If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can borrow these romances for free. 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:
Every month we’ll check for the latest available free vintage romances on Amazon. Amazon changes its prices and collections often, so check back with us in the future. We’ll be updating what freebies you can get for your Kindle!
Behold the Halloween season! The beauty of autumn is transforming into a period of decay. The leaves on the trees have changed color–if they remain at all–on the dark, skeletal tree branches. A damp coldness lingers in the air. What is that strange light flickering in an attic window? Who–or what–is making those slow, creaking noises that emanate from an empty room?
Whether a haunted plantation in the humid American South, an ominous-looking old house in the North East, a decrepit manor in Cornwall, or a crumbling chateau in the mountains of Europe, Gothic romances are placed in contradictorily romantic yet scary settings.
Gothic romances hold an important place in the annals of the romance genre, with dark, brooding heroes, strong-willed heroines, and eerie covers illustrated by master artists.
For the week of Monday, October 25, 2021, culminating on Halloween Day, Sunday, October 31, 2021, let’s delight–and take fright–in these creepy Gothic romance covers!
In the past, Sweet Savage Flame has focused on authors who used pseudonyms. We’ve posited reasons why romance writers would use pen names. One possibility given was that men were romance writers. As romance is often considered a woman’s topic, it’s understandable that male romance writers would favor an opposite-gendered moniker when publishing.
The realm of fictional violence has been historically masculine. Romance, on the other hand, has been consigned to the feminine sphere. Upon closer inspection, the matter is not so black-and-white. While females account for 82 to 85% of the romance genre readership, that still means many men enjoy love stories with happy endings.
Consider that romance is a billion-dollar industry, with a 30% market share of paperbacks alone. Romance lags (barely) behind only the suspense/thriller genre in total sales for adult fiction. In the United States, about 25 million romance books are sold annually. Despite being a primarily women’s domain, that means there are quite a few male romance readers. What about the writers?
Men Who Wrote Romance Novels
Men were part of the 1970s romance revolution, and to this day, they remain part of it as writers and readers. Most male writers published books under pseudonyms in the early years of historical romance.
A few years after the release of The Flame and the Flower, in 1976, Avon’s competitor Warner Books published Love’s Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde. Wilde had released Gothics under the names Edwina Marlow and Beatrice Parker.
In reality, he was Thomas E. Huff of Texas, and his 550-page saga became a huge hit, receiving dozens of printings and selling multi-million copies. Written in the “savage” style of romance, it told the tale of indentured servant Marietta Danvers and her rocky relationship with the purported hero, Derek. However, Marietta had other lovers along the way.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Huff was among many men who were romance writers working under pseudonyms. Subsequently, we decided to find out who were the authors behind the names.
Robert Vaughan’s Take on Being a Male Romance Writer
“I wrote [them] as Patricia Matthews, made number one on the list. In 1981, I sold 6 million books. In my lifetime, I have probably sold 40 million books, but nobody knows who I am. Now, my wife Ruth and I are co-writing romance novels as Sara Luck. She’s actually quite good at it, and I’m proud of her. And though the Sara Luck books don’t have my name, Ruth and I at least own the name.”
Fairman passed away in 1977. He was a prolific science fiction editor and writer who lived from 1916-1977. Fairman published two romances as Paula Fairman before he passed on. Later, Pinnacle Books, his publishing house, would continue to release Paula Fairman novels through a ghostwriter, a la V.C. Andrews. That “ghostwriter” was the even more prolific Robert Vaughan, author of the bestseller Andersonville.
Caroline Farr – Richard Wilkes-Hunter
Emma Goldrick – Emma Sutcliffe-Goldrick & Robert Goldrick
Patricia Matthews– Patricia Brisco Matthews & Clayton Matthews, and Robert Vaughan
The Matthews and their publishers claim she wrote her novels by herself, sometimes with the help of her husband. Matthews was labeled as “America’s First Lady of Historical Romance” after producing million-selling blockbuster after blockbuster. Interestingly enough, journeyman author, Robert Vaughan, claims responsibility for several of her bestsellers. We’ll follow up on this interesting discrepancy in a further article.
A.E. Maxwell – Evan & Ann Maxwell
Author Elizabeth Lowell wrote some romances with her husband by combining the initials of her real name Ann Maxwell and her husband’s first name Evan.
May McGoldrick – Nikoo McGoldrick & Jim McGoldrick
**Saliee O’Brien & Francesca Greer** – Not a male, but often attributed as one. She was a woman named Frankie-Lee Griggs Weed Zelley Janas, who used several pseudonyms, male and female, especially Francis Leroy Janas.
