This review is of Passions Wild and Free, book #2 in the “Western Wind” series by Janelle Taylor.
The book begins in Wadesville, Texas, undisclosed time but after the Civil War. Randee Hollis, the heroine of the book, has plans to go after the Epson Gang, a ruthless band of killers who killed her aunt and uncle, Sara Elizabeth and Lee Carson, when the gang attacked their ranch. (Randee was the only survivor of the attack). She decides to hire a man to help her track down and kill the gang members. Randee finds resistance to her plans from Brody Wade, the sheriff of Wadesville-named after his family-who is in love with her and wishes to marry her.
Secret Fire was, I think, the second Johanna Lindsey romance I read which cemented her works among my favorites. Published in 1987, this book was written during Lindsey’s peak years of output.
The cover is another Elaine Duillo gem, this time featuring white, cream, and brown hues, appropriate for the wintery Russian setting. There’s also a blond male cover model whom I’ve been searching for for years. Forget Fabio and his long-haired colleagues; it’s this guy I have often imagined as the hero of many love stores I’ve read. He’s a perfect model for the ultra-gorgeous hero of Secret Fire, Dimitri.
Dimitri is a half-Russian, half-English Prince who is in England to visit family and smooth over a scandal his sister has gotten into by engaging in an affair with a married man. The uber-sexual Dimitri doesn’t mind his sisters’ affairs, only that she’s so flagrant about them. So he decides to bring her back to Russia on his ship and perhaps find a dutiful spouse for her.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey”
Our blog mistress Jacqueline Diaz invited me to submit an article with my four favorite covers from vintage romances. Well, I don’t have just four favorites. Of ANYTHING! But she’s letting me post four favorites by the leading illustrators of our genre and period. Each in one blog post.
For my first such post, I want to honor the late, great Elaine Duillo (1928 to 2021). She left us on July 30 of this year and had been retired for some time. But her wonderful illustrations live on.
I picked four covers of hers that haven’t already been posted elsewhere on this blog. With a bit of background and my comments. If you can fill in any info I missed, please add it in the comments. And I welcome your own reactions.
1) Stepback cover for Fireblossom by Cynthia Wright, Ballantine, 1992. An old-fashioned quilt. A log cabin. The prairies of the Midwest. The hardscrabble life on the American frontier in the nineteenth century. These are images and concepts I don’t usually associate with sex. But Elaine Duillo made everything hot!
At Sweet Savage Flame, we’ve been overlooking category romance covers in favor of flashier historical romance artwork, and it’s time to remedy that. Series cover art is just as lovely. However, sometimes the artwork is not as prominent as it is for historicals. In addition, the big-name cover artists usually produced illustrations for historical romance or full-length contemporary books. Sometimes they did step their toes into the waters of series or category romance and we’re happy that they did!
For the week of Monday, September 6, 2021, to Sunday, September 12, we’re looking at gorgeous category romance covers painted by some of the greatest artists of romance novels. Below are a few category romances illustrated by the legendary ElaineDuillo, Robert Maguire, Elaine Gignilliat, and Pino. Enjoy!
Elaine Duillo was the undisputed “Queen of Historical Romance” covers. She was a giant in the competitive field of pulp fiction artwork, where women were few and far between. Duillo painted hundreds of book covers, was an inductee of the Illustrators Hall of fame, and was the matriarch of a talented artistic family. She passed away on July 30, 2021, at the age of 93.
This amazing cover artist influenced generations of illustrators, revolutionized romance cover art, and helped give rise to the pop culture phenom Fabio. Pictured is one of Elaine’s most-loved covers, Defy Not the Heart, and it is also my all-time favorite cover. Although she created many gorgeous stepbacks, or “tip-ins,” as those in the industry called them, Duillo was not a fan. She believed the eye-catching covers she designed for romance novels were meant to be seen, not hidden away. Yes, to that! I say. Those gorgeous jackets should be displayed proudly, not covered like some dirty secret!
We at Sweet Savage Flame lament her passing. Our thoughts and sympathy are with her family. We celebrate Elaine Duillo’s life as she brought much joy and beauty to countless tens of millions of readers worldwide.... Read more “Covers of the Week #19”
The Duillo family was filled with artistic talent. There was John Duillo, the great pulp cover artist. Of course, his wife Elaine was a pioneer for women in the field. She not only painted pulp covers but went on to become the “Queen of Romance Covers.” However, did you know their daughter, Melissa Duillo Gallo, was a talented artist as well?
