Month: September 2021

Contemporary Romance Review: Sometimes a Stranger by Angela Alexie

Sometimes A Stranger, Angela Alexie, Pocket Books/ Richard Gallen,1981, cover artist TBD

Richard Gallen Books #43801-8

Spoiler Free Review 😊

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reviewed by Mary Anne Landers

A Category Romance on Steroids

Like big, dramatic contemporary romances set in glamorous, exciting milieus? With dynamic characters and lots of plot? Then I recommend Sometimes a Stranger.

It was originally published in 1981 as part of the Richard Gallen imprint from Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The edition I read came from Paradise Press, a reprint house, in 1990. Can’t say I care much for the cover graphics of my copy. But the text itself—wow!

It does something unusual for a contemporary romance of any generation. Typically stories in this genre take place in “the eternal present.” There are no dates as in historical romances. It’s assumed that what’s going on can happen when the work is first published and any time thereafter.

Trouble is, the present ISN’T eternal. Things change. I imagine some readers (not including me) get put off when vintage-contemporary romances employ the fashions, pop culture, technology, and social attitudes of their times.... Read more “Contemporary Romance Review: Sometimes a Stranger by Angela Alexie”

Covers of the Week #24

skylark

Hot air ballooning is said to be a delightful experience. The winds guiding you high above the earth as you drift through the fluffy, white clouds… It seems like an exhilarating time. Unfortunately, a paralyzing fear of heights makes me feel otherwise. My husband once surprised me with plans for a romantic ride and I refused to go. He ended up taking our daughter!

People were baffled at my reticence. Although I aim for courage, there are things I cannot face.

Need someone to kill a poisonous bug? I’m there with my wide-heeled shoe. Could I face a horde of bio-engineered, flesh-eating Zombies? Not a problem, I can shoot and wield a machete. How about cleaning litter boxes for 5 kitties? Bring it on, I’m a crazy cat lady. But fly thousands of feet into the atmosphere in a rickety basket with only ropes to cling to and giant flames above me jetting into a huge balloon? Never.

Still, they’re beautiful things to behold. From afar, what a magical sight to witness those colorful inverted teardrops float through the air! From a safe distance on land, sipping a glass of Pinot Noir, of course.

For the week of September 20 to Monday, September 26, 2021, let’s appreciate these clinch poses on romance covers featuring hot air balloons!... Read more “Covers of the Week #24”

Historical Romance Review: Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills

hearts of fire gregg
Hearts of Fire, Anita Mills, Onyx, 1989 Gregg Gulbronson cover art

CONTENT & SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

A Fitting Sequel to a Masterpiece Romance

Hearts of Fire is a more satisfying sequel to the first installment of Anita Mills‘ medieval romance series, Lady of Fire, than its second outing, Fire and Steel was. Fire and Steel saw Catherine de Brione, the beloved daughter of Lady of Fire‘s Roger and Eleonor, find love with Guy of Rivaux. Guy was the pure-hearted bastard son of the demonic Robert of Bellesme. Bellesme was the unforgettable charismatic villain of the first two books who had an obsessive but somehow noble love for Eleonor. Bellesme stole the show in those novels, so magnetic was his character.

In Hearts of Fire, the male protagonist is Richard of Rivaux, grandson of Robert Bellesme and his beloved Eleonor. Richard is a fascinating and complicated hero. He has his grandfather’s darkness but is not consumed totally by evil. He kills for his woman, yet he’s a tender lover. In another book Richard could have been a villain. In this story he’s the hero and a wonderful one at that.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Hearts of Fire by Anita Mills”

A Closer Look At Sharon Spiak

the hawk and the dove
Sharon Spiak at work

Spiak, The Book Cover Illustrator

Illustrator and fine-art painter Sharon Spiak has made a name for herself in the romance industry for producing various gorgeous covers for many bestselling authors. She also had the privilege to paint Fabio almost as much as the Duillo ladies did.

Hailing from the state of New York, Spiak studied fine arts at SUNY-New Paltz. She continued her studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where she trained under prolific romance master Pino Daeni. In the 1980s and 1990s, Spiak would design hundreds of book covers, working with the top models and publishers.

Although Pino mentored her, Spiak was not his imitator. Her style is both uniquely her own and yet hard to pin down. The heroes and heroines Spiak paints have gorgeous hair flowing in waves or curls. While she adds extensive detail to backgrounds, the use of color in the foreground results in eye-catching covers. Like many artists, Spiak would have her models photographed in poses before sketching several possible covers. Spiak painted in various mediums, playing with hues and light to make her images pop out.

