Category: Zebra Romance

Historical Romance Review: Passions Wild and Free by Janelle Taylor

passion wild and free
Passions Wild and Free, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1988, Elaine Duillo cover art

VERY MILD SPOILERS 😉

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reviewed by Blue Falcon

This review is of Passions Wild and Free, book #2 in the “Western Wind” series by Janelle Taylor.

The Plot

The book begins in Wadesville, Texas, undisclosed time but after the Civil War. Randee Hollis, the heroine of the book, has plans to go after the Epson Gang, a ruthless band of killers who killed her aunt and uncle, Sara Elizabeth and Lee Carson, when the gang attacked their ranch. (Randee was the only survivor of the attack). She decides to hire a man to help her track down and kill the gang members. Randee finds resistance to her plans from Brody Wade, the sheriff of Wadesville-named after his family-who is in love with her and wishes to marry her.

Randee runs into–literally–Marsh Logan, the hero of the book, and hires him to work with her, believing that he is a notorious gunfighter named the Durango Kid. He’s not, but he is good with a gun and has his own reasons for wanting to find and kill the Epson Gang.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Passions Wild and Free by Janelle Taylor”

Historical Romance Review: First Love, Wild Love by Janelle Taylor

first love wild love janelle taylor
First Love, Wild Love, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1984, cover artist TBD

MILD SPOILERS 😉

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reviewed by Blue Falcon

The Set-Up

This review is of First Love, Wild Love by Janelle Taylor.

First Love, Wild Love, a Zebra Lovegram romance, begins in Texas, where Calinda Braxton, the heroine, has come from England to investigate the disappearance of her father, Elliott “Brax” Braxton. Her arrival in Texas is not welcoming, as the stagecoach she’s on is robbed. The stagecoach guard is killed, and the other passengers blame her because she fought back. Disconsolate and penniless, Calinda is taken in by the madam of a house of ill repute and given a room. What happens here sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The Plot

Calinda is given laudanum by the madam (not for nefarious purposes, but to help her sleep). Into the room comes the owner, Lynx Cardone, the hero of the book. Thinking that Calinda either was sent to his room or heard about him and decided to come on her own, Lynx has dubious consent sex with Calinda. She agrees to have sex with him, but she’s under the influence of the drug.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: First Love, Wild Love by Janelle Taylor”

Historical Romance Review: An Offer of Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson Review

An Offer of Marriage
An Offer of Marriage, Jo Ann Ferguson, Zebra, 1999, cover artist unknown, John Desaalvo cover model

WARNING: RANT ALERT ⚠

1 star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Goodbye Old Era, Hello New

Books like Jo Ann Ferguson’s An Offer of Marriage suffer from being published during a time of change. When Kensington’s Zebra historical romances died, they didn’t go quickly (actually, Zebras are still around, but they’re not the same as they used to be in the 1980s and 1990s). Before their Heartfire and Lovegram lines ended in the late 1990s, the iconic, colorful covers became dull mockeries of the past, with no lush illustrations, just cheaply photo-shopped images of flowers or castles. In many cases, the covers were nothing more than the title and author’s name.

Zebra dumped most of their best authors (some briefly moved on to Dorchester, which had their own problems) and churned out new lines like Zebra Ballad, Splendor, and Precious Gem Historicals, all of which folded quickly. An Offer of Marriage is a romance from his era.

The Plot?

Young Brenwyn Gunnarsson’s family is slaughtered and he vows revenge. He poses as a lowly freeman to deceive the English and aid the Viking invasion.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: An Offer of Marriage by Jo Ann Ferguson Review”

Historical Romance Review: Shameless Ecstasy by Thea Devine

shamles ecstasy
Shameless Ecstasy, Thea Devine, Zebra, 1989, Cover Artist TBD

MILD SPOILERS

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This review is of Shameless Ecstasy, a standalone from May 1989 by Thea Devine.

The Plot

The book takes place on Swany Island, Georgia. One of the residents there is Sarianna Broydon, the heroine of the book. Sarianna lives with her father, Rex, her stepmother Vesta, and Vesta’s daughter, Jeralee. The relationship between Rex and Sarianna is not a good one for many reasons. Stepping into this family drama is Cade Rensell, the hero of the book. Cade was born in Georgia, left, and has now returned, with some scores to settle.

As part of Cade’s revenge plan, he and Sarianna become lovers, who are caught by Vesta and Rex in a compromising position. Despite Rex’s objections, he agrees to let Sarianna and Cade marry.

Sarianna and Cade marry, despite Jeralee’s attempts to impede the process. Sarianna and Cade relocate to Savannah and begin their married life together. They are happy on one level, but there are many difficulties beneath the surface, and two above it: Vesta and Jeralee,

Soon, after Sarianna suffers a miscarriage and other issues, she and Cade separate.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Shameless Ecstasy by Thea Devine”

Covers of the Week #21

sheik 1

Male Cover Models

This week Sweet Savage Flame is highlighting male cover models! We all know Fabio, John DeSalvo, and Steve Sandalis. But what about other men who modeled during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s? Looking at these attractive men, we can see how the image of the romance cover hero has evolved throughout the years.

The four men whose artful forms we’re appreciating are pictured on the covers below, left to right:

  • Chad Deal – Deal posed for hundreds of romance covers in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Perhaps one of the first cover model icons, Deal had a long and successful career. He posed for twice as many covers with Elaine Duillo as Fabio did ( 40+ vs. 19).
  • Guy Bishop – This internationally famous model lent his face to countless magazines and book covers. Bishop appeared in glitzy advertisements and walked the runways of Paris and New York, showing off designer clothes.
  • Mike Dale – Dale has worked for Bantam Loveswept, Silhouette/ Harlequin, Zebra, and many other publishers. His face was ubiquitous in 1990s romance covers, his down-to-earth appeal making him a natural for category romance. A true example of a silver fox, Dale now runs a life management business, teaches yoga, and models for catalogs and fashion magazines.
... Read more “Covers of the Week #21”

Historical Romance Review: Virginia Vixen by Kay McMahon

Virginia Vixen
Virginia Vixen, Kay McMahon, Zebra, 1986, John Ennis cover art

MILD SPOILERS 😉

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Virgina Vixen by Kay McMahon

This review is of Virginia Vixen by Kay McMahon. Published in May 1989, this book is part of a series connected to four other books by Ms. McMahon.

The Plot

The book begins in Williamsburg, Virginia, circa 1774. Rebecca Wilde, a reporter for the Virginia Gazette and the heroine of the book, is investigating the murder of a slave who was a childhood friend of hers. Arriving at the same time is Alec Stone, the hero of the book, who has come to Virginia from England for two purposes; to find his father’s identity and to investigate the disappearance of one of his employees.

Rebecca and Alec meet for the first time when they end up in the same bed together and they have sex. Soon after this encounter, Rebecca writes an article all but calling Alec a murderer (based on flimsy, circumstantial evidence). This leads to several angry interactions between her and others, and other forms of trouble.

Despite their tempestuous relationship, Rebecca and Alec call a truce and decide to work together.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Virginia Vixen by Kay McMahon”

Covers of the Week #20

springs fury

In 1971 singer/songwriter Carole King wrote the lovely song: “You’ve Got a Friend,” which detailed the lasting strength of love. James Taylor recorded it to great acclaim. Other artists like Dusty Springfield and Michael Jackson would put their own twists on the tune. These simple lyrics always stick with me:

Winter, spring, summer, fall
All you have to do is call…

YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND

The power of love is as old as the Earth and as constant as the four seasons. To live is to love! At Sweet Savage Flame, romance is in the air all year long. So to celebrate, from Monday, August 23, 2021, to Sunday, August 29, our 20th edition of Covers of the Week highlights four beautiful romance covers set during Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.

Do you have a favorite season for romance?

Historical Romance Review: Speak Only Love by Deana James (aka Mona D. Sizer)

3 1/2 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Another Great Romance

Speak Only Love is yet another Deana James treat. This Zebra romance takes us to Regency Era England and the story of tumultuous love between two uniquely original characters.

Vivian Marleigh is a mute heiress who cannot speak ever since she witnessed the tragic death of her mother. She is forced into marriage with a young, hard-drinking viscount, Piers Larne. The marriage was arranged by the viscounts’ wicked father, the Earl.

Piers is not happy about this union, but what can he do? He feels powerless in his life, with no agency. His daddy pulls the strings, and like a puppet, Piers must dance to his control. Piers is a dissolute mess, spending most of his time drinking and recovering from gunshot wounds or the many injuries he receives. For besides being the wastrel son of a nobleman, our hero is also a smuggler.

Vivian doesn’t speak a word in the book, yet the love story unfolds and the two pawns in an evil man’s game soon form an intense bond that goes beyond words.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Speak Only Love by Deana James (aka Mona D. Sizer)”

Author Spotlight: Janelle Taylor

golden torment
Janelle Taylor

Zebra’s Superstar Romance Author

Although Janelle Taylor has written books for various publishing houses, she will always hold a special place in the early years of the Zebra publishing company. Along with authors like Sonya T. Pelton, Sylvie F. Sommerfield, Rosanne Bittner, and others, she helped to form the pantheon of the Kensington line’s “Leading Ladies of Love.” Authors were given liberties to write different kinds of romances. Taylor’s passionate love stories appealed to readers across the country. Where the Avon ladies could rely on taut, crisp editing, the Zebra authors had a bit less oversight, with Zebra president Roberta Grossman and Kensington chief Walter Zacharius choosing to focus on the impressive cover art.

Indeed, a surefire sign that Taylor was one of the genre’s superstars were the artists who designed covers for her books. Walter Popp famously did the artwork for her first few books. Artists like Elaine Gignilliat, the ubiquitous Pino, and Janelle’s friend Elaine Duillo would paint many gorgeous covers for her books.

Janelle Taylor has over 50 books with 60 million copies in print. She is best known for her Gray Eagle series and Lakota, Moondust, and Lakota Skies novels. Her books have been translated into 50 different languages.... Read more “Author Spotlight: Janelle Taylor”

Historical Romance Review: Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor

Savage Ecstasy
Savage Ecstasy
Savage Conquest, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1982, Walter Popp cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This review is of Savage Ecstasy (Ecstasy/Gray Eagle, #1; the series is known by two different names) by Janelle Taylor. There’s a lot to unpack here in this Zebra historical romance.

The Story

The year is 1776, and English expatriate Alisha Williams, 20, the book’s heroine (and the first four books in the series), has journeyed west to find happiness with her only surviving relative, her uncle Thad. One day, the “men” in her settlement bring a captured Oglala Lakota Indian brave into their camp; that brave is Gray Eagle, the “hero” of the book. Their treatment of him sets the stage for what follows. The whites emotionally and physically abuse Gray Eagle in the camp. Only Alisha shows Gray Eagle kindness; his response to this is to bite her hand. (This is only the beginning of what he has in store for her over the course of the series.) Despite this, Gray Eagle and Alisha develop romantic feelings for each other.

Gray Eagle, with the help of his best friend, White Arrow, escapes. Shortly thereafter, Gray Eagle, White Arrow, and a hundred of their fellow Oglala braves sack the fortress, killing most people in the camp.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor”

Dueling Historical Romance Review #2: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale

Desperado Dream sabin
Desperado Dream, Karen A. Bale, Zebra, 1990, Robert Sabin cover art

Dueling Review Introvert Reader and Blue Falcon #1

In this new segment, we have two reviewers offering their opinions on a single romance. Blue Falcon gives Karen A. Bale’s Desperado Dream a positive review and found the book emotionally captivating. Introvert Reader, on the other hand, explains her negative perspective of the historical romance in her review.

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This review is of Desperado Dream, the sequel to The Forever Passion by Karen A. Bale.

The Story:

It is 11 years in publishing time, but only 1 year in book time as the relationship between Lisa Jordan Anderson and her husband, Eric Anderson, continues. The couple and their daughter, Raya, live on a ranch in Monterey, California. The relationship between Lisa and Eric was tumultuous in The Forever Passion, and nothing changes in this book. After Eric and Lisa’s brother, Tom, go to San Francisco on a legal matter, they become involved in rescuing a woman, Teresa Torres, who falls for Eric, and he becomes attracted to her too. Meanwhile, back at the Del Mar ranch, Lisa has been kidnapped by a bandido named Cruz Estacan, who has orders to kill her, Eric, and Eric’s grandfather as a means of retaking the land Cruz and his cohorts believe belongs to them.... Read more “Dueling Historical Romance Review #2: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale”

Dueling Historical Romance Review #1: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale

Desperado Dream sabin
Desperado Dream, Karen A. Bale, Zebra, 1990, Robert Sabin cover art

Dueling Review: Introvert Reader and Blue Falcon #1

In this new segment, we have two reviewers offering their opinions on a single romance. Here, Introvert Reader explains her negative perspective of Karen A. Bale’s historical romance, Desperado Dream. Blue Falcon, on the other hand, gave it a positive review and found the book emotionally captivating.

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

False Advertising

The huge failure of this Zebra Lovegram romance, Desperado’s Dream by Karen A. Bale, rests on the fact that nothing in the book description hinted this was book #2 in a series about a married couple, Eric & Lisa. Of course, Zebra book descriptions never accurately describe the plot, but I didn’t know that back then. If I had known that going into it, I never would have purchased this romance. But at the tender age of 12, I was dazzled by the Robert Sabin cover. Plus, the purported hero’s name, Cruz, reminded me of the daytime soap opera, “Santa Barbara,” its phenom super couple, Eden & Cruz, and the hunky star, A. Martinez, who played half of said super-couple.... Read more “Dueling Historical Romance Review #1: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale”

Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes) by Betina Krahn

passions treasure
Passion’s Treasure, Betina Krahn, Zebra, 1989, Sharon Spiak cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This review is of Passion’s Treasure (later republished and retitled as Just Say Yes), a standalone from March 1989 by Betina Krahn.

The Plot: Part One

The book begins in the town of Culpepper, Maryland Colony, 1748. We meet Treasure Barrett, one of 10 children born to Aniss and Buck Barrett. Treasure is an intelligent, precocious child, and the townspeople are encouraged to allow those qualities free rein. As the book begins, Treasure, age 9, learns about “sport”.

Fast forward nearly 9 years. A sad pall has come over Culpepper. The town’s most prominent citizen, Squire Darcy Renville, has passed away. His estranged son, Sterling Renville, the hero of the book, arrives from England and demands that the villagers-who are all in hock to Squire Darcy in one way or another-pay back their debts or he will seize their property and make them all homeless. He will then return to his home in England. The town turns to Treasure, the town thinker, now nearly 18, and the heroine, for help.

Treasure comes up with a plan to get under Sterling’s skin and make his time in Culpepper miserable.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Treasure (aka Just Say Yes) by Betina Krahn”

Historical Romance Review: Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri

Midnight Captive
Midnight Captive, Penelope Neri, Zebra, 1989, Pino cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This review is of Midnight Captive, a standalone Zebra historical romance from March 1989 by Penelope Neri.

The Plot

The book begins ominously. A man finds a cache of gold and wishes everything he touches would turn into it. Hearing him, the Devil appears and makes the man a bargain; if the unnamed man sells his soul to the Devil, the Devil will grant his wish. The man agrees. He later realizes, however, that such a bargain has unintended consequences. This is the theme running through the book.

We later meet Krissoula Ballardo, the heroine of the book, and her business partner, Hector Corrales, in Spain. Their business: rolling rich men and stealing from them. When they see Esteban de San Martin, the hero of the book, they try to rob him. This plan fails, and, rather than have Krissoula arrested, Esteban blackmails her into helping him get revenge against his uncle, Felipe Aguilar, in Esteban’s home country of Argentina. (Felipe is the brother of Esteban’s late father, Alejandro, and there is significant bad blood between uncle and nephew, the reasons for which are revealed).... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri”

Historical Romance Review: Moonstruck Madness by Laurie McBain

Moonstruck madness

Mild Spoilers 😉

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Moonstruck Madness is old school in a clichéd, but still an oh-so-perfect way. For the very reasons some reviewers dislike this book, I adore it. Written in 1977, Moonstruck Madness was Laurie McBain’s second and, in my opinion, her best book.

The Characters

The heroine, Lady Sabrina Verrick watches on as the Scots lose at the bloody Battle of Culloden Moor. The eldest daughter of a deceased Scotswoman, and an itinerant English Marquess, she and her family are without resources. As she’s responsible for her two younger siblings, she packs them off to England to their absent father’s run-down estate. Her father is more interested in his young Italian bride than being responsible for his children. It’s up to Sabrina to figure a way to support her family.

The hero is His Grace, the golden-haired Lucien Dominick, Duke of Camareigh. When we first see him, he’s challenged to a duel by a young hothead. At dawn, he makes quick work of his opponent, displaying his sword-fighting talents.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Moonstruck Madness by Laurie McBain”

Historical Romance Review: Tangled Web by Janice Bennett

Tangled Web
Tangled Web, Janice Bennett, Zebra, 1988, cover artist TBD

Spoiler Free Review 🙂

1 star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This review is of Tangled Web a Zebra Regency romance by Janice Bennett.

The story:

At the beginning of the book, Miss Celia Marcombe, the heroine, is informed by her grandfather, Roderick, that he has arranged a marriage between Celia and his godson, Lord Trevor Ryde, the hero of Tangled Web. Suffice it to say, Celia is less than thrilled with this prospect and tries to get out of it by claiming she already is betrothed to her brother’s best friend, Jonathon Edelston. Celia is even less enthused about the impending nuptials when she visits Trevor’s home and realizes the state of dishabille it’s in.

Despite that disappointment, Celia does begin to develop a romantic tendre for Trevor, which is somewhat broken when she discovers he’s keeping a woman at his home. (The woman in question–Therese de Bourgerre–later becomes the heroine of another book, An Intriguing Desire by Ms. Bennett.) The reasons Trevor is keeping Mademoiselle de Bourgerre in London later come to light, leading to intrigue and danger. Eventually, most of the mysteries are solved, Celia and Trevor realize they love each other, Jonathon finds his true love–Celia’s companion Elizabeth–and the two couples have their Happily Ever After.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Tangled Web by Janice Bennett”

Historical Romance Review: Texas Storm by Deana James

brown and white stallions running in a field
Texas Storm, Deana James, Zebra 1986, Pino cover art

SPOLIER ALERT ⚠

3 1/2 stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Plot

It’s the mid-1830’s and Scottish immigrant Reiver MacPherson has been granted lands by the new Texas government. The dilapidated property he acquired belonged to an old Spanish family, but the place is now abandoned. Or at least Reiver thinks it is, because to his surprise, there he finds an emaciated young wisp of a girl, Mercedes-Maria, whose family once owned the lands but has fled to Mexico, leaving her behind. So begins Deana James’ Texas Storm.

Mercedes is a bit of a wild child, and at first, Reiver has no patience for her. She insists the land is hers; he claims it’s is. The two butt heads but eventually agree to work together. Slowly, a romance unfolds as the pair get to know one another—sexual attraction forms. With James’ trademark earthy sensuality describing the passages, their passion results in vivid lovemaking sessions.

Mercedes & Reiver get married more out of convenience than love. However, their love grows as they experience adventure after adventure.

They tame wild horses across the Llano Estacado (The Staked Plains) & amass a substantial sum of money, turning Reiver into a respected patron.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Texas Storm by Deana James”

Historical Romance Review: Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri

seajewel
Sea Jewel, Penelope Neri, Zebra, 1986, Pino cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Five-Star Book, Albeit a Rating I Give Reluctantly

After deliberation, I decided to give Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri five stars, although I do so with some high degree of reluctance. The explanation why follows.

The Story: Part One

This Zebra Lovegram begins with the hero of the book, Freya Jorgenson, being born. Her father, Thorfast, is a warring Viking who wanted a son. He orders his man, Sven, to kill Freya. Sven, however, being a kind soul, chooses not to and, with the help of a captured English slave, raises Freya as his daughter.

Earlier, Sven did a similar thing. Years earlier, when Thorfast and his men went a-Viking–i.e., murdering, pillaging, and raping–they sacked an English village, killing all the males and raping the females. One of the women, Wilone, wife of the head of the earldom whom Thorfast killed, offered herself as a sexual slave to Thorfast in exchange for sparing her life and the life of her unborn child. Thorfast raped Wilone and ordered Sven to kill her and her child, which he did not do.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri”

Historical Romance Review: Sweet Prairie Passion by Rosanne Bittner

Sweet Prairie Passion, F. Rosanne Bittner, Zebra, 1983, cover artist TBD

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This review is of Sweet Prairie Passion, book #1 in the “Savage Destiny” series by Rosanne Bittner.

The Story:

In 1845, a wagon train is headed from Tennessee west to Oregon. Among those on the train is Jason Trent, a widower, and his three children: daughters LeeAnn, 17, Abigail (Abbie), 15, the heroine of the book and the series, and son Jeremy, 7. The Trent family is leaving Tennessee because the memories of Jason’s late wife are too strong. Later, they meet up with two men who are hired to scout and lead the train, one of whom is “Cheyenne” Zeke Monroe, 25, the hero of the book and the series. The fact that Zeke is half-white and half-Cheyenne doesn’t sit well with everyone on the train, and Zeke faces bigotry from some of the train’s denizens, including some with less than savory reputations.

As the book continues, Abigail and Zeke fall in love, but their love is threatened by his past, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, scandal and tragedy. However, even knowing that the Cheyenne Indians–and the Indian people in general–would be facing tremendous hardship, sorrow and tragedy, Zeke and Abbie fall in love and vow to be together.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sweet Prairie Passion by Rosanne Bittner”

Historical Romance Review: Sweet Fire by Jo Goodman

sweet fire
Sweet Fire, Jo Goodman, Zebra, 1991, Pino cover art

4 1/2 stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Sweet Fire by Jo Goodman is an action-packed romance filled with the requisite passion you’d look for in a Zebra Heartfire, but also adventure, murder mystery, and drama.

The Plot

Nathan and Brigham are former Australian prisoners & best frenemies now residing in San Fransisco, California. The pair are competing for the hand of Miss Lydia Chadwick. She’s a wealthy heiress, pretty enough, but she pales in comparison to her much more sophisticated and unsurprisingly young stepmother. But, of course, stepmom is the wicked type, and she’s secretly sexing it up with Brig.

On the other hand, Lydia is a woman of social conscience, as she tries to help orphans and prostitutes better their lot in lives. Unfortunately, Lydia’s charity work gets dangerous when a killer is on the loose, killing women on the streets. Sadly, the mystery was no mystery to me, as it’s telegraphed early on who the killer was, but I went with it, anyway, knowing the love story was the real centerpiece of this book.

Lydia lets Nathan and Brigham know she’s onto their game and is having none of it!... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sweet Fire by Jo Goodman”