Ruth Langan’s Highland Heather is the sequel to her previous Scottish romance, Highland Barbarian. I liked this Harlequin Historical much more than its predecessor. Why? I enjoyed the conflict between the hero and the heroine and the English setting, plus introducing Queen Elizabeth I to a story always makes things interesting.
Brenna MacAlpin is the middle MacAlpin sister, whose elder sister Meredith went and married her beloved Highlander. Brenna is now the leader of their Scots clan. However, it’s not easy going for her as she has enemies, namely the English. Moreover, Brenna does not have the same fierce disposition as her elder sister. Brenna is more even-tempered, dare I say, more lady-like. Her men are blindly loyal to her, regardless, but leading is no easy task.
The Queen’s Savage
One day, the Queen’s Savage himself, Lord Morgan Grey, arrives to implement Queen Elizabeth’s plan to marry the MacAlpin off to an English lord, which she believes will lead to peace. MacAlpin household warily welcomes Morgan and his men. Upon hearing the intentions of the English, Brenna flees into the wilderness.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Highland Heather by Ruth Langan”
This review is of Karen A. Bale’s 1979 Zebra romance The Forever Passion.
The Forever Passion begins with an introduction to the heroine of the book, Lisa Jordan, 18. Lisa, chafing under the demands placed on her in her native Boston, has decided to head west to live with her brother, Tom. She arranges to travel by wagon train and falls in love with the train scout, Josh Wade. Then things take a turn for the worst.
The wagon train is attacked by Comanche Indians. Lisa tries to escape but is captured, beaten, and gang-raped. Later, Lisa is found by an Indian warrior named Nakon, the hero of the book. Nakon shows Lisa kindness, and later they are married.
Things get worse for Lisa when one of the Indians who raped and beat her before does it again to her. Eventually, she makes love with Nakon and has issues, but allows it to happen. This results in pregnancy. Later, when Nakon doesn’t come home from a raid, Lisa believes he’s dead and tries to commit suicide.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Forever Passion by Karen A. Bale”
Drusilla Campbell’s The Frost and the Flame is one of those naughty bodice rippers where the heroine is separated for a long period of time from her true love, the dull, twatwaffle of a hero, and instead spends more time sexing it up with the lusty, evil villain. For the record, this is just the kind of bodice ripper I like: one that does not take itself seriously and knows how to throw crazy tropes at you, so you’ll keep the pages turning, even if the story is not really romantic.
The Crazy Plot and Characters
I loved the Russian setting and liked the heroine’s growth as a character, but the hero, Alexei, is exciting as dry toast. It’s the villain who is the star here: charismatic, evil, and blond!
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”
This review is of Desperado Dream, the sequel to The Forever Passion by Karen A. Bale.
It is 11 years in publishing time, but only 1 year in book time as the relationship between Lisa Jordan Anderson and her husband, Eric Anderson, continues. The couple and their daughter, Raya, live on a ranch in Monterey, California. The relationship between Lisa and Eric was tumultuous in The Forever Passion, and nothing changes in this book. After Eric and Lisa’s brother, Tom, go to San Francisco on a legal matter, they become involved in rescuing a woman, Teresa Torres, who falls for Eric, and he becomes attracted to her too. Meanwhile, back at the Del Mar ranch, Lisa has been kidnapped by a bandido named Cruz Estacan, who has orders to kill her, Eric, and Eric’s grandfather as a means of retaking the land Cruz and his cohorts believe belongs to them.... Read more “Dueling Historical Romance Review #2: Desperado Dream by Karen A. Bale”
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 Duillo family was filled with artistic talent. There was John Duillo, the great pulp cover artist. Of course, his wife Elaine was a pioneer for women in the field. She not only painted pulp covers but went on to become the “Queen of Romance Covers.” However, did you know their daughter, Melissa Duillo Gallo, was a talented artist as well?
In the 1980s – 1990s, Melissa, who used the surname Gallo after her marriage, was a prolific historical romance cover artist, creating works for publishers such as Avon, Dell, Warner, Zebra, and more. While she and her mother no longer illustrate romance covers, Melissa is still creating art as a talented painter. Melissa Gallo Paints is where you can get access to her current work. I also have a dedicated Pinterest page to her romance covers here.
For a long time, I used to get Elaine and Melissa’s artwork confused, unintentionally mislabelling one of the books below as Elaine’s! Now I can spot the differences between mom’s and her daughter’s work. For one thing, Melissa preferred her models to wear more clothes, and also, she was more conservative with the use of eyeshadow, especially for the heroes! Both ladies, Duillo, collaborated with supermodel Fabio many times.... Read more “Covers of the Week #15”
Penny Jordan was an immensely popular author for Mills and Boon/ Harlequin. She wrote romantic love stories that readers have enjoyed for 40 years. Penny Jordan was not her real identity but one of her many pseudonyms. Let’s take a look back at the career of this talented author.
