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21 Old-School Cover Artists All Romance Readers Should 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.”


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!

6 paranormal and gothic romances

6 Gothic & Paranormal Romances That Will Haunt You

Halloween Romance Reading Recommendations

It’s that scary time of year again…Halloween! That means gothic and paranormal romances!

A little bit of spookiness, a little bit of romance, and a whole lot of adventure—what more could you ask for on Halloween?

We’re preparing for one of our favorite holidays by buying and reading some books to get us into that creepy spirit. We’ve got you covered with our list of the best horrific romances to read this All Hallows’ Eve. Here are six frightening gothic and paranormal romances we think you’ll appreciate, too. Most are available on Amazon Kindle, and links are provided below.

1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, 1936

Our Thoughts

This classic Gothic romance is one of the most popular novels in history and was influenced heavily by Jane Eyre. It spawned a ghost-written sequel, Mrs. De Winter, released in 1993. We’ve also seen the1940 Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine film.

A young, unnamed woman marries an older man and moves into his estate, Manderly, with him. Their relationship is rocky from the start and only worsens when she discovers that he had a previous wife named Rebecca, who died under mysterious circumstances. She then finds herself haunted by his late wife’s spirit.

The book explores themes of fear, insecurity, female powerlessness, and the strength of romantic love. If you haven’t read this classic yet, you’re in for a treat. Rebecca stands the test of time as one of the best Gothic novels ever written.

The Blurb

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

Ancient, beautiful Manderley, between the rose garden and the sea, is the county’s showpiece. Rebecca made it so – even a year after her death, Rebecca’s influence still rules there. How can Maxim de Winter’s shy new bride ever fill her place or escape her vital shadow?

A shadow that grows longer and darker as the brief summer fades, until, in a moment of climatic revelations, it threatens to eclipse Manderley and its inhabitants completely.


The Covers

2. Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt, 1960

Our Thoughts

A young governess moves into an old house and discovers that there is something very strange about her new home. She is drawn into a web of mystery and terror when she realizes that there are hidden secrets within its walls. All the while, she fights her attraction to her widowed employer.

This has all the twists and turns you’d expect from a Gothic novel but also has an element of suspense that keeps you on your toes. Set in 16th-century Cornwall, this tells the story of a young lady who falls in love with a mysterious man who enchants her with his dark presence.

The Blurb

Mount Mellyn stood as proud and magnificent as she had envisioned…But what bout its master–Connan TreMellyn? Was Martha Leigh’s new employer as romantic as his name sounded?  As she approached the sprawling mansion towering above the cliffs of Cornwall, an odd chill of apprehension overcame her.

TreMellyn’s young daugher, Alvean, proved as spoiled and difficult as the three governesses before Martha had discovered.  But it was the girl’s father whose cool, arrogant demeanor unleashed unfimiliar sensations and turmoil–even as whispers of past tragedy and present danger begin to insinuate themselves into Martha’s life.

Powerless against her growing desire for the enigmatic Connan, she is drawn deeper into family secrets–as passion overpowers reason, sending her head and heart spinning.  But though evil lurks in the shadows, so does love–and the freedom to find a golden promise forever…

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt

The Covers

3. The Turquoise Mask Phyllis A. Whitney, 1964

Our Thoughts

If you’re looking for something more “modern,” this book is right up your alley! The Turquoise Mask by Phyllis A. Whitney features a lonely woman who heads to New Mexico to visit her extended family in an attempt to solve the puzzle of her mother’s mysterious death.

A tragic tale of a long-dead Spanish ancestor who was murdered for having an affair holds the key to the mystery.

The heroine finds herself entangled with her cousin’s enigmatic husband, who may be more than what he seems. What does he want from her? Her life…or death?

The Blurb

Something hidden deep in her memory was the key to Amanda Austin’s past. She did not know it was also the key to her future. After her father died, she decided to learn the truth of her mother and family in New Mexico.

But from the moment she arrived at her grandfather’s home, she was met with suspicion. And hate. They were her family, but they were strangers. And one of them was a murderer….


The Covers

4. Her Demon Lover by Janet Louise Roberts, 1973

Out Thoughts

Her Demon Lover by Janet Louise Roberts is another excellent choice for those looking for something spooky this Halloween season.

It takes us to central Europe and a dark castle where a married woman cannot resist the allure of a man who possesses the ability to control forces of nature…and even her.

This hard-to-find book is a great example of how to write an atmospheric and enticing story that will keep you up reading all night long.

The Blurb

A lover’s tryst inspired by dark powers –

Leaving her timid husband behind in the dining room, Sophia and Count Vlhos climbed to the castle tower. Outside a violent storm was raging through the Balkan mountains. Urging Sophia to leave her husband and live with him in the castle, the count demonstrated his powers over bats, birds, and the raging storm.

Then he persuaded Sophia to try her own powers, summoning up demonic spirits to assist her. Thrilled with her new-found ability to dominate the elements, Sophia accepted the potion offered her. Soon she found herself stripped of all inhibitions, alone in the tower with a strong-willed, fiercely passionate man…


The Covers

5. The Bledding Sorrow by Marilyn Harris, 1976

Our Thoughts

When you’re looking for an edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you up all night, look no further than The Bledding Sorrow by Marilyn Harris. Harris’ writing is compelling beyond belief.

This classic Gothic romance will make even the strongest stomach turn with its gruesome details. A woman accompanies her new husband to his family estate, where horror awaits.

It’s not exactly a happy ending, but it’s definitely an interesting one.

The Blurb

As the new bride of Geoffrey Bledding – and mistress of his magnificent Yorkshire estate – Ann hoped at last to fulfill her wildest dreams of happiness.

But as the walls of Bledding’s manor closed behind her, she was forced instead ro re-enact a cruel destiny ordained in centuries long dead by two who loved in its shadow.

And now- trapped in the madness of her husband’s cruelty, tortured by the inhuman cries and warnings of an ancestral nightmare – Ann dared to seek escape. She would love James, the handsome stranger, though his outstretched hand might lead her through an agonizing horror – and beyond!


The Covers

6. The Winter Bride by Carola Salisbury, 1978

Our Thoughts

We’re familiar with author Carola Salisbury through her pseudonym Janette Seymour, author of the Purity Series and other bodice rippers. Salisbury/Seymour is actually the late British comic writer John Michael Butterworth. As Salisbury wrote, he wrote some Gothic romances, and this one is a doozy!

All the standard elements are here: the rocky Cornish coast, a foreboding castle, and a hero who hides a sinister secret that could mean the heroine’s doom.

The Winter Bride is an excellent example of how to write a modern gothic piece without pandering too much to popular tropes or clichés.

The Blurb

Lovely Charity Carew had nothing but awe and reverence for the distinguished poet Martin Revesby. Boldly she wrote him of her admiration, and when he offered her a job as secretary, her delight knew no bounds. Nevertheless, a sense of foreboding shadowed her arrival at Malmaynes, the eerie castle on the grim Cornish coast. Something evil, she was sure, watched and waited. The surly caretaker, perhaps? Or the sinister deaf-mute? Something or someone aroused in her a feeling of danger.

Only her growing love for the poet held her safe as she learned the bloodstained legend of “The Beast,” a creature long dead who, it was said, refused to die. Suddenly, without warning, the dark tale of violence sprang to life anew, claiming fresh victims, and a chasm of terror stood between Charity and the promise of happiness that had been just within her grasp a short while before. A chasm she could not hope to cross — and live… 


The Covers

Your Opinion

Have you heard or read of these gothic romances? What did you think of them or the author? What are your recommendations for scary romances for Halloween?

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

Latino Heroes

Hispanic or Latino Heroes in Retro Romance

Latino Heroes

Hispanic Heroes in Romance Novels

Heroes of Hispanic heritage, be they European or from the Americas, have always been popular in romance novels. The allure of the Latin lover is legendary.

Although these male protagonists have different backgrounds and lives, they share a common trait. They are men of passion.

Some may be traditionalists, others more modern-minded. They can be billionaires, Dons, or working men who lifted themselves from their bootstraps, but they are always proud, strong, and loyal. Loyal to their families and, most significantly, the women they love.

When they speak words of endearment in Spanish, their heroines melt. Who can blame them?

From down in Argentina up to Canada, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, today we’re highlighting some Latino heroes in romances from North and South America.

north and south america

The List

Presented below is a brief listing of Latino heroes in romance novels. We could have scoured our archives and found many, many more, but we’re keeping this short so as not to overwhelm.

We’ll assemble a master list in due time. You can always check our archives using the hero-latino tag if you want to read reviews for romances featuring Hispanic male protagonists.

We’ve broken the list into Historical and Contemporary sections for your convenience.

Latino Heroes in Historical Romance

hispanic heroes
latino heroes love me only

Latino Heroes in Category & Contemporary Romances

(Abbreviations: BL – Bantam Loveswept; HI – Harlequin Intrigue; HP– Harlequin Presents; HR – Harlequin Romance; HT– Harlequin Temptation; SD – Silhouette Desire; SIM – Silhouette Intimate Moments; SSE – Silhouette Special Edition)

  • Surrender Baby, Suzanne Forster (BL) – Geoff Dias/Spanish-American
surrender baby
  • Personal Protector, Debra Webb (HI) – Ric Martinez/Mexican
  • Whisper My Name, Gayle Wilson (HI) – Rio Delgado/Mexican
  • Beloved Deceiver, Flora Kidd (HP) – Cesar Estrada/Dominican-Canadian
  • The Latin Lover’s Secret Child, Jane Porter (HP) – Lucio Cruz/Half Argentian-half Indian
  • The Black Eagle, Anne Hampson (HP) – Juan Armando Ramires/ Mexican
  • Marriage in Mexico, Flora Kidd (HP) – Sebastian Suarez/Mexican
  • Pale Dawn, Dark Sunset, Anne Mather (HP) – Rafael de Cueras/ Mexican
  • Some Like it Hotter, Roz Denny (HR) – Chino Delgado/Mexican
  • Wildcat, Candace Schuler (HT) – Ben Oakes/ Mexican-American
  • Ripe For the Picking, Mary Tate Engels (HT) – Bret Meyer/ Mexican-American
  • The Right Moves, Sharon Mayne (HT) – Miguel Santiago/Mexican
  • Wedding Fever, Susan Crosby (SD) – Diego Duran/Mexican
  • Paladin’s Woman, Beverly Barton (SIM) – Nick Romero/Mexican
  • An Irresistible Man, Kylie Brant (SIM) – Cruz Martinez/Mexican
  • A Man to Die For, Suzanne Brockman (SIM) – Felipe Salazar/Mexican
  • The Matador, Barbara Faith (SIM) – Ricardo Montoya/Mexican
  • In Close Quarters, Candace Irvin (SIM) – Tomas Juan Vasquez/Mexican
  • Dreams of Evening, Kristin James (SIM) – Tonio Cruz/Mexican
dreams of evening

  • Red Hot, Catherine Palmer (SIM) – Ruben Salazar/Mexican
  • Within Reach, Marilyn Pappano (SIM) – Rafael Contreras/Mexican
  • Stranger by her Side, Susan Sizemore (SIM) – Rafael Castillo/Mexican
  • Rio Grande Wedding, Ruth Wind (SIM) – Alejandro Sosa/Mexican
  • Long-Lost Wife?, Barbara Faith (SIM) – Luis Alarcon/Cuban
  • Heat of the Moment, Joanna Marks (SIM) – Alex Cordera/Cuban
  • Meant to be Married, Ruth Wind (SSE) – Elias Santiago/Mexican-American
meant to be married
touch the wind

Your Opinion

Is there a particular Hispanic hero that you remember fondly? What are your favorite books featuring Latino heroes in the Americas?

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

best zebra romances

Top Twenty Best Zebra Historical Romance Novels

best zebra romances

Everybody Loves Zebra

Want to know what the best Zebra historical romances are according to readers? We’ve got the answer.

It’s no secret that Sweet Savage Flame loves Zebra books. Just about every week, it’s guaranteed we’ll review an old-school novel by publisher Kensington’s romance imprint. Whether it’s a Lovegram, Heartfire, or a regular historical–or even a Ballad or Splendor–we’re down to read them!

The folks at Goodreads–who know bodice rippers–are no strangers to Zebra love. They’ve created a list of their favorite Zebra historical romances. So far, out of several thousands of published books, 167 of them are ranked.

Below are the first twenty books on the list. We’ve reviewed some, and read others, while there are a few we’ve yet to read.

edin's embrace pino
Edin’s Embrace, Nadine Crenshaw, 1989, Zebra, Pino cover art

The List

The Top Half of the Best

Best Zebra Romances # 1-5

  1. Edin’s Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw
    • It’s not surprising to us to see this one at #1. When readers discuss their favorite old school Viking romances, this Nadine Crenshaw historical is always among the books that pop up. We reviewed Edin’s Embrace and gave it 5 stars.
  2. Desert Captive by Penelope Neri
    • Penelope Neri is a favorite author of ours. Her Desert Captive is a great Sheik romance–with no harem! Introvert Reader ranks it a solid 4. Sorry, no review at this time.
  3. No Choice But Surrender by Meagan McKinney*
    • This book has an asterisk as it’s the only one listed not to have been originally published by Zebra. No Choice But Surrender was first released by Dell in 1987, and reissued by Zebra in 1998. None of us have read this one, but Meagan McKinney has written some fantastic books.
  4. Southern Seduction by Thea Devine
    • Thea Devine writes hot, sexy romances. Southern Seduction features a widow who’s glad her cruel husband is dead. When his long-lost son shows up to get his inheritance, sparks fly. Another 4 star read for Introvert Reader, review-to-come.
  5. Lovefire by Deana James
    • Both Introvert Reader and Blue Falcon have read this fictionalized account of Joanna of Navarre‘s life, and they came to very different conclusions. Look for future Duelling Reviews for this book!
Lovefire pino
Lovefire, Deana James, Zebra, 1985, Pino cover art

Best Zebra Romances # 6-10

  1. Sweet Savage Heart by Janelle Taylor
    • Blue Falcon gave this a 5-star review and ranks it as one of Janelle Taylor’s bests.
  2. Sweet Fire by Jo Goodman
    • Another great romance! Introvert Reader gave this one a 5-star review.
  3. Emerald Nights by Virginia Brown
    • A great treasure hunt romance set in the jungles of Peru, with a shy, bookish-heroine and a swashbuckling hero. High 4 stars from Introvert Reader. RTC.
  4. Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri
    • We’re not surprised to see another Penelope Neri romance, but to see two of her books in the top ten shows how highly she is regarded by readers! Definitely a 5 star book.
  5. This Wild Heart by Patricia Pellicane
    • Rounding out the top ten is this Western romance by Patricia Pellicane. On Goodreads, it averages a 3.91 rating from 23 votes. On Amazon, it sits at 5 stars from 7 reviews. Neither Blue Falcon nor Introvert Reader has read this one, so we’re putting it on our TBR list.
This Wild Heart, Patricia Pellicasne, Zebra, 1990, Robert Sabin cover art

The Bottom Half of the Best #11-20

These ten Zebra romances round out the top twenty list.

Best Zebra Romances # 11-15

  1. Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri
    • Another Penelope Neri on this list! We’ve all read this one, and posted a 5 star review.
  2. Dakota Destiny by Dana Ransom
    • This fantastic Western is the third book in Dana Ransom’s Dakota series and we will get to it soon as it is a 5 star read!
  3. Alexandra’s Ecstasy by Dana Ransom
    • Although Introvert Reader ranks Dana Ransom as one of her favorite authors, she’s surprised to see this pirate romance one rank so high. The hero is to-die-for, the heroine needs a kick in the rear. Still, it’s an entertaining tale.
  4. Bold Rebel Love by Christine Dorsey
    • Christine Dorsey has always captivated us. This American Revolution-era Lovegram is a thrilling and sensual romance. Another high 4 star rating from Introvert Reader. So many books to review!
  5. Beloved Bondage by Katharine Kincaid
    • The stunning Alessandro Biffignandi stepback is just the icing on the cake for this historical set in Ancient Rome. A Briton slave becomes a gladiator, then a chariot racer in the age of Emperor Caligula. Again 4 stars from Introvert Reader and RTC.

Best Zebra Romances # 16-20

  1. Sweet Texas Surrender by Victoria Thompson
    • Victoria Thompson creates a sparkling Western romance that’s funny, sensual and exciting. Another 4 star read from Introvert Reader that we will be sure to get to ASAP.
  2. Seductive Caress by Carla Simpson
    • None of us have read this one, but it’s availability on Kindle may explain it’s popularity. Many Zebras from the 1980s and 1990s are, sadly, no longer in-print.
  3. Magnolia Plantation by Beverly Butler
    • This Southern romance is the oldest on the list, published in 1981. Introvert Reader hasn’t read this and Blue Falcon gave it 1 star. Magnolia Plantation averages a 2.88 rating on Goodreads, so we wonder who loves it so much and why.
  4. Sweet Prairie Passion by F. Rosanne Bittner
    • Rosanne Bittner’s book should rank higher, in our not-so-humble opinion. Her historicals are always first-class. 5 stars from Blue Falcon in his review.
  5. Rebel Vixen by Dana Ransom
    • This is one of Introvert Reader’s favorite books of all time, and she would have been disappointed not to see it here.
rebel vixen dana ransom
Rebel Vixen, Dana Ransom, Zebra, 1987, cover artist TBD

More to Zebra Reviews Come

You can expect us to analyze and assess the romances we haven’t yet covered in the near future.

Keep an eye out on Mondays and Wednesdays when we upload our reviews.

Don’t see a particular book you’re looking for? If you have a Goodreads account you can go vote for your top picks.

Your Opinion

Are you a fan of the old Zebra romances? Have you read any–or all–the books on this list? Do you agree with the rankings? Is your favorite book or author missing from the top twenty list?

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

reaing slump

Reading Slumps and How to Get Over Them

reading slumps how to get over reading slump

So You’re In a Reading Slump

Have trouble finishing that book even though, objectively, there’s nothing wrong with it? Or perhaps you can’t gather enough enthusiasm to start that new novel you’ve heard so much about. We’ve all been there.

L’ennui affects everyone from time to time. Doing things we love seems tiresome or uninteresting. If this feeling persists for many months, it may be due to overwork, stress, or even depression. Getting to the root of your problem first is critical.

In many cases, losing your reading mojo is a normal experience for people who read books regularly. We know a few methods to reignite your love of fiction.

7 Ways to Bring Excitement Back to Your Reading

Sweet Savage Flame has some advice on how to get you out of that reading slump. Hopefully, one or more of these strategies will help.

