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Johanna Lindsey

CLASSIC REVIEW:  Savage Thunder by Johanna Lindsey

CLASSIC REVIEW: Savage Thunder by Johanna Lindsey

This classic review is by The Fallen Professor who is a former literature academic who now runs her own freelance business and indulges in whatever the hell she wants to read. She’s especially fond of historical and paranormal romances, though she won’t turn her nose up at a good contemporary. Visit The Fallen Professor at her blog.

Savage Thunder Johanna LindseyDear Ms. Lindsey,

Colt Thunder was my first lover.

My relationship to Savage Thunder is long and complicated, and intimately tied to my reading life, so this review is long, long, long; it also contains a good dose of nostalgia.

 

Part 1: The Memory

 

Sometime during my senior year in high school, I found myself alone in a coffee shop; it specialized in artisan fudge, which is why I was really there (my love for coffee didn’t start until college). The fact that I was alone is important, because what happened next would never have taken place had I been accompanied by family or friends.

I was in the middle of making a life-or-death decision (almond or marbled fudge?), when I noticed a rickety book rack next to the counter, stuffed to bursting with paperbacks for sale. Front and centre, I saw a thick volume with the intriguing title of Savage Thunder.

And yes, it was the original cover, which looked like this:

[PLACE ORIGINAL COVER HERE]

And yes, I believe that’s Fabio in black hair dye.

This was my chance. I’d been to friends’ homes and noticed shelves full of books sporting such covers in their parents’ dens and living rooms. I’d sneaked peeks at them, and knew what they were about. I’d even formed part of a circle of classmates who had passed around an old battered copy of Judy Blume’s Forever… Not strictly a romance novel, I know, but the closest I’d come to one; I’d been smitten by Michael, and my heart broke for Katherine. And I wanted more.

But it was a risky move. I grew up in a literature-loving household; was currently enrolled in Advanced Placement English; and had by then decided to become an English major. This book felt, for lack of a better or gentler expression, as though it should be beneath me. And yet, I really, really wanted to read it, even knowing I’d feel the need to hide it in the deepest reaches of my sock drawer. In a rush of adrenaline that I still remember more than twenty years later, I snatched up the book, placed it face down on the counter, and paid for it along with my fudge. I know, what a combo platter, right? It seemed like the quintessential lonely girl special.

And I guess I was, in a sense. I was bookish and shy, and would eventually go on to take an arranged date to my prom. But loneliness is not what drew me to Savage Thunder and romance novels in general. Neither was the sex; I was introverted, but not sheltered. Looking back, the one word I can use to describe this fascination that I had is desire. I was intrigued by the courtships described in romance novel blurbs, and especially by the earthshaking attraction that seemed to erupt between hero and heroine.

To think that someone could desire me so fiercely, seen from the awkward high school social scene that was my daily environment, seemed unreal. And, while I can’t say that I modelled any one of my later relationships on what I read in these books, I probably did unconsciously use that image of focused desire as a touchstone at times.

But I digress.

Part 2: The Novel

So here we are, Ms. Lindsey, finally getting around to discussing your novel.

As I suggested in the beginning, I have mixed feelings about your book. On the one hand, it’s an irresistible read that I’ve returned to regularly over the years; every time I pick it up, I realize that I have many passages memorized. On the other hand, there are aspects of Savage Thunder that make me incredibly uncomfortable. So I’ll try to address both of these sides in my discussion. I’m going to leave out a detailed description of the plot, because I don’t want to give too much away and this is already going to be long.

First, I need to tackle the title, which I’ve always disliked because I couldn’t see a reason for it. At first glance, it sounds innocuous: a reference to severe weather patterns? We have much savage thunder in summertime where I live. But then we find out the hero’s name is White/Colt Thunder, and that he’s a “half-breed” because he’s part Cheyenne, and… huh? Is that really the reference you want to be making with the title? There’s certainly plenty of racism directed at Mr. Thunder throughout the novel, but not by the “good guys” (mostly… more on that later), and I don’t understand why the title should seem to reflect their mindset.

And, although the book’s reissue has changed the cover art, I have to say that the original cover made me grit my teeth because it didn’t seem to reflect the characters at all. Jocelyn would not have been caught dead swooning at Colt’s feet in that fashion: this is, after all, the woman who at one point takes off on Colt’s horse and leaves him stranded to cool off after an argument. But it’s a cover typical of the era the book was published, and nowadays the Fabio-ness of it is campy enough to simply make me smile.

