Category: Romance

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”

Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Stars by Hettie Grimstead

Whisper to the Stars
Whisper to the Stars, Hettie Grimstead, Harlequin, “Jh” cover artist

Harlequin Romance #1403

Spoiler-Free Review 🙂

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A Star of a Lower Magnitude

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.

For me, at least it was a good try.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Stars by Hettie Grimstead”

Covers of the Week #15

Bold Destiny

The Duillo family was filled with artistic talent. There was John Duillo, the great pulp cover artist. Of course, his wife Elaine was a pioneer for women in the field. She not only painted pulp covers but went on to become the “Queen of Romance Covers.” However, did you know their daughter, Melissa Duillo Gallo, was a talented artist as well?

In the 1980s – 1990s, Melissa, who used the surname Gallo after her marriage, was a prolific historical romance cover artist, creating works for publishers such as Avon, Dell, Warner, Zebra, and more. While she and her mother no longer illustrate romance covers, Melissa is still creating art as a talented painter. Melissa Gallo Paints is where you can get access to her current work. I also have a dedicated Pinterest page to her romance covers here.

For a long time, I used to get Elaine and Melissa’s artwork confused, unintentionally mislabelling one of the books below as Elaine’s! Now I can spot the differences between mom’s and her daughter’s work. For one thing, Melissa preferred her models to wear more clothes, and also, she was more conservative with the use of eyeshadow, especially for the heroes! Both ladies, Duillo, collaborated with supermodel Fabio many times.... Read more “Covers of the Week #15”

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: 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: 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”

Updates #7

white orange and green floral bouquet decor
Photo by Secret Garden on Pexels.com

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!

Welcome Mary Anne

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”

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?”

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: Forbidden Fantasy by Tiffany White

Forbidden Fantasy
Forbidden Fantasy, Tiffany White, Harlequin, 1991, cover artist unknown

Harlequin Temptation #367

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Book Burned Forever in My Memory

I burnt the beans!

Whenever I hear of Forbidden Fantasy by Tiffany White, a category romance from the 1990s, that’s the first thought that pops into my head. Then I recall the sweet twist which the plot hinges upon. An Editor’s Choice pick for the Temptation line, Forbidden Fantasy was a book I enjoyed, sure enough, although I wouldn’t rank it as an all-time great, even if it is etched in my mind.

The Plot

Zoe is in Paris trying to put as much distance between herself and a bad relationship–namely, her marriage to her ex-husband. He was a cop who spent too much time at work and too little with her, both physically and emotionally. So she left him behind and fled to Europe on a voyage of self-discovery.

Now Zoe’s got French friends and loves to shop in the city. On one of her forays, she realizes a handsome American man is stalking her. What starts as a flirtatious game turns into a sensual love affair. Grey is everything her husband wasn’t: a good listener who shares his feelings with Zoe and is eager to spend time with her.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Forbidden Fantasy by Tiffany White”

Covers of the Week #14

My Lord Monleigh

For the week starting Monday, July 12 to Sunday, July, 18, I thought some Historical Highland romance novels or Scottish-themed covers would be a bonny sight for your eyes to enjoy.

Historical Romance Review: Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas

Then Came You alt
Then Came You, Lisa Kleypas, Avon, 1993, cover artist TBD, cover model Steve Sandalis

Mild Spoilers 😉

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Heroine to Remember

The heroine of Lisa KleypasThen Came You was, at the time of the book’s initial release, a unique female protagonist. Today, Romancelandia is replete with hoydenish, unmarried non-virgins who thumb their nose at society’s rules. Back in 1993, the wild Lily Lawson was most unusual for a historical romance heroine.

The novel begins with Lily aboard a fancy sea vessel for a daytime event that bores her senseless. She allows her hat to fly off into the waters of the Thames in an attempt to prod her male admirers into fetching it for her. The reserved Lord Alex Raiford looks on, disgusted by her antics.

