Category: Harlequin Presents

6 Horrifying Villanous Heroes in Harlequin Presents

6 Harlequin Presents Villains

Since Halloween is just around the corner it’s time to take a look at the scary side of romance. No, not Gothics, although I promise we’ll get to more eventually.

The Harlequin Presents line was notorious for the cruelty some male protagonists could inflict upon their heroines. Some of these books are surprisingly well-written. Yet the horrific truth is that these heroes were villains.

Villainous heroes were popular forty years ago and they still are to this day. Why would anyone ever want to read romances where heroes are the bad guys? 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 misbegotten romantic nightmare.

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

Trick o’ Treat.

Storm Centre, Charlotte Lamb
Mansion For My Love, Robyn Donald
The Guarded Heart, Robyn Donald
Shattered Dreams, Sally Wentworth
Indiscretion, Anne Mather
The Marriage War, Charlotte Lamb

Author Spotlight Charlotte Lamb

charlotte lamb pic

My Charlotte Lamb Experience

Sheila Holland née Coates, known to most readers of romance as Harlequin/ Mills & Boon author Charlotte Lamb is one of my favorite writers, period. Although she created seemingly simple category romances, her books were much more than that. She wrote like few others in her field could: fully inhabiting her characters’ minds and giving them larger-than-life personalities.

Her heroes could be fiercely chauvinistic and cruel with deep-seated psychological issues; others kind, understanding guys who still were emotionally intense. Lamb’s heroines ran the gamut from sheltered teenaged virgins, competent working women struggling to make it in their fields, and sophisticated, mature ladies who’d been around the block once or twice.

Lamb’s Harlequin Presents Seduction has been seared into my memory as one of the earliest romances I read. It was so chock-full of insanity and fantastic writing; I couldn’t get enough. I’ve reviewed it before, so I won’t go into details. If you hate it, read another Charlotte Lamb. She might have revisited similar tropes and characters, but she never wrote the same book twice!

seduction

More than anything, what made Lamb’s writing stand out from most other authors in her genre was her insightfulness and superb characterization.... Read more “Author Spotlight Charlotte Lamb”

Category Romance Review: Driving Force by Sally Wentworth

Driving Force, Sally Wentworth, Harlequin, 1988, Cover Artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #1197

MILD SPOILERS 😉

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Driving Force, a Sally Wentworth Harlequin Presents, offers few surprises but is a satisfactory read regardless.

Characters

West Marriot– our hero, not a 3-star hotel but a famous race car driver–was terribly injured in a race several months ago. Madeleine French, a nurse and physiotherapist, had been married to West for four years. Maddy couldn’t withstand the anxiety of being married to a man with such a dangerous career, so she gave him an ultimatum, married life or fast cars. When he refused to quit, she left him. Several months later, West was in an accident that immobilized him.

Maddy receives a call from West’s mother, requesting to catch up. In fact, Laura, West’s mother, declares to Laura West isn’t recovering at all and may never walk again. She begs Maddy to come to help her ex-husband, and although Maddy initially refuses, in time, she realizes she still loves her ex and can’t abandon him. Maddy knows it won’t be easy for West to accept her, as their divorce was acrimonious, with West, a man a proud man, begging Maddy to stay.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Driving Force by Sally Wentworth”

Category Romance Review: Viking Magic by Angela Welles

Viking Magic, Angela Welles, Harlequin, 1995, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #1681

Spoiler Alert ⚠

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Postcards from Denmark

Viking Magic by Angela Welles was the entry for the nation of Denmark in Harlequin Presents’ line 1990s Postcards from Europe mini-series. I don’t know why the Nordic nations of Europe don’t feature more prominently in HPlandia. I find those heroes just as exciting as the Greek, Spanish, Italian, and Arab ones. Plus, I adore blonds! Viking Magic features a nice guy hero and a neurotically insecure heroine (aren’t they all?) united on a quest of sorts.

