Month: July 2021

Contemporary Romance Review: A Violation by Charlotte Lamb

A violation
A Violation, Charlotte Lamb, Worldwide 1983, cover artist unknown

Spoiler Alert ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Romance That is Not a Romance

A Violation, a full-length novel by category author Charlotte Lamb, isn’t a straightforward romance, somewhere more between women’s fiction and romantic fiction. Like so many of her works, the major themes are the philosophy of love and what are the defined roles of being a man and a woman, especially when it comes to amorous relationships.

In general, I think she was better restrained by the limitations of category romance as at times here she veers off into navel-gazing. Nevertheless, A Violation was a satisfactory read, not as good as the similarly-themed Stranger in the Night, but much better than a few of Lamb’s other Mills and Boon/ Harlequins that also dealt with sexual assault (I am looking at you Dark Fever).

Rape, especially a violent rape by a stranger who debases the heroine, leaving her life in tatters, isn’t the most comfortable backstory for a romance. As stated, though, this isn’t strictly a romance novel, so if you’re looking for more than a “Happy For Now” ending, you might be disappointed.... Read more “Contemporary Romance Review: A Violation by Charlotte Lamb”

Historical Romance Review: Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor

Savage Ecstasy
Savage Ecstasy
Savage Conquest, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1982, Walter Popp cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This review is of Savage Ecstasy (Ecstasy/Gray Eagle, #1; the series is known by two different names) by Janelle Taylor. There’s a lot to unpack here in this Zebra historical romance.

The Story

The year is 1776, and English expatriate Alisha Williams, 20, the book’s heroine (and the first four books in the series), has journeyed west to find happiness with her only surviving relative, her uncle Thad. One day, the “men” in her settlement bring a captured Oglala Lakota Indian brave into their camp; that brave is Gray Eagle, the “hero” of the book. Their treatment of him sets the stage for what follows. The whites emotionally and physically abuse Gray Eagle in the camp. Only Alisha shows Gray Eagle kindness; his response to this is to bite her hand. (This is only the beginning of what he has in store for her over the course of the series.) Despite this, Gray Eagle and Alisha develop romantic feelings for each other.

Gray Eagle, with the help of his best friend, White Arrow, escapes. Shortly thereafter, Gray Eagle, White Arrow, and a hundred of their fellow Oglala braves sack the fortress, killing most people in the camp.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor”

Historical Romance Review: Highland Heather by Ruth Langan

Highland Heather
Highland Heather, Ruth Langan, Harlequin, 1991, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Historical #65

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Highland Sisters, Part Two

Ruth Langan’s Highland Heather is the sequel to her previous Scottish romance, Highland Barbarian. I liked this Harlequin Historical much more than its predecessor. Why? I enjoyed the conflict between the hero and the heroine and the English setting, plus introducing Queen Elizabeth I to a story always makes things interesting.

Brenna MacAlpin is the middle MacAlpin sister, whose elder sister Meredith went and married her beloved Highlander. Brenna is now the leader of their Scots clan. However, it’s not easy going for her as she has enemies, namely the English. Moreover, Brenna does not have the same fierce disposition as her elder sister. Brenna is more even-tempered, dare I say, more lady-like. Her men are blindly loyal to her, regardless, but leading is no easy task.

The Queen’s Savage

One day, the Queen’s Savage himself, Lord Morgan Grey, arrives to implement Queen Elizabeth’s plan to marry the MacAlpin off to an English lord, which she believes will lead to peace. MacAlpin household warily welcomes Morgan and his men. Upon hearing the intentions of the English, Brenna flees into the wilderness.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Highland Heather by Ruth Langan”

What’s in a Name? Favorite Romance Novel Names

wooden name tags arranged on table during wedding ceremony

In the comment section of the review of Passion’s Treasure/Just Say Yes by Betina Krahn that I reviewed, our colleague Mary Ann Landers asked about the name of the book’s heroine, Treasure Barrett. That query got me thinking about romance novel names: do I have favorite ones? I certainly do!

