3 stars

Historical Romance Review: These Golden Pleasures by Valerie Sherwood

These Golden Pleasures, Warner Books, 1977, Elaine Duillo cover art

3 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What can I say about Valerie Sherwood’s These Golden Pleasures? Well, this 512 page epic starts out wonderfully but then falters then lags in the middle, and is rushed at the end.

Roxanne is in San Francisco on the eve of the great earthquake of 1906. She has to choose between the two men who will decide her fate, one of them her true love.

The story goes back to when Roxanne was a 15-year-old girl in Kansas, and the drama of her life unfolds. As is usual in a Valerie Sherwood, the heroine’s first sexual experience is not with the hero. She has a fling with Buck, her best friend’s fiancé.

Circumstances force her out of Kansas and Roxanne goes to Maryland, where she finds work as a maid for the wealthy Coulter family. She is romanced by two brothers: cynical, business-minded Gavin and handsome, carefree Rhodes who sails ships. This is where the book gets cooking! The tension is hot… And then a stupid misunderstanding leads to a long separation. I lament the fact that Sherwood didn’t do more with the brothers. She had a great set up and just let it fizzle.

After they both betray her, Roxanne marries sad, pathetic Denby. This is where the book draaagggsss. She spends about 150 pages married to him, moving from Georgia to Washington to Alaska as they run out of money and opportunities. She has a brief affair with Case, a dark, mysterious gambler.

Then after Denby croaks, she has a common-law marriage with dull, boring Leighton, whom the author constantly calls a golden giant. I kept picturing him as a hulking Brock Lesnar type and that’s not sexy to me. We’re told that Leighton is a real nice guy, but he leaves Roxanne stranded in Asia and returns to his ailing wife in the States!

Then Roxanne has four or five other lovers because she has to support herself somehow. But Rhodes comes back for revenge and you think: ok, now it’s on, then… They’re quickly separated and it’s back to Gavin in San Francisco.

I don’t mind romances where the heroine has more than one lover, as long as the love story is well developed or the other men in the book are exciting. While the scenes with Rhodes and Roxanne are hot, they’re all too brief.

There was very little true romance, but the history is wonderfully detailed, as one would expect in a Valerie Sherwood novel. There is one scene in particular, where Denby, a glove-maker/salesman, puts leather gloves on Roxanne that is written so beautifully. But authentic history was not enough for me in this one.

This was a rare deviation for Sherwood from her Cavalier/Georgian era books, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t like it as much as her other works.

Roxanne is a strong, unique heroine and the book is at its best whenever she’s with the brothers. It’s unfortunate that it’s not front and center in this epic saga.

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