Category Archives: Walter Popp

passion flower walter popp

Historical Romance Review: Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman

book review historical romance
Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman
Rating: one-half-stars
Published: 1983
Illustrator: Walter Popp
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Romance with Rape Element, Bodice Ripper, Colonial Era Romance, Forced Seduction
Pages: 473
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Passion Flower by Jennifer Horsman, a Zebra historical romance from 1983.

The Plot

Passion Flower begins with introductions to the heroine of the book, Catherine Mary “Jasmine” O’Neil. She is so nicknamed due to the fragrance her late mother wore, which comforted Jasmine after her mother’s death.

Jasmine lives in Jamaica with her grandfather, Franz, a physician. Later, she meets Captain Johnathon Mahn, an English ex-pat and the hero of the book. Johnathon is asked to root out arms smuggling in Jamaica, which is how he and Jasmine come to meet.

Jasmine and Franz accidentally find out about the illegal activity. Franz is killed, and Jasmine is taken captive. She is told she can gain her freedom if she spies on Johnathon.

He finds her spying on him, and they become lovers. Both later escape Jamaica and set sail for Johnathon’s plantation in Virginia.

In Virginia, Jasmine gets a job as a physician’s assistant. What she doesn’t know is that the job–and her home and many other things–are due to the largesse of Johnathon.

Jasmine also attracts many male admirers. These admirers arouse Johnathon’s jealousy, which later leads him to rape Jasmine. Jasmine and Johnathon later marry once it is known that she is pregnant.

One of the soldiers from Jamaica finds Jasmine in Virginia and kidnaps her. In the end, she is saved, and Jasmine and Johnathon then have their Happily Ever After.

The Upside

The most interesting character in the book, in my view, is Bear Dog, a half-bear, half-wolf who befriends Jasmine on the ship voyage to Virginia and saves her when she is kidnapped.

The Downside

When the most interesting character in the book has four legs and fur, that is a stinging indictment of the human characters. Neither Jasmine nor Johnathon are particularly deep characters, although Jasmine is more so than Johnathon.

The storylines are flat and lifeless. The “Jamaican Gun Smuggling” trope is so lame Ms. Horsman may as well not have included it.

Then there is Johnathon’s rape of Jasmine. No romance hero ever redeems himself with me if he sexually assaults a woman.

There is very little to no romance between Jasmine and Johnathon.

Sex

There are a handful of sex scenes, none of which are graphic or interesting.

Violence

In addition to Franz’s killing, there are scenes of attempted rape, rape, assault and battery, shootings, and killings. None of the violence is graphic.

Bottom Line on Passion Flower

Jennifer Horsman has enough items on the menu of Passion Flower to make a good meal. Instead, she produces a book that’s raw, like sushi.

Rating Report Card
Plot
1.5
Characters
1.5
Writing
2
Chemistry
1
Fun Factor
1
Cover
4
Overall: 1.8

Synopsis

CATEGORIES: , , , , , , , , ,

***

GARDEN OF LOVE

Gorgeous Jasmine O’Neil never meant to fall in love with the insolent handsome captain. His voice was commanding, his reputation was roguish, and his manner was much too imperious. But despite all his drawbacks, the innocent beauty couldn’t resist the spell of masculine charm and tingling pleasure he cast upon her. Suddenly, she knew she was in love – and she was certain that his declarations of desire were undying promises of matrimony.

PARADISE OF ECSTACY

Captain Johnathon Mahn couldn’t deny himself the untouched woman’s beckoning curves. He tangled himself in their sweet tormenting rapture. Nothing could ever make him give up this mistress – but nothing would ever compel him to wed! He was a man of independence who took what he wanted…and he craved his fragrant Jasmine, his velvety blossom, his delicate PASSION FLOWER.

Passion Flower by Jennifer Horseman
21-cover-artist-to-know

21 Old-School Cover Artists All Romance Readers Should Know

21-cover-artist-to-know

21 of the Best Historical Romance Cover Illustrators

I adore romances from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, partly due to the beautiful cover art. Over the years, I’ve amassed thousands of dazzling images. It’s a fun hobby trying to discover the artists who created them.

This compilation began as an attempt to list the ten artists every lover of old-school romances and clinch covers should know. Ten became fifteen, then twenty. Finally, I settled on 21 illustrators to identify.

