Category Archives: Vintage romance

gay romance

Two Gay Romance Firsts: The Happily Ever After Ending and Clinch Cover

gay romance

Gordon Merrick, Victor Gadino, and Peter and Charlie

Gordon Merrick created the legendary and popular Peter & Charlie gay romance series. The trilogy portrayed the first mainstream love story between two men that concluded happily ever after.

The books provided another milestone for same-sex fiction when reprinted in the 1980s. A young artist named Victor Gadino illustrated the iconic clinch covers. Never before had male couples been pictured so intimately on the front of romance novels.

On the front of The Lord Won’t Mind, the blond pair are gazing into each other’s eyes and reaching out to hold hands.

the lord won't mind
The Lord Won’t Mind, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1980 edition, Victor Gadino cover art

Gordon Merrick, Writer of Gay Melodramas and Romances

Gordon Merrick was born in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, in 1916. The new 20th century was moving on a more socially liberal trajectory. Merrick would be part of that cultural momentum.

The son of a stockbroker, Merrick studied French Literature at Princeton. He then got into acting, performing in several Broadway productions. Later, Merrick became a television screenwriter and journalist.

Merrick made history as one of the first novelists to depict graphic homosexual fiction for a mass audience. His tawdry novels were full of melodrama, sex, and beautiful men. Usually, they concluded in heartache for the main characters. Merrick’s books were tantalizing reads akin to those of Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz, or Jackie Collins, only much gayer.

Modern readers might chuckle at the almost-innocent vulgarity and campy nature of his works. Or they may cluck their tongues at the “outdated” themes and unapologetic preference for ultra-glamorous, gorgeous, continent-hopping, wealthy protagonists. Merrick essentially wrote man-on-man bodice rippers, after all.

Merrick wrote fourteen books over 40 years. He would die in Sri Lanka in 1988.

His final novel, The Good Life, was co-authored with his partner, Charles Hulse, and published after his death. Like most of Merrick’s books, it was a bestseller.

Gordon Merrick
Gordon Merrick

Merrick’s Peter and Charlie Trilogy

The Lord Won’t Mind, the First Mainstream Gay Romance (Sort of)

Merrick’s piece de resistance, The Lord Won’t Mind, came out in hardcover in 1970. The book told the turbulent and forbidden love story of two beautiful, blond Ivy Leaguers–one named Peter and the other Charlie.

It was a graphic page-turner and sold like pancakes at the old World’s Fair. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list.

The mass-market paperback edition was then released by the publishing house Avon in 1971. This was a year before they gambled on Kathleen Woodiwiss‘ slush-pile manuscript for The Flame and the Flower.

The Lord Won’t Mind (from left to right): Bernard Geis Publisher, 1970, first edition hardcover; Avon, 1971, paperback edition; Alyson Publications, October 1995 paperback edition

A Genuine Romance Novel About a Same-Sex Couple

Due to societal changes, there was a hungry audience out there for explicit fiction. Merrick’s work was just that: raunchy and schlocky.

“For the love of God, have mercy on my aching cock. I want you in bed.”

“That, sure lord, is where I want to be.”


Even so, The Lord Won’t Mind was also sweetly romantic. The forbidden lovers vowed to be together forever.

“I say, if it’s love, the Lord won’t mind. There’s enough hate in the world.”

 The Lord Won’t MinD

Readers anxiously hoped for the pair to end happily but were left hanging instead. It would take two more books detailing the erotic, taboo relationship for fans to find out what would happen. The sequel came out in 1972; the final book followed in 1974.

Enter Artist Victor Gadino, Another Gay Icon

The success of the series led Avon to give Merrick the star treatment. His books would now receive extra attention to detail—especially the cover art, an area where Avon excelled.

In 1977, an up-and-coming artist named Victor Gadino landed the job of creating new covers for Merrick’s backlist. He started with An Idol For Others. This mass-market paperback showed two males–one in a suit, the other shirtless–in a positively seductive manner.

“Avon books decided to rerelease the Merrick novels as typical mass-market romance paperbacks. Up until then they had simple covers and were sold in specialty shops or from “under” the counter. The head art director was a strong female with vision and a great eye.

“It was the early days of gay liberation and she recognized the time was right. She saw my talent and gay sensibility and gave me the assignment for the first cover, the most conservative one, An Idol for Others. I never met Mr. Merrick, but I was told he was not happy with the mature model I used and thought he looked too old.

“He was, however, very pleased with the eight covers that followed, all using handsome young models.”


One For the Gods (Charlie & Peter Book #2): More Gay Romance, But No HEA Yet

The sequels to The Lord Won’t Mind documented Charlie and Peter’s glitzy lifestyle as the golden duo engaged in a thrilling, illicit, on-again-off-again relationship. The second book, One For the Gods, introduced a third person into the mix to form a crazy love triangle.

First there was Charlie and Peter.

Their love affair broke a lot of conventions… but it didn’t break them all. For Peter and Charlie are in love–with each other–and with Martha. And Martha is passionately in love with them both.

From St. Tropez to Athens to Mykonos, this powerful, moving novel follows their devastating triangle of romance and desire through a world of sun-drenched pleasure and Mediterranean adventure.

One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Bernard Geis,1971,
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Bernard Geis,1971, hardcover
One For the Gods, Gordon Merrick, Avon,1972, paperback edition

The Gadino cover art is more intimate than the previous one, with the couple holding hands. However, the third wheel in this romance is prominently pictured, showing all is not well in paradise.

One For the Gods, Avon,1981 reissue, Victor Gadino cover art

Forth Into Light (Charlie & Peter #3): A Gay Romance with a HEA

Finally, in 1974, Forth Into Light concluded the romantic series.

In the final chapter of the bestselling epic love story of Peter and Charlie, the two men are forced to fight for their relationship like never before

For two men with the looks of Adonis and Narcissus, it’s no surprise that Greece was the destination for a romantic getaway. Once there, however, the two men fall into the beds of others, with the duplicitous Martha striving to steal Charlie away from Peter after he has a moment of infidelity.

For the final installment of the Peter & Charlie Trilogy, Gordon Merrick widens his focus on the couple to include the village in which they’re staying, creating a web of deceit and lust that comes to a head in unexpected and satisfying ways, while the love between Peter and Charlie is tested repeatedly with the emergence of a passionate young man named Jeff. The bond between these two has spanned the years and the globe, but it could well meet its end here on the lush Greek shores. 


Below is the original cover for the conclusion to Charlie and Peter’s epic romance. The artwork is neither overt nor titillating. The two hands reaching out to touch the other appear reminiscent of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.

Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1974

Gadino Masterpiece: A Gay Romance Clinch Cover

Gadino’s clinch cover for the monumental gay romance Forth Into Light is more emotional and evocative than the original. The two men have their arms around each other’s shoulders. Their backs face the viewer as they stare out at an ocean sunset.

Readers knew this was not just another sex adventure by looking at the cover. This was a true romance novel, one for gay men.

Forth Into Light, Gordon Merrick, Avon, 1982, 6th printing, Victor Gadino cover art

The Peter and Charlie Trilogy by Gordon Merrick was monumental mainstream gay fiction. Unlike the slashy melodramas of the pulp era, the love story finished on a positive note. The protagonists got a joyful ending.

