Books like Jo Ann Ferguson’s An Offer of Marriage suffer from being published during a time of change. When Kensington’s Zebra historical romances died, they didn’t go quickly (actually, Zebras are still around, but they’re not the same as they used to be in the 1980s and 1990s). Before their Heartfire and Lovegram lines ended in the late 1990s, the iconic, colorful covers became dull mockeries of the past, with no lush illustrations, just cheaply photo-shopped images of flowers or castles. In many cases, the covers were nothing more than the title and author’s name.
Zebra dumped most of their best authors (some briefly moved on to Dorchester, which had their own problems) and churned out new lines like Zebra Ballad, Splendor, and Precious Gem Historicals, all of which folded quickly. An Offer of Marriage is a romance from his era.
This review is of Shameless Ecstasy, a standalone from May 1989 by Thea Devine.
The book takes place on Swany Island, Georgia. One of the residents there is Sarianna Broydon, the heroine of the book. Sarianna lives with her father, Rex, her stepmother Vesta, and Vesta’s daughter, Jeralee. The relationship between Rex and Sarianna is not a good one for many reasons. Stepping into this family drama is Cade Rensell, the hero of the book. Cade was born in Georgia, left, and has now returned, with some scores to settle.
As part of Cade’s revenge plan, he and Sarianna become lovers, who are caught by Vesta and Rex in a compromising position. Despite Rex’s objections, he agrees to let Sarianna and Cade marry.
Sarianna and Cade marry, despite Jeralee’s attempts to impede the process. Sarianna and Cade relocate to Savannah and begin their married life together. They are happy on one level, but there are many difficulties beneath the surface, and two above it: Vesta and Jeralee,
The huge failure of this Zebra Lovegram romance, Desperado’s Dream by Karen A. Bale, rests on the fact that nothing in the book description hinted this was book #2 in a series about a married couple, Eric & Lisa. Of course, Zebra book descriptions never accurately describe the plot, but I didn’t know that back then. If I had known that going into it, I never would have purchased this romance. But at the tender age of 12, I was dazzled by the Robert Sabin cover. Plus, the purported hero’s name, Cruz, reminded me of the daytime soap opera, “Santa Barbara,” its phenom super couple, Eden & Cruz, and the hunky star, A. Martinez, who played half of said super-couple.... Read more “Dueling Historical Romance Review #1: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale”
I have to give it JoAnn Ross for her book Tangled Hearts, in that she tried to do something unique for a category romance novel. It’s just unfortunate for me that I didn’t like where she went with it.
The cover of this Halequin Temptation tells it all, pretty much. There’s a couple engaged in a sexy embrace while in the background is a black and white image of lone man.
Alanna Cantrell got married to Mitch Cantrell six years ago. Their whirlwind courtship was passionate and thrilling. But soon afterward, terrorists captured Mitch, a journalist, who was taken hostage and presumed killed.
Over the years Alanna has picked up the pieces of her life. By the time the story opens, she’s seeing Jonas Harte, a staid, steady, predictable kind of guy, certainly not the type to gallivant off to war-torn countries for the thrill of reporting a story. Just as Alanna and Jonas are about to announce their engagement, who should turn up from the dead, but Mitch, Alanna’s husband?
I remember being so excited to read Candace Schuler’s Easy Lovin’ as I had read one fantastic romance by her already, Wildcat. To me, that story was amazing, with a fiery-tempered heroine and an equally passionate hero. So when this one arrived in the mail as part of my monthly subscription of Harlequin Temptations, I was disappointed to find it was a big old dud. The tone was completely the opposite of Schuler’s previous book.
Kate Hightower is a prim and proper miss who’s always done what’s expected of her. Except now, she’s running away from her life, having left her fiance at the altar. She’s not sure what she wants, but it’s definitely a drastic change. So she goes to New Orleans to find herself.
What she finds is Jesse Vallerin. He’s a laid-back southern boy from the Big Easy. Jesse’s also a hairstylist who gives Kate a makeover when he cuts and dyes her hair from a mousy brown to a fiery auburn. He sports a diamond stud in his ear. He’s an atypical hero, going all against stereotypical macho convention.
***Welcome Blue Falcon to SweetSavageFlame.com, who will be contributing his great reviews to this site. Here, in his first review, he analyzes Captive Melody by Nadine Crenshaw***
Rating: 1 out of 5.
