REVIEW – Fool’s Paradise – Ann Cooper


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Fool’s Paradise by Ann CooperFoolsParadise
Harlequin Romance #2383 (1980)

Recently a girlfriend told me about a neighbor’s bachelor party she surveilled while crouched in the yard beneath a window. One stripper. A dozen men. Wouldn’t you know it? Two hours later she was watching these friends fight in the street.

It’s an age-old formula: sexual tension minus sexual release equals…

For one incredible moment she thought he was going to beat her.

Girls in these romances knew how to keep it close and tight. As a result, Fool’s Paradise features another angry-pants alpha male. I love a Mr. Angrypants when he’s dropped in an HEA…So long as he doesn’t leave me with a case of blue-box, which I’m realizing this era of Harlequin breeds in spades.

Meet-up: He’s the distant family relation (and former lover) newly appointed to save from bankruptcy her historic heirloom home. (cf. The Grass is Always Greener with Debra Kerr, Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum c. 1960).

Conflict: He is angry because she ran away when he proposed marriage. She loved him, but he’s city refined and she’s country estate, so she thought he was proposing marriage to get into her panties. Which would have been my preference.

Although some highly-prized petting does occur off-scene:

He kissed her toes – no one had ever kissed her toes before – then he kissed her knees and finally, a long time afterwards, he was kissing the tips of her fingers. There wasn’t anywhere at all left undiscovered.

Nowhere? Nowhere at all?

In the end, their consummation had me chucking the book onto the nightstand:

It was a long time later when Emma finally woke up in Nicholas’ bedroom.

Am I angry? Not really. It was a good, fast read. And a house full of blue-boxed women won’t result in fighting in the streets.

REVIEW – Rough Justice – and Hero Archetype #2…Mr. Angrypants


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rough justiceRough Justice – by Janine Ellis. Harlequin Romance #2330 (1979)

It’s difficult to describe the disappointment of effective sexual tension that does not end in consummation. Oh wait. I know how. Harlequin has blue-balled millions of readers (and heroes).

No penetration station for these Harlequin Romances. None of Kleypas’ inexorable slides. A euphemism would have been fine. But there is even none of that.

Many of the back cover plot summaries promise women marrying men they hate, don’t know, are scared of, or are otherwise duped by. Perhaps when I hit one with a post-marriage plot, I’ll get my consommé. In the mean time, I am stuck with hauntingly unfulfilled. I am haunted, because this is really quite a well-written book.

The heroine is not stupid. She’s accepted the position of chambermaid at a rich friend’s hotel in Cornwall, England, where from 7am to 1pm she cleans rooms, (including the hero’s), but after work, she’s like one of the family – feuds and all.

As is typical with this decade, multiple actors people the set. The hero has his pick of three other women, total. The heroine, two men.

The title – Rough Justice – describes the hero. Lots of bruised wrists and lips, and jaw muscle clenching, twitching, and jumping. My favorite type of hero, Mr. Angrypants, who gentles when the temperature is right.

He hauled her to her feet, and for a moment she thought he was going to hit her. His hand found her throat and he forced her chin up so that she met his eyes. She had never seen such naked anger, and when he spoke he seemed to have difficulty keeping himself under control. ‘You won’t marry Graham, Lorraine,’ he bit out. ‘I don’t care what I have to do to prevent it…The sooner you give in to me, the better it will be for both of us. The longer you resist me, the worse I’ll make it for you.

Ahh. Make it worse. Please.

Mr. Angrypants is a sub-type of Hero Archetype #1, Mr. Reserve. Mr. Reserve may be trying not to do any number of things while he tries not to kiss you. Mr. Angrypants is simply trying not to rape you. The final scene of Rough Justice illustrates this, where you would think perhaps now that they’ve agreed to marry, you might get some:

‘Do you surrender?,’ he asked, and she nodded, stilling underneath him, and breathing rather shallowly as she felt his full weight against her…After a while, Mark lifted his head and gazed down at her with a warmth that made her shiver…’Tempting as you are, my darling, I’m still angry enough to hurt you – and, he added softly, ‘you know I don’t want to do that.’

