Category lines are one of the cornerstones of the romance novel industry. We’ll delve deeper into each line as we document the genre’s past at Sweet Savage Flame. We’ll also be adding more pages to the site. As always, you can access pages via the top MENU. Please follow us via e-mail to keep informed of our latest updates.
What Is Category Romance?
Category romance, also known as series romance, differs from long-form, single edition romances in several ways. Most notably is the length. Category romances run 55,000 – 70,000 words. They range from novelette-length of 150 pages to a short novel of 300 pages. As their name implies, they are sorted into category lines and defined by tropes.
A trope is a common device in stories that (presumably) appeals to readers. They can be a type of plot, kind of character, theme, or setting writers employ because of familiarity. Some examples are Highland Scots, second chance at love, playboy billionaires, or arranged marriages.
All genre fiction use tropes in some way. Time travel, artificial intelligence, chosen one Messiahs, and space travel are a few one would find in Science Fiction. Tropes are not clichés. Clichés are ideas that are so overused they become trite.... Read more “A Brief Look at Category Romance”
This review is of Seduced and Betrayed, #8 in the “`Bachelor Arms” series, and book #2 of 3 in the series written by Candace Schuler. (Harlequin Temptation, September 1995).
The book begins in 1970. A woman finds her boyfriend, naked, in bed with another woman, who is also naked. Their relationship isn’t the only thing that ends that night.
Fast forward 25 years. Ezekiel “Zeke” Blackstone, 47, the book’s hero, is heading to a planning meeting for his daughter Cameron’s upcoming wedding. He is a famous actor turned producer/director and a major player in Hollywood. Zeke is nervous, however, because this meeting will bring him face-to-face with Ariel Cameron, 43, the heroine of the book, Cameron’s mother, and Zeke’s ex-wife. (They were the couple who broke up in the first paragraph!). Ariel, a successful actress turned model, has been estranged from Zeke for 25 years.
Sarina is a bodice ripper-lite written by Francine Rivers, the best-known and most successful author of Christian-centered or “inspirational” romances. This was written before Rivers became “born again,” however, she was still nominally Christian. Rivers has tried to distance herself from her first 11 books, dismissing them as: “BC (before Christ) books. They are all out of print now, are never to be reprinted, and are not recommended.” She purchased the rights to all those and will never allow them to be republished as she feels they don’t represent her faith today.
As a free speech proponent, I think it’s unfortunate that Rivers has deemed these books verboten. Furthermore, I disagree that their sexually explicit content dishonors Christianity.
The history of Dorchester Publishing began before the company ever started. Leisure Books started its operations in 1957. At first, it was a mass-market paperback publisher specializing in horror and thrillers. In the company’s early years, it also published fantasy, science fiction, Westerns, and the Wildlife Treasury card series. When the historical bodice ripper revolution of the 1970s hit, Leisure entered the field as a notable publisher of romance novels.
Dorchester Publishing itself was founded in 1971. For a long time, Dorchester was the oldest independent mass-market publisher in the United States. Back in its early days, Dorchester was the original publisher of the Hard Case Crime line of pulp mysteries. They were successful publishers of mystery and horror.
In 1982, Dorchester Publishing purchased Leisure Books as an imprint, shifting the company’s focus away from fantasy and science fiction towards horror and romance. Leisure Books, like Kensington’s Zebra romances, Playboy Press, and Pinnacle books would eschew tight editing and quality control for salacious covers and plots. Authors like Karen Robards, Robin Lee Hatcher, Connie Mason would find their starts with Leisure.
Romance Imprints: Leisure, Love Spell, BMI
Dorchester added the Love Spell imprint in 1993 which focused on the hot trend of paranormal romances, including time travel and vampires.... Read more “Dorchester Publishing”
A Love to Last Foreverby Linda Randall Wisdom is a fine romance between two former high school classmates, Stacy McAllister and Clarence “Mike” Harper. It’s 1986, and a 20-year class reunion brings the protagonists together. While Stacy was a popular cheerleader and prom queen who dated the captain/ quarterback of the football team, Mike had been a chubby, pimple-faced nerd who students like Stacy’s boyfriend had picked on.