Life Before Writing
Born on November 24, 1946, Penelope “Penny” Jones came into the world in a nursing home in Preston, Lancashire, England. Like many future writers, Penny had a vivid imagination as a child and was an active reader. Starting at age 10 or 11, her mother introduced Penny to the romantic serials in the Woman’s Weekly magazines. She became hooked on reading Mills & Boon and was a devoted fan. In those days, private lending libraries were the only source to obtain those books. Not until years later would the books go on sale in shops so Penny could have her keep of them.
She had met the love of her life, Steve Halsall, as a teenager, whom she married after her graduation. Steve was supportive of Penny’s burgeoning ambitions to write and purchased a typewriter for her to create romantic fiction.
Enter Caroline Courtney, Penny Jordan, and Anne Groves
This review is of Passion’s Treasure (later republished and retitled as Just Say Yes), a standalone from March 1989 by Betina Krahn.
The book begins in the town of Culpepper, Maryland Colony, 1748. We meet Treasure Barrett, one of 10 children born to Aniss and Buck Barrett. Treasure is an intelligent, precocious child, and the townspeople are encouraged to allow those qualities free rein. As the book begins, Treasure, age 9, learns about “sport”.
Fast forward nearly 9 years. A sad pall has come over Culpepper. The town’s most prominent citizen, Squire Darcy Renville, has passed away. His estranged son, Sterling Renville, the hero of the book, arrives from England and demands that the villagers-who are all in hock to Squire Darcy in one way or another-pay back their debts or he will seize their property and make them all homeless. He will then return to his home in England. The town turns to Treasure, the town thinker, now nearly 18, and the heroine, for help.
I acknowledge that not all readers can tolerate a cruel, rapacious hero in their romance; that’s why I gave a rare warning for this book. It’s fair to compare So Speaks the Heart (which should be subtitled: Medieval Norman Psychopath Falls for French Co-DependentandFellow Anger Management Classmate) to another of Johanna Lindsey‘s works, A Pirate’s Love, which had a similar captor/captive trope.
However, So Speaks the Heart is IMO better than the latter because: 1) This heroine is not a spineless jellyfish, fights back, and is strong in her own way; and 2) The hero is more than just a good-looking rapist who eventually falls in love with the woman he’s been tormenting. Ok, he’s as deep as a crack in the sidewalk, and, yeah, he’s still a bully and a douche. But his background is fleshed out a lot more; therefore, we understand why he’s such an arsehole. So I can sort of forgive this hunk of a warrior for his caveman behavior.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: So Speaks the Heart by Johanna Lindsey”
There are some brief points to address here about our vintage romance book blog. And yes, some of this is bragging. I’m so happy at the growth of Sweet Savage Flame and the little community we’re building here, so I hope you’ll share in my joy!
We have a new reviewer Mary Anne Landers, aka “Arkansasannie.” Not only are her reviews fun to read, but she also brings with her information regarding vintage category romances that are outside my usual scope. I’ve learned quite a bit from her in the past few weeks and hope to learn even more.
Mary Anne’s Category Romance reviews are already the most viewed ones on this site, so let’s give her a hand! That tells me that people who come to this blog want reviews on old-school books they can’t find anywhere else, and we’re listening! I have to get my old Dell Candlelight Ecstasy Supremes out of storage and review them!
Remember, Mary Anne is also an up-and-coming author, so you might want to follow her on her Facebook page Mary Anne Landers Facebook, for her latest updates! With her unique perspective on category romances and Blue Falcon’s in-depth reviews on Historicals, I’m very proud of our little group here.... Read more “Updates #7”
When you read a romance novel, what are you reading it for? The romance? The heroine’s journey? The hunky hero? Or something else entirely?
The Placeholder Reader
Recently, I came upon a quote by author Laura Kinsale. Rather than add it to the Kathleen E. Woodiwiss page, I thought it would make for a good conversation piece. In her essay “The Androgynous Reader” in Jayne Ann Krentz’ book, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, Kinsale cites the heroine of K.E.W.’s Shanna as proof that the average romance reader does not identify with the heroine, but rather, s/he imagines her as a placeholder for themselves to be with the hero, for:
“[A] sillier and more wrongheaded heroine than Shanna would be difficult to imagine… Feminists need not tremble for the reader–she does not identify with, admire, or internalize the characteristics of either a stupidly submissive or an irksomely independent heroine. The reader thinks about what she would have done in the heroine’s place.”
