Book Review: The Duke & I (Bridgertons, #1) by Julia Quinn

Title: The Duke & I (Bridgertons, #1)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2000
Length: 433 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

From New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn comes the first novel in the beloved Regency-set world of her charming, powerful Bridgerton family, now a series created by Shonda Rhimes for Netflix.

In the ballrooms and drawing rooms of Regency London, rules abound. From their earliest days, children of aristocrats learn how to address an earl and curtsey before a prince—while other dictates of the ton are unspoken yet universally understood. A proper duke should be imperious and aloof. A young, marriageable lady should be amiable…but not too amiable.

Daphne Bridgerton has always failed at the latter. The fourth of eight siblings in her close-knit family, she has formed friendships with the most eligible young men in London. Everyone likes Daphne for her kindness and wit. But no one truly desires her. She is simply too deuced honest for that, too unwilling to play the romantic games that captivate gentlemen.

Amiability is not a characteristic shared by Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. Recently returned to England from abroad, he intends to shun both marriage and society—just as his callous father shunned Simon throughout his painful childhood. Yet an encounter with his best friend’s sister offers another option. If Daphne agrees to a fake courtship, Simon can deter the mamas who parade their daughters before him. Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soar.

The plan works like a charm—at first. But amid the glittering, gossipy, cut-throat world of London’s elite, there is only one certainty: love ignores every rule…

After binge-watching Bridgerton on Netflix, how could I resist reading the book that inspired the series? I’m not a big romance reader, and when I do read romance, it tends to be contemporary. But giving into my Bridgerton obsession, I dove into The Duke & I, and finished it in one day!

First, for the TV viewers: No, this is not an integrated society as in the Netflix series. The Duke & I is pretty traditional Regency-era romance, dukes and earls and the gossip of the ton, very solidly white. (Not in my imagination, of course — once you’ve encountered the TV version of Simon Bassett, there’s no way you’ll ever envision him as anyone else!)

Back to the book: The Duke & I has a very traditional romance feel to it, and let’s keep in mind that it was originally published 20 years ago! Daphne Bridgerton is the 4th child of the large Bridgerton family, which very conveniently names its children alphabetically, so it’s easy to keep track of who’s who. The oldest daughter, Daphne is now in her second season out in society, and while she’s received marriage proposals, not a single one has appealed to her. Having grown up with three older brothers, Daphne is perhaps too comfortable with the males of the species, so she’s seen as a great girl and a good friend, but not a romantic prospect. (Men can be stupid.)

Simon, the new Duke of Hastings, is the epitome of eligible bachelors, and “ambitious mamas” are continuously throwing their marriageable daughters at him. Simon is very good friends with Daphne’s oldest brother Anthony, and when he encounters Daphne dealing with an insistent suitor, he’s happy to come to her aid. The two form an agreement: By pretending to be courting, Simon will avoid the mamas, and Daphne will become instantly more alluring to other men, who will now appreciate her more after seeing Simon’s interest. (Again, men can be stupid).

Of course, their fake relationship leads to real feelings, but there’s a catch. Simon has sworn never to marry or have children, as a sort of posthumous revenge on his abusive father who treated Simon horribly and only cared about the continuation of the Basset family line. Simon has sworn to deny his late father’s ultimate goal by letting the family name die with him. Daphne, on the other hand, having grown up in a large, loving family, yearns for a family of her own.

After a compromising encounter, a duel, threats by her brothers, and all sorts of drama, Daphne and Simon do end up marrying. But while their honeymoon is a blissful sexual awakening for Daphne, all is not wine and roses. Simon has told Daphne that he can’t have children, but when she discovers that his “can’t” really means “won’t”, their young marriage in on the brink of collapse.

Okay, so anyone who’s interested in the book or in the TV series knows that there a major controversy about Daphne’s action and the issue of consent. So, I’ll throw up a big spoiler alert before going further.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!

He shifted restlessly, and Daphne felt the strangest, most intoxicating surge of power. He was in her control, she realized. He was asleep, and probably still more than a little bit drunk, and she could do whatever she wanted with him. She could have whatever she wanted.