Gina Price is in Copenhagen to find her wayward teenage sister, who’s run off with a young Danish student. She’s given an address that might be a clue as to her sister’s whereabouts and knocks on the door of an apartment. Who should open the door but a Viking god of a man dressed in nothing but boxers! The man’s not too keen on seeing Gina, as: #1 she’s interrupted his sleep, and #2 he thinks she’s one of his conniving ex’s friends trying to steal a valuable painting from him. Things are clarified in short order, and the man, Rune Christenson, has nothing to do with Gina’s sister.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Viking Magic by Angela Welles”

Category Romance Review: Sirocco by Anne Mather

Sirocco
Sirocco, Anne Mather, Harlequin, 1983, Len Goldberg cover art

Harlequin Presents #683

Mild Spoilers 😉

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

An Anne Mather Harlequin Presents is what I consider to be an “old reliable.” She wrote romances that are almost guaranteed to entertain me, or if not, then at least not bore. Although usually satisfactory, Mather rarely wrote books I would place on an all-time best list. Sometimes she does surprise me, so it makes reading her works an experience to look forward to. In this category romance, Sirocco, Anne Mather employs one of her commonly used tropes: a hero in pursuit of an already “attached” woman.

The Stalker vs. the User

One night, Rachel Fleming comes across a man whom she thinks requires help. The man is slumped in his car, just sleeping, but Rachel doesn’t know that. He turns out to be Alexis Roche, a blond half-Arab, half-French, sheik ruler of a tiny nation (Rachel doesn’t know that either until later).

Alexis is instantly intrigued by his would-be savior and begins to stalk her.

Seriously.

If it’s not him, he has his “people” trail her. Alexis finds out where Rachel lives, works, and that she’s currently engaged to a wealthy man, Roger what’s-his-name, a spoiled mama’s boy who uses the heroine for his own selfish desires.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Sirocco by Anne Mather”

Category Romance Review: Bride at Whangatapu by Robyn Donald

Bride at Whangatapu, Robyn Donald, Harlequin, 1977, Craig cover art

Harlequin #232

From the back of the book:

Nothing has changed,” Fiona said in desperation. “Jonathan is my son.

Fiona had had five years to think about her youthful folly–five years to remember Logan Sutherland’s treatment of her. Now, a whim of fate had brought them together again, and he laid claim to the son he hadn’t known existed.

Well, for Jonathan’s sake she would marry this cool, calculating stranger as he demanded. But she would never be his wife!

2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Bride at Whangatapu includes the hallmark of almost every one of Robyn Donald’s books, as it intimately details the natural environment of New Zealand. Whether her books were set on a sheep station, on a yacht in the Pacific, or just a tropical backdrop, you could see the bright green grass, feel the ocean spray on your face or smell the hibiscus blossoms (which don’t even have much a scent, do they?).

Also present, Robyn Donald’s first published book is the other hallmark of her writing: an ultra-jerky hero who bullies his way over the heroine. Right from chapter one, when Logan finds that Fiona was the mother of his son who resulted from a one-night stand many years ago, he demands she marry him.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Bride at Whangatapu by Robyn Donald”

Category Romance Review: Red Rose for Love by Carole Mortimer

red rose for love
Red Rose for Love, Carole Mortimer, Harlequin, 1979. Cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents # 522

MILD SPOILERS 😉

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Usually, Carole Mortimer’s heroes are cruel and overbearingly “Alpha.” While in Red Rose for Love, the hero-in-pursuit starts dominant and determined, when he realizes how hurt the heroine’s been in the past, he changes course and woos her gently and lovingly. He’s a rarity in the Harlequin Presents line: a beautiful, green-eyed blond who’s not a man-ho and is a genuinely nice guy! Yes, he’s overbearing, macho, all that jazz, but beneath, he’s sensitive to Eve’s needs. The only bad thing I can say about him is that his name is Bart.

Eve is a singing sensation. Her audience adores her, and quite frankly, so does Bart Jordan. He’s intrigued by Eve’s beauty, but once he gets to know her, it’s her delicate vulnerability that strikes a chord within him, forcing him to readjust his perspective and take a closer look at the women he admires.

