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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”

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”

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: Shadows on the Moon by Peggy Gaddis

Shadows on the Moon
Shadows on the Moon, Peggy Gaddis, Magnum, 1960, cover artist TBD

Magnum Books #4200-14

Spoiler Free Review 😊

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Prolific Peggy Gaddis

Peggy Gaddis (1895 to 1966) was a big name in mid-century genre fiction. Born in the state of Georgia, she worked as a pulp magazine editor in New York in the 1920s. She must have learned what the readers wanted because she later became a popular fiction writer in various genres. Gaddis is credited with almost 300 works under a dozen names (that I know of). 

Her fortes include contemporary category romance novels; Shadows on the Moon is one example. First published as a hardcover by Arcadia House in 1960, it has been reprinted several times and on both sides of the pond. The version I read is a Magnum paperback published by Prestige Books in the mid-to-late 1970s. Like all books in the series, the copyright page doesn’t bear the date of this edition.

The title sounds gothic-like, but the novel is actually a brisk, dynamic tale of a young businesswoman (circa 1960) facing problems in her work, her family, and her love life. If you go for zesty, realistic plots full of true-to-life characters, with snappy dialog and a pace that never lags, this book might well be your cup of tea.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Shadows on the Moon by Peggy Gaddis”

Category Romance Review: Uninvited Wedding Guest by Marsha Manning (aka Hettie Grimstead)

univited wedding guest edited
Uninvited Wedding Guest, Marsha Manning, Prestige Books, 1979 (1968 original pub date), cover artist TBD

#4287 Magnum Books

(#108 Treasures of Love & #1106 Women’s Weekly Library)

Spoiler Free Review 😊

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s not exactly the easiest vintage romance to find, but it’s a memorable one. Uninvited Wedding Guest began as a hardcover titled Friend of the Bride, published in 1968 by Ward, Lock, & Company, Ltd. in the UK and by Lenox Hill Press in the US. My guess is these companies aimed their products at public libraries, in the manner of Avalon Romances. This novel was reprinted as a booklet-style paperback by the British publisher IPC Magazines in its “Women’s Weekly Library” series, as number #1106, in 1974.

Friend of the Bride, Marsha Manning, Women’s Weekly Library, 1974, cover artist TBD

It next appeared in June 1979 as a mass-market paperback, Magnum Romances #4287, published by the New York company Prestige Books. It was released with a new title, the (fittingly) more dramatic one under which I’m reviewing the novel. 

In December of that year it turned up in another series, the three-books-in-one “Treasures of Love” #108, also published by Prestige Books.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Uninvited Wedding Guest by Marsha Manning (aka Hettie Grimstead)”

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?”

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”

Category Romance Review: This Hell Called Love by Jane Donnelly

This Hell Called Love
This Hell Called Love, Jane Donelly, Playmore Inc and Waldman Publishing, 1969, cover artist unknown

Baronet Books #4200-104

Spoiler-free review 🙂

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Power of Love

Though I try not to get too personal in my reviews, here I must note that my favorite romance trope is
“Such is the power of love.” Someone does something extraordinary for love. It might break the rules,
defy the law, or fly in the face of common sense. It typically means great effort, sacrifice, sorrow, and
angst. But a protagonist does it anyhow. His or her love is mightier than anything else.

This Hell Called Love is a remarkable example of this trope. It also deals with themes we don’t usually
find in category romances of any generation, mental illness, and substance abuse. Make no mistake, this
isn’t a light read. But if you can take a load of gritty realism, it’s a very moving one.

First, a bit of bibliographic info. The author, Jane Donnelly, was a prolific contributor to various Mills &
Boon/Harlequin series. According to her Wikipedia page and Goodreads bio, she had over sixty
romances published by these companies between 1965 and 2000.... Read more “Category Romance Review: This Hell Called Love by Jane Donnelly”

Category Romance Review: To See a Stranger by Kate Cartwright

To see a Stranger
To see a Stranger
To See a Stranger, Kate Cartwright, Magnum Books, 1976, cover artist unknown

Magnum Books Blue Fire Romance #4200-86

Spoiler-free review 🙂

2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Good novel, poor romance

In a way, Kate Cartwright’s To See a Stranger is a fine novel. It’s well-written. It ticks most of the boxes. But it still disappointed me. Why? Because IMHO if a story is labeled a romance, there should be plenty of romance in it. Here there’s hardly any. So I almost didn’t write a review for this blog. But my definition of romance fiction isn’t everyone’s, so here goes.