The most controversial scene in the book is one in which Simon comes home very drunk, after the two have had a major falling out. Daphne gets a very belated lesson on how babies are actually made, and realizes that Simon has been pulling out when they have sex in order to make sure she doesn’t become pregnant. Daphne initiates sex, and Simon, though drunk, is a willing participant, until they get close to climax, at which point Daphne does not let him pull out as usual. He feels betrayed, and leaves her.

The TV version takes away the issue of Simon being drunk, but does still have Daphne take control of the situation so that Simon can’t pull out when he wants to. Again, he feels betrayed.

If you look on Goodreads or elsewhere, there’s a lot of discussion about whether Daphne raped Simon in this scene. I have mixed feelings. The sex act itself is consensual. You could argue that Simon was too drunk to consent, but in the context of their marriage, which has included a lot of very enthusiastic sex up to this point, I think it’s hard to make the case that Simon was not a willing participant.

Was she right to force him to finish inside her? Well, no, she did take away his choice there. But I think it’s a more nuanced situation.

Daphne was utterly and completely ignorant about sex prior to her marriage. She had absolutely no idea about the specifics of having babies, other than knowing that it happens during marriage. Daphne’s mother Violet comes to give her “the talk” the night before the wedding, and completely fails to give her any actual, specific information. No mention of body parts or anatomy, no discussion of how it all works, and nothing about how babies are made.

It’s only a housemaid’s random comment about “seed” and a “womb” that lead Daphne to start piecing things together, and to understand that Simon is choosing to “spill” his seed outside her (ugh, romance euphemisms). She feel betrayed by Simon, who let her believe that he was physically unable to father children, rather than explaining anything to her with honesty. And Simon absolutely knew that Daphne was clueless about how it all worked — he does a very good job of introducing her to sexual pleasure, but deliberately doesn’t explain things to her that would work against his own intentions.

So, yes, Daphne is wrong to do what she did — but Simon is wrong too, and Daphne’s mother essentially created the potential for this conflict by allowing her daughter to enter marriage with no knowledge about “the marital act” whatsoever.

END SPOILERS

Beyond all that, however, I can’t deny that The Duke & I was a compelling and enjoyable read. The characters are lots of fun, especially Daphne’s older brothers, who are fiercely protective and also very funny.

As I mentioned, I’m not much of a romance reader, and some of the descriptions and language are a bit over the top for me:

His face was quite simply perfection. It took only a moment to realize that he put all of Michelangelo’s statues to shame.

Her legs snaked around his, pulling him ever closer to the cradle of her femininity.

LOL. Cradle of femininity? That’s definitely a new one for me!

Still, there’s no denying I enjoyed this book, problematic issues aside. There’s a lot of fault to go around, and also, this book was written 20 years ago. I’d hope that a writer today would make different choices about how to depict Daphne and Simon’s key conflict.

As a fan of the TV version, I missed all of the non-Daphne, non-Simon plot elements concerning Eloise, the brothers, etc. But, as far as I can tell, these plots are all addressed in other books in the Bridgertons series. Eight books, eight siblings… each gets their own story!

Will I continue reading the Bridgertons books? Well… who am I kidding? Of course I will! As much as this isn’t my preferred genre, I do love the characters and want to read more about them. Onward!

Audiobook Review: Snow Falling by Jane Gloriana Villanueva

Title: Snow Falling
Author: Jane Gloriana Villanueva
Narrator:  Ivonne Coll and Anthony Mendez
Publisher: Adams Media
Publication date: November 14, 2017
Print length: 240 pages
Audio length: 8 hours, 22 minutes
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s been a lifetime (and three seasons) in the making, but Jane Gloriana Villanueva is finally ready to make her much-anticipated literary debut!

Jane the Virgin, the Golden Globe, AFI, and Peabody Award–winning The CW dramedy, has followed Jane’s telenovela-esque life—from her accidental artificial insemination and virgin birth to the infant kidnapping and murderous games of the villainous Sin Rostro to an enthralling who-will-she-choose love triangle. With these tumultuous events as inspiration, Jane’s breathtaking first novel adapts her story for a truly epic romance that captures the hope and the heartbreak that have made the television drama so beloved.

