Tabitha in Moonlight is a Harlequin Romance about an efficient, capable nurse (aren’t they always in these books?) in an elderly men’s ward. She falls for the new temporary surgeon, the Dutch-born, Dr. Marius van Beek. Betty Neels wields the typical doctor-nurse romance into a Cinderella story, with Tabitha starring as the poor, down-trodden stepdaughter who gets no love from her wicked step-mother and step-sister.
Dr. van Beek plays the prince’s role, but fortunately, this Prince is far more astute than his fairy tale predecessor, not requiring a glass slipper to identify his true lady love.
When first we meet Tabitha, she is presiding over her ward, checking on patients in a pleasant, personal manner, going as far as taking care of one old gentleman’s cat. She’s no beauty, as Neels describes her, but with her lovely figure, wide smile, and fabulous hair that she keeps primly knotted up, the reader knows Tabitha is actually a swan in hiding.
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!
Whisper to the Stars is a vintage-contemporary romance that revolves around a trope hard to find nowadays: unrequited love. It starts out strong, with the promise of a deeply moving emo story. And it delivers, up to a point. Then it falters. Somewhere in the middle, it loses sight of what a romance is supposed to do: to engage and enthrall the reader.
Recently I read and reviewed for Sweet Savage Flame Yesterday’s Love by Marsha Manning, pen name of the prolific Hettie Grimstead. I was so enchanted that I sought out other romances by the same author. Which led me to Whisper to the Stars. To say I had high expectations would be putting it mildly.
It was first published in 1963 by Mills & Boon. The version I read is, of course, the transatlantic Harlequin reprint. Published in 1970, with three later editions (that I know of). It got pretty good ratings on Goodreads, so I must assume it was a crowd-pleaser.
Debbie Macomber’s Country Bride was my introduction to this hugely popular author. I’m ashamed to admit that although I’ve read a handful of her Harlequins, I had no idea that Debbie Macomber was such a commercial hit with her small-town romances. Up until recently, I had no clue that she’s got a whopping 200 million books in print and has written several movies for the Hallmark channel.
Country Bride was released in 1990, and I recall really loving it. Although this book maintains a largely positive rating overall, I was surprised that the top Amazon and Goodreads reviews were negative, blaming the heroine for being too self-centered or the hero for being too overbearing. I thought nostalgia might have colored my opinion of this book, but after a recent re-read, my feelings on Country Bride remain unchanged; I love this little series romance, and a big reason was the hero, Luke.
I cut my romance teeth on Harlequin Romances back in the early 1990s when I was a preteen. They taught me so much about the world! 😛 Rosemary Hammond’s Game Plan was the second adult contemporary romance I read. It was the first where the protagonists consummated their relationship. Sex in a book! Shocking! And, of course, the not-at-all sexy heroine was a virgin! This book is over 35 years old, so yes, it was very tame and innocent. But what did I know back then?
Remember that Flock of Seagull’s song “I Ran”? The lyrics went: “I never thought I’d meet a girl like you/ Meet a girl like you/ with auburn hair and tawny eyes/The kind of eyes that hypnotize me through…”
Well, it was in Game Plan that I learned that very tall, voluptuous redheads who put their hair up in buns, dress in severe, drab suits, and wear glasses are seen as plain. Honestly, what kind of man would be attracted to that type? 😁
Arafura Pirate by Victoria Gordon was among one of the first romances I read.
Arafura Pirate was set in coastal Australia with a spunky heroine named Jinx, a blond, short-haired marine biologist who was tough and independent. She sets out with her team of fellow scientists to tag sharks.
“I’d sooner kiss a snake than you!” When Sophie had angrily insulted New Zealand hotelier Jon Roberts, she’d never expected him to respond with a wager. If he managed to wangle her cherished homestead motel away from her, he’d announced, he would claim a kiss as his prize… Sophie had no intention of losing out to arrogant Jon! Until a fateful mountain snowstorm trapped them both together — and all her best laid plans went awry… In the wintry wonderland of the mountains, Sophie — the icy snow queen — began to melt with Jon’s charms. But chilling winds from their past still blew between them… .”
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Spell of the Mountains by Rosalie Henaghan was the first “adult” romance I read. I had read some Carolyn B. Cooney and the like, but never a love story about adults.
An article from February 11, 2021, by journalist Chris Lambie at saltwire.com addressesHow Harlequin Romances Got Spicier. A study of 500 books found the covers got sexier as time has passed, just as the stories have. This phenomenon is not limited to Harlequin, but Harleys are the biggest players in the romance market, and they’re the oldest ones around.
From the article:
“All this begs the question, why study Harlequin romance covers over the decades? ‘If you want to understand what straight women want over time, I think this is a really telling way of looking at it,”’ Fisher said. ‘There’s only a certain segment of women that would be interested in these books. But I think it’s really useful in terms of understanding women’s idealized fantasies about mating.‘”
I’m afraid I have to disagree with this sentiment. I know straight women, lesbians, gay men, and straight men who read romance. It is evident that it’s mostly straight women read heterosexual romances. However, we shouldn’t ignore almost 1/5 of male readers or the other out-lying groups. Approximately 50% of romance readers are between the ages of 18-45, so of course, there are those looking for something different from their mothers or grandmothers.... Read more “The Evolution of Romance at Harlequin”
The Secret Baby (wow, I bet the editors stayed up nights trying to think up that title!) was a rather predictable story with a paint-by-the-numbers plot. This could have been pulled from an old daytime soap opera. Former lovers, a secret baby, a marriage-of-convenience, and revenge are just a few of the tropes in this Harlequin Romance.
Damien Hawke and Sable Jameson (oh those names!) were lovers who worked together, or rather, she worked under Damien…in various positions. They were in love until Sable seemingly betrayed Damien by selling company secrets. Sable denied it, yet Damien wanted nothing more to do with her.
Shortly afterward, Sable found out she was pregnant but couldn’t turn to Damien, who had tossed her callously out on her butt. Who did she turn to? Why the decrepitly aged head of the rival company Sable had supposedly sold (or not sold) those secrets to! Their marriage was one of convenience, so naturally, they never had sex (they never do in these books). She had the baby and hid his true parentage from Damien.... Read more “Category Romance Book Review: The Secret Baby by Day Leclaire”
Day LeClaire’s Jinxed has the honor of being the third romance I read. I recall my first four romances so vividly, since they arrived free of charge in package on my doorstep when I was about 12. There were 4 Harlequin Romances: Game Plan, Arafura Pirate, Spell Of The Mountains and Jinxed. Jinxed was the best of the bunch.
The character of Stephen was the precursor of what would be my favorite type of hero: blond, blue eyed, with an icy demeanor and stuffed shirt attitude, who, because of the burdens put upon by his family, took life way too seriously, and just needed some wonderful, outrageous woman who would make him loosen up and have some excitement.
The heroine Kit was a total klutz. But she was also was intelligent, great at her job, lots of fun, and loved by her nieces and nephews. I so adored her character because I, too, was quite clumsy (who am I kidding, was??) and she was the most relatable heroine I’d come across so far.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Jinxed by Day LeClaire”
Celia Scott’s Rumor Has It is a modern-day Cinderella story where the fairy godmother is not an actual person, but a false rumor that transforms a frumpy heroine into a glamorous new woman who finds love.
Lucinda is a slightly overweight librarian (really she’s just voluptuous with big boobs and hips) who lives with her father, stepmother and model-slim stepsister. She’s clumsy, nearsighted and is constantly berated by her family members. In their eyes she’s a hopeless mess. Enter Leo, a dashing Englishman who has business with her father. The family conspires to set up Leo with Lucinda’s more glamorous stepsister, however Leo’s mind is just on work.
Circumstances lead to Leo and Lucinda being forced to share a one-bed motel during a storm. Soon after, Leo heads back to England. Gossip travels fast in Lucinda’s small home town and everyone learns that the two spent a night together. Of course, it was purely platonic, but the townfolks’ shocked reaction makes Lucinda let people think what they want. They all wonder what did a hunk like Leo see in a frump like Lucinda?... Read more “Category Romance Review: Rumor Has It by Celia Scott”
That title doesn’t sound right, does it? But it is a pleasure to describe the changes coming to his site. The more I think about it, “Growing Pleasures” has tumescent connotations. The phrase simply pulses off the pages. Well, that’s appropriate for a blog specializing in vintage smut!
I’ve been researching authors, publishing houses, and cover artists, and have found a lot of commonality among both historical and “contemporary” romance written from 1970-2000. Names, books, and covers kept popping up that seemed relevant. I had wanted to strictly keep this an old-school historical romance blog. Now I see how shortsighted that was. I’m a reader of all old school romance–historical & contemporary–and there is a strong connection between the evolution of the category and the historical romance genres. That special time in history needs to be told fully if it’s to be remembered accurately.
It will take a bit of change, but I will be adding category (and perhaps gothic romance) authors, covers, and publishing information. I will only focus on romances that overlap the post-Flame and the Flower era to the end of the twentieth century. So while that means vintage romance, that won’t include comics, nurse romances, older Harlequin Romances, or Gothics written pre-1970s (if I do Gothics at all; to be honest, I’m not a big reader of them).... Read more “Growing Pleasures”