Tag Archives: English Civil war

Historical Romance Review: Halfway to Paradise by Emily Bradshaw

Halfway to Paradise, Emily Bradshaw, Dell, 1993, Elaine Duillo cover art

SPOILER FREE REVIEW 🙂

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Brooklyn-born artist Elaine Duillo, who, in her long and storied career, earned the well-deserved moniker of “The Queen of Romance Cover Art,” did it to me again! How many books have I purchased simply because I was dazzled by the hypnotic painted covers, only to find disappointment within the pages of those supposedly lurid novels?

The best thing about Emily Bradshaw’s Halfway to Paradise is its stunning jacket, which is an excellent representation of Duillo’s flair for making even the most mundane tale seem enticing. This one is done primarily in purple hues, with the heroine’s long blonde locks that flow down to her knees providing a bright complement to the hero’s dark-violet doublet.

Back in the day, an Elaine Duillo cover guaranteed you were reading a juicy bodice ripper. That was not the case with this book.

Why have I spent so much time in this review discussing Duillo’s talent rather than the content of this Halfway to Paradise? Because, lamentably, the book put me halfway to sleep.

The Plot

It took me six weeks to finish this dull story about a widowed Puritan lady who adopts an imprisoned Cavalier’s son. The English Civil War and Restoration eras generally hold great appeal for me, but this lifeless romance just didn’t cut it.

The Earl of Chester, Matthew Hawkins, as an enemy of Cromwell, has had everything taken from him, including his liberty. He escapes prison to become an underworld criminal called, predictably, the Hawk. Determined to find his son, Hawk plots vengeance upon the woman who stole him. Instead of revenge, he finds love with Mrs. Jane Alexander, who, like many widowed heroines in Romancelandia, was unhappy in her first marriage.

Eventually, Jane, Matthew, and their son leave England for the safety of Holland, where they do nothing but pine for home and write letters, and then it’s back to England for a happy ending. This was a lackluster read with minimal conflict in the plot and little chemistry between protagonists.

Final Analysis of Halfway to Paradise

I read this one back when I was determined to complete every book I started. It was like water torture, every page a painful drip, drip, drip. According to my stats, I began this book in early November 2010 and finished it on New Year’s Eve, just in time to add it to my annual tally of read-books.

Ten years later, I’m much wiser when it comes to reading habits. If I get into a slump, I know it’s time to reread old favorites or turn to different genres to get my mojo back. And most importantly, I understand that it’s okay to categorize a book as “did-not-finish.” I used to feel that DNFing a book was a wasteful extravagance, like not finishing a meal that I’d paid for (I got that attitude from growing up poor. If we spent money on anything, the item had to be put to use, no excuses.) What’s truly wasteful is spending time on a book that brings no pleasure, no matter how many pages you’ve read so far, or how costly the book was, or how great everyone else thinks it is.

For me, Halfway to Paradise isn’t the worst book ever, so it’s worth more than a 1-star rating. As I said, that cover is a thing of beauty, so I’ll give this 2 stars for that superficial reason alone.

thistoweringpassion

Historical Romance Review: This Towering Passion by Valerie Sherwood

historical romance review
This Towering Passion by Valerie Sherwood
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1978
Illustrator: Jim Dietz
Book Series: Lenore and Geoffrey #1
Published by: Warner Books
Genres: Cavalier Era Romance, Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 509
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: This Towering Passion by Valerie Sherwood

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Lovely red-gold-haired, violet-eyed Lenore is the female protagonist of Valerie Sherwood’s This Towering Passion and the primary heroine of its sequel, Her Shining Splendor, which tells the tale of both Lenore and her daughter, Lorena, from the English Civil War to the Restoration eras.

Lenore’s beauty is of little use to her because while she can get a man, she has trouble keeping him.

The Plot

Part One

First, in This Towering Passion–as is standard in a Sherwood novel–the heroine gets together with her first lover, who’s a typical hunky block of wood. Lenore becomes infatuated with the hottest guy in town, a big blond stud who’s a charismatic black hole.

Although he’s a mite too friendly with other ladies, he and Lenore get handfasted.

But, alas, he leaves Lenore behind, looking for adventure by fighting against the English army. Lenore, who has no one else in the world, won’t be left all alone. She seeks him out, only to find he’s killed in action.

Meanwhile, the dashing Cavalier, Geoffrey Wyndham, is on the run himself after losses in battle.

He and Lenore meet on the road. Within hours of finding Lenore’s “husband’s” dead body and with Roundhead troops hunting them down, Geoffrey says: “What the hell, life’s too short!” He takes what he wants from Lenore.

And oh, does she like it! He’s so much better than old what’s-his-name ever was!

Geoffrey and Lenore move to Oxford, where they live as husband and wife under the last name Daunt, although they are unmarried.

Then the anvils start dropping: Lenore is pregnant, but Geoffrey is a married man! So their baby is doomed to illegitimacy.

After a semi-sweet idyll, reality intrudes. Blond baby Lorena doesn’t look a thing like Geoffrey… Oops!

There’s no Maury Povich in the 17th century to help a brother out. Hasn’t anyone ever told these folks that just like baby birds, many human children can have fair (or even dark hair) that changes color over time? Well, Geoffrey’s not going to stick around long enough to find out. Our hero is splitsville.

Part Two

Lenore gives Lorena to her “husband’s” sister to raise while she searches for a better life in London.

Lenore takes to the stage only to find she is no superstar. Not when Nell Gwynn is her competition. Nell takes advantage of Charity’s inability to perform one night and upstages her completely, drawing the eye of King Charles.

If you thought it would be Lenore who’d end up as the King’s mistress, history shows you’d be wrong. An aspect of Valerie Sherwood’s books that I enjoyed is even though her heroines would be stunning, there could always be another woman–usually an adversary–who was just as lovely or more so.

A sobering reminder that no matter how great a person may be, there’s someone else who can outshine them. I appreciate that Lenore is not the “bestest ever.” She is simply an all-too-human character with depth and failings.

Despite having been abandoned, Lenore is faithful to Geoffrey’s memory and is known as “Mistress Chastity” and the “Iron Virgin.” So no more sex romps here, although there were some fun catfights with Nell Gwynn and Lady Castlemaine.

The conclusion of the book reunites the lovers. However, there are plenty of loose ends: Geoffrey’s calculating wife; what will happen to Lenore’s child; and what happens to Christopher, a Cavalier gentleman who is an ardent admirer of Lenore.

Final Analysis of This Towering Passion

One flaw of This Towering Passion is there was not enough going on with Geoffrey! He’s missing in action for the latter half of the book as Lenore experiences her own adventures. I wanted to see more of him, for, unlike Lenore’s first love, he was a debonair leading man who’s hard to forget.

I had a good time reading this one. But at its main draw–Geoffrey–was out of the picture for a substantial period of time, it was far from flawless. That’s always a common complaint I have with Sherwood: I want more of the hero and less filler.

Unfortunately, 500-plus pages of old-time tiny font weren’t enough for the long-winded Sherwood to tell all of Geoffrey and Lenore’s story. So it’s on to that 600-page sequel to find out what happens…

(Someday)

4 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
4
Writing
4
Chemistry
3.5
Fun Factor
4
Cover
3.5
Overall: 3.8

They called her “Angel” when she rode bareback into the midst of battle to find her lover.

They called her “Mistress Daunt” when she lived with Geoffrey in Oxford, though she wore no ring on her finger.

Wherever she traveled men called her Beauty. Her name was Lenore – and she answered only to “Love.”

This Towering Passion by Valerie Sherwood
beloved enemy jane feather

Historical Romance Review: Beloved Enemy by Jane Feather

Synopsis:

DEFIANT BEAUTY
Ginny Courtney faced the tall intruder with cool mockery in her wide gray eyes and prayed he would not sense her fear. She could not let this Roundhead colonel cast her out of her home! For the sake of the royalist fugitives hidden on the estate, she had to remain …even f it meant being at the mercy of the man who stood so arrogantly before her. She wanted to hate him, but as she watched his handsome face soften with compassion and felt his green-brown eyes shower her with unexpected warmth, her defenses began to crumble, leaving her heart as vulnerable as her trembling body.

BOLD CONQUEROR
Alex Marshall was not a man who took defiance lightly, but somehow the impertinent chestnut-haired beauty intrigued him. He had the power to destroy everything the girl held dear, yet she taunted him with her glances, challenged him with her words, showed her willfulness with every graceful move of her slender frame. A
lex couldn’t help but wonder if she would respond to his kisses with that same spirit and fire, and he swore he’d have his answer before too many nights had passed. He would take her in his arms and caress her silken curves until she begged for the tender touch of her BELOVED ENEMY. 

BELOVED ENEMY by JANE FEATHER

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

When my cat destroyed the cover of my edition of Jane Feather’s Beloved Enemy, chewing it to shreds, I lamented the loss. It was a pretty cover, although I cared nothing for the book. Beloved Enemy begins with an intriguing premise, then about 20 pages in, the annoying “insta-luv” trope rears its head. Everything goes downhill from there.

I’ve read Jane Feather’s books before. They’re the kind one loves or hates, and usually, I’ve enjoyed them. One positive about this was that it was originally published as a Zebra Heartfire in 1987, and compared to other Zebras, the writing is like Tolstoy.

The Plot

Ginny Courtney is a war widow. Her older brother is presumed dead, and her family remains fiercely loyal to the crown. At the same time, Alex Marshall is a Colonel in Cromwell’s Army. He takes command of her family home as his army looks for fugitives.

The hero is…not charismatic. All he does is shout and yell at Ginny. He gives Ginny one of the worst pet names I’ve heard a hero say to his heroine. Alex calls her his beloved “chicken.” No, not his “henny” or something cute like “chickadee” or even “pigeon.” If Ginny ever reciprocated in kind by calling him her “cock,” Feather never let us readers know, more’s the pity.

The two fall for each other instantly, although why I don’t know. He has zero charm, and she never trusts him and hides various secrets. Even though Alex is her enemy and her “captor,” Ginny chooses to be Alex’s personal camp follower. I don’t know how authentic it was for a supposed Puritan Colonel to have his high-connected Loyalist lover follow him from camp to camp. Then again, how important is historical accuracy in these books?

Beloved Enemy, 2013 Zebra Re-issue

Ginny even gets to talk to King Charles and acts as his spy, passing on information to other agents.

Alex and Ginny move from location to location. They bivouac and decamp from town to town as occupying an occupying army would do. That’s about it for the first half. Unfortunately, Beloved Enemy takes about three hundred pages for any action to start. When it does, it’s a bit wild, from accusations of witchcraft, death of an interesting secondary character, a return from the dead, and more death.

Final Analysis of Beloved Enemy

If it takes more than half the book for a story to get going, it’s too late for me to care. I don’t mind a slow burn build-up, but this book was one half of nothing happening, then for the other half, everything was tossed into the plot but the kitchen sink. As a result, the pacing was uneven, the book took an excruciating 500 pages to tell its story when it should have been cut down to a tight 350.

Beloved Enemy blew like a Category 4 Hurricane. It could have been worse, yet it wasn’t a fun time.

My disappointment was such a shame as I love English Civil War and Restoration Era romances filled with priggish Roundheads & debauched Cavaliers.

All through the dull parts, I kept thinking, “Why am I reading this boring book?” Sure it ticked boxes of categories I love, such as: an illicit romance among enemies; a redheaded, stoic military hero; and a pretty Zebra cover by Ray Kursar. However, it was so tedious. Still, I finished it.

As said, boring it may have been, for what it was, it was written by Jane Feather, an author with some literary skill talent. For that, I’ll give it a two-star rating. I am doubtful, though, that I’d have been so generous if I’d read the reissue or Kindle version and not have been so dazzled by the Kursar cover.

So take this review with a grain of salt.

2 Stars

Born to Love

Historical Romance Review: Born to Love by Valerie Sherwood

historical romance review
Born to Love by Valerie Sherwood
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1984
Illustrator: Elaine Duillo
Published by: Warner Books
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 576
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Born to Love by Valerie Sherwood

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

Valerie Sherwood‘s Cavalier & Colonial Era romance Born to Love takes us to England and the American colonies as four women seek love.

Valerie Sherwood, Cat Fancier & Romance Novelist

Sherwood would always lovingly dedicate her books to the special cats in her life. In Born to Love, it was Mopsy and Chow. She was slightly cat crazy.

So in honor of Ms. Sherwood–and from one crazy cat lady to another–I would like to dedicate my review of Born to Love to one of my cats.

To Bear,

You sweet, gentle soul, a little black-furred, black-nosed, green-eyed wonder.

Bear, you came into my life at 19, when your mother, a feral queen, bore her kittens in the warehouse of the office where I worked. I took you home at four weeks old and because you had not been weaned, I had to feed you milk and mush. Every night before I’d fall asleep, you’d suck at my earlobe as you would have at your mother’s teat.

Even when you grew, you still held on to this adorable kittenish trait.

Sadly Bear, you were in my life for just over a year. I went back to college and my landlady would not allow cats so you stayed home with my mother and siblings. Perhaps life there without me was not what you desired, because you ran away.

I never saw you again and I cried many tears of loss. But I have never forgotten you.

To you Bear, this review is dedicated.

The Set Up: A Family Saga

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on to the book.

Born to Love is actually four stories of several generations of women with the same name, Dorinda, and their (mis)adventures in love. As repeated over (and over), the premise of the tale is: “It takes one generation to make it, one to lose it, one to talk about it, and one to make it again.”

The First Three Dorindas

The book opens up with the most exciting story of the group. Angel-faced, golden-haired Dorinda, a chambermaid, escapes the Great London fire. She valiantly saves Grantland Meredith from street toughs. Then the two marry each other. The simple Dorinda is shocked when she learns he is an Earl.

Unfortunately for sweet Dorinda, she is not his true love. That would be Polly, an amoral, evil black-haired she-devil of a woman. Polly is the best character in the book, relentlessly calculating and conniving, willing to do anything to have her man. It’s no surprise when this tale ends in tragedy.

Their daughter Rinda’s tale is the second part. Rinda is a wealthy, hereditary Countess. That struck me as odd, as I don’t think that English titles were passed on through the female line back then, but what do I know? Rinda falls in love with Rory, the son of her mother’s rival.

This second Dorinda risks everything to save her man at the Monmouth Rebellion. Sherwood kept repeating how brave, how bold, how valiant Rinda was to ride into battle and save Rory. It would have been nice to see it happen, not hear about it again and again. This story is kind of a letdown.

Of the third Dorinda, we hear about only in a summarized tale told to the fourth Dorinda.

It takes a generation to make a it, one to lose it, one to talk about it, and one to make it again.

The Main Story

The last half of the book deals with Dorinda IV, an indentured servant in Virginia. I liked this Dorinda and her cat, Lady Soft-Paws. Her story, while enjoyable, was uneven.

After her time as an indentured servant is over, Dorinda seeks adventure. She pretends to be a long-lost heiress to a plantation.

Two handsome men vie for her attention, although it’s obvious who the hero is. He is Tarn Jenner a man shrouded in mystery. He hides a secret identity, but we don’t know this until the end.

The characters play deceitful games, but this delightful plot point is squandered as Dorinda spends most of her time mooning over the villain.

Tarn Jenner, who is really a witty character, isn’t seen enough to be fully appreciated. The parts we do see are terrific but fleeting.

The back of the book claims:

“She was the Beauty… He was the Blade-dark debonair, the most dangerous highwayman to rove the colonial roads.”

And yet the highwayman portion is a tiny part of the story and only revealed in brief towards the end!

Final Analysis of Born to Love

The conclusion of Born to Love is wrapped up in a neat package. Although it’s left up to the imagination what the fate of the fifth Dorinda will be.

Sometimes I hate rating a book 4-stars, particularly when with just more care to detail and pacing, it could have been a 5-star read. Born to Love was a book that reached great highs and very middling lows.

Although I love her voice, this is a problem I’ve run into when reading Valerie Sherwood’s romances. Plus, she makes a great hero and sometimes doesn’t do much with him.

If I’m focusing too much on the negatives of this family saga it’s because this one could have been great, a book I loved. As it is, I just liked it very much.

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
3.5
Writing
4
Chemistry
3
Fun Factor
4.5
Cover
4
Overall: 3.8

Synopsis

She was The Beauty — reckless Dorinda Meredith, heiress to the wind!

He was The Blade — dark, debonair, most dangerous of highwaymen to rove the colonial highroads.

A world of intrigue and danger stood between them, but they were star-crossed lovers — born to meet, born to clash, and Born to Love

Born to Love by Valerie Sherwood
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