Merrick’s audience-pleasing, optimistic conclusion, and Gadino’s sensual clinch cover make the Peter and Charlie series–and Forth Into Light especially–pivotal in gay romance history.

Your Opinion

Have you heard of or read Gordon Merrick and the first gay romance novel with a HEA? Did you know about Victor Gadino’s history-making 1980s clinch cover art for the reissue of the series? What do you think about these romances and covers?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Romance Firsts: The First Kissing Couple on a Cover

lucifer's angel Violet Winspear kiss

The “First” Couple to Kiss on a Romance Cover

Violet Winspear’s Lucifer’s Angel

What is the first romance novel to have a kissing couple on the cover? I don’t know for certain, but one of them is Lucifer’s AngeI by Violet Winspear.

The book summary:


Fay had worked desperately in the train crash — using all her nurse’s knowledge. Even Lew didn’t know all she’d gone through that night to save his life.

But what could she do now to save their marriage? Was it worth saving?

There’d been so many mistakes, so much bitterness and hurt in their past. Was it possible that she and Lew, despite their differences, could really have a future together? 


The Four Virgins Versions of Lucifer’s Angel

Harlequin Romance #593 (1961)

I ordered Violet Winspear‘s Lucifer’s Angel sight unseen from Amazon. I had hoped to get either the original Harlequin edition or the second Mills & Boon edition.

The OG 1961 version shows the heroine smoking a cigarette. Back in the day, that was common for pulp covers, and I’ve seen heroes on a few old romance covers puffing away at the not-so-wacky-tobaccy, but never the female MC!

And there she is, looking as toasted as melba and draped over the hero’s white tuxedo jacket in a flirty manner. Wonder how this image got past the prim and proper editors:

Lucifer's Angel first kissing couple on romance cover

Mills & Boon #857 (1973)

The 1973 first Mills & Boon edition is pretty enough, but I try to collect first-run M & B’s that were never published as Harleys. So I wasn’t that interested in this one:

lucifer's angel mills boon

Mills & Boon Classic Re-Issue (1980)

No, the copy I really wanted was the 1980 Mills & Boon reissue. I’ve read that this is the first romance (contemporary/category, anyway, not so sure about historicals) to feature a kissing couple on the cover.

Whether it is or isn’t, it’s certainly one of the firsts. And what a pretty one it is.

Lucifer's Angel first kissing couple on romance cover

Harlequin Seasons Greetings (Bah, Humbug!)

But unlucky sucker that I am, I got stuck with the worst option, the plain Harlequin Seasons Greetings reissue in Pepto-Bismol pink that doesn’t do the title any justice.

Lucifer's Angel violet winspear

No First Kiss For Me From This Winspear!

I should have paid for a more expensive version of Lucifer’s Angel to guarantee I got the first (?) kissing couple on the cover… B Damn, this book-collecting obsession I have adds up!

Oh, I’ll review this one eventually. I’m just not super inspired to read it yet.

The covers are half the fun of these books!

the sheik

Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull

 classic romance
The Sheik by Edith Maude Hull
Rating: five-stars
Published: November 10, 1919
Illustrator: N/A
Book Series: Sheik Duo #1
Genres: Classic Romance, Contemporary Romance, Bodice Ripper, Harem Romance, Forced Seduction
Pages: 296
Format: eBook, Hardcover, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull


The Book

The Sheik by Edith M. Hull, published in 1919, is as influential to the modern romance genre as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps, more so.

The salacious book was a blockbuster of a success, despite its many detractors. While some modern readers may cringe at its depiction of women, sexual roles, and racial attitudes, The Sheik remains a compelling read one hundred years after its publication.

the sheik

The Sheik: The Grandmother of Bodice Rippers

“Shall I make you care? Shall I make you love me? I can make women love me when I choose.”

This year, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of Kathleen E. Woodwiss’ the Flame and the Flower, the first “modern romance novel.” The roots of modern romance go back further than 1972, however.

Although Pride and Prejudice and other works by Jane Austen were critiques of manners and social mores, the love stories were at the heart and center. For that reason, her books are considered both as literature and among the first romance novels.

As far as I’m concerned, Jane Austen and all her imitators–Georgette Heyer included–didn’t influence the modern historical genre as The Sheik did.

Oh, I liked the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy just fine. I don’t obsess over it as many do. Charlotte Bronte’s tale of Jane Eyre was far more to my liking, anyway. Jane Eyre, however, is more of an ancestor to Gothic romance.

the sheik grandmother of the bodice ripper.

The First Modern Romance Novel?

“What I have I keep, until I tire of it–and I have not tired of you yet.”

For the kind of romances I enjoy, their roots lie with Edith Maude Hull’s masterpiece, The Sheik. It is the grandmother of the bodice ripper. If not for the closed-door bedroom scenes, this book would have fit right in with the romances penned in the 1970s.

In 1921, the silent film adaptation of the novel starring Agnes Ayres came out. It catapulted Rudolph Valentino’s career into movie stardom. I recall watching the film as a teen and practically swooning over the fantastic tale.

Decades later, I finally got around to reading the novel.

the sheik

The Characters and the Plot

He had seen her, had wished for her, and had taken her, and once in his power it had amused him to break her to his hand.

British-born Diana Mayo has it all: fashionable looks, wealth, and a multitude of male admirers. She’s young, thoroughly modern, and fiercely independent. If someone tells her not to do something, she considers it a dare.

Filled with boredom, the wild Diana travels to Algeria to seek adventure.

And she finds it in the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who kidnaps her and whisks her off to his desert oasis.

Between the two will be fierce, passion-filled clashes filled. Diana is a contemporary-minded woman who demands equality from her peers. Even so, she cannot resist the allure of the savage, almost primitive male who seeks to dominate her.

When first published, there was nothing like this book.

the sheik

Intriguing Gender Dynamics

Some historians have noted that during “conservative” eras, the idealized feminine form becomes more “traditional.” Typically, in times of social transformation, she is perceived to be more fluid.

In the 1960’s natural hair, short skirts, and slim figures, a la model Twiggy or Mia Farrow, reigned.

In the 1980s, the style was big hair, full lips, and 36-24-36 figures like Kelly LeBrock and Cindy Crawford.

The 1920s was a post War society with women in politics and the popularization of the motion picture. Ideas of sex, gender, and sexual mores were radically changed from the rigid Victorian/Edwardian and Gilded Age Eras on both sides of the Atlantic. Hair was bobbed, hemlines were raised, and large breasts were out-of-fashion.

The Sheik is a product of its time, with Hassan noting:

But the emotion that this girl’s uncommon beauty and slender boyishness had aroused in him had not diminished during the months she had been living in his camp.

The omniscient narrator constantly refers to Diana’s boyish figure and her as a splendid example of a “garcon manque,” a French term for tomboy. That was the old-fashioned term for girls who “behave” like and hang around boys.

It made for a fascinating sexual dynamic that was only flirted with and never really delved deeply into.

the sheik

The Sheik, A Controversial Novel

To say this is a controversial book is an understatement. Because it was such a phenomenal hit, critics could not ignore it, and they were divided in their opinions. Unlike, say, Fifty Shades of GreyThe Sheik cannot be dismissed for lack of quality.

The New York Times labeled the book as “shocking” but written with “a high degree of literary skill.” It was considered “salacious” and “tawdry.”

