Secret Fire was, I think, the second Johanna Lindsey romance I read which cemented her works among my favorites. Published in 1987, this book was written during Lindsey’s peak years of output.
The cover is another Elaine Duillo gem, this time featuring white, cream, and brown hues, appropriate for the wintery Russian setting. There’s also a blond male cover model whom I’ve been searching for for years. Forget Fabio and his long-haired colleagues; it’s this guy I have often imagined as the hero of many love stores I’ve read. He’s a perfect model for the ultra-gorgeous hero of Secret Fire, Dimitri.
Dimitri is a half-Russian, half-English Prince who is in England to visit family and smooth over a scandal his sister has gotten into by engaging in an affair with a married man. The uber-sexual Dimitri doesn’t mind his sisters’ affairs, only that she’s so flagrant about them. So he decides to bring her back to Russia on his ship and perhaps find a dutiful spouse for her.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey”
Catherine Coulter takes her propensity to create unlikeable heroes and dials it all the way up to “11” in her supposed romance, The Lord of Hawkfell Island.
Mirana is a young, unmarried woman who lives with her brother in a fortress in Ireland. When he’s away, their home is attacked by Viking raiders seeking vengeance against him, as the Viking leader Rorik blames him for the death of his wife and child. Usually, a hero grieving over his lost love is grounds for me to dislike a historical romance, but thanks to Rurik, I had plenty of other reasons to despise this “love story.”
I shouldn’t even call this a love story because–let’s get this right out the gate–Rorik never says a single word of love to Mirana. And it’s not because he’s so filled with sorrow over his loss. He’s just an unfeeling, cruel, petty, boorish boar. I detested him so much I created a Goodreads shelf labeled “jerky pig hall of fame” for him and his porcine brethren.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Lord of Hawkfell Island by Catherine Coulter”
Books like Jo Ann Ferguson’s An Offer of Marriage suffer from being published during a time of change. When Kensington’s Zebra historical romances died, they didn’t go quickly (actually, Zebras are still around, but they’re not the same as they used to be in the 1980s and 1990s). Before their Heartfire and Lovegram lines ended in the late 1990s, the iconic, colorful covers became dull mockeries of the past, with no lush illustrations, just cheaply photo-shopped images of flowers or castles. In many cases, the covers were nothing more than the title and author’s name.
Zebra dumped most of their best authors (some briefly moved on to Dorchester, which had their own problems) and churned out new lines like Zebra Ballad, Splendor, and Precious Gem Historicals, all of which folded quickly. An Offer of Marriage is a romance from his era.
Christine Monson was best known for her infamous, shocking bodice-ripper Stormfire, which is legendary for the protagonists’ abusive revenge-based romance. Her second book Rangoon significantly turns down the crazy factor, but still retains the sensitive writing that made Stormfire so haunting and memorable.
West Meets East
It’s the late 19th century. Boston-bred Lysistrata travels all the way across the world with her father, a doctor, to Burma to start a new life. Nursing a broken heart from an ill-fated romance, Lysistrata tries valiantly to navigate her way through her new environment and its rigid class system. She meets Richard “Ram” Harley, a half-Burmese, half-British man she can’t help but find attractive. Harley is a pirate who seduces married women and callously threatens to ruin Lysi when she discovers one of his illicit amours.
With a name like Lysistrata that should give a hint about her independent, determined nature. At first, her feisty, “I’ll do it my way!” attitude tested my patience, however I warmed up to her as the book evolved. She’s not the typical foot-stomping, face-slapping heroine (at least not when it comes to the hero) who was so common in old-school bodice rippers.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Rangoon by Christine Monson”
***Welcome Blue Falcon to SweetSavageFlame.com, who will be contributing his great reviews to this site. Here, in his first review, he analyzes Captive Melody by Nadine Crenshaw***
Rating: 1 out of 5.
This review is of Captive Melody, a standalone Zebra from January 1989 by Nadine Crenshaw.
The book starts in July 1876, Northern California. A young wife, Ling Kee (I’m writing her name in the traditional Chinese way, last name first), is brutally attacked by three “men”; among them is Richard Laird, a rancher. After being beaten and raped, Ling Kee commits suicide.