1 – Make an Effort to Read Every Day

Even if you only read 10 pages a day that’s fine. If you finish a chapter a day, great! But don’t force yourself to read more than you enjoy. As the plot progresses, you may find it engaging.

2 – Don’t Feel Pressured to Read Anything You’re Not Interested In

Whether it’s the next big thing hitting the rounds, an old classic, or a novel on the 1000 books you must read before you die list read what you want. Don’t feel beholden to the latest trends. Conversely, don’t feel forced to read oldies that everyone (ahem–Sweet Savage Flame) says you have to read to understand the genre.

Whether your tastes run to cozy small-town love stories, romances featuring spider-aliens, the hottest series by a nig name author, or short novellas under 150 pages, read what appeals to your personal tastes.

3 – Remove Bothersome Distractions

It’s hard to read when a flurry of activity is around you. If you’re on a work break, read those 10 pages (or more) in your car. Create a special reading nook for yourself at home with a comfy chair and blanket. If there’s sound, noise-canceling headphones are a great way to eliminate the nuisance. Read in your laundry room if it’s the only place you can without being disturbed.

4 – Get a Reading Buddy to Get Out of the Slump

Whether you know the person from your day-to-day life or have just spoken online, having a buddy helps. It’s great to have someone to discuss the current novel you’re reading. You can use numerous apps from Goodreads to Twitter to Discord to What’s App and more to communicate.

Book clubs don’t need to take place face-face. Use video conferencing methods such as Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype Meet Now, Discord, or Signal.

5 – Always Carry Something to Read Wherever You Go

Whether it’s a paperback, your e-reader, or your mobile phone, always bring something to read wherever you go. Make sure to download at least 2-3 books so you have some variety.

6 – Mix It Up!

Diversify what you read to prevent boredom. I enjoy romance, history, detective stories, pulp, true crime, and many other genres. You wouldn’t want to eat pizza every day, so why read the same kind of book all the time? Most genres–especially romance–have subgenres and tropes and mini-tropes.

If you’ve been bingeing a particular author, try another who writes in an entirely different style. Agatha Christie’s mysteries are markedly different from Stephen King’s horror stories.

If you don’t have enough time to read during the day, then listen to an audiobook. Some have stellar production qualities like a radio play. You can enjoy them on the ride to work, or while doing chores around the house.

There is so much variety to choose from, don’t be afraid to read outside your comfort zone.

7 – Keep a Reading Journal, Blog, or Micro-blog

Write about what you read, even if it’s just a paragraph or two. Having a buddy read is great for this, but you can also do it alone. After reading your daily ten pages–or however much–write it in your reading planner/ journal, or on the apps we mentioned in method #4.

Jot down your feelings about what you’ve come across, a plot event, or a quote. It doesn’t need to be much. Focus on what you enjoyed about the book. If you can’t find anything of interest, then maybe that’s a sign you should put the book down for now of DNF.

When All Else Fails, Read an Old Favorite

One more piece of advice that we neglected from the list. This never fails to take us out of slumps: re-read an old favorite. No, not a novel you liked from a long time ago but haven’t thought about in ages. Choose a book that’s like a pair of well-worn slippers–one you’ve experienced at least twice and know you adore. That way, you will get precisely what you’re expecting.

Comfort reads are to slumps as peppery chicken soup is to a common cold. They may not cure you immediately, but they’ll make you feel better.

Your Opinion

Have you ever had a bad reading slump? If so, what do you do to shake it off? Have you ever employed the methods we recommend?

If so, please let us know by leaving a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Sweet Savage Flame’s 6 Heat Levels in Romances


In romance novels, heat levels can range from as tepid as room temperature to as hot as the sun.

However, while some may enjoy their–ahem–peppers to be spicy jalapeno, others prefer the sweet mildness of a red bell, while another may enjoy the fieriness of a Carolina Reaper. Tastes are relative. Each individual has his or her own definition of what is “sexy.”

We appreciate the wide scope of sensuality that exists in the romance genre. Many book blogs provide sensuality grades for their reviews. As our analyses are fairly detailed, our reviewers at Sweet Savage Flame typically don’t give these ratings.

For that reason, we created a chart listing 6 different levels of heat in romances.

If you’d like to see heat levels in future reviews, please, let us know in the comments.



Clean doesn’t indicate a level of goodness or purity. It is simply a designation for love-centered stories devoid of any hint of eroticism.

Think of teen romances from the 1970s to 1990s, like those written by Ellen Conford, Francine Pascal, or Caroline Cooney.


Romances that we label sweet have kissing and perhaps closed-door sex scenes. There are no other sexual partners for either hero or heroine.

A declaration of love is essential, as it is that action which is the culmination of the story.

These books include those by Georgette Heyer, Barbara Cartland, or vintage Harlequin Romances by authors such as Betty Neels.


The reader is privy to the sexual desires of the characters in a warm romance.

Romantic & sexual passages can be euphemistic, brief, and/or not extremely graphic. Nevertheless, the emotional experience is prominent.

The warm heat level is typical in many category romances such as the Harlequin Presents line.

Historical romance authors like Laurie McBain, Jude Deveraux, and Julie Garwood wrote love scenes with this style.

4. SENSUAL (aka HOT)

Love scenes in sensual romances are descriptive of both action and emotion. Open-door sex scenes are an absolute must.

Metaphoric language is common in books from the genre’s early years.

But as the 20th century came to a close, authors began to use more accurate terms for body parts. Still, coarse or “vulgar” language is kept to a minimum.

Sex is designed both to thrill the reader and demonstrate the evolution of the love story. If the reader feels the need to fan oneself after reading a passage, the book qualifies as hot.

Dell Candlelight Ecstasy, Dell Ecstasy Supreme, Harlequin Temptation, and Silhouette Desire lines ushered these kinds of love scenes into contemporary romance.

Authors such as diverse in their writings as Johanna Lindsey, Lisa Kleypas, Cassie Edwards, and Miranda Lee created romances that qualify as hot or sensual.


Erotic romances place heavy emphasis on sexual activities. Not just the main characters, but side characters also can engage in love play.

The scenes are rather explicit. Flowery euphemisms are relegated to older works. Tthe more contemporary erotic romances don’t hold back with raunchy or smutty words.

It’s possible for the hero or heroine to have multiple partners. Still, in the end, monogamous love wins out.

Significant authors of vintage erotic romances include Bertrice Small and Susan Johnson in earlier years, and by the 1990s, Thea Devine and Robin Schone.

Coincidentally, those four authors would be chosen by Kensington Books to write erotic novellas for two anthologies, Captivated (1999) and Fascinated (2000). The books highlighted the growing trend of more sexualized stories in the romance genre as the 20th century came to a close.


Note: Sweet Savage Flame uses the term “pornographic” with no negative or positive connations. We employ it as a neutral term for a type of novel.

Sex is the primary theme of pornographic works. Any romance found in a book with this heat level is a byproduct of the tale.

These novels do not typically focus on plots. Instead, a series of sexual escapades is designed to arouse the reader.

There is no overarching love story, even if there is a happy ending for a couple. Or throuple. Or more.

Anne Rice’s erotic novels, written under the names Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure, such as Belinda or Exit to Eden, and Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus are romantic pornographic books.

Your Opinion

One person’s idea of kinky may be another’s other-day usual. So, as noted, these are relative terms.

What do you think of our six levels of heat in romance? Do you agree with our rankings?

Let us know what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.


Asian or Pacific Islander Heroines in Retro Romances

Heroines of Asian, Sub-Continent Indian, & Polynesian Descent in Romance

Last week we posted a list of Asian-descended heroes in old-school or retro romances. Here, were have a more comprehensive collection of pre-2000s romances with heroines of Oriental/ Asian heritage.

We noticed the prevalence of the words or names Jade, Lotus, Blossom, Jasmine, and Dragon in these books. Even to this day–when there are many more heroines of Eurasian, Indian, Asian, or Pacific Island ancestries–these terms or names show up frequently.

Writers of romance, it’s time to expand lexicons!

As we usually do, we divide our compilation of Asian heroines in romance novels into two sections: historical and category (series).