So now that we know who our hero is, I come to my next point of discomfort: the American Indian romance hero. And here I must confess that, aside from an ill-advised foray into the magical land of Cassie Edwards’ cardboard warriors (I read Savage Fires right before Smart Bitches reported on Edwards’ alleged plagiarism), Savage Thunder is the only novel I’ve read in this sub genre. So please take my comments as those of a largely inexperienced reader in the field.

There’s an aspect of the race conflict in Savage Thunder that I do appreciate: as someone of mixed heritage, Colt is aware that he fits in neither here nor there, and much of his personal battle comes from his need to find a place in society (or, as he does for much of the novel, to stay away from it). He’s been the Cheyenne warrior; he’s been the passing-for-white ranch hand (with near fatal results); and by the time he runs into Jocelyn he’s decided to make sure his Cheyenne half is visible enough to prevent misunderstandings, while at the same time embracing many of white society’s trappings (mainly evident in his lightning-quick gun skills). He wants to make sure people know what he is, so that the events detailed in the Prologue aren’t repeated; but at the same time he’s ready to defend himself in the way of the society that rejects him. Challenge Colt Thunder and you’ll likely die in the ensuing shootout.

This tension between his Cheyenne and white heritage makes for a very compelling hero, especially once he begins to be romantically pursued by someone who doesn’t seem to care about his mixed race. As an aside, during my very first reading of Savage Thunder, I was also studying Wuthering Heights, whose hero, Heathcliff, is also (though one wouldn’t know this from most movie adaptations) described as being of mixed or indeterminate race. Though Colt’s story thankfully ends much differently than Heathcliff’s, the parallels made Savage Thunder that much more interesting.

However, I also have some issues with the race aspect. I have to admit that these developed over years of rereads, since at first Colt was just exotic and rugged for me (just as he was for Jocelyn). As I mentioned, there are many racist comments directed towards Colt, mainly from characters with whom we’re clearly not supposed to sympathize. Mainly. Because we also have passages like:

“If he had come across her six years ago, he would have simply ridden off with her and made her his. But he was ‘civilized’ now…” (Colt’s POV)

“He was so damn unpredictable when the Indian side of him was dominant. Billy needed to pacify him and quick.” (from the POV of Billy, Colt’s white half-brother)

“Riches had no meaning for someone like Colt. He still lived off the land just as he always had. Jessie had failed to civilize him in that respect.” (Billy’s POV; Jessie is Colt’s white half-sister)

“‘Do you know what would happen to you if I had found you then? This – and a helluva lot more. We not only raped white women, we made slaves of them.’” (Colt to Jocelyn)

This spills over into the love scenes, which are passionate but sometimes border on violent. There’s a first kiss given as quasi-punishment, and the first sex scene is preceded by Colt’s surrender to his “primitive side”: “despite his single-minded determination, he forced himself to give her one last opportunity to escape what he could no longer control… ‘Scream now, Duchess, while you’ve got the chance. You won’t get another.’” Um… swoon? There’s also an exotic sex scene, on horseback. Even when I first read the book and had never been on a horse, it sounded silly; now, as a seasoned rider, I can confidently say: “WTF!?!” and “Owieowieowie!” But again, the clothes-ripping and carrying off to bed are typical of many Old School 80s romance novels.

However, this left me wondering whether the characterization of American Indian characters always falls towards the same tropes of (1) possessive treatment of the heroine with culture as justification; (2) someone whose “primitive instincts” need to be controlled in the presence of a virtuous (and white) heroine; (3) a disdain of material goods and deep love/understanding of nature; and (4) the previous three points being what makes this type of hero sexy for the heroine (and, by extension, the reader). The fact that, in the final scene, Colt is described as looking “less Indian” (not the actual quote) when he proposes to Jocelyn just reinforces the stereotype for me: she has managed to somewhat tame his “savage” side.

Again, I know this type of alpha hero is very much the product of the times, and in this sense Colt falls in line with the dukes, rakes, pirates, and other macho, macho men. The problem for me is that his personality can’t be separated from his race and culture: from the title, to the way friends and enemies move around him, to his own confessions of “primitive” urges, Colt sometimes comes across as one big (albeit drop-dead gorgeous) walking stereotype. Add in the fact that romances in this sub genre, are written by (from what I’ve seen) authors from outside their characters’ culture, and things become even more complicated. On the one hand, romance novels with racial diversity are always welcome; on the other hand, to what extent are we romanticizing cultures whose realities we might not fully comprehend?