I agree and disagree with Kinsale’s assessment. As a woman, I do not internalize a foolish heroine’s poor decision-making. When it comes to reading romance, unless feminism is an explicit theme of the book, that topic doesn’t enter in how I judge the story.
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 most 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”
This review is of Midnight Captive, a standalone Zebra historical romance from March 1989 by Penelope Neri.
The book begins ominously. A man finds a cache of gold and wishes everything he touches would turn into it. Hearing him, the Devil appears and makes the man a bargain; if the unnamed man sells his soul to the Devil, the Devil will grant his wish. The man agrees. He later realizes, however, that such a bargain has unintended consequences. This is the theme running through the book.
We later meet Krissoula Ballardo, the heroine of the book, and her business partner, Hector Corrales, in Spain. Their business: rolling rich men and stealing from them. When they see Esteban de San Martin, the hero of the book, they try to rob him. This plan fails, and, rather than have Krissoula arrested, Esteban blackmails her into helping him get revenge against his uncle, Felipe Aguilar, in Esteban’s home country of Argentina. (Felipe is the brother of Esteban’s late father, Alejandro, and there is significant bad blood between uncle and nephew, the reasons for which are revealed).... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Midnight Captive by Penelope Neri”
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.
This review is of Tangled Web a Zebra Regency romance by Janice Bennett.
At the beginning of the book, Miss Celia Marcombe, the heroine, is informed by her grandfather, Roderick, that he has arranged a marriage between Celia and his godson, Lord Trevor Ryde, the hero of Tangled Web. Suffice it to say, Celia is less than thrilled with this prospect and tries to get out of it by claiming she already is betrothed to her brother’s best friend, Jonathon Edelston. Celia is even less enthused about the impending nuptials when she visits Trevor’s home and realizes the state of dishabille it’s in.
Despite that disappointment, Celia does begin to develop a romantic tendre for Trevor, which is somewhat broken when she discovers he’s keeping a woman at his home. (The woman in question–Therese de Bourgerre–later becomes the heroine of another book, An Intriguing Desire by Ms. Bennett.) The reasons Trevor is keeping Mademoiselle de Bourgerre in London later come to light, leading to intrigue and danger. Eventually, most of the mysteries are solved, Celia and Trevor realize they love each other, Jonathon finds his true love–Celia’s companion Elizabeth–and the two couples have their Happily Ever After.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Tangled Web by Janice Bennett”
For the week of July 5 to July 11, here are a few Walter Popp romance covers to appreciate. Walter Popp was a fantastic artist, part of the original pantheon of pulp genre masters who would later go on to create covers for Gothic, Regency, Historical romances, including bodice rippers and epics. He was especially prolific for Zebra and Warner Books. In the latter part of his career, he would collaborate with his wife Marie to create beautiful romantic covers that inspire joy and passion.
The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie is a tale of a Gaelic, black-haired, fiery-spirited lass forced by circumstances to become a thief to provide for her family, only to be thwarted by an arrogant, scar-faced, golden-haired Duke…
Hmm. Where have I heard this plot before? Oh yes, Laurie McBain‘s Moonstruck Madness! Sadly, that’s where the similarities end. If you remove all the intelligent writing, the interesting side characters, and the sexual chemistry between the leads from McBain’s book, we have this dull, meandering read. Except for Jennifer Blake, I’ve come to find that Fawcett-published romances were rarely ever excellent, and this dud is another to put in the slush pile.
One day in Lancashire, England, some drunken soldiers looking for excitement come upon the house of the Avory family. They ransack the home, kill the dog, the Irish-born widow Lady Delilah, and her young son before raping the teenaged daughter. The eldest sister, and our heroine, Raven, was not in residence while this occurred, arriving in time to witness the aftermath of her home’s destruction.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Treacherous Heart by Angela Alexie”
A Five-Star Book, Albeit a Rating I Give Reluctantly
After deliberation, I decided to give Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri five stars, although I do so with some high degree of reluctance. The explanation why follows.
The Story: Part One
This Zebra Lovegram begins with the hero of the book, Freya Jorgenson, being born. Her father, Thorfast, is a warring Viking who wanted a son. He orders his man, Sven, to kill Freya. Sven, however, being a kind soul, chooses not to and, with the help of a captured English slave, raises Freya as his daughter.
Earlier, Sven did a similar thing. Years earlier, when Thorfast and his men went a-Viking–i.e., murdering, pillaging, and raping–they sacked an English village, killing all the males and raping the females. One of the women, Wilone, wife of the head of the earldom whom Thorfast killed, offered herself as a sexual slave to Thorfast in exchange for sparing her life and the life of her unborn child. Thorfast raped Wilone and ordered Sven to kill her and her child, which he did not do.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Sea Jewel by Penelope Neri”