Helen finally falls in love with Mark and spends Christmas with his family. At last, she realizes her marriage is over. But there’s no major declaration of love and no showdown between husband, wife, and potential lover.

What happens is this:

Helen and Mark walk home together on Boxing Day. Paul, in an angry fit, tries to run Mark over with his horse. The horse bolts, and Paul is thrown and killed.

“Helen looked at Paul, her ears hearing nothing more. She put out a shaking hand to stroke back the smooth golden hair from his damp forehead. He lay so still and tranquil in the cold wintry light, all the glitter of sunlight in his hair as it gleamed. His face had smoothed out into beauty again, as it did when he slept. Paul was beautiful, Helen thought, gazing down at him. He would always be beautiful now. The slow stain which had begun to eat up that beauty had been halted forever. All that Paul could have been lay in that peaceful face. The ruin of his life was now behind him. Helen put her hands to her face and wept.” 

That’s the grand finale to Helen and Mark‘s love story? What an awful way to end a romance novel!

Final Analysis of A Frozen Fire

Nevertheless, despite its odd qualities, A Frozen Fire was not a tedious read and it did keep my interest. So for that reason, I rate it a tepid three stars. The the wonderful hero and the unusual circumstances surrounding the Helen’s life were intriguing. However this romance was not handled in the most logical manner with a satisfactory conclusion that comforetd the reader with a pleasing HEA.

Historical Romance Review: Enchantress Mine by Bertrice Small

Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Signet, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

2 1/2 stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert***

Like in all Bertrice Small novels, the history in Enchantress Mine is richly detailed, the villains are just whacked-out, and there’s a lot of WTF situations that make you shake your head, blink and wonder, “What just happened?” But, I don’t know… I guess I just don’t enjoy some of Bertrice Small’s books as much as I do other bodice rippers.

A Too-Perfect Heroine

Enchantress Mine is set in the Middle Ages, during the height of the Byzantine Empire. The heroine, Mairin, is a foundling raised by adopted parents.

Oh, Mairin, how to describe her? The cover art is the best thing about her. I both hated and pitied the poor girl. So many horrific things happened to Mairin, but I didn’t care because she was SOOOO perfect, SOOOO beautiful, SOOOO resilient!

Every man that wasn’t either her relative or 100% gay desired her and had to have her (stop me if you’ve heard this before)! She was just the typical most beautiful-woman-on-earth, the kind of heroine that Bertrice Small adored to write about, and I had no patience nor love for her.

Still, poor Mairin!

The Heroes: Bachelors #1,#2, & #3

Despite the variety of men, her romantic life is the worst.

Her first love, Basil, a nobleman of Constantinople, is poisoned to death by his male ex-lover, a jealous actor.

Another admirer of hers is ironically named Eric Longsword. He no penis and can only pee by using a hollow reed, yet somehow, he still can bring Mairin to orgasmic heights.

The other guy, her true love, Josselin, suffers from the worst malady of all as he’s plain boring! He comes into the picture late in the book, as often does in a Bertrice Small. If he had more character development than merely lusting after Mairin, there might have been a chance to like him. Of her three love interests, the main hero the least memorable.

Final Analysis of Enchantress Mine

Yes, some aspects of Enchantress Mine sound crazy as heck. You would think a book like that would be more exciting, and it almost is, at times. However Mairin is so perfect and so dull. I really didn’t care what happened to her.

Nevertheless, Bertrice Small can do better! I prefer her Tudor and Stuart-era novels such as Skye O’Malley, All the Sweet Tomorrows, or Wild Jasmine instead.

Romance Cover Model: Fabio Lanzoni

Fabio Lanzoni

A Controversial Icon

Like bodice rippers and vintage romances of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern-day romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old-school clinch covers, with some people going as far as declaring that Fabio represented a low point in the genre. How mean-spirited and wrong these detractors are.

The painted covers of older love stories were created by talented artists using beautiful men and women as their models. They were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their campy, sexual nature. Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history, as they fail to understand that Fabio was supposed to be over-the-top and outlandish. He was advertising an exaggerated fantasy that we all knew was a bit ridiculous. In trying to defend their beloved books, some readers take them too seriously. The romance novel industry has always been outrageous and irreverent by its nature, which is part of the fun.

We romance readers in the 1990s were far savvier than our contemporaries give us credit for being. The joke was never on Fabio, the reader, nor the genre. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.

He was a sensation but not an anomaly. There were popular cover models before Fabio, like Chad Deal. During his reign as King of the Cover hunks, other famous models, like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis, found much acclaim. A few others who came after Fabio achieved more success, like Jason Baca, who has appeared on 485+ covers (You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.)