And here I’d like to ask a serious question: What makes American Indian heroes (or, less commonly, heroines) so attractive for readers that there’s an entire field of romance writing devoted to them? Unlike the decadent, wealthy sheiks that are also a staple of romance novels, the Native American romance hero belongs to a group ostracized and persecuted in the time period these books usually cover (and the present-day reality for many is not much better).

I’m sorry to have started with what I didn’t like about Savage Thunder, Ms. Lindsey. I was taught, when learning to write critiques, that I should point out the good aspects first, before heading into the negatives; obviously, I have failed here. But I wanted to get these points out of the way, because the love story at the heart of this book is really terrific.

What I liked most about the courtship is that it’s Jocelyn doing most of the pursuing. Sure, her initial reasons for chasing after Colt are fairly superficial (the argument for needing to lose her virginity seems frankly ludicrous to me); but she realizes early on that she’s fallen hard for him, and refuses to give up or let him demean himself and think himself beneath her. As an introduction to romance novels, she’s a stellar heroine-guide: without taking away from the hero’s alpha nature, she leaves him speechless over and over with her courage and skills. Jocelyn is in the vein of Jessica Trent from Lord of Scoundrels, although Jessica is even more badass in my opinion.

And Colt? Oh, Colt Thunder. As someone tweeted in reply when I mentioned I was doing this review: “Colt Thunder is so good.” Indeed he is. He’s of an alpha variety that I’d run from screaming in real life; but he also gives credit where credit is due, and does not turn a blind eye to Jocelyn’s knowledge of horses, or her skill with a gun. For all her extravagance and easy use of wealth, she’s willing to rough it with him during their camping journey to Wyoming, and he acknowledges her bravery in this. He’s also someone who’s been hurt in horrible ways throughout his life, and has lost much of his Cheyenne family to white society’s greed for gold. But still, he lives among them, and has retained a strong code of ethics that allow him to let someone who had insulted him to the point of triggering a duel to run away without receiving a bullet to the back.

For these reasons, plus a plot that always keeps me turning the pages (and believe me, I have it well memorized by now) and secondary characters that are well fleshed out and sympathetic (I love Vanessa and Angel), Savage Thunder remains a much beloved book in my collection, all reticence about stereotypes aside.

If you’ve made it this far, Dear Author readers, I thank you! I wish I had a prize to give out.

And now it looks like I need to think of a grade for this book. It’s a difficult decision, because I haven’t done any grading since my teaching days, and even then it wasn’t my favourite part of being in the classroom. But here goes. My misgivings about the book would put it at about a C; but its redeeming qualities (great characters, smoking-hot chemistry, the fact that it’s been a memorable part of my reading life since the year it was published) would put it at an A. So in all fairness, I’ll have to average my mixed feelings and give Savage Thunder a B.

And yes, the line “Because I’m going to lay you on that bed and fill you with my flesh” still makes my knees weak.

 

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Intrigued by this review? Have a book of your own that is a favorite? Dear Author has an open invitation to anyone to write a review of a book that is at least twenty years old, published in the 1990s or before. You can love it or hate it but it stuck with you for a reason. Share with the rest of us your classic romance review by emailing [email protected]
 

First Reads by the Dear Author Crew

First Reads by the Dear Author Crew

I thought it would be fun if reminisced about our first romance read.  To prime the pump, so to speak, I asked the Dear Author crew to write up a small post about their first romance reads.  Share your own reading experiences in the comments.

Janine (link to Janine’s posts)

Janine avatarI was thirteen years old when I discovered the genre with Johanna Lindsey’s Heart of Thunder (1983) ( A | BN | K S ).  This is a vintage book.  The heroine, Samantha, was spoiled and willful, the daughter of a wealthy rancher. She romances the hero, Hank, to make another man jealous, and then she dumps Hank cold.  Hank retaliates by forcing himself on her, which she finds blissful beyond imagining, and she punishes him for that by (A) shooting him, and (B) putting his face on “Wanted” posters.  And that’s just the beginning.