Do it. Do it do it do it do it.

His 70s fashion standouts – a navy blue velvet suit, which he wears whenever they play dress-up. The other men wear black velvet suits, so I am assuming navy is somehow innovatory (sic). Innovatory is a word actually used in this book. I feel silly that I haven’t been using it myself.

Her 70s fashion. Simply awesome. I wanted every outfit she wore. Lots of gauzy white cotton dresses and leather sandals. Tight Tshirts and blue jeans. A navy blue and white striped shirt that she finished off with a ‘jaunty’ red kerchief around her neck, because she wanted to look ‘young, fresh and vulnerable.’ This heroine makes fashion choices.

I loved this book! As pitched on the back cover…She’d always wanted to meet Mark Taylor.

Me too.

REVIEW – Kaleidoscope – Joan Elliott Pickart


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KaleidoscopeI thought I was finished with Joan Elliot Pickart. But the box of books delivered by my brother were, alas, not my beloved Loveswepts. I had high hopes for a reread of Iris Johansen’s Return to Santa Flores. But instead the box was filled with 1970s Harlequins. Stay tuned. In the mean time, we’ve got more Joan, because I won 20 on ebay.

Kaleidoscope. Loveswept #179  (Feb 1987)

Meetup: Slapstick. Aging mothers share a creative project that gets them into trouble, and the H/H must bail their respective mothers out of jail in the wee hours.

Conflict: He’s a divorce lawyer who doesn’t want to get married. The heroine loves kids enough to open a childcare center, and her biological clock is ticking. (She’s 29.)

80s standouts: Lunch. Avocados stuffed with shrimp. Shrimp in an avocado. However you say it, it seems wrong. But people are making it.

His fashion: Brown suit and tie with a pale yellow shirt.

The Penetration Station: “Without hesitation she opened herself to him, and he entered her with a thrust that stole her breath away” (p. 159).

Survey Says: This book has a well-written beginning. Great banter throughout. Likeable hero. Likeable heroine. Nice tension. Cute.

The Golden Touch (Second Chance at Love, No. 58) by Laura London, Robin James


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The Golden Touch (Second Chance at Love, No. 58)The Golden Touch by Laura London

The meetup: Superstar hero walks into local instrument shop to have his guitar peg fixed by small town heroine.

The conflict: He’s a superstar; she’s smalltown. She’s also a widow, which throws a wrench in the gears, but really it’s the bigtime vs smalltown.

80s fashion: This book was published in 1982, so really it’s still 70s fashion. He wears lots of leather pants. Doeskin for him anyone?

The Penetration Station: Get a load of this one!! I am including the text even after ellipses, as grammar manuals agree that an ellipses at the end of a sentence would include four dots, and RJ included only three….

And then the pinpointed, specific attentions of his fingertips ceased, and he placed his two broad hands on her bare hips, holding her up to him, and she waited in a rapt and aching anguish before she felt a low, warm sliding, and the waving tips of the clover and the brilliant blue sky seemed far away, and yet lent themselves to an unimaginable clarity as she dug her fingernails into the small of his back and moaned…His mouth simultaneously invaded hers, to no resistance, fierce, hungry kisses, random and love-violent, different from the gentle rhythmic movement of his hips as he lifted her, his hand under her shoulders, her blond hair spilling around them over the clover as he searched for, found, and held her most profound and silken depths, covering her face and mouth in fiercely loving kisses, murmuring love words (p. 113).

Ladies, we have a winner. The longest penetration sentence ever.

Survey Says: I read this book because of The Windflower. I’m moving through all of this couple’s books (Tom & Sharon Curtis). Where are they now? I prefer to leave it a mystery. In the mean time, I am enjoying their books. The Golden Touch was published immediately before Lightning that Lingers, which preceded in publication The Windflower.

