First Love, Wild Love, a Zebra Lovegram romance, begins in Texas, where Calinda Braxton, the heroine, has come from England to investigate the disappearance of her father, Elliott “Brax” Braxton. Her arrival in Texas is not welcoming, as the stagecoach she’s on is robbed. The stagecoach guard is killed, and the other passengers blame her because she fought back. Disconsolate and penniless, Calinda is taken in by the madam of a house of ill repute and given a room. What happens here sets the tone for the rest of the book.
Calinda is given laudanum by the madam (not for nefarious purposes, but to help her sleep). Into the room comes the owner, Lynx Cardone, the hero of the book. Thinking that Calinda either was sent to his room or heard about him and decided to come on her own, Lynx has dubious consent sex with Calinda. She agrees to have sex with him, but she’s under the influence of the drug. Afterward, they argue and vow never to see each other again.
Later, Calinda is visited by Rankin Cardone, Brax’s former partner in their ranch and, unknown to her at the time, Lynx’s father. Rankin invites Calinda to come to the ranch (not entirely for altruistic reasons; he also wants to know what happened to Brax, and he’s hoping to match Calinda and Lynx, not knowing they already know each other in the biblical sense). When Lynx comes home, he sees Calinda and thinks she’s a gold-digger out to trap him, which is not the case. Once that issue is resolved, Calinda and Lynx fall in love and marry. Calinda’s happy, Lynx is happy, Rankin’s happy.
One person who is definitely NOT happy is Salina Mendoza, the Cardone’s housekeeper, who fancied herself the future Mrs. Lynx Cardone. She tries various tactics to get rid of Calinda, from defiance to trying to seduce Lynx, to kidnapping to conspiracy to commit murder. None of these efforts ultimately succeed, but they do drive a wedge between Calinda and Lynx.
Another issue between Calinda and Lynx is his frequent absences from home. Eventually, the reasons behind this are explained.
By the end of the book, the reasons for Brax’s disappearance are explained as well, and Calinda and Lynx have their Happily Ever After.
Calinda is a strong character. She has to deal with a lot of heartache, pain-physical and emotional-as well as various forms of danger, but she survives.
Some of Calinda’s dangerous situations occur due to her naivete, and she finds herself in trouble and relies on Lynx to save her.
Lynx is too perfect a hero. He finds himself in dangerous situations and always comes out scot-free without a scratch. I found this unrealistic.
What I REALLY didn’t like, however, is the way Mrs. Taylor resolved the Brax issue. Rather than Brax explaining in his own words, there are hints throughout the book and a summary at the end. I feel the book would have been better if Brax–and the others involved–could have spoken in their own words about what happened and why it happened. I found the ending very unsatisfying.
Lots of love scenes with lots of euphemisms and purple prose. That’s how Mrs. Taylor writes her love scenes.
In addition to the stagecoach guard being killed, Calinda is shot in the shoulder but survives. Plus other scenes of shootings, assault, and batteries. The violence is not graphic.
Books like First Love, Wild Love deserve a gradient of stars. It’s not really a 5-star book; more like 4.25 or 4.5 stars.
Although Janelle Taylor has written books for multiple publishers, she will always hold a special place in the early years of Kensingngton’s Zebraimprint. Along with authors like Sonya T. Pelton, Sylvie F. Sommerfield, Rosanne Bittner, she helped to form the pantheon of Zebra’s “Leading Ladies of Love.”
Authors had the liberties to write whatever they wanted, within certain guidelines. Taylor’s passionate love stories appealed to readers across the country. Where the Avon ladies could rely on taut, crisp editing, the Zebra authors had a bit less oversight. Zebra president Roberta Grossman and Kensington CEO Walter Zacharius chose to focus on dazzling covers instead.
Zebra’s Superstar Romance Author
Indeed, a surefire sign that Taylor was one of the genre’s superstars were her covers. Only the best artists designed covers for her books. Walter Popp famously did the artwork for her first few books. Artists like Elaine Gignilliat, the ubiquitous Pino, and Janelle’s friend Elaine Duillo would paint many gorgeous covers as well for Taylor.
Janelle Taylor wrote over 50 books. She has 60 million copies in print.
Taylor is best known for her Gray Eagle series and Lakota, Moondust, and Lakota Skies novels. Her books have been translated into 50 different languages.
Life Before Romance
Janelle Diane Williams was born June 28, 1944, in Athens, Georgia. She graduated from Athens High School in 1962. Taylor spent the next three years as an orthodontic nurse in Athens. In 1965, she married Michael Taylor. They had two daughters, Angela and Alisha, as the happy results of their marriage.
From 1969 through 1972, Taylor worked as an orthodontic nurse. Over the next few years, she worked on furthering her education. In 1980 she enrolled at Augusta State University. She never expected that her career would be a writer.
The Queen of Ecstasy and ‘Dust
It was after hearing some words of wisdom from author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, that Janelle Taylor decided to write a romance novel. She started her book in 1977 and worked on it for years. Zebra’s editors loved her manuscript and signed her to a contract.
Because the book would be so long, it had to be split into two parts. The Native American romance Savage Ecstasy was published in 1981. Defiant Ecstasy, the sequel, soon followed. Ultimately, they proved to be great successes. Both sold millions of copies. As a result, Janelle quit college to focus on writing full-time.
The hefty romances told the tale of a white frontierswoman named Alisha Sinclair and her Native American warrior lover, Gray Eagle. Not only were they bestsellers, but they would be the first in a series of nine novels. The saga of Alisha, Gray Eagle, and their progeny were enormous hits.
Many other romances followed for Zebra, such as Love Me With Fury, Golden Torment, and Destiny’s Temptress.
Two years later, she would publish Moondust and Madness with Bantam books. The story was a fantasy romance about an alien who comes to Earth to spirit away the heroine to his own galaxy. This book was a revolutionary romance in a time when paranormal themes and romance rarely mixed. Taylor would write three more space romances to complete the series.
Taylor would write for other publishers as well. In 1984 she would make a brief foray into category romance with her Harlequin American Romance Valley of Fire.
Other fantasy and Native American romances followed, as well as contemporaries. In the 21st century, Taylor would also venture into romantic suspense.
Where is She Now?
She lives in Georgia with her husband. Taylor keeps busy with her husband hiking, riding bikes, and watching their grandchildren play sports. Taylor lives in the country on seventy-nine acres of woods and pasture with a lake and a catfish pond. She writes her novels in a Spanish cottage that overlooks a five-acre lake, a working water mill, a gazebo, and a covered bridge.
You may have seen her on the QVC network. Taylor is active in charity work, especially involving diabetes. And as has been doing for over forty years, she writes.
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.”
A Violation, a full-length novel by category author Charlotte Lamb, isn’t a straightforward romance. It’s somewhere more between women’s fiction and romantic fiction.
Like so many of her works, it encompasses major themes. Here she emphasizes the philosophy of love and what are the roles of being a man and a woman, especially regarding amorous relationships. Charlotte Lamb addresses a difficult and taboo subject in romance: rape.
A Romance That is Not a Romance
In general, I think Lamb was better restrained by the limitations of category romance, as at times in A Violation she veers off into navel-gazing. Nevertheless, thiswas a satisfactory read.
I wouldn’t rank it as exemplary as the similarly-themed Stranger in the Night, but superior to a few of Lamb’s other Mills & 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.
Clare is a modern woman of her era (the early 1980s) with a successful career and a live-in boyfriend with whom she’s sexually active but not madly in love. One night a stranger breaks into her home and brutally violates her.
Understandably, the violation of Clare’s body, her home, and her sanctity turns everything upside down. Her friends, family, and co-workers all know of the horrible experience she’s faced.
