Since Halloween is just around the corner it’s time to take a look at the scary side of romance. No, not Gothics, although I promise we’ll get to more eventually.
The Harlequin Presents line was notorious for the cruelty some male protagonists could inflict upon their heroines. Some of these books are surprisingly well-written. Yet the horrific truth is that these heroes were villains.
Villainous heroes were popular forty years ago and they still are to this day. Why would anyone ever want to read romances where heroes are the bad guys? Why not? So long as we understand we’re reading fiction, at times it’s hypnotizing to take a peek at the darkness that lurks beneath the human surface. To witness what sadistic torments twisted love can create. And then thankfully close the pages on that misbegotten romantic nightmare.
At Sweet Savage Flame, we’re equally about the Sweet… and the Savage.
Driving Force, a Sally Wentworth Harlequin Presents, offers few surprises but is a satisfactory read regardless.
West Marriot– our hero, not a 3-star hotel but a famous race car driver–was terribly injured in a race several months ago. Madeleine French, a nurse and physiotherapist, had been married to West for four years. Maddy couldn’t withstand the anxiety of being married to a man with such a dangerous career, so she gave him an ultimatum, married life or fast cars. When he refused to quit, she left him. Several months later, West was in an accident that immobilized him.
Maddy receives a call from West’s mother, requesting to catch up. In fact, Laura, West’s mother, declares to Laura West isn’t recovering at all and may never walk again. She begs Maddy to come to help her ex-husband, and although Maddy initially refuses, in time, she realizes she still loves her ex and can’t abandon him. Maddy knows it won’t be easy for West to accept her, as their divorce was acrimonious, with West, a man a proud man, begging Maddy to stay.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Driving Force by Sally Wentworth”
Viking Magic by Angela Welles was the entry for the nation of Denmark in Harlequin Presents’ line 1990s Postcards from Europe mini-series. I don’t know why the Nordic nations of Europe don’t feature more prominently in HPlandia. I find those heroes just as exciting as the Greek, Spanish, Italian, and Arab ones. Plus, I adore blonds! Viking Magic features a nice guy hero and a neurotically insecure heroine (aren’t they all?) united on a quest of sorts.
Gina Price is in Copenhagen to find her wayward teenage sister, who’s run off with a young Danish student. She’s given an address that might be a clue as to her sister’s whereabouts and knocks on the door of an apartment. Who should open the door but a Viking god of a man dressed in nothing but boxers! The man’s not too keen on seeing Gina, as: #1 she’s interrupted his sleep, and #2 he thinks she’s one of his conniving ex’s friends trying to steal a valuable painting from him. Things are clarified in short order, and the man, Rune Christenson, has nothing to do with Gina’s sister.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Viking Magic by Angela Welles”
I enjoy playing the game of “I Spy” with my vintage book romance covers. Can you guess this week’s theme? Spot the common thread in the covers, and the first one to mention the correct answer in the comments wins the satisfaction that they were right! 🙂
For the week of Aug 2 to Aug 6, here are some contemporary and historical covers for you to look over and play “I Spy.”
An Anne Mather Harlequin Presents is what I consider to be an “old reliable.” She wrote romances that are almost guaranteed to entertain me, or if not, then at least not bore. Although usually satisfactory, Mather rarely wrote books I would place on an all-time best list. Sometimes she does surprise me, so it makes reading her works an experience to look forward to. In this category romance, Sirocco, Anne Mather employs one of her commonly used tropes: a hero in pursuit of an already “attached” woman.
The Stalker vs. the User
One night, Rachel Fleming comes across a man whom she thinks requires help. The man is slumped in his car, just sleeping, but Rachel doesn’t know that. He turns out to be Alexis Roche, a blond half-Arab, half-French, sheik ruler of a tiny nation (Rachel doesn’t know that either until later).
Alexis is instantly intrigued by his would-be savior and begins to stalk her.
“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”
Anne Mather‘s No Gentle Possession consists of two plot points she’s employed many times in her works like Stormspell: separated lovers and cheating.
Well, in this book, it wasn’t so much a case of separated lovers as two people who briefly dated in the past. The heroine broke it off with the hero when she thought his relationship with his young stepmother was a bit too close for comfort and creepy.
Karen Sinclair likes her life just how it is. She has a job and a boyfriend and lives in a nice little town. Sure she’s not wealthy like some other families in town, but she’s happy. What more could she ask for? To her shock and dismay, she meets up again with Alexis Whitney, a man from a well-heeled family she’d been involved with years earlier and never forgot. For Alexis, however, their relationship hadn’t been significant (they didn’t have sex), so he doesn’t even remember Karen.
Karen’s pride is a bit wounded, although she tries to put on a brave face.