Some of My Favorite Romance Novel Names:

Bandit’s Embrace by Georgina Gentry, Zebra, 1989, artist unknown

Amethyst (nee Durango)

Book: Bandit’s Embrace by Georgina Gentry. (March 1989)

This character was named after her beautiful purple eye color. When I read this book, it got me thinking about other “precious gem” names for females, such as Diamond, Emerald, Peridot, and Sapphire.

Audrina (nee Harris)

Book: Dakota Flame by Sonya T. Pelton. (July 1989)

I loved this name when I first saw it. The name Audrina is a contraction of her first and middle names, Audrey Tina. 

Breanna (nee Kenton) Remington

Book: Dakota Dreams by Constance O’Banyon (June 1991).

Breanna is not the most unusual name, but it is one of my favorites. I also loved Breanna Kenton Remington.

The Devil’s Price, Carole Mortimer, Harlequin, 1986, cover artist unknown

Cynara (nee Williams)

Book: The Devil’s Price by Carole Mortimer (January 1986)

This name may be my all-time favorite romance novel name.... Read more “What’s in a Name? Favorite Romance Novel Names”

Category Romance Review: Sunday Kind of Love By Lois Faye Dyer

Sunday kind of love
Sunday Kind of Love, Lois Faye Dyer, Kismet, 1991, cover artist unknown

KISMET #70

MILD SPOILERS 😉

2 1/2 stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A Meteoric Rise and Fall for Kismet?

According to the website FictionDB the Meteor Publishing Company, from somewhere out of Pennsylvania, USA, released 168 books through its Kismet Romance line. The series ran from July 1990 to August 1993. The final book was written by Suzanne Brockman, with authors such as Cassie Miles, Christine Dorsey, Janis Reams Hudson, Sharon Sala, and Christina Dodd releasing works with them. Lois Faye Dyer, who would produce numerous Special Edition romances for Silhouette Books, was one of their more prolific writers. Her romance Sunday Kind of Love is book #2 in a series about 4 siblings.

Dark Memories

I sort of want to revisit this book to see if my feelings about it were clouded by the experience I went through while reading it. About 20 years ago, in the middle of the night, my husband was rushed to the ER with a serious asthma attack. I recall holding our 3-year-old daughter tightly as my husband used his last bit of adrenaline to try to convince the doubtful ER workers that he could not breathe before passing out.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Sunday Kind of Love By Lois Faye Dyer”

Category Romance Review: Dillon After Dark by Leandra Logan

Dillon after dark
Dillon After Dark, Leandra Logan, Harlequin, 1991, cover artist unknown

Harlequin Tempation # 362

3 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Voice in the Dark

Dillon After Dark, Harlequin Temptation #362, is a cute, fun romance by Leandra Logan. Dillon Danvers is a laid-back California DJ who airs a talk/ music show where he discusses many topics: surfing, books, music, clubs, and lots of other fun subjects to delight in. Dr. Kristina Jordan is a psychologist and single mother with no time for relaxation. Together these two opposites could make for an exciting couple. However, Kristina needs major convincing to be part of it.

Kristina’s teenaged daughter, Julianne, is absolutely ga-ga over Dillon. His sexy voice makes her adolescent hormones run wild. She’s a frequent caller to his show, making herself seem older than her tender years while complaining about her overbearing mother. Julianne enters a poetry contest for the show and wins the grand prize: a date with Dillon! Her mother thinks this is all silly nonsense And is appalled by her daughter’s behavior. She’s merely fourteen, while Dillon is twice her age!

Against her better judgment, Kristina agrees to let Julianne meet Dillon, but on the condition that she accompany them on their date.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Dillon After Dark by Leandra Logan”

Why Romance? Why Vintage?

Ladies-Home-Journal

Mary Anne’s Story

I love to read. I love stories. And right now, my kind of story is vintage romance fiction. 

By which I mean romances published in the twentieth century. In particular certain varieties of the genre, with features that were once popular but have since gone out of style. That’s why I’m grateful for a blog like Sweet Savage Flame. Here I can get info and opinions about my favorite body of fiction. And share my own!

Why romance? Why vintage? To answer both questions, I must start with who I am as a reader.

“Her First Romance” by Charles Edward Chambers. September 1922 issue of “The Ladies’ Home Journal,” Curtis Publishing Company.

A Lifelong Love of Reading

I’m an American and a Baby Boomer. I was born the year Eisenhower was elected. And exposed to the cultural influences of my generation. I liked some kinds of art and entertainment, tolerated others, rejected some. I wasn’t picky at first, but the years made me pretty selective.

I’ve been in love with reading ever since I could read. In the beginning, there was Dick and Jane. Then books assigned by my teachers or given to me by my parents. Well, my mother; my dad wasn’t much of a reader.... Read more “Why Romance? Why Vintage?”

Historical Romance Review: The Forever Passion by Karen A. Bale

The Forever Passion, Karen A. Bale, Zebra, 1979, cover artist unknown

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

3 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This review is of Karen A. Bale’s 1979 Zebra romance The Forever Passion.

Taken Captive

The Forever Passion begins with an introduction to the heroine of the book, Lisa Jordan, 18. Lisa, chafing under the demands placed on her in her native Boston, has decided to head west to live with her brother, Tom. She arranges to travel by wagon train and falls in love with the train scout, Josh Wade. Then things take a turn for the worst.

The wagon train is attacked by Comanche Indians. Lisa tries to escape but is captured, beaten, and gang-raped. Later, Lisa is found by an Indian warrior named Nakon, the hero of the book. Nakon shows Lisa kindness, and later they are married.

Things get worse for Lisa when one of the Indians who raped and beat her before does it again to her. Eventually, she makes love with Nakon and has issues, but allows it to happen. This results in pregnancy. Later, when Nakon doesn’t come home from a raid, Lisa believes he’s dead and tries to commit suicide.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Forever Passion by Karen A. Bale”

Covers of the Week #16

island enchantress

Wouldn’t it be nice to get away to an island paradise? I thought we all could enjoy a tropical theme for these dog days of summer. To those folks experiencing mid-winter in the southern latitudes, imagine relaxing on the beach like these lovers posing for this week’s romance book covers! For the week of Monday, July 26 to Sunday, August 1, 2021, here are some sexy embraces on sultry beaches. Enjoy! clinch

Historical Romance Review: Chance the Winds of Fortune by Laurie McBain

chance winds of fortune
Chance the Winds of Fortune, Laurie McBain, Avon, 1980, Tom Hall cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Chance the Winds of Fortune A Disappointing Sequel

Chance the Winds of Fortune is the sequel to Laurie McBain‘s Moonstruck Madness, a romance about a gender-bending highwayman (girl) who falls for an arrogant, scarred Duke, notorious for his dueling skills. I LOVED Moonstruck Madness… The follow-ups to that wonderful book about their daughter, Rhea Claire, Chance the Winds of Fortune & Dark Before the Rising Sun, though…uggh.

Please forgive my bluntness. They’re too long, boring, and stink. Even McBain’s tepid first outing, Devil’s Desire, was better than these.

The two sequels books combine to over 1000 pages, telling the tale of a vanilla-bland daughter of the protagonists of a much more compelling story. Perhaps if McBain had combined both novels into one 700 page epic, I would have found more enjoyment out of the romance.

If you take Chance the Wind of Fortune as a historical adventure, this read might not be so bad. Perspective matters. However, this was not marketed as Historical Fiction, but a Historical Romance, which made all the difference to me.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Chance the Winds of Fortune by Laurie McBain”

What Category or Series Romance Do You Read?

red petaled flower

Research Into Category Romance

The history of series romances goes back roughly a century ago to 1909. Since the rise of paperback publishers, many romance lines have come and gone. Still standing is Mills & Boon and its parent company, Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Bantam and Dell, no longer publish category romance, nor does Signet, Zebra, or Simon and Schuster. The latter formed Silhouette Books in 1980. However, Harlequin famously purchased that line, eventually folding it into its own.

Arrows From the Dark
Arrows From the Dark, Sophie Cole, Mills & Boon, 1909 (From Harper Collins Inside the Archives, courtesy of Reading University)

On our menu above, we have pages dedicated to romance authors, cover artists, and publishing houses. The history of publishing houses and imprints can be quite byzantine, as many companies were bought out by others, only to be resold again. In researching paperback romances of the past, I’ve come upon both an abundance and paucity of information, depending upon who or what I’m investigating. I want to do more in-depth research on each line, but often when I come upon fascinating tidbits of history, it leads to another line or publisher.

This is a rather tortuous way of saying I’m stuck.... Read more “What Category or Series Romance Do You Read?”

Historical Romance Review: The Frost and the Flame by Drusilla Campbell

frost and flame
frost and flame
The Frost and the Flame, Drusilla Campbell, Pocket Books, 1980, Harry Bennett cover Art

Spoiler Alert ⚠

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Drusilla Campbell’s The Frost and the Flame is one of those naughty bodice rippers where the heroine is separated for a long period of time from her true love, the dull, twatwaffle of a hero, and instead spends more time sexing it up with the lusty, evil villain. For the record, this is just the kind of bodice ripper I like: one that does not take itself seriously and knows how to throw crazy tropes at you, so you’ll keep the pages turning, even if the story is not really romantic.

The Crazy Plot and Characters

I loved the Russian setting and liked the heroine’s growth as a character, but the hero, Alexei, is exciting as dry toast. It’s the villain who is the star here: charismatic, evil, and blond!

Eighteen-year-old Katiana Donova is a convent-bred naif. While traveling across the cold depths of Russia, she and her companions are attacked. The dashing blond Prince Oleg saves her. The Prince seems so sweet and kind at first, but he soon proves to be a lustful rogue.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Frost and the Flame by Drusilla Campbell”

Category Romance Review: Time Enough For Love by Suzanne Brockmann

Time enough for love
Time enough for love
Time Enough for Love, Suzanne Brockmann, Loveswept, 1997, Ed Tadiello cover art

Loveswept #858

MILD SPOILERS 😉

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Time for Something Different?

Bantam’s Loveswept category romances might not have been as big-selling as Harlequins or Silhouettes. Still, their output of almost 1,000 books over 16 years gave rise to many popular and successful authors like Iris Johansen, Sandra Brown, Janet Evanovich, and Suzanne Brockmann. The line gave writers more freedom to stray from traditional series restrictions. 1997’s Time Enough For Love by Suzanne Brockmann is a different kind of love story for that era, as it entails time travel plus a love triangle. Between one woman and two versions of the same man!

Maggie Winthrop finds a naked man on her property screaming about the apocalypse. He swears he’s from the future. Like any sane woman, her first instinct is to call the police (but first, maybe a peek won’t hurt. The guy’s body is incredible!)

Does she know this man? The weirdo acts as if they’re good friends. He says he’s Chuck Della Croce. Maggie knows Charles Della Croce, doesn’t she? But this man is not Charles, even though he is.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Time Enough For Love by Suzanne Brockmann”

Category Romance Review: Cheap Thrills by Tiffany White

Cheap Thrills
Cheap Thrills, Tiffany White, Harlequin, 1990, cover artist unknown

Harlequin Temptation #318

3 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Story

At the beginning of Tiffany White’s category romance Cheap Thrills, the hero Crew Harper is working this side gig as a window-washer when he becomes an accidental peeping Tom. Transfixed, can only stare as sees a woman enter an office. She undresses, and he’s shocked at what’s revealed: yes, her gorgeous body, but with a delightful secret butterfly tattoo on her pert, peachy derriere. That’s right, I do read “The Daily Mail” on occasion!