Stacy’s life is not running as smoothly as it had years before. She’d once had a promising future with a scholarship to North Western University but gave it up to marry her boyfriend a week after graduation. While that marriage resulted in a daughter, it ended in divorce when Stacy had enough of her husband’s abuse. A second marriage also ended in divorce after she got pregnant with a son.
As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!” Oh well, at least I’m not in charge of safety at a nuclear power plant.
We are slowly converting articles to podcasts and YouTube videos. Unfortunately, I have found that it’s not as easy as simply speaking into a microphone and pressing record. I have to learn to modulate my voice better, stop mumbling at the ends of words, and quit inhaling through my mouth! And there’s no way I’m putting my big head on a screen (let alone allow people to see my messy computer room/ book room/ storage room/ den/ cat room), so I have to learn to get skilled in video making.
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.
Tabitha in Moonlight is a Harlequin Romance about an efficient, capable nurse (aren’t they always in these books?) in an elderly men’s ward. She falls for the new temporary surgeon, the Dutch-born, Dr. Marius van Beek. Betty Neels wields the typical doctor-nurse romance into a Cinderella story, with Tabitha starring as the poor, down-trodden stepdaughter who gets no love from her wicked step-mother and step-sister.
Dr. van Beek plays the prince’s role, but fortunately, this Prince is far more astute than his fairy tale predecessor, not requiring a glass slipper to identify his true lady love.
When first we meet Tabitha, she is presiding over her ward, checking on patients in a pleasant, personal manner, going as far as taking care of one old gentleman’s cat. She’s no beauty, as Neels describes her, but with her lovely figure, wide smile, and fabulous hair that she keeps primly knotted up, the reader knows Tabitha is actually a swan in hiding.
This review is of Passions Wild and Free, book #2 in the “Western Wind” series by Janelle Taylor.
The book begins in Wadesville, Texas, undisclosed time but after the Civil War. Randee Hollis, the heroine of the book, has plans to go after the Epson Gang, a ruthless band of killers who killed her aunt and uncle, Sara Elizabeth and Lee Carson, when the gang attacked their ranch. (Randee was the only survivor of the attack). She decides to hire a man to help her track down and kill the gang members. Randee finds resistance to her plans from Brody Wade, the sheriff of Wadesville-named after his family-who is in love with her and wishes to marry her.
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 the book was written by a man. As romance is often considered a woman’s topic, it’s understandable that male authors 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?
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”
It’s been a full six months that Sweet Savage Flame has been up and running. We started in early Spring, and now it’s Autumn, my favorite season! We’ve grown from a tiny website to a semi-respectable niche romance blog that has amassed over 18,000 views in that time. Thank you to our readers for being with us, for commenting, and for spreading the word about us!
Thank you to our beautiful bloggers, Mary Anne Landers, and Blue Falcon, for without their help, I would be tearing my hair out, doing this alone. Their reviews, posts, and thoughtful discussions have been a considerable part of this site’s growth.
And I also thank our friends on Facebook and Twitter who share this site with others and just love talking romance!
While we’re still a small blog, we’re showing up on Google searches and ranking on lists.
Margaret St. George’s The Pirate and His Lady isn’t a historical romance, but a time-traveling adventure published through Harlequin’s American Romance line.
Elizabeth Rawley is a bookish young woman obsessed with all things pirate, especially the legend of captain Richard Colter and his ship, the Black Cutter which, along with its treasure, had been sunk off the Florida coast after being engaged in a battle over 200 years ago.
While attending a “Pirate’s Ball” she witnesses a strange sight: two ancient-looking ships blasting away at one another in the waters of the sea. When she goes to the shore, she finds a washed-up body. But the man isn’t dead; he’s very much alive and dressed in puffy white Seinfeld shirt and other pirate regalia. Was he a guest of the party dressed in costume? Who could this man be?
Why, it was Richard Colter, the captain of the Black Cutter. How could this be?
This review is of Lovers and Strangers, book #7 in the “Bachelor Arms” series by Candace Schuler. It’s a HarlequinTemptation from August 1995.
