Category: Historical Romance

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”

Author Spotlight: Penny Jordan

Penny Jordan pic
Penny Jordan pic
“Penny Jordan” (real name Penny Jones-Halsall)

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

Penny entered a competition run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), which brought her to the attention of an agent, and in 1979 she published Duchess in Disguise, the first of her 25 Regency romances written under the name Caroline Courtney.... Read more “Author Spotlight: Penny Jordan”

Historical Romance Review: So Speaks the Heart by Johanna Lindsey

So Speaks the Heart, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1983, Robert McGinnis cover art

Spoiler & Major Douchebag Hero Alert ⚠

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Caveat Emptor

I acknowledge that not all readers can tolerate a cruel, rapacious hero in their romance; that’s why I gave a rare warning for this book. It’s fair to compare So Speaks the Heart (which should be subtitled: Medieval Norman Psychopath Falls for French Co-Dependent and Fellow Anger Management Classmate) to another of Johanna Lindsey‘s works, A Pirate’s Love, which had a similar captor/captive trope.

However, So Speaks the Heart is IMO better than the latter because: 1) This heroine is not a spineless jellyfish, fights back, and is strong in her own way; and 2) The hero is more than just a good-looking rapist who eventually falls in love with the woman he’s been tormenting. Ok, he’s as deep as a crack in the sidewalk, and, yeah, he’s still a bully and a douche. But his background is fleshed out a lot more; therefore, we understand why he’s such an arsehole. So I can sort of forgive this hunk of a warrior for his caveman behavior.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: So Speaks the Heart by Johanna Lindsey”

The Hero, the Heroine, or the Love Story?

love cherish me

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

Recently, I came upon a quote by author Laura Kinsale. 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, 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.

... Read more “The Hero, the Heroine, or the Love Story?”

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”

Where to Find Vintage Books: A Collector’s Dilemma

flesh and the devil hardcover

Where to Find Old School Romance Novels

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.

Fortunately, we here at SweetSavageFlame.com are book hoarders—er, collectors, and can help you with your search! We also looked to some friends for advice. Of great help to us were the Vintage Paperback Romance Novels group on Facebook, run by knowledgeable bibliophile @robimes from robimes.blogspot.com and @ArtoftheClinch from Twitter, who tweets out a couple of clinch covers from the 1980s and 1990s every day.

@ArtoftheClinch divides the areas where to search for paperbacks into two categories: “target-rich” Wild Sites, which she states are “Places where I can physically touch the books, and the vendor hasn’t priced them at maximum markup” and Non-Wild Sites, which are essentially online sites.... Read more “Where to Find Vintage Books: A Collector’s Dilemma”

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: Once a Princess by Johanna Lindsey

“Tanya, ya slut!”

ONCE A PRINCESS

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Cover

Once a Princess was not one of my favorites by Johanna Lindsey. I’d put this in the unremarkable category with books like Glorious Angel and Tender is the Storm. Not her worst, by any means, but not her best either.

Perhaps it had to do with the book’s aesthetics. I’ve always been a curmudgeon who doesn’t like change simply for the sake of change when everything is fine. So it was a shock that particular June of 1991 to find the Lindsey covers had been revamped. The font was more “romantic” with its loops and curves. The book was a step back and I preferred an open clinch. Avon updated Johanna Lindsey’s pretty photo on the inside back to a less flattering extreme close-up. And the most glaring insult of all, where in the heck was Fabio?

The Plot

The plot about the search for a secret princess from a fictional country was all right. It was the main characters that made this one almost unbearable.

It’s the mid-19th century, and Stefan Barany from the kingdom of Cardinia is in Mississippi, USA, to find the long-lost Princess Tatiana.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Once a Princess by Johanna Lindsey”

Historical Romance Review: Sapphire by Patricia Matthews

Sapphire, Patricia Matthews, Harlequin, 1989, Max Ginsburg cover art

3 stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In Patricia Matthews’ late-Victorian era set Sapphire, treasure hunting and separated lovers are the two driving plot points of this 1989 historical romance.

The Plot

Down on her luck, when Englishwoman Regina Paxton hears tales of treasure–jewels–in far-away India, she is immediately intrigued. She forms a strange association with burly, bearded Irishman Brian MacBride. Together, the two travel to India in search of treasure. Their journey is rough and arduous. But together, they make it. And what’s more, they actually find the jewels they were searching for.

