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.
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 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.
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.
This review is of Tangled Web a Zebra Regency romance by Janice Bennett.
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”
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.
If you watch Madonna’s “Material Girl” video, that pretty much sums up the plot of this category romance. Man in Control by Alice Morgan features a unique heroine, an avaricious young woman who openly acknowledges that she’s looking to settle down with a man, not for love but money. This Dell Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme wasn’t fabulous or anything (few of them really were). However, the book was quirky enough to hold my interest, even if it could have been shortened by 100 pages.
Samantha Thatcher has come to San Francisco to look for a rich sugar daddy to sink her red claws into. And why shouldn’t she? She’s young, beautiful, and poor, so a girl ought to know what’s in her best interest. Her aunt has lined up several prospective candidates for Sam to date.
On her way to her aunt’s, she gets a flat tire. A handsome red-haired trucker named Steele pulls over to fix her flat. He’s a charming fellow who takes an immediate interest in Sam. When he finds out why she’s is in town, he’s determined to show her that there’s more to a husband than what’s in his pants–er, wallet.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Man in Control by Alice Morgan”
The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie is a tale of a Gaelic, black-haired, fiery-spirited lass forced by circumstances to become a thief to provide for her family, only to be thwarted by an arrogant, scar-faced, golden-haired Duke…
Hmm. Where have I heard this plot before? Oh yes, Laurie McBain‘s Moonstruck Madness! Sadly, that’s where the similarities end. If you remove all the intelligent writing, the interesting side characters, and the sexual chemistry between the leads from McBain’s book, we have this dull, meandering read. Except for Jennifer Blake, I’ve come to find that Fawcett-published romances were rarely ever excellent, and this dud is another to put in the slush pile.
One day in Lancashire, England, some drunken soldiers looking for excitement come upon the house of the Avory family. They ransack the home, kill the dog, the Irish-born widow Lady Delilah, and her young son before raping the teenaged daughter. The eldest sister, and our heroine, Raven, was not in residence while this occurred, arriving in time to witness the aftermath of her home’s destruction.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie”
It’s the mid-1830’s and Scottish immigrant Reiver MacPherson has been granted lands by the new Texas government. The dilapidated property he acquired belonged to an old Spanish family, but the place is now abandoned. Or at least Reiver thinks it is, because to his surprise, there he finds an emaciated young wisp of a girl, Mercedes-Maria, whose family once owned the lands but has fled to Mexico, leaving her behind. So begins Deana James’ Texas Storm.
Mercedes is a bit of a wild child, and at first, Reiver has no patience for her. She insists the land is hers; he claims it’s is. The two butt heads but eventually agree to work together. Slowly, a romance unfolds as the pair get to know one another—sexual attraction forms. With James’ trademark earthy sensuality describing the passages, their passion results in vivid lovemaking sessions.
Mercedes & Reiver get married more out of convenience than love. However, their love grows as they experience adventure after adventure.
I’m very fond of the line of Magnum romances published during the seventies. Someone was carefully curating the best products of the big British publishers for reprinting in the US. Often the result was a winner. But often isn’t always.
First published in 1976 by IPC Magazines Ltd. in the Women’s Weekly Library series, To Cherish My Beloved by Dorothy Heaton in its 1977 Magnum reprint caught my eye with an intriguing blurb and a gorgeous emo clinch cover; wish I knew who created it. The first few chapters presented a fascinating situation. I just had to find out what happened next!
A lot of stuff did, but overall the story failed to live up to its early promise. So I must be frank: this book is a dud.
A Five-Star Book, Albeit a Rating I Give Reluctantly
After deliberation, I decided to give Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri five stars, although I do so with some high degree of reluctance. The explanation why follows.
The Story: Part One
This Zebra Lovegram begins with the hero of the book, Freya Jorgenson, being born. Her father, Thorfast, is a warring Viking who wanted a son. He orders his man, Sven, to kill Freya. Sven, however, being a kind soul, chooses not to and, with the help of a captured English slave, raises Freya as his daughter.
Earlier, Sven did a similar thing. Years earlier, when Thorfast and his men went a-Viking–i.e., murdering, pillaging, and raping–they sacked an English village, killing all the males and raping the females. One of the women, Wilone, wife of the head of the earldom whom Thorfast killed, offered herself as a sexual slave to Thorfast in exchange for sparing her life and the life of her unborn child. Thorfast raped Wilone and ordered Sven to kill her and her child, which he did not do.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri”
(Note: This review was written by the newest member of our Sweet Savage Flame family, Mary Anne! We’re delighted to welcome her aboard as she has so much valuable information and opinions to share with us. Mary Anne is a reader, reviewer, and writer. Read more about her on our About page.)