Snow Falling is a sweeping historical romance set in 1902 Miami—a time of railroad tycoons, hotel booms, and exciting expansion for the Magic City. Working at the lavish Regal Sol hotel and newly engaged to Pinkerton Detective Martin Cadden, Josephine Galena Valencia has big dreams for her future. Then, a figure from her past reemerges to change her life forever: the hotel’s dapper owner, railroad tycoon Rake Solvino.

The captivating robber baron sets her heart aflame once more, leading to a champagne-fueled night together. But when their indiscretion results in an unexpected complication, Josephine struggles to decide whether her heart truly belongs with heroic Martin or dashing Rake.

Meanwhile, in an effort to capture an elusive crime lord terrorizing the city, Detective Cadden scours the back alleys of the Magic City, tracking the nefarious villain to the Regal Sol and discovering a surprising connection to the Solvino family.

However, just when it looks like Josephine’s true heart’s desire is clear, danger strikes. Will her dreams for the future dissolve like so much falling snow or might Josephine finally get the happy ever after she’s been dreaming of for so long?

This one is strictly for Jane the Virgin fans… but oh, if you’re a fan, are you in for a treat!

Snow Falling is the book that Jane Gloriana Villanueva writes in Jane the Virgin — the book that leads her to proclaim:

Jane’s inspiration for Snow Falling, her first published novel, is her own life. Taking characters from her own world, she thinly (very thinly) veils them as characters in a historical romance set in Miami of the early 1900s.

Jane herself becomes Josephine, the hotel concierge who dreams of becoming a writer. Jane’s husband (oops, spoiler?) Michael is the inspiration for detective Martin Cadden, the good, upstanding man who loves Josephine unconditionally. But then there’s also Rake Solvino, based on Rafael Solano — the playboy hotel owner with a heart of gold, and the 3rd point in Jane the Virgin‘s love triangle.

In Jane the Virgin, the entire premise is based around Jane (a virgin) becoming pregnant after an accidental artificial insemination, finding herself pregnant with Rafael’s child while engaged to Michael. Yes, it’s straight out of a telenovela!

Snow Falling can’t go the artificial insemination route, of course, so it gives darling Josephine a momentary lapse in her virginal goodness, spurred by what she thinks is Martin’s unfaithfulness (she’s wrong about that) into a champagne-induced one-night-stand with dashing Rake. Which, obviously, leads to Josephine’s pregnancy.

Snow Falling follows most of the major beats from Jane the Virgin, from the main character’s loving relationship with her mother and grandmother, to the discovery of her long-lost father, to the hunt for the terrible Miami crime boss, to the birth and kidnapping of Josephine’s child.

And yes, the love triangle is in full bloom, because that’s what it all comes down to really. Which man has Josephine’s heart? Where will she find her HEA?

As someone who was always Team Rafael, I couldn’t help but be Team Rake while listening to Snow Falling.

The mustache! How can Josephine resist?

But hey, just look at the cover and read the dedication — we already know who Josephine’s true love will be. (Sorry, Rake fans…)

Snow Falling is totally fun. Would it be a good book on its own, without the Jane the Virgin connection? Well, no. There’s really no reason to read this without the JtV love to back it up — otherwise, it’s just a silly romantic story that hits every possible romance trope along the way.

But hey, it IS a Jane the Virgin story! My recommendation is to check out the audiobook. The narrator is Ivonne Coll, who plays the wonderful Alba on the show.

Also wonderful is the occasional appearance of Anthony Mendez, the show’s narrator, adding his own special brand of commentary throughout the book.

Look, this is just plain silly fun. I’m glad I checked it out, after my obsessive binge-watching of Jane the Virgin this year. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably enjoy Snow Falling too.

I mean, Jane Gloriana Villanueva is a published freaking author! Let’s show her book a little love, shall we?

Audiobook Review: Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Title: Get A Life, Chloe Brown
Author: Talia Hibbert
Narrator: Adjoa Andoh
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: November 5, 2019
Print length: 373 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 17 minutes
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.