As when reading Lisa Kleypas, the later books developed a level of expertise that only practice can make perfect. Earlier books can be lackluster, especially in comparison. This book is an example. The hero and heroine both lack a certain like-abilty, even credibility. But the story is still one I kept picking up, wanting to see how it ended. I gave it four stars because if you like Laura London, this is a why-not read. Doesn’t seem like they’ll be writing any more….

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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REVIEW – Lightning that Lingers – Sharon and Tom Curtis (Laura London)


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Lightning That LingersLightning That Lingers #25 Sharon and Tom Curtis (Laura London)

Meetup: Shy librarian heroine visits local male strip club. He’s the star act.

Conflict: She’s a shy librarian, and he’s a male stripper.

The Penetration Station: “He blew softly along her hairline, and slowly entered her” (p. 138). No honeyed havens here ladies and gents.

Survey Says:  It’s a classic. Pure and simple. Notice no 80s standouts here. Nothing to laugh at. I read Windflower last year this time, and it’s haunted me ever since. This little book, though not at the level of Windflower, certainly blows everything else in this Loveswept category line out of the water. Sweet. Funny. A hero you can taste. A heroine not unlike Ana from 50 shades in that you wonder what he sees in her, but then the authors give her pluck and bittersweetness. So you’re happy for her. Happy for you. Happy.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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REVIEW – Riddles and Rhymes – Joan Elliott Pickart


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Riddles_Rhymes_cover_artRiddles and Rhymes #317 – Joan Elliott Pickart (March 1989)

Cover Art: Ed Tadiello

Meetup: Hero walks into a used bookstore the heroine had just inherited from her eccentric aunt, and with a ray of sunshine dancing off his blond hero hair, they fall immediately in lust, followed promptly by love.

Conflict: Hero is a painter, and painting has been his mistress. Though he’s ready to commit, heroine doubts his love will withstand his next gallery show. Also, there’s a detective story running through this one, with guns, federal agents, and references to Hart to Hart.

80s standouts: She’s a high school English teacher on summer break, who, had she not inherited the used book store (if not anachronistic enough), would have spent the summer delivering telephone books.

His fashion: One yellow knit shirt tucked into faded jeans. Not too terrible.

Her fashion: Turquoise dress. Appropriate only for mother of the bride dresses, or dresses for women who were in their 20s in the 80s.

The Penetration Station:

He kissed her once more, then lifted his head to watch her face as he entered her with a smooth power, filling her, bringing to her honeyed haven all that he was as a man

Yes, that’s right. Her honeyed haven.

Survey Says: Another one of Joan’s fun romps. References to Fletch throughout warmed my heart.

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REVIEW – Secrets of Autumn – Joan Elliott Pickart


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Secrets of Autumn by Joan Elliott Pickart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Secrets of Autumn coverThe Secrets of Autumn #162 – Joan Elliott Pickart (Oct 1986)

Meetup: Slapstick. Heroine pretends to be unfashionable and unattractive while she temps for a handsome architect to gather psychological data for her dissertation.

Conflict: Hero falls in love with plain jane heroine because he’s looking to settle down, and feels betrayed when he learns that she is actually fashion-forward.

80s standouts: Were human subjects research protocols not run through an IRB in the 80s?

His fashion: Not terrible. Very little brown, surprisingly.

Her fashion: It wouldn’t be the 80s without a teal blue shirtwaist dress.

The Penetration Station: “He came to her with strength tempered by gentleness, and she received him with love” (p. 87). Meh. Not Joan’s strong suit.

Cover Art: Nick Caruso. They’re both wet.

Survey Says: Joan Elliott Pickart does fun romps better than tragic sap. This one was a romp. Fun and funny. Actually liked secondary character (hero’s male chum) – Bish Terzoni. Bish Terzoni?

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Caught the Bantam Loveswept wave?


