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the judas kiss will davies

Category Romance Review: The Judas Kiss by Sally Wentworth

The Judas Kiss by Sally Wentworth is a legendary Harlequin Presents. It’s a twisted tale of revenge, deceit, lies, and passion sure to thrill readers.

category romance
The Judas Kiss by Sally Wentworth
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1981
Illustrator: Will Davies
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Presents #480
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Category Romance Review: The Judas Kiss by Sally Wentworth

TOTAL SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Sally Wentworth’s The Judas Kiss has to rank in my top ten Harlequin Presents because it’s just so epic on so many levels. Nothing is as exhilarating and satisfying as a cray-cray-crazy old-school romance that fires on all cylinders and is filled with riveting twists and turns, deception and revenge. This has a heroine with a vicious will of steel and a hero who turns from kind to cruel to kind–in the end.

At 188 pages, The Judas Kiss is a little book that packs a wallop. It spans over four years and takes the heroine from a sweet, happy-go-lucky girl deeply in love to a hardened ex-criminal who gets plastic surgery to seek vengeance on the man who wronged her—the very man she once loved.

It’s like a Spanish telenovela, La Dama de Rosas, starring Jeanette Rodriquez and Carlos Mata! Boy, that takes me back!

la dama de rosas
La Dama de Rosas, RCTV Internacional

The Plot

Lynette and Beric

Lynette Maxwell is a young British stewardess who meets and falls in love with Beric Dane, a handsome pilot with no baggage. At only 19, Lyn is gaga for Beric, who is young for a hero of this Harley era–he’s only 29.

She’s a virgin and wants to take their relationship to the next level. Beric demurs, claiming to respect and love her too much to take her so casually. Lyn’s the kind of girl a man waits to marry before bedding her, and Lyn, in her haze of love, agrees.

On a return flight to the UK, she gets hauled in for questioning because a container of white powder was found in her bag inside her teddy bear. She is imprisoned, desperately afraid, and wonders how this could have happened.

She accuses Beric of planting the drugs on her after she realizes he was the one person who had access to her purse since they deplaned.

In response, Beric informs the police that she is making up stories to implicate him and abandons her. Lyn is convicted of the crime and goes to prison for three years. Lyn’s parents want nothing to do with her, and her great-aunt is the only person on the outside to support her.

Lynette’s Revenge, Part One

Prison turns Lyn from a sweet, trusting person to a woman embittered by deceit who lives only for vengeance. Fortunately, prison is just the place to meet hardened criminals who know a thing or two about revenge.

When Lyn gets out of the slammer, her face is reconstructed via the finest plastic surgery. She changes her hairline, chin, and nose, and her eyes are pulled further apart. Then she dyes her hair blonde. Viola! Lyn is now Nettie Lewis.

She tracks down Beric in Singapore and gets a job there teaching kids. She stays at the hotel where Beric and his flight crew stay for layovers and then starts to cozy up to some of the stewardesses, who introduce her to Beric. Beric is intrigued by her and pursues her with vigor. She rejects his advances, which spurs his further. He wants “Nettie” with a furious passion.

judas kiss mills and boon
The Judas Kiss, Mills & Boon

Lynette’s Revenge, Part Two

Lyn’s plans change when she realizes how deeply he falls for her. She decides that instead of planting drugs on him–which could potentially put her in danger– it would be better to make him fall in love with her and destroy him in another way.

She repeatedly shoots him down until she worries she may have overplayed her hand. But Beric comes back with a wedding proposal. Unlike before, when Beric wanted to wait until marriage to have sex with Lyn, now Beric wants to smash hard with Nettie. But our cool girl Lyn plays him like Georgia Johhny bowed his fiddle in a contest against the Devil.

They get married surrounded by his warm family, who are delighted that, at last, Beric has found happiness.

Lyn’s complicated plan began before the wedding when she flew out to their honeymoon destination with a tour group to set the trap. Then she took a flight back to get married.

On their honeymoon, Lyn leaves some clues making it seem she’s come to a mysterious, bloody end. She plants a bracelet in the hotel and messes up their room to look like it has been ransacked. Then she slips back with her previous tour group and wears a brunette wig. She watches from the fringes as Beric’s world crumbles around him.

Finally, she hightails it back to England to resume her life as Lyn. She even lets her natural hair color grow out.

Beric’s Revenge

Many months later, Lyn is now a slight attendant again. Although she has to fly regularly, Lyn is always careful not to book with Beric’s airline.

However, she gets recognized by one of his crew and comes face to face with Beric again. Beric pretends he doesn’t recognize her, but we know he does.

Now, it’s his turn for payback. He stalks her and pretty much kidnaps her when he gets her alone in a cottage. The gig is up! This is not the kind and gentle Beric she had known nor the eager fiance dazzled by new love.

This Beric is enraged, betrayed, and wants answers. And he wants that honeymoon night she never gave him.

Lyn is truly frightened–at first. But in the end, defiance reigns in her heart. Beric is no victim but the evildoer who put her in prison.