• Ride a motorcycle.

• Go camping.

• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.

• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.

• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior… 

I have such mixed feelings about this book. I really liked the main characters, Chloe and Red, and appreciated so much about their story. And yet, there are parts of this book that I simply, literally, could not take and had to fast-forward through.

So, 3-stars is a really apt rating for my experience — squarely in the middle.

Let me back up and explain.

Chloe is an awesome main character. She’s a smart and talented black woman from a wealthy family, and is aware of the privilege she’s grown up with. She’s also chronically ill, suffering with fibromyalgia and continuous pain that leaves her completely debilitated at frequent intervals. Chloe protects herself fiercely; having been burned by a previous relationship and left with awful feelings of abandonment, she’s determined not to be vulnerable that way ever again.

And constantly living with physical pain, Chloe is not a risk-taker. She knows her limits, and sticks with them, until the day she has a near-miss with a drunk driver, and realizes it’s time to do more with her life. Hence her “get a life” list — because Chloe loves her life spelled out in neat and orderly lists, so a list is absolutely necessary if she’s going to make a change.

Meanwhile, Red is the red-headed, white, tattooed, super-hot superintendent of the building Chloe moves into, and while he’s lovely to everyone else, he and Chloe immediately rub each other the wrong way. He’s sure she’s a stuck-up snob, and she’s sure he’s rude and too into his bad-boy image.

Eventually, of course, they experience a breakthrough (thanks to Chloe pursuing a lost cat up a tree, and Red having to enact a seriously adorable rescue of both woman and kitty.) As they start to warm up and trust one another, a physical and emotional connection blossoms, each finding that one special person to help them move forward after painful pasts.

Here’s what I really liked about this story:

  • The playful flirtation and banter between Chloe and Red.
  • How Chloe and Red are each talented in their own fields, and wholeheartedly appreciate one another’s talents.
  • How they support each other’s weak points as well as their strengths, and show caring and concern in all sorts of little and big ways.
  • How freaking cute they are together at all times.
  • The sensitive way the author portrays Chloe’s disability.
  • The sensitive way the author portrays the emotional abuse that’s left Red traumatized.
  • How Chloe and Red learn together how to make room for their differences and their emotional wounds.

So what didn’t I like? Well, I suppose it gets down to my preferences when it comes to romances. I like steam… and I’m no prude… but I don’t need anatomical details when it comes to love scenes. And there’s a LOT of anatomy in this book.

The sex scenes are very graphically described — and again, good for Chloe and Red for having such a great time together! But I prefer my fiction to leave more to the imagination… and when that many body parts and secretions are described that often and in that much detail, that’s just not going to appeal to me. So, somewhere in the 2nd half of the book, I realized I could save myself some agony by using the fast-forward button in 10 second increments until I got to the afterglow, when the plot would safely pick back up.

Like I said, I know that’s just a personal preference, so no judgment for readers who like this sort of thing. It’s just not for me, and that’s too bad, because in the case of Get A Life, Chloe Brown, I really liked the characters and their story. But I found myself wishing that I had a magic editing button on my Audible app to allow me to edit out the explicit scenes and just stick to the plot (although that would have cut this audiobook down to about 60% of its length, I’d guess).

A note on the audiobook — the narrator is quite good! I liked her portrayal of Chloe. She made her so adorable! And Red’s voice was really good too, growly and rough, but also loving and appreciative of the wonder of Chloe Brown.

All in all, a good love story wrapped up in a package that just doesn’t 100% work for me. Which is too bad. There’s a new book coming out about Chloe’s sister, and part of me is intrigued — but after my experiences with this book, I’m not sure I could stand another round of anatomy lessons. Ah well. Can’t win ’em all.

Top Ten Tuesday: It’s all above LOVE… My ten favorite love stories from this past year of reading.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Love Freebie, which means we all put our own spin on the topic of LOVE.

I thought I’d keep it simple, and highlight my ten favorite love stories that I read in the past year:

1. Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory: A love story where the main characters are in their 50s and HOT? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

2. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: Sticking with the royal theme — just such an adorable story.

3. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: A super cute set-up with great follow-through.

4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Just breathtaking.

5. The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire. Okay, technically not a love story… but this urban fantasy series includes one of my favorite fictional couples, Toby and Tybalt, so it counts!

6. The Dinner List by Rebecca Searle: This is another that’s not an obvious choice, but there is a love story at the heart of this unusual novel, and its power grows over the course of the book.

7. Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy: Yes, true, this also isn’t a love story exactly… but this outstanding prequel to Anne of Green Gables features a truly poignant, sad tale of unfulfilled love that absolutely broke my heart.

8. Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Henry: I know many fans of this author duo didn’t adore this book, but I did! I thought it was sweet and charming and just right for me.

9. The Summer series by Jenny Han: Not quite as wonderful as the Lara Jean books, but still sweet and touching.

10. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center: Powerful and moving.

There you have it! But enough about me… What were the best love stories you read during the past year?

If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link and let me know your topic!

And PS – Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!

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Having way too much fun with My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris

Thank you, Quirk Books, for providing me with a review copy!

You are the plucky but penniless heroine in the center of eighteenth-century society, courtship season has begun, and your future is at hand. Will you flip forward fetchingly to find love with the bantering baronet Sir Benedict Granville? Or turn the page to true love with the hardworking, horse-loving highlander Captain Angus McTaggart? Or perhaps race through the chapters chasing a good (and arousing) man gone mad, bad, and scandalous to know, Lord Garraway Craven? Or read on recklessly and take to the Continent as the “traveling companion” of the spirited and adventuresome Lady Evangeline? Or yet some other intriguing fate? Make choices, turn pages, and discover all the daring delights of the multiple (and intertwining!) storylines. And in every path you pick, beguiling illustrations bring all the lust and love to life.

Oh my.

If you’re like me, you have fond memories of all those choose-your-own-adventure books in the kids’ section of the library. But why should kids have all the fun?

My Lady’s Choosing spiffs up the concept with an astonishingly funny romance book for adult readers, full of suspenseful decisions, perilous outcomes, and a plethora of sexy love interests no matter which path you choose.

It’s decision time.

Do you throw caution, decorum, and all other respectable nouns to the wind in order to follow Lady Evangeline into the unknown? If so, turn to page 128.

Or do you value your limbs still being attached to your body and decide to sit this one out? If so, turn to page 71.

You could end up seeking the secrets of an ancient hidden treasure in the deserts of Egypt… or helping a (sexy) kilt-wearing Scotsman at an orphanage in the Highlands… or trying to figure out the secrets of a decrepit manor on the moors with a brooding, bad-boy lord and master… The possibilities are endless!

I had a blast flipping my way through this delightful book. I went through three different story variations — and cheated a bit by reading a few of the random pages in between. I know there are many more main paths I could follow, but at this point I’m holding off on the rest and planning to read them in bits and pieces when I need something to lift my spirits.

The writing is frothy and melodramatic, with plenty of humor and sarcasm — it’s like the authors are making sure that we readers know that they’re in on the joke. The language includes some of the best and worst of overwrought romance writing:

He senses your soul stirring betwixt your bosom.

“I sense your soul stirring betwixt your bosom,” he growls.

In answer, you make love to him again, with all the rushed intensity of spirits wrongfully dispatched from the mortal coil trying to communicate with the living from the great beyond.

Then there are the various descriptors of body parts, such as “womanly orbs”, “the moonstone of your sex”, and lots of talk about the Highlander’s “caber”. Or lines like this:

Mac’s own faithful steed strains at the flap of his kilt, ready to take you on as far a journey as you wish.

This book is really and truly a great time. But every once in a while a wee bit of social commentary sneaks in:

Do you accompany your tyrannical employer to the fundraising ball for the Society for the Protection of Widows and Orphans of the War? The company may be atrocious, but balls are fun! If so, turn to page 67.

Or do you run away from Lady Craven, only to find yourself with no other means of survival than to sell your young body into the cold, cruel night? If so, do not go to any other place in this book, for you will be utterly doomed and dead from syphilis within a year.