The rape changes everything. Her relationship with her boyfriend is destroyed.
But not her life.
Clare deals with the trauma by focusing on the healing–not on the event itself. She goes to counseling to seek solace.
Instead of wrapping herself up in her victim status, Clare uses the tragic occurrence as a springboard to learn who she is and transform into a stronger person.
How a Tragedy Affects Everyone
Clare’s experience also causes a ripple in the lives of both her mother and her best friend, Pamela, an ultra-independent, career-minded model. And so it does too for Clare’s boss, Larry, who is there for her as she recovers from her shocking experience.
The friendship between Larry and Clare starts to morph into something more intense gradually.
Meanwhile, Pamela engages in a “will-they-or-won’t they romance” with her polar opposite, a traditional-minded guy named Joe.
Also, there is Clare’s mother, who is from a more conservative generation when it comes to sex and gender issues. She has to deal with comprehending the tragedy that has transformed her daughter.
Charlotte Lamb on Feminism and Romance
One facet of A Violation that fascinated me was the ever-present topic of second-wave feminism. This book was like a time capsule into an era where women did not have all the options that some today might take for granted.
The two burgeoning relationships form parallel stories about the battle of the sexes. Clare ponders whether Pamela could ever truly be content with a man like Joe:
Clare could hardly believe now that Pamela sat around yearning to do just that, daydreaming about making Joe’s breakfast before he went off to work, wondering aloud what sort of children they would have…It was pathetic, like hearing a free bird mewing to get inside a cage.
As for herself, Clare goes on a voyage of discovery as to what’s important in her life.
While shocked at her friend’s seeming change in attitude, Clare realizes that certain traditional values appeal to her. She won’t hold out for anything less.
Larry’s dogged pursuit intrigues her, but she is hesitant to engage in anything serious with the notorious womanizer that he is.
A Discussion Worth Having
Larry: The Pill’s liberated women. Sex is no longer a dangerous pleasure. They have it on demand without fear of consequences, just like a man.
Clare: Except women aren’t men, either physically or mentally, and they tend to get emotionally involved with anyone they make love with. How is it going to get around that and your ‘Brave New World?’
Larry: I didn’t make the rules. I’m just reporting what I’ve noticed going on. When I was 20 there were two sorts of girls: those who did it, and those you have to marry if you talk them into it and they got pregnant. That no longer applies.
Clare: It strikes me that for all this talk about liberating women, it was men who got liberated, they no longer have to pay for sex–either money or marriage.
Larry: It was women who demanded equality and liberation–now they’ve got it all they do is complain.
Clare: I suppose it’s OK for women who get the exciting job–top executives and big companies, models like Pamela, actresses.
But what about all the women slaving away at boring jobs and offices and factories, who wish to God they could afford to stay home and run the house and cook the dinner?
My mother never worked, her generation didn’t unless they had no other option. When I got back from work it was me who cooked some dinner. It didn’t matter how tired I was…
Larry: That was your own fault! Don’t whine to me about letting him use you as an unpaid servant. You have a tongue in your head, you should have told him straight that it wasn’t on; if he couldn’t go fifty-fifty with you, you could hit the road and not come back.
Clare: I did. In the end, I did.
Can a Happy for Now Ending Be a True Romance?
Larry is Clare’s friend, yes. But slowly, he begins to be something else. Something much more meaningful.
Yet Clare is not a woman to be taken lightly. She now knows what she wants in life and expects no less.
“I love you,” he whispered…
“You can’t be in love with me. It isn’t possible…You only want me because I refused you. I’m sure that if I gave in yesterday and let you seduce me you wouldn’t have asked me to marry you today.”
“You could be right,” he replied equably. “You presented a challenge I have to overcome somehow…I want to kiss you until you–“
“Until I submit to you! …That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Domination and submission you dominate and I submit. I refuse to play that game. I’m not going to marry you. When I marry–if I marry–it won’t be someone powerful and domineering like you. I’ll marry someone with whom I’m equal.”
“But we are equals, first,” he argued. “Haven’t you noticed you’re almost as tall as I am and you’re strongly armed as well as strong-willed?”
His mouth curved ruefully and he touched the plaster on his forehead. “You proved in no uncertain way that you refuse to be dominated…That you’re reckless, don’t give a damn for convention and you like to have your own way as much as I like to have mine.”
Final Analysis of A Violation
At the end of A Violation, Charlotte Lamb leaves Clare and Larry’s status ambiguous. There is no definitive yes to marriage. Even so, that’s okay. Things are happy.
For, oddly enough, the frightening, life-altering experience Clare has gone through enabled her to find her true self. And in knowing herself, Clare knows what she wants in a lifetime partnership.
To be equals to a man, yet complementary; two pieces of one whole part.
A Violation is not a book I “enjoyed” experiencing. It was uncomfortable, yet also invigorating. It succeeds as a story of a woman’s self-discovery. As a romance, I’m not sure where it fits.
If you can handle the sensitive subject matter, I think it’s worth a read.
There’s a lot to unpack here in this Zebra Native American historical romance.
Part One of Savage Ecstasy
The year is 1776, and English expatriate Alisha Williams is 20 years old. Our heroine (who’s also the heroine of 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.
Part Two of Savage Ecstasy
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. The only survivors include three men, and women Gray Eagle keeps alive because he has special plans for them and Alisha.
As the days go on, Alisha and Gray Eagle’s relationship takes the form it will take for the majority of the book and series. Sometimes, Gray Eagle treats Alisha with great emotional, mental, physical, and sexual cruelty. Other times, he’s kind and loving to her. Both people are conflicted with their emotions toward the other.
Sometime later, while the braves are away on a hunt, Alisha is “rescued” by the Army and taken to Fort Pierre. There Alisha meets two men who will affect both her and Gray Eagle’s lives. They are: Powchutu, a half-white, half-Lakota scout for the Army who becomes Alisha’s only friend at the fort. And there is Lieutenant Jeffrey Gordon.
Later, Gray Eagle and a few thousand of his closest friends show up at the fort. They demand Alisha be returned to him, or he and his braves will kill everyone inside. After a short deliberation, the Army decides to hand Alisha back over to Gray Eagle. This is also a tone-setting action for Alisha and Gray Eagle’s relationship and lives.
At her best, Ms. Taylor is right up there with Rosanne Bittner for writing evocative, lyrical novels. In many ways, Ms. Taylor’s writing in Savage Destiny fits that category. I felt as though I were with Alisha and Gray Eagle, watching their lives. The descriptions of Lakota culture show that this is a well-researched book.
The biggest downside of this book–and the books in the series he is in–is Gray Eagle. As mentioned above, Gray Eagle is extremely cruel to Alisha throughout the book. Ms. Taylor tries to defend/excuse/justify this behavior in the following ways (my paraphrasing):
Alisha is white.
She is Gray Eagle’s slave. She should be submissive to him.
Because she is not submissive all the time, he has to treat her poorly. In other words, she made him do it.
Lakota culture, tradition, and religion.
He has to treat her poorly in order not to lose face with his people.
At the end of the book, Alisha blames herself for his abuse of her. None of these excuses hold water in my view. All of the above turn the “romance” between Alisha and Gray Eagle into a Stockholm Syndrome relationship.
The secondary characters–except for Gray Eagle’s best friend, White Arrow, who is also in love/lust with Alisha (as just about every male in the book ios)–are one-dimensional. The white characters hate Indians. The Indian characters hate whites.
As strong as Alisha is on many levels, she is extremely weak when it comes to her relationship with Gray Eagle, accepting and attempting to justify his abhorrent behavior. Although in the interest of fairness, Alisha has no money and no family to help her after her uncle, Thad, was killed in the raid on the fortress earlier.
