Category Archives: Pino

captive angel pino

Historical Romance Review: Captive Angel by Deana James

historical romance review
Captive Angel by Deana James
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1988
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical
Book Series: Gillard-Macpherson #1
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 511
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Captive Angel by Deana James


The Book

The cover of Deana JamesCaptive Angel includes a quote from Johanna Lindsey that states this book is: “Delightfully different, emotionally involving, and impossible to put down.”

That is pure truth.

An Unusual Romance

How do I evaluate this amazing journey through a super-resilient woman’s incredible 19th-century life?

I must tell it all, so this review is pure spoilers.

By all rights, Deana James’ Captive Angel is the kind of romance I should toss into a blazing fire while gleefully cheering: “Burn, book, burn! Bad, bad book!”

Perhaps it helped that I knew exactly what I was getting into before I started. Plus, having previously a few of James’ books, I knew Captive Angel couldn’t be that horrible. James was one of the finest authors to have come out of Kensington’s Zebra imprint.

The Set-Up and the Characters

Captive Angel surpassed my expectations. It stars one of the greatest romance heroines ever, paired with one of the most piggish, most oblivious, POS heroes I’ve ever come across in an old-school historical (other than Regan Van Der Rhys from Fern Michaels‘ Captive Series.

Hunter Gillard’s not a crazed protagonist like Sean Culhane (Stormfire) or Duke Domenico (The Silver Devil) because he’s not super-obsessed over his woman (until the middle-end). He’s just a selfish prick. It’s all about him.

On one hand, we have a Caroline, who’s in my “Greatest Heroine” hall of fame, while the hero is relegated to the “Jerky Pig” hall of shame. That list is reserved for only the most porcine of Romancelandia’s leading men.

Caroline, or Fancy as she prefers, has a fantastic character arc. She starts down in the dumps: “Woe is me, I’m depressed, mourning for my dead child. I’m fat, and my husband doesn’t love me anymore. Sure, he’ll bang me something fierce, but it’s not only me who’s getting his love!”

You see, Hunter is a real hound dog.

The Plot

Caroline and Hunter Gillard have been married for ten years. Their baby daughter died some years earlier. They still have a young son, but Caroline’s fallen into a deep depression, as she cannot have any more children.

Naturally, she’s let herself go. Caroline has gained a few (or more) pounds. Even so, her lusty husband doesn’t mind giving her a good porking. Hunter does hate her crying, how she wallows in self-pity, and oh, her refusal to worship him and treat him like the king he is.

So Hunter has other things on his mind. He’s a seaman by nature and despises being tied to his wife’s plantation, “England’s Fancy” with the responsibilities it entails. He loathes how mopey Fancy is. Often he leaves for long instances.

Caroline’s no longer the same beautiful woman who caught Hunter’s eye at a ball. She’s dumpy and fat now, even if that doesn’t stop Hunter from plowing her furrows every so often.

Life for Fancy isn’t great and it’s about to get worse.

Her plantation is not producing as it should, despite her husband providing fertilizer, as he’s nothing but excrement.

For a horrible truth comes to light. Hunter has many lovers, including one young miss he’s especially keen on. Worse yet, the mistress is pregnant!

Hunter resolves he’s had enough of Fancy. He decides to sail to Europe with his no-longer-a-virgin of a paramour. Even crueler, he takes his and Fancy’s son, Alex, with them.

As for Caroline? Well, kiddo, it’s been fun, but see ya!

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

One final blow is to come. Hunter leaves Fancy penniless, their bank accounts wiped empty. All that Fancy has is her run-down plantation.

If not for Holy Dulcibella, the servant who raised her from infancy, Caroline would be alone in the world.

There is also her plantation’s overseer, to help. Fancy should have had a fling with him. But she had no mind for men, just for “England’s Fancy.” With her overseer & Dulcibella, Caroline engages in back-breaking labor to keep her plantation up and running.

At long last, when it seems Caroline’s hard work will bring a good harvest, a terrible storm comes. It wipes out the crops, utterly ruining her.

Caroline can fall no lower. Does give up? No! She is determined to make her way, somehow.

For the first time in Caroline’s life, she has nothing. Like Janis Joplin sang (or was it Kris Kristofferson?) “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Fancy is free.

The frightened, pampered child-woman who had been deserted by her husband ten months ago was gone forever. In her place stood a self-confident, independet creature who would not hesitate to dare the devil.