Sorry. This may be a choosable-path adventure, but as a penniless young unmarried woman at the start of the nineteenth century, your options are somewhat limited. They will get better, though! Turn to page 67.

You have to appreciate risqué romance and quirky humor to really enjoy this book… but if you’ve read this far in my rambling review, I suspect you do! Pick up a copy to enjoy on your own, or read it with a bunch of girlfriends when you want a night in, maybe with a few glasses of wine to go with. Good times, either way!

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The details:

Title: My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel
Authors: Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: April 3, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Humor/romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk

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Flashback Friday: The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

It’s time, once again, for Flashback Friday…

Flashback Friday is a chance to dig deep in the darkest nooks of our bookshelves and pull out the good stuff from way back. As a reader, a blogger, and a consumer, I tend to focus on new, new, new… but what about the old favorites, the hidden gems? On Flashback Fridays, I want to hit the pause button for a moment and concentrate on older books that are deserving of attention.

My rules — since I’m making this up:

  1. Has to be something I’ve (you’ve) read myself (yourself) — oh, you know what I mean!
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

(published 1972)

Last week, my Flashback Friday pick was one of the first feminist novels I’d ever read. So is it weird that this week’s pick is my very first romance novel? I first read The Flame and the Flower in my early-ish teens, and never realized how revolutionary this book was until I took a women’s studies course in college that focused on women as readers… and The Flame and the Flower was on the syllabus! My professor had published a book entitled Reading the Romance, and her field of expertise was studying what the books women read reveal about their lives. Fascinating stuff.

Of course, some part of me never got past the dreamy-eyed teen stage with this book; even knowing that it was perpetuating all the awful gender roles typical in a romance novel — dashing sea captain, innocent girl swept up in a grand romance after being coerced into the relationship, a vengeful ex-lover to complicate matters, and utimately, the heroine taming the untameable captain’s heart — I always did have a soft spot for this sweeping, romantic tale.

So what’s it all about?

From Amazon:

The Flower:

Doomed to a life of unending toil, Heather Simmons fears for her innocence—until a shocking, desperate act forces her to flee. . . and to seek refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

The Flame:

A lusty adventurer married to the sea, Captain Brandon Birmingham courts scorn and peril when he abducts the beautiful fugitive from the tumultuous London dockside. But no power on Earth can compel him to relinquish his exquisite prize. For he is determined to make the sapphire-eyed lovely his woman. . .and to carry her off to far, uncharted realms of sensuous, passionate love.

Until today, I hadn’t realized that The Flame and the Flower was considered a major turning point in publishing history. According to Wikipedia:

The first romance novel to detail physical intimacy between the protagonists, the book revolutionized the historical romance genre. It was also the first full-length romance novel to be published first in paperback rather than hardback.

And again from Amazon:

The success of this novel prompted a new style of writing romance, concentrating primarily on historical fiction tracking the monogamous relationship between a helpless heroine and the hero who rescued her, even if he had been the one to place her in danger. The romance novels which followed in her example featured longer plots, more controversial situations and characters, and more intimate and steamy sex scenes.

Listen, I’m sure if I re-read The Flame and the Flower today, I’d spend about half the time rolling my eyes, and I would never, ever swoon over Brandon Birmingham… now that I’m a full-grown adult. Still, this book was my first encounter with passionate adult relationships in fiction — even if the relationship in this book is highly idealized, unrealistic, and not at all PC. No, I never wanted to run off with a dashing sea captain… but I have retained a fondness for brave, strong heroes in my historical fiction reading, and perhaps I have Kathleen Woodiwiss to thank for the early introduction.

So, yeah, if you want to see where today’s massively successful romance novel industry has its roots, The Flame and the Flower is not a bad place to start. Bring your smelling salts. Swoons happen.

So, what’s your favorite blast from the past? Leave a tip for your fellow booklovers, and share the wealth. It’s time to dust off our old favorites and get them back into circulation! 

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: This is my baby-steps attempt at a blog hop! Join in, post a Friday Flashback on your blog, and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Let’s get this party started!