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.
The Heart Remembers is Barbara Hazard’s sequel to one of the more poignant and beloved romance novels I’ve enjoyed reading: Call Back the Dream. In it, Camille Talbot, a mere vicar’s daughter, and Alexander Maxwell, a Viscount and heir to an Earldom, find love but are only reunited only after many years of separation and loss. Because of Alexander’s father’s nefarious machinations, Camille and Alexander married other people even though Camille was pregnant with their son Jack. Though a tearjerker for certain, Call Back the Dream ended happily, as all romance novels should.
However happy endings aren’t perfect endings because the actions of years past can have lasting and damning effects.
Camille and Alexander from Call Back the Dream suffer for the cruel manipulations enacted upon them, mainly those by Alexander’s father, a bigoted earl whose evil deeds brought down his own destruction as well as hurting the generations after him.
I cut my romance teeth on Harlequin Romances back in the early 1990s when I was a preteen. They taught me so much about the world! 😛 Rosemary Hammond’s Game Plan was the second adult contemporary romance I read. It was the first where the protagonists consummated their relationship. Sex in a book! Shocking! And, of course, the not-at-all sexy heroine was a virgin! This book is over 35 years old, so yes, it was very tame and innocent. But what did I know back then?
Remember that Flock of Seagull’s song “I Ran”? The lyrics went: “I never thought I’d meet a girl like you/ Meet a girl like you/ with auburn hair and tawny eyes/The kind of eyes that hypnotize me through…”
Well, it was in Game Plan that I learned that very tall, voluptuous redheads who put their hair up in buns, dress in severe, drab suits, and wear glasses are seen as plain. Honestly, what kind of man would be attracted to that type? 😁
ARROGANT COWBOY Union officer Daniel Jordan moved South to take possession of his cattle ranch — and to stake his claim on Adelaide Caton, the golden-haired spitfire who ran the neighboring spread. He had met her once, before the war, and never forgot how he savored her milk-white skin and reveled in her ecstatic embrace. Because she was his enemy, he had loved her and left her. But because she had set his blood afire, he would win her passion again — or force her to sell him every last inch of her precious Southern soil!
INDEPENDENT HEIRESS Adelaide’s heart skipped a beat when she saw the rugged rancher. Her cheeks flamed when she remembered how he had tenderly kissed her from top to toe. Her flesh burned with the memory of how he discovered her desires and left her trembling with satisfaction. But most of all, the spirited beauty could never forget how he had run out on her to fight for the hateful Yankees! She swore she’d never give in to his masculine charm and sensuous touch ever again … but before she could tell him to go, Adelaide was begging him to stay and quench the blaze of her raging Texas Torment.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Texas Torment by Catherine Creel”
To avenge her father’s death, a young and naïve blonde named Gloria Daniels transforms herself into the vixenish redhead, Glory Dane. She’ll cheat men out of their money and seek out retribution while 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?
In Dana Ransom’s Love’s Glorious Gamble, the hero is no overbearing bully but 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.
LGG is an entertaining, emotional romance, published in 1988 under Zebra‘s Heartfire imprint. This could 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?
Anita Mills’ Lady of Fire is one of my most beloved historical romance novels. I fully admit that it has its flaws, especially toward the end, but even so, I adore it.
Lady of Fire takes place in Normandy, not long after William the Bastard has conquered England. Eleonore of Nantes is a renowned beauty, hungered by many, and bartered as a political pawn. William’s son Henry desires her as his wife, but it’s the man she believes to be her half-brother, Roger Fitz Hugh, for whom she’s destined.
Roger knows Eleonore is not his sister and has always loved her. Eleonore doesn’t know, yet she desires Roger. This fact may be off-putting to some. But, knowing from the outset that they’re not siblings, it was easy for me to overlook this semi-incest.
Forced into marriage to the English nobleman Stephen Montgomery, Scotswoman Brenna MacArran, the leader of her clan, vows to make his life miserable.
While 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 the stuff girlish dreams are made of.
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 MacArran 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.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Highland Velvet by Jude Deveraux”
As I prefer to read older works, many of my favorites go way back (30+ years), so unfortunately, most are widely unknown and/or out of print. One of these is this dazzling gem, Barbara Hazard’s Call Back the Dream. The Elaine Duillo cover is stunning, with the heroine in a glorious pink gown and rare red-haired hero. And yes, in this case, you can judge a book by its cover.
Camille Talbot is a vicar’s beloved daughter who loves and is loved by young Alexander Maxwell, an earl’s son. Their romance is one of the sweetest I’ve ever read, but there is a lot of sadness and suffering before they can be together (no violence, just heartache). This story spans 15 years. There is only one brief love scene that is exquisitely written, which the entire plot hinges upon, but other than that, the sensuality is mildy warm. Don’t expect any bodice-ripping, but do expect a lot of sentiment.
Rosemary Rogers, the “Grande Dame of Bodice Rippers” wrote a few exceptional epics, but 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 just hatesconvention and 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. Her attitude is very draining. But worse are the random italicized words, sometimes just a couple per page, sometimes dozens. It made me crazy.
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 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.
I’ve not read too many gothic romances, but The Curse of Kenton is definitely one of the better ones I’ve come upon. My Avon 1972 first-edition features the typical Gothic cover, with a heroine (wrong hair color alert: she’s brunette, not blonde) screaming in terror as she runs away from a dark castle.
In this case, it’s Castle Kenton, a place shrouded in a dreadful mystery, as is always the case in these Gothic Romances.
Barbara Ashe is an orphan who works as a pharmacist for a country doctor. One day two dashing lords come racing through town, and the darkly handsome Duke of Kenton requires her services as he is gravely ill. Gilbert is a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and suffers from a secret, fatal malady which makes him bitter and dissolute.
Marine biologist Jinx Beaumont had the sinking feeling her given name foretold the voyage ahead of her. She was jinxed, all right – stuck with Race Morgan, a merciless buccaneer of a captain. Studying shark life on the rough seas north of Australia kept Jinx busy enough. She definitely didn’t need the unnerving distraction of a human predator like roguish Captain Morgan! Jinx fought against the magnetic pull and her desire. She didn’t want to become one of Race’s romantic conquests. But her inner turmoil only increased when she felt challenged by a rival who was stunningly beautiful…and vicious.
3 1/2 Stars
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Arafura Pirate by Victoria Gordon was among one of the first romances I read.
Arafura Pirate was set in coastal Australia with a spunky heroine named Jinx, a blond, short-haired marine biologist who was tough and independent. She sets out with her team of fellow scientists to tag sharks.