Asian Heroines in Historical Romances

Wicked Is My Flesh by Stephanie Blake

  • Heroine: Andria (Chinese & European)
  • Tropes & Settings: Bodice Ripper, Sold into Slavery, Multiple Partners, China, United States
  • Published: Playboy Press, 1980
asian heroines romance novels
Wicked Is My Flesh, Stephanie Blake, Playboy Press, 1980, cover artist San Julian

Jasmine Passion by Paula Fairman

  • Heroine: Le’ Sing (Chinese & Anglo-American)
  • Tropes & Settings: Bodice Ripper, Multiple Lovers, Heroine Priestess, China & California
  • Published: Pinnacle Books, 1981
asian heroines
Jasmine Passion, Paula Fairman, Pinnacle, 1981, John Solie cover art

Fandora’s Story by Betty Hale Hyatt

  • Heroine: Fandora Wu (Chinese & English)
  • Tropes & Settings: Love Triangle, Regency, China, Macao
  • Published: Playboy Press, 1981
asian heroines romance
Fandora’s Story, Betty Hale Hyatt, Playboy Press, 1981, cover artist unknown

Winter Blossom by Cynthia Sinclair

  • Heroine: Suzanne Rutledge (Japanese & British)
  • Tropes & Settings: Translator, Heroine Mixed Heritage, Japan 17th Century,
  • Published: Tapestry #23, Pocket Books, 1983
asian heroines romance
Winter Blossom, Cynthia Sinclair, Pocket Books, 1983, Robert Maguire cover art

The Immortals by Natasha Peters

  • Heroine: Amalie Berenger (Chinese & European)
  • Tropes & Settings: Revenge, Love Triangle, Forbidden Love, World War II, Shanghai
  • Published: Fawcett Crest, 1983
the immortals asian heroines romance
The Immortals, Natasha Peters, Fawcett Crest, 1983, Jim Barkley cover art

Flora by Anne Weale

  • Heroine: Flora (Chinese & English)
  • Tropes & Settings: Heroine Orphan, Marriage of Convenience, Cheating, 20th Century Historical, Shanghai, England
  • Published: Worldwide (Harlequin) 1983
asian heroines romance
Flora, Anne Weale, Worldwide, 1983, Pino cover art

Jade Moon by Erica Mitchell

  • Heroine: Shan T’u (Chinese)
  • Tropes & Setting: Forbidden Love, Heroine Engaged to Another Man, Mongolian Empire
  • Published: Tapestry #32, Pocket Books, 1984
asian heroines romance novels
Jade Moon, Erica Mitchell, Pocket Books, 1984, Robert Maguire cover art

China Star by Karen Keast

  • Heroine: Trinity Lee (Chinese & Anglo-American)
  • Tropes & Settings: Revenge, California
  • Published: Harlequin Historical #13, 1988
asian heroines romance novels
China Star, Karen Keast, Harlequin, 1990, Max Ginsburg cover art

Ketti by Donna Anders

  • Heroine: Ketti (Hawaiian & European-American)
  • Tropes & Settings: Different Worlds, Plantation, Hawaii 1890s
  • Published: Harlequin Historical #81, 1991
Ketti, Donna Anders, Harlequin,1991, Max Ginsburg cover art

Paradise Moon by Donna Anders

  • Heroine: Leilani Jauwe (Hawaiian)
  • Tropes & Setting: Heroine Nurse, Hero Doctor, Hero Widower, Hawaii
  • Published: Harlequin Historical #113, 1992
Paradise Moon, Donna Anders, Harlequin, 1992, Judy York cover art

Wild Jasmine by Bertrice Small

  • Heroine: Princess Yasaman/Jasmine (Indian & English)
  • Tropes & Settings: Erotic Romance, Multiple Husbands & Lovers, Mughal India & Tudor England
  • Published: Ballantine, 1990
Wild Jasmine, Bertrice Small, Ballantine,1990, Elaine Duillo cover art

Darling Jasmine by Bertrice Small

  • Heroine: Jasmine (Indian & English)
  • Tropes & Settings: Erotic Romance, British Isles, France, Arranged Marriage, Tudor Era
  • Published: Kensington, 1997
Darling Jasmine, Bertrice Small, Kensington, 1997, Elaine Duillo cover art

Jade by Ruth Langan

  • Heroine: Jade Jewel
  • Tropes & Settings: Western, Heroine Courtesan, Hero Preacher, Enemies to Lovers, Texas
  • Published: Harlequin Historical, 1997
Jade, Ruth Langan, Harlequin, 1993

Asian Heroines in Category/Contemporary Romances

More Than Words by Elizabeth Glenn

  • Heroine: Lee Ann Chung (Chinese-American)
  • Tropes & Settings: Dogs, Mute Hero, Texas
  • Published: Harlequin Temptation #195, 1987
More Than Words, Elizabeth Glenn, Harlequin, 1987, Ron Lesser cover art

Another Time by Susan Napier

  • Heroine: Helen Smith (Chinese & European)
  • Tropes & Settings: Amnesia, Revenge, Second Chance at Love, Love Triangle, Two Brothers & One Woman, Hong Kong, New Zealand, New York
  • Published: Harlequin Presents #1211, 1989
Another Time, Susan Napier, Harlequin, 1989, cover artist unknown

The Cinderella Coach by Roz Denny Fox

  • Heroine: Jade Han (Chinese-American)
  • Tropes & Settings: Boss & Employee, Sweet Romance, California
  • Published: Harlequin Romance #3169, 1992
The Cinderella Coach, Roz Denny, Harlequin, 1992, cover artist unknown

Wedding? Impossible! by Karen Templeton

  • Heroine: Zoe Chan (Chinese-American)
  • Tropes: Matchmaker, Enemies to Lovers, Weddings
  • Published: Silhouette Yours Truly #85, Weddings, Inc. #8, 1998
Wedding? Impossible!, Karen Templeton, Silhouette, 1998

Jade Island by Elizabeth Lowell

  • Heroine: Lianne Blakely (Chinese & Anglo-American)
  • Tropes & Setting: Romantic Suspense, Jewel Thief, Hong Kong,
  • Published: William & Morrow & Avon, 1998
Jade Island, Elizabeth Lowell, Avon, 1998

Your Opinion

Have you read any of these old-school or vintage romance novels featuring Asian or Pacific Islander heroines? If so, what did you think of them? Have we missed any books published before 2000? Let us know, and we’ll make a more comprehensive list.

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

60 cheap dATES

Real-Life Romance: 60 Cheap Dates To Enjoy With Your Partner

what to do on a date
cheap dates

What To Do On a Date Night

In this new segment, we’ll be discussing romance–in real life. Here we’ll be talking about what to do on a date.

Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or have just met a special someone, it’s essential to keep things exciting. Dates are as necessary when courting as they are to marriage.

There are traditional ways to spend time together. You can go for a cup of coffee, see a movie, have drinks at a bar, eat at a restaurant. If it’s a special night, you can go to a show, be it the opera, ballet, or other performance.

But what if you haven’t lots of cash to spend and still want to have fun together? There are so many things you can do with the one you love. Here are 60 cheap date ideas that you can spend both indoors and out.

60 Cheap Dates

40 Ideas For Going Out

  1. Museum
  2. School or college sports game
  3. School plays or concerts
  4. Libraries
  5. Nature walk
  6. Dog park
  7. Galleries
  8. Camping
  9. Walk on the pier
  10. Window shopping
  11. Take a telescope out to look at stars
  12. Picnic
  13. Bowling
  14. Visit a farm
  15. Take class together
  16. Attend a lecture
  17. Go thrift store shopping
  18. Apple/strawberry/pumpkin picking
  19. Take a ferry or train ride
  20. Volunteer
  21. Rent a kayak or canoe
  22. Christmas carolling
  23. Running
  24. Play in the snow/go sledding
  25. Rollerblade together
  26. Workout at the gym
  27. Run errands together
  28. Babysit
  29. Feed ducks/birds at a pond or lake
  30. Ride bikes
  31. Play a sport together (softball, golf, tennis)
  32. Go sightseeing
  33. Fishing or hunting
  34. Garage or rummage sale shopping
  35. Bingo night
  36. Attend church or house of worship
  37. Paintball
  38. Take pictures of nature or cityscapes
  39. Karaoke night
  40. Learn to dance
cheerful couple hugging in park in darkness
Photo by Katerina Holmes on

20 Ideas For Staying In

  1. Play cards or board games
  2. Listen to an audiobook together
  3. Look at old home videos or through photo albums
  4. Listen to music and dance
  5. Give each other massages
  6. Play video games
  7. Cook a meal together
  8. Complete a Puzzle
  9. Watch movies or TV
  10. Yoga/ breathing exercises/ meditate
  11. Record a podcast or Youtube video together
  12. Have an indoor picnic
  13. Paint or draw together/each other
  14. Build a Lego set
  15. Sing songs together
  16. Play an instrument for a solo concert
  17. Paint a room
  18. Design and create a robot
  19. Have friends over for a dinner party
  20. Drink some wine and make love
a couple sitting on couch next to each other
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

Your Opinion

Can you think of any other inexpensive dates? Use your imagination! Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

selective focus photo of st patrick s day props

8 Irish Romances Set in the Emerald Isle

irish romances
Photo by RODNAE Productions on

Our List of Irish Historical Romances to Read

As it is St. Patrick’s Day, we thought you might be in the mood for something a little bit Irish. These eight old-school historical romances are set on the Emerald Isle.

Most of these are available to read on Kindle or e-reader. The links are provided in the text description.

Some of these books we have read and enjoyed ourselves very much. Others are on our to-be-read list and have great reviews.

We’ll be reading Irish romances on March 17. Whatever way you’re spending your day, spend it doing something you love!

The Honor Price by Erin Yorke

Alanna O’Donnell…Lucas had named her his Irish witch. For, with hair the color of the sun and eyes as blue as the sky, she had bedazzled him beyond imagining. Making him forget that she tore his heart asunder between duty and desire.

Lucas del Fuentes…Alanna’s golden Spaniard had come to Ireland with the once mighty armada. But though the fates had brought him, they could also steal him back, for Lucas held an oath to king and country that might yet prove stronger than the tumultuous love that flamed between them.


Rose of the Mists by Laura Parker

She Met Him Where the Reeds Bend…

He was the most beautiful man Meghan had ever seen… and she watched him, young, naked, and magnificent, bathing in the still waters of a crystal pool and the gold and green light of a summer afternoon in the Irish wilds. She loved him from that moment on and for all eternity, even though love was forbidden to her.

For Meghan was considered a changeling, a witch, marked as she was with the rose-colored spot on her cheek. And little could she dream that what once cursed her would bring her a glorious destiny — and the passion of the stranger she so wantonly desired.