Some Books by Male Authors Reviewed on Sweet Savage Flame
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):
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):
My Avon 1972 first edition features the typical Gothic cover. There is the heroine (wrong hair color alert: she’s brunette, not blonde) screaming in terror as she runs away from a dark castle.
In this case, it’s Castle Kenton. It is a place shrouded in a dreadful mystery, as is always the case in these Gothic Romances.
Barbara Ashe is an orphan who works as a pharmacist for a country doctor. One day two dashing lords come racing through town. The darkly handsome Duke of Kenton requires her services as he is gravely ill. Gilbert is a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. He suffers from a secret, fatal malady which makes him bitter and dissolute.
Despite her better judgment, Barbara falls for the Duke. They quickly marry, as Gilbert needs an heir before he passes on.
What follows is a great story loaded with intrigue. It’s a story filled with secrets, and a cruel hero who straddles the lines between romantic, tragically condemned to fate, and villainous.
Gilbert parties it up with friends, and they engage in drunken orgies. However, Barbara is no shrinking violet, meekly accepting her husband’s peccadilloes.
What makes The Curse of Kenton so very good is Barbara’s strong, resilient character. She won’t put up with her husband’s licentious debaucheries nor placidly accept his belief that his disease is incurable.
“The Kenton bad temper is not going to kill my husband! I have resolved on that!”
Barbara vows the curse will not destroy their lives.
Things are not always what they seem here. Horrific, hidden mysteries are slowly revealed in a shocking denouement.
Final Analysis of The Curse of Kenton
The great heroine with a backbone really made The Curse of Kenton stand out. I’m looking forward to reading more by Janet Louise Roberts.
Rating Report Card
Wicked Wave of Death! Young, ripe, and penniless, Barbara Ashe was swept by powerful emotions into a marriage with the rich, wildly romantic Duke of Kenton. But soon she was shocked by his evil society friends, mortified by his bursting hot-tempered fits, and plagued by the fear that his worsening heart condition was more than simply the gypsy curse on the men of Kenton. Taunted by her suspicions through chilling, dark nights, she began to trust no one. Someone in that ominous castle was planning murder – and each moment marched Barbara closer to the awful truth!
DESPERATION AND DESIRE Rescued from poverty to live in an opulent mansion filled with servants…loved by two adventurous and passionate men…Georgina’s new life was wantonly wonderful. But she was caught between her arrogant benefactor and his rakehell coachman brother — and their fierce obsession threatened to shatter everything. Each man claimed to be the rightful heir to a noble title. Each man thought Georgina knew the secret location of the missing proof. And though each man already possessed Georgina’s body — each demanded more…
COACH TO HELL by RACHEL COSGROVE PAYES
SPOILER ALERT ⚠
The Coach to Hell was a bit of disappointment for me after reading Rachel Cosgrove Payes’ Moment of Desire. While that book had a heroine who was placed in awful situations yet tried to make the best of them while always knowing her mind, this book’s heroine is a wishy-washy sort that just goes with the flow because that’s what toilet paper does.
The Coach to Hell is a paranormal/Gothic/bodice ripper romance that features a beautiful, orphaned woman named Georgina. To avoid the lusty clutches of a local pervert, she is forced out of her home. Georgina has the gift of the special sight of psychometry. Like some psychic blood-hound, she has the ability to touch an item and immediately glean information about its history or find a hidden object if she touches items associated with it.
Georgie’s ESP is the Chekhov’s gun of this novel as it will be instrumental in the plot’s resolution, what little there is of it.
She heads to a far-away town to seek out a distant cousin in hopes that he will care for her, a relative in need. On the coach ride to her new environs, Georgina meets a dashing red-haired coachman whom she falls for. However, well-meaning fellow passengers warn her that he’s the love-them-and-leave-them type, with different women in every village. Georgie ignores their advice and engages in a secret love affair.
The hero, Charles Collins, supposedly has lots of sex appeal (didn’t see it) but no fortune, as he is the bastard son of a nobleman. He believes he is legitimate, however. Charles is working as a coachman to save money to hire a barrister. He tells Georgina that the relative she’s going to live with is his younger half-brother, Francis, his father’s legal heir.
He’s convinced there must be some shenanigans afoot. Charles, not his brother, is the true inheritor of the manor and title.
Charles and Georgie get down with each other, and he sweet talks her into promising to search for any information that will prove his claim. Georgie vows to do her best.
Her best is… Well, you’ll see.