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”
Holly Witchell, the heroine of Penny Jordan’s Beyond Compare, suffers a bit from an overinflated ego combined with an oblivious nature. Thankfully, Drew, the wonderful hero of this book, sorts matters all out for her.
Holly was ignominiously dumped by her boyfriend Howard for the more sophisticated, Rosamund. That’s not something Holly will accept laying down, so she concocts a plan to get him back. Hadn’t Rosamund been dating old, reliable Drew Hammond before she’d gotten together with Howard? Well, who better than he to help Holly break up the new couple than Rosamund’s old former flame?
Holly approaches Drew, a farmer, whose the salt-of-the-earth type, with her plan. They’ll pretend to be a couple and make Howard and Rosamund jealous.
Drew isn’t exactly chomping at the bit at her plan to get Rosamund back, and Holly assumes it’s because Drew’s insecure. Holly assures him he has nothing to be insecure about. He’s handsome, even if–OMG–he wears glasses of all things, has a steady income from his farm, and any woman would want him.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Beyond Compare by Penny Jordan”
In Anne Mather‘s The Waterfalls of the Moon (I love the old Harlequin Presents titles), the teenaged heroine is in pursuit of a much older man, but the hero’s not taking the San-Quentin tail so easily.
I can’t say many of Anne Mather’s works number among my all-time favorites, but, for the most part, I had a good time reading them. She could make unlikeable heroines that were somehow fascinating, and Ruth is one of them. She’s a spoiled teen, rich beyond reason, bored, and chases after Patrick with a cold calculation.
All you have to do is change record players to iPhones (although record players have made a huge comeback) and there’s no difference between this shallow youth’s mega-rich lifestyle and that of the pampered princesses of Bravo & MTV reality TV. She parties, she lunches, she shops, she dates…casually. As this is a 1970’s era Harlequin, Ruth is not sexually experienced.
“I carefully avoided telling you that I love you.”
MANSION FOR MY LOVE
Harlequin Presents #567
SPOILER ALERT ⚠
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Mansion for My Love: A Hard Book to Review
Robyn Donald, who authored romances primarily for the Harlequin Presents line, often wrote some of the most angst-filled books, with heroes so cruel, you’d swear they were the villains. Mansion for My Loveis one of those books where you can’t believe what the supposed hero does to the heroine.
A 3-star rating is an odd thing. It can represent such varied levels of opinions on personal enjoyment. There are average reads which make for a pleasant way to pass the time, but likely are stories you’ll forget and/or never desire to re-explore.
Then there are those books that get you right away and seem like a guaranteed 5-star experience, but then result in disappointment somehow and fall to a barely favorable rating or vice-versa.
Some books are objectively terrible (either in plot development or editing like grammar/spelling, etc.). Yet they provide so much guilty entertainment that you can’t possibly give them a negative review, even if you’re ashamed that your friends and followers will know you enjoy such trash.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Mansion for My Love by Robyn Donald”
He did not speak but continued to look at her, his eyes slowly following the length of her body and back to her face again resting for a heart shaking moment on her mouth…
3 ½ stars
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Personal Anecdote Before Reading Moon Witch
Around the time I read Anne Mather’s Moon Witch, I caught up with “That 70’s Show” on Netflix. I refuse to watch the final season, as that show just devolved into wretchedness. However, the first 5-6 seasons were entertaining with its retro 1970s shtick: a group of teens just hanging out, falling in love, and being stupid. Back then, my 18-year-old daughter was about to graduate from high school. Since watching “That 70’s Show,” I’ve realized something of myself as a parent. I am Red Forman. He was right! 17 – 18 year-olds are dumb-asses.
I’ve said this before about a Charlotte Lamb book, but now I really mean it: this is the worst romance written by her that I’ve ever read! I don’t think I’ve ever hated a Harlequin Presents as much as Dark Fever.No, it wasn’t boring… It was bizarre and awful and left me with a horrible feeling!
Dark Fever was part of a series of books based on the Seven Deadly Sins. The theme of this novel was lust, although there’s no sexual intercourse in this one. Personally, I thought this book’s theme of sin was gluttony because of all the talk of food. It was set in Spain, after all.
Bianca has just turned 40 years old. She is a widow of 3 years, still in mourning for her husband. She has two teenagers and feels down in the dumps, so she goes on a trip to Spain. At her hotel, she sees a handsome man swimming in a pool and instantly falls in lust.
As the first American author of Harlequin Presents, Janet Dailey set her novels in all 50 states. I suppose this was to show foreign readers how diverse and exotic the USA can be. Although her books never inspired me to jet-set across the country, I, too, have travelled around the States and found myself in various oh-so-glamorous US cities like: Providence, Rhode Island; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; Bridgeport, Connecticut; South Bend, Indiana; and Newark, New Jersey. Talk about exotic!