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I’m afraid I have. I caught it back in 1984, the year of the line’s debut. That’s when my mother first starting receiving the books monthly by the half-dozen, boxed in cardboard, and to the wrath of my father who lamented the subscription fees. (It wasn’t the only box of books she received each month.)

It’s easy to see how a 13-year-old Catholic school girl could have loved these stories, fallen in love with the very idea of being swept off her feet…and (a little too early) into the bedroom.

As a 43-year-old? I’m having fun swimming in the retro. Brown suits and yellow dresses. Phone books and travel agencies. Illustrated front covers. A lost art.

On sale on Etsy by Curiosities39t

On sale on Etsy by Curiosities39t

And the marketing campaigns. My favorite – a 1-800 number to call to assist Bantam with research on its readership. These bits of ephemera are making my re-reading of the Loveswept line more fun than even Joan Elliot Pickart’s opening-scene, open-mouthed, stranger-danger kisses.

Try one for yourself. The entire Bantam line was digitally re-released in 2011.

REVIEW – The Windflower – Laura London


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The WindflowerThe Windflower by Laura London
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Someday I will write an essay on this book. It has a cult following, and I am one. Incredibly full characters, rich description, unique settings, and the old pirate romance somehow morphing into an aristocractic one. Brilliant! Plucky heroine. Sexy hero. Great love scenes. Memorable secondary characters. Literary at the sentence level. For those romance readers who have not yet read this book…lucky you! It was my vacation read last February in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The book rocked as much as that vacation.

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Reserved: Hero Archetype No. 1


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If you were a child of the 1980s, then you remember the thrill of your introduction to Superman. I mean the real Superman: Christopher Reeves.

He played a very handsome, very nerdy Clark Kent. Do you remember how beautiful that man was? Too lovely for this world.

This year, I had the opportunity to remember what it was like to go cuckoo for cocoa puffs over Clark Kent when, much to my surprise, he walked right into a Halloween party: ruffled dark hair, broad chest, lean frame, and nerdy glasses. He sighed, let out the host’s dog, and I was hooked.

The butterflies in my stomach about lifted me right off the ground.

In my adult predilection for Mr. Darcy, I had sublimated my adolescent affinity for Clark Kent.

My very visceral response to the poor young man who won my heart and soul at the Halloween party reawakened it, and being a thoughtful woman of mature years, I explored that response a bit. I wondered, what happened?

The answer came to me rather easily — Clark Kent and Darcy both have that sublime power of reserve. They are duty bound to hold themselves back, to secret their emotions behind screens of propriety. And frankly, this is a real turn on, for many of us.

These heroes may be like Clark, hiding a secret that could place you in peril should you discover it. Or like Darcy, struggling to maintain dignity in the face of your unique charm.

Of course the list goes on as to reasons, but even just these two will do well enough.

Lisa Kleypas will illustrate my point very well. In Seduce Me At Sunrise, (4 stars) Kev withholds himself from Winifred to  save her from peril (him) with an engaging broodiness. In It Happened One Autumn (4 stars) Marcus withholds from Lillian to maintain dignity in the face of her unique charm. Oh, and my personal favorite for the incredible way Harry awakes the morning after he finally sleeps with his wife… In Tempt Me at Twilight, Harry withholds himself from Poppy, well, because he loves her just so darn much. And for that, 5 stars.

What is it about the man who doesn’t want to hold back (of course, he doesn’t want to), but will. Just for you.

And if the sheer pervasiveness of this type of romantic hero has you thinking that, well, ALL romantic heroes use this power of reserve (Rochester, Heathcliff, etc. ad infinitum), we need only go back to Kleypas for the fab heros who wield altogether different kinds of magic: Simon, Leo, Cam.

You see the difference.

Consider your favorite romantic heroes and ask yourself: how many have been drawn from this single operating principle?

And when you begin to recognize how many of your favorites share this quality, please let me know how to find them. I love this kind of hero, and am so glad to find him whenever we meet again.