So the Lord of a half-brother is also a charismatic hunk (I saw it here) and lives openly with his mistress, who’s naturally contemptuous of Georgina. If Georgie would say the word, he’d gladly throw his courtesan aside to have Georgina instead. But Georgie has her dashing coachman and wouldn’t dream of being unfaithful to her beloved.
No, I’m just joking. Remember, this is a 1970s Playboy Press bodice ripper!
One Hell of a Crazy Scene
Back in her hometown, when some creepy old dude wanted her for his mistress, Georgie’s upstanding morals wouldn’t allow for such dishonor. Now, things are different. Yes, she’s in love with a young, handsome dude, but she’s living with his equally hot and much richer brother…
Morals? Pffft. That’s for poor people who don’t live in fancy manors.
The best part of Coach to Hell is when Georgina has Charles in her room for a late-night tryst. Then his brother enters her chambers with the same intention, forcing Charles to hide in her wardrobe. Georgina can’t shoo Francis away by being smart enough to say she’s on her period, so while Charles conceals himself in the closet like some teenage boy hiding from an angry father, Georgie bangs Francis in her bed. And Francis is so good at it that Georgina forgets everything and moans away in ecstasy, giving our sad-sack hero something extra-special to listen to.
This book is a bodice-ripper, and Charles is our supposed “Alpha” male hero. So does he burst out into the room and kill them both in a blind rage? Nope. Charles stays there, sitting and sulking, while his hated enemy joyously screws the woman he loves, bringing her to orgasmic heights.
This scene was so WTF and made me wish that The Coach to Hell had fully embraced its campy nature and included more juicy bits like this!
After that, I admit I lost all respect for the hero. I certainly didn’t expect him to go all wifebeater on Georgina, but he at least could have punched the lights out of Francis. Unfortunately, I can’t root for a cucked hero, so I just read to get to the end of the story.
Moving on, then.
Final Analysis of The Coach to Hell
Remember Georgina’s special kind of ESP? Well, it served the plot’s purpose. She’s able to find evidence that proves Charles’ legitimacy.
You didn’t actually think Charles wasn’t the real Lord, did you? Oh no, I gave away the ending! Look, if you’re reading these cheesy romances, you know they’re supposed to end “Happily Ever After,” no matter how discombobulated the path to “Ever After” is.
I do wish I had enjoyed this book more, but Georgina was just too stupid for words. I lost any admiration I’d had for Charles after he was ignominiously crowned with a set of horns. Instead, I rooted for his brother from another mother to get the girl.
In the end, this Rachel Cosgrove-Payes Gothic ‘ripper, The Coach to Hell, was a so-so read for me, memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Step-back cover exterior & interior The Jacaranda Tree, Rebecca Brandewyne, Warner Books, 1995, Elaine Duillo cover artist
From the back of the book:
A sense of foreboding had gripped Arabella Darracott when she left England to join her guardian in Australia. Years before, a gypsy fortune-teller had told her of a purple blossomed tree, a far-off shore, and a devil of a man who awaited her there. Now, as she neared her destination, shipwreck and fate threw her into the arms of a rescuer, “Demon” Lucien Sinclair, the notorious ex-convict who had become rich in the gold fields of New South Wales. Lucien – wild and wickedly handsome – was the fallen archangel of her dreams. But the crime in his past was linked to a dangerous secret. And the passion awakened under the Jacaranda tree could cost Arabella her future, even her life…or give her Lucien forever to cherish, forever to love.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Jacaranda Tree was the last historical romance Rebecca Brandewyne published with Warner Books. After that, she wrote a few contemporaries, some paranormals, and a few gothic mysteries for Harlequin, before disappearing from the writing field entirely.
The plot is centered around an Englishwoman, Arabella Darracott, who is seeking employment in Australia. There, she finds love with a mysterious former convict named Lucien after they are shipwrecked together. Not just a love story, The Jacaranda Tree also a murder mystery written in Brandewyne’s gothic style.
Since I wrote this comment in my reading notes for The Jacaranda Tree: “This is RB’S Frankenstein, with plot points and verbatim scenes gutted from her previous books and stitched together into this one,” I’d figure I’d make a Frankensteinian review from my notes.
1) When I started The Jacaranda Tree by Rebecca Brandewyne, I figured I’d play a drinking game. Rebecca Brandewyne always repeated the same terms or clichés over and over in every book. This was is extremely repetitive. Grab your choice of poison and take a sip (or a guzzle) whenever you come upon of these words or phrases:
–retroussé nose -halcyon days -gothic -labyrinthine -perditious -mat/pelt of hair on his chest -coppery taste of blood on lips -Gypsy/ Gypsy curse -sloe eyes -sweeping moors -bastard -twilight dim -of her own volition -aquiline nose -smoking a cheroot
I was on page 88 when I finished my second glass of sherry. (I have to justify it somehow and this is better than just ‘cuz I’m bored!)