The Mist and the Magic by Susan Wiggs

(Republished for Kindle as THE MAIDEN OF IRELAND)

#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs sweeps readers away to the misty coast of Ireland in an irresistible tale of falling in love with the enemy… 


Caitlin MacBride, mistress of the beleaguered Irish stronghold Clonmir, made a wish one evening at sunset. “Send me my true love,” she whispered.


As she watched, a man walked out of the mist that rolled in off the water. In John Wesley Hawkins, Caitlin saw a magic she thought had been lost to Ireland forever.


Though Wesley was sent by the English to seduce the lovely Caitlin and discover the secrets of Clonmuir, her beauty and fierce spirit mesmerized him. Each time he touched her, he came closer to defying those who’d sent him.


Forbidden Love by Karen Robards

Forbidden Desires…

He was her guardian, absentee landlord of her neglected life–until Megan Kinkead returned to Maam’s Cross Court, determined to make Justin Brant notice her.  She finally commanded the attention of the sixth Earl of Weston when she burst into his room and caught him stark naked in the tub.  Suddenly she knew a woman’s hunger–and a woman’s needs….

Forbidden Kisses…

When had the scrawny brat from hell become a fiery, raven-haired, violet-eyed temptress?  Justin told himself she was still a child as she offered him a seductive yet innocent kiss.  He tried to remind himself that he was her guardian, her protector.  But the flashfire desire that blazed between them ignited a love neither had ever known before.  Then he told her he was married….

Forbidden Secrets…

Bestselling, award-winning author Karen Robards sweeps us into Ireland’s lush landscape in this spellbinding novel of a headstrong young beauty and her aristocratic guardian, torn between passion, propriety, and…Forbidden Love.


Emerald Desire by Lynette Vinet


She was married to another man and had promised fidelity, but her body honored no such promise. . .

As wild and beautiful as the Irish countryside, Dera Brennan knew from the first that Quint Flannery was the only man she would ever love. Ignoring her family’s warnings, she gave herself to Quint with passionate abandon. He was hers and hers alone until she found him in another woman’s arms.

To spite her faithless lover, Dera impetuously married Lord Fairfax, an imperious English aristocrat, and Quint’s enemy. Yet even separated from Quint by a vast chasm of wealth and privilege, Dera yearned for his hungry, punishing kisses. Not even the cold brilliance of diamonds could quench a desire burning with emerald-bright intensity.


The Highwayman by Doreen Owens Malek

(Republished on Kindle as LADY SELBY’s LOVER)


It was a bold and perilous plan—disguising herself as a boy and stealing aboard a ship bound for the far-off shores of Ireland. But from the moment orphaned Lady Alexandra Cummings arrived at besieged Inverary Castle, her life and heart were no longer her own. Captured by rugged Irish rebel Kevin Burke, the daring English noblewoman became a pawn in a dangerous game of treachery and betrayal.

For she lost her heart to the one man she dared not trust, and her passion could not be swayed by reason. But cruel fate tragically plunged Kevin into exile and Alexandra into a loveless marriage. Enemies and lovers, their forbidden desires swept them across a divided realm. A man and a woman bound together pledged their lives toward liberty and love.


Highland Fire by Ruth Langan

highland fire ireland romance

A Scottish Tempest (in Ireland)
Kieran O’Mara had never seen a female wield a sword with the skill and determination of the Scottish lass he knew only as Megan. No other woman had ever touched him with such fire, yet until she regained her memory, he could not claim her heart.

Though Megan MacAlpin had fallen in love with Kieran O’Mara, the fierce Irish warrior who had saved her from certain death, she could not tell him. For she was a stranger even to herself, and she would not rest until she knew that she was, indeed, a woman worthy of his love. 


Black Falcon’s Lady by Kimberly Cates

irish romance

(Formerly published by Berkley Books as NIGHTWYLDE)

A Passion As Hauntingly Beautiful As An Irish Ballad

A country torn by the flames of rebellion, Ireland held the destiny of Maryssa Wylder—a woman scorned for her willful spirit, and banished from the social whirl of London.

A Love As Tender And Sweet As The Moonlight

A gentle, kind, and handsome man, Tade Kilcannon touched Maryssa’s heart with his glorious dreams of freedom—and his penetrating gaze.

A Desire As Fierce As A Raging Storm

A rival to her love, a masked patriot known only as the Black Falcon aroused a burning passion in Maryssa unlike any she had ever known—a smoldering sensuality that could not be denied. Soon, her life, her heart and soul, were trapped in a web of intrigue—and torn by her wildest, deepest longings…


More Irish Romances Coming in the Future

We’ll be updating the site with more pages, including a page for romance settings. There’ll be a section dedicated to Irish romances, so be on the lookout for that in the future.

Your Opinion

Did your favorite Irish romance make it to our list? What romances set in Ireland have read and enjoyed?

Please, drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

5 signs addicted to romance

5 Signs You May Be Addicted To Romance Novels

5 signs addicted to romance

Are You Addicted to Romance Novels?

Do you primarily read romance? So do tens of millions of people worldwide!

But perhaps you think your reading has become an obsession. Is that even possible? Maybe so, if reading too many books negatively affects your life.

There’s no need to despair. We can help you identify the symptoms of romance addiction. Our team at Sweet Savage Flame has pinpointed five signs that may indicate an unhealthy dependency on this bestselling genre.

5 Signs To Look For

1) You imagine yourself as the hero or heroine of your romance novel. 

Do you bite your lips in consternation? Do you arrogantly raise one eyebrow in question? Is there an internal monologue in your head describing how your nipples become engorged whenever the object of your affection is nearby? These might be signs of romance addiction.

2) Your to-be-read list is more extensive than the list of books you’ve actually finished. 

This may be akin to your eyes being bigger than your stomach. In this case, your stomach is your ability to read. It may take you ninety years to complete all the books on your list, but you’re eating healthy, taking your vitamins, and exercising, so maybe you’ll last the long haul.

3) You have duplicate copies of the same books. 

This is intentional and you have no desire to sell them. Perhaps one book is for reading and dog-earing, while the other is a collector’s edition to keep in pristine condition. Possibly you own all printed versions of one book, just with different covers.

read too much

4) Where to store your books has become a significant dilemma in your life. 

Your house is only so big, and there are only so many shelves you can put up. Some books are in boxes or bins. Others are stored under your bed. You start thinking, do you really need a closet for your clothes? Is a bathroom essential?

5) While reading a steamy love scene, you get so caught up you forget about all outside responsibilities. 

Sometimes a good book can be a major distraction. I know all about it. I burnt a pot of beans I was supposed to be watching while reading Tiffany White’Forbidden Fantasy. My mother has never let me live that down.

forbidden fantasy cinille

In All Seriousness, Is Romance Addiction Real?

Francine Rivers and Romance Addiction

Is romance addiction real? For some people it is.

Author Francine Rivers has talked about her obsession with these novels as both a reader and a writer. She felt they became a form of escapism from what was truly important in her life: her relationship with God and God’s place in her marriage.

“Reading and writing romance became a way to survive the inner turmoil I felt but didn’t understand. The early years of marriage weren’t easy for either of us; reading and writing romances kept me from analyzing why and dealing with problems.”

Instead of focusing on the problems in her life, Rivers ignored them, choosing to harness her energies on reading and writing romance novels. Eventually, it all came to a head, and she and her husband sought counseling. They looked for solutions to their problems in their religion.

Fictional romance indeed played a role in Rivers’ marital woes. But a book, just like a weapon or a tool, is inanimate. To become so consumed by a hobby that one ignores real-life problems likely is a symptom of a deeper issue.

addiction to romance novels
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The Age of Excess

Addiction comes in many forms. If you allow something to take over your life to the detriment of all else, that is harmful. Romance novels are not innately malignant. People can be dependent upon almost anything, from the most benign activities to potent intoxicants.

Nail-biting, exercise, drinking coffee, eating, shopping, smoking marijuana, casual sex, media entertainment… Name any subject, and there’s likely someone who takes it too far.

In the age of video games, film, & tv streaming, reading for pleasure is not a common hobby. The average person reads about one book every 4-6 weeks. That number is as high as it is due to bookish folks. Romance readers happen to read a lot, as they average one book per week.

The Double Standard

Porn For Women

Romance has been compared to pornography in that both affect how one sex views the other. While it may be true that some people need sex to make it through the day, most readers do not read romance for sex alone.

Romance has various steam levels, from merely chaste kisses to hardcore erotica. Sex is an aspect of romance; it does not define it.

Detractors of the genre claim it creates unrealistic expectations for women in relationships. Men cannot possibly live up to the standards of the hunky, heroic, alpha male protagonists.

Strangely, these criticisms are not generally made about other kinds of fiction. Superheroes, detectives, warriors, wizards, spies in action thrillers, all these tropes are fantastical. Yet few are concerned that men–the primary readers of genres featuring such characters–struggle to live up to these prototypes.

It’s a double standard that has a long history.

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Reading Mania

Indeed, a reading addiction can be a problem if a person does it all day, letting life pass him or her by. The Germans even have a word for such mania: lesesucht. This term came about in the 18th century when literature was widely disseminated. Now ordinary people could enjoy books for pleasure.

Concerns arose that if women read, they would ignore their household responsibilities. Their heads would be filled with idealistic fantasies. Reading was supposed to be for the pursuit of knowledge. It was not a way for the uneducated masses to pass their idle time.

That is a misconception rooted in elitism and classism. Reading expands a person’s ability to process information. Not all readers are on the same intellectual level, but all readers have the ability to think, to reason.

Read What Makes You Happy With No Apologies

Sweet Savage Flame is a website that is all about romance. We talk about it almost every day. However, that is just one facet of our being. Our families, hobbies, jobs, and responsibilities mark our life. Romance enhances our time by bringing us joy and unity with other readers.

At the same time, there’s no need to worry if you consume far more books than the average person. It’s wonderful if all your reading is for entertainment purposes. If you pay your bills, clean your home, rear your children, work hard, and do whatever you must, what’s wrong with having an outlet for stress?

Enjoy what you enjoy. Never let any literary snobs make you feel shame for it. Vive la romance!

retro romance

10 Retro Romance Authors Relevant Today

retro romance authors

These 10 Retro Romance Authors Still Write Today

These “old-school” or retro romance authors have been successful in the genre for 25, 30, or even 40 years. Their contributions to the industry are numerous. These women have won many awards and sold tens of millions of books.

Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas burst onto the scene in September 1987 with her Onyx release, Where Passion Leads. She is a Wellesley College graduate and former beauty pageant queen (Miss Massachusetts). Kleypas was only 21 when she signed her first book deal. Thirty-five years later, she’s perhaps historical romance’s most famous author.

Kleypas has published 49 novels and short stories. She has dabbled in contemporary romance. But historicals are where she has her biggest fans. Her books have won various awards for distinction. Kleypas is both a USA Today and NY Times best-selling author. Her most recent outing, Devil in Disguise, came out in August 2021.

Lynne Graham

One of Harlequin’s most prominent authors is Lynne Graham, who hails from Northern Ireland. Mills & Boon published her first book, Bittersweet Passion, in 1987. It wasn’t until she began writing Harlequin Presents a couple of years later that Graham would gain huge acclaim. Her first HP was The Veranchetti Marriage. Her passionate romances about Greek, Italian, Hispanic, and Mediterranean heroes have captured millions of fans. She has written 120+ books, and 45 million have been sold worldwide. Promoted to the Greek’s Wife will be a February 2022 release.

Jodi Thomas

Jodi Thomas, whose real name is Jodi Koumalats, is a Texas icon. Most of her books take place in the Lone Star State. Her first novel, Beneath the Texas Sky, published in 1988, won a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Western Romance. Thomas has received many awards for her books which resonate with authenticity.

She has written both historical and contemporary romances and has also branched into women’s fiction. Thomas has two of her books scheduled for release in 2022, including Sunday at Sunflower Inn.

Nora Roberts

La Nora, as the industry calls her, is a publishing phenom. She has written over 200 romances, including category romances, contemporaries, romantic suspense, and science fiction.

Born Eleanor Marie Robertson, Nora Roberts submitted her first manuscript to Harlequin, who rejected her as they didn’t need more American writers. Silhouette quickly swiped her talents. Their Romance line released Irish Thoroughbred in 1981. The rest is history.

Nora Roberts’ books have sold over 150 million copies. Roberts’ prodigious output sees her create two books a year. Nightwork will be coming out in May 2022.

Lorraine Heath

Historical romance writer Lorraine Heath was born in England and raised in Texas, which gives her a unique perspective when writing. Although she is one of the “later” authors on this list, she has consistently produced romances for the past 28 years.

Her first book, Sweet Lullaby, was a big hit with readers in 1994. The Duchess Hunt is her most recent romance. It came out in October 2021. Heath has two more books lined up for 2022. Her novels have won numerous awards and garnered glowingly positive reviews from fans and critics alike.

Diana Palmer

Diana Palmer (aka Susan Kyle) has written contemporary romance since 1979. Her first book was a MacFadden Romance called Storm Over the Lake. She would later move to Silhouette, becoming one of their most successful authors. She has written over 160 titles, both full-length and category romances, as well as historicals.

With Diana Palmer, readers know exactly what they’re getting. The hero is a hard Alpha male and the innocent heroine is strangely drawn to him, despite his off-putting demeanor. Her books have sold tens of millions worldwide. Palmer’s latest, Wyoming True, was just published in November 2021.

Jude Deveraux

Jude Deveraux is perhaps one of the last remaining authors from the original “bodice ripper” era, although her romances were hardly hardcore ‘rippers. In 1978, her first book, The Enchanted Land, was released by Avon, although she would move to Pocket Books after her second release. Her novels would be set in almost every era, including historicals, contemporaries, and time travel.

She has written women’s fiction as well, but she still writes romances to this day. Her most recent is Chance of a Lifetime in 2020. Another romance will follow in 2022. With over 50 million copies of her books sold, Deveraux remains one of romance’s leading ladies.

Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber is a slice of Americana pie. She began her career writing category romances for Silhouette and then Harlequin. Her first book was 1983’s Starlight.

Like many authors on this list, she has also written women’s fiction. Macomber’s Christmas romances are an annual event, and she had had movies and series produced for the Hallmark Channel. She has sold about 200 million books. Macomber’s most recent book was It’s Better This Way in late 2021.

Catherine Anderson

Oregon-born Catherine Anderson has penned some super-emotional romances. She has written categories, historicals, and contemporaries. Her first book was a romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue, Reasonable Doubt, published in June 1988.

Perhaps her most popular book is Annie’s Song, about a deaf woman who is mistakenly thought of as an “imbecile.” Anderson has written 40+ more books. The latest was Maple Leaf Harvest in August 2021.

Mary Balogh

Born in Wales, Mary Balogh began writing traditional regencies for Signet in 1985. Her first book, A Masked Deception, would be one of the many regencies she would publish. She began to write full-length historicals in 1992 with Beyond the Sunrise.

Balogh is a widely popular author with over 120 titles to her credit (short-length, novels, and full-length). Her Slightly series was very successful, hitting the NY Times bestseller lists. Balogh’s most recent romance was Someone Perfect in 2021.

Who Did We Miss?

Although it seems every week a beloved writer is retiring or passing away, there are still many authors who got their start in the 20th century creating output today.

Who did we miss? What other “old-school” authors are producing work in the 2020s? Are there authors you wish were still writing? Please drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance.


6 Sensational Silhouette Category Romances

Silhouette Category Line

The American-based Silhouette imprint existed from 1980 to 2011 when it officially went defunct. Simon & Schuster created the trade name to compete directly with Harlequin. During their run, they produced several innovative series. First the Romance line, then Desire, Special Edition, Intimate Moments, and more.

Although Harlequin acquired Silhouette in 1984, the imprint remained intact for over 25 years. Well, at least a few lines did.

Multiple talented authors wrote for Silhouette: Anne Hampson, Janet Dailey, Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber, Diana Palmer, Elizabeth Lowell, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz (usually as Stephanie James), Sandra Brown, Barbara Delinsky, and Maggie Shayne, among many others.

We’ve picked one shining example of excellence from 6 of their lines. Since they published a vast quantity of great romances, it wasn’t easy to decide which ones. But we think you’ll like our selections! Have you read any of the following romances? Are you surprised by the books we chose? Please, leave a comment, and let’s talk romance!


Irish Thoroughbred, a Silhouette Romance, was Nora Roberts’s debut novel, originally published in January 1981. Right out of the gate, Roberts created characters and plots that engaged the reader. Adelia Cunnane lives in Ireland. She goes to America on her uncle’s behest to work with horses. Adelia meets Travis Grant, the stable’s owner, and the sparks fly. This is an old-fashioned, sweet-styled romance that will keep you warm inside on a cold day.


We’ve reviewed this wonderful, hilarious romance before. In Four Dollars and Fifty-One Cents by Lass Small created a fantastic friends-to-lovers story. The heroine only notices how desirable her long-time neighbor Junior is when his picture is placed in the newspaper after signing up for a charity auction. Jan has her eye on another man to bid on, although now, with Junior looking so hot, she’s not sure. This book is a riot!

Intimate Moments

Linda Howard’s Midnight Rainbow contains an exciting Costa Rican setting, a great kickass heroine, and a hero to die for. What more can you ask for in romantic suspense? The hero must rescue the heroine from the evil villain’s jungle lair. There’s plenty of intense action and witty banter between the main characters. This romance will have you thinking this should have been made into a Hollywood production, as it’s so well-written.

Special Edition

Yes, La Nora shows up twice on this list. She is that amazing! The Return of Rafe MacKade is the first book in a series about the MacKade brothers from Antietam, MD. Rafe MacKade is the prodigal bad boy who returns to town after a 10-year absence. Rafe is an old-school, traditional type of male. Regan Bishop is a prim and proper yet feminist Ms. These two contrasting individuals collide, and watch out! The intensity between them is hot, hot, hot!


Silhouette took many risks during its time. In 1993, they launched the first paranormal category line, Silhouette Shadows. Although the series was short-lived, running for only 66 editions, it was incredibly innovative. The PNR genre would boom by the end of the decade. By the early 2000s, it would outsell historicals. Twilight Illusions was part of Maggie Shayne’s “Wings of Night” series. Shannon is a PI on the hunt for her friend’s murderer. Damien is a 6,000-year-old vampire. This romance, which predates the vampire craze, mixes ancient mythology with stellar writing.


Not only did Silhouette publish romances that were more sexually explicit than ever before, but they also went to the other side of the spectrum. Inspirations was another line that had a short run, publishing only 36 books. In Blind Promises, Katy Currie (aka Diana Palmer) penned a haunting love story about a nurse who has to care for a difficult patient who is temporarily blind. Gannon van der Vere is a hard man to get close to. Nevertheless, Dana Steele valiantly tries to break through his reserve. With her faith and love, she will do whatever she must to help him heal, both in his eyes and heart.

6 Harlequin Presents Villains

6 Horrifying Villainous Heroes in Harlequin Presents

6 Harlequin Presents Villains

Evil Heroes

Since Halloween is just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at the scary side of romance. No, not Gothic romances, although we’ll get to more soon. We’re talking about villainous heroes in romance novels.

The Harlequin Presents line was notorious for the cruelty some male protagonists could inflict upon their heroines. Most of these books are surprisingly well-written. Yet the horrific truth is that the hero could be the villain in a romance.

Villainous main characters were popular forty years ago, and they still continue to be popular with readers to this day. Why would anyone ever want to read romances where heroes are the bad guys?

shiny carved pumpkin and knife on halloween night

Well, why not? So long as we understand we’re reading fiction, at times, it’s hypnotizing to take a peek at the darkness that lurks beneath the human surface. To witness what sadistic torments twisted love can create.

And then, thankfully, close the pages on that romantic nightmare.

Harlequin Presents’ Villainous Male Main Characters

At Sweet Savage Flame, we’re equally about the Sweet… And the savage.

We’ve compiled a list of 6 villainous heroes from Harlequin Presents romances. We have placed them in order of publication. It would be near impossible to rank which male main character is the evilest.

Trick or Treat.

Andreas, Storm Centre

Only Charlotte Lamb could create such a despicable hero as Andreas and still make the story so hypnotizing! Storm Centre is a car wreck read.

6 villain heroes
Storm Centre, Charlotte Lamb

Burke, Mansion For My Love

Mansion For My Love was a hard book to review. I’ve both hated and loved many of Robyn Donalds Harlequin Presents.

villain hero romance Mansion For My Love, Robyn Donald3
Mansion For My Love, Robyn Donald

Nicholas, The Guarded Heart

Another cruel Robyn Donald hero! Now this book, The Guarded Heart I despised Nicholas so much. He was irredeemable!

villain hero romance The Guarded Heart, Robyn Donald
The Guarded Heart, Robyn Donald

Hugo, Shattered Dreams

Sally Wentworth created yet another hero who in a crazed, jealous lunatic. But the writing was compelling in Shattered Dreams!

villain hero romance
Shattered Dreams, Sally Wentworth

Jake, Indiscretion

Anne Mather usually wrote reliably entertaining books. Indiscretion was like a gory car crash I couldn’t look away from!

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Indiscretion, Anne Mather

Mark, The Marriage War

And finally, here’s Charlotte Lamb with another detestable hero with The Marriage War. Even Lamb’s stellar writing couldn’t make the villain hero, Mark, likable.

6 villain heroes
The Marriage War, Charlotte Lamb

Your Opinion on Villain As the Hero in Romance

Do you think these villainous heroes are too cruel for love? What other heroes in romance could qualify as villains? Please, drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

sweet heroes

6 Sweet & Sexy Heroes from Old School Historical Romances

6 sweet and sexy heroes

Six Heroes We Love

We’ve compiled a list of six sweet and sexy heroes from some amazing historical romances.

These remarkable men will have you swooning with their devoted adoration for their women.

The Heroes

Stephen MontgomeryHighland Velvet by Jude Deveraux

highland velvet bennett

We reviewed Jude Deveraux’s Highland Velvet a few months ago at Sweet Savage Flame. In this early Tudor-era romance, Stephen Montgomery is given Bronwyn MacArran’s hand in marriage.

It’s his reward for his valiant deeds for King Henry VII. Instead of finding a willing bride, Bronwyn is bitter about the forced arrangement with a hated Englishman.

She cares only for her Scottish clan and her lands. Stephen will do everything in his power to prove to Bronwyn that he’s the right man for her and her people. Stephen is kind, patient, and humorous in contrast to his sour wife.

His sacrifices for her might make you sigh, either in delight or frustration because he does do much for Bronwyn!

Stephen is a wonderful hero who will melt your heart.

Burke DrummondNight Fire by Catherine Coulter

night fire

Night Fire by Catherine Coulter stars one of her few truly nice guy heroes. Arielle and Burke Drummond met years ago when she was 15.

Burke instantly fell in love with Arielle but was called to war against the French. In the interim, Arielle was forced into marriage with a cruel, elderly lecher.

Burke returns to find Arielle a bitter widow, suffering post-traumatic stress from the abuse she endured. She wants nothing to do with men, while Burke’s feelings for Arielle still run strong.

Thus unfolds a tender, emotional love story where Burke patiently woos Arielle, although he is a randy rascal. Her recovery takes time, and Burke is there to give her genuine support and understanding. Meanwhile, a wicked villain has his eye on Arielle.

Will Burke also be there to save her before it’s too late?

Noel BouchardWicked Stranger by Louisa Rawlings

Wicked Stranger

Another romance we’ve reviewed featuring a fantastic hero is Louisa Rawling’s Wicked Stranger. Noel Bouchard is a charming, devil-may-care Frenchman who’s seen the horrors of war. He wants nothing in life but to live it to the fullest, for he knows each day could be his last.

In New York, Noel meets the dour heiress, Elizabeth Babcock, and somehow falls for her despite her sharp tongue and prickly exterior.

He sees the vulnerable woman beneath and vows to bring joy to Bess’ life. Noel is a rogue in the most wonderful sense of the word, introducing Bess to romance and adventure.

Noel’s contagious joie de vivre will surely make you fall for him as Elizabeth does.

AngelAngel by Johanna Lindsey

The eponymous Angel of Johanna Lindsey‘s 25th romance novel is a gunslinger whose background is shrouded in mystery.

Abandoned by his family at a young age, he goes by the name his mother called him as a young boy. Angel is not a traditional romance hero. For one thing, he’s very short.

Moreover, Angel wants nothing to do with the heroine, Cassie Stuart, a meddlesome young lady with a black panther.

Somehow he finds himself trying to help Cassie out of a mess she’s gotten herself into. Cassie is more than capable of using a weapon, but she needs Angel’s help to save her ranch.

The humor here is utterly delightful, and the chemistry between the two protagonists is sizzling.

Angel is a hero to die for.

Alex Raiford Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas

then came you lisa kleypas

Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas is another book we’ve reviewed here. “Lawless” Lily Lawson is intent on breaking her sister’s arranged betrothal to the priggish, stuffed-shirt Lord Alex Raiford, as her sister is in love with another man.

When Lily arranges an elopement for the pair, Alex takes his revenge upon Lily in a most sensual manner.

What makes Alex so appealing is beneath his staid exterior, he’s a vulnerable man. Alex is afraid to love again and be hurt after his fiancee died many years ago in a horse-riding accident.

Despite his arrogance, it’s his kindness that wins Lily’s heart. His gentleness with children is completely endearing.

Rory PrescottDakota Destiny by Dana Ransom

dakota destiny

In Dakota Destiny, con artist Norah Denby has arrived in town, and she’s on the move to make a score. She certainly has no interest in a wet-behind-the-ears cowboy like Rory Prescott.

When Norah finds out Rory’s the youngest son of a wealthy Dakota ranch dynasty, her partner in crime sets his sights on swindling Rory out of some major cash.

Can Norah go through with the con?

Rory is like an overgrown puppy dog: adoring and trusting, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s unrefined, rough around the edges, and a total contrast to Norah’s more sedate and cerebral nature.

Rory’s love for his family and his horse named Rosebud are nothing compared to his passion for Norah. Dakota Destiny by Dana Ransom deserves a look for this sincerely sweet romance hero.

Your Opinion?

What do you think about our picks? Have you read any of these romances? What do you think of these heroes?

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

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15 Old School Historical Romances That Revolutionized the Genre

list of best 15 old school bodice ripper novels

15 “Best” Old-School Historical Romances

Best Bodice Rippers or Just Old School Romance?

Sweet Savage Flame has compiled a list of “the best romance novels/ bodice rippers,” demonstrating the genre’s evolution in the last third of the 20th century. These are 15 old-school historicals we consider to be must-reads for those who wish to understand the roots of the romance industry.

Detractors of these novels may disparage them as mere bodice rippers. To us, a “bodice ripper” romance is a term of endearment. We embrace it without shame. Moreover, we appreciate how pivotal that (unfairly maligned) subgenre was in the era’s early years.

There are books on this list that, indeed, are “hardcore” bodice rippers–i.e., romances where the hero forces himself on the heroine. Such was the nature of the early years of the old-school romance era. But as the list goes into the late 1980s and the 1990s, they have disappeared.

This List Has Only Some of the Best Romances; There Are Many More

Sweet Savage Flame’s position on such controversial matters is never to shrink away from the past. We look back head-on and try to investigate, analyze, reflect, and understand.

Most of our picks are seminal works that transformed the industry’s evolution. A few are so notable or unforgettable we feel they merit special appreciation.

Links to our opinions and ratings are provided in the descriptions, but five of the fifteen listed are yet to be reviewed by our staff. We have read all of these and consider them essential reads. We aim to review all books on this list in the upcoming year.

Please note this is not a complete compilation of essential works. This is just a small sample of relevant texts from the thousands of paperback romances published from 1972 to 2000.

The List of 15 Romances to Read, in Chronological Order

#1 The Flame and the Flower

best romance novel flame and flower

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss radically transformed the concept of the romance novel with The Flame and the Flower. Before its 1972 publication by Avon, romantic novels with happy endings never included “explicit” sex scenes between protagonists.

After the hero of The Flame and the Flower, Brandon Birmingham, mistakes the heroine, Heather, for a prostitute, he forces himself upon her. Too late, he discovers the girl is–was— a virgin.

Throughout this doorstopper of a book, Brandon violates Heather several more times before they mutually consent to make love. This is due to Brandon’s transformation into a kinder, more decent man, all to be worthy of Heather’s love.

Contemporary perspectives would consider Brandon’s behavior to be criminal. Nevertheless, fifty years ago, millions of readers were drawn to this love story, viewing the actions as part of the fantasy of “forced seduction.” This was ostensibly a plot device that allowed unmarried virgins to be sexually active without guilt.

The closed-door love scenes for “good girls” were now relics of the past. Although today we categorize The Flame and the Flower as old-school, it marked the start of the “modern era of romance.” The bodice ripper was born.

And the romance genre–and books overall–would never be the same.

#2 Sweet Savage Love

best bodice ripper  novel sweet savage love

Capitalizing on the success of The Flame and the FlowerRosemary Rogers first book ratcheted up the melodrama and sexiness to a new level of extreme. Rape, forced seduction, multiple partners, cheating, and violence were prevalent parts of the story.

Women couldn’t get enough of it, catapulting Rogers to fame and riches.

Sweet Savage Love sold millions and millions of copies, resulting in several sequels and spinoffs.

This revolutionary Western told the tale of Ginny Brandon and Steve Morgan. Here, Rogers’ depicted a heroine who could enjoy sex with men besides the hero.

Inevitably, it seemed this type of ultra-sexual romp would mark the course of historical romances for the foreseeable future.

#3 Moonstruck Madness

best old-school romance novel moonstruck madness

Moonstruck Madness was Laurie McBain‘s second outing. This novel cemented her status as an Avon “Queen of Romance.” (Although–supposedly–McBain co-authored her romance novels with her father.)

This swashbuckling old-school historical romance was a huge best-seller and the first in a popular trilogy about the Dominick Family.

The plot differed from Woodiwiss’ and Rogers’ works in that lovemaking was consensual. There was no bed-hopping, and the violence was not gratuitous.

Moonstruck Madness was a kinder, gentler offering with no bodice-ripping in sight.

Fans flocked to the more tender romantic style. It ultimately produced long-term success.

#4 The Silver Devil

best bodice ripper novel the silver devil

The Silver Devil’s Duke Domenico is possibly the most extreme anti-hero ever to appear in an old-school romance novel. 

Over 45 years after its publication, many readers frequently discuss this book still highly-talked about and consider it one of the best bodice rippers ever written. Teresa Denys’ first-person-POV romance with an Italian beauty is

The powerful and megalomaniacal Duke sees the heroine Felicia at her window, desires her, and soon purchases her from her brother. Domenico’s obsession over her reigns supreme; he goes into murderous rages at the slightest hint of jealousy.

The prose in The Silver Devil is magnificent. The scenes of violence and brutality are intense. The hero is…a complicated man. The novel ends with the typical HEA. Even so, it’s hard to see a happy ending lasting beyond the pages of this book.

If you’re fortunate enough to find the Ballantine edition with the H. Tom Hall cover, it could cost you up to several hundred dollars.

#5 Fires of Winter

fires of winter

Johanna Lindsey‘s third novel, Fires of Winter, was a Viking romance about a captive Welsh woman and her Nordic owner. Marauders raid Lady Brenna’s home, kill the men and enslave and ravish the women. They spare only Brenna from ravishment and violence as the Viking leader has plans for her. She is a valuable prize that he plans to gift as a slave to his youngest son.

Just over 300 pages long (half the length of Woodiwiss’ and Roger’s fat epics), Fires of Winter is a lean, action-packed lean, bodice ripper.

The theme here is all about the battle between the sexes. Although there is forced seduction/ rape, this romance has no cheating. That made quite a difference to many readers looking for monogamous love stories.

However, the couple does argue–a lot. This was common in many of Lindsey’s earlier works.

Johanna Lindsey cemented her status as one of romance’s top best-selling authors with this bodice ripper. The Robert McGinnis romance novel cover design is legendary, featuring the first naked man on a romance cover.

#6 Skye O’Malley

skye o'malley

Skye O’Malley is “The Queen of Erotic Romance,” Bertrice Smallpiece de resistance– her magnum opus.

In this Tudor-era romance, the beauteous Irish lass Skye O’Malley amasses numerous husbands, lovers, children, and enemies.

And many true loves.

This is the lustiest of bodice rippers. Skye experiences the most rollicking adventures any heroine in Romancelandia could only dream of.

#7 Savage Ecstasy

savage ecstasy

Janelle Taylor’s Savage Ecstasy wasn’t the first historical bodice ripper published by Zebra books. It wasn’t even the first best-seller out of Kensington’s flagship imprint. It was, however, the one that firmly marked the largest US independent publisher on the map as a major player. 

In the decade that followed, Zebra would be a dominant force to be reckoned with in the romance field.

Savage Ecstasy sold over a million copies, as did its sequel, Defiant Ecstasy. It spawned a long-running series that told the love stories of Gray Eagle and Alisha and their children and their spouses.

Savage Ecstasy was one of the first publications of the enormously popular Native American romance subgenre. Readers consumed these romantic novels in droves until well into the 2000s.

#8 Stormfire

old-school best romance novel stormfire

Christine Monson’s Stormfire is perhaps one of the genre’s last hardcore bodice-rippers. Stormfire made some romantic novels of the 1970s appear tame in contrast. This tale of vengeance is extreme in its brutality. Set in

From the moment the heroine is kidnapped and violated by the hero, we can see this is not a romance for the faint-hearted.

Like The Silver Devil, Stormfire transcended its seemingly sordid content through thoughtful, superb writing and intense characterization. Also, like that other romance, this is considered one of the best bodice rippers ever. Plus, it’s hard to find and expensive if you do!

#9 Whitney, My Love

regency romance novel whitney my love

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught is the story of a gawky, coltish girl in love with a charming young man who barely notices her.

She goes off to finish school and returns a beauty. Then Whitney Stone finds herself forced into marriage with the dark Duke of Westmoreland. After a tumultuous beginning, they slowly learn to love one another.

Whitney, My Love is a beloved classic to this day. It reinvented the Regency romance by making it more sensual and increasing the page length and scope.

#10 A Knight in Shining Armor

old-school best romance a knight in shining armor

Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor is a tear-jerker of a travel romance. Take note of the book’s cover. It was not Deveraux’s typical stepback or clinch cover but a simple design showing an encircled gauntlet holding a flower.

This was a sign of “respectability” for Deveraux, signifying that she was one of Pocket Books’ most successful authors. A Knight in Shining Armor had been released in a hardcover edition in 1989 before being printed in paperback, extremely rare for romance writers, who had always been associated with with “pulp” genre.

The heroine, Douglass, is transported back to Tudor-era England and falls in love with an Elizabethan knight. Things take a twist when she returns to the future.

And so does the hero! But now he doesn’t recognize her.

The pair fall in love both in the past and the present eras. Will they ever find their forever somewhere in time?

#11 Gentle Rogue

best bodice ripper romances gentle rogue

Yes, Johanna Lindsey appears twice on this list–for a good reason.

Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue might not be historically accurate as for a Regency romance. Yet it’s so whimsical, romantic, witty, and the best of her Malory series; it’s a gem!

James Malory is an absolute cad. The tables are turned on him when he falls in love with a beauty disguised–quite poorly–as a cabin boy. Then Georgina abandons him at a port.

He’ll have to deal with the wrath of her five older brothers to get things straightened out.

#12 Outlander

best bodice ripper romances outlander

Although Diana Gabaldon has said that Outlander is not a romance novel, it does qualify as one–if you consider it a standalone.

It has the two elements required for the genre: a central love story that ends HEA. Although the subsequent books in the series would separate the lovers through time and space, the first entry is pure romance.

Outlander–or Cross-Stitch as it’s known elsewhere–is, at its core, a historical romance that features time travel. The married-in-the-future heroine, Claire, comes off as improbably perfect (in one scene, she fights a wolf and kills it with her bare hands!).

Jamie Frasier, however, is a favorite hero of many romance readers.

Outlander has been adapted into a popular television show, introducing new fans to this already successful novel.

#13 Flowers from the Storm

best bodice ripper romances flowers from the storm

Flowers from the Storm by the talented Laura Kinsale is an absolutely unusual yet stellar romance. Kinsale’s writing is superb. Romance.

A disreputable rogue of a man succumbs to a stroke.

The Earl of Jervaulx is mainly paralyzed and incapable of speech. A prim Quaker mathematician takes on the daunting task of rehabilitating him. Soon, they discover that he has a secret baby from his married mistress when the child is dropped off at his home.

How can such two disparate people be happy together?

This emotional, exquisitely written book is one of the 1990s best romance novels and deserves a look.

#14 Dreaming of You

best romance books DREAMING OF YOU

Although we prefer its predecessor, Then Came You, the Regency-era romance Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas is a monumental book that catapulted the author to superstardom.

Readers adore the hero, Derek Craven. The sexy, snaggle-toothed London rough pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He now runs a gaming hall and brothel.

Craven falls for a curious, bespectacled young woman named Sara. She turns his entire world asunder with her wondering innocence.

#15 Lord of Scoundrels