After the woman changes her clothes and leaves, Crew sees a man come into her office and rifle through her desk. How outrageous! How dare this man invade a woman’s privacy?

I think it’s kind of funny how rapidly times have moved. Alexa, the heroine, has a small butterfly tattoo on her butt, and the hero acts as if it’s the naughtiest little secret a woman can keep. It’s amazing how quickly social norms change, as this was written in 1990.

Anyhow, Crew makes his way into Alexa’s life, to help her out, of course. He has to let her know that there’s a weirdo on the prowl for her.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Cheap Thrills by Tiffany White”

My Romance Novel Journey

first love, wild love

Recently, Jacqueline asked why people read romance novels. I’ll answer that question in another post, but I wanted to use this one to explain how I became a romance novel aficionado.

How it All Began

My romance novel journey began in 1980. My late mother had a small collection of books and I picked one up and started reading it. (I don’t recall the name or author of the book, but it was a Harlequin Romance about two figure skaters whose previous partners dumped them. The hero and heroine then teamed up, and fell in love. Little did I know what that first book started.

To Begin Again, Jan MacLean, Harlequin, 1980, Fred Oakley cover art

Expanding the Circle

As the 1980s went on, my reading choices expanded, from Harlequin Romance to Harlequin Presents, Superromance and Temptation, as well as Richard Gallen contemporary romances and Zebra/Kensington historical romances.

First Changes

As the ’90s came and went, I turned away from historical romances and went all-in on Harlequin and its sister imprint, Silhouette books. (The clerks at B. Dalton, a sadly defunct bookstore chain, began to know me by name as every month, I would go in and purchase two baskets full of books).... Read more “My Romance Novel Journey”

Dueling Historical Romance Review #2: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale

Desperado Dream sabin
Desperado Dream, Karen A. Bale, Zebra, 1990, Robert Sabin cover art

Dueling Review Introvert Reader and Blue Falcon #1

In this new segment, we have two reviewers offering their opinions on a single romance. Blue Falcon gives Karen A. Bale’s Desperado Dream a positive review and found the book emotionally captivating. Introvert Reader, on the other hand, explains her negative perspective of the historical romance in her review.

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This review is of Desperado Dream, the sequel to The Forever Passion by Karen A. Bale.

The Story:

It is 11 years in publishing time, but only 1 year in book time as the relationship between Lisa Jordan Anderson and her husband, Eric Anderson, continues. The couple and their daughter, Raya, live on a ranch in Monterey, California. The relationship between Lisa and Eric was tumultuous in The Forever Passion, and nothing changes in this book. After Eric and Lisa’s brother, Tom, go to San Francisco on a legal matter, they become involved in rescuing a woman, Teresa Torres, who falls for Eric, and he becomes attracted to her too. Meanwhile, back at the Del Mar ranch, Lisa has been kidnapped by a bandido named Cruz Estacan, who has orders to kill her, Eric, and Eric’s grandfather as a means of retaking the land Cruz and his cohorts believe belongs to them.... Read more “Dueling Historical Romance Review #2: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale”

Dueling Historical Romance Review #1: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale

Desperado Dream sabin
Desperado Dream, Karen A. Bale, Zebra, 1990, Robert Sabin cover art

Dueling Review: Introvert Reader and Blue Falcon #1

In this new segment, we have two reviewers offering their opinions on a single romance. Here, Introvert Reader explains her negative perspective of Karen A. Bale’s historical romance, Desperado Dream. Blue Falcon, on the other hand, gave it a positive review and found the book emotionally captivating.