Spiak, The Book Covers

Among some of the earlier covers, Sharon Spiak produced were these two for Pocket Books’ Tapestry imprint.... Read more “A Closer Look At Sharon Spiak”

Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Waves by Helen Beaumont

whisper to the waves
Whisper to the Waves, Helen Beaumont, Sapphire, 1982, Cover Artist TBD

Sapphire Romance

Spoiler Free Review 😊

Rating: 4 out of 5.

4 Stars

Reviewed by Mary Anne Landers

Welcome aboard!

Whisper to the Waves is a good contemporary romance that with a little tweaking could’ve been an excellent one. It was published by RCA Marketing in 1982 in its Sapphire Romance series. These were American reprints of British originals; this one was first published by Hamlyn Paperbacks in 1981. 

All I know about the author is that “Helen Beaumont” might be a pseudonym. She wrote romances under at least three other names. And there’s more than one author with this name.

Whoever she was, she displays here a keen sense of just what makes a story romantic. And emotional; this one is full of drama. All centered on a heroine I can readily admire and identify with, a woman of deep feelings and a truly romantic disposition. Her story is a moving and memorable read. I would’ve given it five stars if not for–well, more about that later.

Are shipboard romances real?

Sadie Wyman works as a nurse aboard the ocean liner Konkordia, under the ship’s physician Dr.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Waves by Helen Beaumont”

15 Old School Historical Romances That Revolutionized the Genre

old school

These 15 Historical Romances published before 2000 either caused radical changes in the romance novel industry or they are so pivotal and unforgettable, they are must-reads. Please note, we at Sweet Savage Flame may not have read all books ourselves, but recognize their importance to the genre. Our aim is to review all books on this list if we haven’t already.

The List

... Read more “15 Old School Historical Romances That Revolutionized the Genre”

Category Romance Review: Tonight and Forever by Brenda Jackson

Tonight and Forever, Brenda Jackson, Pinnacle, 1995, Cover Artist TBD

Arabesque Romance

MILD SPOILERS 😉

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Brenda Jackson’s Tonight and Forever is her first published book and the first in her long-running series of the Madaris family. It’s a Pinnacle Arabesque romance from 1995, which are category romances but are not numbered, at least not to my knowledge.

Plot And Characters

Lorren Jacobs has left behind her past in California to return to her roots in Texas. After a bad marriage led to a bitter divorce, all she wants is to be with the people she loves and focus on her career of writing children’s books. At a party, the successful doctor Justin Madaris catches sight of her and is instantly smitten. Lorren is a beautiful woman, and receiving male attention is natural, but she wants none of that. Especially not from handsome men like Justin Madaris.

While Lorren had an unhappy marriage to a horrible man, Justin is a widower of ten years. His marriage was happy, but sadly, his wife is dead. Justin, however, is still in the realm of the living and is willing to live and love.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Tonight and Forever by Brenda Jackson”

Free Vintage or Old School Romance Books on Amazon #2

mansfield park

There are so many books listed on Amazon for free to read, that we had to post some more freebies!

Amazon Prime

If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can borrow up to 10 books for free at a time. The lending library is limited to just 1,000 books, so check often to see what is available as the status of e-books changes. Currently, these romance novels published from the 1970s to 2000 are free to borrow (original cover edition followed by Amazon image/link):

Classic Romance

MANSFIELD PARK by JANE AUSTEN

Contemporary Romance

FOR ALL THEIR LIVES by FERN MICHAELS

SERENDIPITY by FERN MICHAELS

Gothic Romance

THE INDIA FAN by VICTORIA HOLT

THE SECRET WOMAN by VICTORIA HOLT

the secret woman

THE SHIVERING SANDS by VICTORIA HOLT

THE TIME OF THE HUNTER’S MOON by VICTORIA HOLT

Historical Romance

OUTLAW HEARTS by ROSANNE BITTNER

RAPTURE’S GOLD by ROSANNE BITTNER

WHISPER TO ME OF LOVE by SHIRLEE BUSBEE

DEVIL’S DESIRE by LAURIE MCBAIN

DEVIL'S DESIRE

MOONSTRUCK MADNESS by LAURIE MCBAIN

Moonstruck madness

LIONS AND LACE by MEAGHAN MCKINNEY

WILD ANGEL by MIRIAM MINGER

DEARLY BELOVED by MARY JO PUTNEY

SAVAGE ECSTASY by JANELLE TAYLOR

Savage Ecstasy

Kindle Unlimited

If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, no doubt you already take advantage of the many books you can read for a fixed monthly fee.... Read more “Free Vintage or Old School Romance Books on Amazon #2”

Covers of the Week #23

fire blossom

Who Loves Elaine Duillo? I Do!