Fast forward five years. Laird has just married Laura Upton, the heroine of the book. Their marriage won’t last, however, as on their wedding night, Laura is kidnapped by Andre Sheridan, the hero of the book and Ling Kee’s husband. Andre plans to hold Laura as bait to draw Richard to Andre’s home and kill him.
Charlotte Lamb’s Seduction features a ridiculously sheltered and innocent heroine and a hero so crazy and obsessed, they can only be found in old-school Harlequin Presents or bodice rippers, “mated-pair” paranormal romances, or perhaps self-published New-Adult books.
Clea is an orphaned English girl living in Greece with her Greek stepfather and stepsister. Her step-sister is a caricature of a slut, pursuing the hero with inexplicably misplaced confidence. Worse, Clea has a creepy step-dad with unhealthy designs on her, as he wants Clea to remain untouched by any man (except himself).
Ben is an Englishman visiting Greece, and he becomes obsessed with Clea from the first instance. He will do anything to get her.
He has a female accomplice named Natalie who befriends Clea and helps Ben abduct her. I wondered what this guy had on Natalie to make her do such a thing, but we never found out. Although just like Kramer from the show, Seinfeld has the power of the “Kavorka,” the “lure of the animal,” which attracts lust and devotion, Ben wields a strange control over women.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Seduction by Charlotte Lamb”
Sally Wentworth’s Shattered Dreams is terrible, for all the wrong reasons, although I’ve read books where far worse events occur to the heroine. Take the bodice ripper great Stormfire, for example. However, in this, Harlequin Presents what the hero does to the heroine seems more repulsive, perhaps due to its condensed nature. Where thick historical romances like Stormfire have 400-500+ pages to deal with insane heroes and their co-dependent heroines, a category romance is limited to 60,000-70,000 words. The craziness level can only be ratcheted up so far before the hero becomes irredeemable.
The Crazy Plot
Sally Wentworth always wrote very well, her prose attentive and skillful, but this was truly bizarre. Kate is happy as a bride can be on her wedding day, as she’s marrying Hugo, the man she loves. Little does she know what her marriage holds in store for her. For Hugo has had a private detective tailing his nubile young wife, and he’s found out startling information: over the past year, she’s been living with some strange man while playing the wealthy Hugo for a fool!... Read more “Category Romance Review: Shattered Dreams by Sally Wentworth”
Other than E. M. Hull’s masterpiece, The Sheik, the Dell-published Desert Hostage by Diane Dunaway would qualify as my most-liked sheik romance.
Harems and desert sheiks romances aren’t usually my cup of tea, as I prefer historical heroes to be swordsmen, cowboys, or knights. Nevertheless, a man like Karim who is passionately devoted to his heroine makes for a great hero, and a romance with such a male protagonist will certainly catch my interest.
This is another book where the half-European, half-Arab sheik carries off his object of desire into the sandy dunes and makes her his.
The story starts with a bang where we read about Karim’s mother and her desert abduction at the hands of a ruthless sheik. She plots and manipulates to have her son be taken to Europe where he will be educated and ”civilized.”
Mary Gillgannon’s Storm Maiden was a novel I was excited to pick up. The blurb told of an intriguing Viking historical romance with plenty of conflicts. Fiona, an Irish lord’s daughter, is dreading marriage to a man she hates. In her father’s dungeon is Dag Thorsson, an injured Viking captive. Fiona sneaks in to see him, cares for his wounds, and tries to seduce him so she’ll be ruined for marriage. But Dag is too wounded and delirious and can’t or won’t do the job.
Soon after, Vikings led by Dag’s brother, the chieftain of his people, come to Dag’s rescue. Despite his hindering injury to his sword arm, Dag takes Fiona as his captive.