Lily is on the fringes of polite society as she is estranged from her family for her shocking behavior. Many years ago, she was involved in a love affair with an Italian gentleman who turned out to be a cad. Now, she takes pleasure in shocking the ton. Upon hearing that her dear sister cannot marry the man she loves, “Lawless” Lily Lawson–as she is called–is determined to break her sister’s engagement with the stuffed-shirt Lord Raiford.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas”

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”

Category Romance Review: This Hell Called Love by Jane Donnelly

This Hell Called Love
This Hell Called Love, Jane Donelly, Playmore Inc and Waldman Publishing, 1969, cover artist unknown

Baronet Books #4200-104

Spoiler-free review 🙂

4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Power of Love

Though I try not to get too personal in my reviews, here I must note that my favorite romance trope is
“Such is the power of love.” Someone does something extraordinary for love. It might break the rules,
defy the law, or fly in the face of common sense. It typically means great effort, sacrifice, sorrow, and
angst. But a protagonist does it anyhow. His or her love is mightier than anything else.

This Hell Called Love is a remarkable example of this trope. It also deals with themes we don’t usually
find in category romances of any generation, mental illness, and substance abuse. Make no mistake, this
isn’t a light read. But if you can take a load of gritty realism, it’s a very moving one.

First, a bit of bibliographic info. The author, Jane Donnelly, was a prolific contributor to various Mills &
Boon/Harlequin series. According to her Wikipedia page and Goodreads bio, she had over sixty
romances published by these companies between 1965 and 2000.... Read more “Category Romance Review: This Hell Called Love by Jane Donnelly”

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”

Category Romance Review: To See a Stranger by Kate Cartwright

To see a Stranger
To see a Stranger
To See a Stranger, Kate Cartwright, Magnum Books, 1976, cover artist unknown

Magnum Books Blue Fire Romance #4200-86

Spoiler-free review 🙂

2 stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Good novel, poor romance

In a way, Kate Cartwright’s To See a Stranger is a fine novel. It’s well-written. It ticks most of the boxes. But it still disappointed me. Why? Because IMHO if a story is labeled a romance, there should be plenty of romance in it. Here there’s hardly any. So I almost didn’t write a review for this blog. But my definition of romance fiction isn’t everyone’s, so here goes.

First, the publishing background, which is sketchy. The paperback I read was issued by Magnum Books, an imprint of Playmore, Inc., Publishers and Waldman Publishing Corp., both in New York. At least that’s what’s listed on the copyright page; some other titles in the series list Prestige Books as the publisher.

But there’s no publication date. Since this same page says the book is copyright 1976 by IPC Magazines, Ltd., To See a Stranger must have been originally published as part of the Woman’s Weekly Library series in the UK. My guess is the Magnum reprint was issued a year or two later.... Read more “Category Romance Review: To See a Stranger by Kate Cartwright”

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”

Category Romance Review: Yesterday’s Love by Marsha Manning

Yesterday's Love
Yesterday's Love
Yesterday’s Love, Marsha Manning, Magnum Books, 1969, cover artist unknown

#4286 Magnum Books Easy Eye

Spoiler-free review 🙂

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Magnum Books

Yesterday’s Love is a moving romance with a rather mysterious background. It’s part of the Magnum Books imprint of Prestige Books, Inc., a small New York paperback publisher active during the mid to late 1970s. The novel was originally published as a hardcover by Mills & Boon in 1969, under the title Yesterday’s Lover. But the copyright page of this edition doesn’t say when it was published. Nor can I find this info anywhere else.

The author, Marsha Manning, was a pen name of Hettie Grimstead. Or was Hettie Grimstead a pen name of Marsha Manning? If you know, drop me a line.

An Impossible Situation

Here’s the setup. Kerry Talbot, a London office worker for a large corporation, is in love with Philip Ingram, her boss. And he’s in love with her. The situation presents an obvious problem. But wait, there’s more. He’s married. An issue that troubles her far more than him.

What other people think of her doesn’t matter to Kerry, but what she thinks of herself does.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Yesterday’s Love by Marsha Manning”

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