Friday, July 24, 2009

seriously romantic: the introductory set

so there are these three books that appear early on in my grandmother's collection of harlequin romances that look slightly different from the rest. and as i was reading another of the books [love is eternal by yvonne whittal] i noticed a blow-in advertising an set of four harlequin romances to introduce new readers to the series. the cover images on the ad looked pretty familiar! and when i looked a little closer, lo and behold, three out of the four books in the introductory set matched ones in her collection. i can only assume that she didn't particularly like the fourth book [she used to throw away the ones she didn't like, however due to the wonders of ebay i've managed to track it down and will post about it once i've had a chance to read it].

from what i've gathered from her collection, she must have bought a few one-offs before subscribing to the service.

#884 cap flamingo by violet winspear

back cover copy:

"you must marry me right now!"

fern gazed at ross kingdom disbelievingly.
she couldn't just marry him because a few
people mistakenly thought they'd spent the
night together. marriage was sacred; not
meant to be a cover up for scandal.

but then, ross was a well-known journalist; his
sister was a movie star. anthing that happened
in his family made news--the kind of news
that could ruin fern's reputation forever.

"all right," fern said quietly. "i'll marry you!"

originally published in 1964 by mills & boon ltd [a uk romance publisher that is now part of harlequin enterprises, the companies maintained an informal arrangement until harlequin acquired mills & boon in 1971], violet winspear's cap flamingo is a fascinating read. the story itself is a pretty standard tale of romantic heroine and hero get caught in compromising position and must marry, a series of obstacles and misunderstandings take place and then in the last few pages they finally admit that they love each other. what makes this so interesting to read has to do with how much society has changed since this was written.

in perhaps the most shocking [for me] instance, early on in the book, fern is talking about one of the house servants:
"a few minutes later edwina rang for a servant to show fern to her room. a
dusky, turbaned negress appeared and edwina boomed at her: 'delilah, doesn't
this child look exactly like mama used to look in her magnolia print?'"
i was definitely startled by the description as i was reading. but then when i reflected on it further i realized that when this was written, negro/negress were the politically correct terms to use to describe someone of african descent. there was nothing implicitly or explicitly racist about the story, if anything the book was more about the struggles between different socioeconomic classes, but even then there was nothing overtly classist in the story. there are many harlequin romances about poor, working-class girls finding love with rich, upper-class men.

i was also surprised by how closely [plot-wise] cap flamingo resembled a regency historical romance. ross is caught spending the night in fern's room--in her capacity as a nurse, she had given him some medication for a headache that put him immediately to sleep--and an ill-mannered gardener/fix-it man begins to spread rumors that culminate in ross proposing to fern in the scene quoted on the back cover.

all things considered, the book was a pretty fun read and even though it felt a bit like a blast from the past, it put me in the mood to keep reading my grandmother's books.

#1302 teachers must learn by nerina hilliard

back cover copy:

"on ladrana island laurel fell in love

stephen barrington and his sister, anthea,
were descendents of portuguese overlords and
pirates. so laurel wasn't really surprised
when stephen stole her heart. or when anthea
maneuvered laurel and stephen into an engagement.

stephen, laurel believed, was aware that anthea
wanted to deter roberta fransom from making
a play for him.

but laurel knew that to roberta she was no
deterrent at all!"

this is a slightly less memorable novel. originally published in 1968 by mills & boon limited, the plot follows a young teacher taking a break at her brother's home on a tropical island named ladrana. orphaned at a young age [and this is a classic plot device for these harlequin books] laurel and her brother, kennedy [known as ned], manage to get entangled with the barrington family, namely siblings stephen and anthea, who in spite of their very english sounding last name are actually of portuguese descent. laurel and stephen find each other at cross-purposes, but when anthea decides to pretend they've gotten engaged to discourage one of stephen's previous girlfriends, they are forced to spend time together. the usual misunderstandings of who feels what about whom take place, and are only resolved after laurel and stephen perform a dance as persephone and hades.

like a lot of the harlequin romances from about this time period there are some [shall we say] old school ideas about a woman's place in the world and how being married is the state of being that one should aspire to. but you can see the changes coming, anthea is very much a free spirit, she has many boyfriends and doesn't want to settle down much to poor ned's dismay.

nerina hilliard is the smallest name in the introductory set. anne hampson, anne mather, and violet winspear were among harlequin's most prolific authors. so it is fitting that this book seems to be the lesser of the four included in the set.

#1451 the arrogant duke by anne mather

back cover copy:

escape! juliet savored the word

for years, juliet's father has used his wealth,
power and influence to rule her life. but now
she was free to make her own decisions. she had
assumed a new name and identity, and had run away
to a job on this beautiful west indian island.

but had she jumped from the frying pan into the fire?

bad as her father had been, her employer, the
duque felipe ricardo de castro, turned out to be
even more domineering. and what was worse
--juliet fell in love with him!

anne mather was a pretty big name back in the day [and now, she's actually still writing]. she's the author of the first harlequin book made into film leopard in the snow [my goal is to track down the film so that i can do a print versus screen blog about it]. i always think that the spanish hero books are kind of silly [technically the duke is portuguese, but the same ideas apply]. the heroes end up being super macho and it plays to latino/hispanic stereotypes that i can't say i am fond of. also i can't help but think of the three amigos whenever someone calls a character the duque. [i know the bad guy was el guapo, but the way i read the duque in my mind sounds like the way everyone talks about el guapo in the movie].

but anyway, originally published in 1970 by mills & boon limited, this book follows the adventures of a rich girl named juliet, who is tired of being a lazy socialite and decides to use her friend's passport [and name, she pretends to be one rosemary summers] and take a job as a paid companion to a young girl who recently lost her parents in a car accident and hasn't walked since. the young girl is the duque's niece, and she is bizarrely in love with her uncle, as is her aunt [who isn't related to the duque]. the duque is oblivious to all of that, instead choosing to focus on rosemary/juliet since he is [rightly] convinced that she is hiding something.

eventually, juliet makes progress with the girl, encouraging her to walk again and let go of her silly infatuation. the duque discovers juliet's real identity and when she runs away confronts her and confesses his love. [which she of course reciprocates, her being in love with him the reason for running away when the truth was threatened to be revealed.] and the aunt gets left out in the cold, her machinations exposed.

the story itself is enjoyable and juliet is surprisingly a great lead character. so many times in these harlequin books, the heroines are a bit too demure, too retiring, [or if they aren't they tend to be a bit too argumentative, too prideful]. because juliet is actually interesting, the story itself becomes more interesting. which really goes to show the importance of liking the lead characters. you have to like the leads in order to care about what happens to them. and anne mather does a good job of this here.

and there you have it, the introductory set to my grandmother's collection. i definitely enjoyed reading these books. even if i'd read them before [and that may have been over 15 years ago], they have been a pleasure to rediscover. i'll certainly be reviewing more as i continue my quest to read her collection.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. No spam please. Let's keep things fun and nice and respectful.