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smoke in the wind len goldberg

Category Romance Review: Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald

Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald features one of her trademark piggishly cruel heroes. In spite of his repugnant deeds against the heroine, this is one of Donald’s better books.

category romance
Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald
Rating: four-half-stars
Published: 1988
Illustrator: Len Goldberg
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Presents #1104
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 192
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Category Romance Review: Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald


The Book

Smoke in the Wind by Robyn Donald features one of her trademark piggishly cruel heroes. In spite of his repugnant deeds against the heroine, this is one of Donald’s better books.

Your mileage may vary, as I have a weird penchant for these kinds of crazy stories–when they’re done right. Smoke in the Wind is one of them.

The Characters and the Set-Up

The reason this so-called hero didn’t detract from the story was the refreshingly capable heroine, Venetia Gamble (what a great name!), who had tons of fortitude. Alas, not enough for her to dump the porcine swine and get with a better man.

Venetia is a hot up-and-coming news reporter in New Zealand. Ryan Fraine, a famous documentary filmmaker, is in the Land of White Clouds looking to set up a new TV station. When these two high-powered professionals meet, the temperature is off the charts.

Venetia had been hurt in love before. At only 23, she has a failed marriage behind her. After getting pregnant at 17, her guardians–her aunt and uncle–forced her and her boyfriend into a shotgun wedding. The marriage ended not long after she miscarried the baby. Despite that, she and her ex-husband are on friendly terms.

Ryan is a bachelor who has pumped and dumped every Kiwi beauty from Cape Reinga to Wellington to Bluff. (Impressed with my geographical skills? It’s easy when you have the internet!) He’s a typical Robyn Donald hero, a sexist bigot sizzling with sensual intensity and irresistible to women.

Venetia is a well-adjusted human being, confident in her sexuality. Nevertheless, she’s wary of his “love ’em and leave ’em” reputation.

Ryan sizes up Venetia and thinks because she’s not a virgin: “She’s a very kinky girl/ The kind you don’t take home to mother…”

Venetia tells him she’s not into one-night stands, so Ryan translates that into: “She’s up for a steaming hot, quick fling.”

And Venetia can’t resist him. They’re at it every which way, and though Venetia is gaga for Ryan, our girl plays it cool.

The Plot

Part One

Venetia’s pretense of indifference fools Ryan. It turns out he’s a shallow guy for whom only surface-level appearances matter. Venetia’s relationship with Ryan turns dark when his true colors–fish belly white–begin to show.

He is looking for a wife, just not Venetia in that role. Our girl is perfect for bedroom fun, but she’ll never as the mother of his little Ryans and Ryanas.

You see, Mr. sex on legs has mommy issues as his mother was a businesswoman, i.e., a bad mother who had no time for babies, and his childhood left him traumatized. The dude has a deep-seated hatred towards working women, believing they make poor wives and mothers.

So he will be dumping Venetia in the near future. Very near.

Venetia is an orphan who had been raised by her traditionalist aunt and uncle and grew up with her younger cousin, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth looks similar to Venetia but is the polar opposite in personality. She’s a “sweet” girl with no plans for an icky career, the kind a man like Ryan would take home to meet his family and be proud to call wife.

In actuality, Liz isn’t so sweet at all because when she comes with her family to visit Venetia and meets Ryan, she flutters her eyes at him in feigned innocence, and ball-brains Ryan falls for it. Within weeks, the two-timing scum sucker tells Venetia their “relationship” is over, and he’s marrying sweet Liz.

Venetia is left heartbroken–and pregnant. She quits her job and moves to Australia to live with her grandmother.

Venetia isn’t bitter with the hand she’s dealt. It is what it is.

“I won’t allow you to treat me as if I was an illness you can’ be vaccinated against, she said with an icy composure which hid her fear and despair.

“You won’t be able to stop me,” he said quietly, not bothering to mute the threat. “Because we both know I could take you on that kitchen table if I wanted to. And I do want to.”

Part Two

Years later, Elizabeth passes away. After a period of mourning, Venetia’s aunt and uncle let their beloved son-in-law know of his secret son with Venetia. Oh, yes, those two knew! Like their amoral dead daughter, they did everything to keep Ryan at their Liz’s side.

Ryan flies out to Australia to claim his child and reignite his relationship with Venetia.