Ms. Taylor’s love scenes are very flowery, with a lot of euphemistic expressions for sex rather than a nuts-and-bolts description of the act.
Plenty of emotional and physical violence. Assault and battery, attempted rape, actual rape, and torture are all featured here.
Bottom Line on Savage Ecstasy
I deleted an earlier review in order to reread the book to give this Native American romance a more nuanced review. On a lot of levels, Janelle Taylor‘s Savage Ecstasy is a very good book.
However, the deliberate, misogynistic violence–and the lame attempts to excuse it–bring the book down quite a bit in my eyes.
Rating Report Card
It was like lightning, the first time they looked into each other’s eyes: Gray Eagle, the captured Indian brave, and Alisha, the beautiful young settler. As the proud Oglala warrior was being tortured by his white captors, only Alsiha seemed to notice he was a human being – handsome and strong, and one who took her breath away.
But if Alisha could have read Gray Eagle’s thoughts she would have been even more disturbed…Because from the moment he saw her, the Indian knew he had to possess the fair-skinned one – and his life would not be complete until he had made her his slave!
Penny Jordan was an immensely popular author for Mills and Boon/ Harlequin. She wrote romantic love stories that readers have enjoyed for 40 years. However, 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 Annie Groves
The Early Years of Her Career
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.
Around the time that Duchess in Disguise was published, Penny read in a magazine that Mills & Boon were looking for new authors.
“I was still an avid reader of Mills & Boon romances – on publication day I used to rush out of work to get to the local book store to grab my favourites before they all disappeared. I chose to write the kind of romance I love best – one with a sheikh hero.”
The editor who discovered Penny’s work in the slush pile in 1980 described her as “a raw talent-–a born storyteller with a unique, intense and passionate voice.” Her first book for Mills & Boon was Falcon’s Prey (1981).
In the early 1980’s Penny also wrote several contemporary romances as Melinda Wright and Lydia Hitchcock. She also wrote for Mills & Boon/ Harlequins under the pseudonym Frances Roding.
The Next Phase
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Penny would be one of Mills & Boon/ Harlequin’s most successful writers. Her heroines were often shy, insecure, or misguided-but-well-meaning. Penny’s heroes could range from cruel and passionate to tender and loving. In the end, they always fell forever in love with their heroines.
In the 2000s, Penny found a new focus in her career, writing a series of novels under the pseudonym Annie Groves. The inspiration for these books came from Penny’s mother’s experiences during World War II. Set Liverpool and London, these novels focused on the home front and the changing role of women during wartime. This series would introduce a new generation of fans to Penny Jones-Halsall’s works.
The End of an Era
Sadly, Penny’s husband Steve passed away in 2002. She would continue thriving in the career that he had so lovingly encouraged her to pursue.
In 2011 Penny was presented with the RNA’s lifetime achievement award. During her 30 year career, Penny Halsall was one of the world’s best-selling romance writers, selling 90-100 million copies of her 200 books. Her works were translated into 25 languages worldwide.
Unfortunately, Penny died too young on December 31, 2011, at age 65, from cancer. She left behind many loving nieces, nephews, and godchildren, not to mention her millions of fans.
An Annie Groves novel, My Sweet Valentine, along with two further volumes for Mills & Boon, The Price of Royal Duty and A Secret Disgrace, would be published before her passing. More books would be released in the decade following her death, with a final Annie Groves book to be published in 2022.
More Penny Jordan Information
For more information on Penelope Jones Halsall and her numerous writing identities, visit our Penny Jones Author Page. You can go to the Menu at the top of every page to search for other authors’ biographies, links, and backlists.
Have you read Penny Jordan, Caroline Courtney, or Annie Groves’ books? If so, what are your favorite reads? Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.
Then Came You written by Lisa Kleypas is easily one of my favorite romances. It has all the key elements to make this one I would adore. There’s a strong-willed (but charmingly so) heroine, a hero in my all-time hall-of-fame, steamy love scenes, and a magnificent love story.
Not to mention a captivating side character who earned his own book and would show up in about a dozen Kleypas novels.
A Heroine to Remember
The heroine of Then Came You was, at the time of the book’s initial release, a unique female protagonist. Today, Romancelandia is replete with hoydenish, unmarried non-virgins who thumb their noses at conventional rules. Back in 1993, the wild Lily Lawson was most unusual for a historical romance heroine.
The novel begins with Lily aboard a fancy sea vessel for a daytime event that bores her senseless. She allows her hat to fly off into the waters of the Thames in an attempt to prod her male admirers into fetching it for her. The reserved Lord Alex Raiford looks on, disgusted by her antics.
Lily is on the fringes of polite society as she is estranged from her family for her shocking behavior. Many years ago, she was involved in a love affair with an Italian gentleman who turned out to be a cad.
Now, she takes pleasure in shocking the ton. Upon hearing that her dear sister has been forced into a betrothal to the stuffed-shirt Lord Raiford and cannot marry the man she loves, “Lawless” Lily Lawson–as she is called–is determined to save the day.
She will use all her will and wiles to stop Raiford from marrying her sister.
A Hero to Die For
When Lily does succeed, Alex vows revenge and in scene after memorable scene, his vengeance turns to passion. (I admit to fanning myself to Alex’s reaction when Lily is painted with a serpent on her flesh!) Then passion yields to love when he realizes that Lily’s outward behavior is just a cover for the dark secrets that torment her.
Lord Raiford is a responsible man. He has a little brother to care for and estates to run. He was looking for a responsible bride to round out his life.
Alex’s first fiancee died in a horseback riding accident, so Alex is hesitant to get close to anyone, especially a woman of such a free spirit. If you know me and my reviews, you know where I stand on that trope, but here it’s no ghost who’s part of the conflict.
Lily has gained even more notoriety as the only female allowed to gamble in a gaming hell belonging to Derek Craven. Lily even shares a bit of chemistry with the sexy, snaggle-toothed proprietor.
Many Kleypas fans prefer Derek, the hero of this book’s sequel, Dreaming of You, as their favorite Kleypas MC. (Or Sebastian from The Devil in Winter which I haven’t read yet.) As for me, I think Alex Raiford was the better man. He’s strong, kind, intense, and deeply loyal.
Although, the scene where Alex confronts Craven about being Lily’s lover does make Derek look amazing!
There are more obstacles preventing Lily and Alex from being together besides being polar opposites who butt heads.
But Alex’s surprising love will make Lily’s impossible dreams come true. I can’t help but gush over a hero like Alex. He’s principled, a little uptight, beautiful, and great with kids!
Final Analysis for Then Came You
What to say about Then Came You? Lisa Kleypas proved herself to me as one of the best writers in the modern era of romance.
There’s so much to appreciate here: an assertive, unconventional heroine, a virtuous hero I adore, and a wonderfully plotted affair. This is one of my all-time favorites!
Savage Conquest begins in 1873, approximately 17 years after the previous book, Forever Ecstasy, ended. It is not a happy time for Miranda Lawrence, the “heroine” of the book–only in the second half–and her fraternal twin, Amanda, the heroine of the first half, both 18. Their parents, Joe and Marie “Morning Star” Lawrence are presumed dead in a boating accident. (Their bodies have not been recovered.)
Amanda, who is seeing fellow shipping company owner Weber Richardson, decides to take over the family business. She also later meets Reis Harrison, a man whom she is attracted to, and starts to fall in love with. There are, however, issues standing in their way: Reis is not entirely truthful about why he came to Virginia, and he has a long-standing beef with Weber, who feels similarly predisposed towards Reis.
Amanda and Reis become lovers and later marry surreptitiously, and Reis sets into motion a plan in which he hopes to trap Weber and expose him for what he really is.