Beric realizes Lyn is genuinely innocent and sincerely believes he set her up. It was her outrage at this injustice that propelled her to seek revenge. His love for her makes him see the errors of his ways, and Beric vows to find who set her up.

With a little bit of sleuthing, they soon discover the true culprit. They find that she is living in her own personal hell as life has not gone well.

Lyn decides the guilty party has been punished already by Karma. She has had her fill of revenge and is not pleased with herself, knowing how she hurt Beric in her hunt for his blood.

But Beric–who is really a wonderful hero–forgives her. This enables Lyn to let the past anger and hurt fade away.

She and Beric turn to one another, and their Harley hell becomes heaven.

Final Analysis of The Judas Kiss

The Judas Kiss is freaking fantastic! This book deserves to be remembered in the annals of Romancelandia’s hall of fame. It has such an audacious plot, with a heroine who is cruel and single-minded in her pursuit of vengeance,

Beric is fantastic. He’s a really decent guy who’s shattered by Lyn’s actions. In his hurt, he is also cruel, seeking retaliation for Lyn’s treachery. But ultimately, his decency compels him to go in a different direction.

Oh, this was such fun! What a shame The Judas Kiss is not available in e-book format. If Dorren Hornsblow’s (Sally Wentworth’s real name) family controls the rights to this, hopefully, they’ll correct that error one day.

If you’ve never read this, what whacktastic excitement you’ve missed out on! Go on, search your favorite UBS, and get this one. Even if you hate it, The Judas Kiss can’t fail to thrill!

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
5
Writing
5
Chemistry
5
Fun Factor
5
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.9

Synopsis

The man she’d loved had ruined her life

“I didn’t do it!” Lyn had protested, horrified, when accused of drug smuggling. But no one–customs officials or jury–had believed her. And then she discovered that her pilot boyfriend, Beric, had deliberately set her up! Her blind, trusting love rapidly turned to hate.

After three years in prison, she was determined to be revenged on Beric. So she worked out a complicated plan to get back into his life without his knowing who she was. And it worked.

But not quite in the way that Lyn had intended…

The Judas Kiss by Sally Wentworth
the spanish groom

Category Romance Review: The Spanish Groom by Lynne Graham

The Spanish Groom by Lynne Graham has all the elements of a sensational Harlequin, with a Cinderella-like heroine and a wealthy, alpha-male businessman hero who’s really a big softie.

category romance
The Spanish Groom by Lynne Graham
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1999
Illustrator: Unknown
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Presents #2037
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 185
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Category Romance Review: The Spanish Groom by Lynne Graham

TOTAL SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

The Spanish Groom is a 1999 Harlequin Presents by Lynne Graham that closes out the decade/century/millennium with a new kind of hero. The plot takes the common marriage of convenience trope and puts a sweet spin on it with two great main characters who have you rooting for them from the moment they meet-cute.

The Hero

At first, César Valverde seems like the typical cold, enigmatic, impossibly sexy, jet-setting, wealthy playboy that has long reigned supreme in HPlandia. In reality, he’s what the kids call a “cinnamon roll” hero, whose cold exterior masks a sweet and mushy center. Any woman would be delighted to have this super-supportive hunk by her side because he’s her greatest champion.

César is secretly besotted with Dixie from the time he spots her getting a midnight snack in her t-shirt and undies and realizes she’s not fat at all, as her clothes make her look that way. No, she’s thicc and juicy, like one of his teenage fantasies come to life. Daisy has no clue about this, going on about her feelings for “what’s his name” (the other men in Graham’s books are never memorable, especially when compared to Mr. Sex-on-Legs hero).

The Heroine

Dixie Robinson is one of the best heroines to emerge from Lynne Graham’s stable of eccentric, “secretly-beautiful-but-unaware” orphan protagonists. They typically pine after one guy (who’s not fit to shine her shoes) only to meet a 6′ 2″ (at minimum) Italian/Greek/Spanish hundred-millionaire or billionaire who falls madly for her.

After their first night in the sack, the hero thinks his heroine is the best sex ever (even if she’s an inexperienced, purely reactive lover who lets the hero do all the work)!

Daisy is clumsy and voluptuous (but since she wears unflattering clothes, people presume she’s fat). She’s a sweet Pollyanna who loves animals, the elderly, and babies. The traits that make her different than the typical Lynne Graham heroine are she’s not bafflingly stupid or gullible, she’s a rare brunette (90% of Graham’s leading ladies are blonde or red-haired), and she has a bigger backbone than most.

The Plot

Dixie and César: Two Dissimilar Peas in a Pod

César and Dixie are polar opposites. César is a successful merchant banker businessman with no time for frivolities. Dixie is a free-spirited 20-year-old who has been taking care of her dying stepmother for several years. Thus, she lacks business savvy as she had no formal schooling after age 16.

Dixie came to the rescue of César’s elderly godfather, Jasper, when teenage hooligans roughed him up. As a result, the old man takes a liking to the effervescent Dixie. He convinces César to give her a job at his bank.