This seemed to be a primal captor-captive relationship. Too often in Viking historical romance books, the hero speaks the heroine’s language because her people captured him as a youth! Here, they cannot understand one another but can communicate in other ways…
“HE HAD BETRAYED HER Lady Eden Parrish stared in shock at the bare-chested, blue-eyed rogue who stood so proudly on the Bridgetown auction block– he was none other than her husband, the despicable Roark St. Clair! Eden had been sent to Barbados in disgrace after her brief, scandalous marriage to the unscrupulous American spy…after the way he’d betrayed her, she ought to let his contract of indenture be sold to the highest bidder. But memories of how it felt to be embraced by those strong arms and held tight against that well-muscled chest flooded her mind and body, and soon Eden was offering a fortune for the right to claim him as her own!
SHE STILL LOVED HIM Roark had come to Barbados for only one reason–to reclaim his runaway bride. Of course, getting captured by the British and sold into slavery hadn’t been part of the plan, but t situation was working out nicely, things considered. He would find a to escape and take the luscious along, with or without her consent. The little minx might be his mistress now, but he’d soon be her master.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Passion’s Chains by Catherine Creel”
Tara’s Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson is yet another middling Viking romance that disappoints. Written in the late ’70s at the height of the bodice ripper era, you’d expect this Viking romance to rapacious and fun, but I found it rather ho-hum.
Having been betrayed by love in the past (the heroine is not a virgin, if it matters), the blonde, Irish beauty Tara enters into a convent. Despite what the book burb claims, Tara is actually not a novice, but a full-fledged nun who has taken all her religious vows. Yet for some mysterious reason, some of her fellow nuns ensure that Tara studies the pagan Nordic runes. Obviously, the elder sisters knew their convent would be overtaken by a horde of ravenous Vikings and runic readings would come in handy for protection later on.
The world was a colder, darker place then. It was an axe age, a wind age, a time when men didn’t dare give mercy, and a time when the powerful exacted what they could and the weak granted what they must.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
***Spoiler alert ***
Wow… What an experience! Edin’s Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw is a Zebra Lovegram romance published way back in 1989. With a shimmering Pino Daeni cover featuring a muscled guy who looks a lot like Fabio, embracing a blonde on a Viking ship (spot the horse on the cover!) this could just have been another ho-hum romance.
But it’s not.
This is how the tale begins:
“The world was a colder, darker place then. It was an axe age, a wind age, a time when men didn’t dare give mercy, and a time when the powerful exacted what they could and the weak granted what they must.”
So, after a couple of decades of reading romance, I finally got around to Stormfire by the late Christine Monson. Whew! They do not write them like this anymore. The ultimate in bodice-ripping, Stormfire, is a tale of two mentally unstable people and their violent, intense love. And it’s great!
The main attraction of Stormfire is its writing. If it were a poorly written book, no one would still be talking about it 20-plus years after it was published. The chapters each have titles such as “Silken Irons,” “Into Eden,” or “The Nadir.” When the heroine meets the hero, her first thoughts are of Milton’s poetry:
“His form had not yet lost
All his original brightness, nor appeared
Less than Archangel ruined…”
PARADISE LOST, JOHN MILTON
The prose is evocative and compelling, but not purple. We agonize over Catherine’s enslavement. We feel the angry passion between the lovers. We grieve Catherine’s loss and suffer from Sean’s torture. How much misery can two people take? Then there is that intense love/hate.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Stormfire by Christine Monson”
The girl would be more than a job to him. He had known it the moment he’d looked at her face. Was that why her eyes were so wide and round? Because she knew it too? It was ordained and irrevocable. Sometime. Somewhere. Somehow. He would take her to his bed.
ESCAPE NOT MY LOVE
Rating: 5 out of 5.
My First Historical Romance
As I’ve mentioned before, Elaine Coffman’s Escape Not My Love was not my first venture into the world of romance, but it was my first historical romance novel. And for that, I am grateful.
Superficially, ENML drew me in from the outset. It had a stunning step-back cover, designed with a pattern of a woman’s purple and white-flowered gown, and it opened to reveal the colorful protagonists clinched in a passionate embrace. (Thank God for that step-back! I first read this as I sat in church, waiting for my turn to enter the confessional and talk to the priest. He didn’t know what kind of trashy book I was reading, and I wasn’t about to volunteer that tidbit.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Escape Not My Love by Elaine Coffman”