I kept this book for years, partly from nostalgia, but got rid of it long ago. It didn’t hold up for me because I lost the ability to believe in blissful rapes, because of weaknesses in the craftsmanship, and because the cycle of “I hate you / Let’s have sex” got tiring. I don’t miss it, but sometimes I miss aspects of the historicals of that era.  I miss the unapologetically flawed characters.  I miss the strong, take no prisoner heroines.  I miss the fire and the freshness of those books.  Most of all, I miss the excitement of discovering a new genre.

Dabney. (link to Dabney’s posts)

DabneyIn 1975, when I was 14 and living in Marin, California, I read about a million Barbara Cartland books. Not one of them made an impression on me. I got them from the library—I was also reading the classics constantly back then—and ran through about five a week. My family didn’t really watch TV, so Dame Cartland was my no-brain time. Then, one evening, our babysitter (I have three younger siblings) brought me a copy of Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love. It changed my life.

I knew, of course, theoretically about sex. I and all my friends had paged through The Joy of Sex—and been grossed out by all that hair—and I’d even read Coffee, Tea or Me? and The Happy Hooker (My parents had “hidden” copies.) But none of those books made intercourse or oral sex seem like things I’d find wildly exciting. I was even on the fence about French kissing—I’d done it a couple of times and found it slobbery.

Then, I read Sweet Savage Love ( A | BN) and, suddenly, it was very clear to me I had a lot to look forward to. The sex in that book was so scorching; I read the love scenes between Steve and Ginny over and over again. Part of it was, I’m sure, Ginny never initiated anything—until the end of the book, her pleasure is always forced on her by Steve. That worked for me—I couldn’t see myself initiating anything with any male and so I thrilled to the idea that, some day, some gorgeous guy would inflict ecstasy on me. I paid no attention to the plot of the book—I feel sure I skimmed the long, involved sections about the Mexican Revolution. But, I loved reading about Steve and Ginny, their passion, their fights, and, their hard-won love.

I just reread Sweet Savage Love. I still find Steve and Ginny to be hot as hell.  I still was bored by most of the background plot. I was startled to read how many other lovers the two had and found that to be a bit of a turnoff and wondered I hadn’t noticed or cared about that aspect of the book when I was young. I also, in this read, felt too much in the book was over-the-top. Parts of just made me roll my eyes.

I still think Sweet Savage Love changed my life. Not only did it open my eyes to the possibility of torrid passion in my own life, it also significantly influenced what sort of romances I sought out then and still seek out now. I still like many an alpha hero and I still find sexy love scenes where the hero forcibly seduces the heroine.  When I read and enjoy Black Ice or To Have and To Hold, I suspect I do so in part because of my response, so many years ago, to Steve Morgan’s seduction of Ginny Brandon.

 

Josephine (link to Josephine’s posts)

The Problem with Josephine - Lucy AshfordI was a reading glutton as a kid. When I discovered an author with a long back list, I read my way through it, book after book after book until there was nothing left. Some of my early favorites were Barbara Cartland, Agatha Christie and Anne McCaffery. Later, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Marion Chesney. I had a Jude Devereaux phase in high school. Initially, I chose my favorite authors by how many books they’d written. Appreciation for quality over quantity came with time.

The first romance that stands out in my memory was a regency about about a timid plain jane who kisses her unrequited crush at a masked ball only to return to her wallflower ways before the night is out, leaving the smitten object of her affections to search for her until, years later, he gives up and marries an heiress for her money. The heiress just happens to be…the wallflower. The weird thing about the story is that the heroine begins an affair with her own husband, and he never recognizes her. I forgot the title of the book, and only found it again last year: A Masked Deception by Mary Balogh. While I will always have a soft spot for stories that feature disguise or mistaken identity, A Masked Deception ( A | BN) did not hold up well to rereading. It is yet another entry on the long, long list of Things I Thought Were Great When I Was Twelve But Now, Meh.

Jayne. (link to Jayne’s posts)

Jayne AvatarLooking back, I’m trying to remember what first got me started with romance. I used to read a lot of Molly Costain Haycraft and Norah Lofts books – especially about European royalty. I remember as an adult being bummed when I discovered just how much vaseline they’d smeared on the lens of historical fact to make those HEA sound real.

Next I advanced to Barbara …. Cartland…and all her…heart shaped face heroines….and manly, dark haired….heroes. Honestly the covers of those books make the scowling hero look as if he’s about to snap the child sized heroine in half. When I got bored with the Cartland books I branched out at our local UBS – I still have fond memories of that place – and tried lots of the old Fawcett Crest imprints (Sylvia Thorpe and Mira Stables were favorites of mine) which is where my love of Georgian era books began. Oh yes, and Alexander Dumas and “The Three Musketeers.” Lurve, lurve, lurve me some swashbuckling.