The Beginning

Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 1961. The son of a businessman and former beauty queen, his large, muscular figure made him natural for the camera. His career began at age 14 when he was discovered by a photographer and asked to model for Italian Vogue magazine. Following a stint in the army, he came to the United States to further develop his career.

After a few jobs in print ads, Fabio made his first appearance on a historical romance novel in 1987, posing on the back the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword. Legendary artist Elaine Duillo had discovered Fabio through photos and thought there was something unique about him that made him a natural fit for her colorful work.

When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, the 1987 Viking romance Hearts Aflame, she used Fabio as the hero. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the NY Times best seller list. Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until her retirement, primarily using Fabio as her male model.

Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

A Romance Sensation

While Fabio was not her official muse, there was no other artist who captured Fabio’s look better than Elaine Duillo. However, they only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Other artists such as Max Ginsburg, John Ennis, and Pino would also paint him.

Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books, including The Prince of Midnight. This was a sensation. Editors found that Fabio’s image boosted book sales and all the major publishers were eager to use him. Avon, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, Harlequin, Warner Books, Kensington (Zebra), and more had him pose as their leading men.

Pop Culture Status

By the early 1990s, Fabio was fully entrenched as a romance genre staple. The now-defunct Romantic Times had him as their centerfold in 1992 and he appeared at conventions, to the delight of his many fans.

Fabio’s fame grew larger in the cultural zeitgeist after he was made the official face for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! and starred in a series of ridiculous commercials. He was also a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. Eventually, Fabio made his way to screen and television, such as the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and movies like Dude, Where’s My Car?.

Fabio even became a writer of novels himself, pubishing several books that, of course, featured him on the cover. They were ghostwritten by romance journey-woman Eugenia Riley.

As a cover model, he was incredibly prolific, posing for 466 romance novels.

Today Fabio is still as handsome as ever at the age of 61 and he’s still single. However, the word is out that he’s looking for a lady to settle down with finally, so there is still hope for that special someone!

Final Thoughts on Fabio

Of all the blog posts and articles about Fabio that I’ve perused on the web, this was my favorite. @Vintagegeekculture at Tumblr.com gets it. I always considered Fabio as easy on the eyes and pleasing to look upon, but I never pictured him as my ideal hero. However, I loved his charm, his ultra-macho cheesiness, his ability for self-deprecation, and his love for his fans.

Fabio haters can go enjoy their favorite books in peace and we Fabio lovers will have a good time smiling over the many beautiful covers upon which he appeared.

Fabio Links

Category Romance Review: Stay Through the Night by Flora Kidd

Stay Through the Night, Flora Kidd, Harlequin, 1980, cover artist Bob Kebic

Harlequin Presents #344

“I’ve been looking for someone like you for a long time, a long, long time…”

Stay Through the NIght

3 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Feeling lazy, (as always), so here’s a quick review of Stay Through the Night by Flora Kidd hacked together from my reading updates:

The Plot

Charlotte, a single, fiercely independent, and career-minded woman, never had her sights set on marriage, but she at least respects the institution. When she sees how her very married sister, Nancy, drapes herself all over multi-millionaire Burt Sharaton, she quite naturally believes they’re having an affair. Charlotte is disappointed and angered by her sister, as she cares for her brother-in-law, who’s a decent man.

Determined to put a stop to this madness, Charlotte confronts Burt. There’s no way she’s going to let Nancy sail across the world with Burt in his flashy white yacht.

However, Burt surprises Charlotte when he decides to settle for Nancy’s younger and unmarried sister instead. Charlotte’s plan backfires on her, as Burt all but takes her captive.

My Opinion

This sweet, little romance seems to have low ratings on book sites around the internet and I don’t share the opinion. But then, my tastes do run contrarian to what’s popular.

It has everything that makes a classic HP so much fun:

#1 – A wealthy, arrogant hero, whose brutish ways are just a defense mechanism for his troubled past.

#2 – A virginal heroine who’s intelligent, a working woman, moral & strong-willed.

#3 – A married older sister trying to get her hooks in the hero.

#4 – Blackmail, kidnapping, and a quickie marriage to avoid scandal.

So what’s not to like?

Final Analysis of Stay Through the Night

And best of all, this drunken confession of love from the stoic, brutish hero really got to me…

“‘You’re warm and soft and rounded,’ he murmured. Again his speech was a little slurred and she wondered if he were lightheaded. ‘I’ve been looking for someone like you for a long time, a long, long time…’ He broke off and stiffened.

“‘Who was that talking?’ He demanded suddenly, very clearly and coldly.

‘You,’ [Charlotte informed him.]

(SIGH!) I’m a sucker for dramatic revelations of love. With Burt there’s more to him than meets the eye. He’s not the flashy playboy Charlotte thought he was. He’s a true gem of a hero.

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