“What do you expect of a savage? When an Arab sees a woman that he wants he takes her. I only follow the customs of my people.”

If there was contention about this book 123 years ago, it’s practically obscene today and viewed as problematic. It has been accused of promoting part of rape culture, and it reeks of colonial attitudes.

There may be merit to discussing those arguments, as nothing exists in a vacuum. Nevertheless, I say, “Yes. And?” Fiction demands the freedom to write from any perspective. If it is a story worth telling, the story will be told.

the sheik

My Opinion

“If he killed me he could not kill my love!”

From its initial publication continuing to this day, The Sheik remains scandalous. It was an immediate bestseller, yet it received no respect from critics. The novel was labeled “poisonously salacious” by the Literary Review. It was even banned from some communities.

And it was a huge sensation, launching a subgenre of desert romances, several sequels, film adaptations, and Rudolph Valentino’s career.

The influence of The Sheik on romance is undeniable. For many readers, it still strikes a chord today. Despite Diana’s position as a kidnapping victim, there is a strong theme of female power and independence.

Even so, The Sheik gives a picture of the social order of its time. It captured the contemporary attitudes toward colonialism. Perhaps worse, The Sheik portrayed sexual dominance as a means to love.

the sheik

Final Analysis of The Sheik

E. M. Hull’s desert epic made me feel like a 12-year-old young girl discovering romance. For me, The Sheik was a thrilling experience! It’s pure entertainment, a rush from start to finish. I loved the film; the book was even better.

Without this romance, I don’t know if bodice-rippers or Mills & Boon romances, or the Harlequin Presents line would have ever existed. As stated, The Sheik is grandmother of the bodice ripper.

As for the naysayers?

Perhaps it’s good advice not to take fiction so seriously.

The Sheik is unreality. A dark fantasy. An erotic nightmare. Perhaps a little of both.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.7


Diana Mayo is young, beautiful, wealthy–and independent. Bored by the eligible bachelors and endless parties of the English aristocracy, she arranges for a horseback trek through the Algerian desert. Two days into her adventure, Diana is kidnapped by the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who forces her into submission. Diana tries desperately to resist but finds herself falling in love with this dark and handsome stranger.

Only when a rival chieftain steals Diana away does the Sheik realize that what he feels for her is more than mere passion. He has been conquered–and risks everything to get her back. The power of love reaches across the desert sands, leading to the thrilling and unexpected conclusion.

one year birthday

Happy One Year Birthday to Sweet Savage Flame

Today Is Our Birthday!

It’s March 30, 2022! Today is our one-year birthday. Sweet Savage Flame is a little late to the party, even our own. It’s because we’re night owls, so days don’t start until late morning for us.

One year ago today, we uploaded our first post to this blog/ website, Welcome to Sweet Savage Flame.

We had modest ideas for what we’d be doing. Now we’re branching out to be amateur historical record keepers of the romance genre.

Therefore, we’re here and ready to celebrate. Up until now, this site has published about 450 articles and reviews. Furthermore, we have almost 90 dedicated pages you can visit. That’s a lot posting for 365 days. We’ve slowed our posting pace down a bit.

However, we’re still busy as ever, reading more books and engaging in more research.

We’re Officially 1 Year Old!

happy birthday card beside flower thread box and macaroons
Photo by George Dolgikh @ on

Since we’re a year old, we’re no longer newbies. The last couple of months have been bumpy. Our site crashed in February, causing us to revamp and rebuild it from the bottom up. Thankfully, we’ve learned from our growing pains and plan to make things more exciting.

Plus, building a community is vital to us. We’re a little shy and not as socially active as we should be. But please don’t hesitate to comment on articles or reviews. And why not give our new Forum a try and strike up conversations with fellow readers

Thank You For a Great Year

It’s been an amazing, although very educational, year for us. We’ve been learning a lot of the ropes as we go along, so Sweet Savage Flame is thankful our readers have stuck by through the ups and downs.

Below is a mix of some of our top-rated articles and some of the more under-seen posts.

Your Opinion

As always, we’d love to hear what you have to think.

Where have we succeeded in our endeavors? Moreover, what could we do to make this site cater more to your needs? Do you think we should expand our scope further back in the past or more into the future? Or do you like that one of the only sites devoted to throwback romances?

Please, drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

the honey is bitter

Category Romance Review: The Honey Is Bitter by Violet Winspear

category romance
The Honey Is Bitter by Violet Winspear
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1967
Illustrator: Don Sinclair
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Presents #6
Book Series: Stephanos #1
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance, Vintage Romance
Pages: 190
Format: Paperback, eBook, Hardcover
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Category Romance Review: The Honey Is Bitter by Violet Winspear


The Book

Along with Anne Mather and Anne Hampson, Violet Winspear was one of the three original authors for the Harlequin Presents line when it launched in 1973. Her bestseller, The Honey is Bitter, was first published in 1967 by Mills and Boon.

The books had about 30 reprintings under Harlequin and the first in her Stephanos series.

the honey is bitter violet winspear
Mills & Boon, 1967 edition

The Plot

Part One of The Honey Is Bitter

The Honey Is Bitter features a Greek hero named Paul. I swear, these classic Presents had about 5 or 6 names for heroes! Paul, Dominic, Nick/Nico, Alex, and Andre/Andreas. Plus, the plots were nonsensical, with an intimidating male running roughshod over the heroine, as occurs here.

This book’s Paul is a Greek tycoon who blackmails Domini into marriage. How? By holding over her head that her brother embezzled funds from Paul’s company.

Why does he want a young British girl like Domini? Because Paul is Greek, and his pride demands vengeance this way! Although she is outraged by Paul’s demands, Domini acquiesces fairly easily. Nor does she turn to anyone for help.

On their wedding night, Domini runs out into the darkness and is swept into the sea. Whether that was a genuine attempt to end her life is left up to the reader. Soon, after a bit of coaxing, Domini falls into Paul’s arms and into his bed.

And that’s the end of chapter one! Quite a lot of action. With more drama to come.

the honey is bitter violet winspear
Mills & Boon 1974 Edition

Part Two of The Honey Is Bitter

Paul is much older, and one wonders what–besides the obvious–he sees in Domini.

Domini is hard to like because she’s so caustic, so… bitter. It’s understandable, though. No woman wants to be forced into marriage with a handsome, sensual, magnetic, powerful, wealthy man who desires her above all women. (Except as an escapist fantasy, naturally. 😉)

Paul whisks Domini to his Grecian villa. Despite her discontent, Domini cannot deny Paul’s allure. While she swaps verbal barbs with him during the day, they communicate on a carnal level at night.

Then the man Domini had fancied herself in love with comes back into her life, demanding she leaves Paul. Tragedy strikes. Will Domini leave Paul forever? Or is it too late and her heart already his?

the honey is bitter
The Honey Is Bitter, Violet Winspear, Harlequin, 1984 re-issue

Final Analysis of The Honey Is Bitter

For an older Presents, The Honey Is Bitter was deeply sensual even though the love scenes were behind closed doors. Paul employs forced seduction with Domini, so readers who dislike that trope are warned.

This vintage romance stars a cruel hero and prickly heroine. Paul is inscrutable yet domineering; Domini is determined yet ill-tempered. Together, they make a passionate pairing.