In Australia, Venetia had been raising their son John and had a flourishing career as a novelist. When Ryan demands what’s his, she’s shaken but fights with all her iron will.

But Ryan will not be deterred. he knows their sexual bond was never severed and uses it to his benefit.

Despite his ruthless behavior, Ryan is self-aware, and his intense reactions toward Venetia stem from his inability to control his feelings for her. His marriage to Elizabeth wasn’t exactly what he wanted, even if he had thought it was. A man like Ryan thrived on passion, Elizabeth was just blech. Ryan married Liz because he saw her as a more idealized version of the sexually-secure working woman he rejected. Ryan’s strict standards for a partner stem from his unresolved mommy issues.

His desire–his love–for Venetia conflicts with all his self-imposed beliefs.

Meanwhile, Venetia’s grandmother is a supportive and wise character who adds depth to the story and provides a voice of reason amidst the chaos.

There’s a scene where Venetia bump into her ex at a dance, and they spend a pleasant time together, making me think, “Wouldn’t it have been a nice twist if she ended up with him?”

But no, Ryan is too vital a force to be ignored. One issue I had is Ryan never really expresses regret for his marriage to Liz. She was not emotionally deep, but she was genuine in her love for him, so he was content to have made her happy for a few years. (This made me want to throw an egg at Ryan, but almost 50 cents an egg right now, I wouldn’t waste valuable protein for a smeg head like him.)

Ryan’s cruelty towards the vulnerable Venetia is both riveting and gut-wrenching. Venetia is a fearless and determined woman who refuses to let Ryan break her spirit… Even as he captures her in the end. So, it’s mostly a happy ending, right?

In the end, Ryan acknowledges his feelings for Venetia, that he loves her. He fought against it because of inhibitions and childhood trauma.

“You wear your independence like a banner. I like to look at you and know that I can kiss you free of it any time I want to. It’s like owning my own small falcon that comes only to my hand, and gives up her freedom only for me.”

Final Analysis of Smoke in the Wind

Smoke in the Wind is a terrible romance but a riveting read that will leave you breathless. Ryan is par-for-the-course as far as Robyn Donald’s heroes go. (Okay, maybe one of her top 5 worst heroes. She really knew how to write a lot of dickhead male main characters.)

The dominant/submissive dynamic between Ryan and Venetia is both intense and fascinating. Venetia is strong and resilient, overcoming her traumatic past and standing up for herself. The plot is well-crafted, with twists and turns that kept me engaged, even as I despised Ryan.

It’s Venetia who makes this Harlequin Presents shine. Ryan is both vicious and self-aware, reflecting the depth of his inner turmoil. Despite his porcine nature, he is a well-written, complicated, and intriguing character.

Ryan and Venetia’s sexual relationship is as extreme as the muted BD/SM powerplay in Harlequins can be, a dominant/submissive one, with Ryan exerting his control over Venetia.

Smoke in the Wind is a roller coaster ride of emotions, with a heroine who is capable and determined to overcome the challenges life throws at her. Despite Ryan’s cruel actions, Venetia refuses to be a victim and rises above the situation, proving that the heart can survive enormous pain.

Overall, Smoke in the Wind is a must-read for fans of intense, passionate romance. The multi-faceted characters, thrilling plot, and nail-biting drama make this an HPLandia stand out.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.3


Her response to him was frightening… Venetia Gamble had felt desire before. The result? Such a disastrous marriage that she felt she wanted never to experience desire again. And she hadn’t–until now. Ryan Fraine, famous documentary filmmaker, was in New Zealand to set up a new television station.

From the moment they met, Venetia, herself a TV reporter, knew this man could make her suffer as she never had before. So she shied away from his blazing sensuality. Yet there was something else, something in the very core of her soul that wouldn’t permit escape…. 


Contemporary Romance Review: Sometimes a Stranger by Angela Alexie

Sometimes A Stranger, Angela Alexie, Pocket Books/ Richard Gallen, 1981, cover artist TBD

Gallen Contemporary Romance #43801-8


4 1/2 Stars

Reviewed by Mary Anne Landers

A Category Romance on Steroids

Like big, dramatic contemporary romances set in glamorous, exciting milieus? With dynamic characters and lots of plot? Then I recommend Sometimes a Stranger by Angela Alexie.