After being scarred from skimming a copy of one of my mother’s books – Beulah Land (shudders) – it took me a while to try a straight old skool historical of the times (this is the late 70s) but I finally took the plunge. The first one I recall is Woodiwiss’s “The Wolf and the Dove.” ( A | BN) Ah, Aislinn (and I wondered for years how the hell her name was supposed to be pronounced) and Wulfgar. This is the book to which I compare all Bastard Norman Knight + Saxon Heroine novels to this day. This is also when I discovered Mary Stewart’s books and read my first Heyer and fell in love with “The Masqueraders” ( A | BN | K S ) (Georgian again!) and “Beauvallet.” ( A | BN | K S )

When I left for college, romance reading fell a bit by the wayside and it was 4 years before I stumbled upon the first 3 books in a reissue of a series I’d never heard of but which sounded interesting. Once I got started with the first one though, I was glued to it and eagerly snapped up the next 3 books when they came out, lost in the world of Lymond. Let me pause for a moment’s reverential silence for the great Dorothy Dunnett.

It still took me almost 10 years after college to really get back into reading romance. I’ve revisited TWTD, which has held up surprisingly well, but … I think … Cartland is well … in my past.

Jennie. (link to Jennie’s posts)

JennieThere wasn’t one great book that started me on romance. I know I read a few here and there in my teenage years (when I was mostly into horror), but the book that got me seeking out good romances in my 20s (and drew me into the romance community) was ostensibly not even a romance novel – Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Whatever genre you call it, the book enthralled me. So much so that I immediately tried to recreate the magical feeling I got from it, with mixed results. I remember reading a couple of books I didn’t hate (a Sandra Brown contemp called, I believe, Where There’s Smoke, and an over-the-top but very hot Indian romance by Brenda Joyce, Fires of Paradise) and a couple I did (Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower and a very rapey – rapier even than TF&TF! – by Catherine Coulter, the name of which escapes me). I think it took me at least several months to find my direction as a true romance reader. It wasn’t until I stumbled on my first Laura Kinsale novel, Seize the Fire, that I really got a taste again of what had gripped me as I read Outlander – that sense of being transported, of feeling some facsimile of the intense emotions the characters themselves felt. I went on to discover Patricia Gaffney, Penelope Williamson, and other – even better – Laura Kinsale novels, but it was Seize the Fire that hooked me for good.

Robin. (link to Robin aka Janet’s posts)

Robin JanetIn college, I used to worry about my roommate, who spent a lot of time around finals reading Romance novels instead of studying (I shouldn’t have worried, though – she’s brilliant and now an influential scholar in her own field). It wasn’t until years later that the same roommate, now a dear friend, got her revenge by putting together a Romance conversion package for me. On the initial list were books by Judith Ivory, Laura Kinsale, Jo Goodman, Patricia Gaffney, and others, although the first two books were Ivory’s Black Silk and Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star.

I don’t remember which I read first, although I think it was Black Silk, only that my experience of them was very different. The Shadow and the Star fascinated but repelled me, mostly because of Leda, who seemed to embody all the negative stereotypes I’d associated with the genre – passive, weak, moralistic, a martyr.

Black Silk ( A | BN | K S ), on the other hand, captivated me: it reminded me of the literary fiction I grew up loving and drew me beyond it. I adored Submit’s quirky, incisive standoffishness and was utterly seduced by Graham’s cheeky, dissolute autocracy. That book confounded every awful cliché I’d harbored about Romance and made me curious to read on to Goodman and Gaffney and Spencer, and beyond. I even circled back to The Shadow and the Star, which upon another reading (or three), finally won me over, as well, once I understood the language of the genre well enough to read Leda more proficiently. Still, though, Black Silk remains my favorite Romance novel of all time, possibly because I read it first, but certainly because its lush, eccentric complexity makes me fall back in love with it every time I re-read it.

January. (link to January’s posts)

January avatarI spent a lot of time raiding my mother’s bookshelves in-between library visits or when I ran out of Sunfire books (remember those?) My mother had a lot of Jude Deveraux, Catherine Coulter, and Judith McNaught. I believe my first foray into ‘official’ romance was Whitney, My Love ( A | BN | K S ). I remember the cover of WML was a pencil drawing of a waif with big, wild hair and sparkly blue eyes and I fell in love with that book before I opened the first page. On the inside, I was less than enthralled with Whitney. She was an ass. Of course, Clayton was a bigger ass, so it worked out for them.