Like JoAnn Ross’ contributions to the “Bachelor Arms” series, Ms. Schuler’s three books contain a mystery within a mystery. There is an overarching mystery that runs through all 11 books in the series. There is the mystery that is contained in Ms. Schuler’s books (Reviewer note: The versions of the three books I am reviewing are the ebook versions of the original books published from August-October 1995. It appears Ms. Schuler regained the rights to her work from Harlequin and republished the books in 2012/13 under a new series name: Hollywood Nights. Perhaps owing to that, supporting character names and the name of the building have been changed from the print version. However, the titles and the core Harlequin Temptation stories remain intact.)
Sheila Holland née Coates, known to most readers of romance as Harlequin/ Mills & Boon author Charlotte Lamb is one of my favorite writers, period. Although she created seemingly simple category romances, her books were much more than that. She wrote like few others in her field could: fully inhabiting her characters’ minds and giving them larger-than-life personalities.
Her heroes could be fiercely chauvinistic and cruel with deep-seated psychological issues; others kind, understanding guys who still were emotionally intense. Lamb’s heroines ran the gamut from sheltered teenaged virgins, competent working women struggling to make it in their fields, and sophisticated, mature ladies who’d been around the block once or twice.
Lamb’s Harlequin Presents Seduction has been seared into my memory as one of the earliest romances I read. It was so chock-full of insanity and fantastic writing; I couldn’t get enough. I’ve reviewed it before, so I won’t go into details. If you hate it, read another Charlotte Lamb. She might have revisited similar tropes and characters, but she never wrote the same book twice!
At Dr. Maria DeBlassie’s blog Enchantment Learning she hosted a presentation by our Twitter pal Daily Clinch @Artof the Clinch. We recommend watching this informative video on the history of romance novel clinch covers. They touch upon the genre’s past as well as discussing pivotal cover artists, models, authors, and more.
It’s a little over an hour long, so make some time, settle back and enjoy listening to this enlightening video!
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”
We’ve compiled a list of six sweet and sexy heroes from some amazing historical romances. These remarkable men will have you swooning with their devoted adoration for their women.
Stephen Montgomery – Highland Velvet by Jude Deveraux
We reviewed Jude Deveraux’ Highland Velvet a few months ago at Sweet Savage Flame. In this early Tudor-era romance, Stephen Montgomery is given Bronwyn MacArran’s hand in marriage. It’s his reward for his valiant deeds for King Henry VII. Instead of finding a willing bride, Bronwyn is bitter about the forced arrangement with a hated Englishman. She cares only for her Scottish clan and her lands. Stephen will do everything in his power to prove to Bronwyn that’s he’s the right man for her and her people. Stephen is kind, patient, and humorous in contrast to his sour wife. His sacrifices for her might make you sigh, either in delight or frustration because he does do much for Bronwyn! Stephen is a wonderful hero who will melt your heart.
First Love, Wild Love, a Zebra Lovegram romance, begins in Texas, where Calinda Braxton, the heroine, has come from England to investigate the disappearance of her father, Elliott “Brax” Braxton. Her arrival in Texas is not welcoming, as the stagecoach she’s on is robbed. The stagecoach guard is killed, and the other passengers blame her because she fought back. Disconsolate and penniless, Calinda is taken in by the madam of a house of ill repute and given a room. What happens here sets the tone for the rest of the book.
Calinda is given laudanum by the madam (not for nefarious purposes, but to help her sleep). Into the room comes the owner, Lynx Cardone, the hero of the book. Thinking that Calinda either was sent to his room or heard about him and decided to come on her own, Lynx has dubious consent sex with Calinda. She agrees to have sex with him, but she’s under the influence of the drug.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: First Love, Wild Love by Janelle Taylor”
Some romance cover artists work for only a brief time period in the field yet leave a lasting impact. Japanese-born-American artist Ken Otsuka painted sweet book covers in the 1990s for publishing houses such as Kensington’s Zebra and Bantam’s Fanfare lines. For over 40 years Otsuka has worked in commercial and then fine arts. His seascapes are so realistic, you can swear you hear the ocean while gazing upon them.
Whether he created romantic moonscapes, fantasy-romance clinch covers, or whimsical stepbacks featuring a swan-lake or snowy background, his artwork appeals to the romantic senses.
For the week of Monday, September 27, 2021, to Sunday, October 3, let’s take delight in the beauty of Ken Otsuka’s romance covers!