First, the publishing background, which is sketchy. The paperback I read was issued by Magnum Books, an imprint of Playmore, Inc., Publishers and Waldman Publishing Corp., both in New York. At least that’s what’s listed on the copyright page; some other titles in the series list Prestige Books as the publisher.

But there’s no publication date. Since this same page says the book is copyright 1976 by IPC Magazines, Ltd., To See a Stranger must have been originally published as part of the Woman’s Weekly Library series in the UK. My guess is the Magnum reprint was issued a year or two later.... Read more “Category Romance Review: To See a Stranger by Kate Cartwright”

Category Romance Review: Yesterday’s Love by Marsha Manning

Yesterday's Love
Yesterday's Love
Yesterday’s Love, Marsha Manning, Magnum Books, 1969, cover artist unknown

#4286 Magnum Books Easy Eye

Spoiler-free review 🙂

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Magnum Books

Yesterday’s Love is a moving romance with a rather mysterious background. It’s part of the Magnum Books imprint of Prestige Books, Inc., a small New York paperback publisher active during the mid to late 1970s. The novel was originally published as a hardcover by Mills & Boon in 1969, under the title Yesterday’s Lover. But the copyright page of this edition doesn’t say when it was published. Nor can I find this info anywhere else.

The author, Marsha Manning, was a pen name of Hettie Grimstead. Or was Hettie Grimstead a pen name of Marsha Manning? If you know, drop me a line.

An Impossible Situation

Here’s the setup. Kerry Talbot, a London office worker for a large corporation, is in love with Philip Ingram, her boss. And he’s in love with her. The situation presents an obvious problem. But wait, there’s more. He’s married. An issue that troubles her far more than him.

What other people think of her doesn’t matter to Kerry, but what she thinks of herself does.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Yesterday’s Love by Marsha Manning”

Category Romance Review: To Cherish My Beloved by Dorothy Heaton (aka Mary Cummins)

to cherish my beloved
cherishmybeloved2
To Cherish My Beloved, Dorothy Heaton, Magnum Books, 1977, cover artist unknown

Magnum Books Blue Fire Romance #4200-81

Spoiler Free Review 🙂

2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A Promise Not Delivered

I’m very fond of the line of Magnum romances published during the seventies. Someone was carefully curating the best products of the big British publishers for reprinting in the US. Often the result was a winner. But often isn’t always.

First published in 1976 by IPC Magazines Ltd. in the Women’s Weekly Library series, To Cherish My Beloved by Dorothy Heaton in its 1977 Magnum reprint caught my eye with an intriguing blurb and a gorgeous emo clinch cover; wish I knew who created it. The first few chapters presented a fascinating situation. I just had to find out what happened next!

A lot of stuff did, but overall the story failed to live up to its early promise. So I must be frank: this book is a dud.

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

Candice Errinmore, assistant to an airport manager on the south coast of England, is engaged to Clive Benley. But not for long. He’s a mercurial, impulsive, self-centered drama king.... Read more “Category Romance Review: To Cherish My Beloved by Dorothy Heaton (aka Mary Cummins)”

Category Romance Review: Out of the Shadows by Stella March

Out of the shadows
Out of the Shadows, Stella March, Sapphire, 1982, cover artist unknown

(Note: This review was written by the newest member of our Sweet Savage Flame family, Mary Anne! We’re delighted to welcome her aboard as she has so much valuable information and opinions to share with us. Mary Anne is a reader, reviewer, and writer. Read more about her on our About page.)

Sapphire Romance

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sapphire Romances

Sapphire Romances was a line of American paperback romances, mostly contemporary, issued by RCA Direct Marketing in 1982. I’m pretty sure they were available only through mail order; there’s no price on the covers. The books were reprints of British originals and The Hamlyn Publishing Group often appears on the copyright page. The venture lasted only a little while, but produced some remarkable reading.

Out of the Shadows by Stella March was first published in 1967 and has been reprinted several times. This Sapphire edition was published in 1982.

The Plot

Diana Farrington, a young woman living with her family in the English countryside, gets the shock of her life when her parents reveal something they should’ve told her much earlier: she was adopted.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Out of the Shadows by Stella March”