Meanwhile, Miranda and the girls’ cousin, Lucas Reardon, a newspaper writer, travel to the Dakotas; Lucas for business and Miranda to try to meet her mother’s estranged family. Miranda is saved from snakes-the two-legged and reptilian kind-by an Oglala Lakota brave, Blazing Star, the hero of her part of the book.
Miranda and Blazing Star become lovers, although he is reluctant to commit to her due to concerns about the future of the Oglala people.
A series of challenges are faced by Amanda, Reis, Miranda, and Blazing Star, but they are conquered for the most part, and the two couples get a pleasant surprise and have their Happily Ever After.
Upside of Savage Conquest
Mrs. Taylor is an evocative writer, and as she usually does, she put me as a reader in her characters’ lives, allowing me to view them not as words on a page, but as real people. Savage Conquest, like all the books in the Ecstasy/Gray Eagle series, is well-researched.
Downside of Savage Conquest
I felt that Mrs. Taylor could have done a better job displaying her male characters’ emotions; most of the emotional depth in the book comes from Miranda and Amanda. This book was not originally intended to be part of the Ecstasy/Gray Eagle series and it shows, as some of the storylines to me feel a little forced to fit the story arc of the series as opposed to the originally planned standalone.
Mrs. Taylor’s love scenes are known for their “purple prose”, and there’s plenty of it here. As always, Mrs. Taylor’s sex scenes are more about the emotions of the act than a description of the mechanics.
Assault, attempted rape-both Miranda and Amanda-as well as human and animal murder. (Blazing Star kills a bear.)
Bottom Line on Savage Conquest
Savage Conquest isn’t as well-written as my favorite by Mrs. Taylor, Sweet Savage Heart. It isn’t her best book, but it’s still pretty good.
There was no Virginia belle more irresistible than ebon-haired Miranda Lawrence. Though the willful beauty had her pick of handsome beaux, she felt a wild need deep within her for the kind of man she’d never meet in polite society. Heeding the call of her destiny, Miranda stole away from her plantation home, back to the land of her mother’s people. But when she found the passion she sought in the arms of handsome Indian, Miranda had to make a final choice–between the life she’d left behind and the future that would giver her his love!
Holly Witchell, the heroine of Penny Jordan’s Beyond Compare, suffers a bit from an overinflated ego combined with an oblivious nature. Thankfully, Drew, the wonderful hero of this book, sorts matters all out for her.
Holly was ignominiously dumped by her boyfriend Howard for the more sophisticated, Rosamund. That’s not something Holly will accept laying down, so she concocts a plan to get him back. Hadn’t Rosamund been dating old, reliable Drew Hammond before she’d gotten together with Howard? Well, who better than he to help Holly break up the new couple than Rosamund’s old former flame?
Holly approaches Drew, a farmer, whose the salt-of-the-earth type, with her plan. They’ll pretend to be a couple and make Howard and Rosamund jealous.
Drew isn’t exactly chomping at the bit at her plan to get Rosamund back, and Holly assumes it’s because Drew’s insecure. Holly assures him he has nothing to be insecure about. He’s handsome, even if–OMG–he wears glasses of all things, has a steady income from his farm, and any woman would want him.
But that silly fool, Holly, doesn’t realize that the only woman Drew wants is her, not Rosamund. In fact, he hadn’t even been serious with Rosamund; that was all in Holly’s head.
I love the scene on the cover where Holly is in her white suit and heels, and Drew carries her off in his arms. Only minutes earlier, she’d been almost attacked by Drew’s Angus Bull, and Drew swept in to save her. It perfectly captures the essence of Drew: he may seem like Clark Kent, but in reality, he’s Superman.
Final Analysis on Beyond Compare
All through Beyond Compare, it was fairly evident to me that Drew was crazy for Holly, but she was so focused on her plan to get her old boyfriend back, she hardly noticed what was right in front of her until it was almost too late!
For me, I loved the hero and Angus the bull; eventually, I warmed up to Holly, as she was a nice gal, even if she was blind to what even people with 20/400 vision can see.
Beyond Compare was a pleasant Harlequin Presents with a although lacked in heat was high in sweet.
ACE OF HEARTS Gloria Daniels was prepared for adventure–her first trip away from home was bound to be exciting. But nothing could have matched the true thrill that coursed through her young body when she first spotted Sterling Caulder. He may have had a reputation as a gambler, but he was like no man she had ever seen before. He walked with an elegant grace and carried an air of sophistication that drew Gloria into his spell. All she wanted at that moment was to experience his embrace, to feel his warm lips against her own, to have him sweep her off of her feet for a night of unbridled ecstasy!
QUEEN OF DIAMONDS Sterling Caulder made his living by making decent men part with their hard earned money. A gambler and a rogue, Sterling did his job without thinking of the consequences–at least until he met Gloria. Her soft gray eyes appealed to his only weakness–the desire to protect the innocent beauty from the dangers of the world. All he wanted to do was to run his fingers through her flaxen curls, to caress her with a passion that knew no bounds. Making Gloria his own would be a risk, but for a night in her arms he was willing to chance it all in Love’s Glorious Gamble.
In Dana Ransom’s Love’s Glorious Gamble a young and naïve blonde named Gloria Daniels seeks to avenge her father’s death. She transforms herself into the vixenish redhead, Glory Dane. As Glory, she’ll cheat men out of their money and seek out retribution. Meanwhile, her mentor, and sometimes-savior, Sterling Caulder, a notorious gambler, fights his attraction to her. Sterling’s been hurt by love in the past. Is Gloria the woman who will mend his heart?
Here in Love’s Glorious Gamble, the hero is no overbearing bully. He’s a charismatic rogue who shares a great, supportive relationship with the heroine. The heroine is courageous and plucky, all alone in a world that holds mystery and despair.
A girl of intelligence and wit, Glory devises a complicated trap in which to ensnare her enemies. Everyone is hiding the truth to some extent in this tangled tale of vengeance.
Love’s Glorious Gable was published in 1988 under Zebra‘s Heartfire imprint. It is an entertaining, emotional romance. This book should merit at least 4 stars, especially by the low-quality standards of Zebra romances.
So why does my official rating stand at only 3 stars?
Love’s Glorious Gamble falls short when contrasted with my personal favorites. It’s unfair to make such comparisons, I know. I went in with immense expectations only to find an entertaining, above-average love story.
That doesn’t sound bad at all, does it?
I had to take a full star rating off this book because Sterling is still madly in love with his dead fiancée, Eliza. So much, that even in bed, he calls Glory by Eliza’s name…twice. Yikes!
The dead wife/dead lover-fetish trope is a giant pet peeve and a major no-no for me… Uggh!
I don’t mind a hero who believes he is in love with another living woman and then falls truly in love with the heroine. I can even tolerate a cheater if he’s redeemed. It’s that when the heroine has to compete with a perfect ghost for the hero’s affections, I tend to nope out.
I really wish that had not been such a significant part of Sterling’s background. With any other author, this would have been a complete deal-breaker for me. However, due to Ransom’s exceptional writing, I avoided tossing the book on the floor and was able to continue.
Final Analysis of Love’s Glorious Gamble
As I said, that one plot point did color my final opinion of Dana Ransom’s Love’s Glorious Gamble. If I don’t dwell on it, I can honestly say that, while not perfect, this Zebra Heartfire is worthy of a positive review.
But it did happen, so that tempers my overall enjoyment, although certainly not enough to hate it. I just wouldn’t put it on my Desert-Island-Keeper list.
However, if you’re a more open-minded reader who appreciates the power of love’s ability to heal wounds and also looking for a Zebra that doesn’t suck, then this may be an old-school romance you’d like to explore.