I’d never read something so dramatic and so intensely emotional as that book. Whitney and Clay were awful people, but the entire world of that book existed solely in the confines of that ridiculous relationship, and I ate it up like candy. I’m inclined to think that the rape scene in that book warped a piece of my 12 year old brain. To this day, I still love WML despite it’s massive flaws, awful love triangle, whiny heroine, and the forced seduction trope. Even now I’m willing to forgive horrible characters as long as they glue me to the page.

Jia. (link to Jia’s posts)

JiaWhile I am, and have always been, predominantly a speculative fiction reader, I was exposed to romance novels fairly early in life. I was around 12 or so when my grandmother give me a ton of her old category romances from the 70s and early 80s. Some of these books were seriously vintage — it’s how I knew Silhouette wasn’t always part of Harlequin and was once a completely different publisher!

The bulk of these books were from the Harlequin Presents line. I read them all. Some were forgettable. Some were enjoyable. Some faded from memory over time. The one that left a lasting impression, however, was the Violet Winspear. I wish I could remember the title.  The book itself was about a woman who intended to become a nun but had to put that off to take care of her younger sister, who had a form of hysterical paralysis. While staying at the Italian villa where her sister lived, she meets and falls in love with the brother of her sister’s husband. Looking back, it was a very melodramatic, angsty and overwrought book with a very alpha hero — which, I suppose, fits the Presents line very well. I don’t recall the heroine being a doormat though; she very much had a spine of steel but she definitely came from the school of Plain Jane spinster heroines.

All those Harlequin Presents left their mark though. To this day, I will forgive much if the emotional arc of a book, no matter the genre, is strong and intense. In fact, I prefer a messy, flawed book with a strong emotional core over the perfect, technically competent one that’s emotionally sterile. It explains quite a bit about my reading choices through the years.

Lazaraspaste. (link to Lazaraspaste’s posts)

LazaraspasteI’m not really sure how I started reading romance. I think I just went to the other side of the library. I had, of course, read a Barbara Cartland my mother randomly possessed aloud for the amusement of cousins and sisters, but I didn’t properly read the book. The first romance I properly read was Amanda Quick’s The Paid Companion. ( A | BN) I think I was looking for books about governesses because I’d been through all the Mary Stewarts nineteen times and wanted something similar. Strangely, I was also thinking that a really good idea for a story was one where a guy hired some chick to be his fiancé. I don’t know why I was thinking this, but I was. When I stumbled on The Paid Companion, I realized it had the plot from my imagination. This was very serendipitous. So that’s the story: aristocratic dude hires governess to pose as his fiancé because he doesn’t want to get married. Sparks fly and they fall in love. I don’t remember much else about it. I think she lost her virginity near a fountain at a ball. That’s kind of it. It sent me on a glom, though. I rapidly made my way through all of Amanda Quick’s books and then just haphazardly began to pull others that had my favorite tropes—or seemed to, based on the back blurb and online book reviews—from the shelf.

I still dig romance novels with governesses. This is because I love Jane Eyre. If one really wanted to be technical about it, I suppose my actual first romance novel was Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, but I read that as a mystery novel. When I was a pre-teen, I read mainly mystery novels so I don’t count that one. I didn’t think of it as romance and I didn’t know that’s what it was. I know now in retrospect. I haven’t read The Paid Companion since, but I’ve tried re-reading other Amanda Quick novels. They just don’t do it for me anymore. My tastes have changed. But they may change back. There may come a time when I re-read it and I enjoy it once again. I still like stories about governesses, though. There’s something about the plot (which is really just Jane Eyre) that I find fantastically satisfying. I think it is because stories about governesses are often stories about loneliness and limited choices, and I find that speaks to me. They are my bread and butter.

Sarah Frantz. (link to Dr. Sarah’s posts)

Sarah FMy first romance was Anne Weale’s The River Room ( A | BN). My mother left it lying around the living room one day when I was 12 and I picked it up. It was a typical Harlequin Presents: the secretary (or similar) heroine, the overwhelming hero. I enjoyed it, but soon after that, I read Roberta Leigh’s Man in a Million and there was a line in there that hooked something in my soul and hasn’t ever let go:

Incredible though it was, she knew that this big, strong man was trembling; trembling because he was pleading with her to believe what he had said.