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

False Advertising

The huge failure of this Zebra Lovegram romance, Desperado’s Dream by Karen A. Bale, rests on the fact that nothing in the book description hinted this was book #2 in a series about a married couple, Eric & Lisa. Of course, Zebra book descriptions never accurately describe the plot, but I didn’t know that back then. If I had known that going into it, I never would have purchased this romance. But at the tender age of 12, I was dazzled by the Robert Sabin cover. Plus, the purported hero’s name, Cruz, reminded me of the daytime soap opera, “Santa Barbara,” its phenom super couple, Eden & Cruz, and the hunky star, A. Martinez, who played half of said super-couple.... Read more “Dueling Historical Romance Review #1: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale”

Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Stars by Hettie Grimstead

Whisper to the Stars
Whisper to the Stars, Hettie Grimstead, Harlequin, “Jh” cover artist

Harlequin Romance #1403

Spoiler-Free Review 🙂

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A Star of a Lower Magnitude

Whisper to the Stars is a vintage-contemporary romance that revolves around a trope hard to find nowadays: unrequited love. It starts out strong, with the promise of a deeply moving emo story. And it delivers, up to a point. Then it falters. Somewhere in the middle, it loses sight of what a romance is supposed to do: to engage and enthrall the reader.

Recently I read and reviewed for Sweet Savage Flame Yesterday’s Love by Marsha Manning, pen name of the prolific Hettie Grimstead. I was so enchanted that I sought out other romances by the same author. Which led me to Whisper to the Stars. To say I had high expectations would be putting it mildly.

It was first published in 1963 by Mills & Boon. The version I read is, of course, the transatlantic Harlequin reprint. Published in 1970, with three later editions (that I know of). It got pretty good ratings on Goodreads, so I must assume it was a crowd-pleaser.

For me, at least it was a good try.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Stars by Hettie Grimstead”

Covers of the Week #15

Bold Destiny

The Duillo family was filled with artistic talent. There was John Duillo, the great pulp cover artist. Of course, his wife Elaine was a pioneer for women in the field. She not only painted pulp covers but went on to become the “Queen of Romance Covers.” However, did you know their daughter, Melissa Duillo Gallo, was a talented artist as well?

In the 1980s – 1990s, Melissa, who used the surname Gallo after her marriage, was a prolific historical romance cover artist, creating works for publishers such as Avon, Dell, Warner, Zebra, and more. While she and her mother no longer illustrate romance covers, Melissa is still creating art as a talented painter. Melissa Gallo Paints is where you can get access to her current work. I also have a dedicated Pinterest page to her romance covers here.

For a long time, I used to get Elaine and Melissa’s artwork confused, unintentionally mislabelling one of the books below as Elaine’s! Now I can spot the differences between mom’s and her daughter’s work. For one thing, Melissa preferred her models to wear more clothes, and also, she was more conservative with the use of eyeshadow, especially for the heroes! Both ladies, Duillo, collaborated with supermodel Fabio many times.... Read more “Covers of the Week #15”

Author Spotlight: Penny Jordan

Penny Jordan pic
Penny Jordan pic
“Penny Jordan” (real name Penny Jones-Halsall)

Penny Jordan was an immensely popular author for Mills and Boon/ Harlequin. She wrote romantic love stories that readers have enjoyed for 40 years. Penny Jordan was not her real identity but one of her many pseudonyms. Let’s take a look back at the career of this talented author.

Life Before Writing

Born on November 24, 1946, Penelope “Penny” Jones came into the world in a nursing home in Preston, Lancashire, England. Like many future writers, Penny had a vivid imagination as a child and was an active reader. Starting at age 10 or 11, her mother introduced Penny to the romantic serials in the Woman’s Weekly magazines. She became hooked on reading Mills & Boon and was a devoted fan. In those days, private lending libraries were the only source to obtain those books. Not until years later would the books go on sale in shops so Penny could have her keep of them.

She had met the love of her life, Steve Halsall, as a teenager, whom she married after her graduation. Steve was supportive of Penny’s burgeoning ambitions to write and purchased a typewriter for her to create romantic fiction.

Enter Caroline Courtney, Penny Jordan, and Anne Groves

Penny entered a competition run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), which brought her to the attention of an agent, and in 1979 she published Duchess in Disguise, the first of her 25 Regency romances written under the name Caroline Courtney.... Read more “Author Spotlight: Penny Jordan”