This was a fascinating tale that had me hooked from the first. But then I have a soft spot for dark, somewhat offensive romances, especially with solid writing. Violet Winspear provides just that.

I can see why The Honey Is Bitter was a Harlequin sensation in its day.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.2


“Keep your love. Did I ever ask for it?”

Paul’s voice rang out. His face was a taut sculpture, chiseled out of stone-as she felt certain his heart was.

“No,” Domini threw at him, “but you’re not quite so inhuman as to enjoy for very long the companionship of a wife who hates you!”

song of the waves

Category Romance Review: Song of the Waves by Anne Hampson

song of the waves
Song of the Waves, Anne Hampson, Harlequin, 1976, Will Davies cover art

Harlequin Presents #209


4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

A Life Not Yet Lived

Wendy Brown is a not-yet-21-year-old Englishwoman who’s been given the worst news imaginable. She has an inoperable brain tumor and will die in a few months. Rather than spend her last days wallowing in despair, Wendy decides to make the best of her lot. Alone in the world, she sells her family home. She buys a ticket for the maiden voyage of a glamorous cruise ship that’s set to sail the world.

Thus begins Anne Hampson’s Song of the Waves, a vintage Harlequin Presents written in 1976, a year before I was born.

Even for a book so ancient (ha-ha), this romance comes off old-fashioned. It never delves deeper than a few kisses and severely-restrained passion. Anne Hampson’s books might have been among the first published for the Harlequin Presents line, but that sort of antiquated mindset would later cause the publishers to break ties with her in favor of more “modern” minded authors, such as Charlotte Lamb.

A Love That Saves a Life

Introduced into this “love boat” romance is a vast field of characters, couples, and individuals, who will get to know Wendy as she charms her way aboard the ship. Rumors abound that a man-eater movie star is onboard traveling incognito as an innocent naif. One shipmate who believes the gossip is Garth Rivers, the book’s hero.

Unfortunately, Garth puts 1 and 1 together and gets 11, as he thinks our Wendy darling is said actress. So Garth treats her with contempt at first. As he gets more familiar with Wendy, Garth realizes that her sweet demeanor is genuine, and he has trouble synthesizing his preconceptions with reality.

Wendy, for her part, quickly realizes her heart belongs to Garth. However, she hides the truth from him, as she would rather he think her a sophisticated woman of mystery, instead of a girl with a fatal disease.

song of the waves
Song of the Waves, Anne Hampson, Mills & Boon, 1976

Wendy faces her last days with aplomb, not letting her impending doom stop her from enjoying life. She makes the best of her situation, making friends, flirting lightly with would-be suitors, and taking awe of her new surroundings whenever the ship enters port.

Despite the misunderstandings due to lack of communication, our main characters do fall in love. But can love be enough to stop the Grim Reaper’s arrival?

Of course!

Not only is Garth the only man Wendy’s ever loved, but he’s also the only person who can save her. For Garth–serendipitously enough–is a brain surgeon. Only he can perform the complicated, live-sustaining operation on the woman with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life.

Final Analysis of Song of the Waves

Song of the Waves is a cozy romance that’s bound to tug at your heartstrings. Wendy is a delightful heroine. While the plot is set up as a tearjerker love story, fortunately, this is a romance novel. Any tears of sadness are guaranteed to turn into tears of joy with the uplifting conclusion.

stranger in the night

Category Romance Review: Stranger in the Night by Charlotte Lamb

Stranger in the Night, Charlotte Lamb, Harlequin, 1980, William Biddle cover art



5 stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

The Plot

Charlotte Lamb’Stranger in the Night deals with a sensitive topic she’s approached several times: rape. No, it does not employ the controversial trope of “dubious consent” found in many Harlequins from the 1970s and 1980s. This is a healing love story about a traumatic assault that upended a woman’s life and almost destroyed her ability to find a romantic relationship.

On the surface, the set-up of Stranger in the Night might share some commonalities with Emma Darcy’s Don’t Ask Me Now, which had an actual love triangle plot. Here, the heroine Clare is living a good life as a successful actress. She has a male friend Macey, a writer and producer whom she keeps at bay, however much he adores her.

Macey is also a nice guy, one of the most gentle and understanding heroes in an old-school Harlequin Presents. Not a “beta” male, mind you, but a decent man whose aura commands respect. He’s supportive, assertive–not domineering–, and quite sexy to boot.

Macey’s more possessive instincts come to the forefront when a fellow from Clare’s past comes back into her life. While she and this handsome man, Luke, share a past connection, it’s not what Macey thinks. Nine years ago, Clare was a student at a party where she imbibed a bit too much alcohol. The predatory Luke took advantage of Clare and violated her.

Clare and Macey

In the ensuing years, Clare’s built herself a solid career on stage and screen. Along the way, Macey has been there as a trustworthy friend. He’s never hidden his attraction, even though Clare has no desire for romantic entanglements. For years Macey suffered in silence from unrequited love, never pursuing her in a predatory manner. Macey knows that would scare Clare away, and he’d rather have her in his life as a friend instead of not being there at all.

At first, Macey thinks Luke broke Clare’s heart long ago, making him insecure and jealous. It takes some time for the truth to be revealed, and when it is, Macey provides Clare a strong shoulder lean on. He’s there for her to unload the emotional baggage she’s been carrying all alone for so long. What’s more, he wants Luke to pay for the brutal crime committed against the woman Macey loves.

As usual, Lamb’s strength is in her characterization. Clare and Macey seem like authentic people with genuine concerns. Macey’s love for her is evident, but Clare struggles to deal with her feelings of sexual desire for him. In the end, Clare must learn to put the past behind her and not allow one horrific situation to define the rest of her life. Love is an emotion she needs to experience in order to heal.

Final Analysis of Stranger in the Night

Charlotte Lamb readers might note the similarities between this book and her full-length novel, A Violation. Both stories feature a heroine named Claire/Clare who must deal with the aftermath of rape and how it affects her and the people in her life. Where A Violation read more like women’s fiction with a Happy For Now conclusion, Stranger In the Night is a true romance with a Happily Ever After.

The only flaw in this book is that A Violation had the luxury of being twice Stranger In the Night‘s length. So some scenes come off a bit rushed and condensed. Regardless, this Harlequin Presents by one of my favorite authors is a book I could not put down. It’s a keeper for an indomitable heroine and a wonderful hero whose love is strong but never forceful.

tabitha in the moonlight

Category Romance Review: Tabitha in Moonlight by Betty Neels

Tabitha in the Moonlight, Betty Neels, Harlequin, 1972, Bern Smith cover art

Harlequin Romance #1905


4 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Heroine & the Hero

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

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.

The Plot

Tabitha lives in a little flat near work. She’s 25, practically on the shelf, and independent, but quite delf-deprecating. She doesn’t think much of her looks. It’s a shame a plain Jane like herself is the type the handsome new doctor would never be interested in. (sigh)

Years ago, Tabitha had lived with her father in their ancestral home, Chidlake. But upon his remarriage and her entrance into nursing school, she left home. Her father died, and by all rights, the family home should be hers. However, her father left it to his second wife, believing she would pass it on to his daughter. At a weekend visit to Chidlake, Tabitha is shocked to see Dr. van Beek in attendance, with her stepsister draped all over him.

Tabitha’s stepmother is a cruel woman, insulting Tabitha’s looks at every turn. Is it a wonder she feels so insecure when compared to her elegant step-sister?