In the 1980s – 1990s, Melissa, who used the surname Gallo after her marriage, was a prolific historical romance cover artist, creating works for publishers such as Avon, Dell, Warner, Zebra, and more. While she and her mother no longer illustrate romance covers, Melissa is still creating art as a talented painter. Melissa Gallo Paints is where you can get access to her current work. I also have a dedicated Pinterest page to her romance covers here.
For a long time, I used to get Elaine and Melissa’s artwork confused, unintentionally mislabelling one of the books below as Elaine’s! Now I can spot the differences between mom’s and her daughter’s work. For one thing, Melissa preferred her models to wear more clothes, and also, she was more conservative with the use of eyeshadow, especially for the heroes! Both ladies, Duillo, collaborated with supermodel Fabio many times.... Read more “Covers of the Week #15”
Once a Princess was not one of my favorites by Johanna Lindsey. I’d put this in the unremarkable category with books like Glorious Angel and Tender is the Storm. Not her worst, by any means, but not her best either.
Perhaps it had to do with the book’s aesthetics. I’ve always been a curmudgeon who doesn’t like change simply for the sake of change when everything is fine. So it was a shock that particular June of 1991 to find the Lindsey covers had been revamped. The font was more “romantic” with its loops and curves. The book was a step back and I preferred an open clinch. Avon updated Johanna Lindsey’s pretty photo on the inside back to a less flattering extreme close-up. And the most glaring insult of all, where in the heck was Fabio?
The plot about the search for a secret princess from a fictional country was all right. It was the main characters that made this one almost unbearable.
This review is of Savage Conquest, the 9th and final book–although the 6th published–in the “Ecstasy/Gray Eagle” series by Janelle Taylor.
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 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.
Was this tepid, dull romance actually penned by Johanna Lindsey? The Heir was the first book that I noticed a weird change in her writing. Previously, if there was a Lindsey I didn’t like, it was due to a dull plot or excessive fighting between the leads. In this one, there is friendship for sure, but romantic isn’t what I’d call the relationship between Duncan and Sabrina.
The Plot: Friends to Lovers
Duncan, a Highland Scot, is the new heir to be an English Marquess. Everyone is eager to meet this new laird, er lord, especially the young ladies in town. Sabrina has no designs on Duncan; she’s plump, plain, orphaned, and not anyone’s ideal candidate for a wife. Certainly not for an heir to a Marquessate.
Then there’s the manipulative, beautiful Ophelia, who desperately wants Duncan’s title.
Slowly, painfully slowly, Sabrina and Duncan’s relationship turns physical, and one night they make love. But Ophelia’s scheming makes it appear as if Duncan has ruined her, so the red-haired idiot decides to do the honorable thing: marry Ophelia. Duncan is too young and he flounders in areas where a more mature man might have acted differently.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Heir by Johanna Lindsey”
Brooklyn-born artist Elaine Duillo, who, in her long and storied career, earned the well-deserved moniker of “The Queen of Romance Cover Art,” did it to me again! How many books have I purchased simply because I was dazzled by the hypnotic painted covers, only to find disappointment within the pages of those supposedly lurid novels?
The best thing about Emily Bradshaw’s Halfway to Paradise is its stunning jacket, which is an excellent representation of Duillo’s flair for making even the most mundane tale seem enticing. This one is done primarily in purple hues, with the heroine’s long blonde locks that flow down to her knees providing a bright complement to the hero’s dark-violet doublet.
Back in the day, an Elaine Duillo cover guaranteed you were reading a juicy bodice ripper. That was not the case with this book.
Why have I spent so much time in this review discussing Duillo’s talent rather than the content of this Halfway to Paradise? Because, lamentably, the book put me halfway to sleep.
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.
Lovely red-gold-haired, violet-eyed Lenore is the female protagonist of Valerie Sherwood’s This Towering Passion and the primary heroine of its sequel, Her Shining Splendor, which tells the tale of both Lenore and her daughter, Lorena, from the English Civil War to the Restoration eras.
Lenore’s beauty is of little use to her because while she can get a man, she has trouble keeping him.