This catalog of names consists of some of the best romance cover artists of all time.

That doesn’t mean these are the only artists to know, as this list is limited to historical romances written in the last third of the 20th century.

These 21 entries provide a starting point for the novice learner.

1. Robert McGinnis

Robert McGinnis illustrated Gothic books before he turned to mainstream romance.

His first bodice ripper was Avon‘s reissue of Kathleen E. WoodiwissThe Flame and the Flower. McGinnis then designed the cover for her sophomore outing, The Wolf and the Dove. His suggestive clinches for Johanna Lindsey, Patricia Hagan, and Laura Parker gained him acclaim and notoriety.

McGinnis worked almost exclusively in tempera paints.

His mature, angular style was an instant draw for romance. McGinnis created the first naked man covers, which delighted genre fans.

But it was the McGinnis woman who was a being of legend. McGinnis depicted the feminine form in a most alluring fashion.

“The McGinnis Woman possesses a whirling narrative force all her own, a perfumed cyclone of sexuality, savvy, mystery, and danger. She also sells books—lots and lots of books.”

(Source: Vanity Fair)

2. H. Tom Hall

H. Tom Hall’s artwork for romance book covers is legendary. His technique is instantly recognizable: refined and sensual.

The strokes are broad yet precise. Hall’s scenes contain a dark, smoky essence. The heroines’ long locks flow wildly, while the heroes’ faces are shadowed and inscrutable.

Hall had a sensitive, respectful touch when portraying people of different races and ethnicities. Thus his illustrations were prominent on paperbacks set all over the world.

3. Harry Bennett

Harry Bennett‘s dazzling style of swirls and whorls of flowing hair may be especially familiar to fans of Pocket Books‘ early historical romances. He created memorable covers for Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Jude Deveraux.

While his work inspired many other artists, Harry Bennetts covers have been confused with those of H. Tom Hall. While their depictions might appear similar, a keen eye needs only to look at the faces of the male models to spot the difference.

Of his artwork, Bennett’s son Tom, also a painter, said:

“My father had a great facility with mediums, and he experimented and adapted to new trends with different techniques. His favorite medium above all, in both his painting and illustration, was oil.

He also worked extensively in egg tempera, inks, and various combinations of tempera and oil. In the 1950s and early ’60s he worked a great deal in water-based media like gouache.

Later, he would occasionally work in acrylic. But late in his career, it was almost exclusively oil with a black oil medium.”

TOM BENNETT, KILLER COVERS OF THE WEEK

4. Elaine Duillo

Elaine Duillo was the undisputed “Queen of Romance Covers.” She started in pulp fiction before moving on to Gothics and romance.

Duillo was not ashamed to be sexy and outrageous with her art. She embraced camp to the hilt. Her reverence for beauty and perfection made her creative style a wonder to behold.

Duillo’s technique was marked by hyper-realism, unparalleled attention to detail, and a vast palette of colors.

Elaine would paint light hues onto a black canvas. This achieved stunning results for elements such as platinum-blonde or red-gold flowing waves of hair or sumptuous, satin gowns that looked like one could touch them.

Duillo worked in acrylics and oils. She placed her signature, “Elaine,” as close to the bodies as possible.

Her daughter Melissa Duillo-Gallo also produced romance covers, in a manner similar to Elaine’s.

5. Pino Daeni

Pino Daeni’s brushstrokes, the curves of his feminine subjects, and their facial expressions make his covers uniquely recognizable.

Daeni was always willing to experiment with different methods and poses. He was one of the early artists to employ the wraparound cover design and the pose and clinch style.

Pino worked in oils and preferred to stand while painting.

Pino’s innovative technique precedes him. He mixed impressionism and realism to create his own intoxicating style.

“I used to paint in the academic way. Then I changed. I could no longer stay with just one school. Everything was interesting to me. I was curious about various schools of thought.”

Pino, (2006)

6. Elaine Gignilliat

Elaine Gignilliat designed covers for hundreds of romances. Her artwork demonstrated exquisite attention to detail, especially with the textures of fabrics and hair. Her use of bright colors against dark backdrops made for remarkable images.

Like most other cover artists of her day, Gignilliat worked in oils.

Also, like many other of her contemporaries, Gignilliat designed covers for epic historical blockbusters and shorter category romances.

After making the initial sketches for a cover, she would start her paintings by drawing everything in oil with a small brush.

