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With very little effort on my part (the best kind), I found several of my old Harlequin Present favorites from when I was young. Wow, what a revelation to read them now. I want to say that it’s a coincidence that the males are overbearing, arrogant, abusive, and violent, but that was de rigeur in 1970s romance. So not so coincidental after all.
The other element that ties these books to their times is that the men are wealthy owners of corporations. The only variety that you see is with the female characters. I hesitate to call them heroines because they are not heroic. They are trying to not be bullied. It’s easy to fight back when you are arguing with a hot guy. Not so easy when hot guy starts kissing you. How sad that the authors had so little sense of what makes a man. The men are all little better than paper dolls, whereas the women undergo psychological overhauls of Shakespearean proportions.
The one thing that ties the Presents together that I never could grasp is how the women could fall in love with men with whom they exchanged maybe a half dozen words and most of those barked by the men while the women were stunned into silence. Even now, a couple of decades later, the logic of it still escapes me. The guy is in absentia for a hundred pages but she falls in love with him. He’s mean and judgmental, but he’s nice to his mom, so she falls in love with him. How is that romantic???
And yet, these books are the ones I remembered 30-40 years later. The “happiest” one has to be FROZEN FIRE. A man and woman fall in love, but the woman’s married. She sees how her husband is awful and the man she loves is wonderful. It’s the most logical one of the bunch. Everything in the plot makes sense and has a logical continuity. A WILDER SHORE is #2 in the logical plot winners list. It takes place over several years, but everything that happens is logical and even the problems make sense.
Sometimes it’s not the plot. Sometimes I learn something. I learned about Meissen porcelain from PAGAN ENCOUNTER. When people were leaving Germany in 1939, they converted money to Meissen porcelain because it’s valuable and could easily be converted to cash outside the country. SENSATION would never have caught my interest if it had been set anywhere but Paris. Seriously, that’s the only thing this story has going for it. The story has a romantic plot – a man decides that he wants his wife to live with him after years of living apart. But he was a bitch most of the time. No innovation there.
THE SEA MASTER is older guy with older teen. No big deal according to the writer’s logic. Nowadays, it’s just icky. The girl gets a hard lesson in growing up and not being so self-absorbed. But not in a fun way. There’s an unusual amount of housework. The only reason I stuck with it is because it happens on a boat in the ocean. It was super unusual for a commonwealth author to write anything about America. A LAND CALLED DESERET is in the same vein as SEA MASTER – where the heroine learns to be a useful person instead of a pampered hothouse flower. The hero is an inconceivable departure from the norm. He’s a rancher, not wealthy, no luxury to speak of. He’s more Elizabeth Lowell than Harlequin Presents.
I’ve mentioned before, I think, how Janet Dailey changed the playing field. Most of the men in her Americana novels were not wealthy, but they were men of power or consequence. She also introduced a more human, more gentle gentleman without the aristocratic arrogance that goes hand-in-hand with old money. And let’s face it, you’re more likely to meet a Janet Dailey-type man than an Violet Winspear-type man or Carole Mortimer-type man.
It’s funny how I can get through the book in a few hours. I spent way too much time as a teen reading these. And now, it still takes me 3 or 4 hours to get through one. I don’t rush. I like to enjoy certain scenes, the banter (such as it is). For example, in A LAND CALLED DESERET, I like to read the references to the heroine’s “nice” cousin from A DANGEROUS MASQUERADE. In fact, LaRaine Evans shows up an unprecedented 3! times in Dailey novels: A DANGEROUS MASQUERADE, SONORA SUNDOWN, and DESERET. Funny, though, when she showed up in SS, there was no indication that she would get her own novel. Series were not the thing in the late 70s/early 80s. And yet, again Dailey was at the forefront. Her first Americana novel NO QUARTER ASKED had a sequel: FOR BITTER OR WORSE. Then 1978’s THE MATCHMAKERS had a sequel – THAT CAROLINA SUMMER (1982). Dailey was the queen!
LaRaine Evans Trio ~~~
Other scenes I liked:
In LIFELONG AFFAIR, I love the hero! He’s awesome. Thank you to Carole Mortimer for keeping his arrogance tangible but not overwhelming, so that when Glenna fell in love with him, it was logical. Suspension of disbelief is all well and good, but jeezy kreezy, you know what I mean! A really good scene was when he and Glenna were in the honeymoon suite and he felt sheepish at being caught out – you know – in the “honeymoon” suite. Wink, wink, nudge. nudge!
THE LOVING TRAP reminds me of early Elizabeth Lowell Silhouette Desire novels – the heroine was psychologically scarred from a prior event and the insensitive man tries to get her past it – with mixed results. A good scene from that one was when the hero gives the heroine a “Mr. Darcy”-style shite marriage proposal. After he gets through explaining all the ways that she annoys him and confuses him, he’s all “marry me.” And she’s all “okay.” It’s kind of WTF, but I had gotten to like him by that time.
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