By Mary Anne Landers

Our blog mistress Jacqueline Diaz invited me to submit an article with my four favorite covers from vintage romances. Well, I don’t have just four favorites. Of ANYTHING! But she’s letting me post four favorites by the leading illustrators of our genre and period. Each in one blog post.

For my first such post, I want to honor the late, great Elaine Duillo (1928 to 2021). She left us on July 30 of this year and had been retired for some time. But her wonderful illustrations live on.

I picked four covers of hers that haven’t already been posted elsewhere on this blog. With a bit of background and my comments. If you can fill in any info I missed, please add it in the comments. And I welcome your own reactions.

1) Stepback cover for Fireblossom by Cynthia Wright, Ballantine, 1992. An old-fashioned quilt. A log cabin. The prairies of the Midwest. The hardscrabble life on the American frontier in the nineteenth century. These are images and concepts I don’t usually associate with sex. But Elaine Duillo made everything hot!

2) Warrior’s Woman by Johanna Lindsey, science fiction romance, Avon, 1990.... Read more “Covers of the Week #23”

Category Romance Review: Driving Force by Sally Wentworth

Driving Force, Sally Wentworth, Harlequin, 1988, Cover Artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #1197

MILD SPOILERS 😉

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Driving Force, a Sally Wentworth Harlequin Presents, offers few surprises but is a satisfactory read regardless.

Characters

West Marriot– our hero, not a 3-star hotel but a famous race car driver–was terribly injured in a race several months ago. Madeleine French, a nurse and physiotherapist, had been married to West for four years. Maddy couldn’t withstand the anxiety of being married to a man with such a dangerous career, so she gave him an ultimatum, married life or fast cars. When he refused to quit, she left him. Several months later, West was in an accident that immobilized him.

Maddy receives a call from West’s mother, requesting to catch up. In fact, Laura, West’s mother, declares to Laura West isn’t recovering at all and may never walk again. She begs Maddy to come to help her ex-husband, and although Maddy initially refuses, in time, she realizes she still loves her ex and can’t abandon him. Maddy knows it won’t be easy for West to accept her, as their divorce was acrimonious, with West, a man a proud man, begging Maddy to stay.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Driving Force by Sally Wentworth”

Historical Romance Review: An Offer of Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson Review

An Offer of Marriage
An Offer of Marriage, Jo Ann Ferguson, Zebra, 1999, cover artist unknown, John Desaalvo cover model

WARNING: RANT ALERT ⚠

1 star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Goodbye Old Era, Hello New

Books like Jo Ann Ferguson’s An Offer of Marriage suffer from being published during a time of change. When Kensington’s Zebra historical romances died, they didn’t go quickly (actually, Zebras are still around, but they’re not the same as they used to be in the 1980s and 1990s). Before their Heartfire and Lovegram lines ended in the late 1990s, the iconic, colorful covers became dull mockeries of the past, with no lush illustrations, just cheaply photo-shopped images of flowers or castles. In many cases, the covers were nothing more than the title and author’s name.

Zebra dumped most of their best authors (some briefly moved on to Dorchester, which had their own problems) and churned out new lines like Zebra Ballad, Splendor, and Precious Gem Historicals, all of which folded quickly. An Offer of Marriage is a romance from his era.

The Plot?

Young Brenwyn Gunnarsson’s family is slaughtered and he vows revenge. He poses as a lowly freeman to deceive the English and aid the Viking invasion.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: An Offer of Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson Review”

Category Romance Review: The Strong, Silent Type by Kate Hoffmann

The Strong, Silent Type, Kate Hoffmann, Harlequin, 1995, cover artist TBD (Canille?)

Harlequin Temptation #123

MILD SPOILERS 😉

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This review is of The Strong, Silent Type,  book #2 in the Bachelor Arms series and the 2nd of 3 books in the series written by Kate Hoffmann.