But make no mistake, Marius is not a cad who chases woman after woman. If they’re drawn to him, it’s because he’s one of those confident, handsome men who excels at his profession. Women highly prize that type of man.

There are a few surprises in store for Tabby. Tabitha finds herself accompanying Marius and a patient on a trip on Marius’ boat and then to Holland. There are quite a few charming side characters in this vintage romance that add to the overall enjoyment.

Final Analysis of The Book

This is a sweet romance about a fairy tale coming to fruition in real life. Dr. van Beek was a great hero. Reserved, cool, but you knew what was going on in his mind, that he adored Tabitha. He’s actually a very nice hero, always praising Tabitha, and trying his best to instore confidence in her.

I could have done without Tabitha’s silly insecurities about her looks. She carried on as if she were a troll. I don’t know if it’s limited solely to books, but it seems so many young women are either woefully insecure about themselves or have too much-misplaced arrogance. Can’t there be a middle ground for self-adjusted women who value their true worth?

That’s a minor quibble, as seeing Tabitha grow into her own and flourish under Marius’ kindness made this romance a delightful treasure.


Contemporary Romance Review: Sometimes a Stranger by Angela Alexie

Sometimes A Stranger, Angela Alexie, Pocket Books/ Richard Gallen, 1981, cover artist TBD

Gallen Contemporary Romance #43801-8


4 1/2 Stars

Reviewed by Mary Anne Landers

A Category Romance on Steroids

Like big, dramatic contemporary romances set in glamorous, exciting milieus? With dynamic characters and lots of plot? Then I recommend Sometimes a Stranger by Angela Alexie.

It was originally published in 1981 as part of the Richard Gallen imprint from Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The edition I read came from Paradise Press, a reprint house, in 1990. Can’t say I care much for the cover graphics of my copy. But the text itself—wow!

It does something unusual for a contemporary romance of any generation. Typically stories in this genre take place in “the eternal present.” There are no dates as in historical romances. It’s assumed that what’s going on can happen when the work is first published and any time thereafter.

Trouble is, the present ISN’T eternal. Things change. I imagine some readers (not including me) get put off when vintage-contemporary romances employ the fashions, pop culture, technology, and social attitudes of their times.

That’s not an issue here. Except for a few flashbacks, Alexie’s Sometimes a Stranger starts in 1970 and ends in 1979. With tweaks, it could take place nowadays. But in retrospect, the author was smart to lock the story into its timeframe.

Sometimes A Stranger, Angela Alexie, Paradise Press, 1990 edition, cover artist unknown

Greeks Bearing Gifts

Andrea Carswell, an American travel journalist, goes to Athens to write about the splendors of Greece. And promptly falls in love with one. Alexander Deklos, the playboy heir of a powerful family in the shipping business. His uncle Spyros Demitriades runs the far-flung enterprise, Delphi, Limited. Alex is too busy having fun to take part in it.

He falls in love with Andrea as quickly as she does with him. Which throws a wrench into the plans of his mother, Olympia Deklos, to marry him to another child of a wealthy Greek family, Athena Lampos. Olympia’s marriage was arranged by her parents. Isn’t that good enough for Alex?

Well, no. He won’t give up Andrea for anything. But he does give up his carefree lifestyle. Alex becomes a major player on Team Delphi. Both choices come with consequences.

Life In the Fast Lane

Then stuff happens. Lots of stuff! To avoid spoilers, that’s as far as my summary will go. But here’s a hint. The plot covers jealousy, business intrigue, workaholism, medical crises, disaster, family feuds, secrets, revenge. Plus, a theme forbidden in today’s romance fiction. Infidelity.

But these disparate themes all work together to enrich the main one, the love between Andrea and Alex. It’s central to the story even when their relationship hits the rocks. Which it does with a force that can be measured on the Richter scale! 

The author employs multiple points of view. But the most frequent POV character is Andrea. A woman who deeply feels every emotion. Which the author conveys with great sensitivity.

And Alex? He’s an alpha hero, all right. He displays that millennia-old failing of his fellow countrymen, hubris. He’s always right, even when he’s wrong!

Though the heroine remains sympathetic throughout the story, the hero is all over the good-bad spectrum. A paragon and a ruthless businessman. A family man and a libertine. A dream lover and a total ass. 

Yet these extremes and everything in between are all phases of the same man. Such is the author’s skill that I can believe Alex as every one of them. And all are fascinating. Even when he’s at his worst, I understand why Andrea still loves him. 

The settings are numerous. Mainly Athens, the Aegean island of Mykonos, London, and New York. These places seem real; reading about them is the next best thing to being there. But in a profound sense, the story unfolds in the hearts and minds of the main characters. Which IMHO is where any story should.

Dutch edition of Sometimes a Stranger, Zo Dichtbij en Toch Ver Weg (So Close and Yet Far Away), Phoenix, 1982, Franco Accornero cover art (front & back cover)

Nearly Perfect

Sometimes a Stranger does almost everything right. Almost? Yes. A few aspects could be better. 

The cast of characters is large, and some of their names sound similar to those of others. And can be in the wrong form given the characters’ ethnicities. For example, Alexander should be Alexandros. I know, that’s just a picky little detail.

More serious is this. A major plot thread, the heroine’s career, is handled poorly. Early on, Andrea gets into writing novels. But success comes too easily. And with a minimum of drama. That’s one of only two aspects of this book with insufficient drama.

The other is her family. Wisely, the author gives them less attention than Alex’s relatives. But they don’t warrant even that. They’re just not that interesting. And in the case of Noah Truesdale, Andrea’s grandfather, it’s hard to believe a powerful newspaper magnate can be such a nice guy. Though I must admit my idea of a man in his position was formed by watching “Citizen Kane”!

Alex’s kinfolk and their interactions make for fascinating reading. Andrea’s don’t. One of these families is dysfunctional. Guess which one.

But don’t let that stop you from reading this novel. And how I wish someone in Hollywood would buy it from a used-book website, find it as enthralling as I do, and turn it into a movie!

whisper to the waves

Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Waves by Helen Beaumont

category romance
Whisper to the Waves by Helen Beaumont
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1981
Illustrator: Unknown
Imprint or Line: Sapphire Romance
Published by: Hamlyn Paperbacks, RCA Marketing
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 181
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: arkansasannie

Category Romance Review: Whisper to the Waves by Helen Beaumont

Spoiler Free Review 😊

Welcome Aboard!

Whisper to the Waves by Helen Beaumont is a good contemporary romance that, with a little tweaking, could’ve been an excellent one.

It was published by RCA Marketing in 1982 in its Sapphire Romance series. These were American reprints of British originals. This one was first published by Hamlyn Paperbacks in 1981. 

All I know about the author is that “Helen Beaumont” might be a pseudonym. She wrote romances under at least three other names. And there’s more than one author with this name.

Whoever she was, she displays here a keen sense of just what makes a story romantic. And emotional; this one is full of drama. All centered on a heroine I can readily admire and identify with, a woman of deep feelings and a truly romantic disposition. Her story is a moving and memorable read. I would’ve given it five stars if not for–well, more about that later.

Are shipboard romances real?

Sadie Wyman works as a nurse aboard the ocean liner Konkordia under the ship’s physician Dr. Kelvin Moore. They’re having an affair, which is against company policy. The rule they break isn’t enforced, but they prudently keep their relationship under wraps. Sadie is deeply in love with Kelvin. But what does he feel about her? She’s the only viewpoint character, and his heart and mind are hard for her to read. But she sure can tell when his eye roves!

As the ship sails from England en route to a month-long Mediterranean cruise, Sadie encounters, for the first of many times, passengers Grant and Lois Halliday. They’re a grown-up brother and sister but products of a dysfunctional family, and it shows. He’s a brawny Australian who bullies his nervous, frightened sibling. Grant is as exuberant and outgoing as Lois is depressed and withdrawn.

Sadie feels instant sympathy for the pathetic young woman. And just as quickly, animosity towards her overbearing brother.

Meanwhile, Sadie lands on the blacklist of Kelvin’s senior nurse, Teresa Gray. Why? Sadie doesn’t know. She can’t figure out her resentful colleague, though not for lack of trying. 

Then there’s passenger Bill “Jeff” Jefferson, an affluent American restaurateur. He’s looking for love; his search quickly focuses on Sadie. When Grant isn’t berating Lois or needling Sadie, he enjoys himself with a fellow passenger, the gorgeous and glamorous Paula Cummings.

Love on the rocks

Then stuff happens. A lot of stuff! Which I won’t divulge; I hate spoilers. Suffice it to say there’s plenty of plot. Some of it transpires at the ship’s ports of call. The author gives us a vivid sense of these exotic places and working aboard a cruise ship. A real page-turner, this story keeps a reader wondering, “What happens next?”

And herein lies the first of two problems I have with “Whisper to the Waves”. The middle and latter sections rely heavily on a series of surprises. Each of the three major male characters is hiding something. Actually, Kelvin hides two things; I’ve mentioned one, but there’s something he won’t reveal even to Sadie. In the course of an eventful cruise, these secrets come to light. And boy, do they make life complicated for our heroine! 

There’s a right way for an author to handle surprises and a wrong way. The former is to work into the storyline in advance with clues, hints, and foreshadowing. These bits at first seem minor, irrelevant, or contradictory. But they prepare the reader for when the author drops a bombshell. Once that happens, the reader gets a pleasurable sense of: “What a surprise! But it all makes sense now.”

Here the author properly sets us up for only one major surprise. The rest come out of left field. There’s either too little preparation or none at all. A reader might justly react by thinking, “What a contrivance!” Well, this one did.

Loved her, Hated him!

But that’s merely a matter of plot mechanics. A far more serious problem with this romance is the hero. It’s easy to tell early on who fills this role, namely Grant. And he’s perfectly dreadful. An arrogant, self-centered, cynical control freak. No redeeming characteristics. Not my idea of a hero.

What does Sadie see in him? Why would Grant want a woman like her, who can’t be bossed around? And who won’t settle for less than real love, something she can experience and give but Grant can’t?

Big mystery. Well, actually, no mystery at all. Many readers and writers think it’s romantic when two incompatible people become a couple.

Obviously, I’m not one of them. So in this respect, Whisper to the Waves flounders. But otherwise, it’s smooth sailing!



‘Shipboard romances are for fun, not for real.’

So she said, but Sadie Wyman, nursing sister on board Konkordia, found it difficult to practice what she preached when the ship’s surgeon was so devastatingly attractive. She was falling seriously it love with Dr Kelvin Moore. But then Kelvin himself went down with a perforated appendix, and Sadie was in for some big surprises — not least of which was the identity of the big man with the Australian accent who had antagonized her on sight …

Whisper to the Waves by Helen Beaumont
CATEGORIES: , , , , , , , , ,


mansfield park

Free Vintage or Old School Romance Books on Amazon #2

Amazon Prime

There are so many books listed on Amazon for free to read, that we had to post some more freebies!

If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can borrow up to 10 books for free at a time. The lending library is limited to just 1,000 books, so check often to see what is available as the status of e-books changes. Currently, these romance novels published from the 1970s to 2000 are free to borrow (original cover edition followed by Amazon image/link):

Classic Romance


mansfield park

Contemporary Romance



Gothic Romance



the secret woman



Historical Romance







Moonstruck madness





Savage Ecstasy

Kindle Unlimited

If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, no doubt you already take advantage of the many books you can read for a fixed monthly fee. These old school romances are available to read on KU (original cover edition followed by Amazon image/link):

Classic Romance



Historical Romance





Category Romance Review: Tangled Tapestry by Anne Mather

Tangled Tapestry by Anne Mather
Rating: two-half-stars
Published: 1969
Imprint or Line: Mills & Boon Romance #419
Published by: Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance, Vintage Romance
Pages: 18
Format: Paperback, eBook
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Category Romance Review: Tangled Tapestry by Anne Mather



I’m cheating a bit with the date range we have here for books on Sweet Savage Flame. Tangled Tapestry was published in 1969 and never was reprinted in paperback in English in North America. This book was released in e-format a few years ago. Still, it’s close enough for government work, as the expression goes.

The Book

Thanks to Anne Mather‘s Tangled Tapestry I realize publishers don’t always put accurate copyright information in the front of e-books. Going into this read, I knew it was a vintage romance, but I only found out it was published in 1969 when I finished.

I’m only stating this because, like many things written in the mid-20th century, it’s aged as if… it was written in the mid-20th century! Tangled Tapestry may offend some readers’ sensibilities. Or, if you’re twisted like me, it will make you laugh as I did at this legendary panel from a Batman comic:

It’s funny because he keeps talking about his boner.

The Plot

British school teacher, Debra Warren, is on a work-exchange program in San Francisco educating underprivileged children. She takes them on a field trip to visit one of the local major movie studios because everyone knows San Francisco is right next to Hollywood.

(Anne Mather got her geography off in this one; it would be like going to Boston and taking a trip to visit the Lincoln Memorial, wouldn’t it?)

The staff at the studio are amazed by Debra’s similar looks to the deceased movie star, Elizabeth Steel, and instantly demand she take a screen test.

Before she knows what’s going on, Debra is whisked away by L.A. writer, Dominic McGill, to meet movie producers. Her appearance to Elizabeth is too close to be just a coincidence and, eventually, the orphaned Debra learns Elizabeth Steel was her real mother. Everyone’s dying to remake one of Steel’s old films that Dominic wrote starring our innocent heroine.

Debra is feeling pushed into a life she’s not sure she wants. She only knows that Dominic makes her feel all tingly, so much that she gives bitchy looks to the nubile females who cling to him. Then there are the unspoken rumors concerning Dominic and her mother. Could Dominic–gasp–have been her mother’s toyboy lover?

Tangled Tapestry Anne mather
Tangled Tapestry, Anne Mather, alternate Mills and Boon

The Romance

There is little romance here. Oh sure, there are a couple of sweet kisses and a whole paragraph at the end of the book where Dominic declares his love for Debra. But Dominic’s not the kind of man who chases women, so when Debra hurts Dominic’s pride, it’s she who follows him, she who does the “big grovel.”

Personally, I don’t care much for groveling, neither from the hero nor the heroine, (unless they really did do something horrid & then groveling is only a drop in the bucket!), so it didn’t bother me, although I know some readers like that sort of comeuppance when the hero’s a bit of an alpha-hole. And yes, Dominic is overbearing, cold, inscrutable, and unyielding, but I wouldn’t have vintage heroes any other way.

I mean, he needed to be a little stoic. It’s bad enough he’s in his late 30’s, parties with teenagers, hosts surfing parties, and dances the Watusi.

(I couldn’t figure out how to post a gif so here’s a picture of a huge Watusi bull.

Yeah, I know it’s 2021. I’m still clueless. I just learned to pronounce the word, for goodness’ sake!)

The Watusi. Not to be confused with the Batusi.

Time Stands Still For No Man

Oh, about the dated aspect of this book?

  • The meals: Hamburgers and coffee. Yuck. Why did people in the ’50s and ’60s eat that way? Yes, I know sodas are just as bad to have, but at least they taste good with food. Coffee is a morning drink and for occasional desserts.
  • The alcoholic drinks: LOTS of them and half of them gin martinis.
  • The smoking: Debra swears she hardly ever smokes, but she’s a liar because she smokes like a mesquite BBQ grill. I counted 48 references to cigarettes in this book! Plus another 10 to smoke/smoking.
  • The language: YMMV about taking offense. There are about a 1/2 dozen observations using old-timey racial terminology.
  • The music: Anne Mather really dug Dave Brubeck, didn’t she? She’s referred to him in other books. I looked him up. Don’t think this is what the teenagers in 1969 were hip to, but if that floats your boat, *shrug.*
Dave Brubeck. Did all the gals in the late ’60s dance erotically to this guy’s tunes?

Since the setting is mostly California, Anne Mather wanted to make sure we knew her hero was American so the book is peppered with cheesy epithets like:

  • Baby – 18 times
  • Kid – 12 times
  • Honey – 29 times
Tangled Tapestry Anne mather

Final Analysis of Tangled Tapestry

As I said, there wasn’t much romance in Tangled Tapestry. Debra basically allowed herself to be carried away by others to do their bidding. She didn’t want to be a movie star, so why didn’t she just open her mouth and say so? Then she pined away for Dominic was pathetic! I swear Anne Mather must have had at least ten heroes with that name!

Dominic played it hot and cold with her. He was never open with Debra until the very end.

Even so, this book wasn’t awful, because there was something charming about how dated it was. Anne Mather’s books are rarely timeless; you can almost always tell what decade they were written by the clothes. T

This sweet vintage romance (no sex, just mild kissing) was even more old-fashioned than Mather’s usual stuff. The characters were partying to old jams and shaking to the latest dances. (Aside: that’s one reason why I avoid modern contemporaries. I have zero interest in reading about a hero/heroine who grinds or twerks.) But their morals were somewhere in the 1950s. Quaint and old-fashioned. Although I can appreciate that when reading vintage romance.

Too bad the romance was lackluster here.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 2.5


Debra Warren had believed during all her life that she was orphaned, until she went to San Francisco to work. She found she was the daughter of the famous actress Elizabeth Steel. There she knew Dominic McGill.

Shadows on the Moon

Category Romance Review: Shadows on the Moon by Peggy Gaddis


Lovely Eve Harrison was shouldering the burden of running the many businesses that made up the vast Harrison enterprises in Florida, while at the same time caring for her crippled, embittered brother, Pete.

Eve had no time to think of her own life…or of love, even though her general manager and childhood sweetheart, Doug Hammond, had been pressing her to marry him. It took the arrival of a mysterious, handsome hitch-hiker and a glamorous heiress to create a many-sided triangle and open Eve’s eyes to the meaning of life and love. 


Reviewed by Mary Anne Landers

Spoiler Free Review 😊

The Prolific Peggy Gaddis

Peggy Gaddis (1895 to 1966) was a big name in mid-century genre fiction. Born in the state of Georgia, she worked as a pulp magazine editor in New York in the 1920s. She must have learned what the readers wanted because she later became a popular fiction writer in various genres. Gaddis is credited with almost 300 works under a dozen names (that I know of). 

Her fortes include contemporary category romance novels; Shadows on the Moon is one example. First published as a hardcover by Arcadia House in 1960, it has been reprinted several times and on both sides of the pond. The version I read is a Magnum paperback published by Prestige Books in the mid-to-late 1970s. Like all books in the series, the copyright page doesn’t bear the date of this edition.

The title sounds gothic-like, but the novel is actually a brisk, dynamic tale of a young businesswoman (circa 1960) facing problems in her work, her family, and her love life. If you go for zesty, realistic plots full of true-to-life characters, with snappy dialog and a pace that never lags, this book might well be your cup of tea. Or should I say a glass of orange juice; it takes place at a citrus grove and processing center in Florida.

Growing Oranges Can Be the Pits

That estate, a family business, is run by Eve Harrison. She’s doing a great job, but mechanical failures and accidents are cutting into the profits. And she must put up with her only close kin, her embittered brother Peter, who’s confined to a wheelchair. Together they own the company, but only Eve takes part in it.

She has an understanding, sort of, with Doug Hammond, her general manager. They were childhood sweethearts, but the grownup Eve simply can’t work up the requisite passion for him. Against his desires, she does her best to evade the prospect of marriage. Which wouldn’t be possible anyhow as long as Eve must take care of the testy Peter.

Then she picks up hitchhiker Brian Eldredge. Though he seems like just another tramp, he turns out to be a highly-skilled mechanic. Eve gives him a job repairing her trouble-prone machinery.

Brian quickly suspects these accidents are anything but. He says it’s sabotage. But who would do such a thing? Why?

As if all this weren’t enough, enter Valerie Blaisdell—New York socialite, adventure-seeker, heiress to millions. She stumbles upon the Harrison property when a maritime mishap leaves her adrift off its shore. With her beauty, charm, and vivacious personality, Valerie makes herself right at home. Eve likes her. Doug likes her. But how well?

A Juicy Story

A lot happens, but to avoid spoilers I’ll stop here. Shadows on the Moon has much going for it. The author skillfully brings to life her characters, their conflicts, their issues. Ditto the setting, a colorful agricultural-industrial town. Her characters are very much a part of their environment and vice versa. A real slice of life. An orange slice!

Still, I have a few reservations. It’s clear from the first chapter that Brian is the hero. He and Eve are destined for each other. She’s bound to become his main squeeze. (Okay, I’ll cool it with the orange jokes!)

But it takes forever for their relationship to move beyond strictly business. I’m not talking about a slow burn. That term implies the hero and/or heroine feel early on the first stirrings of love. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Here that doesn’t happen until the last quarter of the word count. Way too late for me! 

And then there’s the one major character the author handles poorly. That’s Peter. Even in 1960 the embittered cripple, to use the then-current term, must’ve been a cliché. I just can’t believe him. He gets his own romantic subplot, but I can’t believe that either.

Still, I enjoyed Shadows on the Moon, and recommend it. A few rotten oranges shouldn’t stop you from buying the whole crate.

Oh jeez, there I go again! 🍊

4 Stars

univited wedding guest edited

Category Romance Review: Uninvited Wedding Guest by Marsha Manning (aka Hettie Grimstead)

Uninvited Wedding Guest, Marsha Manning, Prestige Books, 1979 (1968 original pub date), cover artist TBD

#4287 Magnum Books

(#108 Treasures of Love & #1106 Women’s Weekly Library)

Spoiler Free Review 😊

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s not exactly the easiest vintage romance to find, but it’s a memorable one. Uninvited Wedding Guest began as a hardcover titled Friend of the Bride, published in 1968 by Ward, Lock, & Company, Ltd. in the UK and by Lenox Hill Press in the US. My guess is these companies aimed their products at public libraries, in the manner of Avalon Romances. This novel was reprinted as a booklet-style paperback by the British publisher IPC Magazines in its “Women’s Weekly Library” series, as number #1106, in 1974.

Friend of the Bride, Marsha Manning, Women’s Weekly Library, 1974, cover artist TBD

It next appeared in June 1979 as a mass-market paperback, Magnum Romances #4287, published by the New York company Prestige Books. It was released with a new title, the (fittingly) more dramatic one under which I’m reviewing the novel. 

In December of that year it turned up in another series, the three-books-in-one “Treasures of Love” #108, also published by Prestige Books. The last edition is the one I read, and probably the easiest to find in the used-book market. These chunky multi-book paperbacks hold up through time and use better than the slimmer single-title kind. And we all know what lending-library books go through! 

Uninvited Wedding Guest, Marsha Manning, Prestige Books, 1979, Gina Waldman interior artwork

I don’t know of any subsequent reprints. As of this writing, the book isn’t available at the Internet Archive.

As for the author, Marsha Manning was a pen-name of the prolific Hettie Grimstead. I’ve already reviewed on this blog two other category romances she wrote, one under each name, Yesterday’s Love and Whisper to the Stars.

He Makes Quite an Entrance!

Uninvited Wedding Guest starts with our heroine, English country girl Tessa Paulton, attending the wedding of her twin brother Terry, a seed merchant, and the glamorous model Carol Stokeley. At the reception, a stranger appears, an attractive but angry man who demands to see the bride. When that fails, he makes a scene. Tessa gets curious and talks to him, but learns nothing, not even his name. He vanishes as mysteriously as he’d appeared.

She assumes the wedding crasher is an old boyfriend of Carol’s, chagrined at losing her. A good guess. But wrong! 

Tessa and the mystery man cross paths again when she goes to Ibiza in the Balearic Islands for a vacation–er, holiday; this is a British novel! His name is Dominic Tannis; he’s a wealthy shipper; he has a strong connection to Carol. What is it? That’s one of several twists and surprises in the plot. And given my aversion to spoilers, I’ll stop here.

A Real Page-Turner

But it’s obvious from the get-go that Tessa and Dominic will fall in love. One of them does so considerably sooner than the other. This provides plenty of engrossing drama, as do family problems and trouble at his company. 

Not to mention an old boyfriend of Tessa’s. Plus disturbing evidence that she might not be the only woman in Dominic’s life. A staple element in category romances of this period, but here the author handles it better than usual. Her accomplishment is even greater because the heroine suspects she has not just one rival, but two.

These are disparate themes, but they all work together. They don’t detract from each other. Rather, they enhance each other. Which is my idea of how a plot should work.

The author conveys well the emotions of the one viewpoint character, Tessa. The various principal characters all come to life. As do the three contrasting main venues of the story: the heroine’s quaint hometown in Sussex, charming and picturesque Ibiza, and glamorous, sophisticated London during the Swinging Sixties.

But, There Are the Buts

So why didn’t I give this book five stars? Two reasons. The romantic drama is done well, but it relies too heavily on finding out facts and clearing up misconceptions. It doesn’t plunge into the depths of more profound dramatic elements—for instance, coming to a painful decision, growing from one stage of life to another, epiphany. The Marsha Manning romance I first reviewed, Yesterday’s Love, deals with all three. Thus reading it was a more meaningful and moving experience. And yes, a more romantic one, at least to me.

My second issue? At one point the relationship between the hero and heroine collapses because of a misdirected letter. That worked in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but here it’s just a contrivance. The heart-wrenching misunderstanding goes on for several weeks. Nowadays it can be cleared up in seconds with a text message. In the 1960s, when this novel was written, it could’ve been cleared up in minutes with an overseas phone call.

But don’t let that discourage you. If you go for emo romances, I recommend Uninvited Wedding Guest. I just wish it were easier to find!

Reviewed by Mary Anne Landers


Vintage Romance Review: Palace of the Peacocks by Violet Winspear

Palace of the Peacocks by Violet Winspear
Rating: three-half-stars
Published: 1969
Illustrator: J h
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Romance #1318
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance, Vintage Romance
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Vintage Romance Review: Palace of the Peacocks by Violet Winspear

The Book

Palace of the Peacocks may be a bit of an ultra-vintage oldie, as it was published in 1969, not post-1972. However, I’m running short on reviews for this weekend. Plus, this book is a Violet Winspear Harlequin Romance–an author whose works I enjoy.

This one was a nice read, sweet but filled with enough drama to add some zing.

palace of the peacocks

The Plot

In Winspear’s Palace of the Peacocks, the heroine Temple Lane is typical of many of her vintage romance sisters. She is orphaned, diligent, faithful, and unworldly.

She flies to Indonesia to meet up with her long-time fiancé, but her life falls into shambles after discovering his affair with a local girl. Without any funds to get back home, she’s desperate to find employment. Temple disguises herself as a boy to gain passage on a ship. She’s bunked with a stoic, one-eyed Dutchman named Ryk van Helden. (Winspear had a thing for maiming heroes, didn’t she? Blinding them, cutting off their limbs, etc.)

Eventually, Temple’s true identity is revealed. When Ryk hears of her plight, he offers Temple employment, transcribing old journals in his beautiful, enchanting jungle palace.

Ryk also provides Temple with room, board, and a female servant. The maid makes no bones about her resentment of Temple, as she has designs on Ryk herself.

As the weeks pass, Temple slowly falls under the combined spell of the romantic tale she’s working on and her seductive surroundings.

Not to mention, there is her cold yet dangerously attractive employer. Ryk treats Temple dismissively, acting superior to her in every way. Temple, though is no meek girl and meets his seeming disdain head-on with lots of spirit.

Final Analysis of Palace of the Peacocks

I really enjoyed Palace of the Peacocks, despite it containing my big romance pet peeve of the hero-in-mourning-for-his-dead-lover. Fortunately, Winspear doesn’t ever go into Ryk’s head; he’s written enigmatically until the very end.

That’s what I like: a man of mystery, albeit one the reader knows, deep down, he’s falling hard for his heroine—none of this psycho-analyzing the hero’s thoughts every two pages.

And, of course, there’s the extraordinary long-awaited declaration of love in the end!

Palace of the Peacocks is a satisfying romance with a jealous other woman, a charming locale, a heroine who gives as good as she gets, and a seemingly-aloof hero who falls madly for her.

3.75 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 3.7


Temple Lane had gone out to the Java Seas to marry her fiance, but all her plans fell through when she found someone else had taken her place. In her desperate endeavours to get away from the situation, she met the Dutchman Ryk van Helden -and promptly found she had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire! It was difficult enough being the only white girl for miles around – but the greater problem was how to cope with what she soon recognised as the devastating attraction of her new employer. True, he seemed to look on her as just another of the waifs and strays he was so fond of collecting – and Temple knew he had never forgotten the girl he had once loved, and lost -but nevertheless, he was a man of magnetic appeal, and even if he could remain impervious to the situation, could Temple?