2) If Jennifer Wilde is the king of the run-on-sentence, then Brandewyne is the queen of the subordinate clause!
3) Lots of info-dumping history/ecology lessons here… I know the author graduated Magna Cum Laude and is a Mensa member, but is this really necessary?
4) Arabella and Lucien make love. Then Arabella sees Lucien’s “Murderer’s Brand”… And now Lucien is now Michael Myers while Arabella does her best Jamie Lee Curtis imitation.
5) It was painfully obvious who the villain was and there tons of clichés throughout (the serial killer who put coins on the eyes of his victims, for example). Even so, it wasn’t bad. The love scenes were beyond purple prose, they were ultra-violet, yet I liked that. If this had been the first Brandewyne I’d read, I would have enjoyed it more.
6) Well, the bad point about this was that this was the worst Rebecca Brandewyne book I’ve ever read. The good thing is that this was still an ok novel, although not near her best. The Jacaranda Tree was my least favorite of Rebecca Brandewyne’s historicals, mainly because it was almost a verbatim regurgitation of conversations, plot points, and love scenes from other books (mostly from Upon a Moon-Dark Moor and Desperado).
The Cornish coast setting of Across a Starlit Sea was appropriate for dark, gothic feel to this historical romance. I enjoyed the first-person narrative in both installments of this series.
The heroines told their life stories on detail: their youths, their first loves, true loves, their married lives with children, and finally into old age. Expect to see Brandewyne’s standard purple-prose writing and in-depth descriptions of history.
Laura was betrothed at birth to Jarrett, the eldest son of Maggie & Draco, the protagonists from Upon a Moon-Dark Moor. The trouble is that she’s been in love with his younger brother, Nicholas, since childhood..
The brothers battle for Laura’s love, but it’s soon evident that Jarrett is the hero who is worthy of her affection.
The way Jarrett won Laura over was so beautifully portrayed. He was an enigmatic, reserved man, but so full of confidence, charisma, and compassion. How could she possibly resist him in the end?
The children of the secondary characters from Upon a Moon-Dark Moor are quite relevant in this book, including Lizzie and Thorne, cousins to Laura, Jarrett, and Nicky.
Lizzie and Thorne have been raised as heirs to Chandler Hall and look down upon their lesser relations, even as Lizzie lusts after Nicky.
Even her brother Thorne had the hots for Nicholas. He hated Laura because Nicholas wanted her so much–and not him!
Nicholas was quite a scoundrel because he had an affair with Thorne’s wife and various other women. This would wreak consequences for the entire Chandler family.
There were so many tragedies in this story (and its prequel). The sacrifices Laura makes to preserve her family are noble, and the ending, while a happy one, is bittersweet.
For the heart is not a candle that, once lit, can be extinguished at will, but a fragile, foolish thing, all too easily wounded, all too slow to heal.
ACROSS A STARLIT SEA
Final Analysis of Across a Starlit Sea
Across a Starlit Sea was to be the second book in Rebecca Brandewyne’s Highclyffe Hall Trilogy about the Chandler family. Brandewyne intended to write a third book about Laura’s son, Rhodes, but never did.
I’ve been waiting for over 30 years for it to come out, and I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. ☹
Across a Starlit Sea is a wonderful book, at times quite the tearjerker. More heart-wrenching is its prequel, Upon A Moon-Dark Moor, which was one of my favorite Brandewyne novels.
I’ll have to use my imagination about the outcome of the series, but I know that no matter what ominous circumstances face the family, love will win out in the end.
Rating Report Card
She was caught in a whirlwind of passion…Between two men, two brothers, and two fates
As the wind tossed her tangled locks, Laura Prescott looked out into a future as bleak as the savage moors. The only daughter of a sea captain, Laura was betrothed to the master of Stormswept Heights. But it wasn’t Jarrett Chandler who came to her in dreams; it was his impetuous younger brother Nicholas.
Now, standing on the jagged Cornish cliffs, Laura let her tears fall, for she could not foresee a time when she would tremble beneath her husband’s hungry kisses. Nor could she know that a spoiled maiden and a scoundrel schemed for her ruin. All she could do was rush blindly into desire’s mad embrace, toward a destiny decreed by irresistible love…