Next, she established the color values, where the darkest, middle tones, and lightest areas would be. Then she would add the general colors in a light oil wash.

Afterward, the real painting began as Gignilliat developed the faces and hands, giving them more color and form. This eventually resulted in a beautiful picture which was then made into a book cover.

7. Max Ginsburg

Max Ginsburg‘s fine art is considered to be contemporary realism. He excels at depicting emotional scenes,

Ginsburg’s book covers are more romantic than sensual. The edges of his subjects blur into the background,

While Ginsburg could display the human body in an alluring way, his covers were rarely gratuitous.

He has a compassionate eye that highlights the humanity of his subjects. Like H. Tom Hall, Ginsburg has a talent for empathetically painting people of diverse heritages.

Ginsburg’s style influenced many artists of Avon covers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

8. Morgan Kane

No one could capture the ornate, intricate patterns of fabrics as Morgan Kane could.

Whether presenting a lacy gown, a multi-textured cape, or a mosaic of hues on a blanket, Kane can make one can feel the material just as well as one sees it.

In contrast, he depicted human forms in a much softer manner. The difference between the grounded beauty of his subjects against ornate backgrounds, textiles, or flowers makes for a visual treat.

9. Robert A. Maguire

Robert A. Maguire was another of the many illustrators who created lurid pulp covers. While his pulp art was highly sexualized, his romance covers are more sedate.

An emotional connection is the focus, not sex. The faces of Maguire’s females are delicate, with thickly-lashed eyes and rosebud lips.

Maguire played light and dark tones against each other in an enchanting manner. His method is not surreal nor hyperreal. Instead, it is idealized unrealism, approaching the imagined perfection of a cartoon.

Like Elaine Duillo, Maguire often placed his signature–“R. A. Maguire”–as close to the bodies as possible, in the shade lighter than the background.

10. Roger Kastel

Famous for his movie posters, Roger Kastel‘s romance style shares similarities with that of Maguire & most significantly, Max Ginsburg.

Kastel favored a romantic, blurred technique instead of a precise, angular reality.

Kastel’s brushstrokes fused colors together, creating a hazy aura around the couples.

11. Walter & Marie Popp

Walter and Marie Popp designed Regency, Gothic, and bodice ripper covers. Each genre had its own method to it.

The Gothics were shrouded in darkness and mist.

Regencies were marked with a sweet, crisp quality.

For the historical romance covers, the Popps embraced sexy with their curvaceous heroines and muscular heroes.

The female faces look similar, as Walter often used his wife Marie, a model, as his muse. Their expressions are a variation of hers, from their full lips to their round eyes.

12. Victor Gadino

The great Victor Gadino‘s technique is masterful. His attention to fine detail is exquisite.

Note the musculature of the hero’s abdominal and pectorals, the lace on the hem of the heroine’s skirts, the silk pattern of pillows, and the heavy-lidded eyes in the hero’s lusty expression.

His use of jewel-tone colors results in covers that sparkle like precious gems.

More than any other artist since Elaine Duillo, Gadino’s art is typified by a carnal sensuality. His approach is hyperrealistic, with figures as close to perfection as the human eye can conceive.

13. Sharon Spiak

Sharon Spiak’s mentor, the Italian master artist, Pino Daeni, was a massive inspiration to her when she was his apprentice.

She painted in oils, creating an atmosphere of enchantment always backed by passion. Spiak’s paintings for romance novels capture sensuality, beauty, and fantasy by captivating the viewer in the intimacy of the moment.

Her approach differs from cover to cover. There is always a delicacy to the females’ features and a lovely interplay of pastels against darker tones.

14. John Ennis

John Ennis utilizes a “Disney Princess” method of painting, as his human images are beautiful but unrealistic. His covers have a fanciful, almost cartoon-like, fairy-tale quality. His work is based more on fantasy than romanticism.

Ennis played around with shades of light and contrasting hues, resulting in striking covers that made him a natural fit for Zebra.

If one notes the texture of the heroines’ hair, one can see individual strands and curls against blocks of solid color.

Like Franco Accornero, John Ennis was an early innovator of digital artwork.

15. Franco Accornero

Franco Accornero, also known as “Franco,” pioneered computerized art design. Due to his fascination with the capabilities of technology, Franco always pushed boundaries.