A Light in The Darkness

Certain revelations come to light. Holy Dulcibella is not a slave but a free servant. She discloses to Fancy that she was Fancy’s grandfather’s lover and secret wife.

He was a ship captain who sailed the seas like Hunter. Dulcibella was a princess of Madagascar. They fell in love even though he had a wife and family in America. Dulcibella willingly gave up her royal life to live with her man as a second-best.

This shocks Fancy to her core.

It was refreshing that Deana James wrote Captive Angel with a sense of historical authenticity. It sounds odd, but I appreciated that Fancy Caroline was uncomfortable knowing this truth. Her prejudices made her real, not some manufactured idea of perfection.

Even though Holy Dulcibella was the only person who had Caroline’s back from day #1, who’d stuck with her through the worst, Caroline still saw Dulcibella as an “other.” Dulcieblla was “inferior” because of her race and station. Caroline was a real person of her time, filled with preconceptions.

Over time Caroline does get over it. Through their shared travails she sees Dulcibella not as a slave or servant but as family, calling her “grandmother.”

It takes time to unfold. Their relationship is one of genuine, selfless love. The most honest connection Caroline has with a person is not with her wayward husband, but with this great friend.

The Creep “Hero” Returns

Dulibella tells her about her grandfather’s secret treasure hidden off the coast of Africa. Caroline determines to find it.

She obtains a ship, captain, and crew who will sail with her across the world in search of the gold.

Ultimately, Hunter hears that Caroline is risking her life for a foolish idea of an impossible treasure. Without a care for her, he abandons his pregnant mistress to save his wife.

But Caroline doesn’t need saving! In fact, Hunter’s the one who gets captured, and she must rescue him. In the end, she lets Hunter think he saves her, to please his ego. She understands her husband’s nature now.

Hunter has never seen Caroline like this before, so confident in herself. It excites him to see this new woman of adventure. With the other woman long out of his mind, he attempts to seduce his wife.

As Caroline never stopped desiring Hunter, she engages with him eagerly. The makeup sex is steamier than ever before. The two reunite, promising to love one another forever.

The Thrilling Conclusion

And as for the treasure? Why it was lost in the seas, never to be found!

Hunter’s cast-off mistress gives birth. She goes away and leaves her baby with Hunter, to be raised by him and Caroline.

Does Hunter deserve Caroline? No freaking way!

Be happy that the heroine is happy. She loves her husband. When the book ends Hunter promises to be on his best behavior. He still will go out to sea once every so often while Caroline raises her son and her husband’s lovechild as their own.

She will remain home and tend to their plantation. Hunter will be a good boy from here on out. He enjoys plowing Fancy’s fields now a lot more now than he ever did before.

However, Fancy’s no dummy. Once that trust is lost, it can never wholly be regained, no matter how much love exists. Fancy is determined her love will last a lifetime.

Nevertheless, she’ll keep some secrets to herself…

Namely, that the treasure wasn’t a legend and it wasn’t lost. Caroline sneakily hid it from Hunter. Maybe she’ll let him know about it. Maybe not.

In the end, Caroline gets it all.

Final Analysis of Captive Angel

Why did I love Captive Angel? It is not really a romance, or more correctly, it’s more than just romance. It’s women’s fiction, an action-adventure saga, historical fiction, and a character study, too.

You may read it and hate it and I wouldn’t blame anyone for that. This is a romance novel, so one expects certain rules in romance. Here, Deana James broke the rules. Despite me being a stickler for them, James turned the tables to create a story I loved. I was drawn to it like a cat to a crinkly toy ball covered in catnip.

Deana James’ Captive Angel was an emotional, turbulent read with a heroine whose identity was forged in fire.

Maybe her love story is not an all-time great. But her life story was.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.8


Abandoned, penniless, and suddenly responsible for the biggest tobacco plantation in Colleton County, distraught Caroline Gillard had no time to dissolve into tears. The previously pampered, indulged mistress of the South Carolina estate had to learn fast how to manage her workers, her money — and her broken heart. By day the willowy redhead labored to exhaustion beside her slaves … but each night left her restless with longing for her wayward mate. Soon, though, her misery gave way to anger, and the determined woman knew that somehow she’d make him regret his betrayal until he begged her to take him back!