Wild One

The book begins with Josh Banks, the hero of the book and a tax accountant (yes, you read that correctly), meeting with one of his clients, actress Olivia Wilde (NOT the current actress using the stage name, this Olivia Wilde is a 75-year-old octogenarian actress). Olivia asks Josh for a favor; to keep her granddaughter, Taryn, out of Los Angeles for a few weeks (Olivia is up for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and feels that Taryn–a tabloid darling–might scupper her chances for the award with her behavior). 

When Josh meets Taryn, the heroine, he offers her money to leave L.A. She refuses. She’ll only agree to behave if Josh does something for her, which he is not willing to do at first. (He does agree, eventually, to pose for her).

Take Me as I Am

As the book goes on, Taryn gets into some mishaps which Josh has to extricate her from.... Read more “Category Romance Review: The Strong, Silent Type by Kate Hoffmann”

Popular Romance Tropes

aerial view of city buildings near body of water

Let’s talk about tropes.

In the romance genre, we often see some types of plots or character types repeated. These similarities resonate for myriad reasons. Some tropes are common in vintage or old-school romance, but not so much in modern romances. Then there are tropes that never go out of style.

What’s the appeal of a trope? Readers appreciate experiencing familiar tales in different settings or with various kinds of characters. A trope can be retold over time and appear fresh in the hands of an individual author.

At Sweet Savage Flame, we’re dedicating a page to these common themes. Visit the MENU under BOOK REVIEWS and click on ADVANCED BOOK SEARCH. You’ll find a new way to search for book reviews via plots, settings, hero & heroine. We’ll be updating the list with each review.

A few examples of tropes you can search for:

Amnesia

The main character losing his or her memory can lead to a great romance. A few romances that we’ve reviewed featuring this plot are Crescendo, Highland Fire, and Sweet Fire:

Second Chance at Love

Sometimes a romance is better the second time around with the same person.

Friends to Lovers

It’s always refreshing when a relationship starts out on a solid foundation of friendship.... Read more “Popular Romance Tropes”

Category Romance Review: A Happily Unmarried Man by Kate Hoffmann

a happily unmarried man
A Happily Unmarried Man, Kate Hoffmann, Harlequin, 1995, cover artist unknown

Harlequin Temptation #533

MILD SPOILERS 😉

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This review is of A Happily Unmarried Man, #3 in the Bachelor Arms series published in April 1995 by Kate Hoffmann.

Bachelor Arms Series Book #3

The story begins at a mall in Los Angeles. Tru Hallihan and Josh Banks have come to the mall to shop for gifts for their respective wives. Tagging along is their friend Garrett McCabe, the hero of the book and a columnist for The L.A. Post newspaper. When Tru and Josh discover that domestic diva Emily Taylor is having a book signing in the mall, Tru and Josh decide to get autographed copies of her books for their spouses. Garrett, meanwhile, decides to write a vituperative column about Emily, ripping her up one side and down the other. He thinks the column is funny.

Others, however, don’t see it that way. Female readers call to cancel their newspaper subscriptions, and Richard Parker, Garrett’s boss, orders him to apologize to Emily, the heroine of the book. (There are other reasons Parker wants Garrett to apologize; he’s trying to buy “At Home,” the magazine Emily owns with her business partner, Nora Griswold). ... Read more “Category Romance Review: A Happily Unmarried Man by Kate Hoffmann”

Covers of the Week #22

quiet comes the night

At Sweet Savage Flame, we’ve been overlooking category romance covers in favor of flashier historical romance artwork, and it’s time to remedy that. Series cover art is just as lovely. However, sometimes the artwork is not as prominent as it is for historicals. In addition, the big-name cover artists usually produced illustrations for historical romance or full-length contemporary books. Sometimes they did step their toes into the waters of series or category romance and we’re happy that they did!

For the week of Monday, September 6, 2021, to Sunday, September 12, we’re looking at gorgeous category romance covers painted by some of the greatest artists of romance novels. Below are a few category romances illustrated by the legendary Elaine Duillo, Robert Maguire, Elaine Gignilliat, and Pino. Enjoy!

Category Romance Review: Bachelor Husband by Kate Hoffmann

bachelor husband
Bachelor Husband
Bachelor Husband, Kate Hoffmann, Harlequin, 1995, Cover Artist unknown

Harlequin Temptation #525

MILD SPOILERS 😉

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This review is of Bachelor Husband, book #1 of 11 in the Bachelor Arms” Harlequin Temptation series from February 1995 by Kate Hoffmann.