That view into the (female-authored) masculine psyche did it for me and I never looked back. Significant romances since then have tended towards the BDSM side of things: some of Johanna Lindsey’s early stand-alones made an impact, with the not-quite-forced sex of Secret Fire ( A | BN), Prisoner of My Desire ( A | BN), and Warrior’s Woman ( A | BN ). My mother and I shared Harlequin Temptations from 1988 for a few years, and Candace Schuler’s Sophisticated Lady (1989) ( A | BN) had the first sex scene I read in which someone gets tied up. In 1996 I discovered Laura Kinsale’s damaged heroes (especially Sherry from Seize the Fire ( A | BN)) when I worked at Barnes & Noble for a summer. And Robin Schone and Susan Johnson in 1997.

My first m/m romance was a link to Matthew Haldeman-Time’s free short stories on his website, sent to me by author Stephanie Vaughan (the only author except Joey Hill who managed to write a successful femdom/malesub book that I enjoyed): http://www.matthewhaldemantime.com/shortstories.html. Then his wonderful Off the Record. Then…I don’t remember, but I was hooked on m/m romance too.

And the rest is history.

Sunita. (link to Sunita’s posts)

SunitaOh man, I have to go back a LONG way for this. I must have been about 12. My mother let me use her adult library card and I found April Lady ( A | BN), by Georgette Heyer, on the paperback rack (I even remember the cover). It featured a Marriage of Convenience, older man/younger woman, and plenty of lively supporting characters. I’m pretty sure some of it went over my head, but I remember thinking the scene where Cardross, the hero, visits Nell in her bedroom was oh so racy. Clearly he wanted to make love to her! There was enough light humor mixed in with the (very tame) romance to make it appealing to me at that point. I wanted a love story, but nothing explicit. I blame it on my Indian background; this was before even college students dated openly, so I was hideously backward and ignorant when I arrived in the US. And in a weird way, 1810s London was closer to the world I’d left than the one I now inhabited (California in the 1970s).

I’m pretty sure I’d read Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt around the same time, but April Lady was the first novel in which the romance was front and center. I was hooked on Heyer and the genre from then on. The town I lived in was the county seat and it had a big main library and a couple of branches. They had all the Heyers and a lot more. Those libraries kept me going with a couple of books a week (more in the summers) until I went away to college.

Jane. (link to Jane’s posts)

JaneI started out reading romances by surreptitiously reading my sister’s stash. I think she kept them under her bed. Romances were verboten in my household but I remember reading them under the covers with a flashlight.  I made the mistake of telling Ned this and now whenever I catch my daughter reading in her bed, with a flashlight, I get a reproving look from Ned if I attempt to admonish the tot. Clearly reading by flashlight is a family tradition.  I recall reading Harlequin Romances. There were no sex scenes but a plethora of punishing kisses.  Back in the day, I equated romances with category books. I was afraid of the bigger books, the ones known as mass market, because sometimes they were filled with women making bad choices aka breaking up with men and running off to live a life of happiness by themselves.  What insanity!  Please remember I was like twelve at the time.

The first big book I remember reading was Whitney My Love. ( A | BN | K S )  Like January above, that book was transformative in my reading life. First, I had no idea that romances came in hardcover form. Man, there were entire swaths of the library that opened up to me that hadn’t before.  Second, it was the first book I recall that had explicit sex scenes in it. I did not understand at the time that Clayton was raping Whitney. I only knew that he was hurting her and that he hurt her throughout the book when she didn’t deserve it.  But I also recall being frustrated with Whitney (don’t talk to Paul, you silly chit!). Yet the melodrama was something my young teen self wolfed down, dabbing my eyes with kleenexes in between helpings.

My reading life took another turn when I bought Scandal ( A | BN | K | S ) by Amanda Quick. It was one of the first romance books I purchased. I remember buying it from a local convenience/gas store called Tom Thumb and it was in the wire racks above the magazines.  I purchased it with money I earned delivering papers.  I loved that book and still do. It is worlds away from the rapetastic melodrama that was Whitney, My Love, but I remember both with fondness and appreciation. Both McNaught and Quick/Krentz along with Joan Wolf’s Candlelight Ecstasy romances form the foundations of my romance reading world.