Of course, the two bond in various ways, enjoying a quick romantic affair.

Regina and Brian separate, as Brian has never been the settling done type. Unfortunately, for Regina, she’s with a child, and settling down is exactly what she needs to do. So in comes along old what’s his name, Will, a nice, unassuming man, who Regina convinces herself will do. She marries him, all the while knowing she’s pregnant with Brian’s child. Indeed, it’s no surprise to her when her son is born with a red shock of hair.

Then Brian returns to Regina’s world, and the old feelings come rushing back.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sapphire by Patricia Matthews”

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: The Golden Sovereigns by Jocelyn Carew

The Golden Sovereigns, Jocelyn Carew, Avon, 1976, Charles Geer cover art

“There was a time Mark, when I would have given my soul for such cherishing… But I lost my soul for much, much less.”

THE GOLDEN SOVEREIGNS

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4 1/2 stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Golden Sovereigns is unlike any bodice ripper I’ve ever read. It’s very difficult to rate or categorize as it defies genre conventions. Jocelyn Carew is an absolutely skillful writer to make me enjoy a book where the heroine, Carmody, doesn’t meet her hero until page 270 of this 404-page epic. This is the kind of bodice ripper where the heroine’s journey is the real tale, however, the hero is not a mere prize she wins at the end; he’s a balm to heal her damaged soul.

The Plot

Our story begins in late 17th century England. Carmody Petrie is in love with Waldo, who’s a no-good rogue. She engages in some heavy petting with him, but she knows better than to give in to his caresses despite her body’s urges:

“A new stirring, of springs moving deep inside her, a well of emotion she had never dreamed of had been uncovered.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Golden Sovereigns by Jocelyn Carew”

Historical Romance Review: Kathleen’s Surrender by Nan Ryan

Kathleen’s Surrender, Nancy Henderson Ryan, Zebra, 1983, Walter Popp cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This review is based on the Zebra print version of the book published back in 1983. Kathleen’s Surrender by Nancy Henderson Ryan–known better these days as Nan Ryan–is without question one of the best, most emotional romance novels I’ve ever read.

The Plot:

As the book opens, we meet the Beauregard family of Natchez-on-the-Hill, Mississippi. Patriarch Louis Antoine, Matriarch Abigail Howard Beauregard, and the heroine of the book, their only child, daughter Kathleen Diana Beauregard. At the start, Kathleen is a starry-eyed 15 year old who loves her Southern Belle life. She soon meets a handsome, wealthy man named Dawson Blakely and falls quickly and fully in love with him. They fall in love and want to get married.

However, Louis is vehemently against their relationship, although he and Abigail are nice to Dawson. Louis’ objection: Dawson’s ancestry isn’t as blue-blooded as the Beauregards’ is; Dawson’s ancestors are rather notorious people. Louis tells Dawson they can’t marry, and Dawson loves Kathleen enough to let her go without telling her that her father is the one who’s trying to keep them apart.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Kathleen’s Surrender by Nan Ryan”

Historical Romance Review: Savage Conquest by Janelle Taylor

Savage Co
Savage Conquest, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1985, Elaine Duillo cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This review is of Savage Conquest, the 9th and final book–although the 6th published–in the “Ecstasy/Gray Eagle” series by Janelle Taylor.

The Plot:

Savage Conquest begins in 1873, approximately 17 years after the previous book, Forever Ecstasy, ended. It is not a happy time for Miranda Lawrence, the “heroine” of the book–only the second half–and her fraternal twin, Amanda, the heroine of the first half, both 18. Their parents, Joe and Marie “Morning Star” Lawrence, are presumed dead in a boating accident. (Their bodies have not been recovered.) Amanda, who is seeing fellow shipping company owner Weber Richardson, decides to take over the family business. She also later meets Reis Harrison, a man whom she is attracted to, and starts to fall in love with. There are, however, issues standing in their way: Reis is not entirely truthful about why he came to Virginia, and he has a long-standing beef with Weber, who feels similarly predisposed towards Reis.

Amanda and Reis become lovers and later marry surreptitiously, and Reis sets into motion a plan in which he hopes to trap Weber and expose him for what he really is.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Savage Conquest by Janelle Taylor”

Historical Romance Review: The Heir by Johanna Lindsey

2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Was this tepid, dull romance actually penned by Johanna Lindsey? The Heir was the first book that I noticed a weird change in her writing. Previously, if there was a Lindsey I didn’t like, it was due to a dull plot or excessive fighting between the leads. In this one, there is friendship for sure, but romantic isn’t what I’d call the relationship between Duncan and Sabrina.

The Plot: Friends to Lovers

Duncan, a Highland Scot, is the new heir to be an English Marquess. Everyone is eager to meet this new laird, er lord, especially the young ladies in town. Sabrina has no designs on Duncan; she’s plump, plain, orphaned, and not anyone’s ideal candidate for a wife. Certainly not for an heir to a Marquessate.

Then there’s the manipulative, beautiful Ophelia, who desperately wants Duncan’s title.

Slowly, painfully slowly, Sabrina and Duncan’s relationship turns physical, and one night they make love. But Ophelia’s scheming makes it appear as if Duncan has ruined her, so the red-haired idiot decides to do the honorable thing: marry Ophelia. Duncan is too young and he flounders in areas where a more mature man might have acted differently.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Heir by Johanna Lindsey”

Historical Romance Review: Sweet Savage Heart by Janelle Taylor

sweetsavageheart
Sweet Savage Heart, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1989, Pino cover art

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Plot

Janelle Taylor’s Sweet Savage Heart, a Zebra Lovegram historical romance, begins in Dakota Territory, May 1867. It is here that an Oglala Indian maiden, Wild Wind, the heroine of the book, is troubled, for she is arguing with her brother, Lone Wolf, over her future. (Backstory: Wild Wind is not actually Indian at all. Her name is Rana Michaels, and she was adopted into her band of Lakotas by Soaring Hawk, a Lakota chief who stole her from the Kiowa tribe which captured and enslaved her after they killed her parents, Marissa Crandall Michaels and Raymond Michaels). Rana is conflicted about her life, and things are about to get more complicated…

In Texas, rancher Nathan Crandall, owner of the Bar-C ranch and Rana’s grandfather, sees a painting of her and realizes it’s his granddaughter. He asks his foreman, Travis Kincade, the hero of the book, for help in getting Rana back. (Travis is half-Hunkpapa Lakota Indian and half-white).. Their efforts are successful, but are complicated by many factors, including Rana herself. However, she does agree to go with Nathan and Travis, and on the way to the ranch, Rana and Travis become lovers (According to Oglala customs, they are married.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sweet Savage Heart by Janelle Taylor”

Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Web by Cassie Edwards

Passion’s Web, Cassie Edwards, Zebra, 1984, Walter Popp cover artist

2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

***Spoiler alert***

This review is of Passion’s Web by Cassie Edwards.

The book begins in Key West, Florida, with the heroine of the book, Natalie Palmer, and the hero, Bryce Fowler, meeting in a carriage. Shortly after they meet, Natalie and Bryce become lovers.

Backstory #1:

Natalie lives with her father, Saul, a wealthy tobacconist. She also has an older brother, Adam. (Natalie’s mother, Kathryn, passed when Natalie was younger. The circumstances of her passing is one of many secrets-the word of the book-that Saul is trying to keep from Natalie).

Backstory #2:

Bryce-who has multiple aspects to his persona-has come to Key West at the request of his dying father, Tom, whom Bryce has been estranged from. Bryce also has to deal with his younger brother, Hugh, whom he has bad blood with.

The Plot

Bryce is hired by a businessman in New Orleans, Clarence Seymour, to find three things. An opium shipment, and Seymour’s wife and daughter, who were taken in separate incidents years apart. Bryce won’t be able to bring back Seymour’s wife-she, Kathryn, is dead-but he can bring back his daughter…Natalie.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Web by Cassie Edwards”

Covers of the Week #8

Gentle Rogue

“A bird, bird, bird, b-bird is the word!” For the week of May 31 to June 6, can you spy the birds on these Elaine Duillo and John Ennis illustrated historical romance novel covers? Enjoy!