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Sapphire Romances was a line of American paperback romances, mostly contemporary, issued by RCA Direct Marketing in 1982. I’m pretty sure they were available only through mail order; there’s no price on the covers. The books were reprints of British originals and The Hamlyn Publishing Group often appears on the copyright page. The venture lasted only a little while, but produced some remarkable reading.
Out of the Shadows by Stella March was first published in 1967 and has been reprinted several times. This Sapphire edition was published in 1982.
Once a Princess was not one of my favorites by Johanna Lindsey. I’d put this in the unremarkable category with books like Glorious Angel and Tender is the Storm. Not her worst, by any means, but not her best either.
Perhaps it had to do with the book’s aesthetics. I’ve always been a curmudgeon who doesn’t like change simply for the sake of change when everything is fine. So it was a shock that particular June of 1991 to find the Lindsey covers had been revamped. The font was more “romantic” with its loops and curves. The book was a step back and I preferred an open clinch. Avon updated Johanna Lindsey’s pretty photo on the inside back to a less flattering extreme close-up. And the most glaring insult of all, where in the heck was Fabio?
The plot about the search for a secret princess from a fictional country was all right. It was the main characters that made this one almost unbearable.
This review is of Dakota Dreams, a standalone Zebra Lovegram romance by Constance O’Banyon.
The book starts on November 1, 1833. On this day, in a blizzard, two lives will end and one will begin. The lives that end are those of Lady Cillia Remington and her husband, Lord Holden Remington, ninth Marquess of Weatherford. The life that begins is that of their son (Cillia gives birth to her son with the help of Two Moons, an Arapaho war chief. Before she dies, she asks Two Moons to raise her son). Two Moons names the child Dakota, and Two Moons and his wife raise Dakota alongside their biological son, Black Otter.
At first, the two boys are friends and brothers, but as they grow to adulthood, their relationship becomes strained, mostly from Black Otter’s end of the world. After Two Moons’ death, Dakota, now 23 and the hero of the book, leaves to go to England. (Two Moons asked Daktoa to do so before he passed for two reasons. One, for Dakota to truly embrace his heritage, and two, because he feared what Black Otter would do to Dakota).... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Dakota Dreams by Constance O’Banyon”
In Patricia Matthews’ late-Victorian era set Sapphire, treasure hunting and separated lovers are the two driving plot points of this 1989 historical romance.
Down on her luck, when Englishwoman Regina Paxton hears tales of treasure–jewels–in far-away India, she is immediately intrigued. She forms a strange association with burly, bearded Irishman Brian MacBride. Together, the two travel to India in search of treasure. Their journey is rough and arduous. But together, they make it. And what’s more, they actually find the jewels they were searching for.
Of course, the two bond in various ways, enjoying a quick romantic affair.
Regina and Brian separate, as Brian has never been the settling done type. Unfortunately, for Regina, she’s with a child, and settling down is exactly what she needs to do. So in comes along old what’s his name, Will, a nice, unassuming man, who Regina convinces herself will do. She marries him, all the while knowing she’s pregnant with Brian’s child. Indeed, it’s no surprise to her when her son is born with a red shock of hair.
Debbie Macomber’s Country Bride was my introduction to this hugely popular author. I’m ashamed to admit that although I’ve read a handful of her Harlequins, I had no idea that Debbie Macomber was such a commercial hit with her small-town romances. Up until recently, I had no clue that she’s got a whopping 200 million books in print and has written several movies for the Hallmark channel.
Country Bride was released in 1990, and I recall really loving it. Although this book maintains a largely positive rating overall, I was surprised that the top Amazon and Goodreads reviews were negative, blaming the heroine for being too self-centered or the hero for being too overbearing. I thought nostalgia might have colored my opinion of this book, but after a recent re-read, my feelings on Country Bride remain unchanged; I love this little series romance, and a big reason was the hero, Luke.
This review is of Sweet Prairie Passion, book #1 in the “Savage Destiny” series by Rosanne Bittner.
In 1845, a wagon train is headed from Tennessee west to Oregon. Among those on the train is Jason Trent, a widower, and his three children: daughters LeeAnn, 17, Abigail (Abbie), 15, the heroine of the book and the series, and son Jeremy, 7. The Trent family is leaving Tennessee because the memories of Jason’s late wife are too strong. Later, they meet up with two men who are hired to scout and lead the train, one of whom is “Cheyenne” Zeke Monroe, 25, the hero of the book and the series. The fact that Zeke is half-white and half-Cheyenne doesn’t sit well with everyone on the train, and Zeke faces bigotry from some of the train’s denizens, including some with less than savory reputations.
As the book continues, Abigail and Zeke fall in love, but their love is threatened by his past, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, scandal and tragedy. However, even knowing that the Cheyenne Indians–and the Indian people in general–would be facing tremendous hardship, sorrow and tragedy, Zeke and Abbie fall in love and vow to be together.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sweet Prairie Passion by Rosanne Bittner”
Blood Red Roses is understandably a difficult book for some to enjoy. It could be nostalgia goggles on this one for me, plus a love for the glorious red stepback cover. Or it could be the vivid Middle Ages setting, my favorite time period. Or it could be that this book is really a wonderfully written piece of romantic fiction, just styled in a way that appeals to a niche audience. I read this Medieval romance by Katherine Deauxville (Maggie Davis) twice: once in middle school and then years later in high school, and was swept away in the story both times.
Alwyn is practically ancient for her time period at nearly 28 to be unmarried. She’s a seemingly wild Welsh woman forced to be given a prize in marriage to the Norman knight, Fulk de Joburg, as she’s heiress to her dead father’s lands. They spend a passionate night together before Fulk is off again to fight for King William.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Blood Red Roses by Katherine Deauxville”
“Nothing has changed,” Fiona said in desperation. “Jonathan is my son.“
Fiona had had five years to think about her youthful folly–five years to remember Logan Sutherland’s treatment of her. Now, a whim of fate had brought them together again, and he laid claim to the son he hadn’t known existed.
Well, for Jonathan’s sake she would marry this cool, calculating stranger as he demanded. But she would never be his wife!
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Bride at Whangatapu includes the hallmark of almost every one of Robyn Donald’s books, as it intimately details the natural environment of New Zealand. Whether her books were set on a sheep station, on a yacht in the Pacific, or just a tropical backdrop, you could see the bright green grass, feel the ocean spray on your face or smell the hibiscus blossoms (which don’t even have much a scent, do they?).
Also present, Robyn Donald’s first published book is the other hallmark of her writing: an ultra-jerky hero who bullies his way over the heroine. Right from chapter one, when Logan finds that Fiona was the mother of his son who resulted from a one-night stand many years ago, he demands she marry him.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Bride at Whangatapu by Robyn Donald”
Sweet Fire by Jo Goodman is an action-packed romance filled with the requisite passion you’d look for in a Zebra Heartfire, but also adventure, murder mystery, and drama.
Nathan and Brigham are former Australian prisoners & best frenemies now residing in San Fransisco, California. The pair are competing for the hand of Miss Lydia Chadwick. She’s a wealthy heiress, pretty enough, but she pales in comparison to her much more sophisticated and unsurprisingly young stepmother. But, of course, stepmom is the wicked type, and she’s secretly sexing it up with Brig.
On the other hand, Lydia is a woman of social conscience, as she tries to help orphans and prostitutes better their lot in lives. Unfortunately, Lydia’s charity work gets dangerous when a killer is on the loose, killing women on the streets. Sadly, the mystery was no mystery to me, as it’s telegraphed early on who the killer was, but I went with it, anyway, knowing the love story was the real centerpiece of this book.
Love led only to heartbreak. Eve had survived the ordeal of Carl Prentiss, but the experience left her a sadly changed woman. Her trusting young heart was now safely buried. Never again would she love–least of all a rich man who thought his money could buy him everything, including her. So, despite his persistence, Bart Jordan didn’t stand a chance with Eve. She was allowing stubborn bitterness and fear to ruin her life, but if Bart were to treat her as Carl had done, the result would be the same anyway.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Usually, Mortimer’s heroes are cruel and overbearingly alpha. While in Red Rose for Love the hero-in-pursuit starts dominant and determined, when he realizes how hurt the heroine’s been in the past, he changes course and woos her in a gentle and loving manner. He’s a rarity in the Harlequin Presents line: a beautiful, green-eyed blond who’s not a man-ho and is a genuinely nice guy! Yes, he’s overbearing, alpha, all that jazz, but beneath, he’s sensitive to Eve’s needs.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Red Rose for Love by Carole Mortimer”