Eve is attracted to Bart, despite her instincts. Years ago, she had been “involved” with a man who raped her. Of course, this left a devastating mark upon her.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Red Rose for Love by Carole Mortimer”

Category Romance Review: No Gentle Possession by Anne Mather

no gentle possession
No Gentle Possession, Anne Mather, Harlequin, 1980, Don Sinclair cover art

Harlequin Presents #105

3 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Anne Mathers No Gentle Possession consists of two plot points she’s employed many times in her works like Stormspell: separated lovers and cheating.

The Plot

Well, in this book, it wasn’t so much a case of separated lovers as two people who briefly dated in the past. The heroine broke it off with the hero when she thought his relationship with his young stepmother was a bit too close for comfort and creepy.

Karen Sinclair likes her life just how it is. She has a job and a boyfriend and lives in a nice little town. Sure she’s not wealthy like some other families in town, but she’s happy. What more could she ask for? To her shock and dismay, she meets up again with Alexis Whitney, a man from a well-heeled family she’d been involved with years earlier and never forgot. For Alexis, however, their relationship hadn’t been significant (they didn’t have sex), so he doesn’t even remember Karen.

Karen’s pride is a bit wounded, although she tries to put on a brave face.

... Read more “Category Romance Review: No Gentle Possession by Anne Mather”

Category Romance Review: Trust in Tomorrow by Carole Mortimer

Cherish Tomorrow, Carole Mortimer, Harlequin, 1985, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents # 804

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

What can I say about Carole Mortimer’s Trust in Tomorrow (originally published as Cherish Tomorrow in the US & Canada)? Sadly, that I wasn’t really feeling this one. The romance aspect of the book was fine, kind of adorable, actually, with a very young heroine, Chelsea, in pursuit of the much older hero, Lucas. She knows she wants her man and is willing to fight for him. I really wish Chelsea and Lucas could have had a better plot to go along with their romance. The romance was fine, but it was the story that had me going, huh?

The Plot

Chelsea’s mother has just suddenly died, and since her father is a famous tv celebrity, he dispatches her from California to England to get away from the press. He sends her to stay with Lucas, an old family friend Chelsea hasn’t known since she was 12 and he was 27 when she had a HUGE crush on him. Creepy, but whatever. Since they haven’t seen each other in years, neither recognizes the other. So this leads to a bit of a misunderstanding that’s quickly cleared up.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Trust in Tomorrow by Carole Mortimer”

Category Romance Review: Beyond Compare by Penny Jordan

Beyond compare
Beyond Compare, Penny Jordan, Harlequin 1990, Ted Sizemore cover art

Harlequin Presents #1282

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Holly Witchell, the heroine of Penny Jordan’s Beyond Compare, suffers a bit from an overinflated ego combined with an oblivious nature. Thankfully, Drew, the wonderful hero of this book, sorts matters all out for her.

The Plot

Holly was ignominiously dumped by her boyfriend Howard for the more sophisticated, Rosamund. That’s not something Holly will accept laying down, so she concocts a plan to get him back. Hadn’t Rosamund been dating old, reliable Drew Hammond before she’d gotten together with Howard? Well, who better than he to help Holly break up the new couple than Rosamund’s old former flame?

Holly approaches Drew, a farmer, whose the salt-of-the-earth type, with her plan. They’ll pretend to be a couple and make Howard and Rosamund jealous.

Drew isn’t exactly chomping at the bit at her plan to get Rosamund back, and Holly assumes it’s because Drew’s insecure. Holly assures him he has nothing to be insecure about. He’s handsome, even if–OMG–he wears glasses of all things, has a steady income from his farm, and any woman would want him.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Beyond Compare by Penny Jordan”

Category Romance Review: The Waterfalls of the Moon by Anne Mather

the waterfalls on the moon
The Waterfalls of the Moon, Anne Mather, Harlequin, 1973, Don Sinclair cover art

Harlequin Presents #112

3 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Spoiled Anti-Heroine

In Anne Mather‘s The Waterfalls of the Moon (I love the old Harlequin Presents titles), the teenaged heroine is in pursuit of a much older man, but the hero’s not taking the San-Quentin tail so easily.

I can’t say many of Anne Mather’s works number among my all-time favorites, but, for the most part, I had a good time reading them. She could make unlikeable heroines that were somehow fascinating, and Ruth is one of them. She’s a spoiled teen, rich beyond reason, bored, and chases after Patrick with a cold calculation.

All you have to do is change record players to iPhones (although record players have made a huge comeback) and there’s no difference between this shallow youth’s mega-rich lifestyle and that of the pampered princesses of Bravo & MTV reality TV. She parties, she lunches, she shops, she dates…casually. As this is a 1970’s era Harlequin, Ruth is not sexually experienced.

She is, however, quite cunning, and when circumstances lead to Patrick getting black-out drunk they’re together, she takes advantage of the situation to suit her desires.... Read more “Category Romance Review: The Waterfalls of the Moon by Anne Mather”

Category Romance Review: Mansion for My Love by Robyn Donald

Mansion for My Love, Robyn Donald, Harlequin 1990, Len Goldberg cover art

“I carefully avoided telling you that I love you.”

MANSION FOR MY LOVE

Harlequin Presents #567

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Mansion for My Love: A Hard Book to Review

Robyn Donald, who authored romances primarily for the Harlequin Presents line, often wrote some of the most angst-filled books, with heroes so cruel, you’d swear they were the villains. Mansion for My Love is one of those books where you can’t believe what the supposed hero does to the heroine.

A 3-star rating is an odd thing. It can represent such varied levels of opinions on personal enjoyment. There are average reads which make for a pleasant way to pass the time, but likely are stories you’ll forget and/or never desire to re-explore.

Then there are those books that get you right away and seem like a guaranteed 5-star experience, but then result in disappointment somehow and fall to a barely favorable rating or vice-versa.

Some books are objectively terrible (either in plot development or editing like grammar/spelling, etc.). Yet they provide so much guilty entertainment that you can’t possibly give them a negative review, even if you’re ashamed that your friends and followers will know you enjoy such trash.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Mansion for My Love by Robyn Donald”

Category Romance Review: Moon Witch by Anne Mather

moon witch
Moon Witch, Anne Mather, Harlequin, 1970, Don Stivers cover art

Harlequin Presents #38

He did not speak but continued to look at her, his eyes slowly following the length of her body and back to her face again resting for a heart shaking moment on her mouth…

MOON WITCH

3 ½ stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Personal Anecdote Before Reading Moon Witch

Around the time I read Anne Mather’s Moon Witch, I caught up with “That 70’s Show” on Netflix. I refuse to watch the final season, as that show just devolved into wretchedness. However, the first 5-6 seasons were entertaining with its retro 1970s shtick: a group of teens just hanging out, falling in love, and being stupid. Back then, my 18-year-old daughter was about to graduate from high school. Since watching “That 70’s Show,” I’ve realized something of myself as a parent. I am Red Forman. He was right! 17 – 18 year-olds are dumb-asses.

What the heck does any of this babble have to do with Anne Mather’s Moon Witch? Well, “That 70’s Show” depicted Mid-western American teens doing what normal dumb-ass teens do: obsess over sex, TV, drugs, candy, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Moon Witch by Anne Mather”

Category Romance Review: Dark Fever by Charlotte Lamb

dark fever
Dark Fever, Charlotte Lamb, Harlequin, 1995, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #1840

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I’ve said this before about a Charlotte Lamb book, but now I really mean it: this is the worst romance written by her that I’ve ever read! I don’t think I’ve ever hated a Harlequin Presents as much as Dark Fever. No, it wasn’t boring… It was bizarre and awful and left me with a horrible feeling!

The Plot

Dark Fever was part of a series of books based on the Seven Deadly Sins. The theme of this novel was lust, although there’s no sexual intercourse in this one. Personally, I thought this book’s theme of sin was gluttony because of all the talk of food. It was set in Spain, after all.

Bianca has just turned 40 years old. She is a widow of 3 years, still in mourning for her husband. She has two teenagers and feels down in the dumps, so she goes on a trip to Spain. At her hotel, she sees a handsome man swimming in a pool and instantly falls in lust.

The man, Gil, is much younger than Bianca. He also is deeply attracted to her, and he cares for her as well.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Dark Fever by Charlotte Lamb”

Category Romance Review: Show Me by Janet Dailey

Show Me, Janet Dailey, Harlequin, 1977, cover artist TBD
Harlequin Presents #200
2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert***

As the first American author of Harlequin Presents, Janet Dailey set her novels in all 50 states. I suppose this was to show foreign readers how diverse and exotic the USA can be. Although her books never inspired me to jet-set across the country, I, too, have travelled around the States and found myself in various oh-so-glamorous US cities like: Providence, Rhode Island; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; Bridgeport, Connecticut; South Bend, Indiana; and Newark, New Jersey. Talk about exotic!

The Plot

Dailey’s HP #200 Show Me is set in the “Show Me” state of Missouri, with the hero, Jake, saying lines like this over and over again: “I’m from Missouri. You have to show me to believe.”

Jake is a bitter man who’s returned home after being away for more than half a decade. He’s sour because he was forced to marry Tanya, the mother of his son, John. The child was a result of a drunken one-night-stand Jake can’t recall. The “hero” is a deadbeat dad, as he’s lived in Africa for 7 years and made no effort to get to know his son.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Show Me by Janet Dailey”

Category Romance Review: Asking for Trouble by Miranda Lee

askingfortrouble
Harlequin Presents #1614
2 stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The problem with reading a much-beloved author almost 50 times is that their books begin to blend together. Plotlines get replayed. And replayed. And replayed.

The Plot

In Miranda Lee’s Asking for Trouble, we see a familiar Lee storyline: a sexually inexperienced woman who ironically looks like sex on legs and a hero who’s been burned in the past by a bad relationship and unwilling to commit. I don’t know if this is the fourth or fifth book where the couple watches the film Out of Africa on a romantic date. After a few passionate nights of sex, the heroine gets pregnant, and that magically solves everything.

Of course, this is a Harlequin Presents, and it’s all par for the course, but when it’s the same story over and over, I wonder if I should take a break from a writer for a while so that when I read a new book, I’d appreciate it more.

Final Analysis of Asking for Trouble

If I had read this one ten years ago, this would have new and exciting to me, and it would have merited a 4. This isn’t a bad book, but since I’ve read at least a dozen better variations of the same exact story, just with different character names and descriptions, I didn’t enjoy it as much this time around as previously.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Asking for Trouble by Miranda Lee”

Category Romance Review: Come Back to Me by Catherine George

Come Back to Me, Catherine George, Harlequin, 1990, cover artist TBD
Harlequin Presents #1321

1 1/2 Stars

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Catherine George is a category romance author who rarely disappoints. Sadly, Come Back to Me is one of those rare occasions.

The Plot

The plot centers around revenge, a trope I usually enjoy. However, the execution in this book… It’s quite odd. The heroine’s sister had a one-night stand with a married man and became impregnated. The sister dies and then Julia, our heroine, is forced to care for the baby. Mistakenly, she believes it’s the hero Marcus’s happily married brother who slept with and then abandoned her sister.

So Julia plots the lamest revenge ever conceived. Oh, she’ll get back at that man for his evil deeds. How? By putting herself through school and learning to be the most efficient secretary ever hired by a corporation. She’ll deal with the hero’s clients, organize his social calendar, and capably smooth over his troubles until he becomes so reliant on her, then she’ll somehow inveigle her way into the hero’s family and ruin the brother.

How’s that supposed to work? Will she quit, forcing Marcus to run after her, offer her a raise, and declare that he’s never had an assistant as competent as she and damn his brother to hell on top of that?... Read more “Category Romance Review: Come Back to Me by Catherine George”

Category Romance Review: Seduction by Charlotte Lamb

Seduction, Charlotte Lamb, Harlequin, 1980, Craig cover art

Harlequin Presents #428

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Charlotte Lamb’s Seduction features a ridiculously sheltered and innocent heroine and a hero so crazy and obsessed, they can only be found in old-school Harlequin Presents or bodice rippers, “mated-pair” paranormal romances, or perhaps self-published New-Adult books.

The Plot

Clea is an orphaned English girl living in Greece with her Greek stepfather and stepsister. Her step-sister is a caricature of a slut, pursuing the hero with inexplicably misplaced confidence. Worse, Clea has a creepy step-dad with unhealthy designs on her, as he wants Clea to remain untouched by any man (except himself).

Ben is an Englishman visiting Greece, and he becomes obsessed with Clea from the first instance. He will do anything to get her.

He has a female accomplice named Natalie who befriends Clea and helps Ben abduct her. I wondered what this guy had on Natalie to make her do such a thing, but we never found out. Although just like Kramer from the show, Seinfeld has the power of the “Kavorka,” the “lure of the animal,” which attracts lust and devotion, Ben wields a strange control over women.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Seduction by Charlotte Lamb”

Category Romance Review: Shattered Dreams by Sally Wentworth

Shattered Dreams, Sally Wentworth, Harlequin, 1983, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #629

1 1/stars

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Of course, [the heroine] is a virgin, but [the hero] accuses her of being the sluttiest slut who ever did slut.

-From review of Shattered Dreams

Sally Wentworth’s Shattered Dreams is terrible, for all the wrong reasons, although I’ve read books where far worse events occur to the heroine. Take the bodice ripper great Stormfire, for example. However, in this, Harlequin Presents what the hero does to the heroine seems more repulsive, perhaps due to its condensed nature. Where thick historical romances like Stormfire have 400-500+ pages to deal with insane heroes and their co-dependent heroines, a category romance is limited to 60,000-70,000 words. The craziness level can only be ratcheted up so far before the hero becomes irredeemable.

The Crazy Plot

Sally Wentworth always wrote very well, her prose attentive and skillful, but this was truly bizarre. Kate is happy as a bride can be on her wedding day, as she’s marrying Hugo, the man she loves. Little does she know what her marriage holds in store for her. For Hugo has had a private detective tailing his nubile young wife, and he’s found out startling information: over the past year, she’s been living with some strange man while playing the wealthy Hugo for a fool!... Read more “Category Romance Review: Shattered Dreams by Sally Wentworth”

Category Romance Review: Darkness into Light by Carole Mortimer

darknes into light
Darkness into Light, Carole Mortimer, Harlequin, 1986, cover artist TBD

Harlequin Presents #892

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

She decided at the beginning of their relationship that she would only take what he wanted to give, but she wouldn’t be treated as a sex object, only accepted as an equal in his bed.

DARKNESS INTO LIGHT

Darkness into Light by Carole Mortimer is one of those category romances you must read in a comfy chair because you’ll want to settle down for the next couple of hours to enjoy the book in one sitting.

The Plot

Danny is the head gardener of Sutherland Estates and has yet to meet her wealthy, reclusive boss. Then, late one night, while mowing the lawn to relax (because bubble baths are so physically draining!), his hunky nephew Pierce shows up, dressed in a sexy, revealing bathing suit. Being a bit of a flirt, Danny invites herself over for a swim, and the sparks quickly fly between these polar opposites. Pierce is almost 40 years old and is the severe, stuffed-shirt type, while Danny is barely 21 and wears her heart on her sleeve.

There’s no doubt that Pierce is interested in what Danny appears to be offering, and he pursues her.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Darkness into Light by Carole Mortimer”