Month: May 2021

A Closer Look at Cover Artist: H. Tom Hall


H. Tom Hall

H. Tom Hall’s art work on romance book covers is legendary. His style is instantly recognizable, refined, yet sensual.

Hall was born in 1932 and grew up in Prospect Park, Pennsylvania. He studied at the Tyler School of Fine Art and received his BFA from Philadelphia College of Art.

While in the U.S. Army, Hall wrote and illustrated a children’s book published by Knopf. After illustrating children’s books and magazines for many years Hall moved on to create book covers. His work has graced some of the biggest bestsellers of all time, like Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and some Colleen McCullough works, including The First Man in Rome and The Thorn Birds.

The First Man in Rome, Colleen McCullough, Avon, 1991, Tom Hall cover art

His career was so widely varied and successful that he was commissioned to do the reprint of John Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold and illustrated the cover of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s blockbuster bodice ripper, Shanna. The latter book sold millions of copies, and the passionate clinch cover was a huge part of the romance novel’s allure.... Read more “A Closer Look at Cover Artist: H. Tom Hall”

Historical Romance Review: Highland Velvet by Jude Deveraux

HIghland Velvet, Pocket Books, 1982, cover artist Harry Bennett

“You’ll regret that! Someday you’ll know that one drop of my blood is more precious than any angry feelings you carry!”

HIGHLAND VELVET
5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Plot

Forced into marriage to the English nobleman Stephen Montgomery, Scotswoman Brenna MacArran, the leader of her clan, vows to make his life miserable.

While Deveraux’s heroes in the Velvet Series had their bad moments, particularly Gavin, and to a lesser extent, Miles and Raine, in Highland Velvet, Stephen Montgomery was the stuff girlish dreams are made of.

Stephen was kind and loving to his sister-in-law, Judith, always taking her side whenever Gavin preferred his evil mistress. He stayed by her bedside during her painful miscarriage and supported her throughout.

When Stephen saw Bronwyn for the first time, he fell instantly in love with her. He worked his butt off to get the approval of the men in Bronwyn’s clan and had to fight that creepy Roger Chatworth for her hand in marriage, even though they were already betrothed. Heck, he even changed his last name so that her MacArran family name wouldn’t die out. And he was no wussy male, but a deadly soldier willing to work hard and rethink his value system when faced with contradictions.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Highland Velvet by Jude Deveraux”

Historical Romance Review: Call Back the Dream by Barbara Hazard

175
Call Back the Dream, Barbara Hazard, , Harlequin, 1991, Elaine Duillo cover artist TBD
5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

***SPOILERS***

As I prefer to read older works, many of my favorites go way back (30+ years), so unfortunately, most are widely unknown and/or out of print. One of these is this dazzling gem, Barbara Hazard’s Call Back the Dream. The Elaine Duillo cover is stunning, with the heroine in a glorious pink gown and rare red-haired hero. And yes, in this case, you can judge a book by its cover.

Camille Talbot is a vicar’s beloved daughter who loves and is loved by young Alexander Maxwell, an earl’s son. Their romance is one of the sweetest I’ve ever read, but there is a lot of sadness and suffering before they can be together (no violence, just heartache). This story spans 15 years. There is only one brief love scene that is exquisitely written, which the entire plot hinges upon, but other than that, the sensuality is mildy warm. Don’t expect any bodice-ripping, but do expect a lot of sentiment.

Barbara Hazard just had a wonderful way of straddling the line between beauty and tragedy.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Call Back the Dream by Barbara Hazard”

Historical Romance Review: Surrender to Love by Rosemary Rogers

Surrender to Love, Rosemary Rogers, Avon 1982, cover artist unknown
3 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Rosemary Rogers, the “Grande Dame of Bodice Rippers” wrote a few exceptional epics, but alas, Surrender to Love wasn’t one of them. It’s my least liked of her books I’ve read so far.

The Heroine

Surrender to Love begins in the hot, sultry nation of Ceylon where the British heroine Alexa lives. Alexa is so spunky; she just hates convention and why-oh-why do rules have to be so strict for women and why couldn’t she have been born a man?

Look, I like feminist heroines in my bodice rippers; a meek, wishy-washy heroine in one is no fun, but Alexa… It just never ended with her. Her attitude is very draining. But worse are the random italicized words, sometimes just a couple per page, sometimes dozens. It made me crazy.

Alexa is one of those wild heroines who courts danger and is susceptible to intense mood swings. I got the suspicion it was the author’s mania slipping though. The writing was erratic, the POV changed without warning from within paragraph. And did I mention those italics?... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Surrender to Love by Rosemary Rogers”

Category Romance Review: Dark Fever by Charlotte Lamb

Harlequin Presents #1840
1 star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert ***

I’ve said this before about a Charlotte Lamb book, but now I really mean it: this is the worst romance written by her that I’ve ever read! I don’t think I’ve ever hated a Harlequin Presents as much as Dark Fever. No, it wasn’t boring… It was bizarre and awful and left me with a horrible feeling!

The Plot

Dark Fever was part of a series of books based on the Seven Deadly Sins. The theme of this novel was lust, although there’s no sexual intercourse in this one. Personally, I thought this book’s theme of sin was gluttony because all the talk of food. It was set in Spain, after all.

Bianca has just turned 40 years old. She is a widow of 3 years, still in mourning for her husband. She has two teenagers and feels down in the dumps, so she goes on a trip to Spain. At her hotel, she sees a handsome man swimming in a pool and instantly falls in lust.

The man, Gil, is much younger than Bianca. He also is deeply attracted to her, and he cares for her as well.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Dark Fever by Charlotte Lamb”

Covers of the Week #6

A pair of Pino covers! For the week of May 17 to May 23 let’s admire some historical romance novel stepback covers illustrated by Giuseppe Dangelico Daeni, aka Pino, a legendary artist we will explore at length very soon here at SweetSavageFlame.com!

Left to right: Deception, Amanda Quick, Bantam Books, 1993, Pino cover art; Dangerous Anita Mills, Topaz, 1996, Pino cover art

Gothic Romance Review: The Curse of Kenton by Janet Louise Roberts

“The Kenton bad temper is not going to kill my husband! I have resolved on that!”

THE CURSE OF KENTON
4 1/2 stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’ve not read too many gothic romances, but The Curse of Kenton is definitely one of the better ones I’ve come upon. My Avon 1972 first-edition features the typical Gothic cover, with a heroine (wrong hair color alert: she’s brunette, not blonde) screaming in terror as she runs away from a dark castle.

In this case, it’s Castle Kenton, a place shrouded in a dreadful mystery, as is always the case in these Gothic Romances.

The Plot

Barbara Ashe is an orphan who works as a pharmacist for a country doctor. One day two dashing lords come racing through town, and the darkly handsome Duke of Kenton requires her services as he is gravely ill. Gilbert is a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and suffers from a secret, fatal malady which makes him bitter and dissolute.

The Curse of Kenton, Janet Luoise Roberts , Avon, 1972, cover artist TBD

Despite her better judgment, Barbara falls for the Duke, and they are quickly married, as Gilbert needs an heir before he passes on.... Read more “Gothic Romance Review: The Curse of Kenton by Janet Louise Roberts”

Category Romance Review: Arafura Pirate by Victoria Gordon

Harlequin Romance #3025
From the back of the book:

Marine biologist Jinx Beaumont had the sinking feeling her given name foretold the voyage ahead of her. She was jinxed, all right – stuck with Race Morgan, a merciless buccaneer of a captain. Studying shark life on the rough seas north of Australia kept Jinx busy enough. She definitely didn’t need the unnerving distraction of a human predator like roguish Captain Morgan! Jinx fought against the magnetic pull and her desire. She didn’t want to become one of Race’s romantic conquests. But her inner turmoil only increased when she felt challenged by a rival who was stunningly beautiful…and vicious.

Arafura Pirate, Victoria Gordon, Harlequin, 1989, Will Davies cover art
3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Arafura Pirate by Victoria Gordon was among one of the first romances I read.

Arafura Pirate was set in coastal Australia with a spunky heroine named Jinx, a blond, short-haired marine biologist who was tough and independent. She sets out with her team of fellow scientists to tag sharks.

When she met the hero, Race Morgan (what a typical hero name that was!), she wore a shirt that said, “Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.”... Read more “Category Romance Review: Arafura Pirate by Victoria Gordon”

Category Romance Review: Show Me by Janet Dailey

Show Me, Janet Dailey, Harlequin, 1977, cover artist TBD
Harlequin Presents #200
2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert***

As the first American author of Harlequin Presents, Janet Dailey set her novels in all 50 states. I suppose this was to show foreign readers how diverse and exotic the USA can be. Although her books never inspired me to jet-set across the country, I, too, have travelled around the States and found myself in various oh-so-glamorous US cities like: Providence, Rhode Island; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; Bridgeport, Connecticut; South Bend, Indiana; and Newark, New Jersey. Talk about exotic!

The Plot

Dailey’s HP #200 Show Me is set in the “Show Me” state of Missouri, with the hero, Jake, saying lines like this over and over again: “I’m from Missouri. You have to show me to believe.”

Jake is a bitter man who’s returned home after being away for more than half a decade. He’s sour because he was forced to marry Tanya, the mother of his son, John. The child was a result of a drunken one-night-stand Jake can’t recall. The “hero” is a deadbeat dad, as he’s lived in Africa for 7 years and made no effort to get to know his son.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Show Me by Janet Dailey”

Historical Romance Review: Wicked Stranger by Louisa Rawlings

Harlequin Historical #157

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Sequel to My Personal Favorite Romance

As I’ve said before, author Louisa Rawlings (aka Sylvia Halliday) wrote exquisite romances. She penned the sensational Stolen Spring, which took place during the era of Louis XIV. Wicked Stranger by Louisa Rawlings is the sequel to one of my all-time favorite books, Stranger in My Arms.

Wicked Stranger, Louisa Rawlings, Harlequin, 1992, cover artist TBD
Wicked Stranger, Louisa Rawlings, Harlequin, 1992, cover artist TBD

The Hero, the Heroine, & the Plot

Noel, this books’ hero, is the devil-may-care twin brother of Adam from Stranger in My Arms is as different from Adam in temperament as they are as similar in looks. Noel is a flirt, a charmer who always sees the positive in life, and prefers to live without responsibilities. Adam is broody, quiet, gruff, duty-bound, awkward with women, and suffers from the horrors of the Napoleonic wars as he was a general, while Noel was a mere corporal.

Noel Bouchard is in New York after living in France. He’s looking to make his way in life, and meets the elite Babcock family. The Babcocks have several daughters, one being the lovely, yet prickly, Elizabeth, whom Noel is strangely drawn to.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Wicked Stranger by Louisa Rawlings”

Historical Romance Review: This Towering Passion by Valerie Sherwood

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert***

Lovely red-gold-haired, violet-eyed Lenore is the female protagonist of Valerie Sherwood’s This Towering Passion and the primary heroine of its sequel, Her Shining Splendor, which tells the tale of both Lenore and her daughter, Lorena, from the English Civil War to the Restoration eras.

Lenore’s beauty is of little use to her because while she can get a man, she has trouble keeping him.

The Plot

First, as is standard in a Sherwood novel, the heroine gets together with her first lover, who’s typically a hunky block of wood. Here, Lenore becomes infatuated with the hottest guy in town, a big blond stud who’s a charismatic black hole. Although he’s a mite too friendly with other ladies, he and Lenore get handfasted.

But, alas, he leaves Lenore behind, looking for adventure by fighting against the English army. Lenore, who has no one else in the world, won’t be left all alone and seeks him out, only to find he’s killed in action.

Meanwhile, the dashing Cavalier, Geoffrey Wyndham, is on the run himself. He and Lenore meet on the road, and within hours of finding Lenore’s “husband’s” dead body and with Roundhead troops hunting them down, Geoffrey says, “What the hell, life’s too short!”... Read more “Historical Romance Review: This Towering Passion by Valerie Sherwood”

Category Romance Review: Asking for Trouble by Miranda Lee

askingfortrouble
Harlequin Presents #1614
2 stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The problem with reading a much-beloved author almost 50 times is that their books begin to blend together. Plotlines get replayed. And replayed. And replayed.

The Plot

In Miranda Lee’s Asking for Trouble, we see a familiar Lee storyline: a sexually inexperienced woman who ironically looks like sex on legs and a hero who’s been burned in the past by a bad relationship and unwilling to commit. I don’t know if this is the fourth or fifth book where the couple watches the film Out of Africa on a romantic date. After a few passionate nights of sex, the heroine gets pregnant, and that magically solves everything.

Of course, this is a Harlequin Presents, and it’s all par for the course, but when it’s the same story over and over, I wonder if I should take a break from a writer for a while so that when I read a new book, I’d appreciate it more.

Final Analysis of Asking for Trouble

If I had read this one ten years ago, this would have new and exciting to me, and it would have merited a 4. This isn’t a bad book, but since I’ve read at least a dozen better variations of the same exact story, just with different character names and descriptions, I didn’t enjoy it as much this time around as previously.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Asking for Trouble by Miranda Lee”