Handsome Hunter Gillard had been born to ride the everchanging sea, not to harvest and plant year in and year out. Tired of his commitments, the virile, hot-tempered captain meant to call his destiny his own like he had before he’d met his tantalizing Caroline. When his adventure was over, maybe he’d return to his patient, understanding wife. But when he learned she’d left him for parts unknown, the furious philanderer promised he’d track her down to teach her how to be Hunter’s loyal partner, his unquestioning concubine, his forgiving… Captive Angel.

moon rider

Covers of the Week #42

Theme: Covers With Dresses Opened at the Back

There are lots of amusing aspects about clinch covers. When it come to the poses,r what cover for whatever book from whatever imprint, there are only so many variations the couple can engage in, that some poses become ubiquitous. One of my favorite mainstays of cover art is when…well when a lady loses her stays!

Personally, I find it alluring when a gown is draping off a lady’s back as opposed to other more revealing shots. The sight of bare skin and delicate bones down to the waist is more seductive and mysterious rather than seeing heaving breasts front and center. What say you?

The Covers

This Covers of the Week for Monday, January 24, 2022, to Sunday, January 30 displays pretty historical romance covers with couples in clinch poses and heroines losing their tops while having a grand ole time of it.

(From left to right, top to bottom)
The Moon Rider, Virginia Lynn, Pocket Books, 1994, Morgan Kane cover art
Nevada Temptation, Gwen Cleary, Zebra, 1992, Pino cover art
Hearts of Fire, Anita Mills, Onyx, 1989, Gregg Gulbronson cover art
A Scoundrel’s Kiss, Margaret Moore, Avon, 1999, cover artist TBD

silver angel johanna lindsey books

Covers of the Week #40

Theme: Desert and Harem Covers

This week’s theme takes us to the Middle East for showing off some glorious harem and desert romance covers.

There’s something alluring about the African Sahara and Arabian deserts. They hold the allure of mystery and romance. The endless miles of sand, the ever-shifting dunes. A sheik takes a beautiful heroine captive and takes her to an oasis.

Whether it be a fantasy of being swept away by the leader of a caravan tribe or taken into a sheik’s private harem of one, passionate clinch covers exist for them all.

For the week of Monday, January 10, 2022, to Sunday, January 16, 2022, our latest Covers of the Week highlights the covers of four desert and harem romances set in the Middle East.

Middle Eastern Covers (from Left to Right, Top to Bottom):

Desert Heat, Evelyn Rogers, Zebra, 1993, Robert Sabin cover art;
Harem, Diane Carey, Signet, 1986, Pino cover art;
Silver Angel, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1988, Elaine Duillo cover art;
Casablanca Intrigue, Clarissa Ross, Warner, 1979, H. Tom Hall cover art

pino at work

A Closer Look At Pino

pino daeni artist
Giuseppi Dangelico Daeni, aka Pino the artist

Pino Daeni

Giuseppi Dangelico Daeni is better known as Pino Daeni, or simply Pino. Pino Daeni was a romance novel illustrator. He was an icon who painted over 3,000 book covers that were pure works of art in only 15-20 years .He spent almost the last twenty years of his life working as a fine artist of great acclaim.

Pino’s childhood visual memories consisted of females left behind to keep the home fires burning. His mother, aunts, grandmothers, and cousins became a universe of attractive women in aprons.

Throughout the uncertain times of World War II, they maintained domestic tranquility. Pino would always cherish the feminine ideal. That appreciation shone through his paintings.

Pino created portraits that celebrated the beauty of women, children, and families. A talent in the tradition of his Italian forebears, Pino’s artwork was a bridge between classical romanticism and contemporary realism.

pino daeni
“Almost Ready,” Pino Daeni Artist

Pino, His Early Life

Pino was born in Bari, Italy, on November 8, 1939, to a large family with numerous children.

His first-grade teacher recognized his talents and advised his father to encourage Pino’s gifts. His father was initially skeptical of this recommendation but changed his mind when he saw his son’s artwork.

“When I was eight, my older brother would have to draw for school. My father would wake me up after preparing all the colored pencils, and tell me to draw a boat with a fisherman and a sunset or some other scene.”


Throughout his early years, Pino would sketch in his school books. His older brothers and soccer teammates offered him 30 lire per drawing to help them with their high school design projects. Pino relished the earned income by doing something he loved.

He enrolled at the Art Institute of Bari in his late teens. At 21, armed with nothing but a few pencils, Pino left home to study at Milan’s Academy of Brera. There, he honed his skills by painting live nudes.

Soon Pino was drawing historical scenes for textbooks. Later he joined the staff of Fabbri, an established publishing firm where he illustrated history books and women’s magazines.

When Pino’s father died suddenly at 52, he moved his mother and five siblings to Milan. Pino was the sole supporter until his family could provide for themselves.

In 1970 Pino married Chiara. In 1971 their first child, Paola, was born.

pino at work
Pino at work

Early Career

Later that year, his contract with Fabbri expired. The enterprising artist made his first trip to the United States on a visitor’s visa. He spent three unsuccessful months in New York seeking a sponsor and employment. Upon his return to Milan, Pino and Chiara had their second child, Massimo.

From 1960 to 1979, his work was prominently displayed throughout Italy and Europe. He won several prizes and awards, and commissions to illustrate books for Italy’s largest publishers, Mondadori and Rizzoli.

Pino dreamed of being free of art directors and account executives. Their demands to paint their ideas rather than his own were a constant drain on his creative energy.

no sweeter paradise

He had grand ambitions, but familial responsibilities forced him to seek commercial work in a field where publishers were more interested in consistency than originality. His use of subliminal devices, color, composition, and detail pushed the envelope.

Pino had grown up with faded glories of renaissance art and architecture in Italy. He was also in tune with the energies of the new era. Despite his phenomenal success as one of the leading European illustrators of all time, Pino wanted to be closer to the dynamic art center of the world, New York.

He also wanted to release his art from the restrictions of others and be free to explore new avenues that had been opened by the abstract expressionists of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

pino daeni artist
Untitled Portrait of a Woman, Drawing w/ Charcoal on Paper, Pino Daeni artist

An Italian Comes to America

After visiting Manhattan and experiencing the freedom of the art scene there, Pino became acutely aware of the restrictions in Milan. The New York museums opened his eyes to America’s rich history of figure painting.

In 1978, Pino moved his family to New York. He was eager to partake in significant opportunities within a more unrestrictive environment. Although he had achieved acclaim in Europe, he was unknown in American circles. Pino spoke in broken English and owned only a bicycle for transportation. He had to take what jobs came his way.

“I needed $325 to pay the rent, so I went door to door to Manhattan galleries trying to sell some paintings. I stumbled upon a gallery with an Italian name and in broken English, asked if they work with Italian artists. The owner said he did but only offered $300 for the painting. So I left and walked 50 more blocks without success until I turned around and went back to him. By then, the owner offered to pay only $250. I took it.”


Eventually, Pino was sponsored by the Borghi Gallery, which held several New York and Massachusetts shows.

Pino knew New York was not only the center of fine art but also the world publishing capital. It was where big deals were made and new concepts and original styles rewarded.

Pino, Cover Artist Extraordinaire

Accompanied by a friend as a translator, Pino began knocking on the doors of America’s top publishers. In 1980 Pino Daeni would receive his big break as a cover artist.

Zebra books were the first to hire him. Pino book covers were distinct from the usual clinches, as they would display a heroine in a solo pose with the couple embracing beneath.

love stone pino cover art
Love Stone, Deana James, Zebra, 1983

The success of his first covers for Zebra soon had Dell, Simon & Schuster, Bantam, Harlequin, Penguin eagerly seeking his distinctive style. That style would dominate the market and exert a profound influence on other artists’ work from 1980 to 1995.

Pino was the highest-paid illustrator in America during this period, with over 3,000 book covers, movie posters, and magazine illustrations to his credit.

Here is an early Pino book cover for Danielle Steel:

pino book cover art
Once in a Lifetime, Danielle Steel, Dell, 1982

Pino’s art graced the covers of many big-named talents in the romance genre: Kathleen E. WoodiwissRosemary RogersLaurie McBain, Christine Monson, Deana James, Shirl Henke, Sylvie F. Sommerfield, Janelle Taylor, Virginia Henley, Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick, and many, many others.

Like artist Harry Bennett and George H. Jones, Pino was one of the first artists to use a style of illustrating called the “wraparound.” He would paint a continued image around the cover that left space on the back for the description and the front for the title.

camberleigh pino daeni
Camberleigh, Evelyn Grey, Zebra, 1985
pino daeni art
Margaret Normanby, Josephine Edgar, Signet, 1984

My Opinion Of Pino’s Art

“An art director might say, ‘Pino, we need a mansion.’ We talk about the period, the mood. I try to put myself in the male’s shoes. It’s very easy for me. I’m good because I’m a romantic.”


I often hear readers of the romance genre comment on how cover art has improved over the years. Many say that modern covers are more mature and artistic. Frankly, I can’t help but wonder if people see reality through distinct lenses because my eyes don’t view it that way.

raven at sunrise pino book cover
Raven at Sunrise, Claudia McCormick, Diamond, 1991, Pino cover art

Yes, the digital artwork created by artists like Gregg Gulbronson, Alan Ayers, Chris Cocozza, Jon Paul Ferrera, James Griffin, and Victor Gadino looks incredible.

But for every master artist like the ones mentioned, dozens of Adobe Illustrator users create weird-looking or oversexualized covers. Some people complain the old clinch covers were embarrassing.

I find the headless torso covers of men with eight-pack abs far more egregious. There’s little appreciation for fine art in the age of the Kindles and iPhones.

The majority of covers today look crisp, overproduced, and impersonal. Unless an artist’s style is incredibly distinct, it isn’t easy to deduce which covers are made by whom. Pino’s brushstrokes, the curves of his feminine subjects, and facial expressions are uniquely recognizable.

He was as talented as any of the old greats: da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, or Titian. Romance aficionados should be honored such an artist is part of its history.

A Contemporary Master Painter

“Rockwell bridged the gap between illustration and fine art, and Pino did the same.”


In 1992, the strain of tight deadlines became too much for Pino. He was ready to leave the world of illustration behind and return to his impressionist painting roots. After contacting a highly regarded gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, he was encouraged to send several paintings, which were well received.

His illustrations appeared in Hilton Head Island, SC, and Garden City, Long Island, NY. Pino made several appearances on major TV networks and was interviewed in national and international journals.

Pino daeni art
“By the Mirror“, Pino Daeni

As digital artwork became more widespread, Pino’s cover art output slowed down significantly. A classic at heart, he deplored the sterility of computer-generated images. By 1994, Pino was no longer just a book illustrator but a professional painter. He would spend the rest of his life living his dream as a world-renowned fine artist.

In 2001, Max, Pino’s son, began representing his father, despite his father’s initial reluctance. Max successfully grew his efforts into a profitable marketing company, helping his father expand beyond his regular gallery representation to include magazines, books, and limited-edition fine art prints.

Pino was a great success whose paintings broke the mold. Park West Gallery Director David Gorman compared Pino’s journey from illustrator to fine artist to the career of American painter Norman Rockwell.

Pino’s Death and Legacy

“His career had come full circle. As a young boy he dabbled in watercolors, switched to oils at 18 and never went back until he became sick with cancer. Amazing how life works like that.”


From the time he could first hold a pencil until his very last days, Pino remained an exemplary artist. He worked tirelessly with prodigious output.

Pino worked in oils and preferred to stand while painting. After being diagnosed with cancer and enduring 18 months of grueling chemotherapy treatments, the artist no longer had the strength to stand for long periods of time. Instead, he would rest on the couch to draw and paint with watercolors.

On May 25, 2010, Pino died at 70 due to cancer.

pino daeni art
A Time To Remember, Pino Daeni

He is survived by his family, including his son Max and his nephew Vittorio Dangelico, aka Vidan. Vidan was also a romance cover illustrator and is now a fine artist in a style after his uncle.

His work appears in art galleries worldwide, and his giclee prints sell into the thousands of dollars.

Through his art, the memory of Pino lives forever. Pino proved that commercial artwork need not be derivative and sterile but beautiful and worthy of admiration.

While, unfortunately, some people still harbor shame or express mockery for romance covers, Pino was one of the influential artists who elevated them to true artistry.

More than a mere illustrator, Pino is celebrated as a master painter of the 20th century.

Pino Romance Book Covers

midnight princess jo goodman

Historical Romance Review: Midnight Princess by Jo Goodman

Midnight Princess, Jo Goodman, Zebra, 1989, Pino cover art


4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reviewed by Blue Falcon

The Book, Characters & Set-Up

This review is of Midnight Princess, book #1 in the “Marshall Brothers” series by Jo Goodman, a pseudonym used by Joanne Dobrzanski. Published by Zebra/Kensington, November 1989, the book was later reissued as Her Defiant Heart. (This series connects to Ms. Goodman’s “Dennehy Sisters” series). This review is of the original print book.

Heroine: Jenny Holland, 24. Brown hair and eyes. Mystery woman.

Hero: Christian Marshall, 31. Copper hair, aquamarine eyes. Publisher, New York Chronicle newspaper.

Location: New York City, New York. December 1866-May 1867.

Tropes: Historical Romance. Mystery woman. Newspaper publisher. New York City.

The Plot

The book starts in New York City, December 1866. Christian Marshall, the hero, one of the series’ eponymous titular characters, and publisher of the New York Chronicle newspaper is at a hospital for people experiencing emotional distress. He’s watching one of the “patients,” a woman known as Jane Doe, being treated. He feels sympathy for her and decides to help her.

Later, she shows up at his home.

“Jane Doe” has a real name; it’s Jenny Holland, the heroine. As the book continues we learn more about the traumas she’s suffered in her life. We also learn about Christian’s trauma and that Jenny has three people who want her dead.

In the end, Christian rescues Jenny from a perilous situation. The villains trying to kill her are stopped. Christian gets a major—but very pleasant–Christmas surprise. Jenny and Christian marry and have their Happily Ever After.


Ms. Goodman is a licensed therapist, and this imbues her writing. Many of her heroes and heroines have significant trauma that they are trying to work through, and Jenny and Christian are in that category. This makes Midnight Princess an interesting, compelling book, and Jenny and Christian are interesting developed characters.


Even though I found the book compelling, I can’t say that I truly liked either Jenny or Christian. This is an issue I have with Ms. Goodman’s work. I find it interesting, but I can’t say I like her characters. The supporting characters only exist to advance Jenny and Christian.


Ms. Goodman writes good love scenes. They don’t get anywhere near erotica, but they do explore what the characters in the scenes are feeling and can be very emotional and romantic.


Assault, attempted rape, battery, sodomy, and murder all occur in the book. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line

Midnight Princess/ Her Defiant Heart is a very dark book and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. However, readers who like books with solid character depth and interesting storylines may like it.

4.14 stars.

the game of love

Covers of the Week #32

Theme: Regency Romance

The Regency era is the most popular setting in historicals. The sub-genre ranges from classic, traditional romances to longer, more sensual ones. The time period evokes a sense of manners and wittiness.

We’ve reviewed but a few on this site, so to remedy that, let’s take a look at some of their dazzling covers.

The Covers

For the week of Monday, November 15, to Sunday, November 21, 2021, our theme for the covers of the week is Regency romances. Enjoy!

Covers from left to right, top to bottom:

  • Game of Love, Edith Layton, Signet, cover art, Pino
  • Rivals of Fortune, Jane Ashford, Warner, cover art Walter Popp
  • Escapade Marion Devon, Fawcett, cover art Elaine Gignilliat
  • The Madcap Marchioness, Amanda Scott, Signet, cover art Allan Kass

Crimson obsession

Historical Romance Review: Crimson Obsession by Deana James

Crimson Obsession, Deana James, Zebra, 1988, Pino cover art


3 1/2 Stars

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’ve read about half of the romances Deana James published and I must say Crimson Obsession is probably my least favorite of her works. It’s not a terrible romance, not at all. It simply pales in comparison to her other books. Due to my high expectations of James’ writing, Crimson Obsession was a bit of a disappointment, although if penned by another author, I daresay I might not have been so critical.

The Revenge Based Plot

It’s Victorian-era England and Cassandra MacDaermond is on a mission of revenge. She’s a beautiful red-haired orphan left penniless. Her father died after losing the family fortune by gambling. Cassandra blames Edward Sandron, owner of a gaming hall, for this. She’s determined to see Sandron pay for taking advantage of an elderly man. Cassandra disguises herself as an old, plump maid and gains employment in Sandron’s household.

Edward Sandron not only runs a gambling establishment, but he also is the head of a sex cult. He calls himself Baal and wears funky devil costumes. If that sounds to you like something you’d read in an Anne Stuart romance, that’s what I thought as well.

Stuart takes her work seriously, heavy on the angst, and without much humor. Her heroes are akin to caped, mustachio-twirling villains. They are forever telling the heroines how much they despise them and what wicked ruin they will bring upon the hapless females.

Thankfully, James doesn’t take this silliness anywhere as seriously as Stuart would. Edward Sandron runs his club with a sense of the ridiculous. He’s just running this gig as a side hustle to make money. Gambling and debauched orgies aren’t really his thing. He also writes salacious pornographic works to rake in the pounds. What Edward really wants to be is a respectable writer in the style of Charles Dickens.

Crimson Obsession shares another similarity with Anne Stuart’s books, as this contains a secondary romance, as Stuart’s works often do. A prostitute named Sally has her eyes on Sandron. However, Sandron’s editor, a porn peddler named Nash, has eyes on Sally. Their tug-and-pull love story is quite entertaining and unique.

Then there’s a hypocritical, morally-priggish OTT villain who makes for more ludicrous antics.

Cassandra is a seemingly plucky heroine, at first. She has a plan, but it doesn’t actually amount to much. And, of course, Edward eventually discovers his housemaid is not who she appeared to be. Once he discovers her true identity, Edward’s intent on proving he’s not the culprit Cassandra thinks he is. And besides, she’s attracted to him, and he’s attracted to her.

Final Analysis of Crimson Obsession

Cassandra and Edward’s romance was fine, but I thought the parallel romance between Nash and Sally was hot. They were a far more exciting couple than the central pair.

I prefer James’s medievals and American-set romances to her Victorian and Regencies, as they’re more grand-scale and action-packed. Overall, this is better than the average romance, but not one of James’ best books.

Paradise and More

Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke

historical romance review
Paradise and More by Shirl Henke
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1991
Illustrator: Pino
Book Series: House of Torres #1
Published by: Dorchester, Leisure
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 443
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke


The Book and the Cover

Paradise and More by Shirl Henke is memorable to me for having one of the most eye-catching covers in romance. A dazzling beauty by Pino Daeni, it features a fully naked couple in a glorious clinch, their nudity covered by some strategically placed flowers and the book’s title.

Lamentably, I have a later reissue where their nakedness is hidden behind a respectable-looking stepback. Why would anyone want to hide that stunning beauty?

As for the book itself? I was conflicted. It’s both excellent at times and frustrating at others.

The Old World

A swashbuckling historical, Paradise and More is the first entry in the House of Torres duo. This romance is in late 1400s Spain. This is a seminal time in history with Columbus’ exploration into the “New World.” This was months after the expulsion of Jews from Spain. The Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon had just reconquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims who had entered Hispania 700 years prior.

Lady Magdalena Luisa Valdes–for some unfathomable reason–falls madly in love at first sight with Aaron “Diego” Torres, the son of a wealthy converso family (a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism).

Aaron is arrogant and contemptuous of Magdalena, a wonderful character with the kind of fortitude that makes a heroine legendary. Beautiful and kind-hearted, Magdalena has to navigate court intrigues to avoid the eyes of the Reyes Católicos. This is to say, the King’s wandering eyes and the Queen’s jealous ones.

To flee from prejudice and persecution, Aaron decides to travel the uncharted seas with Columbus as his second-in-command, to search for new lands. Meanwhile, Magdalena befriends Aaron’s family, becoming like a second daughter to them.

After a successful conquest, Aaron returns to find Magdalena living in his parents’ household. He takes advantage of her crush on him and forces himself upon her. After ravishing her, he leaves to return to the newfound colonies. The Torres family demands honor and avow their wayward son must marry their darling Magdalena.

Destiny has tragedy in store for the House of Torres, as they are accused of heresy by the Inquisition and then executed.

The New World

Alone in the world, Magdalena has but one mission in her life: to be with the man she loves. She follows Aaron across the ocean to Columbus’ settlement in Hispaniola. Despite his contemptible behavior towards her, Magdalena still wants to marry Aaron.

However, when Magdalena arrives, she finds Aaron already has a mistress, the Native Princess, Aliyah. What’s more, Aliyah is pregnant with Aaron’s child.

As a lone European woman in Hispaniola, Magdalena draws much attention from men, including the brothers of Columbus. Aaron cannot deny the allure she holds. And though he will never be forced to do anything against his will, Aaron knows his family’s final wishes were for him to marry Magdalena.

The tropical backdrop makes an appropriate setting for their heated attraction. Their passion for each other grows to a climax. After they marry, Aaron and Magdalena find that their adventures together are just beginning. Aaron’s spurned mistress connives with the villains to destroy him in every way she can. Aaron and Magdalena must work together to overcome even more obstacles.

Final Analysis of Paradise and More

I loved that Paradise and More took us to late 15th-century Spain, an era I can’t get enough of. Columbus’ expedition into the Americas was an unusual backdrop for a romance. Shirl Henke did a great job capturing the era, even though her protagonists were sometimes a bit too modern in their thinking.

This epic, late-era bodice ripper is a tumultuous read that features a loveable, resilient heroine, but the hero is a bit of a jerk and not in a good way. Although I must say, the love scenes were…oh my! ¡Muy caliente!

The first half of this book was so good and filled with action: bloody sword fights, the hero’s entire family being killed, forced seduction, and the spanning of years & continents. Although, when Magdalena got to Hispanola, the pace slowed down a bit.

Aaron was a douche canoe. If not for the machinations of the scorned “other-woman,” Aliyah, the last half would have dragged needlessly.

All in all, I found Paradise and More to be a mostly diverting historical romance that took both history and romance seriously. This had a great cover, a likable heroine, and a unique setting. It needed a to-die-for hero to elevate it to a spectacular level.

For those curious to continue the story, the love lives of Aaron’s two sons are told in the sequel, Return to Paradise.

4 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.2


Second in command to Cristobal Colon, Aaron sets sail for the Indies seeking adventure in the new world and fleeing persecution in the old. Caught between King Fernando’s desire and Queen Ysabel’s jealousy, Magdalena follows the man she has always loved to the ends of the known world and beyond. Drawn together across religious barriers and storm-tossed oceans, they discover a lush paradise fraught with danger and desire.

bandit's brazen kiss

Covers of the Week #26

We had a lot of fun a couple of months back doing Covers of the Week #12, where we posted images of when romance covers by talented artists go hilariously bad. So we’re doing it again!

As always, if you’d like to see more cover art, head over to our COVERS section, where you can view pages for individual COVER ARTISTS or take a gander at past Covers of the Week. If you want even more information about romance book covers, check out our COVER LINKS PAGE.

For the week of Monday, October 4 to Sunday, October 10, 2021 (which happens to be my birthday week), enjoy these silly or awful-looking covers that make us smile.

#1 Pino Daeni was a master artist. He was also prolific, producing 3,000 romance covers in a span of 20 years. Sometimes he had to work quickly. So it’s understandable that some of his works might fall short of his best. Bandit’s Brazen Kiss is actually a pretty cover until you realize this isn’t a paranormal romance, and the hero isn’t a centaur. We know he has to have legs to ride a horse, but where are they? Is he just a torso with arms and a head? We want to know! (Bandit’s Brazen Kiss, Kay McMahon, Zebra, 1990, Pino cover art)

#2WARNING: Some things are just not funny and not cool to joke about. But comedians Anthony Jeselnik, the late, great Norm MacDonald, and I would disagree. When it’s make-believe, it’s ok to laugh. This cover has had me in stitches for years. First, the title, The Bedroom Incident. Then the “Do Not Disturb” placard under the image. And finally, the image itself. I know that’s an adult female model, but the way she’s positioned and drawn makes her appear younger. A lot younger. Combined with the issues mentioned earlier, we think someone’s going to jail! (The Bedroom Incident, Elizabeth Oldfield, Harlequin, 1998, cover artist unknown)

#3 – Some women love getting their hair stroked as foreplay. The hero takes hair play a bit too far on the cover of Dark of the Moon, as he’s yanking a clump of hair quite forcefully. The heroine’s wincing expression shows she’s not as into it as he is. (By the way, do any fans of the soap “Days of our Lives” think the hero looks exactly like a young Drake Hogestyn who played Roman/Jack Black? Or is it just me?) (Dark of the Moon, Karen Robards, Avon, 1988, cover artist TBD)

#4 – No, this isn’t a teen romance. The couple depicted on the cover is supposed to be composed of full-fledged adults. He’s a Duke, and she’s a governess. Those children on the cover look very out of place. The title Delicate Dilemma combined with the horse’s anxious expression doesn’t bode well, either. Lastly, just what is an “American Regency Romance”? As the book is set in the post-colonial USA, when James Madison was President, the Prince Regent of England never ruled the States. It would be akin to referring to some Egyptian Pyramids dating back to the Babylonian Empire. Technically accurate, but wrong, nevertheless. (Delicate Dilemma, Luanne Walden, Warner Books, 1987, cover artist unknown)

quiet comes the night

Covers of the Week #22

Theme: Category Romance

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!

The Covers

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 Elaine Duillo, Robert Maguire, Elaine Gignilliat, and Pino. Enjoy!

  • Quiet Comes the Night, Jessica Jeffries, Harlequin, Elaine Duillo cover art
  • Every Moment Counts, Martha Hix, Silhouette, Robert Maguire cover art
  • Babycakes, Glenda Sanders, Harlequin, Elaine Gignilliat cover art,
  • Stormy Vows, Iris Johansen, Bantam, Pino cover art