First, as is standard in a Sherwood novel, the heroine gets together with her first lover, who’s typically a hunky block of wood. Here, Lenore becomes infatuated with the hottest guy in town, a big blond stud who’s a charismatic black hole. Although he’s a mite too friendly with other ladies, he and Lenore get handfasted.
But, alas, he leaves Lenore behind, looking for adventure by fighting against the English army. Lenore, who has no one else in the world, won’t be left all alone and seeks him out, only to find he’s killed in action.
Like in all Bertrice Small novels, the history in Enchantress Mine is richly detailed, the villains are just whacked-out, and there’s a lot of WTF situations that make you shake your head, blink and wonder, “What just happened?” But, I don’t know… I guess I just don’t enjoy some of Bertrice Small’s books as much as I do other bodice rippers.
A Too-Perfect Heroine
Enchantress Mine is set in the Middle Ages, during the height of the Byzantine Empire. The heroine, Mairin, is a foundling raised by adopted parents.
Oh, Mairin, how to describe her? The cover art is the best thing about her. I both hated and pitied the poor girl. So many horrific things happened to Mairin, but I didn’t care because she was SOOOO perfect, SOOOO beautiful, SOOOO resilient!
May is upon us! May your days be full of love and joy! Here are some beautiful May-deval romance covers to enjoy for the week of May 3 to May 9.(Groan) That’s an awful pun!
Left to right: Lovefire, Deana James, Zebra, 1985, Pino cover art; Winter Roses, Anita Mills, Onyx, 1992,Greg Gulbronson cover art; Legacy of Shadows, Warner Books, 1987, Sharon Spiak cover art; Rose of Rapture, Warner Books, 1984, Elaine Duillo cover art
From 7th to 9th grade, I was obsessed with romance novels, reading everything from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to category romances to thick, door-stopper historical epics. By the time Johanna Lindsey’s The Magic of You was published by Avon in June 1993, a rising Junior in high school. I was not as fanatical about reading for fun due to having a full course load at school, with no lunch period and little time for extra-extracurricular activities.
On the day I came upon that blue Elaine Duillo and Fabio step-back paperback at a Waldenbooks in the local mall, I squealed in delight to see it was a sequel to one of my favorite Lindsey books Gentle Rogue. I excitedly plunked down $5.99 plus tax (oh my, how expensive books had gotten; only 3 years earlier, a mass-market paperback could go as low as $4) and hurried home to read it.
What can I say about Valerie Sherwood’s These Golden Pleasures? Well, this 512 page epic starts out wonderfully but then falters then lags in the middle, and is rushed at the end.
Roxanne is in San Francisco on the eve of the great earthquake of 1906. She has to choose between the two men who will decide her fate, one of them her true love.
The story goes back to when Roxanne was a 15-year-old girl in Kansas, and the drama of her life unfolds. As is usual in a Valerie Sherwood, the heroine’s first sexual experience is not with the hero. She has a fling with Buck, her best friend’s fiancé.
Circumstances force her out of Kansas and Roxanne goes to Maryland, where she finds work as a maid for the wealthy Coulter family. She is romanced by two brothers: cynical, business-minded Gavin and handsome, carefree Rhodes who sails ships. This is where the book gets cooking! The tension is hot… And then a stupid misunderstanding leads to a long separation. I lament the fact that Sherwood didn’t do more with the brothers.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: These Golden Pleasures by Valerie Sherwood”
For a while–except for maybe Jude Deveraux–there was no other mass-market romance author in the 1980s to 1990s whose prolific writing achieved such commercial success than Johanna Lindsey. Lindsey reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list with Defy Not the Heart.
During this time period, Lindsey was at her peak, and in a span of 10 to 15 years put out book after book (with the best covers ever!), that, for but a few exceptions, were all fun reads or even rank among my most beloved romances.
For sure, they were not always the best written, often rambling on about unimportant characters and telling more than showing. Often, I wanted to strangle the heroines for their stubbornness and TSTL tendencies.
Even so, I loved her plots involving kidnapping and forced marriages. They featured overbearing, handsome men who would treat their heroines like crap one minute, and then made passionate love to them and would brush their hair as after play. I ate Lindsey’s books up like candy and have the emotional cavities to prove it!... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsey”