Shelf Love

The Agony and the Candlelight Ecstasy

Short Description

I own 91 Candlelight Ecstasy Romances, so it was high time I read one... then I read another 13 for good measure. In December, 1980, Vivian Stephens launched a new line of contemporary category romance at Dell called Candlelight Ecstasy. The line pushed the envelope when it came to sex and sensuality on the page. But how sexy are they and how do these books hold up in 2023?


contemporary romance, romance scholarship, category romance

Show Notes

I own 91 Candlelight Ecstasy Romances, so it was high time I read one... then I read another 13 for good measure. In December, 1980, Vivian Stephens launched a new line of contemporary category romance at Dell called Candlelight Ecstasy. The line pushed the envelope when it came to sex and sensuality on the page. But how sexy are they and how do these books hold up in 2023? 

Shelf Love:


Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast about romance, novels, and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and to shape desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci and on this episode, I'm going to talk about the agony and the Candlelight Ecstasy.

And how Vivian Stephens kicked off the sexy contemporary romance boom in 1980 with Dell's Candlelight Ecstasy line.

So in December, 1980, Vivian Stephens launched a new line of contemporary category romance at Dell called Candlelight Ecstasy. The line pushed the envelope when it came to sex and sensuality on the page. But how sexy are they and how do these books hold up in 2023?

First I'm going to cover the history of Candlelight Ecstasy and why I think it's so interesting. And then I'm going to share recaps and my impressions of the books that I read in the line. I've had a surprisingly high success rate.

So I probably do not talk enough about this outside of my Instagram stories, but I am a vintage romance collector. My desire to collect and read older romances has grown as I've been diving more into the history of the romance genre. And that is motivated by a desire to better contextualize the things that I'm observing in romances that are coming out today.

I started collecting Candlelight Ecstasies about a year ago when I bought some big, random, lots of romance really inexpensively on eBay. Like I'm talking a hundred books for 25 bucks, including shipping. So as I read more about the line, I started then seeking out individual titles to round out my collection. And then suddenly I realized that I had about 90 of them.

And up until a month ago, I still hadn't read any of them.

Now I do not believe that I will ever read every book I collect. That's not really my intention. I like having them for lots of other reasons. And I'll talk about that more sometime in the future. Even though I don't expect to read all of them it did seem like it was time for me to dive in and read some of my collection draw my own conclusions about the books instead of just reading about them in other sources. So that's what I did.

But first let's talk about the historical context for this line and why it is so interesting.

So the Candlelight Ecstasy line was pitched by Vivian Stephens, who started at Dell in 1978 as an associate editor on the Candlelight Books line. Candlelight published these really formulaic and really sweet romances that fail to leave much of a mark in reader's minds. And from various accounts, it sounds like as soon as somebody at the top realized that it existed, it probably would have been on the chopping block because it had really unimpressive sales and very little market interest.

In a Texas Monthly article published in September, 2020 that included interviews with Vivian Stephens, she said "it was a department. No editor wanted to be bothered with. Nobody explained anything to me because no one knew and nobody cared."

Stephens wasn't satisfied with the status quo. She conducted her own consumer research by observing [00:03:00] romance buyers and talking to them about what they wanted. What she learned aligned with her own instincts, that there was an opportunity for Dell to capture the cultural zeitgeist by offering sexier romances that reflected the lives of American women at the time, who were increasingly entering professional roles and really rethinking courtship, marriage, sexuality, and what would bring fulfillment in life.

This is a quote from that Texas Monthly article. "That was when Stephens began looking for writers who could create female characters of substance quote, "what does a heroine have to offer a worldly man, if she's not experienced in bed or on the job?" Stephens said, Stephens wanted to update the model with women whose experiences more closely resembled her own. Her first such book as an editor Morning Rose, Evening Savage by Amii Lorin sold so well that within eight months Stephens was editor in chief of Candlelight. In 1980, she pitched her bosses on a new sexier line called Candlelight Ecstasy, which launched in December and quote."

And then this is a quote from this book called Love Lines, which came out in 1983. "Vivian suspected that readers, like she wanted to go beyond the threshold of the bedroom door. Not necessarily in terms of explicit sexual description, but in terms of passion and emotional satisfaction." End quote.

Also, according to Love Lines, which was a consumer focused book about romance, again, published in 1983, the first two Candlelight Ecstasy books sold out within a week and they were promoted solely through word of mouth.

So those first two books that were released in December, 1980. One of them was called The Tawny Gold Man by Amii Lorin, who was the author who had proved out that formula in the Candlelight Books line. And then the other book was called Gentle Pirate by Jayne Castle. And you may recognize Jayne Castle because it is the pseudonym of Jayne Ann Krentz. She has obviously gone on to have a very long standing career in romance. And at the time she was an author with just a few books under her belt on other romance lines.

It's generally accepted that when it came to category romance lines, Candlelight Ecstasy was the first to consummate sex without interruption. By 1982, Dell reported that the line was selling 30 million copies a year. This was right smack in the middle of the romance wars which were between about 1980 to 1984. In which the newly formed Silhouette was fighting to challenge Harlequin's dominance and both of those companies were investing millions in advertising.

So also during this period, Harlequin, Silhouette and all these other publishers, we're basically creating new category romance lines at a frantic pace. There truly were a ton of lines that came out in this period that didn't even last that long. Some lasted a really long time. And there were some that were talked about being created that never even came out. There are a lot of times I'm reading sources that are talking about, you know, publisher X says that their new line Y is going to come out next fall and I will go [00:06:00] hunt those books down. And I can't find them. And sometimes it's because they came out under a different name and sometimes it's because they literally just never came out.

All of these publishers were definitely taking note of the consumer response to the sexier Candlelight Ecstasy line. So more on page sensuality with characters engaging in premarital sex started appearing on page and on bookshelves and readers were eating it up.

Stephens was also a groundbreaker when it came to racial representation in traditionally published romance. She made a concerted effort to acquire and publish authors of color writing authors of color. So traditionally in publishing the marketability of the so-called quote, unquote ethnic romances had been questioned, but, Entwined Destinies by Rosalind Welles , which was the pseudonym of Elsie Bl Washington, a Black journalist was a romance that featured a Black couple and it sold 40,000 copies on its first run with Candlelight Romance in 1980. So again, remember Candlelight Romance was the line that was going before Vivian Stephens launched Candlelight Ecstasy.

That book is often credited as the first known category romance published by a Black author with two main Black characters. Stephens continued her efforts to publish more diverse authors in the Ecstasy line.

So Golden Fire, Silver Ice by Marisa de Zavala which was the pseudonym of Mexican American author, Celina Rios Mullan is often credited as the first Latinx category romance with two Mexican American main characters.

Web of Desire, which is by Jean Hagar -she has author bios where she claims to be one eighth Cherokee. That book featured two indigenous American main characters. And then The Tender Mending by Lia Sanders. Was the first Candlelight Ecstasy with black characters. And Leah Sanders was the pseudonym of black authors, Angela Jackson and Sandra Jackson -Opoku.

In 1983, Dell failed to value Stephens enough to match the salary offer that she received from main competitor Harlequin. And so Stephens left for the much more prestigious role. At Harlequin Stephens launched Harlequin American romance. But the end of the romance wars also brought an end to her new job. Harlequin acquired Silhouette and amidst all of the changes they also let go of Vivian Stephens.

There's actually a lot more that I could say about this era of romance. I definitely cover this in episode at 98, How to Catch a Man on the Love Train with Steve Ammidown, which is about this 1980s documentary that was recorded in 1983. And Vivian Stephens is a main character in that documentary.

So if you want to learn more about that, go check out episode 98. How to Catch a Man on the Love Train.

Now let's get into the actual books themselves. So, because I am a giant nerd, I keep track of my romance collection in a relational database that I built in Notion, and I imported every single title. And I keep track of the ones that I have in my [00:09:00] collection, or want to target for my collection. And if I've read it or not, so basically I know that there are 533 titles in the Candlelight Ecstasy line, and I happen to own 17% of them, which is 91. I also know that I have read 15% of the ones that I own, which comes out to be 14 books. So slowly but steadily, I'm definitely making a dent in this collection.

So now I am going to share a little bit about some of the books that I read.

So the first book that I read was Gentle Pirate by Jayne Castle, which is Candlelight Ecstasy number two. I do not own number one otherwise I probably would have started with that one. Although now that I have actually read some books by Amii Lorin, I don't think I would enjoy it. So I'm not actually going to seek it out, but more on that later.

So basically what kicks this whole project off was I was reading that book published in 1983, called Love Lines. And I saw a mention of Gentle Pirate and how the hero was missing a hand as the result of a war wound in Vietnam. And therefore he had a hook instead of a hand. And that was a new detail for me. And I was like, okay, that's really interesting. I have to read this book.

So when I open up my copy of this book, there is a letter to the reader from Vivian Stephens. She's like, thank you so much for reading. We're now doing three titles a month instead of two. And she says "we are pleased offer you sensuous novels set in America depicting modern American women and men, as they confront the provocative problems of a modern relationship."

So a little bit about this book. I will just read the back cover.

" Don't ask me to stop." He whispered in a husky voice that came from deep in his chest. "I want you so badly." Simon Kendrick had charged suddenly into her life, commanding, intimidating. As her boss, he controlled her job. Did he mean to take possession of her body and soul? His mouth covered hers with the kiss that began gently, then exploded into an irresistible demand. Who was he? What did he want? Kirsten Mallory had sworn that no man would ever control her again. Yet suddenly she felt bound by invisible chains. Chains held casually in the steel grip of a relentless, passionate pirate."

So as you may have guessed the pirate allusion comes from the fact that he is perceived as perhaps both a corporate raider and also has a hook for a hand which is associated with pirates.

I liked this book way more than I thought I was going to. The book slaps, and there are a lot of things about it, you can tell, even from the book description, he's her boss and there's a lot of like her mouth says no, but her body says yes, in this book. And I feel like I have to add all of these caveats about enjoying it, but I think this was a really good exercise in how my enjoyment of this book is in [00:12:00] no way an endorsement for the actions of the characters or even the message of the book, because my critical thinking skills have remained intact even though I did enjoy it.

So here are the notes that I took, because at some point I realized, I was like, oh God, I'm really going to have to take notes on these books if I want to remember what the heck is going on. So here are my notes: bonkers in the best way, plot pacing like a racetrack. Hero has one hand hook for left-hand. Jayne Ann Krentz does a great job using that without being at ridiculous. The hero is over the top pushy and I don't love it, but the book is enjoyable. It starts with a memorable scene where she thinks that he is about to fire her. Yeah. A lot happens in this book.

I think she's like a corporate librarian. And he is her boss, but really is just like this management consultant that they've brought in. Too. I don't know, do some cost cutting measures. And so she comes in and immediately thinks like, oh, he's going to fire me because he's going to think that my job is not useful. And so she's prepared this report basically showing the value that she brings to the organization, which very much impresses him. And also he basically just has the hots for her, from the beginning, moves into her apartment complex and starts showing up places. The heroine was married to a really abusive guy who conveniently died. And then there is a little bit of intrigue around his death and, you know, maybe he was mixed up in some things that she's getting pulled into that they have to work their way through. A lot happened in this book.

These books are like 190 pages. Sometimes some of them have smaller type than others. So they're a little bit longer or shorter, but yeah, it was fun.

And immediately I went to go read some other Jayne Ann Krentz books that I had on my shelf, from a little bit later in her career. And I also immediately went and tried to order as many Jayne Castle Candlelight Ecstasies as I could to add to my collection after that.

Alright, next is The Game is Played by Amii Lorin. This is Candlelight Ecstasy number seven. And this was a DNF for me.

Now, let me pause and explain a little bit about my DNF rules.

Life is too short to read books that are boring. And so basically I try to start at the beginning of the book and I give it a shot. And if I find myself just really distracted and slogging through it, I will give up. If I am interested just to kind of like, know what happened, sometimes I skim ahead a little bit. Sometimes something will catch my attention and I'll read a little bit more later in the book, but this one, I think was a hard DNF at page 66.

So here's what it says on the back of the book.

"But you don't even know me." She whispered hoarsely. "I will." He replied, silencing her protests with a kiss that left her trembling. He had to be mad barging into her life. Making his proposal so bluntly that stunned her. Beautiful, brilliant and [00:15:00] aloof. Dr. Helen Cassidy had worked hard and gotten what she wanted. It didn't include a brazen bully like Marshall Kirk. Even as his hard possessive arms closed around her, she shuddered to recall the past. If he wanted to play fire to her ice, let him try. Once burned was enough. Surely she could beat him at his own arrogant game."

This was not actually the first Amii Lorin I read and it kind of confirmed that I was not into her style. This one's started better than the first one that I read. She is a 35 year old OB GYN doctor. And he's younger. His sister is a patient of hers and gives birth. And so he's there in the hospital, after his sister has given birth. And sees her and basically instantly is like, I'm taking you to dinner. And that night proposes marriage. Now she is a virgin who has trauma from a former fiance who violently, sexually assaulted her.

So the attack was interrupted, which is why she's still a virgin but she has a lot of trauma as a result of this experience. In fact still has to socialize with this guy who was her former fiance, because he's a doctor. And at some point later in the book, he like is at an event and dances with her and propositions her, and I just really was very icked out the fact that she never reported this and like I get that it's the time, but yeah.

So the hero finds out about the sexual assault as a result of the heroine, basically being an ice queen and, she's having a trauma response during one of their intimate moments. And he's ready to kill the guy. But then he says that he's thankful because the scary incident means that she is still a virgin so that he can like devirginize her, which I hated. That's the point. I was just like, fuck this book. I'm not reading it.

So I found that Amii Lorin's books had a weird pattern. Where the hero wants to marry the heroine instantly, and there's really no real chemistry. And they basically argue constantly. And the heroine is never interested in sex, but then gets overridden and they tend to have these really conservative upbringings and a lot of shame associated with the sex and Uh, like again, I get that this was of its time and era. But I think in contrast to some of the other books, it feels like a hold over from even a previous era because, these other books that I'm reading, yeah, there is some of this, she says no initially, but then she's clearly into it and she doesn't feel a massive amount of shame about enjoying sex when she loves the guy. But yeah, that, that was not really what I found with Amii Lorins. So, uh, DNF.

The next book is a Freedom to Love by Sabrina Miles. And this one was a skim for me. This is the back of the book.

"He was a mystery, tall lean rugged. Jason Stewart had been cold, arrogant, inexcusably rude from the start. And he had done nothing to endear himself [00:18:00] to her until tonight. Tonight has caressing hands. His burning kisses had swept her recklessly towards surrender. Janet had come to the wilds of Oklahoma to teach, to find herself, to start over. The past was dead, gone. And what kind of beginning had she made? She wanted a new life; longed for a new love, but he wanted too much. Would she wake one morning to find her dreams shattered, to find herself enslaved by an impossible love?"

Here are my notes on this one, "Meh. Skipped the beginning and read the end. There's a slutty other woman that the hero uses until the good woman heroine comes along. The heroine strings along another love interest, literally up until the moment she decides to marry the hero. I was really not interested in the setup, which included a plot moppet nice. That you know, she's like a teacher or something. And that's how she is introduced to the uncle who is raising the niece. I was just really bored at the beginning. Not very interested in this one.

I think there's a pattern in some of these where if the hero is too opaque about his motivations, and is like too much of an angry mystery, I personally really lose interest, especially when the heroine is extremely passive and indecisive about what's going on. And I think this book definitely fell into that camp.

Alright Bargain with the Devil. This is Candlelight Ecstasy, number 26, and it is another Jayne Castle book. Back of the book.

"Every line of his face from the deep set eyes to the arrogant nose and harshly carved cheekbones declared that this was a man who lived by his own rules. He hadn't come to Tucson for his health. Hunter Manning wanted revenge.

Stacy Ryland looked into the eyes of the man who meant to ruin her father. She had made a bargain, agreed to marry him. If he would stop his threats. With the coolly possessive air that defied protest his hands settled on her small waist and moved slowly upward. How could she go through with it? She despised him. His touch made her tremble with outrage and desire."

So this one I absolutely loved and the setup is ridiculous. Her brother's having a fancy party. And she's like outside on the deck, chomping on an apple and she sees the hero trying to seduce her sister-in-law and the sister-in-law goes inside. And basically she's like, Hey, you should leave her alone. And they strike a bargain where he very outright says, I want to ruin your father. He intends on enacting his revenge through the brother and the sister-in-law. And in order to protect her brother, she says, okay, well, you know, what would really upset my dad? Is if I married you. And the hero, hunter Manning is like, well, this is the perfect prevention, because then you will be loyal to me and not your father. So I've actually taken something away from him.

And at first it seemed like it was going to be a [00:21:00] really hard sell to get me to like this guy. But it was actually incredibly sweet. So there was this continuous flower garden gardener metaphor. The heroine owns a garden nursery.

Here's one of the sections where this comes up.

So I think they're kissing and he says, "you're going to be my own private flower garden, honey." He whispered deeply bending over her to nibble carefully at the tip of her ear. "I'm going to be able to wander in any time and gather a handful of blossoms. Blossoms that no other man can touch now that your mine. Will you like switching roles and becoming the garden instead of the gardener?" He added with a strange whimsy as his hands trailed possessively urgently across her breasts and down to the briefs he had mocked a moment earlier. "Do you think," she whispered in a small pleading little voice at his finger slipped under the edge of her last piece of clothing and removed it, " that you really want the responsibility of a garden, Hunter?" She lifted her head higher on the pillow enough to meet the gray evening fog of his gaze. "Are you afraid I won't know how to tend my flowers?" He murmured putting his lips on her throat tracking lazily, languidly down to the small bones of the hollow of her shoulder. "Have no fear of that. I'll admit this is the first time I've ever owned a garden, but I know what I want out of it. And I'll do all the necessary labor involved."

And then she says, " gardens can be very demanding."

And he says, "so can gardeners." he says, "tell me what my garden would have of me." And she says, "gardens needs someone who understands them, cares for them, someone who, who needs them in return." And he says, "and this gardener wants a patch of flowers that looks toward him for its strength, rather than towards the sun or anything else."

And then he calls her flower witch, which I love. Maybe that sounds cheesy to you listening to me tell you this but it was incredibly appropriate in the book. And after going along with the story I was in love with it. I was squeeing as I read it. So. Oh, I just loved it.

I did notice a pattern with these early Jayne Castle books that the hero is super pushy. The heroine is often saying no to kisses and stuff, and that isn't always respected. But unlike, for example, the Amii Lorin books, I do actually feel like the heroines in these books want to have sex with the heroes. and I feel like the emotional relationship is built up where I understand what's going on with our relationship, why they are into each other. What their relationship is actually like, and why they want to get married to each other, like what their motivations are.

So that one definitely recommend.

Okay, next. This is snowbound weekend by Amii Lorin. So I think this was the first Amii Lorin I read. This is number 50. " It began innocently enough, a ski weekend in the Adirondacks, but when the blizzard began and the tour bus was forced to stop at a wayside motel for a snowbound weekend, it became something else again. All around her wide eyed Jennifer Lengle could see that people had lost their inhibitions. They seemed to have entered another world, the world where anything goes. And within that world was Adam Banner. [00:24:00] Handsome, suave sophisticated. Adam with his seductive words, his passionate kisses, his outrageous promises, promises that could be broken as easily as her innocent heart."

So I did finish this one, but I wasn't happy about it. The heroine is an uptight Virgin. The male main character calls her on her judgy bullshit, but also they're in Insta love. So he wants to marry her basically after seeing her for five minutes, not even talking to her. And they're stuck in this motel during a snow storm. And the hotel is basically full of horny adults. My notes say everyone is wearing eighties colors. This book was really into describing what people wore to its detriment. Like, I feel like the point was to describe how fashionable people were, but it was a lot of like, baby puke ochre and dirt brown and Ooh, like creams. I don't know. I was not into it.

It just felt like an eighties camper van. And. The plot. There's lots of stupid misunderstandings. And they literally get married while being mad at each other constantly. The heroine is a moralistic uptight toddler who has been indoctrinated into purity culture. And basically he's like, well, let's get married because I know we had sex once, but I want to have sex again. So we have to get married. And he doesn't explain that his father is dying over the course of the four to five months that they're planning a wedding. She thinks that maybe he's having an affair. So she's like, don't tell me, because again, she's a toddler who can't face things. It was just like a very bizarre world that was presented here. And, and I didn't like it. I didn't enjoy spending time in it. And, um, I hated it. Thanks.

Okay, next Double Occupancy by Elaine Raco Chase. This is number 56. And. I'll just tell you up front . this is maybe one of my favorite books. " Casey Reynolds, the Boston-based Pulitzer prize winning reporter, was burned out and looking for escape. Acapulco seemed the perfect getaway until she discovered that her Mexican hideout was already occupied by a brash stranger who believed in leaping without looking inaction before words. Travis Craig radiated danger. He was a sensual predator on the prowl and Casey was far more vulnerable than she cared to admit. His touch made her tremble. His presence inspired fear. They were far too close for comfort and one more sultry night could put the torch to the embers of passion simmering in the tropical heat."

This is one where I feel like the back of the book does not do a good job of explaining the vibes of the book, because I would not call him a sensual predator on the prowl. He's actually one of the most gentle heroes that I think I Encountered at any of the Candlelight Ecstasies I read.

So basically the heroine in this one is six feet tall, and he's a little bit taller than her, which we know is very important in romance, but she basically has been told all of her life that because she's six feet tall that she's not desirable.

I'll just read my notes. So much fun, definitely [00:27:00] this book is thinking through gender roles and cultural changes hardcore. The hero is delightful and does lots of laundry and cleaning. And then he decides that he loves her. I don't want a lot of women. I want this one woman who is quality. He is kind and gentle and gives her lots of space, but also pushes her out of her comfort zone, which basically is needed. They are two basically mature people, engaging in adult relationship. There's all these really fun details and quirky activities. Like they stay in this ridiculously over the top apartment in Acapulco that have like mirrors everywhere and a water bed. This book, just like isn't afraid to be lush. They take a donkey trip out to some ruins and they're on the beach and they're eating delicious food. It takes place primarily in Mexico. Basically she escapes Boston for the majority of this book. It's not really gone into detail until the end, although it's pretty clear that this is what's happening, but he owns the newspaper publishing company that is trying to buy the newspaper that she quit and that she used to work at.

So basically you throughout the book, she has no idea what his true profession is and why he's even there, which you'd think would be a problem. But she assumes that he's an out of work PhD who is looking for a job. I don't know why it, it doesn't really matter.

So here's why I said, oh, this book is doing culture wars.

So I think she's doing the dishes, which actually is rare in this book. And he says "there's nothing worse than an emasculating woman." I think he's teasing her at this point. "Her mouth dropped. There was a brief hostile silence. She turned to face her adversary. 'Don't give me all those chic clothed euphemisms. You men are just angry because we've stopped making you legends in your own time. If our emancipation has made you nervous, that's tough. We left the home front and invaded all phases of the workforce and the locker rooms as well, and contraception has made the old double standard obsolete.' Casey smiled at him, smugly Travis shrugged, his wide shoulders, negligently, and reached for the pan. 'Hey, if you women want to cheapen yourselves.' ' Oh!' Casey grabbed his arm in her damp hands and pulled him around. 'Don't you give me that garbage, the old good girl, bad girl concept has been flushed down the toilet. Why is it when men sow their wild oats they're spirited and adventurous. When women do it, they're promiscuous in fast.' Her eyes glowed like fiery emeralds in her animated face. 'Admit it. You men just can't take the shoe being on the other foot. Now we're doing the cruising and choosing. We're paying for dinners and taking business trips and the nudes in our magazines are no longer undiapered babies."

So that's basically just one example of the exchanges back and forth between these two. And again, he's not actually a misogynist. I think he's just pushing her buttons at various points because he, he knows that she's going to argue with him. Honestly, I had so much fun reading this book. I just, honestly, I want more people to read this book. It was so fun. I'm not even doing it justice talking about it. So. Go read it.

This book did also have a really [00:30:00] ridiculous line in a sex scene. " His body erupted and poured his love offering deep inside her." I mean just literally dead. He just anyways. I feel maybe I'm not supposed to laugh about it, but I thought it was hilarious. So a Double Occupancy Elaine Raco Chase. So good.

Okay. My next book is Lilac Awakening by Bonnie Drake , who is also known as Barbara Delinsky. You may know her. This is number 85 and here's the back of the book.

"She was a widow too young and beautiful to be alone. But Anne Bolton was determined to spend a week in the isolated Vermont cabin. As a storm raged without an a Snoke fire burned within it was perfect until he burst into her life. In less than a week, Mitch had commandeered the cabin, igniting the passions and had tried so hard to forget. And like a fool she agreed to his outrageous plan. They'd meet for vacations only. No last names, no strings attached. But hungry for happiness, Anne craved more. Who was he, this maddening stranger? And what were the secrets he tried so desperately to conceal."

So I was a little worried on page 10 when the hero calls the heroine a bitch, but then I ended up really liking it. It's actually a super heavy book. Both main characters are widowed in the last year, both from tragic accidents and one of them is intermingled with the other person. Although unbeknownst until the very end of the book. So a mix up with a Vermont cabin rental is what ends up throwing them together. And then they keep meeting at the cabin as they heal together.

I thought this book was actually quite tender and interesting. That they agree mutually that they are not going to really engage in much of a physical relationship with each other for a long time, because they both acknowledged that they really like each other and that as soon as they start having sex, that they're going to be emotionally involved and they know that they're not in a place where it's fair to be emotionally involved with each other yet. So they meet up at the cabin and basically continue to help each other heal from the trauma of their spouses passing away and really dealing with. Like, well, I did love that person and I miss them, but is it okay for me to move on?

I would be really interested in reading more books by Bonnie Drake in the Candlelight Ecstasy series.

Really enjoyed this one, but in a different way than how I enjoyed some of the other ones.

Next In The Arms of Love by Alexis Hill.

" 'Those macho types don't appeal to me,' Rachel Pritchard insisted. 'Jason Brand leaves me totally cold.' Easy enough to say, but was it true? A blue eyed Adonis and tight jeans. And t-shirt he had invaded her freshman composition class, an unschooled literary hot shot researching Quincy Adams University for his next book, he dared her to teach him something he didn't already know. Determined to be strictly professional, Rachel swore to treat his assignments with the iciest objectivity, but she hadn't counted on his written words, words that made her long for his touch, his kiss. Words that set [00:33:00] off an alarm that cried danger, even as they set her heart a fire."

So my notes on this one, and by the way, I did finish this one, were professor heroine and student slash famous nonfiction author hero. Power dynamics are imbalanced both ways at different times. She is an inconsistent mess. He comes on a bit strong, but then later is vulnerable.

I think this is one where it felt very middle of the road. Where I didn't enjoy the heroine. She really did not know her own mind in a way that was really frustrating. And again, at the beginning, she is a professor and he is her student and he's a famous author, so it's not the same power imbalance if he was like, literally an 18 year old freshmen, with no power. It's, I suppose it's mitigated in that way. But then later on, basically she's no longer professor and becomes his paid research assistant, which is clearly arranged just because he's interested in her romantically. And then it becomes very weird because she's strong, armed into taking the role by her department head. And there's weird things going on there. So that this was one that felt very much of its time. And I did not enjoy it as much, although I did make it through. And that's really all I have to say about it.

Next. We have To Have And To Hold by Lori Herter. I don't have good notes on this one because I realized after I read a few of these that I needed to start taking better notes. So I remember what happened in each of them. And this was one of the first ones. So here's the back of the book.

" Yes, she couldn't deny it. She still wanted him, but it could never be as it had been before. A few short years ago, stacy Smith had been his student at the university. Awed by his brilliance, overwhelmed by her own desire she had become his wife. She had married him, then left him to make a life of her own. Now a professional photographer with New York magazine, she had been assigned to Phoenix to do an article on Gray Pierce's archeological work. Forced to face the man who was still her husband. Once she had sat at his feet. Now she was determined to stand on her own. And yet everything within her longed for his searing kiss, for the warm haven of his arms. Could she ever again be his wife?"

So I was interested in reading a book by Lori Herter. Because she was featured in Where the Heart Roams, the documentary by George Csicsery that came out in the mid 1980s. I had covered that with Steve Ammidown on the podcast last year at some point it's episode 98. And so I knew who Lori Herter was, and basically the reason she was featured in that documentary was, she was like this, new voice of the sexier romances. So there's this really awkward scene in that documentary where she's reading a scene from her book and it's like one of the sexier scenes. And the camera pulls back and her husband is sitting on a couch next to her, just like staring at her while she's reading. [00:36:00] And it's so awkward.

So I have this like association with Lori Herter in my mind related to that.

And then I start reading this book and there is an extended scene. I put this in an Instagram story. Just so just imagine that you graduated from a college and years later, you're on an assignment for your job. And your former department chair picks you up and takes you to lunch, and you start giving a play-by-play of your entire illicit relationship with your professor who still works in the department of the man that you're speaking to. So you're telling your husband's boss that when you were a student, your professor seduced you and you're also giving him all the details.

There was just like these weird scenes in this book where I'm like, this is inappropriate. Like, why is this happening? This is awkward. Why is this not internal monologue? Why does this have to be her telling him over lunch, this entire story? I don't believe that this man would have the time. Or would care. Or would think this is appropriate. It was so weird. This is one. I don't know. I think I probably should come up with some sort of like rating system so I can remember when I get to the end of the book where things fell. This is probably like a, I don't know, three out of five, maybe a two out of five in terms of, how interesting or good it was. Like I made it through.

He was a sad sack. If I remember correctly, he's like, why did you leave me to have a career? And she's like, well, I wanted to come back to you. And basically I think they resolve the conflict by her making herself smaller so that he is more comfortable with her career. Which I think at the time was seen as wow, look at them, making compromises, she can find a way to have her career without being away from him all the time, which is important to him. And he can acknowledge that she should be allowed to have basically just a life outside of being his wife, which I don't know is a little depressing in the year 2023. Anyways.

All right. Next, we have Passionate Appeal by Elise Randolph.

"She knew his reputation. Warren J Hamilton could pour on the charm with accomplished ease, then zero in on his prey with lethal accuracy. It worked in the courtroom time after time. Surely it worked as well in his private life. But Chris Davis had a reputation too. She was a successful trial lawyer, a woman of high moral principles. He was her opponent, her enemy, her nemesis. And if he aroused something beyond fierce professional competition, she would never let him know. Like the criminals she prosecuted, Chris would hide the evidence, her surging passion, her aching desire. And like a criminal, she too would plead innocence until proven guilty."

So this book is trying to be cute with the whole law thing. And um, yeah. So here are my notes on this one. Dichotomy between being a woman and a lawyer. She's a prosecutor. He's a defense attorney. And there's really interesting ideas in this book about integrating the parts of the self and how both of them are lawyers who are really tortured over their role in the justice system. Heroine is a little too interested [00:39:00] in punishing people. And kind of retributive justice and that doesn't resolve very well. The relationship is actually quite respectful and consenting. It's two fairly emotionally mature people. The heroine doesn't spend that much time resisting and not acknowledging her physical attraction. I think it's more kind of the concern over getting emotionally entangled with him and, professional conflicts related to that. She definitely worries a lot about the fact that he is a defense attorney because she thinks that, that means that he's helping people who should be punished.

Sometimes I take pictures of pages with interesting passages and I was sending some of them to Jayashree Kamble because I was also at the same time reading her book, Creating Identity. And I felt like there were several passages in here that really very explicitly were talking about that dichotomy between two parts of the self that the heroine was really struggling with and trying to work through. So it's always fun when you're reading theory and then you see it in practice immediately.

Okay, next Surrender to The Night. Candlelight Ecstasy, number 1 44 by Shirley Hart. This one I did not finish. It was a hard, no, and I read the first three pages. And I was like, Nope. Nope. The hero impregnated the heroine's sister and abandoned his child. And he's blonde. It was just a no. Here's the back of the book.

" Wild and wanton need to touch him, burned inside her. And yet she couldn't. Must not. Why had Jord Deverone a man who spent his day as jetting across the world from one high level business deal to the next suddenly appeared in her Iowa hayfield? Why had the man Trish Flannery hated the man who had aroused in her such passion only to marry and desert her own sister come back now? In the shadowy barn as rain pounded the roof and flighting slashed the skies above them, Jord stood before her, his body golden, sleek with moisture. Did Trish know the truth? Whatever it was, as he bent to kiss her again, there was no escape. She was trapped between outrage and overwhelming desire."

Now, obviously there is some sort of misunderstanding you know about the situation like her sister's a skank or cheated on him. I don't know. I just couldn't. I was just like bored. There was like a very pushy family involved and.

I don't know. Again, his name was Jord. I just couldn't do it.

All right. I had. I had a string of DNFs at the end. These are not chronological in terms of how I read them. It just so happens that they're chronological in terms of the Candlelight Ecstasy series number.

So the next one is A Season for Love by Heather Graham. Number 154. Heather Graham, you may recognize her name. An author who went on to have a prolific romance writing career. I believe now she is known as Heather Graham Possezere. Here's the back of the book.

Witch! Seductress! Temptress! The words [00:42:00] struck out in anger. They were not the words he had first used. Two strangers aboard a ship cruising at sea, their words, their kisses, their touch had been filled with a fierce tender passion. And Ronnie von Hurst had abandoned herself so briefly to a love she knew could never be. What was there to warn her that Drake O'Hara would appear at her isolated South Carolina island estate? That she would have to receive him as an honored guest? That she would be powerless to explain, torn between the man who was her husband in name only and the man she desired beyond anything in the world, the man who despised her as a faithless wife and loved her with a passion she alone could equal."

I was not turned off by the premise so much as I would turned off by the writing in this one. There is so much internality and it is so boring. There's very little action on the page. I did not give a shit about these people. The plot seems to have some sort of angsty disappointment with the heroine who's in a loveless marriage. And the guy is clearly famous or rich in some way, although she doesn't know that, but he definitely has this cockiness that turned me off immediately. And like just literally got so many pages in and they're like at a pool and they're flirting. And so much of the action happened off page. And then it was just so boring and I didn't care what was going to happen. So I stopped. And that was that.

Alright, Illusive Lover by Jo Calloway. Number 164.

"An officer and a lady? West Point graduate Susan Vance was determined to do her duty, but she would not succumb to her dashing new commander in chief. First, the Playboy general promoted her to the rank of major. Now he claimed her as his own. General Beau Valentine was definitely out of order when he took her in his arms. She tried to say no, but he invaded her heart with a single incendiary kiss. It was a war of wills, a call to arms passionate, combat of the most dangerous kind. She thought she knew the enemy and could outmaneuver him on his own territory until she discovered of the traitor within."

So the heroine ended up at West Point because her father was in the military and taught at the academy. And at some point in the beginning, she's like, well, I guess I could have been a model if the military didn't work out or I could have been an accountant. And it was just problematic and boring. There was no characterization. The heroine's inner monologue was slowly killing me. There was definitely a lot of problematic abuse of power things going on. And also it felt a little unbelievable. Like he was the youngest Playboy general that was world known and basically like famous and the world's best lover and it just strained credulity. So yeah, I stopped reading it at page 40, which is honestly more than this book deserved.

And last of the ones that I read, but not least. We have Reluctant Merger by Alexis Hill Jordan, which is the [00:45:00] same author, Alexis Hill, who wrote In The Arms of Love, which was the one with the professor and the nonfiction writer.

" She would never give in. Her father had meant the Emerson Mills Gazette to be a rural. Maryland paper. Award-winning publisher, Claire Tanager meant to keep it that way. It would never be part of Spence McCabe's new east coast chain. But there was more to it than business sitting coolly before her, the picture of unruffled masculine authority was McCabe himself, the man who'd managed to seduce her within hours of their first meeting. It had been an impetuous evening in which she'd overthrown the principles of a lifetime, a night she couldn't help, but remember yet struggled to forget. Why had he come? What made him think he could take over her paper, her life? The mere sight of him aroused her shame and outrage and a longing she was too proud to see."

So this one, I read about the first third of it. And then I found the guy to be really weird because he was saying his dead wife's name in his sleep. And then like I skimmed ahead and it turns out the heroine looks like her. And the ick factor was too high. They're both newspaper publishers. There were some interesting parallels with Double Occupancy by Elaine Raco Chase. You could probably do a compare and contrast in the ideology of these books and how they compared when it came to this idea of corporate mergers.

They're definitely gesturing at the macro changes that are happening in the economy and kind of the switch from being able to have these small local businesses. And then they're getting swooped up into these large chains and conglomerates, multinational corporations and all of that. There's probably something interesting to say there, but I didn't find this book to be that interesting.

So that was the last one of the first 14 that I read.

So in retrospect, I feel like I probably should have ordered how I talked about these in the order that I read them. Not that I can actually remember that.

But I think what I've learned from this. First of all, I know that if I want to give these books a fair shake, I can't start by skimming them. I have to start at the beginning and see if they pull me in. If you just skim through them and pick out a scene out of context, they seem ridiculous. Which is why I don't let myself do that until I've given it a fair shot. Definitely as a result of this first round, there are authors that I find I like much more than others. Look, that's what happens with any category book line, right? Like you can find any line that is publishing today. And there are authors that are going to appeal to you and authors that are not going to appeal to you. So I don't think it's fair to really take some of the books that I did not like and say, oh, there's something really markedly different about the books from this era.

Yeah, the problems maybe seemed a little bit more magnified as a result of when they were published. There's a lot of problematic power dynamics in these books that are really just very normalized in the world building where there's sort of an acknowledgement like, oh no, I [00:48:00] should feel bad about this, oh no, I'm conflicted, but really nobody else seems to care about it, which is strange.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed that run through Candlelight Ecstasy. As I start going through some of these lines of books that I have been collecting. I want to do a better job of capturing my thoughts along the way. I think I read these over the last six weeks or so. So some of these books are a little bit less memorable than others, and I've definitely forgotten some of the details. But I think this has been an interesting project. I definitely liked some way more than I thought that I was going to like them where, there are definitely ones in here where I'm gonna reread them.

I didn't talk that much about like how sexy these books were. So they have sex scenes and there's, a few explicit words, but they're very euphemistic and very purple prosey compared to sex scenes that you could read now that it could be quite explicit.

I can see how readers at the time found these to be really sexy, particularly compared to what else was being published at the time. I don't think I found them particularly sexy, but I certainly found some of the emotional relationships to be quite affecting and, touching and in that way.

But it's well-established that I like books that are quite explicit and sexy. So that is also just my personal preference.

All right, that's it for this episode. Hope you enjoyed this. Let me know if you want more stuff like this, like where I go into some romance history and then talk about the actual texts.

I released the first part of this episode as a Substack post. So if you are a Substack subscriber, you may already have read about the history of Candlelight Ecstasy. And I'm recording this now, I'm going to take the transcript of this and turn it into the part two where I talked about the books in a shorter form.

But if you would like to keep up with Shelf Love, I would really recommend that you subscribe to the Substack. It is It is free to subscribe, although, if you would like to support me through Substack, there is an option where you can pay. Totally optional. I do not put anything behind a paywall. When you go to And you want to subscribe there is a free option. And if you don't want to pay, which you do not have to, just take that free option.

But I am also trying to get off of Twitter completely because it is a cess pit for more than one reason. I want to continue to focus on the platforms that bring the most value for me and for you. And part of that is I want to be able to consistently reach the people who are interested in the message here. So Substack is the best way, basically that is my email newsletter now. And it is a way where I can consistently get in contact with you and you can keep up with the things I'm thinking about here. All the cool [00:51:00] people I talk to.

And that is really the best way to consistently keep up to date with Shelf Love. I promise not to spam you because I don't have time to spam you.

All right. Thanks. Byeeeee.

Hey, thanks for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out for transcripts and other resources. If you want regular written updates from Shelf Love, you can increasingly find me over at Substack.

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