“Bachelor Arms” Series Overview

This 11 book continuity series takes place in/around the Los Angeles apartment complex the “Bachelor Arms”. Why there are only 11 books in the series instead of 12 is an unsolved mystery. The books are written by four different authors: books 1-3 are written by Kate Hoffmann;  4-6 by JoAnn Ross; 7-9 by Candace Schuler; and 10-11 by Judith Arnold. Although the series has four different authors, there is a subplot running through each book of the series. 

Private Eyes…They’re Watching You

Bachelor Husband begins with Harry Truman “Tru” Hallihan, the hero of the book and a private investigator, working a case. He has been hired by multi-millionaire Simon Marshall to find out if his son-in-law, Hollywood producer Ellis Stone, is cheating on Marshall’s daughter, Marianne. Although Stone has had three after-hours meetings with a woman, Tru hasn’t found any really incriminating evidence. ... Read more “Category Romance Review: Bachelor Husband by Kate Hoffmann”

Historical Romance Review: Shameless Ecstasy by Thea Devine

shamles ecstasy
Shameless Ecstasy, Thea Devine, Zebra, 1989, Cover Artist TBD

MILD SPOILERS

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This review is of Shameless Ecstasy, a standalone from May 1989 by Thea Devine.

The Plot

The book takes place on Swany Island, Georgia. One of the residents there is Sarianna Broydon, the heroine of the book. Sarianna lives with her father, Rex, her stepmother Vesta, and Vesta’s daughter, Jeralee. The relationship between Rex and Sarianna is not a good one for many reasons. Stepping into this family drama is Cade Rensell, the hero of the book. Cade was born in Georgia, left, and has now returned, with some scores to settle.

As part of Cade’s revenge plan, he and Sarianna become lovers, who are caught by Vesta and Rex in a compromising position. Despite Rex’s objections, he agrees to let Sarianna and Cade marry.

Sarianna and Cade marry, despite Jeralee’s attempts to impede the process. Sarianna and Cade relocate to Savannah and begin their married life together. They are happy on one level, but there are many difficulties beneath the surface, and two above it: Vesta and Jeralee,

Soon, after Sarianna suffers a miscarriage and other issues, she and Cade separate.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Shameless Ecstasy by Thea Devine”

Link-O-Rama #3: Return of the Links

person typing on computer keyboard
person typing on computer keyboard
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Romance Book Blogs and Websites

These links to some of the best romance novel-loving sites and blogs should keep you busy. These sites are fun to look over to discuss romance or choose what book to read next:

If you’re looking for even more romance-book-related sites, these two blog feeds have lists of their most popular romance blogs. I like Feedly just fine, but if you look at #21 of Feedspot, you may see a familiar site 😉 :

Do you love beautiful romance covers? Do you enjoy taking pictures? Well, you can combine the two loves and show off your book collection. Use these hashtags to look for and post about romance novels on Instagram:

  • #bookstagram
  • #bookish
  • #romancestagram

New to romance or just out of the loop (don’t worry, I am too!)? If you’ve ever wondered what the terms HEA, HFN, or H/h mean, these guides to the lexicon of romance novels should keep you informed:

... Read more “Link-O-Rama #3: Return of the Links”

5 Great Vintage Romance Heroines and 5 Great Romances

5 Great Vintage Romance Heroines and 5 Great Romances List

Great Romance Heroines and Their Stories In Depth

My Name is Clary Brown

The heroine, a failed actress, is dumped by her “protector” and must return to her hometown in disgrace. Plus, she’s part Roma, so her mixed heritage has always made her an outsider. Mysterious disappearances and murders start to occur, and there are a couple of people who are suspects. The way Clary stands up for herself is thoroughly in keeping with her time period (the 1700s). A great vintage romance heroine, for sure.

Promise of Summer

Topaze, the heroine, is a poor thief on the streets of 18th century France, trying to support her large family. A calculating anti-hero propositions her to pose as a long-lost heiress so he can retain his family fortune. She’s young, cheerful, and despite what she’s involved in very innocent, with a dark past that comes to the forefront. She’s quite powerless in the grand scheme of things. She carries herself with dignity, showing an inner strength greater than the aristocrats she finds herself mingling among.

Silver Linings

“Low Down” Louise works in a mining community with men. She’s not a beauty but simple, hard-working, and positive. Low Down Louise vows to care for a child when a baby is born to a dying mother.... Read more “5 Great Vintage Romance Heroines and 5 Great Romances”