MILD SPOILERS 😉
3 1/2 Stars
Reviewed by Introvert Reader
The Book and the Cover
Paradise and More by Shirl Henke is memorable to me for having one of the most eye-catching covers in romance. A dazzling beauty by Pino Daeni, it features a fully naked couple in a glorious clinch, their nudity covered by some strategically placed flowers and the book’s title. Lamentably, I have a later reissue, where their nakedness is hidden behind a respectable-looking stepback cover. Why would anyone want to hide that stunning beauty?
The Old World
A swashbuckling historical, Paradise and More is the first book in the House of Torres duo. The romance takes place in late 1400s Spain. This is a seminal time in history, where Columbus’ exploration into the “New World” began after the expulsion of Jews from Spain. The Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon had reconquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims who had entered Hispania 700 years prior.
Lady Magdalena Luisa Valdes–for some unfathomable reason–falls madly in love at first sight with Aaron “Diego” Torres, the son of a wealthy converso family (a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism). Aaron is arrogant and contemptuous of Magdalena, a wonderful character with the kind of fortitude that makes a heroine legendary. Beautiful and kind-hearted, Magdalena has to navigate court intrigues to avoid the eyes of the Reyes Católicos. This is to say, the King’s wandering eyes and the Queen’s jealous ones.
To flee from prejudice and persecution, Aaron decides to travel the uncharted seas with Columbus, as his second-in-command, to search for new lands. Meanwhile, Magdalena befriends Aaron’s family, becoming like a second daughter to them.
After a successful conquest, Aaron returns to find Magdalena living in his parents’ household. He takes advantage of her crush on him and forces himself upon her. After ravishing her, he leaves to return to the newfound colonies. The Torres family demands honor and avow their wayward son must marry their darling Magdalena.
Destiny has tragedy in store for the House of Torres, as they are accused of heresy by the Inquisition and then executed.
The New World
Alone in the world, Magdalena has but one mission in her life: to be with the man she loves. She follows Aaron across the ocean to Columbus’ settlement in Hispaniola. Despite his contemptible behavior towards her, Magdalena still wants to marry Aaron.
However, when Magdalena arrives, she finds Aaron already has a mistress, the Native Princess, Aliyah. What’s more, Aliyah is pregnant with Aaron’s child.
As a lone European woman in Hispaniola, Magdalena draws much attention from men, including the brothers of Columbus. Aaron cannot deny the allure she holds. And though he will never be forced to do anything against his will, Aaron knows his family’s final wishes were for him to marry Magdalena.
The tropical backdrop makes an appropriate setting for their heated attraction. Their passion for each other grows to a climax. After they marry, Aaron and Magdalena find that their adventures together are just beginning. Aaron’s spurned mistress connives with the villains to destroy him in every way she can. Aaron and Magdalena must work together to overcome even more obstacles.
Final Analysis of Paradise and More
I loved that Paradise and More took us to late 15th century Spain, an era I can’t get enough of. Columbus’ expedition into the Americas was an unusual backdrop for a romance. Shirl Henke did a great job capturing the era, even though her protagonists were sometimes a bit too modern in their thinking.
This epic, late-era bodice ripper is a tumultuous read that features a loveable, resilient heroine, but the hero is a bit of a jerk and not in a good way. Although I must say, the love scenes were…oh my! ¡Muy caliente!
The first half of this book was so good and filled with action: bloody sword fights, the hero’s entire family being killed, forced seduction, and the spanning of years & continents. Somehow, though, when Magdalena got to Hispanola, the pace slowed down a bit. Aaron was a douche canoe. If not for the machinations of the scorned other-woman, Aliyah, the last half would have dragged needlessly.
All in all, I found Paradise and More to be a mostly diverting historical romance that took both history and romance seriously. This had a great cover, likable heroine, a unique setting, but it needed a to-die-for hero to elevate it to a more spectacular level. 3.63 stars
For those curious to continue the story, the love lives of Aaron’s two sons are told in the sequel, Return to Paradise.