Dixie reveals to Jasper that she’s massively in debt. Her globe-trotting, shopaholic stepsister–a model–left Dixie holding the bag as they were both named on the loans. César soon offers her a temporary engagement to please Jasper, who is in declining health.

Jasper is delighted to see his two favorite people together. César and Dixie’s fake engagement turns into a marriage of convenience to make Jasper happy.

Dixie’s stepsister, Petra, is the epitome of a scheming HP “other-woman-who makes trouble.” She abandoned Dixie to care for her ailing mother alone. Petra and her mother were both tall and slender, which made Dixie insecure about her massive curves. So Dixie always dresses in oversized clothing to hide her zaftig figure.

the spanish groom by lynne graham manga

A Marriage of Inconvenience

César declares that Dixie needs a makeover, as he is a lofty businessman, and any wife needs to match his sterling image.

But after that (previously mentioned) glimpse of Dixe in her revealing night clothes, he is fascinated by her… attributes. Dixie’s bright and gentle nature, which differs from César’s personality, is intimidating. He struggles to hide his feelings with little success.

They draw closer, and passion has its day—or night—although they try to pretend it never happened. But César can’t help but fall in love with Dixie, craving her affection and attention.

As the story progresses, Dixie falls in love with César—naturally. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she’s elated yet feels anguish because she thinks he doesn’t love her.

And Cesar is gaga for Dixie but thinks she’s in love with her old flame, whom she mentions much too often, to César’s displeasure.

When Dixie’s sister Petra arrives from a trip to the Continent, she looks at César and tries to do her “evil-other-woman” best to separate the couple. However, in a refreshing change of pace, our hero César will have none of it, tossing her out on her skinny rear.

Adding to the mix are Dixie’s pets, a fierce dog named Spike, who is terrified of men, and a goldfish she calls César in honor of our hero.

Will these silly kids ever try communication and finally reveal their secret love for one another? It’s a Harlequin, so what do you think? 😘

My Opinion

César has a devasting appeal as a hero, partly because he’s so grumpy around Dixie. At first, he’s a bit cold to her, not really into the whole marriage of convenience thing.

Then after one night of glorious, unforgettable passion, he all but wears his heart on his sleeve as he pines after his wife. It’s evident to the reader that he is head-over-heels gaga for her. This makes him very different from the usual stoic Harlequin Presents heroes who only slowly reveal their true feelings (usually near the last quarter of the book–if that).

César also scowls and grumbles whenever Daisy mentions the other guy, and this insecurity makes him very lovable.

César Valverde is a fascinating and devilishly handsome hero, certainly a favorite. His fascination with Dixie’s gentle and bright nature and hidden beauty is so cute, and it is clear how he completely and madly fell in love with her. The journey of their love story was beautiful, and I found myself swooning at how wonderful César was.

Dixie is a charming and funny heroine who shines throughout the book. She is a good-hearted person who strives to think the best of everyone she meets. Her naiveté and ignorance of César’s feelings made her adorable, and I could relate to her clumsiness.

I loved The Spanish Groom. Lynne Graham managed to take the usual HP stereotypes and turn them into something fresh and remarkable.

Heat Level

While passionate sex is a factor in Dixie and César’s relationship, the scenes don’t quite reach the super sensual levels of Graham’s later books or Miranda Lee’s sizzling reads. I’d label this one as warm.

As César might say “Hace calor.” Or, more likely: “Fa caldo.”

lynne graham the spanish groom very warm heat level

Any Gripes?

I have a minor quibble with the title, The Spanish Groom. The More-Italian-Than-Spanish Groom would have been more fitting. César was raised by his Italian mother and spoke Italian whenever he got emotional. But I don’t think Lynne Graham had anything to do with the naming of the book. Harlequin/Mills & Boon’s editors usually come up with these brilliant titles.

Final Analysis of The Spanish Groom

The Spanish Groom is a must-read for any fan of the genre. It is hands down one of the best HP outings and sets a high standard for what an HP could be in the modern era.

Graham created a romance that is both funny and entertaining, and the chemistry between César and Dixie is undeniable. The book shows that love knows no bounds, making it an incredibly satisfying read.

Please don’t take it from me. If you go to Goodreads and check the Harlequin forums and best-of lists, The Spanish Groom is consistently at or near the top rankings. Among HP fans, this book is considered a standout in the line. The book’s well-written characters, unique twist on the traditional Harlequin formula, and touching love story can’t fail to delight readers.

Lynne Graham was at a high point in her career when she wrote The Spanish Groom, where she could do no wrong. She managed to turn classic tropes into something fresh, unique, and delightfully unforgettable.

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
5
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
5
Fun Factor
5
Cover
3.5
Overall: 4.7

(Cover points don’t count for this one.)


Synopsis

It started with a ring…

César Valverde was the man with everything. But his beloved godfather was in poor health, and César knew that it would please Jasper if he got married, preferably to Dixie Robinson… Well, perhaps a temporary engagement would be enough to make Jasper happy.

And ended in marriage…

Beneath Dixie’s baggy sweaters César discovered a beautiful, sensual woman. Within a week his bachelor days were over; Dixie had become his wife for real, and, unbeknown to him, the mother of his child!

The Spanish Groom by Lynne Graham
stranger in my arms george jones

Historical Romance Review: Stranger in My Arms by Louisa Rawlings

historical romance review
Stranger In My Arms by Louisa Rawlings
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1991
Illustrator: George H. Jones
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Historical #90
Book Series: Moncalvo Brothers #1
Published by: Harlequin
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 300
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Stranger in My Arms by Louisa Rawlings

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

There are older romances I enjoy out of pure nostalgia. I know they’re not perfect. Nevertheless, I like them. Stranger in My Arms by Louisa Rawlings is one of the rare flawless gems that gets better with every reread.

This romance set in France first caught my attention over thirty years ago. I love it as much today as I did back then.

Stranger In My Arms even earned the treasured seal of approval from Kathe Robin, the legendary book reviewer and editor of the now defunct Romantic Times Magazine.

Stranger in My Arms: My Favorite Historical Romance

A Harlequin Historical published in 1991, this book is 300 pages of tiny type-face, and there’s no room for it to lag.

Every character, no matter how minor–be he an innkeeper doting on guests; an avaricious villain intent upon deception; a mute orphaned boy; a mercury-addicted nobleman mourning the deaths and losses caused by the French Revolution; or a jealous camp-follower–every individual in this novel is imbued with vivid sense of realism and depth.

Stranger in My Arms is sublime perfection, from its whimsical opening:

If Charmiane de Viollet remembered the Reign of Terror at all, it was as a vision of Aunt Sophie running about shrieking, her fleshy bosoms popping from her bodice as she snatched wildly at the canary that had escaped its cage.

The rest of the story had been recited to Charmiane so often that it had assumed its own reality: the desperate flight from their townhouse in Paris—the carriage loaded with silver and luggage and oddments of furniture—the mad race for the Swiss border, the mobs and the looted carriage, Papa’s final fatal stroke. Very dramatic, very graphic, especially as Uncle Eugene told it, but strangely unengaging.

For Charmiane, the single emotion connected with that event would always be levity—the remembrance of those pink mounds bouncing absurdly against Sophie’s stays in delicious counterpoint to her squeaks and wails.

The Characters

Charmiane de Viollet is a 22-year-old widow from Switzerland who is returning to Paris with her exiled relatives. She never witnessed the horrors of the French Terror. Although her late husband was an abusive beast, she still displays the optimism of youth.

Her loyalty becomes torn between her devotion to her Ancien Regime family and her love for a parvenu upstart.

At times, she is an imperfect heroine, too trusting and too impetuous, but also generous, refined, and filled with joy.

Adam-Francois Bouchard, Baron Moncalvo, a Colonel–then eventually–a General) in Napoleon’s Grand Army, is the kind of hero I adore He’s blond, masculine, and handsome (but not pretty), a soldier, gruff, awkward with women, a bad dancer, loyal to his country, and a man of unrelenting honor.

I don’t usually like soft heroes and can tolerate “jerkiness” to a fairly extreme degree. However, it is the imperfect, all-too-human heroes who captivate me the most.

Then there is Adam’s twin brother, Noel-Victor, a mere corporal in the cavalry and a charming rake. But, while his looks match his twin’s, they are two different souls: one is filled with light and laughter, the other with darkness and dread.

The Plot

The first three chapters deal with Adam’s and Noel’s first meeting with Charmiane. The magical enchantment that follows at a ball attended by Napoleon himself is the stuff of dreams.

Charmiane’s eyes shine in devotion to her dashing hero, and they dance the hours away and later bask in the romantic afterglow of that one perfect night…

If you don’t fall in love with Charmiane and Adam within these first chapters, then this may not be the book for you. As I am a sentimental sap, I weep every single time I read this book.

Adam and Charmiane’s love story unfolds against the backdrop of Napoleon’s France. They struggle to be together as family, politics, war, and personal vendettas take over their lives.

All the Tropes I Adore in Romance

Stranger In My Arms is an exquisite treasure of a novel is filled with sensitive writing, passion, sadness, and love. And so much more.

The love letters: While Adam is off fighting, he writes to his cherished Charmiane, referring to her as his “Dear Helen.” In these correspondences, the yearning he feels for their long-distant love is palpable, as well as his disillusionment and horror in what seems a meaningless war.

There is the brother vs. brother trope, fighting each other for a woman’s love. I admit to a bit of hypocrisy in my reading. I hate love triangles involving the hero and two women, especially when siblings are involved. But the heroine who is torn between two brothers trope, when done well, then that’s one I can appreciate.

And if it’s between twin brothers, even more so. Here, this plot point is executed perfectly, for what we see is not always true.

There are even bodice ripper elements, so be warned if you’re not expecting that in a Harlequin Historical.

The Love Story

Adam is a leader of men, stoic and brave…

Yet, he is so filled with pain that even he is brought to tears. This man has reason to cry. Adam has no mommy issues, nor a woman who hurt him in the past.

There is no other woman, period. Only Charmiane.

What torments him is the awfulness of war: the meaningless deaths of his compatriots; the frozen and rotting flesh of his fellow soldiers’ corpses in the Russian snow; the depths of depravity; and the loss of his humanity that overwhelms him. He weeps for the loss of his soul.

Only Charmiane can bring it back to him.

My Opinion

As said, unlike many of my nostalgia loves, this book gets better with each reading. Every time I find something new to appreciate.

Most of my favorite historical romances are not set in the all-too-common Georgian-Regency-Victorian era of England. Rather they take place in during the Medieval Era or Renaissance. Or they are set in other times in nations like Spain, France, Russia, or the United States.

I enjoy Civil War romances in the American South and Napoleonic Era romances based in France with French protagonists. Those stories are so rare, and when they’re good, they’re excellent.

I suppose my tastes are an anomaly in this genre, and that’s why I read mostly older works.

Louisa Rawlings’ Stranger in My Arms is, for me, the culmination of a romance novel. I have never read one that I enjoyed more on a deep, emotional level.

Both the hero and heroine change and grow as they suffer and cope with loss. Adam and Charmiane learn to adapt to the new world around them and, in doing so, learn to love each other anew.

This isn’t an easy love; it’s a larger-than-life love set in the epic time of the great Napoleon Bonaparte, a man who could lead his men to the ends of the earth, despite his hubris and tragic downfall.

Final Analysis of Stranger in My Arms

Louisa Rawlings wrote a few books, and each one that I have read so far is wonderful. Stolen Spring is another of her fantastic books that I’ve reviewed. Ms. Rawlings, aka Ena Halliday, aka Sylvia Halliday, please write more! Your talents should be more widely known and revered!

There is a sequel to Stranger in My Arms, Wicked Stranger. While not as thrilling and emotional, it still features a great hero, the flip side to Adam’s melancholy and reserve.

Although Stranger in My Arms is a bit on the short side, this is the best romance novel, historical or otherwise, that I’ve ever read. I have re-read this book easily a dozen times in thirty years and am always stirred by its intensity.

I adore Adam and Charmiane’s beautiful affirmation of love:

He lifted his head and at last grinned down at her. “Now,” he said, “who am I?”

“She gazed into eyes that held love and joy and laughter. The laughter that had always been in him—only needing her to bring it out.

“Oh, my dearest,” she answered, her heart swelling with wonder and gratitude for the beautiful man who bent above her. “You’re Love.”

Stranger in My Arms is breathtaking.

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
5
Writing
5
Chemistry
5
Fun Factor
5
Cover
5
Overall: 5

Synopsis:

A SPLENDID PASSION …

He was every girl’s romantic dream: the handsome, brooding hero that Charmiane de Viollet had longed for, the man who would sweep her away from the endless tedium of life among the impoverished aristocrats who had lost their fortunes in the shadow of the guillotine. He was Adam Bouchard, Baron Montcalvo, a colonel in the cavalry, a favorite of Emperor Napoleon’s. In one reckless night of passion, Charmiane gave herself to him, body and soul.

But morning’s harsh light can dull even the brightest dream. When the night was over, would Charmiane wake to find …

a stranger in MY arms by LOUISA RAWLINGS
black and white books education facts

Our Favorite Non-Romance Books and Authors

black and white books education facts
Photo by Pixabay

Our team at Sweet Savage Flame reads other kinds of books besides romance novels. We have a wide variety of tastes. Consequently, we’ll be asking our reviewers about their reading preferences. In this post, Introvert Reader talks about some of her favorite books, series, and authors outside of the romance genre.

Introvert Reader’s Favorite Books

Genres I Like to Read

Just as I’m a fan of old-school romance, I enjoy classic science fiction. Most of them are were published from about 1950 to the 1980s. Space Operas and weird slipstream sci-fi are my favorites. In addition, I enjoy potboilers, pulp, and trashy reads. Plus, I’m a big history buff. The Medieval period and anything about Spanish history are my preferred eras. Therefore, books that combine the two are my siren song. I also read humorous non-fiction, true-crime novels, philosophy, and, occasionally, a self-help book.

I have another blog dedicated to reviewing all types of books and romances published after 2000. So some of what I list here are reviewed on my IntrovertReader site.

Favorite Books

  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (This is a tragic, beautiful tale about a woman who yearned for joy and love.)
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Flaubert is a master wordsmith. Madame Bovary is perhaps the most perfect novel ever written.)
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (This is THE Great American novel.)
  • Darth Plagueis by James Luceno (Not only is this the best Star Wars novel I’ve read, but it’s also the best Science Fiction book I’ve come upon.)
  • Valis by Philp K. Dick (It opened my eyes to many esoteric concepts and set me on a spiritual path.)
  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis (You don’t need to be a Christian to be enthralled by this book about two of Lucifer’s minions plotting to capture human souls.)
  • The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card (I have no words. So good.)

Favorite Book Characters

  • Hercule Poirot, the Belgian, egg-headed, mustachioed, impeccably-dressed detective from Agatha Christie’s long-running mystery series
  • Palpatine/ Darth Sidious from Star Wars novels & comics

Series I’ve Enjoyed

  • Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie
  • The Star Wars Prequels Novelizations: The Phanom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith (by Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore & Matthew Stover)
  • Star Wars Darth Bane Trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn
  • The Dune Series by Frank Herbert (Just the first 4 books)
  • Marvel’s Darth Vader comics
  • Lucky Santangelo series by Jackie Collins

Most Read or Favorite Authors

  • Jackie Collins (The trash queen! And I loved her for it.)
  • Sidney Sheldon (He was the master of storytelling.)
  • Kurt Vonnegut (Funny and insightful.)
  • Philip K. Dick (There are dazzling concepts in his work. He’s not a spectacular writer, but creates amazing visions.)
  • Clive Barker (No modern writer creates horror as visceral as Barker has.)
  • Agatha Christie (Forget about Arthur Conan Doyle. Christie is the apex of mystery.)
  • Frank Yerby (Pulp, swashbuckling, action, and romance. What’s not to love? Plus, his writing is sublime perfection.)

Books That Pleasantly Surprised Me or Surpassed Expectations

  • Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (I never watched the TV series, and have no desire to finish the rest of the books. Still, this book wowed me with its world-building and characters.)
  • Shane by Jack Schaeffer (A rare highlight from middle school class assignments.)
  • Ali & Nino by Kurban Said (The best book I read in college. It’s written like a beautiful dream.)

Childhood Favorites

  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • The Sleepover Friends series by Susan Saunders
  • Babar the Elephant series by Jean de Brunhoff
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • The Trojan War by Bernard Evslin (Actually, I adored everything by Evslin!)
  • Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume
  • Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Books I’d Recommend to Anyone

  • The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker (I didn’t know how to cook when I first was married. This became my cooking Bible)
  • Gone Girl by Gillan Flynn (Sharp, taut satire wrapped up in a murder mystery. So much better than the movie. All of Flynn’s books, this one, Sharp Objects & Dark Places are stellar.)
  • A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science by Michael S. Schneider (I was an ok math student, but I hated the subject. This book helped me learn to love numbers.)
  • Based on a True Story: Not A Memoir by Norm Mac Donald (It’s poignant, touching, intelligent, and brutally funny.)
  • Mist by Miguel de Unamuno (I love books where the author and character meet.)
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (If you must read one classic work of literature in your life, make it this one.)

Best Non-Romance Read of 2021

  • Peter The Cruel: The Life of the Notorious Don Pedro of Castile, together with an Account of His Relations with the Famous Maria de Padilla by Edward Storer (A gripping historical account about the medieval Castilian king and his tragic reign.)

How about your favorite reads outside of the romance genre? Old or new, books, comics, or manga, what do you like to read for fun? Or do you just enjoy romance? Please drop a comment, and let’s talk about books. 🙂

Secret Fire

Historical Romance Review: Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey

In this review, IntrovertReader can’t gush enough over her love for Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey, which features a Russian Prince, the aphrodisiac “Spanish fly,” and one of Lindsey’s best heroines.

historical romance review
Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1987
Illustrator: Elaine Duillo
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Victorian Era Romance, Forced Seduction
Pages: 416
Format: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooksAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey

TOTAL SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Secret Fire was the second Johanna Lindsey romance I read, and it cemented her works among my favorites. Published in 1987, this 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 stories I’ve read. He’s a perfect model for the ultra-gorgeous hero of Secret Fire, Dimitri. [Note: I have discovered he is the late Gerald “Jerry” Timm, a model and actor.]

secret fire duillo original

The Characters

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.

Meanwhile, Lady Katherine St. John, the eldest daughter of an Earl, is enraged to find that her sister has decided to run off and elope. Although Katherine has a father and brother, it’s upon her dainty shoulders that familial responsibilities lie. She concocts a plan to exchange garments with a maid and search the London streets for her sister.

The Plot

As she’s walking about, Dimitri’s carriage is stuck in traffic, and he happens to see Katherine. Although she’s short and rather plain with dull brown hair, there’s something about her that appeals to Dimitri.

As a prince who’s gotten anything and everything he’s ever wanted with a snap of his fingers, Dimitri sends a servant off to procure the woman for a night of passion. Katherine dismisses the man, but he won’t take no for an answer. Before Katherine knows what’s happening, she’s kidnapped and finds herself trapped in strange quarters.

When Dimitri finds out what’s been done, he’s disgusted at first. He was just looking for a quick tryst, not a sex marathon. Dimitri figures he’ll have to let his men have a go with her, as Spanish Fly makes a woman insatiable. Then he enters the room, and those thoughts go out the window. While Katherine might not be the most beautiful woman in the world, she certainly is one of the most sensual visions he’s ever witnessed, naked on the bed and writhing in desire.

And so begins Secret Fire, with a night of pure ecstasy for both Katherine and Dimitri.

Her adamant refusals prompt Dimitri’s servant to ply her with”Spanish Fly” to make her willing for the prince’s touch.

secret fire review

The Prince in Pursuit

However, the next day Katherine is back to her old self and threatens Dimitri’s servants with arrest, as she is the daughter of an Earl. No one believes her, of course. What would an Earl’s daughter have been doing roaming the London docks alone and wearing the clothes of a servant? Still, to prevent any scandal, his servant has the brilliant idea of locking Katherine in a chest and taking her with them to Russia.

When Katherine finds herself at sea, she demands to be returned. Dimitri had not expected to find her aboard the ship but is pleased to see her. Despite his hundreds of past amours, their night together was one of the best in memory, and the lady had been a virgin, to boot!

Dimitri pursues Katherine with an ardor he hadn’t imagined possible. Of course, Katherine rebuffs him at every turn. She’s no common trull but a lady deserving of respect. Dimitri ignores Katherine’s claims of nobility, mostly because he wants to believe that his Katya can be easily had. He knows he has to marry a noble Russian woman to produce an heir for his line, but Katya can be his mistress in the meantime.

Over the seas and rivers, through Europe, and into Russia, Dimitri tries what he can to seduce her back into his arms.

But Katherine has a will made of steel. Even though she wants him just as much as he wants her, she holds out for what she needs–not what he desires.

[He] wanted her. Incredible fantasy. This fairy-tale prince, this golden god wanted her. Her. It boggled the mind. It defied reason. And she said no. Stupid ninny!

SECRET FIRE

Final Analysis of Secret Fire

I love Katherine. Like Georgina Anderson from Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue, she has a habit of talking to herself–a trait I share, to my husband’s annoyance. Katherine’s fiercely proud, stubborn, and resilient. She’s not my favorite Lindsey heroine, but she is up there with the best.

One of my favorite scenes is after Dimitri’s aunt decides to discipline Katherine, and Dimitri’s horrified reaction to it all, combined with Katherine’s stiff-upper-lip reserve.

Dimitri is as equally stubborn and proud as Katherine. But nowhere near as brilliant. That’s ok. His charm and godlike looks make up for it!

This is another of Johanna Lindsey‘s excellent romances that I’ve re-read many times. Secret Fire is an absolute wonder, the hero, the heroine, the plot, the writing, all of it.

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
5
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
5
Fun Factor
5
Cover
5
Overall: 4.9

Synopsis

He’d caught only a glimpse of her from the window of his carriage, but the young prince knew he had to have her. Within minutes, Lady Katherine St. John was dragged from the London street and carried off to a sumptuous town house — for the pleasure of her royal admirer…

From the tempestuous passion of their first encounter, across stormy seas, to the golden splendor of palaces in Moscow, she was his prisoner — obsessed with rage toward her captor even as an all-consuming need made her his slave. Yet theirs was a fervor beyond her understanding, carrying them irrevocably toward final surrender to the power of undeniable love.

Secret Fire by Johanna Lindsey
then came you lisa kleypas

Historical Romance Review: Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas

book review historical romance
Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1993
Illustrator: Max Ginsburg
Book Series: Gamblers Duo #1
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Regency Era Romance
Pages: 371
Format: Audiobook, eBook, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

Then Came You written by Lisa Kleypas is easily one of my favorite romances. It has all the key elements to make this one I would adore. There’s a strong-willed (but charmingly so) heroine, a hero in my all-time hall-of-fame, steamy love scenes, and a magnificent love story.

Not to mention a captivating side character who earned his own book and would show up in about a dozen Kleypas novels.

A Heroine to Remember

The heroine of 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 noses at conventional 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 has been forced into a betrothal to the stuffed-shirt Lord Raiford and cannot marry the man she loves, “Lawless” Lily Lawson–as she is called–is determined to save the day.

She will use all her will and wiles to stop Raiford from marrying her sister.

A Hero to Die For

When Lily does succeed, Alex vows revenge and in scene after memorable scene, his vengeance turns to passion. (I admit to fanning myself to Alex’s reaction when Lily is painted with a serpent on her flesh!) Then passion yields to love when he realizes that Lily’s outward behavior is just a cover for the dark secrets that torment her.

Lord Raiford is a responsible man. He has a little brother to care for and estates to run. He was looking for a responsible bride to round out his life.

Alex’s first fiancee died in a horseback riding accident, so Alex is hesitant to get close to anyone, especially a woman of such a free spirit. If you know me and my reviews, you know where I stand on that trope, but here it’s no ghost who’s part of the conflict.

Lily has gained even more notoriety as the only female allowed to gamble in a gaming hell belonging to Derek Craven. Lily even shares a bit of chemistry with the sexy, snaggle-toothed proprietor.

Many Kleypas fans prefer Derek, the hero of this book’s sequel, Dreaming of You, as their favorite Kleypas MC. (Or Sebastian from The Devil in Winter which I haven’t read yet.) As for me, I think Alex Raiford was the better man. He’s strong, kind, intense, and deeply loyal.

Although, the scene where Alex confronts Craven about being Lily’s lover does make Derek look amazing!

There are more obstacles preventing Lily and Alex from being together besides being polar opposites who butt heads.

But Alex’s surprising love will make Lily’s impossible dreams come true. I can’t help but gush over a hero like Alex. He’s principled, a little uptight, beautiful, and great with kids!

Final Analysis for Then Came You

What to say about Then Came You? Lisa Kleypas proved herself to me as one of the best writers in the modern era of romance.

There’s so much to appreciate here: an assertive, unconventional heroine, a virtuous hero I adore, and a wonderfully plotted affair. This is one of my all-time favorites!

5 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
5
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
5
Fun Factor
5
Cover
4
Overall: 4.8

stormfire pino

Historical Romance Review: Stormfire by Christine Monson

historical romance review
Stormfire by Christine Monson
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1984
Illustrator: Pino
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Napoleonic Era Romance, Regency Era Romance
Pages: 568
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Stormfire by Christine Monson

MILD SPOILERS 😉

The Book

So, after a couple of decades of reading romance, in the early 2010s, I finally got around to Stormfire by the late Christine Monson.

Whew! They do not write them like this anymore. The ultimate in bodice-ripping, Stormfire, is a tale of two mentally unstable people and their violent, intense love. And it’s great!

The Most Controversial Bodice Ripper Ever?

The main attraction of Stormfire is its writing. If it were a poorly authored book, no one would still be talking about it 30-plus years after it was published.

The chapters each have titles such as “Silken Irons,” “Into Eden,” or “The Nadir.”

When Lady Catherine Elderly meets her captor, Sean Culhane, her first thoughts are of Milton’s poetry: 

“His form had not yet lost

All his original brightness, nor appeared

Less than Archangel ruined…” 

PARADISE LOST, JOHN MILTON

The prose is evocative and compelling, but not purple. We agonize over Catherine’s enslavement; we feel the angry passion between the lovers; we grieve Catherine’s loss and suffer from Sean’s torture.

How much misery can two people take?

There is an intense love/hate dynamic between the main characters that is the stuff of legends.

I wish writers of historical romances today wrote like this. Not necessarily the same plot lines, but with action and intensity that doesn’t delve into vulgarity.

To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of things in the book. Regardless, Stormfire is enthralling. Even those who hate this book can’t say it’s boring.

The Plot

Sean Culhane kidnaps Catherine, the daughter of a British lord, seeking vengeance for wrongs committed against his people.

He keeps Catherine captive in his estate in Ireland, where he doesn’t hesitate to rape her before sending Catherine’s bloodied undergarments to her father.

While Catherine is an innocent pawn, she is not weak. She’s a fighter who will meet Sean’s cruelties with a will of iron.

You will not believe what these two go through, what they do to each other, or what they do to others. It’s incredible, but as I said, it’s Monson’s compelling skill at writing that makes this book so special.

His spirit, like the lonely, windswept sea, was ever-restless, ever-changing, sometimes howling down to savage the unyielding land, then caressing it with a lulling embrace, inevitably wearing away its resistance.

Then again, maybe I’m a sicko because I like the plot. Yes, it’s epic and melodramatic. There’s everything but the kitchen sink. That includes: kidnapping, rape, starvation, forced slavery, multiple marriages, miscarriage, insanity, beatings, brothers fighting for the same woman, incest, castration, forcible sodomy, murder…

So much happens here!

Perhaps it’s a bit too much in the last quarter, as Sean and Catherine needed some moments together introspecting rather than acting.

Final Analysis of Stormfire

There are many detractors of Christine Monson’s controversial bodice ripper. In its defense, I say this: Stormfire isn’t supposed to be a sweet romance. It’s an old-school historical romance novel, a bodice ripper, and I use the term with great affection.

It’s a fantasy.

A dark one, definitely. Then again, so too are the vampire, werewolf, bestiality, BDSM, step-dad/ stepbrother kink, and ménage fantasies of today. Books like Stormfire present a different kind of fantasy, where the most tremendous hate can transform into love.

Would this relationship work in real life? Probably not. That’s why it’s make-believe.

Stormfire is entertaining, emotional, and unforgettable. It falters a bit towards the end, so it’s not perfect.

This is not the best romance novel ever written, but for me, it’s up there.

5 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4.5
Characters
5
Writing
5
Chemistry
4
Fun Factor
4.5
Cover
5
Overall: 4.7

Synopsis

Abducted on her way to boarding school, a terrified Catherine Enderly was brought from England to the coast of Ireland, the prisoner of the angry and powerful young Sean Culhane—a man sworn to vengeance against her family.

Frightened but defiant, the young countess met her captor with a strength that belied her fragile loveliness. But even as Sean vowed to have his revenge on Catherine, with each encounter he became more attracted to her. Her fiery innocence was a seduction that lured the passions of long smoldering hostility into a blazing inferno of desire.

Locked in a love-hate duel, he did not suspect that the captivating beauty who fought him with such tenacity was struggling desperately against her own awakened desires, and that his touch had become the burning reminder that the fierce hatred she felt for him had become an all-consuming love.

STORMFIRE by CHRISTINE MONSON

Download or Read Online at Book Vooks: Stormfire PDF Book by Christine Monson (1984)

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