Secret Fire was, I think, the second Johanna Lindsey romance I read which cemented her works among my favorites. Published in 1987, this book was written during Lindsey’s peak years of output.
The cover is another Elaine Duillo gem, this time featuring white, cream, and brown hues, appropriate for the wintery Russian setting. There’s also a blond male cover model whom I’ve been searching for for years. Forget Fabio and his long-haired colleagues; it’s this guy I have often imagined as the hero of many love stores I’ve read. He’s a perfect model for the ultra-gorgeous hero of Secret Fire, Dimitri.
Dimitri is a half-Russian, half-English Prince who is in England to visit family and smooth over a scandal his sister has gotten into by engaging in an affair with a married man. The uber-sexual Dimitri doesn’t mind his sisters’ affairs, only that she’s so flagrant about them. So he decides to bring her back to Russia on his ship and perhaps find a dutiful spouse for her.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey”
If you’re familiar with your romance history, then you must know of this book, even if you haven’t read it. The cover is the infamous one designed by Robert McGinnis with the naked hero standing tall as the heroine kneels before him, her ample breasts pressed firmly against his–er…dongle.
Tender is the Storm was released in 1985; Lindsey’s 10th consecutive bestseller. McGinnis’ artwork and Lindsey’s novels made for a powerhouse combination. The first two covers were pleasing enough, but starting with 1980’s Fires of Winter, McGinnis would upend the romance industry altogether. Before that, most clinch covers would show the heroine’s heaving bosoms while the hero remained fully clothed. Fires of Winter portrayed a fully naked hero, his legs bent and splayed open with the heroine lying between his thighs.
Christine Monson was best known for her infamous, shocking bodice-ripper Stormfire, which is legendary for the protagonists’ abusive revenge-based romance. Her second book Rangoon significantly turns down the crazy factor, but still retains the sensitive writing that made Stormfire so haunting and memorable.
West Meets East
It’s the late 19th century. Boston-bred Lysistrata travels all the way across the world with her father, a doctor, to Burma to start a new life. Nursing a broken heart from an ill-fated romance, Lysistrata tries valiantly to navigate her way through her new environment and its rigid class system. She meets Richard “Ram” Harley, a half-Burmese, half-British man she can’t help but find attractive. Harley is a pirate who seduces married women and callously threatens to ruin Lysi when she discovers one of his illicit amours.
With a name like Lysistrata that should give a hint about her independent, determined nature. At first, her feisty, “I’ll do it my way!” attitude tested my patience, however I warmed up to her as the book evolved. She’s not the typical foot-stomping, face-slapping heroine (at least not when it comes to the hero) who was so common in old-school bodice rippers.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Rangoon by Christine Monson”
Chance the Winds of Fortune A Disappointing Sequel
Chance the Winds of Fortune is the sequel to Laurie McBain‘s Moonstruck Madness, a romance about a gender-bending highwayman (girl) who falls for an arrogant, scarred Duke, notorious for his dueling skills. I LOVED Moonstruck Madness… The follow-ups to that wonderful book about their daughter, Rhea Claire, Chance the Winds of Fortune & Dark Before the Rising Sun, though…uggh.
Please forgive my bluntness. They’re too long, boring, and stink. Even McBain’s tepid first outing, Devil’s Desire, was better than these.
The two sequels books combine to over 1000 pages, telling the tale of a vanilla-bland daughter of the protagonists of a much more compelling story. Perhaps if McBain had combined both novels into one 700 page epic, I would have found more enjoyment out of the romance.
I acknowledge that not all readers can tolerate a cruel, rapacious hero in their romance; that’s why I gave a rare warning for this book. It’s fair to compare So Speaks the Heart (which should be subtitled: Medieval Norman Psychopath Falls for French Co-DependentandFellow Anger Management Classmate) to another of Johanna Lindsey‘s works, A Pirate’s Love, which had a similar captor/captive trope.
However, So Speaks the Heart is IMO better than the latter because: 1) This heroine is not a spineless jellyfish, fights back, and is strong in her own way; and 2) The hero is more than just a good-looking rapist who eventually falls in love with the woman he’s been tormenting. Ok, he’s as deep as a crack in the sidewalk, and, yeah, he’s still a bully and a douche. But his background is fleshed out a lot more; therefore, we understand why he’s such an arsehole. So I can sort of forgive this hunk of a warrior for his caveman behavior.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: So Speaks the Heart by Johanna Lindsey”
The heroine of Lisa Kleypas‘ Then Came You was, at the time of the book’s initial release, a unique female protagonist. Today, Romancelandia is replete with hoydenish, unmarried non-virgins who thumb their nose at society’s rules. Back in 1993, the wild Lily Lawson was most unusual for a historical romance heroine.
The novel begins with Lily aboard a fancy sea vessel for a daytime event that bores her senseless. She allows her hat to fly off into the waters of the Thames in an attempt to prod her male admirers into fetching it for her. The reserved Lord Alex Raiford looks on, disgusted by her antics.
Lily is on the fringes of polite society as she is estranged from her family for her shocking behavior. Many years ago, she was involved in a love affair with an Italian gentleman who turned out to be a cad. Now, she takes pleasure in shocking the ton. Upon hearing that her dear sister cannot marry the man she loves, “Lawless” Lily Lawson–as she is called–is determined to break her sister’s engagement with the stuffed-shirt Lord Raiford.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas”
Moonstruck Madness is old school in a clichéd, but still an oh-so-perfect way. For the very reasons some reviewers dislike this book, I adore it. Written in 1977, Moonstruck Madness was Laurie McBain’s second and, in my opinion, her best book.
The heroine, Lady Sabrina Verrick watches on as the Scots lose at the bloody Battle of Culloden Moor. The eldest daughter of a deceased Scotswoman, and an itinerant English Marquess, she and her family are without resources. As she’s responsible for her two younger siblings, she packs them off to England to their absent father’s run-down estate. Her father is more interested in his young Italian bride than being responsible for his children. It’s up to Sabrina to figure a way to support her family.
Once a Princess was not one of my favorites by Johanna Lindsey. I’d put this in the unremarkable category with books like Glorious Angel and Tender is the Storm. Not her worst, by any means, but not her best either.
Perhaps it had to do with the book’s aesthetics. I’ve always been a curmudgeon who doesn’t like change simply for the sake of change when everything is fine. So it was a shock that particular June of 1991 to find the Lindsey covers had been revamped. The font was more “romantic” with its loops and curves. The book was a step back and I preferred an open clinch. Avon updated Johanna Lindsey’s pretty photo on the inside back to a less flattering extreme close-up. And the most glaring insult of all, where in the heck was Fabio?
The plot about the search for a secret princess from a fictional country was all right. It was the main characters that made this one almost unbearable.
“There was a time Mark, when I would have given my soul for such cherishing… But I lost my soul for much, much less.”
THE GOLDEN SOVEREIGNS
SPOILER ALERT ⚠
4 1/2 stars
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The Golden Sovereigns is unlike any bodice ripper I’ve ever read. It’s very difficult to rate or categorize as it defies genre conventions. Jocelyn Carew is an absolutely skillful writer to make me enjoy a book where the heroine, Carmody, doesn’t meet her hero until page 270 of this 404-page epic. This is the kind of bodice ripper where the heroine’s journey is the real tale, however, the hero is not a mere prize she wins at the end; he’s a balm to heal her damaged soul.
Our story begins in late 17th century England. Carmody Petrie is in love with Waldo, who’s a no-good rogue. She engages in some heavy petting with him, but she knows better than to give in to his caresses despite her body’s urges:
Was this tepid, dull romance actually penned by Johanna Lindsey? The Heir was the first book that I noticed a weird change in her writing. Previously, if there was a Lindsey I didn’t like, it was due to a dull plot or excessive fighting between the leads. In this one, there is friendship for sure, but romantic isn’t what I’d call the relationship between Duncan and Sabrina.
The Plot: Friends to Lovers
Duncan, a Highland Scot, is the new heir to be an English Marquess. Everyone is eager to meet this new laird, er lord, especially the young ladies in town. Sabrina has no designs on Duncan; she’s plump, plain, orphaned, and not anyone’s ideal candidate for a wife. Certainly not for an heir to a Marquessate.
Then there’s the manipulative, beautiful Ophelia, who desperately wants Duncan’s title.
Slowly, painfully slowly, Sabrina and Duncan’s relationship turns physical, and one night they make love. But Ophelia’s scheming makes it appear as if Duncan has ruined her, so the red-haired idiot decides to do the honorable thing: marry Ophelia. Duncan is too young and he flounders in areas where a more mature man might have acted differently.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: The Heir by Johanna Lindsey”
If Joyce Verette’s Dawn of Desire had been marketed differently, I would have read this Ancient Egypt-set novel with an open mind. Then I would not have been as disinterested as I initially was. This is not a romance novel, but paranormal historical fiction. The cover was a clinch, so I figured it was a bodice-ripper, as it and the title implied. Published by Avon in the mid-1970s, I imagined it would feature some rollicking and tawdry love-making. Mostly, I found Dawn’s Desire passionless.
The first 200 pages are dull, with events happening that were quick and not fleshed out. Fortunately, the last half of the book was compelling enough for me to finish.
The story begins with the opening chapter where everybody lies in the heat, sleeping or waking up. Floating on her ship on the Nile, our heroine engages in the same activities for pages on end. It was like like that old meme “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat,” without the “rave,” just some “eat,” and a lot of “sleep.”
Rosemary Rogers, the “Grande Dame of Bodice Rippers,” wrote a few exceptional epics, but alas, Surrender to Love wasn’t one of them. It’s the least liked of her books I’ve read so far.
Surrender to Love begins in the hot, sultry nation of Ceylon, where the British heroine Alexa lives. Alexa is so spunky; she hates convention, and why-oh-why do rules have to be so strict for women, and why couldn’t she have been born a man?
Look, I like feminist heroines in my bodice rippers; a meek, wishy-washy heroine in one is no fun, but Alexa… It just never ended with her. Her attitude is very draining. But worse are the random italicized words, sometimes just a couple per page, sometimes dozens. It made me crazy.
I’ve not read too many gothic romances, but The Curse of Kenton is definitely one of the better ones I’ve come upon. My Avon 1972 first-edition features the typical Gothic cover, with a heroine (wrong hair color alert: she’s brunette, not blonde) screaming in terror as she runs away from a dark castle.
In this case, it’s Castle Kenton, a place shrouded in a dreadful mystery, as is always the case in these Gothic Romances.
Barbara Ashe is an orphan who works as a pharmacist for a country doctor. One day two dashing lords come racing through town, and the darkly handsome Duke of Kenton requires her services as he is gravely ill. Gilbert is a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and suffers from a secret, fatal malady which makes him bitter and dissolute.
Claiming the Courtesan, Anna Campbell, Avon, 2007, cover artist unknown
Rating: 2 out of 5.
*** Spoiler alert ***
Although I’m not a fan of the execution of Claiming the Courtesan, I thought it was refreshing what Anna Campbell tried to accomplish in her first book. I categorize this style of romance as a neo-bodice ripper, in that it attempts to capture the sexual power struggles contained in those older books, but it’s very modern in its presentation.
The Plot: Something Old is New Again
I appreciated what Campbell wanted to create in Kylemore: a loathsome, detestable anti-hero who cared only for his spoiled, noble self. Initially, he drew my attention; however, what was produced on paper was mostly a bratty, uncharismatic, psycho-stalker.
Stranger in My Arms was the first Lisa Kleypas romance I read and found it to be quite enchanting. Although I was already familiar with this kind of plot, the book came off very fresh, if a bit improable.
If you’ve seen the Richard Gere and Jodie Foster movie, Sommersby, you know the basic story. Here, this romantic tale takes place in Regency England, not the American South. Lady Lara, Countess of Hawksworth, is happy to be a widow. Lara had a horrible marriage to a man who was a monster to her. Hunter was cold, dispassionate, and adulterous.
Her husband Hunter was pronounced dead, having been presumed drowned at sea, the body never recovered. Now Lara is a widow, free to live as she desires.
Then the worst imaginable occurs when Hunter mysteriously reappears. Although he looks exactly like her dead husband, this man doesn’t always act like it. He doesn’t seem to know or remember certain things, which could be due to injury from his accident at sea. More likely, as Lara suspects, he’s an imposter.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas”
He is Morgan Scott, an English nobleman once held captive on the high seas by the brutal Spanish master and crew who murdered his family. Now he sails the seas as a British privateer, taking his revenge by attacking and plundering Spanish ships.
She is Luca Santiego, forced from the shelter of a convent and destined for a marriage arranged by her father. When her ship is attacked by pirates, she dons the garb of a nun and prays for mercy. Yet amid the flames of the sinking ship, the blue-eyed captain is seized by an unbidden passion for the beauty who kneels before him. Driven by a wicked desire to claim her as his spoils in an act of vengeance against the Spanish, he is torn by an overwhelming response to Luca’s sweet innocence, and aches with need for her. Yet he vows he will have her only when his tender kisses bring about her willing surrender to a magnificent, undeniable love.
From 7th to 9th grade, I was obsessed with romance novels, reading everything from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to category romances to thick, door-stopper historical epics. By the time Johanna Lindsey’s The Magic of You was published by Avon in June 1993, a rising Junior in high school. I was not as fanatical about reading for fun due to having a full course load at school, with no lunch period and little time for extra-extracurricular activities.
On the day I came upon that blue Elaine Duillo and Fabio step-back paperback at a Waldenbooks in the local mall, I squealed in delight to see it was a sequel to one of my favorite Lindsey books Gentle Rogue. I excitedly plunked down $5.99 plus tax (oh my, how expensive books had gotten; only 3 years earlier, a mass-market paperback could go as low as $4) and hurried home to read it.
His lips touched the back of her neck and moved along her stubborn shoulder. One hand stroked her breasts, and the other moved unerringly between her thighs; he found the most sensitive part of her and moved against her and in her until her half-formed protests turned into soft, stifled moans.
WICKED LOVING LIES
Rating: 5 out of 5.
If you enjoy old-school romance written in the 1970s…
If you a high threshold for triggering issues like overbearing alphas, forced seduction, forced marriage of convenience, adultery, rape, branding, highwaymen, harems, slavery, racism, kidnapping, murder, a mother having her child taken away from her, divorce, and remarriage…
If you enjoy plot points such as travelling to almost every continent in the world, an affair with Napoleon, being a criminal on the run, all this and much more, plus a hefty dose of second-wave feminism from a heroine who goes to hell and back several times over…
Tara’s Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson is yet another middling Viking romance that disappoints. Written in the late ’70s at the height of the bodice ripper era, you’d expect this Viking romance to rapacious and fun, but I found it rather ho-hum.
Having been betrayed by love in the past (the heroine is not a virgin, if it matters), the blonde, Irish beauty Tara enters into a convent. Despite what the book burb claims, Tara is actually not a novice, but a full-fledged nun who has taken all her religious vows. Yet for some mysterious reason, some of her fellow nuns ensure that Tara studies the pagan Nordic runes. Obviously, the elder sisters knew their convent would be overtaken by a horde of ravenous Vikings and runic readings would come in handy for protection later on.
I hated A Pirate’s Love for many reasons, some based on logic, most others based on pettiness. If you’re looking for a great review that does a better job explaining why this book blows, search elsewhere. I’m just going to go on a diatribe based on my ever-waning recollections of this “romance”:
The multiple rapes that the hero commits upon the heroine didn’t really faze me, although they did get redundant. After all, it’s a bodice ripper, and that’s what comes with the territory. If a hero raping the heroine offends you, best not read this genre. It was everything else, in this, Johanna Lindsey’s second book, that I despised.
I hated Bettina and her knee-length hair that’s easily hidden under a hat! (Apologies to Johanna who actually had knee-length hair. She could easily pass for one of her heroines.)
I hated how she cried over her dresses and how ill-tempered she was and hearing about her flashing eyes that were blue one minute, then green another. Not blue-green eyes, mind you, that look different depending on the light or what colors they reflect. Her eyes just change color randomly with her emotions.... Read more “Historical Romance Review: A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey”