I love to read. I love stories. And right now, my kind of story is vintage romance fiction.
By which I mean romances published in the twentieth century. In particular certain varieties of the genre, with features that were once popular but have since gone out of style. That’s why I’m grateful for a blog like Sweet Savage Flame. Here I can get info and opinions about my favorite body of fiction. And share my own!
Why romance? Why vintage? To answer both questions, I must start with who I am as a reader.
A Lifelong Love of Reading
I’m an American and a Baby Boomer. I was born the year Eisenhower was elected. And exposed to the cultural influences of my generation. I liked some kinds of art and entertainment, tolerated others, rejected some. I wasn’t picky at first, but the years made me pretty selective.
I’ve been in love with reading ever since I could read. In the beginning, there was Dick and Jane. Then books assigned by my teachers or given to me by my parents. Well, my mother; my dad wasn’t much of a reader.... Read more “Why Romance? Why Vintage?”
The history of series romances goes back roughly a century ago to 1909. Since the rise of paperback publishers, many romance lines have come and gone. Still standing is Mills & Boon and its parent company, Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Bantam and Dell, no longer publish category romance, nor does Signet, Zebra, or Simon and Schuster. The latter formed Silhouette Books in 1980. However, Harlequin famously purchased that line, eventually folding it into its own.
On our menu above, we have pages dedicated to romance authors, cover artists, and publishing houses. The history of publishing houses and imprints can be quite byzantine, as many companies were bought out by others, only to be resold again. In researching paperback romances of the past, I’ve come upon both an abundance and paucity of information, depending upon who or what I’m investigating. I want to do more in-depth research on each line, but often when I come upon fascinating tidbits of history, it leads to another line or publisher.
Recently, Jacqueline asked why people read romance novels. I’ll answer that question in another post, but I wanted to use this one to explain how I became a romance novel aficionado.
How it All Began
My romance novel journey began in 1980. My late mother had a small collection of books and I picked one up and started reading it. (I don’t recall the name or author of the book, but it was a Harlequin Romance about two figure skaters whose previous partners dumped them. The hero and heroine then teamed up, and fell in love. Little did I know what that first book started.
Expanding the Circle
As the 1980s went on, my reading choices expanded, from Harlequin Romance to Harlequin Presents, Superromance and Temptation, as well as Richard Gallen contemporary romances and Zebra/Kensington historical romances.
As the ’90s came and went, I turned away from historical romances and went all-in on Harlequin and its sister imprint, Silhouette books. (The clerks at B. Dalton, a sadly defunct bookstore chain, began to know me by name as every month, I would go in and purchase two baskets full of books).... Read more “My Romance Novel Journey”
Penny Jordan was an immensely popular author for Mills and Boon/ Harlequin. She wrote romantic love stories that readers have enjoyed for 40 years. Penny Jordan was not her real identity but one of her many pseudonyms. Let’s take a look back at the career of this talented author.
Life Before Writing
Born on November 24, 1946, Penelope “Penny” Jones came into the world in a nursing home in Preston, Lancashire, England. Like many future writers, Penny had a vivid imagination as a child and was an active reader. Starting at age 10 or 11, her mother introduced Penny to the romantic serials in the Woman’s Weekly magazines. She became hooked on reading Mills & Boon and was a devoted fan. In those days, private lending libraries were the only source to obtain those books. Not until years later would the books go on sale in shops so Penny could have her keep of them.
She had met the love of her life, Steve Halsall, as a teenager, whom she married after her graduation. Steve was supportive of Penny’s burgeoning ambitions to write and purchased a typewriter for her to create romantic fiction.
Enter Caroline Courtney, Penny Jordan, and Anne Groves
There are some brief points to address here about our vintage romance book blog. And yes, some of this is bragging. I’m so happy at the growth of Sweet Savage Flame and the little community we’re building here, so I hope you’ll share in my joy!
We have a new reviewer Mary Anne Landers, aka “Arkansasannie.” Not only are her reviews fun to read, but she also brings with her information regarding vintage category romances that are outside my usual scope. I’ve learned quite a bit from her in the past few weeks and hope to learn even more.
Mary Anne’s Category Romance reviews are already the most viewed ones on this site, so let’s give her a hand! That tells me that people who come to this blog want reviews on old-school books they can’t find anywhere else, and we’re listening! I have to get my old Dell Candlelight Ecstasy Supremes out of storage and review them!
Remember, Mary Anne is also an up-and-coming author, so you might want to follow her on her Facebook page Mary Anne Landers Facebook, for her latest updates! With her unique perspective on category romances and Blue Falcon’s in-depth reviews on Historicals, I’m very proud of our little group here.... Read more “Updates #7”
When you read a romance novel, what are you reading it for? The romance? The heroine’s journey? The hunky hero? Or something else entirely?
The Placeholder Reader
I came upon a quote by author Laura Kinsale that I wanted to address. Rather than add it to the Kathleen E. Woodiwiss page, I thought it would make for a good conversation piece. In her essay “The Androgynous Reader” in Jayne Ann Krentz’ book, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, which I am currently reading, author Laura Kinsale cites the heroine of K.E.W.’s Shanna as proof that the average romance reader does not identify with the heroine, but rather, s/he imagines her as a placeholder for themselves to be with the hero, for:
“[A] sillier and more wrongheaded heroine than Shanna would be difficult to imagine… Feminists need not tremble for the reader–she does not identify with, admire, or internalize the characteristics of either a stupidly submissive or an irksomely independent heroine. The reader thinks about what she would have done in the heroine’s place.”
I agree and disagree with Kinsale’s assessment. As a woman, I do not internalize a foolish heroine’s poor decision-making. When it comes to reading romance, unless feminism is an explicit theme of the book, that topic doesn’t enter in how I judge the story.
So you found your dearly-departed grandma’s stash of vintage romance novels hidden in the attic and read them. Despite their flaws, the books gave you a thrill unlike no other. Now you want to read more old-school romance! Although, you’re not sure where to find them. They’re not sold at your local Barnes and Noble and they don’t rank on Amazon’s best-seller lists.
(Here, in this first of a new series where we discuss authors we have a love/hate relationship with, Blue Falcon addresses his thoughts about historical romance author, Rosanne Bittner.)
Many readers have authors they love to read. Some have authors whose work they hate. Still others, however, have authors whose work they love, but may also have issues with. One such author for me is Rosanne Bittner.
Over the course of her lengthy career (Mrs. Bittner’s first book was published in 1983 and she is still active and prolific today), Mrs. Bittner has published 68 books. Among those are the series “Savage Destiny” (7 books), “Outlaw Hearts” (6 books), “High Lonesome” (3 books), and the “Mystic Indian”, “American West”, “Bride” and “Blue Hawk” trilogies. Her works have been printed by multiple publishers, such as Zebra/Kensington, Sourcebooks, and Warner Books. The great majority of her works are set in the American West, circa 19th century, and many feature fully or half-Native American protagonists.
When I started this site three months ago, I envisioned a small blog where I’d talk about historical romance novels written in the last quarter of the 20th century and post an occasional vintage review. Several weeks in, I decided to broaden the scope to include “contemporary” romances published during that era, which opened huge avenues to discovery. For example, authors whom I’d known solely as historical or contemporary writers excelled in multiple genres. Or the history of one paperback publishing house branches out and takes root into one another, making it difficult to define who published what. More importantly, what I thought would be an easy task turned into a major endeavor: learning SEO, CSS, maneuvering plugins, trying to find a slick-looking template that wouldn’t slow the site to a crawl…
Life has a way of catching up to all of us eventually, and one’s health is part of that. In my family recently, we have had a couple of close calls with relatives. I had a bad spell around Mother’s Day and have just been recovering from another set of ailments that hit me hard early last week.... Read more “Updates #6”
Each person has their own unique limit of what they can or cannot tolerate in fiction. However, despite its absolute requirement for a happy ending, the romance genre can still be filled with deal-breakers for readers looking for a pleasurable experience that takes them away from reality for a few hours.
Our Pet Peeves
Some of our negative book reviews at Sweet Savage Flame have focused on pet peeves for the reasons why we ultimately couldn’t enjoy our reading experiences.
In Nadine Crenshaw’s Captive Melody, there were two negative tropes that were deal breakers for Blue Falcon: a captive who experiences Stockholm syndrome for her captor and the hero seeking to inflict vengeance upon an innocent party. There are cruelties that characters experience that cannot be offset by writing skill or a conveniently happy ending.
As I’ve stated in several reviews, such as for Dana Ransom’s Love’s Glorious Gamble, I can’t enjoy a romance where the hero is still mourning the death of a previous love. While I prefer a heroine to be the hero’s only love, I can accept a rival for his affections, so long as she is alive. A flesh and blood woman will always pale to the perfection of a saintly ghost.... Read more “Pet Peeves and Deal Breakers in Romance”
To this day, I still mourn the passing of a romance great, Johanna Lindsey. Lindsey holds a special place in my heart, more so than any other historical romance author. Oddly enough, the first Lindsey I read was not a historical romance, but her 1990 science-fantasy romance, Warrior’s Woman. After that, her books became an addiction for me.
It’s no wonder that her publishers labeled her with the motto “Everyone Loves a Lindsey.” She reached the #1 position on the New York Times Best Seller list with Defy Not the Heart, Angel, and other books. Lindsey sold over 60 million copies of her approximately 56 published romance novels. Her works were translated into at least a dozen other languages.
Life, Love, Family, & Career
Lindsey was born Johanna Helen Howard on March 10, 1952, in Frankfurt, Germany, to Edwin Dennis Howard, a soldier in the U.S. Army, and his wife, Wanda Lindsey (nee Castle). After her father died in 1964, Lindsey and her mother settled in the state of Hawaii, as her father had always dreamed of doing.