This review is of Captive Melody, a standalone Zebra from January 1989 by Nadine Crenshaw.
The book starts in July 1876, Northern California. A young wife, Ling Kee (I’m writing her name in the traditional Chinese way, last name first), is brutally attacked by three “men”; among them is Richard Laird, a rancher. After being beaten and raped, Ling Kee commits suicide.
Fast forward five years. Laird has just married Laura Upton, the heroine of the book. Their marriage won’t last, however, as on their wedding night, Laura is kidnapped by Andre Sheridan, the hero of the book and Ling Kee’s husband. Andre plans to hold Laura as bait to draw Richard to Andre’s home and kill him.
While Zebra still publishes historical romances, their heyday as paperback romance publishers is behind them. In the ’80s and ’90s, their dazzling romances would line shelves in drugstores and be piled into bargain bins in supermarkets. Now they’re something most only hardcore romance lovers recall fondly.
The covers would hypnotize with bright shades of red, pink, gold, and purple swirls. The embossed foil titles glittered with adjectives like “wild,” “seductive,” “scarlet,” ”violet,” & “amber,” or nouns like “temptation,” “Vixen,” “ecstasy,” “angel,” or “passion.” Often you’d get a state thrown in the title, like Colorado Temptation, Texas Star, Dakota Destiny,Wild Wyoming Love, or California Caress. The best covers would have a horse rearing in the background (or a bird, a ship, or a mansion) plus a pink or purple flower opening up in euphemistic symbolism.
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.
Books about self absorbed, beautiful, wealthy women with nothing to do but go to lunches & parties, shop and plan their wedding in excruciating detail are not my thing. A Convenient Bridegroom was one of the most boring romances I have ever read and there have been quite a few snoozers!
This is this book’s idea of drama: “Oh no I got the wrong veil!” or “Oh these flowers just won’t do! Mama will be so upset!”
The blank slate of a heroine, Ayshe, is so stupid and insecure she believes some random skank’s word when said skank says she’s cheating with the heroine’s man. And the hero just stands there and says nothing. The heroine is so conflicted, this haunts her every thought… But she never addresses this issue. Only at the very end is this “conflict” resolved over a few sentences.
While I enjoyed many of the old Zebra Lovegram and Heartfire lines, what I disliked about some of them is that when they were bad, they were awful, either boring or just freaking bizarre.
Rosalyn Alsobrook’s Runaway Bride was about Katherine, a pregnant woman who left her drunk, abusive husband. She’s on her own in the wilderness, when the hero, Jason comes upon her naked in a water pond. Jason, a rancher, takes her in and helps her heal. Katherine eventually finds love with this new man, who is a fundamentally decent guy, and was even willing to be a father to her child.
Katherine’s abusive husband finds her and begs for forgiveness. I didn’t care how sorry he was. In my eyes, the husband could never redeem himself. He beat her so awfully while she was pregnant that was black and blue and forced to flee in fear for her life and her child’s safety.
Sad to report, but A Naked Flame has to be the worst Charlotte Lamb book I’ve read so far.
Christie married Logan, a man 12 years her senior, when she was only 18. She lived in California hoping to start a career in Hollywood, but her chauvinist husband wouldn’t allow it. He controlled her life totally and wanted children ASAP, but Christie wanted to wait. They argued, he raped her, she left and filed for divorce. The rape resulted in a child. For five years Mommy and Daddy never see each other while sharing custody of their son. Now Christie is a hot movie star with a male “friend” whom she mercilessly teases. The press hounds Christie so much so she moves to England with her son–-without telling her ex-husband. This obviously angers Logan and he and Christie fight it out for custody.
Why, oh why did I not listen to the words of wisdom just DNF this lifeless excuse for a bodice ripper?
But no, like the idiot I am, I kept reading on, expecting something interesting to occur. First one thing happens, and then this happens, and then this other thing happens, but none of it has any zing or excitement about it. In Heather by Cordelia Byers, stuff occurs while characters are like marionettes being pulled by strings to the next scene. Absolute sacrilege for a bodice ripper, because these are the kind of books that are supposed to be so chock-full of craziness that they madly affect the senses, either by offending or delighting or titillating.
I was a little offended, I suppose; not because there was anything to upset my “delicate sensibilities,” but because this book was so freaking boring.
Beautiful Heather Cromwell is brought up as a foundling by a wealthy Marquis. She’s treated as a part servant/part distant relative, and even though it’s not a rough life, it’s not a great one, either. Heather grows up loving the Marquis’s son, David but knows that her love is hopeless.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Heather by Cordia Byers”
I hated A Pirate’s Love for many reasons, some based on logic, most others based on pettiness. If you’re looking for a great review that does a better job explaining why this book blows, search elsewhere. I’m just going to go on a diatribe based on my ever-waning recollections of this “romance”:
The multiple rapes that the hero commits upon the heroine didn’t really faze me, although they did get redundant. After all, it’s a bodice ripper, and that’s what comes with the territory. If a hero raping the heroine offends you, best not read this genre. It was everything else, in this, Johanna Lindsey’s second book, that I despised.
I hated Bettina and her knee-length hair that’s easily hidden under a hat! (Apologies to Johanna who actually had knee-length hair. She could easily pass for one of her heroines.)
I hated how she cried over her dresses and how ill-tempered she was and hearing about her flashing eyes that were blue one minute, then green another. Not blue-green eyes, mind you, that look different depending on the light or what colors they reflect. Her eyes just change color randomly with her emotions.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey”
Let me spoil this turkey and save anyone who’s even contemplating reading this mess of a book their valuable time. As far as I know, we only live one life, and there’s no reason to spend a moment of it in undeserved agony.
(Highland Tryst is also about 30 years out of print, so I don’t feel too bad about hurting anyone’s career.)
Kathlyn and Alex are from warring Scottish clans. When Highland Tryst begins, they are already lovers, meeting frequently for very intimate encounters. They’ve seen each other naked, inside and out. They know what the other looks like, sounds like, smells like… Just to be totally clear: they’ve HAD SEX WITH EACH OTHER MANY TIMES.
Their families discover the affair so Kathlyn and Alex are separated. Kathlyn flees into the wilderness and is rescued by Duncan, an ugly, deformed stranger. Kathlyn is repelled by his looks, at first. Duncan is kind to her and eventually they fall in love.
Lovely young Charlotte Bourne was the apple of her father’s eyes and a belle of New York society. The onset of the War Between the States introduced her to young Liam Brady, whom her dissolute brother Richard had hired to serve as his substitute in the Union Army. Liam and Charlotte fall deeply in love, but before they could marry, Charlotte had to come to terms with her turbulent feelings for the two other men in her life. The raging Civil War echoed the conflict in Charlotte’s heart…
Rating: 1 out of 5.
Well, it’s a book.
The best thing about this circa 1980 mini-bodice ripper is the Newport cigarettes ad in the middle of it:
Charlotte takes place during the Civil War in New York City beginning 1863 or 1864 (both dates are given). For a historical book, it’s historical, but for a romance, the romance is lacking.
When Alanna sighted a blond giant of a man bathing in a nearby stream, the Irish maiden guessed he was one of those dangerous raiders she’d heard tales of. Though she should have fled, Alanna could not draw her eyes away from his bronzed muscles, long sun-gold hair, and piercing blue eyes. Before she knew it, the Norseman had captured her…. Outraged, Alanna planned her escape; yet when his rock-hard arms enveloped her and his demanding kisses set her pulse on fire, she marveled that a man from a frozen land could evoke such a rapturous heat in her own blood…
HE WAS A FEARLESS VIKING RAIDER
Intent on scouting the alien country for his Viking raiding party, Storr had no time for a furious Erse maiden! Yet, he could not let her sound an alert, so he took her captive. And what a choice beauty he’d gotten! Her lush curves, cocoa-colored eyes, and dark auburn-streaked hair made her a prize beyond compare, But it was the brave but gentle spirit in this fair rose of Erin that finally made the fierce warrior wish to brand her as his alone.
It was a bad sign that Bertrice Small’s The Innocentfeatures one of her dullest romance covers ever. The lone positive was that it was designed as one last created by legendary artist Elaine Duillo for her dear friend Bertrice.
Taking a break from Small’s usual romances where the heroine is captured by some salacious sultan and enslaved in his harem, The Innocent is a rather ho-hum medieval. The heroine is a former nun named Eleonore, who goes by the ridiculous name Elf. Elf is a paragon of virtue, saintliness, and sweetness and is totally dull. She is made to marry Ranulf, an equally boring character who patiently introduces Elf to the arts of love.
There’s an evil villain, a hired killer, who falls in love with Elf for her purity and goodness, but all I could wonder was WHY? She, like most Small heroines, is perfect beyond belief.