Jude Deveraux‘s Highland Velvet, the second entry in her Velvet series about four Montgomery brothers set in the early 16th century, is one of my favorite romances.
Forced into marriage to the English nobleman Stephen Montgomery, Scotswoman Brenna Mac Arran, the leader of her clan, vows to make his life miserable.
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 made from the stuff of girlish dreams.
“You’ll regret that! Someday you’ll know that one drop of my blood is more precious than any angry feelings you carry!”
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 Mac Arran 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.
If anything, Bronwyn was the “bad” one: she stabbed him on their wedding night; she was the one who betrayed Stephen again and again. He deserved a much better heroine.
“Together,” he whispered. “For once, let’s do something together.”
Final Analysis of Highland Velvet
After over thirty-plus years, Jude Deveraux’s Highland Velvet‘s Stephen Montgomery remains one of my most beloved heroes in romance. He was a real nice guy, the kind of man any woman would be happy to have in real life.
I wonder why the terms nice guy and beta male get conflated so often. A man can still be an “alpha,” a leader to his people, but that doesn’t mean he has to be an over-bearing, woman-hating douchebag.
Bronwyn was awful, but her woe-is-me attitude wasn’t enough to overshadow Stephen, who was such a great character that he made this book. Other pluses were the wicked antics of Roger Chatworth and the doomed love story of his brother Brian with the Montgomery’s sole sister.
I really loved this one. Highland Velvet is a keeper. Of only I had the British Arrow edition of this book!
Rating Report Card
Bronwyn MacArran was a proud Scot. Stephen Montgomery was one of the hated English.
He came to Scotland as a conqueror, saw her beauty and was vanquished. But still she would abhor him.
She owned a temper hot enough to forge the armors of battle or inflame a valiant soldier’s passion. Yet still she would resist him.
She became his reason to live, his reason to love. And still she would deny him.
But while clan fought clan, while brother took up sword against brother, and the highlands ran with blood — their destiny was made… and this mighty warrior pledged himself to his woman’s pride, her honor and her name — and made of their love a torch to burn through the ages
Rosemary Rogers, the “Grande Dame of Bodice Rippers,” wrote a few exceptional epic romances. Alas, Surrender to Love wasn’t one of them. It’s my least liked of her books I’ve read so far.
Surrender to Love begins in the hot, sultry nation of Ceylon, where the British heroine Alexa lives. Alexa is so spunky. She hates convention. 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. Everything was political. That attitude is very draining.
But the worst aspect about her is reading her inner monologues. They’re jam-packed with randomly 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 menopausal mania slipping in. (I’m feeling it myself these days.)
I got a strong sense of Alexa’s mental instability with her long internal rants. Or when she’s scratching the hero Nicholas’s face off. Or sobbing hysterically in front of him. Basically, every scene underscores her fluctuating moods.
The writing was erratic. For example, POV changes without warning, just within one paragraph.
And did I mention those italics?
Alexa wants to be independent in a society constricted by stultifying rules. She meets Nicholas Dameron, who’s as wild as she is.
Their relationship is a tug-and-pull game that goes on for too long. There’s no consummation until page 337 of this 612-page brick, which ticked me off.
The tempo in Surrender to Love is more sluggish than the other Rogers books I’ve encountered, even the profoundly introspective TheWildest Heart. The pacing plods on.
It turned around after Part Two, but it was rough when a book doesn’t have not much happening for the first 200 pages. Alexa gets involved in a few scandals and then marries an older husband who brings her to the “Temple of Venus” to catch a naughty peep show or two.
She is soon widowed and goes to England to take society by storm.
Eventually, I saw where Rogers was going with the plot; it’s a tale of a woman who defies the stifling conventions of the Victorian Era through her overt sexuality.
I wondered if Rogers was ever a fan of Mexican telenovelas. The hidden family secrets, brutish hero, and spunky heroine reminded me of Alondra, which was about a “beautiful, rebellious girl, with very independent and progressive views for that time” (i.e., she has sex with other men besides the hero) who looks and acts just like Alexa.
Random Observations on Surrender to Love
All the Viscounts of this-and-that running around got confusing. But at least they weren’t Dukes!
Nicholas Dameron was too nebulous, too enigmatic for a hero, which is unusual for me to criticize. Despite learning the history of his first wife, I didn’t understand him at all.
As always, Rogers drew upon themes of women’s liberation. This time it came on a bit thick.
Yes, Alexa, we get it. Being a woman in the 19th century was smothering and oppressive. However, she was part of the wealthy upper class, plus beautiful & widowed. Alexa had privileges that the average woman of her time did not share.
Alexa’s rash impetuosity was a major flaw. She never thought about her actions first. She was capricious and blamed her troubles on outside forces.
Nobody forced her to move to London and deal with the repressive London ton, but she had to have her “revenge” on Nicholas for ruining her in Ceylon.
Sure, Alexa, it was revenge you were after.
The world was that woman’s oyster, but she had a hankering for geoduck:
The first two hundred pages could have been condensed to half that amount. The ending was weird (although not the “trial” and a whipping scene, which was awesome). One moment Alexa is engaged to Charles, her consummation with him is glossed over, and then she ends up married to Nicholas.
Happy ending, I guess?
Final Analysis of Surrender to Love
Surrender to Love wasn’t Rosemary Roger’s best romance. She’s written far better.
Strong characterization, a staple of her works, is missing here. The heroine was a manic mess. Nicholas, the hero, was too distant and mysterious to be appreciated.
The villains weren’t exciting. Although I liked Alexa’s evil grandma, she was the Diet Coke of evil: just one calorie, not evil enough. Same opinion of the Marquess. But as long as I kept imagining Mexican actress Beatriz Sheridan as the evil Dowager Marchioness, I had a good time with that particular villainess.
I would have given Surrender to Love a less than favorable rating but settled on three stars because the pluses slightly outweighed the negatives.
But, oh, those annoying italicsmade it difficult.
Rating Report Card
Under the midnight moon of Ceylon, on the night of her debutante ball at the Governor’s palace, Alexa Howard met her cousin, Nicholas Dameron. And in the sardonic curl of his hard, sensuous lips, in the commanding arrogance of his eyes, Alexa beheld the fierce, implacable passion that would render her helpless to the trembling slavery of desire…
Every kind of love a woman can be made to feel… Within the golden softness of Alexa’s alluring gentility flowed the insatiable fires of an innocent woman’s awakening to lvoe — and the fury of a betrayed woman’s lust for revenge. Through the nightworlds of Naples, Rome, Paris and London, she was pursued by the man who heartlessly wanted her beauty. But her soul was possessed by the man whose touch was unbearable ecstasy, whose cruelty was ravishing torment, whose tenderness was passion’s fulfillment. Nicholas Dameron had taken her virtue and mocked her pride. But his love was the offering of every pleasure a woman has ever dared to dream of…
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!
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 of 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. They flirt; she teases him. But ultimately, her feelings for her dead husband create an overwhelming sense of guilt over the sexual desire she feels for another man.
Then a tragedy occurs: Bianca gets brutally beaten and almost raped. Her trauma causes her to become disgusted at the idea of sex. This is what most of the book entails: not the relationship with Gil, but Bianca’s recovery from her ordeal. Sadly, she seems to not truly recuperate.
Bianca says goodbye to Gil and goes back to England. However Gil feels far more for Bianca than she does for him, so he follows her and declares his love.
The Awful Ending
The end of this strange book is the insulting coup de grace:
“…I’m not even asking you to marry me, Bianca, I’m only saying I want to get to know you better.”
She met his eyes. “You want to sleep with me—isn’t that what you’re saying?”
“You know I do,” he said huskily. “I won’t lie about that—I want you, I said so, but not until you’re ready.”
“And if I never am?“
He grimaced. “I’ll have to live with that won’t I?“
“Yes,” she said her gaze defiant.
Bianca stares at herself in the mirror as she prepares for their first date, thinking that she’s too old (at only 40!) for romance and may just be in it for a short-term fling. Who knows what will happen? It’s a mystery that ends unresolved.
Final Analysis of Dark Fever
This was a romance novel? What the ever-loving hell?
I understand some modern romances don’t end with a HEA, but “happy enough for now,” but that is not what I expect when I read a Harlequin Presents! Especially one written long ago in 1995.
Dark Fever was Women’s Fiction published as a romance, and I hated it!
Charlotte Lamb‘s Seduction features a ridiculously sheltered and innocent heroine and a hero so crazy and obsessed, that they can only be found in old-school Harlequin Presents or bodice rippers, “mated-pair” paranormal romances, or perhaps self-published New-Adult books.
Clea is an orphaned English girl living in Greece with her Greek stepfather and stepsister.
Her step-sister is a caricature of a slut, pursuing the hero with inexplicably misplaced confidence.
Worse, Clea has a creepy stepdad with unhealthy designs on her, as he wants Clea to remain untouched by any man (except himself).
Ben is an Englishman visiting Greece, and he becomes obsessed with Clea from the first instance. He will do anything to get her.
He has a female accomplice named Natalie who befriends Clea and helps Ben abduct her. I wondered what this guy had on Natalie to make her do such a thing, but we never found out.
Although just like Kramer from the show, Seinfeld has the power of the “Kavorka,” the “lure of the animal,” which attracts lust and devotion, Ben wields a strange control over women.
Ben’s obviously off his rocker, but Clea is not all there either. He demands, but she refuses. He is forceful, but Clea is resilient, giving as good as she gets. Finally, she escapes, but not before Ben can put his mark on her soul.
She falls in love with him.
Final Analysis of Seduction
Seduction was not the first Harlequin Presents I read, but it was the one that got me addicted to the Presents line.
Charlotte Lamb didn’t write like any other ordinary Harlequin author. Her plots were wildly fantastic, forcing you to turn the page to see what insanity she included next.
Lamb was able to psychoanalyze by delving into navel-gazing. She was very aware of the nature of her works, that they were just fantasies. Nevertheless, she treated her subject matter seriously with exquisite attention to character, dialogue, and tone.
Seduction is very chauvinistic and very politically incorrect. But this is a book, an illusion, not reality.
Charlotte Lamb’s writing was at its best in this one. I love this romance, as crazy as it was.
Rating Report Card
Clea felt insulted — by both men!
Clea’s stepfather, Kerasteri, had followed Greek custom in choosing a man for her to marry. Defying him meant arousing his violent temper.
Ben Winter was the man who desired her and was determined to have her. I know what you want more than you do, he kept insisting. But he saw only the betraying signs of her body; he didn’t listen to her reasons for refusal.
Clea had little choice. But she was sure of one thing: she would not be owned or used by anyone. She was her own person!
Stranger in My Arms was the first Lisa Kleypas romance I read, and found it to be quite enchanting. Although I was already familiar with this kind of plot, the book came off very fresh, if a bit improbable.
If you’ve seen the Richard Gere and Jodie Foster movie, Sommersby, you’ll know the basic story. Instead of Reconstruction Era American South, this romantic tale takes place in Regency England.
Lady Lara, Countess of Hawksworth, is happy to be a widow. Lara had a horrible marriage to a man who was a monster to her. Her husband Hunter was cold, dispassionate, and unfaithful.
Hunter was pronounced dead, having been presumed drowned at sea, the body never recovered. Now Lara is a widow, free to live as she desires.
Then the worst imaginable occurs when Hunter mysteriously reappears.
Although he looks exactly like her dead husband, this man doesn’t always act like it. He doesn’t seem to know or remember certain things, which could be due to an injury from his accident at sea.
More likely, as Lara suspects, he’s an imposter. How else to explain the desire she feels for this man? He’s sweet and caring to her and makes her feel things he never had in the past. Lara doesn’t believe he’s her dead husband. He can’t be.
Even Hunter’s former mistress doesn’t believe it’s him.
But how to explain how this man seems to know so much about Hunter and Lara? Who is he, really?
This new Hunter is so wonderful. He makes erotic, passionate love to Lara. Slowly she falls in love with the man she once hated.
As noted, we’ve seen this story before, and it’s very similar to the film.
Yes, this Hunter is an imposter. He knows all about Hunter because they met each other, and Hunter shared much information about his personal life with him. No, the truth is not revealed to society. Lara loves this man, whoever he is.
Final Analysis of Stranger In My Arms
I adored reading Stranger in My Arms.
I recall being so delighted by the fine quality of Kleypas’ writing that I was convinced I had finally found a new favorite author. It had been a long time since I had been so excited to read a romance novel. (This was in the late 1990s when I was beginning the second romance-reading phase in my life)
Stranger in My Arms was a fantastical story in the truest sense of the word. It demands a considerable suspension of disbelief because most people do not have secret identical copies of themselves walking around.
The writing was empathetic and moving. This wasn’t Kleypas’ best work, which says a lot about how good she is.
Stranger in My Arms is a romance that stayed with me, with lingering feelings of joy.
Rating Report Card
“Lady Hawksworth, your husband is not dead…”
With those words, Lara’s life turned upside down. Hunter, Earl of Hawksworth, had been lost at sea. Or so she’d been told. Their unhappy marriage—with its cold caresses and passionless kisses—was over. But now a powerful, virile man stood before her, telling secrets only a husband could know, and vowing she would once again be his wife in every way.
While Lara couldn’t deny that this man with the smoldering dark eyes resembled Hunter, he was attentive and loving in ways he never was before. Soon she desperately wanted to believe, with every beat of her heart, that this stranger was truly her husband. But had this rake reformed—or was Lara being seduced by a cunning stranger
Paul was beautiful, Helen thought, gazing down at him. He would always be beautiful now.
A Frozen Fire
Frozen Fire was one of the strangest Harlequin Presents I’ve ever read. It’s not Charlotte Lamb’s worst, by any means. Actually, it’s quite well-written and if it was a two-part story I would have loved it. But as it stands, the book focuses way too much on Helen’s relationship with her emotionally abusive husband and not with the hero.
Helen has been married to Paul for many years and he’s cheated on her repeatedly. They’ve had to move various times whenever his affairs have caused too much trouble wherever they’re living. So here they are, yet again, in a new town with a new job for Paul, and Helen is sticking around, but she’s not sleeping with her husband. Still, she’s faithful to Paul even if he isn’t because she’s the kind of person who keeps her vows even though her husband doesn’t. Plus, he’s super, super hot.
The man treats her like crap, but he’s SO good-looking she won’t divorce him.
Enter Paul’s boss, Mark. There is a strong attraction present, and when Mark realizes what’s going on in Helen’s marriage, he pursues her with a vengeance. Mark’s a great character: a wonderful man who’s dominant but sensitive. The problem is he’s always on the fringes. Paul, not Mark, is the main guy in this story.
It was unsettling how Helen so was committed to her terrible marriage. She was the ultimate martyr and refused to divorce her adulterous, emotionally abusive husband.
The Unsatisfying Ending
But it’s the end that’s REALLY bizarre.
Helen finally falls in love with Mark and spends Christmas with his family. At last, she realizes her marriage is over. But there’s no major declaration of love and no showdown between husband, wife, and potential lover.
What happens is this:
Helen and Mark walk home together on Boxing Day. Paul, in an angry fit, tries to run Mark over with his horse. The horse bolts and Paul is thrown and killed.
“Helen looked at Paul, her ears hearing nothing more. She put out a shaking hand to stroke back the smooth golden hair from his damp forehead. He lay so still and tranquil in the cold wintry light, all the glitter of sunlight in his hair as it gleamed. His face had smoothed out into beauty again, as it did when he slept. Paul was beautiful, Helen thought, gazing down at him. He would always be beautiful now. The slow stain which had begun to eat up that beauty had been halted forever. All that Paul could have been lay in that peaceful face. The ruin of his life was now behind him. Helen put her hands to her face and wept.”
That’s the grand finale to Helen and Mark‘s love story? What an awful way to end a romance novel!
Final Analysis of A Frozen Fire
Nevertheless, despite its odd qualities, A Frozen Fire was not a tedious read and it did keep my interest. So for that reason, I rate it a tepid three stars. The wonderful hero and the unusual circumstances surrounding Helen’s life were intriguing. However, this romance was not handled in the most logical manner with a satisfactory conclusion that comforted the reader with a pleasing HEA.
Wicked Loving Lies by Rosemary Rogers is her fourth and–in my opinion–her best book. This is peak bodice ripper fun; it’s salacious, entertaining, and attempts (and succeeds) at profundity.
I’ll probably rewrite a more in-depth analysis of this historical romance at another time. For now, here are my reading notes assembled into a semblance of a review.
His lips touched the back of her neck and moved along her stubborn shoulder. One hand stroked her breasts, and the other moved unerringly between her thighs; he found the most sensitive part of her and moved against her and in her until her half-formed protests turned into soft, stifled moans.
WICKED LOVING LIES
Readers, do these plot points sound fun to you?
Traveling to almost every continent in the world
Affairs with noblemen, warriors, and even Napoleon!
Being a criminal on the run
Highwaymen, high seas action, and harems
Getting branded with your husband’s initials after he bangs you in front of your new lover… And then said lover gets so aroused, he bangs you afterward!
If you have a high threshold for triggering issues like:
A mother having her only child taken away from her
Plus, enjoy a hefty dose of second-wave feminism from a heroine who goes to hell and back several times over…
If any of this sounds like your idea of a thrilling read–because it certainly is–then Wicked Loving Lies by Rosemary Rogers might be a book you’d want to pick up.
As far as I’m concerned, this is Rosemary Rogers at her prime.
Some parts of Wicked Loving Lies were scorching hot, like Chapter 17. Other parts were heartbreaking. Many parts were shocking.
There’s only one thing this book NEVER is: boring!
That’s what I loved about these the best of these older romances, there was always so much stuff going on you never had time to overanalyze and nitpick, you just kept moving.
Rosemary Rogers knew how to write a page-turner.
The Proto-Feminist Heroine
“Oh damn men and their superior ways. From now on I’ll stand on my own two feet and fight for what I want–anyway I have to, with my body and my wits… Why not? It’s a man’s world, what other choice do you leave a woman who possesses a mind?“
WICKED LOVING LIES
Those words are from Marisa, the heroine of this amazing, action-packed bodice ripper by the Original Great, the legendary Rosemary Rogers.
Marisa is a heroine you want to smack or shake or hug or give a big old high five.
She’s amazing as she never gave up, even though life kept coming at her with no remorse. Except for when she thought her beloved Dominic was dead.
And even then, Marisa was not going out without taking someone else with her.
Final Analysis of Wicked Loving Lies
Wicked Loving Lies by Rosemary Rogers is an excellent experience for bodice ripper enthusiasts but not for the faint of heart.
This book will shock you. I loved it!
Rating Report Card
Born of scandal and denied his birthright, Dominic Challenger took to the sea, charting his own future. A true rogue, Dominic answers to no one, trusting only himself. Until Marisa.
Born of wealth and privilege, Marisa is a prisoner to her father’s expectations. When the sanctuary she has found behind the walls of a convent is threatened by the news that her father has arranged for her to marry, Marisa flees…right into the arms of a pirate.
From the safety of a sheltered convent to a sultan’s harem, from the opulence of Napoleon’s court to the wilds of the new frontier, Marisa and Dominic brave all that they encounter in this thrilling age: intrigue, captivity and danger. And above all, an enduring passion that ignites into an infinite love.
Crescendo by Charlotte Lamb starts like a hazy dream. A beautiful girl stands at the cliffs, and a strange man, thinking she’s about to jump, runs to save her. She isn’t; she’s just admiring the savage beauty of her coastal home. There is an instant connection between the girl, Marina, and Gideon, the stranger, who is much older. Marina lives alone with her grandfather, plays the piano beautifully, and at night shares her thoughts with her best friends, two dolls. There are secrets hidden in this tale that slowly unravel to reveal a different story altogether.
Crescendo deals with an issue that has always puzzled me. Why are so many heroes in romances absolute horndog sluts? It’s not simply about being good in bed. A man doesn’t need to sleep with legions of women to know how to do this! He only needs to know a few, or just one, very well. There is a perceived allure of getting–and keeping—the one man that no other woman could keep.
There’s just something bizarre to me about how this situation is usually dealt with in books. The hero’s lovers can number in the hundreds or more, and he doesn’t really care for these women. He just uses them sexually until he meets the heroine (often virginal or inexperienced). Then she changes his man-ho ways forevermore. Usually, the heroine appreciates her man’s experience as it brings great sexual pleasure in bed. Likewise, the hero appreciates the woman’s inexperience, as this pleases him emotionally.
There’s something that rings so false about this. I am a great believer in the special ying-yang, complementary nature of male and female relationships, but I prefer the pair to be “equally yoked,” so to speak. I’d like to see more virgin heroes paired with virgin heroines. Conversely, I’d like to see mature, sexually experienced men with women of similar familiarity. (That doesn’t mean I want them to be walking STDs, though.)
So here in Crescendo is naïve, innocent Marina and Gideon, a cad with women, loving and leaving them without caring for their feelings. There is a great depth to Marina’s character and she is far more insightful than Gideon, who is many years older than she.
Marina learns from her painful past and demands accountability when wronged. I don’t particularly appreciate having heroes grovel endlessly for their hurtful deeds, but major penance is required here. Unfortunately, Gideon was so cold-hearted in his pursuit of Marina that he didn’t take anyone’s feelings into account, not Marina’s and certainly not his disposable mistresses’.
The Philosophy of Love
When Charlotte Lamb was bad, she was awful, but when she was good, there was absolutely no one better. Her best works were not shallow and often posed philosophical queries, questioning the nature of love and desire. So how does a man like Gideon come into being? In Gideon‘s case, he’s not evil. Instead, his mother spoiled her boy rotten while micro-managing every aspect of his personal life, thus creating this hateful, self-centered male creature.
He says to Marina:
“[Women] stifle you, smother you, and cling round like ivy. I decided when I grew up that women had their uses but had to be firmly kept in their place. I learnt to use them, and then kick them out of my life… Yes, it isn’t pretty. I could lie to you and hide all of that, but I don’t want any more secrets between us, Marina. I want you to know what I am, what I’ve been.”
So how can a man date a woman, leave her, then date her again, make her fall in love with him, seduce her, impregnate her, marry her, and then betray her, all the time never giving any love in return all while siphoning every ounce of feeling from her and then be easily forgiven?
In Crescendo, he isn’t.
No human being has a right to put his own desires in front of the happiness of anyone else. Gideon’s brilliance did not give him that right.
No Love Without Change and Forgiveness
And here Marina observes:
For all his brilliance as a musician, Gideon had been stunted in his emotional growth in childhood; unable to coordinate the demands of body and heart, like an autistic child which never makes the right connections and is isolated from those around him by his own self-absorbed internal life.
Crescendo is the antithesis to all the romances where the hero is a jerk to the heroine, then on the last few pages, he makes a declaration of love, and they embrace and walk happily off into their ever-after. Not here. Marina makes Gideon hurt as she wrenches his heart out of him; she’s ruthless in her cruelty to him.
“You don’t love me—you never have. You wouldn’t know how to love. Frustrated desire was all you ever felt for me, and it’s all you feel now… And I don’t love you. If anything I despise you!”
It had given her a tortured pleasure to say that to him, to be aware that she had finally hurt him as deeply as he had ever hurt her.
Final Analysis of Crescendo
Lamb’s language here is so beautiful, so haunting, and so thoughtful. The conclusion is believable and fitting. I love Marina. Some readers may judge her as too harsh, but she’s so young compared to Gideon that she has to have a strong sense of herself before they can be together. Gideon has to understand who and what he is and that he can’t remain that way if he wants a monogamous, life-long relationship with a woman he loves. The fairytale must yield to reality.
They had each taken a silent, bitter journey into themselves, but they had returned, like characters in a fairy story, with miraculous discoveries.
Penny Jordan’s Escape from Desire was a very satisfying yet silly read.
A Tropical Vacation
Tamara is on vacation on the island of St. Stephen, all by herself, as her stuffy fiancé has no time for frivolities like lounging in the sun.
Tamara is typical of Penny Jordan‘s heroines, slightly repressed due to an overbearing aunt who raised her. But as she sunbathes on the beach, Tamara’s doubts about her engagement come to a head.
While Malcolm is everything Tamara thought she wanted in a husband–staid, unemotional, professional–she recalls her parents’ happy, loving marriage and ponders if she can go through a loveless union so different from her deceased parents.
Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger on the beach admires her bikini-clad body with his eyes. When he notices her engagement ring, he’s cruel to her, thinking she’s just out in the Caribbean for one last hurrah.
A Jungle Nightmare
Tamara signs up for a jungle trek to take her mind off her worries when who should show up, but the mysterious stranger from the beach, our hero Zach Fletcher. However, what should have been a three-hour tour turns into a nightmare when the guide lures them into a trap.
Rebels armed with Ak-47s take the group hostage for the usual political reasons. Zach manages to convince the terrorists to release all the hostages except himself. Unfortunately, the terrorists, thinking Tamara is Zach’s woman, demand Tamara stay as well.
Days pass, and eventually, when the terrorists make a supply run, leaving behind just one man to guard the pair, Zach makes his move.
It appears that Zach is no run-of-the-mill Harlequin Present m/billionaire hero. He’s a member of the Special Air Service of the British Army and was recently scarred in a melee in Africa. As their captor attempts to force himself on Tamara, Zach stabs him dead, and the couple flees through the jungle.
The near-death/near-rape experience is traumatizing for Tamara and Zach, and they make love. Zach is shocked to find that she’s a virgin. Rather than handling the situation with normal, human-like emotions (this is, after all, a Penny Jordan Harlequin Presents), he accuses her of having held on to her virginity to tease her fiancé.
Tamara gets bitten by a lethal spider on their march through the rainforest. She awakens in a hospital, safe and sound, but dismayed to hear that Zach hightailed it back to England.
A Bunch of Silly Coincidences
The life-and-death trauma awakens something in Tamara, and she vows to change her repressed ways, first by getting a makeover and then by dumping her stuffed-shirt fiancé.
But as I said, this being a Penny Jordan Harlequin Presents, normal human-like behavior is not be expected. So instead of breaking up with her boyfriend ASAP, Tamara waits until they’re on a weekend trip at his parents’ home in the Cotswolds. Then, Malcolm asks Tamara to pretend their engagement is still on to save face temporarily.
Who should show up but Malcolm’s parents’ new neighbor… Zach!
Zach is disgusted with Tamara and accuses her of being a slut. Sure, she was a virgin when she slept with Zach, but now that she’s not a virgin, indeed, she’s sharing all her newfound sexuality with her fiancé. (None of this sounds like standard human thinking, but something like Tommy Wiseau would come up with.)
Tamara goes on with her life as an assistant to an editor when she finds out she is pregnant. She’s delighted by the fact but vows never to let Zach know the truth. Why? I don’t know, Zach was mean to her, and that’s reason enough to hide her child’s parentage.
But Zach is still not out of her life because, in coincidence number #2, who should be the secret client her boss has been trying to lure? Why it’s Zach, of course! Zach’s writing a book demands Tamara as his secretary.
Unfortunately, Tamara’s morning sickness is of the virulent type, and Zach realizes she’s pregnant. With her fiancé’s child, of course, the slut!
How Will They Ever Get Together?
Sure, she was a virgin until she met Zach, but virginity was only a tool to get her fiancé. Then after Zach initiated Tamara in the ways of love, she used that knowledge to dig her claws into her fiancé some more. And now she’s utilizing the oldest trick in the book to keep her fiancé. The tramp!
Despite it all, Zach can’t keep his hands off Tamara, who he believes is engaged and pregnant with another man’s child. And Tamara loves Zach, although she can’t let him know. Why not?
Will these two crazy kids ever get over their hang-ups and just be honest with each other?
Sure, they could, but it’s more dramatic when a letter reveals all the truths because communication is for human adults on Planet Earth, not for our heroes and heroines of Harlequin-Presentslandia.
Final Analysis of Escape From Desire
What a crazy, unforgettable read was Escape From Desire! Penny Jordan really upped the zaniness in this romance.
It’s not her best, although it’s definitely a memorable one.
Rating Report Card
When Tamara’s Caribbean holiday turned into a nightmare, there was only one man shecould turn to—Zach Fletcher! With their lives in jeopardy, in the heat of the jungle, Zach took Tamara’s innocence for his own. They escaped from danger—but not from the consequences of their passion!
Neither of them could know that their heated fling would leave Tamara pregnant. Reunited in London, Tamara is reminded of the claim Zach has on her body. And he’ll doanything to prove their chemistry means more than just an affair…
Call Back Yesterday is the first Harlequin Presents written byCharlotte Lamb.
There are two HP writers I absolutely adore: Miranda Lee and Charlotte Lamb. Lamb wrote mostly in the ’70s and ’80s. Lee was a modern woman of the ’90s and 2000s. Both authors had the ability to portray great heroines from vastly different lifestyles.
From poor, innocent virgins to victims who rise above tragedy to mature, sexually experienced sophisticates, they were wonderful to read about.
In Call Back Yesterday, Oriel Mellstock belongs to the latter group. Oriel and Devil Haggard were cousins who grew up together and grew to love each other. (If that gives you an ick-factor, they’re only second cousins).
Cruel fate separates them.
Oriel leaves and marries a man 30 years older. She actually has a normal marriage, sleeps with him (albeit without much passion), and has a child. Her multi-millionaire husband dies, and she returns to her hometown to get a little revenge.
As Call Back Yesterday was Charlotte Lamb’s first HP, it’s a bit milder than her later works. There is no consummation in this book, but she throws a bunch of HP tropes at you:
The much-beloved manor the heroine fights to own
A darkly brooding, bastard hero who rides on a black stallion
The manipulative wife who separates the lovers; a vicious other-woman
Multiple men who vie for the heroine’s affections
Even a couple of cute kids.
One thing I love about older Harlequins is the quick-moving plots, and this one is no different.
My favorite scene is where Oriel and Devil come face to face at last, and she whips him on the face with her riding crop, then he grabs her crop, takes her over the knee, and whips her backside.
Then he forces a kiss on her, and Oriel is like, well, I deserved the beating, but the kiss was just too much! WTF!
Final Analysis of Call Back Yesterday
The ending of Call Back Yesterday was a bit unsatisfactory. I wanted more of a dramatic reveal at the climax to make this one perfect.