Before he transitioned to digital artwork in the 1990s, Franco worked primarily in oils.

As an independent freelance artist, he was responsible for all cover design elements, from setting up the scene to models, costumes, and props. He arranged various poses with different lighting arrangements.

His fine director’s eye created a dramatic and flattering balance of light and shadow.

Franco would use a wind machine in the photo sessions to get that flowing hair look.

16. Renato Aime

Renato Aime worked primarily in oils in addition to other mediums. He frequently designed covers for Dorchester and Kensington, two publishing houses that hired artists with an eye for the outlandish.

Aime captured the curvaceous female forms in contrast against the more rigid muscles of the males in a most pleasing way.

While Aime’s technique is recognizable as his own, it does bear some resemblance to his fellow Italian illustrators. One can see similarities to the covers of Pino Daeni and Franceso Accornero. Note the blending of colors and the identifiable strokes.

17. Melissa Duillo-Gallo

Melissa Duillo-Gallo, daughter of artists John and Elaine Duillo, was influenced by both her parents, her mother’s romance covers in particular.

Elaine’s work is titillating and highly elaborate. Melissa’s art tends to the sweeter side with more playful emotions. Duillo-Gallo applied flamboyantly bright colors, exemplifying the feel of the 1980s and 1980s.

After she married, Melissa signed her covers as Gallo, not Duillo. Unlike her mother, she usually placed her signature away from the bodies.

Melissa also used less eyeshadow than her mother did, which is saying something!

18. Gregg Gulbronson

Gregg Gulbronson utilized a distinctive approach, making his covers both breathtaking and easy to recognize. Romance, sexuality, fantasy, and reality all meld together in Gulbronson’s art.

Gulbronson used spraying/airbrushing techniques, which made for a striking and individualized look.

Enveloped in a romantic haze, the couples in clinches are surrounded by a dreamy ambiance. The figures seem to glow as the light plays against their hair, skin, and clothes.

19. Ray Kursar

Ray Kursar was yet another artist with a noticeable style. His paintings look more like drawings. Kursar worked with multiple mediums to create his illustrations, such as pastels and watercolors.

He employed various elements to make his covers stand out: emphasis on bright colors, flowers, animals, and fabrics.

Hair is constantly flowing in the wind, while the locks of waves and curls are well-defined.

20. James Griffin

James Griffin‘s covers from the 1980s and 1990s are quite distinct from his 21st-century ones, even though both periods are stunning.

The late-era clinches are made digitally and approach hyperrealism.

Griffin’s illustrations of the “classic” era are more dramatic, with windswept hair and passionate embraces. The couples are shown leaning back or lying down, rarely standing straight up.

His graceful aesthetic resulted in book covers that emotionally resonated with the romance reader.

21. Charles Geer

Charles Geer might be known to readers of children’s books published from the 1960s to the 1980s–two of which he wrote himself.

Geer’s style is so distinct. There is much going on in his images, whether sketches or paintings.

His attention to the tiniest of subjects amazes the eye. He used uniform brush strokes to create spectacular backgrounds, intricate curls in the hair, or elaborate textures in clothing. The bright pigments twinkle like stars against their darker settings.

Geer’s scenes appear dream-like but are far more memorable.

Final Thoughts on Cover Artists

Sweet Savage Flame believes it’s essential to keep the memory of these skilled cover illustrators and their works alive.

Hopefully, by familiarizing yourself with these artists’ techniques, you’ll quickly identify their covers on sight. No more having to confirm with a signature!

Your Opinion

Do you think this a fair compilation of some best romance cover artists? Who are your favorite old-school illustrators?

Is there an artist you think we should have placed on this list but missing? What are your thoughts on painted versus digital cover art?

Please drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance!

walter marie popp

A Closer Look: Walter and Marie Popp

walter and marie popp

A Couple of Artists Who Created Romance

A Husband and Wife Duo

Did you know about the romance illustrator who hid his wife’s name in his signature? It was artist Walter Popp. This was because, for many years, he and his wife Marie painted the covers together!

a daring wager
A Daring Wager, Valerie King, Zebra, 1989

There are differences between a pure Walter Popp cover and the ones he and Marie worked on. Walter’s solo work is more sensual in nature, while the duo emphasized the beauty and romance of the couple.