It was originally published in 1981 as part of the Richard Gallen imprint from Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. The edition I read came from Paradise Press, a reprint house, in 1990. Can’t say I care much for the cover graphics of my copy. But the text itself—wow!

It does something unusual for a contemporary romance of any generation. Typically stories in this genre take place in “the eternal present.” There are no dates as in historical romances. It’s assumed that what’s going on can happen when the work is first published and any time thereafter.

Trouble is, the present ISN’T eternal. Things change. I imagine some readers (not including me) get put off when vintage-contemporary romances employ the fashions, pop culture, technology, and social attitudes of their times.

That’s not an issue here. Except for a few flashbacks, Alexie’s Sometimes a Stranger starts in 1970 and ends in 1979. With tweaks, it could take place nowadays. But in retrospect, the author was smart to lock the story into its timeframe.

Sometimes A Stranger, Angela Alexie, Paradise Press, 1990 edition, cover artist unknown

Greeks Bearing Gifts

Andrea Carswell, an American travel journalist, goes to Athens to write about the splendors of Greece. And promptly falls in love with one. Alexander Deklos, the playboy heir of a powerful family in the shipping business. His uncle Spyros Demitriades runs the far-flung enterprise, Delphi, Limited. Alex is too busy having fun to take part in it.

He falls in love with Andrea as quickly as she does with him. Which throws a wrench into the plans of his mother, Olympia Deklos, to marry him to another child of a wealthy Greek family, Athena Lampos. Olympia’s marriage was arranged by her parents. Isn’t that good enough for Alex?

Well, no. He won’t give up Andrea for anything. But he does give up his carefree lifestyle. Alex becomes a major player on Team Delphi. Both choices come with consequences.

Life In the Fast Lane

Then stuff happens. Lots of stuff! To avoid spoilers, that’s as far as my summary will go. But here’s a hint. The plot covers jealousy, business intrigue, workaholism, medical crises, disaster, family feuds, secrets, revenge. Plus, a theme forbidden in today’s romance fiction. Infidelity.

But these disparate themes all work together to enrich the main one, the love between Andrea and Alex. It’s central to the story even when their relationship hits the rocks. Which it does with a force that can be measured on the Richter scale! 

The author employs multiple points of view. But the most frequent POV character is Andrea. A woman who deeply feels every emotion. Which the author conveys with great sensitivity.

And Alex? He’s an alpha hero, all right. He displays that millennia-old failing of his fellow countrymen, hubris. He’s always right, even when he’s wrong!

Though the heroine remains sympathetic throughout the story, the hero is all over the good-bad spectrum. A paragon and a ruthless businessman. A family man and a libertine. A dream lover and a total ass. 

Yet these extremes and everything in between are all phases of the same man. Such is the author’s skill that I can believe Alex as every one of them. And all are fascinating. Even when he’s at his worst, I understand why Andrea still loves him. 

The settings are numerous. Mainly Athens, the Aegean island of Mykonos, London, and New York. These places seem real; reading about them is the next best thing to being there. But in a profound sense, the story unfolds in the hearts and minds of the main characters. Which IMHO is where any story should.

Dutch edition of Sometimes a Stranger, Zo Dichtbij en Toch Ver Weg (So Close and Yet Far Away), Phoenix, 1982, Franco Accornero cover art (front & back cover)

Nearly Perfect

Sometimes a Stranger does almost everything right. Almost? Yes. A few aspects could be better. 

The cast of characters is large, and some of their names sound similar to those of others. And can be in the wrong form given the characters’ ethnicities. For example, Alexander should be Alexandros. I know, that’s just a picky little detail.

More serious is this. A major plot thread, the heroine’s career, is handled poorly. Early on, Andrea gets into writing novels. But success comes too easily. And with a minimum of drama. That’s one of only two aspects of this book with insufficient drama.

The other is her family. Wisely, the author gives them less attention than Alex’s relatives. But they don’t warrant even that. They’re just not that interesting. And in the case of Noah Truesdale, Andrea’s grandfather, it’s hard to believe a powerful newspaper magnate can be such a nice guy. Though I must admit my idea of a man in his position was formed by watching “Citizen Kane”!

Alex’s kinfolk and their interactions make for fascinating reading. Andrea’s don’t. One of these families is dysfunctional. Guess which one.

But don’t let that stop you from reading this novel. And how I wish someone in Hollywood would buy it from a used-book website, find it as enthralling as I do, and turn it into a movie!

changing the rules

Category Romance Review: Changing the Rules by Gina Wilkins

Changing the Rules by Gina Wilkins

Changing the Rules by Gina Wilkins
Rating: four-half-stars
Published: 1990
Illustrator: Unknown
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Temptation #299
Published by: Harlequin
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback, eBook
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Category Romance Review: Changing the Rules by Gina Wilkins


The Book

Changing the Rules is a very pleasant Harlequin Temptation from Gina Wilkins, one of my favorite authors from this particular line.

The Characters

Elise Webber and Dustin Chandler are two career-oriented people living in Georgia. He’s a high-powered attorney. She’s a news anchor for Atlanta’s top station.

They’ve been dating for six months.

Dustin is not a marriage-minded type of man, nor is Elise looking for anything more than a short-term relationship. The pair have an active, satisfying sex life, and Elise has been diligent about taking her birth control pills.

However, as Jurassic Park taught us, life always finds a way.

The Plot

Elise’s pregnancy is a shock to both her and Dustin. Elise was the product of a single mother, who resented being a parent, so Elise never thought about having children herself.

But now that she’s pregnant, Elise knows what she has to do. Elise graciously allows Dustin an “out.”

While Dustin might not be a lifetime commitment kind of guy, he’s not an irresponsible deadbeat, either. He has just as much to do with the pregnancy as Elise does. Dustin vows to support her whether she chooses to keep the baby or give him/her up for adoption.

Consequently, Elise quits her job and decides it’s better to be out of state and away from the press. Perhaps in NYC or LA a single, pregnant woman could keep her high-profile job in the media. But there were still reservations about such situations in the American South circa 1990.

changing the rules by gina wilkins

Dustin comes with her to her surprise, so the two move into a rural neighborhood to play “house.” They meet new people who are vastly different from themselves. The pair adjust to doing their own household jobs, rather than paying laborers to do so.

As time goes by, Dustin and Elise learn that they enjoy living a more sedate, less fast-paced lifestyle. What’s more, they genuinely begin to honestly care for one another, as their relationship becomes much deeper than just sex.

Will Dustin and Elise realize that being together forever isn’t such a crazy idea? That despite their doubts and hesitancy, they can be good parents? After all, these folks are successful, intelligent adults, so why shouldn’t they be able to do what millions of people do: pair bond and create a family?

Sensuality Level

The love scenes are warm and romantic, not overly erotic but deeply emotional.


Final Analysis of Changing the Rules

Changing the Rules is marked by Gina Wilkins’ sensitive voice, imperfect, relatable characters and subtle humor.

Elisa and Dustin’s journey to love is a gratifying trip through Romancelandia. Perhaps these two were just too thick-headed for their own goods, foolishly believing that love and family were for “other” people, not their elite selves.

But love is funny that way, as Cupid’s arrows affect us all: rich or poor, male or female, young or old, and everybody else in between.

And so Elise and Dustin learn to change the rules of the game because it’s much more delightful playing for keeps.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.6


It wasn’t in the rules. Elise Webber had it all. Looks, a glamorous job as a TV anchorwoman, a beautiful Atlanta apartment- and the charismatic lawyer, Dustin Chandler. Well, she didn’t exactly have Dustin. Dating was all she could expect from a man who had clearly defined rules where women were concerned.

Elise had been careful not to lose her heart to Dustin. He’d been clear from the beginning that love and marriage weren’t in his game plan. She could just imagine how he was going to react to her latest bit of news. Mr. Hotshot Lawyer was about to become a daddy…

Changing the Rules by Gina Wilkins
love unspoken

Category Romance Review: Love Unspoken by Carole Mortimer

category romance


The Book

Carole Mortimer’s Love Unspoken is one of those infamously controversial Harlequin Presents where readers can’t stop talking about it, even if it’s not necessarily well-loved.

It must be the change of seasons. Something in the air, because I can’t explain it, I really liked this one—almost loved it, actually, until the end.

The Set Up

Love Unspoken begins with the heroine, Julie, a jet-setting journalist, having just been released by terrorists. They had held her and her fellow flight-mates hostage.

