In the past, Sweet Savage Flame has focused on authors who used pseudonyms. We’ve posited reasons why romance writers would use pen names. One possibility given was the book was written by a man. As romance is often considered a woman’s topic, it’s understandable that male authors would favor an opposite-gendered moniker when publishing.
The realm of fictional violence has been historically masculine. Romance, on the other hand, has been consigned to the feminine sphere. Upon closer inspection, the matter is not so black-and-white. While females account for 82 to 85% of the romance genre readership, that still means many men enjoy love stories with happy endings.
Consider that romance is a billion-dollar industry, with a 30% market share of paperbacks alone. Romance lags (barely) behind only the suspense/thriller genre in total sales for adult fiction. In the United States, about 25 million romance books are sold annually. Despite being a primarily women’s domain, that means there are quite a few male romance readers. What about the writers?
(Admission: I’m cheating a bit with the date range we have here for books on Sweet Savage Flame. Tangled Tapestry was published in 1969 and neverwas reprinted in English. It was only released on e-format a few years ago. Still, it’s close enough for government work, as the expression goes.)
Thanks to Anne Mather’s Tangled Tapestry I realize publishers don’t always put the correct copyright information in the front of e-books. Going into this read, I knew it was a vintage romance, but you only get to know that it was published in 1969 after you finish the book. I’m only stating this because, like many things written in the mid 20th century, it’s aged as if… it was written in the mid-20th century! This book may offend some readers’ sensibilities, or, if you’re twisted like me, make you laugh as I did at this legendary panel from a Batman comic:
I enjoy playing the game of “I Spy” with my vintage book romance covers. Can you guess this week’s theme? Spot the common thread in the covers, and the first one to mention the correct answer in the comments wins the satisfaction that they were right! 🙂
For the week of Aug 2 to Aug 6, here are some contemporary and historical covers for you to look over and play “I Spy.”
An Anne Mather Harlequin Presents is what I consider to be an “old reliable.” She wrote romances that are almost guaranteed to entertain me, or if not, then at least not bore. Although usually satisfactory, Mather rarely wrote books I would place on an all-time best list. Sometimes she does surprise me, so it makes reading her works an experience to look forward to. In this category romance, Sirocco, Anne Mather employs one of her commonly used tropes: a hero in pursuit of an already “attached” woman.
The Stalker vs. the User
One night, Rachel Fleming comes across a man whom she thinks requires help. The man is slumped in his car, just sleeping, but Rachel doesn’t know that. He turns out to be Alexis Roche, a blond half-Arab, half-French, sheik ruler of a tiny nation (Rachel doesn’t know that either until later).
Alexis is instantly intrigued by his would-be savior and begins to stalk her.
“Nothing has changed,” Fiona said in desperation. “Jonathan is my son.“
Fiona had had five years to think about her youthful folly–five years to remember Logan Sutherland’s treatment of her. Now, a whim of fate had brought them together again, and he laid claim to the son he hadn’t known existed.
Well, for Jonathan’s sake she would marry this cool, calculating stranger as he demanded. But she would never be his wife!
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Bride at Whangatapu includes the hallmark of almost every one of Robyn Donald’s books, as it intimately details the natural environment of New Zealand. Whether her books were set on a sheep station, on a yacht in the Pacific, or just a tropical backdrop, you could see the bright green grass, feel the ocean spray on your face or smell the hibiscus blossoms (which don’t even have much a scent, do they?).
Also present, Robyn Donald’s first published book is the other hallmark of her writing: an ultra-jerky hero who bullies his way over the heroine. Right from chapter one, when Logan finds that Fiona was the mother of his son who resulted from a one-night stand many years ago, he demands she marry him.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Bride at Whangatapu by Robyn Donald”
Anne Mather‘s No Gentle Possession consists of two plot points she’s employed many times in her works like Stormspell: separated lovers and cheating.
Well, in this book, it wasn’t so much a case of separated lovers as two people who briefly dated in the past. The heroine broke it off with the hero when she thought his relationship with his young stepmother was a bit too close for comfort and creepy.
Karen Sinclair likes her life just how it is. She has a job and a boyfriend and lives in a nice little town. Sure she’s not wealthy like some other families in town, but she’s happy. What more could she ask for? To her shock and dismay, she meets up again with Alexis Whitney, a man from a well-heeled family she’d been involved with years earlier and never forgot. For Alexis, however, their relationship hadn’t been significant (they didn’t have sex), so he doesn’t even remember Karen.
Karen’s pride is a bit wounded, although she tries to put on a brave face.
What can I say about Carole Mortimer’s Trust in Tomorrow (originally published as Cherish Tomorrow in the US & Canada)? Sadly, that I wasn’t really feeling this one. The romance aspect of the book was fine, kind of adorable, actually, with a very young heroine, Chelsea, in pursuit of the much older hero, Lucas. She knows she wants her man and is willing to fight for him. I really wish Chelsea and Lucas could have had a better plot to go along with their romance. The romance was fine, but it was the story that had me going, huh?
Chelsea’s mother has just suddenly died, and since her father is a famous tv celebrity, he dispatches her from California to England to get away from the press. He sends her to stay with Lucas, an old family friend Chelsea hasn’t known since she was 12 and he was 27 when she had a HUGE crush on him. Creepy, but whatever. Since they haven’t seen each other in years, neither recognizes the other. So this leads to a bit of a misunderstanding that’s quickly cleared up.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Trust in Tomorrow by Carole Mortimer”
In Anne Mather‘s The Waterfalls of the Moon (I love the old Harlequin Presents titles), the teenaged heroine is in pursuit of a much older man, but the hero’s not taking the San-Quentin tail so easily.
I can’t say many of Anne Mather’s works number among my all-time favorites, but, for the most part, I had a good time reading them. She could make unlikeable heroines that were somehow fascinating, and Ruth is one of them. She’s a spoiled teen, rich beyond reason, bored, and chases after Patrick with a cold calculation.
All you have to do is change record players to iPhones (although record players have made a huge comeback) and there’s no difference between this shallow youth’s mega-rich lifestyle and that of the pampered princesses of Bravo & MTV reality TV. She parties, she lunches, she shops, she dates…casually. As this is a 1970’s era Harlequin, Ruth is not sexually experienced.
“I carefully avoided telling you that I love you.”
MANSION FOR MY LOVE
Harlequin Presents #567
SPOILER ALERT ⚠
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Mansion for My Love: A Hard Book to Review
Robyn Donald, who authored romances primarily for the Harlequin Presents line, often wrote some of the most angst-filled books, with heroes so cruel, you’d swear they were the villains. Mansion for My Loveis one of those books where you can’t believe what the supposed hero does to the heroine.
A 3-star rating is an odd thing. It can represent such varied levels of opinions on personal enjoyment. There are average reads which make for a pleasant way to pass the time, but likely are stories you’ll forget and/or never desire to re-explore.
Then there are those books that get you right away and seem like a guaranteed 5-star experience, but then result in disappointment somehow and fall to a barely favorable rating or vice-versa.
Some books are objectively terrible (either in plot development or editing like grammar/spelling, etc.). Yet they provide so much guilty entertainment that you can’t possibly give them a negative review, even if you’re ashamed that your friends and followers will know you enjoy such trash.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Mansion for My Love by Robyn Donald”
He did not speak but continued to look at her, his eyes slowly following the length of her body and back to her face again resting for a heart shaking moment on her mouth…
3 ½ stars
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Personal Anecdote Before Reading Moon Witch
Around the time I read Anne Mather’s Moon Witch, I caught up with “That 70’s Show” on Netflix. I refuse to watch the final season, as that show just devolved into wretchedness. However, the first 5-6 seasons were entertaining with its retro 1970s shtick: a group of teens just hanging out, falling in love, and being stupid. Back then, my 18-year-old daughter was about to graduate from high school. Since watching “That 70’s Show,” I’ve realized something of myself as a parent. I am Red Forman. He was right! 17 – 18 year-olds are dumb-asses.
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.
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”
Sally Wentworth’s Shattered Dreams is terrible, for all the wrong reasons, although I’ve read books where far worse events occur to the heroine. Take the bodice ripper great Stormfire, for example. However, in this, Harlequin Presents what the hero does to the heroine seems more repulsive, perhaps due to its condensed nature. Where thick historical romances like Stormfire have 400-500+ pages to deal with insane heroes and their co-dependent heroines, a category romance is limited to 60,000-70,000 words. The craziness level can only be ratcheted up so far before the hero becomes irredeemable.
The Crazy Plot
Sally Wentworth always wrote very well, her prose attentive and skillful, but this was truly bizarre. Kate is happy as a bride can be on her wedding day, as she’s marrying Hugo, the man she loves. Little does she know what her marriage holds in store for her. For Hugo has had a private detective tailing his nubile young wife, and he’s found out startling information: over the past year, she’s been living with some strange man while playing the wealthy Hugo for a fool!... Read more “Category Romance Review: Shattered Dreams by Sally Wentworth”
Australian author Valerie Parv recently passed away at the end of April, joining her fellow Harlequin/Mills and Boon colleague, Emma Darcy, who passed away late last December. Combined, these two women accounted for over 100 million books sold worldwide. Despite being gloabal phenomenons, their accomplishments did not receive the acclaim they deserved.
At our Sweet Savage Flame Podcast, we honor the memory of these two romance legends, Valerie Parv and Emma Darcy.
The podcast can be accessed at the site below, or on Spotify, Google, and many other forms:
She decided at the beginning of their relationship that she would only take what he wanted to give, but she wouldn’t be treated as a sex object, only accepted as an equal in his bed.
DARKNESS INTO LIGHT
Darkness into Light by Carole Mortimer is one of those category romances you must read in a comfy chair because you’ll want to settle down for the next couple of hours to enjoy the book in one sitting.
Danny is the head gardener of Sutherland Estates and has yet to meet her wealthy, reclusive boss. Then, late one night, while mowing the lawn to relax (because bubble baths are so physically draining!), his hunky nephew Pierce shows up, dressed in a sexy, revealing bathing suit. Being a bit of a flirt, Danny invites herself over for a swim, and the sparks quickly fly between these polar opposites. Pierce is almost 40 years old and is the severe, stuffed-shirt type, while Danny is barely 21 and wears her heart on her sleeve.
After writing my review for Emma Darcy’s Don’t Ask Me Now, I found out the sad news that she had passed away four months ago, on December 21, 2020, at the age of 80. Emma Darcy was a pseudonym for the husband-and-wife duo of Frank and Wendy Brennan.
Emma Darcy’s Life
Wendy was born in Dorrigo, New South Wales, Australia, on November 28, 1940. She was a bright student and achieved success in college. She was the first female computer programmer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Wendy and Frank married in 1964, and after having children, Wendy chose to leave the workforce and stay home to raise them. Frank was a businessman and a pharmacist.
Both were lovers of reading and they decided to join forces to write books together. Frank and Wendy wrote several books which they submitted to Mills and Boon. The legendary editor, Jacqui Bianchi, aka bodice-ripper author Teresa Denys, accepted their submissions but asked for them to be tweaked a bit before publication. In 1983, the couple released their first book as Emma Darcy, the Mills, and Boon/ Harlequin Presents Twisting Shadows.
I have a real love/hate situation with the contemporary romance, Gypsy. It’s got some concepts I adore and others, like adultery, that make me want to toss this book across the room.
Carole Mortimer is one of the few Harlequin authors who regularly features blond heroes (I prefer them to the “tall, dark” archetype), so I have tons of her books. Usually, I enjoy reading them.
Here, the fair-haired “hero,” Lyon, is a real nasty piece of work. He’s an adulterous husband who refuses to divorce his wife because he feels he owes it to her to stick around. That made no sense to me. I had a hard time dealing with the adultery concept. For some reason, I can accept it in historicals, but in contemporaries, I don’t have much sympathy.
If you follow my reviews at length, you may notice I inject some personal vignettes or anecdotes into them. If it’s TMI, I don’t mean to overshare, but for me, like music or scents, each book I read is imprinted with a certain memory When I hear “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton, I’ll think of Junior Prom and my supposedly platonic date getting all weird with me. I’ll think about a different person in my life depending on whether it’s Brut, Joop!, Davidoff Cool Water, or Grey Flannel cologne that I smell. (Brut is my dad; the rest…are not.) If I have no memory of the book, I usually have no memory to go with it.
It must be the change of seasons. Something in the air, because I can’t explain it, I really liked this one—almost loved it, actually, until the end. Carole Mortimer’s Love Unspoken is one of those infamously controversial Harlequin Presents where readers can’t stop talking about it, even though it’s not necessarily well-loved.
The Set Up
The book begins with the heroine, Julie, a jet-setting journalist, having just been released by terrorists who held her and her fellow flight-mates hostage. She’s a little bruised and reeling when her boyfriend, Steve, shows up with concern. Julie and Steve have been dating for six months—by her own admission, some of the happiest she’s ever spent—but Julie, a mature gal in her mid-twenties, just can’t make the jump from heavy petting to sex.
She likes keeping Steve on a firm leash while he pants for more from her, but she’s not giving him any biscuits! Steve knows Julie was involved with the Zack Reedman in the past; in fact, she had a year-long affair with him, so could it be old feelings for him that hold her back?... Read more “Category Romance Review: Love Unspoken by Carole Mortimer”