Dailey’s HP #200 Show Me is set in the “Show Me” state of Missouri, with the hero, Jake, saying lines like this over and over again: “I’m from Missouri. You have to show me to believe.”
Jake is a bitter man who’s returned home after being away for more than half a decade. He’s sour because he was forced to marry Tanya, the mother of his son, John. The child was a result of a drunken one-night-stand Jake can’t recall. The “hero” is a deadbeat dad, as he’s lived in Africa for 7 years and made no effort to get to know his son.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Show Me by Janet Dailey”
The problem with reading a much-beloved author almost 50 times is that their books begin to blend together. Plotlines get replayed. And replayed. And replayed.
In Miranda Lee’s Asking for Trouble, we see a familiar Lee storyline: a sexually inexperienced woman who ironically looks like sex on legs and a hero who’s been burned in the past by a bad relationship and unwilling to commit. I don’t know if this is the fourth or fifth book where the couple watches the film Out of Africa on a romantic date. After a few passionate nights of sex, the heroine gets pregnant, and that magically solves everything.
Of course, this is a Harlequin Presents, and it’s all par for the course, but when it’s the same story over and over, I wonder if I should take a break from a writer for a while so that when I read a new book, I’d appreciate it more.
Final Analysis of Asking for Trouble
If I had read this one ten years ago, this would have new and exciting to me, and it would have merited a 4. This isn’t a bad book, but since I’ve read at least a dozen better variations of the same exact story, just with different character names and descriptions, I didn’t enjoy it as much this time around as previously.... Read more “Category Romance Review: Asking for Trouble by Miranda Lee”
Catherine George is a category romance author who rarely disappoints. Sadly, Come Back to Me is one of those rare occasions.
The plot centers around revenge, a trope I usually enjoy. However, the execution in this book… It’s quite odd. The heroine’s sister had a one-night stand with a married man and became impregnated. The sister dies and then Julia, our heroine, is forced to care for the baby. Mistakenly, she believes it’s the hero Marcus’s happily married brother who slept with and then abandoned her sister.
So Julia plots the lamest revenge ever conceived. Oh, she’ll get back at that man for his evil deeds. How? By putting herself through school and learning to be the most efficient secretary ever hired by a corporation. She’ll deal with the hero’s clients, organize his social calendar, and capably smooth over his troubles until he becomes so reliant on her, then she’ll somehow inveigle her way into the hero’s family and ruin the brother.
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”
She decided at the beginning of their relationship that she would only take what he wanted to give, but she wouldn’t be treated as a sex object, only accepted as an equal in his bed.
DARKNESS INTO LIGHT
Darkness into Light by Carole Mortimer is one of those category romances you must read in a comfy chair because you’ll want to settle down for the next couple of hours to enjoy the book in one sitting.
Danny is the head gardener of Sutherland Estates and has yet to meet her wealthy, reclusive boss. Then, late one night, while mowing the lawn to relax (because bubble baths are so physically draining!), his hunky nephew Pierce shows up, dressed in a sexy, revealing bathing suit. Being a bit of a flirt, Danny invites herself over for a swim, and the sparks quickly fly between these polar opposites. Pierce is almost 40 years old and is the severe, stuffed-shirt type, while Danny is barely 21 and wears her heart on her sleeve.
Frozen Fire was one of the strangest Harlequin Presents I’ve ever read. It’s not Charlotte Lamb’s worst, by any means; actually it’s quite well-written and if it was a two-part story I would have loved it. But as it stands, the book focuses way too much on Helen’s relationship with her emotionally abusive husband and not with the hero.
Helen has been married to Paul for many years and he’s cheated on her repeatedly. They’ve had to move various times whenever his affairs have caused too much trouble wherever they’re living. So here they are, yet again, in a new town with a new job for Paul, and Helen is sticking around, but she’s not sleeping with her husband. Still, she’s faithful to Paul even if he isn’t because she’s the kind of person who keeps her vows even though her husband doesn’t. Plus, he’s super, super hot.
Feeling lazy, (as always), so here’s a quick review of Stay Through the Night by Flora Kidd hacked together from my reading updates:
Charlotte, a single, fiercely independent, and career-minded woman, never had her sights set on marriage, but she at least respects the institution. When she sees how her very married sister, Nancy, drapes herself all over multi-millionaire Burt Sharaton, she quite naturally believes they’re having an affair. Charlotte is disappointed and angered by her sister, as she cares for her brother-in-law, who’s a decent man.
Determined to put a stop to this madness, Charlotte confronts Burt. There’s no way she’s going to let Nancy sail across the world with Burt in his flashy white yacht.
However, Burt surprises Charlotte when he decides to settle for Nancy’s younger and unmarried sister instead. Charlotte’s plan backfires on her, as Burt all but takes her captive.