Walter would sign his work with his full name or a “W. Popp.” Walter and Marie united the M and W of their first names for their combined signature to make a unique initial.

walter popp sig
Walter Popp’s signature
wm popp
Walter and Marie’s combined signature

Walter and Marie Popp Biographies

Walter and Marie Popp both studied at the Art Students League in New York where many well-known and influential artists studied and taught. They met in 1946 after Walter returned from serving in WWII and was attending school on the G.I. Bill.  

Marie started as a fashion illustrator and model. Walter’s early career was in magazine illustration. 

They later joined together to produce hundreds of paintings for illustration, most notably book covers for Regency period romances.  Their work was among the most sought after.

Walter and Marie painted covers for every major book publisher in New York, including WarnerZebra, Signet, Fawcett, Harlequin, Dell, and others. Both were longtime members of the prestigious Society of Illustrators in New York.

amazing stories
Amazing Stories, Walter Popp illustration

Early Illustration Careers

Although 30-plus years of magazine and book illustration produced numerous works for detective stories, westerns, and gothic mysteries among others,  it was the theme of romance that they found the most compelling and for which they began their truly collaborative efforts.

Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Walter worked alone on illustrations. He produced art for Stag, For Men Only, True Detective, Amazing Stories, Man’s Illustrated, Fantastic Adventures, Startling Stories, Male, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Master Detective, and Man’s World.

The Popps’ “collaboration” was limited to raising a large family of nine children, with Marie doing some figurative paintings between a hectic home life.

She also served as a model for many of her husband’s early illustrations for adventure magazines which often depicted beautiful women in peril. 

young marie popp
Marie Popp as painted by Walter Popp

Book Illustration Careers

By the 1970’s Walter saw his hard work beginning to pay off.  His freelance work was in such demand by publishers who watched books with his covers quickly moving off the shelves that he had a choice to make: Turn down assignments or ask Marie to pitch in.

With such a  large family to support, the decision was easy. Marie said, “Don’t turn down any work!” and began to work with Walter on book covers. 

They worked together in a small studio in the corner of their home.  Marie joined in on every phase, from rough sketching to selecting models and directing photo sessions to the finished paintings.

Her background in fashion served them well when researching Regency period clothing (even doing her own alterations on gowns and tailcoats). Walter’s hard-earned reputation as a top artist in his field made theirs a uniquely valuable partnership.

Early on, Walter continued to sign his name on all artwork so as not to confuse the publishing world, but eventually, he changed his signature to reflect his wife’s initials.  He created a monogram combining the W and M of their names which they used thereafter on collaborations.

winterscape
Winterscape, Anastasia Cleaver, Ace, 1976

A Twilight Career in Fine Art

After 30 years of painting covers,  the couple turned their attention to fine art. The pair created a series of works for collectors, romantic images set to a backdrop of elegance and grace.

Although their paintings feature subjects from another period, the artists included a timeless aspect in their art: love.

The men and women in Walter and Marie’s romantic scenes are people we relate to. The effect is fresh,  like romance itself, always filled with the possibility of something new.

Walter and Marie combined to create a unique and recognizable look for their art. Although their figures are lovely, their artistry shows in the characters’ faces.

“We tell stories with faces. A woman may be walking in a garden with a man. The man and the woman are just looking at each other, looking in each other’s faces, relating intimately with one another. They are very romantic pieces. We just believe in Romance.”

MARIE POPP

Walter and Marie had 55 years together as husband and wife and creative partners. It culminated with Walter’s death in 2002.  Marie passed away in 2006. 

rapture's heaven
Rapture’s Heaven, Cyndy Carpenter, Zebra, 1983

Covers

Here are some lovely Popp covers to admire. Can you tell which are just Walter’s covers and which are created by both Walter and Marie?

Your Opinion

What do you think of the Popps’ artwork? Did you know they worked as a couple together on their covers?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Savage Rapture walter popp

Historical Romance Review: Savage Rapture by Sylvie F. Sommerfield

book review historical romance
Savage Rapture by Sylvie F. Sommerfield
Rating: four-half-stars
Published: 1982
Illustrator: Walter Popp
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Native American Romance, Historical Romance, Western Romance
Pages: 542
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Savage Rapture by Sylvie F. Sommerfield

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Savage Rapture by Sylvie F. Sommerfield.

The Plot

Part One of Savage Rapture

Savage Rapture begins with two lovers parting company. Michael Holliday, a white doctor, leaves his wife, Waterflower, and their son, Cade, 2, with her people, the Cheyenne Indians. They make a pact: that one day, Cade will go to Michael in the white world and then return to the Cheyenne and assist them with the knowledge he gains.

Fast forward 15 years. Michael summons Cade to Washington, D.C. to expand his knowledge. Among those he leaves behind is Snow Blossom, daughter of village chief Tekata and the book’s heroine, who is deeply in love with him.

While with his father, Cade gains knowledge, becomes a doctor, and falls in love with and becomes affianced to Lauren Brent, a local heiress. However, their relationship comes apart from their disparate views on what their lives will be like.

Cade returns to the Cheyenne, as does his father Michael, with Lauren in tow.

As Cade returns to the Cheyenne camp, he falls in love with and later marries Snow Blossom.

Part Two of Savage Rapture

Her brother, White Eagle, falls in love with a white woman, Rebecca Wade, and later marries her.

When Lauren arrives, she thinks she can break Snow Blossom and Cade up and reunite with him.

Once she realizes this isn’t going to happen, Lauren becomes deeply depressed. This depression is lifted once she matures a bit and falls in love with Running Wolf, a brave from another Cheyenne band. For a while, the three couples are happy.

However, major–literally–trouble is brewing. Army major John Chivington, a known Indian-hater backed by factions in the government, hires three trappers–one with his own agenda–to kidnap the three women to try to force the Cheyenne off their land.

Snow Blossom eventually makes her way back to Cade, but not before learning a secret about his past.

Chivington is defeated–temporarily.

Snow Blossom and Cade, Running Wolf and Lauren, and Rebecca and White Eagle all extend their lineages with children, and all the couples have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

This is the first book by Mrs. Sommerfield where she really made me care about the characters. All of the characters are fully developed, and there is a strong vein of family themes running through the book.

Downside

This is more of a personal thing for me, but Savage Rapture could have been a little spicier regarding the love scenes. The ending was a little disappointing. I would have liked to see Chivington and the other evil characters get a little more comeuppance.

Sex

Mrs. Sommerfield’s love scenes are all about purple prose and euphemisms. Heat level: about a 2 or 3.

Violence

Multiple killings, which are mostly done “offscreen.” Physical violence, threats of violence, but nothing really graphic.

Bottom Line on Savage Rapture

Savage Rapture, for me, is great but not a 5-star read. More like a 4.25 or 4.5-star book.

4.38 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4.5
Characters
4.5
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
2.5
Fun Factor
4.5
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.2

Synopsis:

CAPTIVE OF HIS PASSION
Beautiful Snow Blossom had waited years for Cade to return to the reservation. His warm smile and sparkling blue eyes had promised her a lifetime of fiery passion. Just the thought of their first lingering kiss made her ache with desire. Without her even knowing it she had become a…

CAPTIVE OF HIS LOVE
But as soon as the handsome half-breed rode into the Cheyenne camp, Snow Blossom knew that he had changed. He had lived in the white man’s world too long; he was in love with another. Yet when he held her in his arms all else ceased to matter. He had made her a prisoner of his passion – somehow she’d make him a captive of her heart.

Savage Rapture by Sylvie F. Sommerfield
midnight fires carol finch

Historical Romance Review: Midnight Fires by Carol Finch

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Midnight Fires by Carol Finch.

The Plot

Part One of Midnight Fires

Midnight Fires begins in a tavern in Bristol, England, circa 1812. Among the citizens, there is Glenna Lombard. Glenna is the sister of Norina Shaw, wife of Lord Edwin Shaw, whom Glenna wanted to marry. As a result, Glenna feels a deep hatred for her sister, who is far more well-off than she is.

We later meet Danielle Shaw, the heroine and one of Norina and Edwin’s children. They also have a son, David. Edwin is pushing Danielle to marry Thomas Seward, the son of one of his business associates. When Thomas tries to take too many liberties with Danielle, she rejects and embarrasses him publicly.

Humiliated by her rejection, Thomas conspires with Glenna and an evil pirate, Colby Morgan, to kidnap Danielle.

Danielle is rescued from Morgan’s ship by Travis Radbourne, an American sea captain, who has his own reasons for wanting to get revenge on Morgan.

Travis has many dilemmas with Danielle, not the least of which is that he can’t take her back to England as they are at war with the U.S. As they spend time together, Danielle and Travis become attracted to each other.

In an attempt to end the attraction, Travis takes Danielle to his tobacco plantation in North Carolina and enrolls her in boarding school. There is a considerable age difference between the pair. Danielle is much younger at 16 than Travis’s 31 years.

These efforts fail to end their attraction for each other. Soon after, Danielle and Travis become lovers.

After their intimacy, Travis leaves, partially out of guilt and partially because of the differences in their ages.

Part Two of Midnight Fires

He continues to fight the British and ends up wounded in one fight. Danielle then nurses him back to health.

While Travis was away, Danielle became engaged to Blair Ramsey, a son of a North Carolina banker. Travis makes it clear he disapproves of Blair–his dislike is justified–and eventually succeeds in breaking up their engagement and marrying Danielle himself.

While in America, Danielle makes some enemies, and those enemies try to do Danielle harm. They don’t succeed. When the war ends, Travis plans to take Danielle back to England to her family.

A lot has changed in the four years she’s been away. Glenna has ensconced her daughter, Annice, into the good graces of the Shaws’. Annice is married to Thomas. Glenna’s financial situation has improved.

And no one knows about her evil scheme. Or so she thinks.

Glenna’s house of cards begins to fall when Danielle and Travis show up in London, followed by Morgan, who survived the destruction of his ship and is now out for revenge against Glenna and Danielle.

Morgan assaults Glenna, kidnaps Danielle, and shoots Travis.

Travis is nursed back to health by Seward, who takes him to the Shaw estate. Seward confesses his part in Danielle’s earlier kidnapping, and Edwin and Travis cross swords on many subjects, among them: the fact that Travis is an American, and his wish to take Danielle back to America rather than live in England.

Travis is able to rescue Danielle from Morgan’s clutches, killing Morgan in the process. He also wins over Edwin–grudgingly–and Danielle and Travis have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

Danielle and Travis are strong characters and they are well-matched, both strong, passionate people who occasionally cut each other to ribbons verbally, but also eventually realize they love each other.

Downside

Like so many 1980s romance novels, Midnight Fires is based on the trope of assuming facts not in evidence. Characters ruminate incessantly over what they think the other person is thinking and feeling, as opposed to knowing. All of this could have been avoided had Danielle and Travis actually TALKED WITH EACH OTHER!

Of course, had that happened, this book and probably hundreds of other books in the romance genre would not exist.

Sex

There are far more love scenes in Midnight Fires than there are typically in Ms. Finch’s books.

However, one thing remains: enough purple prose to make Minnesota’s sports teams proud.

Violence

Assault, battery, stabbings, shootings, and killings appear in the book. None of the violence is graphic.

Bottom Line On Midnight Fires

Midnight Fires is a typical Carol Finch book. It’s very good but lacks the dynamic qualities to make it great.

4 Stars


Synopsis:

Abducted from her beloved England, trapped aboard a pirate ship, and rescued by a handsome American captain, beautiful Danielle Shaw had had her fill of adventure! She should have been terrified when Captain Travis Radbourne informed her they were now in the midst of a war, but all she could think of was the way his tight black breeches clung to his muscled thighs and the way she would love to cling to his strong, broad chest…

When Travis saw the treasure he had pulled from the sea, he was stunned. From Dani’s wide emerald eyes to her smooth alabaster skin and silky golden tresses, she was alluring, enticing, and altogether irresistible. He longed to taste her full, red lips, caress her satiny curves, lose himself in her sweet, seductive embrace, and take her on a passionate journey to a summit ablaze with MIDNIGHT FIRES.

Midnight Fires by Carol Finch
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

Savage Ecstasy Popp

Historical Romance Review: Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor

native american romance
Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor
Rating: three-stars
Published: 1982
Illustrator: Walter Popp
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Book Series: Savage/ Gray Eagle #1
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Western Romance, Native American Romance
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor. This is the first book in her Ecstasy/Gray Eagle series, which is known by two different names.

There’s a lot to unpack here in this Zebra Native American historical romance.

The Story

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.

Upside

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.

Downside

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.

Sex

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.

Violence

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.

3 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
3
Characters
3
Writing
3
Chemistry
3
Fun Factor
3
Cover
4
Overall: 3.2

Synopsis

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!

Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor