I love to read. I love stories. And right now, my kind of story is vintage romance fiction.
By which I mean romances published in the twentieth century. In particular certain varieties of the genre, with features that were once popular but have since gone out of style. That’s why I’m grateful for a blog like Sweet Savage Flame. Here I can get info and opinions about my favorite body of fiction. And share my own!
Why romance? Why vintage? To answer both questions, I must start with who I am as a reader.
A Lifelong Love of Reading
I’m an American and a Baby Boomer. I was born the year Eisenhower was elected. And exposed to the cultural influences of my generation. I liked some kinds of art and entertainment, tolerated others, rejected some. I wasn’t picky at first, but the years made me pretty selective.
I’ve been in love with reading ever since I could read. In the beginning, there was Dick and Jane. Then books assigned by my teachers or given to me by my parents. Well, my mother; my dad wasn’t much of a reader.... Read more “Why Romance? Why Vintage?”
Chance the Winds of Fortune A Disappointing Sequel
Chance the Winds of Fortune is the sequel to Laurie McBain‘s Moonstruck Madness, a romance about a gender-bending highwayman (girl) who falls for an arrogant, scarred Duke, notorious for his dueling skills. I LOVED Moonstruck Madness… The follow-ups to that wonderful book about their daughter, Rhea Claire, Chance the Winds of Fortune & Dark Before the Rising Sun, though…uggh.
Please forgive my bluntness. They’re too long, boring, and stink. Even McBain’s tepid first outing, Devil’s Desire, was better than these.
The two sequels books combine to over 1000 pages, telling the tale of a vanilla-bland daughter of the protagonists of a much more compelling story. Perhaps if McBain had combined both novels into one 700 page epic, I would have found more enjoyment out of the romance.
The history of series romances goes back roughly a century ago to 1909. Since the rise of paperback publishers, many romance lines have come and gone. Still standing is Mills & Boon and its parent company, Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Bantam and Dell, no longer publish category romance, nor does Signet, Zebra, or Simon and Schuster. The latter formed Silhouette Books in 1980. However, Harlequin famously purchased that line, eventually folding it into its own.
On our menu above, we have pages dedicated to romance authors, cover artists, and publishing houses. The history of publishing houses and imprints can be quite byzantine, as many companies were bought out by others, only to be resold again. In researching paperback romances of the past, I’ve come upon both an abundance and paucity of information, depending upon who or what I’m investigating. I want to do more in-depth research on each line, but often when I come upon fascinating tidbits of history, it leads to another line or publisher.
Recently, Jacqueline asked why people read romance novels. I’ll answer that question in another post, but I wanted to use this one to explain how I became a romance novel aficionado.
How it All Began
My romance novel journey began in 1980. My late mother had a small collection of books and I picked one up and started reading it. (I don’t recall the name or author of the book, but it was a Harlequin Romance about two figure skaters whose previous partners dumped them. The hero and heroine then teamed up, and fell in love. Little did I know what that first book started.
Expanding the Circle
As the 1980s went on, my reading choices expanded, from Harlequin Romance to Harlequin Presents, Superromance and Temptation, as well as Richard Gallen contemporary romances and Zebra/Kensington historical romances.
As the ’90s came and went, I turned away from historical romances and went all-in on Harlequin and its sister imprint, Silhouette books. (The clerks at B. Dalton, a sadly defunct bookstore chain, began to know me by name as every month, I would go in and purchase two baskets full of books).... Read more “My Romance Novel Journey”
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”
The heroine of Lisa Kleypas’ Then 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, for the most part, 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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Was this tepid, dull romance actually penned by Johanna Lindsey? The Heir was the first book that I noticed a weird change in her writing. Previously, if there was a Lindsey I didn’t like, it was due to a dull plot or excessive fighting between the leads. In this one, there is friendship for sure, but romantic isn’t what I’d call the relationship between Duncan and Sabrina.
The Plot: Friends to Lovers
Duncan, a Highland Scot, is the new heir to be an English Marquess. Everyone is eager to meet this new laird, er lord, especially the young ladies in town. Sabrina has no designs on Duncan; she’s plump, plain, orphaned, and not anyone’s ideal candidate for a wife. Certainly not for an heir to a Marquessate.
Then there’s the manipulative, beautiful Ophelia, who desperately wants Duncan’s title.
Slowly, painfully slowly, Sabrina and Duncan’s relationship turns physical, and one night they make love. But Ophelia’s scheming makes it appear as if Duncan has ruined her, so the red-haired idiot decides to do the honorable thing: marry Ophelia. Duncan is too young and he flounders in areas where a more mature man might have acted differently.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Heir by Johanna Lindsey”
What can I say about Carole Mortimer’s Trust in Tomorrow (originally published as Cherish Tomorrow in the US & Canada)? Sadly, that I wasn’t really feeling this one. The romance aspect of the book was fine, kind of adorable, actually, with a very young heroine, Chelsea, in pursuit of the much older hero, Lucas. She knows she wants her man and is willing to fight for him. I really wish Chelsea and Lucas could have had a better plot to go along with their romance. The romance was fine, but it was the story that had me going, huh?
Chelsea’s mother has just suddenly died, and since her father is a famous tv celebrity, he dispatches her from California to England to get away from the press. He sends her to stay with Lucas, an old family friend Chelsea hasn’t known since she was 12 and he was 27 when she had a HUGE crush on him. Creepy, but whatever. Since they haven’t seen each other in years, neither recognizes the other. So this leads to a bit of a misunderstanding that’s quickly cleared up.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Trust in Tomorrow by Carole Mortimer”