She’s a little bruised and reeling when her boyfriend, Steve, shows up with concern. Julie and Steve have been dating for six months—by her own admission, some of the happiest she’s ever spent—but Julie, a mature gal in her mid-twenties, just can’t make the jump from heavy petting to sex.

She likes keeping Steve on a firm leash while he pants for more from her, but she’s not giving him any biscuits!

Steve knows Julie was involved with the Zack Reedman in the past. In fact, she had a year-long affair with him, so could it be old feelings for him that hold her back?

“You’ve forgotten how to be a woman!”

The Plot

Julie adamantly denies having any attachment to Zack, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was no mere affair; Julie had been married to Zack for a year, a turbulent, passionate year before they separated.

She’s still married to Zack despite not having seen him in three years.

Time is not on Julie’s side because her best friend is married to Zack’s brother and invites her to spend some time convalescing at their home in the country.

Just coincidentally, it also happens to be the anniversary of Julie and Zack’s marriage, when who should show up unexpectedly, but Zack!

Zack has been keeping himself quite busy with plenty of women and now seems to be on the verge of engagement with another woman.

Divorce is now on the agenda, yet Zack can’t keep his hands off his ex. Julie, disgusted, pushes him away, restating her hatred of him.

Zack’s brother demands to know just what happened to break up the couple. Zack was incredibly jealous and possessive and never appreciated Julie’s career, which kept her out of the country more often than at home.

He would always accuse her of having affairs with her coworkers.

On the night they split up for good, Julie got a call to fly out for a job. This is when Julie drops the bombshell. In a fit of rage, Zack beat and raped her, ending their once-loving relationship.

Zack and Julie act ridiculously as he pursues her, and she flees from him while they both string along with their significant others.

Their crazy lust–er, love, for each other won’t be denied. They have a one-night stand together while said significant others are under the same roof with them—Julie’s guy is even the room adjoining hers!

The Insanity Continues

Of course, this being the land of drama, that one night results in pregnancy. Julie does her best to hide the pregnancy from Zack, but he finds out anyway. Then he finds out that after she left him, she suffered a miscarriage.

We’re well near the end of the book, but Zack hasn’t changed one bit and stopped being a jealous lout because he falsely accuses Julie of hiding that secret because he wasn’t the baby’s father. What an a-hole, right?

Julie and Zack reunite platonically for the baby’s sake, she quits her job, and they settle in the country.

Finally, after giving birth to their child, Zack discovers one more truth: it was due to his violent rape of Julie that she miscarried their first child.

Zack leaves his wife at the hospital, locks himself up in his study, drinking his miseries away, wallowing in self-pity.

So Julie does the only thing she can, releases herself from the hospital early to run to Zack’s side.

She reveals the last truth to him: her father was a serial adulterer, driving her mother to an early death. That was why Julie always kept herself at a distance from Zack because she never wanted to love as deeply as her mother did.

Zack cries, she cries, and the two vow to spend their marriage together as one passionate affair.

Final Analysis of Love Unspoken

Now, why the hell did I like a book like this?

I can’t explain. The emotional ups and down in Love Unspoken were thrilling, with almost every chapter ending in a shocking cliffhanger where more information is revealed.

I can understand why the plot would turn many readers off, and to be honest, when I had heard what the book was about, I wasn’t crazy about reading it. But something about it just worked for me.

As I said, it must be something perverse in the air that made me enjoy this.

There is no actual resolution to their problems. There’s no marriage counseling. No private counseling.

No helpful aid from friends and family. Zack’s still jealous still uses alcohol as a crutch, still potentially violent.

And Julie is… Well, Julie’s clearly not all there, either, because she’s willing to overlook all those dangerous flaws because of true love.

What a horrible hero. What a horrible heroine. She’s a codependent user, and he’s a drunk abuser.

They deserved each other and will no doubt have a very long, very rocky marriage where they make everyone miserable, including themselves, but will only be more miserable apart from one another.

What a crazy mess. And I liked it.

4.5 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.5


“You’ve forgotten how to be a woman!”

Zach Reedman’s bitter accusation had been the death knell of his marriage to Julie. And even after three long years Julie still winced when she remembered his parting words

She’d been a budding journalist, he her publisher when they met. A love too strong and passionate to resist had led them quickly to the altar, but even after her vows Julie’s career had come before her husband.

Older and wiser, she met Zach again, And as the wounds time had never fully healed were reopened, so once more was her heart….